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    Quake in Niigata

    Posted by Sean at 00:26, August 21st, 2005

    There was an earthquake in Niigata this morning–M5.0 and also a strong 5 on the JMA scale. Reported damage sounds like little more than a few broken windows, but I’m sure the residents are jumpy after last fall’s series of destructive quakes. In Japanese terms, Niigata, like Kobe, is not considered a very seismically active area, so preparations are somewhat sketchy, though I’m sure they’re a lot better now than they were last year at this time.

    Old Japan

    Posted by Sean at 00:18, August 21st, 2005

    I probably would have missed this had Susanna not shot me an e-mail about it: Roger Simon is in Japan and is posting photos and impressions of his stay in Nikko. Worth reading. One thing he said is heartbreakingly true:

    English is only sparingly spoken here [at the inn where he’s staying] and all of the other patrons are Japanese. They seem to be more in search of Old Japan than even this gaijin.

    Yes. There are Japanophile Westerners who get all woozy over “traditional Japanese culture” in a way that makes it seem they care for nothing beyond having somewhere quaint and exotic and Zen and Oriental to go in order to fill in their own spiritual void. But you don’t have to adopt that condescending perspective to see that the Japanese people’s relationship with modernization is complex and not as resolutely amicable as it’s often made to seem.

    Tokyo is a striking city–I’ve lived here for almost a decade and love it to pieces, but let’s face it: no place on Earth brings the fug like Tokyo. A lot of it really does look like Bladerunner. What Tokyo has going for it, however, is that it’s the largest and most kinetic megalopolis in the developed world. Its expansive affluence and churning, insane vitality mean you don’t mind the drabness so much.

    Where the ugliness of modern Japan really makes you want to weep is in places such as Kyoto. Nothing quite prepares you for when you alight at the new Kyoto Station, prepared to immerse yourself in one of the most legendarily beautiful cities in the world…and realize that you’re inside a big modernist glass box of monumental, almost unimaginable hideousness. Across the street from the glass box is the unfortunate Kyoto Tower Hotel, which looks like a giant toilet brush in its stand. The downtown is full of the unprepossessing stucco-ish and tiled building facades you can see anywhere in Japan. Of course, the temples and a few select old neighborhoods really are as gorgeous as you expect. Atsushi and I were there in the fall of 2001 when the leaves were just reaching their peak. It was magical–until you came back down the mountain into the city. Then you may as well have been in Nagoya.

    Japanese people realize that the way they’ve modernized, impressive as it is, has not produced a happy medium. Unfortunately, building codes and public works projects don’t show much sign of changing, and the architects who have found imaginative ways to integrate old-fashioned Japanese ideas of structure with modern technology and materials are way outnumbered by those who are content to design big, characterless boxes. Or who go headlong in the other direction and generate designs for buildings that are so trippy and “experimental” as to be user-unfriendly.

    A lot of the “traditional” Japanese inns have the same visible air conditioning units and formica furniture and artificial fibers that you see elsewhere here. What they have going for them are the water and rock- and cedar-lined baths. And they’re not as crowded as the commuter trains. I’m not sure Tanizaki would have approved, but that’s about as close to nature as life gets for most people these days.

    Domestic goddess

    Posted by Sean at 10:07, August 19th, 2005

    You know what it is about Nigella Lawson? The rack. This is a woman who was clearly designed by God to provide sustenance.* I mean, it would be a relief in any case to see this kind of female celeb–featured in British Vogue and known for being A-list glam–who does not force herself into the ubiquitous Malnutritia McGelboobs silhouette. Bonus points for having mastered the ability to wear clothes that showcase her curves without making her look like a $2-an-hour whore. (Could someone closer to LA and NY maybe remind the stylists of the developed world that fabric is supposed to cover people’s privates in public?)

    Her hair approaches Jaclyn Smith levels of thick, lustrous gorgeousness, too–I bet chewing and swallowing food and then keeping it down long enough to absorb all the nutrients helps with that.

    Good grief–girlfriend just came out in a silk bathrobe to rub oil into some kind of roast with her bare hands in the eerie midnight glow of a kitchen light. If I were a straight man or dyke, I’d be having a stroke right now.

    Added on 21 August: Note to self: if you ever want a sudden increase in weekend traffic, find a way to get Kim to link you with a post about boobies. Good grief. I mean, in a good way. (And thanks, man.)


    Posted by Sean at 05:49, August 19th, 2005

    Sheesh. Next time I decide to click on a link to AMERICAblog, can someone kindly break my wrist for me? Thanks. Especially if I decide to scroll down from the post that someone linked and sample some of the other goodies available.

    I’m not going to get involved in opining about Cindy Sheehan and what kind of person she is. I will, however, ask my fellow gay guys this: Is it really a good idea to be fawning over a mother whose authority in argument is implicitly predicated on the belief that she gets to own her son’s memory and legacy now that he’s dead? No matter what allegiances he publicly and consistently took while alive, as an independent adult? Even if what she supports is diametrically opposed to the way he lived? Do gay men really want to do that? Really seriously really? I’m thinking maybe it’s not such a hot idea.

    Added on 20 August: Henry Lewis gives the obvious response:

    So, yes, she gets to ‘own’ her son’s memory and legacy – because he was her son, and she loved him. The allusion here (I think, since the question is about whether gay guys should fawn over Cindy), is if you’re gay and your parents don’t agree, should they be able to use your memory (assuming you’ve died) to promote their anti-gay agenda? The comparison, though, is a false one. An anti-gay parent who uses the memory of a dead gay-child to promote their anti-gay agenda is (arguably) actively working to tear down their son’s memory. Sheehan isn’t doing that.

    She hasn’t had anything bad to say about the military and, to my knowledge, hasn’t said she opposed Casey’s choice to be in the military. What she has said, is that she doesn’t understand what her son’s sacrifice was for. I suppose you might argue that if Casey was staunchly pro-war-in Iraq (as opposed to pro-doing his duty as a member of the military), you might argue that his mother’s anti-war activities somehow go against his wishes, but even then, it’s not the same thing. Cindy is proud of her son, she misses him, and there’s no indication she wanted him any different than he was – that she didn’t support him.

    I find it hard to criticize a guy who may actually use more parentheticals than I do–which is saying something–but this is hair-splitting with a vengeance. The man reenlisted after the start of the Iraq conflict (as his own unit was getting ready for deployment, from what I’ve read). It’s hard to imagine him, from the available information, as being anything but in favor of the Iraq invasion. Even so, how Ms. Sheehan’s thinking actually relates to her son’s thinking was not the point I was addressing.

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s all over after that first sentence: “So, yes, she gets to ‘own’ her son’s memory and legacy – because he was her son, and she loved him.” Whatever you say, honey. I’m less concerned with what Sheehan thinks herself than with the uncritical acceptance of the idea that her being a bereaved mother gives moral weight to the way she invokes her son’s memory to support her political opinions. It simply doesn’t. My mother loves me, sure–but if I died and she started going around and implying, however sincerely, that I’d only chosen an out life because I’d been suckered by the gay establishment…well, I hope it would be duly noted that she was calling into question my considered judgment as an adult.

    Party of five

    Posted by Sean at 21:56, August 18th, 2005

    Why is it that the names of new political parties always sound so hard-socialist? The party just formed by several key Japan Post opponents, dropped by the LDP for their rebelliousness, will be called the 国民新党 (kokumin shintô: “citizens’ new party”).

    On the bright side, with so few members, everyone gets an executive post:

    Former House of Representatives Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki, who heads the party, made the announcement at a press conference held late afternoon.

    The new party comprises five members, including Shizuka Kamei, former chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, who spearheaded opposition to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal reform drive.

    Hisaoki Kamei, former National Land Agency director general, took the post of secretary general.

    House of Councillors member Kensei Hasegawa, another LDP member who defied party executives to vote against the postal bills, also joined the party.

    The four rebels left the LDP earlier in the day.

    Another upper house member, Hideaki Tamura, left the Democratic Party of Japan to join the new party.

    “We considered it inappropriate that the prime minister submitted the bills in a hasty and high-handed manner,” Watanuki said at the press conference.

    “We’re strongly resentful that LDP executives decided not to support the 37 party members who voted against the bills in the lower house, and to field rival candidates against the opponents,” he added.

    “I stood up [to form a new party] since I can’t just sit still and watch” the LDP executives’ strategy to field alternative candidates, Watanuki said. “We’d like to become the vanguards of preventing such backroom politics.”

    Backroom politics? There’s always some of that, of course. If anything, though, I think that most people’s perception was that Koizumi and his fellow travelers were so upfront about demanding loyalty without necessarily making it clear what Japan Post privatization was concretely going to accomplish.

    Prime Minister Koizumi, kami love him, did not mince words over the news:

    “I think it’s good for them to set up a new party to disseminate their policy, because unlike LDP members [Cold, man!–SRK], they’re against postal privatization,” Koizumi said at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo.

    But when asked about the possibility of postelection cooperation with the new party, he said, “As the LDP and New Komeito will win a majority, we can’t cooperate with people who are opposed to postal privatization.”

    The Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition party, has now posted its election platform. Japan Post is the issue that’s getting all the attention, but it shouldn’t be. There’s always a real possibility that the LDP coalition could lose. If so, here’s what we’re in for (drastically summarized and leaving out some bullet points entirely):

    Japan-US relations: The platform emphasizes that Japan’s important strategic relationship with the US does not make it a vassal state and that it retains its autonomy. It also asserts that based on changes in the Asian “strategic environment,” US military presence now in Okinawa should be first redistributed within and then moved out of Japan. It also wants Japanese law to be in effect at US military facilities and crime suspects to be turned over to the Japanese courts before being charged.

    The SDF: The platform states that the SDF should be restructured within two years to be able to cope with new threats such as cyberwarfare, ballistic missiles, and terrorism. It also goes out of its way to mention defense of various disputed island chains.

    The SDF deployment in Iraq: The DPJ proposes to bring back the non-combat SDF forces now in Iraq by December. The Japanese contribution to the reconstruction would take the form of ODA activity.

    The building of a relationship of mutual trust with the PRC: After this is achieved (I’d love to see the DPJ describe how), Japan and China can start to systematize their cooperation on things like energy consumption, currency valuation, maritime territory, and security.

    Relationships between Japan and the ROK or other Asian states: The platform proposes mostly free trade agreements, though it also mentions Japan’s role as a consultant on democratization, conservation, crime reduction, education, and energy policy.

    The DPRK: There’s no pretense to building a relationship of mutual trust here. The DPJ supports attempts to denuclearize North Korea through the ongoing 6-party talks. Regarding the issue of Japanese abductees, it proposes possible measures such as the blocking of entry into Japanese ports for DPRK-registered vessels. Also, with the number of refugees from the DPRK showing no sign of dropping off, the DPJ proposes increased maritime security.

    A global warming tax: ¥3000 per ton of CO2 emitted

    Social insurance: The operative slogan is “fair, transparent, and sustainable.” There’s quite a bit of detail here–it’s a big issue in Japan–but there are a few major proposals. The DPJ wants to consolidate the various pension systems to eliminate inequities, such as by eliminating the special pension system for Diet members and making them pay into the same black hole reservoir as the rest of us. Married couples would be regarded as paying into the same pension account and each be considered entitled to half. The national health service would be reformed to facilitate such exotica as seeking a second opinion. The unemployment system would make it easier for younger workers to get career counseling and assistance, and the labor laws would be brought more in line with international standards. This includes–you have to love Japan–compulsory interviews by physicians for workers with long shifts. This is presumably to make sure they don’t drop dead from overwork, which is no longer seen as a contribution to company and family honor.

    On farm, trade, and public works policy, the DPJ is generally opposed to privatization and the abolishment of subsidies; however, it does propose a decrease in the number of boondoggles (who doesn’t?) and support the spinning off of authority for the disbursement of funds to local governments.


    Posted by Sean at 12:04, August 18th, 2005

    Nick has a handy run-down of left and right positions on major issues. My favorites:

    Trade sanctions are good when applied to evil governments like apartheid era South Africa.
    Trade sanctions are bad when applied to the suffering people of Ba’athist Iraq or fascist Cuba.

    Trade sanctions are good when applied to totalitarian red China.
    Trade sanctions are bad when Margaret Thatcher says they are. [Does that just apply to trade sanctions? It’s been a firm and generalized tenet in my life for decades.–SRK]

    Government interference is bad when the nanny-state tells you not to smoke the weed.
    Government interference is good when it tells you to turn your guns in to the police.

    Government interference is bad when the nanny-state tells you not to smoke Marlboros.
    Government interference is good when, in an ironic move, it throws you in jail for having the gay sex.

    Muneo Suzuki seeks lower house seat (not a joke!)

    Posted by Sean at 10:00, August 18th, 2005




    Muneo Suzuki, a former Lower House member of the ruling party who is appealing a bribery conviction, on Thursday launched a new political party that he hopes will win him a seat in the Sept 11 election.

    Suzuki, 57, said his Sapporo-based Shinto daichi (New party, big land) was planning to win at least two Hokkaido seats in the election.

    He said the party, which was named by popular singer Chiharu Matsuyama-a long-time friend of Suzuki’s-to symbolize Hokkaido’s vast area, would stand for the socially disadvantaged.

    “I want the party to be one for the weak and those with no power,” Suzuki said. “Politics should work for those who are disadvantaged or regions that are underdeveloped.”

    The party is planning to come out guns blazing against bureaucratic intervention in politics. It will also campaign to secure Ainu rights as well as the construction of a pipeline to directly import natural gas and petroleum from Russia to the northern island.

    Muneo Suzuki was sentenced to two years in prison and millions of yen in fines for…well, I don’t think he was charged with breaking and entering, but just about everything else was in there: bribery, bid-rigging, perjury, and fraud among them. His idea of having politics work for “regions that are underdeveloped,” naturally, is funneling money into boondoggles that have no potential users. The best that can be said of him is that he was considered a scourge of bureaucrats, but you have to be scraping big old splinters from the bottom of the barrel to come up with that one.

    Coming around

    Posted by Sean at 23:54, August 17th, 2005

    Michael links to this blog, by a man who’s just come out to himself and his family at middle age. As Michael says, it’s wrenching to read–but parts of it are touching in a frankly affirmative way, too. After reading Chris’s passage about that first time you go from Why is that guy staring at me like that? to Wait a minute–he thinks I’m cute!, I can’t stop smiling. And the part about the big, hairy guy of Middle Eastern extraction reminds me that I really should drop my first boyfriend a line and see how he’s doing.

    Ready for the big one

    Posted by Sean at 05:09, August 17th, 2005

    The Nikkei editorials included one that opened thus this morning:

    The occurrence of a severe earthquake makes the blood run cold and always makes it hit home that, anywhere at any time in Japan, there is the danger of a catastrophic earthquake. We all have the memory of times when we were jolted into fear by the shaking of the earth–that memory gives us an opportunity to review point by point our earthquake preparations both at work and at home.

    Yesterday, a fairly serious earthquake struck; its focus was off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture. Its highest surface intensity was a weak 6 JMA, recorded in southern Miyagi Prefecture. Its magnitude is estimated at M7.2. There were serious injuries and damage to buildings. The shaking was registered over a large range of the Japanese Archipelago, and the rattled feeling it produced was registered by a correspondingly large number of people.

    The Japanese expression used here isn’t “makes the blood run cold,” actually–it’s 肝を冷やす (himo wo hiyasu: “chills the liver”). If there’s anyone reading from Japan, this might be a good time to plug once again the US Embassy’s earthquake preparedness checklist.


    Posted by Sean at 00:54, August 17th, 2005

    Another Gay Republican has posted a spare, concise coming out story that’s worth reading. His conclusions are possibly of limited use for those with moral questions based on firm religious beliefs that are at odds with homosexual conduct, but he knows how to frame the issue:

    Afterward, I was upset and angry for having fought myself over this. Why had I built being gay into this enormous, frightening obstacle? There had been nothing to be afraid of. It was me, all me.

    Ignorant anti-gay prejudice does exist, and it does a number on you. But you get to decide how you’re going to deal with it. The only thinking and behavior you can reliably change is your own.