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    State senator’s gayness fails to imperil MN government

    Posted by Sean at 01:27, April 15th, 2005

    It’s nice to see stories like this:

    Sen. Paul Koering, who publicly revealed Wednesday that he is gay, received nothing but kindness from his colleagues on the Senate floor today.

    He was greeted with hugs and handshakes from both conservative Republican and liberal Democratic senators and from moderates of both parties. Many of the senators said they have long known of the Fort Ripley Republican’s sexual orientation.

    Koering, who was described as a teddy bear by several other Senators, was beaming Thursday and told one Senate colleague that he felt liberated.

    No kidding, buddy. The truth shall make you free, to coin a phrase.

    I do look forward to the day when the tone of these stories carries a bit less astonishment about people’s goodwill–you could almost headline this one “State Senator not shot by fellow Republicans after outing self.” But progress is progress.

    Okinawans to be surveyed about US military presence

    Posted by Sean at 00:53, April 15th, 2005

    The US government plans to survey Okinawans about how they view US bases:

    The committee is attempting to determine which bases on U.S. soil should be closed to improve the efficiency of defense operations under an inquiry ordered by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

    It plans to complete a draft proposal in May and seek approval from Congress in autumn.

    The plan is expected to meet with strong opposition since many regional economies in the United States depend on military bases.

    Okinawa’s relationship with the US military is more complicated. It’s Japan’s least wealthy prefecture, and our bases add to the economy. At the same time, crime and high-handedness have accompanied our presence there, and Okinawans are more outspoken than your average Japanese; the survey report should be an interesting read, whatever effect it does or does not ultimately have on troop realignments.

    What part of Roh don’t you understand?

    Posted by Sean at 00:40, April 15th, 2005

    ROK President Roh Moo-hyun addressed South Korean residents in Germany this week and made some statements that are…well, here’s what he said:

    “North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear programs,” Roh told the meeting in Germany.

    He said Pyongyang and Washington distrusted each other but were in agreement on how to resolve the problem — security guarantees and economic aid for the North in return for dismantling its nuclear programs.

    “They don’t seem to trust each other,” Roh said. “But distrust is not a problem of substance, so it will be resolved if you talk long enough,” he said.

    Is that a fact? I understand that he was probably trying to soothe the homefolks–and the part about not encouraging the collapse of the DPRK certainly makes sense, since it would do all kinds of nasty things to the ROK economy–but whenever a politician says something wacky, there’s always a scary chance that he actually believes it. I mean, maybe the connotation is different in Korean, but “distrust is not a problem of substance” strikes me as quixotic in this situation. So does “North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear programs.”

    BTW, did you hear what Condi said about the current state of the Axis of Evil? I liked this part: “I do think the North Koreans have been, frankly, a little bit disappointed that people are not jumping up and down and running around with their hair on fire because (they) have been making these pronouncements.” Yes. Laboring under the assumption that we’ll actually convince North Korea to dump its nuclear arms program would be pretty dimwitted, but there’s a line to be trod: we can’t freak out at its antics, but working to keep negotiations going makes the DPRK feel respected and decreases the chances that it’s going to do anything psycho on an international level.

    LDP dissent over Japan Post reform continues

    Posted by Sean at 00:14, April 15th, 2005

    You know how the Japan Post privatization proposal was presented to the LDP last week? It’s still, not unpredictably, stuck there:

    A group of 101 Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers met Wednesday to reiterate their opposition to the government’s postal privatization plan and ruled out any compromise on the issue.
    Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi meanwhile renewed his pledge not to change the postal reform framework adopted by his Cabinet earlier this month.

    The standoff between Koizumi and his opponents in the LDP, of which he is president, is making it increasingly difficult for the government to meet its goal of submitting its postal privatization bills to the Diet by the end of the month.

    At Wednesday’s meeting, organized and chaired by former House of Representatives Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki, the lawmakers adopted a resolution opposing the government’s plan and released their own outline to reform Japan Post while keeping it a semigovernmental corporation.

    Someday when my stomach is less on edge, we’ll talk about Japanese semi-governmental corporations in all their resource-hoovering glory. Suffice it to say that, while “semi-governmental” sounds like a nice, friendly compromise, in execution it ends up increasing the number of people who have access to the goodies and decreasing the number of people who feel compelled to husband them. The Sankei did report that not everyone who went to Watanuki’s “study session” last week symptathized with his anti-privatization position (one is cited as saying that because he’d received his invitation from the leaders of his faction, he felt unable to refuse it). But there were 96 Diet attendees there, and 101 who joined him in his resolution this week, so maybe he was pretty persuasive.

    In any case, Prime Minister Koizumi has been adamant that the proposal not be doctored before officially becoming a Diet bill. The deadline he set was the end of April, so there’s still plenty of time for fun.

    You’re giving me a heart attack

    Posted by Sean at 09:08, April 14th, 2005

    There’s been another mix-up of patient records at a hospital, with tragic results:

    A 70-year-old man died in March following a misdiagnosis brought about when his CAT scan results were accidentally switched with those of another patient at a hospital in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Tuesday. Hospital authorities have denied responsibility for the man’s death.

    The man, from Numazu, died of a cerebral hemorrhage two days after being taken to the hospital and given the CAT scan following complaints of difficulty swallowing. The results of his scan were accidentally switched with those of another patient who underwent the scan the previous day.

    According to hospital officials, the cranial CAT scan was performed on the man immediately after he arrived at the hospital. The technician, however, accidentally gave the wrong scan results to the man’s attending physician, leading to a misdiagnosis that the man had suffered a stroke.

    This sort of thing is not at all uncommon–a famous mix-up at a Yokohama hospital led to heart and lung surgeries being performed on the wrong patients–and I wonder whether its roots lie in more than just the way health care, specifically, is run.

    Everyone in Japan who works for a decent-sized company has found life somewhat reordered by the new laws, which went into effect this month, governing the handling of personal information. Because Japan is famous for order, carefulness, and semi-conductors, people often make the easy assumption that the handling of information here must be first-rate; but in many ways it’s not. Japanese offices are full of clutter–folders and vertical files and post-it notes piled everywhere are a common sight. True, any office anywhere in the world that hasn’t been prepped for a magazine shoot is going to look worked-in, and because space is at a premium here, separate rooms or closets to keep unattractive piles of paper hidden away are less easy to manage. It’s still true, though, that most Japanese prefer the traditional use of paper documentation and name-stamp approvals to computerized MIS. Most documents go through many hands on their way to being approved or filed, and Japan has had relatively little crime since the war, so it’s not uncommon for documents that contain personal information to be lying about all over the place because there aren’t any policies to prevent it.

    Oddly, while information tends to go through many people vertically up and down chains of command, it often isn’t shared horizontally. The in-group consciousness can mean that marketing departments don’t always know what their own R&D people are creating, or how to communicate to them what the customers would like it to do.

    Of course, computers aren’t perfect either, and territoriality is not a trait the Japanese invented, as we all know. But so many of the problems you hear about in Japanese health care seem to result not from garden-variety incompetence or questionable judgment but from a specific mishandling of documents: mixing up patients’ charts, not reading warnings about an employee’s conduct, not having received the crucial information in report A. Apparently, the hospitals are run less like the rest of the domestic economy.

    Plans for cooperation with Israel on defense moving forward

    Posted by Sean at 08:14, April 14th, 2005

    So something has come of those plans for Japan to seek help from Israel in upgrading its defense capabilities (via Gaijin Biker). Good. Ever since it was first announced, I’d been hoping more information indicating that plans had materialized would be forthcoming. It’s taken a few months, but I’m glad it’s here. It looks as if equipment, as well as procedure, may be included.

    CT civil unions bill passed

    Posted by Sean at 07:55, April 14th, 2005

    The Connecticut House has passed its civil unions bill. The governor hadn’t threatened a veto, but she had supported an amendment (eventually added) to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

    Following the House vote Rell issued a statement saying, “I am pleased that the House of Representatives passed this amendment and made it clear that while we will recognize and support civil unions, marriage in Connecticut is defined as the union of a man and a woman.

    “Passage of this bill will extend civil rights to all couples, no matter their gender, and send the unmistakable message that discrimination in any form is unacceptable in Connecticut.”

    Good for them.

    Working for the man

    Posted by Sean at 07:47, April 14th, 2005

    This Yomiuri article doesn’t seem to know how funny it is–unless the reporter who wrote it has the driest sense of humor in all of Japan. It’s about former employees of private companies who move to government work:

    Those who successfully make the leap from the private sector to the public sector are often troubled by a lack of coordination between ministries and agencies in implementing government policies. But they find their new jobs rewarding because of their public nature and the contributions to local communities.

    He was appointed section chief before the city had clearly determined what the responsibility of the new section would be. He decided to work on something that had interested him since his student days–involving the public in the creation of a town. He invited younger employees and residents to a meeting to discuss the future of the town. Discussions at the meeting bore fruit and resulted in the improvement of cable television network services and the launch of a local bus service that passengers can use for just 100 yen. [after they pay for the rest of the running cost with their taxes–SRK]

    Tanaka earns less than he did in the private sector and at times has felt at odds with the local government’s bureaucratic ways. For example, the workload of every section is strictly predetermined and no one wants to take on extra work.

    The article isn’t what you’d call a revelation, but it does raise the hope that people with experience working in more results-oriented environment can (slowly) influence things when they move to government work.


    Posted by Sean at 23:52, April 13th, 2005

    You should be reading Eric even when he’s not gallantly quoting me, but the follow-up to his original post on Bill Clinton’s ridiculous comments about campaign strategist Arthur Finkelstein’s opposition to Hillary’s political ascendancy makes a point that deserves to be raised more often:

    The fascinating thing about self-loathing is that if we assume that there is such a thing (and obviously there is) why would it be restricted to gay conservatives? Is it not possible that gay leftists might also suffer from self loathing?

    And how about heterosexuals? Liberal, conservative, moderate, libertarian… What’s to stop any of these individuals from hating themselves?

    You would think that if these jokers (as in, the sorts of gay activists Clinton is likely to have picked up the wording from) were serious about combating self-loathing among gays, they’d devote their energy to outreach programs for gay youths who are terrified out of their minds at what they’ve just discovered about themselves. Or for drug and sex addicts, whose behavior is flat-out self-destructive. It seems to me that the last place a reasonable person would go looking for self-loathing is among centered, ordinary people going un-hysterically about their daily lives; but, then, for some people, the opportunity to take potshots at political opponents is a good that trumps all others.

    Just a girl

    Posted by Sean at 07:02, April 13th, 2005

    Okay, I know that complaining about Salon‘s culture criticism is pointless, so this is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. Dead fish. But still, there’s something unusually dunderheaded about this whine about how Gwen Stefani and others don’t understand the Asian iconography they’re appropriating:

    They shadow her wherever she goes. They’re on the cover of the album, they appear behind her on the red carpet, she even dedicates a track, “Harajuku Girls,” to them. In interviews, they silently vogue in the background like living props; she, meanwhile, likes to pretend that they’re not real but only a figment of her imagination. They’re ever present in her videos and performances — swabbing the deck aboard the pirate ship, squatting gangsta style in a high school gym while pumping their butts up and down, simpering behind fluttering hands or bowing to Stefani. That’s right, bowing. Not even from the waist, but on the ground in a “we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy” pose. She’s taken Tokyo hipsters, sucked them dry of all their street cred, and turned them into China dolls. [Am I the only one who wants to blow groceries when people use words like hipsters and street cred with no irony?–SRK]

    Stefani fawns over harajuku style in her lyrics, but her appropriation of this subculture makes about as much sense as the Gap selling Anarchy T-shirts; she’s swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women. While aping a style that’s suppose to be about individuality and personal expression, Stefani ends up being the only one who stands out.

    Sweetie? How ’bout you try this? Go to Harajuku. Watch the way Harajuku girls actually behave. You will see them acting just as giggly, catty, and coy around cute boys as teenaged girls anywhere else. They use the same helium voices as other good Japanese girls, too. In fact, you can think of it this way. Which of the following do you think Harajuku girls more aspire to be like?

    1. Gwen Stefani, who has millions of fans, makes millions of dollars, is fawned over by stylists and journalists, designs her own line of clothes, and used to screw Gavin Rossdale

    2. A leftish SF journalist who sulks that Asians aren’t being presented soulfully enough in pop culture and seems not to have been sassy enough to put a bigot in his place when he condescended to her

    Remember, Japan is a culture that really, seriously values surfaces. That’s not to say that Harajuku girls’ sense of style isn’t fun and invigorating, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s mostly a fashion thing and really isn’t about the sort of full-on punkish rebellion that it might be among teenagers in the West. (The really disaffected Japanese kids are either locking themselves in their rooms or attacking classmates with knives.) And there’s just as much insider conformity visible among Harajuku girls as there is in any other Japanese group; that some of them have rejected the larger exam-hell scheme their parents might like them to stick with doesn’t change that.

    Personally, I find Stefani’s new music and videos annoying. I think her use of her entourage is a rather witty way of making the same oddly-humble point Madonna made 15 years ago in the “Vogue” video, though: a star is a star because she’s surrounded by people whom she depends on, utterly, to help make her one. Of course Stefani ends up being the only one who stands out. Pop music thrives on groups of anonymous backing singers and dancers whose sole duty is to magnify the charisma of the headliner. I’m sure her four back-ups are at least being paid pretty well for the job they do, and it probably beats temping or meat packing.

    Making them speak only Japanese is a bit on the cute side (it’s not geisha-like, either, since geiko were trained in multiple art forms and expected to make intelligent conversation on whatever topics their clients raised). Then again, I can see how the effect might be ruined if Love and Angel were seen slouching around and saying things like, “Oh, wow. That guy over there? With the press pass and the hair in his eyes? I think I know him? Uh, from sophomore year at Oberlin? Before I became, you know, a performance artist?”