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    Memorial Day

    Posted by Sean at 10:07, May 30th, 2005

    Today was a day off for me, but I didn’t do much in the way of celebrating Memorial Day, beyond reflecting a bit. I was reading one of my favorite books, the printed companion to the PBS series The Story of English , which we watched when it was broadcast in the mid-80’s. This particular passage moved me even more than usual:

    Augustine and his monks landed in Kent, a small kingdom which, happily for them, already had a small Christian community. The story of the great missionary’s arrival at the court of King Aethelbert is memorably reported by Bede:

    When, at the king’s command, they had sat down and preached the word of life to the king and his court, the king said: “Your words and promises are fair indeed; they are new and uncertain, and I cannot accept them and abandon the age-old beliefs that I have held together with the whole English nation. But since you have travelled far, and I can see that you are sincere in your desire to impart to us what you believe to be true and excellent, we will not harm you. We will receive you hospitably and take care to supply you with all that you need; nor will we forbid you to preach and win any people you can to your religion.”

    After this, perhaps the earliest recorded example of English tolerance, the liberal-minded king arranged for Augustine to have a house in Canterbury, the capital of his tiny kingdom. He kept his word: Augustine’s mission went ahead unhindered.

    It’s hard to imagine the generosity of character that must have required. The Germanic tribes had gotten to Britain through bloody invasions themselves. They’d begun to build a civilization but were off on a remote island and constantly exposed to the elements; the system of magic and rituals through which their rudimentary understanding of nature was mediated provided their only meager feeling of control over it. It must have had immense psychological importance for them. But here we have the germ of liberty, of the ability of people with fundamentally different beliefs about the way life works to live together. Of course, “English tolerance” has had to take up arms to defend itself a lot since then. But 1400 years later, men are still sacrificing themselves for it, because it’s worth it.

    With gratitude, we remember.

    Solving political problems in Fantasy Land

    Posted by Sean at 01:03, May 30th, 2005

    How’s that Yasukuni Shrine situation? (I really need to create a sub-category for that….) Well, let’s see. The chief of the LDP’s Diet committee gives us this solution:

    On 29 May, the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party issued another in a series of statements calling for the separate enshrinement of class-A war criminals at the Yasukuni Shrine, in response to the controversy over Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s pilgrimages to the shrine.

    Hidenao Nakagawa, head of the LDP’s Diet committee, stated on Fuji Television that he is of the opinion that “the administrators of the shrine should meet with the families [of those enshrined], and voluntarily allow for separate enshrinements. Then, China will agree to Japan’s assumption of permanent membership to the UN Security Council.”

    Yes, I’m sure it’ll go just like that. The PRC is not, after all, worried about anything other than Japan’s attitude toward its wartime conduct, such as–and I’m just kinda riffing here–the entire balance of power in East Asia.

    The word I’ve rendered “voluntarily” there is 自発的 (jihatsuteki: “self-” + “emergence” + [adjectival/genitive ending]). It also often means something closer to “spontaneously,” which would perhaps give a better feel for the complete lack of precedent for such a move as Nakagawa is recommending.

    Nakagawa isn’t the only one issuing unfathomables on this issue. The Yomiuri English edition corrals many of the latest soundbites from various government types, including this “huh?” moment from a Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare official:

    Masahiro Morioka, parliamentary secretary of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry criticized the Chinese government for demanding Koizumi stop visiting the shrine. “Class-A war criminals are treated as bad people because of fear of China,” Morioka said. “War criminals were categorized as Class-A, Class-B and Class-C at the Tokyo Tribunal of War Criminals. They were categorized by a one-sided tribunal led by the Occupation forces at which crimes against peace and humanity were created.” [It’s enough to make you wonder whether this guy might actually be affiliated with the shrine itself.–SRK]

    “A war is part of politics, and it is in line with an international law. The Diet unanimously agreed to pay pensions to the families of Class-A war criminals who have died. They’re not seen as criminals in the country,” he said.

    “Saying it’s bad to enshrine Class-A criminals at Yasukuni Shrine is to turn a blind eye to future troubles,” he added.

    It’s certainly true that Japan didn’t regard many convicted war criminals as actual criminals. It released most (all?) of those who weren’t executed; many promptly reentered public service. One, Nobusuke Kishi, became Prime Minister–though it’s important to remember that he wasn’t one of those tried and convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. BTW, you can read at that last link to get a sense of whether inventive approaches to crime began with the Tribunal and whether it’s future troubles to which someone’s turning a blind eye.

    As you might imagine, others in the government have reacted along predictable lines–namely, “Sh*t! I would just like to distance myself from that particular comment”:

    Referring to Morioka’s remarks, Hosoda said later in the day: “Such remarks should never be made by a member of the government. There were some errors in the judgments, but it’s no use to comment on it. Japan accepted [the tribunal’s decision].”

    Koizumi told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office, “It’s meaningless to take note of his remarks. It’s got nothing to do with my visits [to Yasukuni Shrine].”

    Japan paid the reparations that were demanded of it; the government is absolutely right to maintain that it no longer owes official apologies and official acts of redress. But diplomacy is about establishing, if not trust, at least fellow-feeling. It’s not hard to see why China, the Koreas, and Taiwan, suspect there are key members of the Japanese government with no sense of the enormity of their forebears’ conduct.

    Added at 15:00: Japundit links to a tidbit about this Kyodo poll. It was a telephone poll (heh-heh), so you have to take it FWIW. A few other interesting notes:

    Asked about what the Japanese government has done to work toward improvement of Japan-PRC relations, 50.8% of respondents answered, “I don’t think it’s sufficient,” surpassing by a wide margin the 11.5% who answered, “I think it’s sufficient.”

    Regarding the bill to privatize Japan Post, over which debate has begun in the Diet, 47.4% supported it, and 33.3% opposed it. However, regarding explanations from the Prime Minister of why the privatization plan was necessary, the proportion saying, “I don’t think they’re sufficient,” reached 64.1%; by contrast, the percent responding, “I think they’re sufficient,” was 8.2%, so there are still many who feel that not enough explanation has been offered.

    The rate of support for the cabinet has risen 1.5 points since Kyodo’s April survey to 48.4%, with the percent not supporting the cabinet dropping 1.9 points to 36.4%. Among reasons given for support of the cabinet, the most frequent was “There are no other appropriate people [available]” at 48.7%. The most frequent reason given for withholding support was “Nothing can be expected of its economic policies” at 22.5%.

    There was no obvious direct link to Kyodo’s report of the poll, so it’s hard to tell how much the push for UNSC permanent membership has affected people’s attitudes toward China policy.

    JR West to rethink re-education

    Posted by Sean at 04:45, May 28th, 2005

    JR West, having done some deep thinking, is going to reevaluate its re-education camps…uh, program:

    JR West, after last month’s derailment disaster in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, unveiled the full contents of its new “Plan for Improved Safety” on 28 May. The plan serves as notice to the Ministry of Land, Transport, and Infrastructure what JR West’s fundamental policies regarding safety will be from here on. After a comprehensive review of its reeducation program for drivers “Education for Daily Service,” which is regarded as “punitive,” the company devised a plan the main pillars of which include the generation of consistent internal safety criteria, revision of the qualifications required of those who sit for driver certification exams, and improvements to its packed train schedules.

    Alert readers who know the usual line about Japan may be wondering about that “consistent internal safety criteria” part. Japanese corporate culture is highly regimented and group-oriented–doesn’t JR West (and everyone else) already have a company-wide set of standards? The answer is no: the Nikkei article goes on to state that the company plans to create its first such manual as a result of the accident. People identify very strongly with their companies, but often there’s little horizontal communication within them when doing day-to-day business. Rotations for management trainees expose them to different facets of the operations, but once they start in their designated departments, for example, marketing people may nearly never communicate even with the salespeople in order to coordinate strategies and approaches.

    Policy is often set from the details up. You think about all the little things you have to do and problems that might arise and make rules for dealing with them. What it all adds up to kind of becomes the company’s set of basic principles by default. Of course, this avoids the Dilbert-style inanity of meaningless mission statements foisted on the rank and file by out-of-touch top managers. But it also creates massive duplication of effort and the frequent possibility that critical information may escape the notice of people who would know what to do about it. There’s always the possibility that JR West’s new set of standards will end up turning into nothing but an empty gesture, but if the company seriously rethinks how it trains and supports the people running the trains, it will obviously be a good thing.

    Thish aircraft is ready for departure

    Posted by Sean at 03:39, May 28th, 2005

    It’s something of a dark relief to read that JAL isn’t alone in having some safety concerns recently:

    Eight flight crew members and five of their bosses have been punished after most of them were boozing and partying past the time permitted before they were supposed to be on a domestic flight from Akita to Tokyo, All Nippon Airways said.

    All 13 were given a reprimand of some sort, with the eight actually drinking — the flight captain, a co-pilot, a co-pilot trainee and five flight attendants — served with written warnings. The five others — the bosses of the crewmembers — were verbally reprimanded.

    ANA regulations forbid flight crew members from drinking within 12 hours of their duties, but the group partied on until just 11 hours before the flight.

    Okay, in practice, that’s not so bad. 11 hours is more than enough time to sober back up. For those who don’t know, this gives an indication of how Japanese people put it away:

    The flight captain drank two large jugs of beer and two flasks of sake. Together, the eight members of the flight crew went through two bottles of wine and more than one dozen jugs of beer.

    When the captain returned to his hotel, he realized they had been drinking past the time permitted by company regulations. Early on the morning of May 5, he notified ANA staff in Tokyo and the replacement crew were sent up.

    So the captain adhered to the letter of the law and followed protocol, even though everyone was probably fine to fly. That’s nice to hear, given the way misjudgments by transportation crews have become so prominent in the public mind lately. It’d be even nicer if it were my airline.

    Change is possible

    Posted by Sean at 03:20, May 28th, 2005

    Michael is right: this is why-didn’t-I-think-of-that? hilarious. Love the sinner and hate the sin, I say. And you have to read the FAQ.

    Gurl-on-gyrl action (sort of)

    Posted by Sean at 02:58, May 28th, 2005

    I’ve been summoned to the role of gay big brother more than usual these last few weeks. I’m glad to do it–お互い様でしょう?–but it’s made me more jealous of my time alone and less likely (if you haven’t noticed) to feel like posting.

    I’ve been reading enough to notice that class is one of the topics of the day, though. Virginia Postrel’s advice for one of the people profiled in the final installment in the NYT series on class, who is making plans to go back to college and become a schoolteacher, is good:

    Blevins sounds like a fine man, the kind of person who makes communities–and supermarkets–work. Too bad the Times won’t honor him for his real accomplishments, including finding a demanding career he’s good at. (Most of his buyer colleagues have college degrees.) Instead, he’s portrayed as a victim and the “happy ending” is that he’s going back to college so he can get a job he’s totally unsuited for. A guy who hates school this much doesn’t belong anywhere near a classroom, least of all in front of one.

    She’s right, but it’s interesting how the article raised and then didn’t follow through on one of the more interesting angles here. A lot of working-class people see college as a trade school with more books and more job security waiting when you finish. Merely going to college no longer makes you plummy, given how the economy has evolved; but still, feeling engaged by school is, in many ways, not encouraged.

    My father read to my brother and me from the Bible every night before bed until I was, probably, 15 or so. The church to which we belonged published two monthly magazines with a lot of writing about world affairs (it was big on prophecy), and they were always lying around. Or Mom would be reading one of them while the television was on. Additionally, my Catholic mother and Anglican father married and then converted to an extremely tiny fundamentalist sect; without disrespecting the dead, I think I can say that this sequence of events was met with something less than enthusiasm by key family elders.

    So I was brought up by parents who read when they didn’t have to (if that makes sense) and who were sympathetic to the idea that your parents’ expectations may not be what’s really best for you. They made an effort to become friendly with my teachers and, without being neurotic, kept after me if I got lazy. We also happened to live in a school district in which there was a critical mass of well-off families. The people I was in classes with were talking about MIT and Bucknell and Penn State main campus and Columbia from junior high school on. So were the teachers and guidance counselors.

    By the time I got to college, my experiences had made me much more like the people I was surrounded by than like the people I’d actually grown up with. I don’t mean “experiences” in the sense of having summered on Mackinac or watching Dad casually write a check for $15,000 for that semester’s tuition–those I obviously didn’t have. I mean feeling like part of the progression from high school to competitive college to choice of major to a good job in a major city; I was in on the dance and knew the steps. Barring a financial emergency, it would never have occurred to me to drop out temporarily. You might have a semester when you were bored by most of your classes and feeling hiply disaffected, but you kept going and maybe drank a little more.

    What we’re talking about is an entire vision of the world and where you fit into it. It’s not surprising at all that well-meant preschool initiatives (as the Kay Hymowitz article linked above discusses) and increased attempts by big-guns institutions such as UVA to recruit in poor districts don’t succeed in getting more low-income students to leave college with a degree. If you’re focused solely on the prospect of getting a job and think of learning as nothing but the means to the end, it’s easy to be tempted away by an offer of solid, full-time work that makes you feel you’re doing something. And because Mom and Dad’s constant worrying about money is almost certain to have colored your upbringing a lot, the impulse to start saving now and figure you can come back to college after you have a safe amount stored away is also probably strong.

    Virginia Postrel’s comments reminded me of an article I read last week-ish that made me so angry I nearly started hurling my saucily-patterned throw pillows around. It was by one Cameron Scott, whose unfathomable non-argument in this opinion piece was apparently sufficient to get it into the SF Gate (via Gay News), but who exhibits all the sociological insight of a two-slice toaster and the coherence of my utility drawer.

    The main topic is, actually, an interesting one: why is it that the public presence of gay culture is so weighted toward us boys? Scott points out that lesbians in general earn less than gay men and are, therefore, a less attractive market for investors who want the bars and events they fund to turn a profit. Fair enough.

    Next she asks whether this is the result (1) of choices made by lesbians or (2) of forces beyond their control. The answer is, uh, yes:

    Charity work, bohemianism, working-class culture: These enduring affinities reveal that out lesbianism has long been at odds with middle-class values and income.

    The mutual exclusivity of lesbians and the middle class does not mean that there are no lesbians who get by in the middle-class world. It means that lesbians can become part of public culture only to the extent that they turn away from their own culture. Lesbians as lesbians have virtually no role in public culture.

    Dyke culture’s long-standing opposition to middle-class values is one of its most vital and empowering aspects. But the impossibility of middle-class existence for dykes means that we still have to deal with some aspects of homophobia that have been ameliorated for gay men.

    Economic disempowerment leaves people more open to the blows of discrimination. Middle-class jobs do not tolerate lesbian attitudes or attire because they suggest that the prospective employee is not already a member of the middle class — a sin greater even than private perversion.

    Yes, it’s a good thing the working class exists–otherwise, where would slumming lesbians go for empowerment? (Or maybe I mean disempowerment–am I imagining things, or did she not describe it as both, almost in the same breath?)

    I’ve known plenty of lesbians with formidable management skills who flourish in corporate environments like fish in water, but everyone has her own set of strengths. If someone who was brought up in middle-class surroundings decides she’d rather work with her hands than play the often soul-destroying career game of office politics, great, I say.

    But if you opt for working-class life, you’re going to get the whole thing: money is tight and you worry about it a lot, you come home from work physically worn out, and you have little direct input into the shaping of images in popular culture. You don’t get a pass just because you fancy that your little épater le bourgeois dress-up game of Hard Hat Barbie is a noble gesture of non-conformism. Bitching along the lines of “Can’t I wear the comfy clothes to work and have a job with no staff meetings and make enough money to vacation at a dedicated hotel in South Beach and be a creative consultant on a soon-to-be hit show?” is asinine.

    If you want access to the money and connections that allow your group to raise its issues and work its agenda, you have to demonstrate a basic willingness to do business. That does, indeed, mean dressing up and being nice and putting the project at hand ahead of sexual frankness sometimes when you don’t feel like it.

    Everyone born into this world is limited to a degree by the circumstances of his genes and upbringing. In America, unlike almost everywhere else, decisions about how to build on that foundation are left up to the individual rather than the group. That’s a great and wonderful thing, but it doesn’t mean that trade-offs are unnecessary. Andy Blevins’s views of education may be misguided, but at least he’s taking the right approach: asking how he can improve himself and considering the possibility that he may need to do things he doesn’t like. He’s a far more sympathetic character than Scott, who seems to believe that her coterie’s problems stem from the fact that neither the middle nor the working class sees how cool they are.

    Japanese hostage reported dead

    Posted by Sean at 01:15, May 28th, 2005

    There’s been basically no news of late about the Japanese man taken captive in Iraq a few weeks back. This morning, the Nikkei passes on a report:

    The Iraqi militant group Ansar Sunna, which is believed to have captured Akihiko Saito (44), an employee of a UK-based security company, published sound and video files on its website early this morning that indicate that Saito has been killed. The video includes the corpse of a man who appears Asian and a passport; the Japanese government is hurrying to gather and analyze available information to determine whether the man is Saito.

    The video, just under 4 minutes long, shows a short-haired Asian-looking man lying face up and bleeding from the head. He is wearing a black T-shirt and beige trousers. Explanatory subtitles state in Arabic, “This is a tape of a Japanese who was working as a security manager for the US base at Assad. He was captured in a fierce battle with soldiers of the Jihad. He died of multiple bullet wounds.”

    I assume NHK will have more by evening. Incidentally, the word used to translate jihad here is 聖戦 (seisen: “sacred” + “war”). It’s generic enough to refer to the Crusades as well, but the specific word used for them is usually 十字軍 (juujigun: “cross” + “army”). Because the character for 10 (十) is cruciform, they say “shaped like 10.” 聖 is one of those characters that are applied to native Japanese words in a way that seems to reveal meaning associations from way, way back. The Japanese reading, kiyo, is frequenty found in names and can also be designated by characters such as 清 (“clear [water]”), 淳 (“ingenuous”), 浄 (“pure”), 潔 (“clean”). Ritual purity is the most important element of sacredness in Japan.

    Added on 29 May: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says, “There’s little choice but to say that this is Mr. Saito.”

    I’m in a funky way!

    Posted by Sean at 03:22, May 26th, 2005

    So was there some kind of singing contest on television this week, or something?

    Underwood’s version managed back-handed praise from Paula Abdul. “You sang the song beautifully,” Abdul said. “You hit a couple of not-so-great notes, but who cares?”

    Take it from someone who knows, honeychile.


    Posted by Sean at 23:01, May 24th, 2005

    If you’re wondering what Prime Minister Koizumi meant by that comment about Japan’s opposition parties yesterday, here‘s an example:

    Debate remained stalled in the Diet on 24 May, as the Democratic (DPJ) and Social Democratic (SDP) Parties, both of which opposed the establishment of a special lower house committee on Japan Post reform, failed to consent to the discussion of any bills. The ruling parties plan to begin debate on the Japan Post privatization bill in the lower house plenary session on 26 May whether the opposition parties agree or not. Ruling and opposition parties will open talks between the chairmen of their Diet committees, but there is little hope that they will find a way out of the impasse.

    Koizumi and other higher-ups in the LDP are, of course, taking the opportunity to warn the opposition that the citizenry will not look kindly on this kind of stonewalling. Katsuya Okada of the DPJ has shot back that voters will understand the party’s motivations because the bill does not provide a premise for adequate debate. I would say “here we go again,” but that would imply that we’d had a respite from this at some point.

    …and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia…

    Posted by Sean at 08:45, May 24th, 2005

    The spread of virulent theocracy appears to be well-nigh unstoppable in my home state:

    A Pennsylvania school district violated the free-speech rights of a parent who was prevented from reading the Bible to her son’s kindergarten class, an attorney for the woman said on Monday.

    The parent, Donna Busch, has filed a lawsuit against the Marple Newtown School District near Philadelphia, claiming her constitutional rights were breached when a school principal stopped her reading from the Bible in a class last October.

    Busch, of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, attended her son Wesley’s class as part of “Me Week,” which gave parents an opportunity to read aloud from their child’s favorite book.

    Busch planned to read Psalm No. 118 but was told by the principal the reading would violate the separation of church and state, according to the suit filed earlier this month.

    Yes, letting mothers read Bible chapters alongside Make Way for Ducklings and Where the Wild Things Are is clearly comparable to the institution of a state religion. Dorkwads. Children are left in the care of people with this kind of judgment?

    The school district has defended the principal, saying his actions upheld the law, and its policies forbid the teaching or advocacy of any religion.

    Ed Partridge, president of the school’s board of directors, said Busch would have broken the law if she read the Bible because it would have amounted to a promotion of religion.

    So this mother is the state? I suppose there’s a dark Freudian appeal there, if you go in for that sort of thing. BTW, for those who, like me, are a bit rusty on which Psalm is which number, Psalm 118 is here. It talks a great deal about God’s role as a protector, but there doesn’t seem to be much about it that endorses an identifiable brand of theology over any other. Any little atheist children traumatized by it aren’t likely to fare any better when it’s time to talk about the spirits in Native American religions, or about how wonderful and peaceable Buddhism is.