Archive for August 2011

Traveling in China August 15 to September 15

August 15, 2011

I’m traveling to Hong Kong, Yunnan, Xi’an, Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Hangzhou to improve my knowledge of the continent. I’ll resume writing in this blog when I return. Peace be with you!


Prime Ministerial Candidate Noda Proposes Grand Alliance With Opposition Parties

August 13, 2011

Prime Ministerial Candidate Noda Proposes Grand Alliance With Opposition Parties
Yomiuri Shimbun: 野田氏、自公との大連立目指す意向…TV番組で
1:23 PM August 13, 2011

Financial Minister Noda reiterated on Tokyo TV this morning that he plans to run for Prime Minister after Mr. Naoto Kan resigns from office and added that he would pursue an alliance with the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeitō in order to create a “Cabinet to Save the Country”.

With the announcement by Mr. Noda, an influential candidate, that he would seek a grand alliance in order to gain the government a new mandate, inter-party debates about the nature of cooperation between the ruling and rump parties are sure to be more spirited both before and after the new Prime Minister is chosen.

Mr. Noda said, “The parties should speak to each other openly and create a cabinet to save the country. If there isn’t an alliance, the government can’t make progress. We in the majority party must bow our heads and knock on the front doors of the minority parties to ask them for help.

At a press conference after the television program, he said “I’d like to make policies that address the concerns the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeitō voice in three-party talks.” The goal of the grand alliance would be “to revive the Tōhoku reconstruction efforts and resolve the cleanup and control of the nuclear accident.”

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Renewable Energy Law Agreed Upon; Prime Minister Kan to Resign After Ratification

August 12, 2011

Renewable Energy Law Agreed Upon; Prime Minister Kan to Resign After Ratification
Yomiuri Shimbun: 再生エネ法成立へ…首相は直後に正式退陣表明
12:03 PM August 12

At the beginning of a meeting of policy committee chairmen on the morning of the 12th, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party agreed to pass a Special Renewable Energy Law in the House of Representatives on the 19th.

The law is expected to be ratified by the 26th. Immediately afterward, Prime Minister Naoto Kan of the Democratic Party of Japan will formally announce his resignation.

In addition, at a Cabinet roundtable on the 12th, the Prime Minister announced his intent to resign and told his ministers, “I want people to say that Prime Minister Kan’s ministers gave everything they had until the very, very end fulfilled their responsibilities.”

Finance Minister Noda, who has confirmed his candidacy in the coming intraparty election for Mr. Kan’s successor, spoke at a press conference after the cabinet meeting about the proposed tax increase which will come up for a vote soon and which is expected to be controversial. He confronted intraparty opposition to the tax hike by saying, “The government and the ruling party have a definite plan [for reforming the social security system]. There’s no need to overturn the tea table during the debate.”

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Charges Filed in Tokyo Against Taiwanese MP for Injury to Shinto Priest During 2009 Demonstration at Yasukuni Shrine

August 11, 2011

Charges Filed in Tokyo Against Taiwanese MP for Injury to Shinto Priest During 2009 Demonstration at Yasukuni Shrine
Yomiuri Shimbun: 靖国でデモ・神職けが、台湾の立法委員書類送検
11:46 AM August 11, 2011

Charges were filed at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Public Security Division on the 11th against Taiwanese legislator Kao Chin Su-mei (May Chin) (age 45). She is suspected of injury and intimidation to Shinto priests trying to restrain a demonstration she led at Yasukuni Shrine in Chiyoda protesting the enshrinement of Taiwanese there who had served in the Japanese military.

According to the police announcement, on August 11, 2009, Representative Kao Chin led approximately 50 people in a protest at Yasukuni Shrine. They clashed with 6 priests who attempted to prevent them from entering the temple grounds, and one priest’s right hand was lightly injured, intentionally so according to the charges.

A Japanese veterans’ organization made a formal accusation in May 2010. Because Representative Kao Chin lives abroad, it would be difficult to try her in court.

Kao Chin Su-mei, formerly a Taiwanese actress, was first elected to the Legislative Yuan in 2001. She has gone to Yasukuni to protest Taiwanese soldiers’ enshrinement there 5 times since 2002.

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CNR Subsidiary Changchun Railway Vehicles Co. Halts Production of Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Trains Over Safety Concerns

August 10, 2011

CNR Subsidiary Changchun Railway Vehicles Co. Halts Production of Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Trains Over Safety Concerns
Yomiuri Shimbun: 北京―上海高速鉄道の車両、生産停止…中国紙
Yasushi Kōuchi reporting from Hong Kong August 9, 2011

Changchun Railway Vehicles Company, a subsidiary of China CNR Corporation which went into business at the end of June and has been manufacturing trains for the Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Rail line, has halted production for safety reasons.

This news was reported in the August 9 edition of the online news magazine Business China.

Of the 96 trains running on the line, 48 were supplied by CNR and the other 48 by CSR.

Of the 38 malfunctions on the line so far, 37 of them were by CNR trains. Because many of those were Changchun trains, the company has halted production, “voluntarily and not because of a government order” in the words of CNR.

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Europe, a Union of Destabilized Countries

August 9, 2011

Greece Ireland Portugal Risk Premiums 2010/05-2011/08
Belgium France Risk Premiums 2010/05-2011/08
Risk Premiums on Sovereign Debt of Various EU Nations, May 2010-August 2011

Europe, a Union of Destabilized Countries
Among the countries that don’t need a rescue, Belgium and France are the most exposed to the weakness of Spain and Italy.
El País: Europa, una unión de países desestabilizados
Álvaro Romero reporting from Madrid August 6, 2011

According to the market, Spain is no longer the country most likely to follow in the footsteps of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. As of yesterday, the next country in line for a rescue is thought to be Italy, whose risk premium has overtaken Spain’s for the first time in 15 minutes. This change offers no relief for Spain, but it shows investors are concerned that Italy, with its weak growth prospects and the weight of its debt (more than 120% of its GDP), might not be able to fulfill its fiscal consolidation plans.

Here are the current states of affairs for the other countries that share the dubious honor of being one of the most fragile debtors in the European Union.

Greece: The Origin of the Debt Crisis
Greece caught the spark that set off Europe’s fiscal inferno. The new government which took power in 2009 brought to light that the nation’s macroeconomic figures had been dressed up for years and said that the government was on the verge of bankruptcy. The country has been rescued twice by the EU and IMF: it will receive €219 billion, €50 billion of which will come from the private sector. Its public debt is 142% of its Gross Domestic Product.

Ireland: Dragged Down by Its Financial System
Ireland’s problem was the enormous sinkhole of its financial system, which was disproportionately large in relation to the size of the nation’s economy. It had to request an €85 billion rescue, most of it to recapitalize its banks, which owed some €70 billion. Its sovereign debt rose by 32% of its GDP in 2010 and is now 96% of GDP altogether.

Portugal: Grave Productivity Problems
It was the third country, and the most recent, to request a rescue, in its case €78 billion. On March 31, it corrected the quarterly deficit data it had originally announced from 7.3% to 8.6%. That was the final blow for investors, who lost confidence in the solvency of an unproductive economy with a sovereign debt at 93% of GDP.

Belgium: Large Debt and No Government
All the countries above were rescued on the basis that their crises could infect other countries. They’ve been contagious, nevertheless, and many analysts are speaking of a speculative chain attack. Besides the countries that have already been rescued, like Italy and Spain, the next is Belgium, which hasn’t had a government for more than a year and carries a public debt that is 97% of its GDP.

France: A Very Exposed Central Bank
The second largest economy in Europe is still far removed from the pressure the other countries are suffering, but it would be the next on the horizon. Its principal problem is that it’s the most exposed to the debts of Greece (€40 billion, 38.5% of the total) and Italy (€293.5 billion). Its own public debt is elevated as well: 81.7% of GDP.

Bach and Casals Keyed the Cello

August 8, 2011

Bach Casals Sciammarella
Painting of Bach and Casals by Sciammarella

Bach and Casals Keyed the Cello
A book by music critic Eric Siblin reveals the secret connections between the composer and interpreter who elevated the instrument
El País: Bach / Casals, en clave de chelo
Jesús Ruiz Mantilla reporting from Madrid July 28, 2011

Sometimes the birth and consecration of a work of art is best understood through geometry. The triangle that connects Johann Sebastian Bach, Pau Casals, and the cello suites which the two engendered and elevated has been outlined in an exceptional book by music critic Eric Siblin.

The coherence and ageless modernity of this work storms the ears and emotions of anyone who listens to it now. Perhaps Bach only thought of it as a series of exercises for an instrument to which no one else ascribed importance. “It pains me to believe that because they are too beautiful to be something so small. But no one knows for sure,” says Siblin, a Canadian who specialized in rock and roll before entering the world of Bach and Casals to write The Cello Suites (Turner). The suites spent two centuries in oblivion until an interpreter discovered and revived them. When Casals found the Suites in a secondhand music store on Ample street in Barcelona, no one suspected that the sheet music contained what is today considered a universal work of art.

Casals’s father wanted him to be a carpenter, but his vocation was soon apparent. He was known as el nen, and he played in cafes before conquering the world’s concert halls as the great cellist of his era. He was catapulted there by Queen Regent María Cristina, a curious paradox because he never reneged on his convictions as a Catalonian nationalist, and by Isaac Albéniz.

Casals’s personal history is connected to the work through its traumatic recording at the EMI studio on Abbey Road (London) during the Spanish Civil War, and his determined antifascism. That mystical connection connects him to the father of a large family from Thuringia who began to compose the music at the turn of 1720 – its genesis is mysterious – soon after he left prison. Bach had been encarcerated on a whim. It was a prelude to the problems he faced in his later life, in which he had to work in the background to avoid being tripped up by jealousy and court intrigue. In this particular case, Duke Wilhelm Ernst wanted Bach to decline an offer made to him by the Prince of Köthen; Bach refused and was put in jail.

The rarest thing about the work was his choice of instrument. During the Baroque Era, the cello was no more than a sad accompanying element, a cushion for the others, until Bach catapulted it to the Olympus of sonority. Its players have now ennobled it to the point of virtuosity, and it’s all thanks to the Suites. For Siblin, the resonance is still fully alive. “It was modern in 1720, and it will be so in 2120,” adduces the author. “There are moments that remind me of Jimmy Page’s solos for Led Zeppelin. Each generation has approached Bach on its own terms. It tranforms in each era because of its exceptional quality.”

The reinventing of Bach is perpetually controversial. It is as fertile a topic as it is useless to pass judgment on because each music lover would pass his own sentence. Siblin criticizes authenticists, who defend interpretation using historical criteria such as period instruments, and defends the Romanticism which resounds in the Catalonian Casals’s recording, which is still the primary referent for today’s performers, from Rostropovich to Mischa Maisky to Yo-Yo Ma.

Casals evangelized with the Suites. He played them for the whole world and at the same time did justice for the cello. Until he dignified it with his playing, the instrument was considered no more than a “a bee buzzing in a stone jug,” in the words of music critic George Bernard Shaw.

The cello was never the same after Casals. He was a man of principle. He ennobled the instrument he loved, and he ennobled music. He refused to play for the Nazis or any of the countries that abandoned Spain to Franco and recognized his regime.

He had a rough time with the Nazis. They discovered that the maestro was spending the war in occupied France, hidden in Prades, and they searched for him. He believed they wanted to arrest him. The collaborationist authorities trapped him. He subsisted on no more than turnips, green beans, and potatoes. The chief of the delegation wanted him to play in Berlin before the Führer. Casals excused himself. First he brandished political reasons: “My position toward Germany is the same as my position toward Spain.” There was uncomfortable silence. It wasn’t enough. They insisted. His next answer sufficed: “I have rheumatism of the shoulder.”

After risking his life by saying no to Hitler, he felt enormous frustration when the war ended, and the Allies washed their hands of almost all the disgraces done by Spain under Franco. He was furious and felt deceived by those who compromised, the British most of all. “I cannot accept their money,” he said. He decided to retire.

After that, he did not play in public again until he agreed to a concert in the tiny village beside the Pyrenees in which he’d separated himself from the world. Obviously, he played the Suites: “the vibration of his bow felt like a dream from a deep sleep,” recounted an article for the New Yorker.