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    Still life with petroleum and area rug

    Posted by Sean at 04:32, June 26th, 2005

    Machiruda, who does a better job of paying close attention to the China-Japan competition for natural resources than I do, links to a Financial Times series on China’s energy ambitions. Good reading, even if the formatting is clunky to negotiate. An article that’s not specifically related to fossil fuel procurement is on page 7: “Chinese learn to talk contracts, not contacts.” As you probably figured from that headline, it’s about how Chinese businessmen are adapting to the Western model of contractual obligation rather than cronyism.

    On a different note, Machiruda also went to Nikko earlier this month and posts a photograph of one of the shrine entrances. It’s very elaborate, and reminds me of something I’ve always thought was a shame. When you mention “Japanese architecture” or “Japanese furnishings,” Westerners tend to picture, you know, like, Ikea with rice paper. Of course, that’s not inaccurate, especially nowadays, with the mass-produced buildings and furniture that are artifacts of Japan’s economic efflorescence after the war. Unstained wood, rice paper, and bamboo; low-lying pieces of furniture that seem to hover horizontally over the floor; austere lack of detailing–those are all elements that are genuinely traditional.

    But Japan has its rococo strain, too–a bequest of the Momoyama Era. People are often surprised at that, because it’s not the “Japanese aesthetic” that influences Western designers. You also don’t see much complicated design or bright color in contemporary Japanese houses, with the exception of red lacquer. Rooms are small here, and colorful patterns can get claustrophobic. The tendency to shove brightly-colored cartoon animals, giant lit-up signs, and ornately fugly tile patterns (the station in my beloved Shibuya has at its south exit one of the worst offenders I’ve ever seen, but it has plenty of competition) in our faces outdoors seems to be the modern outlet for the Japanese instinct for lavishness. The combination of that garish overlighting and obnoxious vanity-project architecture outdoors means that it can make the nondescript blandness of the average Tokyo interior something of a relief.

    But only something of. We need a new rug in the living room, and I told Atsushi that I was thinking of something in maybe navy blue or wine red. I figured this would go over well: he’s very conservative about his colors. (I also figured the red might be useful for when our dinner guests have had a few.) But his reply was, “Hmm. Won’t that make the room too dark?” At this point, I laughed. It wasn’t nice, but I couldn’t help it. I was like, “Dearest, we have beige vinyl walls, beige curtains, blond wood flooring, and white woodwork. Put a mesh bag of dodge balls in the corner and this could be a nursery school gymnasium. There is no way we could make this place too dark unless we unscrewed all the light bulbs.”

    Wow. Was I making a point somewhere? China’s mad for fossil fuels, it’s a shame Japanese rococo isn’t better known, and I’m going to have to wear Atsushi down to get a rug that isn’t beige into the house. Yeah. Hope everyone’s having a good weekend.

    Nakasone’s repellant pragmatism about the Yasukuni Shrine

    Posted by Sean at 01:52, June 26th, 2005

    Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, whom fellow Reagan fans will remember, weighed in on the Yasukuni Shrine issue this morning:

    Speaking on a Fuji Television program on the morning of 26 June, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone emphatically voiced his opposition to the construction of a secular facility to commemorate Japan’s war dead in place of the Yasukuni Shrine: “I’ve been against it all along. We absolutely need to avoid letting the Yasukuni Shrine, where those who died for our country are honored, be abandoned.”

    Of Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s visits to the shrine, he indicated that “[At this point] they’re not in the best interest of the nation. If the Class A war criminals cannot be enshrined separately, I think he should leave off visiting.” On the topic of the Tokyo Tribunals, he stated, “I don’t concede [that they were just]. Not in the least do I believe that those convicted of Class A war crimes were criminals.”

    Well, that’s unequivocal. Of course, context would help. (I wasn’t watching the show.) The belief that many were imprisoned or executed simply for losing the war is understandable in some cases. However, “some cases” does not include those involved in orchestrating a war that included the Rape of Nanking and the comfort women system, which is what we’re talking about when we use the bland designation “Class A war crimes.” And considering what used to happen to the vanquished in less enlightened times, the punishments meted out to the Germans and Japanese were relatively mild.

    Coming around again

    Posted by Sean at 05:56, June 24th, 2005

    For those who, like me, check every now and then but haven’t checked in the last week or so, Alice and Connie are both back blogging. Cool!

    We’re all renters now

    Posted by Sean at 20:05, June 23rd, 2005

    Damn. So that’s how this ends.

    “I have to look out for the city as a whole, not just a few people,” says Mayor Ernest Hewett, who vacillates between “feeling the residents’ pain” and disparaging the neighborhood, which houses a waste water treatment plant. “People were running from the Fort Trumbull area two or three years ago because of the smell. No one would actually buy a house in the Fort Trumbull area.”

    Yet that’s just what Susette Kelo and her husband did in 1997. Not far from Wilhelmina Dery’s place, they purchased a delightful pink two-bedroom house on the southeast corner of East Street, that boulevard of broken dreams with a dangerously insufficient radii. Kelo enjoys a view as lively and varied as this traditionally immigrant neighborhood once was, with its auto shops, corner store, factory, café, construction companies, and social club. (As the government lawyers point out, such a mixed-use neighborhood no longer conforms to the city’s code and therefore is truly a thing of the past.) In one direction, she can watch ferry boats head to Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island. In other directions, she can gaze at petroleum tanks, the stacks of a factory, sailboats parked in a marina, and even the tip of Long Island. The earth-tone-and-glass Pfizer complex is also in view. From her back porch, she takes in the roof tops and thick green foliage of New London.

    Kelo arrived home the day before Thanksgiving in 2000 and saw something else: eminent domain paperwork stuck to her door. It gave her until March 2001 to leave the home she loves behind. In the meantime, it demanded she pay rent of $500 a month (in Connecticut, the government technically owns the property once they serve eminent domain papers). The lawsuit, which bears her name, is holding off her eviction for now. But if she loses, she’ll be a victim whose dreams have been paved over by progress, government style, in which the rights of citizens to their homes are trumped by the pressing need for increased corner radii.

    Read the reasoning behind the New London city government’s move to confiscate the Kelos’ property. You’ll no longer wonder why some people snap and become loony libertarians.

    Added on a tea break: I think I’ve snapped and become a loony libertarian. You know, my parents rented a very small townhouse the whole time I was growing up. We lived comfortably, but our means were straitened.

    By saving and planning, they were able to buy a pretty spacious house a few miles outside of town. It was solid and had an acre or two of property with it, but it had been abandoned by tax evaders and not tended to for a few years. In the interim, it had also been broken into by pranksters who spraypainted the place and started a fire in one of the showers and dumped things on the carpets–the sort of non-structural damage that just needs a lot of sweat equity. Nine years of sweat equity later, the place is very nice, filled with furniture my father built (his hobby) in the garage, and well-maintained. So, having grown up in a family that was rising into the middle class, I feel a special sadness and anger in knowing that the door has been opened for a lot of people’s fixer-uppers to be treated as, effectively, single-unit public housing.

    Of course, if you’re a random American, the probability that your property will happen to catch the covetous eye of a “development”-minded municipal official is likely to remain low, no matter how bad the orgy of confiscation that’s almost certainly coming actually gets. But that’s just statistics. Once you’re living in a state in which every county has decided to commandeer just a few homeowners’ properties for some cockamamie plan or other, you’re not likely to be motivated to fix up a usable but ramshackle old area house, especially if you’re in a modest income bracket and will be doing most of the work yourself and on a limited budget. It’s neighborhoods of people who aren’t rich or influential that tend to get hit with these things, and those who live in them know it.


    Posted by Sean at 09:59, June 23rd, 2005

    When I was in high school in 1989, there was a brouhaha over flag burning. I wrote an indignant letter to the local newspaper supporting the ban–or rather, the amendment that would make a ban possible, which I think is what we’re actually talking about. Of course, I was 17. I wouldn’t now.

    Backers argue the legislation is needed to protect a symbol of American democracy; foes warn it would infringe on First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech.

    I’m rabid about free speech, but I’m not so sure about the First Amendment argument, however well it may have worked in the past. Expression usually involves gestures of creation: you make words or you make pictures (if you hold with Camille Paglia’s definition of images as pagan speech). In making it possible to legislate against flag burning, no one is limiting your ability to shout, “Death to America!” or what have you, if that’s what you think needs to be said.

    Be that as it may, let’s have a sense of proportion here. It is perfectly possible to shun people who injure the flag, or to point out that their ability to criticize their own society so unequivocally is one of the things it represents. I understand the ire that a lot of people have stored up over the last few decades of PC run amok, but this is a bad outlet for it.

    Picture this

    Posted by Sean at 09:05, June 23rd, 2005

    Honeychile? Seriously, take yourself off to a remote Micronesian islet already:

    Former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey who came out, announced he had an extramarital affair, and resigned from office may be gone from the state capitol but he’s not about to be forgotten.

    A life-sized portrait of McGreevey will hang in the governor’s office in Trenton. The official portrait was completed this week.

    McGreevey sat for the painting, done at a cost to taxpayers of about $25,000, after he left office. It was done by Chen Yanning who has painted portraits of Christie Whitman and Queen Elizabeth II.

    Details of the ceremony to unveil the painting have not been finalized.

    Last August at a hastily arranged news conference McGreevey announced “I am a manipulative whore.”

    I edited that last sentence for clarity.

    Maintaining the 和

    Posted by Sean at 09:12, June 22nd, 2005

    It’s been a soundbite kind of day here in Japan. From Shinzo Abe, the LDP’s acting General Secretary:

    Of China-Japan relations, Abe, addressing a press conference, stated, “It is necessary for Japan to engage in a good deal of humble consideration, but we must also be able to count on China to make efforts [to change] structural problems of its own, such as it’s anti-Japanese educational system.” About Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, he said, “His behavior is perfectly proper for a leader of the nation.”

    I’m not sure, but I think there’s a pun there: 一国 refers to “ultra-nationalists” as well as “the whole country,” doesn’t it?

    Speaking of Koizumi and the Yasukuni Shrine, as one so often does these days, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Katsuya Okada did, in fact, put the screws in on that topic today. And why would he? There were more important criticisms to level, such as, “Dude, you were so totally schnockered at the meeting the other day–DON’T. EVEN.”

    At a meeting of the lower house Audits Committee [Literally this would be the “Book Settling Operations and Audits Committee,” and if anyone has any idea how the hell we’re supposed to translate that one, I’d love to hear.–SRK] on 22 June, the Prime Minister and DPJ leader Katsuya Okada sparred energetically.

    In his first response [to questioning], Koizumi disputed [the claims about him]: “I hadn’t drunk so much as a drop. Is it proper to go around making these ridiculous accusations without any confirmation?” Okada retorted, “We tried to get a confirmation through the Operations Committee, but the LDP issued no response [to our inquiries].” The Prime Minister refused to concede: “So with no confirmation, you went ahead and submitted a motion to have me censured?”

    Just another day running the government of the most mature democracy in the world’s most populous region.

    The Yasukuni Shrine has not been neglected, though:

    Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi spoke to reporters about Health, Labour, and Welfare official Masahiro Morioka’s declaration that he had doubts that the Tokyo tribunals [after WWII] had been just. Indicating that he perceived Morioka’s statements as inappropriate, he said, “I’d like to you bear in mind that this was the viewpoint of a single official.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda also emphasized at a press conference that “while (we can debate over) the widely-harbored questions about whether it is appropriate for the victors to pass judgment on the vanquished, the fact remains that the government accepted the judgments handed down, and so we have no standing to register dissent.”

    Morioka, speaking at a meeting the same day, stated, “Japan implemented its war operations in compliance with international laws governing wartime conduct; that aspect should not have been subject to [further trial and] judgment. It is a mistake to say that the victors only were upright and that the losers were [entirely] in the wrong.”

    Banal observation: If government officials didn’t have the word appropriate at their disposal, they’d never be able to open their mouths lest some actual value judgment slip out.

    By the way, the word I’ve translated as “victor” here is one I very much like, as you might imagine: 戦勝者 (senshousha: “war/battle” + “win” + “person”).


    Posted by Sean at 21:58, June 21st, 2005

    Who knows how it’ll end up, but the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, under the slightly soggier name Uniting American Families Act, has been reintroduced in congress. I know I strike this gong all the time, but I’m far more concerned that policy-based impediments to our taking care of each other be removed than that the government confer [gag] “recognition” on our relationships.

    My finest hour

    Posted by Sean at 10:14, June 21st, 2005

    Joe Riddle, who frequently posts at Ex-Gay Watch, has a post up that more succinctly and effectively makes a point I was trying to make the other day:

    My advice to the gay child born to fundamentalist Christian parents: keep your head down and try to stay out of harm’s way until you’re an adult and you can get away from them.

    And obey them as cheerfully as you can muster. They’re wrong, unfortunately, about homosexuality; but other aspects of fundamentalist Christianity–constancy, honor, discipline, and the recognition that the world does not revolve around oneself–are not wrong at all. And you’ll need them later.


    Posted by Sean at 09:51, June 21st, 2005

    Katsuya Okada, the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, has opined that Prime Minister Koizumi has a decision to make:

    Speaking about pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine that were a focal point of the recent meeting between top Japanese and ROK officials, Katsuya Okada told a press conference on 21 June, “Koizumi has failed to convince [people of the rectitude of his position], and therefore his only options are to cease making pilgrimages of his own volition or to resign as Prime Minister.” Okada will pursue this line of argument with the Prime Minister on 22 June at a meeting of the Audits Committee of the House of Representatives.

    Of course, being the opposition leader, Okada has more or less a duty to throw darts at Koizumi. Much as I like Koizumi, though–especially as a forceful and articulate US ally in the WOT–he really has botched this particular issue and good.