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    Posted by Sean at 21:23, March 9th, 2006

    This is from the Yomiuri:

    Japan and the United States successfully conducted the first test of a jointly developed ballistic missile defense system off Hawaii on Wednesday, the U.S. Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency said.

    The U.S. Standard Missile-3 vehicle, which incorporates a new nose cone developed by Japan, was launched at 10:45 a.m., local time, on Wednesday by the USS Lake Erie, an Aegis-equipped cruiser, near Kauai Island, the agency said.

    Within one minute of launching, the new nose cone opened, without the missile having to maneuver, releasing a kinetic warhead targeting an “enemy” missile, according to the agency.

    The conventional SM-3 required maneuvering to eject the nose cone before releasing the warhead to hit its target, raising concern the missiles could go off course during such a procedure.

    Cool. Japan’s track record with high-profile launchables has been rather spotty over the last several years–and yes, I know that missiles and rockets aren’t the same thing–so the recent successes should be good morale, uh, boosters. (I can’t find it now, but there was a report somewhere the other day that the DPRK had test-fired a short-range missile or two this week.)

    Even now I’m all alone / Behind a wall that’s made of stone

    Posted by Sean at 21:13, March 9th, 2006

    This is par for the course in my adopted corner of the world:

    “It’s a law-abiding state that has a mature democratic system and, in economic terms, espouses liberal economic policies. It’s a country whose values Japan shares.” So saying, Minister of Foreign Affaird Taro Aso, at a lower house budgetary committee meeting on 9 March, called Taiwan a “state.” Immediately thereafter, he corrected himself: “Well, I’m speaking on the premise that China is recognized as one unified legal government. Fundamentally, it would be accurate to say, ‘territory.'” However, there are those who are discomfited by such repeated “off-message” expressions, which are at odds with the official position taken within the government.

    The LDP’s Naoki Okada responded to Aso’s backpedaling with “How do we get a handle on Taiwan strategically?”

    The question is not an idle one, given the state of economics and diplomacy in the region. Naturally, the PRC was spitting nickels:

    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang called on Japan to honor its commitments made to China over the status of Taiwan, reiterating Beijing’s stance that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China.

    “China strongly protests this crude interference in its internal affairs,” Qin said, expressing “surprise that a high-ranking Japanese diplomat would make such remarks.”

    Aso has ruffled Chinese feathers repeatedly in recent months, most recently by accusing Beijing of using female spies to seduce Japanese diplomats and later blackmail them for classified information.

    He also triggered protests from Beijing by calling China a significant threat in Asia, and suggesting that Taiwan’s high educational standards were a legacy of Tokyo’s 1895-1945 colonial rule over the island.

    Japan, you may recall, plays the “interference in internal affairs” card about the Yasukuni Shrine pilgrimage issue frequently.

    I don’t think I ever posted about Aso’s honey of a comment about Taiwan’s education standards, BTW. The Nikkei cites part of it in the above article: “Taiwan has kept up with the times because it is a country with an extremely high level of education, thanks to improvements in literacy rates [during the occupation].” (In that bit, he called Taiwan a 国, which can be and usually is translated “country” but can also mean “province,” but unlike yesterday didn’t use the word 国家, which very explicitly denotes a “state” or “nation.”) It doesn’t seem to me unreasonable to point out that some of Japan’s policies benefited the Taiwanese in some ways–though perhaps part of that is due to my American public education, in which a good half of the time spent on social science seems to be devoted to the complex legacies of colonial rule.

    As the foreign minister, though, you’d think Aso would be diplomatic enough to have put in something along the lines of “our forebears did many things for both better and worse in Taiwan, but surely one accomplishment for which we can safely honor them is….” And given that a half-century has passed since Japan left Taiwan, it’s rather odd not to acknowledge that the Taiwanese educational system wouldn’t be of the high caliber it is were it not for the diligence of the Taiwanese themselves in keeping it up since then. The PRC accused Aso of “glamourizing colonization” in that case, BTW.

    Can’t fight fate

    Posted by Sean at 09:25, March 8th, 2006

    What would you do without your friends, right?

    Yesterday I turned thirty-four. Dinner was arranged by the manager at a favorite bar of mine. I grew up in a religious sect in which you didn’t celebrate people’s birthdays–if we’re not going to celebrate Christ’s, we’re not going to celebrate yours, right?–so I’m always a little uncomfortable with the idea of having attention lavished on me just because I happened to emerge from the womb the same day on the calendar as Taylor Dayne.

    At the same time, you don’t tell people you value that you don’t feel like having the party they want to give you. So we went out for Thai food. Morning glory stems, and chicken satay, and green papaya salad, and chicken green curry, and all that. Yummy as always. Predictably but hilariously bitchy present from my friend A. Some incense–proper incense and no scented candle crapola–and some sweets. Made out like a homosexual bandit.

    And then we went to GB. Cake. For me? Thanks, guys. Really. It’s great. Very prettily covered with strawberries.

    Very prettily.

    You all know I’m allergic to strawberries, right?

    Or I probably am. A few years ago, I ate a fruit salad, and my throat swelled up, and I had to go to the emergency room and they had to shoot me up with adrenaline. The doctors gave me the interrogation about what I’d consumed immediately before getting hives. Judging by what I was used to eating and, I can only assume, by what kinds of fruits tend to be responsible for allergies, the dermatologist on overnight duty told me that it must have been the strawberries or the star fruit. Or it might have been a one-time reaction brought on by stress. I’d lived in Japan for five years by that point, so I was used to hearing doctors make pronouncements along the lines of, “Maybe next time you eat strawberries, you’ll be fine. Or you could go into anaphylactic shock and die. Do you really need to eat strawberries and find out?” Clearly not, especially since the sight of them now makes me vaguely nauseated.

    Pretty much everyone I know knows this. I’m known for it. In fact, I mentioned it again a week or so ago when the guys asked whether I had any of those weirdo foreigner-type food preferences. Then they must have forgotten, which is perfectly understandable.

    So last night the strawberry cake appeared. I smiled (sincerely) in gratitude and cut the cake for everyone (sincerely) and said it looked delicious (sincerely–I mean, they were very ripe, luscious-looking strawberries…that nauseated me, but I was editing that part out). I then, sotto voce, asked my friends sitting next to me to change plates with me and hork my slice so I didn’t look as if I’d not eaten my share. One problem: the guy who’d gotten the cake–I’ve known him for years and he kind of has a soft spot for me–was tending bar right in front of us. Consternation. Pushing cake around on plate a bit, beaming with what I hoped looked like the anticipation of pleasure. Ooh, spied a friend on the opposite side of the bar. It would be rude to eat up my cake before going over and greeting him, especially since he’s making a-toast-to-you-on-your-birthday signals at me. (His version of “Happy birthday!” consisted of “You don’t look a day over thirty-six, baby!” These queers, I tell ya.)

    Finally! An opening. The guy who’d been in charge of getting the cake went to the bathroom.

    It was like one of Lucille Ball’s sitcom machinations, only it actually worked. I shoved my plate in front of Friend 1, who inhaled the strawberries arrayed thereon. Friend 2–A. himself, who comes to my rescue way too often–was on lookout. When the toilet door opened, I was ready: sitting all calm-like with my fork idly mashing the remaining bits of cake. Since we’d all been complaining about how full we were from dinner, I figure it didn’t sound strange for me to say, “Thanks a lot, man–it was beautiful” and push away my not-quite-clean paper plate.

    I wasn’t lying. It had been beautiful.

    Added on 9 March: I seem to have done the forget-how-PowerBlogs-works thing again and revised this post from a window I reached through the Back button and not by choosing the Edit function the right way. I think I’ve caught everything redundant or fragmentary.


    Posted by Sean at 08:03, March 8th, 2006

    Attention to this is long overdue:

    The Financial Services Agency has firmed up a new policy direction that will strengthen regulations on “excessive loans,” those loans that exceed the borrower’s ability to repay. The goal is to address a current [financial] reality in which the piling on of debts has ushered in such serious social problems as personal bankruptcy and suicide. The toughened regulations are intended to put the brakes on loans that result in debtors’ having their houses seized and losing the means to live and to prohibit excessive requirements from loan guarantors. The FSA intends to eradicate “grey area interest,” interest currently not subject to punishment even though it exceeds the [limit imposed by] the Interest Rate Restriction Law. In addition to improving oversight, the idea is to crack down on “excessive lending” by the loan industry.

    The English version has just about as much detail as the original Japanese, though the order of facts is scrambled. I doubt that the solution lies in more restrictions on interest rates, usurious though they frequently are in Japan. The main problem here is more often out and out fraud, with unscrupulous lenders approving loans that they know borrowers will never be able to pay off. Requiring the sara-kin to put the results of their background checks on potential borrowers in writing sounds like a good first step, assuming the borrowers know what they’re looking at and the regulators assigned actually check what they’re supposed to be checking.

    No, it can’t

    Posted by Sean at 09:08, March 6th, 2006

    Brokeback Heap-o-Hype may not have won Best Picture, but its inevitable bunny parody is up (via Ghost of a Flea).

    It was plain to see / That the lady was loveblind

    Posted by Sean at 02:04, March 6th, 2006

    Richard Rosendall’s newest column posted to IGF is on the verbose and meandering side, but he outlines the strategic problems in the current push for gay marriage or civil unions pretty well. One passage that puzzles me, as things like this always do:

    Being in love, I sympathize with those who are unwilling to wait for a more conducive political climate. Unfortunately, wanting equality now does not make it so, any more than demanding my two-minute egg instantaneously will make it cook any faster. But while we remind our compatriots that our struggle is a long-term one, we must deal with the reality that some gay people will ignore us and go charging off making messes that the rest of us will have to deal with.

    Not just the rest of us, though–those who come after, too. After all, that’s what makes the “long-term” part important. The problem, to extend Rosendall’s metaphor, is not just whether we get our eggs as fast as we’d like but whether it ends up that gays who come up in future generations get any eggs at all.

    And that very first participial phrase suggests that Rosendall is also not attuned to one of the other crucial dividing lines in this debate: those who see public policy in the role of validating love and conferring dignity on people vs. those who simply want the government to get out of the way while they arrange to take care of each other.

    The latter consideration is important enough. Last month, after the New York state legislature voted to allow people to make burial decisions for their domestic partners, Ex-Gay Watch posted about this astonishing bit of argument through cheap expediency by Robert Knight of Concerned Women for America:

    “Family has been given preference for a reason,” says the pro-family leader. “And to say that grieving parents, for instance, just have no rights over what happens to their child’s body is a perversion of the law.”

    Interesting. I assume that if a single woman brought up in a Muslim (or Wiccan, or atheist) family converted to Christianity and then formally designated someone she trusted in her new congregation to take care of her body, CWF would say that the law should allow her parents to give her a non-Christian burial anyway?

    The fact is that our country wouldn’t even exist if men and women of principle had not been willing to leave behind traditions of their elders that they could not in good conscience agree with. It’s a shame that estrangement within families sometimes happens, but it’s a fact of life in free societies for plenty of reasons besides homosexuality. While we can all agree that community living involves duties, the idea that an adult’s registered instructions regarding the disposal of his or her own body should be overridden as a sop to his weeping relatives should be chilling to anyone who professes to prize liberty.

    Speaking of sentiment, framing the discussion about marriage or civil unions in terms of how much we loooooovvvvve one another only invites people to think of the issue in terms of feelings. Does it still need to be pointed out that most people’s feelings about homosexuality are ambivalent at best? Even gay marriage advocates who have meatier arguments about rights and responsibilities to make frequently slip into lugubrious pronouncements about needing marriage for “validation.”

    All that notwithstanding, Rosendall’s essential point is sound: On the gay side, we need to look for ways to give each other a fair hearing and find points to cooperate on, even as we acknolwedge that, in a free society, gay advocacy is never going to be “unified.”


    Posted by Sean at 00:39, March 6th, 2006

    There was a demonstration over the weekend against the transfer of current Futenma base facilities to another location in Okinawa:

    More than 30,000 people rallied in Japan’s southern Okinawa island Sunday against plans to relocate a U.S. air base to another area on the island, demanding that the facility be moved outside the country, a news report said.

    Organizers said an estimated 35,000 people participated in the two-hour rally in the city of Ginowan, site of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station, Kyodo News agency said.

    “The city of Ginowan strongly demands that Futenma … be shut down immediately and relocated outside of Japan,” Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha was quoted by Kyodo as saying.

    The plan to move the base–agreed to by Tokyo and Washington in October–also calls for the transfer of 7,000 Marines from Okinawa over six years to the U.S. territory Guam and the shifting of some operations to other cities on Japan’s main islands.

    Okinawa is Japan’s poorest prefecture, and areas surrounding US military installations there (well, and elsewhere, too, but especially in Okinawa) tend to have a love-hate relationship with the bases. Our personnel create entire economies that would disappear if they left; on the other hand, entertainment districts that cater to servicemen have higher incidences of street crime than do surrounding areas, and when there are off-base accidents (as in the crash of a helicopter in Okinawa a few years ago) military commanders can come off high-handed. While I support our military policy, obviously, when it comes to specific accusations of misconduct, it can be difficult to know whom to sympathize with.

    Speaking of Okinawa-related characters of dubitable sympathy, I can only assume the translator who came up with the first paragraph of this piece for the Yomiuri was laughing so hard he or she could barely type:

    Technical Councillor Mamoru Ikezawa, the former third most senior official at the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, was aware of the agency’s illegal bid-rigging practices, but was unable to stop them–and ended up playing a leading role.

    According to informed sources, Ikezawa told agency colleagues that he would put a stop to “illegal practices.” This was an apparent reference to agency projects that included the relocation of facilities of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

    Ikezawa, 57, and two other agency officials were arrested in late January and have since been indicted on suspicion of rigging air-conditioning project bids.

    Late last month, prosecutors served the three with fresh arrest warrants on suspicion they organized rigged bids for projects at U.S. bases in Yamaguchi and Nagasaki prefectures.

    Ikezawa is suspected of putting a higher priority on amakudari–wherein retiring government officials get jobs with private firms or public-service corporations in sectors related to their previous occupations–than on putting an end to bid-rigging.

    “Ended up playing a leading role”? Well, yes, I suppose it’s safe to say that means he “was unable to stop them.” I don’t see any reason to doubt that he was sincere enough about his desire to put a stop to collusion and amakudari. However, he made his choice, and I don’t see what point there is to the it’s-the-thought-that-counts qualifications now. (The Japanese version of the article, which doesn’t contain much more information than the English version, is here.)

    Clean burning

    Posted by Sean at 22:52, March 5th, 2006

    It’s been a while since there was much news about the disputed East China Sea gas fields, but another round of talks begins today:

    At the third round of talks, Japan proposed joint development of gas fields at four locations that straddle the midline boundary [between Japan and PRC territories] and run along a fossil fuel vein, including the Shungyo field. China continues in its stance of not recognizing the midline as the boundary and, in addition, has taken the position that the Shungyo field is in “non-disputed waters” (in the words of the Foreign Minister) on the western side of the midline and that resources there are China’s.

    All kinds of progress, huh? The Asahi has an English report that’s already much more detailed, though of course no specifics have emerged yet from this fourth round of talks. The new talks are in no small part the work of the new Minister of Trade, Economy, and Industry:

    Since succeeding Shoichi Nakagawa as trade minister in October, Nikai has taken a more conciliatory stance.

    Nakagawa had attempted to pressure China by granting test drilling rights over the disputed East China Sea gas fields to a private Japanese firm.

    Nikai argued that even if the rights were granted, private companies would not be able to do any work if China maintained a confrontational stance.

    Nikai’s repeated calls for more talks apparently convinced China that compromise is possible.

    China finished laying a pipeline from Chunxiao [I’m calling it “shungyo,” the Japanized pronunciation for 春暁, though the Japanese name is supposed to be “shirakawa”.–SRK] to the Chinese mainland in October. Experts thought China was about to start production, but there has been no noticeable work since then. Government sources say China has likely halted operations temporarily to save face for Nikai.

    So the consensus, such as there is, seems to be that this particular round of talks will accomplish demonstrations of goodwill but no actual progress on exploration and drilling policy. Next time, maybe?


    Posted by Sean at 09:42, March 5th, 2006

    Whew. Fever-pitch week. Friend whose boyfriend dumped him a few weeks ago decided to break Rule #1. He–not making this up, guys–showed up at our hang-out looking for my friend. Found him. Proceeded to tell him, “You know our friendship is very important to me.”

    “It’s not that I don’t care about you–you know that, too, right?”

    “I miss having you around.”

    “You have no idea how hard it was for me to break up with you.”

    You can imagine the rest. I showed up about halfway through this particular scene and took a post on the opposite side of the bar until it became clear that it was Intervention Time. I put on my best clueless-American-being-heartily-friendly act and wandered over. “Evan! [blink-blink] Have you been here the whole time? I just got here ten minutes ago.” I gave him the chance to give me the look that says, “Now isn’t a good time” and got the look that says, “Help!” Luckily, he’s a strong-minded guy, so he just needed an hour or two of being listened to. I still entered the weekend kind of drained.

    Luckily, Atsushi was here, which always improves things. When we went out for dinner last night, we were, purely by chance, given a private room at the restaurant. That was not only nice but also useful, since when the waiter brought our lamb ribs, he deposited moist handtowels next to the plates and said, in that gravely expressionless waiter voice, “To enjoy it to the last morsel, you’ll have to pick up the bones and eat the meat off them.” So Atsushi and I got to sit on opposite sides of a table and watch each other hungrily sucking meat off bones. Put me in a very…you know…primal mood.

    Speaking of primal–or rather, atavistic–I also polished off While Europe Slept . Yet another reason to be glad Atsushi was nearby, since reading deeply disturbing stuff like that is always easier when your man is reassuringly at the other end of the sofa. And it was disturbing, though a lot of the reportorial details are familiar if you’ve been paying attention to the news over the last several years. Some passages also seem to be adapted from this essay of Bruce Bawer’s a while back (not that that’s a problem). In a way, the flat-out atrocities and terrorist acts weren’t as rattling as, say, this passage on p. 57, which made me snarf my Earl Grey:

    In many Western European countries, indeed, some laws are different for natives than for immigrants. For native Swedes, the minimum age for marriage is eighteen; for immigrants living in Sweden, there is no minimum. In Germany, an ethnic German who marries someone from outside the EU and wants to bring him to her to Germany must answer a long list of questions about the spouse’s birth date, daily routine, and so forth in order to prove that the marriage is legitimate and not pro forma; such interviews are not required for German residents with, say, Turkish or Pakistani backgrounds, for it is assumed that their marriages have been arranged and that the spouses will therefore know little or nothing about each other.

    I live in a country in which there are different rules for natives and foreigners, but here–quite justifiably, as far as I’m concerned–the laws favor, you know, the natives. (I try to hold out hope that the normally-exacting Bawer is misinterpreting something in the German legal code, but the phrasing he uses neither is ambiguous itself nor seems to refer to the kind of policy that could easily be misrepresented.) Sheesh. (See also this by the Grand Stander.)

    Added on 6 March: My parents and I kind of have an arrangement whereby they treat Atsushi like one of the family but we don’t discuss gay stuff head-on. I’m amused, though, by the way their Christmas present to him always manages to seem subliminally racy. Here’s this year’s:


    Yes, yes, “Intercourse, PA” is a cheap schoolboy joke. But still, my parents live at the edge of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Every town significant enough to have a crossroads has some little collective of farms that makes jelly and relishes. There’s nothing easier than NOT choosing the ones made in, of all places, Intercourse.

    Of course, my thinking is probably affected by last year. This was what arrived for Atsushi for Christmas 2004:


    As I said at the time, to the extent that I could form words while laughing, “I would call this a coded message of approval for our relationship, but I’m guessing there wasn’t quite that much subtext intended.”

    If I had met you on some journey

    Posted by Sean at 14:11, March 3rd, 2006

    As Michael says, The Onion knows exactly what it’s doing…only…every straight man I’ve ever encountered has finished the sentence “If I were a gay man…” with “…dude, I would so totally HAVE SEX ALL THE TIME.” I feel the omission of that particular soul cry lends a false note to the proceedings.

    But the article, now a few years old, is still hilarious.

    To switch to the comfortably out, Atsushi comes home for the weekend tomorrow. Since I have the day off and have the time to prepare something, I was going to ask him what he wanted for brunch, but I know the answer already. His favorite dish is plain broiled chicken–that’s what he always asks for, even when I tell him I’m willing to go to National Azabu to get a turkey for Thanksgiving or try to find a goose for Christmas. I like a man with an appreciation for the austere.

    Well, with pan gravy. Drippy, luscious pan gravy with way too much of the fat from butter.

    Have a good weekend, everyone.