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    Rocky Mountain high

    Posted by Sean at 12:31, March 3rd, 2005

    I find it very cheering to read things like this:

    The Montana Senate has passed a bill that could allow limited rights to same-sex couples. The measure would create a statewide registry where people could designate their next of kin.

    Although the legislation does not specifically mention gay and lesbian couples it was assailed by opponents as being pro gay. The bill would allow people in relationships to name their partners as next of kin, regardless of sexuality. Single people could also take advantage of it by naming a relative, friend or caregiver.

    The measure gives the next of kin the right to hospital visits, the right to make medical decisions and also allows them to receive the dead person’s remains. It provides an easy mechanism so that a lawyer is not needed.

    Supporters of the bill stressed the advantages it would provide the elderly, the ailing and the disabled.

    “I think it’s got a much broader impact than gay-rights legislation,” Sen. Jon Ellingson (D-Missoula) told the Billings Gazette after the debate.

    “This is a simple bill that allows folks, whether they’re married or single, to manage their personal affairs.”

    See? Notice–no mention of whether anyone’s getting it regularly, which is not the government’s problem. Now if gay activists start bellowing that this bill is discriminatory because it doesn’t exalt our relationships in every damned finicking little detail, I will throw myself off a bridge.

    Okay, I won’t. If I’d made a practice of keeping promises of that nature, I’d’ve been dead long ago. But I find it hard to be hopeful that our activists will ever learn to see our issues as woven into those of the broader society, even if other good-hearted people already can.

    Japan starts preparing for the worst

    Posted by Sean at 12:23, March 3rd, 2005

    The Japanese government has put out its guidelines for how to proceed in the event of a military or large-scale terrorist attack. Comfortingly (I’m using that word straight for once), it lays out in detail what’s to be done to secure Japan’s nuclear power plants and fuel processing centers. Authority rests with the Ministry of Economics, Trade, and Industry and, in connection with research facilities it operates, the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science. Japan, of course, has few natural resources, including hydroelectric potential and fossil fuels. We use a lot of nuclear power.

    The prefectures and special metropolitan areas are expected to have their own plans in place by the middle of this year. Municipalities are to have theirs finalized by this coming year.

    Idle thought: several months ago, there was talk that Japan was going to be modeling its new security measures on Israel’s. I wonder whether it ultimately did; today’s Nikkei article doesn’t really mention anything about the background of the new policies.

    Professing liberalism

    Posted by Sean at 11:24, March 3rd, 2005

    Eric is angered about honor killings in the Islamic world, and rightfully so. He also links a City Journal article by Kay Hymowitz. It’s well written, of course, and there’s nothing she says that isn’t true, or arguably true, to my knowledge. I couldn’t help feeling what she was emphasizing wasn’t the major point, though.

    I’m not saying that Hymowitz and Eric are worried over nothing. If anything, I think the problem is a little darker than it looks from what she’s written. Most of the people Hymowitz cites are, if not insane, not the sort of people any sane person ever goes to for reliable depictions of reality. I mean, her conversation with one Miriam Cooke of Duke University, president of something called the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies, is pricelessly appalling; but most academics, while to the left of the American public, are not that airheaded. And how illuminating really is it to demonstrate yet again that Michel Foucault was and Gayatri Spivak is a professional reality-dodger?

    After all, the throughover moral relativists and post-structuralists are in the minority, even among humanities and social science professors. Really, they are. My experience can’t be universalized wholesale, but it squares with what Christina Hoff Sommers (mentioned by Hymowitz) found when researching Who Stole Feminism? and with experiences friends from other colleges have reported to me over the years. Liberals who love genuine diversity of thought don’t go after their multi-culturalist/post-colonial idiot colleagues in public because (1) they underestimate the influence of their ideas (on people who run foundations and think tanks, as well as the more impressionable students), (2) they feel guilty about their own relative privilege and can’t figure out how to acknowledge that without undermining their criticisms, and (3) they don’t want to start trouble. I hate to say it, but I’d bet that that last is the most important factor.

    I had a professor (not an advisor of mine) explain to me that he knew Foucault was garbage but could still see his value as someone who shook up people’s assumptions, so why get all bent out of shape at people who cited him? That’s nice, but questioning your assumptions isn’t an end in itself. You’re supposed to be trying to figure out whether you should retain them because they’ve remained intact through testing, or you should discard them because they have not. Someone who plays fast and loose with facts, as Foucault did, is exactly the wrong sort of person to be looking to for help in that operation.

    In other words, what worries me is less that there are amoral crazies in the academy than that the moderates who know better do not very loudly call BS when they start spouting nonsense. The very way such incidents stick in the memory–remember Martha Nussbaum’s attack on Judith Butler in The New Republic a few years ago?–testifies to their relative rarity. Of course, it’s 25 years too late to prevent post-structuralism from gaining ascendancy; but one might have thought that 9/11 would have a galvanizing effect on the reasonable types, as it did on a lot of other liberal Americans. It appears not to have, and it’s a shame.

    BTW, not exactly the same topic, but has anyone else noticed a lot of blog posts lately with titles of the “X, Y, and Z” form? You know, like “Feminism, Commercialization, and the Bobbie Ann Mason Protagonist.” I’m not criticizing, though it does make me feel a bit as if I were doing readings for a senior seminar. My own titling habits probably don’t gladden many hearts, and I used a mock-academic title here because of the subject matter. It’s just odd that they seem to be cropping up everywhere.

    Added later: Amritas addresses something I hesitated over before posting this originally:

    What is so great about the word ‘moderate’? Would you approve of someone who was ‘moderately’ in favor of freedom – or of evil? “He’s not an – ugh! – extremist. He’s a moderate. He’s OK with a theft here, a killing there. Isn’t inconsistency what life is all about?

    Actually, while I wouldn’t use the words “in favor of,” I do think most of us are moderate in the sense that we prefer not to achieve perfect safety through draconian measures. Providing people with the means and confidence to defend themselves from miscreants may not erase crime, but it’s the compromise most of us prefer.

    I probably should have been clearer about this, but I hope it’s obvious that I wasn’t using moderate to mean “gloriously wishy-washy.” If I had to pinpoint the types of moderation I was referring to, I’d say there were two aspects. One is that, while it’s perfectly acceptable to arrive at an extreme position, a scholar should get there through sober, methodical consideration of the unvarnished facts, such as they’re available. A second is that, when thinking about social change, it’s generally (not always, but generally) wiser to look for ways to bring it about organically and…I was going to say slowly, but I suppose it doesn’t always have to be slowly, exactly. It just can’t outrun people’s ability to adjust to it.

    So that’s what I was talking about. A professor who, for example, may believe that there is something inherently unfree about head coverings for women but would not advocate policies that ban them because she recognizes that real, living people used to existing standards of modesty may need time to get used to thinking of women in less constricting clothing as respectable. Perhaps I should just have said “pragmatic” rather than “moderate.”

    Don’t fall on me

    Posted by Sean at 11:04, March 3rd, 2005

    It’s snowing in the Tokyo area, so we are all much in distrait. The news team is interviewing people in the requisite posture of windmilling the arms and screaming, “AIEEEEEE! What is this white stuff? And why is there a whole centimeter of it?!” It’s like the manna story in the Exodus. Well, except for the fact that not even G-d himself could convince me to ingest anything that falls out of the sky in Tokyo. (And since it’s Friday, we’d have to hold it over in the freezer for tomorrow’s ration. I’m sure particulate matter is even yummier when it’s allowed to ripen for a day.)

    Anyway, it’s accumulating, sort of. The ground wasn’t frozen most places in the city–that heat-island effect you get in population centers that are hopelessly lost to capitalism and commerce. I haven’t seen anything to say that there are major train lines closed, which tends to be the biggest potential pain; and in any case, we always settle into a general well-at-least-it-wasn’t-an-earthquake feeling before long. Atsushi’s flying in for the weekend tomorrow, though, so I hope flights aren’t disrupted. The snow’s supposed to fall all weekend.

    Bali bombing planner sentenced

    Posted by Sean at 22:06, March 2nd, 2005

    The chief known conspirator in the Bali bombing has gotten a sentence of 30 months in prison:

    Australia and the U.S. have expressed disappointment at the 30-month jail sentence handed to Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir for his part in the Bali bombing.

    An Indonesian court found Ba’asyir guilty on Thursday of an “evil conspiracy” to commit the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

    He was acquitted on the more serious charges of direct involvement in the Bali attack and in the bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, which killed 12 people in August 5, 2003.

    Australia and the United States consider Ba’asyir to be the spiritual head of the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group, which is blamed for the Bali bombings, the Marriott bombing and last year’s blast at the Australian Embassy.

    Intelligence officials say the group has cells across Southeast Asia.

    That comes to 4.5-ish days for each victim who died. Now, I guess, it goes to appeal.

    Gyet the heck ahht!

    Posted by Sean at 21:32, March 2nd, 2005

    A gay crime of passion in my native Lehigh Valley! Gay guys in Bath? We really are everywhere. How exciting:

    A 37 year old Pennsylvania man has been charged with setting fire to his ex-lover’s home in an attempt to kill him.

    Police in Bath, northeast of Allentown, say that Donald K. Albright went to the home of Wayne Keeler in the early hours of Sunday morning, chained the doors, sealed the windows and then doused the exterior with gasoline before lighting it.

    Keeler managed to get out of the burning structure and was unharmed.

    The house was badly burned on the outside and a car belonging to Keeler was destroyed.

    After the relationship ended, Albright left numerous text and voicemail messages for Keeler which police describe as sounding suicidal and angry.

    Albright also had been discussing the breakup in the chat room where he and Keeler met according to investigators. In one chat message recovered by police Albright said that Keeler loved his Volkswagen more than he loved him.

    That last part is poignant, but if I were the jiltee, I’d take it as a signal that I need to spend a full weekend getting blotto and listening to the Go-go’s immortal “Skidmarks on My Heart” on Repeat 1. In fact, I’d do the whole album. Then look for a new boyfriend. Maybe I’m just too tightly wound.

    Added at 21:39: Our local paper has the story in slightly more detail. In all seriousness, I hope the poor guy wasn’t closeted, because he obviously isn’t anymore.

    We’re all gonna die! VII

    Posted by Sean at 21:36, February 28th, 2005


    A Japan Airlines (JAL) jetliner barely avoided a collision with a plane that had just landed at New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido in January after it began to race along the runway for takeoff without clearance, government regulators said Tuesday.

    It was not until last Friday that JAL reported the incident, which occurred on Jan. 22, to the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry in accordance with the Civil Aviation Law.

    The JAL jet’s captain has told company officials that he failed to confirm that his plane was cleared for takeoff. “I was preoccupied with preparations for takeoff and failed to confirm whether my plane was cleared. I thought no other aircraft was ahead of us.”

    At around 9:16 p.m., the captain of JAL Flight 1036 bound for Tokyo’s Haneda Airport was ordered by an air traffic controller to wait at the south edge of the 3,000-meter-long Runway A, according to ministry and JAL officials. Nevertheless, the pilot of the Boeing 777 with 201 passengers aboard increased the engine’s thrust and began to race along the runway for takeoff.

    The controller who noticed that the jet was about to take off immediately ordered it to halt saying, “Stop! You’re not cleared for takeoff yet!”

    Details, details. JAL hasn’t had a fatal incident in 20 years–in fact, I believe it’ll be exactly 20 years this August. It was the single-plane incident with the highest number of fatalities in history, I think. At least, it used to be, and I don’t think any have exceeded it since then. Japan’s air safety record since then (and, for that matter, then) has been the envy of the world, and justifiably so. But there’s a crew-error incident like this every few months nowadays; a few years ago, it was control-tower error. Luckily, there’s always been only one person in la-la land, with everyone else on top of things and ready to make up for him.


    Posted by Sean at 23:14, February 25th, 2005

    It’s inconceivable that anyone reads this site and doesn’t read Virginia Postrel, yeah? Well, just in case, she has a beautifully done, economical little photo essay on George Hurrell at Slate. You have to see it. The picture of Pancho Barnes was interesting to me because I first encountered her name in Chuck Yeager’s autobiography as a boy. I must have read that book a hundred times. By the time Yeager knew her, Barnes had hardened into an acridly foul-mouthed survivor, but Hurrell captures her much earlier. Actually, she may already have been an acridly foul-mouthed survivor by the time of this photograph, but that’s not the side of her that comes through.

    BTW, another photo essay posted the same day as Virginia’s is worth reading also. It’s about Oscar-gown blandout, and it (the phenomenon, not Julia Turner’s well-written photo essay text) may help to explain the climate that’s led to such weirdnesses as the dropping of jaws over Condoleezza Rice’s get-up the other day. Don’t get me wrong–I loved it. An athletic woman with good carriage, great legs, wintry coloring without a pair of tall black boots? Inconceivable. Where’s she been hiding ’em until now? is what I’d like to know. I know that Laura Bush has been trying to recenter the role of First Lady visually (though word is, she’s planning to relax a bit in her husband’s second term), and if starlets in their notice-me! phase aren’t dressing daringly, you can’t expect much from high-ranking women politicians. Still, it’s sad that everyone’s so bowled over at the slightest eccentric gesture.

    Rocket launch not aborted

    Posted by Sean at 20:00, February 25th, 2005

    Japan’s H2A Rocket has been launched successfully. Good news. Japan’s last several high-profile rocket launches have frequently ended in malfunctions and shoot-downs, so there was a lot of pressure for today to be, as the Nikkei blandly puts it, the first step in restoring confidence in Japanese aerospace development. That communications anomalies were discovered and delayed the launch by an hour and a half didn’t help matters, but everything’s fine, including the putting into orbit of the MTSAT (multifunctional transport satellite, or 運輸多目的衛星 if you prefer the Japanese mouthful) it was carrying, which will be used for air traffic control and meteorological observation.

    Of course, this is a civil, not military, satellite. Whether its success bodes well for needed improvements in Japan’s ability to gather strategic information by satellite is not clear. More military satellites are supposed to go up in the next year or so, so we’ll see.

    UN follies

    Posted by Sean at 13:40, February 25th, 2005

    Dean links to this post by political scientist R.J. Rummel. It’s the first in a series, which–given that the topic is problems with the UN–promises to be lengthy. What he’s arguing here is that the UN is no longer an agent for global justice, and this passage in particular caught my eye:

    Out of the vast array of facts that make this case, I will select a few. But first, as one who made considerable use of UN reports, studies, and statistical services, such as the Demographic Yearbook and Statistical Yearbook, for my research, the story of the United Nations is not entirely negative. Indeed, some will make the argument that on balance the UN has contributed to the welfare of countries. But, then, one would have to downplay or ignore the political functions of the UN.

    It’s that last item that interests me. The “has contributed” part could simply indicate that if we take the UN’s entire post-war history, the net influence of its non-political organs has been for the good. I can see arguing that, if you qualified it. But Rummel’s main point is not about the UN’s cumulative history but about where it is now, and if you downplay its political functions, that leaves…. Hmm. I’d be very interested to see it argued that the UN has not roamed off-course in its economic and humanitarian roles, too.

    There’s the World Health Organization, with its shift in focus from life-threatening diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria toward the sorts of voluntary behaviors that have become favorites of first-world busybodies: auto safety and smoking, for example. UNICEF’s goals haven’t diffused so alarmingly, but you have to wonder why WHO isn’t attending to several of them already.

    Look, even cursorily, for criticisms of the efficacy of World Bank lending policies, and prepare to drown. The tone of this Guardian piece is as snidely anti-capitalist as you’d expect, but the essential charges don’t need to be. Giving countries money for vainglorious public works projects they may not be able to maintain, requiring privatization of a major industry in a country where only a tiny group of cronies have the means to own anything, and expecting to end corruption without changing the circumstances that make it attractive–you needn’t be a socialist to see the folly there. (Note also that the World Bank has taken to joining forces with WHO on its global-nanny territory, issuing a finger-wagging report about the pitfalls of alcohol abuse.)

    Anyway, Rummel’s posts look to be interesting, given that he acknowledges he spent decades as a true believer. If he continues to tackle political functions specifically–and why not? he is a political scientist–I’ll be eager to read what he thinks about the latest push to change the terms of membership on the Security Council.