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    It’s all about the oil

    Posted by Sean at 03:08, December 19th, 2004

    Good post at XGW about the way coming out is like a delayed-but-compressed adolescence. The numerical framework seems a bit 12-steppy, but the point that a lot of us spend our twenties going through the roiling-hormone stage normally associated with high school is an important one. One part I take exception to, however, is this:

    If you find that you are a

    Spreading good cheer

    Posted by Sean at 15:43, December 18th, 2004

    Virginia Postrel’s feelings about the newest must-discuss topic basically mirror mine:

    Why criticize merchants for including all their customers in wishes for a happy holiday season? The holidays do, after all, stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, both nonsectarian holidays. “Happy Holidays” includes Christmas, for those who celebrate it. But it also includes holidays we all share, as well as some others only a minority observe.

    When you extend these greetings, are you wishing people happiness? Or affirming your Christianity? Do you want people who don’t celebrate Christmas to be happy (or merry)? Or do you want to make them at least mildly uncomfortable? The answers will determine what you say.

    I say “basically” because what she leaves out is the self-righteous wing of her own side: people who are not content to say “Happy holidays” themselves but feel the need to expunge any mention of Christmas from all conversation, loudspeakers, and surfaces within a five-mile radius.

    But she herself isn’t taking that extreme a position, and she’s right about the standing-boldly-up-for-Christmas positions people are taking in droves. The argument is frequently made that we should all say “Merry Christmas,” whether we’re Christian or not, because Christmas is the origin of the holiday season. It strikes me as iffy, though–solstice rituals are, if not universal, widespread in world culture. That Christianity adapted one in the process of converting pagans may have been enterprising, but it’s not much of a distinction. Nevertheless, Christmas is the direct origin of the particular holiday season most of us celebrate, and forcing people to pretend they aren’t Christian, or being so taken aback when they acknowledge it that you can’t respond, is stupid.

    It also becomes flat-out ridiculous when the reason given is that people of other faiths might be offended. It’s truly outrageous to see world religions, from Islam to African animism to Buddhism to ancient Mexican earth cults, treated as anthropologically fascinating repositories of deep spiritual wisdom about the mysteries of the cosmos…while Christianity, whose philosophers helped develop many of the principles that undergird our free society, is regarded as a set of hokey superstitions that some folks still can’t shake.

    Personally, I’ll be celebrating Christmas the Japanese way, which suits my capitalist-atheist beliefs perfectly: on Christmas Eve, couples go out for dinner, exchange presents, and retire to love hotels. Atsushi, who wasn’t originally going to be able to come home until the New Year’s holiday (that’s when the Japanese have their big family gatherings), surprised me by promising to fly home on Saturday so we could at least have Christmas day together. At first, I figured we’d go to a restaurant, but then I remembered that this is the man who, after four years, still looks at me tenderly and calls me “GI Sean” whenever I come back from getting a haircut. He’s worth a week’s worth of preparation to have sauerbraten and dumplings at home.

    Anyhow, happy holidays to you all. And in the interest of cultural diversity:


    (yoi o-toshi wo o-mukae-kudasai: “Happy New Year!”)

    Added after tea and cake: Ooh! I almost forgot. Everyone does read Miss Manners, right? I think her edge has dulled just a bit over the last ten years or so, but her advice is still on-target, and the books she’s published are great reading. Perhaps my favorite column of hers ever is about hospitality and presents. It’s immortalized in this book. The piece isn’t holiday-specific, but I always reread it around this time of the year. It starts like this:

    Offering hospitality is such a serious obligation of etiquette that it is mandated in the sacred literature and traditions of many religions. Just about everyone has been taught one version or another of the holy personage in disguise who was turned away by the uppity rich, but generously welcomed to share the humble home of the poor. In case anyone misses the point, a vivid description was provided of how significantly the hospitality was reciprocated and its absence punished.

    So how are we doing with this lesson? The question most frequently posed to Miss Manners these days concerns how to make money from one’s guests, or at least how to make them pay for their own entertainment. Another question that has begun popping up concerns the efforts of hosts to enjoy a better standard of living than they are willing to share with their guests. Miss Manners suspects that these people are going to fry.

    It actually gets better from there.

    Kyoto decadence

    Posted by Sean at 11:49, December 17th, 2004

    Please, let it be true. Ronald Bailey reports in his TCS column that the Kyoto Protocol is no more:

    The conventional wisdom that it’s the United States against the rest of the world in climate change diplomacy has been turned on its head. Instead it turns out that it is the Europeans who are isolated. China, India, and most of the rest of the developing countries have joined forces with the United States to completely reject the idea of future binding GHG emission limits. At the conference here in Buenos Aires, Italy shocked its fellow European Union members when it called for an end to the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. These countries recognize that stringent emission limits would be huge barriers to their economic growth and future development. [I didn’t carry over Bailey’s links–SRK]

    For the last few years, I’ve cringed every time I’ve seen the word Kyoto leap out at me while scanning through a news story; dollars to doughnuts, it meant that someone was caviling that the US is pursuing profit over the cries of the sylphs and toadstool spirits.

    Along those lines, people familiar with Japan will get a chuckle out of the name of the Japanese energy analyst quoted in the article: 杉山 (sugiyama: “cedar mountain”). If anything symbolizes Japan’s own unromantic, calculating approach to environmental management, it’s the replacing of old-growth forests with batallions of cedar and other industrial trees. I’m not sure whether there’s a more specific name for the varieties usually planted than sugi, but to non-biologist me, the coincidence is pretty funny.

    (Via Instapundit, so you’ve probably seen it already)

    Japan Post Reform (née Privatization)

    Posted by Sean at 10:58, December 17th, 2004

    The LDP has drafted its Postal Service reform proposal, and having been developed by a committee, the thing appears to have fallen prey to all-things-to-all-people syndrome:

    Having duly recorded the multiplicity of opinions [Gulp!–SRK], ranging from the argument that the current single-agent handling of mails, postal savings, and insurance functions should be maintained to opposition to privatization in its entirety, the committee hammered out a proposal in which post offices will be arranged as they are currently and will be uniformly charged with providing postal savings and insurance services nationwide. Mindful of opposing voices within the party, the committee also decided to forgo the use of the word privatization in the proposal.

    Later in the (brief, as yet) report, the Nikkei explains that “the summary of points for debate released by the committee last month was predicated on privatization; however, because opposition within the party was so strong, the committee retreated into the wording ‘postal reform,’ which does not imply that the organization will be split into separate corporations or changed in other specific ways.” So we’re not privatizing the thing, just…rearranging it. Somehow. How, exactly, we’ll tell you later.

    The plan to priva…ACK!…reform Japan Post has been dragging out for a while now, and with this latest development, painful but necessary changes to its operations don’t look as if they’re going to be coming any time soon. Good thing much of the household wealth of the country doesn’t hang in the balance, or anything!

    Make it easy on yourself tonight

    Posted by Sean at 10:18, December 17th, 2004

    I think I’ve successfully gotten www.seorookie.net to redirect to the front page here. I’ll add it to my masthead/banner/whatever as soon as I can figure out what font and size to use to avoid making it look too cluttered. Apologies to anyone who might have tried to memorize iwamatodjishi!

    The cherry tree

    Posted by Sean at 05:05, December 17th, 2004

    In the shuffle of being at home and then returning to non-vacation life here, I forgot about this on the exact day, but….

    Last year, AgendaBender posted a post called “A Day without Bill,” which is one of my two or three favorite posts ever by anyone. (I was going to fix all the redundant uses of post in that last sentence, but since Tom’s story is about a very tall man, maybe they’re kind of fitting.) It’s a good read for this time of year, and I’m glad I remembered about it again while we’re still in the zone between World AIDS Day and Christmas.

    CNN tells all (紅葉の下での挿話)

    Posted by Sean at 12:13, December 15th, 2004

    Today, we’re doing the yin-yang contrast thing.

    Tokyo, you see, is a vertical city. Full of concrete and glass. It can get awful stressful! But…but…there are pockets of escape in Tokyo’s gardens. Requisite in these gardens is a Japanese maple tree (shown–can you guess?–with red leaves filtering the sunlight. Hey, stop kvetching, you cynical rabble-rousers! At least they remembered it’s not cherry blossom season). Some Japanese guy is shown saying that the Japanese feel relaxed and refreshed when they’re around nature, which as we all know is unique among world cultures.

    What goes discreetly unmentioned, of course, is that Tokyo wouldn’t have to call every tuft of grass poking up between two sidewalk bricks a “restful out-of-the-way garden” if the city weren’t so relentlessly grey and neon and overhead-wired. As does the specific dearth of tree-lined boulevards that are the hallmark of just about every other world city. It’s a shame we couldn’t work in a shot of Mt. Fuji’s looming snow-capped bulk (nature!) through which a bullet train glides across the foreground, since someone somewhere might figure out that that’s not Tokyo. I’m sure there’s still time, though.

    Won’t you listen to me when I’m telling you / It’s no good for you

    Posted by Sean at 10:14, December 15th, 2004

    Steve Miller at IGF links to this new piece Rich Tafel has in NRO about Bush-voting gays:

    The one statistic confounding pundits in this election is the number of gays who voted for George W. Bush. Polls show that the president received anywhere from 1.5 million to 2 million gay votes, up from 1 million votes in 2000 and double the number of gay votes for Bob Dole in 1996. This dramatic increase comes despite the fact that no gay organization endorsed him, no gay journalist editorialized on his behalf, and no gay leader supported him.

    The post-election conventional wisdom fueled by gay leaders and the media is that President Bush won because he gay bashed. This notion serves all of their purposes: Gays can maintain their image of themselves as hated victims and liberal sections of the media can salve their wounds by admitting that because of their own tolerance they failed to appeal to America’s intolerance.

    Tafel, former head of Log Cabin Republicans and a knowing political operator (I don’t mean that as a dig in this case), doesn’t put it as bluntly as he might have–for instance, “Gay activists and journalists seem to be standing around and asking, ‘Why the hell didn’t you guys do what you were told?'”

    This is funny in light of an encounter I had the other night (in the same place, actually, where I was granted my first taste of this holiday turkey). I was sitting–one of the reasons I usually don’t post about these things is that it’s hard not to give away other people’s personal information, so I’ll limit it to this–between a Muslim who has US citizenship but was brought up in one of the more Westernized countries in the Middle East, on the one hand, and an East Asian guy who’s lived since childhood in various big cities in California’s San-San population belt, on the other. The Muslim man was in his late 40’s, at a guess, and the East Asian was maybe 21.

    The conversation was lively, and at some point, someone brought up the election. Each of us was pleasantly surprised to hear that the other two had voted for Bush, and we spent quite an interval talking about the arguments we’d had with friends and the campaign messages that had and hadn’t reached us. It was fascinating, because here you had a Muslim who divides his time between America and Asia–you know, very cosmopolitan and stuff–and a kid from coastal California who works in the entertainment industry, and both of them just seemed to want to know, What was it that Kerry planned to do? How was it going to be better than an imperfect but predictable Bush? And why was it assumed that they were going to be pulling the lever for the Democrat out of some sort of homo predisposition? Tafel nails the more specific issues, too:

    Gays who voted for President Bush had a simple logic. They recognized that both candidates opposed gay marriage for political purposes. Their primary concern was the war on terror. They believed that we are engaged in a war for the future of our country and our way of life. They believed that the rise of militant Islam is a real and deadly threat. They believed that our country, with all its faults, is a force for good in the world. They believed that our enemy cannot be reasoned with. They believed that we needed a leader who understood the world in terms of moral values, and they didn’t scoff when the president used the words “good” and “evil” to describe the battle against terror. They realized we’ve made mistakes, but also realized that the only thing worse than making mistakes is not even trying. Many gays understood all of this and voted for President Bush, showing that they are people as well as gay people and that they have concerns beside their group interests. They wanted someone who in the difficult months ahead would stand firm in his beliefs.

    I doubt every gay voter who went for Bush agreed with every single one of these, but the overall characterization strikes me as sound. The problem isn’t that reflexive-lefty gays haven’t brought their own beliefs in line with ours since the election. It’s that they still don’t seem to be able to fathom our reasoning at all.

    A decade ago, I was in college in the same city as Camille Paglia was teaching in, and her highly-publicized rants about loony-leftism really made me feel better about coming out. You know, the LGBA (which doubtless has a few more letters in its name by now) was full of JCrew types bleating about oppression. I went to one meeting and never went back, but it didn’t rattle me too much. Paglia and her media followers really looked as if they might generate enough force to break queer activists out of their calcified ways of thinking.

    It didn’t turn out that way. She certainly had her effect–along with others–but it was to peel off the closet moderates and make them more comfortable returning to the common-sense middle. The wacko leaders who are the real problem haven’t moved at all. It’s a shame.

    Some red with that blue

    Posted by Sean at 02:55, December 15th, 2004

    This is cool–a Black Republicans’ club has formed at Penn, reports Erin O’Connor. What is not cool is that the DP article misspells supersede, indicating that it hasn’t gotten much less retarded in the ten years since my graduation. I don’t know how the campus climate really is now, but when I was a student, it was not hard to have civilized conversations with a wide range of political viewpoints–informally. The university-supported campus culture was as PC-addled as you’d expect, however, so I hope Sean-Tamba Matthew eventually has enough of a membership to march on Houston Hall and seek funding.

    Let’s get the ingen to do it!

    Posted by Sean at 01:57, December 15th, 2004

    Far Outliers has a post up about one of the more perversely funny aspects of life as a foreigner in Japan: the Creole you end up cobbling together from Japanese and your native language. He The guy he quotes specifically remembers words used by Mormon missionaries, of which I thought these (the words–I haven’t seen the missionaries) were rather sweet:

  • golden kazoku Family interesting in joining the church

  • kanji bandit, kanji jock Missionary who can read and write Japanese characters

  • Added on 20 December: You would think that having been reared in a church that was so obscure I had to go around saying, “No, we’re not Seventh Day Adventists…no, we’re not Jews for Jesus, either. See, it’s like this…,” I’d be especially careful not to slush other people’s religions together. No such luck. Apologies to Joel for turning him into a different author and a Mormon.