Monday, August 31, 2009

Or not
Ian Buruma attempts Japanese history, with mixed success

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you possibly the most ignorant paragraph to appear on comment is free, ever:
Even if the system were to become something like Japan's democracy in the 1920s, with two more or less conservative parties competing for power, this would still be preferable to a one-party state. Any opposition is better than none. It keeps the government on its toes.-[source]

I mean, really.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


It's hardly unexpected, but WOW:

Exit polls and early vote counting indicated the DPJ was heading to a victory much larger than the LDP's landslide win in the Lower House election four years ago, when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's postal privatization plan gained widespread attention.

As the DPJ racked up seats to push it above the 241 needed for a Lower House majority--and even beyond the 296 seats won by the LDP in 2005--a who's who of prominent LDP lawmakers were going down in defeat.

Although Prime Minister Taro Aso won his seat in Fukuoka Prefecture, he indicated Sunday night he would step down as LDP president to take responsibility for the drubbing that many blame on the unpopular leader.

"We will have to accept the voice of the people that has produced such a severe result," Aso said.

The LDP now appears bereft of leaders. Party Secretary-General Hiroyuki Hosoda said he told Aso earlier Sunday that he and other top party executives would resign to take responsibility.

"We will seriously atone for our faults and prepare for the next election," he said.

The LDP came into the election in an unfamiliar spot: as the heavy underdog. Public opinion polls proved accurate, as the LDP was struggling to match the 113 seats the DPJ won when it was humiliated in the 2005 election.

So, a retread of 1993-4, or actual change? I liked this summary [via James Annan]:

One of the parties is led by an immensely wealthy grandson of a former conservative party prime minister, and the other is led by an immensely wealthy grandson of a former conservative party prime minister. One of these princelings 's tongue frequently gets tied in knots when he is trying to explain himself and the corruption of his colleagues, while the other's tongue frequently gets tied in knots when he is trying to explain himself and the corruption of his colleagues.
We'll be treated to a load of tribalist bollocks in the UK, of course, of both the "DPJ? Oh noes, teh leftisses and there socialism!!1!" and the "Democratic Party Japan = UK Labour Party = WIN!" varieties. 

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blast from the past
Toyama Kooichi rides again

Via Blood and Treasure, Toyama's speech from the 207 election for governor of Tokyo:

He came 8th, out of 14. And you thought Ishihara Shintaroo was colourful...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"The thing's hollow - it goes on forever- and oh my God!"
It's full of hippies

Selections from the climate camp programme [link via LC]:

Interactive Theatre on Climate Justice

SM1, Sat, 14:30-16:00

2% of fear and desire. A fun but challenging interactive show that uses Augusto Boal's Cop in the Head techniques helps examine what stops people taking effective action on climate change.

Eco-Feminist Story Telling (Part 1)

Kids' Space, Mon, 10:30-11:30

We will read some eco-feminist stories for children, and then you will get a chance to create your own story! We will play ‘circle stories’ and each child will add to the collective story line-by-line. We will write down the story, and it can be illustrated and printed within a zine. We can make puppets and act out our story too!

DSEi 2009: 8th September, City of London. Destroy the Banks! Destroy the Investors! Destroy the Arms Trade

MM4, Sat, 14:30-16:00

This year's DSEi will be making the link between climate chage and the arms trade. Come to the workshop , find out more, get involved, and let's hold the investors accountable for the death and destruction they cause worldwide!

Everything you Need to Know to Occupy your University

Student Space, Sun, 10:30-11:30

Occupations are back in vogue and this participative workshop - run by a student involved in organising the Cardiff University occupation in February of this year- will give a you step by step guide to practical knowledge of what you need to do to successfully occupy your university.

If not Carbon Trading, then what?

MM4, Sun, 16:30-18:30

We know the European Trading Scheme is a disaster, and Kyoto was a joke. But is it possible to design a carbon descent framework which would guarantee equity as well as the necessary carbon reductions? If so, what would it look like? And what possible steps could an activist/campaigner take to get us closer to this ideal? Is it worth our precious time thinking about this nerdy stuff at all? This is a mini-plenary discussion with Charlie Kronick (Greenpeace’s senior climate advisor), Ruth Davies (head of climate change policy at RSPB), Oliver Tickell (architect of the "Kyoto 2" initiative), Niel Bowerman (advocate for Contraction & Convergence), and Shaun Chamberlin (advocate for Tradable Energy Quotas).

Copenhagen and Carbon Trading - where did it all go horribly wrong

MM3, Sat, 16:30-18:30

What is going to be discussed at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December? What is carbon trading, and why should we care? What role does the European Union play? Discussions on a new global climate agreement are shrouded in a cloud of acronyms and obscure market schemes. This workshop decodes what is at stake in Copenhagen, exposing how the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), sectoral carbon markets, and schemes aimed at Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) would exacerbate local social and environmental conflicts and incentivise land grabs whilst failing to tackle the climate crisis. It will then explore some alternatives needed to promote climate justice in the UK, the EU and beyond.


The thing I want to go to is the workshop on Nuclear Power, which is fairly and unbiasedly called "If Nuclear is the Answer, you're asking the wrong question". 


Monday, August 24, 2009

Promises, promises

The DPJ and LDP manifestos are here. More comment on this tomorrow.

Both parties are promising to ban "hereditary" Diet seats. "Hereditary", in this context, means seats that were held by by the candidates father[1] and then "inherited". The DJP don't say how this ban will be enforced, but the LDP say they will not "endorse[ment n]or support" candidates "within three degrees of kinship" of a retiring candidates, although only from the next general election.

Meanwhile, Yomiuri is reporting : 

The Democratic Party of Japan has featured "three icons" of the party in its campaign for the Aug. 30 House of Representatives election to convince voters that the main opposition party is well equipped to take the reins of government.

The prominent coverage given to DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama, Secretary General Katsuya Okada and Acting President Naoto Kan--the latter two also have served as party leader--stands in stark contrast to the approach adopted by the Liberal Democratic Party, many of whose candidates hope to cash in on the popularity of Health, Labor and Welfare Minister and House of Councillor member Yoichi Masuzoe to boost their campaigns. - [source]

I don't think we're going to see anything comparable to the phenomenon that was Kazuhiko Yamauchi this time round, tho'.

[1] The actual Hereditaries, the Peerage, were abolished after the second world war, and the House of Peers replaced by the elected House of Councillors. The adoption of a bicameral rather than a unicameral legislature was one of Matsumoto's few successes in the face of GHQ's "advice".

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wipeout for the other Liberal Democrats?
Election count-down

A week to go, and a DPJ victory seems almost certain:

The Democratic Party of Japan appears likely to sweep into power by securing over 300 seats in the Aug. 30 Lower House election, a Kyodo News survey showed Saturday.The ruling Liberal Democratic Party looks set to lose its grip on government and be reduced to slightly over 100 seats in the House of Representatives, down from the 300 it held heading into the campaign.

I had assumed the previous poll from July was an outlier, but this looks conclusive. 

The Liberal Democratic Party has something to hold on to:
Of those surveyed, 36.3 percent said they have yet to decide which candidate or party to vote for in the single-seat districts, while 32.8 percent remain uncommitted in the proportional representation section. It is thus possible the overall situation could change suddenly ahead of election day.

but I don't think I'd be betting on it. It's remarkable - except for 1993, the LDP has been in power since 1955.

[I was going to write a post comparing DJP with the LDP manifestos, but I've been ill for the last few days. Hopefully, I shall be well enough to write it before the election]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tale from the White Hart

I used to love Arthur C. Clarke's short stories set in the White Hart.Not everyone cares for "club tales", and the stories are woefully deficient in monoliths; but Harry Purvis is a fun character, you get to meet lightly fictionalized versions of the UK SF writing establishment, and "Silence Please" must be the first suggestion of noise canceling technology.

I think in "Silence Please" the White Hart is described as being close to Kings and that if you cram your head out of the window in the gents you can see the river. Clarke also describes the pub as a fictionalized version of a pub called the "White Horse".

Which brings us to last night, when I was enjoying a most agreeable pint in a pub called the "The White Hart" which is close to Waterloo and the Kings physics department. There were no windows in the gents. 

So - is it the right one? I think I shall pretend it is. 

Monday, August 10, 2009

Folk philosophy
Are you sure "dualism" means what you think it means?

The real problem about commenting on this is that we have yet to see the full proposals. The Lib Dem blogosphere, particularly the Libertarians, love to get terribly exercised at the prospect of banning thingsIt’s just not liberal! we are constantly reminded, or more precisely, it is Fundamentally Illiberal(complete with scary looking capitalisation). Personally however, I tend to take a more evidence-based approach before banging on about John fucking Mill (I think the Lib Dems should produce their ownGod Trumps inspired Liberal Trumps, with the Mill card always winning. It would save a lot of time). Philosophy is always reached for, psychology or sociology almost never. It is as if the last 100 years never happened. More to the point, it is as if dualism was never critiqued. Frankly, if we did all live in a state of complete seperation of mind and body, the libertarians would have a point. The fact that time and again we learn that environmental factors affect behaviour is a problem they have never come to terms with.- [source]

I don't have a view on banning "air-brushing", but I don't see how whether dualism or d'Holbachian materialism is correct can have any possible bearing on the necessity or efficacy of the proposed ban.

For bonus hilarity, the previous instalment of this row involved people who couldn't diagonalize a Hamiltonian expressing firmly-held opinions on the implications of quantum mechanics on "free will" and, remarkably, the amount of time physicists spend on different problems. Favourite comment:
"You ask for “proof” - well, how is thousands upon thousands of accumulated scientific knowledge? We live in a closed, causational universe (you could, again like a theist, argue for some kind of quantum-get-out-of-jail-free card but that don’t wash). That is what science, from Newton to Darwin to Einstein tells us. " - [source]

which was a surprise, as the last time the political blogosphere tried to dress up as David Deutsch, we were assured:

"Quantum mechanics screws with the whole concept of a personal god at such a fundamental level that even the most ardent religious apologists steer clear of arguing with the cosmologists and trying to take on the uncertainty principle.

They just ignore it and hope that everyone but a few physicists will go on thinking that quantum mechanics is way to difficult to bother trying to understand."

The things you learn on the internets!
They're back!
Excellent news

After a long absence, Andrew Rilstone and Steven Poole are back. Excellent stuff.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Robotic ramen

The Reuter's transcript describes the robot- produced dinner as ramen. 

Of course, given it's in Nagoya, they should be serving misonikomi udon rather than ramen

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

BYO satellite
"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to burn up on re-entry"

Amateur satellites have been around for years, and there's a fairly active community of hams [via Alex]. But via the Register, I learn that "Interorbital systems" are offering to launch you a satellite (albeit one that'll burn up in a couple of weeks). 

As the companies business model includes selling futures on moon rock, I'm a little bit sceptical. But on the other hand, it's $8,000 for your own satellite...