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    You’re not the kind that needs to tell me / About the birds and the bees

    Posted by Sean at 12:59, September 27th, 2004

    I think that a lot of what Joe Kort says in his latest post at Ex-Gay Watch makes sense. I’m not so sure about this segment, though:

    I believe that most people involved with ex-gay organizations and choose to deny their own homosexuality are turtles [that is, people who duck for cover and minimize themselves when they feel insecure].

    Really? The average ex-gay autobiography I’ve read tends to go something like this: “One morning, after years of drinking, taking drugs, and alternately working as a hustler and being dumped by my latest exploitative boyfriend, I woke up for the hundredth time in a pool of my own vomit and realized my problem was that…homosexuality is sinful!” I’m not the first to notice this, but it’s hard not to read prominent ex-gays’ detailed accounts of their past lives without sensing a kind of thrill and reverse-braggadocio underneath: “I was such a bad mo-fo it took God to straighten me out!” It allows those with loudmouth tendencies to stay loudmouthed in the role of Getting the Message out. (That doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re sincere, by the way.)

    And at the same time, it seems only fair to mention the flip side: I think a lot of the more militant gays haven’t worked through their God issues. By this I mean that they avoid the process of confronting the possibility that the anti-gay religious folks are correct, which would lead to practicing homosexuality only once they were secure in the examined belief that it was the right path for them. Normally, I try not to speculate about what’s going on inside people’s heads, but I can think of no other explanation for the weird touchiness and reflexive dismissiveness of a lot of gays when the subject of religion or transcendence comes up. I wish people (on either side) didn’t feel the need to make themselves feel better about their own choices by deriding those who make the opposite ones, but that problem is probably as old as civilization and doesn’t seem to show any signs of abating.


    Japanese Postal Service reform

    Posted by Sean at 19:41, September 26th, 2004

    One of the big news items here in Japan over the last several months has been the reform and privatization of the Postal Service. I haven’t avoided it for fear of boring you–though it’s not the sort of topic likely to make you a hit at dinner parties. It’s just that there’s been so much back-and-forth. It is, though, a very, very important issue here in Japan, because Postal Savings accounts hold a lot of the wealth of Japanese households and put it at the disposal of Ministry of Finance project managers. This editorial (subscription only–sorry) from last week’s Nikkei English on-line edition delineates pretty well how things have developed:

    The privatization plan will divide Japan Post into four companies respectively operating the mail, savings and insurance services as well as the nationwide network of post offices, but the four operators will remain under the integrated management of a holding company.

    The holding company will sell its shares in the savings and insurance units to turn them into private businesses, but it is not clear what percentage of the stock will actually be sold. Moreover, the government will continue to own at least one-third of the holding company, allowing it to maintain its involvement in the savings and insurance companies, at least to some extent, unless the holding company sells its entire interest in them.

    The mail and network management entities, which will remain under the full ownership of the holding company, will be required to provide uniform services nationwide in exchange for receiving special treatment, including a continued monopoly in the mail delivery business.

    The branch network management company will inherit post offices and workers from Japan Post. The government appears to be intent on ensuring that the other three new postal companies will use the offices and workers of the network firm to protect these politically important jobs. Such forced dependence on the existing post office network will frustrate the new companies’ efforts to refashion themselves into more efficient and profitable players.

    This scheme — creating an entity to take over Japan Post’s infrastructure and virtually forcing the other postal companies to use it — seems to be simply a ploy to avoid radical changes in postal operations while making the reorganization look like a reform, just as the plan adopted to privatize public road corporations based on a two-tier structure was merely a scheme to keep building new roads.

    The envisioned savings and insurance companies are unlikely to achieve management independence as long as they are tethered to the infrastructure operator, which will not be freed completely from government control. This is not a formula that lends itself to independent and transparent accounting at the postal companies.

    The basic design of the privatization will certainly cause this crucial reform initiative to go awry and it will do nothing to further privatization’s primary goal: ending the government’s stranglehold on a big chunk of private savings that is causing serious distortions in the financial markets and undermining fiscal discipline. Achieving this goal requires a swift and complete end to the government’s involvement in the privatized postal companies.

    If you’ve got a sense of déjà vu here, you may be thinking of what happened to California’s energy providers, which taught us all the difference between privatization and deregulation. (And I must note, in fairness, that unlike the USPS, the Japanese Postal Service provides mail handling of pretty much unexceptionable quality.)

    Added an hour later: Because I’m distracted by the Vertigo DVD and am also a scatterbrained idiot, I forgot to note why I’m finally bringing up the Postal Service reform in the first place: It’s what drove the selection of new appointees in the cabinet reshuffle Prime Minister Koizumi announced today. Heizo Takenaka, who’s going to end up with more joint appointments than Stanley Fish soon, will still be in charge of economic policy and fiscal administration, and he’s also been named the head of Postal Service privatization and reform. That’s a new, ad hoc post, of course.

    Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, who has distinguished herself largely by not having a big mouth like her predecessor Makiko Tanaka, is outgoing; she’d been reappointed in the last cabinet change. Her replacement is MP Nobutaka Machimura, who apparently has lots of connections in the US. He was Minister of Education back when (1) that’s what the position was called and (2) there was last a flap over Japan’s government-approved social science textbooks. More directly related to diplomacy, he was State Secretary of Foreign Affairs under…uh…Obuchi? Japanese PM’s sprang up and died like Mayflies in the late ’90’s, so I don’t remember. I wonder whether he was picked not just for his US ties but also because he’s somehow seen as being a good figure to guide the Japanese push for permanent membership on the UN Security Council? I mean, he would almost have to have been, but I haven’t seem him cast in that light in the preliminary reports.


    They eat off of you / You’re a vegetable

    Posted by Sean at 19:07, September 26th, 2004

    Phooey (phoois, phooit…). I saw this FoxNews story on a recent Michael Jackson conference at Yale, but I was still munching over a way to say something useful and funny about it. As always, Alice in Texas proves the simplest ideas are the best:


    FoxNews: panelists discussed how pedophilia allegations have fed into false stereotypes about gays.



    Alice B: Do people no longer have phone directories to read?





    It’s a shame that the people studying pop culture in the academy do such a horrible job at it, because in my experience in college, it was really valuable. In a modern poetry class I took sophomore year, I asked the professor about including Madonna (Erotica had just come out) in my final paper, and his response was, “You may include a section on Madonna, as long as–I don’t know how you anticipate doing this with the work of such a thoroughgoing vulgarian, but I wait with interest to see–you really think you’ve found a way to ground her in the traditions of American poetry.”



    And he meant it. Whenever we conferred about the paper, he took pains to make sure I was focused on the old stuff of proven, lasting value (Dickinson and Eliot) and showing how I thought it illuminated what Madonna was doing. For that matter, we also, in tenth grade, took a break from reading Chaucer and Beowulf and Pepys’s diary to do one of our assigned five-paragraph themes on a work of contemporary fiction. “Good junk,” our teacher called it–Updike, or whatever. The idea was to take the principles we were learning to apply to the foundational or great works and see how talented authors right now were still using them in a lesser but meaningful way. But we did it once, and then it was back to…I don’t know, Party Patches, or wherever we were. On most educational issues, I’m slightly to the right of the average convent school nun, but I do think that it’s good to work artifacts of popular culture into lessons sparingly. The continuity of Western civilization is probably the most valuable lesson of the humanities/social science part of education.



    But of course, that’s not the way researchers approach it. Most of the pop culture studies material you see involves closed readings, with only other pop culture or current events for context. The interpretive framework is almost invariably based in cultural studies, the poison seeds of which were germinating when I was in college. The idea seems to be to reassure students that they can just kind of glance at what’s around them and see everything they need to know to understand art and the mysteries of life. Because, you know, if there’s anything kids in their late teens and early twenties won’t do without being shown how, it’s navel-gazing.



    Just one thing from the article that did make me chuckle:


    Jackson “in many ways is the black male crossover artist of the 20th century,” said Seth Clark Silberman, who teaches about race and gender at Yale. “He has grown up in front of us, so we have a great investment in him, even though some people today may find his image disturbing.”





    Some people may find his image disturbing? Sheesh. You know, if anyone out there has a list of people who are not disturbed by Jackson’s current image, please do me the kindness of forwarding it to me so I can stay the hell away from them.


    More Asian amity

    Posted by Sean at 13:08, September 24th, 2004

    Okay, I am so totally going to go to the office right after I post this, but Meaty Fly is resurfacing occasionally and noted, a week ago, that an advisory panel to PM Koizumi recommended that China be regarded as a potential threat. I can’t imagine who in his right mind would think otherwise, but as MF says, it’s the sort of thing that is guaranteed to get the PRC pissed. President Hu also told a Japanese official this week that visits by Koizumi and his cabinet to the Yasukuni Shrine are an obstacle that must be resolved to improve China-Japan relations.


    They call me the wild rose

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

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


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





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



    Almost.


    Kerry takes a stance on something

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

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


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



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





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


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



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



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



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



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





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



    Some get the gravy / And some get the gristle

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

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



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



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



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


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

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

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


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



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



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





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



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

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


    He makes friends easy / He’s not like me

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

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


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



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





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


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



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





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



    *******



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



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



    AAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHH!



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


    Take my wife…please!

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

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



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


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

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

    単に英語をお勉強したい方も

    この本を読んで背筋が寒くなりながら爆笑しましょう!



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

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

    For those who simply want to study English…

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





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



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



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



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



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