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    Posted by Sean at 04:26, August 3rd, 2004

    Tama Starr has a new article up at Reason about the latest of her hilarious adventures in trying to be an old-school, straight-shooting business owner who gets and retains contracts by, you know, doing good work and being answerable to clients. As you can imagine, she meets adversity at every turn. But she has a great sense of humor about it.

    Something that made me laugh, in particular, about this piece:

    A bank

    The day in headlines (short version)

    Posted by Sean at 21:04, August 1st, 2004

    Possibly my favorite recent economy-related headline: 7月のビール・発泡酒販売、猛暑効果で前年比1割増 (Beer, Other Effervescent Alcoholic Beverages Effective for Dealing with Severe Heat; Sales Rise 10%). Asahi seems to have seen the highest increase when beer alone is considered; teetotalers may be reassured to know that people are also snapping up iced green tea.

    On the other hand, this headline is from the tell-us-something-we-don’t-know department: Ministry: Staff Took Kickbacks. Well, okay, we didn’t know the specific ministry, agency, or amount:

    Probe shows 180 million yen was pocketed from payments for checking official documents.

    Thirty health ministry employees socked away 180 million yen in public money for department parties, late night cabs and personal use, say sources close to an in-house investigation.

    The federal bureaucracy here doesn’t attract fundamentally amoral people. But there is, built right into the system, an expectation that top graduates of the elite schools will take lower salaries than they would in the private sector in exchange for perks and, after retirement, the revolving door to a cushy job at one of the semi-public companies that oversee a lot of industries here. The deeply ingrained culture of patronage makes the line between being good to the people you deal with and outright corruption very difficult to draw. I’m pretty sure you can draw it somewhere before 180 million yen (US $1.6 million), though.

    No pride at all–that’s a luxury a woman in love can’t afford

    Posted by Sean at 15:54, August 1st, 2004

    So I finally decided that, rather than clicking through to half the sites I read from Dean Esmay’s page, I may as well take the trouble to update my link list so I can actually get other places from here. Of course, the operation was fraught with hazard. Have I mentioned lately how much I detest default smart quotes? I forgot that Word has that particular annoying feature, so of course, when I hand-coded the links in a Word document and then cut and pasted into my site, MT was like, WTF is that junk in your href tags? Sigh. You’d think, as someone who’s spent his whole working life negotiating between word processing and DTP programs in English and Japanese, I’d remember how that little stuff can screw up your life. These two-byte characters are going to drive me to drink.

    Or maybe there’s hope. In the course of getting my links together, I was reminded of this report on IGF that Teresa Heinz Kerry…well, here’s the citation from The Washington Blade:

    Heinz Kerry appeared to mix policy issues with motherly love, drawing repeated shouts of appreciation from both lesbians and gay male delegates. She told of how she was moved at a campaign appearance a few months ago in Washington state, when a man told her in a question and answer session that his relationship with his mother was strained and told her, “I want you to be my mother.”

    “It was clear that he had not made that peace with his mother and he wanted someone who loved him,” Heinz Kerry said. “And so, at least, if nothing else, you’ll have a mom in the White House,” she told the crowd. Added Heinz Kerry, “You can call me Mama T.”

    That remark prompted the gay delegates to jump to their feet while chanting, “Mama T!”

    Cool! I know what let’s do. Let’s have La Ketchup address each of us as “Little Mary,” which not only has a reassuring ring of protectiveness but is also the name of Virginia Weidler’s character in The Women! Doesn’t get much gayer than that.

    Cheese and crackers. I normally think the word codependent an especially annoying neologism, but I can’t think of anything better to describe a room full of grown men and women who are begging to be patronized and a woman who’s only too glad to win their affection by doing it. Time to find a new shrink, ladies.

    (You, too, Mrs. K. Mama T.)

    Gravy as food and metaphor

    Posted by Sean at 17:31, July 31st, 2004

    There isn’t a chance in the world that anyone reading this site doesn’t also check Samizdata frequently, but for those who haven’t seen it, there’s a great post up about what has become one of my least favorite subjects. While I’m watching Columbo and trying to decide whether lunch will be broiled chicken with way too much pan gravy or chicken paprikash (sp.? I’ve only heard my Polish-American great aunts say it) with way too much sour cream, I’ll add just a few comments to what David Carr wrote.

    He’s talking about British, not American, law; but I think that what he says about the relationships among custom, law, and behavior applies States-side, also. In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes the gay marriage proponents have made is insisting on limiting to homosexual couples the extensions of benefits. Domestic partner benefits, hospital visitation rights, and the use of enduring power of attorney are certainly issues that affect our relationships; however, we aren’t the only unmarried people who may need to think about them. If two relatives or lifelong friends want to take responsibility for each other’s welfare and are willing to do so officially and exclusively…well, why shouldn’t they be able to, using much the same argument we use in favor of benefits for gays? Some people have crazy next-of-kin whom they can’t trust when wide awake, much less while comatose. Others have simply formed bonds in their adult lives with people who would more respect their wishes than their blood relatives. As long as the content of the contract is clear, why not push to bundle these things into the kind of civil union in which who sleeps in which bed isn’t an issue?

    When this point is raised by critics, those arguing for gay marriage say that if anyone and everyone can randomly assign a domestic partner at will, things will get so chaotic that no one will be able to keep track of who gets what (more chaotic than our current era of no-fault divorce and no-father childrearing?). Or they bring up love and commitment, which I hadn’t been aware was impossible between distant cousins sharing a non-romantic household.

    I understand the emotional issue here. When people ask why gay couples should qualify for benefits that roommates don’t, many of them–not all, but many–are not-so-slyly taking the opportunity to dismiss our relationships as meaningless. That’s nasty, and it hurts, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have a policy point.

    Or a point about human nature. I believe that most of those on our team sincerely don’t want to force people to approve of our relationships in the sense of going out of their way to be congratulatory–that they just don’t want us to be prevented from providing for each other when we most need it. But forcing people to bracket together recognition of, say, hospital visitation rights and gay partnerships moves the issue into muddy territory in which even good-hearted people will feel as if they’re being shaken down for sympathy. That’s neither a logical nor emotionally astute way to get people on your side.


    Posted by Sean at 12:25, July 30th, 2004

    One of the guys at worked asked why, given how willing I am to spout off about politics, I wasn’t watching the pageantry at the DNC. This from Kerry’s acceptance speech is part of the reason:

    Before wrapping themselves in the flag and shutting their eyes and ears to the truth, they should remember what America is really all about.

    Please tell me he didn’t actually say that?

    Are we dancing now?

    Posted by Sean at 14:49, July 29th, 2004

    Meaty Fly (who’s commented on a few posts below and will presumably be another reader who can tell me when I mangle my translations from Japanese) has this post about Sino-Japanese relations and how their development affects US interests. He (I assume) quotes several Japanese news sources to make the following point, specifically with regard to a proposed natural gas pipeline but also with wider implications. I’ve left out the links in his original post:

    The United States is the world’s biggest oil consumer; China is in second place and rising. Japan depends on the Middle East for 90% of its oil. Thus, the stakes are high in all directions. The pipeline to Japan may also serve U.S. interests, because it “would also be a strategic asset for Russia, allowing it to export to other Asian countries and perhaps the US west coast.”

    Tensions between China and Japan over energy don’t stop there. Japan is embroiled in a dispute with China over offshore natural gas fields.

    Since US businesses and MBA programs stopped thinking of Japan’s management and bureaucratic practices as sexy, and there are no more human interest features to write about how Japan, Inc., is going to leave the hard-working American family impoverished, events in Japan don’t seem to make the news as much in the States anymore. Even here, little incidents between Japan and Korea, or Japan and China, over disputed islands and ships passing in the night are so frequent that they can obscure potentially big stories like these. One hopes that the US government is giving them due attention.

    I don’t really expect things to spiral out of control soon, given present conditions. Still, resentments run old and deep in this part of the world, even if you just think back as far as World War II. The generation that actually lived through the War is dying off, but in the last decade, several high-profile controversies–the proposed reparations suit by Korean comfort women, the dismissive trashing of Iris Chang’s book The Rape of Nanking by Japanese historians, the whitewashing of Japanese aggression in its public school history textbooks–have kept the ill-feeling simmering. As far as strategic allies in the Pacific Rim go, China has a regime we flat-out can’t trust; Korea and Taiwan (the latter of which could be forgiven for not trusting us entirely) have their own very immediate defense problems to worry about and won’t have the ability to project much force for the foreseeable future. Japan is still basically the only game in town, no matter how fast the Chinese economy is growing.

    More official smoke-filled rooms

    Posted by Sean at 14:21, July 28th, 2004

    The DPJ’s Katsuya Okada has been busy since arriving in Boston. After meeting with Ezra Vogel and Joseph Nye, he seems to have met with Walter Mondale, telling him that the US needs to stay in Iraq until it’s stabilized (actually, the phrasing is the usual “we must humbly receive the favor of your staying…,” the we presumably referring to Japan and the rest of the world) but that Japan itself, despite the end of combat, cannot keep the SDF there because of constitutional strictures. None of that is surprising.

    He also said that US-Japan relations have been relying too much on Armitage personally and that he wonders whether we would still be bestest buddies if Kerry were elected (well, he said “the administration changed to a Democratic one,” but he’s presumably talking about the upcoming election). I was surprised at myself, at first, for not having given that issue much thought. But I think my assumption was that since Japan has socialized medicine, federal initiatives for anything and everything, and a general tradition of ecstatic individual self-abnegation for the good of the collective…sheesh, what’s for the Democrats, all the way to the left fringe, not to love? It’s also a non-white society that always talks about how it loves nature, despite its actual records on ethnic diversity and environmental protection. Also, the people use less energy and throw away less trash per capita than Americans, so even if you have socialist tendencies, you can kind of justify how staggeringly rich the country is.

    In any case, while my experience is that the States-side Democrats/liberals/leftists I know think of Japan as a beacon of the “Third Way,” it’s hard to predict how a Kerry administration might set its Japan policy because we don’t seem to have much indication of who could be his ranking foreign policy advisors. Of course, that policy strategists are kindly disposed toward Japan may not mean that they know how to deal with it effectively; but East Asia specialists tend to study countries they’re attracted to somehow.

    I know you’re feelin’ me ’cause you like it like this

    Posted by Sean at 01:16, July 28th, 2004

    The reactions to Andrew Sullivan’s current pledge drive have been snarkily cute, but I have to say they seem to jump the gun a bit. When I first read his post saying he was starting this year’s pledge drive, I saw the part about the bandwidth and interpreted it completely differently, it appears, from everyone else I read. I didn’t get the impression that he was asking for a few thousand dollars all to cover bandwidth. My understanding was that the money that was left over from last year’s pledge drive had dipped below the point at which he could afford his new bandwidth charges without using his own money–not the same thing.

    Sullivan’s site was never run like most people’s blogs. From the beginning, he had backers who were helping him to set it up as a way to make his archived writings available and make him a web presence as a commentator–remember, he’s been around longer than almost anyone else. The Daily Dish was originally just one element of the whole. Perhaps it still is in conception, though I’d bet that the Dish is the only page that most of his readers look at, except when he has a new article of his linked. From the beginning, andrewsullivan.com was presented almost as a foundation. It had different membership levels for different donated amounts, like a museum or the opera. He made it clear that donations were going to go to wages for his webmaster and editor and…an intern, I think?…and whoever else he was going to hire to help with it. He has also always said, up front, that he does quite a bit of research to keep the Dish up and didn’t feel embarrassed about being modestly compensated personally for it. Looked at that way, I can see how he could go through nearly $100000 in a year; it’s not easy to imagine, but it’s not impossible, either.

    You can say it’s pompous of him to act as if he were PBS. You can say that having a staff for his website is excessive and that it’s cheeky of him to expect people to shell out for it. I’ve sometimes felt that way myself and have never contributed as much to andrewsullivan.com as I have to some other people who were just folks taking time out of their lives to build, for the hell of it, a site people would enjoy and learn from and maybe want to discuss things on. I’m not…well, I was going to say that I’m not very self-aggrandizing, but there’s someone who knows me in person who reads this site, so that won’t fly. I’m not the Gold Circle Donor type–let’s put it that way.

    But if others are, I don’t see why Sullivan is necessarily being dishonest in asking them to kick in. It’s not as if they don’t know what they’re contributing to.

    Once an abductee, always an abductee

    Posted by Sean at 11:26, July 27th, 2004

    Ooh. This I hadn’t heard about the reunion of Hitomi Soga and Charles Jenkins:

    Jenkins told them that he had been set to take Soga to North Korea if they had met in Beijing, according to Japanese sources.

    North Korea authorities had promised a car with a driver and increased food rations if he managed to take Soga to Pyongyang, the sources said.

    But Jenkins didn’t reveal how he planned to take Soga to Pyongyang.

    Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoya said on Tuesday that Jenkins had agreed to meet with a U.S. defense counsel to discuss a possible court martial to settle changes against him.

    That Jenkins was prepared for court martial, as conveyed to a relative who visited Japan last week, was on the news yesterday. What hadn’t been confirmed that was Soga’s instincts had been right about the meeting in Beijing. Good call. (And remind me again why a country that has to ration food is superior to anything?)


    And speaking of betrayals, yesterday, the Tokyo district court ordered a suspension of merger talks between Mitsubishi-Tokyo Financial Group and the UFJ Group (Japanese, English). The merger would involve reneging on an agreement between UFJ and Sumitomo Trust and Banking (why not get all the behemoth financial institutions to join in the fun while we’re at it, huh?) for Sumitomo to buy UFJ’s trust bank. Sumitomo, justifiably unhappy, is suing.

    Official smoke-filled rooms

    Posted by Sean at 11:14, July 27th, 2004

    While everyone’s busy wishing Bill Clinton could run for President again, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has been a quiet attendee at the Democratic Convention and has been making a few interesting contacts. Katsuya Okada, leader of the DPJ, has apparently met with Joseph Nye, one of Clinton’s Assistant Secretaries of Defense now back at Harvard, and Ezra Vogel, the Harvard professor emeritus who’s one of the few people to specialize equally in China and Japan. Naturally, they (the Nikkei article is very brief and doesn’t say whether the three met together or Okada met the others individually) talked about security issues and US-Japan relations. No report of what they specifically discussed.