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    Jenkins in US Army custody

    Posted by Sean at 22:54, September 10th, 2004

    It does not seem frivolous on 11 September to update the story of Hitomi Soga, a now-repatriated Japanese abductee to North Korea, and her husband Charles Jenkins, accused deserter from the US Army during the Korean War. Japan has a mutual-extradition treaty with the US, so there was a long series of negotiations over whether he would bring their two daughters to Japan so that the four of them could restart their lives here. Ultimately, the family was reunited in Indonesia and came to Japan to have Jenkins, who is said to be ill, admitted to one of the major research hospitals.

    Japanese public sentiment is pulling hard for Jenkins to be permitted to settle with his wife in her hometown. The Japanese government, accordingly, pressed the US to show clemency. I don’t know how much that has affected Jenkins’s treatment–he just turned himself in–but I do know that it’s hard to imagine the following scenario surrounding an accused military deserter almost anywhere else in the world:

    Details are not yet clear, but according to the US Army, pay calculated at the rate for an officer of Jenkins’ rank and years of service would amount to base pay of $2200 per month. Adding in housing and living allowances would bring the total to $3270.

    [I’m snipping out the section that explains that he’s been advanced some cash already and will not be asked to repay any money even if found guilty.]

    [I]n Camp Zama, where Soga and Jenkins’s family would be able to live together, there are, in addition to barracks, family housing, a school, and recreational facilities. Jenkins would also be free to use the 18-hole golf course and fishing pond.

    Yeah, America’s the real world center of barbarous, unforgiving inhumanity, huh?


    9/11

    Posted by Sean at 11:17, September 10th, 2004

    I was going to wait to post this until I get home from the office tonight. But the date has been 11 September here in Tokyo for 11 hours now, and something about the way all the folks back home in the States are getting ready for bed, the way they did on 10 September three years ago, makes me want to say it now.



    On 9/11, I came to Atsushi’s apartment to watch what was happening on CNN. The whole night, while I sat staring at the television, shaking in anger, he came out to keep making me tea. He had to wake up at 6:30 as always, but he must have gotten up six or seven times overnight to boil water and change the leaves and express relief that the attacks had stopped. Over the next few days, messages from friends kept coming to my cell phone: “So sorry to hear about what happened in America. I hope your friends in NY and family in PA are safe. You must be white-hot mad–here’s to a quick retaliation by your government.” And last year, when I took Atsushi to meet my parents, his mother (who was a child during the War and married into a family whose property and holdings were wiped out by the bombing of Tokyo) asked him to offer a flower at Ground Zero while we were in New York.



    Sixty years ago, Japan and America were in a war that made a disaster area of the Pacific Rim. By 2001, I could be an American man living in a gloriously rebuilt Tokyo, in a relationship with a Japanese man, with Japanese friends who expressed fellow-feeling with America when we were attacked. The Japanese Prime Minister has been one of our staunchest allies; the Japanese Self-Defense Forces have been sent on non-combat missions in Iraq. Japan’s relationship with America and the rest of the West will always be complicated, but it is undeniable.



    This is possible because our civilization is the real deal; the things we value are the things that are worth valuing. Our people are free. We feel a sense of control over our own destiny. We have hope and can-do resilience, which make it unnecessary to cling like death to grievances and turn them into inheritable grudges. Yes, America and Japan and the UK and the rest of the democracies sometimes do bad–seriously bad–things in our relations with the great wide world. We don’t always live up to our ideals. We have plenty of individual resenters in our midst, too. But resentment and destructiveness aren’t what characterize us. Indeed, we’re even nice when we’re vengeful: Since 9/11, we’ve spent our energy debating how to protect ourselves without having to be too hurtful to other people and peoples in the process. And we’re still getting on passenger jets and taking elevators up skyscrapers.



    I can’t think of what to say about those who died without feeling as if I were exploiting them for symbolism, so I will just say that they aren’t forgotten in the two languages I love, today those of allies rather than enemies:



    Rest in peace.

    安らかに眠って下さい。




    Added at 23:00: Minutes after the moment of silence to mark the attack by the first plane, Atsushi sent me a cell-phone message: “CNNを見ていた?9・11から3年だね。悲劇を乗り越えるアメリカに敬服します。 [Were you watching CNN? 3 years since 9/11. I really admire America for so triumphing over tragedy.]” At the end of that sentence was a graphic of a star. I think I’m done crying now.


    Medicine finds the substance of style

    Posted by Sean at 20:41, September 8th, 2004

    Virginia Postrel reports on a design-contest entry that envisions a hospital people might not find off-putting. She then notes:


    You have to be pretty obtuse to define hospital “function” without paying any attention to how the environment makes patients feel–but that’s exactly how hospitals have historically viewed the problem. Aside from the sheer ugliness of most health care environments, lots of them are also extremely confusing to navigate, adding that extra dollop of stress that patients and their loved ones so need and want.





    But of course, that’s only true of first-world hospitals, and only very recently. I’d wager it used to be that mere antisepsis and standardized-looking equipment carried a reassuring feeling of safety, standard practices, and quality control. (The layouts, I can’t think of a defense for, though hospitals are no worse than government offices, airline terminals, and all manner of other public facilities in that regard.) Louis Pasteur made his discoveries about germs only a century and a half ago, after all. And hospitals in less-developed countries still can make you yearn for ugly vinyl tile and the acrid smell of disinfectant. It’s a measure of how advanced our health care systems are that we think of sterilization as a given, something we can guarantee and work around in the process of making the environment more psychologically restful.


    Whenever I hear your music / Singing the same old tune

    Posted by Sean at 01:17, September 8th, 2004

    I am seriously going to go bonkers if I hear this locution out of some fag’n’dyke activist’s trap one more time before Election Day:


    I don’t think any self-respecting gay individual can vote for George W. Bush and I think that Republican leaders like Washington DC council member David Catania have made it clear that Bush has given the LGBT community no reason to reelect him this fall,” Stonewall Democrats’ Marble told 365Gay.com.





    You know, I can see someone making the case that public opinion will not allow Kerry to skedaddle out of Iraq and soften up on the WOT even if he wants to, and that therefore it’s okay not to be a single-issue war voter, and that therefore gays should vote Kerry-Edwards because (despite their no-show on the vote to bring it to the floor) they don’t support the FMA. I’d be hard to convince, but it’s an argument that could be made respectably. Or you could talk about the Bush administration’s inconsistent approach to securing our borders and entry points. And on and on. However, to say that we all vote, or should vote, solely on the basis of whose policies are gay-friendly–to say this less than a week before the 9/11 anniversary–what the hell are these people thinking?



    And for one homo to inform others what constitutes their self-respect as gay people is just…I mean, excuse me, Marianne? I didn’t let my parents, my pastor, my gym teacher, or the Book of Leviticus define my self-respect for me, and now I’m supposed to let you do it? And that would be because…you look hot in Brooks Brothers, maybe? I have no problem with lobbyists’ saying they think a vote for so-and-so will be damaging to the rights of gays in the long-term, or what have you. That’s presumably what their job is, or part of it. Say that a lot of LGBT voters aren’t thinking analytically enough about the issues–fine. Argue. Make your case contentiously. Make it passionately if you’re fired up about it. Push the handful of issues your organization works on. But don’t play the self-respect card every time someone in the Family weighs making a trade-off you don’t understand. All that does is reinforce the idea that some ideological laundry list goes along with being out, which has to be one of the very most pernicious ideas floating around gay activism (and the competition is fierce). And yes, I know it’s the Stonewall Democrats, and no, I don’t expect anything more. It’d be nice to be able to, is all.



    Land o’ Goshen, isn’t it November yet?


    I’ll forgive and forget / If you say you’ll never go

    Posted by Sean at 13:44, September 5th, 2004

    So. The question clearly is: Are Republicans willing to let gays contribute to the American economy for a few overtaxed years of working life before herding us into death camps, or will they have us all exterminated the very moment after a reelected Bush is sworn in? At least, that’s the clear question to some people I’ve talked to. If you’re interested in other possibilities, Rex Wockner seems to have about the best summary I’ve seen of what happened during convention week. We already know that the platform backed up Bush�s endorsement of the FMA and specified that homosexuality is �incompatible with military service.� And we know that the speakers (Giuliani and Schwartzenegger are almost always named together to demonstrate this, sometimes with Pataki and McCain) put a more moderate face on the convention regarding social issues.



    The most cynical interpretation of last week’s events is that the platform was calculated to get the hard-right vote, the speakers were trotted out to get the centrist vote, and one of the two is a scam. (Which one depends, naturally, on your own ideology.) I don’t have the energy I’d need to get into my views of the gay marriage controversy yet again.* Suffice it to say that if its proponents wanted a showdown, they basically got it, with the predictable result that the minority that constitutes less than 5% of the population had less leverage than everyone else.



    Don’t misunderstand–I ache for the Log Cabin Republicans people. They have a whole set of problems that are not their own fault and are not specific to this election year. The noisiest gay liberals–using the word colloquially–have spent the last three decades hammering home the messages that (1) gayness and leftism/Democratic party affiliation go together like bacon and eggs, (2) gays demand to be loved for what we are, and (3) no one must ever be allowed to speak a word against gay people without getting hell for it. In that context, it’s hard to blame some conservatives for believing that gay advocacy stands for nothing but entitlements, special protections, and intrusive public school programs. And it’s correspondingly hard to imagine that LCR people don’t get sick of constantly having to go out of their way to be the nice gays that everyone can do business with. I know that would drive me nuts. I was not impressed by the content of the ad that everyone got so heated up by last week, and I’m not LCR myself, but I made a donation just for the sake of moral support. They’re our guys and gals, and they’re working for us in the way they think best, and they felt kicked in the teeth.



    I do have to ask, though, do people still think making marriage the focal point of gay advocacy is a good idea at this point? There is nothing close to a consensus among gay activists on why we need it–some talk about equal protection, some talk about inheritance and hospital visitation and taxation, some talk about the health benefits of long-term relationships, and some talk about the taking of one’s place in adult society (in a sort of anthropological sense). That’s not a criticism, BTW. I think debate is good. But the fact remains that it is still a debate. In the wider society, marriage and childrearing have gone through all kinds of destabilization in the last 40 years or so. We shouldn’t be suckered by those conservatives who say that with the WOT and current state of society, “Now is not the time” to be discussing gay marriage, in the clear hope that we’ll just go away and forget about it. On the other hand, if we get pushy and really cause a backlash, we could succeed in making life suck for those who come out several decades from now. Is that what we want?



    I have no affection for the Republican Party. But my sense is that many of its members are genuine live-and-let-live types. They may not be pro-gay, exactly, but they recognize that part of being an American is the ability to choose your own happiness, and they can’t look at two people who clearly nurture and sustain each other and tell them that society should stand in the way of their relationship. They may be immovable on marriage but open to persuasion on, say, hospital visitation and social security transfers.



    Whose voices were loudest during the drafting of the RNC platform, I don’t know. But it’s possible that some who supported the FMA clause and the part about “the accompanying benefits afforded couples” were willing to do so because they were aware that they’re unlikely to come to anything. That is to say, perhaps the message sincerely was to back off this particular issue right now, not that you can’t be gay and Republican. For those who adhere to the denying-gays-marriage-rights-keeps-us-second-class-citizens line, I realize that that’s a non-distinction. But we and those who come after us have plenty to lose if we try to change people’s minds by fiat. Much as it offends my crabby loner sensibilities to say so, we need to choose our battles and capitalize on goodwill where we can find it; persuasion takes longer to accomplish, but its effects last longer, too.



    * Sorry for the flurry of self-linking. Got started and couldn’t stop.



    Added on 7 September: And the link to the 365gay.com page is fixed. (Thanks for letting me know, Mike.) Confounded smart quotes! I could’ve sworn I’d un-selected them….



    地震

    Posted by Sean at 22:31, September 4th, 2004

    So it was stronger elsewhere; it usually is:


    An earthquake measuring 6.8 on the open-ended Richter scale hit western Japan on Sunday, setting off tsunami waves along the Pacific coast, but there were no reports of serious damage, national broadcaster NHK said.



    Two people were slightly injured in the city of Kyoto, although some of the strongest tremors were felt in the area of Nara, the ancient capital of Japan where there are many temples.





    Here in Tokyo, it was one of those spooky swaying quakes that lasted for a while, as opposed to a quick shake. Glad there was no damage closer to the center. As the article from Reuters points out, people in the Kansai area are still on edge from the Kobe earthquake a decade ago. (The Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe region isn’t considered an earthquake zone in Japanese terms, so construction codes were not the same as they are here in Tokyo-Yokohama.)



    I also hope everyone in Florida is okay. This is a bad year for storms all over, it seems. Western Japan has also had its share of typhoon casualties and property damage this year, so when I haven’t been watching the weather report to see what’s happening in Florida, I’ve been worried about Atsushi in Kyushu. Yet another reason to look forward to fall.


    The Axis of Evil becomes a grid

    Posted by Sean at 15:52, September 4th, 2004

    I haven’t had much to add to everyone else’s comments about the sort of people who would keep hundreds of children captive for days, with no water, in midsummer, and then bring the roof down on their heads. It does dominate the thoughts, though, especially in combination with other news this week.

    South Korea has been doing lab tests with uranium enrichment. The results were apparently a small amount that was “close to” weapons grade. Now, if there’s going to be a headline that reads “—– May Be Close to Developing Nukes,” I’d much prefer that the —– be South Korea over some of the alternatives. (Additionally, the experiment was done four years ago, and the IAEA inspectors found no evidence it had been expanded upon since then.) And despite the clear potential for diplomatic problems that would result from the ROK’s developing nuclear weapons, with the DPRK less than a two-hour drive from Seoul, who could possibly blame it for wanting to do so?

    I wonder, does North Korea get much play in the US media? Here, it’s in the news all the time. Some of the reasons for that are obvious: It’s nearby, so the potential for patrol boat skirmishes and things is high, and there’s some Japan-North Korea trade. But what you most memorably see (I’m talking over the last five years or so) on television are human interest stories about refugees. For a while there, it seemed as if there were a new Japanese wife of a North Korean escaping back here through China every Thursday. Often, she would tell the reporter, her voice and face distorted to protect her identity, about eating potatoes when there was no rice–a shocking deprivation to East Asians. And that was before the appalling Japanese abductee story broke and began dominating news coverage. Recently, the focus has also been more on diplomatic talks, particularly now that the six-way nattering over the DPRK’s nuclear program is doing the on-again-off-again thing.

    And that leads to the other exposure you get to North Korea here: excerpts from its news broadcasts, usually when some higher-up has made an anti-Japanese remark or some trade issue or summit has been reported on. The North Korean TV technology is so antiquated it has to be seen to be believed. The microphones have that dead sound the local news from an unaffiliated station had in the ’80’s. There’s only one camera angle. And this creepy girl in traditional Korean costume (whose job is to grin like a lunatic and deliver fulsome praise about Kim Jong-il) often appears against a blue screen. And I mean just a blue screen, as if they’d forgotten to put in the background footage. In a humorous-but-not-funny way, it reminds you what riches we have: the lamest music video by the most faceless new pop-product non-talent in our world gets production values that are many times better than the broadcasts North Korea uses to remind citizens that they live in the perfect society.

    I was going to say that this is all some comfort because, you know, if the DPRK can’t get it together to make a decent news broadcast, they probably can’t contrive something as tricky as nuclear warheads that detonate. But that’s ridiculous, because if there’s one thing all these types care about and will put every last resource into doing successfully, it’s wrecking things. The reasoning runs, If your way doesn’t produce a prosperous society that nurtures its citizens, don’t bother changing; just blow the opposition and their artifacts up (and don’t forget to torture the children while you’re at it) until there’s nothing left to stand as a rebuke to it. There’s no fate bad enough for such people, but the Russian authorities had the right idea in making them dead, even if it’s determined that they acted precipitously.


    The Ron-Yasu relationship, then and now

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

    The Daily Yomiuri has a dual interview with former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and US Ambassador to Japan (and White House Chief of Staff toward the end of the Reagan administration) Howard Baker. The English version focuses mostly on their impressions of Reagan and, against that backdrop, what leadership is. But in the Japanese (I’m assuming Baker spoke in English and Nakasone in Japanese, but I’m not sure whether to call it the “original”), there’s more about Japan’s role in the WOT and on current issues along the Pacific Rim:


    The Japan-US relationship is one of amity. Japan sent SDF personnel to Iraq, but that was on its own behalf. It was not just predicated on the Japan-US friendship. Of course, America applauded the deployment, but the SDF was sent in the national interests of Japan. [Yes, it’s that repetitious in the Japanese version.–SRK]



    We are well aware that Japan has a pacifist constitution. We acknowledge fully that there are restrictions on the SDF. Howvever, the world perceives Japan as a superpower. Japan has begun to take on the responsibilities of a major nation. The deployment of peacekeeping forces (PKO) to the Golan Heights and East Timor is such a role of a superpower. And I think that the deployment of the SDF to Iraq was also in that vein.



    For Japan, the chief threat now is not North Korea. The very biggest issue is Japan’s China policy. China wields gargantuan economic and military power, and it is looking to expand it. For the sake of the world, and not just the Pacific Rim, it is extremely important for Japan and China to build an amicable relationship.





    All of which makes me wonder–what exactly is in the RNC platform about China and Japan? Baker is an ambassador now, after all; you expect smooth talk from him. I still can’t seem to get to the text. Maybe I’m just using harebrained search terms. It’s clearly toned down from 2000, but I wonder whether it sounds like what I surmise from my slapdash back-translation from the Nikkei.



    Added at 3 a.m. (don’t ask): Nathan says that things in China are not as 1984-ish as they’re often made out to be. He seems to be talking mostly about daily life for the people. I’d have no trouble believing that. Japan is a way more accessible country than China, and Western journalists still insist on doing that whole Mysterious Ways of Japan routine whenever they can. At the same time, the fact that police brutality may be less common than the press makes out doesn’t mean that the PRC’s foreign policy and designs on superpower-dom are any less troubling. Even if we agree that the Kuomintang was not populated by angels.


    The Abode turns two

    Posted by Sean at 11:48, September 1st, 2004

    My fast-track career has kept me pretty busy this week, but before the day is too far in the past, I wanted to say happy 2nd blog-iversary to Amritas. Marc doesn’t just rant about the left–funny as he is when he does–he also affirms his love for America well and often. While his posts on linguistics are often so specialized they make my head spin, even there, he always has an unshowily intelligent comment about how the mind works, or how we convert thoughts into sentences, that makes the reading worth the effort. And his personal kindness has made him a friend [swelling orchestral music] across the ocean that separates our respective archipelagos of collectivism. Glad you’re still around, man.


    Stick or twist / The choice is yours

    Posted by Sean at 11:00, August 30th, 2004

    This is one of the reasons I have issues with outing as a political tactic: Andrew Sullivan reports that a Virginia congressman, Ed Schrock, is dropping out of the election in his district over allegations that he’s gay. It’s hard to imagine that he’d be bowing out of the race if he were not gay; but you never know what’s going through people’s heads, and this just happened yesterday. The stuff at BlogActive does look pretty ethically damning, if it’s all legit. The Christian Coalition doesn’t give you a 92% rating if all you do is fail to support gay marriage, you know. But the only specific accusation (on the posts I looked at) is the part about ending “Don’t ask, don’t tell” for the purpose of rooting out the queers before they’re able to enlist.



    Where I get queasy about this stuff is at the point at which someone has to decide what “rights” are, because that’s the only way to determine whether someone’s legislative record on our “rights” is in conflict with his personal conduct. I don’t consider marriage a right; indeed, as people are currently campaigning for it, I don’t support gay marriage. Therefore, if someone supports legislation against gay marriage but engages in homosexual conduct, I don’t see the necessary conflict. I do support the end of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”–yeah, right, tell me gay recruits would be rejected in the sort of last-ditch exigency with which conservatives most persuasively argue about unit cohesion. There’s no word that Schrock was sexually active with men while in the armed forces, though. If everything about Schrock is true, I can’t pretend not to be glad he’s going down (so to speak). If nothing more than what BlogActive has published is true, though, I can’t see any ethical grounds for outing him. There’s no defense for exposing people’s private lives unless they’re breaking laws that they themselves have championed; mere hypocrisy is not a crime.



    Added on 1 September: While editing the above for clarity, I may as well point out that Right Side of the Rainbow has a nicely pitched take on this, expressing awareness of the ethical problems with outing while warning conservatives who lead double lives that, in practical terms, they’re not likely to be able to play both ends against the middle for long.