• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    It took an hour / Maybe a day

    Posted by Sean at 20:41, December 5th, 2005

    This morning’s trip in proved yet again my Narita Airport Law: k = (time before Narita Express departure that I get a cab)(amount of traffic). I ended up on the platform a half-hour early, playing my usual game of “how long can I go without reading?” in order to avoid exhausting my books and magazines before the twelve-hour flight even begins. It’s a shame Joanne Jacobs’s prose is so brisk and readable; I have this feeling I’ll be done with her book before we’re over Alaska.

    One of the MILDLY ANNOYING things about this trip, I discovered when packing last night, is that I had to prepare for two completely different environments. My meeting is in the Caribbean, and our parent company is super-casual. I’ll probably be doing most of my business in ripped jeans and a T-shirt–if not, indeed, by the pool in a swimsuit, dripping. Back at home, where it’s winter, is where (paradoxically enough) I’ve been invited to a few dinners I have to dress for. I generally like to travel light. Oh, well. At least this time I didn’t leave my entire bag of o-miyage on the floor of my living room the way I did a few years ago. It was fun trying to figure out what to do with fifteen envelopes of green tea when I got back to Tokyo.

    Speaking of conserving things, this will be the first time I find out whether my iPod battery is as short-lived as they legendarily are. At least if it lasts four or five hours it’ll be fine for the second leg of my trip. I’ll be landing at JFK on Tuesday, spending the night in Murray Hill with my old roommate, then taking off for the Dominican Republic at 6:00 the next morning. If you’re going to scramble you’re bio-clock, don’t be doing it halfway, I say.

    See everyone later in the week.


    Posted by Sean at 03:54, December 4th, 2005

    I’m not going to have much time to spend with people when I go home, but one of the first blog-related acquaintances I made was Tom at Agenda Bender, and I’m hoping to get to see him during my approximately five minutes in Philadelphia. Almost exactly two years ago, he posted this. I have a feeling I’m going to be rereading it the first week of every December his blog is still up.

    Foreign Minister Aso in Washington

    Posted by Sean at 00:57, December 4th, 2005

    There’s no report of any substantive agreement, but Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso met with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Washington yesterday. Japan related its plan to extend the SDF deployment in Iraq and also emphasized that the restructuring of US military facilities here in Japan is running into opposition from the places affected (such as Okinawa). Rumsfeld would like to see China fulfill a constructive role in world society, including transparency about its military spending. Japan affirmed that it would like to expand its own international role and would prefer, really, to avoid being blown up by the DPRK. So everything is as per usual; if there are interesting developments, I assume we’ll hear about them.

    Government to pay in Aneha scandal

    Posted by Sean at 00:46, December 4th, 2005

    Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Kazuo Kitagawa has made an announcement about the Aneha scandal:

    Regarding the earthquake resistance falsification scandal, Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Kazuo Kitagawa announced on 4 December that he is investigating a plan to have federal and prefectural-level government bodies bear the entire burden of paying for the demolition of condominium complexes known to have insufficient earthquake resistance. His reasoning was that “there is also a danger to residents in surrounding buildings, so [the demolition] has a prominent public interest dimension.” He related this to the press corps this morning after a television appearance.

    Kitagawa explained that the reason for public assistance in this case was that “assessing who bears responsibility among the developers and other parties requires time, and we cannot wait that long.”

    Some of the affected residents have already organized a group so they can share information and possibly negotiate collectively. Kitagawa isn’t kidding about the danger to the neighbors, BTW; the catastrophic 1999 Taiwan earthquake saw several large, modern buildings tip over.

    Oh, yeah, and just in case you’re not already rattled enough over this whole mess, check this out:

    The architecture firm that designed one of the buildings for which disgraced architect Hidetsugu Aneha faked strength reports says it met directly with the building companies to warn them about Aneha in early 2004, but was ignored.

    The Kanagawa Prefecture-based design company, and Atlas Sekkei, the architectural firm in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward asked to check Aneha’s structural-strength reports, said they spotted irregularities in those reports.

    The Kanagawa design firm said it had a meeting with Kumamoto-based Kimura Construction Co. and Tokyo-based consulting firm Sogo Keiei Kenkyujo (Soken) in early 2004 to point out the problems.

    But the two firms did nothing. Both Kimura Construction and Soken continued to commission work to Aneha, leading to the construction of a string of defective hotels and condominiums.

    The latest revelation directly contradicts what officials at Kimura and Soken have said.

    Making nice

    Posted by Sean at 06:58, December 3rd, 2005

    Bruce Bawer has an article up at Reason about PC genuflection toward Islamofascism in Europe. (I can’t help wondering, given the way hardee-har-har humor has taken over at that place over the last few years, whether that subhead isn’t a good-natured-but-dopey allusion to Bawer’s sexuality.) Anyway, there are plenty of chilling passages to choose from, but I think this is my, uh, favorite:

    For some Europeans in the expression business, government limits haven’t been necessary: they’ve opted for self-censorship. After being “warned by Muslim friends” shortly after van Gogh’s murder, Dutch movie director Albert Ter Heerdt decided to “postpone” a sequel to his “multicultural comedy” Shouf Shouf Habibi! And in January producer Gijs van de Westelaken canceled a screening of Submission at the Rotterdam Film Festival, whose theme was “censored films.” (Instead, the audience saw two pictures sympathetic to suicide bombers.)

    Banning existing works is bad enough; as long as they aren’t destroyed, they have to potential to survive until they can be safely appreciated. But when art is stillborn because of political pressure, that’s an entirely different matter.

    It’s not, BTW, that I think the world needs more Piss Christs. Art that challenges religious preconceptions is as important as any other kind, but there are altogether too many people who think that blasphemy is, in and of itself, somehow boldly artistic and meaningful. (I’m thinking of blasphemy as it or the equivalent concept happens to be defined by whatever religion is being used for material.) It seems to me that just stomping on things requires minimal inspiration and, in a free society, minimal risk. It’s often not even done with much technical or compositional flair. There’s a difference, however, between not creating something because you realize the idea animating it was a puerile, empty one and not creating something because you’re cowed by people playing the multi-culti card. That’s very chilling.

    Added on 4 December: Rondi Adamson notes a hopeful sign from Norway. It’s not related to art, but it is related to multiculti distortions of how protections on speech should function:

    Norway has an “Equality Minister,” which, normally, would be something I would mock. But at least this person is trying to do something useful: Pull state funding from mosques that encourage wife-beating. Yes, you read that correctly.

    The article she links is here.

    She also has a post about women Islamofascists that, I’m guessing, will resonate with the womenfolk who read here (and the men who love them):

    A Belgian woman tried to detonate a bunch of explosives she had strapped to herself, in an attempt to kill American soldiers in Iraq. She failed at the latter, thank God, but did manage to kill herself. Good. One less of them.

    Smarmily, CNN is reporting she was “brainwashed” by her Arab hubby. Really? Why is it when women do these hideous things we need to believe they were brainwashed by a man? Maybe she was just an awful person, with awful ideas, all on her own. Maybe that’s why she liked her husband–because his ideology mirrored hers.

    It’s fine to say that women are, on average and as a component of motherhood, biologically more disposed toward being empaths and soft conflict resolution and stuff. But it robs them of their autonomy and dignity as adults to talk as if no woman could ever have a nasty thought in her head without being overmastered by some nefarious daddy/husband figure. Free moral agency implies the freedom to be an evil bitch.

    I took a ferry to the highway / Then I drove to a pontoon plane

    Posted by Sean at 05:41, December 3rd, 2005

    It is becoming obvious, is it not, that I’m kind of distracted? Most of it is getting ready to leave on Tuesday for a few weeks in North America. I have my tickets, my traveler’s insurance, my renewed visa, and my new reentry permit. I’ve resolutely held off reading Joanne Jacobs’s new book so I can devote myself to it on the flight(s). I’ve managed to cram in appointments with my dermatologist, dentist, chiropractor, and hair guy. (It’s starting to touch my ears–man, that drives me nuts.) Of course, there’s extra work at the office, too, because I’m getting ready to go to a meeting.

    My apartment is a disaster area. There’s no decaying organic matter, mind you. Just clutter. Here we have a last few loads of laundry, there we have a pile of things I can’t forget to take along. Atsushi’s Christmas present for my parents and brother is out in a prominent place ready for packing. I still have to buy the souvenir green tea I take back for people, though–have to remember that tomorrow.

    I don’t know why this go-round is turning into such a production–I generally several long-haul flights a year. (My bad back loves me for it, too.) Part of it is the season, probably. Travel arrangements came up just as my visa had to be renewed and our 2006 budget/planning proposals had to be done at work.

    Also, this time I’m not traveling with Atsushi, who’s very good at protecting me from my own absent-mindedness. He never seems to be ordering me around, or anything, but when he’s here, planning just…you know, goes smoothly. My dry-erase board, in addition to not smelling sexy when I bury my face in its hair, doesn’t seem to be able to make my sunglasses appear when I’m in danger of leaving them behind.

    Anyway, posting may be sketchy for the next few days, though it won’t be much lighter than usual while I’m actually at home and in the Caribbean. One pleasant surprise about having the blog is that it’s allowed me to communicate, albeit indirectly, with Atsushi in my natural American voice; since we’ll be a continent away from each other for half the month, the varied ways to keep in touch will be even more valued than they normally are.

    Stasis–it’s the new reform!

    Posted by Sean at 05:22, December 3rd, 2005

    The Nikkei editors on the latest developments in “trinity reforms,” short version:

    Why are we calling something that will benefit no one “reform”?

    Ouch. Here’s where that comes from:

    In the agreement between the federal government and the ruling coalition, the transfer of funding for facilities and equipment, which had been sought by the regional governments, was partially approved for the first time. Facilities and equipment are the area in which it is easiest for regional governments to demonstrate some ingenuity in planning, so they’re part of the point of reform.

    At the trinity reform stage, reductions in federal subsidies and transfers of sources of tax money were taken care of, but reform of regional tax grants was left unattended to. Along with measures such as reductions in the number of public employees in regional government bodies, possibility of decreases in grants should be investigated.

    The subsidies the federal government provides to regional governments now add up to a burden of approximately ¥20 trillion (US $167 billion). There is no other state that intrudes on regional affairs using such gargantuan amounts of subsidy money. At ¥4 trillion in reductions in this first phase of reform, each federal ministry managed to get away with its systems and structures surviving unchanged in practical terms. This state of affairs does not deserve the name “structural reform.” The agreement between the federal government and the ruling coalition was rather vague about how reform would proceed from here on, but they must forge ahead into a second phase of reform that returns the focus to the main task.

    The regional governments’ complaint, of course, is that even if they get direct access to more money (because tax revenue goes to them directly rather than being routed through Tokyo), that doesn’t increase their discretionary power. They’re still bound to the rules set up by the federal ministries. In this aging society, that’s an especially touchy issue with livelihood protection and child care subsidies. What they fear is that cosmetic cuts in subsidies will give them no more autonomy but a lot more work to do, since they’ll have more taxes to assess, collect, and process.

    Added after a cup of tea: I might add here, for those who haven’t kept track, that the reforms about to implemented are positively revolutionary compared with those that took effect in 2001. That year, a bunch of ministries and agencies were smushed together to form new, larger bodies–the idea being that fewer official entities must make things more efficient, right? So, for example, the former 文部省 (monbushou: “Ministry of Education and Culture”) was alloyed with the 科学技術庁 (kagakugijutsuchou: “Science and Technology Agency”) to form the 文部科学省 (monbukagakushou: “Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology”–no kidding, that’s the official English name).


    Posted by Sean at 01:40, December 3rd, 2005

    The victim of the latest sicko child killer was found yesterday; she’s been identified as the girl who went missing in Tochigi Prefecture on Thursday. (This is, of course, a different sicko child killer from the one who strangled a second grader in Hiroshima and dumped her body in a box on the curb a few weeks ago.) The girl’s father was quoted as reacting with a good deal more rage than parents in these (increasingly frequent) cases tend to be. There appears to be a suspect, but he hasn’t been identified or located yet.

    Every little thing that you say or do

    Posted by Sean at 05:04, December 2nd, 2005

    I was going to post about the Nikkei‘s acid editorial on the latest developments in the “trinity reforms,” but then I came across Camille’s Salon review of the new Madonna album. The restructuring of the Japanese government can wait.

    Paglia’s paradoxical reaction is funny–in effect: “This CD is such a trivial non-event that it’s moved me to write three pages and reexamine my entire collection of dance records on vinyl.” I’ve certainly expended energy over the last few weeks listening to Madonna’s hokey lyrics and her producers’ ripped-off rhythm tracks and thinking, This song should really be annoying me. Why am I not annoyed? Why am I SINGING ALONG? I don’t know that I’d go in the direction Paglia does in this climactic passage, though:

    Last summer, Madonna described her forthcoming CD as “future disco” — which raised the hopes of all die-hard disco fans that “Confessions on a Dance Floor” would be a masterpiece, a return to roots but also a visionary breakthrough.

    That’s not what we got — though you’d never know it from the gushing reviews, which applauded the CD for achieving Madonna’s purported aim of making people dance. My blood boiled at this insulting reduction of dance music to gymnastics — mere recreational aerobics. I for one do not dance to dance music; disco for me is a lofty metaphysical mode that induces contemplation. (Of course, this may partly descend from my Agnes Gooch marginalization in the old bar scene, where I was — as Nora Ephron would say — a wallflower at the orgy.) Giorgio Moroder’s albums, which I listened to obsessively on headphones, were an enormous inspiration to me throughout the writing of “Sexual Personae” in the 1970s and ’80s. Disco at its best is a neurological event, a shamanistic vehicle of space-time travel.

    I’m not sure what Agnes is doing in that paragraph. Her issue was that she needed to pull herself together and stop being a wrung-out ninny. Not a problem I can ever imagine Camille’s having. Anyway, maybe it’s because I’ve never felt marginalized at bars, but I don’t see why dancing at a club is to be dismissed as “mere recreational aerobics” because Camille couldn’t get a date thirty years ago.

    I wish Confessions on a Dance Floor had had more songs that are good just to listen to, too, the way Madonna’s un-remixed classic singles are. Straight-ahead pop melodies do come up, but only in the second half; the album is front-loaded with songs in which the choruses are connected by lots of chopped-up phrases instead of real verses. But whatever. Surely, having done all she’s done for dance pop, Madonna’s entitled to devote one album to giving the fags something to dance to, even if it’s not another Lasting Contribution to art. At least here in Tokyo, “Hung Up,” for all its flaws, is the first song since Kylie’s “Can’t Get You out of My Head” that makes all the guys of every age in a bar look up and react when it comes on. Some of the reactions, granted, are on the order of “This bitch never could sing and I wish she’d finally GO AWAY!” (Kylie got that, too.) But no one’s indifferent. There’s something very winning about Madonna’s sheer ability to keep convincing you you have to listen and watch.

    A few minor points: by the time Teena Marie made “Lover Girl,” her collaboration with Rick James was long over. And in her rush to credit Giorgio Moroder for everything good that Confessions on a Dance Floor rips off, Paglia seems completely unaware of the half-dozen early New Order rhythm tracks that Price has nicked. I can easily imagine her dismissing New Order as not warm and sensual and “visceral” enough to be truly Dionysian, or what have you, but the fact is that they’ve had just about as much influence on dance music over the last twenty years as Madonna has. (Not that they were always original themselves. The drum break at the beginning of “Blue Monday” is stolen directly from Donna Summer’s “Our Love.”) Given all the arm-windmilling Paglia does about Madonna’s lazily snagging ideas from obvious sources, you’d have thought NO would come up somewhere.

    Added on 3 December: Ann Althouse posted about the above passage, too; as always, some of her commenters are hilarious.

    La mode

    Posted by Sean at 01:18, December 1st, 2005

    Virginia Postrel has more about how cheaper, more accessible fashion goods are realigning the way people think about clothes. It’s always nice to read someone who doesn’t see style as a mere stalking horse for status-seeking or in-group formation. In Tokyo, especially along the swath from Shibuya/Harajuku/Shinjuku, everyone acknowledges pretty openly that those elements exist. But no one talks about them as if they made aesthetic pleasure somehow inauthentic.

    I’m not so sure, BTW, that the article she cites is correct in saying that Target was the pioneer in making clothing by high-end designers more accessible. Regular old diffusion lines have been around for ages–though unlike Target, they don’t put the lower-cost products of high-end manufacturers in stores where Americans who aren’t rich are likely to shop often. (Burberry, BTW, took advantage of its late-90s efflorescence in popularity in Asia by creating two more casual youth-targeted lines: Burberry Black Label and Burberry Blue Label. I expect to hear of a tie-in with Johnnie Walker any day now. Let’s plaid and enjoy unique Scotch taste!)