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    Koizumi visits Yasukuni Shrine again

    Posted by Sean at 21:30, October 16th, 2005

    Prime Minister Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine this morning for its autumn festival. It was the fifth visit for him since 2001. I don’t think there’s been enough time for the rest of Asia to flip out; even the Nikkei story is barely two lines long.

    About time

    Posted by Sean at 01:14, October 15th, 2005

    This is the first piece I’ve seen that defends the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court on the basis of how she’s going to do the job. “Why Harriet Miers is the sort of thinker who would make a good justice,” as opposed to “Why someone without a Harvard law degree, two decades of publications to her credit, and regular invitations to dine with the Kristols could make a good justice”:

    It is true that Harriet Miers, in everything she does, gives high attention to detail. And the trait came in handy with drafts of presidential speeches, in which she routinely exposed weak arguments, bogus statistics and claims inconsistent with previous remarks long forgotten by the rest of us. If one speech declared X “our most urgent domestic priority,” and another speech seven months earlier had said it was Y, it would be Harriet Miers alone who noted the contradiction.

    It may be, in fact, that a details person is just what the Supreme Court needs right now. If anyone can be counted on to pause in deliberations over abortion cases, for example, and politely draw attention to small details like the authority of Congress and of state legislatures, or the interests of the child waiting to be born, it will be the court’s newest member. As a justice, however, she will command the kind of respect that has nothing to do with being conservative, or liberal, or anything else but a person of wisdom and rectitude.

    Okay, so Miers takes texts at face value, has a memory like a steel trap that helps her spot inconsistencies, stays focused on the job at hand, and is more likely to fulfill her job description with self-effacing meticulousness than to try to make a name for herself. You could certainly take issue with Matthew Scully’s argument here–I’m not really convinced by it–but it is an argument, with evidence summoned to make a relevant point.


    Posted by Sean at 07:20, October 14th, 2005

    A belated happy 80th birthday to the UK’s inimitable former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, which occasioned this week’s second gay-shiver-of-pleasure-inducing comment referring to her:

    Another guest, actress Joan Collins, said she adored Thatcher.

    “She is the ‘Iron Lady,’ and I want to be just like that when I grow up,” Collins said.

    [sighs] Oh, and this is a good place to point out that Susanna, a lady of considerable gravitas herself, has written a very thoughtful post about what general patterns in differences between the sexes mean to individuals trying to live as well and happily as they can.

    Japan Post privatization approved

    Posted by Sean at 03:51, October 14th, 2005

    Japan Post privatization was approved by the House of Councillors today:

    The Japan Post privatization bills were approved and enacted by a majority, mostly from the ruling coalition, in a session of the upper house on 14 October. The final vote was 134 in favor, 100 opposed. On 1 October 2007, the Japan Post Public Corporation will be privatized and spun off into four companies: one for postal service, one for postal savings, one for postal insurance, and one for window services.


    Posted by Sean at 03:35, October 14th, 2005

    My, things have changed since I was nearing the end of my éphèbe years.

    The day after Maria Guevara turned 18, she packed her bags and moved out of her mother’s Floral Park home.

    She had a strained relationship with her father, who she said physically abused her when she was younger — a charge he denies — and she said her mother was too strict, setting an early curfew and denying her money for restaurants and fashionable clothes.

    But after she moved into a friend’s basement in Bellerose Terrace in March, Guevara did something her mother didn’t see coming: She sued her parents for child support in Nassau Family Court.

    But Maria, who just started her first year at Nassau Community College, argues that her parents should pay for school. She works part-time as a teacher’s aide at the John Lewis Childs School in Floral Park, but three hours a day at $12 an hour doesn’t pay for her living expenses and tuition, she said.

    “I’m 18, but I still need support,” she said. “I’m going to college. I don’t have time to be working full-time. It’s hard for me.”

    Telling an 18-year-old that she has to be home by 7 p.m. strikes me as a bit neurotic (though there may be part of the story we’re not hearing–does Guevara’s mother go to work at night and need her daughter to look after her little brother?), but the rest of her complaints? Sheesh. In my day, the standard speech was “Look, buddy, when you’re 18, you can move out of this house and make your own rules. But until then, you’re living under our roof and what we say goes. IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?” It was understood. I had parents indulgent enough to send me to a hoity-toity private college, but I took a year off after high school and worked full-time and saved, too. Starting college at 19 instead of 18 doesn’t seem to have blighted my life much.

    Oh, and the reasoning that goes “it’s hard; therefore, I shouldn’t have to do it”? What is that?

    (Via Joanne Jacobs)

    Hello, stranger

    Posted by Sean at 00:21, October 14th, 2005

    Occasionally, the Andrew Sullivan who inspired so many of us a decade ago reemerges to write a reflective, even-handed piece about gay issues. This is the latest. It’s a bit verbose, and the social-climby lens through which he views cultural life manifests itself frequently, but I’ll take a little A-list smugness over Bush-betrayed-me screechiness any day.

    Slowly but unmistakably, gay culture is ending. You see it beyond the poignant transformation of P-town: on the streets of the big cities, on university campuses, in the suburbs where gay couples have settled, and in the entrails of the Internet. In fact, it is beginning to dawn on many that the very concept of gay culture may one day disappear altogether. By that, I do not mean that homosexual men and lesbians will not exist–or that they won’t create a community of sorts and a culture that sets them in some ways apart. I mean simply that what encompasses gay culture itself will expand into such a diverse set of subcultures that “gayness” alone will cease to tell you very much about any individual. The distinction between gay and straight culture will become so blurred, so fractured, and so intermingled that it may become more helpful not to examine them separately at all.

    There’s much less psychological need now to define yourself against society when you figure out that you’re gay, and a lot of mainstream straight people would find it strange if you did. It was my half-dozen or so closest college friends, all straight, who convinced me to stop warring against my own identity and come out. The friends I feel most assertively gay around are a straight architect couple–I was delighted to learn earlier this week that they’re moving back to Tokyo from their home base in San Francisco–who are constantly joshing with me about my clothes and their friends in the Castro and the difficulty of getting the perfect piece of pottery for the entryway table. I don’t know that I’d take things as far as Sullivan does in that last sentence above, but the main point is a good one.

    Something that is substantive

    Posted by Sean at 23:20, October 13th, 2005

    The US and Japan are still in negotiations over the Futenma USMC base in Okinawa and (of course) the ban on beef imports. Thomas Schieffer, Howard Baker’s colorless successor as US ambassador to Japan, appears to be trying to apply pressure:

    Japan has proposed holding a “two plus two” top level security meeting on Oct. 29 over the issue and expects the two countries to compile an interim report on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan before U.S. President George W. Bush’s expected visit in November.

    Schieffer said the Futenma issue should be resolved before discussing these matters, while stressing that they should be left to the two countries’ negotiators.

    “I think the purpose of the interim agreement is to announce something that is substantive,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to have a meeting just for a meeting’s sake.”

    He called ongoing bilateral talks on the U.S. military’s realignment plans strategic negotiations.

    “What we have been continuing to try to stress throughout the negotiations…are strategic elements in the alliance,” Schieffer said. “What we also want to do is look at what those forces would be and what they will need to be capable of doing in the future in order to be effective.”

    Schieffer also expressed strong dissatisfaction with Japan’s ban on U.S. beef imports due to concerns over mad cow disease.

    “I’m afraid it has done real damage to the American-Japanese relationship, because it has reminded people of some of the trade frictions that existed between our two countries in the 1980s,” he said. “I hope that the issue resolves as soon as possible, because if this continues to go on, I think that the United States Congress is going to impose sanctions on Japan.”

    “I hope that the matter will be largely resolved, if not completely [by the time of Bush’s visit],” he said.

    Well, the beef import ban is excessive given what scientists know about BSE; I’m not sure that comparisons with Japan’s outright protectionist trade barriers of two decades ago really work. In any case, the Japanese government appears to be relenting on the issue of where to move Futenma’s helicopter operations, which to judge from reports will make restructuring easier for the armed forces.

    When will you make up your mind? (I can’t stand it)

    Posted by Sean at 07:28, October 13th, 2005

    Smiler of the day: Joe Riddle at Ex-Gay Watch on choice:

    We ought to begin every argument over gay rights on that footing: Do we choose to be gay? Absolutely! And we love it! Who the hell are you to tell us we can’t be happy?

    For context, it might be helpful to separate two entangled notions of “choice.” Do humans have a choice about who attracts us sexually? No, of course we don’t. Attraction is a chemical, biological phenomena, not subject to conscious will. Do we have a choice about whom we have sex with? Do we make choices about our sexual conduct and identity? Yes, of course we do. To say otherwise is silly.

    While it deserves to be pointed out that choice rhetoric is misused by gay activists, too–Virginia Postrel, when she was still editor of Reason, wrote a wonderful editorial on that subject–Joe clarifies things from the opposite direction. I think it’s great that programs exist for miserable people who want to change their behavior, but the mere fact that they’re using their sexuality for ill and pain doesn’t mean that more mature types can’t use it for good and joy.

    Off to Shinjuku for vodka and fag talk with a friend.


    Posted by Sean at 23:51, October 12th, 2005

    A friend e-mailed me about outgoing German Chancellor Schroeder’s making a weenie of himself in his farewell speech:

    He quickly composed himself, hitting his stride in a passionate defense of a strong German state and lashing out at “Anglo-Saxon” economic policies favoured in Britain and the United States, which he said had “no chance” in Europe.

    In an apparent reference to Hurricane Katrina, Schroeder castigated Washington for liberal, hands-off policies that left it exposed in times of crisis. The Bush administration was widely criticised for its response to the devastating storm.

    “I do not want to name any catastrophes where you can see what happens if organised state action is absent. I could name countries, but the position I still hold forbids it, but everyone knows I mean America,” he said to loud applause.

    I like the way Germans are now experts in hurricane management.

    BTW, one of yesterday’s Nikkei editorials on the subject contained the sort of play on words that diva-loving gay guys live for. I’m sure 1000 suit-and-tie fags on trains into the Marunouchi yesterday morning nearly died. I’ll give it to you with the set-up:

    The prospects for new Chancellor Merkel present a lot of difficulties. Her major mission will involve treating the country’s case of “German Disease,” in which high unemployment rates and slow economic growth have become chronic, in order to restore the nation to eminence as a major economic power. No prescription will be effective except structural reform with liberalization of the labor market, finance reform, and deregulation as its pillars.

    Could Merkel, as German Chancellor, have what it takes to forge ahead with reform, as the UK’s Thatcher did to earn the nickname “the Iron Lady”?

    As so often happens, the pivot word is impossible to translate well. Here’s the sentence in the original:


    メスを入れる (mesu wo ireru) literally means “plunge the scalpel in”; it’s used figuratively the way we would use, say, “bite the bullet” to refer to taking difficult but necessary action. But メス doesn’t just mean “scalpel”; it also means “female.” The kanji for “female” is 雌, but it’s frequently written in kana as it is above. The sense hovering in the above sentence, especially after the Margaret Thatcher reference, is that Merkel may need to thrust the implacable bitchitude of reform into the German economy. I’d love to see that, though the election gave the CDP nothing like a mandate and it’s not at all clear whether she has the stuff.

    Only some cats catch mice

    Posted by Sean at 03:04, October 12th, 2005

    Take a look at this Reuters report on economic dislocations in the PRC. (Links disappear from Reuters fairly quickly, so I’m citing quite a bit):

    The leadership in Beijing is deeply concerned there could be a wider backlash, threatening a decade of strong economic growth and the Communist Party’s grip on power, says Wenran Jiang, a China expert at the University of Alberta.

    “They have come to the conclusion that … the regime will not survive if they don’t address the growing wealth gap, and more importantly, the perception that the government only cares about economic growth and the urban rich,” he said.

    When China’s late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping ignited the country’s market reforms in the late 1970s, he espoused a trickle-down approach, saying: “Let some people get rich first.”

    Some have become gloriously rich. Next week, the Hurun Report, which tracks China’s wealthy, will issue its 7th annual China Rich List on which the average wealth for the richest top 400 is about $200 million. Seven are billionaires.

    To be sure, tens of millions of people have been lifted out of abject poverty since the party came to power 56 years ago. [How’s that for setting your time frame conveniently!–SRK]

    But the wealthiest 10 percent of China’s urban households now own 45 percent of the urban wealth while the poorest 10 percent have less than 1.4 percent, Chinese statistics show.

    Reporter John Ruwitch has a strange way of departing from the quotation from the University of Alberta’s Jiang. Jiang all but says outright that the CCP is primarily concerned with retaining power and that the benefits of economic growth to the Chinese people are little more than means to that end. Ruwitch makes some vague statements about attempts at relief that, combined with his human-interest portraits of desperately poor people living hard-scrabble lives in the booming coastal cities, make today’s PRC regime look like a bunch of well-meaning public servants saddled with unworkable twenty-year-old reforms and trying as hard as they can to patch holes wherever possible. Unfortunately, when you encourage entrepreneurship without providing reliable enforcement of contracts, protection of intellectual property, punishment for corruption, and other niceties of the rule of law, you cannot be surprised when many of the enterprises you’re facilitating are exploitative.

    BTW, speaking of the rule of law, Simon has been following the case of a group of villagers who entertained the fantasy that elected officials in the New China are supposed to be accountable to their constituents. They know better now. The story’s been developing for a while, but it’s worth reading from beginning to end.