Friday, August 17, 2012

"It's funny because it's true." -- Seinfeld

The slogan of The Japan Times newspaper is “All the news without fear or favor”. They say nothing of, as sometimes-funny former late-night talk show host Arsenio Hall used to say, ‘things that make you go hmmmm.’ And until Arsenio is back on the talk show stump next September, it is up to me to bring these crucial news items to you.

On the front page of the August 15, 2012 edition a headline reads: Lost school party found safe in Nara mountains. My first thought: what was a safe doing in the mountains? Turns out a group of students and two teachers from Uenomiya Junior High in Osaka ‘got lost because some roads were demolished by last year’s typhoon.’ The group, by the way, were members of the school’s mountaineering and outdoor activity club. I vote F’s all around for those kids. And reassign those teachers to the tea ceremony club. (And give them a canteen and a cell phone along with directions to the tea ceremony hall in Building 2.)
Beginning on page 2 is the ‘national’ – apparently a synonym for ‘delusional’ – news. The lead article is on upcoming talks between Japan and North Korea, who haven’t officially spoken since August 2008. The talks are supposed to center on Japan being able to retrieve the remains of Japanese who died in the North near the 1945 end of Japan’s colonial rule of the peninsula. Overly-optimistic Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujiwara also says the talks ‘will “definitely” include North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals.’ After these scheduled ‘preliminary consultations,’ Fujiwara says it will not take many days for the two countries to enter into real talks. Right. The Japanese and North Korean Red Cross Societies (The Red Cross!) hadn’t even spoken for 10 years until they ‘agreed last Friday to ask their governments to join negotiations’ over the remains-retrieval issue. I predict talks will break down by noon of the first day as the two countries will not be able to agree on where to order lunch from.
Below this, an article states Uchiro Niwa is expected to be replaced as Japan’s ambassador to China for remarks he made regarding the ongoing and touchy issue of the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan (who can’t seem themselves to agree on much either). In the meantime, Niwa will be attending a party in Beijing in September to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between Japan and China. (No word if Taiwan is invited.) To add to the logical chain of events, ‘The administration is considering bringing Niwa back shortly before or after Vice President Xi Jinping succeeds President Hu Jintao as leader of the Communist Party.’
In other irrational national news, a home for foreign elderly has opened its doors in Kobe. The Kobe Foreigners Friendship Center was built ‘to create an environment where (elderly foreign residents) can live at ease even in Japan where there’s a strong tendency to be clannish.’ Kayoko Yamane, who runs the home, goes on to say she hopes this will ‘be a place where all staff members and residents can mutually respect each other regardless of their subhuman, non-Japanese roots.’
In the bottom corner of page 2 an article explains the problems the Japanese government is having with the marketing and sale over the internet of ‘quasi-legal herbs’. “Dappo herb” mixtures are ‘laced with unregulated substances whose chemical components differ only slightly from those found in illegal cannabis or stimulants.’ The ongoing concerns involve the sellers labeling such products as ‘incense’ or ‘aromatic’, technically remaining procedurally legal, and altering product ingredients slightly every time the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry declares a particular chemical illegal. Akira Sano, an official in the Kanagawa Prefecture Government’s pharmaceutical affairs section (which consists of Mr. Sano and three young ladies bringing him tea in shifts) ‘has been buying some of the herbs to check if they contain illegal drugs.’ When asked about the situation Mr. Sano, after a long drag on a short cigarette, said “Dude, like, just relax, man...just hang out… We’re all buds here, bro… The whole world, you know?…One big, happy internet family…it’s beautiful, man…fuckin’ beautiful…”
Under the page 3 headline ‘Output trumps energy-saving mood’ members from various levels of the private sector explain how they are growing weary of the state-mandated workplace energy policies. From periodically turning off the air conditioning to dimming the lights to turning on printers only when in use, “setsuden” has become the energy-saving mantra in Japan – and a real perceived threat to economic productivity. Hidetaka Matsuda of Nichiryo Bakery says his company uses a diesel generator in place of normal electricity to achieve energy use reduction targets although it costs four times as much. A Panasonic spokeswoman said the energy use restrictions have had a major impact on business. And Hiroki Kawai, third-generation member of family-run Kawai Tekko Iron Works in Hokkaido, said that “our work shouldn’t suffer” – then quickly pointed out that all the complaining and finger-pointing going on was coming from other employees, not him.
In Asia-Pacific news, Australia is in the process of having asylum-seekers arriving by boat transferred offshore, to Nauru and Papua New Guinea, for processing. ‘The government hopes that off-shore processing will make asylum-seekers think twice about paying people-smugglers to bring them to Australia, knowing they could spend years waiting on a Pacific Island before being resettled.’ The article is not clear about where these people are coming from, but personally I wouldn’t be too upset about being ‘forced’ to hang out on a Pacific Island for a couple of years.
In a private dining area at a resort in the Phrae Province of northern Thailand, Thai senator Boonsong Kawawisarat accidentally shot and killed his cousin as he tried to put away the Uzi he had placed on the table during a family meal. B-Kaw, as he is known to his friends, faces 10 years imprisonment and a 200,000 Baht fine, or roughly $640. Fortunate aim actually. If the bullet had pierced a picture of the king he could have gotten fifteen.
World news: Paolo Gabriele, Pope Benedict XVI’s private butler (no that is not the funny part), has been accused of, in the course of ‘pilfering documents from the pope’s private apartment,’ taking a check for 100,000 Euros, donated by a Spanish Catholic university and made out to Pope Benedict (which also is not the funny part though it could be). Gabriele’s lawyer contends the check had ‘by chance’ ended up in a pile of the pope’s paperwork Gabriele had accumulated in his apartment. Gabriele: Your Highness, what shall I do with this check for one hundred thousand euros? Pope: Another one? Oh just throw it on the pile I guess…  (Come to think of it, none of this is funny.)
Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown has died. No mention if someone will continue to give advice in her place or if women will have to be content with knowing only 847,656 things men want them to do in bed but are too shy to ask.
According to South Korean sources, North Korea is said to be trying on aspects of economic reform. To wit: ‘In agriculture, the regime would take 70% of the harvest from collective farms and farmers would keep the remaining 30%.’ (I guess we can assume this is an improvement.) Then (in apparent generosity), ‘the state would distribute food rations and other materials only to government, military, education or health workers.’ I wonder who gets to work in these fields…
Finally, from a place near and dear to my heart, Georgetown University medical school professor and molecular neuro-endocrinologist Thomas Sherman is trying through his lectures to his students to ‘spread his belief that although medical interventions are sometimes necessary, many of the things that are killing us can be thwarted with better nutrition.’ Seriously, do we need a neuro-endocrinologist to tell us this?
And that, my friends, is all the fearless and favorless news I can handle for now.