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    Gravy as food and metaphor

    Posted by Sean at 17:31, July 31st, 2004

    There isn’t a chance in the world that anyone reading this site doesn’t also check Samizdata frequently, but for those who haven’t seen it, there’s a great post up about what has become one of my least favorite subjects. While I’m watching Columbo and trying to decide whether lunch will be broiled chicken with way too much pan gravy or chicken paprikash (sp.? I’ve only heard my Polish-American great aunts say it) with way too much sour cream, I’ll add just a few comments to what David Carr wrote.

    He’s talking about British, not American, law; but I think that what he says about the relationships among custom, law, and behavior applies States-side, also. In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes the gay marriage proponents have made is insisting on limiting to homosexual couples the extensions of benefits. Domestic partner benefits, hospital visitation rights, and the use of enduring power of attorney are certainly issues that affect our relationships; however, we aren’t the only unmarried people who may need to think about them. If two relatives or lifelong friends want to take responsibility for each other’s welfare and are willing to do so officially and exclusively…well, why shouldn’t they be able to, using much the same argument we use in favor of benefits for gays? Some people have crazy next-of-kin whom they can’t trust when wide awake, much less while comatose. Others have simply formed bonds in their adult lives with people who would more respect their wishes than their blood relatives. As long as the content of the contract is clear, why not push to bundle these things into the kind of civil union in which who sleeps in which bed isn’t an issue?

    When this point is raised by critics, those arguing for gay marriage say that if anyone and everyone can randomly assign a domestic partner at will, things will get so chaotic that no one will be able to keep track of who gets what (more chaotic than our current era of no-fault divorce and no-father childrearing?). Or they bring up love and commitment, which I hadn’t been aware was impossible between distant cousins sharing a non-romantic household.

    I understand the emotional issue here. When people ask why gay couples should qualify for benefits that roommates don’t, many of them–not all, but many–are not-so-slyly taking the opportunity to dismiss our relationships as meaningless. That’s nasty, and it hurts, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have a policy point.

    Or a point about human nature. I believe that most of those on our team sincerely don’t want to force people to approve of our relationships in the sense of going out of their way to be congratulatory–that they just don’t want us to be prevented from providing for each other when we most need it. But forcing people to bracket together recognition of, say, hospital visitation rights and gay partnerships moves the issue into muddy territory in which even good-hearted people will feel as if they’re being shaken down for sympathy. That’s neither a logical nor emotionally astute way to get people on your side.


    Posted by Sean at 12:25, July 30th, 2004

    One of the guys at worked asked why, given how willing I am to spout off about politics, I wasn’t watching the pageantry at the DNC. This from Kerry’s acceptance speech is part of the reason:

    Before wrapping themselves in the flag and shutting their eyes and ears to the truth, they should remember what America is really all about.

    Please tell me he didn’t actually say that?

    Are we dancing now?

    Posted by Sean at 14:49, July 29th, 2004

    Meaty Fly (who’s commented on a few posts below and will presumably be another reader who can tell me when I mangle my translations from Japanese) has this post about Sino-Japanese relations and how their development affects US interests. He (I assume) quotes several Japanese news sources to make the following point, specifically with regard to a proposed natural gas pipeline but also with wider implications. I’ve left out the links in his original post:

    The United States is the world’s biggest oil consumer; China is in second place and rising. Japan depends on the Middle East for 90% of its oil. Thus, the stakes are high in all directions. The pipeline to Japan may also serve U.S. interests, because it “would also be a strategic asset for Russia, allowing it to export to other Asian countries and perhaps the US west coast.”

    Tensions between China and Japan over energy don’t stop there. Japan is embroiled in a dispute with China over offshore natural gas fields.

    Since US businesses and MBA programs stopped thinking of Japan’s management and bureaucratic practices as sexy, and there are no more human interest features to write about how Japan, Inc., is going to leave the hard-working American family impoverished, events in Japan don’t seem to make the news as much in the States anymore. Even here, little incidents between Japan and Korea, or Japan and China, over disputed islands and ships passing in the night are so frequent that they can obscure potentially big stories like these. One hopes that the US government is giving them due attention.

    I don’t really expect things to spiral out of control soon, given present conditions. Still, resentments run old and deep in this part of the world, even if you just think back as far as World War II. The generation that actually lived through the War is dying off, but in the last decade, several high-profile controversies–the proposed reparations suit by Korean comfort women, the dismissive trashing of Iris Chang’s book The Rape of Nanking by Japanese historians, the whitewashing of Japanese aggression in its public school history textbooks–have kept the ill-feeling simmering. As far as strategic allies in the Pacific Rim go, China has a regime we flat-out can’t trust; Korea and Taiwan (the latter of which could be forgiven for not trusting us entirely) have their own very immediate defense problems to worry about and won’t have the ability to project much force for the foreseeable future. Japan is still basically the only game in town, no matter how fast the Chinese economy is growing.

    More official smoke-filled rooms

    Posted by Sean at 14:21, July 28th, 2004

    The DPJ’s Katsuya Okada has been busy since arriving in Boston. After meeting with Ezra Vogel and Joseph Nye, he seems to have met with Walter Mondale, telling him that the US needs to stay in Iraq until it’s stabilized (actually, the phrasing is the usual “we must humbly receive the favor of your staying…,” the we presumably referring to Japan and the rest of the world) but that Japan itself, despite the end of combat, cannot keep the SDF there because of constitutional strictures. None of that is surprising.

    He also said that US-Japan relations have been relying too much on Armitage personally and that he wonders whether we would still be bestest buddies if Kerry were elected (well, he said “the administration changed to a Democratic one,” but he’s presumably talking about the upcoming election). I was surprised at myself, at first, for not having given that issue much thought. But I think my assumption was that since Japan has socialized medicine, federal initiatives for anything and everything, and a general tradition of ecstatic individual self-abnegation for the good of the collective…sheesh, what’s for the Democrats, all the way to the left fringe, not to love? It’s also a non-white society that always talks about how it loves nature, despite its actual records on ethnic diversity and environmental protection. Also, the people use less energy and throw away less trash per capita than Americans, so even if you have socialist tendencies, you can kind of justify how staggeringly rich the country is.

    In any case, while my experience is that the States-side Democrats/liberals/leftists I know think of Japan as a beacon of the “Third Way,” it’s hard to predict how a Kerry administration might set its Japan policy because we don’t seem to have much indication of who could be his ranking foreign policy advisors. Of course, that policy strategists are kindly disposed toward Japan may not mean that they know how to deal with it effectively; but East Asia specialists tend to study countries they’re attracted to somehow.

    I know you’re feelin’ me ’cause you like it like this

    Posted by Sean at 01:16, July 28th, 2004

    The reactions to Andrew Sullivan’s current pledge drive have been snarkily cute, but I have to say they seem to jump the gun a bit. When I first read his post saying he was starting this year’s pledge drive, I saw the part about the bandwidth and interpreted it completely differently, it appears, from everyone else I read. I didn’t get the impression that he was asking for a few thousand dollars all to cover bandwidth. My understanding was that the money that was left over from last year’s pledge drive had dipped below the point at which he could afford his new bandwidth charges without using his own money–not the same thing.

    Sullivan’s site was never run like most people’s blogs. From the beginning, he had backers who were helping him to set it up as a way to make his archived writings available and make him a web presence as a commentator–remember, he’s been around longer than almost anyone else. The Daily Dish was originally just one element of the whole. Perhaps it still is in conception, though I’d bet that the Dish is the only page that most of his readers look at, except when he has a new article of his linked. From the beginning, andrewsullivan.com was presented almost as a foundation. It had different membership levels for different donated amounts, like a museum or the opera. He made it clear that donations were going to go to wages for his webmaster and editor and…an intern, I think?…and whoever else he was going to hire to help with it. He has also always said, up front, that he does quite a bit of research to keep the Dish up and didn’t feel embarrassed about being modestly compensated personally for it. Looked at that way, I can see how he could go through nearly $100000 in a year; it’s not easy to imagine, but it’s not impossible, either.

    You can say it’s pompous of him to act as if he were PBS. You can say that having a staff for his website is excessive and that it’s cheeky of him to expect people to shell out for it. I’ve sometimes felt that way myself and have never contributed as much to andrewsullivan.com as I have to some other people who were just folks taking time out of their lives to build, for the hell of it, a site people would enjoy and learn from and maybe want to discuss things on. I’m not…well, I was going to say that I’m not very self-aggrandizing, but there’s someone who knows me in person who reads this site, so that won’t fly. I’m not the Gold Circle Donor type–let’s put it that way.

    But if others are, I don’t see why Sullivan is necessarily being dishonest in asking them to kick in. It’s not as if they don’t know what they’re contributing to.

    Once an abductee, always an abductee

    Posted by Sean at 11:26, July 27th, 2004

    Ooh. This I hadn’t heard about the reunion of Hitomi Soga and Charles Jenkins:

    Jenkins told them that he had been set to take Soga to North Korea if they had met in Beijing, according to Japanese sources.

    North Korea authorities had promised a car with a driver and increased food rations if he managed to take Soga to Pyongyang, the sources said.

    But Jenkins didn’t reveal how he planned to take Soga to Pyongyang.

    Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoya said on Tuesday that Jenkins had agreed to meet with a U.S. defense counsel to discuss a possible court martial to settle changes against him.

    That Jenkins was prepared for court martial, as conveyed to a relative who visited Japan last week, was on the news yesterday. What hadn’t been confirmed that was Soga’s instincts had been right about the meeting in Beijing. Good call. (And remind me again why a country that has to ration food is superior to anything?)


    And speaking of betrayals, yesterday, the Tokyo district court ordered a suspension of merger talks between Mitsubishi-Tokyo Financial Group and the UFJ Group (Japanese, English). The merger would involve reneging on an agreement between UFJ and Sumitomo Trust and Banking (why not get all the behemoth financial institutions to join in the fun while we’re at it, huh?) for Sumitomo to buy UFJ’s trust bank. Sumitomo, justifiably unhappy, is suing.

    Official smoke-filled rooms

    Posted by Sean at 11:14, July 27th, 2004

    While everyone’s busy wishing Bill Clinton could run for President again, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has been a quiet attendee at the Democratic Convention and has been making a few interesting contacts. Katsuya Okada, leader of the DPJ, has apparently met with Joseph Nye, one of Clinton’s Assistant Secretaries of Defense now back at Harvard, and Ezra Vogel, the Harvard professor emeritus who’s one of the few people to specialize equally in China and Japan. Naturally, they (the Nikkei article is very brief and doesn’t say whether the three met together or Okada met the others individually) talked about security issues and US-Japan relations. No report of what they specifically discussed.


    Posted by Sean at 18:20, July 25th, 2004

    This is a few days old, and I didn’t know what to make of it because I couldn’t find any quotation of what Armitage had actually said to Nakagawa. The English versions of the Japanese papers are now writing about it, but they still don’t say what his words were:

    Officials in the ruling coalition as well as the opposition camp clearly were caught off-guard by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s remark last week that war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution is becoming an obstacle to strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance.

    Since it was uttered by a senior Bush administration official known for his deep understanding of Japan, they fear it may negatively affect Japan-U.S. relations and ongoing debate in Japan on revisions to the Constitution.

    Opposition members also were critical of Armitage for pressing Japan to revise the Constitution.

    Hidenao Nakagawa, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Diet Affairs Committee, shook up lawmakers after he relayed the gist of a meeting with Armitage in Washington last Wednesday.

    Armitage also told Nakagawa that while Washington supported Tokyo’s moves to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, any nation with that status must be ready to deploy military force in the interests of the international community. Unless it is prepared to do that, Armitage said it would be difficult for Japan to become a permanent member.

    The revision being discussed would appear to be a rather modest one; it just makes it possible for the SDF to provide combat assistance in defense of an ally. As written, the constitution doesn’t allow Japan to go into combat for anything but defense of Japan itself. Here’s what Article 9 says:

    1. 日本国民は、正義と秩序を基調とする国際平和を誠実に希求し、国権の発動たる戦争と、武力による威嚇又は武力の行使は、国際紛争を解決する手段としては、永久にこれを放棄する。

    2. 前項の目的を達するため、陸海空軍その他の戦力は、これを保持しない。国の交戦権は、これを認めない。

    1. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

    2. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceeding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

    The “means of settling international disputes” is the part that’s interpreted conservatively right now. I haven’t seen anything to indicate what verbal formulation would be used for the amendment, so it may not have been put together yet, but everything the Koizumi administration (which is proposing it) says indicates that it would apply only to common defense agreements with allies. In the course of arguing for such an amendment, he has, naturally, pointed out that US armed forces personnel already defend Japan.

    The PRC has been little mentioned in the most recent discussions on this point–at least, that I’ve seen–but as you may surmise, Beijing isn’t exactly champing at the bit for an opportunity to welcome a Japan with the constitutional permission to project force as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

    So yet again, the War on Terrorism is putting predictable stress on all kinds of tensely-balanced relationships in the Asia-Pacific region. If the push to amend the Japanese constitution remains front and center, we’ll have long-time animosities surfacing in a snaky line from Australia and the Philippines northward through Japan and Russia. It ain’t just vulcanism and plate tectonics making the Pacific Rim hot and frictive anymore.

    Not that it ever was.

    A fruit on fruits

    Posted by Sean at 17:11, July 25th, 2004

    Occasionally, friends from back home will ask me, “So, is Japan really as expensive as they say?” I’m usually guffawing too hard to answer. Of course, there are qualifications to be made: Tokyo is uncommonly expensive for Japan, just as New York is uncommonly expensive for America. I’ve heard people say that the regional cities are more reasonable–Atsushi says so about the mid-sized city he lives in now, and I visited ex-boyfriends in their hometowns of Sendai and Sapporo and saw a noticeable difference. Anyway, Connie and I have been having a back-and-forth about what sorts of behavior are “Pennsylvanian,” and it reminded me of my trip to the grocery store yesterday. Every week, I splurge on something even more overpriced than normal–maybe a little carton of fresh raspberries, or a mango from the Philippines (as soft and sweet as its government’s position on terrorists–don’t let anyone give you that “the Mexican ones are better” jazz), or whatever’s in season–along with the stuff I base my meals on.

    Well, the first rhubarb of the season is coming into the stores, so I decided to go for it. This image tells you a lot about Tokyo life (for the people who do the grocery shopping, that is):


    The large, visible “331” is the tax-included price. It converts to US $2.84.

    A single, slender zucchini will be attentively wrapped the same way and costs about the same–well, it’s usually closer to 310 yen, but same difference. Of course, having grown up in a part of PA that was slowly going from rural to suburban/edge-city, I spent the first twenty years of my life thinking of zucchini and rhubarb as things you paid other people to take off your hands. You know, late summer and early fall are when bags of zucchini play Chinese fire drill. Everyone with a vegetable garden has too many, all the kids in the county are threatening to run away from home if Mom forces one more slice of zucchini bread on them, everyone eats more spaghetti than usual because you can cut the tomato sauce with a lot of zucchini puree before anyone notices. The rhubarb situation is never quite as bad, but every household seems to have at least one resident who flat-out refuses to eat anything with rhubarb, and most people don’t want to eat stewed fruit that often, so it still takes a while to eat down the surplus.

    All of which is to say, I’m sitting here with my rhubarb on household chore day and thinking, Sheesh! $7.50/lb. This had better be a damned good pie…I mean, largish tart, which is what I have enough for.

    And the summer fruits here, while good, don’t measure up to the nectarines, peaches, and plums we got at the farmers’ market when I was little. That doesn’t make the quality worse, necessarily; I just find Japanese peaches a bit on the perfumy side in taste.

    Of course, living in Japan has its compensating pleasures. Figs don’t seem to have caught on much in America, but in season, they’re available at every supermarket and fruit stand here. And Japanese persimmons, while a shock to the palate if you bite into one expecting it to taste like the persimmons of the American South, are one of the joys of fall once your tastes adjust. You see them ripening on the trees, and the wind suddenly feels a bit cooler and lonelier, and you know summer’s ending.

    Given the kiln that is Tokyo during July and August, I’d welcome that feeling right about now, actually. Well, after I thoroughly enjoy my rhubarb.

    Added at 17:40: Of course, you can’t always be sure where your broccoli came from, among other potential pitfalls of produce-buying.

    The curse of living (abroad) in interesting times

    Posted by Sean at 15:03, July 24th, 2004

    CNN’s Atika Schubert is now doing a feature on Democrats Abroad Japan, which appears to be making big-time recruiting efforts among us resident US citizens here. I guess no one told me because I’m already a registered Democrat from a swing state…although, come to think of it, you’d imagine that would make them pretty eager for me to get an absentee ballot and actually vote on party lines. Not that I‘m eager for anyone to come after me, or anything.

    Anyway, Terry McMillan (to whom I know I, like you I’m sure, turn for expert political and moral authority whenever feasible) is here and espousing people power. Some upwardly mobile-looking guy says Bush is going down. Not surprising at a recruiting session for Democrats.

    But all this makes me wonder what the distribution of political affiliations among expats here really is. And then there’s the question of what the Japanese think of the War on Terrorism. My acquaintances are not a scientific sample of the population, and I don’t necessarily see every poll, but I do know that the Japanese I know are divided over the morality of the war in Iraq and, especially, over whether Japan should have sent SDF troops even in a non-combat capacity. However, “divided” means “divided,” not “uniformly outraged at America’s blatant and hubristical empire-building.” In the days after 9/11, I got dozens of messages from Japanese friends expressing deep, formal sympathy for America and saying things like, “You must be ready to kill! I hope your government takes revenge quickly.” Many of those same people are now skeptical of whether the US government is managing the occupation well and preventing abuses of authority in its own ranks. But I know of very few (except some with degrees from major American universities) who take the full-on “America has squandered the goodwill of the world” line.

    In the meantime, the GOP is also, according to CNN, going to be stepping up its recruitment efforts. Wonder which best-selling novelist they‘ll bring to rouse interest!