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    Volume control

    Posted by Sean at 23:55, August 22nd, 2005

    I don’t seem to have enough gay readers to fill a taxi, and I doubt that those I do have need this particular sermon, but JIC….

    There’s nothing wrong with being boisterously gay at a bar. I do it all the time myself. But honey, it’s possible to do so without screeching so loudly that everyone else in the place wonders whether he’s accidentally wandered into a junior high school girls’ bathroom.

    Not long ago, I was at one of my favorite hang-outs, and it was fairly full. You had to talk at a bit above normal conversational volume to be heard, which was fine. Then in came a group of four or five guys who decided that if 70 decibels are good, 130 are even better. I don’t just mean, like, every once in a while, they’d all laugh uproariously when someone made a good wisecrack. I’m talking about their sustained volume.

    One of them was talking about his sex buddy Darren back in Boston. I learned (from five stools away, mark you) a lot about Darren. Darren ties him up just the way he likes it. Darren is close to 50. Darren is no movie star, but he’s pretty cute. Darren has as much hair on his abs as on his chest. Darren’s belly has a fair amount of fat on it, but the muscles underneath are still rock-hard. Darren proves that it’s true what they say about guys with big noses.

    This went on and on, loudly. To make matters worse, one of the Japanese guys in the party didn’t seem to understand idiomatic English very well, and Mr. Bostonian was being pretty slangy, so every once in a while he had to stop and repeat something he’d just said, rephrasing it with can’t-miss-it literalism.

    Aside from the tying-up part, and depending on just how much lard there is on his tummy, Darren actually sounds kinda hot. I’m almost sorry that I didn’t encounter him when I was younger and wilder. At this point, though, I’m afraid the next time I go to Boston I’m going to run into Darren, recognize him, and merrily appropriate him as an old acquaintance before I remember that I myself do not, in fact, know him. Adjusting your voice so that your friends can hear you but those around cannot is worth the effort, guys. Otherwise, you look at best impolite and at worst desperate to convince the world at large that your life is exciting.

    Retiring with dignity

    Posted by Sean at 09:14, August 22nd, 2005

    Okay, um, when Dianne Feinstein (1) is calling you petty and (2) has a point, it is time to change your thinking. it is high time to change your thinking. it is way past high time to change your thinking. just what the hell are you thinking, anyway? Jaw, meet desk:

    The USS Iowa joined in battles from World War II to Korea to the Persian Gulf. It carried President Franklin Roosevelt home from the Teheran conference of allied leaders, and four decades later, suffered one of the nation’s most deadly military accidents.

    Veterans groups and history buffs had hoped that tourists in San Francisco could walk the same teak decks where sailors dodged Japanese machine-gun fire and fired 16-inch guns that helped win battles across the South Pacific.

    Instead, it appears that the retired battleship is headed about 80 miles inland, to Stockton, a gritty agricultural port town on the San Joaquin River and home of California’s annual asparagus festival.

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a former San Francisco mayor, helped secure $3 million to tow the Iowa from Rhode Island to the Bay Area in 2001 in hopes of making touristy Fisherman’s Wharf its new home.

    But city supervisors voted 8-3 last month to oppose taking in the ship, citing local opposition to the Iraq war and the military’s stance on gays, among other things.

    “If I was going to commit any kind of money in recognition of war, then it should be toward peace, given what our war is in Iraq right now,” Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said.

    Feinstein called it a “very petty decision.”

    “This isn’t the San Francisco that I’ve known and loved and grew up in and was born in,” Feinstein said.

    For crying out loud, people, I don’t much like the military’s stance on gays, either–but, you know, for much of the time the Iowa was in service, homosexual conduct was flat-out illegal everywhere. This kind of snippy grandstanding disregards any progress that’s been made and looks like…well, snippy grandstanding. (Now, there’s a stance that’s likely to convince the military to consider a change of policy.) Furthermore, anyone who would spurn a ship that was used to help defend American liberties through key events in the 20th century because he happens not to like what the military is doing right now is a fruitcake. Slap Korean War veterans in the face to make a point about the Iraq invasion? I’m only grateful that the article doesn’t spell out what the “other things” are. Happily, the officials from Stockton who are quoted in the article indicate that it’s going to get a proper welcome there.

    Lesser of two evils

    Posted by Sean at 04:07, August 21st, 2005

    This editorial from the Nikkei raises good, albeit depressing, questions about the plans the two major parties have for Japan Post:

    The DPJ plan would maintain Japan Post as a semi-public corporation but lower the cap on savings account balances for a single depositor from the current 10 million yen to 7 million yen by next year, and from there down to 5 million yen over several years, so that the approximate 220 trillion yen now held in postal savings would shrink by half. There would also be some sort of method used to decrease the number of new policyholders for insurance. The party touts its plan as a way of realizing a more definite transfer of capital from the post offices to private banks and insurance companies than the LDP plan would: “A change in the flow of capital from public to private.”

    That’s one way of thinking, but it leaves more than one question open. If the amount of capital contracts greatly, not all of the 26000 regular employees of Japan Post will be needed, but the DPJ plan doesn’t say anything clear about personnel reductions. The party says, “Personnel levels will, of course, be adjusted as more workers reach mandatory retirement age,” but to the extent that the Japan Post unions and other organizations, which are antipathetic to personnel reductions, are expected to form a layer of support for the party, the plan lacks persuasiveness without concrete proposals for personnel management.

    The DPJ plan maintains Japan Post as a semi-governmental corporation but says that it will investigate the full spectrum of options, including integration with federal financial institutions. Privatization is also included among the options. However, if the option of not privatizing Japan Post outright is not selected for now, then there will be no choice but to use money from the profitable deposit and insurance divisions to make up for losses by the postal services division if it once again becomes unprofitable as trends such as e-mail cut into its business. In extreme cases, it’s possible that tax money will need to be used to rescue postal services.

    Of course, it’s not a sure thing that the LDP’s privatization plan is going to bring us salvation, either:

    On the other hand, the privatization bill to be resubmitted by the LDP would split postal services, savings, and insurance into three separate corporations, then establish a fourth for counter services that would absorb the majority of current post office employees. A holding company would manage these four organizations. Government guarantees on postal savings and insurance would be abolished.

    This is privatization in outline, but as a result of compromises with the former Mori faction, added provisions mean that in substance, the three divisions will continue to function as a single monolithic body, and furthermore, and significant government interests will remain.

    For example, the holding company is a public entity for which the government will provide more than a third of its capital. On top of that, the holding company will be able to continue to hold shares in the savings and insurance corporations even after March 2017, when the transition to privatization is to be completed. That means there is a real worry the flow of capital from public to private hands will not be effected: government interests in the organizations’ financial operations, including where capital is allocated, will remain all along.

    This isn’t new–I’ve discussed everything in the above paragraphs in scattered posts from time to time, but it’s a good summary.

    Quake in Niigata

    Posted by Sean at 00:26, August 21st, 2005

    There was an earthquake in Niigata this morning–M5.0 and also a strong 5 on the JMA scale. Reported damage sounds like little more than a few broken windows, but I’m sure the residents are jumpy after last fall’s series of destructive quakes. In Japanese terms, Niigata, like Kobe, is not considered a very seismically active area, so preparations are somewhat sketchy, though I’m sure they’re a lot better now than they were last year at this time.

    Old Japan

    Posted by Sean at 00:18, August 21st, 2005

    I probably would have missed this had Susanna not shot me an e-mail about it: Roger Simon is in Japan and is posting photos and impressions of his stay in Nikko. Worth reading. One thing he said is heartbreakingly true:

    English is only sparingly spoken here [at the inn where he’s staying] and all of the other patrons are Japanese. They seem to be more in search of Old Japan than even this gaijin.

    Yes. There are Japanophile Westerners who get all woozy over “traditional Japanese culture” in a way that makes it seem they care for nothing beyond having somewhere quaint and exotic and Zen and Oriental to go in order to fill in their own spiritual void. But you don’t have to adopt that condescending perspective to see that the Japanese people’s relationship with modernization is complex and not as resolutely amicable as it’s often made to seem.

    Tokyo is a striking city–I’ve lived here for almost a decade and love it to pieces, but let’s face it: no place on Earth brings the fug like Tokyo. A lot of it really does look like Bladerunner. What Tokyo has going for it, however, is that it’s the largest and most kinetic megalopolis in the developed world. Its expansive affluence and churning, insane vitality mean you don’t mind the drabness so much.

    Where the ugliness of modern Japan really makes you want to weep is in places such as Kyoto. Nothing quite prepares you for when you alight at the new Kyoto Station, prepared to immerse yourself in one of the most legendarily beautiful cities in the world…and realize that you’re inside a big modernist glass box of monumental, almost unimaginable hideousness. Across the street from the glass box is the unfortunate Kyoto Tower Hotel, which looks like a giant toilet brush in its stand. The downtown is full of the unprepossessing stucco-ish and tiled building facades you can see anywhere in Japan. Of course, the temples and a few select old neighborhoods really are as gorgeous as you expect. Atsushi and I were there in the fall of 2001 when the leaves were just reaching their peak. It was magical–until you came back down the mountain into the city. Then you may as well have been in Nagoya.

    Japanese people realize that the way they’ve modernized, impressive as it is, has not produced a happy medium. Unfortunately, building codes and public works projects don’t show much sign of changing, and the architects who have found imaginative ways to integrate old-fashioned Japanese ideas of structure with modern technology and materials are way outnumbered by those who are content to design big, characterless boxes. Or who go headlong in the other direction and generate designs for buildings that are so trippy and “experimental” as to be user-unfriendly.

    A lot of the “traditional” Japanese inns have the same visible air conditioning units and formica furniture and artificial fibers that you see elsewhere here. What they have going for them are the water and rock- and cedar-lined baths. And they’re not as crowded as the commuter trains. I’m not sure Tanizaki would have approved, but that’s about as close to nature as life gets for most people these days.

    Domestic goddess

    Posted by Sean at 10:07, August 19th, 2005

    You know what it is about Nigella Lawson? The rack. This is a woman who was clearly designed by God to provide sustenance.* I mean, it would be a relief in any case to see this kind of female celeb–featured in British Vogue and known for being A-list glam–who does not force herself into the ubiquitous Malnutritia McGelboobs silhouette. Bonus points for having mastered the ability to wear clothes that showcase her curves without making her look like a $2-an-hour whore. (Could someone closer to LA and NY maybe remind the stylists of the developed world that fabric is supposed to cover people’s privates in public?)

    Her hair approaches Jaclyn Smith levels of thick, lustrous gorgeousness, too–I bet chewing and swallowing food and then keeping it down long enough to absorb all the nutrients helps with that.

    Good grief–girlfriend just came out in a silk bathrobe to rub oil into some kind of roast with her bare hands in the eerie midnight glow of a kitchen light. If I were a straight man or dyke, I’d be having a stroke right now.

    Added on 21 August: Note to self: if you ever want a sudden increase in weekend traffic, find a way to get Kim to link you with a post about boobies. Good grief. I mean, in a good way. (And thanks, man.)


    Posted by Sean at 05:49, August 19th, 2005

    Sheesh. Next time I decide to click on a link to AMERICAblog, can someone kindly break my wrist for me? Thanks. Especially if I decide to scroll down from the post that someone linked and sample some of the other goodies available.

    I’m not going to get involved in opining about Cindy Sheehan and what kind of person she is. I will, however, ask my fellow gay guys this: Is it really a good idea to be fawning over a mother whose authority in argument is implicitly predicated on the belief that she gets to own her son’s memory and legacy now that he’s dead? No matter what allegiances he publicly and consistently took while alive, as an independent adult? Even if what she supports is diametrically opposed to the way he lived? Do gay men really want to do that? Really seriously really? I’m thinking maybe it’s not such a hot idea.

    Added on 20 August: Henry Lewis gives the obvious response:

    So, yes, she gets to ‘own’ her son’s memory and legacy – because he was her son, and she loved him. The allusion here (I think, since the question is about whether gay guys should fawn over Cindy), is if you’re gay and your parents don’t agree, should they be able to use your memory (assuming you’ve died) to promote their anti-gay agenda? The comparison, though, is a false one. An anti-gay parent who uses the memory of a dead gay-child to promote their anti-gay agenda is (arguably) actively working to tear down their son’s memory. Sheehan isn’t doing that.

    She hasn’t had anything bad to say about the military and, to my knowledge, hasn’t said she opposed Casey’s choice to be in the military. What she has said, is that she doesn’t understand what her son’s sacrifice was for. I suppose you might argue that if Casey was staunchly pro-war-in Iraq (as opposed to pro-doing his duty as a member of the military), you might argue that his mother’s anti-war activities somehow go against his wishes, but even then, it’s not the same thing. Cindy is proud of her son, she misses him, and there’s no indication she wanted him any different than he was – that she didn’t support him.

    I find it hard to criticize a guy who may actually use more parentheticals than I do–which is saying something–but this is hair-splitting with a vengeance. The man reenlisted after the start of the Iraq conflict (as his own unit was getting ready for deployment, from what I’ve read). It’s hard to imagine him, from the available information, as being anything but in favor of the Iraq invasion. Even so, how Ms. Sheehan’s thinking actually relates to her son’s thinking was not the point I was addressing.

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s all over after that first sentence: “So, yes, she gets to ‘own’ her son’s memory and legacy – because he was her son, and she loved him.” Whatever you say, honey. I’m less concerned with what Sheehan thinks herself than with the uncritical acceptance of the idea that her being a bereaved mother gives moral weight to the way she invokes her son’s memory to support her political opinions. It simply doesn’t. My mother loves me, sure–but if I died and she started going around and implying, however sincerely, that I’d only chosen an out life because I’d been suckered by the gay establishment…well, I hope it would be duly noted that she was calling into question my considered judgment as an adult.

    Party of five

    Posted by Sean at 21:56, August 18th, 2005

    Why is it that the names of new political parties always sound so hard-socialist? The party just formed by several key Japan Post opponents, dropped by the LDP for their rebelliousness, will be called the 国民新党 (kokumin shintô: “citizens’ new party”).

    On the bright side, with so few members, everyone gets an executive post:

    Former House of Representatives Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki, who heads the party, made the announcement at a press conference held late afternoon.

    The new party comprises five members, including Shizuka Kamei, former chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, who spearheaded opposition to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal reform drive.

    Hisaoki Kamei, former National Land Agency director general, took the post of secretary general.

    House of Councillors member Kensei Hasegawa, another LDP member who defied party executives to vote against the postal bills, also joined the party.

    The four rebels left the LDP earlier in the day.

    Another upper house member, Hideaki Tamura, left the Democratic Party of Japan to join the new party.

    “We considered it inappropriate that the prime minister submitted the bills in a hasty and high-handed manner,” Watanuki said at the press conference.

    “We’re strongly resentful that LDP executives decided not to support the 37 party members who voted against the bills in the lower house, and to field rival candidates against the opponents,” he added.

    “I stood up [to form a new party] since I can’t just sit still and watch” the LDP executives’ strategy to field alternative candidates, Watanuki said. “We’d like to become the vanguards of preventing such backroom politics.”

    Backroom politics? There’s always some of that, of course. If anything, though, I think that most people’s perception was that Koizumi and his fellow travelers were so upfront about demanding loyalty without necessarily making it clear what Japan Post privatization was concretely going to accomplish.

    Prime Minister Koizumi, kami love him, did not mince words over the news:

    “I think it’s good for them to set up a new party to disseminate their policy, because unlike LDP members [Cold, man!–SRK], they’re against postal privatization,” Koizumi said at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo.

    But when asked about the possibility of postelection cooperation with the new party, he said, “As the LDP and New Komeito will win a majority, we can’t cooperate with people who are opposed to postal privatization.”

    The Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition party, has now posted its election platform. Japan Post is the issue that’s getting all the attention, but it shouldn’t be. There’s always a real possibility that the LDP coalition could lose. If so, here’s what we’re in for (drastically summarized and leaving out some bullet points entirely):

    Japan-US relations: The platform emphasizes that Japan’s important strategic relationship with the US does not make it a vassal state and that it retains its autonomy. It also asserts that based on changes in the Asian “strategic environment,” US military presence now in Okinawa should be first redistributed within and then moved out of Japan. It also wants Japanese law to be in effect at US military facilities and crime suspects to be turned over to the Japanese courts before being charged.

    The SDF: The platform states that the SDF should be restructured within two years to be able to cope with new threats such as cyberwarfare, ballistic missiles, and terrorism. It also goes out of its way to mention defense of various disputed island chains.

    The SDF deployment in Iraq: The DPJ proposes to bring back the non-combat SDF forces now in Iraq by December. The Japanese contribution to the reconstruction would take the form of ODA activity.

    The building of a relationship of mutual trust with the PRC: After this is achieved (I’d love to see the DPJ describe how), Japan and China can start to systematize their cooperation on things like energy consumption, currency valuation, maritime territory, and security.

    Relationships between Japan and the ROK or other Asian states: The platform proposes mostly free trade agreements, though it also mentions Japan’s role as a consultant on democratization, conservation, crime reduction, education, and energy policy.

    The DPRK: There’s no pretense to building a relationship of mutual trust here. The DPJ supports attempts to denuclearize North Korea through the ongoing 6-party talks. Regarding the issue of Japanese abductees, it proposes possible measures such as the blocking of entry into Japanese ports for DPRK-registered vessels. Also, with the number of refugees from the DPRK showing no sign of dropping off, the DPJ proposes increased maritime security.

    A global warming tax: ¥3000 per ton of CO2 emitted

    Social insurance: The operative slogan is “fair, transparent, and sustainable.” There’s quite a bit of detail here–it’s a big issue in Japan–but there are a few major proposals. The DPJ wants to consolidate the various pension systems to eliminate inequities, such as by eliminating the special pension system for Diet members and making them pay into the same black hole reservoir as the rest of us. Married couples would be regarded as paying into the same pension account and each be considered entitled to half. The national health service would be reformed to facilitate such exotica as seeking a second opinion. The unemployment system would make it easier for younger workers to get career counseling and assistance, and the labor laws would be brought more in line with international standards. This includes–you have to love Japan–compulsory interviews by physicians for workers with long shifts. This is presumably to make sure they don’t drop dead from overwork, which is no longer seen as a contribution to company and family honor.

    On farm, trade, and public works policy, the DPJ is generally opposed to privatization and the abolishment of subsidies; however, it does propose a decrease in the number of boondoggles (who doesn’t?) and support the spinning off of authority for the disbursement of funds to local governments.


    Posted by Sean at 12:04, August 18th, 2005

    Nick has a handy run-down of left and right positions on major issues. My favorites:

    Trade sanctions are good when applied to evil governments like apartheid era South Africa.
    Trade sanctions are bad when applied to the suffering people of Ba’athist Iraq or fascist Cuba.

    Trade sanctions are good when applied to totalitarian red China.
    Trade sanctions are bad when Margaret Thatcher says they are. [Does that just apply to trade sanctions? It’s been a firm and generalized tenet in my life for decades.–SRK]

    Government interference is bad when the nanny-state tells you not to smoke the weed.
    Government interference is good when it tells you to turn your guns in to the police.

    Government interference is bad when the nanny-state tells you not to smoke Marlboros.
    Government interference is good when, in an ironic move, it throws you in jail for having the gay sex.

    Muneo Suzuki seeks lower house seat (not a joke!)

    Posted by Sean at 10:00, August 18th, 2005




    Muneo Suzuki, a former Lower House member of the ruling party who is appealing a bribery conviction, on Thursday launched a new political party that he hopes will win him a seat in the Sept 11 election.

    Suzuki, 57, said his Sapporo-based Shinto daichi (New party, big land) was planning to win at least two Hokkaido seats in the election.

    He said the party, which was named by popular singer Chiharu Matsuyama-a long-time friend of Suzuki’s-to symbolize Hokkaido’s vast area, would stand for the socially disadvantaged.

    “I want the party to be one for the weak and those with no power,” Suzuki said. “Politics should work for those who are disadvantaged or regions that are underdeveloped.”

    The party is planning to come out guns blazing against bureaucratic intervention in politics. It will also campaign to secure Ainu rights as well as the construction of a pipeline to directly import natural gas and petroleum from Russia to the northern island.

    Muneo Suzuki was sentenced to two years in prison and millions of yen in fines for…well, I don’t think he was charged with breaking and entering, but just about everything else was in there: bribery, bid-rigging, perjury, and fraud among them. His idea of having politics work for “regions that are underdeveloped,” naturally, is funneling money into boondoggles that have no potential users. The best that can be said of him is that he was considered a scourge of bureaucrats, but you have to be scraping big old splinters from the bottom of the barrel to come up with that one.