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    Posted by Sean at 08:05, December 3rd, 2009

    The suspected murderer of Lindsay Hawker has been arrested. (Apparently, he was actually discovered, after more than two years of hiding out, last month when I wasn’t paying very good attention to the news.

    Tatsuya Ichihashi, who was rearrested Wednesday on suspicion of killing Lindsay Hawker, studied French by himself during his 2-1/2 years on the run from police and participated in an overseas language study program at a French university when he was a student, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

    As Ichihashi had a private English conversation lesson with Hawker, the investigation headquarters is trying to determine what happened between the two, who seemed to be on friendly terms with each other shortly before Hawker was murdered.

    “We’re always told to try to feel other people’s pain, but we can’t, can we.” A 28-year-old woman who went on the study tour of France as part of Ichihashi’s group clearly remembers this remark that Ichihashi made at that time.

    Hawker was an inexperienced English teacher and apparently agreed to give a private lesson to the wrong person. As nearly as police can tell, she went back to Ishihashi’s apartment with him and was murdered there. Her body was discovered on his balcony the day after she went missing.


    The leader of the Social Democratic Party, which is now the DPJ’s partner in the ruling coalition, is threatening mutiny if the current Futenma relocation plans go through:

    Speaking at a party meeting on Thursday morning, Fukushima said that if a decision was made to relocate the base in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to coastal portions of the U.S. Marines’ Camp Schwab in the Okinawa Prefecture city of Nago, then the party would have to make a “grave decision.”

    “It is an extremely important issue which reaches the foundations of the party,” Fukushima told reporters following the meeting. “We are alarmed about the current agreement being rushed after the ministerial-level meeting between Japan and the U.S.”

    The decision’s been in the works for half a decade, of course, but it keeps getting fussed over then dropped.

    Change of heart

    Posted by Sean at 21:47, December 1st, 2009

    Today, you can’t read any blog anywhere, it seems, without running into a discussion of LGF’s Charles Johnson and his recent climactic statement that he was finally forced to break with the Right. I wasn’t going to post about it—I heard enough conversion stories during my religious upbringing to last me a lifetime, and this one isn’t particularly revealing—but the Unreligious Right has a very well done point-by-point response. His introduction, in part, goes like this:

    Lest any LGF defenders think this is a typical knee-jerk right-wing response, let’s quickly run down some of my positions. I probably agree with Johnson on many issues. For anyone new here, aside from being an atheist, I’m pro-choice, pro-gay marriage & strongly pro-gay rights in general, pro-immigration and in favor of some sort of amnesty for illegals, and pro-legalization of drugs & prostitution. With that out of the way, let’s consider Johnson’s points, and why I laugh at them.

    And then he does. What I most agree with is what I take to be the UNRR’s central point: that even Johnson’s complaints that are legitimate involve nothing whatsoever that’s substantively a new development, so it’s absurd for him to declare now that he feels morally obliged to ditch the right without explaining what’s changed about his own thinking. Seriously, I realize it’s easy for me to say this, being a libertarian who’s alienated from both major parties and ideological poles and all, but in blogosphere terms, the right has been very good to Charles Johnson. If his change of heart is really the product of genuine soul-searching, he’d be doing a service to readers by explaining exactly what he now believes and why it’s different from before. As it stands, he just sounds like an attention-whore.

    You really shouldn’t have

    Posted by Sean at 01:53, December 1st, 2009

    Is there any topic a true classical liberal/libertarian can’t use as a point of departure for criticizing centralized government control? Of course not! Virginia Postrel has posted at both Dynamist.com and Deep Glamour about the problem of figuring out which present would best suit each person on your list, even those you know intimately. In the Dynamist post, she ends this way:

    The problem of buying good presents for other people, even people you supposedly know well, illustrates that old familiar Hayekian concept, the knowledge problem. If you can’t even give your loved ones the right presents, how likely is it that a central authority could make the right decisions for everyone?

    That’s especially true of goods such as health care, in connection with which the criteria for satisfaction vary so widely from person to person. Some people go to the doctor for every case of the sniffles. Others get a general physical every year, see the dentist whenever prompted by a reminder card, and otherwise don’t bother with doctors. Still others never see the inside of a doctor’s office unless a limb is turning blue and hanging at a strange angle.

    None of those practices is the correct one in any objective sense; people make their own trade-offs based on expense, time, peace of mind, and what they know of their own constitutions. People can also be more or less picky about what they eat, how they dress, and where they live based on similar criteria, and we let them. Health care is an industry with a long and deep history of quackery and fraud, so legal standards for minimum quality make sense. One of the government’s primary functions is protecting citizens from threats, including those from other citizens. But the idea that any policy program dictated from on high is going to help improve health care for a country of 300 million vociferously free people is highly suspect. As with a present that suits the giver’s tastes and not yours, it implies that you need to be told what you ought to prefer. Thankfully, while it would be rude to tell Grandma you don’t care for the wool socks she put under the tree for you, you can still tell your elected representatives that you don’t care to be told what your health-care priorities are.

    Added on 2 December: Thanks to Eric for the link. Glad I was able to help him get into the Christmas spirit.


    Posted by Sean at 20:58, November 30th, 2009

    Yet again “rough going,” as the headline on this Nikkei article has it, for the transfer of the Futenma base:

    On 30 November, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama confronted a second session, following up another on 27 November, with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima revolving around the issues with the transfer of the United States military base in Futenma (Ginowan, Okinawa). On the 30th, there were also active [efforts at] coordinating things, such as the prime minister’s collaborating with relevant cabinet ministers, but the hurdle presented by the “decision before year’s end” sought by the US remains high.

    “He said that, considering the hazardousness of Futenma, he’d like to get a concrete conclusion as quickly as possible.” That’s what the prime minister stressed to a press conference at his official residence on the night of the 30th. In contrast with the hour-long meeting with the governor on the 27th, that on the 30th was 20 minutes. It’s naturally assumed that the substantive debate was “on the 27th,” but the prime minister repeated, “I cannot discuss specific content.”

    Okinawans have been divided over the plan to relocate the Marine base for years now; the current plan, unless things have changed, is to expand Camp Schwab rather than expand offshore. But that’s been in the works since the middle of the decade.

    Change—it’s good for you

    Posted by Sean at 22:26, November 29th, 2009

    If you decided the best way to retain a seemly spirit of thankfulness over the past several days was to avoid political news and commentary, you may find it helpful to get back into the galling swing of things by reading this much-linked piece by Charles Krauthammer:

    The United States has the best health care in the world — but because of its inefficiencies, also the most expensive. The fundamental problem with the 2,074-page Senate health-care bill (as with its 2,014-page House counterpart) is that it wildly compounds the complexity by adding hundreds of new provisions, regulations, mandates, committees, and other arbitrary bureaucratic inventions.
    Worse, they are packed into a monstrous package without any regard to each other. The only thing linking these changes — such as the 118 new boards, commissions, and programs — is political expediency. Each must be able to garner just enough votes to pass. There is not even a pretense of a unifying vision or conceptual harmony.

    Well, there’s no unifying vision or conceptual harmony if you’re actually thinking about the thing from the point of view of someone whose goal is to improve health care. If your goal is to centralize more control and further enable federal power-broking and nannyism, I have little doubt that the bills are characterized by a great deal of coherence indeed.

    Krauthammer suggests starting over.

    Insuring the uninsured is a moral imperative. The problem is that the Democrats have chosen the worst possible method — a $1 trillion new entitlement of stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency.

    The better choice is targeted measures that attack the inefficiencies of the current system one by one — tort reform, interstate purchasing. and taxing employee benefits. It would take 20 pages to write such a bill, not 2,000 — and provide the funds to cover the uninsured without wrecking both U.S. health care and the U.S. Treasury.

    The problem with targeted measures is that they have an inhibiting effect on open-ended power grabs. Stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency, by contrast, provide rich opportunities for lots of fixers, legal experts, and task forces to guide people through the thicket of new requirements. And really, what’s more important—better health care for Americans, or an expanded Yale Law grad employment program?* I mean, let’s not be selfish here.


    Is that enough cynicism for one post-Thanksgiving post? I don’t think so!

    Peggy Noonan writes that some people are, amazingly, beginning to think that President Obama is kind of amateurish. Just to be clear, what I’m amazed by is not that they’re thinking it but rather that they’ve only just started thinking it. Noonan gets at something about The Bow, also, that I was trying to verbalize in this post and my last comment to it:

    The Obama bowing pictures are becoming iconic, and they would not be if they weren’t playing off a growing perception. If the pictures had been accompanied by headlines from Asia saying “Tough Talks Yield Big Progress” or “Obama Shows Muscle in China,” the bowing pictures might be understood this way: “He Stoops to Conquer: Canny Obama shows elaborate deference while he subtly, toughly, quietly advances his nation’s interests.”

    But that’s not how the pictures were received or will be remembered.

    It is true that Mr. Obama often seems not to have a firm grasp of—or respect for—protocol, of what has been done before and why, and of what divergence from the traditional might imply. And it is true that his political timing was unfortunate. When a great nation is feeling confident and strong, a surprising presidential bow might seem gracious. When it is feeling anxious, a bow will seem obsequious.

    The Obama bowing pictures are becoming iconic not for those reasons, however, but because they express a growing political perception, and that is that there is something amateurish about this presidency, something too ad hoc and highly personalized about it, something . . . incompetent, at least in its first year.

    The post by Elizabeth Drew that Noonan cites is a good read, too.

    The people who are most aghast by the handling of the Craig departure can’t be dismissed by the White House as Republican partisans, or still-embittered Hillary Clinton supporters. They are not naïve activists who don’t understand that the exercise of power can be a rough business and that trade-offs and personal disappointments are inevitable. Instead, they are people, either in politics or close observers, who once held an unromantically high opinion of Obama. They were important to his rise, and are likely more important to the success or failure of his presidency than Obama or his distressingly insular and small-minded West Wing team appreciate.

    I’ve never understood either the perfervid love or the perfervid hatred for Obama. Still less do I understand how people could not have seen this coming—at least as a possibility. Obama has always struck me as a type recognizable from my own days as an Ivy League humanities/social-science major: the Senior Seminar Blowhard. This is the guy (or gal) who, to his credit, prepped for every class by really pulling apart the readings and relating them to his own research but couldn’t roll with the discussion if it went anywhere else and was, therefore, constantly trying to yank it back within his comfort zone of pet topics. He addressed everyone by name way too often, sounding less like a partner in matey, rough-and-tumble debate than like one of those “customized” telemarketing calls. He insisted on calling the professor “Dr. Johnson,” even if she explained a billion times that she preferred the more traditional forms of address. If the job he got after graduation didn’t make enough money to suit him, he applied to law school, figuring it was the best way to leverage his gift for calculated gab.

    There are job descriptions to which that narrow kind of intelligence is very well suited, but I don’t think the presidency of the United States is really one of them. It requires someone with at once a firm core of conviction and a solid understanding of when compromise and adaptability are necessary. With his thin management and legislative record, I’m not sure Obama has had a chance to develop those. Perhaps he doesn’t have the temperament to develop them, either; I’m not sure anyone can judge that conclusively at this point. I do find it funny how similar the feeling in the air right now is to the feeling in the air early in Bill Clinton’s first administration: the heavy emphasis on showing that Something was Being Done about the issue of the moment over figuring out what was best to do, the personnel-related misadventures, the confusion over evidence that, gee, maybe this guy wasn’t a paragon after all. We’ll be finding out, to either our benefit or our detriment, whether Obama can do more than issue a perfunctory “I screwed up” and actually surround himself with people who can compensate for his gaps in competence, then listen to what they say.

    * I have this nagging feeling Instapundit used that line a few months ago, but for the life of me, I can’t find it by searching.


    Posted by Sean at 21:07, November 29th, 2009

    Gorgeous, gorgeous weekend—I think the entire population of New York that wasn’t away for Thanksgiving until tonight was outside until dark both days. Absolutely lovely.




    momidji-ba wo / nani oshimiken / ko no ma yori / morikuru tsuki ha / koyoi koso mire

    Nakatsuka Kyoutomo Hirashinnou


    For what did I rue
    the passing of maple leaves?
    Tonight the first sight
    of the moonlight filtering
    from between the trees

    The Imperial Prince Kyoutomo Nakatsuka

    A relatively straightforward poem, that: the poet had originally felt sadness, both at the falling of the autumn leaves and because poetic ache is traditionally the proper response to the beauty of the moon in autumn, but now takes pleasure in realizing that their passing has made possible the new and special kind of wintry beauty of the moon visible between close-growing trees.


    Posted by Sean at 17:52, November 27th, 2009

    The lead editorial in this morning’s Nikkei is headlined “We need coordinated response to crisis of across-the-board drop in dollar value.”

    A gradual cheapening of the dollar would give a push to US exports, but serious effects would surface in the US economy, which would become dependent on capital inflows from abroad if anxiety about the dollar spread. For Japan, a spike in the value of the yen would invite a downturn in corporate export profits, and the possibility that that would muscle in on any [improvements in] the economy cannot be discounted. Upward pressure would also be applied to the Euro, and the ill effects of a progressive cheapening of the dollar would be great in Europe and the Americas also.

    If, in fact, the yen seems set to continue its rise, Japan must not balk at intervening to sell yen and buy dollars. China has [re]linked the yuan to the dollar, and other Asian countries such as Korea are exerting themselves to enact dollar-purchase interventions that would prevent a spike in their national currencies. Under such circumstances, if Japan just lets things sit, Japanese enterprises might very well see a rise in the yen that they cannot survive.

    In situations in which it is uncertain how economic recovery will proceed, we believe that interventions for the purposes of putting the brakes on currency spikes that are divorced from real market values are acceptable.

    In order to boost the effectiveness of [measures to] prevent a rise in the yen, policy collaboration between the government and the BOJ will be indispensable. After all, if they cross their arms and wait under a deflation, real interest rates, which take account of fluctuations in the cost of goods, will rise comparatively rapidly, and they’ll be courting a currency spike. It won’t do to stint on taking available measures, such as increasing the value in federal bonds in reserve.


    Posted by Sean at 12:39, November 26th, 2009

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Even in these times, we’re a nation of real abundance, materially and otherwise. Stay safe, enjoy your celebrations, and thanks for checking back after all these weeks. :)

    The Rogue Wore Ann Taylor

    Posted by Sean at 10:33, November 22nd, 2009

    I usually pass the trip back to my parents’ place with Japanese poetry or a book of crossword puzzles, but yesterday I did my patriotic duty and started reading Going Rogue . Finished late last night.

    Verdict: It’s a political memoir.

    Andrew Sullivan, whose mission in life is apparently to give continued currency to the old charge that homosexual men are freaked out by fecund, motherly women, has bizarrely characterized Palin this way:

    And once again, for Ann [Althouse]’s sake, here are the lies I mean. Go through them. See if you think they are Clintonian type parsings of the truth or artful political hedging or anything like what we find in most pols. They really are not. They are functions of delusion and a worldview that wants things to be a certain way and cannot absorb that they are not. If you find the slightest error or come across a fact that we should add to this list of current lies, please let us know. We want this list to be as accurate as Palin is delusional. We want to create some template of easily-accessible reality as some kind of guard against the fantasies and fabulisms of our post-modern and fundamentalist age.

    It’s extraordinary for Sullivan to be leveling that accusation, given his (ahem) fruitless obsession with the provenance of Trig Palin. (To my admittedly unkind amusement, Palin didn’t mention Sullivan’s name once in the book, IIRC, though she mentioned “The Atlantic” as the primary rumor mill related to her youngest child.) Talk about someone who wants something to be true when it plainly isn’t!

    But it’s also extraordinary to make the Clinton comparison he explicitly makes. The Clintons, after all, gifted the world with quotables about “what the meaning of is is” and the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” among many, many other moments that seemed to be pretty clear manifestations of not having a clear grasp on hard, objective realities. And many of the Palin “lies” Sullivan lists are of the he-said, she-said sort that politicians are, in fact, notorious for telling:

    “I didn’t know that photo shoot was going to be staged to make me look bad.”

    “Policy X is polling badly? Well, gosh, I never supported it!”

    “Policy Y has become a sleeper success? Well, gosh, I supported that from the very beginning, when it was principled and unpopular to do so!”

    “Of course, I’m trying to get lobbyists away from government. I didn’t hire that old friend of the family because he was a lobbyist; I hired him because he’s an industry expert!”

    If politicians stopped getting in front of cameras and saying that stuff, the nightly news could be shortened to five minutes.

    I’m not trying to wave away Palin’s distortions—she really does seem to be misrepresenting some things, perhaps from wishful but sincere misremembering or perhaps from political calculation. But the idea that there’s something special about how she goes about it is ridiculous, and Sullivan has spent enough time around DC to know that.

    Also, the literature major in me wonders just how the hell it became possible to be at once post-modern and fundamentalist, but that’s a topic for another day.

    The literature major in me further wishes that more of Palin’s feistiness had made it into Going Rogue, which was written in exactly the same voice as Living History , Dreams from My Father , and every other memoir by an upwardly-mobile politician I’ve ever read. The tone is resolutely even-tempered—now relaxing into humor for a childhood anecdote, now pulling taut into high seriousness when weighty decisions must be made—but never working itself in a satisfying, personality-specific froth. There’s the telling story about little Sarah’s first attempt to fly, after which she picked herself up, skinned knees and all, and kept right on walking toward her destination. There’s the telling story about her refusal to sit out the high school state basketball championship game despite her broken ankle. There are several telling stories about how a child’s interruption or need for a diaper change brought Palin back to Earth when she was getting too worked up over some policy abstraction.

    This is all according to recipe, and I don’t mention it to belittle Palin. Part of her image problem is that she’s seen as not having a clue about how to package herself articulately, and Going Rogue shows that she’s capable of doing exactly what an ambitious politician is supposed to do: get a good co-author and come up with a carefully formulated memoir that shows she has talent, self-reflection, and tenacity, implying along the way that becoming a political leader is pretty much her destiny. As a woman, Palin the would-be Political Force has an extra task: to prove that she’s a bitch but not a castrating bitch. She does a good job of it, casting her aggressive moves as “Mama grizzly” fierceness. She indicates that she’s equally at ease with a close group of girlfriends and with the men friends in her life. She talks about swooning (my word, not hers) for Todd’s macho-outlaw side.

    She also engages in much more self-criticism about her behavior during the 2008 campaign than early reports suggested, which is reassuring but is also where things get complicated for the reader who’s sizing up her political potential. I realize that Alaska is in many ways a world unto itself, but it’s hard to believe that anyone who’d been playing hardball politics in a state with such huge energy and federal-funding issues could have been so naive about what was in store for her when she joined McCain as his running mate. In a way, her attitude is charming. Unlike the jumped-up Barack “I’m so totally shaking hands with an emperor—this is so cool!” Obama, Palin really doesn’t come off as seduced by the trappings of her new environment. (She’s seduced by Theory trousers, though, a weakness with which I can empathize.)

    Nevertheless, the transition is seriously jarring. As governor of Alaska, she depicts herself as unafraid to shake up politics as usual even when told it could be political suicide. Then, in the blink of an eye, she’s meekly following the orders of louche, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, cynical campaign managers because she figures they know what they’re doing—and that’s when she’s not assuming that people acting all soulful must actually be sincere. How was it possible to be that unaware in 2008? A mere flip through Primary Colors at an airport bookstore sometime in the last fifteen years would have indicated that campaigns are governed by swarms of dictatorial consultants pushing their own agenda. And if Palin didn’t like the fictionalized format, she could always have paid attention to reports about the actual Clinton presidency, with its menagerie of pushy aides and hodge-podge of mixed messages. Or the Bush presidency. Or congress. Politics as an industry, like celebrity image-making and interior design, has been completely demystified over the last few decades. Palin says several times that she should have put her foot down about this or that disagreement with the campaign staff, but if there’s a passage in which she acknowledges that her overall instincts about the machine were bad, I missed it.

    That doesn’t make her stupid, which she clearly is not. But it does keep alive the central question of whether she has the right kind of smarts to use her “rogue” instincts to change the way the federal government does business. She’s good at sparring with high-profile figures, which is a useful role in and of itself. But working politics involves outmaneuvering entrenched, behind-the-scenes string-pullers, and she doesn’t seem to know much about that. Perhaps she can learn. Perhaps she doesn’t need to because she really isn’t contemplating a presidential run, though that strikes me as highly unlikely. But I’m not sure she even knows she needs to. (Twice she’s reacted to being red-taped by resigning.)

    And one final note: except for some non-specific references to Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” line, she seems to view geopolitics exclusively through the lenses of military readiness and fossil fuel access. Those are very important things, but they’re nowhere near a big-picture view.

    So my mind isn’t changed. I doubt many others’ will be, either. But if you’re not already heartily sick of the whole Palin-related flapdoodle, you might enjoy the latest diavlog between Ann Althouse and Michelle Goldberg, to which Sullivan alludes in the passage quoted above. Althouse encounters heavy weather in just trying to talk Goldberg down from her apparent belief that Palin is the embodiment of evil.

    Added after a sticky bun: BTW, if you need further evidence that the system really does need shaking up, here‘s how Eric spent his Saturday night.

    I miss Margaret Thatcher

    Posted by Sean at 07:12, November 20th, 2009

    Virginia Postrel writes that hyperventilating over Newsweek‘s Sarah Palin cover is pointless and more than a little hypocritical:

    I am generally bored by the hysteria, pro and con, that surrounds Sarah Palin. As a bona fide coastal elitist intellectual snob, I can’t see voting for her. But neither do I share the visceral hatred for her or her fans. (Megan McArdle dubs it Palinoia.) I consider her intelligent but ignorant and unworldly. I even liked her convention speech.

    That said, the flap over the Newsweek cover shot is as ridiculous as it is predictable. I’ve read enough comment threads over the years to know that conservatives regularly make a point of proudly declaring that their female icons are good looking compared to the old hags on the other side. When did they suddenly adopt politically correct second-wave feminist attitudes toward female beauty, even in the public sphere? 

    Like it or not, Sarah Palin’s good looks are a big part of her superwoman appeal: governor, earth mother, and sportswoman, with a pretty face and a great body despite all those pregnancies. Besides, I seem to recall some widely circulated topless beach shots of the current commander-in-chief. (Not to mention Condi Rice strutting in those great black boots.) There’s no double standard, except for the one that says if you have bad legs, we don’t want to see you in shorts.

    I don’t think the right has been complaining that the photo emphasizes her prettiness as much as that it presents her in a fluffy extracurricular-activities context and seems to have been chosen to undercut her as an emerging hard-policy force. It’s hard to imagine Newsweek using one of President Obama’s beach shots as a cover image the week his latest memoir is released. On the flip side, the famous photo of Condoleezza Rice actually emphasized her image as a power player with an serious edge. So while Virginia’s general point that both male and female politicians are sized up for looks is well taken, I’m not sure her examples are all parallel.

    Be that as it may, she’s right that Palin’s claque can’t expect to have it both ways. It’s fine if they want to swoon over her casual, man-pleasing, heartland femininity as a fresh alternative to the uptight-harpy lawyer persona that (the line of thinking goes) has overrun womanhood in the big, bad liberal cities. But then they’re hardly in a position to get all screechy when a major magazine fails to picture her in hard-nosed, dark-suit-and-pearls debate mode.