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    Miers withdrawal official

    Posted by Sean at 00:45, October 28th, 2005

    Harriet Miers has withdrawn from consideration for the Supreme Court; you’ll have heard that already. Right Side of the Rainbow has a good roundup of the reactions from conservatives and libertarians.

    Now I know you’re mine

    Posted by Sean at 03:37, October 27th, 2005

    Given Madonna’s dogmatic pronouncements about spirituality lately, it’s nice to see that she’s still capable of self-questioning on some issues of true import:

    When asked about her gay icon status, she admitted she “hopes” she is still the biggest gay icon of all time.

    However, she also reveals that she agrees with Kylie Minogue’s summary of the Australian superstar being the princess, and Madonna the queen.

    “That’s very good,” she says. “We like it that way.”

    The former Material Girl [ %#$@*! –SRK] also hit back at criticisms from Boy George that her Kabbalah religion is homophobic.

    “He’s just got a bee in his bonnet,” she says.

    Oy. I can just hear her delivering that last sentence in her phony not-quite-plummy-so-let’s-call-it-pruny “English” accent.

    The Kylie part is very sweet, though.

    As far as whether she’s still a gay icon goes, if my corner of Tokyo is any indication, that’s a question that needn’t even be asked. The other night, a few of us ran into a guy who hadn’t heard the single yet, and before we could stop ourselves, we all stared at him as if he’d just landed from Mars.

    Personally, my position is that, despite my uncritical devotion to Madonna, this album had better be good. Two years ago I paid money for an album with her posing as Che flippin’ Guevara on the cover, and the music did not compensate. Fool me twice, and all that.

    I do like “Hung Up,” though IIRC, Erasure had the bright idea of doing a tweaked cover of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” like, two decades ago. (They tweaked it by grafting a bit of “Money Money Money” onto the beginning. For all I know, they also grafted a bit of “I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do” onto the end; I’ve almost never been able to listen to an Erasure song all the way through.) Madonna usually isn’t the major trailblazer she seems to think she is, but she rarely leads off with concepts that are frankly tired. Then again, given her output over the last few years, we should be celebrating the fact that she’s seen fit to deliver a hook without burying it.

    (Via Gay News)

    The low expectations of soft bigotry

    Posted by Sean at 01:35, October 27th, 2005

    Cathy Young has posted a long and very, very good response to Maggie Gallagher’s guest-blog entries at the Volokh Conspiracy. Gallagher has also responded to Young. Something near the end of Gallagher’s post took me aback in a big, bad way:

    I too share your hope that we can have SSM and simultaneously figure out how to increase the likelihood that children in this country are born to and raised by their own married mom and dad.

    That first part came out of left field for me–I assume it means that Gallagher figures that SSM is inevitable, anyway, so she hopes we can make the best of the change. But she’s been saying for some time, unless I’ve read her incorrectly, that she thinks support for gay marriage has been slowly starting to wane lately. In that light, it doesn’t seem likely that she would be regarding it as an inevitable development. At the same time, while I’ve never read her as anti-gay, she can hardly mean that she’s looking forward to the advent of gay marriage. I don’t quite know what to make of that bit.

    Young is also right that Gallagher didn’t present her arguments very fluidly, but it’s hard not to sympathize with her. The crux of the pro-gay marriage argument, on the part of many of its supporters, can be delivered in a snappy sentence: “Conventional marriage isn’t always about pro-creation, and gays fall in love and want to provide for their families just like straights–what justification is there for not treating their relationships the same legally?”

    The crux of the argument against gay marriage is not as easy to put succinctly, involving as it does all the messy hormones and impulses and choices and things that are involved in taking a child through the two-decade transition into someone who’s healthy, self-reliant, and ready to assume a place in adult society. Half of the evidence involved is probably boring even to the research psychologists and demographers who generate it. But that doesn’t mean it’s illegitimate.

    Eric has also addressed–I hope I don’t sound self-infatuated linking this, since the post in question begins by citing me approvingly; I’m not really going to deal with that part–some of the issues raised during Gallagher’s guest-posting stint:

    I think this “if you disagree with me, you’re a bigot” meme has gotten really, really tired. The problem is, the more time people spend talking only with each other and not with people they disagree with, the more likely they are to be convinced that not only are they right, but that their opponents are more than wrong; they are evil, bigoted, and analogous to Nazis.

    The irony involved in reflexively dismissing people with opposing arguments as “bigots” would be delicious were it not for the fact that the practice has so coarsened public discussion of…well, just about everything. I sometimes think it should be banned, the way your ninth-grade English teacher banned the passive voice from your first few expository essays–not because it was incorrect in and of itself incorrect but because it was too easy to get lazy and overuse.

    She has a nice personality

    Posted by Sean at 07:07, October 26th, 2005

    Am I glad I’m not on Virginia Postrel’s bad side or what:

    As regular readers know, I’ve written an extraordinary amount about Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Early on, my primary purpose was reportorial–to use my locational advantage to provide information and context for people outside of Dallas. But the more I learned, the more appalled I became.

    For whatever reason, the president has picked a woman who not only has no constitutional or judicial experience but even in her business practice has demonstrated no interest in the law as anything other than a source of billable hours. At 60 years old, she appears never to have had a substantive conversation about law or policy with any friend. She comes from a closed and cronyish legal and business culture and appears to have gotten ahead through a combination of networking, nose-to-the-grindstone diligence, and willingness to do her law firm’s management, rather than legal, work.

    Oof! Bear in mind, Virginia has gone out of her way to be sympathetic toward Miers the person.

    She ends her post with a link to Americans for Better Justice and a set of links to her own previous posts about the nomination. Not being able to see as many homegrown news reports as Americans who live at home, I can’t assess whether Bush actually seems to be laying the groundwork for a withdrawal of the nomination. By all accounts, the proceedings so far are not doing his trusted friend any favors.

    Things seem to have died down a bit, but it’s a shame that so many people reflexively decided to see the debate over this nomination in Blue States vs. The Real America terms. Cultural insularity isn’t irrelevant here, but it’s not the central issue. The BOS-WASH and SAN-SAN population belts deserve to be informed, emphatically and often, that much of what’s important in America goes on outside them. Hell, I grew up in Allentown, PA, and I can assure you it may as well have been the moon for all many people in New York (1:45 away), Washington (2:30 away), or even Philadelphia (1:15 away) knew about what life was like there.

    However, the big-city power centers are still where most ambitious people go to seek the most viciously competitive environment in which they can test their ideas and competencies. In that sense, the arrogance of seeing yourself as a player in Big Decisions is a good thing. Miers is clearly a fantastic person–for goodness’s sake, if she weren’t, someone would have said so by now, given the way journalists have been beating the bushes for any opinions about her whatsoever–but there’s no evidence that she’s tested herself as a thinker or learned to adjust to working in a pressure cooker.


    Posted by Sean at 08:36, October 25th, 2005

    Don’t take this the wrong way, dear and valued readers, but I had to send my laptop back to Toshiba for repairs (CD-ROM drive was freaking–which I think is pretty ungrateful, considering the choice diet of Kylie singles and Hitchcock movies I feed it) and am kind of enjoying not having an Internet connection at home for the next week or so. Last night, the man from Nittsu came to take my Dynabook, and when he left, I felt truly alone in the apartment…in a good way. Of course, I was looking forward to Atsushi’s nightly phone call at 11:00, and I got a few cell calls and mails. But the temptation to check the websites of five newspapers to see whether they’d been updated since the last newscast on NHK was blessedly removed. No look at G-Mail when I got back from dinner or out of the bathtub, lest I miss some stray plaint from the office. Just a book or three and a glass of the plum wine Atsushi brought back for me the last time he came home. Anyway, I don’t think posting will be all that light over the next week, but it may be more randomly distributed.

    Oh, speaking of the Internet: is there something inherently snobby about not using it to meet people? In response to a direct appeal for information, I remarked the other night that I’ve never met a guy over the Internet and wouldn’t really know where to go if I wanted to do so, and the person I was talking to kind of flipped. He was really affronted, and I didn’t get it. I mean, okay, if pressed, I’d have to admit that I preferred the face-to-face-sparring method of flirtation even when I was more young and fun-loving. But I’d never imply that people who use web personals are pathetic, or what have you, for the very good reason that I don’t believe any such thing. You just can never tell with people.


    Posted by Sean at 08:16, October 25th, 2005

    I was going to comment directly at Riding Sun, but I started to run long and didn’t want to look like a blowhard. Well, also, my thoughts turned kind of gay (from where? you may well ask), and I didn’t want to hijack what was an essentially straight thread before it got started.

    The question is a perennial one:

    As I’ve noted before, foreign men who come to Japan often find themselves much more popular with the local ladies than they might have been in their native country.

    More than ethnic preferences, income levels, or any other factor, I suspect it’s Japanese women’s desire to “opt out” of their country’s smothering salaryman-wife straitjacket that keeps non-Japanese guys in demand.

    That’s part of it, but I don’t think it’s all of it, or else you wouldn’t see the same things in gay life. And do you ever! The things a perceptive commenter noted below the original post give a fuller picture, I think. Much of it can be boiled down to the fact that Japanese women can’t really read Western cultural signals. “Doesn’t that gorgeous, animated, articulate woman in the Escada suit and perfect makeup realize that the man she’s with is a complete loser?” Well, no, obviously she doesn’t. (cf. Rainbow Surfer Dude’s wonderfully deadpan item 2: “Less need to be ‘interesting’ since the language barrier pushes down the upper limit of conversational complexity.”)

    Also…this conversation comes up not infrequently with friends of mine. A little while ago, several of us foreigners–in a group that included Japanese guys who date foreigners exclusively–were talking about why our relationships with Japanese men had tended to be with those who did not usually date non-Japanese. One of the Japanese guys present asked rather astringently what was wrong with preferring foreign men.

    Obviously, nothing is, fundamentally. It’s just that many gaisen Japanese, especially those who only want to speak English with you all the time, like the idea of dating a man who’s always going to feel kind of baffled and clueless in Japan and need to be, you know, taken care of. I suspect, from the way I’ve seen many couples interact, that the same holds true for a fair number of foreigner-dating Japanese women–and I don’t think that contradicts what Gaijin Biker wrote about their not wanting to be sentenced to a life of nothing but household drudgery. You can expect your mate to pitch in around the house and still want to be the one who calls the shots and is always one step ahead in terms of planning your lives together.

    Added on 28 October: Thanks to Bilious Young Fogey for the link, though I must say that parenthetical makes me feel kind of square.

    How can you be so cold / With my arms to hold you?

    Posted by Sean at 00:44, October 24th, 2005

    You know when you’re working out and the destressing feels great so you push yourself really, really hard? And then a day and a half or so later you get a memo that reads, “TO: Stupid Bitch / FROM: Voluntary Muscles / TEXT: Repeat after me: ‘I. Am. Not. Twenty. Anymore.’ / END”?


    I’d rather talk about other people’s idiocy rather than my own, so let’s change the subject, shall we? I can never understand why people don’t live the way they say they want to live. Some problems are external–e.g., “My boyfriend’s cheating on me, and I can’t decide whether to let it blow over or to make an issue out of it”–and clearly difficult to negotiate. Where to draw the line between accepting your mate’s imperfections and being a doormat is not always easy.

    But the practice of causing your own problems and then wondering why you have them? What is up with that? “See, I’m an honest person, and my relationship with Kazu is…you know, I want it to be totally pure. I don’t really cheat on him, you know, in terms of mind space? Totally his. I mean, really. But I figure once in a while if I hook up, it doesn’t detract from that. I think maybe I should tell him, but I don’t want him to think I’m not devoted to him. Like, I think he’d take it the right way and not think that screwing around on him affected the meaning of our relationship, but it’s kind of a risk, so I haven’t said anything. It’s such a hard position, you know?”

    No, honey, not really. It’s not all that hard to find someone who’s willing to have an open relationship; even a sizable proportion of straight marriages work that way in Japan. If that’s what you want, you make it a criterion when you start dating. If you want to change the terms of an existing relationship, you do it. (Since Japan still recognizes the value of subtext and euphemism, it’s often possible to get this accomplished without a cruel direct hit.) If your partner doesn’t accept the change of terms, you either dissolve the relationship or find a way to accommodate each other without deception. Exposing your partner to the potential hazards of microbes and psychological baggage that you expressly promised to protect him from is not a sympathetically flawed action taken in a no-win situation.


    Posted by Sean at 23:18, October 23rd, 2005

    The Nikkei says that the Koizumi administration is purposefully taking a combination of hard and soft approaches to its delicate relationship with the PRC.

    The government–aiming to work out a resolution to problems with Japan-China relations, which have worsened since Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s latest pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine–has adopted a framework within which it can use both hard and soft responses. This approach has strengthened its unified front [with the PRC] on North Koreas nuclear disarmament. On the other hand, regarding the problem of Japan’s United Nations member contributions, the government’s approach has also involved moves to decrease the percent that comes from Japan, which opens the possibility that the contribution expected from the PRC would rise. This backdrop for this approach was a judgment that, given a reality in which relations between the two countries have become progressively more multipolar, including economic relations, there is no need to lean only in the direction of soft approaches.

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura was emphatic in an appearance on a 23 October Fuji Television program: “I’m surprised that everyone has succumbed to the most pessimistic arguments about this recent Yasukuni pilgrimage [by the Prime Minister]. They’re clearly way too pessimistic. Do people really think that Japan’s international stature would decline so abruptly?” Furthermore, he stated, “We haven’t reestablished visits between our heads of state, but traffic on the economic and cultural fronts is brisk.”

    How do you solve a problem like China? You probably don’t. The CCP is engaged in frequent games of chicken with China’s own restless citizens, fomenting their discontent just enough for them to let off steam at Japan without having things get out of hand. The Koizumi administration’s approach often seems haphazard, but trying to keep as many tools at the ready as possible is probably the only wise policy. Of course, the right tool still has to be used at the right time.

    One year after Niigata quake

    Posted by Sean at 22:45, October 23rd, 2005

    This story from the Asahi English edition doesn’t have much detail, but it’s a helpful reminder that, even in First World countries, major earthquakes cause disruptions that last long after the news cameras leave:

    A year ago Sunday the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake hit, leaving 51 people dead and thousands injured. One year later, more than 9,100 victims still live in temporary housing.

    Many are battling financial and other difficulties and have yet to complete rebuilding work. About 1,000 households have abandoned such plans or say they have no prospect yet of rebuilding their homes that were lost in the Oct. 23, 2004, temblor.

    With a second snowy winter looming, an estimated 400 households in the former Yamakoshi village, now part of Nagaoka city, and other communities in Niigata Prefecture are still subject to evacuation orders or advisories.

    The English story combines information from these two stories. The Yomiuri conducted a poll and found that 44% of those still living in temporary housing have no plans to rebuild their houses. Most of the people affected are from a relatively small, particularly hard-hit area in Niigata Prefecture.

    For its part, the Mainichi surveyed municipalities affected by last year’s series of quakes. (Most articles talk about a single “earthquake,” but there were actually three or four strong ones in rapid succession.)

    The Kawaguchi Municipal Government that came under fire for failing to incorporate earthquake countermeasures in its disaster prevention plan admitted that it has not yet begun reviewing it.

    “Multiple divisions must be involved in reviewing the plan. It’s impossible for local governments that have fewer officials to quickly review their disaster prevention plan even if it’s necessary,” an official of the town’s general affairs division said.

    Nine municipalities are now storing water in case of a devastating disaster, an increase from four in the pre-quake period. Fourteen municipalities have stockpiled emergency food, as compared with 10 before the Niigata quake.

    However, only seven municipalities, or 25 percent, have stockpiled both water and emergency food.

    Only four municipalities have set up a system under which they provide subsidies to local residents to examine whether and how far their houses are quake-resistant and two others are prepared to provide subsidies to residents to make their houses quake-proof. Many of the municipalities that have no such subsidy systems cite their severe financial situations.

    Only six of them have introduced satellite mobile phones and other communication devices in case their areas are isolated from surrounding areas.

    Niigata Prefecture is not an earthquake hot zone in Japanese terms. However, as we saw last year, the low probability of a devastating quake is offset by the fact that many people live in remote villages on landslide-prone ground that makes destruction likely and rescue operations difficult. When a quake does eventually hit, people are in big trouble.

    Been running so fast / Right from the starting line

    Posted by Sean at 22:26, October 23rd, 2005

    The NHK special turned out to be nothing all that revelatory, though it had the small virtue of laying out some of the major issues succinctly.

    One of the new career models was represented by a woman in her 20s who lives in a small, spare apartment and gets by on temp jobs. Her point of view was that there isn’t stability in a standard job with a single employer anymore anyway, so if she’s going to live with the constant threat of disruption, she may as well be taking jobs that interest her while she’s doing it. A former hotshot Tokyo graphic artist who quit his job, decamped with his wife for Okinawa, and now spends a lot of time fishing and, IIRC, takes freelance jobs when needed was featured as an example of another trend. (Atsushi, who’s the same age, was gratified to see this guy pushed forward to exemplify trends in employment among young people.) There were a few high school students with scary post-Amuro-chan fake bakes, piercings, dyed ‘n fried hair, and black and white makeup who said that they didn’t see why they shouldn’t do what they liked with their lives.

    In the opposite corner, we had a bunch of middle-aged people. Some of them were sympathetic to the impulses of wild, free youth and figured the youngsters on parade would eventually settle down like those in generations before them. Others made the stock complaint that those who scale down their career ambitions are incapable of toughing it out through short-term hardship in order to reach a worthy long-term goal.

    Atsushi and I cut out to go to dinner midway through the program, so it’s possible that the five or six people who were serving as bland MCs did get around to asking interesting questions, but it certainly didn’t happen while we were watching. No one saw fit to connect the dots between the middle-aged businessmen and the woman who subsisted on temp jobs, for example, and ask whether traditional (bearing in mind that that word refers to organizations that were mostly founded after the war) companies are, now that they can’t offer lifetime employment, changing their work environments to make sure they stay attractive to young job seekers with other options. No one pointed out the entrepreneurs in the group and asked the disaffected high school students whether they’d thought about founding service-industry businesses that could satisfy their arty bent and attract talented peers of theirs with similar views of the relationship between work and play.

    Of course, there’s always the chance that these issues came up after Atsushi and I stopped watching. I doubt it, though. If they had, NHK would have found itself broadcasting an actual exchange of ideas, with awkward differences of opinion that went beyond those that viewers were already prepared to deal with. That’s not usually in the program.