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    Posted by Sean at 01:29, May 14th, 2005

    The Pentagon made some of its recommendations for the restructuring of military installations yesterday:

    The Pentagon on Friday recommended closing 33 major domestic U.S. military bases and restructuring 29 others, dealing a hard economic blow to many communities across the country.

    New England was the hardest hit region and the South was the biggest gainer. States among the biggest losers were Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey and South Dakota. Winners included Texas, Maryland and Georgia, although the Atlanta area was hit hard.

    The bases are vital economic engines in many communities, which mounted frantic lobbying efforts to save their local bases, and will now try to convince the commission that the Pentagon erred and to spare ones scheduled to close.

    This was the expected reaction, of course; and understandable it is, too. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to restructure without reallocating resources (though Japanese companies and government bodies give it the old college try).

    Speaking of Japan–do I ever not?–its part in the restructuring is taking shape, also:

    Japan and the United States have agreed to step up efforts on joint operations and cooperation in the event of a military emergency in Japan. This would include allowing some Japanese facilities, such as harbors and airports, to be used by the U.S. military.

    In doing so, Tokyo hopes to strike a deal with Washington to reduce U.S. bases here, sources said.

    The plan is part of continuing discussions on the global transformation of the U.S. military.

    Japanese and U.S. officials are discussing how to divide the roles and duties of the U.S. military and the Self-Defense Forces.

    Military emergencies would include a flare-up between China and Taiwan.

    In the event of such a crisis, the government believes that allowing U.S. forces to use civilian facilities would ensure closer mutual cooperation, the sources said.

    Under this scenario, Tokyo would offer the use of certain airports and harbors to U.S. forces.

    With this offer, Tokyo hopes the Pentagon will become more receptive to eliminating certain U.S. facilities in Japan.

    In discussions on cutting the U.S. base presence, Japanese officials have asked that those not in active use be returned to Japan. However, U.S. officials insist the facilities are needed in a military emergency.

    Notice, toward the bottom of the article, an indication that one of the problems with this agreement has been the failure of the federal government to coordinate effectively with local governments here in Japan. That sort of thing happens very frequently–it’s also been a hilarious coda to the fanfare surrounding the Kyoto Protocols. I point this out not to rag on Japan–every social system of 125 million people is going to have its weak points. It’s just that people frequently seem to have the impression that Japanese conformism and the post-War success of Japan, Inc., mean that the government functions like one gigantic well-oiled machine. But you get dissent in the ranks and stonewalling by locals here, too.

    On a related note, the joint missile defense system is progressing, but, then, I think it only requires the cooperation of the Defense Agency.

    Little new information on abductee

    Posted by Sean at 08:48, May 12th, 2005

    Not many updates on Akihiko Saito, the presumed Japanese abductee in Iraq. The latest Nikkei report I’ve seen was posted this morning; it contributes no new information other than that his company believes, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, he may actually have been fatally wounded in the original attack on his convoy. The Mainichi‘s English version is here.

    The ability to compartmentalize

    Posted by Sean at 13:33, May 11th, 2005

    This whole thing about the Mayor of Spokane just keeps getting weirder. The Washington Blade points to this article that says West has now stated that he is, in fact, gay. West’s emotionalism makes him, on the surface, more sympathetic than that smarmy smoothie James McGreevey. But then you get to parts like this:

    The mayor also referred to a story in Saturday’s paper in which a man named “Scott” said he was sexually molested by [West crony] Hahn and reported the conduct to West during a 50-mile Boy Scout hike around Mount Rainier in 1980.

    Smith said West “couldn’t remember the kid. He doesn’t recall the incident.”

    West said another adult on the trip, whom he didn’t identify, “told him not to worry about it, that we didn’t know about sexual abuse in 1980,” Smith said in relating the mayor’s comments.

    But West also said, “It may be possible that the kid said something, maybe about being fondled, and maybe I just didn’t recognize how important that might have been.”

    We didn’t know about sexual abuse in 1980? WTF? It’s certainly true that people weren’t parading allegations on Oprah in 1980. I was only eight then, but I’m pretty sure that it was generally recognized that it was a bad thing for a Boy Scout leader to be fondling his troop members. Of course, it’s always possible that Hahn was just showing the kid how to hold the bow properly during archery practice. There’s no way of knowing. But West’s dismissive, hand-washing obtuseness doesn’t sit well.

    The allegations of sexual abuse and sexual harassment* against West himself are graver, though it’s possible that he is, in fact, innocent of all of them. What’s clear is that he was trying to play both ends against the middle:

    It was that young man’s story about allegedly meeting the mayor in the online chat room that led the newspaper to hire a forensic computer expert to verify the teenager’s claims that the man he met online was West – a process that took six months to complete and involved creating a fictional teenager known as “Moto-Brock.”

    On April 9, West sent his photo and City Hall Web site biography to Moto-Brock, asking him to keep the secret. “Please don’t tell anyone at all,” the 54-year-old mayor told Moto-Brock, who he thought was a gay teenager. “It’s a part of my life I don’t share at all,” he said.

    “Someday I may run for governor and this would be bad, if you know what I mean,” West told the teenager.

    We do now, honey. More even than the ethical concerns here, which are bad enough, the idiocy is breathtaking. I don’t think West comes off as necessarily anti-gay in terms of his policy positions–it would be fine for him to say that his conservatism makes him come down against special protections. But come on. If you’re going to play close to the edge–keeping your sexuality a secret to get ahead in politics and pursuing barely-legal hotties on the Internet and using the alpha-male impressiveness of your real-life job and identity to reel ’em in–what kind of numbskull do you have to be, in 2005, not to think it’s going to blow up in your face eventually?

    How to read Japanese newspapers

    Posted by Sean at 11:39, May 11th, 2005

    I got an interesting question from a reader and occasional commenter the other day, asking me to give him the low-down on the political slants of the major Japanese newspapers. What follows is a longer version of the answer I sent him.

    Bear in mind that this is my answer based on day-to-day experience, as a non-specialist who’s interested in being informed and who talks politics with Japanese friends and hears how they read the same stories I do. I realize that there is more specialized and systematic commentary available on how the Japanese news media function. (The Japan Media Review is typical.) The problem, if you’re a general reader, is that they rarely indicate how you can work around the problems.

    So this is my workaround. If anyone else with Japan experience thinks I’m full of baloney, I’d be interested to hear.


    The straightforward, by-the-book answer to my reader’s question is relatively easy. The Nikkei , being concerned with economics/business practicalities, is most politically neutral. The Asahi is leftist (which is handily made easy to remember by the color scheme of its on-line edition). The Sankei is controlled by LDP supporters and tends to parrot the government–one of the interesting backstories behind the controversy over Livedoor’s attempt to get a foothold in Fuji Television, which is part of the same conglomerate. The Yomiuri and Mainichi are populist.

    I don’t think that Japanese journalists are any less able, inquisitive, and intelligent than Western journalists. Most of them probably get into their jobs because they want to tell the public important things and help keep large organizations honest. There are plenty of jobs available in this country for born yes-men; choosing a job that means hiking all over the place and tracking interview subjects down genuinely indicates, I think, a desire to serve the public.

    But, of course, politicians and businessmen recognize that the media filter their public image, and they are naturally going to exert all the pressure they can to make sure that image is as sympathetic as it can be. Also, one of the highest values in Japanese culture generally is the avoidance of open conflict; it would be unrealistic to expect journalism to find a magical way of operating outside that.

    Put those factors together, and you get cartel-like press clubs and chummy glad-handing with the people whose actions reporters are supposed to be portraying objectively. Young reporters quickly discover that the only thing you make for yourself by being openly skeptical and exposing scandals is trouble. Does this mean that reporters for prestige publications never, ever, ever report the real dirt? Not exactly. What it does mean is this:

    The articles in all the major dailies will say almost exactly the same things in their coverage of a political or business controversy. Often, the articles will be so similar as to seem practically interchangeable, because they consist largely of talking points the reporters have been spoon-fed.

    You still need to read articles in more than one of the dailies to get a sense of what’s going on. Why would that be, if they say the same things? Because they only say almost the same things, and the tiny differences are often the most instructive parts of the articles.

    Here’s where you need a good eye. They’ll agree on the 5 w‘s + 1 h, and they’ll present the same approved line about motivations and goals.

    But now look closely. Is there an item that’s mentioned, in passing but without development, in only one or two of the articles? That could imply that one particular reporter has managed to ferret out something interesting that’s not part of the PR spin. Alternatively, is there an item mentioned in all the articles but, again, in passing and without development? If so, pay attention.

    An item that’s mentioned glancingly without elaboration may be important later. Japanese news departments don’t waste column inches any more than American news departments do. If an item is included without being fleshed out, that usually means that (1) it was important enough to include and (2) the reporter didn’t feel free to flesh it out. It will generally be something suggestive–a hint that the MP supporting the new bill has past ties to business interests that would benefit from it, or the barest intimation that someone somewhere is looking into the safety record of the company whose product just caused an accident. Sometimes, it’s hardly more than a modifying phrase, but it will be something that makes the skeptical newshound in you say, “Ooh, I wish they’d told me more about that.”

    You will, in fact, hear more about it. The reporter knows his audience; they read like Japanese people, in full knowledge that surface content is often not to be trusted to express deep truth. For that matter, there may be a veiled message to the figure who’s about to be exposed, too: “Be warned that more unsavory types than I are looking into these connections, pal–have the face-saving story ready for your inevitable press conference.”

    But the major dailies have to retain their prestige, so they almost never feel free to actually break scandals. They have to wait until one of the tabloid weeklies does it, after which talking about the story is no longer taboo, though lots of bet-hedging phrases such as “allegedly” and “it has been speculated” will still be tossed around.

    I wish I had a good example of what I’m talking about here–all this is very abstract, and once you get used to it, you don’t even realize you’re doing it: filing away little clauses that don’t fit the tenor of the rest of an article because, in the back of your mind, you know that they could be the stuff of next month’s headlines. But the thing is, unless you know more reporters more intimately than most of us do, your only choice is to get what you can from the available, on-the-record media. And, in my experience, this is the way it works.

    New Japanese abductee in Iraq

    Posted by Sean at 22:36, May 9th, 2005

    A Japanese national has been abducted in Iraq, as the Yomiuri‘s Cairo bureau appears to have found out from Reuters (whose current story on the subject is here). The Asahi gives his name as Akihito Saito.

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs received word at 5:30 a.m. today from the British security firm Hart Security, Ltd., that Akihiko Saito (44), who was working as a consultant at its Iraq office, has been attacked and that his whereabouts are unknown.

    The article says that the report was specifically received by the 対策本部 (taisaku-honbu: “measures [taken in response to a situation]” + “head office”), which is the division of Foreign Ministry headquarters that deals with reports of attacks on Japanese citizens abroad. It’s chaired directly by Nobutaka Machimura, the Foreign Minister. Machimura and the Ministry of Defense have stated that they have received no demands from the abductors and that there are no plans to change Japan’s Iraq policy in response.

    The Asahi reports that the terrorist (“militant” if you’re just coming back from the Reuters link and need a minute to adjust) group Ansar al-Sunna has posted an image of Saito’s passport on its website and stated that he was seriously injured in an ambush on a vehicle that had just left the Assad US Army Base. Of the 17 people captured, including 12 Iraqis, all but Saito have been killed. (The way it’s phrase, it looks as if they were executed after capture, not killed in the attack on the vehicles itself.)

    Not so hot

    Posted by Sean at 06:59, May 8th, 2005

    To the guy who used the Contact screen to ask probing socio-political questions about travel to Osaka: I’ve answered you, but Hotmail is saying your account is unavailable. I haven’t encountered that error before–maybe you haven’t checked your mail in over 90 days? Anyway, if you have another account you know you can receive mail at reliably, you can send me another message.

    When I get that crazy feeling, I know I’m in trouble again

    Posted by Sean at 01:42, May 7th, 2005

    Yet another song you shouldn’t listen to on a crowded Tokyo commuter train. It was raining yesterday, the sort of chilly rain that reminds you how open to the elements you are as an organism, and in combination with Atsushi’s having gone back home on Thursday night, it probably made me a little more downcast and emotionally susceptible than usual. That wasn’t all of it, though. Tokyo isn’t populated by self-centered rock stars with celebrity doctors attending to them, but it is the sort of place where people frequently feel as if they’re being prodded from all sides to bury what they really think and perform, perform, perform for their handlers.

    I know that that’s a reductive picture. In the same way that “America is an individualistic society” doesn’t mean that we don’t have social rules and conformism, Japan is a free country with a lot of personalities on display. But last night, everyone looked unusually tired and spaced-out (first day back at work after a week-long holiday) and the rain and dark made the train feel like its own little isolated world. Hearing Roger Waters sing, “There is no pain / You are receding,” made me ache; it was so oppressively fitting. (Well, except that for most on the train, the show was over for the week and not about to begin again until Monday.)

    Despite its specific resonance for me, I don’t believe that I would try to argue that “Comfortably Numb” is a great modern poem, though. I was thinking that wry thought on the walk home from the station because my copy of Camille Paglia’s all-new book finally arrived a few days ago. I don’t know what took it so long to get here–amazon.co.jp can be weird that way. Anyway, it feels like another throwback to college, since the last time we had a whole new book of essays by Camille to read, I was a junior. Most of it is great. Even when she’s reading very familiar poems, she brings something new to them: I’m a big, bad Dickinson fan, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as chilled by “Because I could not stop for Death–” as I was when reading Paglia’s essay on it the other night. Her (Camille’s, not Emily’s) pushy, idiosyncratic voice has an odd way of making her readings universal. You get the feeling that you, too, with all your quirks, could find deep reserves of beauty and meaning in the same artifact, even if the actual points she makes sometimes seem a bit overworked.

    But, I’m sorry, not even Camille can brandish enough libidinousness and cosmic-geological history to make Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” a great poem, much less “possibly the most popular and influential poem composed in English since Sylvia Plath’s ‘Daddy.'” I am fully convinced that there are two pages’ worth of Significance in the sixteen words of William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow.” But the six pages (!) devoted to “Woodstock” are the only passage in the book when you get the sense that Paglia yearns for literary value that just isn’t there. (I’m not the first to think this, as you might imagine.) And, while Camille almost always surprises you somewhere, about Joni Mitchell’s piece she says exactly what you expect her to say and no more: Flower power was a beautiful but incomplete dream; the Sixties visualized men and women as equal partners in civilization but underestimated aggression and sex differences; those fighter jets turning into butterflies are, like, totally trippy symbols of melting back into nature; and so on, and so forth.

    All good points, yes, but there’s another problem. When you finish reading her essay and go back to the lyrics, you find something you don’t with Shakespeare or Wallace Stevens: you have to keep consciously reminding yourself what Paglia said about this or that line in order to feel its importance. Despite Mitchell’s clear and mostly timeless images, the poem doesn’t reveal more about itself unless freighted with Paglia’s nostalgic interpretation. It’s an oddly satisfying way to end the book nonetheless. She’s so touchingly eager to make readers feel the vibrancy of the visions of the Sixties, even in the face of what four succeeding decades have done to them, that it makes you feel almost protective of her. And how often do you get the chance to feel protective of Camille Paglia?

    It’s everything but party time

    Posted by Sean at 10:44, May 6th, 2005

    Not all the JR West employees who partied the day of the derailment were so downmarket as to go bowling:

    On 6 May, JR West released information that the number of its employees known to have been mindedly involved in inappropriate behavior since the Fukuchiyama Line derailment on 25 April has increased to 185, with approximately 18 new incidents including banquets with liquor and the continuing of golf competitions.

    Last night, one of the news programs–I don’t even remember which one I was watching, since I was kind of mopey the way I always am when Atsushi takes off–showed some JR West employee around my age apologizing for the bowling party. Presumably, he’d organized it; I didn’t catch that part. Having him out front was an interesting gambit, but someone should have prepped him in PR. (Well, he needed some prep in simple morals and ethics, too, but I think the PR problem could have been fixed more quickly.) What he said was, in effect, “We had 35 people invited whose convenience [I think he actually used the word 都合, though I couldn’t swear to it] we had to consider.” That’s great, huh? Picture the headlines the next day: “JR West: Convenience of 35 revelling employees more valuable than lives of 100 dead passengers.” They practically write themselves.

    The reason I say it was an interesting gambit is that a lot of Japanese people are expressing sympathy with the driver who caused the accident. Sound odd? I think most readers with Japan experience will get it. Look at this from the Mainichi:

    Residents and friends of people who died in the horrific JR West train derailment on April 25 that claimed 107 lives have reacted with anger over the train operator’s response to the disaster.

    Although speed was found to be the deciding cause of the fatal accident, JR West officials initially suggested that the placement of stones on the railway tracks could have caused the collision.

    Several people who visited a memorial near the accident scene where people lay flowers expressed anger at the railway firm.

    “I want JR to become conscious of the ‘crime’ that it committed. It has done nothing but make excuses,” said one 32-year-old woman who was acquainted with a 34-year-old person killed in the accident. “Going bowling is unforgivable. It’s inconceivable. I suspect it wasn’t the driver, but the people above him who are rotten.”

    Another 29-year-old resident who was friends with a victim the same age also blasted JR West.

    “The driver (of the train that derailed) was also a victim, and it was JR (West) that created those conditions (for the accident to occur),” he said. “Who were they trying to blame with the placement of stones? It’s a pathetic company, a really pathetic company.”

    The Japanese love their country and, in my experience, believe that the cultural tradeoffs their society requires are worth it.

    But the strange dance in which a superior orders an inferior to cut corners on quality for the sake of procedure–but covers his own ass and remains unaccountable by not actually spelling out the request–is a familiar one to many workers. “If we all refrain from talking about it, it’s not actually happening” is one of the governing rules here. The public is weary from coverups (Mitsubishi Motors, the nuclear power industry) and safety risks (the air system). It’s not really surprising that many people are seeing last month’s derailment in terms of self-serving, out-of-touch managers squeezing workers on the ground.

    NJ hasn’t given up on McGreevey

    Posted by Sean at 22:01, May 5th, 2005

    This is just what we need (via Gay Orbit):

    This morning’s Newark Star-Ledger reports on a new Zogby poll the paper headlines as a “shock”: it shows that nearly half the residents of the Garden State would consider voting again for former N.J. Gov. Jim McGreevey for some other office, like Congress or the legislature (and 30% of those saying so were Republicans).

    Still wonder why the rest of the Mid-Atlantic looks down on New Jersey? Anyway, it’s important to note that this poll was of NJ residents, not just gay voters; I wonder whether they liked McGreevey’s policy platform despite his corruption? Or maybe standards for politicians are low in this post-Lautenberg world?

    Whatever the case, Doug Ireland and Michael are right: even if you’re the most amorally opportunistic gay advocate imaginable, sheer pragmatism should tell you that making McGreevey into a hero is a monumentally bad idea. Of course, it’s hard not to sympathize in gut terms with someone who’s been closeted for decades–even Jonathan Rauch couldn’t resist half-playing the pity card (though I think this guy takes the cigar band). But life tests everyone’s character; it’s not as if gays were the only Americans who had ever experienced hardship. It’s beyond comprehension why every gay man and woman who’s made a practice of living honestly isn’t mad as a hornet at McGreevey’s manipulativeness.

    One final note about Ireland’s post: I’m not sure that someone who tacks on a story about a woman’s execution as a parenthetical in the title and a by-the-by add-on in the body is really in the position to be getting all uptight about whether other people are treating Afghan women’s rights with sufficient gravity. I don’t think anyone had any delusions that bringing the rule of law to every last ravine of Afghanistan was going to be easy. With the new constitution, civil rights as we see them in the West are at least partially codified; the task of changing minds in the hinterlands–even Bibi Amena’s parents said she deserved death for being in the company of an unrelated man–will take longer than writing a document in the capital. In a world in which we can’t prevent every injustice, it’s the direction of change that has to matter.

    I think it’s strange you never knew

    Posted by Sean at 09:14, May 5th, 2005

    Apparently, the elements are VERY EAGER to make sure I keep thinking about my ten-year college reunion this coming week. There have been a few exchanges on our mailing list that reminded me of why I love my college friends enough to stay in constant contact even though I’ve been across the Pacific for nearly a decade. One of them was initiated by my (straight, married) sophomore-year roommate:

    Less than two months to the Pride Parade, and I’m stuck without the final two lines for my marching song. The goal is to associate patriotism with tolerance, so the last line can’t start with “Keep your eye on…” which would be kind of fear-mongering rather than joy-exclaiming. Ideas?


    He’s a grand old fag, he’s a high-flying fag,
    and I’m trying to say that he’s gay
    He gets-it-on, with men-in-thongs,
    he makes love in both night and day
    He just wants to screw, just like you, you and you
    and of that I can say nothing bad
    [missing line #1]
    [missing line #2]

    The intended choreography at “you, you and you” is to point to random people in the audience, suggesting unity. I suppose additional verses could be good.

    The only thing that offended me was the the thong part; guys look gross in thongs, and I bristle at having it assumed that I don’t know that. In fact, I’m almost more offended at the implication that I think guys in thongs are irresistible than at the implication that I’m a promiscuous ho. Of course, a few friends of ours did pounce on the sex-only part, for which I was grateful. It must be said, though, that Pride events tend to be so sex-centered that my buddy’s suggested lyrics here would be relatively tame in context. Anyway, there was also some give-and-take over whether it was okay for him, as an outsider, to use the word fag. Then I got an e-mail from another, equally close, friend from the same group referring to this post and claiming that I’ve been doing very little to add color to his settled life with risqué stories.

    So for a few daydreamy minutes, I thought it might have been kind of cool to go to homecoming. There are a handful of professors and advisors that I didn’t have time to see the last time I was in Philadelphia, though we keep in contact. And who knows? There could be some people that I don’t even remember I’d like to see, loner that I am.

    On the other hand, I don’t know whether I really need the thrill of, say, walking into Smoke’s and knowing that there’s no way the bouncer’s going to feel the need to make me state my name and birthdate for the microphone. Or staying up all night talking politics with the full prior realization that, even by the time it’s 5 a.m. and someone’s Mazzy Star album has played through four times, we won’t have solved all the world’s problems.

    So I figured I’d make a donation–I’m a satisfied, if not yet nostalgic, alum–and then forget about college until the two or three friends who went had their reports.

    Today, I’m reading Eric, minding my own business, and I see he has posted that the Carnival of the Vanities is up. I don’t really get into the blog carnivals, but this one happens to be hosted by a blog that’s run…where?

    Naturally, where I went to college.

    So, okay. Uncle! Uncle! I am clearly not going to get away without some sort of ritual cosmic nostalgia wallow. I will spend the appropriate weekend wearing only red and blue, listening to Last Splash and Republic and The Rhythm of the Saints and In Utero and maybe watching Singles. It’s not the time or place for throwing toast, but I’ll do that, too (with a fresh towel laid out on the kitchen floor–can’t abide crumbs, you know), in the hopes that the ghost of Ben Franklin will be propitiated.