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    You’ve caught me at a bad time / So why don’t you piss off

    Posted by Sean at 02:31, October 1st, 2005

    I have to say that out of all the misinterpretations and distortions and namby-pamby-isms of PC, this stock statement (indirectly quoted in the bold text below) has to be my very least favorite–and I was an undergrad at Penn from ’91-’95, honey. I’ve heard them all:

    While the alleged felony of ethnic intimidation that involved a University student urinating on two Asian students continues to enrage student organizations on campus, the suspects and their neighbors say the Ann Arbor Police Department and the media have exaggerated the incident.

    Stephanie Kao, a Business senior and co-chair of the United Asian American Organizations, said that whether the incident is true or not is beside the point—-it highlights the negative campus climate toward Asians students.

    Since it fits our narrative of aggrievement, it’s symbolically true, you see. That makes it okay, nay necessary, for us to harp on it.

    “A lot of us are angry about these racial slurs — we’re so focused on this issue of urination and beer. It’s beyond this issue at this point. This incident might have been the catalyst, but we are trying to address why these incidents are possible and what in this University climate makes it possible and acceptable for racial harassment to happen,” Kao said.

    My question is this: If racial harassment did not, in fact, occur in this case, what could you possibly learn about the actual university climate from acting as if it had? If Michigan hasn’t forgotten about such trifles as free speech, the unshackled life of the skeptical mind, and vigorous debate in its rush to embrace pigment-level diversity, then surely the distinction between the threat of physical harm and the possibility that one may occasionally feel insulted should matter.

    But the current campus climate is such that the Michigan Daily reporter is duty-bound to proceed with poker-faced speculations about whether it would be possible to pee on passersby below from the balcony in question, based on its layout and dimensions, and about the counter-allegation that the complainants called the accused a “white fat American piggy” and a “bitch.”

    As always, the infuriating thing is that there’s a real issue here. It’s hard to argue that anything in American society is keeping Asians down economically–certainly not the stratum that’s studying at a public Ivy like Michigan. Nevertheless, prejudice is wrong, and it really is true that there are ignorant people who don’t seem to understand that there are people of Asian extraction who were born in America and are as much native members of our society as we with other genes are. As someone who majored in an Asian language and had a lot of Asian friends, I saw it quite a bit. There’s nothing wrong with discussing that, though I don’t know that there’s any policy that will help except the passage of time.

    I just wish that every once in a while, these people would get around to acknowledging that Korea, Japan, and China are not exactly beacons of racial inclusiveness themselves. In fact, a lot of the racism in East Asia is codified. Does that make Asia the world HQ of venality or, conversely, excuse racism in America? Of course not. But it behooves people who are going to come on all multi-culti and pro-sensitivity to have a sense of context and proportion. Fake-cosmopolitan college administrators may be cowed by this America-is-egregiously-evil-to-minorities crap, but it looks idiotic to anyone with experience of the wider world.

    (Via Erin O’Connor)

    Stranger in a strange land

    Posted by Sean at 02:00, October 1st, 2005

    I think this is the worst part: the time exactly between Atsushi’s last visit and his next. In the few days before we see each other, I do the giddy-with-preparation thing. Right after he leaves, my worries over whether he’s eating and sleeping right are animated by the fact that I’ve just been able to spend a few days taking care of him.

    It’s during the in-between time that I get–it isn’t depressed. We’re in a great situation compared to a lot of couples. It’s just that my senses are slightly deadened. I don’t do the slovenly-atavistic bachelor thing, of course. I just finished bustling around the kitchen to Mozart’s 40th, making myself tea and poached eggs on toast with my usual homemade gravy and heating up some frozen ratatouille to go with it. (It’s always funny how listening to music while cooking affects the result. One memorable weekend, Atsushi decided that he had to listen to, of all things, the death scene from Don Giovanni. Over and over and over. And this being a Japanese apartment, the living/dining/kitchen/non-bedroom space is all together, so I was auditing, as it were. I swear, my lasagne ended up viciously peaked and valleyed as if it were resisting being pulled into the pasta underworld. Since I poached today’s eggs during the second movement of Mozart’s 40th, they came out rather serene and perfect.) This afternoon will be sheet laundering. Atsushi’s side of the bed no longer smells like him–just like sheets that need to be changed. And it’s a very sunny fall day anyway. Good for airing things.

    Since it’s 1 October, I will also ritually listen to this album. It’s amazing how silly half-superstitious fanboy habits don’t desert you even when you’ve been a stodgy adult for a decade. It’s almost a shame about the weather. I mean, that it’s not a very good backdrop to the music. It’s certainly cooler than it was a few weeks ago, but there’s no real nip in the air during the day time. You don’t get a sense that nature is hunkering down for winter. Not yet. (Of course, given the candy-assed winter we get in Tokyo, it’s not really any wonder. As a transplanted Pennsylvanian, I miss snow, and the ubiquitous sleet and freezing rain hardly make up for it. I miss deer and maples with big leaves, too.)

    Even so, I’m trying to speed it along a bit. The sweaters are within easy reach. See, weather gods? Sweaters–like what you wear when it’s chilly. I realized, reaching for a short-sleeved job on one of the first cool days last week, that my favorite orange pullover, which it was stacked on top of, is almost exactly five years old. I bought it when Atsushi and I were I-think-we’re-kind-of-dating-but-I’m-not-sure-ing. I figured that for a drive in the countryside (one of our first outings), it was best to aim for a sort of all-American rugged-but-potentially-huggable thing. Not sure whether it worked, though the ultimate result was clearly in my favor. I wish Atsushi were closer, but you can’t have everything.


    Posted by Sean at 01:15, October 1st, 2005

    One of the obvious solutions to Japan-China energy competition, on its face at least, would be for the two countries to cooperate. The problem, besides deep-running historical enmity, is that no one can agree on what the terms of cooperation should be. But the governments are at least gesturing in the direction of giving it the old college try:

    At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the morning of 1 October, the Japan and PRC governments opened their second day of high-level talks revolving around development of gas fields in the East China Sea. The Japan side proposed joint development of natural gas fields along the Japan-China boundary line (the center line [along the ocean floor]), on the conditions that China cease [independent] development of the fields and share information about maritime subterranean natural resources. The China side responded that its intention is to give the idea “serious investigation” and provide an answer within the month, when the second round of talks are hosted in Beijing.

    This is the first time Japan has officially proposed such cooperation. Its request for information about the PRC’s undersea resource development program was greeted with a curt refusal yesterday. As always, we’ll have to wait and see.

    You haven’t aged a bit

    Posted by Sean at 22:29, September 30th, 2005

    Japan’s moral problems in facing up to its actions during the 20th century get a lot of play–and for good reason–but it’s always important to bear in mind that every society in this part of the world is proficient at whitewashing. Quoth Simon:

    [A] very happy 56th birthday to the New China. Follow the link to read the pain of a 7 year old girl’s history lessons, numerous counts of foreign aggression and surprisingly little mention of the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and other weird political movements.

    The article from the People’s Daily starts this way:

    On October 1, 2005, the People’s Republic of China, or “New China” as it is fondly referred to by the entire Chinese people, turns 56 years old.

    It gets better from there.

    Refuge of the roads

    Posted by Sean at 09:38, September 30th, 2005

    “Don’t make highway privatization a failure,” warns this morning’s Nikkei editorial:

    The goal of the Japan Highway Public Corporation was to stop building any more pointless expressways and to decrease debt, now at about ¥40 trillion, as quickly as possible. However, there’s a slim chance that we can hope for much from the new corporation regarding those items.

    The new private corporation holds no capital but will stick the nation with its debt balance. New road construction will also be ultimately decided upon by a state council. In this structure, which will be completely under state protection and governance, there will be almost no elements through which discipline will come into play in operations. Plans for the laying of 9342 kilometers [of new roadway] are for the most part complete, and there is a strong possibility that the resulting ballooning debt will be shunted off onto the next generation.

    This new company, with its complete reliance on state support, has also shown its true colors to the market. Top managers have been arrested on suspicion of bid-rigging, and the books show nothing resembling a drop in losses from unprofitable roads. Even under these exigent circumstances, Japan Public Highway Corporation bonds have remained stable in value. It all makes it look unlike a corporation that’s about to be privatized.

    In a risk-free world, ethical considerations go out the window. At the instruction of the Prime Minister, the Privatization Promotion Committee formed three years ago proposed “complete privatization,” by which buy-off of all assets for the privatized corporation would be accomplished in a projected ten years. But LDP Diet members and the heads of regional government bodies violently opposed the proposal, and it was defanged through the machinations of the Ministry of Land, Transport, and Infrastructure and part of the privatization committee. Perhaps because [interested parties] saw this and felt a sense of confidence in their untouchability, it was at this point that large-scale institutionalized bid-rigging really began to effloresce.

    The Nikkei editors want Koizumi to use his surge in popular support to make sure the privatization of the highway corporation stands a chance of being a significant part of government finance reform. I don’t know–Japan Post (speaking of defanged proposals) and highway construction? He’d have to be a miracle worker.

    So don’t mind if I fall apart / There’s more room in a broken heart

    Posted by Sean at 04:36, September 30th, 2005

    Hi, I’m Nora Ephron. I have this thing where I conceive of every relationship with a man–even a politician–in terms of romantic betrayal, you know? I had this awful ex…well, we won’t go into it, but he really affected me.

    Sometimes people say that it’s kind of pathetic for me to pitch myself as a symbol of female strength when the women in all my romantic comedy and romantic drama and romantic comedy-drama screenplays are kind of drippy and mopey and hung-up and stuff about men.

    But I say, would Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson star in “pathetic”? Would “pathetic” have made an inescapable icon out of Meg Ryan? Okay, then. Let’s not be having any more of this “pathetic” stuff, or I’ll unleash some of my acclaimed snappy wit on you. It’ll sting, believe me.

    Why didn’t Bill love me? Sorry to change the subject so abruptly, but I mean, I was there for him all the time. So were the other feminists. So were the gays. Sometimes we were all there for Bill at the same chic dinner parties. I just don’t understand. I don’t know why I wasn’t enough.

    Please, someone stop me before I have a few too many glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and call him up and say something foolish.

    Oh, and war is bad.


    There’s a dark secret in me

    Posted by Sean at 01:48, September 30th, 2005

    Ghost of a Flea reports that Alice Cooper knows a good diva when he hears one. That’s so sweet.

    Apples and oranges

    Posted by Sean at 00:51, September 30th, 2005

    Jon Henke has a post up at Q and O with a roundup of links to liberal blogger innuendo about David Dreier’s sexuality. Now that Dreier hasn’t been made acting Majority Leader, I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much, except as a reminder that wacko leftists have a remarkably unprincipled approach to the right to privacy.

    However, one of the commenters mentioned a parallel with James McGreevey that I don’t think holds up under scrutiny:

    Like McGreevey, it’s not a matter of who he is sleeping with, but rather that he expects the taypapers to pay that person’s salary.

    Whoa. McGreevey didn’t just have a boyfriend on the payroll. McGreevey hired a counterterrorism chief who had no relevant experience and (being a foreign national) couldn’t get security clearance for high-level meetings. McGreevey tried to pressure an unwilling employee into a sexual relationship. McGreevey staged his coming out to deflect attention from brewing corruption scandals–thus becoming perhaps the only gay person in history to come out so he could live less honestly. McGreevey’s actions screwed over his constituents and slapped other out gay men and women in the face. (Of course, you wouldn’t know that from the loathsome flattery he’s gotten from gay groups. Even Jonathan Rauch was strangely muted in his response.)

    I haven’t seen anything to indicate that Dreier’s chief of staff is being paid for a job he’s not doing, or that the congressman himself has used his power to strongarm guys into sleeping with him. Unless he’s committing some kind of crime, he gets to be gay as he sees fit, just like the rest of us. No comparison with McGreevey.

    Happy anniversary, Pryhills!

    Posted by Sean at 10:04, September 29th, 2005

    Happy anniversary, Pryhills! Many more to you.


    Posted by Sean at 01:46, September 29th, 2005

    This week’s column by the always-acute Anne Applebaum is even more deadly than usual:

    In its scale and sheer disregard for common sense, the Louisiana proposal breaks new ground. But I don’t want to single out Louisiana: After all, the state’s representatives are acting logically, even if they aren’t spending logically. They are playing by the rules of the only system for distributing federal funds that there is, and that system allocates money not according to the dictates of logic, but to the demands of politics and patronage.

    Nor does this logic apply only to obvious boondoggles such as federal transportation spending, the last $286 billion tranche of which funded Virginia horse trails, Vermont snowmobile trails, a couple of “bridges to nowhere” in rural Alaska and decorative trees for a California freeway named after Ronald Reagan (a president who once vetoed a transportation bill because it contained too much pork). On the contrary, this logic applies even to things we supposedly consider important, such as homeland security. Because neither the administration nor Congress is prepared to do an honest risk assessment, and because no one dares say that there are states at almost no risk of terrorist attack, a good chunk of homeland security funding is distributed according to formulas that give minimum amounts to every state. The inevitable result: In 2004 the residents of Wyoming received, per capita, seven times more money for first responders than the residents of New York City.

    Unfortunately, I can’t identify the buddy who sent it to me–if his unanimously leftist colleagues found out he was communicating with libertarians, they might tar and feather him–but I think I can get away with quoting his parting shot: “I am so glad to live in a democracy that is free from the pork and corruption of Japan’s… (laughing so hard I am crying, or would that be vice versa?).” Uh-huh. The only reason we Americans living in Japan can get away with smirking at the degree of pork-barrel transport and construction spending here is that the federal ministries are so unbelievably profligate they make Washington look frugal by comparison.

    As Applebaum says, most people don’t get too exercised over waste on infrastructure because it’s not a very sexy topic. (Prime Minister Koizumi’s push for Japan Post privatization ran into this problem, too–how many citizens want to sit around talking about the financial structure of the postal service?) There’s also the fact that things actually do get built. It’s hard to arouse voters’ ire over poor allocation and inefficient use of resources because those problems are not as easily visible as roads and bridges that don’t materialize. And even boondoggles–perhaps especially boondoggles–provide employment.

    Applebaum’s suggestion is this:

    But maybe at least it is time for a change of terminology. After all, taking $200 million of public money to build a bridge, name it after yourself and get reelected isn’t merely “pork.” Demanding $250 billion of public money for your hurricane-damaged state–in the hope that voters will ignore all the mistakes you made before the hurricane struck–isn’t just “waste” either. As I say, corruption comes in many forms. But whatever form it comes in, it will be easier for voters to identify if it’s called by its true name.

    In an age in which there are news agencies that consider it an affront to call terrorists “terrorists,” I’m not sure the idea will catch on. It’s a good one, though.

    Added at 21:24: Virginia Postrel points out that there are non-infrastructure pork provisions that would be much more useful to cut if we meant business about curbing spending. Alex Kerr made a pertinent point a few years ago–though he was speaking of Japan and in a slightly different context:

    At a bank in Tokyo, you can make 10 plus 10 equal 30 if you like–but somewhere far away, at a pension fund in Osaka, for example, it may be that 10 plus 10 will now equal only 15. Or even farther away, implications of this equation may require that a stretch of seashore in Hokkaido must be cemented over.

    He was speaking of the shell game Japan plays that makes it seem to defy economic laws that obtain elsewhere, but I think he also illustrated one of the reasons it’s hard to get people to think of government spending in big, big, big Jonathan Rauch terms: the different parts of the machine don’t seem to be related to each other. How agricultural subsidies could have implications for homeland security resources, say, is (understandably) not something most people give a lot of thought to. With infrastructure spending, on the other hand, there’s a direct, vivid connection to a current news story with lots of human interest angles. That doesn’t mean that people will necessarily be spurred by Hurricane Katrina to pressure their congresscritters to rein it in a bit, but that seems to be the best hope.