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    In which our protagonist explains why he will not be convinced to support Obama

    Posted by Sean at 15:17, August 2nd, 2008

    My friend Maria asked me a few weeks ago–all right, maybe it’s a few months ago by this point–to explain why I was against electing Obama president. Since she just posted a comment to a post I made the other day and raised several points I think need to be considered, I’ll respond here. Maria wrote the following:

    As an Obama supporter, I don’t take it as a “given” that Obama can change Washington. I like his tagline. I like it because it’s true, and those of us who have had enough of Cheney and Bush with their arrogant blatant disregard for the rule of law–trampling on the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Conventions–do need to be reminded of the power we have every four years. Four years ago when Bush was “re”-elected, if I would have had the nest egg necessary, I would have been “outta here.” (Canada, Costa Rica…) I had serious doubts about our country lasting another four years. I thought I would get out before the flames of Rome engulfed me… And, now we have the chance to take our back our country, reinstate the Constitution, restore our reputation, etc., etc. I know you don’t share my thoughts, Sean. I’m just sharing a little bit of why it’s good that Obama is calling us to a larger service rather than just saying he is the answer to everything. He is just one man. But, look out, Sean, there’s a whole lot more of us… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    A lot more of whom? This is what I don’t get. I don’t really mean to single out Maria–since what she’s saying is no different from what I’ve been hearing in New York since returning home–but what political principles are we using to justify the idea that Obama would make a good president? If people like his policies, fine. Expecting “change,” though? This is a man who decided to decamp from law school to a city that has possibly the most famously corrupt political machine in America; he’s clearly flourished there. And we believe he’s going to change things in Washington?

    The Obama supporters I encounter are full of enthusiasm for the ends he’ll supposedly accomplish. They’re a bit less clear on how he’ll do it–and no wonder.

    The “restore our reputation” line really tends to set me off, so I’ll tackle it first. Most people dithering about our rep “abroad” are really worried about Western Europe. Yeah, occasionally, the head of state of Brazil or Malaysia will get off a zinger about Bush or “consumerism” and be quoted a lot for a few days; but the countries people consistently express anxiety about by name tend to be the U.K., Germany, France, and sometimes the Netherlands, Belgium, and Sweden. (Everyone else in the “global community” usually gets dumped into some broader category such as “the Arab street” or “Latin America.”)

    The states of Western Europe are our allies and trading partners, and it’s reasonable for them to ask us to consider their interests when we’re hammering out our geopolitical strategies. Fine. But sitting still while European officials sermonize at us about harmony among peoples? Give me a break. The idea that we should be humoring them, much less yielding to them, is preposterous. Europeans have been waging war on one another for centuries; World Wars I and II were egregious in their scope and bloodiness, but they were hardly out of character. During World War II, most of Western Europe that wasn’t run by the Nazis themselves was run by fascist buddies of the Nazis, Vichy collaborators with the Nazis, or enthusiastic fillers of orders for the Nazis. After being liberated by the Allies, then being put under our defense umbrella when the Soviet Union started getting expansionist, Western Europe soothed its stinging humiliation by repackaging itself as a champion, jointly and singly, of non-violent conflict resolution.

    So how’s that working out? Not too badly, in many ways. The European Union makes us Yanks snigger with its bureaucratic antics, but it has, in fact, helped to cement the sorts of economic ties that make aggression less likely. Modern nations such as Germany and even Belgium seem unlikely to splinter, depsite comprising multiple states with individual histories and cultural identities. Fine. But European societies are having much less integrating the Turks, North Africans, and South Asians who’ve poured in over the last few decades. Violence against Jews has increased.

    American internal and external race relations are not perfect, certainly, but that doesn’t mean we have anything helpful to learn from Europe about how to improve them. About engineering, art and architecture, and making good coffee, yes, but not about ethic harmony. And if that weren’t enough of a reason not to suck up to Europe, there’s also the fact that it won’t work. Anti-Americanism did not start with the Bush administration, regardless of what those with selective amnesia may maintain, and the election of Obama would put paid to only its most superficial manifestations.

    The rest gets me exercised less than it makes me shrug. I’m aware that a lot of people think the Bush administration is populated by nasty, nasty, NASTY people–but we’ve had a Democratic majority in both houses of congress since last midterm election, so talk about the need to “take back our country” seems just a bit excessive. The need to “reinstate the Constitution” sounds rousing, but it means different things to, say, anti-war leftists thinking about the Patriot Act and strict-constructionist conservatives thinking about the U.S. Supreme Court. Besides which, all this is assuming that Obama never has to make hard choices after another terrorist attack or other major crisis. Obama is very like Clinton: he’s good at winning people over with his feel-good domestic policy bromides, but many suspect he’s not man enough to be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and he knows it. The Clinton administration overcompensated time and again. Would Obama? It’s impossible to predict. But he has no military or foreign policy background, and while he’s adjusting shrewdly as he goes, I’m not sure I want to see what happens when he gives it the old college try during an emergency while simultaneously laboring to prove he can get tough.

    Lost in translation

    Posted by Sean at 16:55, July 27th, 2008

    Rondi Adamson says what I was thinking about the Obama trip, just in case it wasn’t already clear:

    I’m not so sure Obama supporters ought to get so ga-ga over the fact that he attracted such a huge, chanting crowd in Berlin. Germans have a history of turning out in zombatroid droves for really creepy people. Their taste isn’t always admirable.

    There’s also the fact that Obama talked about the airlift and the fall of the Berlin Wall without really acknowledging how we’d gotten to those points. Had the Third Reich not been crushed militarily, there would have been no divided Berlin to scuffle over. Had Reagan not ramped up the arms race, the Soviet bloc would still have fallen, it’s generally agreed, but not nearly as quickly as it did. Obama’s not wrong that “partnership” is important, but his speech (especially the soundbites) gives no indication that he has a clear sense of when it’s better to extend olive branches or to brandish spears.


    Posted by Sean at 12:09, July 27th, 2008

    Japan is taking another step to change its xenophobic image:

    Japan plans to accept more refugees in response to growing criticism that the nation gives money to help refugees but shuts its doors when they seek shelter, sources said.

    Japan joined the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1981.

    However, the number of people granted official refugee status here pales in comparison with other industrialized nations.

    For example, Japan gave official refugee status to 41 people in 2007. In the same year, 14 nations, including the United States and European countries, accepted about 75,000 refugees from Myanmar, Iraq and other areas.

    Lest any Japanese readers worry that the place will be flooded with foreigners, note that the plan is rather modest: “Japan will become the first Asian nation to introduce the program, and will accept about 30 refugees, possibly people from Myanmar (Burma) who are now in Thailand, in fiscal 2010 at the earliest, the sources said.”

    Now’s the time for all good men to get together with one another

    Posted by Sean at 12:39, July 23rd, 2008

    OMFG, this is great. You’ve probably seen it at Next Right via Instapundit already, but still:


    At first, I thought people might be making a big deal out of very little–that Obama’s speaking abroad doesn’t necessarily mean he’s taking his campaign there, after all. But the speech is clearly being publicized and driven by Obama’s campaign.

    Isn’t that nice? I suggest he use the following tagline on his return home: “Barack Obama: Adored by Crowds of Germans!” That’ll really resonate with the American people.

    Speaking of taglines, the campaign website has a beaut in its banner: “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington…I’m asking you to believe in yours.” Because of course it’s a given that Obama can change Washington. You little voters out there, however, empowered by nothing but the United States Constitution and stuff–you obviously won’t think you can have any effect without being encouraged. But you can! We can! Yes, we can!

    Yes We Can Can.

    Sheesh. I’m no fan of McCain, but at least he and his supporters appear to know what he’s running for and who his constituency is supposed to be.

    Added after a nice glass of seltzer and lime: If the Pointer Sisters reference above suggests another of their early songs with political relevance this week, all I can say is that you’re very wicked and I want nothing to do with you.


    Posted by Sean at 11:49, July 23rd, 2008

    A magnitude 6.8 (JMA scale strong 6) hit Iwate Prefecture twenty minutes or so ago. No reports of damage yet, but that’s a major quake.


    Posted by Sean at 18:59, July 22nd, 2008

    The Nikkei says

    In a survey of convenience stores in 2007 by Nikkei, Inc., the clear sense is that the convenience market has become saturated. Growth in the number of outlets has stalled, reaching 44542 (a 0.4% increase over the previous year), the lowest rate of increase since the survey was first conducted in 1978. And with the percent increase in total revenues also 1.3%, current growth models–increasing profits while opening outlet after outlet–are reaching a point of transition.

    One of the hardest things to get used to being back in the City is the lack of convenience stores, which are more omni-present in Tokyo than Duane Reade and Starbucks here. You can’t go twenty feet in Tokyo without hitting a 7-Eleven, Family Mart, am-pm, Lawson’s, Sunkus, Mini Stop. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a huge chain or two. Convenience store chains in Japan have been competing fiercely for ages now, getting famous chefs to put their names on prepared ramen and touting the freshness of their sushi and rice products. (7-Eleven’s distribution system has been much admired.)

    They’re probably the most common landmark used to give directions in Japan at this point, and when you move into a new neighborhood, you learn within a week which outlets in your neighborhood are clean and bright and which are the dumps. When you come back to New York, actually having to keep your eye out for something that looks like a bodega when you’re out of milk and can’t wait for the Fresh Direct order is really disorienting (for me, at least).

    Anyway, it wouldn’t be surprising if the market were actually close to saturation.

    HIV specialists detained in Iran

    Posted by Sean at 18:00, July 22nd, 2008

    A friend in Albany just sent me a link to this story:

    A University at Albany public health student internationally known for his AIDS work has been arrested by Iranian security forces, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

    The New York-based group urged Iranian authorities to release or charge Kamiar Alaei and his brother, Arash. The two physicians were detained in late June, the group said. Their whereabouts are unknown.

    Alaei was excited to see his family when [colleague Ladan] Alomar last spoke with him in June before he left for Iran. She expected him back in August, and planned to pick him up at the train station.

    Iranian authorities detained Arash Alaei overnight at an unknown location before accompanying him to his home the following morning, according to Human Rights Watch, the largest human rights group based in the U.S.

    There, they arrested Kamiar Alaei and seized documents belonging to the brothers. Authorities have refused to give them access to a lawyer or say where and why they’re being held, according to Human Rights Watch.

    Here‘s the Human Rights Watch statement. There doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of information at the moment about why the two men might have been arrested. (I looked around, figuring that even if the government weren’t being forthcoming, someone might have an idea.) The Alaei brothers have been involved in shaping government-sanctioned organizations, so they don’t seem to have established themselves as enemies of the state. At the same time, some of their work has been with prisoners, and treating people with drug-related diseases and STDs presumably puts them into contact with plenty of other people who aren’t in well with the government. Who knows what information the authorities may think they can pick up from their records? Alaei’s description of his program in Iran is here.

    ๅƒ•ใฏใ‚ฆใƒŠใ‚ฎใ ใ€‚

    Posted by Sean at 13:15, July 21st, 2008

    Eels are a summer delicacy in Japan that’s especially been in the news because one of the recent food-fraud scandals has involved the labeling of imported eels from China as domestic. The latest eel-related crime (no cracks about “giving the authorities the slip,” please) is somewhat more straightforward theft:

    Thieves are believed to have stolen 160 live eels from an outdoor water tank behind an eel restaurant in Kani, Gifu Prefecture, late Saturday or early Sunday, according to police.

    The eels had been delivered from Isshikicho, Aichi Prefecture. They reportedly had a value after preparation and cooking of about 300,000 yen.


    Well, this is interesting. How could I not have noticed? When you click through to the English edition of the Mainichi, the first page you get starts like this:

    The Mainichi Newspapers Co., Ltd. continued to post extremely inappropriate articles in the WaiWai column of the Mainichi Daily News (MDN), its English Web site. We have reported the results of an in-house investigation into the case on Pages 22 and 23 of the July 20 morning edition of the Mainichi Shimbun.

    We continued to post articles that contained incorrect information about Japan and indecent sexual content. These articles, many of which were not checked, should not have been dispatched to Japan or the world. We apologize deeply for causing many people trouble and for betraying the public’s trust in the Mainichi Shimbun.

    The WaiWai column, for those who haven’t had the (guilty–and, really, not always pleasurable) pleasure, culled pieces from some of Japan’s (ahem) livelier popular rags and translated them into English.

    Like many other companies in Japan, Mainichi Newspapers apparently had few senior managers or editors who paid attention to what was going on in the English department, and it took a Japanese reader who actually knows English to write in complaining that WaiWai was making the Japanese look like wackos. The direct supervisor of the column editor had apparently warned him to ease up on the blue content but then failed to check whether he was actually doing so:

    Among the stories carried in the column was one titled “The Cook, the Beast, the Vice and its Lover” describing abnormal sexual preferences (September 2007) and another headlined “Ancient rice festival has reputation smeared by ‘therapeutic’ facial cream claims” linking a traditional festival to sexual practices (December 2005). The column also reported on Japanese tourists participating in tours involving illegal activity in some countries, including Ecuador and Belarus (July 2003). These stories were translated without confirming any of these claims.

    Other stories inappropriately took up issues of underage sex; did not explain how figures cited in the Japanese original were calculated, inviting misunderstanding; and portrayed the comments of several women in a magazine article as indicating a general trend. [If that last were a criterion, the entire New York Times Style section would have to be junked.–SRK]

    The lead paragraph of a story about a manga introducing the Defense Ministry’s policies, which features a young girl character, adds a description of the ministry not found in the original article, claiming it is “the successor of the government ministry that gave the world Pearl Harbor and the Rape of Nanking.” The explanation given by the column editor for this addition was that it served to accentuate the gap between the ministry and the manga character.

    It should be noted that the material on the Mainichi Daily News homepage leaned heavily toward reports of crimes and bizarre behavior, often with half-jokey headlines. That doesn’t excuse publishing misinformation, if that is indeed what happened. I’m only pointing out that the WaiWai column didn’t stick out the way it would have at, say, the English Asahi. Plenty of WaiWai stories were pretty plainly kernels of truth whirled into an entertaining froth with plenty of National Enquirer-ish flavoring of dubitable accuracy. Critical readers who already knew something about Japan were, I think, generally able to figure out which parts were likely to be dodgy. That doesn’t excuse staff writers for translating stories with little regard for accuracy; it also doesn’t excuse the editors who didn’t institute more systematic fact-checking even after they knew something was screwy. But I think it does make it unlikely that WaiWai stories convinced huge numbers of foreign readers that the majority of Japanese men were choosing blow-up dolls over live brides.

    You think you’re loving / But you don’t love me

    Posted by Sean at 19:31, July 14th, 2008

    The ROK’s ambassador to Japan has returned home in protest:

    In response to the Japanese government’s decision to include Takeshima explicitly in a new guidebook for educators at the junior-high level, President Myung-bak Li expressed his “deep despair and regret” on 14 July and instructed the appropriate federal entities to “respond decisively.” On 15 July, Seoul will temporarily recall Ambassador Chul-hyun Kwon to Korea.

    Both Japan and South Korea claim sovereignty over Takeshima (Dokto in Korean), though I think only Korea actually has any kind of presence on them. Wikipedia diplomatically uses a French name for them and avoids entering the fray. There may be undersea fossil fuel deposits near the islands, but they don’t seem to explain the vehemence of the Korean reaction when Japan refers to them as part of its own territory. The Japanese ambassador to the ROK will also be temporarily recalled.


    Posted by Sean at 12:17, July 14th, 2008

    The picture is from a few weeks ago and thus (major sin in Japan) is no longer really seasonal, but Atsushi and I used to see the irises in bloom every June at the Meiji Shrine, and he was sweet enough to send me a few shots from when he went. Note the woman holding photographic equipment in the background, which is a component of just about every natural scene nowadays:


    I always forget my camera when I go to the park or gardens, so I don’t have any snaps of my own from New York to post; however, it occurs to me that I haven’t posted any poems in a good, long while.

    The one that first came to mind, it turns out, I’d written about a few summers ago. Darn.

    Luckily, there are more where that came from. It’s been something of a hot summer, so even though this isn’t one of Saigyo’s most arresting poems, it seems appropriate:



    yoraretsuru / nomosenokusano / kagerohite / suzushikukumoru / yuudachinosora

    Saigyō Hōshi

    Enervated grass
    over the expanse of field
    is receiving shade
    as clouds slide coolly over
    the sky while dusk approaches

    The Priest Saigyo

    Saigyo seems to sense the grass’s own relief as the glaring sun begins to set and clouds roll in to block its light.