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The number-one blog in Japan

Via BoingBoing, Japanese uber-blogger Joi Ito announces that the Technorati Japan website is up and running in beta.

According to Technorati's Top 100 ranking, the number one blog in Japan is Kawori's Chronicle, by Kawori Manabe, a popular aidoru (translation: "idol", basically a bikini and fashion model).

You might be thinking, "Well, of course her blog is popular. She's a model who probably posts lots of sexy pictures of herself on it."

But Kawori's blog has hardly any pictures of her at all. There are a few thumbnail links to e-commerce sites selling her photo books, but that's about it. (There's certainly nothing on it like this.)

Kaori's blog is essentially just a low-key diary of her day-to-day life. Here's a sample, translated from her latest post (I've tried to preserve her formatting as much as possible):

Why not get a new curtain for a change

...I was thinking,

so I went to the "Franc Franc" store.

Guess what happened?

There was a nice curtain,

But ready-made sizes don’t fit.

For my windows,

the width has to be 100 cm, height 165 cm

and I need two of them,

But the ones that are ready-made are in between

So I decided to get a custom order

And asked the store clerk:

     "Excuse me, I want to order a curtain"

Clerk: "Do you know the width?"

     "Uh, yes, the width is...

          100 meters"

Clerk: "Huh?... 100 meters...??" :-o

     "Yes, 100 meters"

Clerk: " mean 100 centimeters, right?"

Huh?...!!   :-P

"Um, yes, 100 cm"

...Like, what kind of a room would need a 100-meter curtain!

     I was thinking.

After that, I was able to place my order with no problem, but

when I thought about a 100-meter curtain, it was so funny that

while I was ordering I almost burst out laughing and tried to cover it by coughing.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to its arrival.

Last week I was able to relax so,

I will try hard to post more later on.
Her posts like these get hundreds of trackbacks each. Go figure. There are plenty of serious Japanese blogs, as I noted in this post, but the most popular one is pure fluff.

Marxy comments on the state of Japanese blogging here and here.

Japan Media Review looks at the Technorati rankings and adds some background on Kawori Manabe:
While still a student at the prestigious Yokohama National University, Manabe won the "Dream Girl Grand Prix" contest sponsored by the young men’s magazine "Hot Dog Press," according to the Japanese-language Wikipedia. That launched her career as an "idol" (Japanese slang for starlet or heartthrob), and she went on to gain particular fame as a swimsuit model, and later as an actress in advertisements, movies and various television programs. But she's also a proficient PC user, and before beginning her blog had written her own Web page in HTML (this, according to an interview that appeared on the National Police Agency's security portal web site, of all places.)
JMR also notes that one of the books linked on Kawori's site is a beginner's guide to investing in stocks that credits her as co-author. I'm betting most of the heavy lifting was done by Oki Matsumoto, who is famous in Japan for being one of the youngest people ever to become a managing director at Goldman Sachs, and who subsequently left to launch his own online brokerage.

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Powerful electric bikes

Gizmag says a new generation of electric motorcycles may be on the way:

Electric motorcycles are in their infancy but there’s a realistic promise of electric motor performance that is more suited for the racetrack than that of internal combustion engines and infinitely better suited for the road. As the first electric bikes find their way onto racetracks and begin mixing it with two and four strokes, it appears you need three times the horsepower in a gas-powered motor to get a bike as fast as an electric bike.
Apparently these new electric bikes will not be anemic novelties (like this, this, or this), but fully capable of delivering the ride (if not the sound) associated with gas-powered sportbikes. Read the rest here.

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In memoriam

(NOTE: Image found here.)

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Posner: Blogs more reliable than MSM

Some people have expressed skepticism about the accuracy of the blogosphere. Not University of Chicago law professor Richard Posner. On the Becker-Posner blog, he writes:

The self-correcting machinery of the blogosphere is more efficient than the internal fact-checking departments of conventional media enterprises. This is not only because many more people (not only the bloggers, but also, as I have just noted, their audience, which can communicate with them instanteously by means of the comment feature that most blogs enable) are watching out for mistakes; it is also because corrections are disseminated virtually instantaneously throughout the network.

In contrast, even when the mainstream media catch mistakes, it may, especially in the case of the print media, take days or weeks to communicate a retraction to the public. The process is especially deficient in the case of newspaper retractions, which are printed inconspicuously and, in all likelihood, rarely read.
Surprisingly, this statement of support by a respected academic has gone almost completely unnoticed by the blogosphere. As of this writing, Technorati shows that only eight unique sources have linked to Posner's post. Yet the Becker-Posner blog itself is linked by some 695 unique sources. Professors Becker and Posner may have created the blogosphere equivalent of a book people buy in order to appear intellectual, but do not actually read.

Reflecting my impeccable sense of timing, the Becker-Posner blog got Instalanched less than 24 hours after I posted the above (although for a different, but related post).

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Getting to the bottom of those GPS panties

If you've seen this and thought it might be a hoax, you were right. The site, Forget-Me-Not Panties, claims to sell panties with a GPS tracking device built into the waistband.

The idea is, you give them as a gift to your girlfriend or wife without telling her about the tracking feature. After that, you'll always be able to tell where she (or, at least, her underwear) is. From the Forget-Me-Not Panties website:

These panties will monitor the location of your daughter, wife or girlfriend 24 hours a day, and can even monitor their heart rate and body temperature.
Based on pioneering research developed by the U.S. military at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), we have brought this revolutionary technology, previously only available to the military, to you!

These "panties" can trace the exact location of your woman and send the information, via satellite, to your cell phone, PDA, and PC simultaneously! Use our patented mapping system, pantyMap®, to find the exact location of your loved one 24 hours a day.

The technology is embedded into a piece of fabric so seamlessly she will never know it's there!
So, how do we know this is a hoax? Well, for one thing, it seems unlikely that a pair of panties could hold a GPS tracker without the wearer knowing it's there. It's even less likely that the panties could monitor a woman's heart rate and body temperature. Also, how do you replace the battery? What happens if you wash them? And the name "pantyMap®" is pretty goofy.

It's also suspicious that the panties are all listed as sold out, so you can't actually order any. That's a clever way to disguise the fact that there aren't actually any panties to sell.

Listed at the bottom of the page in small print, the name of the Japanese company supposedly making these panties — Panchira — also raises a red flag. "Panchira" is Japanese slang for catching a fleeting glimpse of a woman's underwear beneath her skirt.

So far, so good. But we need proof.

Our next step: the company's address. It's given as "27th Floor, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan Building 2-24-5 Yurakucjo, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo". Sounds reasonable. There is indeed a Chiyoda-ku in Tokyo, and Yurakucho is part of it. And the misspelling of Yurakucho as "Yurakucjo" doesn't raise much of a red flag, since it could just be a typo.

But then we come to a fatal flaw: The address 2-24-5 Yurakucho does not exist. The correct address of the Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan building is Yurakucho 2-10-1.

The final piece of the puzzle comes from checking the website's source code. There, we find the following:
<frame src="" frameborder="0">
So it turns out the website, which appears under the URL, is actually drawing all its content from a different location here, that's part of the "" domain.

The Contagious Media Project, run by a fellow named Jonah Peretti, aims to launch funny or interesting memes and see how far they spread. Jonah is also Director of R&D for Eyebeam, a New York production studio that's running the Contagious Media Showdown — a contest to see who can devise the website that draws in the most unique visitors between May 19th and June 9th.

Note that the sites don't have to be hoaxes. They just have to attract as many people as possible. So far, Crying While Eating is the leading entry; Forget-Me-Not Panties are in second place. Other sites in the running include Autoblogger, which I posted about here, and Blogebrity, which actually includes me on its "C-List" of blog celebrities.

As it turns out, I'm not the first person to figure this all out. But I am probably the only one who used Japanese address-finding site Mapion to do it.

Mr. Pink notes that the Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan has far fewer than 27 floors. He's right.

Online Media Daily (part of the Media Post Publications website) has more on the Contagious Media Showdown here.

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Japan may enshrine war leaders separately

A remarkable report from Reuters:

An aide to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sought to quell a row with China over Koizumi's visits to a shrine for war dead, floating an idea on Sunday to enshrine wartime leaders separately from other war dead.

Sino-Japanese relations have been chilled by a series of disputes led by a row over Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni shrine, where convicted war criminals are honored along with 2.5 million military war dead.

The controversy stems from the fact that Yasukuni, in 1978, officially added 14 "Class A" war criminals, including wartime prime minister Hideki Tojo, to those honored at the shrine.
I suggested the idea of Japan using a separate shrine for its war leaders in this post. At the time, it struck me as a straightforward solution to the problem of how Japan could honor its war dead without offending its Asian neighbors. Yet Japan long resisted such a move. So what's motivating its current change of heart?
Hidenao Nakagawa, a senior lawmaker with Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, urged authorities in charge of the shrine to honor Class A war criminals separately to help resolve the dispute.

Nakagawa said he hoped such action would result in China giving its assent to Japan becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
I have a hunch how this gambit will play out: Japan will enshrine its war leaders separately, and China will still veto its Security Council bid.

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Blogging made easy

Wondering how some bloggers can turn out 10 or more posts a day, while you struggle just to come up with one or two?

Their secret may be here.

(Found via Gen Kanai)

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Safety dance

Dangerous Dan notes that Britons, already enjoying some of the world's toughest gun control laws, may next find themselves facing — you guessed it — knife control.

Actually, knives are already heavily regulated in Britain. You can't carry one around with you in public. But now, incredibly, there are calls to ban ordinary kitchen knives... from the kitchen. The BBC reports:

A team from West Middlesex University Hospital said violent crime is on the increase — and kitchen knives are used in as many as half of all stabbings.

They argued many assaults are committed impulsively, prompted by alcohol and drugs, and a kitchen knife often makes an all too available weapon.

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

The researchers said there was no reason for long pointed knives to be publicly available at all.
The idea that people cannot be trusted around potentially dangerous items seems to be widespread in British society — or at least that segment of it that deems itself fit to recommend new laws for everyone else to obey. Recently, I posted about a British proposal to install eletronic speed limiters on all motorcycles and scooters. The ultimate goal appears to be the creation of a secure environment in which individuals, despite their irresponsible and dangerous natures, can do themselves no harm — kind of like a baby's playpen, or a padded room in an insane asylum.

Of course, such attitudes are not found only in Britain. I previously posted about how, after a rash of knife murders, one city in Japan proposed a bill requiring mandatory owner registration of all knives with a blade longer than 15 centimeters. (How this was intended to reduce crime escapes me.) Once again, instead of requiring that people control their own behavior, the state tries to remove the possibility for them to do wrong.

Sometimes, such efforts aim to elminate the risk not only of physical harm, but of financial loss. In this post, I quoted Yale computer science professor David Gelernter on how the Democrats don't trust average U.S. citizens to manage their own money:
How could anyone be opposed in principle to private investment accounts within Social Security? ...How on Earth could anyone be opposed in principle to letting taxpayers manage a minuscule fraction of their own money (their own money, dammit!) if they want to? Because private accounts violate the Infantile American Principle, so dear to Democratic hearts. Little kids should turn over their cash to the Big Smart Government for safekeeping.
Banning kitchen knives, limiting morotcycle speeds, and blocking private accounts all suggest a contempt for the abilities of ordinary citizens that is fundamentally in opposition to the basic premise of democratic society. As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, "In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns." Those who would have government protect us from ourselves assume the people are not the superiors of the state, but its wards.

At the Volokh Conspiracy, Dave Kopel posts on the British kitchen-knife proposal, and includes links to some serious looks at gun and knife control laws. (Found via Rajan Rishyakaran.)

The New York Times, in an article that seems pretty dismissive of the proposed knife ban, offers this stunning quote from one of the researchers:
Dr. Hern said that "we came up with the idea and tossed it into the pot" to get people talking about crime reduction. "Whether it's a sensible solution to this problem or not, I'm not sure."

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Hit product

First introduced in 1999 as the "Eggparka", Mugen Denko's "Hit Air" motorcycle jacket comes with built-in airbags. Here's a picture of the inflatable cushioning sytem:

From the product website:
In the event of an accident and a rider is thrown from the motorcycle, the air cushion instantly inflates (within 1/2 second) to protect the rider's body. Activation is simple and automatic. A coiled wire is attached to both the motorcycle and the jacket. Once the rider and the motorcycle are separated, the coiled wire pulls a "key" out of a gas release system and inert gas inflates the air cushion. The inflated jacket provides the necessary impact protection.
You can see some videos of it inflating here. It doesn't look like it would provide complete protecion in a crash, but every little bit helps.

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North Korea has nukes, needs food

The BBC reports that North Korea is unable to feed its people:

The World Food Programme (WFP) has repeated its warning of a food crisis in North Korea and says the situation is getting worse by the day.

The WFP regional director, Anthony Banbury, said contributions from overseas had all but dried up. He said the organisation was having to cut handouts to some of those most in need.

North Korea has depended on food aid from overseas for the last decade. But major donors have made no new contributions this year and the WFP is warning of disaster if they do not resume shipments.

Mr Banbury said governments had expressed great frustration with North Korea's actions, and the hostile atmosphere was making them reluctant to send more aid.

North Korea declared itself a nuclear weapons state in February, and has refused to return to international talks on its nuclear programme.

The United States says it is also considering food aid but has yet to make a decision.
Unbelievable. Even as Kim Jong-Il threatens America by building nuclear bombs and ICBM delivery systems, he turns to America for help. And America, being the nation that it is, is actually considering helping.

Perhaps if Kim had created a market economy and promoted modern agricultural techniques, instead of blowing all his cash on weapons programs and Juche propaganda, North Koreans might have something to eat.

Steven Den Beste comments:
The difficulty is that with things as bad as they are in NK, food distribution is one of the ways the Kim government maintains control. If people get feisty, the food stops arriving. There's also good reason to believe that the majority of the food shipped to NK from the west ended up being redirected to feed NK's army, rather than reaching the "poor starving women and children" that we always hear about when this comes up. They were starving even when we were shipping in hundreds of thousands of tons of food every year.

The foreign governments who had been shipping in lots of food to NK finally dropped the hammer and insisted that all food distribution be under international control and monitoring to make sure it went where it was intended to go. But that doesn't suit the Kim government, which refused to agree to those terms. So that's why the food shipments dried up.

The WFP knows all this, but doesn't want to talk about it because it doesn't fit their narrative: "evil, greedy, rich western nations are refusing to help feed starving NK women and children". Actually, the western nations have decided that they're tired of feeding NK's army, and hope that by cutting off the food that they can hasten NK's collapse.
I had actually read about North Korea diverting food aid to its military before (on Steven's old site, among other places), but neglected to work that fact into my post.

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Charges dropped against Ilario Pantano

Marine 2nd Lieutenant Ilario Pantano will not face a court-martial over charges that he murdered two Iraqi insrugents. The Associated Press reports:

The Marine Corps dropped murder charges Thursday against an officer accused of riddling two Iraqis with bullets and hanging a warning sign on their corpses as a grisly example to other suspected insurgents.

Autopsies conducted on the Iraqis' exhumed bodies backed 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano's assertion that he shot them in self-defense after the men disobeyed his instructions and made a menacing move toward him, Marine officials said.

..."Down at the unit level, there was never a question about Ilario's conduct and whether or not he did the right thing," said Charles Gittins, Pantano's civilian lawyer. "It was up in the higher echelons. The people removed from combat situations needed to put more trust in their officers rather than assuming they're guilty."
Gittins's statements to the press throughout this case have often struck me as ill-considered, and his latest comment is no exception. No one assumed Pantano was guilty. Instead, they followed up on what appeared to be credible charges of wrongdoing, letting the question of Pantano's guilt or innocence be decided by the military justice system.

It's not clear whether Pantano will face administrative punishment for shooting the bodies of the insurgents an excessive number of times, as investigating officer Lt. Col. Mark E. Winn had previously recommended. But regardless, Pantano must be breathing a lot more easily now.

How many New Yorkers thought about joining the military after 9-11? Pantano did more than just think. He left behind a high-paying job, a beautiful wife, a young son, and the comforts of civillian life. Like Pat Tillman, who walked away from a multi-million-dollar pro football contract to fight (and ultimately, to die) in Afghanistan, he felt certain things were more important than his own personal happiness.

Pantano may have made a bad decision when he shot, and kept shooting, the two insurgents to "send a message". But in those painful days after 9-11, he made an amazingly selfless and admirable one. With his legal troubles — and his career in the Marines — apparently over, I hope he is able to able to once again enjoy everything he gave up to serve his country.

Pantano may indeed enjoy civillian life again someday, but not right away, if he can help it. According to a statement by his attorney (which was included at the end of the article I linked above, but which I missed), he wants to try to return to a combat unit. Amazing.

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Does this mean I'm part of the MSM?

I should be on the Rick Jensen Show (1150AM WDEL) in about 5 minutes to talk about the Japanese Newsweek cover.

Well, that was an intense experience. Rick is an easy guy to talk to, but being on the air cranked up my nervousness dial to "11". It amazes me that talk radio hosts can calmly chat away, live, for up to three hours at a stretch.

I think I did a good enough job of explaining why I was upset by the Newsweek cover without seeming like a fire-breathing demogogue. I also tried to make the point that if Newsweek runs a story overseas, it should run it in America, too, so Americans can know it's there and respond to it. And it was funny hearing someone call me "GaijinBiker" out loud. All in all, it could have been a lot worse.

Nevertheless, in my stress, I forgot the Japanese word for courage, yuuki, which Rick pop-quizzed me on when it came up in the conversation: "It looks like Newsweek lacked the courage — hey, how would you say that in Japanese, Gaijin? My brilliant reply: "Uh... I'd just say "courage."

I also intentionally misidentified my motorcycle as a Honda CB1300, not an X-4, which is similar. I figured that since Honda never sold the X-4 in America, no one would know what I was talking about. But I forgot that Honda doesn't sell the CB1300 in America either. And I also forgot that it doesn't matter, since most people aren't going to know one model number from another, anyway. Bleh.

Toward the end of the segment, I started to drift into a misbegotten analogy comparing beach vacations and ski vacations to democracy and socialism, when Rick mercifully dragged the conversation back on topic. Hey, made sense when I was thinking about it. Really.

When I write a blog post, I can edit and re-edit my words countless times (and I usually do) until they say exactly what I want. And even then, sometimes I still wish I'd said something different. On radio, you say something, and BAM! That's it. That's what you said. So I definitely felt pressure to get things right and not say anything too stupid — but at the same time, it was a lot of fun.

Thanks for having me on the show, Rick.

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Riding two-up with Big Brother

London has long felt people can't be trusted to defend themselves. Now it's on the verge of deciding they can't be trusted to ride motorcycles, either. The Edgeware & Mill Hill Times reports on an attempt to electronically prevent bikes from breaking the speed limit:

Motorbikes and scooters could be fitted with electronic devices to keep them to the speed limit, Transport for London board papers reveal.

Concern is rising over the number of motorcycle casualties across London, and TfL are considering introducing intelligent speed adaptation (ISA) devices to cut accident rates. A report has been commissioned into the use of ISA devices, which will be published this summer, and road manager Peter Hendy has suggested that the idea be looked at by TfL's safety committee.

In Barnet, a six per cent reduction in the number of casualties was achieved last year, while outer London boroughs recorded, on average, a fall of 14 per cent.

"This is one of a number of things we are considering," said a spokesman for TfL. "But we would hope that other measures could achieve cuts in casualties."
The above article is a masterpiece of misdirection. First, note that the number of casualities isn't necessarily rising; concern over it is. The actual number could be rising, falling, or staying the same. The article doesn't tell us.

Second, presumably we're meant to infer that the declines in Barnet and outer London boroughs were due to speed-regulating devices, but the article doesn't actually say such devices were used. The drops might be due to other factors.

Third, the article doesn't mention whether high speed by the motorcycle rider is a factor in these accidents. An increase in bike crashes might be due to an increase in irresponsible driving by car owners. You can install all the speed-limiting gadgetry you want on a motorcycle, and it still won't make a difference if a car runs a red light and slams into it. (And as we've seen before in Britain, cars are often the problem.)

But even if a wave of motorcycle casualties were sweeping across London, and even if excessive speed were to blame, electronic limiters would still be a bad idea.

Bad, because safety, while important, is not all-important. Other things matter, too — like the freedom to do as you like, the responsibility of using that freedom wisely, and the knowledge that you will bear the consequences of your own actions.

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Amnesty International warns U.S. leaders

Newsday and the L.A. Times highlight one of the reasons why we didn't sign on to the International Criminal Court:

Amnesty International yesterday called the U.S. military's anti-terror prison at Guantánamo Bay the "gulag of our times" and warned that U.S. leaders may face international prosecution for mistreating prisoners.

...If U.S. officials don't act, other countries will, warned Amnesty's U.S. director, William Schultz. "The apparent high-level architects of torture should think twice before planning their next vacation to places like Acapulco or the French Riviera because they may find themselves under arrest," he said.
I almost wish I had been in the Gulag at some point, just so I could say, "Mr. Schultz, I know the Gulag. I've been in the Gulag. And Guantanamo is no Gulag."

Still, I'd like to see France place a senior U.S. official under arrest. It would be fun to watch them deal with the consequences, non?

Rusty at The Jawa Report has the definitive post on Gitmo vs. the Gulag.

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The man behind the cover

Japanese blogger pantomime points out that Newsweek's flag-in-the trash cover is credited to photo illustrator William Duke.

According to Duke's website, he "has been recognized for his conceptual and problem solving abilities,as well as the artistic integrity of his photo illustrations", winning several industry awards. His clients include Time, Esquire, and the New York Times Magazine.

His site also features a portfolio of his past work, including this picture of Uncle Sam menacing the globe (and, in particular, the Middle East), while the rest of the world points its fingers at him. The red stripes on his hat are the splatter of thrown tomatoes:

You've got to admit, Duke does have a certain flair for this sort of thing.

Reader David Wright of Dave's Wagon finds the possible inspiration for the Uncle Sam picture.

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Riders on the storm

From Cap'n' Wacky's hilarious Parade of Unfortunate Star Wars Costumes comes the following photo:

Didn't Return of the Jedi teach these guys that stormtroopers and bikes don't mix? Sure, they're having fun now, but when those Ewoks start stringing vines across the road, watch out.

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The article Newsweek wouldn't print

Reader Tokyo Tom comments:

Gaijinbiker, you've done all your American readers a service by bringing to our attention the Japanese Newsweek version of Andrew Moravcsik's "Dream on America" article. It is frankly appalling that Newsweek wilted from the challenge of presenting an important reality-check piece such as this from the US edition — to protect our global interests we need to know how others around the world perceive us. May I suggest you do your readers an even greater service by adding a link to the English version, so they can get past the Japanese cover you present to see what the article is all about?

People should keep in mind that the article is at its core simply a report of the perception of the declining importance of the US in the world; it is unfortunate but undeniable that this perception is well-supported by many statistics showing an accelerating decline in the relative standing of the US in many important areas that affect our global power. We need to pull our heads out of the sand and start asking difficult questions about what we are doing wrong and what we should do to get back on track, for our own sake (whether the rest of the world looks up to us is another point).
If you'd like to read the article that Newsweek left out of its January 31 American edition, it's available on the MSNBC-Newsweek International website here.

I've read it, and there's a lot that could be said in response, which might make a good post later on. But for now, there it is.

Pixy Misa administers a sound fisking.

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No quagmire here

Via LGF, the New York Times reports on how UN "peacekeeping" efforts in the Congo are growing steadily more warlike:

Peacekeepers in armored personnel carriers, facing enemy sniper attacks as they lumber through rugged dirt paths in the eastern Ituri region, are returning fire. Attack helicopters swoop down over the trees in search of tribal fighters. And peacekeepers are surrounding villages in militia strongholds and searching hut by hut for guns.

...The operation in Congo began as a modest observer mission in 1999. It has mushroomed, now commanding 16,500 soldiers — but is still regarded as understaffed by United Nations officials in New York.

...As they root out the insurgents who prey on Ituri's population, United Nations soldiers in the east have at their disposal tanks, armored personnel carriers, Mi-25 attack helicopters, mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers — all of which are getting heavy use.
This thing has been going on for almost six years, steadily growing larger and more out-of-control. When, one wonders, will the Times finally call it a quagmire?

My prediction: Never, unless U.S. troops begin taking part.

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China, Japan at odds again

For a brief moment there, relations between Japan and China seemed to be on the mend.

They had been damaged, you may recall, by news of new Japanese history textbooks that played down Japan's actions during World War II, and by Chinese state-sponsored riots that damaged Japan's embassy building and Japanese-owned stores. But China eventually reined in the protesters, and talked about offering compensation, if not an apology, for the damage they caused.

However, signs of trouble began to emerge when the two sides couldn't agree on the amount of compensation. This news was soon followed by Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi's announcement that he would continue to visit the controversial Yasukuni shrine, where the spirits of Japan's war dead — including its military leaders in World War II — are honored.

So, after all that, this can't be good news. The Asahi Shimbun reports:

Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi abruptly canceled a scheduled meeting Monday with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, citing urgent business at home.

The highly unusual move concerning diplomatic protocol triggered speculation that Beijing was expressing discontent over Koizumi's repeated visits to war-related Yasukuni Shrine.
Neither can this, also from the Asahi:
Chinese President Hu Jintao criticized Japan on Sunday over the three issues of Yasukuni, history textbooks and Taiwan.

He made the criticism in a meeting with two visiting secretaries-general of Japan's ruling coalition parties: Tsutomu Takebe of the Liberal Democratic Party and Tetsuzo Fuyushiba of New Komeito.

"In recent years, there have been developments (in Japan) that we do not want to see," Hu said.

..."The development of China-Japan relations is like constructing a building. We can complete it by laying bricks one by one. However, it can be destroyed in an instant."
Yes, yes, I know it was just an analogy. But alluding to the instantaneous destruction of entire buildings sounds to me like a not-so-veiled threat.

With China ready to use its veto, Japan can probably kiss its chances of joining the UN Security Council goodbye.

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I mean, just, wow.

At about 7:00PM local time, this blog passed the 100,000-visits threshold. About 18% of those happened today, after I wrote the Newsweek post.

First, the Instalanche hit. But soon, the deluge of visitors from multiple blogs simultaneously could only be described as an omnilanche.

To everyone who linked, contributed comments, wrote a post of their own, or just helped spread the story: Thank you.

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YES! Fox may be bringing back Futurama!

Great news, everyone!

According to this post on Can't Get Enough Futurama, and this one on lead actor Billy West's own website, Fox is considering making new Futurama episodes or full-length movies.

Futurama had a few rough episodes early on, but by the time Fox foolishly yanked it off the air, it was far more entertaining than watching the once-great Simpsons go through the motions for yet another season.

Now, having learned from the success of Family Guy, which it brought back to TV after DVD sales went through the roof, Fox is looking to see what other hit shows it cancelled before their time. According to Billy himself, Futurama won't be coming back to broadcast television, but new direct-to-DVD episodes or movie-length features may be in the works soon:

Well, I spoke to [executive producer] David X. Cohen because we did promos for a new Futurama compilation and he said that they did have talks with the top guys at FOX and they were extremely impressed with the sales of the Futurama DVDs. The idea was to make a Futurama movie right to DVD and then a 2nd and a 3rd. That's what's being discussed. Fox is trying to figure out a budget for the whole project, and it sounded like David X. was very jazzed!

I would love more than anything to do that show again. I thought it was best experience on every level...creatively, voice-wise, writing, animation and the laughs. The laughs. Writers and performers that respected each other. No derelict genius looking down the barrel of his own complacency wrecking everything in his wake.

Wouldn't it be nice?
Hear, hear, Billy. Can't wait to see Amy Wong in some new outfits.

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Newsweek: America is dead

NOTE (added May 25): Welcome Daily Kos readers! Thanks for stopping by. As I've said before, thoughtful comments from any political perspective are always welcome here. This blog is not meant to be an echo chamber.

NOTE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! And thanks very much for linking, Professor Reynolds. Ditto for LGF readers and Charles.

Newsweek's false, retracted story about American guards flushing the Koran down a toilet at Guantanamo doesn't necessarily mean the magazine's staff hates America or Bush, or wants us to lose in Iraq. To be charitable, let's just chalk that one up to sloppy journalism.

But I'm at a loss to explain this, from the February 2 issue of Newsweek's Japanese edition:

As you can see, the cover story shows an American flag, dirtied and tossed in a trash can, its staff snapped in two. The large white text reads, "Amerika ga shinda hi", which translates to "The day America died."

The equivalent international edition of Newsweek, the January 31 issue, featured a picture of Bush on the cover, with the caption "America Leads ...But is Anyone Following?":
Both of the above editions featured a cover-story article by Andrew Moravcsik, titled "Dream on, America". (This was translated into Japanese as "Yume no kuni Amerika ga kuchihateru toki", which is even harsher; it means, roughly, "America, the dream country, is rotting away".) According to Newsweek itself, the article described "the world's rejection of the American way of life."

Moravcsik's article did not run in the American edition of that same issue. The cover was also a bit different. It featured Hilary Swank, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx, with the title "Oscar Confidential":
If you look carefully, you'll see that one of the articles from the other two editions is mentioned in a small blurb at the top: Fareed Zakaria's "High Hopes, Hard Facts" — here billed as "A reality check on Bush & 'Freedom'". Sure, they put scare quotes around "Freedom", but pretty tame stuff, all things considered.

It's one thing for Newsweek to actively promote the notion that America is a "dead", "rotting" country overseas. But it's quite another thing indeed to hide those efforts from its American readers. If Newsweek really thinks America is dead, and our flag belongs in the trash, why won't it tell us?

If I were to offer Newsweek a suggestion, it would be this: Any story or cover you're ashamed to run in America probably shouldn't be used in other countries, either.

FOLLOW-UP: Let the photoshopping begin!

ANOTHER FOLLOW-UP: Watch out — Lileks is on the case. But he's giving Newsweek a one-day headstart.

YET ANOTHER FOLLOW-UP: More photoshopping, as Rick Adams has created an image of the Japanese Newsweek cover with the headlines translated into English. (Found via LGF.)

Reader Tokyo Tom points out that the Moravcsik article Newsweek wouldn't print in America is available on the MSNBC-Newsweek International website here.

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Communists, feminists oppose naked sushi

Kyodo News reports another reason why communism, in all its forms, must be defeated:

China's State Administration of Industry and Commerce issued a notice this weekend banning meals served on naked bodies, officially canceling the service offered by a Japanese restaurant in southwestern China that served sushi on unclothed female university students, a Beijing newspaper reported Sunday.

The Saturday pronouncement forbids the service because it "insults people's moral quality," according to the Beijing Times. Serving food on women's bodies also "spreads commercial activity with poor culture," the paper said, citing the administration's notice.

...Chinese media reported that the Hefeng Village Huaishi Cuisine Restaurant in Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, was serving sushi and other Japanese food on two naked university students as they lay on their backs.
Interestingly, as this 2003 Associated Press story shows, China's prudish views are shared by feminist groups in America:
SEATTLE, Washington (AP) — Promoters insist it's performance art. Detractors say women are getting a raw deal.

Whatever the case, the controversy over the Bonzai nightclub serving sushi on nearly naked women isn't about to fade anytime soon.

"It's dehumanizing, the manner in which people are buying and selling sushi to be eaten off a woman's body. It's dehumanizing to be treated as a plate," said Cherry Cayabyab, president of the local chapter of National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum.

If the club persists, she and other activists plan to launch a media campaign — apparently the first organized opposition to naked sushi in the United States.

..."It provides a forum to see a human being as an object — and when women are viewed as objects, they are more likely to be violated," said Norma Timbang, executive director of the Asian and Pacific Islander Women and Family Safety Center.
Are these feminists really asking for laws limiting what women can do with their bodies?

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Germany caught in EU speed trap

The Times of London reports that Germany's days of no-speed-limit roadways may be numbered.

The European Union’s energy commissioner has called for a 100kph — 62mph — speed limit to be adopted throughout Europe. Andris Piebalgs said roads in all 25 member states should be posted with a uniform limit to cut accidents and save fuel. His suggestion follows a recommendation by the International Energy Association in Paris and is seen as a quick way to cut energy consumption in response to depleted oil reserves.

"If in Germany cars are speeding at 200kph (124mph) they are using too much petrol," said Piebalgs. He was speaking at a meeting in Germany, where motorists enjoy the only speed-limit-free roads in the EU.
Too much by whose standards, Piebalgs?
A comment on the website of Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, said: "With those speed limits we would be castrated."
That comment misses the point. Germany's real loss of vitality came when it decided to submit itself to the authority of the European Commission. To complain about a bureaucracy using the power it has been given is naïve.

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Harvard students perform Abu Ghraib play

ROTC programs aren't allowed at Harvard. But, as the Harvard University Gazette reports, stuff like this is just fine:

On May 12, the Loeb Experimental Theatre will premier a work by a Harvard undergraduate that carries on that tradition. "Abu Ghraib," written and directed by sophomore Currun Singh, probes the meaning of the 2004 prisoner abuse scandal using a combination of dialogue, film, music, and dance.

Singh, a social studies concentrator who has participated in student theatrical productions both onstage and behind the scenes since his freshman year, said that the idea for a play based on Abu Ghraib evolved out of the shock and dismay he and fellow students felt as the news story unfolded.
In an article in the Harvard Crimson, the play's producer, sophomore Xin Wei Ngiam, explains that the play is careful to set the events of Abu Ghraib in the proper context:
Ngiam explains that she and Singh have made a “short history of American human rights abuses” spliced from various archival films.
I guess they lacked the time to make a long history. Yes, American mistakes should be confronted, not swept under the rug. But demonizing America as a serial human rights abuser throughout history is as irresponsible as saying America can do no wrong.

This story doesn't really seem to be making much of a splash in the blogosphere (although some posts are here and here). Which presumably is just fine with Harvard. When Fox News sent a camera crew to film the play for a segment on "The O`Reilly Factor", it was not allowed to enter the theatre. UPI reports:
O`Reilly said he planned to film footage from the theater production for a segment of his program, "The O`Reilly Factor." However, when camera crews arrived May 12 at the Loeb Experimental Theater, they were not allowed to enter.

Robert Mitchell, director of communications for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said Harvard policy prevents media crews from entering the building unless they have permission from the student producers. O`Reilly and his executive producer, David Tabacoff, told the Boston Herald they had received permission.
What is Harvard hiding? Why doesn't it want the rest of the country to see Singh's play?

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Prosecutor opposes Pantano report

NOTE: Welcome, Blackfive readers! For more on the Pantano case, older posts are here: (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), (9)

There's a new bit of news out in the case of 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano, the Marine accused of murdering two Iraqi insurgents.

As I noted here, the investigating officer in Lt. Pantano's Article 32 proceeding recommended that he not face a court-martial on murder charges. Now, the Associated Press reports that one of the prosecuting officers is criticizing that recommendation.

A prosecutor seeking murder charges against a Marine officer who fatally shot two Iraqis during a search for a terrorist hideout has criticized a report that recommends no court-martial in the case.

...Maj. Stephen Keane, senior trial counsel for the Marines, said Wednesday that prosecutors "showed a case where a set-up took place, and the accused at best invited self-defense, and the investigating officer did not comment on those elements."

Pantano's civilian lawyer, Charles Gittins, said Wednesday those issues were addressed in court and in the reports.
In the months leading up to Pantano's Article 32 hearing, Marine prosecutors strictly avoided commenting to the media about the merits of the case against him, stressing how important it is to be patient and let the military justice system do its job.

Back in February, when news of the case first broke, Maj. Matt Morgan spoke to WorldNetDaily, in response to public outrage that Pantano might be court-martialed:
Americans outraged at the murder charges against a Marine who claims he killed two insurgent terrorists in Iraq in self-defense should have confidence in the military justice system, insists a Marine Corps spokesman.

Maj. Matt Morgan of Camp Lejeune, N.C., told WorldNetDaily he understands why the public is rallying behind 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano after news of his case broke Friday.

..."I just believe that it's important for Americans to have faith in the judicial process and understand that Lt. Pantano is presumed innocent and will continue to be so unless determined otherwise," Morgan said.
Fair enough. But it would be nice if Maj. Keane had the same faith.

The Marines ordered Pantano to stand and face the charges against him in an official hearing, and he did. It seems unprofessional of Maj. Keane, and unfair to Pantano, to publicly complain about the results of that hearing just because things didn't go his way.

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Coming soon

Here's a look at the logo of Japan's new professional basketball league, which kicks off its opening season this November:

That's right. It's called the BJ League.

I'm guessing the marketing wizards behind this one just added a "B" for basketball to "J-League", the name of Japan's professional soccer organization. This could give a whole new meaning to the phrase, "He shoots... he scores!"

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Indian burn

It's too bad our old buddy, University of Colorado ethnic studies professor and 9-11 apologist Ward Churchill, doesn't have the "Survivor" immunity necklace — because the tribe has spoken.

The Keetoowah band of Cherokee Indians has kicked Churchill out. Or, more accurately, they've declared that he was never a real member in the first place. Via the Llama Butchers blog, Denver's Rocky Mountain News reports:

Ward Churchill's claim of membership in the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians is fraudulent, according to a scathing statement released by the tribal office.

The statement, issued May 9 in the name of the tribal leader, Chief George Wickliffe, and posted on its Web site Tuesday, does not mince words:

"The United Keetoowah Band would like to make it clear that Mr. Churchill IS NOT a member of the Keetoowah Band and was only given an honorary 'associate membership' in the early 1990s because he could not prove any Cherokee ancestry."

The tribe said that all of Churchill's "past, present and future claims or assertions of Keetoowah 'enrollment,' written or spoken, including but not limited to; biographies, curriculum vitae, lectures, applications for employment, or any other reference not listed herein, are deemed fraudulent by the United Keetoowah Band."

Churchill could not be reached Tuesday, and his attorney, David Lane, did not respond to calls for comment.
The Denver Post reports that despite the tribe's statement, Churchill still claims he's an Indian, and a Keetoowah member. But his evidence, an old videotape of the tribal council considering his "application" for membership, doesn't seem all that conclusive.

As the Post explains, the University of Colorado's Standing Committee on Research Misconduct is currently investigating whether Churchill falsely claimed Indian ancestry to "lend credibility to his work", as well as whether he misrepresented historical events and committed plagiarism in his academic writings.

Ward Churchill had quite a run as an America-bashing ersatz Indian "professor", but his chickens, as Ward himself might say, finally seem to be coming home to roost.

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Please get off a motorcycle

Seen at Roppongi Hills:

What if I'm not on a motorcycle? Do I need to find one, get on it, and then get off?

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Donald Trump gets it right

I never thought I'd say this, but Donald Trump has excellent taste.

He is, correctly, trashing Daniel Libeskind's sickeningly defeatist plan to sully the site of the former World Trade Center with a spindly, skeletal "Freedom Tower" and a cluster of stumpy, jagged buildings that look like they've had their tops sliced off with a knife — all surrounding the naked "footprints" of the original towers, left exposed like gaping wounds:

Trump wants to replace Libeskind's atrocity with a plan to rebuild the original Twin Towers, only bigger:
"If someone knocked down the Statue of Liberty, you wouldn’t put the Eiffel Tower in its place," Trump said in a press release. In Trump's design, by engineer Ken Gardner and architect Herbert Belton, the proposed north tower would be the world's tallest building at 1,858 feet high, surpassing even the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower.

I have long considered Trump to be a crass, classless opportunist who also appears to have a remarkable knack for managing his businesses straight into bankruptcy. But in his bravado and his chutzpah, he embodies the spirit of New York. And he is finally saying what has needed saying for several years, ever since Governor Pataki rammed through Libeskind's pathetic excuse for a design. I only hope site developer Larry Silverstein has the good sense to listen.

Thanks, Donald.

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Waving goodbye to goodwill

One of the first big news stories I blogged about was last December's devastating Indian Ocean tsunami and the ensuing relief efforts.

The outpouring of aid from many nations was impressive, but in the days immediately after the tsunami hit, it was the U.S. military that played the most important role in getting relief and assistance to people who urgently needed it.

As the Associated Press reported on January 3:

A massive American military relief operation picked up steam on Monday with U.S. helicopters dropping off cartons of food aid in Sumatra and U.S. warships with 2,200 Marines arriving in the Malacca Straits to begin ferrying supplies to the tsunami-battered island.

...On Monday, the USS Bonhomme Richard and two other warships carrying a Marine expeditionary unit, dozens of helicopters and tons of supplies steamed into the Indian Ocean to join in relief operations off the hard-hit northwest coast of Sumatra.

...The ships are part of one of the largest U.S. military missions in Asia since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its battle group are operating off northern Sumatra, the hardest hit area, and U.S. airlift operations are being flown out of Utapao, a base in Thailand used to stage bombing missions in the Vietnam era.
At the time, some people thought America's actions might improve our standing in the Muslim world. John P. Howe, III, the CEO of aid group Project HOPE, wrote:
Today, a U.S. Navy ship sits off the coast of Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country with 240 million people. The ship Mercy doesn't bristle with armaments — it is alive with compassion. It serves as a floating hospital, with nearly 100 American civilian doctors and nurses onboard recruited by Project HOPE. All of them are volunteering their time to help care for the victims of the tsunami.

...Through a mission like this, we are saving lives, repairing families, and restoring the capacity of local medical providers to care for their fellow citizens. Equally important, we are showing the wary people of this region that Americans are thoughtful and caring.
But if Muslim goodwill toward the U.S. ever materialized as a result of the tsunami relief efforts, it is certainly gone now. A single false report of a desecrated Koran was all it took. Americans delivered thousands of tons of aid, and saved thousands of lives, but in the end, it counted for nothing. Or at least not enough to forestall violent riots and cries for a holy war against the United States.

When the next disaster strikes a Muslim nation, Americans will undoubtedly once again provide assistance, as we always do. But we should do so with the knowledge that our good deeds must be their own reward, for we shall receive no other.

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Career derailment

The head of JR West has announced that he will resign, following last month's disastrous train crash that killed 107 people. Kyodo News reports:

West Japan Railway Co President Takeshi Kakiuchi on Tuesday indicated he will resign to take responsibility for Japan's fourth-deadliest postwar train accident in Hyogo Prefecture last month. Speaking at a Diet committee, Kakiuchi said he will announce his resignation at an appropriate time, but said he cannot tell when at this point.
Frankly, given Japanese cultural traditions, I'm surprised he hasn't already done so, or even taken his own life. Yet as recently as last Friday, Kakiuchi had refused to quit.

Under Kakiuchi, JR West cruelly disciplined train conductors who fell behind schedule, pressuring them to break track speed limits. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:
Yes, on-time performance is a virtue of a good transport system but for drivers at JR West, it means pain.

There is ritual punishment for drivers who run late. Similar to bullying or a military hazing, it is called "day-shift education". The driver in the April derailment had already been through it once and feared a repeat, said colleagues.

"What day-shift education means is that the employee in question is surrounded by his superiors and other managers and subjected to severe reprimands, insults and abuse and is forced to do meaningless chores and to write meaningless reports," said the vice-president of the Japan Confederation of Railway Workers, Osamu Yomono.

One driver, forced to pull weeds in the railway yards and write reports for weeks, had committed suicide.
When it came to subordinates, Kakiuchi's company had no problem meting out old-school Japanese punishment. Evidently, he didn't believe such harsh traditions should apply to himself as well.

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Do you feel punk, Lucky?

Seen at a Yoyogi flea market:

Sure, other sites may show you Japanese punk butts, but only Riding Sun has Japanese punk dogs.

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Don't blame Newsweek for Muslim violence

Newsweek is backing away from its earlier report that American servicemen flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet to taunt Guantanamo Bay prisoners — a claim that prompted violent riots in Muslim nations. CNN reports:

"Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we," Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker wrote in the magazine's May 23 issue, out Sunday.

"But we regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst."

Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita blamed Newsweek's report for the unrest in Muslim countries.

"People are dying. They are burning American flags. Our forces are in danger," he told CNN.
By casually publishing unverified assertions, Newsweek has certainly behaved irresponsibly and unprofessionally, and done great harm to the image of the United States in the Muslim world. It deserves plenty of criticism on that score.

But I disagree with Mr. DiRita that Newsweek bears the blame for violent Muslim reactions to its report. Responsibility for that must lie with Muslims themselves.

If Al-Jazeera reported that Arab troops desecrated a Bible, would there be riots in the streets of any Western nation? No, there would not. Would the West's religious leaders be calling for holy war? Again, no. But for some reason, the mere rumor that Americans have defiled the Koran is seen as a perfectly legitimate reason for Muslims to go berserk.

To hold Newsweek responsible for the riots and threats of jihad that followed its report is to believe that Muslims are incapable of controlling their passions. This is an infantilizing, even dehumanizing view. We do the Arab world no favors by humoring its violent revenge fantasies. To truly respect Muslims, we should demand better of them.

Instapundit reader John Lynch shares my view.

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Lucas on Episode III's anti-Bush message

In a previous post I noted that many movie critics were finding clear anti-Bush sentiment in the new Star Wars movie, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

Speaking at the Cannes film festival, director George Lucas said that while he plotted the Star Wars prequel trilogy almost a decade ago, he nevertheless thinks the latest and final installment offers timely criticism of Bush and the war in Iraq. The Associated Press reports:

Lucas said he patterned his story after historical transformations from freedom to fascism, never figuring when he started his prequel trilogy in the late 1990s that current events might parallel his space fantasy.

"As you go through history, I didn't think it was going to get quite this close. So it's just one of those recurring things," Lucas said at a Cannes news conference. "I hope this doesn't come true in our country.

"Maybe the film will waken people to the situation," Lucas joked.
Of course, Lucas may have sketched out the prequels years ago, but he's had ample opportunity in recent years to add choice anti-Bush lines to the Episode III script. And audiences are getting the point:
"If you're not with me, then you're my enemy," Hayden Christensen's Anakin — soon to become villain Darth Vader — tells former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). The line echoes Bush's international ultimatum after the Sept. 11 attacks, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

"That quote is almost a perfect citation of Bush," said Liam Engle, a 23-year-old French-American aspiring filmmaker. "Plus, you've got a politician trying to increase his power to wage a phony war."

Though the plot was written years ago, "the anti-Bush diatribe is clearly there," Engle said.
It remains unclear why Lucas thinks America is at risk of turning into a fascist dictatorship. Does he really think there is even the slightest chance that Bush will ban all opposition parties, cancel new elections, and claim legislative authority? If not, what is he worried about?

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Ilario Pantano charges may be dropped

I've been blogging about the case of Ilario Pantano, the U.S. Marine accused of murdering two Iraqi insurgents, since it came to the attention of the media in February.

About two weeks ago, Lt. Pantano's Article 32 hearing ended, and investigating officer Lt. Col. Mark E. Winn began to review the proceedings.

Lt. Col. Winn has now issued his report. He recommends that the murder charges be dropped.

The credibility of the prosecution's key witness, Sgt. Daniel L. Coburn, seems to have been the central factor in Winn's decision. The Washington Times reports:

The 16-page report from Lt. Col. Mark E. Winn labels as "extremely suspect" the prosecution's chief witness, Sgt. Daniel L. Coburn, whom Lt. Pantano had removed as a squad leader weeks before the April 15, 2004, shooting.

"The government was not able to produce credible evidence or testimony that the killings were premeditated," Col. Winn wrote in his report, a copy of which was obtained yesterday by The Washington Times.

"I think now [Sgt. Coburn] is in a position where he has told his story so many times, in so many versions that he cannot keep his facts straight anymore," Col. Winn wrote of the chief witness.

"There is only one eyewitness to events that precipitated the shooting, and that is 2nd Lt. Pantano," he wrote in the report, dated Thursday.
While Winn recommended that all criminal charges against Pantano be dropped, he also said Pantano should receive "administrative punishment" for shooting an excessive number of rounds at the two insurgents, some apparently after they were already dead. And it's still possible that Maj. Gen. Richard Huck could decide to ignore Winn's recommendation and hold a court-martial anyway. Nevertheless, Winn's report has to be considered a major triumph for Pantano.

A full copy of Winn's report is available here, in pdf format.

In an earlier post, I argued that there was no proof of Pantano's intent at the moment he started shooting. But later on, I began to suspect that the Marine prosecutors would be able to muster enough circumstantial evidence to overcome that problem. Apparently, they were not.

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I fought bowed to the law

I bowed my way out of a traffic ticket yesterday.

I was coming home on Route 246, about to turn onto Kyu-Yamate dori. Traffic was lined up at the intersection, waiting for the light to turn green, and an ultra-wide bus blocked me from lane-splitting my way any closer to the front.

So, I went all the way to the left, around the traffic, planning to cut back into the right lane at the head of the line. That's when I heard it: Woop woop woop — the siren of doom.

The cop (on a motorcycle of his own) pulled me over, and we parked our bikes on the sidewalk.

"You know you can't cross the yellow line, don't you? That's a 6,000 yen fine and one point on your license. Let's see it."

I showed him my license. I have a real Japanese driver's license, not an international permit, and in the past, cops have been impressed enough by this fact alone to let me off with a warning. But not this one, who reached for the white metal box containing his ticket-writing materials. Time was running out, and I needed to come up with an alibi, fast. I decided on the Confused Gaijin.

"I'm sorry, officer. I was lost, so I decided to get off the road as soon as possible and check my map."

This was a lie on two levels: First, I had been planning to cut right back into traffic, not pull over to the side of the road. And second, I wasn't lost. My house was about ten blocks away. This latter point, the officer picked up on:

"Your license says you live right around here."

"Um... yes. Yes I do. But I usually come home via Inogashira dori, and a friend of mine told me Route 246 is faster, so I'm trying it for the first time today."

This was not a very convincing excuse. Time to bring out the big guns.

"I usually drive very safely and I'll never do something like this again. Sumimasen." Then, I bowed.

"Well, all right. But make sure you follow the rules from now on."

"I will. Thank you, officer."

The power of a good bow in Japan cannot be overstated.

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Trashing personal privacy

There's a great article in the New York Times on Japan's insanely complicated trash-sorting requirements:

YOKOHAMA, Japan - When this city recently doubled the number of garbage categories to 10, it handed residents a 27-page booklet on how to sort their trash. Highlights included detailed instructions on 518 items.

Lipstick goes into burnables; lipstick tubes, "after the contents have been used up," into "small metals" or plastics. Take out your tape measure before tossing a kettle: under 12 inches, it goes into small metals, but over that it goes into bulky refuse.

Socks? If only one, it is burnable; a pair goes into used cloth, though only if the socks "are not torn, and the left and right sock match." Throw neckties into used cloth, but only after they have been "washed and dried."
How can the authorities enforce such a hopelessly complex system? They don't have to. Old people with too much time on their hands do it for them.
Enter the garbage guardians, the army of hawk-eyed volunteers across Japan who comb offending bags for, say, a telltale gas bill, then nudge the owner onto the right path.

One of the most tenacious around here is Mitsuharu Taniyama, 60, the owner of a small insurance business who drives around his ward every morning and evening, looking for missorted trash. He leaves notices at collection sites: "Mr. So-and-so, your practice of sorting out garbage is wrong. Please correct it."

"I checked inside bags and took especially lousy ones back to the owners' front doors," Mr. Taniyama said.
This has actually happened to friends of mine here in Tokyo. And shortly after I moved to a new house, an elderly woman came to my door and let me know that I was throwing away my (correctly-sorted) trash at the wrong collection site. Why did she care? Well, she had organized a rotating neighborhood clean-up list for that particular site, and it wasn't fair of me to leave my trash there if I wasn't going to take a turn cleaning it up. (Bear in mind that we are talking about a public trash collection point, not a part of anyone's private property.)

Yeah, sure, community involvement is what makes Japan run so smoothly and harmoniously, yada yada yada. But it's also creepy, in a big-brother sort of way: Trust no one. That kindly old gentleman down the street could be watching you.

One thing I like about New York is the way people mind their own business. There's a sense of privacy that comes from knowing no one would bother to search through your garbage, much less take it upon themselves to bring it back to your front door.

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Dinner is served

Don't get me wrong. When a Japanese restaurant translates its menu into English, I appreciate the effort.

I really, really do.

But sometimes, it would be better if they just didn't bother:

Uh... thanks, guys, but I already had uterus for lunch.

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Walking the walk

Lots of people will tell you that SUV's are destroying the environment and increasing America's dependence on foreign oil. Their own cars are acceptable, you see, but anything bigger is not.

Convenient standard, that.

I'd be more inclined to take SUV opponents seriously if they truly lived by their own principles. Like John Francis. Grist magazine reports (via Boing Boing):

After a massive oil spill polluted San Francisco Bay in 1971, Francis gave up all motorized transportation. For 22 years, he walked everywhere he went — including treks across the entire United States and much of South America — hoping to inspire others to drop out of the petroleum economy.
But I'd be even more appreciative if they'd follow his other example:
Soon after he stopped riding in cars, Francis, the son of working-class, African-American parents in Philadelphia, also stopped speaking. For 17 years, he communicated only through improvised sign language, notes, and his ever-present banjo.
Okay, maybe not the banjo.

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Taiwan rejects Chinese gift pandas

I wrote here and here about China's cynical attempt to bribe Taiwan into trading away its freedoms for a pair of cuddly giant pandas.

Now (via Simon World), the Telegraph reports that Taiwan has sensibly rejected China's panda diplomacy:

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.
And Taiwan came up with a particularly clever excuse for rejecting the gift:
The officials said that sending the pandas would breach the 1963 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which tightly regulates trade in animals between countries.

China considers the gift acceptable because under United Nations rules it would be regarded as an internal transfer within China, which does not come under the terms of Cites.
Bonus points to Taiwan for emphasizing its separation from China even as it tells Beijing to get bent.

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A fate worse than death

Joi Ito reports that Microsoft's new Longhorn operating system will include a new feature — the Red Screen of Death (RSOD):

Joi notes that the RSOD is not replacing the familiar Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). Rather, it's a more serious event reserved "for really bad errors."

You've got to admire how Microsoft is managing user expectations. In the past, getting the dreaded Blue Screen of Death was the worst thing that could happen. But Longhorn users will presumably be happy to get a "mere" BSOD instead of the more lethal red variety.

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Happy Friday the 13th

If you're near Port Dover, Ontario, it's a perfect day for a bike rally. They've had one there on every Friday the 13th since November 13th, 1981.

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Terrorists bomb motorcycle showroom

Reuters reports on a string of bomb attacks in Thailand, apparently by members of the Religion of Peace™:

Four bombs exploded in Thailand's restive Muslim south on Thursday, wounding at least nine people, police said.

The first bomb went off at around 7:30 a.m. (0030 GMT) at a food stall near a train station in Songkhla province, wounding three people. An hour later, a second blast wounded five police officers outside the home of the chief judge in Yala province.

Two later explosions in the capital of Yala wounded a woman in a pickup truck and damaged a motorcycle showroom.
This time, they've gone too far.

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Truck driver murders motorcyclists

The Associated Press reports on a shocking double-homicide from Pennsylvania:

A man angry about an argument chased down a motorcycle and rammed it with his pickup truck, killing the bike's two riders, state police said.

Edward A. Belch, 44, of McClellandtown, apparently got in an argument with the motorcycle's passengers Tuesday evening, authorities said. The two people then got on the motorcycle and left, and Belch followed them on state Route 21, passing other vehicles, until he hit the motorcycle, police said.

Terri Lynn Gresko, 44, and a 54-year-old man whom police didn't immediately identify died at the scene.

Belch was being held in the Fayette County jail Wednesday after being arraigned on two counts of criminal homicide Tuesday. It was not clear what the argument was or how Belch knew the other two people, state police said.
I'm trying to imagine what it was like for the two riders when they realized there was a pickup truck bearing down on them, its driver bent on murder. I hope they lock this guy up for a long time.

According to the Associated Press, Terri Lynn Gresko was Belch's ex-girlfriend, and Belch was under a restraining order to stay away from her:
Gresko got a restraining order against Belch in January 2004 after she filed court papers alleging that Belch had abused her and her children. Gresko, a mother of six, said Belch had bruised her and broken items in her house.

"He has thrown pliers at the children (and) kicks the dog," Gresko wrote in her request.

Belch, also of McClellandtown, told police after the crash that he was merely trying to pass the motorcycle and that he stopped to see if the victims were all right.

Witnesses, however, told investigators that Belch called Gresko, his former live-in girlfriend, by name and said, "I told you I was going to get you," police said. Witnesses also quoted Belch as saying he was going to spend the rest of his life in jail, police said.
I certainly hope he's right.

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Why Democrats lose elections

John Rogers had a great post on his blog Kung Fu Monkey a little while back, in which he argued that failed presidential candidate John F. Kerry lost the election in large part because of his condescending attitude towards average American voters. This may not be an incredibly original view, but Rogers, a former stand-up comedian, offers concrete advice on how Kerry — and whoever the Democrats nominate next time — could connect with the audience. First of all, patronizing them won't work:

When you are on stage, the audience's collective mind can tell when you're not being yourself. And even more importantly, they can tell when you're lying to be one of "us". (Like Kerry hunting, or Dukakis in the tank.)
Instead, the secret is to genuinely respect the audience. As Rogers notes in a follow-up post, the people you're talking to are actually pretty smart:
One of the great shocks as a road comic is that every audience is as smart as you are. Yeah, that guy over there is an auto-mechanic. Can you fix a car? No. It's a really complex gig. That guy's a doctor. You a doctor? No. I once performed in Butte and had a young rancher explain the nuances of cattle economics to me — trying to follow the discussion, I felt like a five year old with a head injury. That's why I loved the road. It renewed your faith in humanity's wondrous variety and intelligence.
So all the Democrats have to do is tone down the arrogance, and they'll start winning elections. Sounds simple enough. But, if Yale computer science professor David Gelernter is correct, it may well prove impossible. The Democrats' superiority complex isn't a personality quirk that can be suppressed or unlearned, Gelernter argues, in an April 29 L.A. Times op-ed piece; rather, it's at the very core of their political philosophy:
Democrats habitually treat Americans like children.

That's the whole basis of Democratic philosophy (I use the term loosely). We'll take care of you. Leave the thinking to us. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, minority leaders of the House and Senate, respectively — kindly Mom and Pop to a nation of intellectually limited youngsters. (But thank goodness, they love us anyway.)

How could anyone be opposed in principle to private investment accounts within Social Security? ...How on Earth could anyone be opposed in principle to letting taxpayers manage a minuscule fraction of their own money (their own money, dammit!) if they want to? Because private accounts violate the Infantile American Principle, so dear to Democratic hearts. Little kids should turn over their cash to the Big Smart Government for safekeeping.
Now I'm not saying the Democrats will never again claim the White House, but it takes the innate charm of a Bill Clinton to overcome such a severe ideological handicap. Will they find someone who can do it in 2008? Possible, but not likely.

Barack Obama has a blog. Hillary Clinton does not. Enough said.

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Judging Bush by his enemies, and friends

I know North Korea encourages its people to hate America, and President Bush in particular. But this photo from its state-run media still shocked me:

North Korean children play a shooting game with a toy gun aiming at a portrait of U.S. President George W. Bush at Namjun kindergarten in Shinwiju, Pyongan-Budo, North Korea. The photo was released by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 9, 2005. (Reuters)
North Korea may revile Bush, but there are other nations — in particular, those where free people have fresh memories of oppression — that admire him:
U.S. President George W. Bush waves to the crowd after delivering an address to a large gathering of Georgians in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 10, 2005. Bush, the first U.S. leader to visit the ex-Soviet Republic while in office, spoke in the capital's Freedom Square, the rallying point for a 2003 "Rose Revolution" that installed a reforming, Western-looking government. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)
Hated by dictatorships and embraced by fresh young democracies, Bush seems to have made the right enemies, and earned the right friends.

When liberals, seriously or not, encourage people to kill Bush (as they did here and here), do they realize they're aligning themselves with the world's most repressive regime, and against its newest free nations? Do they care?

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Is Japan applying the Babe Theory?

Recently, I mentioned the Babe Theory of Political Movements, which holds that the cause with the hottest women on its side will succeed, because they'll attract support from lots of guys.

Originally devised by P.J. O'Rourke, the Babe Theory spread through the blogosphere last March, when Lebanese protesters (many of whom were remarkably easy on the eyes) were rallying against Syrian occupation. Since then, it's been considered in connection with various national revolutionary movements.

But could the Babe Theory be applied to more mundane political issues? Like, say, privatization of Japan's postal service?

This item from the Mainichi Daily News suggests it can:

Triumph International Japan Ltd model Yu Misaki shows off the "Post Privatization Total Surprise Bra!" in Tokyo on Tuesday. The lingerie maker said it designed the bra to express support for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his push to privatize Japan Post.
On the other side, here's one of the key opponents of Koizumi's plan, House of Representatives member Tamisuke Watanuki:
As it happens, Koizumi's plan appears to be headed for approval — although as a result of intense haggling among competing political factions, not a popular movement inspired by the charms of Miss Misaki.

Still, Triumph's move could start a trend of using so-called "campaign girls" to promote new legislation. We can only hope.

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