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    We’re all gonna die! IV

    Posted by Sean at 11:21, February 15th, 2005

    Yesterday, Koizumi’s cabinet finalized its proposal (Japanese, English) to give the Self-Defense Force more leeway in defense. Specifically, if there’s a missile headed toward Japan, the proposal would allow the SDF to shoot the damned thing down without getting approval to mobilize from the Prime Minister.

    Perhaps since I’m a military strategist the way Madonna is an actress, this sort of news makes me say, “This is a new proposal? What the hell was the idea before?” From the looks of things, the idea before was that a missile attack would come with plenty of warning. The cabinet is now considering that it may not.

    There have been cases (as when our forces shot down an Iranian airliner) in which soldiers have misidentified aircraft, but the Prime Minister isn’t exactly in a position to help with that. Preventing those mistakes involves the segment of the command chain a lot closer to those who first sounded the alert. Of course, I assume the expense of anti-missile missiles, which the government can hardly afford to sling around like arrows, was also taken into account. Even in these times of tension in the region…well, it’s always tense, but a certain birthday boy has made things extra-special tense of late…one feels safe in presuming that the SDF is not going to get too trigger happy.

    Added at 22:40: I’m not a military strategist or historian, apparently. The Iranian Airbus thing was bothering me–I associated it with high school, which for me ended the year before the Gulf War, so I did what I should have done initially and looked it up. I’ve fixed it above, but, you know, for any persnickety people who noticed….

    We’re all gonna die! III

    Posted by Sean at 11:03, February 15th, 2005

    There was an earthquake this morning. I think I felt it, but I may be dreaming…or something. Anyway, its epicenter wasn’t far from Tokyo, in the southern part of Ibaraki Prefecture. Magnitude 5.4, not much below that of some of the severe quakes Niigata Prefecture had last autumn. It looks as if about 37 people were seriously injured, which is a higher figure than I can remember for any earthquake besides the Chuetsu Earthquake (that’s what the seismologists call the Niigata quakes, after the village under which the biggest quakes were centered) in recent memory. Luckily, the Tokyo area hasn’t come off a summer’s worth of poundings by typhoons, which was the case in Niigata; there was lots of liquefaction that led to mudslides and cliffslides. It also is called the Kanto Plain for a reason: it’s not as mountainous as most of Japan, so the number of rocks higher than your head is a lot lower. On the other hand, Tokyo has plenty of reclaimed land, which proved to be a real menace in the Great Hanshin Earthquake ten years ago.

    A child of juche

    Posted by Sean at 22:07, February 14th, 2005

    I know everyone will join me in wishing Kim Jong-il a happy birthday tomorrow. I’m sure all in North Korea will be celebrating!

    And they’d better.

    Now you’re just another boy / That I met long ago

    Posted by Sean at 21:51, February 14th, 2005

    Joanne Jacobs gives us this wonderful little bon-bon:

    Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, is funding liberal newspapers on already liberal college campuses. “Isn’t that a bit like pumping sand into the Mojave Desert?” the Washington Post asks.

    “We’re not winning the battle of ideas on campus,” says David Halperin, who is running the project for the Center for American Progress. Conservatives “have this insurgency mentality, even though they run the world.”

    “We’re being outhustled,” says Halperin’s colleague Ben Hubbard. “We want to cultivate the media stars, much like the right has done with Ann Coulter and Dinesh D’Souza.”

    Toward that end, the center will give $750,000 to nine liberal campus publications at such places as Princeton, Dartmouth and the University of Wisconsin, and help launch four at the universities of Michigan, Chicago, Kentucky and Ohio State. This is dwarfed by the more than $30 million a year that they estimate conservative campus organizations receive from such groups as the Young America’s Foundation and Leadership Institute.

    The web site, CampusProgress.org, has a cartoon showing a blonde female cheerleader, dressed in blue, kicking off the head of a red devil-monster, revealing the cowering male within.

    I don’t know about his colleague, but Halperin himself had a brush with media stardom of his own. In fact, I doubt that I’m the only person for whom he’s been positively immortalized. Halperin, you see, was one of the subjects of Camille Paglia’s climactic essay “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders,” which fourteen years ago helped push her through to fame from buzz. Most people didn’t see its original Arion printing but rather its climactic inclusion in her second book, Sex, Art, and American Culture . Here’s a paragraph from near the beginning of the (very long) essay:

    One Hundred Years of Homosexuality is a short collection of essays that seems to have only one coherent aim: the nomination and promotion of David Halperin as a major theorist of sex. But Halperin, like most of the American academics who have wandered into sex studies, lacks the most elementary understanding of the basic disciplines of history, anthropology, and psychology necessary for such work. The exposition of these essays is tortured, bloated, meandering, pretentious, confused. Halperin’s first book, Before Pastoral: Theocritus and the Ancient History of Bucolic Poetry (1983), is quite different. Whether its precision and clarity of argument–not to mention skill in simple paragraphing–are due to the editors of Yale University Press or to a helpful dissertation director, it is evident that in One Hundred Years we are getting Halperin lui-même.

    That’s one of the more mild passages. It gets much sharper and funnier and basically doesn’t let up until the end. At least the author of the other book under review was spared by death from seeing his idiocies ruthlessly enumerated and refuted. The whole essay is recommended most highly to anyone of generally kind-hearted disposition who nevertheless has an eensy mean streak that does not suffer fools gladly. It was a source of tremendous comfort to me when I was coming out, indicating as it did that the spoiled, upwardly-mobile LGBA types at college and the lugubriously noble AIDS sufferers of pop culture were not the only possible model for homosexual life.

    This recent quotation from Halperin (in the article Joanne cites) is interesting because he appears not to understand its implications in the most meaningful sense. I mean, the “insurgency mentality” part. Conservatism includes a lot of people, and obviously there’s a lot I find to disagree with when examining the ideas of some of them; but I do think that as a generalization, it’s fair to say that conservatives have “hustle” because they see their ideas working and are thus energized and want to find new ways to implement them.

    The left insists on retaining the why-aren’t-they-flocking-to-us-when-we-know-what’s-good-for-them? attitude that people REALLY DISLIKE in a free society. Tossing coins at a bunch of liberal campus newspapers seems to me unlikely to do much about that because it doesn’t involve reexamining their own motivations and hold on reality.

    Rising sun

    Posted by Sean at 19:05, February 10th, 2005

    Ghost of a Flea has yet another Kylie picture up, but what caught my attention even more was a link to this site, which gives animated instructions for Westerners about to go to Japan to work. You have a sequence about navigating the office, one about visiting people at home, and one about going out drinking with colleagues. If you can stand to watch the Beavis and Butthead-ish characters (I mean, they don’t act like them, obviously, they’re just drawn like them), the information is pretty good. Telling points:

    • Like a lot of explanations of tricky Japanese ceremonial maneuvers for Westerners, the one for exchanging business cards on this site doesn’t tell you about the little parts that can get you in trouble–in this case, how you’re supposed to hold two at one time. I mean, obviously, there’s nothing difficult about it physically, but if you’ve just received your visitor’s card, is there a certain set of fingers you’re supposed to hold it between while proffering yours? If you get it wrong, you could make it hard for your visitor to take your card from you. Or someone could get a nasty paper cut. Theoretically speaking, you understand.
    • The house depicted in the home entertainment section is of the traditional Japanese kind with shutter-type front door, tatami rooms, side garden with stone lantern, and tokonoma (display alcove). What do the animators put right next to the front door to let you know you’re looking at the exterior of a realistic Japanese house? A beer vending machine.
    • The proprietress of the bar in the sequence about drinking looks like Barbara Hale.
    • The writer of the text keeps saying that Japan doesn’t differentiate between right and wrong. I think that’s a bad way to put an excellent point. What she’s talking about is the idea that Japan believes in extremes of behavior rather than moderation. In the West (sweeping generalization alert!), we like to get a sense of people’s real, essential personalities even in formal circumstances. If you know someone who acts one way at work and 180 degrees the opposite way outside it, you regard him as untrustworthy. In Japan, the opposite is true. You defer utterly to the group and the demands of ceremony at work, and then you let off all the resulting stress by being sloppily demonstrative while getting drunk later. Being too honest about your actual opinions in formal circumstances makes you look, paradoxically, untrustworthy–because what you need to be trusted to do is cooperate, and you may not attend to other people’s needs if you’re busy articulating your own.
    • On the same token, those of us who were ruthlessly schooled in most of these little rules are often told, after we arrive in Japan, “You sound like an old man–no one acts like that anymore!” Years ago, a friend of mine presented a gift of sweets to her middle-aged host mother and that lady’s friends with the respectful words, “お口に合うかどうか分かりませんが” (o-kuchi ni au ka dou ka wakarimasen ga: “I’m not sure this will [be good enough to] suit your exalted palate, but [please take it]”). The assembled ladies were silent for a few beats and then burst out laughing. “You’re talking as if you were about to be interviewed! We’d be more likely to say, ‘Hey, I think you’ll like this!'” True, meeting a group of elder friends for lunch isn’t the same as doing a presentation at a prospective client’s place, but friends who are around my age and older are always complaining when we get together that they’ve had to drop a lot of the etiquette with which they were brought up. The last half-decade’s worth of hires at work don’t understand them.
    • I think my favorite sequence is when the guy’s in the bathroom and there’s an excursus on windchimes in the middle of the directions for using the Asian-style toilet. What might have been more useful was a warning that there may not be soap or a guest towel at the hand-sink, so you need to be satisfied with splashing your hands very thoroughly and having a handkerchief in your pocket to dry them on. I can’t imagine how they missed that, since it’s one of the first things people express shock over on arriving here. If you want to give yourself a fighting chance of avoiding nasty germs, you can get alcohol-soaked wet handwipes at any convenience store. Not soap and hot water with a clean, soft towel to follow, but better than nothing.

    Oh, and while we’re on this topic, I would just like to point out that in the months that Simon World has generously linked my little pieces on Japan Post privatization, Social Insurance reform, and Japanese views of the WOT, the link that has gotten me the most traffic from his site is my post about a musical toilet. I’m pretty sure there’s a life lesson there, but I’d prefer not to know what it is.

    Added on 12 February: And, as Atushi just reminded me, I forgot to congratulate Japan on its Founding Day. But, congratulations on Founding Day, Japan!

    Louder than bombs

    Posted by Sean at 01:51, February 10th, 2005

    Having seen it first from Japanese sources, I was kind of surprised at the wording of the English wire reports on the DPRK’s huffy departure from 6-way talks on its nuclear programs:

    The United States has assumed since the mid-1990s that North Korean is able to make nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday, playing down a dramatic announcement from Pyongyang.

    “Playing down”? “Dramatic”? I mean, sure, it’s newsworthy when high officials in a dictatorship have a fit of pique and storm out of a meeting, but these six-way talks have been rocky for months, and–maybe because its test missiles are fired directly over our heads–here in Japan, we’ve pretty much taken it as a given that North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons capability as quickly as it can. It’s hard to imagine who could have been caught off-guard by today’s announcement.

    Digging for the blue or the green / Constant in opal, ultramarine

    Posted by Sean at 01:21, February 10th, 2005

    Michael Demmons has decided to tell us what he really thinks about gay marriage:

    It�s not like being polite is going to make some backward a**hole change his mind. So why should I try? People tell us to stop calling people bigots and homophobic because they don�t want us speaking the truth. They think �baby steps.� Well, sorry folks. We�ve been taking baby steps since the 60�s and long before.

    Why should you be polite to people who are determined to behave horribly? Well, for one thing, there’s the old-fashioned injunction against sinking to their level. Sometimes taking the high road convinces a**holes to act more civilized, but even when it doesn’t, it has its benefits. For one thing, non-a**holes are often listening to these exchanges, and it’s not a good idea to turn them off. For another, there’s no faster way to turn yourself bitter than to get involved in games of combat-vituperation.

    Besides, not everyone who has “a different opinion on the matter” is anti-gay. I hate to sound like a broken record, but our interests are not helped when strategy is conceived in hippy-dippy terms like “Marriage is love.” Give me a break. I care whether my boyfriend recognizes my love for him. I care whether my parents do. I care whether my friends do.

    I don’t care whether the state does, which is one of the reasons I have such a hard time figuring out what “equality” gay marriage advocates are looking for. Power of attorney and transfer of benefits, I get. The ability to get residency for a partner who’s a foreign national is obviously something I’m deeply interested in. I just grow very suspicious at the way arguments for gay marriage veer quickly into the territory of what would make us happy or unhappy. We cannot fall into the trap of offering the government that kind of power if we want our relationships to be integrated into society in a way that’s best for everyone, and if we want to put men and women who come out in the future in the best position to live happy and productive lives. If we do, we will lose, and so will they. I would be more than…well, happy…to see gay advocacy proceed in strides larger than baby steps if I thought the foundations of its arguments were more solid. As it is, we’re still in the middle of debates over first principles, such as what constitutes a “right” and what makes someone a “second-class citizen.” In that context, I don’t think you need to be a patsy in order to espouse caution and slow, deep-rooted, organic change.

    Sleight of hand

    Posted by Sean at 11:57, February 8th, 2005

    I had gratefully forgotten his existence, but Living in Pink links (or was just displaying a link on one of its newsfeeds) to this Queer Day link to this Inquirer article about James McGreevey, who is settling into life as a Recovering Governor. Be sure to read the last sentence of Baker’s statement–pricelessly dry. And though it’s only February, I think Sabato has clinched the award for Drollest Use of a Participial Modifier, 2005:

    Ross K. Baker, a Rutgers University political science professor, said the former governor did a masterly job of erasing memories of much of his scandal-riddled 2 1/2 years in office with his “I am a gay American” speech.

    “I think he probably pulled off one of the most extraordinary acts of self-labeling in modern history by reducing the entire episode of Golan Cipel to ‘I am a gay American,'” Baker said. “He defined the reason for his resignation as his sexual orientation and not other things that were less attractive about the McGreevey administration–like corruption.”

    Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, agreed that McGreevey’s portrayal of himself has made him more marketable–“assuming he isn’t indicted.”


    Posted by Sean at 11:11, February 8th, 2005

    I might have known you could trust PennDOT to make on-line processing just as delay-prone and frustrating as an actual trip to the DMV. After all, why let modernization deprive you of the old-fashioned niceties? Thank you, Harrisburg! It’s a comfort to know that, even a continent and ocean away, I’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania.

    (No one needs to bother pointing out that if I’d renewed my license as soon as my parents forwarded the form to me, I wouldn’t have been in the kind of hurry that makes “connection timed out” messages into major obstacles. That’s not the point. What government of a commonwealth of 12 million people, which used to have more paved roads than any other state, has its flippin’ DMV site down at 7 a.m. local time on a work day? Pfft!)

    You can only see the top ninth, you know

    Posted by Sean at 21:29, February 7th, 2005

    You know how your friends who have been to Tokyo complain about the groping problem? We are not kidding:

    A record 2,201 cases of women molested on trains were reported in Tokyo last year, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) said.

    However, MPD officials said that they believe this is just the tip of the iceberg, noting that numerous victims of such crimes choose not to file criminal complaints against their molesters.

    Among the 2,201 cases, the MPD arrested, or sent investigation reports to prosecutors, on 1,886 suspects aged 14 to 80. Those in their 30s, some 37 percent, accounted for the largest number of suspects. About 30 percent of the victims were high school girls.

    Now, before anyone starts drawing conclusions about fundamental kinkiness in the Japanese character…uh, well, truth be told, there is some of that. But I think it’s fair to say that this is more a function of (1) having people packed so tight that you can essentially make mischief unobserved in the middle of a crowd of 200 people and (2) teaching women that part of modesty is not standing up for yourself in public.