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    Blood-brain barrier

    Posted by Sean at 01:29, November 28th, 2004

    With a bunch of college friends in NJ, and probably going down to DC overnight before heading up to the City.

    My poor friends in Dallas are wondering whether I’m actually planning to see them (still am!) or it was all just a scam. Someday I’ll tell you about trying to use my JAL mileage club/credit card to get a ticket through JAL America. (See, it’s a foreign-issued credit card–no, I’m not joking; I can’t use my JAL card to order a JAL ticket on-line or over the phone if the flight originates outside Japan. You know, you think you have all the dumb-ass rules figured out after eight years of no-you-can’t-do-that, but there’s always one lying in wait somewhere. Luckily, there’s a JAL office in New York, so I plan to stand in the middle of it and scream until someone issues me a ticket–with miles, honey–on the card issued by his own airline.)

    28 November 11:30 EST

    I want to see the bright lights tonight

    Posted by Sean at 18:33, November 26th, 2004

    Oh, one last thing before I turn in: WTF is it with people not turning off their brights until you’re close enough to shake hands? Over the last few years, it’s happened to me more and more, and tonight coming back up from Bucks County, it was just dumbfounding. I mean, of the fifteen or so cars I passed, maybe three remembered to switch off their high beams from a distance of a few hundred feet. The rest were close enough for me to get a good look at their hood ornaments before they moved. I do understand that sometimes you don’t see the next car until you come over a hill or around a bend where the woods are dense–the whole reason you need high beams is that back roads crest, dip, and curve all over the place, after all. And sometimes, you’re just being absentminded and you forget until the oncoming car flashes its lights at you. I’ve been guilty of that myself. I find it hard to believe that was the case for a dozen people, practically in a row, on the same stretch of road, though.

    27 November 04:33 EST

    Don’t make me over

    Posted by Sean at 18:02, November 26th, 2004

    John Corvino, one of my favorite writers who post at IGF, has a terrific piece about the state of gay marriage advocacy after the election. It’s a very even-handed call for self-examination. The only reason it doesn’t hearten me more is that…well, it’s not the people at IGF who are the problem. They may not always be right–and I don’t think that, as a group, they were on the right side of the gay marriage argument–but the whole reason they’re part of that organization is that they stand for independent thought. A willingness to face up to cold, hard reality tends to be a natural corrective to untenable positions.

    The people I do worry about are the activist types (both lefty gays and their straight sympathizers) who may feel even more alienated from the center-right range of the electorate than before. They still seem to be kind of reeling, so where they’re ultimately going to land is anyone’s guess. But if marriage bans in 11 states are the point at which a critical number start seriously reassessing their approach, things could be prevented from getting too much worse.

    27 November 04:03 EST


    Posted by Sean at 11:54, November 26th, 2004

    I met Eric at Classical Values in one of SE Pennsylvania’s restored downtowns today, and he’s as mellow in person as he is on his blog. Cute, too, even without the deal-clinching accessories, which I can assure you he didn’t bring to Starbucks.

    I, however, will never be mistaken for mellow, so our initial greeting ran, lamentably, something like this:

    E: Sean? Hi! Glad to meet you!

    S: Eric? How do you do? Can you believe the parking around here? I think I’m going to have to go down and move my car–I’m in this one-hour space at the bottom of the hill. There was one metered place open, acres of room, but I’ve never paralleled my mother’s new jeep before, and I overdid my workout yesterday–my neck won’t turn the whole way, yeah?–so I just had to find somewhere to pull in. I was going to go into the municipal lot here, but you know, it’s full–I figured I’d circle back around a few times, because it’s afternoon, and people are leaving, right? No luck, though. Total madhouse. So I figured it would suck if you were waiting 20 minutes and wondering whether you were going to be stood up, and I decided just to take the next opening I saw–let me tell you, it’s in Ultima Thule. I totally ran up the hill–and over a few streets. I hope I can still find the thing. [breath] Uh, so how are you?

    At this point, Eric could have been forgiven for assuming a cloudy look and saying, “I’m sorry, my name is Erik…uh, Williams. With a k. You must be looking for someone else. Hope you’re not waiting here too long!” And then bolting. Luckily for me, he’s a tolerant sort, and we ended up having a great afternoon and a charming end to Thanksgiving week.

    26 November 21:24 EST

    More Yasukuni Shrine news

    Posted by Sean at 05:24, November 26th, 2004

    One of the main points of contention in the whole Yasukuni Shrine flap has been whether Koizumi (among other high-level government officials) is making his pilgrimages in his capacity as a public servant or as a private citizen. It matters, naturally, because the separation of church and state argument doesn’t wash at all if he and his cabinet are just tradition-minded Japanese paying their respects. The latest development internal to Japan is that a court in Chiba has ruled that the visits are, in fact, official.

    Reasonable enough. Also reasonable was this part (lower two paragraphs):

    A court here Thursday ruled that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine in 2001 in his official capacity, but it skirted the issue of whether the trip violated the constitutional separation of the state and religion.

    The Chiba District Court also rejected a compensation claim from 63 plaintiffs who demanded the state and the prime minister pay 100,000 yen to each member for inflicting mental pain from the Aug. 13, 2001, visit.

    The plaintiffs, including Christian and Buddhist priests, had argued Koizumi’s homage to the Shinto shrine was an act to give privileges to a specific religion, thereby violating the Constitution as well as their rights.

    America has many wonderful things to give to the world. Surely something we might consider keeping to ourselves until it mercifully dies off, however, is the habit of deeming any collision with an opposing idea “mental pain,” which is a violation of one’s “rights.” There is nothing I am aware of to prevent Christian and Buddhist Japanese from performing their own kinds of prayers unobtrusively at the memorial, or from setting up their own memorial on dedicated ground of their own. The legitimate issues surrounding the Japanese government’s treatment of its World War II conduct, which still has a major influence on its relationships with its neighbors, are only obscured by these shenanigans. And that’s unfortunate, because they really need dealing with.

    26 November 15:25 EST

    ‘Round midnight

    Posted by Sean at 13:54, November 25th, 2004

    Before I forget, Atsushi says Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. (He may have just meant everyone in my family, but I’ll take the liberty of assuming he meant everyone I know in America. In addition to conveying his good wishes, I had to remember to give my parents the gift he sent along with me, since he couldn’t make it, which was a rooster figurine. It wasn’t a random choice: 2005 will be the Year of the Rooster according to the Chinese zodiac, which Japan also uses. Yes, I’m aware that rooster isn’t the word that’s usually used to translate it in this context, but it somehow didn’t seem like the best idea to address my parents in bright tones with the line, “It’s a cock from Atsushi, for good luck in the new year!”)

    Since we had, as always, the traditional turkey/cranberry sauce/football dinner with my father’s side of the family on Sunday, today was open to play with a little. It being my first time home on Thanksgiving for a good seven years, my parents decided to base dinner around (1) what I don’t get to eat much in Japan and (2) what Mom wouldn’t have to clean up after. So we went out for steaks. My parents and little brother are fun to be around; there was hilarity as well as meat, potatoes, drink, and thanksgiving.

    But unfortunately for me, whiskey + wine + port + jet lag = ZZZZZZZZ, and I ended up falling asleep before the best part of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (What do you mean, “Which one?”? When Peppermint Patty flips out over getting cereal for Thanksgiving dinner, of course. Do I have to walk you guys through every flippin’ thing?) Still, it was a good day overall.

    The other part of jet lag is, having had a two-hour nap, I’m now ready for a workout. Maybe I’ll take the flashlight and go for a walk–the rain seems to have died down.

    Happy last few minutes of Thanksgiving, all.

    25 November 23:54 EST

    We are the world

    Posted by Sean at 18:08, November 23rd, 2004

    According to the president of the UN General Assembly (and foreign minister of Gabon), North Korea just wants to get along with everyone else, as always. If only we non-hermit states were more willing to cooperate:

    North Korea gave a visiting U.N. official a “very positive message” about resuming stalled six-way talks on its nuclear programs, the South Korean Unification Ministry said Wednesday.

    It also quoted Jean Ping, who is president of the U.N. General Assembly, as saying in a meeting with Unification Minister Chung Dong-young that North Korea asked him to tell Washington it wanted to co-exist with the United States.

    Ping, who is Gabon’s foreign minister, visited Pyongyang and Beijing before coming to Seoul.

    “Ping said during the meeting he received a very positive message from North Korea about reopening the six-party talks during his visit to the North,” the ministry said.

    “North Korea asked him to convey to the United States that it wanted ‘coexistence’, and he said he plans to convey the message,” the ministry added.

    Well, that’s all right, then. If the DPRK told the UN (which told the ROK) to tell the US that it wants to “coexist” with us, why let a half-century history of reneging on agreements be a stumbling block? Mustn’t be uptight, or anything.

    Of course, I say that, but in reality, continuing to negotiate is pretty much our only viable option. Invading North Korea (BTW, when did it become the fashion to call the DPRK “the Norks” or [hurl!]”NoKo”? Eight years in Japan has worn down my objections to cute-isms somewhat, but I still have my limits) would be a scintillatingly stupid idea, as would flatly refusing to acknowledge the Pyongyang regime’s sovereignty, at least for the time being. Coolly treading a fine line between not indulging the DPRK and not arousing its unpredictable wrath is probably the best we can do right now, but it does get grating the way we all have to pretend to be so very pleased whenever the North Koreans make a diplomatic overture that mimes goodwill and good faith.

    24 November 04:08 EST

    Camden takes steals the crown

    Posted by Sean at 15:01, November 22nd, 2004

    If you’re from New Jersey, Delaware, or Eastern PA, be sure you’re sitting down when you read this: Camden, NJ, has been rated the most dangerous city in America, outdistancing such notables as Gary, IN, Detroit, and East St. Louis. Of course, no single ranking is infallible in strict countdown terms, but Camden has long been one of the most egregious dumps on the East Coast. And sadly, unlike cross-river neighbor Philadelphia, it doesn’t have many well-maintained middle-class and rich neighborhoods left to keep the crime rate diluted and provide nearby safer places for poor strivers to move up to.

    23 November 01:01 EST

    Yasukuni Shrine visits still chafe

    Posted by Sean at 14:21, November 22nd, 2004

    Prime Minister Koizumi, in Chile for a 6-nation summit, has once again been asked by China to stop official visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the soldiers memorialized include war criminals. His answer seems perfectly reasonable on its face:

    Japan’s current state of peace was developed through the sacrifices of multitudes of men who went resolutely off to battle and laid down their lives for it. It is with those thoughts in mind that we make our pilgrimages [to the shrine].

    I’d say that, in World War II terms, those who laid down their lives for peace in Japan as it exists today were actually on the Allied side. But the dead memorialized at the Yasukuni Shrine include those from conflicts dating back to the Meiji Restoration. Also, it’s important to remember that there are fewer than 20 war criminals memorialized there, out of a total of over 2 million enshrined. Even those from World War II were mostly soldiers who were fighting for their country in its tradition of honor. It is sometimes said that, even so, official visits by politicians to the shrine violate constitutional law (which, like America’s, prevents the federal government from establishing a state religion). That sort of argument has never impressed me; it’s not as if anyone is trying to communicate with the ancestors for guidance about public policy. Well, as far as I know.

    The real problem, I think–not that this is an original insight of mine, or anything–is that Japan has done a lousy job of persuasively showing remorse when apologizing and providing redress for its war crimes. That makes every little gesture of respect toward World War II-era leaders and soldiers feel like a a new affront to the rest of Asia.

    It’s possible that nothing would truly satisfy the Chinese, Koreans, and Southeast Asians. After all, World War II is only the most recent installment in the grand East Asian tradition of inter-ethnic hostility, recrimination, and contempt. Still, Japan’s piecemeal approach makes it easy for diplomatic friend and foe alike to repair to events sixty years past as an excuse for not being cooperative, and the Japanese government appears disinclined to do much about it.

    23 November 00:23 EST

    Another Mitsubishi Fuso recall

    Posted by Sean at 16:16, November 21st, 2004

    Of course, the Japanese have been having transportation-related woes lately, too. JAL and ANA are still safe, thankfully, but Mistubishi Fuso has just…can you guess?…issued another recall. This is of the latest-year model of the truck that caused a deadly accident and a spate of fender-benders a while back. The metal wheel hub apparently still has a weakness that could make it fail, though apparently it’s a different weakness from the one, dating back to 1995, that caused the prevous accidents.

    22 November 02:16 EST