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    Quake in Iran

    Posted by Sean at 19:30, February 21st, 2005

    Damn. Earthquake in Iran, reports the Nikkei. Magnitude 6.4 and at least 130 people killed. As was, I think, the case in Bam, mud-brick buildings have been collapsing. The current Reuters story, clearly more recent, says 400 dead already, in a region with a population of about 30,000. I feel guilty making this sort of downward comparison, but there’s nothing like seeing a quake happen in another part of the world to make you fervently grateful for modern technology and infrastructure. The heart breaks at the thought of what the final numbers will be, but best to the Iranians in minimizing them.


    Posted by Sean at 12:41, February 21st, 2005

    Wow. Just, wow.

    Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai urged countries to take a leaf out of Japan’s book by practicing efficient environmental protection aimed at cutting down “mottainai” wastefulness.

    “I love the 3-Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle. I think that’s a wonderful call to the world. One of the reasons why some of the countries don’t want to support the Kyoto Protocol is exactly because they don’t want to reduce their over-consumptive life pattern. One way of reducing that over-consumption is by learning to reuse a lot of the resources that we use and just throw away,” Maathai told Yoshinori Kando, the Mainichi’s Director and Chief Editor of the Tokyo Head Office.

    “This concept is extremely useful. I must congratulate the Japanese people. I don’t know how they developed that in their culture.”

    Well, they mostly developed it because Japan is a row of volcanic rocks in the ocean with few resources and places to put junk. Before it was plugged into the modern economy of global trade, Japan’s only choices were to make do or to take over Korea to get access to what it needed. It’s been known to exercise both options.

    That’s not to say that the Japanese can’t be congratulated on making conservation into an ethical value. Japanese resourcefulness is one of the things that make many of us foreigners fall in love with the place. Not only in use of materials for building, but also in food, poetry, and decoration, the Japanese ability to combine a few choice elements to achieve what other cultures could only do with a truckload of stuff is inspiring.

    But let’s know when to reel it in here, too, okay? Japan’s illegal dumping problems are well-documented (though many of the most famous individual cases don’t seem to be on-line, occurring as they did before the Internet became a commonly-used news source). There’s a reason the illness that results from long-term, low-grade methyl mercury poisoning is named after a Japanese town (Minamata Disease).

    I’m not arguing that Japan is actually the world HQ for environmental evil. I’m only pointing out that Japan has had its problems with the unforeseeable consequences of chemical emissions, the very foreseeable consequences of state-funded construction orgies, and moral hazard–neither more nor less than other countries that industrialized over the last two centuries. As Ms. Maathai’s example illustrates, too many people take Japan’s famous love of nature at face value and assume it indicates more than it does.

    Oh, and I nearly forgot the kicker: word is, of course, that Japan has no coherent policy in place to implement the Kyoto Protocols. That doesn’t bother free-market types such as me, but you’d think it would give pause to people who get all rapturous about austere living.

    Japan, US reaffirm security partnership plot to take over world

    Posted by Sean at 14:41, February 20th, 2005

    This was the lead story on yesterday’s print edition of the morning Nikkei: “US and Japan agree on strategic goals for joint measures against terrorist threats to their regions.” The result of this meeting (in Washington last week) isn’t a surprise, or anything. There was, obviously, lots of hot air about peaceful solutions to problems in Korea and Taiwan and getting the DPRK to return to 6-party talks. Not that those things aren’t important, but general statements that democratization is a good thing that the world could use more of aren’t exactly revelatory. Two items that approached substantiveness:

    • acceleration of talks related to the roles of the Japan SDF and US Armed Forces, and a reevaluation of the structuring of US forces deployed in Japan

    • a strengthening of cooperation on missile defense

    Attendees included Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura, and Japanese Defense Agency Chief Yoshinori Ono. Their unsurprising conclusion was that poor sources of information (the Japanese use 不透明性, which literally refers to “opacity” or “lack of transparency”) and instability made the DPRK and the Strait of Formosa the places to watch.

    If you’re in Japan, you might have seen the subtitled broadcasts from North Korean state television sputtering that recent changes in Japan’s defense policy are a cover for a plotted full-scale invasion. There are plenty of long-standing animosities to go around in this region, and the DPRK milks every one of them regularly–one of its favorites, of course, being the understandable lingering Korean resentment over the Japanese occupation. Just to make sure the other big East Asian player isn’t left out, we have the PRC trying to get the DPRK to return to the 6-party talks it huffily left last week. In the midst of all this, Japan knows it needs its partnership with the US, and as a proud American who loves Japan, I’m glad the ties are only getting stronger.

    Your private life drama / Baby, leave me out

    Posted by Sean at 17:41, February 19th, 2005

    If the push for gay marriage does not express people’s longing for self-esteem-boosting through government policy, why is it that I read something like this at least once every few weeks?

    The second argument against civil unions as an intermediate step to marriage is that civil unions send the unacceptable message that gays are second-class citizens. Civil unions, says Stanback, are “a firm message that we are less deserving of dignity, respect, and rights than other citizens and taxpayers.” Marriage, by contrast, “is a universally respected cultural, legal, and social institution,” she notes. “Very, very few opposite-sex couples would trade their marriage for something called a civil union.”

    All of that is true and counsels against being satisfied, in the end, with anything short of marriage.

    You know, I’ve read this stuff very carefully. I’ve reread it. I’ve hung myself like a bat from the side of my bed and looked at it upside-down to make sure I’m seeing all the angles. I still come back to a point Eric Scheie made at Classical Values some months ago:

    Homosexuality is not heterosexuality. There are many differences between gay and straight relationships. The laws and social mores designed for the heterosexual scheme of things reflect these differences. I see no reason why homosexuals should feel the need to ape heterosexuals, and even less reason why they should be forced to do so. This is my biggest objection to same sex marriage.

    One of the things that frustrate me about this is the way gay activism constantly hoovers up the stalest, least wholesome feminist crumbs. For decades, political-action feminism argued that women and men are the same (there were certainly Mary Daly-type nutcases arguing to other academics that women were different in a superior way, but they didn’t affect social policy any more than Michael Warner does), and that anyone who defended social and legal distinctions of any kind between them was a tool of the Evil Dominant Culture. You may have noticed that none of this changed the fact that women have children and men do not, that we have different hormonal systems and biological strengths and weaknesses.

    I’m talking about general patterns, obviously–only a troglodyte wants to go back to the days when a woman with a bent for theoretical physics rather than mothering was coerced into choosing an unsuitable vocation just to make everyone else happy. Parenthood is the single most important job in civilization; but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to be a parent to live a worthwhile life. We wouldn’t be a civilization without creating and maintaining lots of systems and artifacts that are quite unnatural, in the sense that they wouldn’t occur if we left the world to its own brute devices. The problem was that feminism didn’t stop at making the point that she should be allowed to choose or to strike such balances as were feasible. It said that society should make the choice painless and that women who left the lab for the nursery were thereby expressing lack of self-respect.

    So let’s see…what’s gay activism up to right about now? Society should make gay relationships eligible for marriage so we know we’re respected, and if you supported President Bush for reelection or you don’t support gay marriage, you’re not self-respecting.

    [Gets self another Scotch so he can bear to continue. Okay. Back. Mmmm…peat.]

    The thing is–or one thing is–these arguments about respect always end up arriving at assertions that we love our partners, we take care of our partners, and we’re not all promiscuous. These are all good things to affirm. But when you use them as underpinnings for social policy (illustrated by Andrew Sullivan’s moist-eyed NYT article “Integration day” with statements such as “Gay couples will be married in Massachusetts � their love and commitment and responsibility fully cherished for the first time by the society they belong to”), it seems to me that you’re essentially saying, “Approve of my sex life, please.” Can’t imagine why that would fail to convince anyone that we’re not deserving of dignity.

    After all, if it’s “love and commitment” we’re worried about, why shouldn’t two friends (we all have friends we adore to pieces and would take a bullet for) who’ve decided to form a household, because neither has plans to marry and they’re content with each other, be able to take responsibility for each other that includes health insurance and hospital visitation? Or be able to have one vouch for the other’s application for permanent residency as a non-citizen? Okay, that second one would need careful consideration, but I don’t think it’s risible on its face.

    When I read articles by gays built around gloopy declarations of how much they love their partners, designed to show our worthiness for marriage, I find it frankly humiliating. Such writing probably does sometimes convince a few straight people that we actually do fall in love and care for each other. I think it also serves an important function in letting gays who are in the very fragile first stages of coming out know that there’s something worth shooting for beyond easily-obtainable sex and drug kicks. Where I draw the line–where I cannot imagine not drawing the line–is at some point before we start talking about the power of government to confer dignity.

    Patience is an e-virtue

    Posted by Sean at 20:35, February 18th, 2005

    The person this is directed at is not one of the acquaintances I expect to be reading this, but just to contribute to the edification of the world at large:

    An e-mail message is not a summons by royal bugle. I don’t check every account I have daily, and I often wait until I have a meaningful response before, you know, responding. It doesn’t mean I’m dead or ignoring you. Surely you can find something to do for 48 hours of turnaround time.

    A client or colleague writing to my work address has a right to expect a prompt response. Additionally, any of the following three people conveying the following three messages can assume I will respond immediately, possibly before I’ve read to the end:

    Hi, Honey.

    Accident at the plant. Your father’s in the burn unit, but he’ll be out in a few weeks. They think. Call me for an update–don’t worry about the hour.




    My love,

    The pressure from my boss is too great, and I’ve finally decided to cave and marry that eligible Todai grad in the HR department. I adore you more than life itself, but I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to be out of the apartment by the end of the month. Feel free to take the Imari, but leave the Bohemian glasses.



    Mr. Kinsell,

    Word is you’re a revelation in the sack. I’m in town to shoot a Toyota commercial; meet me, 11 p.m., Shinjuku Park Hyatt, Room **** to see how much these bagpipes can still blast.

    S. Connery

    If you’re not any of the above, I will write back on my own time–not because I think I’m busier and more important than you are, but because that’s all I expect of people I’m corresponding with myself. There’s enough pointless hurry in modern life without adding it to shoot-the-breeze private correspondence. Good grief.

    Changing of the guard at US embassy

    Posted by Sean at 11:29, February 17th, 2005

    Now-former US Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker left yesterday. The Mainichi reports on his last few statements before leaving Japan. Close Bush associate Thomas Schieffer is his replacement.

    Arlen Specter has cancer

    Posted by Sean at 20:37, February 16th, 2005

    You know this from fifty other people already: Senator Arlen Specter has Hodgkin’s Disease. Best to him and his family. He’s been one of our senators pretty much since we Pennsylvanians in our early thirties can remember; I can’t pretend to be crazy about all his triangulations, but he’s gotten my vote since I’ve been of age.

    Uh, incidentally, this might be a nice time for the HRC (not Hillary–she’ll do the politically advantageous thing intuitively; the Human Rights Campaign will not) to say that, despite their differences in the last election cycle, it’s grateful for his record of gay-friendliness and robustly wishes him well. Of course, in order not to come off as (and be) cynically opportunistic, the HRC would have to have done some reflection. What chance is there of that?

    Maybe there really is a new andrewsullivan.com

    Posted by Sean at 03:32, February 16th, 2005

    Speaking of Jonathan Rauch, he’s started a website, linked to by IGF. Cool (even if the design does give me distracting cravings for the Neapolitan ice cream of my childhood). The links to his articles appear to pull together what you’d get from looking him up on IGF and Reason , which is a good thing. His book on gay marriage is disappointing, but not much of his other writing is. I’ve been a fan since Kindly Inquisitors .

    And he doesn’t know what a trackback is, which gives me comfort. I thought I was just a moron, but maybe it’s a fag thing. (Homos who always knew what trackbacks were because they helped invent them, or whatever, will kindly refrain from disillusioning me.)

    Everything she wants

    Posted by Sean at 22:30, February 15th, 2005

    Right Side of the Rainbow says everything I’ve ever wanted to say about defenses of traditional marriage against gays here. If I read his tone correctly, he’s dead serious but also being arch. I particularly like this point:

    Strip marriage of the rules that make it unappealing to gay men but keep all the nice perks that come with it — what, you think we don’t want our partners to have health insurance? — and you get the inevitable. You get a political campaign driven by middle class gay men, possessed as all middle class Americans are of a suffocating sense of entitlement, that will not relent until it succeeds.

    People talk about gay activists as if their sense of entitlement were some kind of evidence of special gay selfishness. But entitlements are the way modern civic life works–remember Jonathan Rauch’s chapters on lobbyists in Demosclerosis? I’m happy to deplore this, and to join in any principled objection to the excesses of leftist gay advocacy. It’s a target-rich environment, to be sure; however, I get very uneasy when it’s treated as some sort of freakish aberration in American politics, rather than the wack-job end of a continuum that runs all the way through it.

    Added on 17 February: Eric at Classical Values has mentioned common-law marriage in connection to gays, and I was sure that, somewhere, he’d pointed out that some gay-marriage advocates might not be so hot on the prospect of being considered a de facto married couple after cohabiting for seven years. Can’t seem to find the post I’m thinking of, but the point was a good one.

    Oh, and one more thing: childrearing is the single most important thing most people do in life, and the amount of sacrifice it requires is considerable. The view one hears nowadays that childrearing = selflessness and altruism, however, is coarse and misleading. Everywhere outside the developed world, people recognize very matter-of-factly that they’re having children not just to let happy new life loose in the world but to provide work for the household, including elder care when the parents themselves are old and incapacitated.

    The same mechanism operates here in the First World, of course; it’s just that our money economy means that people are less likely to need their children’s financial support and that the literal care they need can come from other people’s children in the form of strong, young nurses and deliverymen. The investment of energy in child-rearing feels obvious and real. The payback from the pool of workers who keep the economy going feels diffuse and is easy to gloss over (in that one often hears people talk about parenting as an investment in the future, as if the effort went in a single altruistic direction only).

    One must also consider that, in a world in which many of us don’t do physical labor, and those who do are rarely involved in the farming of life’s essentials, sex and the production of children is one of the few experiences left that serve primal, animal urges–which civilization teaches us to subsume but doesn’t actually banish.

    I am not arguing here that parenthood is on balance a selfish project. What I do think is that it paints a false picture to posit child-bearing straightness in an unqualified way as saintly and self-abnegating, which I think is the effect (however unintended) of quite a bit of the current discourse on marriage and parenting.

    We’re all gonna die! V

    Posted by Sean at 11:48, February 15th, 2005

    The Asahi seems to me to be a bit slow on the uptake on this one, since it’s been said for the last several years that the Kyoto Accord is basically impracticable for developed countries, but the results of its new survey at least provide dry humor on a topic that’s often treated with poker-faced do-gooder high seriousness:

    With the landmark Kyoto Protocol on global warming finally taking effect today, Japan probably should own up to a major embarrassment: that it may well be unable to meet its obligations under the treaty.

    This possibility, suggested by an Asahi Shimbun survey, contrasts sharply with the fanfare that greeted Japan’s decision to hold an international conference on climate change in 1997 in Kyoto to set reduction goals.

    Under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions between fiscal 2008 and 2012 by an average 6 percent from the fiscal 1990 level.

    The Asahi Shimbun established that only a few prefectural and municipal governments have done anything about it. In fact, a nationwide survey found that only three of the 47 prefectural governments and seven of the 13 major cities can actually boast decreases in their greenhouse gas emissions.

    Also, latest statistics offered by about half the prefectural and municipal governments surveyed showed double-digit increases over the fiscal 1990 level in greenhouse gas emissions.

    Unlike the central government, prefectural and major municipal governments are not obligated to establish emission reduction goals, and so are still not feeling the heat.

    Well, that’ll work. We’ll just make sure the Diet Building only uses its incinerator on alternate Tuesdays. The archipelago will be pollution-free in no time.

    Now, I cropped that segment of the article just at the laugh line, so it’s only honest to point out that the next paragraph says, “On the other hand, many drew up plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and do away with chlorofluorocarbon replacements.” You have to wonder, though, whether this is motivated by environmental consciousness? Market forces? Production costs? Consider:

    Even local governments that reported emissions cuts acknowledged that the changes were not due to any particular policy measures being implemented.

    For example, an official with the Osaka prefectural government said, “With our faltering economic base, a number of factories decided to move elsewhere.”

    A Kawasaki municipal government official said, “Basically, it was only by a stroke of luck that some companies were able to reduce their output of products that emit greenhouse gases.”

    What Osaka means by “elsewhere,” of course, includes poorer areas in Japan but mostly refers to developing countries, especially China–and those places don’t have the luxury of sufficient prosperity to devote resources to casting about for cleaner energy sources.

    BTW, I wasn’t aware that today was Kim Jong-il’s birthday and the day the Kyoto Protocols were supposed to go into effect. Sheesh. It’s enough to make you want to stay in bed until Thursday.

    Added after the caffeine took effect: Some may remember that, a few months ago, some of those developing countries joined with the US to say no to the Protocols. I haven’t seen any statements from Japan, but the EU is, naturally, talking:

    “We will continue to pressure hard for all of our international competitors to hamstring their economies for our benefit partners to come on board,” European environment chief Stavros Dimas said last Wednesday as the European Commission proposed such post-2012 steps as extending emissions reductions to aviation and shipping.

    One must note, however, that the EU has instituted a point-trading system for emissions that is designed to adhere to the agreement it ratified.