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"We are doing very little at the moment."

Our good buddy Jan Egeland starred in my previous satirical post, but this time, unfortunately, I'm not kidding.

Besides being U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Egeland, is also the U.N.'s Emergency Relief Coordinator for tsunami aid efforts. He made the statement that is the title of this post while speaking on Thursday in New York.

In fairness to Mr. Egeland, is it too soon to expect real relief efforts to be underway? A U.S. Foreign Service officer working in one of the tsunami-hit countries reports:

Americans are everywhere in this corner of the Far Abroad, doing things that no other country on earth can or will do, and at a truly amazing pace... In stark contrast, the much-vaunted UN humanitarian effort is a disgrace.
What are Americans doing in the affected countries?
Americans are funding local Red Cross/Red Crescent organizations, organizing truck convoys to break up the supply bottlenecks at airports and seaports, loading barges with rice and biscuits, flying in a steady stream of C-130s, and steaming in aircraft carrier battlegroups (diverted from other tasks vital to our national security) laden with mobile hospitals, supplies of every imaginable type and critically needed helicopters. Local AmCham chapters are putting together huge donation drives and "greedy' American multinationals are donating expensive heavy earth moving equipment, generators, and fuel to help Asia's victims.
The U.N., on the other hand, as Mr. Egeland helpfully reminds us, is "doing very little at the moment." Okay, but what is it doing? As the U.N. itself reports on its own website,
To address the psycho-social needs of children throughout nearly a dozen countries devastated by the tsunami, selective in-service teacher training will be supported to equip teachers with specific methods and activities. While limited in their capacity and depth of the response to shock, teachers can still be trained to carry out activities which allow children, many of them orphaned, to share their feelings and to better cope with the aftermath of the disaster.
Got that? While America and other countries are actually providing tangible, urgent assistance, the U.N. is training local teachers to help kids share their feelings. No word on how the U.N. effort will help kids whose teacher was killed. Sadly, we may never know how they feel.

Note also that the while the U.N. article mentions several other hazards faced by the tsunami survivors (such as land mines being swept to unknown locations, and the spread of diseases like malaria), there is no statement that the U.N. is, you know, actually doing something about it.

Actually that's not entirely true. It's "sending damage assessment missions" to historic sites on its World Heritage List, "to decide on appropriate action."

It would appear that for people outside the feckless bureaucracy of the U.N., it's a lot easier to determine what action is appropriate. And to actually take it.

Predictably, some people actually blame -- wait for it -- George W. Bush for "undermining" U.N. relief efforts by having America provide aid on its own.

We wouldn't want our food convoys getting in the way of their teacher training, I guess.

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U.N. says Bin Laden "stingy" on tsunami relief

NEW YORK, Dec. 30 (Rooters) -- In a prepared speech today, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland rapped terrorist kingpin Osama Bin Laden for his "stingy" response to the Indian Ocean tsunamis that killed close to 100,000 people earlier this week.

"It is beyond me why Bin Laden is so stingy, really," the Norwegian-born U.N. official told reporters. "The terrible impact of this disaster should remind the son of a wealthy Saudi businessman like Bin Laden of how many people need his help."

Egeland blamed U.S. President George W. Bush for Bin Laden's failure to provide more relief aid. "If Bush hadn't done so much damage to Al Qaeda in the past few years, Bin Laden would have the resources to really make a difference. Hopefully the world will now see just how misguided America's 'War on Terror' really is."

Egeland also lamented the recent passing of Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, who he said "would certainly have donated large sums of money to the needy."

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Please help us! (unless you're from Israel)

Apparently, things in Sri Lanka, where over 21,000 people have died from the killer tsunami, aren't so bad after all. The island nation on Tuesday rejected Israel's plan to send a medical, rescue, and security team to set up and operate clinics for the sick and injured.

Claiming the lame excuse of a "lack of accomodations", Sri Lanka has essentially told Israel to keep the 150-person team at home, but to go on sending "material and financial assistance".

In other words, "We don't want your kind around here. But we'll take your money and your stuff."

To Israel's immense credit, it has ignored this slap in the face by the arrogant Sri Lankan government and continued to focus on the needy Sri Lankan people.

It reluctantly cancelled plans to send the team and set up medical clinics, but a smaller, 50-member Israeli group is escorting a truck convoy delivering 82 tons of much-needed supplies, including electricity generators, tents, blankets and mattresses. Also, Israeli private charity Latet ("To Give") sent an additional 18 tons of supplies worth $50,000, at Sri Lanka's request.

Reports claimed that Sri Lankan officials had objected to the "military composition" of the 150-person team, which would have included members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). But since the 50-person group is comprised exclusively of IDF personnel, this excuse doesn't hold up.

The only possible conclusion seems to be that Sri Lanka just doesn't want Israeli medics setting up clinics in their country. If someone has a better explanation of what's going on here, I'm all ears.

Sri Lanka's self-defeating bigotry, and the U.N.'s earlier ingratitude, suggest not that the wealthy must be taught to give, but that the needy must be taught to receive.

Meryl Yourish notes that the Vatican, after carefully considering the situation, has decided to criticize Israel. And Charles Johnson has more on how the mainstream media is almost completely ignoring Israel's massive relief efforts.

Catholic World News now says its earlier report that the Vatican had criticized Israel was the result of "a crucial error in translation"; in fact, the Vatican's official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, criticized Sri Lanka for placing "unnecessary restrictions" on Israel's aid offer.

So the world is slightly less crazy than it previously appeared.

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Yesterday, at my girlfriend's request, we made the trip to Woodbury Commons.

For the uninitiated, Woodbury Commons is to shopping as the North Shore is to surfing or Valdez is to snowboarding.

Described as "a shopoholic's dream", it's essentially a giant outdoor mall, made up of over 220 designer-clothing and other luxury-brand outlet stores about 1 hour north of Manhattan.

The place is so popular that travel companies run daily round-trip tour buses there from New York, and you will often see ten or more of them lined up side-by-side in the huge parking lot, like oliphaunts marching on Minas Tirith. There are even special guided tours for Japanese tourists, and many of the stores have Japanese-speaking salespeople to handle them.

Anyway, I was dreading spending several hours wandering around there with my girlfriend. There is no upside to watching your girlfriend shop for clothes.

-- First, if you're like me, it's boring. I see the value of having nice-looking clothing, but that doesn't mean I like picking it out. I wear stuff until it falls apart. And the only thing more boring than shopping for clothes is watching someone else do it.

-- Second, you have to hold all her stuff (bags, jacket, sweater, etc.) so no one steals it while she's trying on new outfits. It's kind of like being a combination security guard and porter.

-- Third, she will ask you if you like the clothes she picks out. If you say "no", she will try on more outfits, and if you say "yes," she will try on more outfits anyway.

Nevertheless, being a supportive boyfriend, I agreed to go.

Well, for better or worse, karma has a way of paying you back. The first store we encountered at this monument to ladies' fashion? Custom bike maker Orange County Choppers, with their spiffy custom machines on display.


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The thanks I give

Still in New York with my girlfriend on a bright, crisp December morning. Ventured out of the Hotel Gansevoort and had a delicious breakfast of poached eggs and salmon with Hollandaise sauce at Pastis while reading the Times and the Journal. The front pages had the latest on the tsunami devastation.

I don't care how corny this sounds, but I started thinking about how lucky I am and what I'm thankful for.

During the terrorist attacks of 9-11, I was on a business trip in Tokyo instead of in my apartment at the time, at 130 Water Street in Manhattan's financial district.

This past May, my girlfriend and I went to a seaside resort in Thailand during Japan's "Golden Week", when we could have easily chosen to go now, during the year-end holidays. (Given that our hotel was on Ko Samui in the Gulf of Thailand, not the Indian Ocean, we probably would have been relatively safe anyway.)

Thanks to my two loving parents who made sure I had the best they could give me in life, and also to just plain dumb luck, I have the opportunity to enjoy another beautiful day when many around the world are suffering.

Being a conservative and a capitalist doesn't mean I turn a blind eye to the needy. I'll be making a donation to help those hit by the tsunami disaster, and, if you feel as fortunate as I do to be where you are in life, why not do the same? Among many other ways to give, you can make an online donation to the American Red Cross International Response Fund here.

As of this writing, private citizens have donated almost $3 million to the Red Cross via the website. That figure obviously does not include donations made directly to the Red Cross, as well as to dozens of other relief organizations. In the face of tremendous tragedy, we can take some small solace in the fact that ordinary people are responding with tremendous generosity.

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The thanks we get

(NOTE: See the follow-up to this post below.)

The death toll from the disastrous Indian Ocean tsunami has passed 29,000 and is expected to climb.

The U.S. pledged to take a major relief role, providing $15 million in aid for starters, with $400,000 already disbursed.

In response, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland slammed the U.S. as "stingy" and said America should raise taxes on its citizens so it would have more funds to give.

Really, I'm not making that up.

Of course, lower taxes allow the American people to make their own charitable contributions with their own money, a point lost on Mr. Egeland. Americans regularly give at least 2% of GDP annually to charity, amounting to over $240 billion in 2003. That's many, many times more than the foreign aid budget of any nation on earth. (America's own 2003 Official Developmental Assistance budget -- the world's biggest -- was only $16 billion.)

The entire European Union has pledged only 3 million euros ($4 million) so far, although it is suggesting that more will be on the way. Louis Michel, European Commissioner responsible for humanitarian aid, said that the E.U. "is able to mobilize up to 30 million [euros] promptly through its emergency procedures."

Am I being too cynical to think that there might be a difference between "able to mobilize", and "actually giving"?

Meanwhile, gingerly easing toward the barn door after the horses have run off, southern Asian governments are thinking about whether they should finally get around to having a tsunami warning system.

My commenters have pointed out that Egeland's initial comments, while reeking of ingratitude and ignorance of economics, were directed more generally at rich western nations including America, as opposed to singling America out for stinginess.

(It's just another reminder of the power of the blogosphere -- as well as the value of having commenters who don't automatically agree with everything you say.)

Egeland has also since said that his initial comments were "misinterpreted":

I have been misinterpreted when I yesterday said that my belief that rich countries in general can be more generous. This has nothing to do with any particular country or the response to this emergency. It is still early, and the aid so far has been positive. The international aid has arrived as promised from the US, Europe, and countries in the region have also been very generous.
Also, the death toll is closing in on 60,000, which it may even have passed as I write this. And Secretary of State Powell stated that the U.S. will be sending at least another $20 million in aid on top of the initial $15 million.

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Why people hate lawyers

Law professor Ann Althouse recently observed that lawyers are the only people about whom it's considered socially acceptable to joke, "People like you should all be dead."

Most of us in polite society wouldn't feel comfortable saying that to a gay man, or a black person, or a Jew. (Most of us wouldn't even want to.) But telling a lawyer to his face the old joke about 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean being "a good start" is perfectly okay.

Lawyers play an important role in our society, and I don't believe they deserve to be singled out for this kind of animosity. Yet time and again, an incident will arise that reminds me why, justly or not, they often are. It's unfortunate that the arrogance of a few lawyers can engender hatred for the entire legal profession, many members of whom are protecting our rights, seeking justice for the downtrodden, and reining in an overreaching legislature. But it can.

Monster Cable is a company that makes speaker cable and audiovisual interconnects. Their brand name is important to them. (In fact, they recently spent $6 million for the naming rights to San Francisco's Candlestick Park stadium. It's now Monster Park.) And they've apparently decided to sue every business that uses the word "Monster" in any way.

Companies sued by Monster Cable include:

-- The Discovery Channel, for its show "Monster Garage"

-- The Walt Disney Company, for the movie "Monsters, Inc."

--, the online job-hunting service

On top of all that, Monster Cable went after Bally Gaming for its "Monster Slots" slot machines, and almost almost sued the Chicago Bears for calling their players as the "Monsters of the Midway", a nickname dating back to the 1930's. It's also thinking about going after the Monster Seats in Fenway Park.

Now, I used to be a lawyer myself at one point. (I quit because I hated the work.) I never specialized in trademark law, but I remember a few points from law school.

First (and any lawyers out there, feel free to correct me if I'm mistaken), a given trademark generally applies only to a certain class of product (or service, in which case it's called a service mark). That's why there can be an Apple Bank, Apple Rental Cars, Apple Furniture, and Apple Computer.

Second, the key element of the test for trademark infringement is, loosely speaking, whether there is a likelihood that customers will confuse the origin of the two companies' goods or services. In other words, will people think Apple Computer is the company behind Apple Furniture's furniture?

How similar do two companies' marks have to be before courts will find that a likelihood of such confusion exists? Well, the criteria are hard enough to meet that none of the "Apple" companies I mentioned above is in legal trouble with the others. Yet Monster Cable's attorneys were apparently concerned that people might mix them up with, say, a movie company or a job-hunting website.

And, presumably because the costs of litigation are so prohibitive, in each of the four cases mentioned above, Monster Cable either reached a confidential settlement with the company it attacked, when by all appearances its claims should have been laughed out of court.

All this is depressing enough, but, as several newspapers report, now it gets really nasty. Apparently tired of suing huge companies with the resources to fight back, it would seem that Monster Cable looked around for smaller outfits it could more easily intimidate, and it found a few:

-- Snow Monsters, a tiny company that makes instructional ski videos for children

--, another tiny company, which sells vintage clothing

Needless to say, small companies like these lack the funds to weather a months-long legal battle. Unless they can win a declaratory judgment (i.e., have the court tell Monster Cable to get bent before any long, expensive litigation ensues), they will probably have to either change the names of their businesses, or let Monster Cable wet its beak: Its "licensing packages" demand as much as $1,000 a year plus 1 percent of gross sales, in exchange for the right to use the word "Monster".

As a former lawyer, I know it's important to consider both sides of any dispute. So, what's Monster Cable's take on the situation?

"We've spent millions of dollars as well as countless hours building our brand," says an in-house attorney. Company founder Noel Lee adds, "We have an obligation to protect our trademark; otherwise we'd lose it."

Given that trademark law specifically provides for the coexistence of similar trademarks for different classes of products, Lee's argument is disingenuous.

But if Monster Cable is really concerned about protecting its trademark, it could start by protecting it from a consumer backlash against its bullying, strongarm tactics. Its legal team apparently believes that ski videos for kids and an old clothing shop represent a real threat. That it's necessary to crush little companies with no relevance to its business at all.

That's why people hate lawyers.

See this post about another possible Monster Cable target.

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My wild and dangerous lifestyle

In his amusing 1998 Dilbert book The Joy of Work, Scott Adams suggests ways to increase your perceived value at work. Under the sub-heading "Be Mysterious and Eccentric", Adams suggests, among other things:

Leave ambiguous clues about your wild and dangerous lifestyle. Put motorcycle keys on your desk where people will see them...
These and other steps, he writes, "will give you a reputation as a mysterious and dangerous player."

Let me tell you, it doesn't work.

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Earthquake kills thousands, Bush blamed

Reading the reports of the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami that swept ashore and killed thousands of people in southern Asia, I felt a curious sensation I couldn't quite describe. Later on, I realized what it had been: The news reports were describing a major international disaster -- and not one of them blamed George W. Bush.

It's gotten to the point where I reflexively expect that the media will link anything bad happening to George W. Bush. Poverty, global warming, terrorism, the return of Pauly Shore -- they're all Bush's fault.

So imagine my surprise when I found the news stories about the earthquake to be 100% Bush-free. Apparently, the quake was simply a natural disaster that, believe it or not, was not caused by Dubya, the neocon conspiracy, or even Karl Rove, for that matter.

I should have known it would prove too good to last.

This post by Tim Blair alerts us to the reactions of Sydney Morning Herald readers. According to them, Bush is responsible for either the quake itself, the destruction it caused, or both. Below, I include a few, along with my responses.

A pity our army is busy fighting America's immoral war when they should be providing assistance to the affected areas. -- Shane Arnold
Actually, Shane, an army's primary purpose is to fight wars, or, through a show of strength, to deter enemies from fighting. (That's why they get all those cool guns.) An army is not a national rescue organization.

As to the issue of morality, was removing Saddam -- the immediate tangible outcome of the war -- immoral? Do you have any condemnation left for the "insurgency" with its suicide bombers, beheadings of innocent relief workers, and intentional mass-murder of Iraqi citizens? Or have you spent all your anger on the forces that are trying to make a free Iraq possible?
These divine winds show that the Gods are displeased with the world's state of affairs. -- Tomoyuki Yamashita
Yamashita-san, thanks for contributing the least intelligent comment of the day. Living in the 21st century, I prefer to think that the quake was the result of plate tectonics, not an angry God. (Or Gods, as you put it. Are we talking Shinto spirits here, Buddha himself, or what? Buddha doesn't seem like the vengeful type. Work out your theological worldview and get back to me.)

Second, if "the Gods" are displeased with "the world's state of affairs", why did they take out their anger on poor little Sri Lanka? Why not go after the big dogs?

Finally, I thought good liberals like yourself (apparently) are supposed to decry the creeping influence of religion in American politics. You're not helping the cause when you argue that we should design our foreign policy to keep God(s) happy.
This latest tragic disaster should open all our eyes to the fact that the world seems to already have its "hands full" coping with seemingly ongoing natural disasters rather than creating such man-made disasters as we have contributed to in Iraq. -- Wayne Gregory
Sure, Wayne, Iraq under Saddam was heaven on earth before America got involved. Your comment reminds me of what Chris Rock said about people complaining that crack is destroying the ghetto: "Yeah, like the ghetto was so nice before crack." The analogy falters, however, because America is actually working every day, fighting against a vicious, nihilist "insurgency", to turn Iraq into a better place.

Second, you talk about the world having its hands full coping with natural disasters. It would be more accurate to say that certain countries have failed to prepare adequately for natural disasters, because they take it for granted that more advanced, wealthier nations like America will rush to their aid. Maybe if the countries hit by the tsunami had had warning systems in place to minimize damage and save lives, "the world" wouldn't have its hands so full with the aftermath. Instead, we learn from the Guardian News Service that:
"[a]n early warning system that could have saved thousands of lives lost in the devastating tsunamis that swept around the rim of the Indian Ocean yesterday was talked about but not acted on by governments in the region."
For its part, America seems to take care of itself every time it's hit by disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes. (Heck, Wayne, some of our recent disasters have even been man-made.) Somehow, the world never seems to have its hands all that full with America's problems.
Don't expect a genuinely compassionate response from the U.S. Government, as a "war on earthquakes" will not be as profitable as good ol' terrorism -- Nick Loveday
Yamashita-san's comment was simply irrelevant, but yours, Nick -- yours is actually in conflict with existing, provable fact. America has already pledged to give "all appropriate assistance" to the nations worst hit by the eathquake, and U.S. relief efforts are underway in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

This should not come as a big surprise; after all, we've done it before.

At the same time, it's a never-ending source of amusement to listen to critics of the war simultaneously argue that (1) it's costing America way too much, and (2) Bush started the war to enrich America by stealing Iraqi oil. Which is it?

That's enough for now. But if an asteroid ever hits the earth, it will be interesting to watch Bush get blamed for that, too.

The death toll from the various tsunami has now topped 21,000.

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Behold the Power of Little Green Footballs

That LGF link to "The Final Flip-Flop" had a tiny little impact on Riding Sun's pageviews -- barely perceptible, really:

Thanks a lot, Charles.

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The Final Flip-Flop

(NOTE: A hearty welcome to the lizardoid minions of Little Green Footballs, and a big Riding Sun thank-you to the invaluable Charles Johnson for linking to this post. I hope you enjoy the site... I'm trying to include a good mix of current events/politics/war on islamofascism posts, along with all the stuff on motorcycles.)

You probably remember that on November 4, after a brief flirtation with the idea of fighting for an Ohio recount, John F. Kerry graciously conceded defeat to George W. Bush in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election.

But it seems Kerry had one final flip-flop left in his campaign. As the man himself might put it, he conceded the election before he unconceded.

Several Democratic-leaning websites are detailing efforts (by Democrats as well as by third-party supporters) to dispute the outcome of the Ohio vote and subsequent recount. (As a side note, it's interesting that this time around, Democrats don't seem to think the electoral college is such a bad idea, and don't think winning the popular vote is all that important.)

Ohio has already cast its electoral college votes for Bush, and I must confess that I am not enough of a scholar of government procedure to be able to say how any further objections to the validity of the Ohio vote would be handled. I am certainly eager to see how the story develops.

My prediction, however, is that it will be extremely unlikely for anyone to be able to change the outcome of the election at this point. All they will be able to do is cast doubt on America's electoral process and undermine Bush's legitimacy, weakening our nation at a time of war.

Without analyzing the validity of any of the specific claims of the people challenging the recount, I will observe only this: John F. Kerry could have challenged the election results. Instead, he chose to concede defeat. At the time, it seemed like a act of genuine wisdom, humility, and class. But apparently it was all a charade. Kerry appears prepared to go back on his word and throw the nation into turmoil.

In a statement made in early December, Kerry set forth his position on the election results, saying that, according to the Associated Press wire story found at the above link and elsewhere, "His campaign does not dispute that Bush won the election, but supports the recounts."

Even this late in the game -- after the game is over, in fact -- Kerry still doesn't get it. "Nuanced", doublespeak non-statements like that one are a big reason why he lost in the first place.

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Japan Riding Tips

Learning to ride safely and legally in Japan can be tough. Here are a few pointers, based on articles in the English-language Mainichi Daily News:

-- If the cops try to pull you over, do not take your eyes off the road so you can look back and give them the finger.

-- If a cop is actually grabbing part of your motorcycle with his hand, do not ride away dragging him behind you.

-- If the cops pull you over, don't ram your bike into them after they get out of their car.

-- If the cops are just chilling out in their koban (police box), don't ram your bike into that, either.

-- If the cops are still in their car, watch out because they may ram you instead.

-- If the cop has his own motorcycle, do not steal it.

-- Even if you are a cop, you are still not allowed to ride 50km/h over the posted limit just to make sure the speed trap cameras are working.

-- Also for cops, since you are out there enforcing the law and all, make sure you actually have a driver's license.

-- If you snatch a woman's purse while riding your motorcycle, bear in mind that you'll look really lame if she catches up to you on her bicycle and takes her purse back.

-- Giving your girlfriend a ride on your motorcycle is cool; chasing down schoolgirls on your motorcycle is not cool.

Happy riding!

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Ministry of Truth Update, Pt. 2

Regular readers (ah, heck, I know only one guy has read this blog so far, but I can dream, can't I?) may recall a previous post about how the mainstream media will bend over backwards to avoid portraying Muslims in a negative light, no matter how many women they stone, trains they bomb, schoolchildren they massacre, or infidels they behead.

That previous post focused on a Reuters article describing Muslim burnings of Christian churches in Nigeria as "Muslim-Christian riots." Yeah, like lions eating a gazelle on the Discovery Channel are having an "interspecies luncheon".

Now, via LGF, comes another example:

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Fearing bombings and shootings by Islamic militants, some Christians in Indonesia are abandoning traditional churches in favor of more unorthodox but secure confines, such as hotel ballrooms and office blocks.
Why are the Christians so scared? Glad you asked:
[A]ttacks against Christians, who form just 8 percent of the population, have increased since ex-dictator Suharto's downfall in 1998, and amid a global rise in Islamic radicalism... Four years ago, suspected militants from the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terror group bombed 11 churches on Christmas Eve, killing 19 people.
So far, so good. The article is factually describing the scene. But next comes the inevitable excuse-making for the behavior of these adherents of the Religion of Peace:
The vast majority of Muslims in Indonesia practice a moderate version of the faith.
Got that? Don't worry about the occasional mob, riot, or wave of church-burnings. These guys are a peaceful bunch. In fact, it's the Christians' fault for provoking them:
Muslims say evangelical Christians are partly to blame for rising religious tensions. They say hundreds of foreign-funded evangelical groups use churches in Muslim-dominated neighborhoods to convert locals — a claim some Christians acknowledge is true.
Those reckless, disrespectful Christians! Actually having the nerve to try to convert people to their religion! Surely that justifies some bombin' an' killin'! (Note to Muslims: Maybe if Islam wasn't the most repressive major religion on the face of the Earth, conversion to Christianity wouldn't look so tempting.)

Apart from the craven moral equivalency of AP reporter Michael Casey, there is one more thing about the article -- indeed, about all of the articles linked in this post -- worth mentioning: No Jews were involved in any way, shape, or form. Think about that. None of these Muslims thinks he is striking a blow against Israel, Zionism, or Ariel Sharon. So the next time someone tells you that Muslims around the world would settle down if it weren't for all those darn Jews stirrin' up trouble, ask: What about Nigeria? What about Thailand? And what about Indonesia?

Or Sudan? Or the Netherlands?

This could go on for a while, but I've got other things to do.

It appears RidingSun now has had two, count' em, TWO different commenters (not including yours truly) and a few other visitors. Woo-hoo!

Look out, Prof. Reynolds! Your days of blogospheric hegemony are numbered...

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Moronic Movie Motorcycles

I'm home in NY for the holidays, and on the flight in, I caught a movie that gave me an idea for what I hope will be an occasional feature here on RidingSun: pointing out occurences of Moronic Movie Motorcycles (MMM's). (I toyed with the name SPOMIF, which stands for Stupid Portrayal Of Motorcycles In Film, but ultimately decided that it sounded pretty lame.)

An MMM is any motorcycle in a movie (or TV show or commercial) used in a way that is physically impossible, utterly ridiculous, or just plain dumb.

Let's kick off the feature with the movie I just saw: I, Robot. It's your typical Will-Smith-as-cool-guy-saving-the-world action flick. It actually wasn't bad for that sort of thing, although after watching Honda's Asimo robot totter around, I question whether robots 30 years in the future will really be able to leap like gymnasts and climb walls like Spider-Man. Maybe I'm showing my age, but the CGI effects made the robots seem too lightweight and quick to be real. For my money, if you want a really good "cop vs. killer robots" movie, the choice is clear.

Anyway, I, Robot features a classic MMM, as demonstrated in at least two key scenes:

(1) After his Audi is wrecked in a robot attack, Will switches to his trusty 2004 MV Agusta F4-SPR, of which only 300 were produced worldwide. Will rides the thing at high speeds, at night, with a passenger, through fast-moving traffic, at one point even making a hands-free mobile phone call -- yet neither he nor his passenger ever wears a helmet. Hey, Will -- it's cool if you have a death wish, but at least offer a helmet to the sexy woman riding with you. It's the gentlemanly thing to do.

(2) Will sees a renegade robot attacking a teenaged kid. He jumps the Agusta into the air by riding it up the hood of a parked car, leaps off of it in mid-flight, does a somersault, and shoots the robot before reaching the ground. Riiiiight...

Well, that's all for now. Readers are encouraged to submit their favorite MMM's from other movies in the comments section.

The incomparable James Lileks didn't like the jumping motorcycle bit either. He's a lot funnier in criticizing it, though.

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Homeward bound

I'm off to New York today for a little fuyuyasumi -- winter vacation -- in which I will see my parents and catch up with old friends. I'll try to blog a bit from my Mom's vintage Gateway, but no guarantees. Back in Tokyo on January 3rd.

The vintage Gateway has been replaced by a spanking-new HP. Let the blogging commence!

It's sad when your parents' computer is better than your own.

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Follow the money

Big Ben, RidingSun's esteemed first (and, to date, only) commenter has suggested that the main reason for Japan's soon-to-be-relaxed ban on riding two-up on the expressway is to keep bosozoku -- Japan's hooligan biker gangs -- from carrying passengers onto these fast, high-traffic roads.

Now, Big Ben has been riding around Japan a lot longer than I have, and I assume he knows what he's talking about here. He points out that the requirements that riders be at least 20 years old and have held their license for at least three years are designed to keep out bosozoku, many of whom are in their teens. But a few aspects of this theory are confusing:

(1) Why are bosozoku only a problem on the expressways if they are carrying passengers? Reckless riders are a threat to everyone whether they have a passenger or not.

(2) Why take away a right from law-abiding people when your intention is to punish criminals? (This is the same problem I have with gun control laws, however well-intentioned.)

(3) Tellingly, Ben writes that the purpose of the ban is to stop the bosozoku from riding two-up on the expressway legally. In other words, they are going to do it whether it is legal or not. By definition, laws do not deter outlaws. (Yep, you guessed it -- this is another reason why I oppose gun control.)

I hunted around and found another possible rationale for the tandem riding ban: It's a trade restriction masquerading as a safety regulation.

Jeff Bleustein, the Chairman and CEO of Harley Davidson, calls the tandem ban a "non-tarriff barrier" hurting Harley's ability to penetrate the Japanese market. He commented,

[P]eople who tend to ride together are people who ride larger motorcycles -- families, husbands and wives, guys and gals who want to go someplace together. So the highways are open to young kids riding super high performance motorcycles, but more responsible riding is limited to the back roads and city streets.
Interestingly, Bleustein suggests that the tandem ban is more likely to hit responsible Harley riders than reckless bosozoku on souped-up crotch rockets.

Bleustein also claims that Japan's notorious system of requiring people to get a first license for bikes up to 400cc and then a second license to ride bigger machines, is another attempt to keep H-D out of the market.

Not only is obtaining the extra license time-consuming and expensive, Bleustein suggests the license test itself is much tougher than necessary. Referring in particular to the part of the test where the would-be license holder has to pilot the motorcycle along a narrow metal beam without falling off, he says:
Obviously it was couched as a safety requirement but its real purpose was to keep Harley-Davidson motorcycles out of the market.
I think there are a few problems with Bleustein's claims.

First of all, the balance-beam test is not all that hard, and at any rate, it's also part of the license test for a smaller bike (under 400cc). You just have to stay on the beam a little longer in the big-bike test -- that is, you have to ride more slowly, which takes more balance. But it's still not all that hard.

Second, Harleys are selling like hotcakes in Japan, so if the goal was to keep H-D out, the Japanese bureaucracy isn't doing a particularly good job.

However, Harley's Japan sales would probably be even higher if there were no need to get a second license just to ride one. And if you could take a passenger with you on the expressways, there would probably be more demand for big bikes like a Harley, which can be overkill on a crowded city street. And if Harley sold more bikes in Japan, it might be able to lower prices there, which can run you up to double what you'd pay in the States.

So, it seems plausible to me that what we are seeing with the tandem ban is one of the last surviving examples of the good ol' days of shameless Japanese protectionism, when foreign companies were told their skis wouldn't work on Japanese snow, and their beef couldn't be digested by Japanese intestines.

I guess the 80's really are back.

This person claims today's bosozoku prefer to ride Harleys, not sportbikes. If so, it's just another reason why Harleys are the most-stolen bikes in Japan.

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Separated at Birth

Have you ever noticed how much Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) resembles the hyottoko character mask from traditional Japanese kyogen comedy plays?

As usual, Sen. Clinton is the one on the left.

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Free at last! Well, almost. Kind of.

A December 1 post from Japan Today reports on changes to the law banning bikers from riding two-up on the expressways here:

Motorcyclists will be allowed to ride double on certain expressways from next April, the government said Tuesday. The new rule, which applies only to motorcyclists aged 20 or older who have held a driver's license for more than three years, is part of the revised Road Traffic Law enacted in June.

The prefectural public safety commissions have the power to ban motorcyclists carrying passengers on certain expressways, for safety reasons. The Tokyo Public Safety Commission is still studying whether to allow motorcyclists to ride double on the busy but narrow Metropolitan Expressway, officials said.
Now, generally speaking, whenever rules restricting where and how I can ride are relaxed, I am happy about it. I am especially happy about this particular change, because I'll be able to go touring with my girlfriend. It's just not practical to cover even modest distances (like, around 100 kilometers) in Japan without hitting the expressways at some point. One time, we tried riding down from Tokyo to Atami for a soak in an onsen, but wading through red lights on Route 246 and other choked streets stretched the trip to over four hours and completely wiped out whatever romantic feelings I had hoped to generate by taking her to an onsen in the first place.

So this is definitely a good thing. But let's look into it a bit deeper.

We have a law which addressed a problem that sounds scary -- helpless bike passengers mangled in grisly smash-ups! -- but has never been shown to exist. If there were any breathless media reports about a rash of gruesome accidents involving motorcycles -- but only if the rider is on the expressway, and only if he is carrying a passenger, and only if he's in Japan -- then I have not seen them.

So the powers that be in Japan have realized that there is no reason to ban riding two-up on the expressways, which is good. And they are actually changing the law, which is even better.

But it would be too much to expect that this pointless restriction be struck from the books entirely. Only some roads will be affected by the regulatory change. On the others, it's the same old routine. Plus, you have to be at least twenty years old. And even then, you have to have held your license for at least three years.

Is there a substantial difference in skill between a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old? Or between someone who's been licensed (not riding, mind you, just licensed) for 1 or 2 years, and someone who's been licensed for three?

Have any studies been done suggesting that three is the right number, or did it just sound good?

And what is the point of a license anyway, if not to prove you are competent to operate your chosen vehicle?

The really ridiculous consequence of this arbitrary decision is that a biker who's commited dozens of traffic violations will be allowed to ride two-up as long as he's been committing those violations over at least a three-year period. But someone who's been riding for two years with a spotless record will have to wait. And of course, a beginning driver can toodle onto the expressway on day one of his hot-off-the-presses license, as long as he's in a car.

I'm not an anarchist. I think laws are essential to a free and prosperous society. But would it be too much to ask that they actually have a real purpose? And I don't think this is a cultural thing, either. From what I've heard, Japanese people themselves are tired of bureaucratic nonsense.

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What is it with Miyazaki and blobs?

Saw Howl's Moving Castle (ハウルの動く城) Sunday night with my girlfriend on the Roppongi Hills Premiere Screen. It's a pretty cool little movie theatre at the massive Virgin Cinemas where the seats are like giant La-Z-Boys and you can bring in real drinks with you.

And I don't mean in a paper cup either. They give you a glass of beer.


Anyway, Howl's is the latest anime movie by legendary Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki. My question is, what is the deal with Miyazaki and blobs of disgusting goo?

In a number of Miyazaki movies, there is at least one character made of oozing black goop:

-- In Howl's, there are gangs of slimy minions that stalk the heroine, Sophie.

-- In Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し), there is one big, slimy character, the "No-Face", which stalks the heroine of that movie, Sen (Chihiro).

-- And in Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫), the guardian of the forest turns into a giant, slimy monster. (He doesn't really do much stalking, though -- no doubt an oversight by Studio Ghibli.)

Any anime experts out there, please help me out: What is the significance of this repulsive trope?

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Club X-4 Bonenkai

Saturday night, I took my girlfriend to the bonenkai (year-end party) of Club X-4's Kanto chapter. Bear in mind that she was about as interested in going to hang out with a bunch of bikers as Michael Moore would be in going to one of those week-long Thai fasting clinics. She had the idea that a stylish lady like herself would have a miserable time with a roomful of bike otaku.

Well, it turned out that the X-4 gang is a lively bunch and she had a great time. You can see her in the orange shirt in the group photo here:

She actually got so involved in the details of their discussions of different motorcycles and parts that the club guys said they could see why she was a management consultant. What a gal... I'm so proud of her.

Anyway, it turned out we were the only ones to actually come to the party by motorcycle -- everyone else took the train so they could feel free to get totally wasted without worrying about the ride home. So, afterwards, everyone gathered around to look at my ride, since it was the only game in town.

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Blame where blame is due

According to University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen(registration required):

The people of Iraq are better off without Saddam Hussein's despised regime, but that does not prove our benevolent intentions or guarantee that the United States will work to bring meaningful democracy to Iraq.
Jensen's statement is remarkable because at this very moment, thousands of U.S. troops are working tirelessly, and at great risk to their own personal safety, to "bring meaningful democracy to Iraq."

But it's also remarkable because it shows that even a die-hard leftist like Jensen -- someone who opposed not only our going after Saddam, but even our toppling the Taliban after 9-11 -- agrees that "the people of Iraq are better off without Saddam."

A fine sentiment, Professor, but Saddam was not about to leave on his own. He was a dictator for life, and nothing short of U.S. military intervention would have done the trick.

And it did. We removed Saddam with great rapidity and success. His regime fell in record time; while Bush's swaggering appearance on an aircraft carrier with a "Mission Accomplished" banner spread behind him reeked of hubris, it was in fact a mission that had been accomplished: Saddam Hussein no longer ruled Iraq. A few months later, he was famously pulled from his spider hole and now waits to stand trial by the very Iraqis he once oppressed.

Yet since Saddam's fall, loose-knit gangs of "insurgents" -- including ex-Baathists, anti-democracy Islamists, and foreign fighters from Iran, Syria, and elsewhere -- have continued to attack American troops and Iraqi civillians alike with a bloody wave of bombings, decapitations, and shootings. And as the toll of American and Iraqi casualties mounts, the Left knows who to blame: Bush.


Why not blame the actual people who are carrying out these terrorist attacks?

Why do we do not hear the Left cry out: "Damn those insurgents! If only they would cease their pointless attacks, Iraqis could live in peace and freedom, and our troops could come home."

The answer seems to be that Left views the insurgents as a force of nature, not as a group of individual human beings capable of making moral decisions. The terrorist who bombs a police station or beheads an elderly relief worker is not to blame for his actions -- it's just a given that he'll turn to violence when Americans are afoot, as surely as the night follows the day.

So instead of despising the insurgency for launching a needless murder spree, the Left blames Bush for stirring up trouble. We didn't have to go into Iraq, goes the thinking. We could have stayed home, after all.

To me, this seems about as right as blaming a rape vicitm for walking by herself late at night: She was asking for trouble, walking around like that. She could have stayed home.

I doubt you'd hear such an argument from the likes of Prof. Jensen. The correct response to the crime of rape is to punish the rapist. And the correct response to the insurgency is to crush it decisively -- not to attack Bush for having done the right thing by removing Saddam.

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You can't board it

While my girlfriend is at the office on this overcast Sunday, revising a massive presentation due tomorrow, I am watching her ("our") dog, Peana. Here's the little fuzzball at the computer, helping me blog:

I am trying to get Peana to enjoy riding on the motorcycle, but so far we have to zip her all the way into her carrier bag or she freaks out.

Eventually, if she gets used to it and starts hanging her head out in the breeze as all dogs are genetically designed to do, I want to hook her up with a pair of these.

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Motorcycle Safety Alert

When riding your motorcycle, do not carry your 18-month-old daughter.

If you must carry your 18-month-old daughter while riding your motorcycle, keep well away from the strings of flying kites.

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Forks? We don't need no steenkin' forks!

The import price on these babies into Japan is about $45,000, so I won't be picking one up as a second ride any time soon.

But you have to admit, a motorcycle with no front fork is pretty cool.

Bimota has been making forkless models for a while now, and they apparently are behind this one as well, which is based on their Tesi model.

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Relationships are compromises

I like big, bad motorcyles. My girlfriend likes cute little dogs. How can we find a common interest? I think this site has the answer.

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Advances in Pillow Technology

A Japanese company has developed a new pillow shaped like... well, just check it out for yourself.

It's innovations like this that have made Japan a world economic leader.

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Ministry of Truth update

Ultra-PC "news" service Reuters naturally could never accuse those peace-lovin' Muslims of any wrongdoing.

So when it had to refer in a recent article to the riots by Nigerian Muslims against the 2002 Miss World beauty pageant, they became "Muslim-Christian riots".

A more detailed description of the riots is found in this 2002 CNN news story:

Angry mobs in the mainly Muslim city 600 kilometres (375 miles) northwest of Lagos burnt Christian churches and rampaged through the streets stabbing, bludgeoning and burning bystanders to death.

...Schools and shops hurriedly closed as hordes of young men, shouting "Allahu Akhbar," or "God is great," ignited makeshift street barricades made of tires and garbage, sending plumes of black smoke rising above the city. Others were heard chanting, "Down with beauty" and "Miss World is sin."
It's true that Christians were involved. Mainly, they were being killed by the Muslims.

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Thoughts about "The Incredibles"

A bad movie, I forget about right away. A good movie makes me think about the issues it raises. And The Incredibles is very good. So, some thoughts:


(1) What's the deal with Jack-Jack's powers at the end? If he can change the substance of his body, then he should always look like a baby, albeit one made out of fire, metal, or what have you. If he can change his shape, then sure, he could turn into a demon, but he would always be flesh and blood. Jack-Jack seems to be able to change his substance AND his shape. This seems like one power too many and lacks a certain aesthetic integrity.

(2) The movie ultimately lacks the courage of its convictions with respect to Dash. If it's OK for him to use his powers, he should compete in the track meet at full speed. If not, he shouldn't be competing. Instead, his parents tell him to compete, but to make it look like he doesn't really have any powers.

In a sense, this is cheating. At the very least, it's dishonest, since the other kids don't know they are racing against a superhero. I would have liked a scene where his parents explain to him that the essence of competing is to challenge yourself, and that racing against normal kids when you can run at supersonic speeds is no challenge. The final competition could have been archery, or shotput, or the high jump, or any event where speed is not an advantage and Dash would have actually been forced to push himself to his limits to challenge the other participants.

(3) While you could argue that it was morally just for Syndrome to die, given that he had killed off numerous superheroes and put hundreds, if not thousands of people in jeopardy by attacking the city, his death is surely a real loss. The technologies he developed could have helped millions of people. "Zero-point energy" would come in really handy in constructing buildings, for example. Flying boots might help the handicapped to be more mobile. And there's no telling what this guy could have come up with next.

I would have liked a scene where Mr. Incredible tries to tell Syndrome how respected he would be if only he used his inventions for good. (Of course, Syndrome would angrily reject such a notion. But he should at least be presented with the idea.)

(4) Bomb Voyage, Syndrome, The Underminer -- why is every single supervillain in the movie dependent on technology or inventions, instead of innate super powers? Is this a Luddite warning against the evils of technology? Why don't any super-beings use their powers for evil?

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On planning ahead

If you are going to take the Level 1 CFA examination, it is highly advisable not to wait until the week before to start studying.


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Here is my Honda X-4, nicknamed "Denise" -- because there was a Denny's near the bike shop where I had lunch right after I bought it.

"Denny's" sounds kinda like "Denise", and I didn't want to name my bike after a guy (not that there's anything wrong with that).

I have spent about as much customizing Denise as I originally did to buy her in the first place, and there is more customizing goodness ahead. (No, I'm not addicted. I can stop any time I want. Really.)

The custom work to date includes:

Striker full exhaust (came with the bike used)
Quantum PB-Twin rear suspension
Over swingarm with stablizer
PMC side covers (to make room for the Quantums)
Krauser K5 top case
Honda CB-1300 wheels (came with the bike used)
Phase race steps with Coerce tandem kit
Active knee grip plates
Motor-Partner radiator screen
N Project bikini cowl with grill
Active fenderless kit
Posh rear signal lights
Moto Fizz drink holder
Moto Fizz cell phone holder
Napoleon mirrors
Daytona Cozy Seat
License plate frame
X4 tank art(came with the bike used)
Black paint on various parts

Upcoming plans include:
WP Suspension ROMA inverted front forks
Marchesini forged aluminum wheels
Works Drag'On 4-into-1 full exhaust
HID headlight
Brembo brakes
Limiter cut
Engine/carb overhaul

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