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    “Quiet, understated, and a great comfort to all of your friends”

    Posted by Sean at 02:43, August 24th, 2007

    or “Deliciously sinful,” if you prefer.

    Via Eric, the latest Blogthings quiz: What kind of sandwich are you?

    You Are a Ham Sandwich

    You are quiet, understated, and a great comfort to all of your friends.

    Over time, you have proven yourself as loyal and steadfast.

    And you are by no means boring. You do well in any situation – from fancy to laid back.

    Your best friend: The Turkey Sandwich

    Your mortal enemy: The Grilled Cheese Sandwich

    What Kind of Sandwich Are You?

    Nice that Eric and I have compatible sandwich identities. Funny that I was designated ham, of all things, since I was brought up in a Sabbatarian Christian sect that didn’t eat meats deemed unclean in the Old Testament. In fact, I still don’t, largely out of habit but also because they give me a tummyache. (My mother memorably said a few years ago, “Out of all the rules your father and I taught you from the Bible, the prohibition against pork and shellfish is the only one you decided to keep?!”)

    My laptop is at the Toshiba repair center getting its poor dead hard drive replaced, so posting will probably continue to be pretty light until the middle or so of next week. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

    By any other name

    Posted by Sean at 00:17, August 16th, 2007

    The anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender always brings controversy over visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where fourteen men convicted as Class-A war criminals by the international tribunal are enshrined along with fallen military personnel. Yesterday, former Prime Minister Koizumi went, but of the sitting cabinet, the only member to make a pilgrimage was Sanae Takaichi, State Minister for (of all things!) Okinawan Affairs. The Mainichi also ran an article citing high-ranking sources stating that Emperor Hirohito believed that including the fourteen Class-A war criminals in the enshrinees at Yasukuni was a diplomatic error: “While the Shrine gives repose to the souls only of those who died in the war [itself], this would change its nature,” and “[This move] will plant the seeds for deep-rooted trouble in the future with nations that were affected by the war.”

    I’ve always been of two minds about the Yasukuni issue. I have no trouble explaining why I disagree with the shrine’s official position. (This is from the English site.):

    According to the faith conveyed to us by the mythical accounts of the Nihon Shoki and the Kojiki, the Kami, Izanagi and Izanami, in giving birth to the country of Japan, also gave birth to the people. This is to say that the Japanese islands and people are both born from the Kami. Therefore, the soul of man is identical with the Kami. And so long as this universe continues to exist, the soul of man can be nothing else than eternal.

    Isn’t it a fact that the West with its military power invaded and ruled over much of Asia and Africa and that this was the start of East-West relations? There is no uncertainty in history. [!] Japan’s dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia. We cannot overlook the intent of those who wish to tarnish the good name of the noble souls of Yasukuni.

    To bring an end to war is the earnest wish of mankind. Regardless of whether we can realize this or not, the act of despising the souls of those who offered their lives for the national community by those who were left behind is no more than extreme ingratitude of a people without a country.

    Note the way this allows the administrators of the shrine to have it both ways—positioning Japan as in line with the rest of mankind in desiring world peace while justifying the practice of honoring those who presided over Unit 731 and the Rape of Nanking. Japanese theology regards the souls of good and evil alike as passing into the next world-—fine. But that doesn’t mean it provides a good defense for failing to draw moral distinctions among their actions while they were alive in this one.

    On the other hand, one can visit a house of worship without necessarily buying into the full line pushed by those people in charge of it. Koizumi’s stubbornness about making pilgrimages to Yasukuni always struck me as politically unwise, but his positions on the WOT, economic liberalization, and individualism were enough to convince me that he wasn’t a closet Tojo fan. Koizumi probably does believe that you can perform rituals at Yasukuni without letting all the kami off the hook for their war conduct. Not so sure about others, including those on the cabinet.

    Speaking of conflicting religious conceptions, this (via Instapundit) strikes me as very worrying, though hardly without precedent:

    A Roman Catholic Bishop in the Netherlands has proposed people of all faiths refer to God as Allah to foster understanding, stoking an already heated debate on religious tolerance in a country with one million Muslims.
    Bishop Tiny Muskens, from the southern diocese of Breda, told Dutch television on Monday that God did not mind what he was named and that in Indonesia, where Muskens spent eight years, priests used the word “Allah” while celebrating Mass.

    A survey in the Netherlands’ biggest-selling newspaper De Telegraaf on Wednesday found 92 percent of the more than 4,000 people polled disagreed with the bishop’s view, which also drew ridicule.

    Huh? Words refer to ideas, and ideas have consequences, to coin a phrase.

    It’s one thing for Christians in a mostly non-Christian country to call God by the best local equivalent. Professor Bainbridge says, “Words matter. To a person of faith, no word matters more than the name of God,” but in my experience, there is some give there. For example, Japanese Christians also call God 神様 (kamisama: kind of like “God, Sir”). However, those I’ve meet are keenly aware of the difference between their god and the Japanese kami themselves. And Dutch, presumably, already has a perfectly good word for “God.” The substitution of “Allah” would presumably imply to the average listener that the speaker was mindedly shading it with the conception of God in Islam. I’m not sure what can be accomplished through that at this historical moment except the beclouding of distinctions between religions that it would be wise to keep in mind.


    Posted by Sean at 23:59, August 14th, 2007

    James Kirchick on IGF:

    Yet there’s a common, unattractive feature that many conservative gay men share: a serious chip on their shoulder. Being part of a community that is so intolerant of their views, gay conservatives can be embittered, patronizing, and castigatory of their gay brothers. It’s not a particularly attractive attitude. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I have not started cruising Log Cabin Republican meetings for dates.

    Yes, yes–a thousand times, yes. The more annoying gay leftists are worse (as the rest of Kirchick’s piece discusses), to be sure. Their worldview is mostly inaccurate. They assume that gatherings of gay guys are safe spaces not only for letting loose and being gay but also for slamming Bush, Israel, and capitalism without opposition. And they insist on pushing forward with political discussions even when it’s become clear that the only result will be more acrimony. For sheer obnoxiousness, they can be pretty tough to top.

    Still, there are gay conservatives who seem to be doing their best, conveying a smug sense of election and an ostentatious look-how-suffering-has-sanctified-me fortitude that even Hillary Clinton would surely regard as overdoing it. Cool don’t advertise, gentlemen.

    Personally, I don’t think I’ve met anyone I would describe as embittered, exactly. But I’ve encountered more than one conservative gay guy who’s seemed almost affronted when he discovered that I agreed with him on policy—as if the existence of another right-ish gay man somehow diluted his distinctiveness or something. Of course, that’s just my interpretation, based only on people I myself have met. I just can’t think of another plausible reason one would act annoyed at being agreed with.


    On a related note, Connie has this to say (my emphasis):

    I love feedback. I love comments. I love discussion. But if I say I like the taste of apple sauce, I really don’t care if you think I’m an idiot for liking it. It is perfectly OK to have unexpressed thoughts. I have millions of them.

    Good grief, yes. You are not duty-bound to loose upon the world everything that floats through your head. Really.


    On another related note, a friend has written to whether my post the other day stemmed the flow of hate mail so completely that I’m starting to miss it, in which case he gallantly offers to befoul my inbox with rants and insults of my choosing. Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m fine. Really.

    He also sends this link, which I’ll pass along just in case you haven’t already encountered it through Instapundit or The Corner:

    Here’s a story you don’t see every day – “Gay Nicaraguan Man Goes Into Hiding After Refugee Bid Denied“:

    His case made headlines in Canada and Nicaragua in February when the Immigration and Refugee Board denied him asylum saying they didn’t believe he was gay.

    Is that what Canadian immigration officials do all day? “Funny. You don’t look gay. Walk across to the men’s room again and this time put a bit of life into it.”

    I appreciate their concerns. Being gay isn’t exactly one of those jobs Canadians won’t do. Let a lot of squaresville straights stand muscling in on the gay immigrant fast-track, and there goes the neighborhood. But contrast the exacting entry qualifications for the gay refugee line with those for the terrorist refugee line. Ahmed Ressam, the famous “Millennium Bomber” arrested at the British Columbia/Washington State border en route to blow up LAX, was admitted to Canada because he told them he was a convicted Algerian terrorist.

    That’s right: As Mme Shouldice of the immigration service explained, being a terrorist was a legitimate criterion for admission, on the grounds that you had a reasonable fear of being ill-treated if you returned to the country where you were trying to blow people up. And, unlike gay refugees, terrorist refugees weren’t asked to prove it: “Go on, then. If you’re such a bigtime terrorist, blow someone up. Try the laughably obvious heterosexual at the payphone frantically trying to order up a Judy Garland boxed set.”

    Steyn wrote about Ressam in 1999 here.

    過ちは (Nagasaki)

    Posted by Sean at 22:45, August 8th, 2007

    The anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing is today just after 11 o’clock.


    Sleep in peace,
    For the mistake
    is one we will not repeat.

    That’s the inscription on the stone under the memorial arch in Hiroshima. A man broke in and chipped away the word mistake (過ち) a few years ago, maintaining that Japan had nothing to regret. (The we is intended to refer to all of humanity; however, because the sentence in Japanese has no explicit subject, it can be interpreted as meaning that the Japanese themselves are apologizing for entering the war that brought on the bombing.) I’m not sure whether it’s been reinscribed, though I assume it has been; the last time I visited was ages ago.

    On 6 August Cathy Young linked to this post about the Hiroshima bombing. It’s well written and worth reading. She also cites some comments appended to an Oliver Kamm piece in The Guardian defending the bombings. The first sentence of the first one appeals to the authority of Noam Chomsky; they go (further) downhill from there.

    No one can deny that a lot of children and pregnant women and old grandfathers died in the atom bombings. But we are talking about action taken nearly four years into a declared war that had engulfed a good deal of the planet and had already claimed millions of innocent lives. The time for peace, love, and understanding would come, but the first order of business was to demonstrate with finality that there was no point in continuing to fight. And the only reliable way to do that was to send a clear message: We can destroy your land and people utterly if you force us to. No peaceable people wants to run about sending such a message except under extreme circumstances. The Pacific War was an extreme circumstance. Taking the position that it was the Americans (and British and Australians and Canadians) who were demonstrating contempt for individual human lives—-vis-à-vis the early-Showa Japanese, no less–is so morally bankrupt as to defy comprehension. That we all fervently hope that the atom bombings never have to be repeated does not, sadly, make Hiroshima and Nagasaki a mistake.

    The Boor Wars

    Posted by Sean at 02:02, August 8th, 2007

    So we’re back to discussing the difficulties of talking politics politely. Eric says:

    I’ve noticed that the louder and more opinionated a person is, the more likely he is to see a political disagreement with his position as a personal attack. Perhaps it’s because he’s put so much of his persona into it by being so loud. I think these types are best dealt with in blogs, where insults and ad hominem attacks tend to be self discrediting, WHERE YOU CAN’T SHOUT ANY LOUDER THAN THIS, and the loudly opinionated boors are reduced to inferior-looking lines of text.

    Real life is another, very ugly matter.

    I’ve always had friends who disagree with me, but things are getting a little ridiculous where it comes to meeting new people. When I meet new people, I often wonder about the advisability of telling them what I think, especially if they show signs of being in kneejerk group agreement on a given issue.

    Is there a duty to publicly disagree when that can turn an otherwise enjoyable social event into an ordeal?

    I haven’t lived in the States for years, and I frequently socialize in groups in which I’m the only American. Most of the time, conversation stays neutral: life in Japan, where else everyone has traveled, the wretched weather (usually not a bland topic in Tokyo, actually).

    If talk turns to politics, people tend to register the stock surprise that a gay man could possibly be “right-wing”—-not the way I characterize myself, of course, though I try to resist the temptation to bore my dinner partners senseless by explaining how being a libertarian is different—-but I generally find that keeping an even tone and having a sense of humor gets me a fair hearing. In the overwhelming majority of political discussions I’ve had, I’ve been the only person to the right of Hillary Clinton but have been treated respectfully, if not always amiably.

    One does at times, though, encounter people for whom it’s not topics but positions that count as intrusively “political.” More than once I’ve heard someone venture placidly over the rim of his gin and tonic that the Iraq invasion was terrible (or that America is turning into a police state, or that it’s awful how Israel and its allies gang up on the Palestinians), clearly expecting the remark to be no more controversial than “What about all this rain, huh?” If, instead of murmuring assent and passing to the next pleasantry, you respond that you supported the invasion or that you haven’t noticed anyone’s opinions being suppressed in the US or that Israel happens to be the only liberal democracy in its neighborhood, you’re accused of being an agent of acrimony–hijacking an innocuous discussion and trying to turn it into a political debate.

    Well, okay. Frankly, I don’t like conversations that give me indigestion any more than the next guy. Having been brought up the old-fashioned way, I avoid being the person to bring up politics (or religion) among people I don’t know very well. But surely once a topic has been put on the table by others, it’s fair game. I’d generally be happy to let these things pass were it not for the fact that they come from the sort of people who maintain that Americans are complacent and ignorant about the state of the world because we’re not exposed to dissenting views!

    空爆 (Hiroshima)

    Posted by Sean at 21:01, August 5th, 2007

    There are always, in the week before the anniversaries of the atom bombings, articles run about the decreasing numbers of survivors and the effort to keep their stories alive. One such piece was an AP story picked up by the Yomiuri on-line (not sure whether it ran in the print edition:

    Monday’s anniversary comes just a month after Fumio Kyuma was forced to quit as defense minister for seeming to implying that the bombing was inevitable, because otherwise Japan would have gone on fighting and would have lost territory to a Soviet invasion.

    Not so, says Steven Leeper, the first American to head the Hiroshima Peace and Culture Foundation. “Historically, that’s not correct,” he said in an interview, “And it’s unbelievable that he said it.”

    Leeper shares the view of most Japanese: that Japan had already lost the war and that the bombing of Hiroshima, and of Nagasaki three days later, was wrong and unnecessary.

    “Everybody knows on the left and the right that Japan was finished at the time the bomb was dropped,” Leeper said.

    Historically, the American justification was that the bombing ended the war and limited the number of U.S. military and Japanese civilian lives that would have been lost in a land invasion.

    The Japanese perspective argues that Japan was already working on negotiating a peace treaty, as well as a surrender, and that the U.S. dropped the bomb to test its destructive power and to intimidate the Soviet Union.

    I love Japan and am glad that we’re allies today. But sixty-odd years ago, our grandfathers were enemies. It was the responsiblity of ours to crush theirs. I’m glad they did it conclusively. One hopes that no civilized society has to resort to nuclear warfare again, but it’s a mistake to prettify history for the sake of expedient would-be humanitarianism.

    I’ve never seen it disputed that Japan had already lost the war by August, in the sense that it clearly wasn’t going to win. Whether it was “finished,” however, is another matter. The government was hedging over the Potsdam Declaration. There was vocal opposition to surrender from some military leaders–even after both bombings, they tried to prevent the emperor’s surrender proclamation from being broadcast–who wanted to make good on previous promises to resist an invasion of the mainland by any means necessary. The Japanese people’s meek acceptance of occupation and immediate dedication of energy to rebuiding a peacetime economy seems inevitable now, but only because we know that’s how it happened.

    And as for sending a minatory message to the Soviets, that does indeed appear to have been a factor, but I can’t see why it’s evidence of moral turpitude. Japan had mindedly inserted itself into an international conflict, betting that the United States and British Commonwealth would not have the resources to fight effectively in both Pacific and European theaters. It turned out to be a bad bet of global dimensions. What would be done with Japan after its surrender would affect the post-war balance of power, and our military leaders would have been nuts not to factor that in when deciding how to attack it.


    Posted by Sean at 23:24, August 2nd, 2007

    Unlike some of my more popular blog friends, I don’t get more mail than I can handle, and the overwhelming majority of messages I get are thoughtful and mannerly, even if their writers disagree with me.

    But then, presumably in an effort to provide a stimulating foil of some kind, there are the hate mailers. Just had my first strafing from one of these characters in a while, and in a few days we have the A-bomb anniversaries, on which I plan to post much the same thing as I always do. Therefore, just so we’re all clear, please bear the following in mind before you hit the contact button there to the left:

    I am unfazed by any and all messages that consist of nothing more than…

    1. “You’re stupid.”

    2. “You’re self-loathing.”
    3. “You’re an asshole.”
    4. “You suck.”
    5. “I bet your mother engages in exceedingly untoward behavior.”

    I’ve euphemized the last two, failed to make any spelling errors, and been sparing with the exclamation points, but I’m assuming you can imagine the real versions.

    Half the time, these people don’t even tell me which post got them worked into a lather. Is it too much to ask that those who think they can wreck my sense of self-worth with a one-line e-mail at least let me know what the problem is? “Self-loathing” generally limits it to something about gay issues; but otherwise, I usually can’t determine whether my correspondent considers me too leftist, too rightist, too pro-Japan, too anti-Japan, too atheist, too soft on religion, too American, or too brunet. I like a rough-and-tumble argument as much as the next guy, but spasmodic little outbursts like these only convince me that the writers are badly in need of a hobby. My faith in the critical thinking skills of the general population is badly eroded as it is. Please don’t make it worse.

    See also posts on this subject by Connie and Rondi. Vitriol-spewers all seem to lean toward the same locutions. (And when, BTW, will people learn that it is no longer either clever or incisive to respond to a straight-talking woman by calling her a bitch?)

    Insert “bought the farm” joke here

    Posted by Sean at 05:25, August 1st, 2007

    The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries has resigned:

    Before the election, calls had been growing from opposition parties for Akagi to either prove how the funds were used or resign. Some within the ruling coalition also grumbled that Akagi could become a liability in the campaign.

    However, Abe refused to dismiss the farm minister, saying he does not intend to make the Akagi issue a problem.

    With Akagi now out of the Cabinet, more questions may be raised about Abe’s leadership ability and judge of character.

    Abe appointed Akagi farm minister in June, after his predecessor, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, killed himself amid a similar scandal involving expenses for a rent-free office in the Diet members’ building.

    At least Akagi has apparently been able to escape with his life.


    Posted by Sean at 03:18, July 29th, 2007

    The Nikkei noted on yesterday’s evening edition editorial page, as the headline put it, “War of words revolving around diplomacy boils over.” (Actually, the word used is 舌戦 [zessen: lit., “tongue battle”], though I’m not sure I care to picture Hillary and Barack in a tongue battle with each other. Or anyone else, for that matter.) The subject, of course, was the sparring over head-of-state visits with dictators and military intervention. The content of the article doesn’t give a Japanese viewpoint, really, but it’s significant that it was featured so prominently, with pictures of Clinton and Obama and translations of their biggest soundbites. (I don’t remember what the exact words were in English, but in the Nikkei, Hillary says, “Irresponsible and immature,” at Obama, who responds, “You’re just like Bush.”) Japan knows that it needs to pay attention to these things, especially when the DPRK is mentioned. I liked Steve Chapman’s take in Reason , BTW:

    On the morning after the South Carolina debate, the Clinton campaign trotted out former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to gush about the senator’s declaration that she would not meet with various dictators “until we know better what the way forward would be.” Said Albright, “She gave a very sophisticated answer that showed her understanding of the diplomatic process.”

    Being praised for your diplomatic sophistication by Madeleine Albright is like being complimented on your sense of humor by John Kerry. Albright is the renowned diplomat who helped the Clinton administration blunder its way into an 11-week aerial war in Kosovo. Albright was confident that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic would cave at the first whiff of gunpowder, and was shocked when he didn’t.

    There you have it. A Hillary Clinton presidency promises to unite Madeleine Albright’s zeal for using bombs in pursuit of liberal ideals with Dick Cheney’s vision of the president as emperor. Won’t that be fun?

    I know Hillary sympathizers who’ve argued that Clinton has had to emphasize her willingness to use the military because there are too many voters who doubt a woman would be competent as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. But I agree with Chapman that her pose actually fits in with what seems like her sincere sense of mission. Camille Paglia noted that years ago, too, in her review of Clinton’s memoir:

    But perhaps it is more troublesome for democracy (where religion should be kept distinct from government) if Hillary’s religiosity is genuine. It would certainly explain her air of smug moral superiority and her close to messianic view of her destiny as a reformer. The egotism of career humanitarians was dissected by William Blake and Charles Dickens and later satirised by Oscar Wilde, all of whom saw the nascent tyranny in fervent idealists with a masterplan for humanity.

    On the evidence of this book, Hillary appears to believe that good intentions excuse all. Impediments to her lofty goals may have arisen partly through minor miscalculations on her part, she concedes, but most of the problems, in her view, have come from pigheaded reactionaries “who want to turn the clock back on many of the advances our country has made”, thanks to the Democratic Party, a congregation of the elect whose mission is the salvation of mankind.

    Upper house election today

    Posted by Sean at 02:39, July 29th, 2007

    Polls opened for the House of Councillors (upper house) election this morning. The run-up has been contentious in a rather boring way, with cabinet members suffering from the usual misappropriation scandals and foot-in-mouth syndrome but none of the sense of momentousness of the Koizumi-era show-downs. I miss that guy. Even the Nikkei reports come off somewhat listless:

    Issues such as pensions and “politics and money” are the points of contention in the twenty-first upper house election, for which voting began on the morning of 29 July. Ballot counting will begin today.

    The focus is on whether the ruling or opposition coalition will capture the majority in the upper house. The results of the election will have a major influence on the overall political future of the Abe cabinet. The direction of the results is expected to be clear by late tonight.

    According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 16.93% of the electorate had voted by 11 a.m., exceeding by 0.21 percentage points the comparable figure for the last election in 2004.

    Nevertheless, this could be a turning point. The DPJ-led opposition is not pushing a policy platform that differs all that much from that of the LDP this time around. It’s focusing instead on accusing the LDP of fat cat syndrome–corruption and lack of transparency.

    The office of agriculture/forestry/fisheries minister Norihiko Akagi obligingly ensured there would be a fresh LDP scandal blanketing the media this election weekend:

    Farm minister Norihiko Akagi flew back from Beijing on Friday and landed in yet another political fund scandal–this one involving photocopied receipts to doubly book spending by his two political organizations.

    The new irregularities were uncovered by The Asahi Shimbun, which obtained copies of Akagi’s political fund reports from Ibaraki Prefecture under the information disclosure system.

    Akagi has been under fire for huge and dubious office expenses reported by the support group based in his parents’ home.

    His mother at one time said the group rarely met at the home, and that she covered the utility bills.

    Added later: What they’re showing so far is 29 wins for the LDP and Shin-Komeito combined and 54 for the DPJ, Communist Party of Japan, and Social Democratic Party of Japan combined. Abe has said that he plans to think carefully about reshuffling his cabinet as a move to “take responsibility.” JNN, one of the networks I’ve been flipping through, has been flashing viewer e-mails across the top of the screen. The running themes, not surprisingly, are “this is what the LDP gets!” and “we’ll be watching you, DPJ!”