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'Loopy' takes Japan by storm

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, April 28, 2010; A19

It seems Japan just can't let go of our April 14 column calling Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama the "biggest loser" at the recent nuclear summit here because he asked for -- but did not get -- a one-on-one meeting with President Obama. We also described him as hapless and, in the view of Obama administration officials, "increasingly loopy."

The next day, a top aide to Hatoyama criticized the use of "loopy" as "somewhat impolite." In a just world, that might have ended the matter.

Alas, Hatoyama stunned members of the Japanese parliament, the Diet, last week when he said that the characterization may have been correct after all. "As The Washington Post says, I may certainly be a foolish prime minister," Hatoyama said, using a rather mild interpretation of the term.

Next thing you know, "loopy" is all the rage in the Japanese media, the new "in" term, even if its meaning is in doubt. An online poll reportedly found this when it asked: "'What do you think of the harsh criticism Prime Minister Hatoyama received from the American media during his American visit?"

A total of 84.7 percent of the respondents answered, "They took the words right out of my mouth." (Even though Hatoyama's ratings are plummeting, we suspect this must have been a small poll.)

By last weekend, T-shirts and other goods had popped up on Web sites with caricatures of Hatoyama highlighting the new hit word "loopy." One T-shirt sells on Amazon in Japan for 2,940 yen, or nearly $32 -- almost as much as a Kobe-beef slider. Must be top-quality cotton.

But confusion abounds as to what the word means.

We got a kind e-mail Saturday from Masayoshi Yamada, an emeritus professor of linguistics at the University of Shimane, who said the "Japanese mass media showed us two different translations" of the word.

"One translated it into the Japanese as meaning 'stupid,' " he wrote, "the other 'crazy.' " A dictionary of American slang, he added, "defines it as 'stupid, silly or eccentric,' " which left him and his students "just helpless when we wanted to decide what your 'loopy' usage precisely means."

Dear Professor Yamada:

Thank you for your inquiry. At the outset, we must emphasize that "loopy" is the exact polar opposite of "in the loop," which means plugged in or very well informed about things, especially the internal decision-making at the top levels of organizations.

That said, it seems all of these definitions being used -- from Hatoyama's somewhat charitable "foolish" (translated by some as "confused," as in fuzzy-headed, the way you might be from cold medicine or drugs or alcohol) to the very harsh "crazy" -- do not quite capture the meaning.

After discussion with several experts -- actually, reporter colleagues who sit within a 30-foot radius -- the consensus is that the term essentially refers to someone oddly detached from reality. For example, almost anything former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) has said since he acknowledged his "love child" last year with a woman called the "campaign videographer" would probably qualify as loopy.

Another example would be South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who went on television after his torrid love affair with an Argentine woman was discovered and said that, while he had done something wrong, he would not resign.

That was more or less okay. But then, according to his soon-to-be-ex-wife's memoirs, he called his estranged wife and asked about his news-conference performance, "How did I do?"

Now, that was loopy. Hope this helps.

A brief detour

Reporters on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's plane, returning Friday from a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Estonia on nuclear weapons and what to do with them, were treated to a showing of the movie "Dr. Strangelove." This is the 1964 classic black comedy, subtitled "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," with Peter Sellers.

(The selections are made by an ad hoc group of staff, security people and so forth. Sometimes people bring their own DVDs. Clinton's private cabin is on a separate video system.)

After a stop in Canada, the plane landed at JFK in New York to drop off the secretary. Some government officials have home-to-office cars and drivers. Not many have home-to-office planes and pilots. This is at least the second time she's been dropped off in New York City on a flight to Washington. Raised some eyebrows.

To which State Department spokesman Philippe Reines replied: "I have a three-word suggestion for whoever felt put out: Orbitz dot com."

Wait a minute! We pay for these seats.

Update that résumé

Much angst these days at the Pentagon. Seems the undersecretary of defense for personnel, Clifford Stanley, is summarily canning a whole bunch of people, including Noel Koch, who was running the Wounded Warrior program, according to my former colleague Tom Ricks, writing in his blog at ForeignPolicy.com.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates believes that the office is in "desperate need of a wholesale reorganization," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told Ricks, and has given Stanley "wide authority to revamp it from top to bottom." Morrell added: "There probably will be more changes in the offing."

Guess that should be considered ample warning.

This just in . . .

Pulitzer Prize for the most underreported story of the year?

The State Department sent this notice out last week.

To: Domestic State Employees Subject: eDepartment Notice for 4/21/2010 Importance: High

Today's Department Notice:

Travel Guidance Related to the Volcanic Eruption in Ireland

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