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    She thinks she’s Brenda Starr

    Posted by Sean at 04:08, October 20th, 2006

    I hesitate to link yet another post of Eric’s, lest it appear that he has ties to The Scourge of International Homoism, Expats in Japan chapter; but as usual, he has one of the more sane takes on a topic that everyone’s nattering about at the moment:

    I think that most American voters (even the 70% who oppose gay marriage) take a dim view of persecuting homosexuals by invading their privacy. Homosexual witch hunts should have died with McCarthy, and the reasoning behind reviving them in the current political context is so convoluted that it would make sense only to a bigot.

    I’m not saying that the Republican Party is free of bigotry, because it isn’t. But if the activists keep this stuff up and ordinary voters find out about it (I’m not sure whether they have) pretty soon someone’s going to ask which party has more bigots.

    Ann Althouse makes sense, too:

    I think aggressive characters like our “lefty blogger” think that uncovering gay Republicans will disgust social conservatives and change their voting behavior. […] But, honestly, I think these creepy, gleeful efforts at outing will only make social conservatives more conservative, and they will continue to look to the Republican party to serve their needs.

    The truly bizarre contention one occasionally hears is that somehow this will all contribute to making it easier for gays to come out of the closet. The more gays outed, the more out gays there are, and the less isolated and fringe-y we seem…or something. The problem, besides the ethical infraction of invading people’s privacy, is that the tone is all wrong. The petty vindictiveness on display is of a kind that most people associate more with a junior high school girls’ locker room than with adults making serious arguments about social policy. It gives social conservatives more reason to think of gays as suffering from arrested development and poisons the atmosphere for gays thinking about whether now would be a good time to come out. Brill.


    Posted by Sean at 00:46, October 16th, 2006

    I’m not nearly the science geek that this guy is, but I still greeted this site like a long-lost friend when a commenter at Hit & Run linked to it. Atsushi’s home for the weekend, and we went to see the Lille Museum of Modern Art exhibition at Bunkamura. Then tea at Wedgwood. Tie shopping, scone shopping.

    Anyway, all the preciousness was threatening to suffocate us, so we decided to compensate with a Lite, brain-cell-eating DVD with pizza for dinner: The Core , which I’m pretty sure I saw on an airplane once. And lo, it is a thing of Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics beauty. I have to say, I don’t mind implausible scientific stuff when it’s skated over quickly and used to fuel fantasy that’s genuinely entertaining or to ask interesting questions about human nature. (My inner lit. major is much more annoyed by Insultingly Stupid Out-of-Character Movie Behavior for Cheap Plot Compliance, which is too massively indulged in by Hollywood to be done justice by a single website.) But lazy internal inconsistency of any kind is annoying. Using the tremendous pressure inside the mantle as an explicit reason something or other is impossible at one point and then expecting us to believe, a half-hour later, in a giant amethyst-lined cave in the mantle in which people in space suits can gambol around freely–that’s unforgivable. Two of the chief science-geek types in The Core also seem to think that one is a prime number, unless I misheard.

    Speaking of video art that leaves me cold…yeah, I’ve seen the video for “Jump,” the new Madonna single and my favorite song on the most recent album. I kind of like the way her outfit and dancing recall “Lucky Star,” but she has to get over this idea that simply intercutting shots of her with those of significantly younger and more agile dancers will camouflage the fact that she’s getting older. Also, while “free running” may be a phenomenon, it’s not exactly interesting to watch…especially since the video is set in Tokyo. The footage for the first jumps, before Madonna begins singing, was filmed right in the same neighborhood as my office, and one thing I will say is that it portrays Tokyo the way it actually looks when you’re here: grey and brown and full of gnarled power and telephone lines.


    Posted by Sean at 01:40, October 13th, 2006

    It’s still not clear what the UNSC statement on the DPRK’s nuclear test will say, but here in Japan, the Abe government has voted to suspend imports and port entrances from DPRK vessels:

    At a 13 October cabinet meeting, the goverment came to a decision to institute an embargo on imports of all goods from North Korea and prohibit vessels with North Korean registration from entering Japanese ports, as independent sanctions [that is, not in cooperation with the UN or another country–SRK] against the DPRK, which announced that it has conducted a nuclear test. The measures will go into effect at midnight on 14 October and are set to expire in six months.

    Imports from the DPRK consist mostly of agricultural and marine products such as matsutake mushrooms and clams; their total value in 2005 was ¥137 trillion.

    DPRK passport holders have been banned from entering Japan since the middle of this week; permanent residents of Japan who happen to be of North Korean extraction aren’t affected.

    And BTW, for those following the possible evolution of the SDF into a recognized full, standing armed force, Japan may assist the US in freighter inspections:

    The government has entered into discussions over providing support and port access to U.S. forces in an effort to assist in the inspection of North Korean freighters, if the U.N. Security Council adopts a resolution to impose sanctions on North Korea, government sources said Thursday.

    Although the government remains cautious over the Self-Defense Forces participating in the inspection of ships, a role supporting U.S. forces’ inspection of North Korean ships would be covered by the law concerning Self-Defense Forces operations to assist U.S. forces during emergencies.

    The related ministries, agencies and local authorities are expected to begin making arrangements in parallel with the discussions between the central government and the U.S. military, which have already begun.

    This would mark the first application of the law since it was enacted in 1999.

    The DPRK has reacted to the threat of across-the-board sanctions by stating that it will regard them as (what else?) a declaration of war.

    Everybody out

    Posted by Sean at 05:27, October 10th, 2006

    Joe and I disagree over outing, but his approach is measured and thoughtful, and he’s capable of discussing the issue without going into hysterics of the those-bitches-deserve-to-FRYYYYYYYY! variety.

    This is how he’s put it most recently:

    Similarly, it’s time we all stop buying in to the “straight person assumption” and with it the whole notion of “outing” as a violation of privacy. Let’s recognize that the damage done by a life lived in the closet is harmful to all of us.

    Joe approvingly links to Louis Bayard, who wrote this in Salon.com:

    But I do believe that every man or woman who courts public office must be held to some public standard of honesty–of coherence.

    The decision to come out is personal. So is the decision to run for office. Why should the second choice be privileged over the first? Why should homosexuality be privileged over heterosexuality? Why should a same-sex partner (Foley has apparently had one for many years) be any less a subject of discussion than a wife or husband?

    Perhaps I’m just too cynical; or perhaps that second paragraph is really as bafflingly illogical as I think it is. Politicians tend to trot out their families while campaigning because they help their image and make them more electable; mouthy, socially inept wives and bratty children have been the bane of campaign managers for generations. Being openly gay is still a great way to make yourself unelectable in many districts. If both partners agree to keep their relationship secret (or at least not to make an issue of it) or an unattached gay candidate just doesn’t discuss his or her dating habits, I can’t see where the lack of “coherence” is.

    Besides, if we move from theory to practice, we need to decide who has the power to determine who deserves to be outed; and as is so often the case, those most eager to play Enforcer are those whom we can least trust to exercise prudence. It’s all very well to say that being a practicing homosexual while supporting anti-gay policies is hypocritical, but it simply isn’t true that all of us can agree on what’s “anti-gay.” I’ve been out for a decade, but I’m against hate crimes laws and gay marriage as it’s currently being campaigned for, and I just do not concede that that’s hypocritical.

    Do gays in powerful positions who live closeted lives hurt the rest of us–I mean, in some intrinsic sense by not contributing to the visibility of gays as ordinary citizens? You can make a case that they do. But there are lots of private decisions that hurt other people. Parents who don’t teach their children manners cause harm to the children themselves and, conceivably, to everyone who encounters them for the rest of their lives; even so, we don’t take kids away from their parents unless there’s serious and immediate harm being done. It’s a plain fact of life that we can’t always intervene in people’s lives to stop them from doing things we disapprove of. We can only shun them or try to persuade them to change their behavior.

    Added later: Eric has another post about the outing angle, to which Connie has added a comment. Surprise! I think they’re both worth reading. Eric:

    For those who didn’t grow up in a gay ghetto, sodomy laws existed until fairly recently in a number of states, and while they weren’t enforced, they reflect a tradition which was once mainstream. To deny this is to deny reality as well as history. Times were changing gradually, but the “old guard” still exists, and it fought hard to keep the sodomy laws in the minority of states which still had them. For the most part, this old guard has to content itself by spearheading opposition to same sex marriage.

    While that’s what leads gay activists to denounce opposition to same sex marriage as “bigotry,” the fact that 70% of the public (including the leadership of the Democratic Party) also think the country is not ready for same sex marriage seems to receive less attention.

    However, admitting opposition to same sex marriage, mainstream though it is, is these days an easier way to be called a bigot than voicing opposition to affirmative action.

    The result of all this is that homosexuality remains the sensitive topic it has always been. A new taboo has quickly arisen to replace an old taboo.

    Too many gays and supporters of gays take an approach to “debate” that involves deliberately raising homosexuality as an issue and then flipping out on people who actually say what they deeply believe and feel about it. One would think the hazards of such an approach would be obvious: people who feel baited tend to tune out and assume their interlocutors are incapable of winning an argument without stacking the deck. I sometimes wonder whether there are people who remain closeted simply because the effort to demonstrate that they don’t have the approve-of-me-or-else attitude that the public faces of gayness so often project is just too exhausting.

    Added still later: This via Michael:

    Middlebury College is this year for the first time giving students who identify themselves as gay in the admissions process an “attribute” — the same flagging of an application that members of ethnic minority groups, athletes, alumni children and others receive, according to Shawn Rae Passalacqua, assistant director of admissions at Middlebury. His announcement surprised many of those who attended the session, and who said that they had never heard of a college having such a policy. (Officials of the Point Foundation, a group that provides scholarships to gay students, especially those denied financial support from their families, said that they had never heard of such a policy.)

    Passalacqua said that gay students bring “a unique quality” to the college, which he said tries hard not “to be too homogeneous.” Of 6,200 applications last year, 5 students noted their gay identities in their application essays and another 50-plus applicants cited their membership in gay-straight alliances. Passalacaqua said that Middlebury admissions officers were also likely to look favorably and give an admissions tip to “straight allies” of gay students — not just out of support for that view, but because a college benefits from having people who are “bridge builders.”

    Yeah, because, you know, if there’s one place in America it’s difficult to find gay youths, it’s the hoity-toity universities and liberal arts colleges. As Michael says, “In my opinion, [a measure such as this] will do nothing more than lend credence to the cries of the far Right that we’re demanding special treatment.” He was too diplomatic to point out the disgusting condescension involved in talking about gay students as the spice that gets stirred in with the Normal People to keep the place from being too homogeneous. Or in giving points to straight students who play the “some of my best friends are gay!” card. (The scholarship, on the other hand, strikes me as a nice idea.)

    On edge

    Posted by Sean at 02:16, October 10th, 2006

    WTF? The US Embassy here in Tokyo sent out a notice to those of us on the mailing list to say that the DPRK’s reported nuclear test does not mean that American citizens are at risk in Japan at the moment. Also, the embassy is operating normally.

    Can someone give these people a shot of brandy? We’re talking about a single test. An important test. A scary test. A test with a lot of implications for regional and global politics. But a test. There’s no indication that North Korea has even one deployable nuclear missile, let alone that it’s aimed at Japan. I understand the need for caution, but assuring us that the embassy is still open for business seems so…flighty. It makes me wonder whether hysterical expats have been calling and asking whether they need to fly back home. Surely not?

    Added later: Okay, I’m a little bit less edgy myself after having dealt with my e-mail backlog. When I went back and reread the message more carefully, I realized it was referring to “health risks”–presumably from the radioactive material that might have been released by the nuclear detonation. That makes a certain amount of sense: yellow dust that drifts over from Chinese industrial cities is a big problem in South Korea and parts of Japan.

    DPRK nuclear test safe and successful, says DPRK

    Posted by Sean at 02:06, October 9th, 2006

    Ready to spaz? Okay, good.

    The DPRK’s central news agency is reporting that its nuclear experiments have been resumed and that it’s successfully conducted an implosion test on weapons-grade plutonium:

    On 9 October, North Korea announced through the KCNA, that it had conducted a nuclear experiment. It appears that the goal was to push through the test on the day before North Korea’s Korean Workers Party’s Founding Day [whatever that is in English–SRK] and make a display of the power of the Kim Jong-il regime. “Our scientific research division has conducted underground nuclear experimentation safely and successfully,” the report states. It also says, “In these experiments, which were conducted using scientific and meticulous calculations, it was confirmed that there was no danger at all from radiation leakage.”

    Pyongyang apparently sent word to Beijing less than a half-hour before the test was conducted. There’s no substantive reaction from the government here yet.

    The timing, especially, throws a wrench into the works because Prime Minister Abe met with PRC President Hu Jintao over the weekend:

    During the meeting, Abe urged the Chinese leaders to cooperate with Japan to stop Pyongyang from carrying out the nuclear test. The Chinese side responded that Beijing would pressure Pyongyang to refrain from the test.

    As to Pyongyang’s nuclear test plan, Abe told Hu, “It is a serious threat to peace and security in the international community and Japan will never tolerate it.”

    This was Abe’s first visit abroad as head of state; that he went to China and not the US is significant. That Japan-PRC relations may thaw, because Hu is willing to give Abe the benefit of the doubt about the Yasukuni Shrine, doubtless worries the DPRK because it needs to maintain its position by playing other parties off each other. It will be interesting to see Beijing’s reaction to the announcement, which I haven’t heard reported yet.

    You just can’t get good help these days

    Posted by Sean at 01:43, October 8th, 2006

    Question: How is it that the best PR strategists, brand managers, event planners, and visual merchandisers the world over are gay…while top jobs at gay PACs attract people who are so irredeemably incompetent at image management?

    I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this whole thing about “The List” (via Eric), but it’s looking more and more like (surprise!) a strategy by lefty gay groups to show the rest of America how readily queers are willing to turn on each other for cheap, short-term political expediency. Way to show gay youths who are just coming out that they’re taking their place in a community in which people value forthrightness, respect individual choice, and stand up for each other, guys. The clear ethical infraction of exposing people’s private lives without their permission is bad enough, but the sheer self-defeating idiocy on display here is almost too much to stand.


    Posted by Sean at 00:50, October 8th, 2006

    Prime Minister Abe is headed to China and Korea for state visits:

    Just before taking off, Prime Minister Abe spoke to the press corps at Haneda Airport about the issue of Japan’s acknowledgement of its history, stating emphatically, “We will act based on humble reflection on the past. I would like to make that the basis of my discussions [with the PRC and ROK] and look toward the future.” On the Yasukuni Shrine issue, he stated, “I want to explain that most successive Prime Ministers paid their respects to those who died for their country and that we have made our pilgrimages in a spirit of seeking peace.”

    Well, since that’s the way the issue’s been “explained” to the rest of East Asia for years now, I’m not sure what’s supposed to make it more persuasive this time–especially since it’s now going to be coming a from a known nationalist and apologist for Japan’s wartime conduct.

    Of course, in that vein, Abe is already maneuvering himself into a public position of greater neutrality:

    Abe was asked by Naoto Kan of opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) his views on a statement issued by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on Aug. 15, 1995, marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, in which the government expressed remorse for its military actions during the conflict.

    “I have no plans of creating a new statement that would rewrite what the 1995 statement said,” Abe said. “That statement was approved by the then Cabinet so it still lives on with my Cabinet.” Abe also said that he, as prime minister, and the Cabinet had inherited a 1993 statement issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on the “comfort women” issue.

    Not all his equivocations are politically advantageous:

    In a typical Diet exchange Wednesday, Japanese Communist Party lawmaker Tadayoshi Ichida asked Abe about his thoughts on the view of history portrayed at Yasukuni Shrine. “Are you of the opinion that World War II was a war of justice seeking liberation of Asia, as has been argued by Yasukuni Shrine?” Ichida asked.

    Abe responded, “While I do not know if Yasukuni Shrine holds to the position that you have just stated, politicians should be humble when talking about the pros and cons of specific views of history.”

    A stunned JCP leader Kazuo Shii said Abe’s understanding of history issues was even more unfathomable than the views expressed by his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi.

    “(Abe) did not even say that the stance of his government was different from that of Yasukuni,” Shii noted.

    Of course, Abe doesn’t have to worry much about making the Japan Communist Party happy; it’s the PRC that’s going to be difficult to mollify. Not that (back to the Nikkei piece) Japan is the only neighbor it’s irritated with:

    In connection with the DPRK’s declaration that it will conduct nuclear experiments, [Abe] indicated that he “want[s] to speak frankly with the Chinese and Korean leaders about the situation. We have to send a message that if North Korea does not stop its nuclear experiments it will be isolated from the international community.”

    The Abe cabinet has its work cut out for it on military matters. As predicted, it’s looking into thinking about Article 9 and how Japan needs to adapt to new realities, including the possibility of collective liberation self-defense missions:

    The government’s interpretation is that Japan has the right of collective self-defense, but cannot exercise it.

    Shiozaki’s remark indicated that the government intends to change the conventional interpretation of the right, though it will limit the number of cases in which the right of collective self-defense could be applied.

    Shiozaki said: “The security situation in the world is changing, and Japan is urged to make efforts to make the Japan-U.S. alliance work properly. The prime minister’s policy on the right of collective self-defense is to again discuss whether the conventional interpretation of the right by the Cabinet Legislation Bureau is appropriate in all cases.

    New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, has agreed to studies concerning the right of collective self-defense, but has strongly opposed changing the interpretation to allow the government to exercise the collective self-defense right.

    What’s mildly alarming about this article is that it mentions interpretation rather than amendment of the constitution. I certainly hope that’s not the direction the Abe government plans to pursue. (It wasn’t before he was elected.) Interpreting the constitution to mean whatever the current government wants it to mean strikes me as an unwise precedent. I’d much rather see a straightforward amendment.


    Posted by Sean at 00:53, October 6th, 2006

    Japan has its own brewing debate over organ transplantation and how donors and recipients are permitted to find each other. The irritant was this story, which broke a week ago:

    Police are seeking to establish a criminal case against an organ donor believed to have collaborated in an illegal kidney transplant for cash.

    The 59-year-old female donor posed as a concerned relative of the recipient, Suzuo Yamashita, 59, a fisheries company executive who underwent the transplant at Uwajima Tokushukai Hospital in September 2005, police said.

    A third person in the case, Tomoko Matsushita, Yamashita’s 59-year-old common-law wife, is believed to have acted as a mediator in the illegal transplant.

    Yamashita and Matsushita were arrested Sunday on suspicion of paying money for the donor’s kidney. Matsushita is also suspected of brokering the transaction.

    Unsurprisingly, that case appears to be part of a pattern:

    A number of cases have been discovered in which patients in need of kidney transplants have falsified their relationship with donors to meet the ethical guidelines of the Japan Society for Transplantation, which approves organ transplants between patients and their relatives.

    As the case followed on the heels of another in which a patient married a donor to meet the society’s guidelines for transplant, a number of hospitals have set stricter regulations than those of the society to prevent similar incidents.

    One of the Nikkei‘s editorials this morning blames hospitals for not running thorough enough checks:

    The hospital and doctors have explained that, once they learned that the sale of an organ [was being conducted], they did not perform the surgery. But doubts remain whether they really had no sense whatever that money was changing hands. Doctors state that their hospital has performed 82 transplants of kidneys from live donors–and this was the single case in which the sale of an organ was involved? Because this case came about through slipshod verification of the donor’s identity, it will be necessary to investigate whether the sale of organs took place in other cases.

    Organ transplantation is, fundamentally, performed with organs from cadavers; live donorship is considered a last resort. This is because extracting an organ from a healthy person is invasive and therefore not considered optimal. However, in cases of liver or kidney transplants, transplant surgeons rely mostly on live donors. This is because even since the Organ Transplantation Law, which went into effect in 1997, permitted the use of organs from brain-dead donors, there has been a chronic shortage of donated organs. It is clear that this new emphasis on live donorship has been an invitation to the sale of organs.

    Well, if you think the brokering of organs isn’t happening in Japan, you’re probably in need of a brain transplant from a live donor. Back-room dealing is the rule here in plenty of sectors, but health care, with its weird bottlenecks and thickets of rules, is practically begging for it. The Japanese system is great at maintaining a high average life expectancy; but individual experiences with major problems are notoriously uneven, and plain white envelopes full of money are frequently used to smooth the way by those who can afford it. (They often go to the doctors themselves.)

    Note, too, that any organs donated by live friends are considered suspect and must be approved by a board; it’s not just strangers, but any non-relatives, who should raise the legal alarm. Virginia Postrel has been blogging about the ethics of selling organs for a few months, since she donated a kidney to psychiatrist and journalist Sally Satel. Her latest post on the subject mentions that hospitals in the States are now being less skittish about donors and recipients who hook up on the Internet; but IIRC, an organ donation from a compatible friend has never been a real problem in most cases.

    DPRK flirts with UNSC finger-wagging, capitalism

    Posted by Sean at 00:53, October 5th, 2006

    Japan and the US are presenting a united front in threatening economic sanctions if the DPRK resumes nuclear development:

    Deputy Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Shotaro Taniuchi, now visiting the United States, met with Undersecretary (for Political Affairs) of State Burns at the State Department on 4 October. The two agreed on an approach, in the case of stepped-up nuclear experiments by North Korea, that would involve responding with a proposal for the adoption of restraints through the United Nations Security Council based on Article 7 of the United Nations charter.

    What they appear to be seeking is not full-on sanctions (as 制裁 is normally used to mean) but a warning–the usual approach of shoring up the North’s ego by making it feel important enough to alarm the great powers in the hopes that it will be mollified into backing off.

    BTW, the Asahi English site had this very interesting report about a tentative joint manufacturing project between the DPRK and ROK:

    But one recent incident suggests that the fledgling capitalist project may have much more far-reaching repercussions for the totalitarian society than either side envisions.

    It started when one of the South Korean firms that runs a factory at Kaesong asked its North Korean employees to work weekends. The workers’ leader expressed his opposition, arguing that the employees needed weekends to rest.

    But then the employees themselves spoke up and demanded to work weekends.

    “Who on Earth will enable us to make money to live?” said one. “We want to work more.”

    Their leader continued to be reluctant to get the go-ahead from Pyongyang. But the workers wouldn’t give up. If their leaders would not speak on their behalf, they would get permission from the government themselves.

    The flare-up speaks volumes about the poverty in which North Koreans live. But it also shows the powerful lure of capitalism in a country whose ruling Workers’ Party declares itself committed to fighting it tooth and nail.

    Kaesong may be funneling money straight to the North Korean government, but there are hints that North Koreans will not want to relinquish what little capitalism they have been given now that they have been given a taste of purchasing power.

    The US doesn’t like the joint venture, which it alleges (not implausibly) is providing money for the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program. It does seem to me, though, that the best chance of effecting change in the North Korean state is for enough of its citizens to see how much more prosperity even a modicum of economic liberalization can bring. Of course, it’s necessarily providing money for the current regime; but you have to start somewhere.

    I also liked this part:

    A unique “incentive system” has also sprung up in Kaesong. The Pyongyang administration forbids wage hikes, arguing that low pay is the complex’s competitive strength. So instead, employers use things like instant cup noodles, desserts, meat, fabric and small home appliances to keep their workers motivated.

    That’s unique? It sounds exactly like the methods American employers developed to get around high taxes by providing perquisites instead of pay. And in any case, isn’t the money for the cup noodles and appliances coming from somewhere–and being reflected in the selling prices of the goods?