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    “A little fish in a big, big ocean”

    Posted by Sean at 22:42, August 16th, 2005

    In a comment to this post, John of Toilet Paper with Page Numbers directed me to a post of his from a few weeks ago. At first glance, it seems only tangentially related to the topic of political affiliation. In reality, though, it gets to the heart of what I was talking about. John reproduces a letter he wanted to posts for his chemistry students when he was a TA, and this is part of it:

    Do you realize why you are in this class in the first place? I’ll give you a hint. It’s because the peckerwoods in the admissions office are too spineless to use your transcripts and SATs to tell you straight up that you are not qualified (now hold on, I didn’t say too stupid…yet) to enter college, much less a pre-med program. This is a weed-out course. And I have a big Black and Decker logo on my red pen. No, I’m not being judgmental. I’m telling you the cold, hard truth no one has bothered to rub your nose in yet. Believe me, I’m kinder than your first boss will be.

    Concealing people’s ignorance from them–indeed, going so far as to keep them ignorant by pretending to teach them math and science without actually doing so–is fine if you think it perfectly natural that they’ll grow up to have their lives run by caretakers anyway. If, however, you think adults should be independent, then it follows that children need to be equipped to take care of their own business without interference. That involves a basic, systematically-presented, stringently-tested foundation in the usual liberal arts subjects. It means a frank recognition–without namby-pamby self-esteem-building bromides–that we all have our own individual mix of talents and that not everyone is equally capable in all fields. And, conversely, it means a frank recognition that the donnish kind of intelligence is not the only one that matters.

    LDP opponents polishing swords for snap election

    Posted by Sean at 21:54, August 16th, 2005

    This is 180 degrees opposite from what was being said last week, though rapid changes in strategy are themselves hardly surprising at this juncture:

    On 16 August, LDP legislators who opposed the Japan Post privatization bill–including Tamisuke Watanuki, Shizuka Kamei, and Hisaoki Kamei–met in a Tokyo hotel and agreed on the broad outlines for the formation of a new party centered on current members of the lower house who were part of the opposition. After hammering out the party’s name and fundamental policy platform, they plan to announce [its formation] on 17 August. Most such members have already firmed up plans to run [in the snap election] unaffiliated, so the new party is likely to have a small-scale start.

    For its part, the DPJ released its lower house manifesto yesterday:

    On 16 July, the Democratic Party of Japan released its lower house election manifesto (campaign promises). On the subject of Japan Post reform, pitched as the party’s major point of contention with Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi, it states that postal savings and insurance “will be reduced to a reasonable scale.” Limits on the amount that could be deposited in postal savings would be reduced in stages starting in 2006. Reform to centralize all pensions would be executed by 2008. The battle [of campaign platforms], starting with that over Japan Post and pension reforms, will be beginning in earnest as the parties gear up for the 11 September election.

    The reduction of limits on postal savings deposits is designed to effect a “reduction of public financing.” Among the provisions: capitalization through postal savings accounts (which now hold a total of ¥330 trillion) will be halved within 8 years by reducing the per-depositor limit from ¥10 million to ¥7 million, then over the subsequent several years to ¥50 million.

    “Public financing” refers, of course, to the investment of citizens’ savings in pet government projects, many of which are of questionable public utility. There’s no word on whether the DPJ plans to address organizational inefficiency at Japan Post, but then, even the LDP caved when it came to reductions in the number of outlets and personnel.

    Miyagi earthquake serious but not devastating

    Posted by Sean at 14:35, August 16th, 2005

    Today’s earthquake in Miyagi Prefecture appears to have caused about 60 injuries of various levels of severity. The magnitude estimate has been revised to M7.2, which is comparable to that of the Great Hanshin Earthquake ten years ago. The focus of today’s quake was buried deeper, though, and the JMA rating was correspondingly lower than the 7 given to the Kobe earthquake. Sadly but fortunately, every big earthquake is instructive for engineers; Sendai’s shut-off systems for gas and water mains were improved after the Kobe quake, a move that was credited with minimizing damage in the region’s last two major quakes and probably also had its effect today.

    I could move out to the left for a while

    Posted by Sean at 04:53, August 16th, 2005

    Or I could slide to the right for a while

    You’d think I’d be sick of this subject. Actually, I am sick of it, but it’s an important subject. When I first clicked through and started reading, I was like, Wow, this guy’s parodies are a laugh riot. I wonder how closely he’s hewing to what people actually said when he’s making up those fake quotations. Think I’ll look at the original WaPo article and see. [snarfs Pimms and ginger] SUFFERIN’ SUCCOTASH, THAT’S WHAT THE DEMOCRATS ACTUALLY SAID ARE THEY OUT OF THEIR MINDS HAVE THEY ALL BEEN SMOKING CRACK OHMAHGAWD OHMAHGAWD?!

    Of course, I shouldn’t have been so surprised–a few months ago, I finally gave in and changed my party registration because I was so sick of looking at the latest repellant Democrat gasbag on television and thinking, There are no words to express how happy I am that I’ve found a way to live on the OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE GLOBE from YOU. I’ve always voted more Republican than Democrat and been on the right-ish libertarian side of most arguments, but I liked being able to vote in Democratic primaries and figured that voting GOP without being registered or contributing at least allowed me to send a small, individual signal that it didn’t have my unqualified support (especially when it came to wasteful spending). Not that I was expecting this to give Haley Barbour insomnia, or anything–it just struck me as the right balance.

    But eventually, enough is enough. My beliefs haven’t changed one bit, and I don’t plan to become a party hack, but at least the Republican leadership is usually broadcasting from the same planet as the rest of us.

    Michael Reynolds of The Mighty Middle is to the left of me, and he’s clearly not about to bolt from the Dems, but he very clearly sees what I think is the major strategic problem with the DNC leadership. I’m quoting at length because, although the message he delivers is not new, he delivers it with clarity and point:

    The moral center of the GOP is in big business, small business and churches. The moral core of the Democratic Party is in academia, unions and the groups – the NARALS et al. The unions are disintegrating, the academy is the very definition of “out of touch,” and the groups are hermetically sealed parallel universes inhabited by lawyers, flacks and giant, bloated Senators.

    If you want to talk to people — people who do not already agree with everything you have to say, professor — you have to actually know some people. Some of those people you need to know will drive SUV’s. Some will own jet skis. Many will attend churches where people sing a lot. They will not necessarily dine on a small green salad with lo-fat dressing on the side. They will not know or care who Noam Chomsky is. And here is what is vitally important for Democrats to understand: although these people will not necessarily be part of your all-Angelou book club, they will be at least as smart as you are.

    To communicate with people, understand people. To understand people, listen to people. Fire the consultants. Fire the gurus. Fire the pollsters. Fire the lawyers. Get back into the real world. Send forth your minions, Democrats, scatter them to the winds with instructions to go forth into the McDonalds and the Wal-Marts and the churches, to boldly engage fat women in spandex, and skinny guys in pick-up trucks, to speak without sneering to the local businessman, to talk on equal terms with the minister and the insurance salesman and the cook and the fisherman and the clerk. Watch TV. (No, not PBS. Not HBO, either.) Read bestsellers. Shoot a gun. Ride a speedboat. Drive a big old gas hog across west Texas at ninety miles an hour. (It’s fun. Even more fun than composing briefs or conducting a focus group.) Smile at other people’s kids. Talk to teachers – not their union reps. And by the way, when I say “talk to” I mean, “shut the f**k up and listen.”

    I’m not always happy with the Republican politicians and talking heads, but I will say this: even when they’re driving me nuts with their hyper-spending and their footdragging on border and air security and their selective opposition to entitlement programs and their preachy allegiance to the War on Drugs, they at least are rarely guilty of talking about Americans en masse as if we were as dumb as a box of rocks and depended on them to run our lives properly.

    After all, every Red State town has doctors, lawyers, accountants, and real estate agents, just like places in the big coastal population belts. Additionally–you know, my father was graduated from high school on shop courses, and my mother dropped out of ninth grade, then went back in her 40s for her GED and a certificate in data entry. Most adult friends of our family had similar backgrounds. None of them was an idiot. Most of them read the newspaper and a handful of news magazines, and even those who were otherwise unlettered read the Bible daily. My own interest in politics was nurtured by listening to them discuss the Iran hostage crisis; why they hated Carter; why they loved Reagan; the Grenada invasion; Yasser Arafat; and Gloria Steinem. I’m a passionate supporter of education with stringently-enforced standards, but it simply is not the case that being undercertified dooms you to ignorance.

    What does doom you to ignorance is going into every discussion assuming that you have lots to teach people and little to learn from them. That attitude really isn’t such a problem with everyday people who happen to be registered Democrats. At least, in my experience, it isn’t. It is a huge, huge, huge problem among those who set the priorities and public image for the DNC. Reynolds’s message is the one they need, but given the statements that he’s responding to, it’s hard to imagine they’d know what to do with it.

    (Via Joanne Jacobs)

    Sendai earthquake wasn’t the next Miyagi-oki

    Posted by Sean at 23:58, August 15th, 2005

    The way we felt this morning’s earthquake in Tokyo was as gentle rattling for about 20 seconds and then more noticeable swaying. It seemed to last forever, and though it wasn’t really strong, it made a good deal of noise.

    It was more serious elsewhere: M6.8 at the focus and a weak 6 on the JMA scale at the epicenter in southern Miyagi Prefecture. They’re reporting quite a few injuries in the major city of Sendai, though it’s only an hour after the quake and details are few. Sendai, fortunately in a sense, is in an earthquake hot zone. It’s as well prepared as you can be for a big shake-up. Its last major quake was two years ago, but it’s still waiting (if that’s the word) for the next Miyagi-oki monster–the region gets hit with one once every several decades. If anyone’s reading from around Sendai, stay safe.

    Japan Post still developing

    Posted by Sean at 03:28, August 15th, 2005

    The LDP may pursue an aggressive strategy regarding Japan Post privatization:

    The Liberal Democratic Party hopes to pass the postal privatization bills during a special Diet session to be convened after the House of Representatives election if the ruling coalition retains its majority, sources close to the party said Sunday.

    The party plans to resubmit the bills, which were rejected by the House of Councillors, to a special Diet session for an extended debate on the bills, the sources said.

    It is unusual for bills to be debated at a special Diet session.

    With Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi having touted the postal privatization bills as the key election issue, the LDP felt it was necessary to make clear its determination to pass the bills as soon as possible, the sources said.

    A special Diet session, which elects the prime minster, speaker and vice speaker, does not usually deliberate on bills.

    In related news, the Nikkei reports tersely that Shizuka Kamei has resigned as head of his faction. Kamei was one of Koizumi’s rivals for selection as Prime Minister four years ago; he was also one of Koizumi’s most visible opponents in the debate over Japan Post privatization. Kamei had removed the faction’s secretaries general from their positions last month when the pair voted in favor of the bill. The Kamei faction accounted for the largest number of opposing LDP votes in the House of Councillors.

    Added a few minutes later: I don’t have the news on, so I haven’t seen Kamei’s press conference; as always, the Nikkei‘s on-line story is being added to:

    After his announcement, Kamei stated to the press corps that the reason for his resignation was that “my faction members have been put in a painful position” because the LDP has decided not to back current members of the Diet in the lower house election if they voted against the Japan Post privatization bill. He also explained, “We were unable to stop the reign of terror conducted by Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi.”

    It’s hard to fault legislators who vote against laws they don’t think are a good idea. On the other hand, Koizumi is attempting reforms that hit so many powerful beneficiaries where they hurt that you can’t blame him for feeling the need to play hardball politics, either. It will be interesting to see what happens. The Mainichi has conducted another poll and says that public support of the cabinet is still rising. Those who didn’t support it most frequently cited the slowness of economic recovery as their reason. Koizumi and his strategists have failed to give the public clear, easily digestible reasons that Japan Post privatization would be a real help in that regard. Whether they’re going to change their approach now is anyone’s guess.


    Posted by Sean at 03:15, August 15th, 2005

    The memorial service for the World War II dead was held today; 15 August is the anniversary of the Japanese surrender. The speeches contained, as always, avowals to uphold Japan’s constitutional pledge of non-aggression and to use its prominence to work toward world peace. This was the first year that the family members in the procession of the bereaved included no parents of the dead. I doubt that that’s necessarily going to be true from here on–the parents of those in their early 20s at the end of the Pacific War could be in their early or mid 80s now. That’s higher than the average life expectancy for that generation, but not significantly higher.

    Added a few minutes later: Why am I so scatterbrained? Hello! The real story was from Koizumi’s Prime Minister’s Statement:

    Prime Minister Koizumi acknowledged [the facts of] history in his speech, saying, “Through our colonial governance and invasions, great damage and suffering were wrought on a great many nations, above all the peoples of Asian nations.” In addition, he once again explicitly indicated a mindset of reflection and apology by saying, “We now express an attitude of unsparing self-reflection and, from the bottom of our hearts, apology, having fully and humbly confronted the facts of history.” In both cases, he was quoting from the speech given by [then-Prime Minister] Murayama in which he apologized for the war, referring to [Japan’s actions] as an invasion.

    Murayama’s speech was given exactly ten years ago.

    LDP seeks women Diet candidates; Osaka assemblywoman comes out

    Posted by Sean at 01:13, August 14th, 2005

    Interesting, this:

    Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi upped the ante in his war against party rebels by instructing that priority be given to fielding female candidates in the Lower House election next month.

    The strategy started to take shape with a decision by ruling Liberal Democratic Party executives on Thursday to field Satsuki Katayama as its candidate in the Shizuoka No. 7 constituency. The seat is held by Minoru Kiuchi, 40, one of the party’s 37 rebel lawmakers who voted against Koizumi’s postal reform bills.

    What’s the reasoning, I wonder? Are LDP strategists trying to get out the housewife/single woman vote? Do they just feel that female talent hasn’t been sufficiently tapped and that this is a good opportunity to make a statement about the party’s values? Koizumi’s stated reason is this:

    Regarding the backing of female candidates, The Prime Minister told the press corps, “[The move is] because there are very few women members of the Diet. I want those who rise to be the most competent people possible.”

    Fair enough. I’m sure he means it. It seems likely that the strategy is also part of an effort to change the party’s image. Koizumi sees himself–and has pitched himself–as a revolutionary. More visible women in positions of power would help dispel the impression that the failure of the Japan Post privatization bill to pass means that the LDP is still under the control of well-connected old men who are tied to the old patronage system.


    Speaking of women politicians–the Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade 2005 was held here in Tokyo yesterday. I didn’t watch and, of course, it got next to zero news coverage as always. The Mainichi did report on it tangentially, though:

    The Mainichi has learned that Osaka Prefectural Assemblywoman Kanako Otsuji (30) plans to participate in the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade on 13 August, coming out in public as a homosexual herself. Her autobiography is also to be published soon. It is extremely rare for sitting elected officials to come out in public as homosexual. Assemblywoman Otsuji stated, “Because of discrimination and prejudice, gays frequently haven’t made themselves known. I hope that, by making myself visible as gay, I can throw the issue into relief and put and end to the vicious cycle of discrimination and prejudice.”

    I assume Otsuji made the announcement yesterday; no one was talking about the parade when I went out last night, but as I say, it isn’t really an attention getter. More power to her. The image of gays in the Japanese media is very much on the freakishly-funny end of the spectrum. If Otsuji is able to be charmingly ordinary and gets a reasonable amount of coverage for her book, she could do a lot of good.

    No Yasukuni pilgrimage for Koizumi this week

    Posted by Sean at 00:18, August 14th, 2005

    Shoichi Nakagawa, the Minister of Economics, Trade, and Industry, made a pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine this morning. I assume the reactions from the rest of East Asia will be all over NHK by this evening. Yuriko Koike, the Minister of the Environment, and Hidehisa Otsuji, the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, plan to go tomorrow on the 60th anniversary of the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II; twelve members of the cabinet, including Prime Minister Koizumi and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, have announced that they will not go to the shrine tomorrow.

    Like a horse and carriage

    Posted by Sean at 22:18, August 12th, 2005

    Megan McArdle posted something that inflamed Eric into writing one of his usual good posts on the gay marriage debate:

    In the incident cited by Megan McArdle, gay activists are apparently claiming that two heterosexuals should not be allowed to marry each other if they are of the same sex. Yet nowhere have I heard “heterosexual activists” making a similar argument (that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry each other if they are of the opposite sex).

    Clearly, there’s a lot of misunderstanding — both about existing marriage laws, as well as laws which would legalize same sex marriage.

    What gives?

    I have no idea, man, but when you find out, let me know.

    Actually, maybe you should leave me in blissful ignorance. I’m in my early 30s and in good shape, but I’m afraid hearing a detailed explanation of these people’s non-thinking might give me a coronary. Here’s part of that article:

    Two heterosexual fellows in Canada, invoking their rights under Canada’s recently passed same-sex marriage legislation, have announced their intentions to marry. Drinking pals Bill Dalrymple, 56, and Bryan Pinn, 65, intend to marry not because they are gay but for the tax breaks.

    News of the pending engagement didn’t sit well with same-sex marriage activist Bruce Walker, a Toronto lawyer. He complained that marriage should be for love.

    You know something, bitch? The day our civilization puts people like you in a position to adjudicate (1) whether what my boyfriend and I have is love and (2) whether that qualifies us for government goodies–that’s the day I depart for, like, Zimbabwe without looking back. I don’t think it’s possible to verbalize how angry this kind of thing makes me.

    To the extent that gay activists began formulating their ideas about marriage a decade or so ago, when the opposing argument most frequently encountered was “Gays have sex, not love,” I can see where it comes from. The problem is, the argument has moved on, and a lot of activists haven’t. What kind of topsy-turvy world are we living in when queer activists are the ones who want to peer into other people’s bedrooms and pass judgment on what goes on there? And who’s to say that Dalrymple and Pinn–who are friends, after all–don’t love each other? I think I could fairly say that I love my drinking buddies (especially after I’ve had a few).

    The point that gays fall in love and make the sacrifices necessary to take care of each other is an important one, but it cannot serve as the fulcrum for an argument in favor of gay marriage. How gay activists can fail to be aware of this by now is beyond me–their inability to see themselves as the public sees them is astounding–but the more they push the “We’re cute! We’re cuddly! Approve of us!” line, the more they reinforce the feeling that we suffer from arrested development and have not taken adult control over our lives.