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Golden opportunity

Yesterday was Green Day in Japan, when the nation celebrates Billie Joe Armstrong's unique brand of punk-pop former Emperor Hirohito's birthday. After he died in 1989, the day was renamed "Green Day", because Hirohito was a nature lover.

Green Day (a straight translation of the Japanese midori no hi, but also known as "Greenery Day") kicks off Golden Week, when everyone in Japan simultaneously decides to go somewhere else. It's kind of like Thanksgiving in terms of how crowded the trains and planes get.

Naturally, I'll be traveling by bike. My girlfriend and I are taking our dog to this pet-friendly beach at Shimoda today; it'll be the dog's first long motorcycle trip. Later in the week, I might go on a group ride with the Club X-4 crew.

Blogging may be a little light due to my being on the road, but I'll try to keep posting somehow.

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Ladies first

On jam-packed Japanese commuter trains, women are often the victims of chikan, or guys grabbing a feel. The trains can be so crowded that it's difficult or impossible for the woman to get away, or even to identify who's fondling her.

In response to this problem, some train lines set aside certain cars on rush-hour trains for women only. JR West has offered women-only cars in the Osaka area for several years. And JR East recently barred men from the first car of morning rush-hour trains on its infamous Saikyo line. The Asahi Shimbun reports:

The JR Saikyo Line is notorious for its higher than average population of gropers. This month, JR created a "women only" car during morning rush hour. The first car on each 10-car train is off-limits to men.
Of course, the first car on each train is also the first to crash in an accident, like Monday's deadly derailment on JR West's Fukuchiyama line, when a train jumped the tracks and smashed into an apartment building. And it had a women-only car. The Mainichi Daily News quotes passenger Sadao Hayashi:
"There were screams inside the carriage, and bags were lying everywhere. From the left window I could see a women-only carriage that had toppled over, and some women couldn't move. There were lots of injured people."
The Mainichi reports that of the 106 deaths in Monday's crash, 47 were women and 59 were men. Apparently, the derailed train's women-only car was not in the lead position. It would have been ironic indeed if an attempt to protect female passengers had instead sent even more of them to their deaths.

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Over my dead body

A reader passes along the following news item from Australia's Herald Sun:

A THIEF who stole a motorbike involved in a fatal accident would have walked past the dead rider's body to steal it, a policeman said.

Chris Cowton, 21, from Morwell died riding his Yamaha WR250 early last Saturday.

...Sgt Allan said the thief could not have missed Mr Cowton's body, which was only metres away.
Strolling past someone's dead body to steal his bike is pretty low. I can't think of a surer way to invite karmic retribution from the motorcycle gods.

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Wire reports

NOTE: Welcome, Jawa Report readers! And thanks for the link, Rusty.

I want to emphasize that I don't claim to know for sure whether Haj Ali was given electric shocks. We have the Taguba report saying the wires were dead, and Haj Ali saying they were live. One of them is wrong, but which one remains unproven. However, PBS does not appear to even acknowledge the contradiction, instead taking Ali's claim that the wires were live at face value.

Via LGF, notes that the PBS newsmagazine show "Now" is running an interview with Haj Ali Shallal Abbas, a former member of Sadaam Hussein's Baath party. He claims to be the man in the infamous Abu Ghraib photo of a prisoner wearing a black hood, standing on a box and holding wires in his hands:

"I remember the box, the pipes, even the two wires," Haj Ali says in reference to the photo which, with others like it, showed the world how U.S. soldiers were abusing Iraqi inmates.

"They made me stand on a box with my hands hooked to wires and shocked me with electricity," Ali recalls through an interpreter in his first in-depth American TV interview. "It felt like my eyeballs were coming out of their sockets. I fell, and they put me back up again for more."
Sounds horrifying, but CBS and the Associated Press reported, when the Abu Ghraib photos were first aired on "60 Minutes II" a year ago, that the wires were not hooked up to an electrical source:
One of the photos showed a hooded prisoner standing on a box with wires attached to his hands. CBS reported the prisoner was told that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted, although in reality the wires were not connected to a power supply.
Indeed, U.S. Army Major General Antonio Taguba's 53-page report on Abu Ghraib, despite listing numerous specific examples of extreme inmate abuse, including beatings, sodomy, and dog bites, nevertheless found that the wires shown in the photo were used only "to simulate electric torture."

And Haj Ali's story has evolved over time. In an August 8, 2004 interview with ABC News, he never mentioned the hood photo, or being electrocuted. Then, in January 2005, he told Vanity Fair that he was the man in the hood, and was given electric shocks as well. As the Daily Mirror noted, that was the first time he had made such a claim.

Abu Ghraib was bad enough without piling false allegations on top of what actually happened. So, were CBS and Taguba mistaken? Is Haj Ali telling the truth?

Apparently it doesn't matter to PBS, as long as his story reflects badly on the U.S. occupation. That may be why Ken Ferree, the new head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, thinks PBS could stand a little improvement.

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Day 2 of Ilario Pantano's Article 32 hearing

In an unexpected development during Day 2 of Marine Lt. Ilario Pantano's Article 32 pretrial proceeding, Marine Sgt. Daniel Coburn, a key witness against Pantano, was pulled from the witness stand. Coburn is in trouble of his own, for violating orders not to talk to the media about the case.

The Associated Press reports:

Marine Sgt. Daniel Coburn was testifying at a hearing in the case against 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano when the investigating officer, Maj. Mark E. Winn, read him his rights and told him he was suspected of violating orders from superior officers.

Coburn left the courtroom after requesting a lawyer.

Defense lawyers had complained that Coburn had given interviews about the case to ABC News, the Daily News of New York and New York magazine even after being ordered not to do so.
Coburn's actions may have undermined his credibility, but with other evidence and testimony against Pantano on the record, that probably won't be enough to prevent a full court-martial.

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Maggie Gyllenhaal blames America for 9-11

At last Friday's TriBeCa Film Festival. New York actress Maggie Gyllenhaal cleared up the common misconception that 9-11 was all about the terrorist murder of thousands of Americans. According to Maggie, America got what it deserved.

NY1 reports her comments:

I think what's good about the movie is that it deals with 9/11 in such a subtle, open, open way that I think it allows it to be more complicated than just "Oh, look at these poor New Yorkers and how hard it was for them," because I think America has done reprehensible things and is responsible in some way and so I think the delicacy with which it's dealt with allows that to sort of creep in.
Ah, yes. More complicated. Subtle. Nuanced, even, you might say.

But actually, the position of Gyllenhaal and her ilk is quite simple and straightforward: When America attacks someone else, that's America's fault. And when America is attacked by someone else, that's also America's fault.

It's always America's fault.

Nick at Conservative Dialysis notes that Gyllenhaal has, through her publicist, issued a "clarification" of her views:
9/11 was a terrible tragedy and of course it goes without saying that I grieve along with every American for everyone who suffered and everyone who died in the catastrophe. But for those of us who were spared, it was also an occasion to be brave enough to ask some serious questions about America's role in the world. Because it is always useful, as individuals or nations to ask how we may have knowingly or unknowingly contributed to this conflict. Not to have the courage to ask these questions of ourselves is to betray the victims of 9/11.
So, if Americans don't blame themselves for 9-11, they betray the victims of 9-11. I see.

Gyllenhaal would've been fine if she had snapped her trap after the first sentence. But she just couldn't help herself, going on to illustrate another key liberal principle: Any expression of sorrow over 9-11 must be followed by "But..."

Maggie, this is from one New Yorker to another: You can take your boilerplate statement of grief, your patronizing lecture on how to be brave, and your whole cut-rate Ward Churchill routine, and shove it.

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Day 1 of Ilario Pantano's Article 32 hearing

The Associated Press reports on Day 1 of Lt. Ilario Pantano's Article 32 proceeding, which will determine whether he faces a full court-martial for shooting two Iraqi insurgents.

There were no real surprises in the courtroom, although testimony from "Corporal O", an anonymous Marine witness, seemed to undercut Pantano's claim that he shot the Iraqis in self-defense:

"Corporal O," described as a cook working to be an Arabic linguist, said the men were scared and claimed to be visiting family in the residence. After the shooting, he testified, the men "looked like they were on their knees. They were shot in the backs."
It's important to bear in mind that the standard of proof in an Article 32 proceeding is a lot lower than it would be in an actual court-martial. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Marines need only show that "reasonable grounds" exist to believe Pantano committed the crimes of which he is accused — not that he actually committed them.

In other words, it's quite possible that Pantano could be court-martialled after the Article 32 hearing, yet go on to be found not guilty. But things certainly aren't looking great for him right now.

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Getting in touch with my inner Beavis

If you open up the Associated Press website as a separate tab in Firefox, and you have the right number of other tabs open, you get the following display:

Which, I think, clearly calls for one of these:
Stay tuned for more sophisticated, insightful analysis and commentary, right here at Riding Sun.

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Conservative biker shaking up PBS

In last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Deborah Solomon interviews Ken Ferree, the new head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). CPB is a government-funded nonprofit that supports television's Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), as well as National Public Radio (NPR). Ferree is a Republican who rides motorcycles.

You have to read the whole thing to really appreciate Solomon's snide tone toward Ferree, who has the gall to suggest that maybe public television and radio shouldn't cater quite so exclusively to a liberal audience. Referring to Ferree's predecessor, Kathleen Cox, getting fired "supposedly because she had incurred the wrath of conservative groups," Solomon (in italics) kicks off the following exchange:

Do you worry that these sorts of incidents will alienate the old left-leaning PBS loyalists?

Well, maybe we can attract some new viewers.

You mean viewers who are more conservative?

Yeah! I would hope that in the long run we can attract new viewers, and we shouldn't limit ourselves to a particular demographic. Does public television belong to the Democrats?
Later on, Ferree says PBS's political commentary show "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" just isn't compelling in the Internet age:
Yes, Lehrer is good, but I don't watch a lot of broadcast news. The problem for me is that I do the Internet news stuff all day long, so by the time I get to the Lehrer's slow.

For the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, you don't sound like much of a PBS viewer.
Which, of course, is exactly the kind of person PBS should be listening to if it wants to expand its audience. But Solomon presses on, wondering if Ferree is maybe just more of a radio man:
Perhaps you prefer NPR, which your organization also finances?

No. I do not get a lot of public radio for one simple reason. I commute to work on my motorcycle, and there is no radio access.

Can't you install a radio on a motorcycle and listen with headphones?

One probably can. But my bikes are real cruisers. They're stripped down deliberately to look cool, and I don't want all that electronic gear.
By this point in the interview, it sounds like Ferree is having a bit of fun with Solomon: "Gee, Deb, I'd really like to listen to NPR, but not if it means my bike won't look cool."

I have a hunch that even if Ferree did have a radio on his bike, NPR wouldn't be his first choice of listening material.

(A Riding Sun throttle-blip to Joefish for the tip.)

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Why I commute by motorcycle, pt. IV

NOTE: The previous posts in this series are here: (1), (2), (3).

Reuters reports that the death toll in yesterday's train crash in Amagasaki, Japan (near Osaka) has risen to 73.

The, train, packed with commuters, jumped the tracks yesterday and smashed into an apartment complex. ABC Radio Australia reports that driver error was the likely cause:
Authorities believe the train's 23-year-old driver was speeding and failed to negotiate a corner, throwing four of the train's seven carriages from the tracks in Amagasaki, 500 kilometres south-west of the capital, Tokyo.

The train, which was carrying some 580 passengers in Monday morning's rush hour, was running late after the driver missed a station and had to back up to let off passengers.
A friend of mine says that riding a motorcycle is "taking your life in your own hands". Well, yeah. That's exactly where I want it — not in the hands of some slacker kid who's having a bad day.

I may get hit on my bike someday, but if I do, it'll be because of some mistake I made, even if that mistake is nothing more than watching out for other drivers doing stupid things.

The 73 dead and hundreds of injured passengers on that train, on the other hand, were powerless to avoid their fate.

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Turning the tables

I was wondering when this would happen: Japan has decided to take a careful look at some Chinese history textbooks. The Associated Press reports:

Chinese textbooks are "extreme" in their interpretation of history, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said Sunday, a day after China's president demanded Tokyo do more to improve relations damaged by new Japanese textbooks that allegedly whitewash wartime atrocities.

..."From the perspective of a Japanese person, Chinese textbooks appear to teach that everything the Chinese government has done has been correct," Machimura said on a TV Asahi talk show. "There is a tendency toward this in any country, but the Chinese textbooks are extreme in they way they uniformly convey the 'our country is correct' perspective."

...Machimura said Tokyo would officially inform Beijing what it thought of China's textbooks after it fully reviews them. Machimura said Tang Jiaxuan, China's state councilor and a former foreign minister, had invited him to do so during a recent discussion about teaching history.
I'm sure China is eagerly awaiting Machimura's full report. Any bets on how long it takes for China to condemn his intrusion into its "internal affairs"?

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Business trumps politics in China

One sign that China's anti-Japan demonstrations are mere political posturing: Japanese-Chinese joint ventures are humming along, with no signs of strife. Reuters reports:

Despite calls from protesters for a boycott of Japanese goods, Guangzhou Honda, a 50/50 venture between Honda Motor Co. and Guangzhou Motors Group Co., shows no sign of backing away from its leap into the China market.

..."Our production is stable, everything is as usual here, including production and sales," said a Honda public relations official surnamed Yang.

He said Honda's Accord was still the country's most popular sedan, selling at a premium, with a long waiting list for buyers.

The workers at Guangzhou Honda, one of a string of car plants lining the route in an industrial suburb, say their bosses have not mentioned the anti-Japan movement.
China's leadership may occasionally find it useful to demonize Japan, but at the end of the day, business is business.

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I saw the following particularly vivid warning sign at a local construction site:

The text in the yellow box means, roughly, "DON'T GO UNDER HANGING LOADS". Especially ones with fearsome eyes and long claws.

If you want to check out more Japanese warning signs, photographer Juergen Specht has lots of others in this gallery on his fascinating website.

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Solar-powered scooter

Reader Don Dunklee is doing his part to save the environment and free America from dependence on foreign oil. He's rigged up his EVT-4000E electric scooter to run on solar power:

Some details, from Don's email:
After construction, there is no cost to operate this small vehicle. No fuel purchased, no pollution, no transfer of pollution by plugging in.

...Plan is to ride to work and park bike, fold out panels. At end of day, fold panels and drive home. The charging is working flawlessly.

...I use about 20% to 25% of the charge riding to work and back. The math shows that I should seldom have to plug the bike in for charging (option still available during extended cloudy days).

Not a speed demon, however a dependable mode of transportation. I have 1,008 miles on the odometer. This is the first step to building a bit bigger bike based around solar panels for charging.
I can't wait to see the next version, Don. More power to you.

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Japan's tone-deaf diplomacy

Recently, China and Korea have expressed outrage at a new Japanese history textbook that glosses over Japanese wartime atrocities, and at Japanese politicians visiting Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are honored along with the rest of Japan's war dead.

Springing into action, Japan's prime minister Junichiro Koizumi issued an apology yesterday for his country's past actions that hit all the right notes. The Mainichi Daily News reports:

"Our country caused huge damage and pain to many countries, especially our Asian neighbors, through colonial rule and aggression, " Koizumi said.

..."We humbly face historical facts. Through deep regret and a heartfelt apology, Japan became an economic superpower after World War II but not a military giant and has maintained a policy of settling any problems peacefully without resorting to armed force," Koizumi said.

"We are determined to contribute to world peace and prosperity, while at the same time place importance on trustful relationships with other countries."
Sounds good, except for a bit of poor timing: On the very same day Koizumi was issuing his apology, 80 other members of Japan's national Diet, most of them from Koizumi's party, were paying a visit to Yasukuni Shrine. The unfortunate juxtaposition of events inspired the following editorial cartoon in Korea's Chosun Ilbo:
In the upper panel, Koizumi issues his apology to Korea; below, the 80 politicians are shown honoring war criminals at Yasukuni Shrine. One of them says, "The prime minister was not available to come here, since he is on a trip."

Japan's bumbling diplomacy plays into cultural sterotypes of Japanese saying one thing but doing another. To put it more delicately, it seems to illustrate the the Japanese concepts of tatemae, the face one presents to the world, and honne, one's true feelings.

But does it really? I personally don't doubt that Koizumi, and almost all Japanese, do honestly regret the harm Japan once inflicted on its Asian neighbors. Surely, its past sixty years of peaceful coexistence with them must go a long way towards proving its sincere rejection of its militarist past. Yet as long as Japan's actions continue to undermine its words, Koizumi's latest apology is unlikely to have an impact any greater than the dozens of other official apologies Japan has issued over the past several decades.

To break this cycle of impotent outrage and empty apology, Japan should do two things:

(1) Set forth a minimum required treatment of certain historical events, such as the Rape of Nanking and the use of comfort women, for all history textbooks. They should be addressed in sufficient detail to provide students an understanding of what really happened. Such texts can still allow Japanese students to take pride in all that their nation has accomplished, and how far it has progressed, since then. Indeed, ignoring Japan's dramatic postwar transformation would be just as misleading as glossing over its wartime actions.

(2) Redefine Yasukuni Shrine (or, perhaps, dedicate a new shrine) as a memorial to all Japanese war dead, without giving special emphasis to military leaders or war criminals. No one can fairly object to a nation honoring its dead. Singling out the architects of Japan's invasion of China and Korea for special honor generates much antipathy toward Japan without providing any particular benefit.

I've written before that China has a lot of nerve criticizing Japan when China itself tolerates no interference in its own "internal affairs". But that doesn't mean China, and Korea, are fundamentally wrong. If only it would take a few key actions, Japan could finally put an end to its decades-long string of apologies. And China and Korea would have to find something else to complain about.

You can't beat primary research. As I learned when I went to Yasukuni yesterday, there is no part of the shrine itself specifically dedicated to the war criminals.

However, their spirits were inducted into the shrine in a separate ceremony some years after the war, which may have given the impression that these men were being accorded a distinctive honor.

Also, there is a war museum practically next door to the shrine that goes into great detail about Japan's military history, including the actions of men like Tojo, from (as might be expected) a very sympathetic perspective.

I'm planning a further post about Yasukuni, but it's going to take a little time.

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Hi-Def DVD rivals heading for compromise

Hallelujah! There may not be a high-definition DVD format war after all. The backers of the two rival next-generation standards, HD-DVD and Blu-ray, have apparently agreed to work out a new, common standard.

The Asahi Shimbun reports:

Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp., which lead the two groups that back Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD, respectively, have started talks to work out a new standard.

The stakes are huge and time is running short.

Sources said the two sides are aiming to reach a compromise within a month. If the agreement comes early enough, products based on a single next-generation format will hit stores in the latter half of the next year.

If not, there could be a repeat of the videocassette bloodletting, when VHS squeezed Betamax out of the market.
While this decision makes eminent sense, I'm frankly amazed that two groups of companies with so much invested in their own proprietary standards could agree to wipe the slate clean and start all over again on common ground.

While both groups will have to write off some wasted investment in scrapped standards if this new plan goes ahead, they should both ultimately benefit from the massive scale of the single, broad market they will be creating. But the real winners will be consumers, who won't have to worry about choosing between two incompatible formats for the latest hardware and software. Every now and then, the little guy wins.

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Paying the Kyoto Protocol price

Japan is learning that after the fun of pretending you're saving the world, comes the drudgery of living up to your pointless promises. The Asahi Shimbun reports:

Shut off the lights when you leave the room! Get out of the shower, now! Turn off that TV! Turn that air conditioner down! Put on a sweater if you're cold!

Sounds like dad and mom in a bad mood, right?

Nope, it's just Big Brother, with the Kyoto Protocol on his mind.

The international pact aimed at curbing global warming went into force in February. So, the government finds itself under pressure to fulfill its commitment of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 6 percent below Japan's 1990 level by 2008 to 2012.

Since every little bit counts, the Environment Ministry has decided that households should do their part to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. Officials have even come up with a 3-billion-yen advertising blitz that will start this spring. With its helpful tips, the ministry hopes to wean individuals from their energy-wasting ways.

...As part of the campaign, the ministry will call on individuals to sweat for the cause: People should dress for the summer weather and preset air-conditioner temperatures higher at home and the workplace, officials said.
No word on whether the Environmental Ministry itself is planning on cutting back its own energy use. Generally, rule-makers in any nation tend to feel that their own actions should be exempt from the restrictions they place on the common folk.

As it turns out, the Mainichi Daily News reports that Japan's ministers and politicians are going to lead by example on this one. So they're not being hypocritical, just pointless.

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How to read the news, Liberal-style

Sample story 1 (Associated Press, April 21):

Missile Fire Downs Iraq Chopper; 11 Dead

A commercial helicopter was shot down by missile fire north of the Iraqi capital Thursday, killing 11 people, including six American contractors, officials said.

Bulgaria's Defense Ministry said the Russian-made helicopter was downed by missile fire and the victims included a three-member Bulgarian crew.
The Liberal interpretation:
The fact that Americans are still being killed by militants in Iraq shows that Bush's so-called "War on Terror" is a dismal failure.

Sample story 2 (BBC, April 21):
Twelve Afghan 'militants' killed

At least 12 suspected militants have been killed in a clash with US-led coalition troops in south-eastern Afghanistan, the US military says.

The incident happened when militants launched a rocket attack on an American base in Khost province, close to the Pakistani border, the military said.
The Liberal interpretation:
The fact that Americans are still killing militants in Afghanistan shows that Bush's so-called "War on Terror" is a dismal failure.

(Bonus points: Note the BBC's use of skepticism-quotes around the word "militants". This practice underscores the fact that someone who launches a rocket attack on a military base is not necessarily a militant.)

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China warns Pope on Taiwan, religious freedom

In a previous post, I noted that China once claimed the Vatican's selection of new Catholic saints was part of China's "internal affairs". (No, really, I'm serious.)

Now, China is once again demonstrating that it thinks the Holy See's diplomatic policies require its approval. The International Herald Tribune reports:

China wasted little time before warning the new pope, Benedict XVI, on Wednesday that the Vatican and China could establish formal relations only if the Vatican dissolved its diplomatic links with Taiwan and promised not to "interfere in China's internal affairs."

The statement signaled that China was unlikely to make any concessions soon that would open the way for formal ties between China and the Vatican.

"We are willing to improve relations with the Vatican on the basis of two principles," said the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Qin Gang, in a statement congratulating Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on his election as pope. Qin said the Vatican must sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan and "acknowledge that the People's Republic of China is China's sole legitimate government." China regards Taiwan as a renegade province. Qin added that "the Vatican cannot interfere in China's internal affairs, including interference in the name of religious matters."
That doesn't sound like a very good deal for the Vatican: Break off ties with Taiwan, where Catholicism is practiced freely by some 300,000 people, and defer to China, where only state-approved churches are permitted. Indeed, the Vatican recognizes Taiwan precisely because China's communist government expelled the Roman Catholic Church in 1951.

Japan Today reports on what this means for practicing Catholics:
China's Roman Catholics are divided into two churches — the government-approved "patriotic" church which does not recognize the Vatican, and the underground church where adherents accept the pontiff as leader.

...Those that recognise the pope sometimes risk severe consequences, with Catholics routinely detained for weeks at a time for inviting friends to worship at home. Priests have been sentenced to years in jail.
I hope Benedict XVI shows communist regimes the same defiance that his predecessor did.

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New York magazine on Ilario Pantano

If you're following the story of Ilario Pantano, the Marine accused of murdering two insurgents in Iraq, New York magazine has a lengthy, detail-packed article about him in this week's issue.

It starts off quite sympathetic to Pantano, although it certainly also shows why the Marines felt his actions warranted a murder charge. By the end, the writer almost seems to be pitying him and the situation he's ended up in: a warrior at heart whose military career is over, no matter what happens next.

Pantano's Article 32 pretrial hearing, which will determine whether a court-martial is warranted, is scheduled to begin Monday, April 25.

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New York Times: Women don't like sports

I'm a bit late — ok, about nine days late — on this one, but I just read this New York Times article about straight guys meeting up for what the Times calls "man dates".

Times writer Jennifer 8. Lee explains what differentiates a "man date" from just hangin' out:

Simply defined a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports. It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman. ...Taking a walk in the park together is a man date; going for a jog is not. Attending the movie "Friday Night Lights" is a man date, but going to see the Jets play is definitely not.
So, according to the Times, women just aren't that interested in sports. Indeed, a man cannot "reasonably arrange" to go jogging with a woman, or take her to a football game.

Hmm. Makes you wonder why the Times got so worked up about changes to Title IX.

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Clark blames America for Pearl Harbor

When we last checked in on former Australian diplomat and current vice-president of Akita International University Gregory Clark, he was sticking up for the right of Japanese businesses to racially discriminate against foreigners.

Now, Clark is back, commenting on tensions between Japan and its Asian neighbors. He argues that Japan fails to completely distance itself from its wartime past, as Germany has done, because it actually sees itself as a victim of World War II. Attempts to force "war guilt" on Japan, he writes, only embolden its more nationalistic politicians.

An interesting thesis, perhaps, but it soon drowns in Clark's trademark brand of bizzarre assertions and anti-Western rhetoric. He claims Japan was pushed into war by the West, and, in particular, (wait for it...) America:

Even allowing for the emotionalism and ad hoc manner in which Japan conducts much of its diplomacy, it is hard to believe that Tokyo wants deliberately to antagonize its neighbors. Some other factor must be involved, and I suggest that deep down it goes back to Japan's largely unstated view of itself as a victim of obstinacy and insensitivity from others.

In the catalog of Western postwar myths and mistakes toward Asia — that China attacked India in 1962, that the Vietnam War was sponsored by Beijing, that there was a Tiananmen "massacre" — high on the list has to be the naive view that the West had no responsibility for Japan's 1930-40s' push into Asia and its 1941 Pearl Harbor attack.
Wow. It may not be possible to cram more misinformation into a single sentence. Let's look at Clark's first three "myths":

(1)  China attacked India in 1962
After some small skirmishes, Chinese forces launched coordinated attacks against Indian troops on October 20, 1962 and, over the next month, pushed into territory inarguably held by India. Clark apparently takes the view that China was merely responding to Indian provocations in the two countries' disputed border lands. But the disputed border lands only got that way when China repudiated the McMahon line to India's north, and marched into Tibet to its northeast.

(2)  The Vietnam War was sponsored by Beijing
China, along with the Soviet Union, supplied arms to the North Vietnamese. Case closed. In fact, one reason why Nixon tried to improve relations with China was to have China reduce its support for the Viet Cong. It's hard to imagine on what grounds Clark can dispute this. Maybe's he's talking about official advertising sponsorship, like at the Olympics?

(3)  There was a Tiananmen "massacre"
This one is really low, even for Clark. Earlier in the article, he blames the Tiananmen protesters for the violence, saying they "clashed with troops sent to remove the Tiananmen students." And in a previous op-ed, "The Tiananmen Square massacre myth", he claimed the thousands of killings took place just outside Tiananmen Square, rather than in the square itself. This may be technically correct, but surely that makes them no less significant or tragic.

So far, Clark is 0-for-3. Next up, his claim that Western nations drove Japan to invade China and attack Pearl Harbor:
As many Japanese see it, both were the inevitable result of Western pressures.

For centuries the Western powers had been pushing their colonial expansions closer to Japan. But the same powers objected when Japan set out to gain its own colonies nearby, in Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria. Japan's late 1930s' push into China is condemned outright in the West. But many conservative Japanese see it as provoked by Western inspired anti-Japan boycotts and incidents in China going back to the early 1930s.

Racist anti-Japanese policies in the U.S. and Australia during the 1930s rankled deeply. Then came the U.S.-imposed 1941 embargo on exports of needed fuel and raw materials to Japan — a declaration of economic war if ever there was one. The final insults were the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki followed by the flawed Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal passing arbitrary judgments on alleged Japanese war criminals.
Let's give Clark the benefit of the doubt on some amazingly sloppy writing: I don't think he really meant to say that Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the war crimes tribunal led to Pearl Harbor.

But the remainder of his comments are nearly as ludicrous. Japan was "pressured" and "provoked" into invading China, because some Western nations had colonies elsewhere. And Japan was forced to attack Pearl Harbor because the U.S. wouldn't sell it the oil it needed to further extend its empire. That's like a mass murderer saying he had no choice but to shoot a gun shop owner who wouldn't give him more ammo.

Clark expands the culture of personal unaccountability to cover an entire nation. He pins responsibility for Japan's war of aggression on the West, on America, on peer pressure, on racism, on economics — in short, on everything but Japan itself.

Glossing over Japan's past aggressions is one thing. Blaming them on America is quite another.

Interestingly, the idea that WWII's aggressors were actually its victims is gaining ground in Germany.

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We're not sorry, but here's some cash

In the latest twist to China's anti-Japanese protests, a Chinese district has offered to pay damages to Japanese restaurants damaged by rioters. The Yomiuri Shimbun reports (scroll down):

The Changning District government in Shanghai will compensate Japanese restaurants and shops in the area for damage caused by protesters during Saturday's anti-Japanese demonstration, sources close to the restaurants said Monday.

The Japanese Consulate General in Shanghai, which is located in the district, confirmed the offer, but the Chinese central government in Beijing has not apologized for the damage.
Nice, but an apology would be better. And conducting diplomacy through traditional means, rather than by stage-managing violent protests, would be best of all.

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Victory is mine

I have emerged the winner of Matt's caption contest involving the following photo of a giant stuffed lobster sitting in a tractor's scoop:

Click on through to Matt's blog, Overtaken by Events, for the results.

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A fish called China

After yet another week of China's government-sanctioned anti-Japanese protests in which rioters smashed windows of the Japanese embassy and looted Japanese stores, China is demanding an apology from Japan.

The Scotsman reports:

Japan Should Apologise, Says China

A top Chinese official today blamed Japan for the current diplomatic row between the two countries and demanded an apology from Tokyo.

"The responsibility for the current situation falls on the Japanese side," Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei told reporters, one day after tens of thousands demonstrated against Japan in at least six Chinese cities.

..."It shouldn’t be us who should apologise," Wu said. "It is Japan who should apologise."
China's aggressive, yet petulant behavior reminds me of the following dialogue from A Fish Called Wanda, with China as the thuggish, psychopathic Otto and Japan playing well-mannered barrister Archie:
OTTO:  Apologize!

ARCHIE:  Are you totally deranged?

OTTO:  You pompous, stuck-up, snot-nosed, English, giant, twerp, scumbag, f**kface, dickhead, a**hole!

ARCHIE:  How very interesting. You're a true vulgarian, aren't you?

OTTO:  You're the vulgarian, you f**k! Now apologize.

ARCHIE:  What... me to you?

OTTO:  Apologize.
I just hope the current situation doesn't play out like the rest of that scene.

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Ripped from today's tomorrow's headlines

CNN reports that Chaos Theory, the latest in the Tom Clancy-inspired Splinter Cell line of games, "involves rising tensions between Japan, China and North Korea."

Chaos Theory was released at the end of March, but the game was in development for two and a half years.

So back in late 2002, while the entire world was focused on the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, Clint Hocking, the game's creative director, must have asked himself: "Hmm... what'll be hot in a couple of years? How about Japan and China?"

Man, he's good.

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No offense

Jigokudani-yaenkoen is a Japanese natural park that's home to a number of wild snow monkeys. It's fun to watch them hanging around and soaking in the area's hot springs.

The park's English-language website offers this helpful advice on telling the monkeys apart:

It's very difficult to distinguish monkey's face, like we can't memorize foreigner's face. But, if you keep up to observe them, it's become easier and easier to distinguish their face.
In that last sentence, I think they're talking about monkeys, not foreigners, but I'm not sure.

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General Tso's chickens coming home to roost

Despite previous complaints from Japan, China continues to encourage anti-Japanese protests throughout the country. The Associated Press reports:

About 20,000 anti-Japanese protesters — some shouting “kill the Japanese” — rampaged through Shanghai on Saturday, stoning Japan’s consulate and smashing cars and shops in protest over Tokyo’s bid for a permanent U.N. Security Council seat and perceived whitewashing of wartime atrocities.

Thousands of police watched the rioting but did little to restrain the crowd, and Japan filed an official protest, complaining that Chinese authorities failed to stop anti-Japanese violence for a third weekend in a row.
But China's strategy of throwing tantrums to get what it wants may be backfiring. The International Herald Tribune reports that the EU has started dragging its feet on lifting its embargo on selling arms to China:
Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for Javier Solana, the EU's chief diplomat, said: "The timeline that we had in mind has bumped into several difficulties. The most important is the anti-secession law, and also relations between China and Japan." She referred to a new Chinese anti-secession law aimed at Taiwan and to rising tensions between China and Japan.
Of course, the EU is also concerned about American opposition to lifting the embargo. But China's recent behavior has not done it any favors.

Ian Hamet has posted a remarkable Chinese email message, with English translation, used to organize the Shanghai protest marches. He has other posts on the situation here and here.

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Japanese minimalism, pt. II

NOTE: Welcome, BoingBoing readers! And thanks very much for the link, Cory.

Yamaha has announced the new EC-02, a tiny motorcycle just about powerful enough for scooting around town.

Here's a picture of it I snapped at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show earlier this month. Bear in mind that it's raised up on a pedestal, so it looks larger than actual size:

The "EC" in the name stands for "Electric Commuter", and indeed, this little number is battery-powered. A full 6-hour charge gives you a 25-mile range.

There's even a "concept" model, not available for sale (yet?), that has a special iPod docking cradle, amplifier, and loudspeakers built into the body, with a remote control by the right handle grip:
The EC-02 might be cool, convenient, and eco-friendly, but the less-than-breathtaking top speed of just 19 mph means that bigger streets with faster-moving traffic will be best avoided.

The whole thing weighs just over 100 pounds, and the handlebars fold down for easy storage. (Because it uses no gasoline or oil, it can even be laid flat on its side.) It seems like an updated version of Honda's old Motocompo, although the gas-powered Moto had more oomph. It'll be interesting to see if the electric EC-02 has enough juice to catch on.

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Fair Harvard, pt. II

Hot on the heels of a loutish, disgusting protest by current Harvard students, Matthew Yglesias, Harvard Class of 2003, offers his nuanced evaluation of the repeal of the estate tax:

Speaking of which, f**k the small businessman.
Okay, so that little snippet (which I've cleaned up for family viewing) isn't the entire text of his post, but the rest is hardly more cogent. Yglesias essentially argues that someone who inherits a business should pay income tax on the value of that business, because, hey, that's just what you do when you inherit a business:
I might be an earnest, hardworking dude who works in the store. And somebody might die and give the store to me. The store may be worth millions and millions of dollars. If so, I ought to pay tax on it. Why? Because I've just inherited millions and millions of dollars, that's why.
On the basis of the above rhetoric, Yglesias is ready to become a father. When his future kids ask why they can't do something, he'll be able to tell them, "Because I said so, that's why."

The irredeemably curious among us, however, are still wondering why the government should tax the same money once when someone earns it, and then once again when he gives it to his children. "You took your bite out of my earnings, Uncle Sam," I'm inclined to think, "and now the rest of it is mine to do with as I please." For many people, that includes giving it to their children.

To say that such money is now "new" income to the child, not the same "old" income earned by the parent, is not only to engage in semantics, it is to say, ultimately, that no one ever really owns anything outright. Letting the taxman hover inside the family home, ready to seize his share of any lucre that changes hands, undermines the property rights that form the framework of our society.

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Large and in charge

As Keanu might say: Whoa. Just one week after I became a Marauding Marsupial in in the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem of blog rankings, I find I've suddenly risen to Large Mammal status.

I have a hunch this has something to do with my joining the Blogs for Bush blogroll, which occasionally gives me lots of inbound links from other blogroll members. If so, I might not be a Large Mammal for long. We'll see...

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What's in China's own history textbooks?

In a previous post, I wondered how accurately China's own textbooks depict history, given that it's been kicking up such a fuss over the ones used in Japan.

This article from Agence France-Presse has the unsurprising answer:

While learning materials in Chinese high schools take special pains to outline Japanese aggression beginning with the 1874 invasion of Taiwan, China’s involvement in the 1950-53 Korea war is dismissed in one sentence.

At the same time such are the holes in modern Chinese history that the average mainland college graduate still believes China is a "peaceful country" which has fought wars only in self-defense.

Completely absent from textbooks is China’s 1951 invasion and subsequent colonisation of an independent Tibet. Erased too is the 1962 attack on India and the ill-fated 1979 incursion into Vietnam.
Okay, so they're a little sketchy on foreign policy. How do they handle China's past "internal affairs"?
But even when it comes to China’s domestic history students know shockingly little about the deaths of tens of millions that resulted from Mao Zedong’s ill-conceived Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution.

Despite changes that apportion Mao with greater blame for the tragedies, texts still gloss them over because in China "textbooks represent the will of the authorities", says Shanghai Normal University history professor Su Zhiliang.
Why doesn't China put out more accurate textbooks? Professor Min has the answer:
"If you expose the mistakes the Communist Party of China has made all at once, people will probably doubt whether the communist party is needed any more and whether the state could fracture like the former Soviet Union," Min says.
Well, yeah. That's what's called "learning from history". Min and his 1.3 billion comrades, on the other hand, appear condemned to repeat it.

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China: The Saudi Arabia of Asia

Writing over at Japundit about China's encouragement of anti-Japanese riots, Ampotan makes an analogy that's so perfectly apt, I'm surprised I can't remember hearing it before:

Why would the Chinese government be interested in arousing and channeling popular emotion?

For starters, the same reason Middle Eastern despots over the years aroused and channeled popular discontent by allowing demonstrations against America and Israel — to deflect attention from their own brutal anti-democratic regimes.

Channeling the anger over a lack of political power against foreign elements is a good way to prevent the focus from falling on oneself.
That pretty much nails it.

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Food Force cheat codes

Most people haven't even played the new UN videogame Food Force yet. But Riding Sun's top-notch hackers have already uncovered some of its hidden "cheat codes":

    Unlimited funds
100 new Toyota Land Cruisers
Boost morale +50%
Immobilize opponents
No time limit
Advance 5 experience levels
Skip to the next mission
Just type 'em in, and you'll have world hunger licked in no time.

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Introducing the wholphin

For all you Napoleon Dynamite fans out there still talking about ligers, get ready for the hot new animal blend — the wholphin.

The Associated Press reports:

The world's only known whale-dolphin hybrid has given birth to a playful female calf, officials at Sea Life Park Hawaii said Thursday.

...The young as-yet unnamed wholphin is one-fourth false killer whale and three-fourths Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. Her slick skin is an even blend of a dolphin's light gray and the black coloring of a false killer whale.
The baby wholphin is already stirring debate in the international scientific community. American marine biologists argue the creature belongs in genus Tursiops, while their Japanese counterparts feel it should go for ¥380 a plate.

The Houston Chronicle picks up the fast-breaking wholphin story, and includes a picture:
The mom, 19-year-old Kekaimalu, is to the right, while her baby swims happily alongside.

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Fair Harvard

As Crimson editorial editor Elise M. Stefanik reported this past Wednesday, leftist political arguments are no more sophisticated at Harvard than they are anywhere else.

Stefanik attended a panel discussion on counterterrorism hosted by Harvard's Office of Career Services; on the panel were representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

As she explains, the anti-Bush left showed up and started (or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, continued) acting like whiny, infantile brats:

The propagandists’ techniques of disruption varied: their base tactics ranged from coughing incessantly to the point where none of the panelists could be heard, interrupting presentations to ask ludicrous questions such as “Isn’t it true you train your employees to torture,” staging a mock deportation of an ethnic minority protestor midway through the discussion, clapping obnoxiously to halt the dialogue, and ridiculing students who posed legitimate questions to the panelists. A protestor sitting three rows behind me physically made himself vomit.
Vomiting has a long and proud tradition at Harvard, to be sure, but only in the context of trying to drink oneself into a stupor at football games. It has no place in the realm of reasoned political discourse. And neither, it seems, does the radical left.

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Aqua blue hunger force

NOTE: Welcome, Michelle Malkin readers! And thanks very much for linking, Michelle.

The BBC reports on Food Force, a new video game from the United Nations:

Food Force is the brainchild of the World Food Programme (WFP), which last year fed more than 100 million people.

The UN body seeks to capitalise on the popularity of video games to educate youngsters about hunger and the work of the aid agency.

Written for the PC and Mac, the free game is aimed at eight to 13-year-olds for download at
Their file server is busy now — not surprising, since the installer download weighs in at a whopping 227 megabytes. It's somehow fitting that a videogame distributed by the bloated UN bureaucracy is too big to be easily downloadable.

In the meantime, let's check out one of the exciting characters in the game. Here's "Miles":
Age: 39
Nationality: Nigerian
Miles is careful with his money — he only buys the best value — whether it’s his shopping on eBay or buying tonnes of supplies on behalf of WFP.
Yep, sounds like the lean, efficient UN I know. No mention of how much money Miles sets aside for developing fancy videogames.

Some of the game's cheat codes have been discovered!

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Don't leave your motorcycle at the airport

The Bangkok Post reports:

Police yesterday blew up a motorcycle that had been left at Chiang Rai airport for days, as a security precaution.

Atchawit Sornsriwichai, 46, a local plasticsware producer, later told a briefing arranged by police that the motorcycle belonged to him. A British friend had taken it to the airport several days ago and left it there before boarding a flight to Bangkok. Mr Atchawit said he understood authorities needed to ensure passenger safety. He would not demand any compensation.
Maybe not from the airport, but if I were Mr. Atchawit, I'd be hitting up my British "friend" for some cash.

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Spinning the troop reductions

In this post about a recent New York Times report that U.S. troop levels in Iraq could be significantly reduced by early next year, I claimed liberals would say it showed America was "giving up, pulling out too early, letting others clean up the mess we made, abandoning ordinary Iraqis to the insurgents, and so forth."

Longtime reader Big Ben challenged me on it:

Are we going to get a front-page post apology if no major lefty blog makes these criticisms after all?
Well, it's been a few days, so let's see how my prediction is panning out.

Overall, while I did indeed find a number of blogs taking a skeptical view of the potential troop reductions, the reaction was, frankly, not as widespread or blatantly hypocritical as I had suspected it would be. I guess some news is so good it's almost spin-proof. Almost.

Also, much of the skepticism I did find focused on the timetable for troop reductions being a lie, rather than being too early.

First, as a warm-up, let's take a look at some posts from a few days before the Times story ran. On Gorilla Radio Blog (scroll down), Ape thinks claims of a troop reduction, reported April 3 by Al Jazeera, look dubious:
If we are to believe Lt. Gen James Conway of the U.S. Marines, the U.S. may start removing soldiers from Iraq as well, as Iraqis are “starting to take control of their own situation,” or it is hoped they will soon, anyway. Conway may as well wish for a pony.
And Please bring me a glass of water comments on a related story that ran April 8th in Salon:
The troops will probably not decrease. After all, the Gray House has other spots on the globe in its cross hairs. Redeployment, not reduction. The entanglements will grow. The history of empires is like that. We have to wait for the collapse.

The legacy of Bush is war without end.
Moving on to responses to the April 11th Times article I mentioned in my post, Suburban Gorilla compared the Pentagon's statement to an article in British tabloid the Mirror, claiming America will be in Iraq through 2009:
You mean they lied to us?
THE US Army plans to remain in Iraq until at least 2009, secret documents obtained by the Mirror reveal.

Contract tender forms for civilian workers disclose a huge expansion of interrogation and detention centres in Iraq to remain in place for a minimum four more years...
Now, compare and contrast, class:
WASHINGTON, April 10 - Two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the American-led military campaign in Iraq is making enough progress in fighting insurgents and training Iraqi security forces to allow the Pentagon to plan for significant troop reductions by early next year, senior commanders and Pentagon officials say.
Who to believe? Hmmm...
Suburban Gorilla's post was cited by Progressive Blog Digest (scroll down), who calls the planned withdrawals "BS".

Of course, keeping at least some troops in Iraq through 2009 does not contradict the Pentagon's statement that the number of those troops will be sharply reduced in a year's time. Yet Skippy the Bush Kangaroo has even harsher words for Bush:
iraq: still a mess

...the suburban guerrilla notes that although awol's boys have been leaking to the compliant media whores that they will leave iraq soon, internal military documents indicate that they are, in fact, mendacious bags of excrement who plan to stay much longer.
Meanwhile, at Unqualified Offerings (I wonder which definition of "unqualified" he's using), Jim Henley says the Times article is a whitewash:
Me, I like my good news to be news. What the Times article gives us is mostly pious hopes and the assurances of various government employees (Iraqi and American) that they are doing their jobs very well thank you.

...It’s just another in a long line of pep talks about withdrawals we hope to make in the foreseeable future. None of them have come true yet. If this one does, it will be a nice change.
According to Medbh at Medbh Sings, in a real troop reduction, the military stops looking for new recruits:
If the US is pulling out of Iraq in the near future, as some US news stories suggest, then why are these men in our High Schools?????
They're Talking Up Arms

Military recruiters are fortifying their outposts at high schools, hoping a chummy familiarity will entice students to enlist...
For the rest of this disturbing story, click here.
Medbh also mentions the Mirror story.

And Joe Green, commenting over at Western Standard Blog, compares the troop reductions in Iraq to... wait for it... Vietnam:
Here comes the second Saigon Embassy evacuation, this time from Baghdad.

...The people of Spain have learned the hard way, and the people of Britain have learned the hard way. Canada knew it all along. And sooner or later the people of the United States are going to learn the hard way.
Along similar lines, an anonymous commenter at The Raw Story declares:
It is not a mater of IF we cut and run, but WHEN.
As a final note, there may have been less blogging about the Times article than would have otherwise been the case because it was quickly superseded in the blogosphere's collective consciousness by at least three subsequent stories: (1) Iraq's new interim president Jalal Talabani saying the U.S. might be out of Iraq in two years, (2) Poland and other coalition members making their own plans to withdraw from Iraq, and (3) Donald Rumsfeld saying "We don't have an exit strategy [for Iraq], we have a victory strategy."

Each of these stories generated heated responses of its own, but this post has already gone on long enough.

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Hitch not

I've been mildly optimistic about the new Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie coming out April 29. Douglas Adams' book and its sequels, along with The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, were some of the first novels I read as a child. (I thoroughly enjoyed Hitchhiker's, but Tolkien's magnum opus made me feel like I was studying for a history exam.)

However, once I saw how they were handling Zaphod Beeblebrox's second head — it's been reduced to a mere face on his neck — I started to have my doubts. In fact, Hitchhiker's expert and Douglas Adams biographer M.J. Simpson has seen an early cut of the film, and says I shouldn't get my hopes up:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie is bad. Really bad. You just won't believe how vastly, staggeringly, jaw-droppingly bad it is. I mean, you might think that The Phantom Menace was a hopelessly misguided attempt to reinvent a much-loved franchise by people who, though well-intentioned, completely failed to understand what made the original popular — but that's just peanuts to the Hitchhiker's movie.

...It’s not even a good film if viewed as an original work: the characters are unsympathetic, the cast exhibit no chemistry, the direction is pedestrian, the pace plodding, the special effects overpowering (lots and lots of special effects, none of them funny mind you) and above all the script is amazingly, mindbogglingly awful. Oh, and they have taken most of the jokes out.

This is a terrible, terrible film and it makes me want to weep.
Yeesh. At least the old Infocom game was good.

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Everybody loves Israel

Japan and China may disagree about a lot, but Israeli business news site Globes reveals something they have in common:

April 11th:

Israel, Japan to consider homeland security cooperation

Prospects of the first-ever cooperation between Israel and Japan in defense and homeland security exports emerged today during a visit by Minister of Industry, Trade, and Labor Ehud Olmert in Tokyo. Olmert told "Globes" that he had discussed cooperation on matters, which he described as “sensitive,” with Japanese Minister of Defense Yoshinori Ohno.
April 12th:
Chinese ambassador sees closer trade and defense ties with Israel

Chinese ambassador to Israel Chen Yonglong has condemned the efforts by the US to choke off trade in arms between Israel and China. He said the two countries had joined together in a strategic partnership that would break into a more glorious dawn.

This is one of the most enthusiastic statements about Israel ever made by China.
Israel's actually not that hard a country to get along with, provided you aren't maniacally bent on its absolute destruction.

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Democrats: Not as gullible as Kerry thinks

In this post, I blogged about failed presidential candidate John F. Kerry's latest excuse for losing the election: that Republican operatives handed out leaflets telling Democrats to vote on November 3rd.

Since then, plenty of bloggers have pointed out that Kerry's claims sound an awful lot like this Onion parody (which I thought had been moved behind their subscribers-only wall, but apparently is viewable free of charge).

However, liberal blogger Bell Curve links to a report of "Vote November 3rd" leaflets actually being distributed to shoppers at the Ross Park Mall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Of course, Kerry won Pennsylvania, so the leaflets had no impact on his overall defeat. In fact, he took 57% of the vote in Pittsburgh's Allegheny County, compared to only 51% of the statewide vote.

Apparently, Democrats have more common sense than Kerry gives them credit for.

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Akira scooter custom kit

Gizmodo links to a Japanese site's report of a custom kit that makes your Honda Fusion scooter resemble Kaneda's futuristic motorcycle from the anime classic Akira:

It's made by Osaka-based custom shop Saitaniya, which was apparently handing out this pamphlet about it at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show, although I didn't get one.

The kit seems pretty lame, since it's essentially a bunch of plastic that you bolt on over your ordinary scooter. (If you look closely at the above photo, you can see the actual tire peeking out from the bottom of the black plastic fake-tire shell.)

Plus, the prices aren't much of a bargain. Even if you already have a Fusion, the kit alone will run you ¥630,000, or about $6,000. A Fusion itself lists for only about $5,000 new.

I'll hold out until we can buy something more like the actual working prototype I posted about here.

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Japan sets minority quotas

It's encouraging to see Japan trying to fight sexism and racism in its culture. It's discouraging to see it doing so in the worst possible way: mandatory hiring quotas. The Yomiuri Shimbun (registration required) reports:

The Education, Science and Technology Ministry will require universities and public research institutions to set quotas for the number of female and non-Japanese researchers at their institutions, according to ministry sources.

There were about 88,000 Japanese female academics and researchers in March 2003, or 11 percent of total Japanese researchers.
Is that disproportionately low compared to the percentage of women among the people applying for research positions? Who knows?
The number of female researchers is increasing, but is the lowest among 30 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member states.
Wow, you mean the number of women hires is already increasing, even without a government program? So why create one?
...Keio University Professor Fumiko Yonezawa, who became the first female president of the Physical Society of Japan in 1996, said: "A quota for minorities is sometimes necessary. Few people in research organizations will publicly oppose it, so the policy will be effective."
Great. As if female and foreign researchers don't already face enough challenges succeeding in a Japanese male-dominated environment, now they'll have the stigma of being mandatory diversity hires.

I'm all for Japan becoming more diverse and tolerant. But affirmative-action quotas are one piece of Western culture it would do well not to borrow.

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You just know how the left will spin this one

It must be getting chilly down in Hell, because the New York Times (motto: "All The News That Fits Our Agenda") is reporting on American successes in Iraq:

WASHINGTON, April 10 - Two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the American-led military campaign in Iraq is making enough progress in fighting insurgents and training Iraqi security forces to allow the Pentagon to plan for significant troop reductions by early next year, senior commanders and Pentagon officials say.

Senior American officers are wary of declaring success too soon against an insurgency they say still has perhaps 12,000 to 20,000 hard-core fighters, plentiful financing and the ability to change tactics quickly to carry out deadly attacks. But there is a consensus emerging among these top officers and other senior defense officials about several positive developing trends, although each carries a cautionary note.
You don't have to be Nostradamus to see this one coming: Lefty blogs far and wide will be claiming this shows the U.S. is giving up, pulling out too early, letting others clean up the mess we made, abandoning ordinary Iraqis to the insurgents, and so forth.

Of course, when the talk was of increased troop levels, they complained about getting in over our heads, needing to reinstate the draft, overextending our armed forces, and a situation that was spiraling out of control.

There's just no pleasing some people.

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The hanami spirit

We've just about come to the end of hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season here in Tokyo. It's traditional to go out to a major park on the weekend and sit under the pink- and white-blossomed cherry trees with your friends while enjoying a picnic lunch. Drinking yourself silly is optional but encouraged.

I went to Shinjuku Gyoen on Sunday and had a great time. But my 1GB memory card decided to get its file structure corrupted, so all the pictures I took there are trapped in techno-limbo until I can figure out how to rescue them. (They show up in the camera, but I can't download them to my computer.)

Anyway, here's a phone-camera picture I took of office workers enjoying lunch outside last Friday:

In a way, I like this picture even better than the weekend ones, since it shows Japan's easygoing hanami spirit conquering its rigidly formal business culture.

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Chinese media not so bad after all

Lately, I've been criticizing China's state-run media for censoring or spinning the news.

But I may have spoken too soon. As long as tenacious Chinese journalists keep going after important stories like this one by Chinanews, they're all right by me:

What are the characteristics of the female figure in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Taipei?

Are women in these cities satisfied with their bodies? An underwear company conducted a survey seeking to answer just such questions.

The results: Beijing women have the biggest chests; Guangzhou women have the slimmest waists; Shanghai women have the firmest breasts; while Taipei women have "hot," well-proportioned figures.

...Shanghai women have the smallest breasts, but the biggest numerical difference between bust size and under bust size. This means that they have the most beautiful, firmest breasts and do not suffer from "thick back".
Only a glaring and unfortunate lack of pictures keeps this article from journalistic perfection.

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Chinese anti-Japan protest roundup

I've posted here and here on the anti-Japan riots in China. For those who want more information, Simon World has a good roundup of other posts on the issue.

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Something fishy at the Japan Times

Finding mistakes in the Japan Times is sort of like meeting someone through a dating service. It's not especially challenging, and you're ashamed to be there in the first place.

But some things are just too big to let slide. In today's editorial, "A Shark Goes Free", the good ol' JT commits a glaring error of marine biology:

An ocean away from here in Monterey Bay, Calif., aquarium officials last week freed a great white shark they had held captive for more than six months, a record for the much-mythologized species. While the creature's release was hailed by animal rights activists, the fact that she had been held at all has added fuel to the long-running debate over the treatment of large marine mammals — a debate that often focuses on Japan.
The shark is referred to as a mammal throughout the piece. But as even little kids know, sharks aren't mammals. They're fish.

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Kerry: Democrats are gullible, easily fooled

Democrats often seem to take it for granted that they're smarter than the average red-state Republican. But according to failed presidential candidate John F. Kerry, it's Democrats, not Bush voters, who come up a bit short in the brains department.

Speaking to a voters' group in Massachusetts over the weekend, Kerry, having already blamed the media, offered up his latest excuse for losing the election: Democrats were tricked into not voting. The Associated Press reports:

Kerry also cited examples Sunday of how people were duped into not voting.

"Leaflets are handed out saying Democrats vote on Wednesday, Republicans vote on Tuesday. People are told in telephone calls that if you've ever had a parking ticket, you're not allowed to vote," he said.
Of course, Kerry offered no evidence that any such leaflets were handed out or phone calls made. But it was a good story, kind of like spending Christmas Eve in Cambodia.

Or was it? Taking Kerry at his word, what he's saying is that Democrats — those paragons of reason and wisdom, who know best what America needs — either didn't know when to vote, or were tricked into staying home.

Not exactly a shining moment for people who think they're superior to the God-fearin' simple folk of Middle America.

I once said I'd stop mocking Kerry when he stops whining about losing the election. Looks like I won't have to quit any time soon.

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Good riots and bad riots

China has given its tacit approval to violent riots over the past two days in which angry mobs attacked the Japanese embassy and Japanese businesses.

But don't think China has suddenly embraced public protests in general. Chinese cops still break up demonstrations when they feel like it — for example, when the rioters are angry not at Japan, but at China itself. And sometimes they even kill a few people in the process. Reuters reports:

BEIJING, April 11 (Reuters) - Thousands of villagers rioted in eastern China injuring dozens of police after two women among about 200 elderly anti-pollution protesters were killed during efforts by police to disperse them, villagers and officials said on Monday.

The rioting in Huankantou village, Huangtianfan township in the wealthy coastal province of Zhejiang, on Sunday coincided with anti-Japanese protests in China's capital Beijing and the southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen over the weekend.

Angry club-wielding villagers clashed with police in riot gear, overturned police cars and hurled rocks at policemen holed up in a local high school, villagers and local officials said by telephone. The women were protesting against pollution from nearby chemical factories.
I wonder why Beijing didn't just ask the protesters to "keep calm and sane", as it did when Japanese targets were under attack.

Danwei says it looks like Chinese officials actually provided special buses to bring protesters to the anti-Japan riots.

And The Horses Mouth says the police cracked down on an anti-Japanese protest in Chengdu, signalling that China may be trying to stop things from getting out of hand.

The New York Times picks up the story, two days later.

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Taiwan kicks out Chinese media

Despite appearances, Riding Sun hasn't turned into a Taiwan- and China-focused blog. But there's a lot of new developments in cross-strait relations these days, and it all bears on Japan's position in Asia.

I posted yesterday about how some Taiwanese politicians are realizing their security interests are best served by turning away from China and aligning with Japan. Today, Taiwan has gone a step further, telling two major Chinese news agencies that their reporters are no longer welcome there. reports:

Two Chinese media organizations will no longer be allowed to station their staff in Taiwan. This new announcement came from the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) which concluded that the news — as presented by the Xinhua News Agency and the People’s Daily newspaper — is not conducive to the enhancement of understanding between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Four years ago, a journalism "exchange program" led to certain Chinese news organizations stationing reporters in Taiwan. But with China escalating its threats against Taiwan, which it views as a renegade province destined for assimilation, that no longer strikes some Taiwanese as a good idea:
"It was China’s enactment of its anti-secession law that made us realize that perhaps it’s time to re-examine cross-strait interactions," said MAC Chairman Joseph Wu.

..."I think this decision comes a little too late. They should have done it on March 14th, when the Chinese first enacted the anti-secession law. But better late than never," said Vice President Annette Lu.
Taiwan's move would still leave three other Chinese news agencies operating there. But it's especially gratifying to see someone point up China's practice of censoring and fabricating the news, while demanding absolute fidelity to the historical record in Japan's school textbooks.

Anyone want to guess how long it will be before China condemns Taiwan's actions as an unacceptable interference in its "internal affairs"?

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Taiwanese politicians getting the picture

While many of their countrymen are joining in China's denunciation of Japan for history textbooks that gloss over Japanese wartime atrocities, some Taiwanese politicians are realizing that their greatest threat is not the Japan of sixty years ago, but the China of today. As Taiwan's Central News Agency reports:

Taipei, April 10 (CNA) The opposition Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), a political ally of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in the Legislative Yuan, called on the government Sunday to strengthen the country's strategic cooperation with Japan to counterbalance China's military buildup.
The TSU's statement comes on the heels of a trip to Japan last week by its Chairman, Shu Chin-chiang.

While in Japan, Shu (as Japundit has noted) visited Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including its war criminals. But Yasukuni is also dedicated to the spirits of some 28,000 Taiwanese who died in the war, and Shu said his visit was meant to honor them, not Japan's militarists.

Nevertheless, when he returned to Taiwan on Tuesday, Shu was met at the airport by angry protesters, who pelted him with eggs.

As the Taipei Times reports, Shu thinks his countrymen's obsession with on Japan's past misdeeds is missing the point. His own outrage is aimed at other Taiwanese politicians, who recently visited Beijing, even as it threatens Taiwan with attack:
"It is ironic that some political parties [try] to stigmatize my visit to Japan, yet justify their collaboration with China," Shu said.

"China has 700 missiles pointed at Taiwan ... they are the ones who embrace militarism," he said.
Good point.

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Japan's past vs. China's present

As I've noted before, China fiercely opposes any outside interference in its "internal affairs", yet it never seems to have a problem telling other countries what to do.

Examples include its insistent demands that Japan stop honoring war criminals at Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, and reject a new history textbook that glosses over atrocities committed by Japanese troops in China. According to China, Japan's choice of textbooks for its own schoolchildren simply isn't an internal affair.

But the irony doesn't stop there. Now, in demanding that Japan renounce its former aggression, Chinese are turning to violence. ABC News reports:

BEIJING Apr 9, 2005 — About 1,000 protesters threw rocks and broke windows at the Japanese Embassy on Saturday after a noisy march by demanding a boycott of Japanese goods to oppose new textbooks that critics say gloss over Tokyo's wartime atrocities.

Protesters shouted "Boycott Japan!" as hundreds of police, some with riot helmets and shields, formed a human wall to keep the crowd away from the embassy. Protesters smashed the windows of a guardhouse outside the fenced compound.
Reuters reports that Japanese businesses were attacked, too:
One group began throwing bottles and stones when they passed a Japanese restaurant, smashing windows with tiles they had ripped from its roof before police stopped them. A second restaurant was targeted later in the evening, with rocks thrown through the window, terrifying kimono-clad waitresses.

...Protesters also attacked a Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi branch and smashed windows before police moved in.
And last Saturday, Chinese mobs attacked a Japanese-owned supermarket in Chengdu, smashing its windows. The threat has become so severe that Japanese companies like Honda are reducing business travel to China due to safety concerns.

Because mass public protests are generally not permitted in China, these riots are occurring with at least the tacit approval, if not the direct encouragement, of the Chinese government, which is eager to portray Japan as unworthy of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. As the BBC reports:
Shanghai's daily Wenhui Bao warns that the dispute may jeopardize Japan's chances of a much-coveted seat on the UN Security Council.

"How can a country which not only cannot correctly handle history, but falsifies history again and again, have the qualifications to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a responsible member of the international community?"
Meanwhile, even as individual Chinese are goaded into attacking Japanese targets, China itself is threatening Taiwan. It recently passed a belligerent new "Anti-Secession Law" that authorizes the use of military force to stop Taiwan from declaring formal independence.

There's no doubt that Japanese soldiers committed shocking, widespread atrocities in China — over sixty years ago. Japan's history textbooks should not ignore that fact.

But it's more than a little ironic to see China, which habitually censors and distorts the news through its state-run media, suddenly championing the importance of factual accuracy. In light of its own current inclinations to violence, China's criticism of Japan looks like a clear-cut case of projection.

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