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    Dressing down without loosening up

    Posted by Sean at 00:50, June 4th, 2005

    Nichi Nichi has a good roundup of the depressing results of the Japanese government’s new “no taste” “no tie” policy. Among the pictures is one of Prime Minister Koizumi in an Okinawan shirt, looking as if he were practicing his Bea Arthur drag act.

    Naturally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs isn’t pressing the policy too much; an acquaintance of mine who was brought up in Switzerland was recently taken to task by his supervisor there for wearing a striped shirt and wine-colored tie rather than the funeral-director look (white shirt, tie in color range from grey to navy with non-assertive pattern) that’s an unofficial requirement.

    Otherwise, there’s a lot of huffing and puffing going on to make un-suit-edness “cool.” Yuriko Koike, the Minister of the Environment, has called upon designers to come up with “cool biz” looks. There will be a fashion show of them at the Aichi World Expo.

    As Joe says, given the torturing heat and humidity of summer here, and the fact that a lot of people travel around in packed trains rather than cars, it makes sense not to require them to dress to the point of near-suffocation. Still, it’s unfortunate, if not unexpected, that everyone seems to be gravitating toward the dress-shirt-without-a-tie look. (I mean, everyone besides the high-ranking officials who are dressing distinctively just to draw attention to the policy.) It makes them all look as if they’d neglected to finish putting their clothes on in the morning. Or taken off their jackets and ties in preparation for a few rounds of beer and karaoke. Outfits that didn’t look as if something were missing–linen or scrupulously pressed chambray with trousers would be the obvious choices–would look more on-duty.


    Pride month

    Posted by Sean at 11:23, June 3rd, 2005

    Now that Gay Pride is a full month, Paul Varnell says, we should find a way to use it that goes beyond just being one of the installments of the “Let’s Celebrate [Designated Aggrieved Group]” routine:

    If you are not impressed by any of these ideas, create your own. The point is to use Gay Pride Month to create circumstances where gays and lesbians get to know a few more people, learn a little more, develop a greater appreciation of the community they are a part of and experience something in common beyond the mere datum of being gay.

    Pride is best expressed by viewing our sexuality as a potential good and talent to be cultivated. I understand the impulse toward “liberation,” but when coarsely indulged in, it sends mixed signals: “We’re ordinary folks just like you” + “We’re freaks who run loose on the streets in magenta leather thongs” is not a message that’s easily parsed, though it should be easy to figure out which part of it is likely to stick in the Middle-American memory.

    Since I’m not a big organization-joiner, my own modest suggestions are of the pokier, everyday variety:

    Gay people have to stop making excuses for each other all the time. Yes, we suffer. Yes, there’s a lot of crap to take. Yes, it’s wrong. But there’s no more “pride” involved in listening sympathetically while our friends explain for the 100th time why they can’t [break it off with that married man / stop drinking to the point that it affects their job / resist the impulse to flee whenever a relationship threatens to get riskily intimate / stand up to their parents] than there is in behaving that way ourselves. I don’t recommend being sententious, but a little more shunning of chronic liars and cheaters would not do most of us any harm. Nor would making it clear to nebbishy friends that they cannot count on an inexhaustible series of bailouts when they get themselves in trouble.

    That includes those who complain about society’s attitude toward gays but have a litany of reasons they can’t come out to their families. The only real way to address anti-gay ignorance is to refute it, visibly, in the way we live. If you’re so blasted filial, by all means go the whole way: get married and start giving Mom and Dad grandchildren. Or stay gay and honorably closeted, and quit–as in, COLD TURKEY–generalized bitching about homophobia.

    Straight people who support us have a role in this, too. The valuable kind of pride comes from solving problems, overcoming obstacles, and accomplishing things–that’s no less true for us than for you. Considering it natural, even entertaining, for us to live brittle, neurotic, messy lives (while you do everything you can to stabilize your own) does no one any favors.

    All of this is stuff that should be happening anyway, of course; but as long as someone has waved a wand over June and declared it All Hail the Queers month, there’s no reason not to make the best of it.


    Tough questions (for one’s opponents) about Japan Post privatization

    Posted by Sean at 09:27, June 3rd, 2005

    Sometimes, it feels as if I’d never left America:

    The Democratic Party of Japan’s return to Diet sessions Wednesday reflected its acknowledgement of the limit on what can be gained from adopting the outmoded parliamentary tactic of boycotting debates.

    During the current Diet session, the DPJ refused to attend debates for several days over a dispute concerning the absence of Heizo Takenaka, the minister responsible for postal privatization, from a session of the House of Representatives’ Internal Affairs and Communications Committee.

    The 10-day boycott did not result in any remarkable achievements. Instead it gave the impression that the largest opposition party was indecisive on how to confront the ruling coalition.

    Which country is this? Oh, yeah: the one where the leader of the Democratic Party is actually kind of cute, which is a convenient distinguishing factor.

    Regarding larger developments in the Japan Post privatization free-for-all…let’s see. A former Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Seiko Noda, had some questions for Prime Minister Koizumi in committee this morning:

    “Mr. Prime Minister, if you are so certain that Japan Post is irredeemable as a public corporation, why did you pass its public incorporation bill during your administration?” Ms. Noda asked, attacking the Prime Minister’s position.

    Koizumi stated, “Both ruling and opposition parties overwhelmingly opposed privatization, so as a politician it was my job to find a way to push through that.” He indicated that setting up the Japan Post Public Corporation had not been his real intention all along.

    Ms. Noda went on to indicate that the government had not explained thoroughly the disadvantages of privatization and ended her series of questions by saying, “One can by no means clearly see what ideals would be accomplished by the results of privatizing the [existing] public corporation. In the midst of that [state of affairs], there’s extraordinary uncertainty and room for hesitation involved in pushing forward with this [plan].”

    Also heard:

    Eiji Ozawa (LDP) critized the bills related to the privatization proposal as unrealistic and said, “The Prime Minister is [behaving like] Don Quixote.” The Prime Minister stated, “Well, actually, I like Don Quixote. I’d like the privatization of Japan Post to make people say [later], ‘That Koizumi knew what he was doing, after all.'”

    (I took quite a bit of liberty with that last part. 先見の明があったな actually means something more literally like, “had the clarity of foresight, huh!” I couldn’t find a better way to de-clunk-ify it.) Ozawa is presumably talking about the literary character and not the arson-prone discount retailer. Before I moved into Atsushi’s apartment, I lived in the Dogenzaka section of Shibuya–right across the street, essentially, from the 東急本店. Whenever I so much as went out for a run, I’d be assailed by that insufferable “Don, Don, Don…Don Quiiiii…Don, Qui…Hoh, Teh” theme song. I thought I’d lose my mind.

    What was the topic? Ah, yes: Japan Post, as it so often is. Anyway, things are moving along, kind of. No one expected the opposition to melt away, or to fail to play the who-knows-what-will-happen-without-the-government-to-nanny-this? card. I’d kind of enjoy it if someone in the government just stood up and said, “Mr. Prime Minister, Japan Post has a great deal of money, and, to be frank, WE WANT THAT MONEY! WE WANT TO KEEP OUR MITTS ON EVERY YEN OF THAT MOOONNNNNNEEEEEEEY!” Hoping for that amount of forthrightness would be…well, quixotic, one might say.


    Mama used to tell me / Girl, you better load your gun up right

    Posted by Sean at 06:26, June 3rd, 2005

    Camille has a site–does everyone else already know about this?–to go with her new book. Included are several pages of “Camille’s World,” which is centered around top-ten lists, of which my…uh…favorite, is the following:

    LIST #2: The World’s Top 10 Disco Classics

    1. Irene Cara, “Flashdance” (Giorgio Moroder)
    2. Donna Summer, “Rumour Has It” (Giorgio Moroder)
    3. Jackie Moore, “This Time, Baby”
    4. Sylvester, “Stars”
    5. Lime, “Angel Eyes”
    6. Machine, “There But For the Grace of God”
    7. Evelyn Champagne King, “Shame”
    8. Pamela Stanley, “Coming Out of Hiding”
    9. Gloria Estefan’s cover of Vickie Sue Robinson’s “Turn the Beat Around”
    10. Madonna, “Deeper and Deeper”

    To which my reaction is: Okay, honey, whatever you say.

    Or on second thought, you know what? Not. NOT whatever you say.

    I mean, “Flashdance”? “Flashdance“?! For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I get the impression that Camille was thinking more of Jennifer Beals’s wet hair, pastel hardhat, and leotarded ass than of, you know, the song itself.

    Wait! I can put my finger on the reason: the song is crap. Not crap that deserves to be expelled from civilization–I’m kind of fond of “Flashdance” myself. But please. Camille identifies disco with African earth cult and dark sexual ambiguity. Listen to “Flashdance” and tell me you find anything whatever dark or ambiguous. Jeez. “A Fifth of Beethoven” has more sexual menace. From Donna’s oeuvre alone, I would pick about 12 different songs over “Flashdance.”

    Speaking of Donna, “Rumour Has It,” full stop? Eh? Better than “Love to Love You Baby,” certainly. Better than “She Works Hard for the Money,” which I’ve never warmed to. But, like, better than “I Feel Love”? “Dim All the Lights”? “Love’s Unkind”? Come on.

    And before anyone points out that I was born in 1972–yeah, I know. But I’m a gay guy; it says right on the ID card that you get to have imperious opinions about disco. I mean, I thought Paglia was pushing it by trying elevate Joni Mitchell to Great Modern Poet status. I should’ve known you can never underestimate her ability to top herself for sheer excess.

    “Flashdance”!


    Mister Kim if you’re nasty

    Posted by Sean at 00:57, June 3rd, 2005

    Miss Manners keeps telling you the little gestures of politeness are important, but do you listen? Of course not. However, President Bush does–at least according to one agency in the DPRK government:

    A spokesperson for the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs praised US President Bush for having referred to Premier Kim Jong-il with the honorific “Mister” on 31 May, saying, “If what he said puts a full stop on the conflict between hard-liners and moderates, it will contribute toward the building of an atmosphere [congenial to] the 6-party talks.

    It strikes me that, coming from a head of state who’s known for his chumminess, the fussy use of “Mister” could just as easily be an expression of chill distance. (Or maybe that’s just me, since I deliver expressions of chill distance with some regularity.)

    Interestingly, while looking for something about the speech in English, I came across this old CSM article. It’s by a Russian diplomat who traveled with Kim for three weeks the summer before 9/11. The more I look at it, the more I think I remember having read it at the time, although I can’t be sure:

    I was warned that the leader does not approve of the address, “Mister.” We were a bit shocked at first, but we got used to [saying], “Could you tell the Great General….” Now it was natural for me to address the North Korean leader as “Comrade Chairman,” “Chairman Kim Jong Il.”

    Kim Jong Il expressed regret that, since George Bush came to power, the US approach to Korean affairs has changed. The North Korean leader does not like it that the administration of the American president places [North Korea] on the same shelf as countries promoting extremism, violence, and terror.

    If you’d like to nauseate yourself, you can linger over Kim’s fulsome praise of Bill Clinton; an icky, borderline-flirtatious conversation with Madeleine Albright during her famous visit; and an interlude of relaxed mateyness with Vladimir Putin.

    On returning to the present, remember that, “Mister” or no “Mister,” there’s still plenty of room for animosity:

    DPRK Ambassador to the UN Pak Gil-yon, lecturing at the Toronto Center for International Research, sharply criticized the US: “Not only has the US not changed its posture of frank hostility, but it has left the DPRK no choice but to tackle the task of nuclear arms development.” Pak also criticized Japan for its position on historical issues. Asked during the Q&A session after his lecture about [the possibility] of returning to the 6-party talks, he responded, “We are working hard [on a resolution]. We have unlimited time.”


    Social Insurance Administration to remain under government control

    Posted by Sean at 21:03, June 1st, 2005

    What with all the attention the reform of Japan Post has gotten, the woes of Japan’s Social Insurance program–which is even more screwed than its US counterpart–can sometimes go virtually unnoticed. The government’s been thinking about it, though (Japanese, English). The recommendation involves those three little words we all love to hear: “new government entity.”

    As part of the Social Insurance Agency reform, a new government entity will be established to manage public pension programs, but the government will retain complete control over the system.

    The plan was based on similar recommendations made in a final report by an advisory panel on the agency’s reform to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda and Liberal Democratic Party proposals.

    The government has finally completed a reform plan, prompted by the revelation of a series of scandals involving the agency. But its plan may attract criticism as only creating a different facade rather than implementing an overhaul.

    Unlike the heated discussions of the past, the LDP panel meeting held at the party’s headquarters Tuesday proceeded quietly.

    I’ll bet! Of course, it’s easy to argue airily that having the government in charge will keep things going as smoothly as possible, but when you look at the specifics, there’s plenty to be doubtful about. Non-payment of premiums is already a pervasive problem. Last year right around this time, it was starting to sound as if no bureaucrat in the history of the Japanese government had ever made a single payment into the kitty. Speak of setting a good example, huh? In the meantime, the restructuring of the SIA is supposed to take place in 2008, so there’s plenty of time for things to become even more Byzantine as more and more people with something to lose have their say. Should be fun.


    US on UNSC

    Posted by Sean at 20:26, June 1st, 2005

    Latest word on the expansion of permanent membership to the UN Security Council:

    The contents of US policy on the reform of the United Nations Security Council, to be released this month, have been revealed. The major focal point is how to expand the number of permanent seats, and on that issue, the pillars of the US’s position are (1) the criteria for selection [of new permanent member states] should give more weight to “degree of contribution” to the UN than to regional balance, (2) that new members should not be granted veto power, and (3) that the number of new members should be kept to a minimum.

    Even in the Nikkei article, “degree of contribution” is in quotation marks; presumably, it was not elaborated on. Japan is the second-largest monetary contributor to the UN, but the PRC is a UNSC member that already has veto power.


    A textbook case

    Posted by Sean at 00:24, June 1st, 2005

    If you’re interested something that’ll really shake up your vision of the world, by all means, don’t bother clicking here. Japan’s latest scandal to serve up a tasty stew of collusion, bid-rigging, and the revolving door between government and public or semi-public corporations involves bridge-building:

    A former director of Japan Highway Public Corporation played a pivotal role in fixing contracts for JH bridges, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Friday.

    He compiled the list [of contracts pre-allocated to various construction firms] following JH’s customary announcement of the list of orders to be placed for the fiscal year. He would then have Takashi Tanaka, the deputy chief of the bridge division of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., distribute his own list of predetermined contractor winners to the companies.

    The arrests are related to a scandal involving bridge projects ordered by the Construction and Transport Ministry under which two cartels divvied up the public works projects amongst member companies.

    The retired JH executive once was a central figure in Kazura-kai (vine society), an association of former JH officials who had landed cushy jobs at bridge building companies in a practice known as amakudari, or descent from heaven. Members of the group met regularly and handled sales at JH on behalf of their new employers.

    The former JH director’s list of predetermined contract allocations covered nearly 100 large projects each year. Sources have pointed out that it would have been difficult for him to do everything on his own, therefore, Kazura-kai members are suspected of involvement in allotting JH orders to specific bridge builders.

    Obviously, as a supporter of free markets, I don’t approve of any of this for one second. I do, however, feel a great deal of sympathy for young and talented Japanese people moving into public-sector jobs. The whole system has been designed so that they spend most of their careers making less money than their schoolmates who moved into private industry, with the express expectation that they’ll be able to cash in on their connections through their post-retirement jobs. Not the sort of work for an idealist.

    This might also be a good time to note that the 2001 reshuffling of the federal ministries does not seem to have occasioned the dawn of efficiency and transparency in federal doings that had been promised. Then, too, these things take time. If there’s one thing bureaucrats know how to do, it’s cling to power with the tenacity of barnacles. Scandals are always depressing, but they at least represent some gains for public accountability. In Japan’s huge and boondoggle-prone construction sector, every little bit helps.


    First strike

    Posted by Sean at 22:29, May 31st, 2005

    Poor southwestern Japan, including the prefecture to which Atsushi’s been transferred, may have to get back into its typhoon mentality. Well, there’s no wind coming, just an early front of 梅雨 (tsuyu: lit., “plum rain,” which sounds precious and refreshing but actually refers to the torturing-hot rainy season that makes up the first half of summer here):

    The Japan Meteorological Agency has issued a general bulletin related to heavy rains and called for precautions against landslide damage and the swelling of rivers in Kyushu, based on fears that an incoming front of rain, expected to hit the area late tonight, may be dumping 30-50 millimeters of precipitation per hour on some areas by tomorrow.

    Some localities are expected to get 80-100 millimeters in the 24 hours leading up to 6 a.m. tomorrow. After that, Kyushu will keep being drenched while Shikoku will join in the fun and be vulnerable to cliffslides and lowland flooding. Of course, my primary concern is that my Atsushi not be washed away, but his city got off rather lightly in last year’s typhoon-fest. Other areas that suffered more have probably dried out by now (a big problem toward the end of the season was the cumulative waterlogging of soil to the point that it liquefied), but their enthusiasm for the first wave of tsuyu is probably minimal. Stay safe, if you’re down there.


    四字熟語

    Posted by Sean at 03:32, May 31st, 2005

    Any of my fellow Anglosphere natives who are ready to put a hammer through their monitor if they see one more headline that says, “French say ‘Non!’ to EU constitution,” may take some comfort in knowing that it was the cliché of the weekend here, too. (And I am aware that that was the way the campaign went in French–it’s still not that hard to use the word reject when you’re writing in English.) This morning’s main editorial in the Nikkei was printed under the line “With French ‘Non,’ European unity rent again.” There was, however, this delicious sentence, which contains a compound I don’t believe I’ve seen:

    仏以上に国民のEU不信が強い英国では、ブレア政権が国民投票を先送りにするはずだ。

    In England, where distrust of the EU among the citizens is stronger than in France, the Blair administration is expected to push back its own referendum.[my emphasis–SRK]

    EU不信, huh? Yes, I know, it’s not really an expression per se; it’s just the compressed style of newspaper writing. Still, pretty catchy. How’d I not notice that one before? To turn it into a legitimate four-character compound, of course, you’d probably have to use the kanji abbreviation of EU: 不信–>欧連不信.