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    Just close your eyes, dear

    Posted by Sean at 09:38, April 5th, 2005

    It was kind of weird to look at one of ASV Michele’s recent posts of downloadable songs. Among them, the last of the four, was “Possession” by Sarah McLachlan. Good grief–the flashbacks! I still listen to most of the stuff I liked in college occasionally, so it doesn’t feel frozen in 1991-95.

    But “Possession” was one of those songs you didn’t have to own. It was on college radio all the time. All your arty women friends had the album. (They loved that horrible flippin’ song near the end that went, “Your love is better than a butterscotch sundae with extra marshmallows,” or whatever, too. Girls can be such chicks sometimes.) Every a capella group that had women soloists performed it.

    Personally, I already had a favorite smart-folk-Canadian
    -woman-adds-hip-hop-rhythms-to-her-neuroses-circa-1993 album, so I wasn’t all that impressed. Anyway, I don’t know what I’d think of the whole album now, but hearing the single for the first time in 10 years…wow. What a beautifully-modulated song. Pretty and creepy in just the right proportions. Perfect for listening to at night in a darkened apartment. Well, assuming you’re not in the middle of an unrequited obsession in real life, in which case that’s probably not such a good idea. Personally, I find it strangely comforting, since when it was out, I still had no idea I was a repressed homosexual and was figuring I’d become one of those professors who never fall in love with anything but their books. I’m glad I ended up with books and an Atsushi, if not the professorship.

    Japan Post proposal nearly ready–we mean it

    Posted by Sean at 03:58, April 4th, 2005

    Those planning the privatization of Japan Post talked this weekend about selling off in stages the remaining government-held stake in the two new firms that will handle postal savings and life insurance. Some were still balking at the idea of offloading the entire government stake in ten years, but an agreement appears to have been reached: all government shares are to be sold by the end of March 2017. The government will unveil its basic proposal tomorrow after presenting it to the leaders of the LDP and Shin-Komeito.

    BTW, people occasionally ask me how much money we’re talking about here. The answer: a WHOLE LOT OF MONEY. There are about ¥230 trillion (US $1.9 trillion) in postal savings accounts. That’s between one-third and one-half of the personal savings in Japan, and the “bankers” that manage it are in a special department of the Ministry of Finance. Much of it has been invested in government bonds that no one else is buying, much of the remainder serves as a sort of slush fund for favored government projects, and the rest is invested elsewhere. This Q&A-style piece from The Japan Times last fall gives some of the figures and major problems (consider that I haven’t discussed the insurance money). I’m in favor of privatization, but–like bank, pension, health care, and social insurance reforms–it’s going to be painful.

    Added at 19:20: PM Koizumi has announced his joy over the completion of the proposal. Something I’ve kept forgetting to mention, though it’s at the bottom of most articles about the issue: if the new computer systems aren’t ready in time, the beginning of the switchover will be delayed by up to six months.

    Added on 5 April: The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, naturally, was not looking forward to the loss of control–its objections are not surprising. The somewhat thornier issues involve how to ensure that mail delivery continues to isolated communities, and they’ve been around for months. There are still questions about the plan that raise California-energy-fiasco-type worries. From the Yomiuri :

    After the two units are fully privatized, the holding company will be allowed to buy back some of the shares it sells. In addition, the outline includes a provision that allows the four postal entities to hold shares in each other after the privatization process ends in 2017.

    The outline also stipulates the creation of a 1 trillion yen fund to cover the privatized entities’ potential losses in providing postal savings and life insurance services in less populated areas as part of their universal service obligations.

    So they’re being privatized but only partially deregulated. From what I can tell, the opening is also made for a version of 持ち合い (mochiai: “mutual-shareholding“), a Japanese business practice that may, as that page states, “[create] a sense of shared responsibilities and obligations of each other’s business success” but also makes you wonder what the point of having four separate companies would be.

    Outing and hypocrisy, cont.

    Posted by Sean at 00:33, April 4th, 2005

    I meant to draw attention to a link I got from Joe yesterday, but I got sidetracked by spring cleaning. (Is there anything worse than having dingy sheers at your windows? I feel so much better now.) Anyway, here’s part of his response:

    I realize that for me hypocrisy is the trigger, but the justification is political. Outing is a legitimate and reasonable political response to the current political climate. It’s a deliberate, open, and peaceful act of nonviolent resistance, an act in some ways similar to civil disobedience. (And not, as Mike Rogers suggests, merely reporting.)

    I know it’s obnoxious to assume that people are disagreeing with you because they don’t understand what you’re saying, rather than that they do and just think you’re wrong. Nevertheless, I think Joe isn’t focusing on the real point.

    One of the most precious things in a free society is the ability an individual has to set his own priorities, to make his own trade-offs when he can’t optimize all values at once. In traditional societies, the wider group decides what trade-offs are best, which is why people who have their own ideas about where their talents lie or what means happiness for them so often leave them. Outing someone takes away that right. It says that self-assigned arbiters of the proper way to be gay get to dictate that someone has to be openly homosexual and just deal with the resulting loss of options. Anyone who plans on doing such a thing had better be armed with something less lame than “But he’s a hypocrite.” (Sorry, Michael. I know you’re not writing a dissertation here, but when we’re talking about revealing things about people’s private lives without their consent, you’re going to have to do better than that.)

    It’s not just that hypocrisy is insufficient as ethical grounds for outing–though it is. It’s that there may be nothing hypocritical about these people at all. If some people believe the best work they can do is as legislators or campaign leaders, and they’re willing to keep quiet about their private life to facilitate it, where’s the hypocrisy? I’m about as big a flamer as you can get without physically being on fire (as a straight acquaintance once put it), but I oppose the campaign for gay marriage, I oppose hate crimes laws, and I oppose the endless workshops for elementary school students about the variety of sexual options open to them. Perhaps I sincerely and mistakenly believe a few things that are inconsistent with each other, but I can assure you that there’s no double-dealing or cowardly self-preservation involved. It’s not at all hard to believe that there are conservative gay politicians in the same situation, and that’s their lookout.

    And as for the civil disobedience analogy, I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work. Civil disobedience involves putting yourself on the line and risking arrest in order to make a point. Outing involves screwing up other people’s lives without risking anything of yourself. There’s no comparison.

    New book on SSM

    Posted by Sean at 23:28, April 3rd, 2005

    Michael has posted a review of a new book on gay marriage. It’s an issue he and I disagree over, and from what he says, the book doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground–though even I hadn’t heard Naomi and Ruth described as lesbians. Did Orpah leave because she felt like a third wheel? Anyway, Michael’s a fair-minded guy, and his evaluation is worth reading. The book is In Support of Same Sex Marriage and Gay Rights in America.

    More Japan and China friction over energy rights

    Posted by Sean at 22:56, April 3rd, 2005

    The conflict between Japan and China over fossil fuels continues, since Japan has few natural resources and China’s mushrooming economy is consuming more:

    Shoichi Nakagawa, minister of economy, trade and industry, announced the results of a study Friday that he said shows a link between China’s undersea exploration and Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

    The study found that the subterranean structure of the oil fields being explored by China was connected to an area that Japan claims as part of its EEZ.

    While the study concludes that the structure is connected to parts of the seabed in Japan’s EEZ, it also found a complex number of faults around the area in which China has been exploring.

    Experts said it was too early to determine if China’s continuing exploration would result in valuable natural resources rightfully belonging to Japan being sucked out from under its EEZ.

    The oil fields in question are in the East China Sea.


    Posted by Sean at 21:08, April 2nd, 2005

    The Pope has died. Reuters, which is attracted to cutesy-poo constructions like iron filings to a magnet, goes for the gravitas-free opener:

    Pope John Paul II, whose globetrotting papacy inspired millions but left a divided Church, died Saturday, ending years of painful physical decline for the Polish prelate once known as God’s Athlete.

    Like Reagan’s funeral and memorials last year, the Pope’s death watch has been very moving. There’s plenty of hot-headed, off-the-cuff hysteria going around these days, but it’s rare that you get a chance to see deep-rooted devotional ecstasy. It’s not my place to determine what Catholic dogma is, but his native Poland (from which my mother’s grandparents came to the US) and the rest of Europe are the better for his political influence. He stood for hope and the belief in larger things we can’t entirely understand. May he rest in peace.

    Added at 11:21: The BBC has a compilation of statements from heads of state around the world. I was hoping to see something from Margaret Thatcher. She’s the only one left now.

    Jane Galt on gay marriage

    Posted by Sean at 11:37, April 2nd, 2005

    Megan McArdle has an essay up about gay marriage, which is a fascinating read. It’s fascinating both because she makes good points and because she falls all over herself to assure people that she’s not just ragging on gays. Personally, I find it a little insulting to be approached so gingerly, but I can understand where she’s coming from. These days, we’re flatly informed that anything less than full marriage equality is a mark of second-class citizenship.

    Added on 4 April: Megan says that there’s nothing wrong with assuring friends and loved ones that you’re not trying to stick it to them. Point taken, especially since she didn’t soften her argument itself in order to do so.

    Eric has his own post up that, as always, is worth reading. I think there are gays who are sincere in wanting to commit to the obligations of marriage in order to get the benefits, but the far louder talk about getting our relationships respected sure makes it hard to believe that the majority aren’t more concerned with self-esteem-building. It’s a mark of how mainstream we’ve become that we’re as entitlement-minded as everyone else now.

    Mishima’s diaries reveal shocking truth about train fares

    Posted by Sean at 04:25, April 2nd, 2005

    Those who know Yukio Mishima’s 仮面の告白 (kamen no kokuhaku: “Confessions of a Mask“) may be interested in this (English, Japanese):

    A diary that novelist Yukio Mishima kept when he was a student is believed to have provided material for his later novels, contradicting previous theories on his works.

    “Railway fare, 1 yen,” and “Nikkan Sports (a sport newspaper), 0.5 yen,” the diary partially reads.

    In the diary he kept from 1946 to 1947, Mishima described in detail his efforts to become a novelist, his relations with another famous novelist, Osamu Dazai, and his reunion with a woman believed to be the model of Sonoko, a woman in his masterpiece, “Kamen-no-Kokuhaku (Confession of a Mask).”

    In the novel, after the main character rebuffs Sonoko’s advances, she marries another man, but they are subsequently reunited.

    Well, you could kind of put it that way. Here’s a hurried translation from part of the café reunion scene, in which Sonoko tells the protagonist that she still doesn’t understand what kept him from marrying her:

    [Warning: clunky literalness below!]

    At that point, my eye was drawn to one of them. He was a very rough-looking, swarthily handsome youth–22 or 23. He was shirtless, and he was retying a white loincloth, dingy and moist with sweat, around his waist. All the while, his chatter and laughter with his friends went on, and he seemed to be purposefully taking his time about winding the cloth band. The thick, taut swells of muscle on his chest were on brazen display; downward from the center of his chest fell more solid bands of muscle, deeply ridged. On his left and right sides were thick chains of flesh, like fast rope bindings. Around this smooth, hot mass of a torso the bleached loincloth was being wound and pulled tight. His naked suntanned shoulders glistened as if oiled. From the hollows of his armpits peeked a black thicket that threw off the sunlight in a glinting gold tangle.

    Seeing these things–seeing, above all, the tatoo of a peony on his toned upper arm–I was assailed by lust. My feverish gaze was fixed on this rough, barbaric–this uncommonly beautiful–body. He was laughing beneath the sun. When he threw his head back, he showed the swell of his Adam’s apple. A dangerous flutter ran beneath my chest. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him.

    I’d forgotten that Sonoko existed.

    In fact, much of the book is like this: the progtagonist lusts after the nightsoil man, an athletic boy at school, and a print of St. Sebastian. Gay humanists frequently make a big to-do about homosexual content that doesn’t really seem to be there, but there’s no mistaking it in 仮面の告白. Of course, it’s no surprise that a Japanese newspaper would glide over it. For one thing, a lot of people still take the line that there’s no homosexuality here. (I’ll wait for you to stop laughing. Done? Okay.) For another, describing the book accurately might be skirting close to commenting on Mishima’s own sexuality. This is, after all, a country in which you can find articles about Mutsuo Takahashi that don’t mention his sexuality.

    Japan Post bill almost ready

    Posted by Sean at 01:00, April 2nd, 2005

    Japan Post reform is still in process. Yesterday morning, the big news was of PM Koizumi’s growing impatience with the reform panel:

    The outline is based on a plan to place the postal services under a holding company in April 2007 after dividing them into four units–mail delivery, counter services, postal banking, and postal insurance.

    Government shares in the postal bank and the postal insurance firm would be sold by the end of March 2017.

    The outline also includes the following points to gain LDP support in the negotiations:

    — The related bills will spell out that post offices will be established around the country to provide nationwide services and a ministerial ordinance will be issued to require post offices in remote areas not to close.

    — To maintain financial services, the postal bank and the postal insurance firm will be required to contract the counter services firm as their agent for the time being as a condition for receiving a license. After 2017, a fund to cover deficits in provincial areas will be established.

    — A system will be introduced to select postmasters for special post offices.

    How to divide up Japan Post’s current services has been one of the major remaining sticking points. The proposal is supposed to be submitted to the LDP on Monday.

    Temblor in Fukuoka

    Posted by Sean at 08:59, April 1st, 2005

    Fukuoka (the city, not just somewhere in the prefecture) just had an earthquake of 4 M an hour ago. That level of quake doesn’t usually cause damage here in Japan, but I’m sure it did little to cheer the residents, who are still righting things after the earthquake last month. Atsushi probably felt it in city, too, where he’s probably already out with coworkers to welcome the new hires. (Because of Japan’s school year, they start in spring.)

    Of course, the Indian Ocean had yet another earthquake last week. Despite the high number of deaths, it looks as if the frame of mind that lingered after the December tsunami helped minimize losses. Still, there are fears of more disasters ahead:

    Seismologists are already sure that Monday’s magnitude 8.7 quake off Sumatra island was a direct result of raised stress levels in the earth’s crust caused by the Dec. 26 tremor.

    And they say there is now a heightened risk of further large quakes — not just aftershocks — in the area, although predicting them accurately remains impossible.

    “Unfortunately that is a real possibility — the world works that way,” Professor John McCloskey, head of environmental sciences at the University of Ulster, told Reuters by telephone.

    I don’t think it can ever be proved either way, but one explanation submitted by scholars for the rapid decline of Mycenean civilization is an “earthquake storm,” which is pretty much what it sounds like: a series of quakes resulting from a long period of built-up pressure. Not everyone accepts that explanation, of course; the traditional one involves invasions from the “Sea People.”