• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post


    Posted by Sean at 13:35, November 8th, 2006

    Unsurprisingly, the news that Rummy is going to resign has been posted on the Nikkei site approximately four nanoseconds after it hit the US-based wires. There’s no Japan perspective in the preliminary report, but I’m sure the news will be folded into one of the main editorials tomorrow.


    Posted by Sean at 11:48, November 8th, 2006

    The Japanese media don’t seem to be saying much of anything interesting about the US election results. This is the Nikkei story thus far, useful chiefly if you don’t know how to say “midterm election” or “incumbent” in Japanese. I expect an editorial tomorrow about what the Democratic takeover of the House means for our support for Japanese security. For now, I’m expecting that most of the world press, unfortunately, will adopt the interpretation given in the Asahi:

    In addition to whether the Bush administration’s policies surrounding the Iraq invasion are right or wrong, questions about ethics were posed, related to scandals and incidences of corruption engaged in by Republican congressmen that had come to light. As a result, the Democrats got a boost, and made significant gains in the number of seats they held in both houses.


    Posted by Sean at 03:37, November 4th, 2006

    Since I’ve already cast my vote, I can settle in to enjoying the frantic final week before the election with no pressure.

    For US Senate, I ultimately decided on Casey. I know, I know: The power elite among the Democrats are traitors who want to promulgate the Culture of Death and you can’t expect the GOP to be perfect and anyway I’m just throwing a fit because Santorum won’t let me marry my dog.

    I really did have serious misgivings when I was filling out my absentee ballot, but they’re dissipating. To find out why, consider Peggy Noonan’s latest column (via Michael). I like Noonan very much. Her writing style isn’t showy, but she has a distinctive voice–careful and sober and considered. It’s a voice that makes her love of America come across very movingly, especially when she talks about the textures of daily life or personal interactions.

    Unfortunately, it’s a voice that also betrays her when she says stupid things. There’s nothing worse than saying something way-ass dumb while making it clear that you’re thinking real hard about it:

    Rick Santorum’s career (two Senate terms, before that two in the House) suggests he has thought a great deal about the balance, and concluded that in our time the national is the local. Federal power is everywhere; so are the national media. (The biggest political change since JFK’s day is something he, 50 years ago, noted: the increasing nationalization of everything.) And so he has spoken for, and stood for, the rights of the unborn, the needs of the poor, welfare reform when it was controversial, tax law to help the family; against forcing the nation to accept a redefining of marriage it does not desire, for religious freedom here and abroad, for the helpless in Africa and elsewhere. It is all, in its way, so personal. And so national. He has breached the gap with private action: He not only talks about reform of federal law toward the disadvantaged, he hires people in trouble and trains them in his offices.

    One thing that’s really starting to get on my nerves: Can we please stop referring to politicians who are publicly opposed to gay marriage as if they were being brave and taking a political risk? Such a stance may get you into hot water at certain cocktail parties and rubber-chicken dinners, but voters have demonstrated in state after state that they concur with it.

    Anyway, the things Noonan discusses–Santorum’s prankish sense of humor, his genuine gratitude at the support he gets, his concern for the Casey family as human beings, his personal efforts to help individuals in straitened circumstances become self-sufficient–are all wonderful. They speak well of the man. But we’re not voting for a church choir director.

    Santorum genuinely does seem to voice his beliefs more candidly than most senators; but then, who wouldn’t look like a straight-shooter next to Arlen Specter? Speaking of Specter, Jacob Sullum hasn’t forgotten that Santorum supported him in the last primary against challenger Pat Toomey (an odd choice for someone who’s restoring principledness to the GOP). Additionally…

    I realize social conservatives are a big part of NR’s audience, but Miller offers economic conservatives, the other major component of Frank Meyer’s grand fusion, little reason to root for Santorum, aside from the fact that he supported welfare reform (so did Bill Clinton) and “has served as a leader” on Social Security, which seems to mean he favors Bush-style baby steps toward “personal” (not “private”) retirement accounts. On the down side, he opposed NAFTA, supported steel tariffs, and considers Bush’s immigration reforms “too lax.”

    And Sullum didn’t even mention the $20 million-ish in federal money Santorum scored for farmland preservation in the commonwealth.

    My point here isn’t that Santorum is a closet social democrat, or even that he’s been a bad senator on balance. My point is just that going off the deep end and portraying him as an implacable opponent of federal waste and mission creep is ridiculous. He plays the game just like his ninety-nine colleagues, and it’s condescending for opinion-shapers to cherry-pick his record in the hopes of convincing us otherwise.

    Orange Appled

    Posted by Sean at 22:54, November 1st, 2006

    Wonderful. This is just what I wanted to hear:

    Stephen Viscusi, 46, of Manhattan, said the divide has made dating even more fraught. Mr. Viscusi, who is gay and a Republican, said he has been rejected by Democratic suitors once they learn his political views. [from this NYT article–SRK]

    (Gee, I think it’s even worse for them than for 40-something single neocon Jewish women in NYC.)

    I know for a fact that I would have had more sex, and maybe a long-term relationship by now, if the social arena was not so polarized. Spirited argument is sexy to me (think William Powell and Myrna Loy), and a marriage with someone who disagrees with me on various issues sounds energizing and playful and always interesting. (I would insert a link to Mary Matalin and James Carville here, but I think Carville is just too weird.) But most people don’t feel that way anymore, at least not liberals. Champions of diversity, they want lovers and friends just like themselves.

    It’s probably as good a time as any to mention that Atsushi and I are no longer a couple. Though it’s not something I’m eager to discuss, I’ll say that we’re still friends, there was no animosity, the long-distance thing was hard on both of us, it’s very unfortunate but we’re fine, et c. My buddies have been doing a great job of making sure I don’t spend these few months sitting on the floor of my darkened apartment drinking Laphroaig from the bottle and listening to Dusty in Memphis.

    Anyway, one of Atsushi’s many wonderful qualities is that he knows how to argue. He’s perfectly willing to discuss sticky topics such as World War II and hold his ground, while giving you an honest hearing and without being an asshole. Most other Japanese gay guys I know are…well, Japanese: they just avoid unpleasant subjects, including politics. Most American gay guys here assume, when politics comes up, that I’m a Democrat. And most other foreign gay guys put any right-ish tendencies down to my being the usual simple-minded, unworldly Yank.

    Eric links to the Kesher Talk post above and adds:

    I’ve noticed this for years, and it seems to have gotten worse. You’d think that none of these liberal activists knew that about half the country voted for Bush, and the other half for Kerry.

    Like many people, Judith notices that Republicans don’t behave this way towards Democrat friends. I think the reason is that Republicans are very accustomed to keeping their mouths shut, to not telling friends and coworkers how they voted. In some cases, their very livelihood depends on being “in the closet.”

    Have things really gotten that bad in New York and Philadelphia? I only spend a few days a year home, so I have no real way to judge. The friends I visit tend to be those with whom I’ve been debating politics since those 3 a.m. conversations in college, so nothing about my policy positions is news to them; and we still have good, rousing arguments. When politics comes up in a conversation with someone I’ve just met, I generally say what I think as firmly but genially as possible, and that’s that. Sometimes I’ll have to answer a bewildered follow-up question (“How the hell could you not be in favor of gay marriage?!”), but the discussion usually remains respectful.

    That said, it really is true sometimes that people will practically refuse to believe that I’m not a lefty fellow-traveler. The probability that a random urban gay guy who works in educational publishing is a liberal is very high, so I don’t mind the initial assumption that I am. What’s irksome is the half-hour of incredulity–expressed through lots of hamming, mugging, and double-takes–I have to work through to convince people that, you know, I really am right-libertarian on most issues and tend to vote Republican. No one likes being told what he thinks, especially by people who purport to be open-minded.

    Added on 3 November: Eric is trying to decide which senatorial candidate to vote for. I don’t envy him.

    Ooh, and, I almost forgot about this old but very good post from Megan McArdle:

    When the Q&A came around, unsurprisingly, the majority of the questioners turned out to be Democrats. And every single one of their questions started off something like this:

    “I think that one of the major problems we face, as Democrats, is that our policies are all about nuance and deep intellectual focus on maximizing the welfare of the public at large, while Republicans are a pack of venal liars who want to kill poor people and minorities. The American public seems to be far too stupid to understand the subtle genius of our ideas. How do we, as Democrats, overcome that?”

    The answer, from the Democrats on the dais, generally went something like this.

    “While the rest of the American public may not actually be drooling lackwits who should herded into camps for their own protection, they are clearly struck insensible by the blinding power of our intellects. As their voting record demonstrates, they are constitutionally incapable of comprehending the overwhelming superiority of the Democratic platform on the merits. We will have to make sure that this election cycle we speak very slowly, and clearly, and make our visuals on very large sheets of construction paper with pictures of puppies. We may also consider lying, since after all, the shameless mendacity of the Republicans is the only reason anyone ever votes for them.”

    Now, is all this embarassing self-congratulation because Democrats are inherently arrogant bastards, crude elitists out of touch with the simple, homespun virtues of the common man? Or because losers need to lie to themselves in order to salve their egos? I’ve heard both explanations from Republicans who need to get out more.

    What is true is that Democrats, right now, have more ability to insulate themselves from being confronted with the views of the other side. Geographically, they can isolate themselves into coastal cities, which is why I never met any Republicans except my grandparents until I went to business school. And informationally, provided that they don’t watch Fox news, don’t subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, and keep the radio tuned to NPR, they can keep from ever hearing if the other side has a good argument.

    She was writing specifically about the Howard Dean phenomenon, such as it was at that point; but her points are certainly still relevant.


    Posted by Sean at 08:31, October 31st, 2006

    Not in the best mood this week, for a variety of reasons. Mostly giving myself over to music that makes me feel immersed in feelings without having to hear them articulated, if that makes sense.

    Of course, there’s no getting out of drawing some distinctions sharply. My absentee ballot got here, and while there’s no point in not voting for the dumb-but-pretty congressman who replaced Pat Toomey two years ago, and I’m going Lynn Swann for governor, I’m…uh, what else? Oh, yeah: the senate race. The pandering communitarian or the pandering communitarian? Decisions, decisions.

    On the upside, the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that it, the US, and the DPRK have agreed to restart the 6-party talks.

    Pitch the Baby

    Posted by Sean at 01:04, October 27th, 2006

    So the Tokyo Gas repair guy on Monday spent an hour jiggling things around, frowning at my bathroom and kitchen keypads, and turning taps on and off before announcing that my water heater was on the fritz because a leak had caused a short at the main heating unit. The repair would cost about US $350, and the part wouldn’t be in for three or four days. Not the worst-case scenario, possibly, but a pain.

    That means I spent the next few days relying on the largesse of friends to stay hygienic. (I work out religiously, but I have equipment at home and run outdoors–no gym membership. And this being Japan, there must be a bathhouse somewhere in the neighborhood, but it seemed more trouble to figure out where it is than to bum off a buddy or two. Besides, borrowing someone’s shower gives you leave to look at all his products at leisure without feeling as if you were snooping.) The part came yesterday; I skipped out of the office between our morning administrators’ meeting and my evening mid-year performance review to be at home while it was installed. This morning I was able to perform my ablutions at home again. And to wash my tea cup and strainer without boiling another kettle of water.

    What with all the busy-ness, I’ve only barely been keeping up with the news. (Something gay appears to have happened in New Jersey, right?) Anyway, Camille has another Salon interview that’s worth reading. I usually don’t agree with more than about 60% of her political pronoucements, but she seems to me to hit more bull’s-eyes than usual this time around.

    The ring

    Posted by Sean at 00:51, October 24th, 2006


    I realize this site has turned into GoReadClassicalValues.com, but I happen to think that Bill Quick is absolutely wrong about the point Eric makes here. That Eric didn’t digress from his discussion to flesh out yet again why he doesn’t support the push for gay marriage does not mean that his statement has “no logical support whatsoever.”

    Eric clarifies what he meant:

    I agree with Bill that “percentages do not constitute logical refutation,” and I did not mean to imply that just because 70% of the public disfavors same sex marriage, that this means they are not bigoted. However, if opposition to same sex marriage is defined as bigotry, then it flows that they (and most of the leaders of both parties) are. I just don’t think that, considering all the circumstances, opposition to same sex marriage constitutes bigotry, and I’d say that even if only 20% of the country opposed it. I try to reserve the “bigot” label for people who want to do things like call me names, beat me up, put me in prison, or kill me.

    I’m not sure that bigot has to be reserved for people who express their beliefs through confrontation; intolerance can be expressed by quietly cutting people socially or declining to employ them or the like. But I’m also not sure that Bill Quick has been following the gay marriage argument as it’s developed over the last ten years.

    It used to be that you had Andrew Sullivan and, for a few occasional paragraphs, Bruce Bawer arguing in favor of marriage or civil unions of some kind in the not-too-distant future, and you had the case in Hawaii, and that was pretty much it. At that point, most arguments from the opposition were confined to “gays don’t actually fall in love and care for each other” and “most gay couplings are transient.” Those arguments were, I think, often based on bigotry: people who didn’t like gays much to begin with were all too willing to take Friday night in the Castro as representative of all gay life everywhere, pronounce us all sub-adult, and not dig any deeper before considering the issue closed.

    But things really have moved on in the intervening decade or so. Skeptics began discussing how a legal change in the definition of marriage could affect the choices of straight couples who planned to have children. The most sound thinkers among gay advocates (Dale Carpenter and Jonathan Rauch, notably) deliberated over the same issues and often made good counter-arguments; but at the same time, the pro-gay side was frequently stuck in a “we DO TOO love our partners!” mode that the debate had moved beyond. And “self-esteem,” that all but infallible indicator that malarkey is on the menu, was frequently invoked.

    I realize that I haven’t proved that, say, Maggie Gallagher and Stanley Kurtz aren’t bigoted against homosexuals. But even if we could prove they were, does that mean much in policy terms? We’re still left with the fact that they’ve taken the time to research and construct arguments for their positions, and that those arguments have to be answered on their own terms. I’d much rather see gays and those who sympathize with us keep at that than prolong the (already seemingly interminable) back-and-forth over who’s a bigot.

    Piping hot

    Posted by Sean at 01:00, October 23rd, 2006

    Well, that bites. Today’s a day off for me, and I’d planned to run some errands and shop and stuff…then I noticed that the water heater wasn’t working. As in, the electronic panel shut off whenever I turned on one of the hot taps. I’ve tried flipping the breaker and looking for a reset button, but no luck. The customer service operator at Tokyo Gas was very nice, but (naturally) she can’t tell me when between now and 7 p.m. the repair guy will get here, so I appear to be staying close by until he calls to say he’s coming. At least the gas itself is working, so I can boil water at will.


    Posted by Sean at 23:40, October 22nd, 2006

    The US is giving control of some airspace controlled by Yokota Air Force Base back to Japan:

    The airspace controlled by the United States will be reduced from the current six areas, which range in altitude from 7,000 meters to 3,700 meters, to five areas with altitudes ranging from 5,500 meters to 2,400 meters, a reduction of more than 20 percent of the current airspace, the sources said.

    U.S. permission is needed for aircraft to fly through Yokota’s airspace. Because of this, flights to and from Haneda and Narita airports usually fly high over the space or detour around it.

    In January, the Construction and Transport Ministry said that a 40 percent reduction of Yokota’s airspace will benefit the economy to the tune of 19 billion yen annually, due to savings in airline fuel costs.

    The partial return, to be accomplished by September 2008, is the first step in the process of giving full airspace control back to Japan. I have no way of knowing how the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport came up with that figure, but airspace around Tokyo is notoriously overcrowded, and from various observation decks around the bay, you can clearly see planes stacked up for landing at Haneda. And though the Yomiuri doesn’t mention it, the move would fit into possible plans to make Japan increasingly responsible for its own military defense.

    Root causes

    Posted by Sean at 23:03, October 22nd, 2006

    Rondi gets letters and finds that the ability to spell does not necessarily vary directly with the ability to think. She and I may disagree over the relative merits of Madonna (yay!) and The Sound of Music (KILL. ME. NOW.), but she’s absolutely right about this:

    It turns out that students in a Toronto-area high school class were asked to pick a newspaper column they disagreed with. At least 12 students picked mine. In groups of two or three, they explained why.

    Explain they did … and all I can say is, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained defeatism. Rather than the adorable youthful conviction that war is not the answer, these teens seemed sure of two things: 1) The United States is to blame for the anger and actions of Islamofascists, for “creating more enemies,” and 2) War may be the answer, but since Islamofascists will always be two steps ahead of us, we’re bound to lose.

    More student optimism: “As our technology becomes more advanced, so does Al Qaeda’s. An example of this would be the liquid explosives disguised as Gatorade found in an airport in Great Britain this summer … no matter how much we spend on precautions … our lives will always be endangered….”

    Ah, blithe spirits! Did your teacher happen to tell you about fighting on the beaches and landing grounds and never surrendering? Or did he at least, say, mention the intelligence that uncovered the liquid explosives plot and other information? If so, I’d be curious to know the spin he put on it, given these words from a pupil: “Our intelligence is useless today because they are always two steps ahead of us.” Where can I order my burqa?

    Of course, you don’t have to go to Canada to hear such arguments made. Besides frequently being wrong in the particulars–if al-Qaeda were really always two steps ahead of us, life would have looked a lot different over the last five years–they seem to me to betray a more general misunderstanding of the way life works. Civilization doesn’t just happen; human progress is produced by warring against other people’s malevolence and nature’s indifference. Societies that just kind of accept their surroundings and harmonize with them as a first principle tend not to get anywhere. Not every project the human imagination can dream up is practicable, no, but history certainly indicates that wars can be won. Of course, if you’re not convinced that we deserve to win anyway, I suppose that doesn’t make much difference.