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    Customizing the pontiff

    Posted by Sean at 01:43, April 20th, 2005

    My first thought on reading the news that the pope had been selected this morning was, as you might imagine, “Hmm…I wonder whether Andrew Sullivan has torn himself clean in half with rage yet, like Rumpelstilskin, or I’m a little early.” I was just in time, apparently, but QandO already has it covered.

    Camille Paglia dealt with this amply in an essay when I was in college, but it’s not an issue that’s likely to go away soon. To add to what Dale writes at QandO: if you believe that your principles are moral and just, and you believe that external, obdurate reality bears them out without the gloss of wishful thinking, that’s that. Religions don’t have line-item vetos. There are gay-friendly churches around, and I’m at a loss to figure out why gay Christians don’t join them instead of trying to shift thousands of years of tradition to fit their beliefs this very minute.

    That doesn’t mean they should just sit down and shut up if they seriously believe that scripture is being misinterpreted or interpreted too narrowly. It’s just that lasting change happens slowly. If their chief concern is that the long-term trajectory of Christianity be in the direction of truth, they have to accept that their arguments may take hold slowly and not have any effects on doctrine within their lifetimes. And if what they’re arguing really isn’t clearly supported by the Bible, it may never take hold in the church in which they were reared. They must be content with serving God to the honest best of their understanding, and standing firm in the face of earthly disapproval. I still think Andrew Sullivan has contributed a great deal to the public discourse, but I can’t get his position on religion to boil down to anything but “I’ll fuck whoever I damn well please, and the church will love me for it.” That seems to me just a bit off the mark.

    Added on 21 April: Susanna is back to posting more frequently, which is a good thing. She had this to say about the ascension of the new pope and Andrew Sullivan’s reaction to it.

    Also, Michael thinks I’m engaging in pro forma Sullivan-bashing. Well, I’m not. When people attack or belittle Andrew Sullivan as if he were useless, I am more than happy to defend him. But you can defend his overall contribution to the public debate and still conclude that his recent positions are either not well supported or mutually inconsistent, and that the flibbertigibbety way he’s taken to expressing them doesn’t do him any favors, either.

    Airport screening officially sucks, again

    Posted by Sean at 21:50, April 19th, 2005

    Since I would prefer to keep my blood pressure in the healthy range, it’s probably just as well that the new federal reports on the efficacy of airport screening are not available in all their depressing detail.

    The Florida Republican said he would ask the Bush administration and Congress to hand the function back to the private sector, which would be overseen by homeland security officials.

    “This annual multibillion-dollar system has received its second poor performance report card,” Mica said.

    Details of the two reports are classified but Mica described a system — which he helped create even though he opposed it — as inefficient and struggling despite a $20 billion investment at 429 commercial airports.

    The Transportation Security Administration oversees nearly 50,000 screeners.

    The homeland security report, parts of which were publicly released, noted screeners performed no better in covert tests after a stinging assessment last year on failures to detect prohibited items at airport security checkpoints.

    And now they’re supposed to be making sure luggage is purged of every last lighter, among other things. Those who fear that the system may actually be re-privatized can probably rest easy, though:

    Democrat Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the former ranking member of the aviation subcommittee, sharply criticized TSA. But he said it would be a mistake to return to private screening and doubted Congress would agree to do so.

    “It’s time we give screeners 21st century tools to combat 21st century threats,” DeFazio said.

    Uh-huh. I predict a bipartisan vote to give the screening agency lots of money for new procedures and equipment. Perhaps they’ll revamp training to enable screeners to identify big, scary knives without assistance.

    Fukuoka shakes again

    Posted by Sean at 21:30, April 19th, 2005

    Fukuoka has had another strong earthquake–M 5.8. This one wasn’t as strong as the one in March, but they’re reporting multiple injuries already. Also, it happened at 6:11 on a weekday morning, so a lot of commuter lines have been affected. I haven’t gotten a message from Atsushi saying he felt it in his city, though I assume he must have.

    Ay-yi-yi-yi-I wanna dance (but my feet won’t let me)

    Posted by Sean at 22:28, April 18th, 2005

    This shouldn’t need to be said again, but it does, and Ghost of a Flea says it.

    Friends, they tried to warn me about you

    Posted by Sean at 13:46, April 18th, 2005

    Man, you know how sometimes you wish you could take some of your good fortune and give it to someone else? It never becomes easy to see a friend who’s open and giving and true get screwed over by some shallow charmer, even if you know that he’ll get the guy he deserves eventually.

    US Ambassador delivers blandishments

    Posted by Sean at 01:02, April 18th, 2005

    New US Ambassador to Japan certainly picked a nice, tranquil time to start his duties. He’s understandably making the bland diplomatic best of things, according to the Nikkei. From his first press conference:

    [On the anti-Japan demonstrations in China]: “The relations between the two are crucial with respect to the stability of the entire Asia region. It is our hope that they will aim to find a peaceful resolution through dialogue.”

    [On the reform of the UN]: “Complex issues have been piling up, and it is not desirable that we set a firm deadline at this point…. The US government, and I as an individual, do support Japan [in its petition for permanent UNSC membership].”

    [On the first East Asia summit to be held at the end of this year in Malaysia]: “The US is a Pacific country. We would like to participate if it means that we will have a chance to have a hand in setting broad policies that will have an effect in the region.”

    The East Asia summit will feature the ASEAN members plus inseparable buddies Japan, the PRC, and the ROK. Australia has already been snubbed after hinting that it would like an invitation. Malaysia and China are (go figure) those who are are most hesitant over the participation of Australia, let alone the US. Incidentally, Schieffer’s last post before Japan was Australia.

    He hit me first!

    Posted by Sean at 09:06, April 17th, 2005

    The Japanese do not permit themselves to be upstaged in the sly dig department, so the PRC’s remarks that Japan may, perhaps, not have enough “respect” (for history or from the rest of Asia) to be a member of the UN Security Council have not gone unanswered. Shinzo Abe, head of the LDP, was in Sendai today and mused,

    They [the PRC government] are supposed to host the Olympics and the World Expo. One wonders whether they’ll really be able to manage, assuming the situation continues as it is now. Doubts cannot but arise.

    The “situation” he’s talking about are this weekend’s repeat-performance protests, which were the headline news yesterday and today here. The news here has been stressing the violence of some of the protests, though it’s hard to have a good sense of how out-of-hand things really got. Reuters’s version is here:

    China has come under fire for tacitly encouraging the anti-Japanese unrest but Beijing denies the charge. But authorities have pledged to protect Japanese businesses and nationals in China.

    In the third weekend of violent protests, thousands marched Saturday to Japan’s consulate in Shanghai, smashing windows, pelting it with paint bombs and eggs and attacking Japanese restaurants along the way.

    Relations between the two Asian powerhouses are at their worst in decades and China’s official Xinhua news agency put the number of protesters in Shanghai at 20,000.

    “The students and citizens spontaneously took to the street to demonstrate and protest, expressing their discontent with the right-wing forces in Japan on violating the Sino-Japanese relations,” it quoted Shanghai municipal government spokeswoman Jiao Yang as saying.

    It’s rather interesting how the PRC regime’s ability to keep protestors in check varies. Personally, I find it improbable that the protests were engineered by the Chinese government–or even encouraged in the active way we usually think of it. All kinds of unrest have been building in China, though, and it seems likely that the PRC is taking advantage of the fact that this ill-feeling is directed outward and hoping to use it as a pressure release.

    Japan itself is not a protest-heavy country, compared with its neighbors; but, of course, anti-Chinese feeling is never a really hard sell here, and there are small but real fears that some Japanese will get into the counter-protest act:

    The violence has raised concerns about a backlash in Japan, and police have tightened security at the Chinese embassy, consulates and residences after several incidents of harassment.

    A man hurled a bottle at the Chinese consulate in Osaka, western Japan, Sunday and set himself on fire when officers tried to subdue him, police said. Right-wing groups were driving around Tokyo in trucks fitted with loudspeakers, but riot police prevented them from approaching the Chinese embassy.

    For anyone who doesn’t know Japan, that “right-wing groups were driving around Tokyo in trucks fitted with loudspeakers” part is not, heaven knows, a distinguishing feature of this weekend; the exhortations to defend Japan’s purity and honor are probably a bit less generalized in tone, though. Japanese foreign minister Nobutaka Machimura is in Beijing for a meeting with the Chinese foreign ministry.

    Added on 18 April: Japan demands that China apologize for letting demonstrations get out of hand; China says it’s Japan’s responsibility to apologize first. At least the two countries’ foreign ministers, meeting this weekend in Beijing, were able to agree on something: there should be a joint China-Japan center for historical research. That’s the least likely issue to help resolve the immediate problems, but, hey–you have to start somewhere.

    BTW, here‘s the original Japanese report on the Mainichi poll referred to at the end of the Reuters story. For once, the Japanese version doesn’t contain much that was left out of the English story.

    And it’s too late to wash my hands

    Posted by Sean at 21:50, April 15th, 2005

    Joe Riddle has a simple but good post up at Ex-Gay Watch about one of my pet peeves: the way ex-gays (at least, those whose profiles are published as inspirational) tend to blame homosexuality for all their hang-ups:

    Blaming the “gay community” sure seems like a convenient way for them to avoid taking responsibilty for their own behavior, dontcha think? Still, there’s probably a kernel of truth there… Chances are, their gay friends were not questioning their reckless behavior, and in fact may have been enabling it. Sometimes we out gays are reluctant to encourage responsible behavior in our friends because we don’t want to be viewed as another moralizing voice. While the “gay community” isn’t responsible for the bad choices of Paulk, Bennett, et al, it’s possilbe we did contribute to driving them into the arms of the ex-gay movement. If I thought my only options were to be a drug-addicted slut or ex-gay, I’d choose ex-gay every time.

    Sure, so would I; but the nurturing, supportive part of the gay community that brings out the best in you is there (and not as icky as that description makes it sound). I found it without having to look terribly hard. My friends are perfectly capable of encouraging responsible behavior without turning into sanctimonious hard-asses.

    If there are people who can’t handle their homosexuality, then I seriously wish them the best in celibacy or learned heterosexuality or whatever allows them to live happier lives. But I have no patience with those who act as if all the non-sex-dungeon hang-outs and non-abusive boyfriends were somehow in hiding and could only be discovered with superhuman effort and an oscillating electron microscope. That’s malarkey. If drawn to nothing but ephemeral pleasures and exploitative people, you’ve got more fundamental problems than being gay.


    Posted by Sean at 09:29, April 15th, 2005

    Oh, and this is what I really wanted to read the day before Atsushi flies in for the weekend:

    In an astonishing admission aimed at explaining its troubled record in recent months, Japan Airlines on Thursday said safety had not been its top priority.

    All efforts and attention were focused on punctuality. The airline was careless about safety, JAL said in a report to the transport ministry on steps it is taking to restore its tarnished reputation.

    Anyone who flies out of Haneda knows that, whatever JAL is achieving by giving inspections short shrift, it ain’t punctuality, so exactly what is really being prioritized, one would like to know? Perhaps all those little screw-ups lately have been a blessing in disguise. They haven’t caused any fatalities, but they’ve been serious enough to get the attention of the government:

    And in a case of worst-possible timing, part of the flap from the wing of a JAL aircraft that landed at Narita International Airport on Thursday was found to have fallen off in flight, officials said.

    Flight 73, carrying 428 passengers and crew members, arrived at 5:10 p.m. from Honolulu.

    Mechanics found the component had detached from the main left wing.

    The airport’s 4,000-meter runway that the aircraft used was closed for three minutes from 6 p.m. to search for the missing part. It was not found.

    JAL said the mishap did not compromise flight safety.

    Upon receiving JAL’s report, officials of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said they will regularly inspect facilities and airports used by the airline to confirm that the company’s safety measures are being observed.

    The ministry also grounded a JAL pilot for one month beginning today for starting takeoff procedures without clearance from air traffic control at New Chitose Airport near Sapporo. The pilot of the Tokyo-bound flight was forced to abort takeoff at the last moment in January because another aircraft had just landed on the runway about a kilometer away.

    In another incident, at Inchon Airport in South Korea, the pilot and co-pilot of a flight bound for Narita misheard the control tower’s instructions to wait, and taxied onto the runway, forcing another plane to restart landing procedures.

    Reprimands or warnings were issued in both incidents.

    On March 17, a clearly fed-up transport ministry ordered JAL to improve its operations.

    Yes, that would be most obliging.

    Constitutional reform report released by lower house committee

    Posted by Sean at 09:14, April 15th, 2005

    The lower house of the Diet’s exploratory committee on constitutional revision has come to a resolution:

    On the morning of 15 April, the committee (Taro Nakayama, Chair), made up of members from the LDP, DPJ, and Komeito, approved by majority vote a finalized report summarizing 5 years of debate. They clarified in detail the necessity of revising the preamble and Article 9, in which Japan renounces war powers. This is the first time the Diet has demonstrated intent to revise the constitution since 1947, when the present constitution went into effect. Also manifested [in the proposal] are the intention to make reforms on a broad range of other issues, such as stipulating environmental rights and redistricting prefectures into larger administrative regions.

    Bear in mind that this is the lower house committee, so there’s no guarantee that the bill won’t be nearly unrecognizable by the time it’s voted on in the houses. The upper house committee, for its part, is expected to come to a resolution on 20 April.

    Added on 16 April: The Nikkei evening edition had a chart I didn’t feel like translating before going out last night, but there’s an English article in the Mainichi that lists things pretty well. The part that’s relevant to the SDF is here:

    The principle of renouncing war as a means to settle international disputes, which is provided for in Clause 1, Article 9, should be retained, according to a majority opinion. The report says a majority of members “appreciate the role that Article 9 has played in ensuring Japan’s peace and prosperity.”

    However, it does not rule out the possibility that the article will be amended to clearly provide for minimum use of force to defend Japan from possible military attacks.

    The report shows that the commission was divided over whether Japan should be allowed to participate in collective self-defense arrangements.

    Some demand that Japan be allowed to participate in collective defense arrangements without limitations, while other panel members said some limitations should be placed on Japan’s involvement in such arrangements. Another group said the Constitution should ban Japan’s involvement in it.

    Japan’s codified renunciation of war is one of the biggest sticking points in its bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.