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    All systems 碁

    Posted by Sean at 10:31, June 30th, 2005

    On the other hand, not all the noise this week is good. Lead story of the Nikkei evening edition that I plucked from the mailbox after a hard day at the office:

    North Korea: Pieces in place for building of nuclear facilities, production of nuclear weapons

    The DPRK has revealed that it has restarted the construction of two nuclear reactors, which was frozen after a 1994 agreement it had mapped out with the US. The move is regarded as an attempt mass-manufacture nuclear weapons; both reactors are low-velocity graphite reactors that can be used to extract weapons-grade plutonium.


    Posted by Sean at 09:58, June 30th, 2005

    This is so great!

    Not long ago, the only disturbances at Japanese shareholders meetings came from sokaiya racketeers.

    That era ended Wednesday with round after round of tongue-lashings from legitimate shareholders fed up with deceit, waste and simple incompetence of management.

    Of companies that closed their books at the end of March and are listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, 1,072, or 59.8 percent, held their shareholders meetings on Wednesday.

    It was the first time for the number to fall below 60 percent.

    Amid a series of scandals and heightened interest in corporate takeovers, there was a significant increase in the number of individual shareholders at the meetings, many of whom took management to task.

    (Nikkei version in Japanese here.)

    So, what’s your, uh, position?

    Posted by Sean at 08:44, June 30th, 2005

    I don’t know that Terry McMillan‘s marital troubles constitute a conservative case for gay marriage, but I do know that it’s a shame Ace’s old boyfriend didn’t turn out to be as gay as she is: Imagine the mileage he could’ve gotten from working the name of his employer! And as usual, Ace has good things to say about integrity.

    What are little fags made of?

    Posted by Sean at 04:55, June 30th, 2005

    Via the Washington Blade , MSNBC has this article that starts as a summary of the Love Won Out conference sponsored by Focus on the Family but ends up summarizing several of the different views of the origins and mutability of homosexuality.

    What’s fascinating is that everyone comes off looking more moderate and live-and-let-live than usual. Queer activists prone to hysterics are quoted in austere single-word bites about how “hateful” groups that advocate change are. The representative of Focus on the Family, Bill Maier, emphasizes tolerance for homosexual behavior. This isn’t to say the reporter is being disingenuous, only that the side of each party is different from what’s usually shown. You might start hallucinating that people with strong opposing opinions can live together in a free society without rancor.

    BTW, Focus on the Family’s official take (I assume, since the piece was written by James Dobson) on the origins and malleability of homosexuality is here. There’s much to agree with: gay activists do engage in propaganda, and the evidence should not be suppressed that people who are troubled by their homosexuality to the point of being non-functional are capable of and better off not acting on it.

    The narrative to explain how homosexuality ripens is internally coherent and doubtless appeals to Dobson’s constituency, but calling it “definitive” is a bit much. Even if you accept that homosexuality starts with a genetic predisposition toward certain traits plus some kind of emotional dislocation in infancy, which seems like as good an explanation as any to me at this point, that doesn’t indicate it’s still fundamentally in flux until late adolescence. Dobson calls a dawning awareness of the sensuality of one’s own body and a more-pronounced sense of difference from other boys a stage on the way to homosexuality; most of us who are out would say that we experienced it as the emergence, under the special pressures that start for everyone with puberty, of what it’s clear in retrospect had been dormant all along. Neither has been proved, but what would help the pro-change side would be evidence that a high percentage of gays change successfully.

    Unfortunately, radical gays, egregiously screechy though they be, have no monopoly on exaggeration. Dobson doesn’t screech and, in fact, comes off as sincere and humane in intent, but in his hands Robert L. Spitzer’s carefully qualified finding that some homosexuals with unusually high motivation can learn to function heterosexually mutates into the blanket statement “Change is possible.” Parents and teenagers are assured, “Prevention is effective,” without information about success rates. (After all, if Joseph Nicolosi has data to support the contention that 75 percent of boys with “untreated” gender issues become homosexual, isn’t it reasonable to figure he’d know more about those who get treatment and are thus within the ken of psychologists? I suppose that kind of information could be elsewhere in the book, but it strains credibility to figure that Dobson wouldn’t have cited it–he’s advertising preventive therapy, isn’t he?)

    And the footnotes there are are suspect: Dobson refers to gays’ “shorter lifespan” and cites William Bennett’s “Clinton, Gays and the Truth” from the Weekly Standard (not on-line, AFAIK). William Bennett has many virtues–especially with respect to the field of education–but he is not a statistician. In fact, he was working from Paul Cameron’s notorious “study” of gay life expectancy, which Walter Olson eviscerates here. Bennett himself later conceded that Cameron’s survey was not a reliable basis for generalization about the gay population.

    The average-lifespan-of-43 figure is not the crux of Dobson’s argument, I know. I bring it up because it illustrates a willingness to accept uncritically arguments with which one already sympathizes–a problem that everyone in this debate seems to have in spades but, naturally, only notices in others. It matters even on small points because anyone drawing conclusions on a murky topic like the origins of homosexuality is going to have to look at the fragmentary evidence, make a lot of judgment calls, and ask readers to trust them. Lack of rigor hurts everyone whose primary interest is the truth.

    For the foreseeable future, there are going to be a multiplicity of approaches, and we’ll all be appalled at those that go against our views. Myself, I ache for gay kids whose parents think their brains have to be rewired for their own good–if they think they were setting the children faulty gender-identification signals, shouldn’t they be signing themselves up for brainwashing, too?–but that doesn’t make “reparative therapy” programs a special kind of social emergency. Parents do all sorts of things to screw up their kids (and adults do all sorts of things to screw up their own lives) that aren’t legally punishable. Outsiders can criticize them but not interfere. What we can all do is work to strengthen our arguments as dispassionately as possible. And lead the sort of responsible, happy lives that make people want to emulate them.

    Added on 1 July: Well, sheesh. I would’ve e-mailed Mike, but I thought it was Daniel’s cage we were supposed to be rattling now. :) In any case, Ex-Gay Watch doesn’t have its own post up discussing the MSNBC piece yet, but commenters are already starting to debate its weird even-handedness at the short one linked to in the last sentence. Should be interesting; I’ll be looking forward to reading what Mike has to say, too.

    Added on 7 July: Mike Airhart’s post is up.


    Posted by Sean at 17:47, June 28th, 2005

    I saw Susanna had done this the other day, went and took the survey, and copied the button into a post; and then the kettle started whistling and I didn’t post it. Anyway, if you haven’t encountered it elsewhere, this MIT survey asks questions about blogging and blog reading in some interesting ways:

    Take the MIT Weblog Survey

    The title, BTW, is a version of the famous Japanese proverb usually translated as “The nail that sticks out gets pounded down,” which seemed appropriate for a post that jokingly refers to the bell curve.

    I’m disadvantaged, you’re disadvantaged

    Posted by Sean at 12:56, June 28th, 2005

    You’d think this kind of crap wouldn’t get me exercised by this point, but it does:

    The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce entered into an agreement this month with the Department of the Interior Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization to increase outreach to gay-owned businesses and to educate gay business owners about contract opportunities.

    “The agreement says it’s OK to be who you are,” said Justin Nelson, co-founder and co-executive director of the NGLCC. “[The Department of the Interior] wants to do business with gay firms in a public manner.”

    The federal government should be impartial; an announcement from the Department of the Interior that federal contracts are available to businesses regardless of the sexual orientation of those who run them would be great. But we all know that’s not what “outreach” means. More on that in a second.

    What really jerks my chain, naturally, is that “The agreement says it’s OK to be who you are” BS. Can we please, at least every third Thursday or so, not offload our own responsibility for self-definition on the government? Please. And anyway, how exactly does being officially defined as “disadvantaged” make what you are okay, of all things?

    The assumptions underlying the program are hardly flattering, after all:

    Nelson said that many gay-owned businesses shy away from working with the federal government, because of the perception that the Bush administration is anti-gay.

    “Our community is very apprehensive about finding out about opportunities [with federal agencies],” he said. The NGLCC wants to tell gay-owned businesses that, “there’s a separation of the policies of the administration and opportunities they should be afforded.”

    I apparently missed the speech in which the President informed America that gay-owned enterprises should be boycotted until they go out of business. I also wasn’t aware that “apprehensiveness” in an entrepreneur was a trait to be indulged rather than outgrown. Aren’t business owners supposed to be go-getters? If they want to know what kinds of contracts might be legally available to them as gays, they just need to ask one of their corporate lawyer friends. All of us coat-and-tie queers know twelve lawyers if we know one; for Pete’s sake, I sometimes feel like the only middle-class fag in the entire developed world that didn’t go to law school.

    This nettles me even more than usual because a book I just got around to buying and reading spurred me to go back and revisit some sections of Geraldine Brooks’s fascinating Nine Parts of Desire . Here’s one passage that sticks in the memory, about a family in Saudi Arabia:

    Basilah had invited a woman friend who helped her mother run a successful construction company to join us for tea. When her father died, she and her mother had expected his male relations to run the business and provide for her and her children. But they were lazy and incompetent, and it seemed that everything her father had worked for was going to be destroyed. “Finally my mother took over,” the woman explained. “She went to the Ministry of Construction with the papers that needed official approval. No woman had been in there before. The officials ordered her out. She refused to go. She sat there, and sat there, until they were forced to deal with her. She turned out to be a very good manager, and she saved the business.”

    Fine, the analogy isn’t perfect. Still and all, it does seem that if a woman in Saudi Arabia can stand up to a room full of male bureaucrats in order to do what she needs for her company (presumably against her male relatives’ wishes), free American gays who run the kinds of firms that the government contracts with could figure out how to pursue jobs without having their hands held.

    控訴 a no-go

    Posted by Sean at 11:58, June 28th, 2005

    Sometimes the rigidity of Japanese gender roles can be very darkly amusing–even multiple-murderers play along. This week, two sentences in notorious late-90s murders were upheld. One was the death sentence of the woman convicted of poisoning several acquaintances at a summer festival in 1998:

    The Osaka High Court on Tuesday dismissed a woman’s appeal against a lower court ruling that sentenced her to death for killing four people at a festival by lacing a curry stew with arsenic.

    The appeal trial focused on the credibility of Masumi Hayashi’s not-guilty plea over accusations that she put arsenic into a communal curry pot during a summer festival in Wakayama in July 1998.

    The Wakayama District Court, based on witnesses’ accounts, ruled in December 2002 that Hayashi was wearing white clothes and acted suspiciously when she opened the lid of the curry pot.

    The district court also ruled that Hayashi had known that people would die from the poison and therefore sentenced her to death.

    The Osaka High Court also found Hayashi guilty in several other attempted murder and fraud cases, supporting the Wakayama District Court’s ruling that Hayashi attempted to poison her husband and a male acquaintance for insurance benefits.

    Hayashi said that her husband and the man drank arsenic by themselves to obtain insurance money and therefore, she didn’t try to murder them.

    Homicide for the purpose of getting life insurance money is common in Japan.

    The man whose death sentence was affirmed was having none of that slow-acting, within-the-family-circle stuff:

    The Hiroshima High Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court death sentence handed to a man for killing five and injuring 10 others when he went on a berserk rampage at JR Shimonoseki Station in 1999.

    Yasuaki Uwabe, 41, was convicted of driving his car into the concourse of the station in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture in September 1999, and hitting three people, killing two of them.

    Jumping out of the vehicle, Uwabe then began attacking innocent bystanders with a knife. The slashing spree left another three people dead.

    When Hayashi and Uwabe are executed, it’s likely to happen without advance warning (even to their families) and may be timed to reassure the public that the justice system is dealing effectively with crime.

    Japan Post reform provisions accepted by Koizumi

    Posted by Sean at 11:44, June 28th, 2005

    A few nights ago, Atsushi reminded me in our nightly conversation that the property tax was due by the end of the month. Monday’s a day off for me, so I figured that while I was heading to the post office anyway, I may as well mail some other stuff: I took care of a friend’s wedding present, letter to my grandfather, few other things. Need I tell you what, when I was halfway out the door and feeling all smug and accomplished, I realized I’d forgotten to do? Personally, I blame the fact that Japan Post hasn’t yet been privatized. After all, a private corporation accountable to its customers would develop an array of services more responsive to their needs and…uh…thus…you know, more…memorable. (Don’t worry, A., I went back in and paid it.)

    Anyway, the privatization bill is still being haggled over. Latest news is:

    On the evening of 28 June, the LDP agreed to a review of the Japan Post privatization bill that included the revision of 4 items. The central revision was that, as one of the functions the window-services corporation will be allowed to perform, “the work of a bank or insurance agency” is given as an example. Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi assented to the revision. In accepting this resolution, which had been a sticking point through the debate over revisions, the LDP executive body aims to see the bill passed by the Lower House by the beginning of July. Opposition to the bill is still deep-rooted even among some in the party, however, so there are still many issues that stand in the way of its approval.

    This is the same Koizumi who was saying yesterday that he would accept no revisions; he said tonight that his position had not changed. Okay, whatever you say. Perhaps the new provisions don’t strike him as neutering the reforms. Along those lines, it remains unclear whether mochiai (mutual shareholding) will be explicitly permitted; some in the LDP were pushing for such a provision yesterday.

    Blasted with both barrels

    Posted by Sean at 04:42, June 27th, 2005

    Apparently, the du Toits looked across their dining room table at each other this past week and said: “You know, darling, people are really stupid sometimes. More Yorkshire pudding?” “They certainly are. Wish they’d knock it off. And no thanks, I’m full.” Their posts come at it from different angles, but they’re essentially on the same topic: critical thinking.

    By that I mean the good kind: questioning and investigating not only the information presented to you but also your own assumptions. It’s necessary to specify that, because what’s often referred to as “critical thinking” nowadays seems to consist of little more than the ability to write a five-paragraph essay that’s consistent within its own hermetically-sealed logical framework. (I’m hardly the first person to say this, but that’s my main gripe with many libertarians: their arguments have the internal purity of rock crystal but are useless for a country of 300 million strong-minded people who all have to live with each other.) Anyway, good reads both.


    Posted by Sean at 05:35, June 26th, 2005

    Oh, I think I’ve forgotten to mention this:

    The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry says it has a slush fund of 31 million yen amassed from setting aside some research expenses to be paid to an affiliate organization.

    Vice Minister Hideji Sugiyama also said at a press conference Thursday that Taizo Nakatomi, former head of the planning office at the minister’s secretariat, misappropriated part of the fund for his private stock transactions.

    Nakatomi, 48, was dismissed on June 6.

    The ministry had withheld information related to the slush fund because investigators asked the ministry to keep it confidential.

    This was the topic of the Nikkei‘s main editorial yesterday morning:

    Another former official at METI has just recently been charged with insider trading, after all. If we add this new slush fund problem, is it not apparent that there’s an institutional lack of vigilance that doesn’t end with just one individual? Minister of ETI Nakagawa has resolved to establish an investigative committee made up of outside lawyers and other experts; what he must go on to do is to make sure the facts of ministry doings are brought to light and then cut out the rot.

    Do the problems really stop with METI? Or do the same problems exist in other Kasumigaseki ministries and government bodies? The issue cannot be settled by targeting the one person at one ministry involved in this particular instance of malfeasance; it is necessary to make the flow of money through the entire government thoroughly transparent, including that involved in relationships among federal ministries and semi-governmental corporations.

    I used “cut out the rot” because that’s the way we’d usually put it in English. For anyone who’s interested, though, the more evocative Japanese metaphor in the original is 膿を出し切る (umi wo dashikiru: “drain all the pus”). Whatever we’re calling the infection, obviously, there’s a reason the questions at the beginning of that last paragraph are loaded, and everyone in Japan knows it. That doesn’t mean the government’s moves toward transparency aren’t working–the reason we’re discussing these cases is that they’ve been exposed, after all–but they are working slowly.