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    They call me the wild rose

    Posted by Sean at 12:27, September 24th, 2004

    See, this is the sort of murder we used to have in Japan before people started flipping out and doing spooky serial-killer/Se7en stuff:


    A former nurse was sentenced to death on Friday for murdering the husbands of two other nurses to receive payouts on life insurance policies taken out on the victims.





    Japan has what I believe is the largest life insurance market in the world–I’m pretty sure the UK’s is second, but I may have them reversed. The offing of a spouse to get the cash used to be the sort of killing you’d read about once every few weeks. Now there seems to be some sort of competition on to see who can come up with the most motiveless crime and most macabre corpse disposal, in which climate you’re almost tempted to applaud these women for hewing to tradition by committing murders with a point of some kind and trying to make them look like accidents.



    Almost.


    Kerry takes a stance on something

    Posted by Sean at 23:34, September 23rd, 2004

    I’ve done enough ragging on John Kerry that it’s only fair to point out that I was mostly impressed with what he said in this interview with The Washington Blade. His response to this question strikes me as sounding genuine rather than evasive:


    Blade: OK, last question. I�m curious: If you had been born gay [SRK rolls eyes], how different do you think your life would be?



    Kerry: I can�t tell you the answer to that question because I don�t know what my � you know, I just can�t tell you how I would have responded to it. Would I have been at the forefront of the crusade in the 1960s or would I still be, as some people are, living a double life or something, I don�t know.





    And his last word on the marriage debate is also one of the clearest statements I’ve heard from him yet about anything:


    I think, you know, and I�ve said this before, I think marriage raises a different issue in the minds of a lot of people because of its deep religious foundations and institutional structure as the oldest institution in the world.



    It is the oldest institution in the world � older than country, older than our form of government, older than most forms of government. And people view it differently.



    What�s important to me is not the terminology or the status; what�s important to me are the rights. The rights. That you shouldn�t be discriminated against in your right to visit a partner in the hospital. You shouldn�t be discriminated against in your right to leave property to somebody, if that�s what you want. You shouldn�t be discriminated against if you have a civil union relationship that affords you the same rights.



    Now I think that�s a huge step. There�s never been a candidate for president who has stood up and said I think we should fight for those things. And you�ve got to progress. Even that, I take huge hits for.



    And you know, I stood up on the floor of the Senate and voted against DOMA because I thought it was gay bashing on the floor of the United States Senate. I was one of 14 votes. The only person running for reelection who did that.





    If only he addressed every issue, including how he plans to keep terrorists from incinerating us all, as clearly.



    Some get the gravy / And some get the gristle

    Posted by Sean at 17:31, September 22nd, 2004

    Dale Carpenter’s most recent article makes, as usual, a lot of good points. His discussion of the continuum of attitudes among gays in the Log Cabin Republicans is one of those things that are puzzling at first but sound obvious once explained to you.



    Something he doesn’t really address, though, is why “Republican-first gays” would join an organization with “gay-first Republicans” agenda. You don’t need a formal group to be able to socialize and exchange ideas, right? And if you seriously believe that Republican principles are universally correct and thus more important than gay advocacy, wouldn’t you be driving that point home most effectively by being just an active party member whose homosexuality only comes out organically, in the course of interacting with people?



    Maybe that’s one of the reasons that, despite my disaffection with the Democratic Party and frequent votes for GOP candidates, my encounters with gay Republicans have not moved me to change my registration. I understand what people are trying to get across when they say things like, “We should be Americans first and gays second,” but to me that involves falsely isolating gay issues from everything else in life–less shrilly than leftist queer activists do, to be sure, but just as perniciously.



    All real-life political decisions involve prioritizing, and gay issues are just like everything else in that we sometimes have to put other values ahead of them. I don’t see why we deserve congratulations for doing so like everyone else. Well, okay, that’s a bit harsh. I empathize completely with gestures of the I’m-queer-but-I-still-love-America type, and I’ve been tempted to make them myself. But I think that in the end, they just encourage people to believe that our sexuality is something that everything we believe is somehow oriented by. In that sense, if LCR is going to be useful, it’s probably better for it to focus on frankly evaluating candidates and platforms through the single-issue lens of gay advocacy, leaving it to be understood that other, potentially more important reference points exist but are outside its ken.


    Someone always loves a little more / And I think it’s me

    Posted by Sean at 15:28, September 22nd, 2004

    The DPRK may be preparing to test-launch another missile:


    The United States and Japan have detected signs that North Korea is preparing to launch a ballistic missile capable of reaching almost anywhere in Japan, Japanese government sources said on Thursday.



    The preparations were detected after the reclusive communist state refused to take part in a fourth round of six-party talks on ending its nuclear ambitions and said it would never give up its nuclear deterrent.



    Tokyo and Washington had detected the signs after analyzing data from reconnaissance satellites and radio traffic, the Japanese government sources said.





    The Nikkei Japanese edition also reports that the North Korean central news agency was published as saying, “If the US brings about a nuclear war (on the Korean Peninsula), it is inevitable that US bases in Japan will draw Japan into the same nuclear war as well.*” Don’t you love that? The DPRK regime was just sitting there south of the Yalu, minding its own business, getting on with the quiet domestic tasks of deciding which citizens to imprison and which to let starve to death from its incompetent economic policies, when the US swaggered by and forced it to get all bellicose.



    Fortunately, no one’s certain that there’s a launch planned; everyone’s just on watch. We’ll see. As far as the blow it might deal to the six-member talks goes, who seriously believes the DPRK would have been persuaded to give up its missiles, anyway? It has a notorious record for breaking agreements. I don’t think negotiations should be stopped, of course–things could get really ugly if everyone openly gave up speaking to each other–but I think the disruption of this particular round of talks is less significant than having yet another show of animosity in the region.

    * Lit., “US bases in Japan will become a fuse that draws the flame of that nuclear war to Japan, too.” Evocative metaphor, huh?


    He makes friends easy / He’s not like me

    Posted by Sean at 09:47, September 21st, 2004

    With all the bad news about how the deeply unwise push for gay marriage now is faring, it’s nice to see evidence of the slow, steady, organic progress that means real gay equality. I’m not sure that I trust the HRC’s criteria for how nice companies are to gay employees to be those I’d use, but I can only imagine they’re pretty exacting:


    The number of companies receiving the top grade rose to 56 in 2004, from 28 in 2003 and just 13 in 2002.



    Ford previously scored 85 percent, but by adding gender identity to its non discrimination policy, which already included gays and lesbians, the score took a considerable jump.





    I do think, however, that I need this explained to me:


    Ford [the CEO of Ford Motor Co.] pointed to the need for the automotive industry to help nurture minorities, especially minority owned suppliers.



    “In order to keep Michigan competitive in a global economy, we must continue to focus on the importance diversity plays in growing our economy,” Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said. “Promoting diversity makes good business sense and will help position Michigan as an economic powerhouse in the 21st century.”





    It’s that part about “nurturing,” in connection with the adults who are responsible for making car parts that won’t fail when I swerve to avoid a deer, that worries me. If “promoting diversity” means reminding automakers that blacks are just as capable as whites of making top-quality windshield wiper blades, great. If it means persuading a skittish foreman that someone he’s pretty sure is gay can do assembly line work, also great. But the point should be to give people the tools they need to evaluate performance without letting superfluous personal characteristics get in the way, and to let all employees and suppliers know they’ll be on equal footing. I’m not sure where the nurturing comes in.



    *******



    Speaking of queers and cars, Atsushi and I spent several hours driving around Kyushu in his new ride this weekend. It’s kitted out with an electronic map and GPS navigation–I assume most new cars in the States are, too? Very sophisticated, very useful, and very annoying.



    I got over the fact that our whereabouts were being tracked by satellite pretty quickly–it’s not as if the government had implanted a secret chip somewhere in the thing. But of course, every three seconds, that soothingly impersonal female voice was saying, “You will continue without turning for at least the next five miles” and “You are now entering Miyazaki Prefecture” and “You will make a left turn in approximately 700 meters…You will make a left turn in approximately 300 meters…You will make a left turn here.”



    AAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHH!



    Atsushi twinkled with easy-going amusement as always: “Darling, would you rather have me shoving a map at you and asking whether we’re near the turnoff yet? Or pulling over every twenty kilometers? If the CD’s started repeating, why don’t you put in something else you’d like to listen to.” Yeah, okay, you’re right. I’m calm, really. Court and Spark. Gorges full of rocks and grass. The occasional spiraling bird. We’re good. In fact, once we got into the mountains, I settled into watching the digital map twist around as we took each hairpin turn–and ended up making myself good and carsick. But it was a good weekend.


    Take my wife…please!

    Posted by Sean at 08:28, September 21st, 2004

    Sometimes Amritas is too nice. He quotes a book by one Marie Nishimori called Warning! Never Imitate Him: A Collection of Bushie’s English, which is–how’s this for a novel idea that’ll have you rolling in the aisles?–a collection of the President’s solecisms with pointers on how to avoid them.



    Amritas chivalrously refrained from pointing out what’s on the lady’s homepage, but if you look at the header, you can get a sense of her (unsurprising) politics. (Given Japan’s notorious environmental policies–what one can only hope are the most destructive in the developed world–she’s got her work cut out for her at home. Be that as it may, Nishimori wants the Japanese reading public to know that Bush sucks.) Her way of selling her book is this:


    ブッシュの school yard bully「学校のいじめっ子」的政治にムカついてる方も

    テッド・ニュージェントが日本人を Japs と呼んでることを知り怒ってる方も

    単に英語をお勉強したい方も

    この本を読んで背筋が寒くなりながら爆笑しましょう!



    For those who are sick of Bush’s schoolyard bully approach to politics…

    For those who were angered when Ted Nugent called the Japanese “Japs”…

    For those who simply want to study English…

    Read this book, and you’ll simultaneously laugh out loud and get the chills!





    Ted Nugent? I haven’t read the book, so it’s possible that Ms. Nishimori pads out the Bush part with an excursus into anti-Japanese, anti-Gaia talk of all kinds. But taking things at face value, WTF does something Nugent said on some radio program a few years ago have to do with Bush? Yes, he’s backed Bush for reelection. And Kim Jong-il hopes Kerry wins. So what? There are only two real choices in a US Presidential election; each candidate is going to have legions of supporters who did things he did not endorse. Unless we know that Bush heard of the incident and reacted along the lines of, “Japs? Heh-heh, that’s a good one. Have to use that some time,” it’s irrelevant. And please tell me Ms. Nishimori and other lefties would be wringing their hands over Nugent’s Lenny Bruce-like litany of racial slurs if he’d come out in favor of Kerry.



    Sometimes, I simultaneously laugh out loud and get the chills myself when I think of my political position these days. I’m not really one of those people whose politics changed dramatically after 9/11. It’s not that I was a fount of wisdom about terrorist threats before then, mark you; but I was a Reason-reading guy who believed (living in Asia has a funny way of doing this to you) entitlement programs were sucking energy away from the federal government’s core responsibilities, including strong national defense. And of course, I’m “socially liberal,” which isn’t a term I’m fond of but gets the point across.



    I’ve supported Bush in the WOT, and I think he’s a sincere and likable person. But I’m not a fan. I’m from a working-class family and got into an Ivy League school on my brain; I studied hard to learn an Asian language and majored in comparative literature. Legacy kids like Bush push all my buttons, trust me. And no, the fact that he overcame his typical rich-kid problems with drink and dissolution doesn’t get me all aquiver with admiration at how well he’s redeemed himself.



    Still and all, I was brought up to recognize when I’m being childish, and I know that my feelings about Bush’s background don’t necessarily say anything about his performance as President. There’s plenty to criticize–he’s offered to spend so much federal money that I sometimes wonder why he doesn’t just go the whole way and order the USAF to drop silver dollars from helicopters over all US population centers–but to get to the point of criticizing it usefully, you have to stop foaming at the mouth and start paying attention to the policies. Or not even always policies, exactly: There are potentially troubling questions about the way the Bush family exercises its influence, even if you accept that influence-peddling is how old rich families operate. But you have to look at facts and tease out their implications dispassionately if you expect people to trust your interpretations, and almost no one on the left seems capable of that anymore. And then, of course, you eventually have to confront the question of why Kerry is a better alternative, which is not a task I would wish on my worst enemy at this stage. It’s not surprising that some enviro-nut (if her name is pronounced ma-ree and not ma-ri-eh, as it appears from the way she spells it in Japanese, she may be a foreigner or half-Japanese, BTW) can’t make a coherent case against Bush, and it’s not her responsibility to push effectively for Kerry.



    But I wish someone could. While I plan to vote for Bush, I’d prefer to do so knowing that I’ve had access to a variety of the best opposing arguments and have dealt squarely with them. I don’t mind making a choice I’m not 100% enthusiastic about as long I know what trade-offs I’m making. Unfortunately, “He speaks ungrammatically, and Ted Nugent likes him!” appears to be about as good as the opposition is going to get.


    And we saw the sun up in the sky / We talked about it and we wondered why

    Posted by Sean at 07:32, September 21st, 2004

    The Ministry of Education and Culture is apparently doing a bang-up job of teaching elementary school children our place in the universe:


    When 348 fourth- to sixth-year elementary school children from four prefectures including Hokkaido and Nagano were asked to choose one of two options to correctly describe the earth’s relationship to the sun, only 56 percent correctly answered that the earth revolved around the sun. A total of 42 percent said the sun revolved around the earth.



    The survey also asked 720 children from six prefectures about why the shape of the moon appeared to change. Less than half of them (47 percent) correctly chose the answer “Because looking from the earth, the positional relationship between the moon and the sun changes.”



    When the students were told, “Name the celestial object that revolves around the earth like a satellite,” 39 percent answered, “the moon” while 27 percent chose “mars” and 24 percent said “the sun.”





    Now, the lesson here to my mind isn’t that the vaunted Japanese educational system is a total sham. It’s that it isn’t the perfect engine for producing uniformly informed citizens that starry-eyed (heh-heh) collectivists of all stripes would have us believe. The sample size, it is true, is not very big. Also, the researchers tested children in some of the less-affluent prefectures (though it’s possible that they went to schools in high-income areas within those prefectures–I haven’t seen). But that shouldn’t matter much if the apologists for the Monbusho are correct and the national Compulsory Education Curriculum is bringing the fruits of good central planning to all corners of the state, et c.



    BTW, I think this is my favorite part:


    The associate professor said there was a problem with the current curriculum introduced in 2000 that gives a Ptolemaic system-type explanation that only looks at the movements of the sun, moon and stars as observed from the earth. He said changes should be made when the curriculum is next revised.





    I’m pretty sure that even in third and fifth grade, we were taught by the planetarium director–in simplified terms, obviously–about the Ptolemies and the Greeks in Greece.



    And why they were…um…WRONG, even though their explanations made the most sense based on the best information available to them. Maybe Japan is saving that part for junior high school now.


    And I’d be kissin’ in the backseat / Thrillin’ to the Brando-like things that he said

    Posted by Sean at 02:01, September 17th, 2004

    Tomorrow I leave for Kyushu for the three-day weekend. Looking forward to it; it’s the first time I’ll be seeing Atsushi’s new place. The weather also seems to have cleared some after the typhoon-hammering they’ve had there this summer. Still like an oven, though, apparently. But that’s okay. Atsushi bought a new car when he moved, and this’ll be the first time I’m seeing it, too. I mean, I don’t expect to be surprised at what it looks like. He’s the kind who likes what he likes, so he basically bought this year’s model of his old car, in an even more conservative color. But that’s one of his charms. Another is that he’s big-time sexy when he’s driving.



    Unfortunately, one of the things Kyushu is famous for is tarako, or cod eggs. Friends have asked for it as an お土産 (o-miyage, a gift consisting of a local specialty that you bring from home to friends abroad or bring back for the homefolks when you go on vacation). I like regular old fins-and-scales fish, but (possibly as a vestige of having been brought up following the Levitical health laws) I don’t share the Japanese belief about seafood that the more it looks like a sci-fi movie monster, the more of a delicacy it is. However, I will be flying back from Kyushu with vacuum-packed cod roe in my luggage because…well, my friends refuse to be content with the usual tasteless cream-filled pastry that seems to be the “specialty” of most other places in Japan. One of these days, I’ll tell you about the time I bought and airmailed 50 jars of farm-made apple butter from my hometown as an o-miyage. After that experience, I decided I don’t love my friends quite that much.



    Anyway, hope everyone who’s been in the direct line of a giant storm is okay, and hope everyone else has a great weekend.



    しらぬ、ぞんせぬ

    Posted by Sean at 01:31, September 17th, 2004

    Amritas has got my number:


    “[O]ppress their own people”? The average AmeriKKKan is oppressed by the fundamentalist fascist Racist


    Items from Japan

    Posted by Sean at 23:33, September 13th, 2004

    Another Mitsubishi Fuso vehicle has had clutch failure–though this time there was no accident. The shaft detached and caused the dumptruck involved to stop in the middle of the highway, though. It was a 1984 model and, thankfully, I suppose, had a clutch that was already under recall (thankfully because it means they haven’t discovered yet another defective part).

    *****

    For obvious reasons, Hitomi Soga and her family have gotten much of the attention. But there are other touching stories among the repatriated abductees from North Korea. Kaoru Hasuike will be allowed by the law department of Chuo University to return to his studies. Hasuike is 46; he was abducted while a junior home in Niigata Prefecture on vacation in 1978. He hasn’t decided whether to go back to classes or do distance learning–understandably, there are significant readjustments he’s still making.

    *****

    More darkly, two death row inmates were executed today; one was Mamoru Takuma, who went on a stabbing rampage in an elementary school near Osaka in 2001, killing 8 children. As they always do when Japan carries out an execution, human rights groups (and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations) are understandably protesting the lack of transparency in Japanese capital punishment. This Reuters story outlines things pretty well. Japanese executions take place when they’re least likely to dominate the news cycle, and there’s no prior warning. I’m not familiar enough with the way it all works to know whether the ability to appeal is really significantly curtailed; the part about not letting the families of those to be executed know until the same day does seem pretty harsh.

    Of course, the reporter can’t resist ending this way:

    Capital punishment has aroused little debate among Japanese, who are shown by polls to strongly support the death penalty, and occasional efforts to suspend or abolish it have made little headway.

    But with Japan and the United States among a handful of advanced nations where the death penalty is carried out, questions are being raised and international pressure increased.

    Unless I’m remembering wrong, a woman Minister of Justice, Ritsuko Nagao, was the one who signed the highest number of execution orders in a single year in recent history. I think it was six inmates in 1996, but I’m not finding confirmation. This was after a long stretch in which executions had been few and far between in Japan. Lately, I think two or three a year has been the norm.