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    Root causes

    Posted by Sean at 06:06, February 5th, 2006

    I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, That psycho who attacked the gay bar in Massachusetts must have been egged on by the Religious Right, because…well, the Religious Right is responsible for all gay problems right down to that hangnail you got before your last blind date. And right correct you are (via IGF):

    The hatred and loathing fueling this morning’s vicious attack on gay men in New Bedford is not innate, it is learned. And who is teaching it? Leaders of the so-called Christian right, that’s who. Individuals like James Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, the Rev. Pat Robertson and their ilk are obsessed with homosexuality. They use their vast resources, media networks and affiliated pulpits to blame lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for all the ills of society. They disguise their hatred as ‘deeply held religious beliefs.’ We have witnessed seven years of vicious anti-LGBT organizing in Massachusetts — and endured the hate-filled rantings of Brian Camenker of the Article 8 Alliance and Parents Rights Coalition and Ed Pawlick of MassNews. The blood spilled this morning is on their hands.

    I wasn’t aware that the NGLTF PR office was staffed by research psychologists–there appears to be no evidence presented for the claim that the teenaged suspect in this case was socialized into his psychopathic behavior, rather than being just a plain wrong-‘un. I was also under the impression that genuine Nazi-sympathizing nut cases–as the suspect appears to be–thought Dobson and Robertson and their fellow-travelers were a bunch of pussies, in part precisely because they stop well short of recommending that faggots be shot.

    Steve Miller also deadpans an appropriate response to the predictable call for more hate crimes legislation:

    From HRC: Anti-gay hate crime in Massachusetts is enraging reminder of need to pass law. I agree; walking into a bar and shooting people really ought to be against the law. Glad to hear that HRC is on the case.

    The suspect has been apprehended, having now added the murder of another woman and a traffic cop to his record of impishly charming little escapades. CNN also has, BTW, an interview with one of the original victims at the gay bar. (I don’t know whether the link will work, but here it is.) The guy reacts with such equanimity and such sweetly self-effacing humor it breaks your heart. Some lunatic almost murdered him with a freaking hatchet and gun a few nights ago, for crying out loud. I’m glad he says he has friends and family to help him through, and I hope the other two victims are as lucky.

    Islamofascist Mad Libs

    Posted by Sean at 23:04, February 4th, 2006

    Unreal. Just unreal. I know this stuff shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but I’ve gone back to Michelle Malkin’s site and looked at those pictures several times over the last few days, and I find it hard even to get angry, exactly. (I’m sure that would be different if this were the aftermath of a suicide bombing or other sort of attack.) It’s just so depressing: “[thesaurus word for kill] those who [thesaurus word for assail] Islam.” These people can’t even come up with stimulating, idiosyncratic thoughts on their protest posters.

    This is probably going to sound ridiculously petty, but I wish our civilization were clashing with a force that at least gave us a run for our money when it came to imagination and…flair. Not that that would make the bloodthirstiness or illiberalism any better at all; but it would at least give the feeling of fighting a worthy, equal evil, as opposed to one that just happens to breed in such large numbers that its presence can’t be ignored. As Steven Malcolm Anderson would have said, they have no style.

    I hadn’t really planned on doing the Buy Danish! thing, but if the enemy insists on being so incandescently lame, I figure I’ll go the whole way and take the in-your-face gay approach: I will stop by Seibu on my way home and drop some money on Royal Copenhagen. Yeah, fine, I spend too much on housewares even when there’s no moral message to be conveyed, but see, I hadn’t planned on buying anything there TODAY, so I still get to feel all upright and socially responsible. So say I.

    Still standing

    Posted by Sean at 03:24, February 4th, 2006

    Great news: Kylie is in remission. (Via Ghost of a Flea, as if you had to ask)

    I’ll hold my breath until I turn blue!

    Posted by Sean at 23:01, February 3rd, 2006

    Okay, I know I shouldn’t be disrespectful, but I laughed aloud at this (via Rondi Adamson). Luckily, I didn’t have a mouthful of tea and cake at the time:

    A leading Islamic cleric called for an “international day of anger” today over publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, and a Danish activist predicted that deadly violence could break out in Europe “at any minute”.

    As more European newspapers reprinted the cartoons, what started off as a row between Denmark’s press and its Muslim population grew into a full-blown “clash of civilisations”.

    As Rondi says, “But isn’t every day an international day of anger for Islamofascists?” Yeah, seriously, what is that all about? We infidels are going to be glowered at especially hard today? The shrieky denunciations of Western culture and institutions will be ratcheted up a decibel or two?

    The Danish cartoons thing is one of those stories that everyone with a blog had written about the moment it broke, so I wasn’t going to say anything about it. If you believe in freedom of thought and freedom of speech, the political position you need to take is obvious. As Virginia Postrel says:

    My response to this nonsense is to wonder why Muslims don’t grow up. If your co-religionists are going to take political stands, and blow up innocent people in the name of Islam, political cartoonists are going to occasionally take satirical swipes at your religion. Those swipes may not be nuanced, but they’re what you can expect when you live in a free society, where you, too, can hold views others find offensive. If you don’t like it, move to Saudi Arabia. Or just try to peacefully convert people to Islam.

    We all cherish the right to free speech, but of course we have to try and assess motives in order to be able to deal with each other, and there’s no reason not to raise the question of whether the cartoons in question are merely coarsening the public discourse rather than contributing useful thoughts to it. That’s the angle of the whole thing that pisses me off; there are legitimate issues about civilized behavior in a liberal society that this could be an opportunity to discuss. It’s useful to ask where vigorous opposition shades off into unenlightening jeering and disrespect.

    But, you know, you have to stop frothing at the mouth in order to get to the point at which you can contemplate such things, and that’s something many Islamic activists seem incapable of doing. Not only that, but moderate Muslims haven’t figured out how to grab the spotlight when these sorts of things happen and put a sensible, civilized public face on their faith. (Virginia’s right about Kindly Inquisitors , BTW. Short but very good.)

    Added after finishing tea: Trust me to get through an entire post about something I’d planned not to post about without posting about the thing that spurred me to post about it in the first place. (Don’t bother rereading that sentence–you got the gist already, trust me.)

    It was the State Department (via Michelle Malkin):

    “These cartoons are indeed offensive to the beliefs of Muslims,” State Department spokesman Justin Higgins said when queried about the furore sparked by the cartoons which first appeared in a Danish newspaper.

    “We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility,” Higgins told AFP.

    “Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable. We call for tolerance and respect for all communities and for their religious beliefs and practices.”

    “Not acceptable”? Give me a break. “Not acceptable” is, like, the locution I use when scolding an employee for being late or not filling out his paperwork properly. It would be “not acceptable” for Electrolux to refuse to make restitution if it sold you a defective vacuum cleaner. It’s “not acceptable” for a commercial flight to take off an hour late with no apology from the crew.

    Given that candid eye contact from a woman in public is enough to “[incite] religious or ethnic hatreds” in some of these people, going all extra-sensitivo when writing (of all things!) political cartoons seems a bit pointless. Especially if our standard is going to be wifty-ass PR-speak like “acceptable.”

    BTW, while I’m citing a series of beautiful, smart, fierce women, Samantha Burns hasn’t yet posted about this whole ridiculous cartoon drama, but presumably she will. (A commenter has prodded her.) And when she does, you know it’s going to be a corker.

    Added still later: In the interest of diversity, here‘s a post that’s not by a beautiful, smart, fierce woman. Since this is Beautiful Atrocities we’re talking about, it goes without saying that it’s not safe for work. Not safe for play, either. I’m a big proponent of civilized discourse, but there are times when targeted offensiveness makes a point that can’t be made any other way.

    You’re the one for me, fatty

    Posted by Sean at 22:22, February 3rd, 2006

    Wow. Do you think this way of thinking could somehow be made to catch on elsewhere?

    “We can only provide information on how to lead a healthy life,” Health Ministry official Shigefumi Nakano said Friday, referring to a report on the ministry’s Web site. “The rest is up to the individual.”

    There’s a concept, huh? The context is that the Japanese are failing to meet health and fitness targets set by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare.

    The ministry’s 10-year plan also measures awareness about the health impact of activities such as smoking and alcohol consumption.

    While Japanese are becoming more conscious about how lifestyle affects health, many still do not get enough exercise, the ministry report said.

    Of course, Japan is a rich society, so people are taking in an increasing number of calories that are for pleasure rather than subsistence. Partially because everything is so expensive and partially because dainty portions are valued culturally (well, everywhere except ramen shops), you tend not to be served the great mountains of french fries or chocolate cake that you would be in the States, but it’s not hard to believe that people are getting somewhat fatter and lazier. That said, there’s no shortage of nutritional information available. The food labeling here is as good as it is in the States. And Japan has the same magazine articles, news and talk show segments, and advertisements extolling the benefits of fish and whole grains and green leafy vegetables that you’d see elsewhere in the First World, too.

    2004 banner year for DFAA

    Posted by Sean at 21:49, February 3rd, 2006

    Apparently, 2004 was a good year for bid rigging:

    It now appears that every major civil engineering and construction project commissioned by the DFAA in fiscal 2004 was tarnished by bid-rigging, according to sources close to an investigation by Tokyo prosecutors.

    Projects that were believed rigged include the relocation of a runway at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture as well as quay and bank protection work at the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Activities Sasebo and Yokose Fuel Terminal, both in Nagasaki Prefecture. Revelations about Iwakuni emerged Thursday.

    Of particular interest to prosecutors is a retired DFAA official who held the post of technical councilor, the third-highest job in the agency, an arm of the Defense Agency that its chief has pledged to dissolve.

    The construction project in Sasebo was contracted for 4.032 billion yen, while work on the Iwakuni project in fiscal 2004 cost 3.517 billion yen.

    The Sasebo project was the most expensive commissioned by the Fukuoka Defense Facilities Administration Bureau in fiscal 2004.

    The joint venture that won the project was headed by Penta Ocean Construction Co. and the bid price was 99.28 percent of what the agency was willing to spend. [Incompetents! They couldn’t find a way to wring out the other 0.72%?–SRK]

    The project at the Yokose Fuel Terminal cost about 1.575 billion yen and the contract was won by a joint venture led by Toa Corp. The bid price was 97.76 percent of what the agency had earmarked.

    Experts said such high percentages are unheard of when bidding is open to all.

    Three sitting or former DFAA high officials were arrested last week, but of course, you don’t get dirty doings of this magnitude without help from another post-War institution: the revolving door, known in Japanese as 天下り (ama-kudari: lit., “descent from the heavens [of powerful government work into a private-sector position in which one can exploit one’s accrued connections]”).

    Retired DFAA bureaucrats also played key coordinating roles in deciding which joint ventures got contracts.

    Sources close to the investigation said a retired technical councilor who moved to an executive position at a construction company was a key individual in the bid-rigging for the Iwakuni project.

    The individual, whose name was withheld, served as head of the DFAA’s Construction Department as well as technical councilor from the 1980s until the 1990s.

    A textbook case of amakudari at work.


    Posted by Sean at 08:41, February 3rd, 2006

    One of the best things about having the blog has been knowing that Atsushi will read every post. I don’t put in secret little messages to him or anything–if I were reading someone else’s blog where that was going on, I think it would creep me out–but I know that it’s one of the ways he finds out which news stories I’m paying attention to and what kinds of ups and downs friends are having, so when I press “Submit” on this or that entry, I always wonder whether it will turn out to be one that he has a sly comment on.

    We talk every night, almost always between 11:15 and 11:45, but sometimes a little later if one of us is working overtime or out with friends or colleagues. I know people in long-distance relationships who only talk every few days, and I figure it must work for them, but I don’t really sleep well if we haven’t talked a little about our days and said our I-love-yous.

    Circumstances do interfere sometimes, though. Atsushi’s office is having its company trip this weekend. Those who’ve been forced to go on corporate retreats will be thinking, Oh, no, not one of those…, and they’ll be half-right. There are no weird games where you try to identify whether your leadership style is better represented by a fig or an artichoke or any of that crap. But there’s a great deal of enforced togetherness and drinking and singing karaoke. Employee awards and things are often given–things like that. Atsushi was one of the people in charge of planning this year’s shindig, so tonight he probably won’t be able to call me even though today is exactly the kind of stressful day each of us relies on the other to talk him down from. I’ll e-mail his cell phone; he’ll at least be able to sneak a few minutes away from his room (shared with coworkers) to read that. But I figure I can post this, too, so that when he gets back home Sunday he can see I was thinking about him.


    Posted by Sean at 02:26, February 3rd, 2006

    The Diplomacy and Defense Committee of the House of Councillors is moving on JDA chief Fukujiro Nukaga’s recommendation that the DFAA be disbanded:

    On the morning of 3 February, the upper house Diplomacy and Defense Committee opened an intensive discussion related to the scandal over bid-rigging by the Defense Facilities Administration Agency.

    By way of apology, Nukaga stated, “The form this conduct has taken is a betrayal of the citizenry; we are all truly and utterly ashamed.” Concerning his own responsibility, he said, “The mission I have been given as the one with policy jurisdiction is to create a new system that the public can trust,” emphasizing that while he accepts responsibility he has no thought of resigning.

    The idea is to fold DFAA operations back into the JDA in the budget proposal for 2007 to be submitted this summer.

    The implications of its covenant

    Posted by Sean at 03:39, February 2nd, 2006

    Jews are cool. I don’t think I mention that often enough. Sure, they (and their institutions, such as the Israeli government) are fallible like the rest of us, but overall, they set quite a cultural example of resourceful and enterprising approaches to problems.

    It’s not that I have a problem with non-Jews, mind. Why, some of my best friends aren’t Jewish. Hell, I‘m not Jewish. It’s just that, given that the Palestinians have just voted a party into power that has wiping Israel off the map as part of its platform, saying that Jews are cool seems somewhat more important than it might have last week.

    I know, I know–Fatah was corrupt and disingenuous anyway. I also know that bitching about something Jimmy Carter said about the Middle East will have no practical result, though it brings back fond memories of the harangues Mom and Dad used to deliver at the TV news when I was little and might lower my blood pressure somewhat. Here he is. (BTW, Mr. Carter? If you turned up the heat, you wouldn’t need that vest on indoors to be toasty warm. Just a thought.)

    Hamas deserves to be recognized by the international community, and despite the group’s militant history, there is a chance the soon-to-be Palestinian leaders could turn away from violence, former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday.

    Carter, who monitored last week’s Palestinian elections in which Hamas handily toppled the ruling Fatah, added that the United States should not cut off aid to the Palestinian people, but rather funnel it through third parties like the U.N.

    I’m bringing this up because I’ve heard the issue framed that way by a few people since the weekend, and I think it’s predicated on a misunderstanding. Has anyone–Bush, Rice, Rove, anyone?–talked about not recognizing the Hamas government the way, say, the ROC was considered the real “China” at the UN until thirty-odd years ago? Perhaps so and I’ve missed it. What I read from the Secretary of State, though, was this:

    “We’re going to review all of our assistance programs, but the bedrock principle here is we can’t have funding for an organization that holds those views just because it is in government,” Rice said.

    The U.S., Europe and Israel list Hamas as a terrorist organization; various Arab governments have contact with the group.

    “It is important that Hamas now will have to confront the implications of its covenant if it wishes to govern,” Rice said. “That becomes a primary consideration in anything that we do.”

    It is not clear that all European nations or the United Nations would cut off aid, let alone Arab governments that do not recognize Israel.

    That sure sounds like a recognition of Hamas’s legitimacy as the democratically elected majority party to me. That it simultaneously declares that Hamas needs to stop acting like scum if it expects our help in governing is a different consideration. (The “if it wishes to govern” part reads like a warning of practical consequences rather than a threat.)

    Seriously, I’d like to be able to say I think Palestinians are cool, too. I don’t hold it against them, in any fundamental way, that they don’t like the Jews. Long-standing ethnic enmity is a fact of life all over the Earth, and while democratization has turned it into mostly good-natured mischief in some places, it still plays a major role in the love-your-goods-but-hate-you way that, say, Japan, China, and Korea interact (just to pull a region out of the air, you know).

    But besides all that, when they’re not getting misty-eyed over suicide bombers, the Palestinians have a reputation for being unusually hard-working and inventive. I was brought up in the sort of environment in which those qualities are valued and would just kind of like to know when–when on Earth–we’re going to see them bear fruit there. The Palestinians have infrastructure and universities. They have internal and external markets to exploit. Yes, the Israelis have access to cooler guns, but that alone doesn’t explain why it’s Israel that has the First World standard of living and the breakthroughs in medical research that get global publicity. I’ve seen–I wish I remembered where–the results of the recent election as a signal that the Palestinian people are starting to look at how they themselves, though their government, are causing some of their own problems instead of blaming everyone else. It’s nice to think so.

    In the meantime, though, the less-corrupt party with the official position that Israel must be destroyed is still taking an official position that Israel must be destroyed. Recognizing it without rewarding it strikes me as good policy.


    Posted by Sean at 22:56, February 1st, 2006

    To me, the Livedoor scandal isn’t all that sexy (and no, it’s not just because of the notable lack of physical comeliness of the chief villain of the piece), but this adds a kind of racy-spy-novel element:

    Takafumi Horie (33), former president of the Livedoor Group and a suspect in its violation of the Securities and Exchange Law, and multiple other senior managers were revealed on 1 January by another party in the scandal to have put money into and maintained accounts under assumed names in Hong Kong. Nagaya Nakamura (38), former president of the group’s investment subsidiary Livedoor Finance, apparently gave instructions to the financial institutions’ account managers. Thus the identity of one part of Livedoor’s money laundering operation has come to the surface.

    Okay, fine, a Swiss bank account would have been sexier. Maybe if we could have brought in a Swedish air hostess of icy demeanor under police interrogation, that would have been nice, too. Given the sheer appalling arrogance that’s coming to light and the egregious hot-guy deficit involved, though, the Hong Kong connection at least adds some savory intrigue.