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    Sometimes the sun goes ’round the moon

    Posted by Sean at 07:26, August 28th, 2005

    Prime Minister Koizumi is taking a modest view of the significance of his efforts to privatize Japan Post:

    Prime Minister Koizumi has christened his recent dissolution of the House of Representatives the “Japan Post-Galileo Dissolution,” borrowing the name of Galileo Galilei, the Italian physicist who advanced the idea that the Earth was not the center of the universe.

    In response, Shizuka Kamei, a member of the group of Representatives who banded together to vote against the Japan Post privatization bill, shot back, “That guy? He’s the Ptolemaic!” What do Galileo scholars think about all of this?

    “As a researcher, I wouldn’t trot out Galileo comparisons too lightly–that’s my unvarnished opinion,” said Professor Ichiro Tanaka, a science and technology historian at in the graduate department of natural science research at Kanazawa University and author of Galileo.

    The Japanese words here, incidentally, are 地動説 (chidousetsu: “Earth” + “moves” + “argument” –> “heliocentric theory”) and 天動説 (tendousetu: “sky” + “moves” + “argument” –> “geocentric theory”).

    So–is Koizumi about to be excommunicated? Whatever outcome you want from the election, you can, of course, find a poll that supports it. The Yomiuri has this summary of where things stand at this point, which should cheer supporters of the Koizumi cabinet:

    “If the LDP continues to do well, we might well end up with fewer than 150 seats out of a total 480,” a senior DPJ member said.

    “The LDP’s divisions over postal reform, led us to believe we were on the eve of grabbing power. But if we lose by a big margin this election, it’ll be us, not them, that will be split,” he admitted.

    The DPJ’s fate, as in previous elections, is believed to lie with floating voters. Since the party has long depended on them, DPJ members know that such voters are fickle at best.

    Koizumi and the LDP have insisted postal reform is the dominant campaign issue. “We’d like to get pensions back into the limelight. We’ll ask people, ‘Which is more important, postal services or pensions?’ and then win back their attention and support,” a senior DPJ member said.

    A Yomiuri Shimbun poll Friday found the DPJ had an edge of nearly three percentage points over the LDP among floating voters.

    Asked which party they would vote in the election, 11.5 percent of those with no party affiliation said they would vote for the DPJ while 9.2 percent said they would vote for the LDP.

    In a Yomiuri survey conducted on Aug. 9, the DPJ was ahead of the LDP by 10.9 percent to 5.6 percent. But the most recent poll, released on Aug. 19, found the LDP ahead of DPJ, 12.5 percent to 11.2 percent.

    Of course, there are still two weeks until the election, so there will be plenty more blustering and polling between now and then.

    It’s interesting that that DPJ guy was talking about potential rifts in his own party. Just today there was this exchange:

    LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe said that, assuming the ruling coalition maintained its majority in the House of Representatives, “there will inevitably be a major shift in the political landscape, given that there are many in the DPJ who also support Japan Post privatization.” He indicated that his perception was that such developments could cause the DPJ to split. Responding, DPJ leader Katsuya Okada countered, “That’s an extremely rude thing to say. Impossible!”

    The DPJ also pointed out, naturally, that the LDP also has members who didn’t go along party lines.

    Much is being made of the fact that the LDP is focusing obsessively on Japan Post privatization, with the opposition parties figuring they can use it to their advantage and win voters over by shifting the discussion to other issues. Perhaps. Not all of Koizumi’s policies have been popular, and the communists and social democrats, for example, are trying to capitalize on the possibility that Article 9 of the constitution could be amended to allow for collective self-defense and on the increasing number of workers without positions as regular company employees.

    The LDP has some potential tricks up its sleeve, though. It’s use of “assassin” candidates is described by the Mainichi here:

    The LDP is reportedly planning to place its high profile candidates, referred to in Japanese as “shikaku,” or “assassins,” high on the party’s proportional representation list, basically ensuring them victory in the election.

    But candidates standing for re-election to the Lower House, who are likely to face a tough battle in the election, are complaining that the preferential treatment of such candidates is unfair.

    The LDP has pitted the high-profile candidates against rival candidates opposed to the postal privatization bills promoted by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

    The party’s proportional representation list will be released on Aug. 29. If the “assassins” are placed high on the list as expected, the party’s leadership is likely to come under fire from party members seeking re-election.

    There have been plenty of complaints that the LDP’s funkier high-profile candidates are inexperienced politically; pushing them to the top of the proportional representation roster (the list of districts is here in Japanese, BTW) is seen as a kick in the teeth to party loyalists who supported Japan Post privatization but may not win seats in their individual districts. The proportional representation list is to be released tomorrow, so we’ll see what it looks like.

    BTW, proportional representation, for those who find the Mainichi explanation confusing, involves setting aside 180 lower house seats and 98 upper house seats to be divided among 11 zones (large regions of Japan such as Hokkaido, Tohoku, and Tokyo) rather than little individual districts. Voters select a party to get the proportional representation seats for their zones; each party gets the same proportion of seats as it got votes. The idea is to keep parties that have significant support but didn’t win any seats with individual candidates from being shut out of the Diet entirely.


    Posted by Sean at 01:36, August 28th, 2005

    Atsushi and I were able to get together every two weekends for most of the summer until this month. I haven’t seen him for three weeks, so I’m getting kind of gretzy–especially because he’s working all through this weekend, and I can tell he’s stressed and tired and can’t do anything about it.

    My own travails this weekend are more annoying than stressful. Funny how it’s not listed on the reference calendar of my datebook, but today is apparently Retailers Make Sean Feel Lazy Day. The giggly, flirtatious girls behind the counter at Dean & Deluca said, “We haven’t seen you in that shirt lately,” which struck me as a sign that maybe I’m not cooking for myself quite often enough. It’s not mere sloth–really it isn’t. For one thing, with the heat, it’s hard to take frozen homemade food in to the office without having it drip water all over the place. For another, Japanese apartments aren’t wired to allow you to use all your appliances at one time. In our place, either the air conditioner or the microwave/oven is on…but not both, unless you want to trip the breaker. Thankfully, the weather has a hint of fall around the edges. The sun today is strong, but it doesn’t stab at you the way it did up until last week or so. In a few weeks, I won’t need to choose whether to make food from scratch or avoid death from heatstroke. And anyway, the Dean & Deluca girls didn’t mean any harm.

    When I went to get my watch battery changed, on the other hand, the guy did adopt a frank scolding tone–you know how people who work with gadgets can never seem to accept that we laypeople use them hard?–to inform me that there was condensation under the crystal, which I apparently caused by getting the watch wet. I am guilty of watch abuse and was given to understand by his expression that I was just lucky he didn’t call Child and Family Services on me. “Moisture can get in around the battery cover,” he snapped, oblivious to the fact that just above the battery cover was where the case was stamped “WATER RESISTANT.” I mean, it’s not as if I’d ever turned a firehose on the thing–I just don’t take it off before I do the dishes.

    Of course, now that I’ve reverted to being a lazy bachelor who subsists on take-out, there aren’t a lot of dishes to do. Luckily for me, Atsushi’s coming home this coming Saturday, which should stop my downward slide before I start, like, getting fat and leaving laundry on the floor and stuff.

    Social engineering

    Posted by Sean at 10:32, August 26th, 2005

    Romeo Mike has two great posts up this week. The more general one is about how movements for tolerance mutated into political correctness. I’m going to zero in on the gay content–go figure–but there’s a lot more to it:

    I never wanted anything more out of my gay rights than to not be arrested for it. I was perfectly aware that my dynamics were different from the mainstream, so why should a tail wag the dog. Yet now society itself is being dismantled to accommodate a few hundred people who demand to have the same everything, even when so much of it has to be artificially constructed, and risks affecting essential social fabric.

    Well, societies do evolve. The decriminalization of homosexual conduct has itself certainly been a change in the social fabric, after all–however innocuous those of us with the most to gain by it may find it. And entitlement-mindedness did not originate with gays; it’s the way politics works nowadays. Furthermore, just about everyone who espouses “traditional values” is picking and choosing customs from the past that he deems worth reviving or updating, and human institutions are by definition artificial constructs. Even so, none of that vitiates the point that fecklessly restructuring long-standing institutions to serve political ends that only emerged a decade or two ago is ill-advised. Not even all gay activists can agree on why gay marriage, as opposed to the other potential ways gay unions might be recognized, is the only way to go. The reasons most frequently and loudly offered appear to center on “respect” and “dignity,” which it’s dangerous for free people to expect the government to confer on them.

    About feminism, RM (I hope he doesn’t mind my calling him that; I am certainly not going to refer to him as “Romeo”) says,

    Though males had to work to support their families, feminists co-opted work as an equality issue. Now, child-rearing is disdained by many women who identify their life purpose by labouring for their employer. For many, children aren’t part of the equation anymore, even though they still mate. Yet the subsequent rise in mean income forced up the cost of living so now women have no choice but to work, child or not. Surely, on their death beds their last words will be,”I can rest now knowing my life’s purpose was to make profits for my boss.”

    Again, I’m with RM overall. Encouraging people to think of their career as their primary source of fulfillment (or even intellectual stimulation) works against their instincts and the good of their children–no argument here. At the same time, let’s not lose sight of a couple of things. For one, while Australia has a different tax system and welfare state from the US, my understanding from Australian friends is pretty much that the two countries are not much different in this respect: families with children can make it with one income if they’re willing to forgo the frills of full-on bourgeois living.

    For another, not everyone is cut out for child-rearing. We are a complex civilization with many important artifacts to maintain and develop for future generations, and there’s no shame in devoting yourself full-time to such tasks. The problem is that everyone–including the vast majority who will eventually become parents–has been encouraged to develop in a way that’s at odds with good parenting, not that women who aren’t the mothering type are now free to pursue careers.

    The big problem is mouthing abstract bromides about “diversity” while taking concrete steps to shoehorn people into politically-approved personality and behavioral types. RM tackles that in the other post, coming up with a useful neologism:

    mis.het.eur.andry; from misandry, hatred of men + het, heterosexual + eur, euro

    “denigration of straight white male/s under the guise of promoting anti-patriarchal ideology.”

    The whole mentality of seeing different ways of life as some kind of rebuke directed at your own is something I’ve never understood. If you have to defang people’s personalities in order to be able to deal with them comfortably, there’s something wrong with your spine. Liberal societies nurture strong, combative personalities and will always have their share of friction. Feminists and gay activists who expect us to make lasting gains that are woven into society instead of being appliqueed onto it need to see the advantage there. Opposition doesn’t just tear you down, it also shows you where your own arguments have flaws so you can improve them.

    Next satellite launch delayed

    Posted by Sean at 21:34, August 25th, 2005

    They haven’t ironed out all the kinks in Japan’s spy satellite program:

    Japan has postponed the launch of a third spy satellite intended to keep an eye on communist North Korea for at least six months due to a technical glitch, a report said Thursday.

    Japan launched two spy satellites in March 2003 amid concerns about the security threat posed by North Korea, which claims to have nuclear weapons.

    The third was set to be launched this fiscal year, which ends in March 2006, but a government committee postponed it because of a computer chip problem. At least six months are needed to replace the chips and test new ones, Kyodo News agency said. Officials were unavailable to confirm the report late Thursday.

    Critics say sending spy satellites into space goes against a long-standing Japanese policy of conducting only nonmilitary space missions.

    Yes, it does, but that just means it goes against a long-standing Japanese policy of mistaking sub-standard defense for saintly non-aggression. No harm in changing that.

    The road less traveled by

    Posted by Sean at 17:29, August 25th, 2005

    Nine years ago today, I landed at Narita Airport for the first time. I had no idea it was the first day of the rest of my life. I was originally supposed to be here for a year-long language program and then return to grad school in New York. Plans change!


    Posted by Sean at 16:46, August 25th, 2005

    I tried to get interested in the discussions of potential gay “conversion” at The Volokh Conspiracy and couldn’t. I find Eric’s comments on the topic fascinating, though:

    But there’s a real world out there, and when you’re young, hot and horny, and there are other people running around, there are naturally going to be occasions when one of them is naive, yet willing.

    Looking to be converted — to put it in Volokhian terms.

    Such types — apparently heterosexual, but what you might call “bi-curious” — used to regularly come on to me, and they’d scare the hell out of me, because I could not have handled the responsibility. Fortunately, I had a house full of openly gay men which I used to use as a “dumping ground” for the wannabe converts. All I needed to do was get them into the house, sneak out the back door, and drive away. The rest was not up to me.

    Eric’s right, though I think he may overestimate the naive part. A lot of us who are gay were once “straight” guys finding cagey ways to put ourselves in proximity with gay men who might put the moves on us–or not even necessarily put the moves on us, but connect somehow.

    This isn’t the “conversion” or “recruitment” scenario as envisioned by most social conservatives, which involves the seduction of a straight man who’s just kind of confused and horny by either a specific homo or the general normalization of homosexual behavior. Then, through some mysterious mechanism I’ve never seen explained, Straight Man is in danger of becoming addicted to the combination of instant gratification + lack of need for messy emotional entanglements and ruining his life, which result would presumably be all the more tragic because he’s not “really” a faggot.

    Do such things happen? Possibly. It definitely happens that gay men scam on hot straight guys a lot, and sometimes they score. But I find it hard to believe that seriously heterosexual men don’t pretty quickly find themselves thinking something like Blech–I just made it with a guy!…and not doing it again.

    Regarding the rest? Well, you can’t exactly “convert” them to something that’s already inside them, and seduction between adults never goes just one direction. For every caddish homo pestering a straight friend to give him a chance to demonstrate the joy of gay sex, there’s a “straight” man who’s driving a gay friend of his crazy by sending constant flirtatious signals.

    One last thing along those lines: we’re not just talking about “enjoyable” behavior. Figuring out that you like sleeping with people of the same sex is relatively easy. Coming to terms with the fact that you’re destined to mate with someone of the same sex is not so easy. Many, if not most, of us who are confirmed homosexuals went through a period of transition in which we called ourselves bisexual. I don’t deny that bisexuality exists, but “orientationally bisexual but behaviorally heterosexual” really is frequently code for “hasn’t figured it out yet.”

    Con panna

    Posted by Sean at 00:36, August 24th, 2005

    I don’t blame Michael or Henry Lewis for not bringing it up, but there’s an interesting aspect to this story that I think worth paying attention to:

    The Concerned Women of America, a “traditional family values” organization run by Beverly LaHaye, wife of fundamentalist preacher Rev. Tim Lahaye, a Christian broadcaster, has targeted Starbucks for promoting “homosexual values” by including quotes from gay individuals on their coffee cups, and for the company’s support of a San Diego gay pride event.

    The campaign also features quotes from other gay celebrities including singer–songwriter Rufus Wainwright, and musician Stephin Merritt.

    Starbucks started the “The Way I See It” quote program “as an extension of the coffeehouse culture — a way to promote open, respectful conversation among a wide variety of individuals.” Other notable figures whose quotes appear on the cups include actor Quincy Jones, New Age author Deepak Chopra, film critic Michael Medved, Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan and coaching legend John Wooden.

    So–our campaign to promote discussion among people of differing viewpoints includes a few gays, a New Age guru, a few movie types–isn’t Q still mostly known as a music producer, BTW?–and a few athletes. Notice anyone missing?

    I suppose it’s possible that there are deep thoughts from conservative Christians on some of the cups Starbucks printed for the program, or at least that there was bland spiritual content in the quotations from those considered notable for non-religious achievements. But it seems odd that the company’s media manager wouldn’t have mentioned that if it were the case. Doing so would, after all, have been the obvious way to deflect criticism from the CWF that Starbucks is promoting one-sided agenda.

    Starbucks program planners probably didn’t sit in their official smoke-filled smoke-free room and say, “Well, whatever we do, let’s be sure to leave out those dreadful Christians!” But the effect of hewing closely to the academic left’s definition of “diversity” is to give the religiously devout yet another little reason to feel that “the coffeehouse culture” believes they have no wisdom of their own to offer but plenty to learn from everyone else. Even if you don’t think that’s unfair, it’s bad strategy, especially for gays and those who think they’re trying to help us.

    Aside: I think that if I were confronted, of a not-yet-caffeinated morning, with a quotation from Deepak f’ing Chopra on my coffee cup, I’d hand the sucker back and head back to bed, perhaps forever.

    Added while trying to keep biscotti crumbs out of the keyboard: Henry Lewis commented to say that the contributors to “The Way I See It” do include a few conservatives; I’m more than happy to admit an error when it turns out I was being too cynical.

    Even so, maybe I’m just too inclined to be hard on gay PR and am making a big deal out of nothing, but…put it this way: you’ve got an exchange of ideas that includes a New Age guy, an out gay guy, an Asian woman athlete, et c. I think that most rank-and-file Americans would say that if you really want to reflect the diversity of society, there should be an obvious Christian, saying pointedly Christian things, in there somewhere.

    I went out on the balcony / With your photograph

    Posted by Sean at 09:56, August 23rd, 2005

    Mark Alger says that summer has begun its slow glide toward fall in Cincinnati. Tokyo had its moment last week, too. I walked out the door, and–uh, if you’ve ever had an inner-ear infection, you know how the doctor gives you anti-biotics and pain-killers and you go home and go to bed and you wake up and it doesn’t hurt and the relief is so overwhelming you almost cry? It was like that. You felt air–real, lovely, moving air that actually felt as if it contained some oxygen along with the water vapor. Suddenly, you knew you could walk down the street without expecting to run into Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego around every corner.

    Fine, so the city turned back into a kiln within twelve hours, but the brief moment of relief was enough to give hope. Today, we had a rain that was actually kind of refreshing. I think I’ve been compulsively downing less iced tea, at least by a little. It won’t be long before guys are no longer walking around in shorts (boo!), but not long after that they’ll be wearing sweaters (yum!), so it all works out.

    Iraqi constitution

    Posted by Sean at 09:25, August 23rd, 2005

    The NYT has the proposed Iraqi constitution posted. Michael has it, I think, in perspective:

    It’s not perfect, but unlike some people, I didn’t expect it to be. A lot needs to be worked out. I’m not happy with laws being based on Islam, but I am happy with Article 151: No less than 25 percent of Council of Deputies seats go to women. That would make it more representative than Parliament in Canada. And, if women are treated unequally, then they, as a majority vote in Iraq, have the right to force change in the law.

    I’m not really fond of Article 151–just removing barriers to women’s political participation strikes me as sufficient in that sphere. I don’t usually go for nationalized industries, either, though in this period of transition holding off on privatization may be a wise initial move. Iraq has several competing ethnicities and a population shellshocked by decades of brutal dictatorship followed by invasion followed by slow reconstruction. Anyone who’s acting all bowled over at the fact that people have clung to tradition (in this case Islamic) to help stabilize things is either disingenuous or stupid.


    Posted by Sean at 09:11, August 23rd, 2005

    Japan’s proceeding with its SST plan:

    Japan’s space agency plans to launch an arrow-shaped airplane at twice the speed of sound high over the Australian outback as early as next month in a crucial test of the country’s push to develop a supersonic successor to the retired Concorde.

    The test follows a three-year hiatus since the first experimental flight of the unmanned aircraft, dubbed the next-generation supersonic transport, prematurely separated from its booster rocket and crashed into the desert.

    “We’ve made some improvements so that won’t happen again,” Takaaki Akuto, a spokesman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, said Tuesday in Tokyo. “This is a pretty important test.”

    A successful mission will pave the way for additional experiments as JAXA aims to develop a plane that can carry 300 passengers at Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound, making the run from Tokyo to Los Angeles in about four hours.

    The aircraft is being developed in a partnership with France, whose history in the way of making profitable supersonic jets is not what you would call promising. But let’s just leave that aside and dream of flying to LA in four hours.

    Four hours! Just think of what you could do with the seven hours you’d save that way: start recovering from your jet lag early…spend more time with your friends…catch a domestic flight to New York and end up spending less time in the air than you would have spent flying Narita-JFK on a 747…write and proofread the great American novel. It would be like winning the chronolottery. Of course, it’s likely to be super-expensive, if it happens at all, so for now we’re still stuck trying to convince ourselves that 12 hours of imprisonment is great because it’s the perfect opportunity to reread War and Peace without distraction.