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    She has a nice personality

    Posted by Sean at 07:07, October 26th, 2005

    Am I glad I’m not on Virginia Postrel’s bad side or what:

    As regular readers know, I’ve written an extraordinary amount about Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Early on, my primary purpose was reportorial–to use my locational advantage to provide information and context for people outside of Dallas. But the more I learned, the more appalled I became.

    For whatever reason, the president has picked a woman who not only has no constitutional or judicial experience but even in her business practice has demonstrated no interest in the law as anything other than a source of billable hours. At 60 years old, she appears never to have had a substantive conversation about law or policy with any friend. She comes from a closed and cronyish legal and business culture and appears to have gotten ahead through a combination of networking, nose-to-the-grindstone diligence, and willingness to do her law firm’s management, rather than legal, work.

    Oof! Bear in mind, Virginia has gone out of her way to be sympathetic toward Miers the person.

    She ends her post with a link to Americans for Better Justice and a set of links to her own previous posts about the nomination. Not being able to see as many homegrown news reports as Americans who live at home, I can’t assess whether Bush actually seems to be laying the groundwork for a withdrawal of the nomination. By all accounts, the proceedings so far are not doing his trusted friend any favors.

    Things seem to have died down a bit, but it’s a shame that so many people reflexively decided to see the debate over this nomination in Blue States vs. The Real America terms. Cultural insularity isn’t irrelevant here, but it’s not the central issue. The BOS-WASH and SAN-SAN population belts deserve to be informed, emphatically and often, that much of what’s important in America goes on outside them. Hell, I grew up in Allentown, PA, and I can assure you it may as well have been the moon for all many people in New York (1:45 away), Washington (2:30 away), or even Philadelphia (1:15 away) knew about what life was like there.

    However, the big-city power centers are still where most ambitious people go to seek the most viciously competitive environment in which they can test their ideas and competencies. In that sense, the arrogance of seeing yourself as a player in Big Decisions is a good thing. Miers is clearly a fantastic person–for goodness’s sake, if she weren’t, someone would have said so by now, given the way journalists have been beating the bushes for any opinions about her whatsoever–but there’s no evidence that she’s tested herself as a thinker or learned to adjust to working in a pressure cooker.


    Posted by Sean at 08:36, October 25th, 2005

    Don’t take this the wrong way, dear and valued readers, but I had to send my laptop back to Toshiba for repairs (CD-ROM drive was freaking–which I think is pretty ungrateful, considering the choice diet of Kylie singles and Hitchcock movies I feed it) and am kind of enjoying not having an Internet connection at home for the next week or so. Last night, the man from Nittsu came to take my Dynabook, and when he left, I felt truly alone in the apartment…in a good way. Of course, I was looking forward to Atsushi’s nightly phone call at 11:00, and I got a few cell calls and mails. But the temptation to check the websites of five newspapers to see whether they’d been updated since the last newscast on NHK was blessedly removed. No look at G-Mail when I got back from dinner or out of the bathtub, lest I miss some stray plaint from the office. Just a book or three and a glass of the plum wine Atsushi brought back for me the last time he came home. Anyway, I don’t think posting will be all that light over the next week, but it may be more randomly distributed.

    Oh, speaking of the Internet: is there something inherently snobby about not using it to meet people? In response to a direct appeal for information, I remarked the other night that I’ve never met a guy over the Internet and wouldn’t really know where to go if I wanted to do so, and the person I was talking to kind of flipped. He was really affronted, and I didn’t get it. I mean, okay, if pressed, I’d have to admit that I preferred the face-to-face-sparring method of flirtation even when I was more young and fun-loving. But I’d never imply that people who use web personals are pathetic, or what have you, for the very good reason that I don’t believe any such thing. You just can never tell with people.


    Posted by Sean at 08:16, October 25th, 2005

    I was going to comment directly at Riding Sun, but I started to run long and didn’t want to look like a blowhard. Well, also, my thoughts turned kind of gay (from where? you may well ask), and I didn’t want to hijack what was an essentially straight thread before it got started.

    The question is a perennial one:

    As I’ve noted before, foreign men who come to Japan often find themselves much more popular with the local ladies than they might have been in their native country.

    More than ethnic preferences, income levels, or any other factor, I suspect it’s Japanese women’s desire to “opt out” of their country’s smothering salaryman-wife straitjacket that keeps non-Japanese guys in demand.

    That’s part of it, but I don’t think it’s all of it, or else you wouldn’t see the same things in gay life. And do you ever! The things a perceptive commenter noted below the original post give a fuller picture, I think. Much of it can be boiled down to the fact that Japanese women can’t really read Western cultural signals. “Doesn’t that gorgeous, animated, articulate woman in the Escada suit and perfect makeup realize that the man she’s with is a complete loser?” Well, no, obviously she doesn’t. (cf. Rainbow Surfer Dude’s wonderfully deadpan item 2: “Less need to be ‘interesting’ since the language barrier pushes down the upper limit of conversational complexity.”)

    Also…this conversation comes up not infrequently with friends of mine. A little while ago, several of us foreigners–in a group that included Japanese guys who date foreigners exclusively–were talking about why our relationships with Japanese men had tended to be with those who did not usually date non-Japanese. One of the Japanese guys present asked rather astringently what was wrong with preferring foreign men.

    Obviously, nothing is, fundamentally. It’s just that many gaisen Japanese, especially those who only want to speak English with you all the time, like the idea of dating a man who’s always going to feel kind of baffled and clueless in Japan and need to be, you know, taken care of. I suspect, from the way I’ve seen many couples interact, that the same holds true for a fair number of foreigner-dating Japanese women–and I don’t think that contradicts what Gaijin Biker wrote about their not wanting to be sentenced to a life of nothing but household drudgery. You can expect your mate to pitch in around the house and still want to be the one who calls the shots and is always one step ahead in terms of planning your lives together.

    Added on 28 October: Thanks to Bilious Young Fogey for the link, though I must say that parenthetical makes me feel kind of square.

    How can you be so cold / With my arms to hold you?

    Posted by Sean at 00:44, October 24th, 2005

    You know when you’re working out and the destressing feels great so you push yourself really, really hard? And then a day and a half or so later you get a memo that reads, “TO: Stupid Bitch / FROM: Voluntary Muscles / TEXT: Repeat after me: ‘I. Am. Not. Twenty. Anymore.’ / END”?


    I’d rather talk about other people’s idiocy rather than my own, so let’s change the subject, shall we? I can never understand why people don’t live the way they say they want to live. Some problems are external–e.g., “My boyfriend’s cheating on me, and I can’t decide whether to let it blow over or to make an issue out of it”–and clearly difficult to negotiate. Where to draw the line between accepting your mate’s imperfections and being a doormat is not always easy.

    But the practice of causing your own problems and then wondering why you have them? What is up with that? “See, I’m an honest person, and my relationship with Kazu is…you know, I want it to be totally pure. I don’t really cheat on him, you know, in terms of mind space? Totally his. I mean, really. But I figure once in a while if I hook up, it doesn’t detract from that. I think maybe I should tell him, but I don’t want him to think I’m not devoted to him. Like, I think he’d take it the right way and not think that screwing around on him affected the meaning of our relationship, but it’s kind of a risk, so I haven’t said anything. It’s such a hard position, you know?”

    No, honey, not really. It’s not all that hard to find someone who’s willing to have an open relationship; even a sizable proportion of straight marriages work that way in Japan. If that’s what you want, you make it a criterion when you start dating. If you want to change the terms of an existing relationship, you do it. (Since Japan still recognizes the value of subtext and euphemism, it’s often possible to get this accomplished without a cruel direct hit.) If your partner doesn’t accept the change of terms, you either dissolve the relationship or find a way to accommodate each other without deception. Exposing your partner to the potential hazards of microbes and psychological baggage that you expressly promised to protect him from is not a sympathetically flawed action taken in a no-win situation.


    Posted by Sean at 23:18, October 23rd, 2005

    The Nikkei says that the Koizumi administration is purposefully taking a combination of hard and soft approaches to its delicate relationship with the PRC.

    The government–aiming to work out a resolution to problems with Japan-China relations, which have worsened since Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s latest pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine–has adopted a framework within which it can use both hard and soft responses. This approach has strengthened its unified front [with the PRC] on North Koreas nuclear disarmament. On the other hand, regarding the problem of Japan’s United Nations member contributions, the government’s approach has also involved moves to decrease the percent that comes from Japan, which opens the possibility that the contribution expected from the PRC would rise. This backdrop for this approach was a judgment that, given a reality in which relations between the two countries have become progressively more multipolar, including economic relations, there is no need to lean only in the direction of soft approaches.

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura was emphatic in an appearance on a 23 October Fuji Television program: “I’m surprised that everyone has succumbed to the most pessimistic arguments about this recent Yasukuni pilgrimage [by the Prime Minister]. They’re clearly way too pessimistic. Do people really think that Japan’s international stature would decline so abruptly?” Furthermore, he stated, “We haven’t reestablished visits between our heads of state, but traffic on the economic and cultural fronts is brisk.”

    How do you solve a problem like China? You probably don’t. The CCP is engaged in frequent games of chicken with China’s own restless citizens, fomenting their discontent just enough for them to let off steam at Japan without having things get out of hand. The Koizumi administration’s approach often seems haphazard, but trying to keep as many tools at the ready as possible is probably the only wise policy. Of course, the right tool still has to be used at the right time.

    One year after Niigata quake

    Posted by Sean at 22:45, October 23rd, 2005

    This story from the Asahi English edition doesn’t have much detail, but it’s a helpful reminder that, even in First World countries, major earthquakes cause disruptions that last long after the news cameras leave:

    A year ago Sunday the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake hit, leaving 51 people dead and thousands injured. One year later, more than 9,100 victims still live in temporary housing.

    Many are battling financial and other difficulties and have yet to complete rebuilding work. About 1,000 households have abandoned such plans or say they have no prospect yet of rebuilding their homes that were lost in the Oct. 23, 2004, temblor.

    With a second snowy winter looming, an estimated 400 households in the former Yamakoshi village, now part of Nagaoka city, and other communities in Niigata Prefecture are still subject to evacuation orders or advisories.

    The English story combines information from these two stories. The Yomiuri conducted a poll and found that 44% of those still living in temporary housing have no plans to rebuild their houses. Most of the people affected are from a relatively small, particularly hard-hit area in Niigata Prefecture.

    For its part, the Mainichi surveyed municipalities affected by last year’s series of quakes. (Most articles talk about a single “earthquake,” but there were actually three or four strong ones in rapid succession.)

    The Kawaguchi Municipal Government that came under fire for failing to incorporate earthquake countermeasures in its disaster prevention plan admitted that it has not yet begun reviewing it.

    “Multiple divisions must be involved in reviewing the plan. It’s impossible for local governments that have fewer officials to quickly review their disaster prevention plan even if it’s necessary,” an official of the town’s general affairs division said.

    Nine municipalities are now storing water in case of a devastating disaster, an increase from four in the pre-quake period. Fourteen municipalities have stockpiled emergency food, as compared with 10 before the Niigata quake.

    However, only seven municipalities, or 25 percent, have stockpiled both water and emergency food.

    Only four municipalities have set up a system under which they provide subsidies to local residents to examine whether and how far their houses are quake-resistant and two others are prepared to provide subsidies to residents to make their houses quake-proof. Many of the municipalities that have no such subsidy systems cite their severe financial situations.

    Only six of them have introduced satellite mobile phones and other communication devices in case their areas are isolated from surrounding areas.

    Niigata Prefecture is not an earthquake hot zone in Japanese terms. However, as we saw last year, the low probability of a devastating quake is offset by the fact that many people live in remote villages on landslide-prone ground that makes destruction likely and rescue operations difficult. When a quake does eventually hit, people are in big trouble.

    Been running so fast / Right from the starting line

    Posted by Sean at 22:26, October 23rd, 2005

    The NHK special turned out to be nothing all that revelatory, though it had the small virtue of laying out some of the major issues succinctly.

    One of the new career models was represented by a woman in her 20s who lives in a small, spare apartment and gets by on temp jobs. Her point of view was that there isn’t stability in a standard job with a single employer anymore anyway, so if she’s going to live with the constant threat of disruption, she may as well be taking jobs that interest her while she’s doing it. A former hotshot Tokyo graphic artist who quit his job, decamped with his wife for Okinawa, and now spends a lot of time fishing and, IIRC, takes freelance jobs when needed was featured as an example of another trend. (Atsushi, who’s the same age, was gratified to see this guy pushed forward to exemplify trends in employment among young people.) There were a few high school students with scary post-Amuro-chan fake bakes, piercings, dyed ‘n fried hair, and black and white makeup who said that they didn’t see why they shouldn’t do what they liked with their lives.

    In the opposite corner, we had a bunch of middle-aged people. Some of them were sympathetic to the impulses of wild, free youth and figured the youngsters on parade would eventually settle down like those in generations before them. Others made the stock complaint that those who scale down their career ambitions are incapable of toughing it out through short-term hardship in order to reach a worthy long-term goal.

    Atsushi and I cut out to go to dinner midway through the program, so it’s possible that the five or six people who were serving as bland MCs did get around to asking interesting questions, but it certainly didn’t happen while we were watching. No one saw fit to connect the dots between the middle-aged businessmen and the woman who subsisted on temp jobs, for example, and ask whether traditional (bearing in mind that that word refers to organizations that were mostly founded after the war) companies are, now that they can’t offer lifetime employment, changing their work environments to make sure they stay attractive to young job seekers with other options. No one pointed out the entrepreneurs in the group and asked the disaffected high school students whether they’d thought about founding service-industry businesses that could satisfy their arty bent and attract talented peers of theirs with similar views of the relationship between work and play.

    Of course, there’s always the chance that these issues came up after Atsushi and I stopped watching. I doubt it, though. If they had, NHK would have found itself broadcasting an actual exchange of ideas, with awkward differences of opinion that went beyond those that viewers were already prepared to deal with. That’s not usually in the program.

    My way or the highway

    Posted by Sean at 06:45, October 22nd, 2005

    Prime Minister Koizumi has announced that Heizo Takenaka, the driving force behind the banking cleanup and Japan Post privatization, will retain his position after the cabinet reshuffling at the beginning of next month. Kazuo Kitagawa, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, will also retain his position. (Whether that’s connected to the privatization of the Japan Highway Public Corporation and other transportation bodies is not clear from the Nikkei article.)

    One of NHK’s social commentary shows is doing an installment on the future of Japan’s youth, featuring an array of eyecatching fringe types. Whether anything illuminating will emerge remains to be seen. Atsushi (he’s home for the weekend again) and I are a little dubious about the resolute freakshow aspect. Many of the teenagers being interviewed hang out in Shibuya, which is not exactly noted for attracting the studious rank-and-file.

    I’m not the same / I have no shame

    Posted by Sean at 03:11, October 21st, 2005

    You know what I love about Madonna? She’s fearlessly delusional (via non-Pryhill Ace; the New York Daily News has the full report here):

    Despite her many homes, the former Material Girl says she has renounced “the material world. The physical world. The world of illusion, that we think is real. We live for it, we’re enslaved by it. And it will ultimately be our undoing.”

    Reading from Scripture at one point in the film, the mother of two — who won’t let her children watch TV or eat ice cream — says, “I refer to an entity called ‘The Beast.’ I feel I am describing the world that we live in right now.”

    Dude, that’s, like, all kinds of profound and stuff. You can take the girl out of Los Angeles….

    One thing that annoys me, though: can we please stop referring to Madonna as “the former Material Girl”? I know that asking journalists to avoid shallow, jingle-like formulations is like asking Joan Rivers to avoid plastic surgery, but “Material Girl” was a single song. It was neither her first hit nor her biggest hit; she never so much as named a concert tour after it. The frame story for the video sent up the lyrics. Of course, Madonna made a lot of money and was doubtless happy about it, but her image and music were always much more about self-reliance and self-definition than about money-grubbing or acquisitiveness. The mass audience would have tired of her very quickly if there’d been nothing to her but sexual and religious button-pushing. One of the ways The Immaculate Collection was a botch job as a greatest hits album–in addition to that horrible Q Sound engineering and the tacky remixes–was in omitting hits such as “Angel,” “Who’s That Girl,” and “True Blue.” A lot of the time Madonna was ruling the airwaves, it was with unassuming, straightforward songs about romantic yearning, not the controversy-courting blockbusters.

    It remains to be seen whether the new album will get us lifelong fans back to swooning; it’s hard to imagine not topping American Life . Assuming her newfound loftiness hasn’t dampened her sensuality, we should be okay.

    I love you like a ball and chain

    Posted by Sean at 02:29, October 21st, 2005

    Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty has posted a lengthy response to Maggie Gallagher’s guest posts at the Volokh Conspiracy on gay marriage (via Gay Orbit). Kuznicki’s commentary is worth reading in full, especially if you don’t want to have to slog through all the comments at the Volokh Conspiracy to figure out what the main counterarguments being offered are.

    I don’t feel like reproducing my last year and a half of effusion on the issue, especially since it’s all available under the marriage debate category on the left there. I do think that one of Kuznicki’s points is worth responding to anew, though:

    Meanwhile, Gallagher has also neglected the opposing argument, namely that same-sex marriages might actually strengthen the institution of heterosexual marriage. Although the empirical data on either side is scarce (and although this scarcity gives weight to the go-slow approach mentioned in the last comment I linked), still, I think there is at least a conceivable causal mechanism to explain why same-sex marriage might do a lot of good to the institution of heterosexual marriage: If we as a society send a message that marriage is a universal goal, one that admits of no exceptions and knows no gender lines, then it is reasonable to think that more people of all sexual orientations will want to get married.

    But if large numbers of people–gays and lesbians, for example–are told that they do not need marriage, or that marriage cannot help them, or that they are unworthy of the institution, then some marginal number of straight people, especially those who identify most closely with gays and lesbians, will almost certainly come to have contempt for the institution of marriage and to see it as antiquated or irrelevant.

    I’m perfectly willing to argue that homosexual relationships are no less moral than heterosexual relationships, that contribution to civilization in the form of the creation and upkeep of artifacts is just as important as contribution to civilization in the form of the creation and bringing up of children, and that the law should not be throwing obstacles in our paths when we try to care for our partners within the relationships we’ve chosen.

    However, I’ve always found the argument above, even in the carefully qualified way Kuznicki presents it, to be ridiculous. The vast majority of people do not view homosexuality and heterosexuality as the same; that’s true even among those who believe our relationships are just as valid (word of the week, apparently) as theirs. Despite all the changes in medicine and in the family structure over the last century, there simply remains no chance that a homosexual couple will suddenly finding itself producing a child that needs eighteen years of intensive looking-after. The number of people so bohemian in outlook that they regard their gay friends as facing the same real-life sex-related issues in all respects is so small that “marginal” hardly does it justice.

    My friends hardly constitute a scientific sample of the population–good thing for America we don’t!–but I doubt their attitude is untypical. A few years ago on our e-mail group, I tried to get a discussion about gay marriage going…and failed utterly. The replies were along the lines of “Of course, I think you and Atsushi should be able to get married–why the hell wouldn’t i?” Even so, my friends’ expressed preference has been for marriage; there have been a half-dozen weddings since we were in our late twenties. (The result, BTW, is that I’m now friends with [even] more Jews than I was in college: three of the girls converted in order to marry three of our Jewish buddies. Talk about populations that recruit!) If forced to choose between showing solidarity with gay friends and providing the most stable possible environment for their own children–assuming that’s the choice they actually have to make–most people are obviously going to side with their kids.