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Halfway there

I've blogged previously about why I'm not a big fan of Daniel Libeskind's Freedom Tower design, which had been expected to be built on the site of the former World Trade Center towers.

The NYPD had some reservations, too. It seems Libeskind's plan would have left the tower too vulnerable to attack by terrorist truck bombs, and also would have been difficult to evacuate in an emergency.

Now, the New York Times reports on the new, improved design, by architect David M. Childs, unveiled yesteday at a press conference:

Libeskind designChilds design
Much better. Childs' version has a sense of proportion, heft, and majesty that was sadly missing from Libeskind's ill-conceived effort. But it's still missing something: an identical second tower standing right next to it.

Donald Trump, who has lobbied to rebuild the towers exactly as they were, only taller, understood the psychological importance of once again seeing two buildings rising majestically from the ashes of Ground Zero. One tower, no matter how well-designed it may be, cannot help but remind us of its missing twin.

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Warblogger enlists in Army, wins argument

PASSAIC, NJ (Rooters) — Jordan Kulundzic, MD, won an argument about the Iraq war today by enlisting in the US Army.

Kulundzic, 34, a resident gastroenterologist at Passiac Beth Israel Hospital, also maintains the conservative blog "I’m All Right" (

Yesterday, that blog became the site of a heated political debate when a commenter, identified only the screen name “ihatebush209”, challenged Kulundzic’s support for the US-led invasion of Iraq.

"I wrote this really long essay about why I support the war in Iraq," Kulundzic said. "I thought I had covered every angle, including the need to be absolutely sure that Saddam had no WMD’s, the moral case for liberating the Iraqi people, and the long-term strategic importance of spreading democracy throughout the volatile Middle East."

“But then ihatebush209 just tore my arguments to shreds,” he said.

ihatebush209’s comment read, "Hey, mister Keyboard Kommando, if you like the war so much, why don’t you go and fight it, you little chickenhawk? Buc-buc-buc bu'CAW!!!"

Kulundzic remembers feeling dejected at seeing his efforts so easily dismissed.

"I felt terrible," he said. "That guy had me beat, fair and square. All my well-researched opinions on Iraq were worthless so long as I wasn’t personally fighting there. And those fake chicken noises made his counter-argument all the more effective."

But later that evening, Kulundzic recalls, he realized how he could win the debate. The next day, he enlisted in the Army, announcing his decision on his blog.

"ihatebush209 posted another comment almost immediately," Kulundzic said. “He says that now, since I’ve joined the Army, he realizes I was right about Iraq all along. My own individual decision to enlist completely undermined his entire argument against the war."

Kulundzic’s relatives, friends, and colleagues have all expressed shock at his sudden career change. His wife, Kulundzic says, is upset not only that he will be heading off to war, but also that, on his much lower military salary, the couple will have to put their house up for sale and pull their two children out of private school.

Kulundzic shrugs off her concerns.

“Honestly, it was an easy decision to make,” he said. “Proving myself to Internet trolls is worth any price. And as soon as I step off the plane in Baghdad and head out on patrol, my support for the war will finally become valid."

More comments over at Balloon Juice and Crooks and Liars.

Jon Henke wonders whether Democrats and liberals will be signing up to fight in Afghanistan, an invasion that many of them fully supported.

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Japan to encourage real names on Internet

I'm not the type of person the Japanese government has in mind with respect to the following, and I can't see it ever actually affecting me. Regardless, as an anonymous blogger in Japan, I find it particularly offensive. Kyodo News reports:

The government will begin a campaign to encourage people to use their real names when writing articles or posting information on the Internet to help reduce crimes that are committed due to the Net's anonymity, government sources said.

...The government has decided to launch the campaign as Internet users can easily access information deemed harmful for youth via the Net, such as how to make a bomb and recommending group suicides.

The communications ministry has judged it necessary to encourage people to turn to Internet sites with less anonymity in order to reduce Net-related crimes, the sources said.
Let's begin on a simple, practical level and note first that encouraging people to use their real identities online might actually promote crime, by letting criminals track down and attack the people they meet online.

Second, the ministry's plan to fight crime involves treating all citizens like criminals. Because some people use the Internet to break the law, it argues, no one should remain anonymous online. If a few people end up abusing a particular freedom, the solution is not to deny it to all.

Third, the campaign is doomed to be hopelessly ineffective. Even if honest Japanese obey the government's wishes and dutifully use their own real names while posting online, criminals will, quite obviously, still adopt aliases when carrying out their illegal schemes.

But finally, and most fundamentally, the ministry's plan is no less than an attack on free speech itself. The right to speak freely, as American case law has made clear, includes the right to speak anonymously, including on the Internet.

As the Supreme Court ruled (pdf file) in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 334 (1995):
Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation — and their ideas from suppression — at the hand of an intolerant society.
A more recent, Internet-focused lower-court example is here.

Japan is obviously not bound by American law, but it presumably values the same principles that led that law to develop as it has. I hope Japan reaffirms its appreciation of the importance of free speech and backs away from a misguided campaign that seems to have very little to do with fighting crime, and a great deal to do with chilling the free exchange of ideas.

No sooner do I finish lauding America's firm commitment to protecting anonymous online speech than I find this NPR story (by way of Planned Obselescence and Unfogged) saying that the federal government is trying to force website domain name owners to accurately identify themselves in the WHOIS database, which is publicly accessible.

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China seizes Japanese history textbooks

China has gone beyond merely criticizing the Japanese history textbooks it doesn't like, to actually seizing and confiscating them — at least the ones used by Japanese schools in China, that is. The Mainichi Daily News reports:

Chinese authorities in Dalian confiscated more than 120 educational books that a Japanese school imported from Japan, on the grounds that some books showed Taiwan as a separate country from mainland China, it was learned Tuesday.

Officials at the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said that it was the first time that one of the eight Japanese schools in China had had educational materials seized by Chinese authorities.

...In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoya said that the Japanese government might ask China to explain which law the authorities based their actions on when it confiscated the educational materials.
Of course, any such request might seem pointless, since China is governed by the threat of force, not the rule of law. It no more needs a specific legal ground to justify its actions than a baseball player needs a particular bat to hit the ball. But with China increasingly seen as a nascent superpower, any efforts to call attention to that fact are welcome, and that may be just what Hosoya has in mind.

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Like crack for your ears

Tired of listening to a rich array of diverse musical genres? Looking for just one insanely catchy tune to drill its way into your skull for good? Want that song to be a cutesy bit of J-pop fluff?

You're in luck. Either of the following should do nicely.

First up, here's what's come to be known as "Shii's song". (It's based on "The Boat Song" from Lunar The Silver Star Story, an old Japanese role-playing videogame.) This version features English lyrics and a nicely-done Flash animation starring Shii, one of the cat mascots of Japan's most popular web forum, 2ch.

Next, this (in Windows Media format) is the Internet commercial for Love Songs: ADV Futaba Riho 19 Years, a "relationship simulation game" in which you help 19-year-old college student Riho find true love while ogling pictures of her and her sexy roommates. (If that sounds a little lecherous to you, consider that there's an earlier game in the series, in which Riho is all of 14 years old. And no, I haven't played it.)

Before you listen to either one of these songs, bear in mind that you will not be able to get it out of your head. Ever.

You have been warned.

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Reuters: Schindler's List is "pro-Zionist"

Reuters reports on an upcoming Steven Spielberg film about the murder of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

To give us a little background on Spielberg, Reuters helpfully provides the following description of some of his past work:

Best known in Israel for "Schindler's List," a Holocaust epic that ends with a pro-Zionist message, Spielberg...
I remember the end of Schindler's List. If you've ever seen it, you do, too. Roger Ebert described it perfectly when he included Schindler's List in his series of essays on the greatest movies of all time:
The film's ending brings me to tears. At the end of the war, Schindler's Jews are in a strange land — stranded, but alive. A member of the liberating Russian forces asks them, "Isn't a town over there?" and they walk off toward the horizon.

The next shot fades from black and white into color. At first we think it may be a continuation of the previous action, until we see that the men and women on the crest of the hill are dressed differently now. And then it strikes us, with the force of a blow: Those are Schindler's Jews. We are looking at the actual survivors and their children as they visit Oskar Schindler's grave.

The movie began with a list of Jews being confined to the ghetto. It ends with a list of some who were saved. The list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.
This incredibly moving scene is a celebration of life and of the human spirit. Necessarily, it is set in the Christian cemetery in Jerusalem where Schindler was buried, and so Yerushalayim Shel Zahav ("Jerusalem of Gold") is sung in the background. It's safe to say that 99.9% of the people who watched the movie didn't even understand the lyrics, which are pretty innocuous anyway. But for Reuters, that's enough to turn the sight of a few Jews fortunate enough to escape Hitler's madness into a "pro-Zionist message".

Unbelievable. Apparently, to Reuters, a movie is pro-Zionist if some Jews are still alive at the end.

Reuters may already be trying to pull its foot out of its mouth on this one. The same story, via Drudge, originally appeared here, with a Reuters byline. Although less than a day old, it's already disappeared. Via Google News, I was able to find the same story on the site, as linked above. (I've saved a screenshot in case it, too, falls down the memory hole.) The Stuff version of the article has no byline at all, which appears to be the way that site usually runs wire stories. However, Reuters is still mentioned in the text of the article itself.

Pro-Zionist messages may be subtle, but the anti-Zionist ones are usually pretty easy to spot. (Via Solomonia)

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Unseen Japan

The Mainichi Daily News has posted the winners of its "Unseen Japan" photo contest here. Entrants were asked to submit a photograph that "visualizes a rarely seen side of Japan." (It's a bit disappointing, then, that the winning shot is a picture of a taxicab.)

There's some more information on the contest here.

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The mystery of the disappearing rabbit

In the pantheon of famous web memes, along with the Dancing Baby and the Numa-Numa guy, a place must surely be saved for Oolong the rabbit:

His owner, Hironori Akutagawa, has posted dozens of pictures of Oolong on his own website. One of these was modified by an anonymous fan into the above graphic, which has come to be widely used on web forums to express bewilderment at someone else's comments.

Oolong was, of course, best known for his ability to balance things on his head, which Hironori refers to as tougei (頭芸), or "head performance":
According to Hironori's comments on this site (in Japanese), this is far from a unique talent. He's had several bunnies over the last 24 years, all of which could do it. He starts training them while they're still young, by petting them and, when they are relaxed, placing a light object on their head. For the bunnies, it's almost an extension of the earlier petting, and therefore feels natural.

After gaining widespread attention through this page on Syberpunk, Oolong garnered his very own Wikipedia entry, was featured in the New York Times, and even inspired copycats. It’s perhaps not much of an exaggeration to say that he brought joy to thousands of people around the world.

Sadly, Oolong died on January 7, 2003. But Hironori soon obtained a new rabbit, Yuebing, to carry on the head-balancing tradition. Apparently, after a rocky start, Yuebing was making some progress:
However — and here is where the mystery begins — the last post on Yuebing's website is dated March 1, 2005. After years of posting, on average, several times a month, Hironori has posted no new photos for almost four months.

I have no idea what's become of Yuebing or her owner. An email I sent to Hironori has thus far gone unanswered. I hope they're both well. If anyone has any leads or information, please let me know.

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Pataki's empty Ground Zero promise

I've blogged previously (1, 2, 3) about the International Freedom Center's plans to build a "Freedom Center" at Ground Zero, which would catalog America's sins, like slavery and segregation, along with the Soviet gulag, Chinese re-education camps, and the Holocaust.

Now, Wizbang points out another potential threat to the solemnity of the 9-11 memorial. Apparently, New York's Govenor Pataki has allocated space at Ground Zero to the Drawing Center, a SoHo gallery that, in the past, has featured virulently (and predictably) politicized art. Example: "Homeland Security", which depicts a jet airplane dive-bombing the crotch of a naked, spead-legged woman.

As New York's Daily News wrote in a June 23 editorial:

Works such as "Homeland Security" belong nowhere near the sobering pit where the twin towers stood, but the prospect of such a sacrilege arises because Gov. Pataki and his lower Manhattan minions have given space there to a SoHo art gallery called The Drawing Center. What were they thinking? Did they even take two minutes to glance through The Drawing Center's catalogue, which, besides "Homeland Security," also features such artistic creations as:

•   The infamous hooded Abu Ghraib figure, the wires falling from his wrists to arrange themselves into the word "Liberty."

•   A connect-the-dots organizational chart fancifully linking George W. Bush to Osama Bin Laden and former Texas Gov. John Connally and some oilman here and some financier there.

And so on and so forth. In short, it's plain as day that The Drawing Center does not bring to the downtown planning a single-minded respect for the memories of the dead - which is, after all, the point of a Ground Zero memorial, we would think.
The good news is that Pataki realizes that installing a blame-America-first exhibition atop the graves of the 9-11 victims is not a savvy political move. The Daily News reports that on Friday, he issued a statement concerning what type of material will, and will not, be welcome at the memorial site:
Gov. Pataki drew a line in the sand yesterday, declaring he will tolerate no America-bashing on the sacred soil of Ground Zero.

..."We will not tolerate anything on that site that denigrates America, denigrates New York or freedom or denigrates the sacrifice and courage that the heroes showed on Sept. 11."

He added, "The Daily News did a good service by pointing out some of these things. We do not want that at Ground Zero; I do not want that at Ground Zero and to the extent that I have the power, it's not going to happen."

..."Sure, there can be debate," Pataki said when asked if his tough stance jeopardized free-speech rights. "But I don't want that debate to be occurring at Ground Zero."
Sounds good, in theory. But once the Freedom Center and the Drawing Center gallery are built, what is to stop the people behind them from doing whatever they like? Their statements on the matter, from the same Daily News article, are hardly reassuring:
Tom Bernstein, the Freedom Center's chairman, pledged in a statement to preserve that sanctity. The center "must, and will, honor humanity's march toward freedom and highlight America's role as a beacon for freedom throughout the world."

The Drawing Center released a statement saying it would work with the state to resolve the "inevitable tensions" between "remembrance and cultural activity."
Nowhere in these statements is there any kind of assurance that the two groups will avoid the kind of controversial material at issue. And why should they? They know they'll able to play the First Amendment martyr role if any attempt to condemn them or their exhibitions is made.

Sadly, I fear that Governor Pataki, despite his fine words, is either lying or being played for a fool. His promise to preserve the solemnity of the Ground Zero memorial site is as empty as the gaping footprints of the fallen towers themselves.

Over in the Wizbang comments, SoHo resident Michael Negroponte, who has some interesting relatives, accuses the Daily News of McCarthyism.

The Dread Pundit Bluto has more.

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The conspiracy theorist next door

In my office last week, I walked past a co-worker's desk and noticed he — let's call him Joe — was reading a website with pictures of the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The pictures of the buildings were overlaid with lines and arrows, like John Madden had gone to work on them with a telestrator.

I feared the worst, but had to make sure.

"What's that you're reading?" I asked.

"Oh, it's a site that says 9-11 was planned by the government."

Joe, I should point out, is a college-educated American, fluent in English and Japanese, and who by all accounts is very good at a complex job. He's no dummy. He's also married and has a young son. We're not talking about a guy who sits in a dingy basement watching X-Files reruns and listening for the secret messages the FBI is broadcasting through the fillings in his teeth.

"Do you believe that?" I asked.

"Well, it's really interesting."

"What about that videotape of Osama Bin Laden taking credit?"

"They say he's working for the U.S. government. That's why we haven't caught him yet."

This went on for a while longer. For every fact, Joe had a convenient explanation: The Saudi hijackers were trained by the CIA. The towers were blown up by explosives. smuggled into the buildings at night. The Pentagon was hit by a missile, not a plane. The people on the missing plane were flown out to sea and killed. Flight 93 was meant to be shot down all along, to show we stopped one. The government killed Americans to give us a reason to invade Iraq. The hijackers were Saudis, not Iraqis, because using Iraqis would have been too obvious.

Finally, I had heard enough.

"Joe, that's nuts, and I'm actually offended that you believe this stuff."

"Hey, I just think it's interesting. You should talk to Bob downstairs. He's completely sold on it."

"It's as upsetting to me as if you were denying the Holocaust."

"This is different."

"You really think the government killed almost 3000 Americans so it could invade Iraq a year and a half later?"

"Well, this kind of thing happens throughout history. Hitler had the Reichstag burned so he could blame it on his opponents and seize power for himself."

That's right — two sentences after saying 9-11 wasn't like the Holocaust, Joe compared Bush to Hitler.

What drives educated people to ignore Occam's razor, constructing elaborate conspiracy theories when the facts are plain as day? Why do they prefer wild speculation to sober analysis?

And, if they must reject the facts in favor of paranoid tales of their own invention, why do they cast their own government as the villain? At least Arabs have the esprit de corps to blame 9-11 on Israel, not their own leaders. It just seems right to them that evil Jews would be behind such a terrible act. Yet apparently, to many Americans, it just seems right that Americans themselves would be behind it.

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Global warming alert

I don't have much to add to this one. The Chicago Tribune reports:

There aren't too many places where you can celebrate the 4th of July weekend by hitting the slopes, but Utah is one of them, thanks to a record amount of snowfall.

Typically, skiing and snowboarding ends by mid-to-late April. One area, the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, often stretches it to late May. But on Thursday, Snowbird announced it will be open weekends until Independence Day. That has happened only once before, in 1995.

...July will mark the ninth consecutive month of skiing at the resort, located about a half-hour south of Salt Lake City. A combination of early and consistent snowfall, a lack of powder in the Northwest and a residual tourism bounce from the 2002 Winter Olympics have combined to make this the longest and busiest season in Utah history. Attendance is up 12 percent over last season's record of 3.4 million, according to Nathan Rafferty, a spokesman for Ski Utah, a marketing association that promotes the state's skiing industry.

...The season got off to a rousing start on Nov. 5, when Snowbird had its earliest opening ever. The most recent dump — a half-foot — fell June 12. In between, storms regularly blanketed the Wasatch Range, and a chilly spring has insulated the snow that was already on the ground, maintaining the base. From start to finish, the mountain received 633 inches — a whopping 52 feet of snow.
Okay, maybe I do have something to add — about 1982 swords-and-sorcery B-movie epic The Beastmaster. It features one truly classic line, but to appreciate it, first we have to set the scene:

Maax, a sinister priest, is standing high atop his temple, preparing to drop a young boy into a pit of fire as a sacrifice to the evil god Aar. Below him stands a throng of fearful villagers, cowed into submission by his portentous pronouncements of Aar's wrath.

The Beastmaster sees what is about to happen and decides he must stop it. Using his power to communicate with animals, he sends a large hawk soaring up over the temple. It seizes the boy in its talons, pulling him free from Maax's clutches and carrying him away.

The villagers are shocked. Perhaps Maax's stories about Aar aren't true after all. Maybe they can afford to ignore this nasty old priest who regularly drops their children to firey deaths.

Sensing he's losing the crowd, Maax realizes he has to think fast, and utters his great line. "You see?" he cries. "Aar has spoken! He wants your children!"

I was reminded of Maax when I read blogger Mathew Honan's report of having to cancel his hiking vacation due to excessive snowfall. Mathew writes:
As the ranger in Yosemite told us yesterday, we haven't had this much snow in 50 years. In short, there's too much snow for us to safely make the trip, at least when we had planned. And rescheduling, well... Just scheduling a three-week trip is pretty tough. Rescheduling, that's just probably not possible.

I blame global warming.
Honan goes on to cite a series of lengthy, and very well-written, articles (1, 2, 3) by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker about the evidence for global warming, such as warmer temperatures, melting glaciers, thinner snow cover, and thawing permafrost. So, warmer weather and less snow are evidence of global warming, but cooler weather and more snow are also evidence of global warming.

Now I'm not saying global warming is bunk. There certainly seems to be a lot of evidence for it. But at this point one might fairly ask what would count as evidence against it. If we were concerned about global cooling (as many experts were in the 70's), then presumably massive snowfalls would serve as evidence of that, too.

Like Maax the temple priest, global warming alarmists appear to be dangerously close to creating an unfalsifiable theory. Even when his sacrifice to Aar was humiliatingly foiled, Maax claimed it only showed that Aar demanded more sacrifices. And even when the snow piles up outside, it's just more proof that global warming is close at hand.

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Recommended reading, II

One positive impact blogging has had on me is that it's made me read more books. Some were specifically mentioned on blogs I read, and others seem like they'll help flesh out some of the ideas and topics I've been reading about and debating online.

One particularly enjoyable recent read was the widely-discussed Freakonomics, in which economist Steven D. Levitt applies quantitative analysis to unlikely questions, like whether Sumo wrestling matches are sometimes rigged. (Answer: Yes.)

However, the old saying notwithstanding, if you're going to write a book about unconventional, outside-the-box thinking, it really shouldn't copy someone else's cover:

Logic and its Limits
1997 (2nd edition)
Levitt, Dubner

A more substantive criticism of Freakonomics is Levitt's tendency to gloss over or ignore evidence that undermines his arguments. To his credit, however, he has started a blog where he acknowledges (although does not always fully address) criticisms.

In this post, titled "Does Freakonomics Suck?", he links to a detailed and persuasive rebuttal of his contention that legalization of abortion post-Roe v. Wade led to a decline in crime rates in the 1990's, as fewer unwanted children were around to turn into criminals.

I have similar problems with Levitt's offhanded dismissal of the idea that gun ownership deters crime, because criminals are less likely to attack people who might be armed. He mentions one researcher who found such a link, but then says there were "allegations" that he forged his data. Well, people can "allege" whatever they please, and often do, especially on contentious issues like gun control. That doesn't mean their allegations, without any substantiating evidence, are valid.

Levitt then mentions that other researchers failed to find that gun ownership deterred crime, without naming them, identifying their studies, or assessing the quality of their findings. He also fails to consider the possibility that gun ownership might deter certain types of crime, like burglary, more than others, like battery. Or that below a certain level of gun ownership, the risk that potential victims might be armed could be too low to deter criminals.

In short, Levitt is quick (and correct) to attack society's overreliance on "conventional wisdom", yet it seems he's not above creating a little conventional wisdom of his own. Perhaps the best thing I can say about Freakonomics is that I took its message of skepticism to heart and instinctively applied it to the book itself.

I emailed Levitt about the similarity in covers, and he was gracious enough to respond, pointing out that he addressed the matter on his own blog in this post back in April. It reads:
Chika Azuma, a cover artist at William Morrow, created the present cover. According to the book jacket, it was derived from a photo collage by James Meyer/Getty Images; the inside orange slice is credited to Jan Cobb. Our guess, therefore, is that the apple/orange existed as some form of clip art, likely the same source used by another cover artist for another book cover.
Another mystery solved.

In the notes at the end of the book, Levitt does cite two researchers who claim that increased gun ownership does not lead to lower crime levels. But he does not describe or evaluate their findings, and I doubt most readers will have the resources or inclination to dig up old issues of the Stanford Law Review or the Journal of Political Economy on their own.

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Reporters use blogs, but don't trust them

NOTE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! And thanks very much for linking, Prof. Reynolds.

Previously, I posted about how the relationship between blogs and the mainstream media is increasingly one of interdependence, not parasitism.

Now, via ZDNet, ClickZ News reports on a study done by Euro RSCG Magnet and Columbia University. It showed that many professional journalists are not just reading blogs, but actively using them as an aid to their reporting:

The Euro RSCG/Columbia study shows that more than 51 percent of journalists use blogs regularly, and 28 percent rely on them to help in their day-to-day reporting duties. By contrast, a recent Pew Internet and American Life Project survey showed that just 11 percent of the U.S. population as a whole reads blogs.

"The fact that the media are using blogs for reporting and research... demonstrates that blogs have an enormous potential to not only influence the general public, but to influence the influencers — journalists and the media — as well," said Aaron Kwittken, CEO of Euro RSCG Magnet, in a statement.

Journalists mostly used blogs for finding story ideas (53 percent), researching and referencing facts (43 percent) and finding sources (36 percent). And 33 percent said they used blogs to uncover breaking news or scandals. Still, despite their reliance on blogs for reporting, only 1 percent of journalists found blogs credible, the study found.
I'm going to have to get a new irony detector. My old one just exploded.

Bill Quick says the survey bears out a prediction he made years ago.

Via InakaYabanjin and Slashdot, the Wall Street Journal points out that marketers are reading blogs, too, to see what people are saying about various brands.

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Recommended reading

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ben Mezrich's Ugly Americans on the flight back to Tokyo. It's the true story of an American who came to Japan, rode an expensive Ducati, dated a beautiful Japanese woman, and made millions of dollars in the stock market.

All in all, pretty much like my life, except my motorcycle is slower, I don't earn anywhere near as much money, and my girlfriend, who reads my blog, is the most beautiful woman in the world. (Hi, Honey!)

Toward the end of the book, however, I noticed an apparent error. The main character, John Malcolm (an alias), has arranged to receive 10% of the profits on an enormous series of stock and futures trades he plans to make through his hedge fund. Since the trades end up generating $500 million in profits, Mezrich has Malcolm keeping $50 million.

Sounds simple enough, but the trades were made with money supplied by the hedge fund's investors. That means those investors get most (usually 80%) of any profits the fund makes. The remaining 20% goes to the fund as "incentive fees". So Malcolm's fund would have earned only $100 million on the trades, not $500 million. And Malcolm would have pocketed ten million, not fifty. Still not bad for a day's work, but a lot less than Mezrich describes.

The only way Mezrich's description makes sense is if Malcolm took his 10% off the gross profits of the deal, which would mean he snagged fully half of the fund's $100m take. That's theoretically possible, but it strikes me as unlikely that his boss would have signed off on such generous terms. If he did, Mezrich should have made it clear.

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Catchy headline

Instapundit links to this New York Times article on an experimental spacecraft that will be powered by solar wind.

However, covers the same story with, in my opinion, a much better headline:

Riding the Sun:
Maiden Flight Looms for Solar Sail Satellite

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Take Back the Memorial protest

I'm back in Tokyo, but Riding Sun's research assistant, the beautiful and intrepid Dusky, has filed a report from Ground Zero in Manhattan, the site of yesterday's Take Back the Memorial protest against plans to build a "Freedom Center" adjacent to the 9-11 memorial. Below are her photos. (Links open in a new window):

Apparently, turnout was light, with only about 60 people who lost relatives on 9-11, joined by a slightly lesser number of other supporters. However, about 40 reporters and news crew members showed up to cover the event.

Several of the protesters gave speeches. Michael Burke, whose brother, FDNY Capt. William F. Burke, Jr., was killed by the falling towers, said:
Nobody is coming to this place to learn about Ukraine democracy or to be inspired by the courage of Tibetan monks. They’re coming for Sept. 11.
Edie Lutnick, sister of Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick, who lost 658 employees in the attacks, added:
When you come to the WTC site, you will not be immersed with 9/11. You will be met with world politics. No one who has come to the WTC site in the last almost 4 years has asked about world politics. Why? Because it is not the appropriate place. If you want world politics, go to the U.N. 9/11 is about 9/11.
As I noted earlier, I think the U.N. would be an ideal location for the proposed Freedom Center. Ground Zero, simply, should be a place where Michael Burke, Edie Lutnick, and all of us can honor the dead.

Jeff Jarvis has a more detailed report.

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A kinder, gentler murderous dictator

Get ready for the latest salvo in the media campaign to undermine any possible rationale for the Iraq war: charming descriptions of the softer side of Saddam Hussein. The Associated Press reports on a story coming out in the July issue of GQ magazine:

Thrust unexpectedly into the role of prison guards for Saddam Hussein, a group of young American soldiers found the deposed Iraqi leader to be a friendly, talkative "clean freak" who loved Raisin Bran for breakfast, did his own laundry and insisted he was still president of Iraq, says a report published on Monday.

...Saddam learned the names of the GIs guarding him, was interested in the details of their lives, which they were not supposed to discuss, and sometimes offered fatherly advice. They conversed in English.

[Specialist Sean] O'Shea said when he told him he was not married, Saddam "started telling me what to do." "He was like, `you gotta find a good woman. Not too smart, not too dumb. Not too old, not too young. One that can cook and clean.'"

Then he smiled, made what O'Shea interpreted as a "spanking" gesture, laughed and went back to washing his clothes in the sink.
Awww... what a sweetheart. Not since Sideshow Bob's parole hearing has a criminal been so egregiously misrepresented to the public.

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Obligatory Downing Street Memo post

Over the past month, news of the Downing Street Memo has made the rounds, with liberals claiming it proves Bush lied about his reasons for the Iraq war, and conservatives finding it to be of little, if any, informational value. The sheer volume of commentary makes me feel compelled to state my own view on the subject.

I'll assume, for the sake of argument, that the memo is an accurate reproduction. (A reporter supposedly re-typed it from an original which he subsequently destroyed).

And I'll assume it accurately reflects the Bush administration's views at the time. (It quotes no American officials, instead summarizing a British official's assessment of "recent talks in Washington").

However, I don't find the memo's so-called "smoking gun" sentence to be anything of the kind. It states:

Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.
Fixing facts around a policy does not mean lies are being spun, anymore than fixing lights around a Christmas tree means imaginary bulbs are being conjured out of thin air. (Indeed, the reference to "facts" indicates that we are dealing with, well, facts, not fictions.) Rather, it appears to describe a process similar to that of a lawyer presenting a case to a jury. He cannot invent his own facts, but he can present the existing facts in the manner most supportive of his argument.

True, there have been many different interpretations of that key phrase. What is beyond dispute, however, is that if the memo's author meant to indicate that Bush was lying his way into war, he certainly could have picked a clearer way of saying it.

As it stands, the memo suggests that Bush was committed to removing Saddam via military force if necessary, and wanted to make the strongest argument possible for his position. This is hardly an earth-shaking revelation. Yet people who desperately want to believe it proves that Bush is an impeachable liar will not be deterred from doing so.

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Scooping the MSM

The Chicago Tribune reports that the African island of Mauritius is on its way to becoming the world's first nation with total wireless Internet coverage, essentially turning the entire island into one gigantic "hot spot".

Riding Sun had the story over five months ago. Advantage: blogosphere!

When I posted about Mauritius's plans to turn itself into a "cyber-island" back in January, the nationwide network was expected to be up and running as early as March.

So what's taking so long? The Tribune says that the Mauritian government sees the new wireless network as a threat to the huge profits it reaps from its substantial stake in the island's leading telecommunications company — so it dragged its feet on granting the necessary permits.

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The Times lets one slip through

Satan must be lacing up his ice skates, because the New York Times has run a story about torture in Iraq — by insurgents, not by U.S. troops:

Marines on an operation to eliminate insurgents that began Friday broke through the outside wall of a building in this small rural village to find a torture center equipped with electric wires, a noose, handcuffs, a 574-page jihad manual — and four beaten and shackled Iraqis.

...The men said they told the marines, from Company K, Third Marines, Second Division, that they had been tortured with shocks and flogged with a strip of rubber for more than two weeks, unseen behind the windows of black glass. One of them, Ahmed Isa Fathil, 19, a former member of the new Iraqi Army, said he had been held and tortured there for 22 days. All the while, he said, his face was almost entirely taped over and his hands were cuffed.

..."They kill somebody every day," said Mr. Fathil, whose hands were so swollen he could not open a can of Coke offered to him by a marine. "They've killed a lot of people."
I suppose this story represents an attempt to balance out the Times's coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal, which appeared on the front page for 34 days in a row.

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Old news

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New York Times guest columnist Stacy Schiff laments the sad state of today's news media:

The news has slipped its moorings. It is no longer held captive by two-inch columns of type or a sonorous 6 p.m. baritone. It has gone on the lam. Anyone can be a reporter — or a book reviewer, TV star, museum guide, podcaster or pundit.
Schiff's revelation is shocking and sad, yet undeniably true.

Gone are the days when the news came to us solely via approved professionals, like Times reporter Walter Duranty, who covered up Stalin's famines, or Jason Blair, who fabricated sources and quotations out of whole cloth. No longer is the "sonorous baritone" of, say, a Dan Rather taken as the final word on the authenticity of obviously fraudulent documents. And, most important of all, no longer is the fundamental question of what stories are deemed newsworthy answered by a select few.

I just can't figure out why Schiff seems to think that's a bad thing.

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Heading back to Tokyo

This is my last post until I arrive back in Tokyo. I'm leaving today, but due to the time difference, I'll arrive Sunday afternoon. Until then, here are a few things I'll miss about New York:

•   Riding the subway and seeing people of four different ethnicities sitting next to each other in a row.

•   Watching people from around the world exercising their right to free speech:

•   Having breakfast at Monk's Diner from Seinfeld, which in real life is called Tom's Restaurant.

•   Going to the new Monty Python musical "Spamalot" one night, and then running into the lead actor, Fraiser's David Hyde Pierce, the next day on the street.

•   Watching a mom from Tennessee having dinner with her New York daughter at Tomoe. Mom: twangy accent, asks for a fork, won't eat "raw fish". Daughter: no accent, uses chopsticks, orders sushi deluxe.

Thanks for enduring this lighter "vacation edition" of Riding Sun. I'll be back to normal posting soon.

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Why I commute by motorcycle, pt. V

Previous posts in this series (1, 2, 3, 4) have focused on the delays and dangers associated with riding Japan's notoriously overcrowded commuter trains. This one looks at how hard it is to actually snag a seat on one of them. Reuters reports:

Look for women touching up their makeup. Learn the uniforms of schools along the route. Never stand in front of somebody who's sound asleep.

These are techniques that savvy Tokyo commuters use to get seats on the packed trains they take to work each day — techniques that have now been codified in a hot-selling book.

Titled "The Art of Grabbing a Seat on Commuter Trains," the 185-page book, which began as an email magazine put out by a 27-year-old office worker using the pen-name Hajime Yorozu, is filled with advice and diagrams detailing the best ways to claim a seat as early in the ride as possible.

"Japan's commuter situation has rightly been called hell," it advises. "So the game of musical chairs becomes a life or death struggle."
Indeed. Of course, Matt at No-Sword pointed out the book way back in April. Advantage: blogosphere!

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Wireless Internet, wheelless landing gear

Previously, I said that I should start flying Japan Airlines, since they offer wireless Internet service on their Tokyo-New York flights. But stories like this are giving me second thoughts. The Japan Times reports:

The two nose gear wheels on a Japan Airlines Corp. jetliner broke off during landing Wednesday at Tokyo's Haneda airport, the airline said.

...Both tires blew when they and their wheel rims separated from the gear. The left tire was found on the runway and the other on a taxiway. Large scars were found on the left tire, JAL officials said.

The remaining parts of the wheel assembly still attached to the gear were damaged.

Industry officials and analysts say it is extremely rare for a wheel to come off.

"A tire puncture is not unusual, but I have hardly ever heard of a case in which both (wheels) came off at the same time," aviation analyst Kazuki Sugiura said, noting the landing gear is designed to make it difficult for a tire to come off.

The transport ministry is taking the incident seriously, especially given the recent rash of JAL safety problems. In April, the ministry said it would subject the airline to special safety inspections through the end of the year.
I like the idea of having Internet service on my flights, but having wheels, ultimately, is more important.

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CNN goes punk

I had lunch the other day at Bar Masa in the Time Warner center at Columbus Circle. While in the building, I couldn't help noticing the well-stocked Inside CNN souvenir shop. Most of the items were traditional gift shop fare — mugs, pens, t-shirts — but the following display seemed unusual:

On my honor, the above picture has not been photoshopped. Yet no matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to make the connection between CNN and cheap punk jewelry.

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I have now finally seen Episode III

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith doesn't come out in Japan until July 9 — possibly because, as some people have suggested, an earlier release date would have interfered with the Japanese school year.

At any rate, that meant I wasn't able to see the thing until I got into New York, and now I have. Given that Episode III has been the subject of some pretty hot and heavy debates here at Riding Sun, I feel it's only appropriate to offer my thoughts now that I've actually seen it, even though I am a good three weeks or so behind the curve.

For much of the first half, the movie was an unsettling melange of disjointed action and stultifying exposition. Toward the end, it made me feel like a tourist rushing through a new country, checking off the highlights in his travel guidebook as he goes. Anakin turning... check! Vader gets his mask... check! Luke and Leia born... check!

As has already been amply noted elsewhere, much of the acting and dialogue was exceptionally poor. Yet even beyond that, there was no sense of pacing or dramatic narrative — as in, say, a Raiders of the Lost Ark. Everything was just tossed in together. I still have no idea who those guys were attacking the Wookies on Kashyyk. And the opening shenanigans aboard Greivous's ship were so slapstick and jumbled as to completely sap any dramatic tension from those scenes. Yes, there were some cool effects, but even those quickly became oppressive to watch. In sum: bleargh.

In that context of anticlimax and disappointment, I find our earlier debates here to have been wholly irrelevant. Since Episode III (and, indeed, the entire prequel trilogy) is so manifestly not destined to become a cinema treasure for the ages, who cares what it says about Lucas's view of Bush? We might as well ask what Kangaroo Jack revealed about Jerry Bruckheimer's position on animal rights.

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The (human) right to bear arms

When I posted a while ago about Robert Mugabe's intensifying campaign of atrocities in Zimbabwe, including kicking farmers off their land, razing the homes of the urban poor, and inflicting slow starvation upon his political enemies, I noted that blogger Perry de Havilland thinks Zimbabwe is long overdue for a popular revolution.

In the comments, cubicle pointed out why there hasn't been one yet:

The people their do not have any weapons to fight with. If I remember correctly all of their guns were taken in the 1950's while they were under British rule.
This is actually the point at the core of Perry's own blog post — that to truly help ordinary Zimbabweans, Western powers should ensure that they are able to fight against Mugabe, not give more food aid that he will simply divert to his own supporters. In Perry's own, rather intemperate words:
Clearly the only chance for the people of Zimbabwe is for someone, anyone, to help them to rise up and meet violence with violence. They do not need aid, they need guns and ammunition so that supporters of the MDC can start shooting at anyone associated with ZANU-PF or the 'security' services. Time for Mugabe's swaggering police thugs to be met with a hail of gunfire rather than terrified sobbing.

...If Tony Blair was serious about doing something about poverty in Africa, he would be sending guns to the MDC and to anyone else who is willing to resist and threatening to have some gentlemen from Hereford put a .338 hole between Mugabe's eyes unless things change radically.
Recently (via Charles at Obsidian Wings), Joe Katzman on Winds of Change reached essentially the same conclusion about Zimbabwe, and broadened it into a general principle: Gun ownership is a human right. He writes:
As many of you know, I'm from Canada. We have a pretty different attitude to guns up here, and I must say that American gun culture has always kind of puzzled me. To me, one no more had a right to a gun than one did to a car.

Well, my mind has changed. Changed to the point where I see gun ownership as being a slightly qualified but universal global human right.

...You can thank Robert Mugabe, too, because it was his campaign to starve his political/tribal opponents and Pol-Pot style "ruralization" effort (200,000 left homeless recently in a population of 12.6 million) that finally convinced me. Here's the crux, the argument before which all other arguments pale into insignificance:
The Right to Bear Arms is the only reliable way to prevent genocide in the modern world.
And Zimbabwe is the poster child for that proposition.
Joe's got lots more to say, in an excellent and lengthy post. And I imagine the reaction of some gun control advocates will be "Sure, Joe's arguments might make sense in a place like Zimbabwe. But in more developed countries, we don't need guns to protect our freedoms, because that kind of thing just couldn't happen."

Well, of course, it has. But even if the West's next genocide is not right around the corner, to say its citizens don't need the right to own guns is to confuse cause and effect, like saying a fit person doesn't need to exercise. He's in good shape because he exercises. And private gun ownership has always made Mugabe-style government abuses a messy proposition.

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Blogroll updates

I have a lot of blogs linked in the sidebars of this site, and I actually do make an effort to keep the lists up-to-date. That means deleting dead blogs, but it also means adding exciting new ones.

First of all, to my conservative readers, I highly recommend checking out some of the liberal blogs under the "Rival Racers" heading in the right-hand sidebar. I've chosen some that I think are well-written and make fair arguments — or are just plain funny. Reading only those blogs that reinforce your own point of view is like playing Street Fighter II against the computer: predictable and unchallenging. Reading opposing arguments is like playing a human opponent. It keeps you on your toes, forcing you to anticipate and adapt.

Second, I've added some aggregators and mutli-contributor blogs in the "Group Rides" section, also in the right-hand sidebar: Conservative Grapevine, the liberal-leaning TPM Cafe, and the brand-new

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He can't make it here

I was walking around Union Square yesterday when I spotted a kimono-clad Japanese man with a guitar:

It turns out he was none other than the Guitar Samurai himself, Yoku Hata, who I previously discussed here.

Hata is a somewhat popular Japanese comedian known for his trademark short songs, each of which rehashes a common insult about a well-known celebrity or public figure. Actually, since Hata's songs universally lack any sense of rhythm, meter, or melody, perhaps it would probably be more accurate to call them "blank-verse poems accompanied by random guitar-strumming".

I listened long enough to hear him run through little ditties about Michael Jackson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, although Hata's loudly-screamed and heavily-accented English was not quite good enough for me to fully understand much of what he was saying. I believe he mentioned Michael Jackson's nose at some point. And though Hata did not perform the particular anti-Bush song I discussed in my previous post, he did sing another one that, if I heard correctly, mocked Bush for going to bed too early in the evening. Apparently, this was a reference to a line in Laura Bush's comedy routine at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner back in April.

There was a group of about four Japanese people with Hata, one of whom was filming him, presumably for use on Japanese television. I asked a woman in the group why Hata was performing in New York, and she said, in Japanese, "To make Americans laugh."

It is my sad duty to report that he failed miserably at this task.

While Hata belted out his tuneless lyrics, scattered onlookers watched with a mixture of scorn, contempt, and pity. One particularly blunt fellow came within about five feet of him and yelled "YOU SUCK!" at the top of his lungs, then walked away. You would be hard-pressed to find a more liberal audience than the folks hanging around Union Square on a hot summer's day, but not even Hata's anti-Bush song could save him. He was toast. Unable to bear witness any longer, I wandered off.

It's often said that tragedy is easy, but comedy is hard. Hata's comedic performance was tragic.

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New York, New York

I arrived in New York yesterday. The flight was right on schedule, and I had dinner with my parents at a Cuban restaurant in Manhattan with huge platters of delicious food (that I suspect is nothing like what average people actually eat in Cuba). Some observations:

(1)   If you are an American airline, like, say Northwest, and you are choosing the in-flight movies for your Tokyo-New York flight, it would really be best to avoid ones where an American action hero beats up incompetent Japanese ninjas. That means ruling out The Pacifier with Vin Diesel. Actually, you should rule that one out anyway.

(2)   You know you're back in New York when people with service industry jobs are sarcastic to customers.

(3)   Yeah, Americans are fatter than Japanese, but the difference doesn't seem as remarkable as the last time I was here. Maybe Americans, shocked by Super Size Me, are cutting back on the fries while in Japan, McDonalds grows ever more popular.

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Natsuyasumi (Summer vacation)

I'm heading back to New York this afternoon for a week's vacation. Time to see my parents and catch up with some old friends.

I should be able to keep posting as usual — once I actually arrive there, that is. I've got to start flying on Japan Airlines, which offers wireless Internet access on Tokyo-NY flights.

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Where the Freedom Center really belongs

In the Wall Street Journal, Richard J. Tofel, President of the International Freedom Center, responds to the furor over his organization's plans to build a massive "Freedom Center" at Ground Zero, which would document America's sins alongside those of Nazi Germany and communist China.

Tofel writes:

As envisioned in Daniel Libeskind's master plan for the site's redevelopment, the International Freedom Center's building will serve as a buffer between the sacred Memorial and the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city, including the thousands of people who will move each day in and out of Santiago Calatrava's spectacular new transit hub.

But the International Freedom Center itself will do much more than that. It will serve as a complement to the Memorial, bringing a universal "narrative of hope" to a place where hope is imperative.

...To be sure, the International Freedom Center will host debates and note points of view with which you — and I — will disagree. But that is the point, the proof of our society's enduring self-confidence and humanity.
Well, no. The point is to remember what happened to America on September 11, 2001. Tofel's freedom of speech argument is a straw man. Yes, in America we have the right to speak our minds and express contrary views. But common decency demands that we not build a platform for inflammatory rhetoric on the graves of our dead.

In theory, University of Colorado professor and terror apologist Ward Churchill could be an honored guest of the Freedom Center, delivering impassioned speeches about how the 9-11 victims were "little Eichmanns" unworthy of our sympathy, and how America deserved what it got on that day. Hey, you and I might disagree with his view, but that's the point, right?

Wrong. Building the IFC's Freedom Center at Ground Zero would be like scrawling graffiti on a tombstone. If it must be built, it should be built somewhere else.

And if the IFC has its heart set on New York, then the best location for the Freedom Center might be as a "buffer" between the United Nations complex and the rest of New York. There, perhaps, its vital message of the importance of freedom would have a beneficial effect on the representatives of nations like Iran and Syria as they file through it on their way to work. If, however, our worst fears are realized, and the Center really does turn into a platform for anti-American rhetoric, at least it will blend right in.

Other bloggers unimpressed by Mr. Tofel's argument include Michelle Malkin, Kevin Alyward, and Jeff Jarvis.

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Integrated circuit chip on my shoulder

Foreigners in Japan on long-term visas (i.e., not tourists) already have to carry "Alien Registration Cards" with them at all times. And those who overstay their visas already face harsh treatment, including detainment or deportation.

So this shouldn't particularly bother me, but somehow, it does. The Asahi Shimbun reports:

To clamp down on illegal foreigners, a ruling party subcommission on Wednesday recommended that alien registration cards contain integrated circuit (IC) chips that can store personal information.

The plan is intended to enable police and immigration authorities to jointly block illegal entry and more effectively track down those whose visas have expired. The IC chips will also help to prevent forgeries.

The information of the cardholder, including name, nationality, address and visa status, will be controlled at the Intelligence Center, which the government plans to establish.
The Japan Times adds some more information on the new ID chips:
The LDP and the government claim the new policy is aimed at preventing terrorism and crime.

But the new system, which is intended to replace the Certificate of Alien Registration, or "gaijin card," foreigners are currently required to carry, is likely to raise concerns about information sharing between immigration and police authorities.

...As usual, the holder will be required to report any change of address. But they will also be required to obtain permission from the government to change jobs.
And then there's this, from Kyodo News:
Japan plans to expand fingerprinting requirements for foreigners not only upon entry into the country but upon departure as well, as part of crime prevention measures, ruling party lawmakers said Wednesday. The government and the Liberal Democratic Party reached the agreement at a session of the party's panel on foreigners staying illegally in Japan.

Lawmakers said those with special permanent residency, including Korean residents in Japan, will be exempt from the measure. The latest move is aimed at preventing foreigners who are suspects in criminal cases in Japan from fleeing to a third country under an assumed identity, the lawmakers said.
I wonder how many foreign criminal suspects try to flee Japan under a fake name each year. Surely it can't be more than a few. Yet these new rules will affect many thousands of foreigners. At the same time, they'll do nothing to help catch Japanese criminals, who are responsible for the vast majority of crime in Japan. As Asia Times Online reported last November:
Over the past two decades, crimes committed by foreigners have never exceeded about 4% of all crime in Japan, and typically the yearly average has been between 2% and 3%. Foreigners currently make up just over 1% of Japan's total population, so they are only slightly over-represented in the figures. Despite this, the police, lawmakers and the media have focused on foreign crime as if it were one of the most serious issues facing Japan. For example, five of the 16 annual Police White Paper policy reports published between 1987 and 2003 took crimes committed by foreigners as their main theme.
And actually, the claim that foreigners are overrepresented in the crime statistics is misleading. Roughly one-third of foreigner "crimes" are simple visa violations — a relatively low-key offense that Japanese, by definition, cannot commit.

I still think Japan's a great place to live, but I'm just not feeling a whole lot of that famous Japanese hospitality right now.

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Hijacking Ground Zero

I was shocked by this this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Debra Burlingame, which is quickly spreading through the blogosphere. It explains how the left-leaning "International Freedom Center" (IFC) has effectively claimed a huge chunk of the 9-11 memorial site for its own ends, all without a word of criticism from New York Gov. George Pataki or Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Instead of simply honoring the heroes and remembering the tragedy, the IFC is planning to build a 300,000-square-foot "Freedom Center" at Ground Zero that will function as a gruesome catalog of American and other sins:

The public will have come to see 9/11 but will be given a high-tech, multimedia tutorial about man's inhumanity to man, from Native American genocide to the lynchings and cross-burnings of the Jim Crow South, from the Third Reich's Final Solution to the Soviet gulags and beyond. This is a history all should know and learn, but dispensing it over the ashes of Ground Zero is like creating a Museum of Tolerance over the sunken graves of the USS Arizona.
People coming to a 9-11 memorial don't want to be forced to think about slavery, or how settlers treated Native Americans 200 years ago. Is a 9-11 memorial that focuses on 9-11 too much to ask for?

In fact, there was once a much more appropriate 9-11 memorial on almost the very same site. I saw it while I was visiting New York one year after the terrorist attacks. It was made by people who still felt the pain of that day — people who knew what was important, what had to be said, and what had to be done. Here it is:
Along the fence surrounding Trinity Church, New Yorkers and visitors from around the world left wreaths, cards, posters, and flowers. There were Brazilian flags and British caps, German ribbons and Israeli T-shirts, all with handwritten pledges of hope, support, sorrow, and vengeance.
You very rarely see people in New York standing still and keeping quiet, but along that fence, there was no sound and no movement. People stopped walking, stood there, and contemplated. Some cried, silently.

Across the street, I found the most remarkable part of this ad hoc, grass-roots memorial. In the Chelsea Jeans store, owner David Cohen had decided to preserve part of the sales floor exactly as it was after the towers fell:
Cohen spent $10,000 of his own money sealing off a small display behind glass panels. Inside, flakes of ash and fine powdery soot still clung to the stacks of neatly-folded jeans and the rows of striped sweaters. Ironically, a tank top with an American flag design hung boldly in front.

The Trinity Church fence has long since been returned to its normal state; I remember hearing that all the items hung on it were transferred to the Smithsonian for storage. And while many people came to look at David Cohen's glass-enclosed display, business never picked up and he was forced to close the store. The display is gone, too.

It's unfortunate that we've lost these raw, improvised memorials. And it's incumbent upon us to replace them with something equally powerful — something that will let visitors reconnect with the memories and the wrenching emotions of 9-11. The IFC's Freedom Center, which Jeff Jarvis has dubbed "a Why They Hate Us Pavillion", not only falls short of the mark, it insults the spirits of those who died when the towers fell.

Our 9-11 memorial should focus on the horrors, the losses, the memories, and the sacrifices of that terrible day. It should not be used to advance a political agenda, especially that of the anti-American left.

I quoted a brief snippet of the Burlingame op-ed above, but this is really one of those cases where you simply have to read the whole thing. In case the WSJ link goes bad, I've saved a copy in Word format here.

Also be sure to check out GOPbloggers and Michelle Malkin, which include information on how you can protest the IFC's plan.

Take Back the Memorial has plenty of information on how you can help to do just that.

GOPbloggers has an update with information from a spokeswoman from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. (Found via LGF.)

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Traffic spike

InakaYabanjin has thoughtfully warned me to watch out for a hazard plaguing Japan's motorways: jagged metal shards affixed to the roadside guardrails. Kyodo News reports:

Sharp-edged pieces of metal, some of which were protruding and have caused injury to people, have been found on road guardrails in all of Japan's 47 prefectures, prefectural and central government officials said Friday.

Following earlier reports by Saitama and Nagasaki prefectures, Aichi, Chiba and Tokushima prefectures reported Friday that residents had been injured by protruding metal while cycling or walking along the road.
These metal shards look pretty fearsome, as the following photo from the Mainichi Shimbun suggests:
So where are the shards coming from? One theory, put forth by the Ministry of Transportation, holds that they're left behind by cars scraping the guardrails. Kyodo reports:
The ministry said it now believes that vehicle collisions are a possible source of the metal as one of the pieces examined in Aichi Prefecture was made of steel used in auto manufacturing.
But it seems unlikely to me that a piece of metal would rip off the side of a car and wedge itself right between the rail panels as seen in the above photo. And it seems even less likely that it would happen in some 21,000 locations across the country, according to another Kyodo News report. In fact, in that later report, officials admit bad driving can't explain all the shards:
Vice Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Satoshi Iwamura told reporters that the metal pieces cannot only be explained as being left over from vehicle crashes.
Other people suspect the shards were deliberately put in position as a form of low-grade domestic terrorism. The Mainichi reports:
Akira Sakuta, a criminal psychology expert and lecturer at Seigakuin University, said a group of people might have been involved.

"I suspect that those who want to injure people and cause trouble have inserted the objects," Sakuta said.
But again, the wide geographical range and large number of shards means it would have taken a large, determined, and well-coordinated group to plant them in so many places. And, according to the Mainichi, only four people have been injured by the shards so far. It seems like such a plot would require an incredible amount of work for negligible results.

The real answer seems to have been uncovered by oyajikun, a commenter on the JapanToday discussion boards. He writes:
They are nothing more than the remnants of the flag pole type signs you see along most roads advertising pachinko, kabakura [cabaret clubs] and delivery health.
He helpfully provides a link to photos and a diagram of such sign flagpoles and how they are installed:
It seems like this case could be closed. And some safer signpost attachments are in order.

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The world's sexiest blog?

Lately, Riding Sun has been getting a lot of hits from search engines all over the world. The reason appears to be that this image from this post is coming up pretty high in the results when someone does an image search for "sexy".

As of this writing, ranks it as the number one result. You can also see it cropping up on the first page of results from Google, as well as Google's British, Japanese, and Saudi Arabian versions. I haven't checked all of Google's many country-specific sites, but I'll bet their rankings are similar.

I'm happy to get the hits, although I imagine I'm disappointing a large number of frisky international surfers, including 5 just today from Saudi Arabia:

But why are Saudis looking for porn on the Internet, anyway? Doesn't seem very Islamic of them.

Yes, I know, foreigners could be doing the Saudi Arabian searches. However, it seems unlikely that they would use an Arabic version of Google instead of one in their native language.

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Carter's new hostage crisis

Jimmy Carter wants the Guantanamo Bay detention facility closed down. The Associated Press reports:

Former President Carter on Tuesday called for the United States to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison to demonstrate its commitment to human rights.

"The U.S. continues to suffer terrible embarrassment and a blow to our reputation... because of reports concerning abuses of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo," Carter said after a two-day human rights conference at his Atlanta center.
It would be ironic indeed if Carter, who spectacularly failed to free Americans being held by Islamic militants, managed to free Islamic militants being held by Americans.

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News feed

Hot on the heels of my talk radio debut last month, I was interviewed last Friday by Kathleen Megan, a reporter for the Hartford Courant. She was doing a story on the GPS panty hoax and found my post on the subject.

You can see the Courant's article here. Although we talked by phone for quite a while, I'm only mentioned briefly toward the end:

A blogger in Tokyo — a New Yorker identified by his Web name of Gaijin Biker — checked out the address for the company manufacturing the panties and found it doesn't exist.
Unfortunately, she left out the name of my blog, but hey, you can't have everything.

Reading the article, I was struck by the irony of a professional reporter using a blogger as a news source. Wasn't it supposed to be the other way around? In an infamous opinion piece last year, former CBS correspondent Eric Engberg sneered that "the chances of the bloggers replacing mainstream journalism are about as good as the parasite replacing the dog it fastens on."

Well, no one ever said anything about replacing traditional journalism, but more and more, bloggers are complementing it, not feeding off of it. Engberg's parasite-ridden dog just won't hunt.

According to this report in the Guardian, "The bloggers have all the best news". (Found via LGF.)

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This land is his land

Robert Mugabe's policy of confiscating farmland from white farmers and handing it over to his political cronies and military backers has, over the past several years, effectively killed Zimbabwe's once-productive agricultural sector. Fields that once yielded bountiful harvests now lie fallow and untilled. In many cases, plots have simply been abandoned by new owners with no farming experience.

As a result, people who once lived in Zimbabwe's rural regions fled to its cities and industrial areas. That left Mugabe with a problem: Having destroyed the countryside, how could he get people to move back there and start farming again? His answer was elegant in its simplicity: Destroy the cities, too. The Telegraph reports:

President Robert Mugabe's onslaught against Zimbabwe's cities has escalated to claim new targets, with white-owned factories and family homes being demolished in a campaign that has left 200,000 people homeless.

Across the country, Mr Mugabe is destroying large areas of heaving townships and prosperous industrial areas alike.

The aim of this brutal campaign is, says the official media, to depopulate urban areas and force people back to the "rural home".
But Mugabe isn't just destroying private property. He's also crushing his political opposition:
Virtually all the areas singled out for demolition voted for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in the last elections. The MDC says that Mr Mugabe ordered the destruction as a deliberate reprisal. But the regime is also seeking to depopulate the cities, driving people into the countryside where the MDC is virtually non-existent and the ruling Zanu-PF Party dominates.
The Guardian offers a sense of the impact Mugabe's wave of destruction is having on ordinary Zimbabweans:
Thousands of families have been made homeless and are sleeping in the open as winter sets in, taking night temperatures down to 4C (39F).

"The police came in the morning and just started tearing down people's homes. Some were burned down, others were bulldozed," said a resident of Chinotimba township in Victoria Falls. "My sister's home was torn down, and so she has moved in with us."

...Police and army flattened nearly 1,000 homes in an area of the capital known as Hatcliffe Extension, according to Trudy Stevenson, MP for Harare North. "It looks like a bomb hit the area. The destruction is terrible."
The 81-year-old Mugabe, who is also moving to nationalize all land, is ensuring that he will have total and uncontested dominion over an impoverished hellhole. Brilliant.

(Found via Tim Blair, who sees parallels with Mao's Great Leap Forward.)

Perry de Havilland says Zimbabwe needs a revolution.

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Panda diplomacy, revisited

Last month, I blogged about China's attempts to give Taiwan a pair of giant pandas "as a symbol of peace, unity and friendship." Of course, China's idea of "unity" requires Taiwan to place itself under Beijing's rule, and so the gift was refused. As the Telegraph reported:

Taiwanese officials have said the gift of two giant pandas offered by China as part of a diplomatic charm offensive will be refused. Taiwan fears acceptance would be seen as acknowledging Beijing's claim that Taiwan is part of China.
But China didn't give up. On June 1, China Daily reported that Chinese officials were still urging Taiwan to accept the pandas:
Beijing yesterday renewed its charm offensive towards Taiwan, urging immediate non-government talks across the Straits to pave the way for goodwill gifts to reach the island.

The gifts include scrapping import tariffs on dozens of Taiwan-grown fruits and giving the island a pair of giant pandas as a symbol of peace, unity and friendship.

...Six mainland officials from related government departments elaborated on Beijing's preparations for delivering the gifts yesterday at a regular press conference held by the Taiwan Affairs Office.
So, Beijing started making preparations for delivering a gift that Taiwan refused to accept. And instead of clearly reaffirming its earlier rejection, Taiwan's government went wobbly. As the Taipei Times reported the very next day:
Before China can fulfill its promise to deliver two giant pandas to Taiwan, officials from Beijing and Taipei will have to sit down and discuss the practical implications, such as whether the animals will be able to survive in Taiwan, the Cabinet said yesterday.
With Taiwan sliding from an outright refusal to a discussion of details and practicalities, China began whipping up popular support. It's giving plenty of media coverage to the selection of the two pandas, and holding a contest to name them.

Sadly, Taiwan seems to have finally buckled under the weight of China's panda hoopla. As Taiwan's Central News Agency reported on Saturday:
MAC [Mainland Affairs Council] officials said the government will be glad to see the pandas come to Taiwan if the procedures are in accordance with related international and domestic laws and there is somewhere in the country that is capable of taking care of the animals. The officials stressed that the government is considering the issue purely from the conservation point of view and not from any other angles.
When Taiwan first rejected the pandas on the grounds that the gift would violate international agreements on trade in endagered species, I thought it was just putting a diplomatic spin on its decision. But now it sounds like it's actually preparing to accept the pandas, once all the legal kinks and practical matters are addressed.

I think this is a mistake. Given the degree to which China is spinning the pandas as a symbol of cross-Straits "unity" (i.e., Taiwanese subjugation), Taiwan should have simply said no.

If Taiwan hopes to enjoy undisputed independence someday, it cannot afford to foster a sense of ambiguity about its national sovereignty. Like pandas themselves, it should be a matter of black and white.

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