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    I could move out to the left for a while

    Posted by Sean at 04:53, August 16th, 2005

    Or I could slide to the right for a while

    You’d think I’d be sick of this subject. Actually, I am sick of it, but it’s an important subject. When I first clicked through and started reading, I was like, Wow, this guy’s parodies are a laugh riot. I wonder how closely he’s hewing to what people actually said when he’s making up those fake quotations. Think I’ll look at the original WaPo article and see. [snarfs Pimms and ginger] SUFFERIN’ SUCCOTASH, THAT’S WHAT THE DEMOCRATS ACTUALLY SAID ARE THEY OUT OF THEIR MINDS HAVE THEY ALL BEEN SMOKING CRACK OHMAHGAWD OHMAHGAWD?!

    Of course, I shouldn’t have been so surprised–a few months ago, I finally gave in and changed my party registration because I was so sick of looking at the latest repellant Democrat gasbag on television and thinking, There are no words to express how happy I am that I’ve found a way to live on the OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE GLOBE from YOU. I’ve always voted more Republican than Democrat and been on the right-ish libertarian side of most arguments, but I liked being able to vote in Democratic primaries and figured that voting GOP without being registered or contributing at least allowed me to send a small, individual signal that it didn’t have my unqualified support (especially when it came to wasteful spending). Not that I was expecting this to give Haley Barbour insomnia, or anything–it just struck me as the right balance.

    But eventually, enough is enough. My beliefs haven’t changed one bit, and I don’t plan to become a party hack, but at least the Republican leadership is usually broadcasting from the same planet as the rest of us.

    Michael Reynolds of The Mighty Middle is to the left of me, and he’s clearly not about to bolt from the Dems, but he very clearly sees what I think is the major strategic problem with the DNC leadership. I’m quoting at length because, although the message he delivers is not new, he delivers it with clarity and point:

    The moral center of the GOP is in big business, small business and churches. The moral core of the Democratic Party is in academia, unions and the groups – the NARALS et al. The unions are disintegrating, the academy is the very definition of “out of touch,” and the groups are hermetically sealed parallel universes inhabited by lawyers, flacks and giant, bloated Senators.

    If you want to talk to people — people who do not already agree with everything you have to say, professor — you have to actually know some people. Some of those people you need to know will drive SUV’s. Some will own jet skis. Many will attend churches where people sing a lot. They will not necessarily dine on a small green salad with lo-fat dressing on the side. They will not know or care who Noam Chomsky is. And here is what is vitally important for Democrats to understand: although these people will not necessarily be part of your all-Angelou book club, they will be at least as smart as you are.

    To communicate with people, understand people. To understand people, listen to people. Fire the consultants. Fire the gurus. Fire the pollsters. Fire the lawyers. Get back into the real world. Send forth your minions, Democrats, scatter them to the winds with instructions to go forth into the McDonalds and the Wal-Marts and the churches, to boldly engage fat women in spandex, and skinny guys in pick-up trucks, to speak without sneering to the local businessman, to talk on equal terms with the minister and the insurance salesman and the cook and the fisherman and the clerk. Watch TV. (No, not PBS. Not HBO, either.) Read bestsellers. Shoot a gun. Ride a speedboat. Drive a big old gas hog across west Texas at ninety miles an hour. (It’s fun. Even more fun than composing briefs or conducting a focus group.) Smile at other people’s kids. Talk to teachers – not their union reps. And by the way, when I say “talk to” I mean, “shut the f**k up and listen.”

    I’m not always happy with the Republican politicians and talking heads, but I will say this: even when they’re driving me nuts with their hyper-spending and their footdragging on border and air security and their selective opposition to entitlement programs and their preachy allegiance to the War on Drugs, they at least are rarely guilty of talking about Americans en masse as if we were as dumb as a box of rocks and depended on them to run our lives properly.

    After all, every Red State town has doctors, lawyers, accountants, and real estate agents, just like places in the big coastal population belts. Additionally–you know, my father was graduated from high school on shop courses, and my mother dropped out of ninth grade, then went back in her 40s for her GED and a certificate in data entry. Most adult friends of our family had similar backgrounds. None of them was an idiot. Most of them read the newspaper and a handful of news magazines, and even those who were otherwise unlettered read the Bible daily. My own interest in politics was nurtured by listening to them discuss the Iran hostage crisis; why they hated Carter; why they loved Reagan; the Grenada invasion; Yasser Arafat; and Gloria Steinem. I’m a passionate supporter of education with stringently-enforced standards, but it simply is not the case that being undercertified dooms you to ignorance.

    What does doom you to ignorance is going into every discussion assuming that you have lots to teach people and little to learn from them. That attitude really isn’t such a problem with everyday people who happen to be registered Democrats. At least, in my experience, it isn’t. It is a huge, huge, huge problem among those who set the priorities and public image for the DNC. Reynolds’s message is the one they need, but given the statements that he’s responding to, it’s hard to imagine they’d know what to do with it.

    (Via Joanne Jacobs)

    Sendai earthquake wasn’t the next Miyagi-oki

    Posted by Sean at 23:58, August 15th, 2005

    The way we felt this morning’s earthquake in Tokyo was as gentle rattling for about 20 seconds and then more noticeable swaying. It seemed to last forever, and though it wasn’t really strong, it made a good deal of noise.

    It was more serious elsewhere: M6.8 at the focus and a weak 6 on the JMA scale at the epicenter in southern Miyagi Prefecture. They’re reporting quite a few injuries in the major city of Sendai, though it’s only an hour after the quake and details are few. Sendai, fortunately in a sense, is in an earthquake hot zone. It’s as well prepared as you can be for a big shake-up. Its last major quake was two years ago, but it’s still waiting (if that’s the word) for the next Miyagi-oki monster–the region gets hit with one once every several decades. If anyone’s reading from around Sendai, stay safe.

    Japan Post still developing

    Posted by Sean at 03:28, August 15th, 2005

    The LDP may pursue an aggressive strategy regarding Japan Post privatization:

    The Liberal Democratic Party hopes to pass the postal privatization bills during a special Diet session to be convened after the House of Representatives election if the ruling coalition retains its majority, sources close to the party said Sunday.

    The party plans to resubmit the bills, which were rejected by the House of Councillors, to a special Diet session for an extended debate on the bills, the sources said.

    It is unusual for bills to be debated at a special Diet session.

    With Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi having touted the postal privatization bills as the key election issue, the LDP felt it was necessary to make clear its determination to pass the bills as soon as possible, the sources said.

    A special Diet session, which elects the prime minster, speaker and vice speaker, does not usually deliberate on bills.

    In related news, the Nikkei reports tersely that Shizuka Kamei has resigned as head of his faction. Kamei was one of Koizumi’s rivals for selection as Prime Minister four years ago; he was also one of Koizumi’s most visible opponents in the debate over Japan Post privatization. Kamei had removed the faction’s secretaries general from their positions last month when the pair voted in favor of the bill. The Kamei faction accounted for the largest number of opposing LDP votes in the House of Councillors.

    Added a few minutes later: I don’t have the news on, so I haven’t seen Kamei’s press conference; as always, the Nikkei‘s on-line story is being added to:

    After his announcement, Kamei stated to the press corps that the reason for his resignation was that “my faction members have been put in a painful position” because the LDP has decided not to back current members of the Diet in the lower house election if they voted against the Japan Post privatization bill. He also explained, “We were unable to stop the reign of terror conducted by Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi.”

    It’s hard to fault legislators who vote against laws they don’t think are a good idea. On the other hand, Koizumi is attempting reforms that hit so many powerful beneficiaries where they hurt that you can’t blame him for feeling the need to play hardball politics, either. It will be interesting to see what happens. The Mainichi has conducted another poll and says that public support of the cabinet is still rising. Those who didn’t support it most frequently cited the slowness of economic recovery as their reason. Koizumi and his strategists have failed to give the public clear, easily digestible reasons that Japan Post privatization would be a real help in that regard. Whether they’re going to change their approach now is anyone’s guess.


    Posted by Sean at 03:15, August 15th, 2005

    The memorial service for the World War II dead was held today; 15 August is the anniversary of the Japanese surrender. The speeches contained, as always, avowals to uphold Japan’s constitutional pledge of non-aggression and to use its prominence to work toward world peace. This was the first year that the family members in the procession of the bereaved included no parents of the dead. I doubt that that’s necessarily going to be true from here on–the parents of those in their early 20s at the end of the Pacific War could be in their early or mid 80s now. That’s higher than the average life expectancy for that generation, but not significantly higher.

    Added a few minutes later: Why am I so scatterbrained? Hello! The real story was from Koizumi’s Prime Minister’s Statement:

    Prime Minister Koizumi acknowledged [the facts of] history in his speech, saying, “Through our colonial governance and invasions, great damage and suffering were wrought on a great many nations, above all the peoples of Asian nations.” In addition, he once again explicitly indicated a mindset of reflection and apology by saying, “We now express an attitude of unsparing self-reflection and, from the bottom of our hearts, apology, having fully and humbly confronted the facts of history.” In both cases, he was quoting from the speech given by [then-Prime Minister] Murayama in which he apologized for the war, referring to [Japan’s actions] as an invasion.

    Murayama’s speech was given exactly ten years ago.

    LDP seeks women Diet candidates; Osaka assemblywoman comes out

    Posted by Sean at 01:13, August 14th, 2005

    Interesting, this:

    Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi upped the ante in his war against party rebels by instructing that priority be given to fielding female candidates in the Lower House election next month.

    The strategy started to take shape with a decision by ruling Liberal Democratic Party executives on Thursday to field Satsuki Katayama as its candidate in the Shizuoka No. 7 constituency. The seat is held by Minoru Kiuchi, 40, one of the party’s 37 rebel lawmakers who voted against Koizumi’s postal reform bills.

    What’s the reasoning, I wonder? Are LDP strategists trying to get out the housewife/single woman vote? Do they just feel that female talent hasn’t been sufficiently tapped and that this is a good opportunity to make a statement about the party’s values? Koizumi’s stated reason is this:

    Regarding the backing of female candidates, The Prime Minister told the press corps, “[The move is] because there are very few women members of the Diet. I want those who rise to be the most competent people possible.”

    Fair enough. I’m sure he means it. It seems likely that the strategy is also part of an effort to change the party’s image. Koizumi sees himself–and has pitched himself–as a revolutionary. More visible women in positions of power would help dispel the impression that the failure of the Japan Post privatization bill to pass means that the LDP is still under the control of well-connected old men who are tied to the old patronage system.


    Speaking of women politicians–the Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade 2005 was held here in Tokyo yesterday. I didn’t watch and, of course, it got next to zero news coverage as always. The Mainichi did report on it tangentially, though:

    The Mainichi has learned that Osaka Prefectural Assemblywoman Kanako Otsuji (30) plans to participate in the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade on 13 August, coming out in public as a homosexual herself. Her autobiography is also to be published soon. It is extremely rare for sitting elected officials to come out in public as homosexual. Assemblywoman Otsuji stated, “Because of discrimination and prejudice, gays frequently haven’t made themselves known. I hope that, by making myself visible as gay, I can throw the issue into relief and put and end to the vicious cycle of discrimination and prejudice.”

    I assume Otsuji made the announcement yesterday; no one was talking about the parade when I went out last night, but as I say, it isn’t really an attention getter. More power to her. The image of gays in the Japanese media is very much on the freakishly-funny end of the spectrum. If Otsuji is able to be charmingly ordinary and gets a reasonable amount of coverage for her book, she could do a lot of good.

    No Yasukuni pilgrimage for Koizumi this week

    Posted by Sean at 00:18, August 14th, 2005

    Shoichi Nakagawa, the Minister of Economics, Trade, and Industry, made a pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine this morning. I assume the reactions from the rest of East Asia will be all over NHK by this evening. Yuriko Koike, the Minister of the Environment, and Hidehisa Otsuji, the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, plan to go tomorrow on the 60th anniversary of the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II; twelve members of the cabinet, including Prime Minister Koizumi and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, have announced that they will not go to the shrine tomorrow.

    Like a horse and carriage

    Posted by Sean at 22:18, August 12th, 2005

    Megan McArdle posted something that inflamed Eric into writing one of his usual good posts on the gay marriage debate:

    In the incident cited by Megan McArdle, gay activists are apparently claiming that two heterosexuals should not be allowed to marry each other if they are of the same sex. Yet nowhere have I heard “heterosexual activists” making a similar argument (that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry each other if they are of the opposite sex).

    Clearly, there’s a lot of misunderstanding — both about existing marriage laws, as well as laws which would legalize same sex marriage.

    What gives?

    I have no idea, man, but when you find out, let me know.

    Actually, maybe you should leave me in blissful ignorance. I’m in my early 30s and in good shape, but I’m afraid hearing a detailed explanation of these people’s non-thinking might give me a coronary. Here’s part of that article:

    Two heterosexual fellows in Canada, invoking their rights under Canada’s recently passed same-sex marriage legislation, have announced their intentions to marry. Drinking pals Bill Dalrymple, 56, and Bryan Pinn, 65, intend to marry not because they are gay but for the tax breaks.

    News of the pending engagement didn’t sit well with same-sex marriage activist Bruce Walker, a Toronto lawyer. He complained that marriage should be for love.

    You know something, bitch? The day our civilization puts people like you in a position to adjudicate (1) whether what my boyfriend and I have is love and (2) whether that qualifies us for government goodies–that’s the day I depart for, like, Zimbabwe without looking back. I don’t think it’s possible to verbalize how angry this kind of thing makes me.

    To the extent that gay activists began formulating their ideas about marriage a decade or so ago, when the opposing argument most frequently encountered was “Gays have sex, not love,” I can see where it comes from. The problem is, the argument has moved on, and a lot of activists haven’t. What kind of topsy-turvy world are we living in when queer activists are the ones who want to peer into other people’s bedrooms and pass judgment on what goes on there? And who’s to say that Dalrymple and Pinn–who are friends, after all–don’t love each other? I think I could fairly say that I love my drinking buddies (especially after I’ve had a few).

    The point that gays fall in love and make the sacrifices necessary to take care of each other is an important one, but it cannot serve as the fulcrum for an argument in favor of gay marriage. How gay activists can fail to be aware of this by now is beyond me–their inability to see themselves as the public sees them is astounding–but the more they push the “We’re cute! We’re cuddly! Approve of us!” line, the more they reinforce the feeling that we suffer from arrested development and have not taken adult control over our lives.

    20th anniversary of Osutaka crash

    Posted by Sean at 00:39, August 12th, 2005

    Today is the 20th anniversary of the crash of JAL flight 123, which killed 520 people and remains the worst single-plane disaster in civil aviation history. The plane depressurized suddenly while flying from Tokyo to Osaka after losing its vertical stabilizer and hydraulic lines. The anniversary is played up on the news every year here not only because of the large number of deaths (including Kyu Sakamoto, who sang the song released as “Sukiyaki” in the US) but also because the crew’s heroic efforts to use momentum to control the plane bought it 30 minutes before it crashed, enough time for many passengers to prepare farewells for relatives and affix identifying documents to their bodies. The flawed repair and maintenance that led to the tailfin separation were the fault of both Boeing and JAL; a round of suicides ensued.

    Japan’s transportation networks are objects of intense national pride, and after the JAL 123 crash, the airlines and civil aviation authorities redoubled their efforts to prevent accidents. In one of this morning’s editorials, the Nikkei drily notes:

    On that day [12 August 1985] Japan became acquainted with the pain of aviation accidents in the era of jumbo jet transport, and since then the assumption has been that those in the aviation industry continue to work hard, motivated by a resolve to assure that such an accident can never happen again. For 20 years, there have been no regular Japanese airline has experienced a crash.

    However, recently, a incident upon incident has called into question that hard work and resolve.

    In recent years, there have been a number of nail-biting near misses, the most famous of which was the 2001 incident in which air traffic controllers mistakenly steered two JAL jets into each other’s paths. The planes, carrying a total of almost 700 passengers and crew, came within about 30 feet (!) of each other midair; one of the jets had to make collision-avoidance maneuvers so violent that 42 people were injured.

    There have been plenty of other, lesser incidents (try searching this site for references to “JAL” and “ANA” just in the past year), and both major airlines have been officially censured by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Infrastructure. The best light to put on things is that the bad press about safety has given everyone concerned excellent motivation to tighten up operations; what tightening up is actually being done remains uncertain.

    Pretty baby / You look so heavenly

    Posted by Sean at 04:59, August 11th, 2005

    Downtown Lad asks an age-old question with the snark factor removed:

    Are gay people better looking? That’s a serious question. One of my gay friends mentioned how all of his gay male friends were better looking than their male siblings. Why is this?

    • Because gay men use moisturizer?

    • We keep in shape, because (like women) we know that men are visual, and we have to stay fit in order to stay attractive?
    • The gay gene is the same one for good looks?

    I’m inclined to think the factor with the most effect is item 2, along with some others.

    For one thing, gay bars in New York and other big metro areas attract a self-selecting population that is disproportionately (though far from entirely) made up of guys who believe they belong among other beautiful people. That’s often at least in part because they’re of above-average attractiveness themselves.

    Also, in addition to staying fit, urban gay guys are more likely to dress carefully than straight guys. Most of us tend to gravitate toward clothes that fit neatly and trimly–even those who don’t care about style and stick to khakis + chambray shirt. A homely man can make himself look way, way yummier with flattering hair and well-cut clothes; sometimes, he can even work the beau-laid thing to his advantage if he’s confident enough and has interesting bone structure.

    Of course, if you had a good sample size of gay men and their straight brothers, you could test the third and most interesting proposition, theoretically, by checking things like face and body symmetry, thickness and luster of hair (in those who don’t do the shaved-head thing), clarity of complexion, and other universal signals for sexual attractiveness. Who knows? Maybe there is a correlation. It doesn’t seem any more far-fetched than our over-representation in arty careers.

    Hurry up / Hurry up and wait

    Posted by Sean at 11:54, August 10th, 2005

    The Mainichi has done a poll that indicates the electorate is turned on by Prime Minister Koizumi’s implacability in the face of the opponents who defeated his Japan Post privatization bill:

    The Mainichi conducted a rapid nationwide opinion survey (by telephone) on 8 and 9 July, [to gauge reaction to] the news that Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi had gone ahead with his threat to dissolve the lower house of the Diet. Support for the Koizumi cabinet was at 46%, up 9 points from last month’s poll, in which the figure (37%) had been the lowest ever. In contrast, non-support was at 37%, 3 points down. Additionally, the 54% of respondents who said they “agreed” with the dissolution of the lower house far outnumbered the 36% who said they “opposed” it. And with respect to the results of the 11 September lower house snap election, 50% said they “hoped for an administration with the LDP as ruling party,” outnumbering the 35% who said they “hoped for an administration with the DPJ as ruling party.”

    Interestingly for a cabinet with a carefully cultivated young-upstart image, the Koizumi administration got its highest level of support, when broken down by respondents’ ages, among those in their 60s. Jun-kun also isn’t just for housewives to swoon over anymore: 52% of men and 43% of women support the cabinet according to the Mainichi survey.

    We can’t take polls at face value, of course; but allowing for give in the figures, is the Mainichi tracking something significant? I think it may be. Koizumi was elected as a reformer–he was the broom that was going to sweep away corruption and waste. The bank clean-up worked better than expected. The Yasukuni Shrine visits in and of themselves don’t sit well with voters, but I suspect that to many people they represent a real, if impolitic, devotion to his country. Privatization of the postal service was one of his key reforms. He did not, as members of his own cabinet have pointed out, bring a lucid explanation to the average voter of why it was necessary to move from the existing semi-governmental Japan Post corporation to a fully-privatized set of institutions, but the public has at least been able to recognize the move as part of his effort to uproot the fat-cat LDP old guard.

    Simply put, the Japanese people seem to like Koizumi when he’s being a stubborn pain in the ass. They don’t like when he caves to pressure and does the politically expedient thing, such as cutting off Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka (who, remember, was more popular than Koizumi with the public before his 2001 selection as PM). Koizumi said last month that the LDP would not support the reelection of any Representative who voted against Japan Post privatization, and he seems to mean it.

    It’s only fair to note that the Yomiuri‘s poll, also conducted this week, showed less support for Koizumi than the Mainichi‘s:

    Fifty-two percent of the respondents thought it was inevitable that Koizumi should dissolve the lower house after the postal bills were voted down Monday, while 35 percent said they did not think it was inevitable.

    Asked who should be blamed for the dissolution, however, the number of those who said Koizumi should be blamed, at 39 percent, was close to that of those who said the responsibility lay with LDP members who rebelled against Koizumi, at 41 percent.

    Among LDP supporters, 57 percent criticized the LDP rebels. But among independent voters, who are seen as the key to the election, those who said Koizumi was to be blamed recorded the highest percentage, at 43 percent.

    The respondents’ opinions were close again when asked if they wanted Koizumi to keep his post if the LDP was voted back in power–46 percent said they wanted Koizumi to remain as prime minister, while 43 percent said they did not. Among independent voters, 53 percent opposed Koizumi’s retaining his post.

    This result is another sign of the fall in Koizumi’s popularity because in an interview-style Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted before the previous lower house election, 55 percent of respondents said they wanted Koizumi to continue as prime minister.

    Those who wanted the LDP to retain power after the dissolution, at 43 percent, surpassed those who preferred the Democratic Party of Japan to take power, at 33 percent.

    Who’s right? As I say, I think the Mainichi is likely to prove closer to the mark, and largely because of a phenomenon (let’s cite all the dailies today, shall we?) that the Asahi notes: Koizumi is great at confounding his opponents, and they suck royally at banding together to push back at him because there’s too much else they disagree on. The talk of a new party–against the entrenched LDP old timers but not as extreme in reformism as Koizumi’s cabinet–hasn’t come to anything. Even if Koizumi doesn’t get, as he wants, new LDP candidates to run against every LDP Representative who voted against Japan Post privatization, he may still have leverage he can use to bring some of the dissenters back into line.

    BTW, Koizumi’s latest gambit is still causing his mentor, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, grief. Whether Koizumi or his more cautious friends are in touch with reality, it’s too early to judge. The next month should make for some lively NHK news broadcasts, though!

    Added on 11 August: The Nikkei‘s poll shows, naturally, yet different results:

    In a rapid nationwide opinion survey conducted by the Nikkei on 9 and 10 August, support for the Koizumi cabinet was at 47%, up 4 points from the previous survey in July. Non-support was 6 points down, to 37% percent. Regarding the non-passage of the Japan Post privatization bill by the upper house, 47% of respondents said they “support Prime Minister Koizumi[‘s position],” outnumbering the 36% who said they “supported the LDP opposition[‘s position].” About the make-up of the administration that results from the upcoming lower house election, 47% of respondents expressed hope that the administration would be led by the LDP in some configuration, with just 31% hoping for leadership from the DPJ.

    Added on 13 August: Japundit has posted in more detail about which cabinet members are proposed to go up against which privatization foes.