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    Posted by Sean at 22:44, June 6th, 2005

    This is very cool–I’m assuming it’s the “announcement of monumental significance” referred to in the last newsletter:

    June is gay pride month and to mark the occasion, the gay community will gather for a mortgage burning party on Friday, June 3rd at 2 p.m. to celebrate a mortgage retirement gift of $274,000 to the William Way Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Community Center. The donor, a respected community leader and businessman, will be announced at the event. The William Way Community Center is located at 1315 Spruce Street in Philadelphia.

    The Center will save $391,270 in mortgage principal and interest payments over a ten-year period. For this reason, the gift will enable the community center to immediately develop a new spectrum of educational, cultural, social, and health services for Philadelphia’s diverse sexual and gender minority community.

    When I was looking for a gay community center in Philadelphia to donate to, I asked this guy, and it was William Way he suggested. He showed Eric and me around when I was in Philadelphia in December. Great place (love the URL, too). Congratulations.

    A long way from rice rations

    Posted by Sean at 22:26, June 6th, 2005

    Japanese convenience stores, especially 7-Eleven, have shaped food retailing here in ways that have drawn a lot of attention. The egg-salad sandwiches on spongy white bread, the triangular o-nigiri, and the salads consisting largely of shredded iceberg lettuce and canned corn are still there, but they’ve been joined by snazzier and tastier offerings (some developed in cooperation with restaurant chefs) that are very popular among people who have to eat lunch at their desks or just hate to cook. The industry has become very competitive.

    Of course, the potential downside is the eternal problem of inventory. The Mainichi appears to be doing a series on wastefulness in Japan, spurred by the declaration by Nobel Peace Prize Wangari Maathai winner a few months ago that she just loves Japanese conservation-mindedness, and the first installment (Japanese, English) is about how much prepared food is thrown away at various convenience stores:

    In Japan, about 20 million tons of food waste is thrown out each year. That’s about 150 kilograms per person. As Japan looks to eliminate wastefulness, adopting the spirit of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, this unused food is raising questions over overproduction, especially in Japan’s convenience store business.

    “We do this because we’re taking into consideration the period in which the products will actually be consumed after they are taken home,” explains an official from the Kanto convenience store. As a rule the store is not permitted to discount products approaching their expiry date in the same way as supermarkets do.

    On the day the store was visited, it discarded 75 items, with a combined price of about 16,000 yen. Last year, a total of 4.5 million yen worth of prepared food products were thrown out — about 8 percent of sales of prepared food.

    That does sound like a lot, though I suspect that among Japan’s notoriously inefficient domestic industries it may not be egregious. You also have to wonder about a few things. For one, how does it stack up against the noodle shops and corporate dormitory cafeterias where many people who now eat convenience store meals would otherwise have eaten? Or against the amount of food such people who don’t like to cook throw away after one of their valiant but futile attempts at shopping?

    I was also wondering about compliance with recycling regulations, oddly unmentioned in the Mainichi article. I’m not very familiar with Japan for Sustainability, but it also quotes the 20 million tons figure and gives some others that are, presumably, based on the same data:

    Of the household and general commercial waste, about 20 million tons consist of food waste. This is six times the weight of used-newspaper waste and 4 times that of discarded automobiles.

    Out of 20 million tons of food waste, 18% is produced at the “processing and manufacturing” stage, about 30% is commercial waste from food distribution channels and restaurants, and the remaining 52% is from households. This means that, every year, Japanese households produce about 10 million tons of food waste, equivalent to annual rice consumption in Japan.

    The article also has a few interesting examples of businesses that are recycling their food waste. (I’m not really sure I needed to know that the New Otani Hotel has a compost pile underneath it, but, hey.)

    Dispute over natural gas deposits continues

    Posted by Sean at 06:28, June 6th, 2005

    The US-Japan cooperative missile defense program is moving forward:

    Speaking to reporters at a hotel in Singapore, Ono said the sea-based missile defense project would move from research to development, with the agency planning to request several billions of yen in fiscal 2006 for the first year’s development.

    Production will begin following a five-year development phase that ends in fiscal 2011, he said.

    Japan and the United States are jointly developing a large sea-based interceptor missile with a 53-centimeter diameter with a longer range that enables it to cover a wide area. The missile can distinguish a targeted missile from a decoy.

    The most interesting reason this is a good thing for Japan to be considering is buried near the end of the article:

    “Japan doesn’t consider China a threat, but Beijing’s defense spending is under wraps. A Chinese submarine intruded into Japanese waters and its marine survey and gas field development are provocative,” Ono said.

    The conflict over exploration for fossil fuels (especially a particular natural gas field) has been growing. Demand is growing in China’s expanding economy, and it’s always been high in Japan’s:

    Although the current standoff has not changed, it is very regrettable that the PRC has continued its project of developing the Shungyo Gas Fields near the center line [between China and Japan]. The Chinese side says that it expects to open the field for production as early as October. It will be a major problem if the rough sailing for negotiations and long-term developments turn out to be advantageous only for the PRC side. The PRC should first temporarily cease development of the Shungyo Gas Fields.

    From some on the PRC side, the following argument has recently emerged: there is a fault line between the gas fields and the center line through maritime territory on the Japanese side, so because it is partitioned by geological structure, Japanese natural resources will not be affected even if [China] begins production of gas and petroleum from Shungyo. But if that is the case, we would like to see it proved clearly with detailed data. After all, what both countries need to do is get an objective confirmation of what the true state of the available natural resources is. The sharing of accurate information will make cool-headed dialogue possible.

    The Japanese government has already deemed the move by the Chinese to develop the gas fields a “possible infringement on our rights.” It’s not surprising everyone is so worked up: estimates are that there are 7 trillion cubic feet of gas under there, and (as the Nikkei editorial above implies) it is not certain that the fault line actually partitions the reservoirs into distinct pockets. The BBC has a simple surface map that gives at least a basic idea where we’re talking about.

    No one is predicting at this point that China and Japan are in danger of full-scale war over natural resources. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember, as accusations about history books and shrine visits fly around, that there are more substantive things under dispute.

    Social disease

    Posted by Sean at 05:42, June 6th, 2005

    Well, knock me over with a feather:

    A rapid spread of AIDS over the past decade has reached a level that has confounded and alarmed the health establishment in Japan, a country that has long felt protected by a first-rate health system and widespread condom use.

    Infections which had stayed at infinitesimal levels [as in, official levels–SRK] are surging at rates similar to developing countries, and some experts say the real number of Japanese with HIV or AIDS is two to four times the official toll.

    The rest of the experts probably peg it at five times. This is one of those Japan stories that get recycled every few years (I commented on a few others last year when Susanna asked about a specific one). That isn’t to say that such articles aren’t addressing real problems; it’s the air of discovery that’s irritating. Likewise the tendency toward exaggeration:

    Among women, Sato is one of the careful ones. The 23-year-old Tokyoite has unprotected sex with multiple partners, but at least she occasionally gets herself tested for HIV.

    That first sentence is idiotic. Ms. Sato may be “one of the careful ones” among the women who live in Tokyo (or Osaka), go clubbing frequently, and hook up with strange men all the time. But Tokyo and Osaka don’t represent Japan any more than New York and LA represent America, even if they do comprise a higher proportion of the population.

    Still, the government is not worrying over nothing. I will leave straight people and their dissolute ways to those who know them more intimately. But I heard plenty of real lulus as a gay guy newly arrived from New York in the mid-90’s. Chief among them was the one that said you can’t get HIV from Japanese people (unless they’ve lived abroad, in which case they’re practically foreigners, anyway). For at least two or three years, the messages with the free condoms in the bar toilets have emphasized that the incidence of reported infection in Tokyo has been on the rise and that Japanese-only saunas are not to be considered extra-safe. I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to bring down infection rates in a country in which “if nobody talks about it, it’s not happening” is a major social principle and tolerance for male playing around is frequently taken to an extreme.

    Dressing down without loosening up

    Posted by Sean at 00:50, June 4th, 2005

    Nichi Nichi has a good roundup of the depressing results of the Japanese government’s new “no taste” “no tie” policy. Among the pictures is one of Prime Minister Koizumi in an Okinawan shirt, looking as if he were practicing his Bea Arthur drag act.

    Naturally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs isn’t pressing the policy too much; an acquaintance of mine who was brought up in Switzerland was recently taken to task by his supervisor there for wearing a striped shirt and wine-colored tie rather than the funeral-director look (white shirt, tie in color range from grey to navy with non-assertive pattern) that’s an unofficial requirement.

    Otherwise, there’s a lot of huffing and puffing going on to make un-suit-edness “cool.” Yuriko Koike, the Minister of the Environment, has called upon designers to come up with “cool biz” looks. There will be a fashion show of them at the Aichi World Expo.

    As Joe says, given the torturing heat and humidity of summer here, and the fact that a lot of people travel around in packed trains rather than cars, it makes sense not to require them to dress to the point of near-suffocation. Still, it’s unfortunate, if not unexpected, that everyone seems to be gravitating toward the dress-shirt-without-a-tie look. (I mean, everyone besides the high-ranking officials who are dressing distinctively just to draw attention to the policy.) It makes them all look as if they’d neglected to finish putting their clothes on in the morning. Or taken off their jackets and ties in preparation for a few rounds of beer and karaoke. Outfits that didn’t look as if something were missing–linen or scrupulously pressed chambray with trousers would be the obvious choices–would look more on-duty.

    Pride month

    Posted by Sean at 11:23, June 3rd, 2005

    Now that Gay Pride is a full month, Paul Varnell says, we should find a way to use it that goes beyond just being one of the installments of the “Let’s Celebrate [Designated Aggrieved Group]” routine:

    If you are not impressed by any of these ideas, create your own. The point is to use Gay Pride Month to create circumstances where gays and lesbians get to know a few more people, learn a little more, develop a greater appreciation of the community they are a part of and experience something in common beyond the mere datum of being gay.

    Pride is best expressed by viewing our sexuality as a potential good and talent to be cultivated. I understand the impulse toward “liberation,” but when coarsely indulged in, it sends mixed signals: “We’re ordinary folks just like you” + “We’re freaks who run loose on the streets in magenta leather thongs” is not a message that’s easily parsed, though it should be easy to figure out which part of it is likely to stick in the Middle-American memory.

    Since I’m not a big organization-joiner, my own modest suggestions are of the pokier, everyday variety:

    Gay people have to stop making excuses for each other all the time. Yes, we suffer. Yes, there’s a lot of crap to take. Yes, it’s wrong. But there’s no more “pride” involved in listening sympathetically while our friends explain for the 100th time why they can’t [break it off with that married man / stop drinking to the point that it affects their job / resist the impulse to flee whenever a relationship threatens to get riskily intimate / stand up to their parents] than there is in behaving that way ourselves. I don’t recommend being sententious, but a little more shunning of chronic liars and cheaters would not do most of us any harm. Nor would making it clear to nebbishy friends that they cannot count on an inexhaustible series of bailouts when they get themselves in trouble.

    That includes those who complain about society’s attitude toward gays but have a litany of reasons they can’t come out to their families. The only real way to address anti-gay ignorance is to refute it, visibly, in the way we live. If you’re so blasted filial, by all means go the whole way: get married and start giving Mom and Dad grandchildren. Or stay gay and honorably closeted, and quit–as in, COLD TURKEY–generalized bitching about homophobia.

    Straight people who support us have a role in this, too. The valuable kind of pride comes from solving problems, overcoming obstacles, and accomplishing things–that’s no less true for us than for you. Considering it natural, even entertaining, for us to live brittle, neurotic, messy lives (while you do everything you can to stabilize your own) does no one any favors.

    All of this is stuff that should be happening anyway, of course; but as long as someone has waved a wand over June and declared it All Hail the Queers month, there’s no reason not to make the best of it.

    Tough questions (for one’s opponents) about Japan Post privatization

    Posted by Sean at 09:27, June 3rd, 2005

    Sometimes, it feels as if I’d never left America:

    The Democratic Party of Japan’s return to Diet sessions Wednesday reflected its acknowledgement of the limit on what can be gained from adopting the outmoded parliamentary tactic of boycotting debates.

    During the current Diet session, the DPJ refused to attend debates for several days over a dispute concerning the absence of Heizo Takenaka, the minister responsible for postal privatization, from a session of the House of Representatives’ Internal Affairs and Communications Committee.

    The 10-day boycott did not result in any remarkable achievements. Instead it gave the impression that the largest opposition party was indecisive on how to confront the ruling coalition.

    Which country is this? Oh, yeah: the one where the leader of the Democratic Party is actually kind of cute, which is a convenient distinguishing factor.

    Regarding larger developments in the Japan Post privatization free-for-all…let’s see. A former Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Seiko Noda, had some questions for Prime Minister Koizumi in committee this morning:

    “Mr. Prime Minister, if you are so certain that Japan Post is irredeemable as a public corporation, why did you pass its public incorporation bill during your administration?” Ms. Noda asked, attacking the Prime Minister’s position.

    Koizumi stated, “Both ruling and opposition parties overwhelmingly opposed privatization, so as a politician it was my job to find a way to push through that.” He indicated that setting up the Japan Post Public Corporation had not been his real intention all along.

    Ms. Noda went on to indicate that the government had not explained thoroughly the disadvantages of privatization and ended her series of questions by saying, “One can by no means clearly see what ideals would be accomplished by the results of privatizing the [existing] public corporation. In the midst of that [state of affairs], there’s extraordinary uncertainty and room for hesitation involved in pushing forward with this [plan].”

    Also heard:

    Eiji Ozawa (LDP) critized the bills related to the privatization proposal as unrealistic and said, “The Prime Minister is [behaving like] Don Quixote.” The Prime Minister stated, “Well, actually, I like Don Quixote. I’d like the privatization of Japan Post to make people say [later], ‘That Koizumi knew what he was doing, after all.'”

    (I took quite a bit of liberty with that last part. 先見の明があったな actually means something more literally like, “had the clarity of foresight, huh!” I couldn’t find a better way to de-clunk-ify it.) Ozawa is presumably talking about the literary character and not the arson-prone discount retailer. Before I moved into Atsushi’s apartment, I lived in the Dogenzaka section of Shibuya–right across the street, essentially, from the 東急本店. Whenever I so much as went out for a run, I’d be assailed by that insufferable “Don, Don, Don…Don Quiiiii…Don, Qui…Hoh, Teh” theme song. I thought I’d lose my mind.

    What was the topic? Ah, yes: Japan Post, as it so often is. Anyway, things are moving along, kind of. No one expected the opposition to melt away, or to fail to play the who-knows-what-will-happen-without-the-government-to-nanny-this? card. I’d kind of enjoy it if someone in the government just stood up and said, “Mr. Prime Minister, Japan Post has a great deal of money, and, to be frank, WE WANT THAT MONEY! WE WANT TO KEEP OUR MITTS ON EVERY YEN OF THAT MOOONNNNNNEEEEEEEY!” Hoping for that amount of forthrightness would be…well, quixotic, one might say.

    Mama used to tell me / Girl, you better load your gun up right

    Posted by Sean at 06:26, June 3rd, 2005

    Camille has a site–does everyone else already know about this?–to go with her new book. Included are several pages of “Camille’s World,” which is centered around top-ten lists, of which my…uh…favorite, is the following:

    LIST #2: The World’s Top 10 Disco Classics

    1. Irene Cara, “Flashdance” (Giorgio Moroder)
    2. Donna Summer, “Rumour Has It” (Giorgio Moroder)
    3. Jackie Moore, “This Time, Baby”
    4. Sylvester, “Stars”
    5. Lime, “Angel Eyes”
    6. Machine, “There But For the Grace of God”
    7. Evelyn Champagne King, “Shame”
    8. Pamela Stanley, “Coming Out of Hiding”
    9. Gloria Estefan’s cover of Vickie Sue Robinson’s “Turn the Beat Around”
    10. Madonna, “Deeper and Deeper”

    To which my reaction is: Okay, honey, whatever you say.

    Or on second thought, you know what? Not. NOT whatever you say.

    I mean, “Flashdance”? “ Flashdance “?! For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I get the impression that Camille was thinking more of Jennifer Beals’s wet hair, pastel hardhat, and leotarded ass than of, you know, the song itself.

    Wait! I can put my finger on the reason: the song is crap. Not crap that deserves to be expelled from civilization–I’m kind of fond of “Flashdance” myself. But please. Camille identifies disco with African earth cult and dark sexual ambiguity. Listen to “Flashdance” and tell me you find anything whatever dark or ambiguous. Jeez. “A Fifth of Beethoven” has more sexual menace. From Donna’s oeuvre alone, I would pick about 12 different songs over “Flashdance.”

    Speaking of Donna, “Rumour Has It,” full stop? Eh? Better than “Love to Love You Baby,” certainly. Better than “She Works Hard for the Money,” which I’ve never warmed to. But, like, better than “I Feel Love”? “Dim All the Lights”? “Love’s Unkind”? Come on.

    And before anyone points out that I was born in 1972–yeah, I know. But I’m a gay guy; it says right on the ID card that you get to have imperious opinions about disco. I mean, I thought Paglia was pushing it by trying elevate Joni Mitchell to Great Modern Poet status. I should’ve known you can never underestimate her ability to top herself for sheer excess.


    Mister Kim if you’re nasty

    Posted by Sean at 00:57, June 3rd, 2005

    Miss Manners keeps telling you the little gestures of politeness are important, but do you listen? Of course not. However, President Bush does–at least according to one agency in the DPRK government:

    A spokesperson for the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs praised US President Bush for having referred to Premier Kim Jong-il with the honorific “Mister” on 31 May, saying, “If what he said puts a full stop on the conflict between hard-liners and moderates, it will contribute toward the building of an atmosphere [congenial to] the 6-party talks.

    It strikes me that, coming from a head of state who’s known for his chumminess, the fussy use of “Mister” could just as easily be an expression of chill distance. (Or maybe that’s just me, since I deliver expressions of chill distance with some regularity.)

    Interestingly, while looking for something about the speech in English, I came across this old CSM article. It’s by a Russian diplomat who traveled with Kim for three weeks the summer before 9/11. The more I look at it, the more I think I remember having read it at the time, although I can’t be sure:

    I was warned that the leader does not approve of the address, “Mister.” We were a bit shocked at first, but we got used to [saying], “Could you tell the Great General….” Now it was natural for me to address the North Korean leader as “Comrade Chairman,” “Chairman Kim Jong Il.”

    Kim Jong Il expressed regret that, since George Bush came to power, the US approach to Korean affairs has changed. The North Korean leader does not like it that the administration of the American president places [North Korea] on the same shelf as countries promoting extremism, violence, and terror.

    If you’d like to nauseate yourself, you can linger over Kim’s fulsome praise of Bill Clinton; an icky, borderline-flirtatious conversation with Madeleine Albright during her famous visit; and an interlude of relaxed mateyness with Vladimir Putin.

    On returning to the present, remember that, “Mister” or no “Mister,” there’s still plenty of room for animosity:

    DPRK Ambassador to the UN Pak Gil-yon, lecturing at the Toronto Center for International Research, sharply criticized the US: “Not only has the US not changed its posture of frank hostility, but it has left the DPRK no choice but to tackle the task of nuclear arms development.” Pak also criticized Japan for its position on historical issues. Asked during the Q&A session after his lecture about [the possibility] of returning to the 6-party talks, he responded, “We are working hard [on a resolution]. We have unlimited time.”

    Social Insurance Administration to remain under government control

    Posted by Sean at 21:03, June 1st, 2005

    What with all the attention the reform of Japan Post has gotten, the woes of Japan’s Social Insurance program–which is even more screwed than its US counterpart–can sometimes go virtually unnoticed. The government’s been thinking about it, though (Japanese, English). The recommendation involves those three little words we all love to hear: “new government entity.”

    As part of the Social Insurance Agency reform, a new government entity will be established to manage public pension programs, but the government will retain complete control over the system.

    The plan was based on similar recommendations made in a final report by an advisory panel on the agency’s reform to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda and Liberal Democratic Party proposals.

    The government has finally completed a reform plan, prompted by the revelation of a series of scandals involving the agency. But its plan may attract criticism as only creating a different facade rather than implementing an overhaul.

    Unlike the heated discussions of the past, the LDP panel meeting held at the party’s headquarters Tuesday proceeded quietly.

    I’ll bet! Of course, it’s easy to argue airily that having the government in charge will keep things going as smoothly as possible, but when you look at the specifics, there’s plenty to be doubtful about. Non-payment of premiums is already a pervasive problem. Last year right around this time, it was starting to sound as if no bureaucrat in the history of the Japanese government had ever made a single payment into the kitty. Speak of setting a good example, huh? In the meantime, the restructuring of the SIA is supposed to take place in 2008, so there’s plenty of time for things to become even more Byzantine as more and more people with something to lose have their say. Should be fun.