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    Odds and ends

    Posted by Sean at 09:56, September 22nd, 2005

    Koizumi has reappointed everyone from his previous cabinet for the remainder of the Diet’s special session; his predicted reshuffle will be made after the next regular session begins in November.

    On the Japan Post privatization, which is the main order of business after the selection of the Prime Minister, the Mainichi has this article, which contributes little new information but has an interesting point buried in it:

    The main opposition group, the Democratic Party of Japan, expects to come up with its own counterproposal. But that proposal has been delayed by the disarray in the party following a painful defeat in elections and a change in leadership.

    The LDP privatization plan, larded as it is with concessions, has plenty of flaws that the DPJ could be trying to exploit. I doubt that it could somehow come up with arguments powerful enough to counter the Koizumi cabinet’s level of public support, but if it started systematically explaining the plan’s weaknesses now, it might be able to begin establishing credibility that would help it later. Unfortunately, it has bigger things to worry about, such as, you know, continuing to exist.

    Something else that the government has been working on that the Japanese public, if not most international observers, has been paying attention to is the new asbestos victims’ compensation bill:

    The fund will cover the medical costs of those with mesothelioma, lung cancer and other diseases caused by the inhalation of asbestos particles. It will also pay consolation money and cover funeral expenses for family members of those who have died from such diseases.

    The bills stipulate that applications for the fund can come from anyone who thinks that his or her disease was caused by asbestos. Family members of workers at factories that used asbestos or those who live near those plants can also apply.

    Applications will be accepted at labor standards inspection offices or public health centers, the officials said.

    The story has been gaining steam since spring.

    It is to be hoped that the asbestos fund won’t end up being milked by enterprising false claimants. Cf. today’s disclosure about two nuclear power corporations:

    The Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute and the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute were revealed on 22 September to have illegally paid over 120 million yen to employees who were not actually eligible to for benefits for those who work with radiation. There were workplaces in which such illegal disbursement was routine.

    From April 2002 to May of this year, the JNC paid out 119.55 million to 604 employees; the JAERI, 9.41 million yen to 113 employees. The greatest amount to a single employee was 600,000 yen. Both organizations will require the employees involved who have not retired to return all the money.

    The benefits to those who work with radiation are to be paid when the number of days [a worker] has entered into a radiation control zone exceeds a fixed monthly figure. Payments are made based on the work attendance logs employees keep, but those logs were not systematically verified through comparison with sign-in/sign-out sheets at the radiation control zones.

    In this context, the motto displayed on the JNC’s website is darkly (radiantly?) comical. It must be very easy to fake 出勤簿 (shukkinbo: “work attendance log”) at large companies where payroll is handled far from workstations.

    But then a strange fear gripped me / And I just couldn’t ask

    Posted by Sean at 09:10, September 22nd, 2005

    Michael (to whom I’m going to have to start paying finder’s fees–wasn’t there a time long ago when I occasionally found a gay-related media story by myself?) links to this fascinating discussion on Towleroad. The debate is over the NYT article here.

    I’m not sure the reporter is to be faulted for simply observing what’s going on and giving people’s own account of themselves. It does seem, though, that he might have seen fit to question, even in passing, statements such as these:

    “There’s so much loneliness among gay men,” one lot user said. “A lot of guys just want someone to talk to.”

    As for sex, the regulars say that they prefer the parking lot to gay bars since there is little in the way of drugs and alcohol and there is more honesty about sexually transmitted diseases.

    It’s a pity that honesty doesn’t extend to telling their spouses they’re getting screwed by strange men on top of junior’s lacrosse equipment in the back of the Explorer. Or not doing it in the first place.

    And is there no end to the procession of dimwits who think it’s impossible to get an STD from some guy who lives in a 5-bedroom mock-Tudor over on Winding Ivy Lane? Because, like, he says he’s clean, and he’s a lawyer and all?

    And that whole “gays are lonely” thing? What. Eh. Ver, Bitch. I’m not lonely. My boyfriend isn’t lonely. My friends aren’t lonely. I kinda think maybe that’s in part because we have more to say to one another than a furtive, haunted, sibilant, “Hey, whatever-your-name-is, want a blow job?” in a parking lot. People should be free to stay closeted and not to get involved in the urban gay scene, but these jokers aren’t just talking about discretion; they’re talking about deception. Their loneliness strikes me as well-earned, and I can only hope it spurs some of them to long-overdue self-criticism.

    Let’s go outside

    Posted by Sean at 00:16, September 22nd, 2005

    Okay, so yesterday I finally gave in and bought a beard trimmer, which I’d resisted doing before because it meant that I officially have a beard that I do NOT WANT. I am now the proud proprietor of a glorified pet groomer. To use on my face. At least the guy pictured on the box is cute. And I guess I shouldn’t be complaining too much, because if you use it on the lowest setting, you just end up looking as if you hadn’t shaved since yesterday. That I think I can live with, even if it is a little Faith-era George Michael. It’s better than Older-era George Michael.

    In better news, I forgot that the long weekend starts Friday this time around. That means that Atsushi will be home in a little less than 24 hours. I have to work tomorrow, but we’ll have time to have brunch first. I’m thinking of making the baked French toast recipe here. You must understand–people eat like this ALL THE TIME where I grew up. I’m surprised the recipe doesn’t tell you to dump powdered sugar over the finished product, and I’m absolutely floored that the writer says you won’t need syrup.

    Odd man out

    Posted by Sean at 10:02, September 21st, 2005

    Last week, a bunch of people wrote to say, “Wow! I had no idea there was another American expat in Japan who was right of center!” It kind of puzzled me because, for one thing, this guy, who’s more visibly conservative than I am, has a blog with a wide readership. And for another, I’ve never really felt all that marooned among leftists–and bear in mind that I’m not only gay but also employed in educational publishing. I only have one or two American friends, but among the colleagues and acquaintances I frequently discuss such things with, I think the majority supported the Iraq invasion, for example, even if they don’t like the way the Bush administration is handling the reconstruction. I’m kind of anti-social and consort with homosexuals and work in a famously left-leaning industry, so I figured I’d see what Gaijin Biker‘s take was, since he’s different on all counts. He said:

    I went to an election day barbecue party last year in my Bush/Cheney t-shirt and I had lots of expat guys coming up to me to argue (plus, more entertainingly, slightly drunk Japanese girls telling me Bush is evil).

    The typical American I-banker is a New Yorker from a well-off family who went to an ivy league college; those folks tend to be liberals, if of the limousine variety. Choosing a quantitatively-oriented job that pays well screens out some of the extreme tree-huggers, but there are still plenty left in the pool. And once you get outside the U.S. and look at bankers from Britain, France, etc., the Bush-hatred escalates in parallel with the love of nanny-state socialism.

    The amazing thing I have learned is that someone can be a razor-sharp capitalist when it comes to analyzing companies or managing money, but still favor extreme liberal positions like super-high tax rates, massive social programs, gun control, etc. Look at George Soros!

    That “Britain, France, etc.” part applies to other industries, too, BTW–especially law, but also consulting, health care, and import-export. There’s nothing more comically irritating than standing in a Tokyo fag bar with a German on your left and a Frenchman on your right–ganging up on you about how America is getting all arrogant as the world’s policeman–and having to bite your lip to avoid going all, “Don’t give me that crap! The only reason we are here having this conversation is that MY grandfathers kept YOUR grandfathers, honeychile, from killing YOUR grandfathers, bitch.” Yes, I have a thing about this.

    Maybe part of it is that Japanese electoral politics tends to be dull; the last few weeks are a real anomaly. The locals don’t keep the air buzzing with the kind of talk about politics that would stimulate up expats to bring up what’s going on at home. Only those of us who are already news junkies really tune in. Be all of that as it may, I’m up-front about my political positions, and I don’t recall having had any tiresome confrontations with leftists who wouldn’t back down when they’re shocked to discover that I voted for Bush (and, in 2000, Santorum) and support the WOT and believe in privatizing everything but the Capitol Building.

    House in order

    Posted by Sean at 01:16, September 21st, 2005

    I somehow missed this when Michael first posted it and have ended up in the odd position of getting my Gay Orbit bulletin through that straight guy over there. The original article is from 365Gay, which isn’t always super-reliable, but I’m assuming it’s accurate in the main:

    During their 19-year relationship, Rene Price and Betty Jordan thought of themselves as married, especially after they registered as domestic partners on the last day of 2004.

    But after Price died unexpectedly in July, Jordan learned that she was not entitled to the couple’s Perth Amboy home, their cars, or the $9,000 in Price’s bank account.

    Price’s death at age 61 exposed one of the many places where New Jersey’s domestic partnership law does not treat partners like married couples: When a domestic partner without a will dies, the surviving partner has no right to his or her possessions.

    This kind of thing always pisses me the hell off. I agree with Michael’s commenter Don: “This is sad. But after 19 years of being together why didn’t they have arrangements already made?” You said it, brother.

    You know, Atsushi’s life insurance goes to his parents. He owns our apartment outright. We don’t have a joint bank account. He’s closeted to both his parents and his company, so we can’t do anything that would indicate official recognition of some kind of relationship between us. This is not my ideal arrangement, but my life with him is what’s most important to me, so I make the necessary compromises. I am, after all, the one who decided to fall in love with a traditionalist Japanese man. And he sacrifices things, too: his company doesn’t promote unmarried men up the management escalator. I make more or less as much money as he does and save responsibly, so I wouldn’t have major financial worries; but I would have to leave the artifacts of our shared life behind almost in their entirety and start over. This is not a fun topic of conversation, but we’ve considered it a necessary one. I know where I stand, and I’ve made my peace with it.

    Therefore, I find myself hard-pressed to lavish unalloyed sympathy on people who don’t make wills, don’t thoroughly acquaint themselves with the terms of their civil unions, and don’t do everything they can to make sure their partners are provided for when they have, from where I’m standing, all kinds of tools at their disposal. Jordan and Price were able to be public about their relationship. They took the availability of civil unions so casually that they put theirs off for six months while one of them decided what to wear. I want to see laws changed so we can provide for our partners as much as anyone does. I also hope things are settled in Jordan’s favor. But she and Price were irresponsible. It might not be fair that we have worries that straight married couples do not, but it’s reality.

    Maehara’s DPJ remake progressing

    Posted by Sean at 10:02, September 20th, 2005

    Seiji Maehara’s attempt to cobble together a viable party from the tattered DPJ is summarized by the Yomiuri. Among the interesting tidbits to date:

    Maehara’s appointment of [Yukio] Hatoyama [as secretary general] is expected to be shortly followed by an invitation to [Ichiro] Ozawa to serve as acting president. It is believed the new leader hopes that by including veterans close to Hatoyama and Ozawa he can ensure party unity.

    Hatoyama told reporters Sunday he believed the new leader was keen to ensure party unity, but his preferential treatment of midranking and younger members might cause unrest unless all members felt included.

    A midranking party member said he thought the appointment of Takeaki Matsumoto, Maehara’s fellow national security expert and member of the party’s right wing would have an immediate unifying effect once discussion on national security and constitutional reform got under way.

    Matsumoto, 46, a Tokyo University law graduate, was elected in the proportional representation bloc for Kinki, the third time he has won a lower house seat since 2000. He had held the positions of Policy Research Committee vice chairman and deputy in the shadow cabinet defense portfolio.

    Maehara said in an NHK program Sunday morning that he did not include former SDP lawmakers, who have close relationships with labor unions, because he needed to reconsider the party’s relationship with labor unions, especially public-sector ones.

    The boys in the trees

    Posted by Sean at 09:39, September 20th, 2005

    I don’t remember how it came up in conversation, but I mentioned “You Belong to Me,” and this guy who must have been all of 23 was like, “Oh, yeah, the Jennifer Lopez song.”

    And I thought, Oh, no.

    That’s just so unjust. At first I was hoping that Lopez had done that whole retro thing that all the boy bands are doing and covered the Jo Stafford song. No, I don’t want to see Stafford abused, either, but there’s something especially repellant about someone like Lopez–whose entire singing career is built on frantic, unconvincing assertions that she’s still down with the regular folk–denaturing something of Carly Simon’s.

    Perspective: when I was in college, the whole Riot Grrl thing was all over the news. You know, you’d have these white-bread women singing, like,

    I go to Brown on Daddy’s dime
    But I’m totally oppressed
    [skronky guitar noise]
    It’s an act of true sedition
    When I shriek about my breasts
    [skronky guitar noise]

    The great thing about Carly, in retrospect, is that she approached her spoiled-brat neuroses without a trace of self-pity. Yes, she sang all solemnly about how empty her life felt despite all the parties and expensive romantic jaunts and stuff, but you never got the sense that she was pissy at the world about it. Who cares if she recycled the same half-dozen melodies for ten years and missed half the notes she sang?

    Speaking of missing notes all the time: Madge. Are you excited about her new album? I am. I just hope it doesn’t suck. The title is promising–whenever she remembers she’s a neo-disco chick and stops trying to address the Darkness in our Materialistic Souls and crap like that, she still has it. I seem to be the only life-long Madonna fan, BTW, who doesn’t think Ray of Light was the second coming. I’m sorry, crooning about how your new baby is wonderful because she was the latest, greatest step in your program of self-discovery is way creepy.

    Have you noticed that my posts are scatty this week? Sorry. Atsushi’s coming home for the weekend on Saturday. As he reminded me on the phone last night, exactly one year ago I was visiting him in Kyushu for the first time since his transfer. The first several months were tough, but we’re in our groove. I still get fidgety right before I know I’m going to see him, though, so, you know, you get randomness.


    Posted by Sean at 08:57, September 20th, 2005

    Japan has had its second fugu poisoning death for this year:

    The man prepared the puffer fish on Saturday after receiving it from a friend, according to a local public health center. Between about 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Sunday, the man ate sashimi from the liver of the fish. At about 11:30 p.m. that evening, he started showing signs of poisoning, and he died in the predawn hours of Monday.

    The man had prepared puffer fish in the past, and his family did not stop him from eating it, officials said.

    I don’t remember having come across the first, but there was a party of four people last year of whom three were poisoned. I think two of them died.

    Everything but the oink

    Posted by Sean at 23:29, September 19th, 2005

    Eric, who’s a Pennsylvania native like me, has listed some projects that funnel federal pork into the commonwealth. As he says, each one is modest in scope, but together they contribute to government bloat. Besides, even a small amount of wasteful spending is, well, wasteful.

    I’m not sure what the most wasteful federally-funded PA project in recent memory is. Being next door to the domain of Robert “Yes, West Virginia, there is a Santa Clause” Byrd kind of makes you complacent about these things. However, I was impressed by the prodigality and why-is-Washington-involved-in-this? pointlessness of a waterfront redevelopment initiative in Philadelphia, for which then-Representative Joseph Hoeffel secured over $10 million a few years ago. (Note Hoeffel’s statist paranoia over what private control might do to the site.) It’s not an ongoing project, so I don’t think it’s eligible for inclusion in Eric’s list.

    Added later: Perhaps I should point out that if you’re thinking you vaguely recognize Hoeffel’s name, it’s because he was the Democrat who ran against Arlen Specter for the PA US Senate seat that was up for election last year. One of his campaign catch-phrases? “Fiscal restraint,” naturally.


    Posted by Sean at 09:50, September 19th, 2005

    Japan isn’t entirely happy with the results of the 6-party talks, however. The abductee problem was basically tabled:

    On 19 September, the families of Japanese abducted by the DPRK held a Tokyo press conference in reaction to the joint statement adopted at the 6-party talks, voicing dissatisfaction: “The abduction issue was back-burnered.” “This is nothing more than a statement predicated on the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, which is already drained of content.”

    The only part of the joint declaration to touch on the abduction issue was this: “After dealing appropriately, in accordance with the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, with various pending issues, we will implement a normalization of relations.” The vice-representative of the group of families, Shigeo Iizuka (67), made plain his dissatisfaction: “The word abduction doesn’t appear in the declaration, and the abduction issue was back-burnered.” He indicated further concerns: “If the debate over nuclear issues goes on and on, and and there is no progress seen, the resolution of the abduction issue could become a great deal more difficult.”

    If you’re not familiar with the issue: the DPRK sent agents to the Japanese coast in the 1970s to abduct about a dozen Japanese nationals in their late teens and early 20s. They were brought back to North Korea and forced to teach Japanese language and culture to DPRK spies. Of course, those who are alive are all middle-aged now. The most famous, because her husband happened to be US Army deserter Charles Jenkins, is Hitomi Soga. Their ending was happy: they’ve come back to Japan and been able to bring their college-age daughters. Other endings have not been happy. Megumi Yokota’s family has probably been treated the worst, with the DPRK dismissively shoving random piles of bones at the Japanese as her remains. Other stories are in between. Kaoru Hasuike, for instance, was snatched while on vacation in Hokkaido as a college junior. Having been repatriated at 46, he received permission from his university to complete his degree but was having difficulty deciding on how to proceed–and do you wonder? There are, I think, five of the fifteen abductees accounted for.

    For reference, the Ministry of Foreign affairs has the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, from almost exactly two years ago, posted in Japanese and English. The section pertinent to the abduction issue is rendered this way in English:

    With respect to the outstanding issues of concern related to the lives and security of Japanese nationals, the DPRK side confirmed that it would take appropriate measures so that these regrettable [遺憾な!–SRK] incidents, that took place under the abnormal bilateral relationship, would never happen in the future.

    Well, the DPRK doesn’t seem to have abducted anyone lately, but it certainly is maintaining an “abnormal” sense of cooperation. At the same time, it’s not hard to understand why the nuclear issue superseded the abductee issue at the 6-party talks. However much the Japanese citizenry feels for the families of the abductees, the fact is that the nuclear problem could directly affect millions of people. The abductee problem, while an outrage, does not. Bilateral negotiations between Japan and the DPRK don’t seem to fare much better much of the time, unfortunately, so Iizuka’s fears may not be unfounded.