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    How can you be so cold / With my arms to hold you?

    Posted by Sean at 00:44, October 24th, 2005

    You know when you’re working out and the destressing feels great so you push yourself really, really hard? And then a day and a half or so later you get a memo that reads, “TO: Stupid Bitch / FROM: Voluntary Muscles / TEXT: Repeat after me: ‘I. Am. Not. Twenty. Anymore.’ / END”?

    Yeah.

    I’d rather talk about other people’s idiocy rather than my own, so let’s change the subject, shall we? I can never understand why people don’t live the way they say they want to live. Some problems are external–e.g., “My boyfriend’s cheating on me, and I can’t decide whether to let it blow over or to make an issue out of it”–and clearly difficult to negotiate. Where to draw the line between accepting your mate’s imperfections and being a doormat is not always easy.

    But the practice of causing your own problems and then wondering why you have them? What is up with that? “See, I’m an honest person, and my relationship with Kazu is…you know, I want it to be totally pure. I don’t really cheat on him, you know, in terms of mind space? Totally his. I mean, really. But I figure once in a while if I hook up, it doesn’t detract from that. I think maybe I should tell him, but I don’t want him to think I’m not devoted to him. Like, I think he’d take it the right way and not think that screwing around on him affected the meaning of our relationship, but it’s kind of a risk, so I haven’t said anything. It’s such a hard position, you know?”

    No, honey, not really. It’s not all that hard to find someone who’s willing to have an open relationship; even a sizable proportion of straight marriages work that way in Japan. If that’s what you want, you make it a criterion when you start dating. If you want to change the terms of an existing relationship, you do it. (Since Japan still recognizes the value of subtext and euphemism, it’s often possible to get this accomplished without a cruel direct hit.) If your partner doesn’t accept the change of terms, you either dissolve the relationship or find a way to accommodate each other without deception. Exposing your partner to the potential hazards of microbes and psychological baggage that you expressly promised to protect him from is not a sympathetically flawed action taken in a no-win situation.


    硬軟両様

    Posted by Sean at 23:18, October 23rd, 2005

    The Nikkei says that the Koizumi administration is purposefully taking a combination of hard and soft approaches to its delicate relationship with the PRC.

    The government–aiming to work out a resolution to problems with Japan-China relations, which have worsened since Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s latest pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine–has adopted a framework within which it can use both hard and soft responses. This approach has strengthened its unified front [with the PRC] on North Koreas nuclear disarmament. On the other hand, regarding the problem of Japan’s United Nations member contributions, the government’s approach has also involved moves to decrease the percent that comes from Japan, which opens the possibility that the contribution expected from the PRC would rise. This backdrop for this approach was a judgment that, given a reality in which relations between the two countries have become progressively more multipolar, including economic relations, there is no need to lean only in the direction of soft approaches.

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura was emphatic in an appearance on a 23 October Fuji Television program: “I’m surprised that everyone has succumbed to the most pessimistic arguments about this recent Yasukuni pilgrimage [by the Prime Minister]. They’re clearly way too pessimistic. Do people really think that Japan’s international stature would decline so abruptly?” Furthermore, he stated, “We haven’t reestablished visits between our heads of state, but traffic on the economic and cultural fronts is brisk.”

    How do you solve a problem like China? You probably don’t. The CCP is engaged in frequent games of chicken with China’s own restless citizens, fomenting their discontent just enough for them to let off steam at Japan without having things get out of hand. The Koizumi administration’s approach often seems haphazard, but trying to keep as many tools at the ready as possible is probably the only wise policy. Of course, the right tool still has to be used at the right time.


    One year after Niigata quake

    Posted by Sean at 22:45, October 23rd, 2005

    This story from the Asahi English edition doesn’t have much detail, but it’s a helpful reminder that, even in First World countries, major earthquakes cause disruptions that last long after the news cameras leave:

    A year ago Sunday the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake hit, leaving 51 people dead and thousands injured. One year later, more than 9,100 victims still live in temporary housing.

    Many are battling financial and other difficulties and have yet to complete rebuilding work. About 1,000 households have abandoned such plans or say they have no prospect yet of rebuilding their homes that were lost in the Oct. 23, 2004, temblor.

    With a second snowy winter looming, an estimated 400 households in the former Yamakoshi village, now part of Nagaoka city, and other communities in Niigata Prefecture are still subject to evacuation orders or advisories.

    The English story combines information from these two stories. The Yomiuri conducted a poll and found that 44% of those still living in temporary housing have no plans to rebuild their houses. Most of the people affected are from a relatively small, particularly hard-hit area in Niigata Prefecture.

    For its part, the Mainichi surveyed municipalities affected by last year’s series of quakes. (Most articles talk about a single “earthquake,” but there were actually three or four strong ones in rapid succession.)

    The Kawaguchi Municipal Government that came under fire for failing to incorporate earthquake countermeasures in its disaster prevention plan admitted that it has not yet begun reviewing it.

    “Multiple divisions must be involved in reviewing the plan. It’s impossible for local governments that have fewer officials to quickly review their disaster prevention plan even if it’s necessary,” an official of the town’s general affairs division said.

    Nine municipalities are now storing water in case of a devastating disaster, an increase from four in the pre-quake period. Fourteen municipalities have stockpiled emergency food, as compared with 10 before the Niigata quake.

    However, only seven municipalities, or 25 percent, have stockpiled both water and emergency food.

    Only four municipalities have set up a system under which they provide subsidies to local residents to examine whether and how far their houses are quake-resistant and two others are prepared to provide subsidies to residents to make their houses quake-proof. Many of the municipalities that have no such subsidy systems cite their severe financial situations.

    Only six of them have introduced satellite mobile phones and other communication devices in case their areas are isolated from surrounding areas.

    Niigata Prefecture is not an earthquake hot zone in Japanese terms. However, as we saw last year, the low probability of a devastating quake is offset by the fact that many people live in remote villages on landslide-prone ground that makes destruction likely and rescue operations difficult. When a quake does eventually hit, people are in big trouble.


    Been running so fast / Right from the starting line

    Posted by Sean at 22:26, October 23rd, 2005

    The NHK special turned out to be nothing all that revelatory, though it had the small virtue of laying out some of the major issues succinctly.

    One of the new career models was represented by a woman in her 20s who lives in a small, spare apartment and gets by on temp jobs. Her point of view was that there isn’t stability in a standard job with a single employer anymore anyway, so if she’s going to live with the constant threat of disruption, she may as well be taking jobs that interest her while she’s doing it. A former hotshot Tokyo graphic artist who quit his job, decamped with his wife for Okinawa, and now spends a lot of time fishing and, IIRC, takes freelance jobs when needed was featured as an example of another trend. (Atsushi, who’s the same age, was gratified to see this guy pushed forward to exemplify trends in employment among young people.) There were a few high school students with scary post-Amuro-chan fake bakes, piercings, dyed ‘n fried hair, and black and white makeup who said that they didn’t see why they shouldn’t do what they liked with their lives.

    In the opposite corner, we had a bunch of middle-aged people. Some of them were sympathetic to the impulses of wild, free youth and figured the youngsters on parade would eventually settle down like those in generations before them. Others made the stock complaint that those who scale down their career ambitions are incapable of toughing it out through short-term hardship in order to reach a worthy long-term goal.

    Atsushi and I cut out to go to dinner midway through the program, so it’s possible that the five or six people who were serving as bland MCs did get around to asking interesting questions, but it certainly didn’t happen while we were watching. No one saw fit to connect the dots between the middle-aged businessmen and the woman who subsisted on temp jobs, for example, and ask whether traditional (bearing in mind that that word refers to organizations that were mostly founded after the war) companies are, now that they can’t offer lifetime employment, changing their work environments to make sure they stay attractive to young job seekers with other options. No one pointed out the entrepreneurs in the group and asked the disaffected high school students whether they’d thought about founding service-industry businesses that could satisfy their arty bent and attract talented peers of theirs with similar views of the relationship between work and play.

    Of course, there’s always the chance that these issues came up after Atsushi and I stopped watching. I doubt it, though. If they had, NHK would have found itself broadcasting an actual exchange of ideas, with awkward differences of opinion that went beyond those that viewers were already prepared to deal with. That’s not usually in the program.


    My way or the highway

    Posted by Sean at 06:45, October 22nd, 2005

    Prime Minister Koizumi has announced that Heizo Takenaka, the driving force behind the banking cleanup and Japan Post privatization, will retain his position after the cabinet reshuffling at the beginning of next month. Kazuo Kitagawa, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, will also retain his position. (Whether that’s connected to the privatization of the Japan Highway Public Corporation and other transportation bodies is not clear from the Nikkei article.)

    One of NHK’s social commentary shows is doing an installment on the future of Japan’s youth, featuring an array of eyecatching fringe types. Whether anything illuminating will emerge remains to be seen. Atsushi (he’s home for the weekend again) and I are a little dubious about the resolute freakshow aspect. Many of the teenagers being interviewed hang out in Shibuya, which is not exactly noted for attracting the studious rank-and-file.


    I’m not the same / I have no shame

    Posted by Sean at 03:11, October 21st, 2005

    You know what I love about Madonna? She’s fearlessly delusional (via non-Pryhill Ace; the New York Daily News has the full report here):

    Despite her many homes, the former Material Girl says she has renounced “the material world. The physical world. The world of illusion, that we think is real. We live for it, we’re enslaved by it. And it will ultimately be our undoing.”

    Reading from Scripture at one point in the film, the mother of two — who won’t let her children watch TV or eat ice cream — says, “I refer to an entity called ‘The Beast.’ I feel I am describing the world that we live in right now.”

    Dude, that’s, like, all kinds of profound and stuff. You can take the girl out of Los Angeles….

    One thing that annoys me, though: can we please stop referring to Madonna as “the former Material Girl”? I know that asking journalists to avoid shallow, jingle-like formulations is like asking Joan Rivers to avoid plastic surgery, but “Material Girl” was a single song. It was neither her first hit nor her biggest hit; she never so much as named a concert tour after it. The frame story for the video sent up the lyrics. Of course, Madonna made a lot of money and was doubtless happy about it, but her image and music were always much more about self-reliance and self-definition than about money-grubbing or acquisitiveness. The mass audience would have tired of her very quickly if there’d been nothing to her but sexual and religious button-pushing. One of the ways The Immaculate Collection was a botch job as a greatest hits album–in addition to that horrible Q Sound engineering and the tacky remixes–was in omitting hits such as “Angel,” “Who’s That Girl,” and “True Blue.” A lot of the time Madonna was ruling the airwaves, it was with unassuming, straightforward songs about romantic yearning, not the controversy-courting blockbusters.

    It remains to be seen whether the new album will get us lifelong fans back to swooning; it’s hard to imagine not topping American Life. Assuming her newfound loftiness hasn’t dampened her sensuality, we should be okay.


    I love you like a ball and chain

    Posted by Sean at 02:29, October 21st, 2005

    Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty has posted a lengthy response to Maggie Gallagher’s guest posts at the Volokh Conspiracy on gay marriage (via Gay Orbit). Kuznicki’s commentary is worth reading in full, especially if you don’t want to have to slog through all the comments at the Volokh Conspiracy to figure out what the main counterarguments being offered are.

    I don’t feel like reproducing my last year and a half of effusion on the issue, especially since it’s all available under the marriage debate category on the left there. I do think that one of Kuznicki’s points is worth responding to anew, though:

    Meanwhile, Gallagher has also neglected the opposing argument, namely that same-sex marriages might actually strengthen the institution of heterosexual marriage. Although the empirical data on either side is scarce (and although this scarcity gives weight to the go-slow approach mentioned in the last comment I linked), still, I think there is at least a conceivable causal mechanism to explain why same-sex marriage might do a lot of good to the institution of heterosexual marriage: If we as a society send a message that marriage is a universal goal, one that admits of no exceptions and knows no gender lines, then it is reasonable to think that more people of all sexual orientations will want to get married.

    But if large numbers of people–gays and lesbians, for example–are told that they do not need marriage, or that marriage cannot help them, or that they are unworthy of the institution, then some marginal number of straight people, especially those who identify most closely with gays and lesbians, will almost certainly come to have contempt for the institution of marriage and to see it as antiquated or irrelevant.

    I’m perfectly willing to argue that homosexual relationships are no less moral than heterosexual relationships, that contribution to civilization in the form of the creation and upkeep of artifacts is just as important as contribution to civilization in the form of the creation and bringing up of children, and that the law should not be throwing obstacles in our paths when we try to care for our partners within the relationships we’ve chosen.

    However, I’ve always found the argument above, even in the carefully qualified way Kuznicki presents it, to be ridiculous. The vast majority of people do not view homosexuality and heterosexuality as the same; that’s true even among those who believe our relationships are just as valid (word of the week, apparently) as theirs. Despite all the changes in medicine and in the family structure over the last century, there simply remains no chance that a homosexual couple will suddenly finding itself producing a child that needs eighteen years of intensive looking-after. The number of people so bohemian in outlook that they regard their gay friends as facing the same real-life sex-related issues in all respects is so small that “marginal” hardly does it justice.

    My friends hardly constitute a scientific sample of the population–good thing for America we don’t!–but I doubt their attitude is untypical. A few years ago on our e-mail group, I tried to get a discussion about gay marriage going…and failed utterly. The replies were along the lines of “Of course, I think you and Atsushi should be able to get married–why the hell wouldn’t i?” Even so, my friends’ expressed preference has been for marriage; there have been a half-dozen weddings since we were in our late twenties. (The result, BTW, is that I’m now friends with [even] more Jews than I was in college: three of the girls converted in order to marry three of our Jewish buddies. Talk about populations that recruit!) If forced to choose between showing solidarity with gay friends and providing the most stable possible environment for their own children–assuming that’s the choice they actually have to make–most people are obviously going to side with their kids.


    I’ve packed my bags / I’ve cleaned the floor

    Posted by Sean at 05:05, October 20th, 2005

    Perhaps if I spent more time reading the WaPo‘s coverage of Japanese culture stuff, I would have known that Anthony Faiola, who was the irritant behind this flip-out of mine a few weeks ago, is a repeat offender. (Is Faiola supposed to be a Japan specialist? I got the impression that he was based in China.) This from Japundit about a more recent example:

    It’s sort of an interesting enough article – Faiola reports that many Japanese women suffer from a stress disorder called RHS due to the unwanted presence of their retired husbands – but it’s hardly news, especially from a reporter who specializes on Japan topics for the Washington Post. And the issue has been reported on in the English language media in Japan for years.

    As well, the entire “love letters and wooing words under pink cherry blossoms” stuff is a little suspect, too. The entire idea of marrying for romantic love is a recent affectation imported from the West. Arranged marriages were the norm for today’s 65-year-old cohort, as were strict ideas about the roles and responsibilities for each partner in the marriage.

    Kind of makes you wish the Post and all the other papers out there could find stringers who actually understand Japan and write stories that dig a little deeper, and go beyond stereotypes.

    That’s the thing that’s so annoying: a lot of these reporters probably have a healthy journalistic skepticism, but if they don’t know anything about Japan, their warning bells don’t go off when they should; they end up swallowing clichés the way a cormorant swallows fish.

    I just looked at one of the WaPo staff pages. Faiola is based in Tokyo. Sheesh. At least his reporting was just dull this time, as opposed to very likely inaccurate.


    The Soul selects her own Society–

    Posted by Sean at 00:33, October 20th, 2005

    This is why we love Eric. Notice, dear children, that it’s possible not to hold feeling comfortable as the very highest value in the universe:

    There weren’t too many role models for me, which is probably why I’m such a nut. I was a fan of the Grateful Dead, and in my Marxist days I tended towards misguided idolization of the Black Panther Party leadership. Years later I came to adore a certain crazed junkie writer. But these weren’t really role models. I thought of my own sexuality as crazy and uniquely non-conforming, and while I might not have always been comfortable with it, I always thought I had to be my own role model. I’ve never felt validated, and I never wanted to be validated. The conventional concepts of gay and straight annoyed me then, and annoy me now. Not only is the right to free choice in sexual matters being negated, it’s increasingly being seen as an oppressive concept.

    I wouldn’t take it quite that far myself, of course. Civilization has had millennia to build up knowledge about what does and does not tend to work for people for people who want to live happy, productive lives. There’s nothing cravenly conformist about heeding the wisdom of those who came before you (or those who are still around and have more experience than you do).

    But things are just a bit out of hand these days, with the assumption in the air that no one can figure out how to live his life unless there’s an available “role model” with the exact same characteristics. This is America; we’re supposed to be a nation of pioneers. But no. It’s considered unfair to expect someone to follow a path that hasn’t already been machete-cleared, leveled, and bricked over in a tasteful herringbone pattern by someone else.

    Eric’s talking more about private life than about public life, but the idea’s the same. Sure, we all need friends, and most of us like the feeling of belonging to a kind of “community” (even if the frequent, gruesomely cheery political use of that word gives us the heebs). But personal liberty means that you often have to make decisions that are specific to your own circumstances and don’t have much precedent, and I’m not quite sure how the Logo Network spells salvation.

    Unlike Eric, I’m pretty much a central-casting gay guy. But it was mostly my parents who were my role models for what kind of adult I wanted to be. When I came out, it was among my college friends, who were all straight. I certainly went through a lot of pain over acknowledging that I was a homosexual, but I don’t remember getting flibbertigibbety over my “role” as a gay man. I mean, hello? You find somewhere with eligible men and get started flirting.

    That the eligible men may be in a different city just means that you may have to make a tradeoff between staying in familiar surroundings and capitalizing on opportunities elsewhere. That happens to straight people all the time, too. Basic issues about persona are pretty universal, too: Am I good at initiating conversations, or do things work out better when I let someone come to me and break the ice? Does my demeanor seem friendly or unfriendly to people who don’t know me? Do I like being the center of attention or mixing quietly with people in the crowd? Most people figure out what their best fit is through trial and error, and the error part is occasionally painful or embarrassing. These things happen.

    Simply knowing that there are other gay people around is undoubtedly a comfort, and an important one, to gay youths. But figuring out you’re gay is the beginning of the journey, not the end. The rest of it–making your way as an adult–is basically the same for everyone, regardless of sexual identity. That some people make feeling “validated” their highest priority doesn’t mean the rest of us are always obliged to indulge them.


    Ever after

    Posted by Sean at 08:18, October 19th, 2005

    Jonathan Rauch’s column for National Journal is up at IGF. It’s about a gay wedding in Massachusetts. I still think there are important unaddressed questions about gay marriage as policy and as an institution. Rauch mostly leaves aside those questions this time out, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. His focus is on the reactions of family members. He delineates, with a few well-chosen strokes, how Beckland and Pope are starting out–both the resources they have and what they’re going to be contending with:

    Laura’s parents, Lee and Ludene, both in their early 70s, have shown up at their grandson’s wedding on the advice of their priest, who counseled support for their family even if they could not condone a same-sex marriage. They say they are open-minded Catholics, but today’s event has pushed them to their limit. “I feel that it’s wrong,” Lee volunteers. “I don’t think it’s real. I kind of wish it hadn’t happened.” He loves his grandson, no doubt about it. But “this is hard for me, to see it happen.” Ludene, who believes that marriage is for procreation, struggles to find a more conciliatory note. “We’re living in a different age,” she says.

    Jamie’s two younger brothers are enthusiastic about the marriage. It never occurs to them to regard a same-sex marriage as anything but real. His father, Kim, has been supportive all along. But his paternal grandparents, Jim and Carol, are guarded as they sit on a bench awaiting the ceremony’s start. “We love Jamie, and I’m not going to drive a wedge in the family,” Jim says. Carol mentions that both are Christians who are close to the Bible. “This will be interesting,” she says. “I’m not the judge.”

    Rauch has in the past written about the social pressure required to make marriage work and how it would make gay marriage a benefit to society; he’s done so in ways that push forward abstractions and skate over specifics, which I think weakens his arguments. It will be interesting to see how what he learns about people’s concrete experiences from here on will affect his views.

    I may not like the way gay marriage has been pursued politically, but of course it turns me to mush to see two of our men (or women)–who clearly had to go through some major crap to right themselves–find happiness with each other. Congratulations and best wishes to them.

    (Oh, and Jonathan? Sweetness? Honey, Jamie could be your son. There’s no “just about” about it. He was born when you were eighteen, and maybe most of your fellow rising Yale freshmen weren’t having kids then, but plenty of Americans were. It’s considered pretty early in most places, but not all that early. I was born when my father was twenty, and it never raises an eyebrow when I meet other people of working class extraction.)