• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    You haven’t aged a bit

    Posted by Sean at 22:29, September 30th, 2005

    Japan’s moral problems in facing up to its actions during the 20th century get a lot of play–and for good reason–but it’s always important to bear in mind that every society in this part of the world is proficient at whitewashing. Quoth Simon:

    [A] very happy 56th birthday to the New China. Follow the link to read the pain of a 7 year old girl’s history lessons, numerous counts of foreign aggression and surprisingly little mention of the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and other weird political movements.

    The article from the People’s Daily starts this way:

    On October 1, 2005, the People’s Republic of China, or “New China” as it is fondly referred to by the entire Chinese people, turns 56 years old.

    It gets better from there.

    Refuge of the roads

    Posted by Sean at 09:38, September 30th, 2005

    “Don’t make highway privatization a failure,” warns this morning’s Nikkei editorial:

    The goal of the Japan Highway Public Corporation was to stop building any more pointless expressways and to decrease debt, now at about ¥40 trillion, as quickly as possible. However, there’s a slim chance that we can hope for much from the new corporation regarding those items.

    The new private corporation holds no capital but will stick the nation with its debt balance. New road construction will also be ultimately decided upon by a state council. In this structure, which will be completely under state protection and governance, there will be almost no elements through which discipline will come into play in operations. Plans for the laying of 9342 kilometers [of new roadway] are for the most part complete, and there is a strong possibility that the resulting ballooning debt will be shunted off onto the next generation.

    This new company, with its complete reliance on state support, has also shown its true colors to the market. Top managers have been arrested on suspicion of bid-rigging, and the books show nothing resembling a drop in losses from unprofitable roads. Even under these exigent circumstances, Japan Public Highway Corporation bonds have remained stable in value. It all makes it look unlike a corporation that’s about to be privatized.

    In a risk-free world, ethical considerations go out the window. At the instruction of the Prime Minister, the Privatization Promotion Committee formed three years ago proposed “complete privatization,” by which buy-off of all assets for the privatized corporation would be accomplished in a projected ten years. But LDP Diet members and the heads of regional government bodies violently opposed the proposal, and it was defanged through the machinations of the Ministry of Land, Transport, and Infrastructure and part of the privatization committee. Perhaps because [interested parties] saw this and felt a sense of confidence in their untouchability, it was at this point that large-scale institutionalized bid-rigging really began to effloresce.

    The Nikkei editors want Koizumi to use his surge in popular support to make sure the privatization of the highway corporation stands a chance of being a significant part of government finance reform. I don’t know–Japan Post (speaking of defanged proposals) and highway construction? He’d have to be a miracle worker.

    So don’t mind if I fall apart / There’s more room in a broken heart

    Posted by Sean at 04:36, September 30th, 2005

    Hi, I’m Nora Ephron. I have this thing where I conceive of every relationship with a man–even a politician–in terms of romantic betrayal, you know? I had this awful ex…well, we won’t go into it, but he really affected me.

    Sometimes people say that it’s kind of pathetic for me to pitch myself as a symbol of female strength when the women in all my romantic comedy and romantic drama and romantic comedy-drama screenplays are kind of drippy and mopey and hung-up and stuff about men.

    But I say, would Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson star in “pathetic”? Would “pathetic” have made an inescapable icon out of Meg Ryan? Okay, then. Let’s not be having any more of this “pathetic” stuff, or I’ll unleash some of my acclaimed snappy wit on you. It’ll sting, believe me.

    Why didn’t Bill love me? Sorry to change the subject so abruptly, but I mean, I was there for him all the time. So were the other feminists. So were the gays. Sometimes we were all there for Bill at the same chic dinner parties. I just don’t understand. I don’t know why I wasn’t enough.

    Please, someone stop me before I have a few too many glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and call him up and say something foolish.

    Oh, and war is bad.


    There’s a dark secret in me

    Posted by Sean at 01:48, September 30th, 2005

    Ghost of a Flea reports that Alice Cooper knows a good diva when he hears one. That’s so sweet.

    Apples and oranges

    Posted by Sean at 00:51, September 30th, 2005

    Jon Henke has a post up at Q and O with a roundup of links to liberal blogger innuendo about David Dreier’s sexuality. Now that Dreier hasn’t been made acting Majority Leader, I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much, except as a reminder that wacko leftists have a remarkably unprincipled approach to the right to privacy.

    However, one of the commenters mentioned a parallel with James McGreevey that I don’t think holds up under scrutiny:

    Like McGreevey, it’s not a matter of who he is sleeping with, but rather that he expects the taypapers to pay that person’s salary.

    Whoa. McGreevey didn’t just have a boyfriend on the payroll. McGreevey hired a counterterrorism chief who had no relevant experience and (being a foreign national) couldn’t get security clearance for high-level meetings. McGreevey tried to pressure an unwilling employee into a sexual relationship. McGreevey staged his coming out to deflect attention from brewing corruption scandals–thus becoming perhaps the only gay person in history to come out so he could live less honestly. McGreevey’s actions screwed over his constituents and slapped other out gay men and women in the face. (Of course, you wouldn’t know that from the loathsome flattery he’s gotten from gay groups. Even Jonathan Rauch was strangely muted in his response.)

    I haven’t seen anything to indicate that Dreier’s chief of staff is being paid for a job he’s not doing, or that the congressman himself has used his power to strongarm guys into sleeping with him. Unless he’s committing some kind of crime, he gets to be gay as he sees fit, just like the rest of us. No comparison with McGreevey.

    Happy anniversary, Pryhills!

    Posted by Sean at 10:04, September 29th, 2005

    Happy anniversary, Pryhills! Many more to you.


    Posted by Sean at 01:46, September 29th, 2005

    This week’s column by the always-acute Anne Applebaum is even more deadly than usual:

    In its scale and sheer disregard for common sense, the Louisiana proposal breaks new ground. But I don’t want to single out Louisiana: After all, the state’s representatives are acting logically, even if they aren’t spending logically. They are playing by the rules of the only system for distributing federal funds that there is, and that system allocates money not according to the dictates of logic, but to the demands of politics and patronage.

    Nor does this logic apply only to obvious boondoggles such as federal transportation spending, the last $286 billion tranche of which funded Virginia horse trails, Vermont snowmobile trails, a couple of “bridges to nowhere” in rural Alaska and decorative trees for a California freeway named after Ronald Reagan (a president who once vetoed a transportation bill because it contained too much pork). On the contrary, this logic applies even to things we supposedly consider important, such as homeland security. Because neither the administration nor Congress is prepared to do an honest risk assessment, and because no one dares say that there are states at almost no risk of terrorist attack, a good chunk of homeland security funding is distributed according to formulas that give minimum amounts to every state. The inevitable result: In 2004 the residents of Wyoming received, per capita, seven times more money for first responders than the residents of New York City.

    Unfortunately, I can’t identify the buddy who sent it to me–if his unanimously leftist colleagues found out he was communicating with libertarians, they might tar and feather him–but I think I can get away with quoting his parting shot: “I am so glad to live in a democracy that is free from the pork and corruption of Japan’s… (laughing so hard I am crying, or would that be vice versa?).” Uh-huh. The only reason we Americans living in Japan can get away with smirking at the degree of pork-barrel transport and construction spending here is that the federal ministries are so unbelievably profligate they make Washington look frugal by comparison.

    As Applebaum says, most people don’t get too exercised over waste on infrastructure because it’s not a very sexy topic. (Prime Minister Koizumi’s push for Japan Post privatization ran into this problem, too–how many citizens want to sit around talking about the financial structure of the postal service?) There’s also the fact that things actually do get built. It’s hard to arouse voters’ ire over poor allocation and inefficient use of resources because those problems are not as easily visible as roads and bridges that don’t materialize. And even boondoggles–perhaps especially boondoggles–provide employment.

    Applebaum’s suggestion is this:

    But maybe at least it is time for a change of terminology. After all, taking $200 million of public money to build a bridge, name it after yourself and get reelected isn’t merely “pork.” Demanding $250 billion of public money for your hurricane-damaged state–in the hope that voters will ignore all the mistakes you made before the hurricane struck–isn’t just “waste” either. As I say, corruption comes in many forms. But whatever form it comes in, it will be easier for voters to identify if it’s called by its true name.

    In an age in which there are news agencies that consider it an affront to call terrorists “terrorists,” I’m not sure the idea will catch on. It’s a good one, though.

    Added at 21:24: Virginia Postrel points out that there are non-infrastructure pork provisions that would be much more useful to cut if we meant business about curbing spending. Alex Kerr made a pertinent point a few years ago–though he was speaking of Japan and in a slightly different context:

    At a bank in Tokyo, you can make 10 plus 10 equal 30 if you like–but somewhere far away, at a pension fund in Osaka, for example, it may be that 10 plus 10 will now equal only 15. Or even farther away, implications of this equation may require that a stretch of seashore in Hokkaido must be cemented over.

    He was speaking of the shell game Japan plays that makes it seem to defy economic laws that obtain elsewhere, but I think he also illustrated one of the reasons it’s hard to get people to think of government spending in big, big, big Jonathan Rauch terms: the different parts of the machine don’t seem to be related to each other. How agricultural subsidies could have implications for homeland security resources, say, is (understandably) not something most people give a lot of thought to. With infrastructure spending, on the other hand, there’s a direct, vivid connection to a current news story with lots of human interest angles. That doesn’t mean that people will necessarily be spurred by Hurricane Katrina to pressure their congresscritters to rein it in a bit, but that seems to be the best hope.

    Secret gardens

    Posted by Sean at 09:29, September 28th, 2005

    Eric and I had an e-mail exchange that I’d like to quote but can’t precisely because it was on the subject that ended up in this recent post of his:

    I think that one of the reasons so many bloggers are drawn to this medium is that in too many ways, America has become a country in which people are afraid to say what they think. Blogging gives a voice (if not a loudspeaker) to those who’d normally be silent, but the downside is that it gives them an opportunity to be heard by the very people who’d normally intimidate them into silence. I think there are people who’ve taken up blogging precisely because thoughts like “I could never say this at work!” or “You just can’t discuss issues like this in public!” ran through their minds.

    Every so often, I’ll get an e-mail to the effect of “Thanks for being so outspoken about [gay/Japan] stuff,” and my reaction is to the effect of “Oh, honey, if you only knew!” Since I write under my own name, I have to use content and tone that are compatible with my job, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s not as if people who try to make their points forcefully but civilly were overrepresented in the public discourse or anything. I also have a few teenaged readers and try to keep my occasional bawdiness mild and good-humored, the better to serve as a thrilling contrast with the latest Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson video.


    Of course, not every e-mail is an overblown compliment. I won’t post things from people who obviously want to remain anonymous, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t address the topic raised:

    The idea that, because I’m happy and in a settled, sustaining relationship at 33, coming out must have been a breeze for me is an extraordinarily naive one. Coming out reorders your whole view of the world and where you belong in it; anyone going through such an experience is bound to have trouble navigating it. I needed people to cut me some slack without giving up on me altogether, and fortunately, I had friends who were willing to do exactly that. Basically honorable people sometimes do pained, impulsive, nasty things in moments of weakness. That’s not to excuse them, only to say that they shouldn’t be summarily written off.

    But for some people, explaining away their bad behavior as the fault of social prejudice gets to be habit-forming, and if they’re going to make self-justifying statements in public, I think those statements deserve to be challenged.


    Posted by Sean at 22:51, September 27th, 2005

    Good news: Japan can stop worrying about the abductee issue, because the UN has totally told North Korea that it needs to cut it out with the human rights abuses and stuff:

    On 27 September, UN Secretary General Annan released a report on humanitarian issues in North Korea and indicated that, in addition to engaging in torture and forced labor, the country was also suffering serious food shortages. About the issue of abducted Japanese nationals, he declared that survivors “must be returned to Japan both swiftly and safely.”

    The report is 22 pages in all and contains 68 items. About the treatment meted out to citizens who are regarded as criminals by the state, it says, “forced labor is practiced on a large scale.” It went on to cite further examples [of problems]: “When a given person is punished for crimes related to politics or ideology, his or her family also becomes a target for punishment.”

    North Korea’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs met with Annan last week, stressing that the food situation has improved; he sought a cessation of humanitarian aid and cooperation in development projects. However, the new UN report states that aid is [still] necessary, and says, regarding the way support is being used, that “effective monitoring that will increase transparency” is vitally important.

    Well, there you go. Problem solved. And some people complain that Japan gets no return on its hefty contributions to the UN!

    Candy everybody wants

    Posted by Sean at 08:37, September 27th, 2005

    This (via Joel) is too funny:

    For the most part, Japanese network television is pretty darn unremarkable. If one were to flip through the channels at any time of day, one would likely find:

    • A variety show featuring a roomful of mindless “talents” who are completely and utterly devoid of any actual talent whatsoever

    • A cooking program
    • A cooking program featuring a roomful of mindless talents who watch food being cooked and then sample it and loudly and repeatedly exclaim “OISHII!!!”
    • Some kind of quiz show
    • A quiz show featuring a roomful of mindless talents demonstrating just how mindless they truly are
    • A sappy documentary about someone somewhere in the world who faces some sort of adversity (e.g., is looking for a job, is living in a brutal war zone, was born without legs, a combination thereof, etc.) and who Tries His/Her Best® to overcome the hardships of their situation
    • A variety show featuring a roomful of mindless talents watching a sappy documentary and providing their horribly forced reactions to the hardships (tears) and the overcoming of the hardships (more tears) for the sake of the television viewers at home who have to be instructed how to react since they have neither souls nor a capacity for empathy

    That last sentence is a little over the line, but overall: No fooling! Japanese television does have interesting historical dramas; shows about the country’s unique geological features; and profiles of famous artworks and artisans. But it does the lowest-common-denominator thing no less, er, adroitly than American television.

    The タレント (tarento: “person who’s famous for being famous,” derived as Jeff notes from the hilariously inappropriate English word talent) phenomenon has to be seen to be believed. You look at some of these people and think, Maybe we don’t need to worry so much about having the US education system outcompeted after all. The guys are unbelievably ditzy–and not in the I-bet-he-makes-up-for-it-by-being-good-with-his-hands way, either. The women, who are encouraged by convention to be slightly flibbertigibbety in public anyway, don’t help things much. I saw one quiz show a few years ago on which contestents were asked to locate a few countries on a map of Europe and the Mediterranean, and only one person knew where Germany was. Dead serious.

    I’m less in agreement with Conbini Bento about Masaki Sumitami:

    Known for his revealing black leather S&M outfit, incessant pelvis-thrusting and frequent exclamations of “WOOO!!!”, Hard Gay made a splash on the talent scene earlier this year and has quickly become the man of the moment on Japanese television. Despite his flamboyant personality and outrageous appearance reminiscent of the biker in the Village People, Hard Gay is not only not an actual homosexual, but his forays on television thus far have primarily been based on the wholesome concept of yonaoshi, or social improvement (although in recent appearances he has begun drifting into other territory involving his newfound celebrity). His TV segments usually feature him walking the streets and attempting to help out those he perceives as being in need whilst making jokes rich with pun and innuendo and thrusting his crotch with abandon, often to the horror and embarrassment of the subject(s) of his attention. While his antics may push the envelope at times, Hard Gay’s controversial moniker and appearance belie his good humor and affability.

    Perhaps I can’t get into Sumitami’s routine because I’ve spent too many years running into men in revealing black leather S&M outfits who are actual homosexuals and think that incessant pelvis-thrusting and frequent exclamations of “WOOO!!!” are great ways to hit on guys.