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    You just haven’t earned it yet, baby

    Posted by Sean at 06:35, November 11th, 2005

    A few months ago, a soft-spoken Japanese guy in his early 20s came up to me and struck up a very tentative conversation. Later, he called and asked whether I was free for dinner on the weekend. I carefully selected a this-is-not-a-date-little-buddy outfit and met him in Shibuya. (Well, okay–a few friends I met later were all snarky and “That‘s your this-is-not-a-date outfit?” which I thought was kind of uncalled-for. It turned out that there was a bigger issue, though.)

    After dinner, I took Teru to one of my hangouts, run by half of a couple Atsushi and I know. (The other half runs the bar where we were introduced, right down the street. They’re in their early 50s, together for two decades; it’s fun to to go to one bar after the other and listen to them bitch, serially, about each other’s managerial and customer service skills.) It was a Sunday night, not very late, so when we arrived there were only two other guys there.

    Then, just after we’d gotten our drinks, a dozen men came in. The other bar had had a bowling party or something, so they were all regulars. After they swept in, I was busy being greeted and teased and teasing and greeting back. I introduced Teru to those who were within bowing distance. Two old buddies I hadn’t seen for ages asked about a third friend who’d dropped off their radar. Another long-time acquaintance related (with humor rather than rancor) how he’d tried to pick me up once after Atsushi and I got together. At some point I turned to Teru, chuckling, to explain the meaning of some in-jokey thing.

    And pulled up short. He looked mildly alarmed, like an anthropologist starting his first fieldwork and realizing that it was very, very different from reading journals in the library. Since then, it’s become increasingly clear that Teru kind of wants help making friends. I’m happy to do the big brother things, but…how do I put this?…no one should feel forced to affect an outgoingness that really doesn’t gel with his personality, but it still isn’t fair to sit around expecting fabulous friendships and piquant potential love interests to start swirling around you spontaneously. If you never display more than a polite interest in people, they’ll assume you’re not interested in being more than polite to them. Arrogance tends to repel people, but a demeanor that suggests you’re confident you have something to offer doesn’t.

    Yes, I’ve pointed this out, in a fashion that’s as little like a sermon as possible. But Teru seems to think that once you’ve found friends, you’ll be able to act engaged and lively, rather than the other way around. To a degree, I sympathize. After you go through all the upheaval of figuring out that you’re gay and reorienting yourself toward your relatives and friends and coworkers, you just want some relationship…any relationship…to be effortless. In real life, though, coming out is the beginning of the job, not the end. Now you know you’re gay. Great. Next question: what kind of gay guy are you? Quiet is fine, if you don’t mind that your relationships will start slowly and develop pokily; but then you can’t get all mopey over having trouble getting to know people.

    Get this party started

    Posted by Sean at 23:28, November 10th, 2005

    I understand why gays would be excited about ousting Rick Santorum, but this kind of thing (via Michael) is ridiculous:

    New Keystone Poll out in Pennsylvania and the news keeps getting worse for the current GOP number three in the Senate.

    In the same poll in March Senator Santorum trailed by 1 point, in June by 7 points, in September by 13 points, and in the latest (Nov. 2 – 7) Casey leads by a whopping 16 points, 51% – 35%.

    Bottom line, barring a major event that totally reshuffles the national playing field, or a major scandal involving Bob Casey, Santorum will lose in 2006.

    WTF? There’s a year until the next election. A YEAR. (The Malcontent points this out in Boi from Troy’s comments.) Furthermore, let’s remember an important political truth: Pennsylvania is weird.

    Pennsylvania is still one of the most populous states in the union, though its relative population has been sinking like a stone for decades, and–as we’re tediously informed every three seconds in the run-up to a close election–it’s a swing state. There are pockets of hard Democrats in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (of course) but also on the West End of Allentown, in the college towns, and (I imagine, though I don’t know the place well) in Erie. But there’s also a very high rural population; outside the cities, Pennsylvanians, like upstate New Yorkers, are spread relatively smoothly over the land area. That’s where a lot of the conservatives are.

    Of course, there are plenty of people who don’t vote in both town and country. But local coverage in election years always makes it very plain to people that, taking the commonwealth as a whole, we’re pretty evenly split on a lot of hot-button issues. With that in mind, you also have to factor in the Specter Effect: we already have an influential, moderate, triangulating, peace-making man in the US Senate. I suspect–this is just a hunch on my part–that many people are willing to overlook Santorum’s more extreme pronouncements because they just sent Finger-to-the-Wind Arlen back to Washington a few years ago, too. (Given a chance to replace Specter with my then-congressman, hard-conservative Pat Toomey, PA primary voters said, “No thanks” last go-round. And those were just the Republicans.)

    For voters who lean right/libertarian, deciding between Santorum and Casey isn’t likely to be quite as easy as deciding between Santorum and Harris “let’s resurrect HillaryCare!!!!!” Wofford was ten years ago…or between Santorum and What’s-his-face (Colonel Klink, I want to say?) in 2000. Casey’s website takes the now-de rigueur line: “I’m for curbing government spending unless it goes to subisides for the elderly and mothers who need child care and public schools and small-business owners and…uh, have I missed anyone else who might vote for me?”

    That makes it hard to tell what many of his particular policy proposals are going to be. Given Republican spending practices these days, if he can work the pro-family angle and strike a convincingly patriotic pose in connection with the WOT, he’s unlikely to stand out as a statist. He could very well succeed in portraying Santorum as a freaky extremist by comparison, without making himself look like a milquetoast. Casey’s family name is a well-known Pennsylvania brand, of course, and it’s not hard to imagine his adding enough votes from moderate Republicans and Independents to those from his expected Democratic base to unseat Santorum. The idea that Santorum is already finished, though, is highly suspect.

    Added later: Eric (also a Pennsylvanian) writes about Santorum’s “scheduling conflict” with President Bush’s visit to Scranton. He also characterizes himself this way:

    I’m so used to being cynical and disappointed that I barely noticed, and I think it just goes with the turf of being a libertarian Republican. I just voted for the Republicans on Tuesday, and all that entitles me to is to have the label of “RINO” thrown at me by “real conservatives,” and “conservative” thrown at me by liberals. If I registered and voted Democrat with my views, I’d be equally (if not more) suspect.

    I downloaded and filled out the absentee ballot form, then decided not to vote. All the Pennsylvania seats this time around were low-level or local, and as someone who doesn’t actually live at home, I didn’t feel right sticking Lehigh County with, like, a vice-deputy-assistant commissioner that I was never going to have to deal with. But that’s neither here nor there. The point I wanted to make is that this coming senatorial election is probably going to be utterly excruciating for those of us who are sick to death of being told we’re not “real” members of a group whose label we never adopted to begin with. With Santorum and Casey looking like the candidates, there’s room for endless please-make-it-stop finger-pointing over who’s a RINO or DINO or covert totalitarian or closet socialist, all based on, say, the fact that one candidate favors ten or so million more dollars in federal layouts for prozac for senior citizens. Even from the opposite hemisphere, I am not looking forward to this.

    Seen about town

    Posted by Sean at 05:05, November 10th, 2005

    Am I the only one who’s noticed an awful lot of guys running around Tokyo in charcoal grey suits + pointed tan shoes that…you know…TOTALLY DON’T GO TOGETHER?

    What’s up? This has been over, I’d say, the last two or three weeks. Did some popular TV drama feature an actor in that kind of get-up in a pivotal scene? Did Donatella Versace send models down the runway that way? Did Men’s Non-no do a five-page feature (complete with bossy pictorial how-to’s) on healing the rift between antiqued brown leather and grey wool?

    The look is utterly hein, and I can only hope it passes quickly. (When cocoa brown + black–both of which at least have cool, blue undertones to unite them–came in a decade ago, it was here for-flippin’-ever.) There are far better reasons to think about taking men’s clothing off than that it’s COMPLETELY HIDEOUS. Please, just stop.

    Blog burst

    Posted by Sean at 01:42, November 10th, 2005

    Joanne Jacobs, whose wonderful blog was one of the first three or four I began reading five years ago or so, has a book out and wants to bum-rush Amazon with as many orders on 10 November as possible. Here’s the rundown in her words:

    Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the School That Beat the Odds (Palgrave Macmillan) tells the story of a San Jose charter school that prepares students who are “failing but not in jail” for four-year colleges.

    It really is an inspiring story. The average Downtown College Prep student comes from a Mexican immigrant family and enters ninth grade reading at a fifth grade level; 100 percent of graduates have been accepted at four-year colleges and 97 percent are on track to earn a bachelor’s degree. DCP now scores well above the state average on the Academic Performance Index, ranking in the top third compared to all high schools, including affluent suburban schools. DCP follows what I call the work-your-butt-off philosophy of education. Its leaders analyze what’s not working, adapt quickly and waste no time on esteem inflation or excuses.

    While I discuss the charter school movement as a whole, Our School isn’t written for wonks. I think it’s a good read, sort of Tracy Kidder meets Up the Down Staircase.

    My favorite part of the book is the part I didn’t write. The book includes Pedro’s rap, essays by Gil and Emilia, Roberto’s speech, a discipline report on Hector, a teachers’ list of DCP jargon, the principal’s e-mail conversations with teachers, a phony field trip permission slip created by a girl who wanted a parent-free weekend and a copy of the school’s budget.

    I pre-ordered the book a while ago; if you’re interested in education policy, either as an interested parent or just as a citizen who’s frightened pallid at what the current state of schooling means for the future of civilization, it promises to be a valuable read.


    Posted by Sean at 00:04, November 10th, 2005

    Dale Carpenter finished his guest-posting on same-sex marriage at the Volokh Conspiracy nearly a week ago. I tried to read everything, including the comments, but rapidly started to get the feeling I’d been hanging out a little too long at the corner of Lawyerview Boulevard and Old Libertarian Pike, if you know what I mean. I suppose I’m only posting this about it myself so that I’ll have a link in my own archives if I ever want to go back and look at what was written. My own mind isn’t changed. The gay marriage advocates, however articulate and sober they are, still always sound to me as if they were casting us as First Runner-up straight people, which is kind of humiliating. It just doesn’t bother me that homosexuality and heterosexuality aren’t the same thing and therefore may not have the same requirements or social effects.


    Posted by Sean at 08:51, November 9th, 2005

    I love reading the book excerpts Joel chooses to post most of the time; the only problem is that it often means he doesn’t deliver much of his own thinking on things, which is unfortunate. He’s got a few posts up about the rioting in France that are well worth attention, though: here and here. It certainly is hard to buy the line that a feeling of downtroddenness is driving the miscreants. Wounded ego, sure, but not downtroddenness.

    The unholy trinity

    Posted by Sean at 02:52, November 9th, 2005

    Koizumi’s three-pronged reforms (usually more literally translated “trinity reforms”) are not part of his campaign that we’d been hearing a whole lot about lately, what with the emphasis on Japan Post and the resulting landslide election victory and cabinet reshuffling. They’re back in the spotlight these last few days, though. Yesterday, the government made a few announcements:

    On 8 November, the federal government gave instructions to slash ¥630 billion from the budgets of seven ministries. The purpose of the move is to effect decreases in the amount spent on subsidies, in line with the ¥600 billion worth of the tax revenues that will no longer be transferred to the federal government as a result of the national and regional three-pronged reforms. Though the goal is to speed [the implementation of the Koizumi administration’s platform through] cabinet-level leadership, Kasumigaseki has objected to what it sees as quotas. The government and the LDP have mobilized their machine to take the lead politically through, for example, the new establishment of regular talks between the vice-ministers and the party chairman.

    “It is necessary for us as the cabinet to throw even more energy into coordinating [these reforms]. The relevant cabinet members, we would ask to marshall all their resources swiftly”–so said Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe at an informal gathering after an 8 November cabinet meeting. He requested concrete proposals for fulfilling [each ministry’s quota of reductions in] allocations by 14 November.

    That was one of those little articles that are easy to understand but surprisingly difficult to translate. (Or maybe the difficulties I was having in getting it into non-mangled English were a signal that I was missing something, but I don’t think so.)

    Assuming the vice-ministers referred to are the administrative vice-ministers, the meetings with the LDP point person are going to be very important. When cabinet ministers appointed by the PM (and their immediate subordinates) have problems, it’s usually because they run afoul of and are outmaneuvered by those under them: the career bureaucrats, who are led by the administrative vice-ministers. These are the people who have devoted their entire post-university careers to going up the escalator in their chosen arm of the government, and they are notoriously resistant to change–especially the kind of change that involves cutting their budgets, and thus their power and influence.

    To recap, the three prongs of reform are

    • to slash outright federal subsidies to regional and local governments

    • to overhaul the federal “revenue sharing” system, in which tax revenue comes from local taxpayers to Tokyo, is divided for redistribution in little packets after being haggled over by agencies in the federal ministries, then makes a U-ey back to local governments (or local branches of federal agencies)
    • to make up for the resulting loss of federal subsidies by increasing the amount of locally collected taxes that goes straight into the coffers of regional and local governments–which is to say, to decrease the role of the federal middle man

    You can imagine what the middle man thinks of all this, but self-serving complaints from Kasumigaseki are not the only ones being leveled at Koizumi’s plan. The “three-pronged reforms” have been portrayed as simply shifting much of the government debt burden from federal to regional bodies. One might note that, given the federal government’s notorious wastefulness in handling money, shifting its debt somewhere–anywhere–can hardly make things worse. There’s another problem, though, as noted, for example, in this Asahi editorial from a month or so back: decision-making power is not necessarily being decentralized along with tax collection.

    With regard to the transfer of 3 trillion yen in tax revenue, some people say a figure of 2.4 trillion yen has already been agreed upon. But in reality, the Education Ministry is still against slashing 850 billion yen from compulsory education fees now paid from national coffers. The Central Council for Education, an advisory body to the education minister, took an extraordinary vote during a recent meeting. It is scheduled to issue a report shortly recommending that state funding of compulsory education be maintained at current levels.

    In addition, entities like the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, or the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, have refused to cooperate with a plan submitted by the National Governors’ Association to abolish state subsidies.

    Thus, the situation has not changed from last year. Koizumi is still at odds with the ministries.

    Final resolution of the issue depends on the outcome of talks between the government and the ruling parties. In order to prevent having the subsidies under their control abolished altogether, the various ministries will probably offer their own versions of reducing subsidy rates, or suggest ways to switching to grants, whose purpose is not designated, and, therefore, more convenient for local governments.

    But we cannot approve of switching purpose-specific subsidies to nonspecific grants. This would allow the ministries in Tokyo to retain their power of allocating money. That would be counterproductive to the decentralizing principles of reform.

    It’s worth noting that while left-leaning organizations such as the Democratic Party of Japan and, uh, the Asahi editorial board are reliably against privatization, they often do support decentralization of government budgeting and allocation. Whether that testifies to their economic liberal-mindedness or to the sheer undeniable inefficiency of the bureaucracies is an open question.

    It will be interesting to see what happens on and after the fourteenth.

    All-American girl

    Posted by Sean at 00:28, November 8th, 2005

    As a social commentator, Margaret Cho is a great stand-up comic. She writes the following:

    I like Gwen Stefani, she’s alright. She is very stylish and has a nice voice and a really flat stomach. She is a rock star, and quite good at it.

    Now she has 4 things all together, the Harajuku Girls. I want to like them, and I want to think they are great, but I am not sure if I can. I mean, racial stereotypes are really cute sometimes, and I don’t want to bum everyone out by pointing out the minstrel show. I think it is totally acceptable to enjoy the Harajuku girls, because there are not that many other Asian people out there in the media really, so we have to take whatever we can get. Amos ‘n Andy had lots of fans, didn’t they? At least it is a measure of visibility, which is much better than invisibility. I am so sick of not existing, that I would settle for following any white person around with an umbrella just so I could say I was there.

    I think it’s worth gently pointing out that Harajuku Girls–I mean, the real ones and not Stefani’s backup dancers–are not Asian-Americans but actual Japanese. Many of them, I’d wager, would react to Cho’s post along the lines of “Excuse me? We don’t need you to defend us, you stupid Korean bitch.”

    Let me hasten to say that I do not endorse such an attitude. My love for Japan and the Japanese has never stopped me from pointing out, when people here intimate that they think Koreans are lazy and dumb, that South Korea now has some of the highest educational achievement stats in the world. I’m only pointing it out because you constantly hear Asian-Americans complaining about their lack of visibility and the stereotypical way the American media represent them. It always makes me wonder: surely many of them have visited relatives in their ancestral homelands, if they themselves didn’t grow up there part of the time. They must be aware of the jaw-droppingly reductive and stereotypical ways foreigners are frequently depicted in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. So do they believe in racial equality as a universal moral principle–in which case the Far East has at least as bad a track record as the US–or do they think it’s somehow America’s job to be extra-special inclusive, while Asian countries get a pass if they fall back on local heritage as an excuse for treating people of other ethnicities like crap?

    I’m not playing tu quoque here. I just think some perspective is called for. America is far from perfect when it comes to race relations, but it gives you an opportunity to carve out your own space in whatever place you find most hospitable. You’ll meet hostile, or just plain provincial, people sometimes; but that’s true everywhere. It wasn’t long ago that people of Anglo-Saxon, Irish, Italian, and German descent would not have been indiscriminately identified with each other as equally privileged white people. Lasting social change takes time, even in this media age. I don’t think Gwen Stefani’s annoyingly twee cutesifying approach is all that helpful, but neither is drippy depressiveness.

    (Thanks, Toren.)

    JAL plans to address safety concerns

    Posted by Sean at 02:12, November 7th, 2005

    Japan Airlines is about to pour ¥60 billion (US $550 million) into tightening safety standards:

    JAL has announced a plan for corporate reform of which the pillars will include a ¥60 billion investment in increasing flight safety from fiscal 2006 to 2010. In addition to increasing its competitive edge by introducing state-of-the-art new aircraft, the company will implement cuts in remunerations to board members and base salaries for employees.

    There are plans to retire thirty Boeing 747s currently in service, to add smaller 737s, and to increase the number of international routes, especially to China. The safety measures are set out more vaguely–the hiring of more technicians and a more systematic training program. Of course, JAL didn’t come up with this idea on its own: the Ministry of Land, Transport, and Infrastructure has given it increasingly frequent warnings over procedural failures that nearly resulted in incidents. The publicity has not been good. But if JAL is serious (and I trust it to get Atsushi here and back at least once a month, so I hope so), this could be a welcome and too-uncommon case of a Japanese company’s finding and addressing flaws in its safety procedures before a disaster happens.

    The usual suspects

    Posted by Sean at 23:21, November 6th, 2005

    Rondi Adamson is wondering about something that’s so simple and obvious I hadn’t noticed, and now I feel kind of stupid:

    Hmm…Something’s missing from the French riot news and analysis. I haven’t heard about, or read of, anyone blaming the United States, George Bush, the Jews or Israel for all of this…yet. I may have just missed it.

    It has been a full, what, ten days? Kind of odd. All the Reuters and CNN coverage I’ve seen has referred to “root causes,” of course, and lack of integration into society; and there have been some gingerly references to anti-Semitic violence over the past few years. But the obvious role of America, and those Jews who have had the temerity to become affluent, in fostering a climate of disaffection and hate, hasn’t been touched. Of course, I don’t go near the op-ed pages of The Guardian unless someone I trust gives me a good reason. The front page of The Guardian is right now, BTW, referring to what’s been going on in France as “urban unrest,” which is euphemistic even for the English.

    I ran into a French acquaintance last night, and it was all I could do not to blurt out, “I hope your family’s cars are all okay, honey!”