Japan’s Corona Dilemma

With PM Suga talking about the state of emergency he will declare (probably tomorrow, January 7 Japan time), today saw 1591 new Covid-19 cases in Tokyo, a new daily record and a large jump from yesterday.

The state of emergency being discussed will not give the government any power to enforce what they are simply requesting people and businesses to do to prevent Japan from getting into even worse trouble as the corona pandemic progresses.

It has been clearly demonstrated that simply asking people not to go out and not to gather for eating and drinking has had very little effect. People simply do not comply with the requests. And businesses are the same. A walk down a street near a station area in Japan will reveal numerous restaurants and bars with crowded counters and tables. Tokyo governor Koike mentioned the other day that the compliance of businesses with the early closing time requests was reported to her as being about 20%. That is simply not going to succeed in stopping the pandemic.

The PM is talking about a carrot and stick approach, with rewards for “cooperation” and fines for non-cooperation. Unless the fines are made very large, however, bars and restaurants will just consider them to be necessary business expenses and keep on, business as usual.

What is needed is special legislation with enforcement powers given to the government and meaningful punishments or other sanctions that can be applied to noncomplying people and businesses. That is not possible with the current legal structure and is going to be painful and embarrassing for the politicians who value money and have donors with financial interests in holding the Olympics, because it’s going to be difficult to continue to insist on holding the Olympics if the authorities are fining people for not behaving as the special legislation that is needed will have to call for them to behave. But it is a bitter pill that must be swallowed.

That said, I don’t for a moment think that the current tribe running things has nearly the courage to take the necessary steps.

BMI/BMD Crisis

BMI is a problem faced by many, not body mass index, but behavior manipulation ignorance. But even more serious a problem is BMD (behavior manipulation denial) on the part of people who look the other way or rationalize to avoid facing or to minimize the consequences of their engagement on social media and contracts with social media companies.

Behavior manipulation denial arguments are diverse:

  • I know what they’re doing and I’m smart enough to avoid being manipulated. And, anyway, I just ignore the junk.

Most people who say this don’t really know or aren’t smart enough. They need to think harder. All the huge number of people who, in Novermber 2015, superimposed the French flag over their profile photos on Facebook were being manipulated when they accepted a Facebook-promoted suggestion to do so. It was for a very understandable and defensible sentiment, of course, and I agreed with that sentiment.

But manipulation happens on all sorts of levels, including at the behest of people you don’t know and are not allowed to know. Again, people need to think harder.

Another thing to be aware of is that you are being manipulated by a customized universe of information that is purposefully curated as being the most likely to manipulate specifically your behavior. WYSINWOPG: What you see is not what other people get.

  • Social media advertising is just like advertising on TV.

Wrong again. TV stations don’t monitor your behavior, nor do they make as a condition of viewing your agreement to provide them huge amounts of information (or any information, actually) along with the right for them to use and sell that information as they see fit. And broadcast media don’t actively participate in targeting specifically you with specific ads. Perhaps more significantly, broadcast media does not collect your content and information and sell it to other entities in ways you have no way of knowing.

  • The information I create and provide is not worth anything anyway. They can have it for free; I don’t care.

Seriously wrong. The information you and other users create and provide to social media companies is worth billions of dollars to them and creates that wealth for a handful of billionaires. Doesn’t that mean that your information is very valuable to them? You might undervalue your information, including content you have created, your personal information, and information about your behavior, but there is a group of people to whom that information of yours is essential to the creation of fabulous wealth. Why give it away?

In the above, if you take advertising, as it should be taken, to include behavior modification in the broader sense, it should be clear what could happen and is actually happening.

  • Social media platforms provide me a convenient way to keep in touch with my friends.

That is a valid statement. But unless you buy into the false proposition that the wealth of information you provide to a social media company isn’t worth anything anyway, it is a very lopsided deal.

I know a few people who do not use (are not used by) social media companies, for various reasons. All of them appear to be leading fulfilling lives, although they successfully resist the songs of the “siren servers,” as Jaron Lanier refers to the servers operating at the top nodes of big data networks.

In Who Owns the Future? Lanier makes some good points about the value created by people on the Internet and the asymmetry of the contracts that people make to use various ostensibly free services, these contracts usually requiring broad-ranging permissions to collect and use your information. He even argues that people should be paid micropayments or nanopayments any time information they create is used by someone else, which would require the preservation of the provenance of all information. At present, the provenance of information on the Internet is in an overwhelming number of cases unknown, unknowable, or purposefully hidden.

Lanier’s approach is very idealistic and arguably difficult to implement, but it has made me more reluctant to share things in places where siren servers are listening, and that of course includes even private groups on the social media (surveillance/manipulation) platform run by the company Facebook. Instead, I will opt for media that I control and opt for the real world. See you there sometime.

Japan’s Covid Paralysis

Yesterday we had 539 new Covid-19 cases in Tokyo, a new high for Tokyo (the second in three days), and a new high nationwide. Japan appears to be doing much better than many other advanced nations, and certainly is not seeing the chaos that is happening in the US.

I think Japan’s success is due in a large part not to the government leadership, but rather to cultural factors. In addition to most Japanese not having aversion to mask-wearing, most Japanese have a sense of community and commonality of purpose with other Japanese. There is nothing of the us-and-them attitude that is so prevalent in the US. In reality, there are few of “them” to other. Japan is a highly other-challenged country.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the politicians sent effective messages to indicate how serious this was and how important it is for people to follow guidelines of behavior. After the first month or so, however, things have gone awry. The messaging has been more along the lines of “as long as you follow guidelines, you can do whatever you want wherever you want to do it.” That, I believe, has resulted in the recent record high levels of infections here in Japan. The government is essentially saying that it’s ok to do anything, as long as you are careful. They even instituted partial subsidies for domestic tourism, a business that has been seriously hit by the pandemic. What this does is replace tourists from overseas (mostly China) with Japanese tourists. The dangers remain, but are suffered by the locals.

And with all this going on, Japan is still planning on holding the once-delayed Olympics. I think they are seriously hallucinating or in serious denial. Although Japan is doing fairly well (still), many thousands of athletes and support personnel (not to mention spectators) coming to Japan from countries not doing well is certainly not a smart thing to do. Japan needs to cut bait; there are no Olympic fish available this time. I realize that huge amounts of money, including bribes, have been paid to make the Olympics happen, but shit also happens, and it has happened in a major way. It is time to get out of the way of the shit on its way to the fan.

Japan has essentially been paralyzed, unable to make embarrassing decisions to correct wrong decisions. I hope this condition can be fixed before it causes any more damage.

The New Age of Business Card Exchanges

Executive summary: Exchanging business cards can lead to unexpected outcomes if you are not careful. One fellow in a major Japanese company found that out recently.

Here is a demonstration that you do not need to be too smart to look like you are a smart cyberthug if you are helped by unwary people who do not guard their personal information.

This morning we received from just such a cyberthug an amusing email purporting to be an RFQ from a reputable entity, a well-known subsidiary of a huge auto manufacturer. It showed that the thug has smarts in some areas but is a bit lacking in others. But it also points out the danger of indiscriminately handing out your business card.

The signature line in the footer of the clearly spoofing email is totally correct as an actual person in a specific location of the company, which is in Aichi Prefecture.

The telephone number and the email address given in the footer were also verified as being the actual person’s telephone number and email address.

How could they do that? It is simple.

The thug got this information from somewhere, and it was in such detail that it could only have been gotten from a business card. Some people would, of course, call or email the person being spoofed and go no further when they found out that this was really a criminal emailing them. For many people, that would end the victimization before it starts. But others will click on an attachment in the email, which is the real purpose of the email.

But the cyberthug made some serious errors that clearly reveal both the inauthenticity of the email and the stupidity of the sender.

  • The cyberthug did not even change the sender’s email address from the actual address. It was not in Japan but rather an email address associated with the top domain pw of Palau, a group of islands in the West Pacific (changing the sender email address displayed in the header is a no-brainer);
  • the Japanese is laughable in too many ways to go into here; and (the clincher)
  • the time stamp is UTC +0300 (Eastern Europe and the New Russian Empire), despite the fact that it is also a no-brainer to change your system clock to spoof a “less-suspicious” time zone (Japan Standard Time would of course have been better).

After checking on their website, I called the main number of the auto manufacturer’s subsidiary and they verified that the name, telephone number, and email address in the spoofing email were correct for a person who actually works there. Upon calling that department’s number, I was not surprised to learn that they have been flooded with phone calls and the individual whose identity was being spoofed has been flooded with emails.

The takeaway for translators is that these days you need to be careful about revealing your personal information, including your email address, in public places. Your email address should not be placed on any webpages in harvestable (i.e., text rather than graphic) form. And do not disclose your normal business email address even in graphic form. Use an alias email address that can be changed if necessary if it starts collecting spam.

And, more relevant to the above-noted spoofing incident, be wary of casual exchanging of business cards. The victim of the spoofing in the above incident evidently had not been. I have heard translators gleefully reporting that they were able to hand out N business cards (where N is probably an unwise integer) to people at an event, often under the impression that they were doing sales. A bit more discretion is probably called for.

I am actually considering printing up some business cards with only a safe and disposable email alias, for handing out to potentially suspicious people. This will avoid problems such as what happened when I handed my business card one day to a fellow at the front desk of a major hotel in Osaka. The result was a deluge of daily spam from the hotel group directed to my normal business email. It took weeks of dealing with a fellow at a call center somewhere in the bowels of India to finally have the email address removed from their spamming list. A safe disposable email address on a business card for use in such situations would have avoided this problem.