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    Because East Asia is one big, happy family

    Posted by Sean at 12:23, August 19th, 2004

    So it looks as if the recently announced US troop realignment in Europe and Asia will affect Korea but not Japan. (That second link goes to The Daily Yomiuri, which doesn’t have separate URL’s for each article. It’s the one headlined “Govt Unfazed over Changes,” and I was just lucky that I guessed which changes they were talking about.) Well, apparently, Korea and the US are “consulting” about the proposal to decrease by 12500 the number of armed forces personnel (currently 37000) in Korea and have come to a provisional agreement. The Asahi says that the number of soldiers stationed here may actually increase. The Yomiuri article also contains this comforting passage:

    In the talks, the Japanese side repeatedly emphasized that the most important thing was to maintain the deterrent effect of U.S. forces in the region.

    Even if U.S. forces in East Asia are reduced, a Defense Agency official said, “it’s unlikely the realignment will prompt North Korea to cause a military emergency.”

    But there’s also the PRC to worry about, especially since it’s been making noises again over Taiwan’s attempts to join the UN (or rejoin, since as CNN notes, the Chinese seat was taken from Taiwan and given to the Mao-era mainland in 1971).

    Addendum to 投票 (scattered thoughts)

    Posted by Sean at 12:16, August 18th, 2004

    The title, BTW, means that the post contains scattered thoughts. The compound 投票 doesn’t mean “scattered thoughts.” It means “vote,” literally “cast” + “ballot.”


    Ann Althouse has been writing about her idea of independent political views. She describes the people that partisans are getting impatient with for just being plain dithery when they know they’re going to vote the way they always do anyway, and then says:

    I’m really not one of those people. I’m one of the people whose politics were changed by 9/11. Prior to 9/11, my disagreement with the social conservatives kept me from having much of any interest in Republican presidential candidates. After 9/11, I became quite bonded to George Bush. If I had to vote today, I would vote for Bush, because at this point, I cannot trust Kerry on security matters. Kerry has allowed himself to stand for so many different things, according to what is expedient at the moment. I didn’t buy the strong-on-security pitch of the convention, which I know was aimed at shoring up support from centrists like me. The problem there is that I just don’t believe them. (And I note that I’ve just written “them” and not Kerry. I was going to edit that out, but I’m going to leave it in, because it signifies my queasy feeling that Kerry is a device for returning to power a party that doesn’t stand for much of any of the things that were promoted at the convention.) What would appeal to me from the Republican side, along with a convincing case that they really are competent about the security issues we assume they care more about, would be a more libertarian approach to social issues.

    There certainly are those who seem to get off on calling themselves “independent” because it connotes free-spiritedness, which makes them feel dashing. Others want to cobble together a set of beliefs on policy that feel good to them but aren’t consistent with each other, and they’re too lazy (or fearful of giving up comforting but untenable ideas) to sort them out.

    Personally, I have no objection to being easily categorizable. I don’t want people just presuming without basis that I think this or that, but I don’t think eclecticism is a political value in and of itself. From reading Prof. Althouse, I think I may be somewhat to the right of her on social issues, though she would probably find it easier to be welcomed into the Republican Party if she defected. In any case, I feel much the same about the Presidential candidates and the Democratic Convention as she does. I don’t mind that I don’t agree 100% with either party’s platform; that’s life. I don’t mind that there are people with whom I probably agree on 95% of policy issues who still see me as an enemy because of the gay thing. Well, I mind, but they have as much right not to budge as I do.

    What I mind is the say-anything-to-get-elected-and-start-worrying-about-what-to-do-after-you’re-handed-the-goody-bag mentality. I’m nothing close to a Bush fan, though he’s a very likable kind of guy. It’s hard to buy that all the compromises he makes are actually part of a grand rope-a-dope scheme to triumph over his opponents. I’m also not sent by the designation “man of faith,” though I recognize that sincere religious conviction is often a welcome indicator of non-flakiness.

    Perhaps Kerry would, once installed, be a non-flaky President, too. But at this point, I feel as if voting for Kerry would be buying a pig in a poke.

    [Wait a minute. We don’t talk like that where I grew up….]

    I feel as if voting for Kerry would be an act of faith in and of itself. At least I know what I think Bush does well and badly, and I can be pretty sure we’ll be in decent (not great, but decent) shape when he leaves office. This whole thing–never thought I’d see the day when I said this–is making me nostalgic for the 2000 election.


    Posted by Sean at 11:05, August 18th, 2004

    Okay, a few weeks ago, CNN reported that Democrats Abroad Japan was pulling out all the stops to recruit voters among American expats here. They mentioned–I swear it was mixed in with talking about people who’d come from the States to be celeb draws–that a Terry MacMillan was helping to get out the vote. I assumed it was the novelist who wrote, among others, Waiting to Exhale. Looks as if I spoke too soon; Terri MacMillan is a musician who lives here in Tokyo and is a higher-up with DAJ. I’d seen Terry McMillan (the novelist) interviewed a few times and just thought she’d done an image change, but I was wrong. Sorry about that.

    Since I’m officially registered as a Democrat, and I’m in Japan, I decided to click on a few of the links at the right of the DAJ site. I sent to my county for my absentee ballot yesterday, but I was interested to see what the voter registration sites looked like. The one that most interested me was overseasvote.com. For reasons I can’t quite identify, I was a little unsettled by the exhortations to non-US citizens to encourage their American friends to vote. That doesn’t interfere in any way with the political process, so I’m not sure what the sticking point is.

    It’s probably part of my more general feeling that I’d rather people not vote if they have to be caressed and cooed and cajoled into doing so. I’m not speaking about ethics here, really; I know that it’s DAJ’s job to get as many people to vote Democratic as possible, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what they’re doing. You know, the explanations and FAQ lists and things. (It’s only fair to point out that Republicans Abroad Japan says this on its voter registration page: “RAJ maintains a strictly nonpartisan approach to our voter outreach and registration program. We do not ask Americans seeking to register to vote their party affiliation. Nor do we advocate voting stances on either issues or candidates. We believe that Americans, when allowed to decide for themselves, free of any political pressure, will choose to vote Republican.” It’d be nice if the DAJ site struck that tone, but that’s a quibble.) But one of the pages says something to the effect that most people don’t vote because the process is confusing.

    Oh? I mean, fine, it was a little complicated registering my first time. Those of you who’ve never lived abroad may not have had reason to think about this, but the residency you declare of course affects whose tax laws apply to you. For example, Pennsylvania doesn’t tax you on money earned abroad; you don’t even have to file a return. In other states, you do. We all have to file a federal return–you can run, but you can’t hide–however, you get the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion on everything up to a specified amount. Some people haven’t lived at home for years and are simply unsure where there residence is supposed to be. So there’s kind of a crazy quilt of rules to think about. That’s true enough.

    Still, I’m sorry, it’s not that confusing. If you’re an intelligent person interested in exercising one of his fundamental rights as a US citizen, surely it’s worth the five-minute mental exertion needed to figure out where your official residence at home is. If you Google “united states citizen abroad vote register,” you can refer to pages based at US embassies around the globe that tell you what you need to do and what criteria you can use when you have to make judgment calls. It’s a multi-step but not baffling process. I’m far from the first person to say this, but if you can’t bestir yourself to take an hour or two (for someone who’s lived a very complicated life) to figure out how to vote, I don’t see why anyone should have to come after you.


    Posted by Sean at 22:13, August 17th, 2004

    You know, I still think of myself as a commenter on a handful of my favorite blogs who just happens to have a site of his own, dilettante-like, now. I kind of looked through the features my host had because I wanted to know how to set up e-mail at my domain and stuff. Didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the stats pages. But over the last few days, my host (Verve) changed servers, so the layouts and things are new, and I decided to see what I could see.

    Sakes alive.

    There are actually people reading this. Estimating as well as I can based on the fact that (like me) there are probably quite a few people who click through from different ISP’s at different times of day, it looks as if I may have 100 regulars and change. Never expected that. I mean, of course, if I’d thought I was going to be writing pointless bilge, I wouldn’t have started. But the combination of Japan expat + gay stuff + how-the-world-would-be-better-if-everyone-just-listened-to-me stuff seems to me to be a real niche among niche markets. But I suppose there are 100 people of just about any type you name in the world.

    So anyway, I occasionally write gushy letters of thanks to my favorite bloggers, several of whom do me the honor of visiting here, for providing an American-style forum where you can debate ideas aggressively without people’s taking things personally all the time. Thanks to them again for the links that probably brought most of you here. And thanks to the people who are reading. I have yet to receive a single disrespectful comment or e-mail–lest anyone get any big ideas, I’m not saying that to issue a challenge, though I know I’ll get clobbered eventually, the ‘net being what it is. To my knowledge, no one’s linked to me for the express purpose of talking about what a stupid jerk I am. I’ve been very, very fortunate with the site, as with the rest of my life. Thanks to all.

    The other thing I saw when I looked at my stats page was, of course, the search keyphrases that had led people to the site. There were, apparently, four searches for “sean kinsell,” which means there could be people who know me from “real” life lurking here at this very moment. The one that made me laugh, though, was “how to detect a gay guy?” I’m not infoplease, and I don’t know whether whoever put that phrase in has kept reading here. (I hope it wasn’t Dina McGreevey, although if it was, she shouldn’t still need an answer.) But just in case: If a guy has a pink, purple, and green website with a category labeled “i like men” in two languages, you should assume he’s gay.

    There, don’t say you’ve never learned anything from me.

    And thanks again for reading.

    Japan announces increases in airport security

    Posted by Sean at 21:51, August 15th, 2004

    Narita and Kansai International Airports are talking about tightening up security again. They’re going to create a single intelligence center to deal with information on illegal entrants and, presumably, terrorist suspects. This is a good thing; you wouldn’t expect it in a country with such a highly-developed bureaucracy, but coordination among agencies (and departments with agencies) vertically is not something Japanese organizational structures are strong in. In my experience, the people who work at departures/immigration are very thorough, but I have little trouble believing that the information they work with on actual people is very scattershot. (As a point of reference, there were 8000 people denied entrance at those two airports last year, up 9% from 2002.) Let’s hope the new body devotes itself to addressing the problem and doesn’t get caught up in the cycle of finding new ways to score and spend appropriations.

    BTW, I haven’t really heard anything about the case of the al Qaeda associate they think might have been money laundering and setting up a cell in Niigata last year.

    That’s the way I’ve always heard it should be

    Posted by Sean at 20:18, August 15th, 2004

    The requisite Jonathan Rauch piece about the McGreevey resignation is up at The New York Times. As is frequently the case lately, I agree wholeheartedly with about 80% of what he writes and have reservations about the other 20%. Rauch thinks that the bizarre circumstances surrounding McGreevey’s climactic announcement make the whole thing so weird that it won’t really affect gay advocacy, but he himself can’t resist taking the opportunity to use it to plug for gay marriage. Here’s the middle of the article:

    I coped by struggling for years to suppress every sexual and romantic urge. I convinced myself that I could never love anybody, until the strain of denial became too much to bear.

    Others coped differently. Some threw themselves into rebellion against marriage and the bourgeois norms it seemed to represent. Some, to their credit, built firmly coupled gay lives without the social support and investment that marriage brings. And some, determined to lead “normal” lives (meaning, largely, married lives), married.

    At what point Mr. McGreevey realized and acknowledged he was gay I don’t know. I do know that many gay husbands begin by denying and end by deceiving. Perhaps that was so in his case.

    That’s a nicely even-tempered way of putting it. But given that this is an op-ed, in which opinions and editorializing are expected, is it too much to ask for even a parenthetical acknowledgement that the kind of coping that involves long-term deception is wrong?

    It’s true that we don’t know exactly when McGreevey realized he was a gay American [Cue: Rapturous applause by assembled press corps], but it appears that his sexuality has been pretty much an open secret for at least several years. No human being can make the best decision in every difficult circumstance he ever encounters. But even so, people don’t just wake up one morning, after a lifetime of doing their best to live decently and honorably, to find that they have to deal with two sham marriages, accusations of cronyism and corruption, a possible sexual harassment lawsuit, and a sudden desire to resign as Governor of the ninth-most populous state in the Union. And while I understand that I don’t know first-hand what life was like when the gay men and lesbians now in their 40’s were my age and younger, the fact remains that 1979 was over some time ago. Fags get 365 days in a year just like everyone else; on any one of them before last week, McGreevey could have faced up to reality and started being honest.

    In other words, if the accusations against him are true, McGreevey’s problem is self-centeredness. That’s a character flaw that, to coin a phrase, does not discriminate based on sexual orientation–as the reality of sex and corruption scandals among straight politicians attests. Nevertheless, the craftily self-serving among us gays have learned that they can get sympathy by playing the emotional-upheaval card when their misdeeds catch up with them.

    It’s a poor idea to abet such a maneuver. I think McGreevey’s case makes an excellent argument for being honest with yourself and others, conquering your fears, and coming out of the closet sooner rather than later; it does not help the argument that gays are responsible enough for marriage.

    Note: I guess I should point out that I know the reporters actually at his press conference weren’t applauding; it was apparently the newsroom at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Does Reuters have editors?

    Posted by Sean at 12:58, August 15th, 2004

    Look at this story. The headline says, “Cuba’s Brilliant Ballerinas Wow Dance World.” The spin of the story is that, unlike nasty, evil capitalist countries where people have to pay for dance lessons, Cuba has a national ballet whose grande dame plucks the talented from the streets and turns them, for free, into world-class performers. The article is positively choked with adulatory adjectives to describe Cuba.

    But I’m used to that. What’s funny to me is that all the dancers discussed in the article, except two, are men who talk about how Cuba’s tradition of virility in dance has helped them in their art. Aren’t they ballet dancers instead of ballerinas?

    A place at the table

    Posted by Sean at 12:15, August 15th, 2004

    Colin Powell follows Richard Armitage’s remarks last month:

    “We understand the importance of Article 9 to the Japanese people and why it’s in your Constitution,” he said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun and other Japanese media representatives here.

    “But at the same time, if Japan is going to play a full role on the world stage and become a full active participating member of the Security Council and have the kinds of obligations that it would pick up as a (council) member, then Article 9 would have to be examined in that light.”

    Powell added, however, the decision is “absolutely, entirely up to the Japanese people to decide because it is in your Constitution, and the United States would never presume to offer an opinion.”

    I don’t know. That sounds like an opinion to me. It’s not an order, perhaps, but it’s a pretty clear recommendation. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with that. Renouncing aggression, by a country that had just tried to take over half the neighboring continent and had a known history of belligerence, was a good thing for the post-War constitution. At that point, Japan’s job was to take its place among free societies.

    Of course, we want any free society to be committed, as Prime Minister Koizumi said at his war commemoration speech last week, to a world without war. But times have changed. Japan is rich and influential and is a possible target for terrorists. The US is still its protector, but we may be planning to shift forces out of Asia. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong have become the Tiger Economies (and the former two have democratized, while the last remains freer than the Chinese mainland). And the PRC has awakened from its Mao-era economic disasters and is showing renewed geopolitical ambitions.

    You know, it’s funny. When you live in Japan, this little row of rocks at the edge of the Pacific, you suddenly realize that China is a VERY LARGE country. From the viewpoint of the US, China is an ocean away. It’s big, but we’re big, too. We do have a neighbor of larger land area to the north, sure, but Canada has always been an ally and has a very low comparative population. When looking at a globe or map means reflexively putting that “You are here” sign in Tokyo, South Korea and Japan start to look like morsels being dangled in front of the Red Chinese. (And I mean right in front, since most of China’s power centers are in its east-central region.)

    Yes, I’m overdramatizing–and I’m leaving out the even larger Russia, though the farawayness of Moscow and St. Petersburg and the vast wilderness of Siberia make it seem less psychologically threatening–but the point remains. It’s all very well for Japan to resolve that it won’t just up and start wars to take over more territory…I’m sorry…to liberate Asians from their Western oppressors, just because it’s feeling neighborly. It’s another thing to say that “self-defense” is practicable if Japan is always going to wait until existing conflicts actually arrive on its shores.

    It’s nice for Japan’s UN delegation to keep submitting nuclear disarmament resolutions, but surely it hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that the PRC and North Korea were among the abstainers when last year’s model came to a vote. I think we could all “express concern about the existence of a black market in nuclear weapons technology,” but now that it exists, something with a bit more teeth than “concern” will be needed to deal with it.

    (BTW, I know I’ve said this a billion times, but I never, ever get used to the fact that North Korea is allowed to be a member of the UN.)

    Clear we-had-to-do-it combat to protect citizens or infrastructure will probably always be hard to distinguish perfectly from the use of defense issues as a smokescreen for securing access to strategic resources. But officially remaining a sitting duck–even if, as most analysts seem to believe, Japan has been for years quietly developing the ability to project force outside the archipelago–may be erring excessively in the direction of avoiding the appearance of evil. The structure of the UN Security Council is decades out of date, but as long as it exists, it would be wise for Japan to position itself for permanent membership.

    We love our lovin’ / But not like we love our freedom

    Posted by Sean at 15:43, August 13th, 2004

    Classical Values did comment on the McGreevey thing, including the gay angle, overnight:

    Tell me about my generation! I am three years older than McGreevey, I came of age in the 1970s.

    The 1970s, folks! Free love, wild parties, orgying, and coming out of the closet.

    Well, that needs to be qualified some. My parents were born in 1948 and 1951, and while they listened to psychedelic rock and played in cover bands after high school (that’s how they met), they and their friends weren’t orgying. The cultural eras called the ’60’s and ’70’s certainly happened, but they didn’t happen equally everywhere in America.

    Still and all, it sure is interesting that, until this week, McGreevey’s choices in dealing with his “lifelong turmoil” always just happened to come down on the side of preserving his access to power and money. Even in small towns and conservative religious families, there are self-aware, self-critical people who are willing to come out and take the hit for it–before they end up with a line of spouses, children, conniving lovers, and shady wheeler-dealers to cope with when they’re pushing 50.

    Gray areas

    Posted by Sean at 11:26, August 12th, 2004

    When you live in Tokyo, you’re the first to find out when there’s an accident at a Japanese nuclear facility and the last to find out when the Governor of New Jersey comes out and announces his resignation.

    Every gay guy linked to the left of this page, along with many others besides, has offered an opinion (well, not Eric at Classical Values, though I’d be interested to hear what he thinks). I think the one I agree with most is Agenda Bender, who wants to restore sexual purity and discretion to the Governorship of New Jersey by taking it over himself. I’ll campaign for him.

    But seriously, looking at the transcript of the speech, I worry:

    I am also here today because, shamefully, I engaged in adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony. It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable.

    And for this, I ask the forgiveness and the grace of my wife.

    Discount Blogger says that yesterday’s press conference may, not surprisingly, be a defensive move against coming charges of misconduct in office. We don’t know yet. But just taking what the Governor said at face value, I have to wonder at some people’s reactions. I don’t see how McGreevey’s speech can be construed as saying that gays are unfit for office. I also don’t think that the pressure to be closeted, which I detest as much as any out homosexual, can be summarily blamed (though Right Side of the Rainbow does imply that McGreevey made a bad choice in a bad situation).

    One of the arguments most gay marriage advocates use is that it would help keep gay guys from screwing around on their partners. McGreevey–looking at the content of his speech and leaving aside his sincerity, which we can’t assess–believes that it was wrong to break his vows and screw around on his partner. Shouldn’t people who think gay and straight relationships should be taken equally seriously be paying attention to that part, too?

    Given what he says about the pain caused to his wife, it does not appear that she was the sort who agrees to look the other way while her husband picks up a guy every few weeks to keep the jones from driving him crazy. Pointing out that, in a better world, none of this would have had to happen…that’s fine. But McGreevey accepted responsibility for a marriage and child, and he wants to avoid piling public scandal on top of private upheaval. If he believes that’s more important than proving that out gay men can be respectable politicians, I have a hard time thinking ill of him for it. We’ll see what happens.