Archives up to 2001/12

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* Includes special focus on off-the-newswire stuff from living in Japan.

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Didn't really miss a week there, just slipped the weekly report back to Monday of the three-day weekend, and the perfect timing stretched it to 8 days. Today is actually Sports Day, and most of the schools will be having field days. Not really much local news with any direct relation to Dubya, though of course most of the international news that is reported here is about the terrorists. But back to that topic later...

First a sad personal note. Can't really claim a direct link to Dubya, but all kinds of indirect links possible, and I regard it as more evidence of Dubya's jinx or curse on other people. Roger Boisvert, a fellow I briefly worked for was killed last week. Since I left that pleasant job because he asked for my resignation, I can't call him a friend, but I certainly knew him fairly well, and I still bumped into him from time to time. He was travelling in the States and reportedly stopped to use his GPS system to figure out where he was. Bad neighborhood, and someone came up to rob him and then shot him dead. Most plausible indirect link is that the police are all busy with anti-terrorist stuff these days, so regular police patrols have decreased and the regular criminals are increasing their activities. There has been some evidence of such an effect here in Japan, too. I noticed the same effect a few years ago, after the Aum Shinri Kyo subway attack, when for several months the police were very busy investigating the cult. However, there are other possibilities. For example, Roger was chronically cheerful and friendly, even towards me after he'd fired me, and quite possibly he did something stupid like smiling at the robber--who might have jumped to the conclusion that the only reason to smile was if Roger had a gun and was about to blow the robber away... Or maybe just Roger's lack of caution after living too many years in safe Japan. But in any case, what a pointless and sad way to die.

On last week's good news about United Nations involvement, I now say "Forget it." Just a flash in the pan, apparently. However, just to reiterate my view, Bin Ladin is not an eminent warrior of any kind. He is a simple criminal and belongs in court, not on a pedestal as Dubya's peer.

As lead in to the main news I'll just say that the recent news has been very confusing and contradictory. Various parts of various kinds of evidence against Bin Ladin were given to various allies. Various parts leaked back into various press channels, but the main effect was to make the case look very circumstantial and unlikely to hold much water in any real court. There doesn't seem to be any doubt that Bin Ladin was involved in some way, but it still seems it was relatively distant connection, which won't meet Dubya's requirements for a guilty party to parade in chains and publicly behead. The Bushies are continuing to build up Bin Ladin's significance and danger, and emphasizing how sure they are that taking him out will be a major step in stopping terrorism--and we're just supposed to believe them.

News among the various kinds of allies remains pretty confused. Only one of the countries neighboring Afghanistan was apparently willing to accept actual troops, and even that was apparently limited to assistance in search and rescue if any of our aircraft get shot down. Of course the main concern there is that the Taliban soldiers still have some of those Stinger missiles we gave them to use against the Soviets. Their other anti-aircraft weapons are probably much less effective. Iran insists on strict neutrality, which goes against Dubya's with-us-or-against-us rhetoric, and which greatly increases the flying distance for attacks. We have lots of planes within striking distance, but there seems to be no threat or possibility of an actual ground war, which would still be unlikely to nail the big cheese Bin Ladin. Lots of ships nearby, too, though they're not very effective against a land-locked country.

Now time for the big news, which of course is that the attack on Afghanistan has started. Actually it started last night on Tokyo time, though I'm not sure exactly when. Apparently timed so Dubya could make the announcement during prime time TV in the States, which is not the first television-timed attack in recent years. In military terms, night and day doesn't make any difference to the cruise missiles. However, in military terms it is also true that the cruise missiles are expensive and wasteful for minor targets, and the report is we used 50 of them in the first attack, for a total cost around $50 million, not counting storage and delivery charges. Considering all the ships and planes and soldiers involved, I'm pretty sure the guns are already running ahead of the butter, which was approved at $320 million for food and medicine.

The Bushies want to emphasize how much we like the Moslem people of Afghanistan, so the way this pseudo-war is going to work is that first we will bomb them, then we will drop food and medicine on them, and then we'll bomb them some more. This will apparently continue until we get lucky and hit Bin Ladin or until we get bored and decide to attack someone else.

At first this struck me as rather confusing, but after a bit of reflection it makes perfect sense. You just have to think about it from a behaviorist perspective. To train a dog to be vicious, you can't be consistent. If you are always kind to the dog or always cruel to the dog, the dog figures out that's just the way you are and loves you in either case. To make the dog vicious, you need to do it at random. Sometimes you are kind, other times cruel, and the result will be a very confused and angry and vicious dog.

One obvious result of these kinds of random and apparently ineffectual actions is going to be a bunch of attacks on Americans. And right now I'm sorry to say that I think that has to be what the Bushies really want. In terms of political efficacy, "Desert Storm" only had a temporary effect, but this "Enduring Freedom" is never going to end. Orwell's 1984 was just a few year's late. Finally, a significant result for Dubya's legacy: a permanent state of war.

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Fundamentally no news. America is trying hard to bomb Afghanistan back to the stone age, but they're already close enough not to care a whole lot. We have already blown up all the training camps we built. The Taliban knows they have someone we want, and they are just waiting for us to try and get him. At that time, they expect to get a little payment on the account. Don't reckon they're too concerned about how many millions of dollars of bombs we want to invest. Actually, their lack of interest in money is a big chunk of why Dubya can't figure out how to handle them--he can't even imagine why none of the Taliban people is trying hard enough to collect all that reward money.

On the odd mixture of bombs and food, I'm leaning in the other direction now. While I still feel the main result of the confusing approach will be to produce yet another generation of even more dedicated and vicious madmen, I don't think that is the deliberate intention of the Bushies. Rather they are just doing it as a kind of twisted propaganda ploy. From our side, the math shows it is completely bogus. From the Afghanistan side, the actual likelihood of seeing any of that airdropped food is essentially zero. If they even hear about it, they'll just regard it as some sort of tease. Actually, if someone gets to eat it, they'll quite probably offer sincere thanks to Bin Ladin for the meal.

In terms of propaganda, ours remains hopelessly confused, while Bin Ladin is apparently making increasingly effective appeals to the Moslems. He seems to have something to say, while we're mostly mumbling about who we're going to attack next, as soon as we finish with Afghanistan. Iraq has been prominently mentioned, along with the Philippines and a couple of other countries. Doesn't strike me as the most clever thing to say in public when you have such a shaky coalition. If Pakistan collapses, that will have to be a very high priority for immediate invasion--it will suddenly become very urgent to secure all of their nuclear bombs. Such are the fortunes of war, but I still agree with the comment about violence as the refuge of incompetence. Real war is risky and very expensive. Perhaps we'll never 'finish with' Afghanistan. Or we could get lucky and hit Bin Ladin tomorrow.

I have to confess to schadenfreude in my early post-selection days of Dubya-watching. Given his extreme and unmerited privilege, he has always seemed so deserving of misfortune that it was quite amusing to watch his stumblings and bumblings. Unfortunately, stumblings and bumblings in his elevated position cause problems, and at this point it just seems quite pointless to wonder if a real leader could have prevented these problems. We just have to hope the Bushies can somehow muddle through the problems. Unfortunately, they seem to be equally or even more concerned with using the crises for their political advantage. Quite a lot of very bad legislation is being passed in an enormous rush, but no one is brave enough to risk being hit with the new version of McCarthyism--accused of terrorist sympathies and disloyalty to Dubya.

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Still not much news, but a few more concrete examples in relation to the earlier comments about regular criminals gearing up their activities. Can't prove it's because the police are busy chasing or deterring possible terrorists, but...

Last weekend there was a little festival near my home. The main section with most of the booths was actually on my regular running course, on the stretch in front of the library. The thing I noticed was that the police seemed unusually visible. The regional police headquarters is quite close, in a large building of its own, but they still had several staging places with reinforcements. There was one cluster of officers near each end, and what looked like the main security area just in front of the library. I didn't go up to the neighboring station or into the shopping plaza on the other side, so I don't know about that part, but it sure seemed like a lot of officers running around.

This weekend was a reappearance of the right-wing fanatics. In Japan, these patriotic societies are usually closely linked to the yakuza (Japanese gangsters). A little hard to describe the relationships, but they go beyond supporting each other's business dealings. I actually noticed one of their special vans approaching the festival last week, but this weekend they had plastered their white-on-black posters generously throughout the shopping plaza. I may be reading too much into it, but my impression is that they do this kind of thing when they are trying to stake out turf and do business in the neighborhood, though most of their businesses are various forms of protection rackets. For example, if a politician does something they don't like, they may actively attack his campaign, though even that is done in very funny ways here. The yakuza protection rackets are more focused on bars and bordellos.

Getting pretty far away from Dubya-related issues, but... Normally there's a kind of live-and-let-live relationship between the various kinds of gangsters and the police. The Japanese don't think that vice can be eliminated, but they want to keep it under control, and as long as the yakuza stay within the acceptable boundaries, they are tacitly tolerated. However, it's still a kind of race condition, rather like the race between the terrorists and the anti-terrorist forces. When the police have the resources, they tend to lean harder on the yakuza and their affiliated businesses, gradually reducing their activities, but right now things seem to be going the other way. The loan shark businesses seem to be involved in an especially vigorous expansion right now.

Kind of a peripheral observation from reading the news more heavily last month was that it really is remarkably similar in most of the mainstream media sources. I would see almost the identical articles with almost the identical words in all of them them. Very strong among the American papers, but still quite strong in the British and even the Japanese papers. Most of these were being seen on the Internet, though I do sometimes look at the print editions of the big three in Japan. Not quite as strong for other countries, but I was still surprised to see so much uniformity in the big ones. The smaller papers are often rather different, and sometimes manage to scoop the big guys by several days.

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Nothing much relevant to Japan, but Dubya recently visited China. Hmm... Actually could have been an insult to Japan that the country was ignored. At least I can't recall anything as Dubya flew by. Have to speculate about the why of the China trip, but my speculations would be some kind of secret negotiations about what to do if Pakistan collapses. Can't really imagine what purpose Dubya's presence actually served if the secret deal had any complexity in it, but there must have been some reason for the trip to become that high a priority.

I'm checking Dawn fairly frequently, mostly to make sure that nothing has happened to Musharraf. Today's news is a fairly large anti-American protest, but that's not really new, and no sign if the government is endangered yet. If something really bad happens, their server will probably just fall off the Web.

The attacks on Afghanistan continue with lots of noise and apparently no significant effects. There has been an apparent shift to providing air support for the anti-Taliban (and anti-Pakistan) forces within Afghanistan, but so far it doesn't seem to have changed anything much. We apparently helped a major opposition leader return, but the Taliban arrested or killed him. Ramadan is close at hand, and winter close behind that. Current estimates are that one to three million Afghanis will die of starvation as a side effect of Dubya's war.

The suppression of the NORC analysis of the Florida ballots has been getting some international coverage, but not much in the States. However, it is quite obvious to everyone that it does not show a clear Dubya victory or the rich folks controlling those newspapers would be very eager to publish it, not censor it. My prediction is the data and the ballots will soon be destroyed, and when that happens, the historical lesson will be that it is possible to steal the American presidency and get away with it.

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Really a nothing week, though the anniversary of Dubya's emergence into the national limelight is coming. Seriously, before the election, I really couldn't conceive of this guy as a national figure, and regarded the entire campaign as some sort of aberration which I believed must be corrected in the actual election. Little did any of us know. I made a list of Dubya's major problems for his first year, but in the outside world, which right now seems to be limited to Afghanistan, all that seems to be going on is lots of bombing and more bombing.

There's been some more mumbling about NORC, and I even started a petition urging release and publication of the NORC data. Kind of a moot point, however. Nothing can make Dubya legitimate. That required the will of the voters, and we already know the will was for Gore, nationwide and even in Florida. The NORC data will just make it more clear which problems were most serious--problems in the legal system that ignored the ballots, or problems in the ballots that ignored the voters' will. However, even if both of those problems are recognized and fixed, there are others. The power of big money is probably the biggest problem, and I don't believe anyone a real solution to that one.

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Mostly more of the same old news. There might be a tiny glimmer of good news in the war in Afghanistan. It's certainly being spun that way, though who knows what spin means? The Northern Alliance may have captured an important city, which might allow some food to reach some of the people who might otherwise starve in that part of Afghanistan. Still lots of contingencies. Two main ones are whether they can hold the city this time, and whether they really have turned over new leaves and become much nicer people now (as the bad joke goes). The Taliban, whoever they really are, seems willing enough to fight on. The situation in Pakistan seems stable enough for now, though I was surprised there wasn't more of an uproar about our plan to seize their 25-odd nuclear weapons if anything happens to Musharraf. Probably a good thing that many of their craziest crazies have gone to Afghanistan to 'help' there.

The American item that most offended me was an article saying that Dubya has suddenly received the political legitimacy the voters didn't confer--as a gift from Bin Ladin. Sorry, but I don't think Bin Ladin is allowed to anoint the American president. Almost as offensive are the slanted reports of Gore-supporters who are supposed to favor Dubya now. Sorry, but that's NOT what they said. They were asked if they felt Gore would have done a better job than Dubya, and they didn't say yes. The spin is that this is supposed to mean they think Dubya is the right man for this job. I think the more likely interpretation is that they love their nation above their candidate, so they will not criticize Dubya at this time, even indirectly and even though he has already failed in his responsibility to prevent these tragedies. A secondary interpretation is they see the obvious propaganda trap if they do criticize Dubya at this time, no matter how badly he's fouling things up. On the other hand, the Clinton example sadly shows just how the GOPpies deal with with a legitimately elected president.

I summarized Dubya's first year in the limelight elsewhere. Latest development on this front is supposed to be the imminent release of the NORC data. So how will they spin that?

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Again, nothing much in Japan, and again the spin says great news in Afghanistan, though there are no details or concrete evidence. Maybe the Taliban has been destroyed, or maybe we're just entering Vietnam again. Didn't take the Viet Cong long to learn we could defeat them in any battle with a known location. There's been some talk about sending in more food, but also more talk about continuing the bombing. We claim we killed that nasty Egyptian buddy of Bin Ladin's, but he's certainly capable of faking his death, and our only evidence appears to be the kind of 'intelligence' reports that allowed the 9/11 attacks to happen. Maybe the people of Afghanistan are winning, but in that case, maybe they'll thank Bin Ladin for forcing the Americans to stop ignoring them. Pakistan looks to be a big loser (again), and if that destroys Musharraf, all bets are off--their nuclear bombs might wind up anywhere. Russia is trying to make some hay, too, and on our nickel, which is kind of amusing. Unlike Dubya, Putin got his job by intelligence and cunning. It would be funny if the Russians now succeed after their invasion failed. Funny that a lot of the new 'rulers' of Afghanistan are old buddies of the Russians.

In domestic news, the NORC data was released. It basically showed that a complete recount--the kind the Bushies worked so hard and effectively to make impossible--would have been won by Gore, though barely. Most of the limited recount scenarios would have been won by Dubya, and that shows that the GOPpy strategy of fighting like heck against any kind of recount really was sound. At least it was sound in terms of winning, which is the only thing that counted, and who cares about voting and that 'will of the people' garbage? So now there's a lot of second-guessing about what strategy Gore should have used, but it seems very unlikely there was any winning strategy. Yes, Gore and everyone else knew that the will of the voters favored Gore. Even the Republicans knew it, though there are very few honest enough to admit that. On the battleground there were lots of voting errors counting against Gore. (There were also 'clever' strategies by the GOPpies, like fixing only their own absentee ballots and allowing the Democratic ones to be trashed.) A leader of Dubya's campaign had some basis to certify the election of Dubya, and the only person above her was Dubya's brother. Pretty hard to complain about bias to someone with the same bias. The Bushies realized early that they needed federal court intervention, and that first SCOTUS stay was probably the crucial move to prevent any comprehensive recount. Easy to say that Gore should have attacked all out, and pushed for the statewide recount from the beginning, but the reality proved it was already going to be hard to get even a partial recount. Remember the riot in Miami?

There should have been some serious reflection about the NORC results and about the voting problems they showed. Instead, there was another plane crash as the results were published, and most people forgot about them right away. Dubya's luck continues to run very bad--for the rest of us.

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Really did skip a week there. Mostly nothing specifically relevant to Japan, but also busy with other stuff. Afghanistan is still the big international news, though it seems like the current goal is to avoid news, since our new buddies in the war against terrorism seem to be going back to their old tricks. A couple of years ago, these same guys were just the nasty stooges of the Soviet Union, vicious and anti-democratic murderers, and it seems like they really haven't become much nicer people after all. Shucks and darn. Pretty much confirmed that several hundred prisoners and assorted enemies have been killed, though the most unamusing story included some CIA involvement. Turns out that the Egyptian we killed wasn't the one I was hoping it was. Nasty fellow, but not the big nasty fellow, who is apparently somewhere in Egypt these days.

The topic links back to the polls, too. For example, the current slant is that most of the people support the use of the special military courts. Nothing to suggest they were offered an alternative of international courts and all that rot. Not sure exactly why and how, but I am sure that the polls have just become a very convenient part of the propaganda machine. My own sociological training showed me how hard it is to produce a reliable poll. Actually much easier to produce a poll that proves whatever it is that the company paying for the poll wants it to prove. They didn't use them so much in those days, and I'm at risk of triggering Godwin's Law, too, but I'll note the obvious: At certain times the German polls would have shown a lot of popularity for Hitler, too, though it didn't last.

Minor domestic item is the apparently final collapse of Dubya's top campaign donor, Enron. I'd been moderately aware of the company since one of my old friends was working there, but that was about 15 years ago, and he moved on a long time ago, though I think he's still working only a few blocks away. For all of Dubya's talk about honor and integrity, you have to suspect criminal fraud on a large scale, and they probably had their reasons for donating so much of their ill-gotten temporary gains to Dubya, though it seems to have availed them naught in the end. I wonder what will happen to Houston's Enron Field and Enron Building after Enron is gone. At least slightly embarrassing, even if they can avoid the financial entanglements.

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Nothing new in Japan regarding Dubya, but perhaps I just have to commemorate the day--Japan is on the other side of the date line, so Pearl Harbor Day was December 8th here. This news may be Dubya's personal disaster. Hard to think of a better campaign slogan to use against him. When I first read this, I thought it was just an anti-Bush joke. Yes, I do think Dubya is small-minded and kind of vicious, but this... This is TOO much. I couldn't believe Dubya is THIS stupid. However, according to an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Dubya actually said "Lucky me, I hit the trifecta" as a sick joke "Shortly after Sept. 11", where the trifecta is "recession, war or national emergency" as possible reasons Dubya gave to renege on his budget promises. I had thought (and written) that these excuses were only for tapping social security, but this article relates it to deficit spending. Mr Krugman concludes that "Horse racing is a zero-sum game; so, it seems, is budget politics. Mr. Bush hit the trifecta; the great majority of Americans lost, big time." I think he actually isn't taking a big enough view of it--Dubya is using 9/11 as the excuse to ram through all of his evil policies and stifle all criticism, and any negatives are now officially not his fault. Another article published in the same paper at the same time reports on Ashcroft testifying before the Senate and saying that criticism of Dubya's policies may "aid terrorists".

Excuse me, but I still think the WHOLE thing is Dubya's fault. One of his VERY top responsibilities was to prevent terrorist attacks. While he should have been busy preventing, he was actually ignoring the report on airline security, pushing for tax cuts for his rich buddies, and taking a one-month vacation as the terrorists completed their final preparations. And now he feels like he won the trifecta?! Dubya deserves a whole LOT of criticism, and I just hope the country can survive the incredible mess he's taken us into. Boy, have we been taken.

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Kind of a big killing this week. No, not Bin Ladin, though there are rumors of that and also of his escape to Pakistan. The killing is yet another important international treaty, but one the Japanese were especially fond of, the ABM treaty. Not that they like nuclear weapons, but the Japanese are especially unfond of the nuclear arms race, and the ABM treaty was regarded as an important constraint against. My thought it that it basically fits with Dubya's new world order, which is "The US gives the orders." If you don't like it, we'll bomb you back to the stone age (as in Afghanistan) and our BMD aka SDI aka ABM system will help insure you can't lay a finger on us. Like the finger Bin Ladin laid on? Interesting theory, eh? Not like Dubya to allow anything as trivial as reality to interfere with anything he thinks he knows. The fundamental reality is that there is no absolute defense. For example, no BMD would have stopped the WTC attack, and the French thought they had an impregnable defense in 1940, too. Right now, there are no real threats, but there will be. Let's assume the BMD is a perfect success, which seems rather unlikely. But in that case, future adversaries certainly won't waste any money on missiles as delivery systems for nuclear bombs. Technology to the rescue--we're already to the point where we could create amphibious robots that could travel by land and sea to any point on the planet. Have bomb, will travel. Bin Ladin's approach is just TOO crude. And every nickel spent on the BMD will be wasted. (Well... There might be some useful technological spinoffs, though there are plenty of better research investments.)

On the Bin Ladin topic, the Bushies released a video tape that is supposed to prove Bin Ladin's guilt, but it doesn't seem to be convincing anyone. The people who are supposed to be convinced know that it could be faked, and the circumstances are just pretty hard to believe. It's like Dubya got Bin Ladin on the phone and said, "Hey, we're having a little trouble convincing people you did it, so how about making a nice video confession and leaving it somewhere where we'll be sure to easily and quickly find it? Oh, and be sure to do a lot of gloating about how many innocent women you killed, okay?" Evil genius Bin Ladin, being such a nice guy, said he'd be glad to oblige. Sorry, I don't buy that scenario, either. I suppose the Bushies' scenario is that someone managed to sneak up on Bin Ladin and make it when he wasn't looking. So this paranoid evil genius who's had the whole world chasing him for years doesn't notice anything while someone video tapes him for an hour or so? Right. The Bushies have already announced that they have 'scientifically verified' the authenticity of the tape, but that doesn't work, either. The first problem is that they are the ones suspected of faking it in the first place. But the bigger and more fundamental problem is that you can no longer prove the authenticity of any image--we now have the computer graphics technology to fake anything. You could always detect some flaw that reveals an image is counterfeit, but the absence of such a flaw does not prove anything now. If someone can imagine it, the computers can create it.

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This should be the last entry of the year, and no thanks to Dubya for making it such a memorable entry (at the end) or such a forgetworthy year. However, the only Japan-specific Dubya-related news of late was the bankruptcy filing of four Enron-related Japanese companies, but no surprise there. If I haven't mentioned the increased security at my office, I should have, but that's also unsurprising, and actually began a while ago.

In a little summary of life in Japan, the universe and everything, I'll comment that it's still a very pleasant place to live. Though the economy has been weak for years, and things seem to be getting worse in no small part due to Dubya's imperial incompetence, it's still a far cry from poverty, and my life here is still very pleasant. A few days ago, while trying to use up some vacation days at the end of the year, I took a very leisurely shopping walk among the stores on a nearby hill. Yeah, it really belongs in GOFJ, but I don't do much there these days.

First stop was a little mom-and-pop appliance store. These are still common in Japan, though the big chain stores are increasingly visible, and there's a fairly new one only three stations away. I noticed that their prices were aggressively discounted, but I'm not sure if that was a reflection of business troubles or of the season, though reports are that durable goods sales have been poor in Japan, too.

My next stop was a large drug store, though they carry a lot of other dry goods. I didn't see anything interesting, but the second floor of that store is a 100 yen store, kind of like a Japanese 5&10¢ store. I think the increasing number of these stores is one sign of economic troubles. The basic rule is that everything is 100 yen, except for a few things that are sold in groups, like three carved wood stick-on letters for 100 yen, where you select the letters you want from little hooks. Basically they sell all kinds of inexpensive things, though I think some of them may be loss-leaders that actually cost over 100 yen. Lots of the merchandise is made in China, like the 60 little tooth floss sticks I finally bought. This particular 100 yen store is somewhat larger than average, but the largest one I know is about 6 stations away. It was actually a very large computer store owned by the Daiei group, which includes all kinds of stores selling various things over a big part of Japan. In general, they've been having a lot of troubles in recent years, and frequently have been reported as losing money, but this computer store was a kind of experiment for them, but they did it up very nicely, with a brand new building and all. It was actually the first major computer store in that area, but soon afterwards several major competitors opened (with better locations relative to the two stations), and Daiei finally gave up on computers and converted the top three or four floors to a giant 100 yen store. One big loser was actually Gateway, who had foolishly opened up a little store trying to poach computer customers on their way to the big store. They had barely moved in when the big store closed, and suddenly there were very few computer-related customers walking past. Such gaffes surely contributed to their failure and embarrassing retreat from Japan. (Of course, I would think that Gateway's decision not to hire me a few years ago was an even bigger gaffe, but it looks like I got lucky that time. Unlikely I could have made enough of a difference, so I'd be unemployed like the rest of the Japanese Gateway people now.)

Returning to my little shopping stroll... Across the street from the drug and 100 yen store is a large grocery store where I often shop. Well, large by Japanese standards, though not much compared to a King Soopers. Actually, I think this store is linked to the drug store and 100 yen store, and I'm certain the grocery store is linked to the fairly large clothing store in the basement. Actually, I went to the basement first, and bought a couple of pairs of socks on sale. My feeling is that the clothing store is losing money fairly badly, but they can't close it, so they just advertise more aggressively and have more sales and coupons and things. I actually used a 50 yen coupon from some prior purchase. Not far away another clothing store went out of business a few months ago, and now it seems they are converting it to doctors' offices. Hard to predict how it will do, but it's rather far from the station. On my way out I picked up some milk in the grocery store. Interesting note is that beef is almost gone in Japan now, basically due to fears of Mad Cow Disease. As far as I know, only a few such cows have been found in Japan, so it seems like hysteria to me, but I'd already been eating less and less beef in recent years.

I guess the final summary is that this is nothing like Afghanistan. The stores are still full of nice stuff and people can mostly afford to buy it, though it's also true that they mostly aren't shopping conspicuously, and sales have been getting even worse since 9/11.

Now for the latest memorable contribution of Dubya. This one really boggles my mind each and every time I think about it. "But all in all, it's been a fabulous year for Laura and me." This is what Dubya said a few days ago. This has to go on the list of amazingly insensitive and rude remarks of the year. Maybe I should collect them in one place? Seems kind of pointless, because he'll just spew out some more. Actually, the thing that most surprised me was how little he could claim to have accomplished for his first year. The new rug got much more mention. But it keeps coming down to that startling adjective fabulous. What percentage of the people would pick that as the adjective to describe the year 2001? 10%? 3%? Less than 1%? Who in their right mind can look at this year and say it was fabulous? If this was fabulous, heaven help us if next near is only normal.

It already looks like 2002 could start with the first war directly between nuclear powers, though hopefully Pakistan will wake up and chicken out. On the other hand, the provocation to India is quite similar to the provocation that 'justified' our attack on Afghanistan. More hypocrisy for us to be telling them not to resort to violence given our latest example of anti-diplomacy. How is General-turned-Dictator-turned-President Musharraf going to get out of this with his skin in one piece? And will any nuclear bombs get 'misplaced' in the meantime?

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