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    More Yasukuni Shrine news

    Posted by Sean at 05:24, November 26th, 2004

    One of the main points of contention in the whole Yasukuni Shrine flap has been whether Koizumi (among other high-level government officials) is making his pilgrimages in his capacity as a public servant or as a private citizen. It matters, naturally, because the separation of church and state argument doesn’t wash at all if he and his cabinet are just tradition-minded Japanese paying their respects. The latest development internal to Japan is that a court in Chiba has ruled that the visits are, in fact, official.

    Reasonable enough. Also reasonable was this part (lower two paragraphs):

    A court here Thursday ruled that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine in 2001 in his official capacity, but it skirted the issue of whether the trip violated the constitutional separation of the state and religion.

    The Chiba District Court also rejected a compensation claim from 63 plaintiffs who demanded the state and the prime minister pay 100,000 yen to each member for inflicting mental pain from the Aug. 13, 2001, visit.

    The plaintiffs, including Christian and Buddhist priests, had argued Koizumi’s homage to the Shinto shrine was an act to give privileges to a specific religion, thereby violating the Constitution as well as their rights.

    America has many wonderful things to give to the world. Surely something we might consider keeping to ourselves until it mercifully dies off, however, is the habit of deeming any collision with an opposing idea “mental pain,” which is a violation of one’s “rights.” There is nothing I am aware of to prevent Christian and Buddhist Japanese from performing their own kinds of prayers unobtrusively at the memorial, or from setting up their own memorial on dedicated ground of their own. The legitimate issues surrounding the Japanese government’s treatment of its World War II conduct, which still has a major influence on its relationships with its neighbors, are only obscured by these shenanigans. And that’s unfortunate, because they really need dealing with.

    26 November 15:25 EST

    ‘Round midnight

    Posted by Sean at 13:54, November 25th, 2004

    Before I forget, Atsushi says Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. (He may have just meant everyone in my family, but I’ll take the liberty of assuming he meant everyone I know in America. In addition to conveying his good wishes, I had to remember to give my parents the gift he sent along with me, since he couldn’t make it, which was a rooster figurine. It wasn’t a random choice: 2005 will be the Year of the Rooster according to the Chinese zodiac, which Japan also uses. Yes, I’m aware that rooster isn’t the word that’s usually used to translate it in this context, but it somehow didn’t seem like the best idea to address my parents in bright tones with the line, “It’s a cock from Atsushi, for good luck in the new year!”)

    Since we had, as always, the traditional turkey/cranberry sauce/football dinner with my father’s side of the family on Sunday, today was open to play with a little. It being my first time home on Thanksgiving for a good seven years, my parents decided to base dinner around (1) what I don’t get to eat much in Japan and (2) what Mom wouldn’t have to clean up after. So we went out for steaks. My parents and little brother are fun to be around; there was hilarity as well as meat, potatoes, drink, and thanksgiving.

    But unfortunately for me, whiskey + wine + port + jet lag = ZZZZZZZZ, and I ended up falling asleep before the best part of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (What do you mean, “Which one?”? When Peppermint Patty flips out over getting cereal for Thanksgiving dinner, of course. Do I have to walk you guys through every flippin’ thing?) Still, it was a good day overall.

    The other part of jet lag is, having had a two-hour nap, I’m now ready for a workout. Maybe I’ll take the flashlight and go for a walk–the rain seems to have died down.

    Happy last few minutes of Thanksgiving, all.

    25 November 23:54 EST

    We are the world

    Posted by Sean at 18:08, November 23rd, 2004

    According to the president of the UN General Assembly (and foreign minister of Gabon), North Korea just wants to get along with everyone else, as always. If only we non-hermit states were more willing to cooperate:

    North Korea gave a visiting U.N. official a “very positive message” about resuming stalled six-way talks on its nuclear programs, the South Korean Unification Ministry said Wednesday.

    It also quoted Jean Ping, who is president of the U.N. General Assembly, as saying in a meeting with Unification Minister Chung Dong-young that North Korea asked him to tell Washington it wanted to co-exist with the United States.

    Ping, who is Gabon’s foreign minister, visited Pyongyang and Beijing before coming to Seoul.

    “Ping said during the meeting he received a very positive message from North Korea about reopening the six-party talks during his visit to the North,” the ministry said.

    “North Korea asked him to convey to the United States that it wanted ‘coexistence’, and he said he plans to convey the message,” the ministry added.

    Well, that’s all right, then. If the DPRK told the UN (which told the ROK) to tell the US that it wants to “coexist” with us, why let a half-century history of reneging on agreements be a stumbling block? Mustn’t be uptight, or anything.

    Of course, I say that, but in reality, continuing to negotiate is pretty much our only viable option. Invading North Korea (BTW, when did it become the fashion to call the DPRK “the Norks” or [hurl!]”NoKo”? Eight years in Japan has worn down my objections to cute-isms somewhat, but I still have my limits) would be a scintillatingly stupid idea, as would flatly refusing to acknowledge the Pyongyang regime’s sovereignty, at least for the time being. Coolly treading a fine line between not indulging the DPRK and not arousing its unpredictable wrath is probably the best we can do right now, but it does get grating the way we all have to pretend to be so very pleased whenever the North Koreans make a diplomatic overture that mimes goodwill and good faith.

    24 November 04:08 EST

    Camden takes steals the crown

    Posted by Sean at 15:01, November 22nd, 2004

    If you’re from New Jersey, Delaware, or Eastern PA, be sure you’re sitting down when you read this: Camden, NJ, has been rated the most dangerous city in America, outdistancing such notables as Gary, IN, Detroit, and East St. Louis. Of course, no single ranking is infallible in strict countdown terms, but Camden has long been one of the most egregious dumps on the East Coast. And sadly, unlike cross-river neighbor Philadelphia, it doesn’t have many well-maintained middle-class and rich neighborhoods left to keep the crime rate diluted and provide nearby safer places for poor strivers to move up to.

    23 November 01:01 EST

    Yasukuni Shrine visits still chafe

    Posted by Sean at 14:21, November 22nd, 2004

    Prime Minister Koizumi, in Chile for a 6-nation summit, has once again been asked by China to stop official visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the soldiers memorialized include war criminals. His answer seems perfectly reasonable on its face:

    Japan’s current state of peace was developed through the sacrifices of multitudes of men who went resolutely off to battle and laid down their lives for it. It is with those thoughts in mind that we make our pilgrimages [to the shrine].

    I’d say that, in World War II terms, those who laid down their lives for peace in Japan as it exists today were actually on the Allied side. But the dead memorialized at the Yasukuni Shrine include those from conflicts dating back to the Meiji Restoration. Also, it’s important to remember that there are fewer than 20 war criminals memorialized there, out of a total of over 2 million enshrined. Even those from World War II were mostly soldiers who were fighting for their country in its tradition of honor. It is sometimes said that, even so, official visits by politicians to the shrine violate constitutional law (which, like America’s, prevents the federal government from establishing a state religion). That sort of argument has never impressed me; it’s not as if anyone is trying to communicate with the ancestors for guidance about public policy. Well, as far as I know.

    The real problem, I think–not that this is an original insight of mine, or anything–is that Japan has done a lousy job of persuasively showing remorse when apologizing and providing redress for its war crimes. That makes every little gesture of respect toward World War II-era leaders and soldiers feel like a a new affront to the rest of Asia.

    It’s possible that nothing would truly satisfy the Chinese, Koreans, and Southeast Asians. After all, World War II is only the most recent installment in the grand East Asian tradition of inter-ethnic hostility, recrimination, and contempt. Still, Japan’s piecemeal approach makes it easy for diplomatic friend and foe alike to repair to events sixty years past as an excuse for not being cooperative, and the Japanese government appears disinclined to do much about it.

    23 November 00:23 EST

    Another Mitsubishi Fuso recall

    Posted by Sean at 16:16, November 21st, 2004

    Of course, the Japanese have been having transportation-related woes lately, too. JAL and ANA are still safe, thankfully, but Mistubishi Fuso has just…can you guess?…issued another recall. This is of the latest-year model of the truck that caused a deadly accident and a spate of fender-benders a while back. The metal wheel hub apparently still has a weakness that could make it fail, though apparently it’s a different weakness from the one, dating back to 1995, that caused the prevous accidents.

    22 November 02:16 EST

    Another PRC plane crash

    Posted by Sean at 16:02, November 21st, 2004

    The PRC has had yet another commercial plane crash. This time, fortunately, it was a commuter plane with low capacity and only 53 people aboard. Except for flag carrier Air China, which had its first and only crash ever a few years ago in Korea, Chinese airlines are notoriously accident-prone. A friend who’s lived there and in Taiwan believes the big problem is twofold: using equipment (such as planes and diagnostic machines) until its useful age is long past, and a work ethic that credits showing up and doing what you’re told as much as it does good job performance. Safety standards have been tightened, and things are probably slowly changing for the better as carriers such as China Southern and China Eastern compete for international business travel. But we’re very fortunate that in the West, our chief worry when we board an airliner involves the quality of the food, service, and in-flight entertainment.

    22 November 02:03 EST

    Where in the world is Rick Santorum?

    Posted by Sean at 15:44, November 21st, 2004

    Via the Washington Blade, an interesting item about our junior senator here in PA (and for this week, at least, I do mean here in PA. BTW, Specter’s conservative primary challenger, Pat Toomey, apparently has an in-state address right here in the same village as my parents. It’s not a big village, trust me. Kind of weird). It’s from The Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh:

    Article I of the U.S. Constitution says, “No person shall be a Senator … who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.” Rick Santorum last won election in November 2000, when he owned the house at 111 Stephens Lane in Penn Hills plus a house in Virginia. Where he was an “inhabitant” at the time only he can say.

    He faces re-election in 2006, but if that election were held today, the two-term Republican would be hard-pressed to convince voters that he inhabits a house on Stephens Lane. Sure, he and his wife pay taxes on the house. They also use the address for voter registration, but so do two other people. When a Post-Gazette reporter visited the house last Friday, a young man came to the door and declined to comment. He wasn’t Rick Santorum.

    It gets worse. The two-bedroom house that the Santorum children called home for education purposes and that gives Mr. and Mrs. Santorum the right to vote in Pennsylvania lacks an occupancy permit. And the property tax break from the homestead exemption claimed by the Santorums on the Penn Hills house is allowed under law only if the dwelling is their “permanent home.”

    It’s a strange case of political turnabout. In his initial House race against Rep. Doug Walgren in 1990, challenger Santorum attacked the incumbent from Mt. Lebanon for buying a house and raising his children in McLean, Va. Now Rick Santorum of Leesburg, Va., is saying that he is and he isn’t a resident of Pennsylvania.

    It’s hard not to sympathize with elected officials who feel torn between being with their families and staying in Washington to do their jobs. Maybe Santorum has changed his mind and wouldn’t use the same tactics against someone like Walgren if he were elected today. But rules are rules, and it doesn’t seem unfair for Santorum’s family to be obligated actually to reside in the state he represents. And in practical terms, Pennsylvania is as close to DC as you can get without being in Maryland or Virginia; he’d be much easier to feel really sorry for if he were from Montana.

    22 November 01:47 EST


    Posted by Sean at 12:19, November 21st, 2004

    Arrived safely at my parents’ place yesterday, after a turbulence-free flight but slightly rocky communication about where to pick me up. (I’d planned to rent a car, but I was feeling the lag already when we landed and didn’t know whether I could trust myself on two hours of interstates right then.) Am drunk on the expansiveness of everything, from the roads to the cars to the food packages, as always when I first arrive. The cats, whose room I’m using, don’t quite remember me from last year, which has led to a lot of disdainfully curious Siamese staring in my direction.

    Also, did you know you can get Atkins Diet-approved versions of everything? Last night, I was like, “Uh, is this Carb Count Dairy Beverage something I’m right in considering…milk?” But I’m adjusting. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

    21 November 10:18 EST

    (Not) taking care of our own

    Posted by Sean at 14:43, November 18th, 2004

    Michael Demmons gives the HRC’s Cheryl Jacques a well-earned pummeling for that organization’s endorsement of Arlen Specter’s opponent in our recent Pennsylvania senate race. The pretense that supporting Joseph Hoeffel represented advocacy of the best interests of gays rather than Democratic party hackery was always tissue-thin, and the HRC’s obstinate failure to recognize that it did something stupid is embarrassing. At least the Log Cabin Republicans appear to be engaging in better-late-than-never self-criticism. Something Michael points out that is obviously meaningful to him (as it is to me from the other direction): Specter could support the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, which I think is probably not politically viable at the moment but is a good idea to be circulating as part of the general gay marriage/civil unions discussion.