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    Posted by Sean at 11:01, November 3rd, 2004

    Janis Gore, who occasionally sends me gently inquiring e-mails about the most contentious topics imaginable, asked what I thought of Andrew Sullivan’s tone when discussing the election results. His take is, naturally, that Karl Rove used his evil Karl Roveness to lure all those anti-gay religious zealots out of their Alabama bunkers. I was going to comment at Ms. Gore’s place, but I’m afraid I may get a bit riled up, which would spoil the respectful atmosphere she maintains.


    Here’s her terse and (I think) accurate assessment:

    No, Mr. Sullivan, gay activists thought this would be the perfect year to push for a new initiative. Talk about blowback. I suspect they’ve put rights back at least ten years.

    What’s she talking about? She wrote that yesterday, but I think it applies very aptly to Sullivan’s latest series of posts. I’ll start with the third part:

    STAND TALL: But one more thing is important. The dignity of our lives and our relationships as gay people is not dependent on heterosexual approval or tolerance. Our dignity exists regardless of their fear. We have something invaluable in this struggle: the knowledge that we are in the right, that our loves are as deep and as powerful and as God-given as their loves, that our relationships truly are bonds of faith and hope that are worthy, in God’s eyes and our own, of equal respect. Being gay is a blessing. The minute we let their fear and ignorance enter into our own souls, we lose. We have gained too much and come through too much to let ourselves be defined by others. We must turn hurt back into pride. Cheap, easy victories based on untruth and fear and cynicism are pyrrhic ones. In time, they will fall. So hold your heads up high. Do not give in to despair. Do not let the Republican party rob you of your hopes. This is America. Equality will win in the end.

    I basically agree with this. I mean, I don’t think the dignity of my gayness comes from God any more than from the tooth fairy, but I also don’t think it depends on other people’s approval. I wonder whether Sullivan actually believes it, though. Through his writing there’s a clearly discernible thread of nagging desire for acceptance that I think seriously compromises his pro-gay marriage arguments.

    I’m not coming at this as a principled non-conformist. I believe in living as you see fit; I do not believe in getting a rise out of people for the hell of it at every opportunity and then bitching when they shun you. I want people to like me, and my feelings are often hurt when they don’t.

    But that’s not a matter for public policy. Which leads me back to where Sullivan started:

    I’ve been trying to think of what to say about what appears to be the enormous success the Republicans had in using gay couples’ rights to gain critical votes in key states. In eight more states now, gay couples have no relationship rights at all. Their legal ability to visit a spouse in hospital, to pass on property, to have legal protections for their children has been gutted. If you are a gay couple living in Alabama, you know one thing: your family has no standing under the law; and it can and will be violated by strangers. I’m not surprised by this. When you put a tiny and despised minority up for a popular vote, the minority usually loses. But it is deeply, deeply dispiriting nonetheless. A lot of gay people are devastated this morning, and terrified.

    I’m neither devastated nor terrified. What I am is furious. 0° Kelvin furious. The gay marriage advocates decided it was a good time to get pushy and single-minded. They decided they’d figured out what marriage was about to most people and that further arguments from the opposition warranted no more than ritual responses. They were wrong. Those who oppose gay marriage have not just said that the Bible disapproves of homosexuality and therefore we should all reform. They’ve thought things through and come up with more sophisticated arguments. Those arguments need to be answered. (Don’t expect me to do it–I’m not one of the people yammering for gay marriage. Hospital visitation and power of attorney are fine for me, though I’d like transferrability of social security and immunity from testifying against your partner, too. Call my relationship whatever makes you happy–that’s the least of my concerns. In any case, if you’re gay, is your partner worth devoting your life to? Then do it. And stop flooding us with bilge about how we can’t live by moral values we ourselves supposedly hold “deep down inside,” just because straight people refuse to throw rice at us! Gyah!)

    Gay marriage activists need to remember that history did not start with the ’60’s and that, in the other direction, there will be gays in every generation after us who will inherit the environment we’ve helped to create. Thinking about straight children of the future every once in a while wouldn’t hurt, either. In any case, the showdown mentality has shown itself to be self-defeating. Let’s learn our lesson, okay?

    Added on 5 November: I agree with Eric that the numbers from the election don’t necessarily say what we’re being told they say. I’m also reassured to see that someone smarter than I am has trouble doing math in his head. I was always the one in calc class who set up the function and graphed its shape correctly but got all the actual number values wrong. It drove Mrs. Moll crazy.

    And I think Boi from Troy is right about the kaleidoscopic ways “moral values” can be interpreted as a reason for voting. Pretty obviously, gay marriage was one in at least 11 states, but that only indicates homophobia if you believe in such a thing as “marriage rights.” I’ve groused enough about that for the time being, though.

    The important thing is education

    Posted by Sean at 21:53, November 2nd, 2004

    Japan’s three-pronged reform continues to generate controversy in the government; the most recent focus is on education. It’s not exactly like the fight over voucher programs in the States, but there are similarities in that the main point of contention is whether federal or local governments are in charge of the public school system:

    On Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Taro Aso had a heated discussion with Education, Science and Technology Minister Nariaki Nakayama at the Prime Minister’s Office. The debate ended without a consensus being reached.

    The dreaded lack of consensus! There are a bunch of issues here. One is that it’s possible to interpret the Japanese constitution as placing the responsibility for education on the federal government:

    Article 26 [Right to Education, Compulsory Education]

    (1) All people shall have the right to receive an equal education correspondent to their ability, as provided by law.

    (2) All people shall be obligated to have all boys and girls under their protection receive ordinary education as provided for by law.

    (3) Such compulsory education shall be free.

    The constitution gives both sexes and all classes equal rights to education (according to their ability–the PC era wasn’t yet a glimmer in Judith Butler’s eye), but it doesn’t really say who’s in charge of delivering it.

    On the other side, local governments sensibly note that with the aging population, the balance between funding needed for elder care and funding needed for child care is shifting. Their feeling is that they should be able to work with a pool of welfare money, using local knowledge to determine what proportion goes to whom. We’ll see how things develop. The LDP is very keen on seeing its reforms go through, so expect compromises.

    Jenkins guilty of two charges in court martial

    Posted by Sean at 21:32, November 2nd, 2004

    Charles Jenkins has been found guilty of desertion. That’s not a surprise, but some of his family had been insisting that he must have been abducted himself, as his Japanese wife Hitomi Soga was 15 years later. His own plea was guilty to desertion and aiding the enemy and not guilty to treason and soliciting others to desert. He’s likely to serve his sentence in what looks like minimal confinement. His wife’s hometown is in Niigata; there don’t seem to be any reports on how much earthquake damage it suffered. One hopes none, considering what she’s suffered over the last 25 years.

    Statistics don’t lie

    Posted by Sean at 20:34, November 2nd, 2004

    Okay, guys, do you have a freaking macro for this on your computers?

    It’s difficult to see how any self-respecting gay person could vote Republican in this presidential election, but credit is due those who are unwilling to be driven from the party that reflects their general political philosophy. On top of dealing with overt hostility from within their party, these faithful gay Republicans then have to deal with the ridicule coming from fellow gays and commentators (Jon Stewart on gay Republicans) alike.

    The reason it’s so funny–however much it gets on my nerves–is that the latest entry on the Blade blog is this bewildered item (posted, to be fair, by a different contributor):

    Perhaps the most surprising news for gay observers of the presidential election is that exit polls show President Bush received the exact same percentage of gay votes

    Beethoven (I love to listen to)

    Posted by Sean at 22:52, November 1st, 2004

    I’m in one of my obsessive-workaholic phases: I bang away at the keyboard and Google and print and redline and swear under my breath and pace for hours and hours, and then I have to stop before my quality control starts to slip.

    But by that point, I’m always so keyed up that I have to keep going. I do housework like a madman. I inhale my food. I gulp drinks (the other day I swilled a fresh cup of tea so quickly I thought I was going to asphyxiate from blisters in my throat). I walk like a locomotive up Meiji Avenue between Shibuya and Shinjuku. The other night, I arrived at one of my favorite bars after chugging for 50 minutes and was still so jazzed I ended up yammering about the election to some guy I hardly know. (At least it helped counteract my apparent general reputation for aloofness, but that’s a topic for another day.)

    What’s really bizarre is that I don’t need more sleep than usual. In fact, I was awakened by indigestion before dawn on Sunday and wound up pounding out a long, verbose post, then going back to bed and getting up at my normal time. The rest of the time Atsushi was home, he kept me relaxed and grounded as always. Only once while we were watching CNN did I make an ungallant comment at one of the reporters and stalk to the kitchen to put the kettle on.

    But then he went back to Kyushu, taking his Force Field of Calm with him. Three hours later, when he e-mailed to say he’d landed, I was 1.5 liters of Coke to the worse and was flitting among a half-dozen books open on the coffee table. After I’d rehydrated, I had a workout and pounded the hell out of myself (in the challenging way, not the self-destructive way).

    These stretches are always weird for me. I’m not nervous or worried or unhappy; there’s nothing bad about the way I feel. I’m just so charged. I wonder whether following election day will help or hurt. I do know that if I have to keep listening to the inane patter on CNN, I will be pounding the hell out of something that is not my muscles. (“The candidates have been really working the swing states hard, but there are questions about whether they’ve been successful at convincing voters.” Well, unless they persuaded people to stay home or go Nader, one of them must’ve been successful, you stu…uh…ma’am. See, Atsushi can keep me sort-of-calm, even from afar.)

    Isn’t this exciting?

    Posted by Sean at 22:12, November 1st, 2004

    Bill Hemmer is interviewing the DNC and RNC top men on CNN right now and just asked Terry McAuliffe why the country’s still so divided. Think McAuliffe’ll turn those lizard eyes on the camera, be honest and say, “Because of flim-flamming jerks like me, Bill!”?

    No, of course, he didn’t.

    A VIP endorsement

    Posted by Sean at 12:13, November 1st, 2004

    Good old Virginia Postrel. Her Bush endorsement has to be my favorite yet, and not just because I’m a fan of hers:

    I’m not picking a boyfriend here…or, for that matter, an intellectual mentor. Given the current balance of power in Congress, there are only two things the president can significantly affect: foreign policy and regulatory policy. I prefer Bush to Kerry on both. It’s a cold calculation.

    Though I supported the war in Iraq, I never thought it would be easy. In fact, I thought things would be worse. It was a high-risk venture, requiring long-term commitment to secure long-term, strategic gains. I wish Bush had warned the public more about the inevitable difficulties, but I do not feel betrayed. I feel no need to lash out at the president.

    Voting is an expressive activity, but it need not be emotional. Andrew Sullivan’s invocation of “The deep emotional bond so many of us formed with the president back then” does not apply to me. Bush leaves me cold and always has. I never wanted to hang out with him, so I don’t take our policy differences personally. I never idolized his leadership, so I don’t feel he’s failed me. He gets my vote in part because I don’t identify with him. He’s just a hired hand, and he’s better than the alternative.

    Bush doesn’t leave me cold, though I sure as hell have never had the full-on schoolgirl crush Andrew Sullivan fell into. But I wouldn’t have voted for him just because I like him better than Kerry, even if I acknowledge that that certainly makes it easier. Bush hasn’t run his administration exactly the way I’d like him to, but most of Kerry’s positions are impossible to pin down, and those that are possible to pin down suck. (Well, okay, there’s one exception of great meaning to me personally, but it isn’t enough to outweigh the rest.)

    Added over lunch: Thanks as always to the indefatigable proprietor of Simon World for another link. Those who’ve stopped by from his place may also be interested in my take on the relative importance of keeping our reputation with the world in mind when voting.

    For those who regularly drop by here but don’t frequent Simon World, his roundup of Asia-Pacific views of the election is worth checking out–he points you to major regional newspapers and quotes from politicians as well as to bloggers here.

    BTW, his “Asia by Blog” feature, which runs Mondays and Thursdays, you probably already know about through Instapundit or Dean Esmay. If not, it’s a compilation of what’s buzzing on blogs over in these parts. He has a good eye–and I’d think so even if he didn’t link me regularly. Really. If the post-election falloff in domestic strife (yes, that’s what I’m hoping for) leaves you with a news vacuum, be sure to visit him on Thursday for the next installment. We’ve got the PRC, we’ve got the DPRK, we’ve got Indonesia–there’s always something cooking on this side of the world.

    Money changes everything

    Posted by Sean at 11:27, October 31st, 2004

    There’s this plan for three-pronged economic reform, the overall aim of which is to put more tax revenue directly in the hands of the local governments that ultimately use it. In the existing system, much of the money only gets back to them after going through federal ministries and their attendant agencies, public corporations, semi-public corporations, and various hangers-on. The reforms would change that by giving local governments the rights to collect more of the tax money and use it as they see fit.

    This means a significant loss of control and influence for the federal-level ministries, so they’ve come up with their own three-pronged resistance.

    Some are hoping that, if they loudly proclaim what a good idea they think the subsidy cuts are, no one will notice if they quietly work to keep a few key ones unchanged:

    Only the Cabinet Office and the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry wholeheartedly supported the subsidy-cut plan put forward by the six organizations. But even within the Cabinet Office, rumblings were evident, with its demand that special consideration be given to the 33.9 billion yen in subsidies Okinawa Prefecture receives from the central government.

    Others are brazenly refusing to play along–not out of self-interest, but rather because (never heard this one before, huh?) it would be irresponsible to the children:

    The six organizations’ proposal called for a cut in state subsidies for services provided by local governments under the compulsory education system by 1.13 trillion yen, but the education ministry flatly refused to play ball. “The subsidies are essential from the standpoint of preserving the equal opportunities for and standards of education, as guaranteed by the Constitution,” the ministry said.

    For anyone reading from the US, bear in mind that this is not quite as bad as hearing the same thing at home would be. The Japanese public education system has plenty of flaws, but it is working better overall than its American counterpart. Still, you have to wonder whether the Monbusho has been studying the NEA playbook.

    Sadly, not all the other ministries have an obvious it’s-for-the-children angle to work, so they’re forced to get craftier. They’ll agree to the cut subsidies, all right, but somehow the money thus “freed” will end up being even more firmly under their control. This, too, could have been modeled on some NEA or AFT proposal, whereby competency standards for schools somehow ultimately mean that we’re paying the non-performers more in funding:

    Although the construction ministry came up with a plan to reduce subsidies for repairing and improving rivers by 7.4 billion yen, and the agriculture ministry proposed slashing donations to agricultural committees by 2.8 billion yen, the savings will fall outside tax revenue to be transferred to local governments under the reform plan.

    Instead, the two ministries want the bulk of the proposed savings to be transformed into grants that can be spent at their discretion for any purpose deemed suitable.

    Don’t you just love it?

    The search continues

    Posted by Sean at 12:41, October 30th, 2004

    2000 unique visitors this month, even if you account reasonably for those automatic-referrer site wangdoodles. That’s very flattering. Thanks to everyone for stopping by.

    Including those who may have come through one of the stranger search strings that dredged me up. Not many loopy ones this month, but two or three worth noting. Such as “japanese sexy nurses,” which came up more than once. I’m assuming this was a search for Japanese sexy female nurses. The male nurse doesn’t seem to benefit much from association with the men-in-uniform thing for some reason–maybe that nursing isn’t seen as requiring the sort of gruff, assertive manfulness policework and firefighting does? Nurses have to heft patients and have good reflexes and interpret shouted input from a bunch of directions, so you’d assume most of them are pretty in-shape and responsive and have good powers of concentration. Those are pretty sexiness-enhancing attributes, though I suppose only the first is actually relevant if you’re looking for a fantasy object.

    Another inquiry addressed Mr. Google with flawless politeness: “where to find a chart that’s against bush on gay issues and please make it not too complicated. thank you.” Since attention to courtesy is not to be taken for granted among the anti-Bush, pro-gay contingent, I was sorry that neither my ideology nor the content of my posts provided an answer. I’m less certain about “eggplant poisoning.” Is there such a thing? You hear diet busybodies complain that people fry eggplant in too much oil, but I’m pretty sure that if you could poison someone with eggplant, I’d have come across it in my years of Agatha Christie and Columbo fandom. Dying on the Vine, the story would have been called.

    Speaking of Columbo, Atsushi and I are watching today’s installment before going to the museum. I have to surrender him at the airport earlier than usual this week, but you take what you can get. Hope everyone has a great weekend.

    Penn chicks for Bush

    Posted by Sean at 06:34, October 30th, 2004

    Most of you have probably seen this already, but Jane Galt has posted her presidential endorsement. It’s very well worked-out, but of course I’m going to say that because I agree with her. It did remind me of something a friend asked me the other day, though–namely, what do foreigners think about the election, anyway? Megan framed the question sensibly:

    Then there’s the question of what message electing Kerry would send. Does it make the world love us, because we got rid of the president they hate, or does it make them despise us, because we’ve just held a referendum on the Iraq war, and Bush lost?

    Obviously, I don’t know a representative sample of the 5 billion-odd people who live outside America. My Japanese and foreign acquaintances here in Tokyo are a mixture of international business types and bumming-around-teaching-English types, mostly. And I get to see foreign publications and broadcasts more than a lot of Americans, though I don’t know how I’d rate next to the newshounds of the blogosphere.

    Be that as it may, I think the foreign media will use a victory for either side to do exactly what they’ve been doing for all of recent memory: pissing on American policy and business interests while making moist-eyed proclamations of love for the American people. For anyone who missed it, Bruce Bawer had a long but beautifully done piece on foreign views of America a while back that expands on that point quite a bit. The way foreign journalists talk about the Clinton administration as the halcyon days of yore now, you’d never know that, while it was going on, they were carping and caviling and mewling and bleating about everything America did just as much as they do now. Sure, they liked Clinton more than they liked his right-leaning opponents, and 9/11 and the WOT have provided things to fixate on that didn’t exist then. But the essential song remains the same, in my view.

    So the answer to “Does it make the world love us?” when the “it” refers to anything but letting ourselves be annexed by Canada, is no. The foreign press would warm to Kerry more than it has to Bush; it would like his wife, who with her high-strung multilingual social-democratic persona is similar to most foreign women journalists. If he continued the WOT essentially the way Bush has promised to, he would probably get a little more sympathy for the first few months, because they could spin it as cleaning up his predecessor’s mess. If he deviated radically from the Bush doctrine, he might be ritually praised at first as more peacable. But we’d be back where we started in no time: America has arrogantly designated itself the world’s police force! And why isn’t it doing more to help other countries? And so on.

    As to whether voting Bush out would provide an opportunity to cast Americans as wishy-washy and unable to commit to long-term projects instead of staying just long enough to secure our short-term interests–please! That goes without saying. No matter how the people and the electoral college vote, America will be depicted as full of well-meaning but self-centered folks who don’t understand the realities of the world.

    However, I think those who hope that a landslide for Bush will show our willingness to stick by the difficult decisions he’s made as commander-in-chief are also naive. That’s surely the line non-US reporters will take when they want to make America out to be full of dangerous, gun-brandishing nutcases. The rest of the time, they’ll point to the offices that Democratic candidates actually won, declare that those wins show that Bush doesn’t have a mandate because the American people are bitterly divided over the WOT and domestic policy, and go right back to saying what they always say.

    Now that I’ve dug myself in several paragraphs deep, let me emphasize two points: I’m a pretty observant guy who happens to live abroad. I’m not a media expert, and I’m not a political scientist. What I’ve said here is based on my observation, and I’m aware how subjective it is. Normally when I post about things I’m not well versed in, I try to provide as many links as possible. In this case, I haven’t because I’m referring to BBC and NHK and CNN international broadcasts as much as to print media here, and you can’t really cite the tone someone took while tut-tutting over the invasion of Iraq. But I really do think that fair-minded people who immersed themselves in non-American news sources for a while would come up with pretty much the same impressions as I have.

    The second point is, I’m talking about foreign media–as opposed to people I talk to–because they are where ordinary citizens get their information about America. People aren’t too dumb to realize that journalists bring their own biases to the stories they cover, of course; but inevitably, when reporting about the US is colored the same way over and over by everyone you’re likely to read or watch, it has its effect. As Bawer notes, despite the general liberal bent of the US media, we Americans have access to a multiplicity of news sources and ideological slants that you really don’t have even in other democracies, where the filtering is done for you by others who get to decide what’s worthy and what’s junk.

    All of which is to say, we can’t really do much about the way the election results will be interpreted for the world. We also can’t do much about the way either man, if elected President, presents himself to the media. Faced with a choice between Bush, who has the demeanor of a lightweight but takes discernible policy positions, and Kerry, who has gravitas in his bearing but can’t string two sentences together without contradicting himself, I still think Bush is the better option.