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    Posted by Sean at 08:03, March 8th, 2006

    Attention to this is long overdue:

    The Financial Services Agency has firmed up a new policy direction that will strengthen regulations on “excessive loans,” those loans that exceed the borrower’s ability to repay. The goal is to address a current [financial] reality in which the piling on of debts has ushered in such serious social problems as personal bankruptcy and suicide. The toughened regulations are intended to put the brakes on loans that result in debtors’ having their houses seized and losing the means to live and to prohibit excessive requirements from loan guarantors. The FSA intends to eradicate “grey area interest,” interest currently not subject to punishment even though it exceeds the [limit imposed by] the Interest Rate Restriction Law. In addition to improving oversight, the idea is to crack down on “excessive lending” by the loan industry.

    The English version has just about as much detail as the original Japanese, though the order of facts is scrambled. I doubt that the solution lies in more restrictions on interest rates, usurious though they frequently are in Japan. The main problem here is more often out and out fraud, with unscrupulous lenders approving loans that they know borrowers will never be able to pay off. Requiring the sara-kin to put the results of their background checks on potential borrowers in writing sounds like a good first step, assuming the borrowers know what they’re looking at and the regulators assigned actually check what they’re supposed to be checking.

    No, it can’t

    Posted by Sean at 09:08, March 6th, 2006

    Brokeback Heap-o-Hype may not have won Best Picture, but its inevitable bunny parody is up (via Ghost of a Flea).

    It was plain to see / That the lady was loveblind

    Posted by Sean at 02:04, March 6th, 2006

    Richard Rosendall’s newest column posted to IGF is on the verbose and meandering side, but he outlines the strategic problems in the current push for gay marriage or civil unions pretty well. One passage that puzzles me, as things like this always do:

    Being in love, I sympathize with those who are unwilling to wait for a more conducive political climate. Unfortunately, wanting equality now does not make it so, any more than demanding my two-minute egg instantaneously will make it cook any faster. But while we remind our compatriots that our struggle is a long-term one, we must deal with the reality that some gay people will ignore us and go charging off making messes that the rest of us will have to deal with.

    Not just the rest of us, though–those who come after, too. After all, that’s what makes the “long-term” part important. The problem, to extend Rosendall’s metaphor, is not just whether we get our eggs as fast as we’d like but whether it ends up that gays who come up in future generations get any eggs at all.

    And that very first participial phrase suggests that Rosendall is also not attuned to one of the other crucial dividing lines in this debate: those who see public policy in the role of validating love and conferring dignity on people vs. those who simply want the government to get out of the way while they arrange to take care of each other.

    The latter consideration is important enough. Last month, after the New York state legislature voted to allow people to make burial decisions for their domestic partners, Ex-Gay Watch posted about this astonishing bit of argument through cheap expediency by Robert Knight of Concerned Women for America:

    “Family has been given preference for a reason,” says the pro-family leader. “And to say that grieving parents, for instance, just have no rights over what happens to their child’s body is a perversion of the law.”

    Interesting. I assume that if a single woman brought up in a Muslim (or Wiccan, or atheist) family converted to Christianity and then formally designated someone she trusted in her new congregation to take care of her body, CWF would say that the law should allow her parents to give her a non-Christian burial anyway?

    The fact is that our country wouldn’t even exist if men and women of principle had not been willing to leave behind traditions of their elders that they could not in good conscience agree with. It’s a shame that estrangement within families sometimes happens, but it’s a fact of life in free societies for plenty of reasons besides homosexuality. While we can all agree that community living involves duties, the idea that an adult’s registered instructions regarding the disposal of his or her own body should be overridden as a sop to his weeping relatives should be chilling to anyone who professes to prize liberty.

    Speaking of sentiment, framing the discussion about marriage or civil unions in terms of how much we loooooovvvvve one another only invites people to think of the issue in terms of feelings. Does it still need to be pointed out that most people’s feelings about homosexuality are ambivalent at best? Even gay marriage advocates who have meatier arguments about rights and responsibilities to make frequently slip into lugubrious pronouncements about needing marriage for “validation.”

    All that notwithstanding, Rosendall’s essential point is sound: On the gay side, we need to look for ways to give each other a fair hearing and find points to cooperate on, even as we acknolwedge that, in a free society, gay advocacy is never going to be “unified.”


    Posted by Sean at 00:39, March 6th, 2006

    There was a demonstration over the weekend against the transfer of current Futenma base facilities to another location in Okinawa:

    More than 30,000 people rallied in Japan’s southern Okinawa island Sunday against plans to relocate a U.S. air base to another area on the island, demanding that the facility be moved outside the country, a news report said.

    Organizers said an estimated 35,000 people participated in the two-hour rally in the city of Ginowan, site of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station, Kyodo News agency said.

    “The city of Ginowan strongly demands that Futenma … be shut down immediately and relocated outside of Japan,” Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha was quoted by Kyodo as saying.

    The plan to move the base–agreed to by Tokyo and Washington in October–also calls for the transfer of 7,000 Marines from Okinawa over six years to the U.S. territory Guam and the shifting of some operations to other cities on Japan’s main islands.

    Okinawa is Japan’s poorest prefecture, and areas surrounding US military installations there (well, and elsewhere, too, but especially in Okinawa) tend to have a love-hate relationship with the bases. Our personnel create entire economies that would disappear if they left; on the other hand, entertainment districts that cater to servicemen have higher incidences of street crime than do surrounding areas, and when there are off-base accidents (as in the crash of a helicopter in Okinawa a few years ago) military commanders can come off high-handed. While I support our military policy, obviously, when it comes to specific accusations of misconduct, it can be difficult to know whom to sympathize with.

    Speaking of Okinawa-related characters of dubitable sympathy, I can only assume the translator who came up with the first paragraph of this piece for the Yomiuri was laughing so hard he or she could barely type:

    Technical Councillor Mamoru Ikezawa, the former third most senior official at the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, was aware of the agency’s illegal bid-rigging practices, but was unable to stop them–and ended up playing a leading role.

    According to informed sources, Ikezawa told agency colleagues that he would put a stop to “illegal practices.” This was an apparent reference to agency projects that included the relocation of facilities of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

    Ikezawa, 57, and two other agency officials were arrested in late January and have since been indicted on suspicion of rigging air-conditioning project bids.

    Late last month, prosecutors served the three with fresh arrest warrants on suspicion they organized rigged bids for projects at U.S. bases in Yamaguchi and Nagasaki prefectures.

    Ikezawa is suspected of putting a higher priority on amakudari–wherein retiring government officials get jobs with private firms or public-service corporations in sectors related to their previous occupations–than on putting an end to bid-rigging.

    “Ended up playing a leading role”? Well, yes, I suppose it’s safe to say that means he “was unable to stop them.” I don’t see any reason to doubt that he was sincere enough about his desire to put a stop to collusion and amakudari. However, he made his choice, and I don’t see what point there is to the it’s-the-thought-that-counts qualifications now. (The Japanese version of the article, which doesn’t contain much more information than the English version, is here.)

    Clean burning

    Posted by Sean at 22:52, March 5th, 2006

    It’s been a while since there was much news about the disputed East China Sea gas fields, but another round of talks begins today:

    At the third round of talks, Japan proposed joint development of gas fields at four locations that straddle the midline boundary [between Japan and PRC territories] and run along a fossil fuel vein, including the Shungyo field. China continues in its stance of not recognizing the midline as the boundary and, in addition, has taken the position that the Shungyo field is in “non-disputed waters” (in the words of the Foreign Minister) on the western side of the midline and that resources there are China’s.

    All kinds of progress, huh? The Asahi has an English report that’s already much more detailed, though of course no specifics have emerged yet from this fourth round of talks. The new talks are in no small part the work of the new Minister of Trade, Economy, and Industry:

    Since succeeding Shoichi Nakagawa as trade minister in October, Nikai has taken a more conciliatory stance.

    Nakagawa had attempted to pressure China by granting test drilling rights over the disputed East China Sea gas fields to a private Japanese firm.

    Nikai argued that even if the rights were granted, private companies would not be able to do any work if China maintained a confrontational stance.

    Nikai’s repeated calls for more talks apparently convinced China that compromise is possible.

    China finished laying a pipeline from Chunxiao [I’m calling it “shungyo,” the Japanized pronunciation for 春暁, though the Japanese name is supposed to be “shirakawa”.–SRK] to the Chinese mainland in October. Experts thought China was about to start production, but there has been no noticeable work since then. Government sources say China has likely halted operations temporarily to save face for Nikai.

    So the consensus, such as there is, seems to be that this particular round of talks will accomplish demonstrations of goodwill but no actual progress on exploration and drilling policy. Next time, maybe?


    Posted by Sean at 09:42, March 5th, 2006

    Whew. Fever-pitch week. Friend whose boyfriend dumped him a few weeks ago decided to break Rule #1. He–not making this up, guys–showed up at our hang-out looking for my friend. Found him. Proceeded to tell him, “You know our friendship is very important to me.”

    “It’s not that I don’t care about you–you know that, too, right?”

    “I miss having you around.”

    “You have no idea how hard it was for me to break up with you.”

    You can imagine the rest. I showed up about halfway through this particular scene and took a post on the opposite side of the bar until it became clear that it was Intervention Time. I put on my best clueless-American-being-heartily-friendly act and wandered over. “Evan! [blink-blink] Have you been here the whole time? I just got here ten minutes ago.” I gave him the chance to give me the look that says, “Now isn’t a good time” and got the look that says, “Help!” Luckily, he’s a strong-minded guy, so he just needed an hour or two of being listened to. I still entered the weekend kind of drained.

    Luckily, Atsushi was here, which always improves things. When we went out for dinner last night, we were, purely by chance, given a private room at the restaurant. That was not only nice but also useful, since when the waiter brought our lamb ribs, he deposited moist handtowels next to the plates and said, in that gravely expressionless waiter voice, “To enjoy it to the last morsel, you’ll have to pick up the bones and eat the meat off them.” So Atsushi and I got to sit on opposite sides of a table and watch each other hungrily sucking meat off bones. Put me in a very…you know…primal mood.

    Speaking of primal–or rather, atavistic–I also polished off While Europe Slept . Yet another reason to be glad Atsushi was nearby, since reading deeply disturbing stuff like that is always easier when your man is reassuringly at the other end of the sofa. And it was disturbing, though a lot of the reportorial details are familiar if you’ve been paying attention to the news over the last several years. Some passages also seem to be adapted from this essay of Bruce Bawer’s a while back (not that that’s a problem). In a way, the flat-out atrocities and terrorist acts weren’t as rattling as, say, this passage on p. 57, which made me snarf my Earl Grey:

    In many Western European countries, indeed, some laws are different for natives than for immigrants. For native Swedes, the minimum age for marriage is eighteen; for immigrants living in Sweden, there is no minimum. In Germany, an ethnic German who marries someone from outside the EU and wants to bring him to her to Germany must answer a long list of questions about the spouse’s birth date, daily routine, and so forth in order to prove that the marriage is legitimate and not pro forma; such interviews are not required for German residents with, say, Turkish or Pakistani backgrounds, for it is assumed that their marriages have been arranged and that the spouses will therefore know little or nothing about each other.

    I live in a country in which there are different rules for natives and foreigners, but here–quite justifiably, as far as I’m concerned–the laws favor, you know, the natives. (I try to hold out hope that the normally-exacting Bawer is misinterpreting something in the German legal code, but the phrasing he uses neither is ambiguous itself nor seems to refer to the kind of policy that could easily be misrepresented.) Sheesh. (See also this by the Grand Stander.)

    Added on 6 March: My parents and I kind of have an arrangement whereby they treat Atsushi like one of the family but we don’t discuss gay stuff head-on. I’m amused, though, by the way their Christmas present to him always manages to seem subliminally racy. Here’s this year’s:


    Yes, yes, “Intercourse, PA” is a cheap schoolboy joke. But still, my parents live at the edge of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Every town significant enough to have a crossroads has some little collective of farms that makes jelly and relishes. There’s nothing easier than NOT choosing the ones made in, of all places, Intercourse.

    Of course, my thinking is probably affected by last year. This was what arrived for Atsushi for Christmas 2004:


    As I said at the time, to the extent that I could form words while laughing, “I would call this a coded message of approval for our relationship, but I’m guessing there wasn’t quite that much subtext intended.”

    If I had met you on some journey

    Posted by Sean at 14:11, March 3rd, 2006

    As Michael says, The Onion knows exactly what it’s doing…only…every straight man I’ve ever encountered has finished the sentence “If I were a gay man…” with “…dude, I would so totally HAVE SEX ALL THE TIME.” I feel the omission of that particular soul cry lends a false note to the proceedings.

    But the article, now a few years old, is still hilarious.

    To switch to the comfortably out, Atsushi comes home for the weekend tomorrow. Since I have the day off and have the time to prepare something, I was going to ask him what he wanted for brunch, but I know the answer already. His favorite dish is plain broiled chicken–that’s what he always asks for, even when I tell him I’m willing to go to National Azabu to get a turkey for Thanksgiving or try to find a goose for Christmas. I like a man with an appreciation for the austere.

    Well, with pan gravy. Drippy, luscious pan gravy with way too much of the fat from butter.

    Have a good weekend, everyone.

    The tramp still vamps

    Posted by Sean at 23:40, March 2nd, 2006

    Too much time, too little to do!

    No, wait. That’s not it.

    Anyway, quick link to this Open Source radio interview with Camille Paglia about the resignation of Larry Summers from the presidency of Harvard (via Rondi Adamson).

    I haven’t actually heard her speak for a decade or so, so I was interested to hear what she sounded like at fifty-nine. Believe it or not, she’s mellowed. I mean, she talks at a more leisured pace. Of course, you can still tell she’s spent her entire life chatting with artfags–Girlfriend italicizes all her adjectives: everything is “extra-orrrr-dinary!” or “un-pah-latable!” But she actually talks slowly enough that you can digest what she’s saying now. She certainly didn’t the few times I heard her lecture in college, which was part of the fun.

    Even more, I think, than Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bawer, or Jonathan Rauch, Paglia gave me a feeling of assurance–her media fame was skyrocketing on the other side of the city while I was in college–that you could be bookishly gay without being either a picturesquely noble AIDS sufferer or a high-strung spoiled brat. I’m glad she’s still materializing to talk about educational reform and PC perniciousness sometimes, because the problems she was addressing in 1991 are still with us.

    All in a day’s work

    Posted by Sean at 08:12, March 1st, 2006

    So. You know when your copy of Bruce Bawer’s new book has just come from Amazon and you’re all like, Cool! I shall recline languourously on the sofa and drink tea and eat madeleines and read about what happened While Europe Slept , and Life is like, Wait a minute, there–you have people at the OFFICE who are DEPENDING on you to work LATE, and you’re like, Wah! and Life is like, Look, bitch–no GAINFUL without EMPLOYMENT…?

    Yeah, me too.

    I’m sure it’ll be great when I get to it, possibly this weekend when Atsushi’s home again and we can do the tea thing together.

    Of course, excess employment is not everyone’s problem right now. A prominent DPJ member has resigned over the whole e-mail flap:

    Following its admission that what it claimed to be an explosive e-mail was inauthentic, the Democratic Party of Japan announced Tuesday one of its executives had resigned from his post as the party publicly apologized for the accusation made by a party lawmaker about a son of the Liberal Democratic Party’s secretary general.

    DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Yoshihiko Noda resigned Tuesday. He told the party’s executive committee he made the decision to step down from his post in order to take responsibility for giving lawmaker Hisayasu Nagata the green light to make an allegation that turned out to be false and which resulted in a nearly two-week-long dispute that stalled other Diet business.

    Nagata, meanwhile, was suspended from the party for six months. He was also dismissed as vice chairman of the party’s Diet Affairs Committee and director of the House of Representatives Financial Affairs Committee.

    An interesting cultural point is made by DPJ leader Seiji Maehara’s reaction:

    “Though I’ve decided to continue in my position and make a fresh start for the party, somebody must take responsibility so I had to let the Diet affairs chief, whom I trust most, go,” Maehara said.

    At least he stopped short of “This hurts me more than it hurts you, Yoshi-kun.”

    Another resignation that may bode well for us JAL fliers was announced today:

    JAL officially announced on 1 March that JAL Group CED Toshiyuki Shinmachi (63) will accept responsibility for the corporation’s internal conflicts, step down from his post and assume the position of Chairman of the Board, which carries no right to representation; he will be succeeded as president by Haruka Nishimatsu (58). At a press conference, Shinmachi explained the reason for his stepping down: “We must attend to the situation sooner rather than later to recover [the public’s] trust.”

    Nishimatsu said, “The JAL Group is in danger of not surviving. I want to get the board and our employees on the same page in order to recover [the public’s] trust.”

    The Mainichi has an English report here.

    Shinmachi apparently considered pulling a Maehara:

    The president of the holding company of the Japan Airlines (JAL) group, Toshiyuki Shinmachi, is poised to step down to settle internal strife that began after four executives demanded he and two other top executives resign to take responsibility for the company’s poor performance, company officials said.

    Vice President Katsuo Haneda and Senior Managing Director Hidekazu Nishizuka, who had been urged by the four executives to step down, will also leave their positions, while the company will apparently demand that at least one of the four rebel executives resign.

    Shinmachi had initially intended to propose that both of the two top executives and the rebels should be punished to take responsibility for the internal strife while he remained as president for now.

    We’ll see what happens, of course. Luckily this is all anticipatory. Unlike, say, JR West, JAL has lost trust not because of a horrifying fatal accident but because of debate and a series of bad-PR warnings from the JAA and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport.

    Little news from meetings with Iranian foreign minister

    Posted by Sean at 09:08, February 28th, 2006

    The Iranian foreign minister met with Prime Minister Koizumi today:

    On 28 February, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki at the Prime Minister’s residence. About the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, Koizumi stated, “We would like you to do whatever you must to win the trust of the global community,” requesting an immediate cessation of Iran’s experiments with uranium enrichment and activities related to nuclear development. Mottaki responded, “We have a right to the peaceable use of nuclear power” and rejected the idea of ceasing nuclear development.

    LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe, also on 28 February, stated emphatically to a press conference, “We seek Iran’s cessation of uranium enrichment and complete fulfillment of the terms laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board so that it may avoid being isolated from the global community.”

    No surprises, no revelations–as expected. Japan has affirmed that it’s on the side of (blech) the global community, and Iran seems not to have taken Japan’s position as a sign of enmity.

    FWIW, the part I didn’t bother translating states that Speaker of the House Yohei Kono requested that Iran accept the proposal from this weekend for a joint initiative with Russia, whereby the uranium enrichment Iran needs would be attended to there.