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    Idle question

    Posted by Sean at 14:10, November 18th, 2004

    Where are all these people searching for “white peril” coming from? Did the History Channel run a special about colonialism in East Asia, or something? Did some OSU professor with an intro-level lecture class of 500 assign a paper about China’s and Japan’s encounters with Westernization? I’m not hubristical enough to think they’re all looking for this site.

    Okay, you caught me. I’m hubristical enough–but I’m not deluded. And in any case, you can’t complain when people are blundering into your site by putting its title into a search engine…especially when (as anyone else with a blog can tell you) some of the searches you find in your referral logs make you feel you need a shower followed by an alcohol bath followed by irradiation. I’m no prude, but I’m positively grateful to the sicko contingent for having, so far this month, limited itself to the relatively benign “chikan videos groping.”

    Japanese headlines

    Posted by Sean at 12:01, November 17th, 2004

    Some updates on news items I usually post about when there are new developments.

    First, yet another of the world’s inexhaustible supply of expert panels making contributions to the obvious has…well, made a contribution to the obvious: namely, if a major earthquake hit Tokyo, there could be catastrophic damage. This particular shocker was dispensed to us through an NHK special last night that was nowhere near as cool as the one they broadcast a few years ago. As always, the predictions are carefully qualified because the amount of damage would depend not just on the Richter scale magnitude (total energy release) but also on how deep underground the focus is, which affects how bad the shaking is at the surface. The special this time around featured man-on-the-street interviews of people explaining what most frightened them about a potential earthquake. Is it the possibility of being trapped on the subway? Being trampled by panicky mobs of citizens? Being tossed around like clothes in a Speed Queen if you’re on one of the upper floors of a skyscraper? It was, in a strange way, comfortingly ghoulish.


    The draft of the proposed constitutional amendment, designed to allow Japan to participate with allies in collective self-defense operations, has been completed by the ruling coalition’s committee. It explicitly renounces nuclear arming (not a few people think Japan has quietly developed nukes already). That’s actually not the only amendment up for debate. There’s to be change in the way the Emperor’s position is to be articulated, and there are a few individual rights made explicit. Japanese accounts don’t seem to have good quotations from the proposal, but FWIW, the Nikkei’s most recent report is here.

    And for those of us who came of age in the ’80’s, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone has endorsed the idea of a revision–he was a friend of Reagan at the end of the Cold War, so this is not a surprise–and has his own, slightly different proposal from the committee’s.


    The Koizumi administration has gotten some hold-outs among the ministries on board for its subsidy-reduction plan. Education and welfare seem to be the remaining major points of contention.


    Oh, and I can’t believe I neglected to say anything about this Monday–Atsushi e-mailed me about it the moment he saw the news report: Japan’s ranking eligible bachelorette is engaged. Princess Sayako, daughter of the current emperor and empress, and sister of the crown prince, is 35. The media have been trying to put a polite mask over everyone’s complete and utter disbelief, but it’s not working too well.

    The circle will come around / You’re gonna put yourself / In my place

    Posted by Sean at 04:16, November 16th, 2004

    Mrs. du Toit asked a question in a comment the other day:

    [Jim McGreevey] cheated on his wife, committed fraud against the people he took an oath to protect and represent, lied about the lover because he was going to blow the whistle on him (making him the scapegoat for his fraud), and I’m supposed to be happy for the guy because he “came out”?

    The question was rhetorical, but a friend (who has to remain nameless) obligingly sent a message that constitutes a reply, anyway:

    The McGreevey mess illustrates classic tribalism at work. He is GAY, so he must be GOOD. The fact that he offends people (not necessarily because he’s gay) gives him that kewl countercultural cachet that is a must for an icon.

    Well, that’s not the only issue, at least for the gay press. Coming out–being a private decision that, when added to those of others, can have a cumulative public effect–is an ethically thorny subject. The attempt to understand why other gays live differently is laudable, but it often devolves into the making of ethical allowances the same commentator wouldn’t under other circumstances.

    It’s all very well to point out that the social changes of the last three decades were not in effect when men and women who are now around 50 and over were coming of age. Anyone who remembers how to subtract is aware of that. But an important component of personal liberty is self-criticism and self-awareness. It would be nice to see it also pointed out, occasionally, that gay liberation did not happen on some planet that guys like McGreevey haven’t traveled to.

    I don’t fault people who believe their homosexuality is sinful, and try not to act on it, for keeping it hidden. Nor do I think there’s anything wrong with being gay but thinking your sexuality is your own private business and not something you discuss. It’s safe to say, however, that people who think in those ways are not the ones who end up coming out in front of a press conference and expecting everyone to read it as bravery.

    And while I’m on the subject of coming-out-related lameness: another group that routinely drives me around the bend is the “I would come out to my parents if only…” crowd. These are not people who are on the fence about their sexuality. These are not people who have fathers who threatened to get out the shotgun if one of their sons turned out to be a faggot. These are not people who have mothers who are dying of cancer and can’t take any shocks. These are people who know they’re gay, who never have any intention of being anything but gay, and who take advantage of all the conveniences of urban gay life.

    Trust me–it’s not as if I were the type to ask whether and why someone isn’t out to his parents. It’s not any of my business. But if you’re going to volunteer that you’re still closeted and justify it with some face-saving rationalization, try to choose one that actually saves face for you. Hint: “See, my parents still give me some of the money I live on, and I’m afraid they’ll cut me off if they find out I’m gay” does not save face for you. My primarily straight readership may be interested to know that I hear that one constantly, from people around or even over my age, in complete expectation that I’ll be all understanding.

    Well, sorry. Just as being perpetually broke and living on your friends’ couches makes you charmingly raffish at 20 and a loser at 50–even though there’s no single point on the gradient in between when you clearly stop being one and start being the other–not coming out is perfectly understandable when you’ve only known you’re gay for a few years and ridiculous when you’ve known you’re gay for a decade. Once again, I’m not talking about those who treat their sexuality, consistently in word and deed, as a private matter. I’m talking about the ones who bitch about how our activists are handling the marriage issue, who complain about places where domestic partner benefits are lacking, and who expect friends to recognize their relationships. These are people who clearly think they should be out but also want to wait until it’s risk-free.

    “But,” I’m sometimes told, “it’s easy for you, because your parents are understanding.” Uh, yeah, and do you know how I found out my parents are understanding? By coming out at 23 and dealing with the consequences. I was actually close to 100% convinced that they’d disown me–not because they’re nasty but because they’re strictly religious, and I assumed they’d feel obliged not to countenance a way of life they thought was a sin. No longer getting them to supplement my grad school stipend was not the thing I was most worried about, but it did cross my mind. My plan if they withdrew their support, which I persist in thinking was rather clever, was to spend less money.*

    Getting back to the McGreevey case, it’s possible that his wife decided that, while their daughter needs her father around, she herself doesn’t want to be married to a man who isn’t bonded to her as she thought he was. It doesn’t strike me as the most likely of the possible scenarios, but it’s not unlikely, either. In any case, people who are initially sorry only about getting caught often do, if they have a conscience, learn to be genuinely remorseful about what they’ve done to themselves and those around them. (Screwing over an entire state of 10 million people is, of course, in a very special class of doings.) Putting McGreevey in a position of giving other people guidance seems to me not to be getting the order quite right, though.

    * I suppose a truly honest account here would include the information that I didn’t manage my credit cards so hot while I was in my mid-20’s, but I paid everything off in a few years and don’t carry any debt now besides a little left on my student loans.

    Will a little more love make *you* start depending?

    Posted by Sean at 20:01, November 12th, 2004

    Darn. Two interesting comments (one about the remilitarization of Japan, and the other, by e-mail, about how tribalism makes gay public figures close ranks to help out scumbags) in a single day, and I can’t respond. I mean, I have the time, but all my mental energy is absorbed by work. I’ve been listening to Olivia’s Greatest Hits, Volume 2 for what must be…jeez…a week and a half? And that’s it. Olivia on Repeat All, because I’m in a groove that has to keep running for a few days. I’ve hardly been hearing what’s playing into my ears, anyway. (Well, I did catch myself squaring my shoulders and giving the come-hither smirk at my monitor while mouthing along to “Make a Move on Me” once.) In fact, I haven’t even remembered to press Skip when “Xanadu” comes on. And I always remember to skip “Xanadu” because I HATE THAT SONG.

    Anyway, I’ll be back to normal in a few days. Isn’t it great that Arafat’s still dead?

    SDF deployment to be extended

    Posted by Sean at 03:26, November 11th, 2004

    The deployment of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces in a non-combat capacity in Iraq will be extended. The New Komei Party, which is the LDP’s partner in the ruling coalition, is pacifist and balked for a while at approving the extension; things haven’t gotten any easier since the hostage was beheaded. Things were resolved earlier this week, but the posting of the English summary at the Yomiuri is nice to see on Veteran’s Day.

    I’m through with the past / Ain’t no point in looking back

    Posted by Sean at 02:47, November 11th, 2004

    Fan-fricking-tastic. Jim McGreevey, no longer governor of New Jersey, is being courted by gay advocacy groups. And why not? All that alleged bad behavior was months ago:

    Michael Adams, spokesman for the gay civil rights group Lambda Legal, said McGreevey’s tarnished 35-month tenure would not taint his star power within the gay populace or among other special interest groups. “The reality is, we’re a country that believes in rebirth and people moving beyond prior mistakes,” Adams said. “Any community would look to ‘What kind of contribution are you willing and able to make moving forward?’ not ‘What have you done previously?'”

    The writer of the Advocate piece is only too happy to let bygones be bygones, too:

    Some personal concerns are on McGreevey’s upcoming short list: tending to his ill parents, helping his wife and daughter move into their new house in Springfield while he takes up residence in Rahway, and taking a little time off. “A lot of healing has to go on in that family,” said Lesniak. “They want to use this to get closer as a family, not farther apart. There was a barrier before because of the governor’s denial of his sexuality.”

    As a Georgetown-educated lawyer with a master’s in education from Harvard, McGreevey has an enviable educational pedigree. But he also comes from a modest background–his father was a Marine drill sergeant, and his mother a nurse–so whatever he winds up doing, “he has to earn a living,” said Lesniak. “The governor has never thought much of his economic welfare and he’s not a flashy guy, so it’s not high on his priority list. But it has to be a consideration.”

    Mom was in one of the caring professions! Dad was a man in uniform! Jim and Dina are moving into separate houses to draw closer as a family! And Sean is about to ram chopsticks into his ears and swirl them around to take the edge off the pain of reading this crap.

    I mean, am I just imagining this, or is McGreevey accused of corruption? Did he or did he not have some guy he thought was a hottie in charge of anti-terrorist policy for a state with a population of 10 million, when the man wasn’t a citizen and didn’t have any security clearance? I’m glad McGreevey’s finally being honest with himself, and if his family’s willing to stick by him and make an arrangement that accommodates everyone as much as is possible, I think that’s great. But gay advocacy is a public responsibility. Not as weighty as a governorship, no, but a duty to serve the interests of others nonetheless. It does not need another self-serving blame-shifter.

    BTW, every link to “First Person” commentary on the front page of the Advocate site goes to some wanker piece about post-election depression. Has to be seen to be believed, but you can be excused for not bothering.

    Someone tell Susanna–the press can be biased!

    Posted by Sean at 22:51, November 10th, 2004

    Via NichiNichi, a link to an article by Rebecca MacKinnon, former CNN Tokyo Bureau Chief. It’s actually worth going to the Daily Kos to read it, if you’re interested in problems with international journalism. It’s long, and most of the points are familiar to those who’ve listened to reporters complain for the last several years. But she gives the impression of genuinely trying to be fair-minded.

    The problem is…well, here’s how she begins:

    In November 2003, I had the rare opportunity to interview Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for CNN. The interview came at an important time as Japan wrestled with the question of whether to send non-combat Self-Defense Force troops to Iraq. … The potential dispatch was also considered to be a political gamble for Prime Minister Koizumi – given that public opinion polls showed a majority of Japanese were against sending troops at that time. Thus, not surprisingly, most of my 30-minute interview with Koizumi dealt with the Iraq question. … He believed that Japan must stand behind the United States against terrorism because this was simply the right thing to do, whatever his critics might say. It was a matter of good versus evil. However, he did have some constructive criticism for Bush: Koizumi hoped that the U.S. would cooperate more closely with the United Nations and do more to build consensus within the international community.

    I remember the interview she’s talking about. Not word for word, obviously, but she’s right that it did get a lot of (justifiable) attention, and that it didn’t show Bush in what you’d think of as a bad light. The upshot is that not even one soundbite was aired on CNN USA. Her explanation for why American viewers didn’t get to see it:

    As it turned out, the morning (according to U.S. East Coast time) that we sent in our Koizumi interview happened to be a very busy “news morning” for the CNN USA morning shows. There was CNN’s first interview with Private Jessica Lynch, the young woman who had been captured by Iraqi soldiers during the war and then rescued. There was also an exclusive interview with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and updates on the Michael Jackson Trial. I was told that while the International Assignment Desk editors had lobbied CNN USA show producers to include soundbites from Koizumi’s interview in their programs, in the end the producers claimed they simply did not have room in their shows that morning to run even one Koizumi soundbite. Later in the day, there was major news in the U.S. about a court ruling on gay marriage, which “blew out” most other stories from the evening programming lineup. Thus Koizumi’s words were not heard in the U.S.

    (We queers just can’t help causing trouble, can we?) As it happens, I agree very much that Koizumi’s contribution to the WOT has been underreported in the American press and is probably, as a consequence, undervalued by many Americans who support it. Yes, part of that is that I live in Japan, so Japanese news has more “felt” importance for me than it does for other Americans. But I think I can distinguish between a pronouncement by Koizumi on the WOT and, say, Matsuda Seiko’s latest, pathetic Madonna-like lunge back toward the spotlight.

    But there are other things to consider. For one thing, CNN has a website. Was the interview posted there? MacKinnon doesn’t say. For another, CNN declined to run her interview on that particular day. It’s galling that she and Koizumi were dissed in favor of Michael Jackson, but did CNN consistently fail to give play to the fact that Koizumi’s support for Bush’s policies was given in the face of a lot of public opposition? At the time, I was watching CNN International with the rest of Japan, so I don’t know. We sure as hell hear about it here, but then, we would, wouldn’t we?

    That brings me to another point. MacKinnon writes:

    This is the case for viewers everywhere – be they American, Middle Eastern, South African, or Japanese. Based on my interactions with Japanese commercial broadcasters, I know that they are under the same kind of budget pressures and competitive pressures to boost viewership ratings as American broadcasters are. As a result, international news reports focus on what producers believe will keep Japanese audiences watching – which means that like in the U.S., many of the important but “boring” or complicated stories get passed over. Of course, public broadcaster NHK has a different mandate which includes extensive international news coverage. However I have been told by several reporters at NHK that they frequently encounter situations in which producers and assignment editors have been unwilling to contradict majority public opinion or sentiment in Japan. This has been particularly true on stories related to North Korea and to the Japanese citizens who were taken hostage in Iraq earlier this year.

    This puts the lie to the Kos poster’s take on MacKinnon’s piece, which naturally is that news reporting must be removed from profit-seeking. It’s an open secret in Japan that the major media have to curry favor with the government. They have to watch themselves around the unelected bureaucrats more than around the members of the Diet, it is true; but to the extent that legislators have pull, they tend to pull in the direction of pleasing their constituents. That’s their job, after all. NHK is in that bind even more than other organizations. When you’re publicly funded, the government has more direct ways to…you know, incentivize you.
    What’s the solution? MacKinnon has it, in my opinion, though her dark tone indicates that she thinks it’s hypothetical rather than actually working:

    Before we leap to moral judgments or condemnations, we must be realistic. In truth, it is unrealistic to expect commercially-driven TV news companies to do anything other than to seek profit maximization – while at the same time selling a product that can still be defined as “news” in some way. The search for profit maximization means that these companies will shape their news to fit the tastes and values of the majority of their most lucrative potential audience. Citizens of democracies who want to be well informed must understand this. They cannot expect to be passive consumers of whatever news comes their way from a name-brand news source. They must question, contrast, and compare. They must demand better quality information.

    Well, okay, MacKinnon only has part of the solution.
    The part she doesn’t have is: Get national governments out of the business of running their citizens’ lives down to every last detail. It’s hard to be an informed citizen when understanding how Washington or Tokyo is micromanaging you requires you to be conversant with everything from education theory to the approval processes for pharmaceuticals. I’m all for intellectual curiosity, but I’d prefer to expend a bit less on figuring out which decisions have been premade for me and how. I don’t know that shrinking government would make people less interested in junk news about pop stars, but it would certainly decrease the number of government pronouncements competing for airing.
    The part she has down is that citizens have to demand better information. Sure. But aren’t we? The instances MacKinnon points to are genuinely disturbing if taken at face value–and I see no reason not to. But are there major stories that simply aren’t available at all for those of us in Western countries with access to cable television, Internet connections, and publications?
    In the process of dealing with the question of whether the news networks are being honest when they package themselves as balanced news sources, she doesn’t seem to register that it’s possible to work around them, and that people are doing so. I subscribe to the Nikkei and watch NHK, but I also read three of the other major Japanese newspapers on-line, have CNNj, and can look at link-based blogs like Instapundit if I want to be pointed in the direction of things I might have missed. I mean, I know you all know that, or else you wouldn’t be reading this page. But MacKinnon, who makes noises about wanting people to go to a multiplicity of sources for their news, in the end seems to think that CNN’s arbitrary selection of what to broadcast is a Major Problem that most people are dangerously unaware of. It’s baffling.

    Japanese guardedly back Koizumi in hostage crisis

    Posted by Sean at 14:55, November 7th, 2004

    The Mainichi reports that a new poll shows support for the Koizumi administration’s decision to stand firm on its Iraq policy in the face of the abduction of Shosei Koda last month:

    A total of 57 percent of the 1,095 pollees said they supported the government’s stance, even though Iraqi militants murdered Japanese national Shosei Koda after they threatened to kill him unless Japan withdraw the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) from Iraq.

    Only 24 percent said they didn’t back the government’s decision to maintain SDF reconstruction activities in Iraq.

    However, the poll also found that a majority, 51 percent, wanted Japan to withdraw the SDF from Iraq when its deployment expires on Dec. 14. Only 27 percent said the government should extend the dispatch of the SDF.

    That sounds about right to me. The Japanese love their country and don’t take well to seeing it treated contemptuously by foreigners. They are also big on stoically fulfilling your duty to your in-group–the Japanese may no longer be used to actual war, but they’ve retained that aspect of their famed warrior culture. Most people, I think, recognize that the US is part of Japan’s in-group in geopolitical terms, even if they wish Koizumi weren’t quite so willing to back Bush’s policies with SDF personnel. On the other hand, this makes sense also:

    The poll, carried out over the weekend, shows that the percentage of those who are in support of the government’s stance to refuse a request of SDF withdrawal dropped slightly, compared to April, when other militants demanded the troops leave after kidnapping three Japanese people.

    This drop in the percentage of people in support of the government’s stance is apparently attributable to the shocking murder of Koda.

    The Japanese frequently fall into the same trap the Americans do: because they sell goods and give out aid and send tourist money to everyone else, they don’t understand why anyone would resent them. (In more Japan-specific terms, a shocking number of people simply cannot fathom why ill-will over World War II continues to the present day; that was a long time ago, the thinking goes, and we’ve been building factories in your country and employing your people for decades since then. Besides, we can’t attack anyone again–it’s in the constitution.)

    BTW, there’s been yet another aftershock in Niigata. (We felt it here pretty strongly; I was worried it might have been a good 6 somewhere else.) This one was 5 on the JMA scale and seems to have caused a few landslides, with injuries but luckily no deaths.


    Posted by Sean at 22:16, November 6th, 2004

    I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my very favorite Virginia Postrel columns, written after the 1998 midterm elections, this past week. See whether you can guess why:

    I told you so. The party that hates America will lose. The party that imagines no positive future, offers no “vision thing,” will lose. The party that thinks it is better than the American people, that makes large segments of the voting public believe they are its enemy, that convinces people it wants the government to boss them around and destroy the things they love, will lose.

    On November 3, that party was Republican. The GOP went down to humiliating defeat, losing close race after close race, plus many that weren’t supposed to be close. The party lost its solid grip on the South and collapsed in California. It managed to lose seats in the House, an extraordinary result that even Democratic pundits failed to predict.

    And it deserved to lose. Republicans sold out their economic base…and ran as the party of scolds, pork, and gloom. No wonder their voters stayed home.

    Sound familiar? The Republicans clearly got the message eventually, which is one of the reasons I think that, despite the hysterical immediate reaction, the Democrats will also. The biggest problem I can see is that the Democrats can’t seem to bring themselves to drop the far-left wackos, presumably out of a lingering belief that loudmouthed dissent is somehow in and of itself heroic, populist, and sexy. But they lost big last week, and I hope the shock gets them thinking more pragmatically.

    Suzuki’s new perch

    Posted by Sean at 16:55, November 6th, 2004

    Muneo Suzuki, possibly the single most corrupt politician in this entire archipelago, has been sentenced to two years in prison. When he was first arrested, it was a blow to the credibility of the Koizumi administration. Suzuki did his power-brokering and cronyist bid-rigging for the LDP, the ruling party, and Koizumi’s platform had promised reform and a break with politics as usual.

    BTW, while I was looking for a link that might summarize the many and varied crimes of which Suzuki has been accused (this is as good as any, though it doesn’t date all the way back to when the scandal started cooking), Google came up with this tidbit: He was a featured speaker on political ethics at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan this spring! Yes, I know, they wouldn’t have been able to get him to talk if they’d openly planned to be adversarial, but still.