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    The new foreign minister

    Posted by Sean at 01:18, September 30th, 2004

    The Yomiuri reports that new Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura believes* the constitution should be amended in order for Japan to become a permanent member of the UNSC:

    “The Constitution should be amended to clearly position Japan’s international peace-building activities,” Machimura said at the Foreign Ministry. “The Constitution should be reformed because it is better to ensure that no confusion will arise when Japan fulfills its duties as a permanent member (because of a possible conflict between constitutional principles and the position),” he added.

    Last week, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced Japan would seek a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council. Koizumi said the nation would be able to become a permanent member without amending the Constitution.

    Interesting. It’s hard to tell whether that could be a rift-making issue or Machimura is just giving voice to something Koizumi actually wants, too, behind the soothing public talk. The Nikkei print edition–it may be on the web, but I’m too lazy to look it up and happen to have it on top of the recycling pile–ran parallel front-page interviews last Friday with two business leaders on the hot-button constitutional issues. Kakutaro Kitashiro, the chair of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, said when asked about the amendment issue:

    Having no military power is a policy that doesn’t square with today’s international circumstances. Even a secondary school student must sense the mismatch with Article 9 [the article of the constitution that renounces militarism]. Amending the constitution is preferable to just expanding its interpretation.

    I’m partial–and not just for Japan–to that sort of thinking, too. Simply loosening the interpretation of Article 9 might seem like a more tactful way for Japan to smooth its way toward open super-powerdom, but there is no way in hell the rest of Asia will be convinced not to have a conniption anyway. Koizumi would probably have to bulldoze the Yasukuni Shrine, not just stop visiting it, to mollify the PRC on that one. But a clearly-worded amendment that gives the government leave to participate in ongoing conflicts but not to launch attacks might, conceivably, play well with others who could join together to lean on China a bit. (Nothing changes, but this time, it would be a good cause. I think the petitions of India, Germany, and Brazil make sense, too.)

    Speaking of bargaining with allies, the proposed US troop realignment is still a sticking point (this is from the Yomiuri article again):

    Japan has asked that the United States maintain effective deterrence through the Japan-U.S. security alliance in the area surrounding Japan, while reducing the burden on local governments where U.S. military bases are located.

    It’s not just the non-combat deployment of SDF personnel that has made things touchy with the public; a helicopter crashed in Okinawa two months ago, and the USMC’s clampdown on the wreckage was widely perceived as high-handed. The “burden on local governments” referred to above is a bit elliptical, but it probably refers to that sort of thing–the strained relations between US soldiers and the Japanese who live near their bases, I mean, not our helicopters constantly falling out of the sky. Machimura has plenty to pay attention to.

    * Like all links to the Yomiuri, this one will expire in a few days; if I forget to search for the Google cache and relink it, feel free to e-mail me.

    The latest typhoon

    Posted by Sean at 12:45, September 29th, 2004

    This is not a good year to live in hurricane or typhoon country: The latest typhoon (Number 21) to hit Japan has once again made landfall in Kyushu. Five people are dead and eighteen missing at this time, but it’s expected to have weakened to a temperate zone low-pressure system by tomorrow. Fortunately, there were no big boat accidents; that pushed the death toll to around 40 for one of the storms that hit at the beginning of this month. Atsushi’s fine; we talked on the phone as always between 11:30 and midnight. The storm is moving east-northeast, so from Kyushu it’s basically moved right over Shikoku and the southwest end of Honshu. We had a lot of rain and wind here in Tokyo, too, but nothing dangerous, though I guess the storm will come closest to us overnight.

    Added at 23:55: The final figures are 16 dead and 12 injured, with a great deal of property damage.

    More about Japan Post reform

    Posted by Sean at 23:32, September 28th, 2004

    Asahi has a new poll (here’s the original Japanese version) indicating that voters don’t care about Japan Post reform (which is what I should have called it earlier, rather than “Postal Service reform,” which makes it sound as if only the handling of the mails were involved). That’s interesting, if not all that surprising. It may be that people don’t perceive what’s at stake in the management of Postal Savings accounts–or it may be that they do but just think the “reforms” aren’t going to help and therefore aren’t worth fixating on:

    Those polled were also asked whether they thought Koizumi would be able to exercise his leadership in realizing privatization of postal services, given that many influential members in the Liberal Democratic Party remain opposed to Koizumi’s privatization plan.

    About 39 percent said no, while about 37 percent said yes.

    So people may understand the import of the issue but feel that nothing substantive can be accomplished. The English version leaves out the part specifically about Heizo Takenaka’s new position as head of Japan Post privatization (39% think his appointment was a good idea; 25% do not). Predictably, most people chose pensions/welfare as the most important issues, with more general economic and employment issues next.

    You’re not the kind that needs to tell me / About the birds and the bees

    Posted by Sean at 12:59, September 27th, 2004

    I think that a lot of what Joe Kort says in his latest post at Ex-Gay Watch makes sense. I’m not so sure about this segment, though:

    I believe that most people involved with ex-gay organizations and choose to deny their own homosexuality are turtles [that is, people who duck for cover and minimize themselves when they feel insecure].

    Really? The average ex-gay autobiography I’ve read tends to go something like this: “One morning, after years of drinking, taking drugs, and alternately working as a hustler and being dumped by my latest exploitative boyfriend, I woke up for the hundredth time in a pool of my own vomit and realized my problem was that…homosexuality is sinful!” I’m not the first to notice this, but it’s hard not to read prominent ex-gays’ detailed accounts of their past lives without sensing a kind of thrill and reverse-braggadocio underneath: “I was such a bad mo-fo it took God to straighten me out!” It allows those with loudmouth tendencies to stay loudmouthed in the role of Getting the Message out. (That doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re sincere, by the way.)

    And at the same time, it seems only fair to mention the flip side: I think a lot of the more militant gays haven’t worked through their God issues. By this I mean that they avoid the process of confronting the possibility that the anti-gay religious folks are correct, which would lead to practicing homosexuality only once they were secure in the examined belief that it was the right path for them. Normally, I try not to speculate about what’s going on inside people’s heads, but I can think of no other explanation for the weird touchiness and reflexive dismissiveness of a lot of gays when the subject of religion or transcendence comes up. I wish people (on either side) didn’t feel the need to make themselves feel better about their own choices by deriding those who make the opposite ones, but that problem is probably as old as civilization and doesn’t seem to show any signs of abating.

    Japanese Postal Service reform

    Posted by Sean at 19:41, September 26th, 2004

    One of the big news items here in Japan over the last several months has been the reform and privatization of the Postal Service. I haven’t avoided it for fear of boring you–though it’s not the sort of topic likely to make you a hit at dinner parties. It’s just that there’s been so much back-and-forth. It is, though, a very, very important issue here in Japan, because Postal Savings accounts hold a lot of the wealth of Japanese households and put it at the disposal of Ministry of Finance project managers. This editorial (subscription only–sorry) from last week’s Nikkei English on-line edition delineates pretty well how things have developed:

    The privatization plan will divide Japan Post into four companies respectively operating the mail, savings and insurance services as well as the nationwide network of post offices, but the four operators will remain under the integrated management of a holding company.

    The holding company will sell its shares in the savings and insurance units to turn them into private businesses, but it is not clear what percentage of the stock will actually be sold. Moreover, the government will continue to own at least one-third of the holding company, allowing it to maintain its involvement in the savings and insurance companies, at least to some extent, unless the holding company sells its entire interest in them.

    The mail and network management entities, which will remain under the full ownership of the holding company, will be required to provide uniform services nationwide in exchange for receiving special treatment, including a continued monopoly in the mail delivery business.

    The branch network management company will inherit post offices and workers from Japan Post. The government appears to be intent on ensuring that the other three new postal companies will use the offices and workers of the network firm to protect these politically important jobs. Such forced dependence on the existing post office network will frustrate the new companies’ efforts to refashion themselves into more efficient and profitable players.

    This scheme — creating an entity to take over Japan Post’s infrastructure and virtually forcing the other postal companies to use it — seems to be simply a ploy to avoid radical changes in postal operations while making the reorganization look like a reform, just as the plan adopted to privatize public road corporations based on a two-tier structure was merely a scheme to keep building new roads.

    The envisioned savings and insurance companies are unlikely to achieve management independence as long as they are tethered to the infrastructure operator, which will not be freed completely from government control. This is not a formula that lends itself to independent and transparent accounting at the postal companies.

    The basic design of the privatization will certainly cause this crucial reform initiative to go awry and it will do nothing to further privatization’s primary goal: ending the government’s stranglehold on a big chunk of private savings that is causing serious distortions in the financial markets and undermining fiscal discipline. Achieving this goal requires a swift and complete end to the government’s involvement in the privatized postal companies.

    If you’ve got a sense of déjà vu here, you may be thinking of what happened to California’s energy providers, which taught us all the difference between privatization and deregulation. (And I must note, in fairness, that unlike the USPS, the Japanese Postal Service provides mail handling of pretty much unexceptionable quality.)

    Added an hour later: Because I’m distracted by the Vertigo DVD and am also a scatterbrained idiot, I forgot to note why I’m finally bringing up the Postal Service reform in the first place: It’s what drove the selection of new appointees in the cabinet reshuffle Prime Minister Koizumi announced today. Heizo Takenaka, who’s going to end up with more joint appointments than Stanley Fish soon, will still be in charge of economic policy and fiscal administration, and he’s also been named the head of Postal Service privatization and reform. That’s a new, ad hoc post, of course.

    Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, who has distinguished herself largely by not having a big mouth like her predecessor Makiko Tanaka, is outgoing; she’d been reappointed in the last cabinet change. Her replacement is MP Nobutaka Machimura, who apparently has lots of connections in the US. He was Minister of Education back when (1) that’s what the position was called and (2) there was last a flap over Japan’s government-approved social science textbooks. More directly related to diplomacy, he was State Secretary of Foreign Affairs under…uh…Obuchi? Japanese PM’s sprang up and died like Mayflies in the late ’90’s, so I don’t remember. I wonder whether he was picked not just for his US ties but also because he’s somehow seen as being a good figure to guide the Japanese push for permanent membership on the UN Security Council? I mean, he would almost have to have been, but I haven’t seem him cast in that light in the preliminary reports.

    They eat off of you / You’re a vegetable

    Posted by Sean at 19:07, September 26th, 2004

    Phooey (phoois, phooit…). I saw this FoxNews story on a recent Michael Jackson conference at Yale, but I was still munching over a way to say something useful and funny about it. As always, Alice in Texas proves the simplest ideas are the best:

    FoxNews: panelists discussed how pedophilia allegations have fed into false stereotypes about gays.

    Alice B: Do people no longer have phone directories to read?

    It’s a shame that the people studying pop culture in the academy do such a horrible job at it, because in my experience in college, it was really valuable. In a modern poetry class I took sophomore year, I asked the professor about including Madonna (Erotica had just come out) in my final paper, and his response was, “You may include a section on Madonna, as long as–I don’t know how you anticipate doing this with the work of such a thoroughgoing vulgarian, but I wait with interest to see–you really think you’ve found a way to ground her in the traditions of American poetry.”

    And he meant it. Whenever we conferred about the paper, he took pains to make sure I was focused on the old stuff of proven, lasting value (Dickinson and Eliot) and showing how I thought it illuminated what Madonna was doing. For that matter, we also, in tenth grade, took a break from reading Chaucer and Beowulf and Pepys’s diary to do one of our assigned five-paragraph themes on a work of contemporary fiction. “Good junk,” our teacher called it–Updike, or whatever. The idea was to take the principles we were learning to apply to the foundational or great works and see how talented authors right now were still using them in a lesser but meaningful way. But we did it once, and then it was back to…I don’t know, Party Patches, or wherever we were. On most educational issues, I’m slightly to the right of the average convent school nun, but I do think that it’s good to work artifacts of popular culture into lessons sparingly. The continuity of Western civilization is probably the most valuable lesson of the humanities/social science part of education.

    But of course, that’s not the way researchers approach it. Most of the pop culture studies material you see involves closed readings, with only other pop culture or current events for context. The interpretive framework is almost invariably based in cultural studies, the poison seeds of which were germinating when I was in college. The idea seems to be to reassure students that they can just kind of glance at what’s around them and see everything they need to know to understand art and the mysteries of life. Because, you know, if there’s anything kids in their late teens and early twenties won’t do without being shown how, it’s navel-gazing.

    Just one thing from the article that did make me chuckle:

    Jackson “in many ways is the black male crossover artist of the 20th century,” said Seth Clark Silberman, who teaches about race and gender at Yale. “He has grown up in front of us, so we have a great investment in him, even though some people today may find his image disturbing.”

    Some people may find his image disturbing? Sheesh. You know, if anyone out there has a list of people who are not disturbed by Jackson’s current image, please do me the kindness of forwarding it to me so I can stay the hell away from them.

    More Asian amity

    Posted by Sean at 13:08, September 24th, 2004

    Okay, I am so totally going to go to the office right after I post this, but Meaty Fly is resurfacing occasionally and noted, a week ago, that an advisory panel to PM Koizumi recommended that China be regarded as a potential threat. I can’t imagine who in his right mind would think otherwise, but as MF says, it’s the sort of thing that is guaranteed to get the PRC pissed. President Hu also told a Japanese official this week that visits by Koizumi and his cabinet to the Yasukuni Shrine are an obstacle that must be resolved to improve China-Japan relations.

    They call me the wild rose

    Posted by Sean at 12:27, September 24th, 2004

    See, this is the sort of murder we used to have in Japan before people started flipping out and doing spooky serial-killer/Se7en stuff:

    A former nurse was sentenced to death on Friday for murdering the husbands of two other nurses to receive payouts on life insurance policies taken out on the victims.

    Japan has what I believe is the largest life insurance market in the world–I’m pretty sure the UK’s is second, but I may have them reversed. The offing of a spouse to get the cash used to be the sort of killing you’d read about once every few weeks. Now there seems to be some sort of competition on to see who can come up with the most motiveless crime and most macabre corpse disposal, in which climate you’re almost tempted to applaud these women for hewing to tradition by committing murders with a point of some kind and trying to make them look like accidents.


    Kerry takes a stance on something

    Posted by Sean at 23:34, September 23rd, 2004

    I’ve done enough ragging on John Kerry that it’s only fair to point out that I was mostly impressed with what he said in this interview with The Washington Blade. His response to this question strikes me as sounding genuine rather than evasive:

    Blade: OK, last question. I�m curious: If you had been born gay [SRK rolls eyes], how different do you think your life would be?

    Kerry: I can�t tell you the answer to that question because I don�t know what my � you know, I just can�t tell you how I would have responded to it. Would I have been at the forefront of the crusade in the 1960s or would I still be, as some people are, living a double life or something, I don�t know.

    And his last word on the marriage debate is also one of the clearest statements I’ve heard from him yet about anything:

    I think, you know, and I�ve said this before, I think marriage raises a different issue in the minds of a lot of people because of its deep religious foundations and institutional structure as the oldest institution in the world.

    It is the oldest institution in the world � older than country, older than our form of government, older than most forms of government. And people view it differently.

    What�s important to me is not the terminology or the status; what�s important to me are the rights. The rights. That you shouldn�t be discriminated against in your right to visit a partner in the hospital. You shouldn�t be discriminated against in your right to leave property to somebody, if that�s what you want. You shouldn�t be discriminated against if you have a civil union relationship that affords you the same rights.

    Now I think that�s a huge step. There�s never been a candidate for president who has stood up and said I think we should fight for those things. And you�ve got to progress. Even that, I take huge hits for.

    And you know, I stood up on the floor of the Senate and voted against DOMA because I thought it was gay bashing on the floor of the United States Senate. I was one of 14 votes. The only person running for reelection who did that.

    If only he addressed every issue, including how he plans to keep terrorists from incinerating us all, as clearly.

    Some get the gravy / And some get the gristle

    Posted by Sean at 17:31, September 22nd, 2004

    Dale Carpenter’s most recent article makes, as usual, a lot of good points. His discussion of the continuum of attitudes among gays in the Log Cabin Republicans is one of those things that are puzzling at first but sound obvious once explained to you.

    Something he doesn’t really address, though, is why “Republican-first gays” would join an organization with “gay-first Republicans” agenda. You don’t need a formal group to be able to socialize and exchange ideas, right? And if you seriously believe that Republican principles are universally correct and thus more important than gay advocacy, wouldn’t you be driving that point home most effectively by being just an active party member whose homosexuality only comes out organically, in the course of interacting with people?

    Maybe that’s one of the reasons that, despite my disaffection with the Democratic Party and frequent votes for GOP candidates, my encounters with gay Republicans have not moved me to change my registration. I understand what people are trying to get across when they say things like, “We should be Americans first and gays second,” but to me that involves falsely isolating gay issues from everything else in life–less shrilly than leftist queer activists do, to be sure, but just as perniciously.

    All real-life political decisions involve prioritizing, and gay issues are just like everything else in that we sometimes have to put other values ahead of them. I don’t see why we deserve congratulations for doing so like everyone else. Well, okay, that’s a bit harsh. I empathize completely with gestures of the I’m-queer-but-I-still-love-America type, and I’ve been tempted to make them myself. But I think that in the end, they just encourage people to believe that our sexuality is something that everything we believe is somehow oriented by. In that sense, if LCR is going to be useful, it’s probably better for it to focus on frankly evaluating candidates and platforms through the single-issue lens of gay advocacy, leaving it to be understood that other, potentially more important reference points exist but are outside its ken.