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    Will a little more love make *you* start depending?

    Posted by Sean at 20:01, November 12th, 2004

    Darn. Two interesting comments (one about the remilitarization of Japan, and the other, by e-mail, about how tribalism makes gay public figures close ranks to help out scumbags) in a single day, and I can’t respond. I mean, I have the time, but all my mental energy is absorbed by work. I’ve been listening to Olivia’s Greatest Hits, Volume 2 for what must be…jeez…a week and a half? And that’s it. Olivia on Repeat All, because I’m in a groove that has to keep running for a few days. I’ve hardly been hearing what’s playing into my ears, anyway. (Well, I did catch myself squaring my shoulders and giving the come-hither smirk at my monitor while mouthing along to “Make a Move on Me” once.) In fact, I haven’t even remembered to press Skip when “Xanadu” comes on. And I always remember to skip “Xanadu” because I HATE THAT SONG.

    Anyway, I’ll be back to normal in a few days. Isn’t it great that Arafat’s still dead?

    SDF deployment to be extended

    Posted by Sean at 03:26, November 11th, 2004

    The deployment of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces in a non-combat capacity in Iraq will be extended. The New Komei Party, which is the LDP’s partner in the ruling coalition, is pacifist and balked for a while at approving the extension; things haven’t gotten any easier since the hostage was beheaded. Things were resolved earlier this week, but the posting of the English summary at the Yomiuri is nice to see on Veteran’s Day.

    I’m through with the past / Ain’t no point in looking back

    Posted by Sean at 02:47, November 11th, 2004

    Fan-fricking-tastic. Jim McGreevey, no longer governor of New Jersey, is being courted by gay advocacy groups. And why not? All that alleged bad behavior was months ago:

    Michael Adams, spokesman for the gay civil rights group Lambda Legal, said McGreevey’s tarnished 35-month tenure would not taint his star power within the gay populace or among other special interest groups. “The reality is, we’re a country that believes in rebirth and people moving beyond prior mistakes,” Adams said. “Any community would look to ‘What kind of contribution are you willing and able to make moving forward?’ not ‘What have you done previously?'”

    The writer of the Advocate piece is only too happy to let bygones be bygones, too:

    Some personal concerns are on McGreevey’s upcoming short list: tending to his ill parents, helping his wife and daughter move into their new house in Springfield while he takes up residence in Rahway, and taking a little time off. “A lot of healing has to go on in that family,” said Lesniak. “They want to use this to get closer as a family, not farther apart. There was a barrier before because of the governor’s denial of his sexuality.”

    As a Georgetown-educated lawyer with a master’s in education from Harvard, McGreevey has an enviable educational pedigree. But he also comes from a modest background–his father was a Marine drill sergeant, and his mother a nurse–so whatever he winds up doing, “he has to earn a living,” said Lesniak. “The governor has never thought much of his economic welfare and he’s not a flashy guy, so it’s not high on his priority list. But it has to be a consideration.”

    Mom was in one of the caring professions! Dad was a man in uniform! Jim and Dina are moving into separate houses to draw closer as a family! And Sean is about to ram chopsticks into his ears and swirl them around to take the edge off the pain of reading this crap.

    I mean, am I just imagining this, or is McGreevey accused of corruption? Did he or did he not have some guy he thought was a hottie in charge of anti-terrorist policy for a state with a population of 10 million, when the man wasn’t a citizen and didn’t have any security clearance? I’m glad McGreevey’s finally being honest with himself, and if his family’s willing to stick by him and make an arrangement that accommodates everyone as much as is possible, I think that’s great. But gay advocacy is a public responsibility. Not as weighty as a governorship, no, but a duty to serve the interests of others nonetheless. It does not need another self-serving blame-shifter.

    BTW, every link to “First Person” commentary on the front page of the Advocate site goes to some wanker piece about post-election depression. Has to be seen to be believed, but you can be excused for not bothering.

    Someone tell Susanna–the press can be biased!

    Posted by Sean at 22:51, November 10th, 2004

    Via NichiNichi, a link to an article by Rebecca MacKinnon, former CNN Tokyo Bureau Chief. It’s actually worth going to the Daily Kos to read it, if you’re interested in problems with international journalism. It’s long, and most of the points are familiar to those who’ve listened to reporters complain for the last several years. But she gives the impression of genuinely trying to be fair-minded.

    The problem is…well, here’s how she begins:

    In November 2003, I had the rare opportunity to interview Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for CNN. The interview came at an important time as Japan wrestled with the question of whether to send non-combat Self-Defense Force troops to Iraq. … The potential dispatch was also considered to be a political gamble for Prime Minister Koizumi – given that public opinion polls showed a majority of Japanese were against sending troops at that time. Thus, not surprisingly, most of my 30-minute interview with Koizumi dealt with the Iraq question. … He believed that Japan must stand behind the United States against terrorism because this was simply the right thing to do, whatever his critics might say. It was a matter of good versus evil. However, he did have some constructive criticism for Bush: Koizumi hoped that the U.S. would cooperate more closely with the United Nations and do more to build consensus within the international community.

    I remember the interview she’s talking about. Not word for word, obviously, but she’s right that it did get a lot of (justifiable) attention, and that it didn’t show Bush in what you’d think of as a bad light. The upshot is that not even one soundbite was aired on CNN USA. Her explanation for why American viewers didn’t get to see it:

    As it turned out, the morning (according to U.S. East Coast time) that we sent in our Koizumi interview happened to be a very busy “news morning” for the CNN USA morning shows. There was CNN’s first interview with Private Jessica Lynch, the young woman who had been captured by Iraqi soldiers during the war and then rescued. There was also an exclusive interview with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and updates on the Michael Jackson Trial. I was told that while the International Assignment Desk editors had lobbied CNN USA show producers to include soundbites from Koizumi’s interview in their programs, in the end the producers claimed they simply did not have room in their shows that morning to run even one Koizumi soundbite. Later in the day, there was major news in the U.S. about a court ruling on gay marriage, which “blew out” most other stories from the evening programming lineup. Thus Koizumi’s words were not heard in the U.S.

    (We queers just can’t help causing trouble, can we?) As it happens, I agree very much that Koizumi’s contribution to the WOT has been underreported in the American press and is probably, as a consequence, undervalued by many Americans who support it. Yes, part of that is that I live in Japan, so Japanese news has more “felt” importance for me than it does for other Americans. But I think I can distinguish between a pronouncement by Koizumi on the WOT and, say, Matsuda Seiko’s latest, pathetic Madonna-like lunge back toward the spotlight.

    But there are other things to consider. For one thing, CNN has a website. Was the interview posted there? MacKinnon doesn’t say. For another, CNN declined to run her interview on that particular day. It’s galling that she and Koizumi were dissed in favor of Michael Jackson, but did CNN consistently fail to give play to the fact that Koizumi’s support for Bush’s policies was given in the face of a lot of public opposition? At the time, I was watching CNN International with the rest of Japan, so I don’t know. We sure as hell hear about it here, but then, we would, wouldn’t we?

    That brings me to another point. MacKinnon writes:

    This is the case for viewers everywhere – be they American, Middle Eastern, South African, or Japanese. Based on my interactions with Japanese commercial broadcasters, I know that they are under the same kind of budget pressures and competitive pressures to boost viewership ratings as American broadcasters are. As a result, international news reports focus on what producers believe will keep Japanese audiences watching – which means that like in the U.S., many of the important but “boring” or complicated stories get passed over. Of course, public broadcaster NHK has a different mandate which includes extensive international news coverage. However I have been told by several reporters at NHK that they frequently encounter situations in which producers and assignment editors have been unwilling to contradict majority public opinion or sentiment in Japan. This has been particularly true on stories related to North Korea and to the Japanese citizens who were taken hostage in Iraq earlier this year.

    This puts the lie to the Kos poster’s take on MacKinnon’s piece, which naturally is that news reporting must be removed from profit-seeking. It’s an open secret in Japan that the major media have to curry favor with the government. They have to watch themselves around the unelected bureaucrats more than around the members of the Diet, it is true; but to the extent that legislators have pull, they tend to pull in the direction of pleasing their constituents. That’s their job, after all. NHK is in that bind even more than other organizations. When you’re publicly funded, the government has more direct ways to…you know, incentivize you.
    What’s the solution? MacKinnon has it, in my opinion, though her dark tone indicates that she thinks it’s hypothetical rather than actually working:

    Before we leap to moral judgments or condemnations, we must be realistic. In truth, it is unrealistic to expect commercially-driven TV news companies to do anything other than to seek profit maximization – while at the same time selling a product that can still be defined as “news” in some way. The search for profit maximization means that these companies will shape their news to fit the tastes and values of the majority of their most lucrative potential audience. Citizens of democracies who want to be well informed must understand this. They cannot expect to be passive consumers of whatever news comes their way from a name-brand news source. They must question, contrast, and compare. They must demand better quality information.

    Well, okay, MacKinnon only has part of the solution.
    The part she doesn’t have is: Get national governments out of the business of running their citizens’ lives down to every last detail. It’s hard to be an informed citizen when understanding how Washington or Tokyo is micromanaging you requires you to be conversant with everything from education theory to the approval processes for pharmaceuticals. I’m all for intellectual curiosity, but I’d prefer to expend a bit less on figuring out which decisions have been premade for me and how. I don’t know that shrinking government would make people less interested in junk news about pop stars, but it would certainly decrease the number of government pronouncements competing for airing.
    The part she has down is that citizens have to demand better information. Sure. But aren’t we? The instances MacKinnon points to are genuinely disturbing if taken at face value–and I see no reason not to. But are there major stories that simply aren’t available at all for those of us in Western countries with access to cable television, Internet connections, and publications?
    In the process of dealing with the question of whether the news networks are being honest when they package themselves as balanced news sources, she doesn’t seem to register that it’s possible to work around them, and that people are doing so. I subscribe to the Nikkei and watch NHK, but I also read three of the other major Japanese newspapers on-line, have CNNj, and can look at link-based blogs like Instapundit if I want to be pointed in the direction of things I might have missed. I mean, I know you all know that, or else you wouldn’t be reading this page. But MacKinnon, who makes noises about wanting people to go to a multiplicity of sources for their news, in the end seems to think that CNN’s arbitrary selection of what to broadcast is a Major Problem that most people are dangerously unaware of. It’s baffling.

    Japanese guardedly back Koizumi in hostage crisis

    Posted by Sean at 14:55, November 7th, 2004

    The Mainichi reports that a new poll shows support for the Koizumi administration’s decision to stand firm on its Iraq policy in the face of the abduction of Shosei Koda last month:

    A total of 57 percent of the 1,095 pollees said they supported the government’s stance, even though Iraqi militants murdered Japanese national Shosei Koda after they threatened to kill him unless Japan withdraw the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) from Iraq.

    Only 24 percent said they didn’t back the government’s decision to maintain SDF reconstruction activities in Iraq.

    However, the poll also found that a majority, 51 percent, wanted Japan to withdraw the SDF from Iraq when its deployment expires on Dec. 14. Only 27 percent said the government should extend the dispatch of the SDF.

    That sounds about right to me. The Japanese love their country and don’t take well to seeing it treated contemptuously by foreigners. They are also big on stoically fulfilling your duty to your in-group–the Japanese may no longer be used to actual war, but they’ve retained that aspect of their famed warrior culture. Most people, I think, recognize that the US is part of Japan’s in-group in geopolitical terms, even if they wish Koizumi weren’t quite so willing to back Bush’s policies with SDF personnel. On the other hand, this makes sense also:

    The poll, carried out over the weekend, shows that the percentage of those who are in support of the government’s stance to refuse a request of SDF withdrawal dropped slightly, compared to April, when other militants demanded the troops leave after kidnapping three Japanese people.

    This drop in the percentage of people in support of the government’s stance is apparently attributable to the shocking murder of Koda.

    The Japanese frequently fall into the same trap the Americans do: because they sell goods and give out aid and send tourist money to everyone else, they don’t understand why anyone would resent them. (In more Japan-specific terms, a shocking number of people simply cannot fathom why ill-will over World War II continues to the present day; that was a long time ago, the thinking goes, and we’ve been building factories in your country and employing your people for decades since then. Besides, we can’t attack anyone again–it’s in the constitution.)

    BTW, there’s been yet another aftershock in Niigata. (We felt it here pretty strongly; I was worried it might have been a good 6 somewhere else.) This one was 5 on the JMA scale and seems to have caused a few landslides, with injuries but luckily no deaths.


    Posted by Sean at 22:16, November 6th, 2004

    I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my very favorite Virginia Postrel columns, written after the 1998 midterm elections, this past week. See whether you can guess why:

    I told you so. The party that hates America will lose. The party that imagines no positive future, offers no “vision thing,” will lose. The party that thinks it is better than the American people, that makes large segments of the voting public believe they are its enemy, that convinces people it wants the government to boss them around and destroy the things they love, will lose.

    On November 3, that party was Republican. The GOP went down to humiliating defeat, losing close race after close race, plus many that weren’t supposed to be close. The party lost its solid grip on the South and collapsed in California. It managed to lose seats in the House, an extraordinary result that even Democratic pundits failed to predict.

    And it deserved to lose. Republicans sold out their economic base…and ran as the party of scolds, pork, and gloom. No wonder their voters stayed home.

    Sound familiar? The Republicans clearly got the message eventually, which is one of the reasons I think that, despite the hysterical immediate reaction, the Democrats will also. The biggest problem I can see is that the Democrats can’t seem to bring themselves to drop the far-left wackos, presumably out of a lingering belief that loudmouthed dissent is somehow in and of itself heroic, populist, and sexy. But they lost big last week, and I hope the shock gets them thinking more pragmatically.

    Suzuki’s new perch

    Posted by Sean at 16:55, November 6th, 2004

    Muneo Suzuki, possibly the single most corrupt politician in this entire archipelago, has been sentenced to two years in prison. When he was first arrested, it was a blow to the credibility of the Koizumi administration. Suzuki did his power-brokering and cronyist bid-rigging for the LDP, the ruling party, and Koizumi’s platform had promised reform and a break with politics as usual.

    BTW, while I was looking for a link that might summarize the many and varied crimes of which Suzuki has been accused (this is as good as any, though it doesn’t date all the way back to when the scandal started cooking), Google came up with this tidbit: He was a featured speaker on political ethics at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan this spring! Yes, I know, they wouldn’t have been able to get him to talk if they’d openly planned to be adversarial, but still.

    I got a girlfriend with bows in her hair

    Posted by Sean at 14:17, November 6th, 2004

    It has to be a parody, but this website is still good for a laugh. If it is serious, my deepest sympathies to our friends to the north (including my best friend from high school, who lives in Toronto). You’re going to be joined by some real beauts.

    (Found via Dean’s World)


    Of course it’s a parody. Whew! (Click on “Our hidden agenda”.)

    You couldn’t step outside the boho dance now / Even if good fortune allowed

    Posted by Sean at 01:47, November 5th, 2004

    Mrs. du Toit has a post that recommends against pointing out that you don’t fit the stereotype of a Bush voter in a fashion that sounds like, “I’m not like those rubes!”

    I see where she’s coming from, and I agree that it’s wrong. But there’s a flipside to what she’s talking about that’s also worth noting. (I don’t think what she wrote is flawed because she didn’t note it; it just wasn’t the point she was making.)

    I frequently find myself defending suburban living, SUV driving, smoking, hunting, and church-going by emphasizing that I don’t do any of them myself. It’s not because I’m frantically trying to avoid association with church-goers (or smokers, who may actually be even more reviled in the more sanctimonious liberal circles these days).

    It’s because I really, genuinely think it’s great that we all get to make our choices, and I believe there should be room for those I wouldn’t make for myself. One of the things I most despise the left for is the way it’s turned diversity into a codeword for “full range of races, sexual orientations, and gender identifications + unanimity of ideology.” Now those of us who really do like individuality of spirit in others have to avoid a perfectly useful word like the plague, lest our listeners assume we like “diversity” the way Lani Guinier does.

    So when standing up for the suburbs, I generally point out that I myself walk or use public transportation to get almost everywhere and live in an energy-efficient apartment (translation: it actually has insulation, which is not something to bank on in Tokyo) in a neighborhood with nearly the population density of Manhattan. My hope is that the message that it’s possible to see value in other ways of living than your own will get through.

    In an election or more general political debate, there’s a further point to be made: when assessing people’s beliefs, you have to listen to what they say, not just play actuary and assume you have them figured out. I’m a registered Democrat who lives abroad. I grew up in a county that went for Kerry (Lehigh) in a state that went for Kerry (Pennsylvania). From there I majored in comparative literature at an East Coast private college, moved to New York (briefly) for graduate school, and now work in educational publishing. Unless I missed someone, literally all of my dozen or so close friends from since college voted for Kerry. All this is before we even get to the gay thing.

    Based on my statistics, I should have been huddled in the corner weeping and tearing my hair out when Kerry conceded to Bush the other day, not having a victory bath. True, I’ve always been libertarian/republican in my beliefs and largely registered Democrat because of Pennsylvania primaries. But the fact that the DNC is not reaching me at all is something that you would think might start giving someone somewhere pause. Perhaps “Not everyone who voted for Bush is a social conservative” is not the most generous-minded way of putting it, but the Democrats can’t just shunt responsibility for the drubbing they took off on people they weren’t interested in courting anyway. That message matters.

    Added at 2:50: All right, CNN just did a feature on how distraught New Yorkers are over the election, and something I’ve heard a bunch of times over the last few days surfaced in the on-the-street interviews. So before I turn in for the night, I would like to add just one thing here: You people who are talking about wanting to move to another country because Bush was reelected? Understandably, a lot of others are going to recommend that you go ahead and leave if you don’t like it. But as a proud American living abroad, I hope you stay away. There are quite enough spoiled, whiny, high-handed expats making loud and implausible declarations of solidarity with the world’s oppressed and fouling our international reputation with their behavior. You’re the last thing we need.

    Koizumi congratulates Bush

    Posted by Sean at 21:28, November 4th, 2004

    It’s yesterday’s news, but for the record, Koizumi’s reaction to Bush’s reelection was the expected one:

    The government Thursday welcomed U.S. President George W. Bush’s reelection, expecting that his administration’s policies toward Iraq and North Korea, both important issues to Japan, would be maintained.

    Government officials said they would talk to the second Bush administration over a host of bilateral problems to be tackled with the U.S. government.

    During the presidential race, the government was seriously concerned that the result could significantly affect the U.S. policy toward Iraq.

    Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry’s criticism of Bush’s Iraq policy contrasted with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s strong support.

    I noticed that, too.