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    Does Reuters have editors?

    Posted by Sean at 12:58, August 15th, 2004

    Look at this story. The headline says, “Cuba’s Brilliant Ballerinas Wow Dance World.” The spin of the story is that, unlike nasty, evil capitalist countries where people have to pay for dance lessons, Cuba has a national ballet whose grande dame plucks the talented from the streets and turns them, for free, into world-class performers. The article is positively choked with adulatory adjectives to describe Cuba.

    But I’m used to that. What’s funny to me is that all the dancers discussed in the article, except two, are men who talk about how Cuba’s tradition of virility in dance has helped them in their art. Aren’t they ballet dancers instead of ballerinas?

    A place at the table

    Posted by Sean at 12:15, August 15th, 2004

    Colin Powell follows Richard Armitage’s remarks last month:

    “We understand the importance of Article 9 to the Japanese people and why it’s in your Constitution,” he said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun and other Japanese media representatives here.

    “But at the same time, if Japan is going to play a full role on the world stage and become a full active participating member of the Security Council and have the kinds of obligations that it would pick up as a (council) member, then Article 9 would have to be examined in that light.”

    Powell added, however, the decision is “absolutely, entirely up to the Japanese people to decide because it is in your Constitution, and the United States would never presume to offer an opinion.”

    I don’t know. That sounds like an opinion to me. It’s not an order, perhaps, but it’s a pretty clear recommendation. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with that. Renouncing aggression, by a country that had just tried to take over half the neighboring continent and had a known history of belligerence, was a good thing for the post-War constitution. At that point, Japan’s job was to take its place among free societies.

    Of course, we want any free society to be committed, as Prime Minister Koizumi said at his war commemoration speech last week, to a world without war. But times have changed. Japan is rich and influential and is a possible target for terrorists. The US is still its protector, but we may be planning to shift forces out of Asia. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong have become the Tiger Economies (and the former two have democratized, while the last remains freer than the Chinese mainland). And the PRC has awakened from its Mao-era economic disasters and is showing renewed geopolitical ambitions.

    You know, it’s funny. When you live in Japan, this little row of rocks at the edge of the Pacific, you suddenly realize that China is a VERY LARGE country. From the viewpoint of the US, China is an ocean away. It’s big, but we’re big, too. We do have a neighbor of larger land area to the north, sure, but Canada has always been an ally and has a very low comparative population. When looking at a globe or map means reflexively putting that “You are here” sign in Tokyo, South Korea and Japan start to look like morsels being dangled in front of the Red Chinese. (And I mean right in front, since most of China’s power centers are in its east-central region.)

    Yes, I’m overdramatizing–and I’m leaving out the even larger Russia, though the farawayness of Moscow and St. Petersburg and the vast wilderness of Siberia make it seem less psychologically threatening–but the point remains. It’s all very well for Japan to resolve that it won’t just up and start wars to take over more territory…I’m sorry…to liberate Asians from their Western oppressors, just because it’s feeling neighborly. It’s another thing to say that “self-defense” is practicable if Japan is always going to wait until existing conflicts actually arrive on its shores.

    It’s nice for Japan’s UN delegation to keep submitting nuclear disarmament resolutions, but surely it hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that the PRC and North Korea were among the abstainers when last year’s model came to a vote. I think we could all “express concern about the existence of a black market in nuclear weapons technology,” but now that it exists, something with a bit more teeth than “concern” will be needed to deal with it.

    (BTW, I know I’ve said this a billion times, but I never, ever get used to the fact that North Korea is allowed to be a member of the UN.)

    Clear we-had-to-do-it combat to protect citizens or infrastructure will probably always be hard to distinguish perfectly from the use of defense issues as a smokescreen for securing access to strategic resources. But officially remaining a sitting duck–even if, as most analysts seem to believe, Japan has been for years quietly developing the ability to project force outside the archipelago–may be erring excessively in the direction of avoiding the appearance of evil. The structure of the UN Security Council is decades out of date, but as long as it exists, it would be wise for Japan to position itself for permanent membership.

    We love our lovin’ / But not like we love our freedom

    Posted by Sean at 15:43, August 13th, 2004

    Classical Values did comment on the McGreevey thing, including the gay angle, overnight:

    Tell me about my generation! I am three years older than McGreevey, I came of age in the 1970s.

    The 1970s, folks! Free love, wild parties, orgying, and coming out of the closet.

    Well, that needs to be qualified some. My parents were born in 1948 and 1951, and while they listened to psychedelic rock and played in cover bands after high school (that’s how they met), they and their friends weren’t orgying. The cultural eras called the ’60’s and ’70’s certainly happened, but they didn’t happen equally everywhere in America.

    Still and all, it sure is interesting that, until this week, McGreevey’s choices in dealing with his “lifelong turmoil” always just happened to come down on the side of preserving his access to power and money. Even in small towns and conservative religious families, there are self-aware, self-critical people who are willing to come out and take the hit for it–before they end up with a line of spouses, children, conniving lovers, and shady wheeler-dealers to cope with when they’re pushing 50.

    Gray areas

    Posted by Sean at 11:26, August 12th, 2004

    When you live in Tokyo, you’re the first to find out when there’s an accident at a Japanese nuclear facility and the last to find out when the Governor of New Jersey comes out and announces his resignation.

    Every gay guy linked to the left of this page, along with many others besides, has offered an opinion (well, not Eric at Classical Values, though I’d be interested to hear what he thinks). I think the one I agree with most is Agenda Bender, who wants to restore sexual purity and discretion to the Governorship of New Jersey by taking it over himself. I’ll campaign for him.

    But seriously, looking at the transcript of the speech, I worry:

    I am also here today because, shamefully, I engaged in adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony. It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable.

    And for this, I ask the forgiveness and the grace of my wife.

    Discount Blogger says that yesterday’s press conference may, not surprisingly, be a defensive move against coming charges of misconduct in office. We don’t know yet. But just taking what the Governor said at face value, I have to wonder at some people’s reactions. I don’t see how McGreevey’s speech can be construed as saying that gays are unfit for office. I also don’t think that the pressure to be closeted, which I detest as much as any out homosexual, can be summarily blamed (though Right Side of the Rainbow does imply that McGreevey made a bad choice in a bad situation).

    One of the arguments most gay marriage advocates use is that it would help keep gay guys from screwing around on their partners. McGreevey–looking at the content of his speech and leaving aside his sincerity, which we can’t assess–believes that it was wrong to break his vows and screw around on his partner. Shouldn’t people who think gay and straight relationships should be taken equally seriously be paying attention to that part, too?

    Given what he says about the pain caused to his wife, it does not appear that she was the sort who agrees to look the other way while her husband picks up a guy every few weeks to keep the jones from driving him crazy. Pointing out that, in a better world, none of this would have had to happen…that’s fine. But McGreevey accepted responsibility for a marriage and child, and he wants to avoid piling public scandal on top of private upheaval. If he believes that’s more important than proving that out gay men can be respectable politicians, I have a hard time thinking ill of him for it. We’ll see what happens.

    I still love you / Je ne sais pas pourquoi

    Posted by Sean at 22:40, August 11th, 2004


    There’s apparently a great deal of self-deception going around over the upcoming election. A few weeks back, Virginia Postrel chided libertarians about citing Bush’s betrayal of free trade principles as a reason to vote for Kerry. Everybody and his grandmother thinks Andrew Sullivan is being soft on Kerry because he feels spurned by Bush.

    Contrariwise, Michael Demmons says Boi from Troy is delusional for comparing Bush-Cheney favorably to other Republican presidential tickets on gay rights. And Dale Carpenter has a piece up at IGF about the nerve-abrading contortions of gay Democrats at and after the convention–a topic that’s been flogged lifeless by others but that Carprenter treats with characteristic point and clarity:

    What to make of the Boston Democrats? They really like gay people, but they’d really rather the American public didn’t know that. And what of gay Democrats? They’re high-minded idealists when they criticize gay Republicans for working within a party that doesn’t much like gays; but they’re sober-minded pragmatists when assessing their own party’s treatment of gays. Yes, they acknowledge, the Boston convention was a retreat from gay visibility at past conventions. But, they quickly add, that’s necessary to defeat the evil Republicans.

    Kerry announced his obligatory respect for diversity in language so general President Bush himself could have used it. He also tried to undermine Republican moralism by claiming to support

    Confucius say, Coddling eggs produce inferior chicken

    Posted by Sean at 22:42, August 10th, 2004

    Amritas has a post up today about Japanese-Americans who are clinging like death to their connection to Japan as a way to feel as if their pampered suburban lives are really records of noble struggle.

    It seems to be a good week to be aggrieved. One Ryan Joseph Kim has an article on advocate.com about some recent gay and Asian references in pop culture:

    A few months ago Details, the metrosexual men

    Child violence in Japan

    Posted by Sean at 21:25, August 10th, 2004

    Susanna Cornett sent me a link to this Instapundit mini-post about the latest spate of violence committed by Japanese children, and she flatteringly asked me for my thoughts on the issue. She also gave me her own interpretation, which I mostly agree with and will discuss below.

    First, though, I’d like to note that, when you’ve lived in Japan for a while, you start to notice that the same stories surface in American news publications periodically. One of these is, “After suffering years of discrimination and sexual harassment, Japanese working women are laying claim to their rights to be promoted on merit, to work even after they have children, not to be considered eye candy for visitors, and not to have to arrive two hours before the men to sweep, dust, and make tea.”

    A second (the writer Alex Kerr had a whole segment on this in his last book) is, “Japanese youths are known for their school uniforms and conservative grooming, but a recent wave of adventurous teenagers is making dyed hair and body art the funky new norm.”

    Another is, “Unlike their antecedents, the latest crop of slatternly female J-pops stars write their own lyrics and can actually sing!”

    Still another is, “Financial analysts have been shocked and horrified to find that XYZ Bank’s bad debts may total several times the figure it released at the end of the last fiscal year, which raises new questions about the viability of the Japanese economic recovery.”

    And yes, yet another is, “The famed obedience culture in Japanese schools appears to be giving way as disturbed pre-teens take up knives to avenge bullying and insults.”

    Now, of course, none of these things is outright untrue or not worth reporting on. The problem is that journalists like to write stories that read like great novels: setup, conflict, technical climax, dramatic climax, resolution. That predisposes them toward pushing the never before seen! angle, even if the same reporter wrote essentially the same story for the same magazine two years ago. It also gives them a tendency to leave out facts and factors that don’t fit the most compelling narrative arc.

    The WaPo article Instapundit linked to is a good compilation of the more grisly child-on-child crimes that have captured national attention here over the last decade. Here’s Susanna’s take on it and on Glenn Reynolds’s wife’s piece:

    The newspapers, as well as the communities

    they’re reporting on, seem to feel that it’s about anomie (a sense of

    disconnectedness from society) resulting from lack of obvious parental

    affection and the violent video games/movies. Glenn’s wife points to

    building frustration and no one to listen, also a facet of anomie. My

    brother (not in a post, in a private conversation) thought that it was the

    influence of Westernization (the bad bits of it). I tend to think it’s a

    crumbling national culture in the face of changes, where traditional social

    controls have lost much of their power but nothing has swept in to replace

    it – which is actually a fairly classic setup for Durkheimian anomie.

    Westernization *is* part of the force that’s crumbling the old ways, but I

    think it’s also from the inside. And I think part of that is the lack of an

    internalized moral code based on belief in a spiritual being (God), so that

    when the exterior culture crumbles there’s nothing inside to offer moral

    guidance – so you see things like the prostitution for new purses mention in

    the WaPo article, as well as the obviously horrific violence.

    I think the closest we can come to a complete explanation is a synthesis of the points Susanna talks about here. (Well, I take exception to one thing. As a Christian, she understandably sees God as the necessary source of an individual’s moral code; as an atheist, I don’t agree with that part, though I think belief in God is more a positive than a negative force in most people’s lives in practice. In any case, Japanese religion doesn’t have the single Creator with a big, benevolent plan for mankind that we’re used to in Judeo-Christianity. You have the various nature deities, and the spirits of the ancestors, and the manifestations of Buddha, and you do what they say because…well, they’re wiser and more powerful than you are.)

    The post-War Japanese educational system developed to go with the employment system developed to go with the regulatory system. After WWII, the Japanese needed a national goal, and economic advancement became it. This served two main purposes: It rebuilt the wrecked infrastructure and gave the returning soldiers something to do. The idea was to turn citizens into interchangeable units by standardizing their behavior and pushing them towards the mean in intelligence and achievement. That way, the country as a whole could move forward by allocating human resources where needed without impediment. So responsibility for childrearing was in many ways ceded to the school system. Children went to regular public school classes and then cram school. Fathers worked long hours of overtime. Mothers took care of the households (often including in-laws). Everyone was overworked and sleep-deprived, but the children could see prosperity increasing around them, and they could see how proud and purposeful their parents were. Students could see themselves as the next generation to score world-class achievements: the textile-metallurgy boom, the single-minute exchange of dies, the Walkman.

    Now that Japan is no longer poised to take over the global economy, the incentives to conform beyond normal limits don’t exist for a lot of kids. But the school system hasn’t adjusted its relentless do-what-you’re-told-do-what-you’re-told message. Children aren’t taught how to be resilient–the practical principles of morals and ethics that they can adapt to different situations with a little imagination and goodwill added. Additionally, many of them aren’t home enough (remember, 2/3 of Japanese students go to cram school, meaning that they may get home at about 9 or 10 every night) for their parents to teach them good behavior through repetition. So when the vulnerable kids start to go off the rails, there isn’t much to brake them. Naturally, even normal children aren’t infinitely malleable, but most of them are pretty sturdy. The Japanese people I know wouldn’t willingly go through their K-12 experiences again; but despite the hazards along the way, they ultimately became lively, centered, responsible adults.

    And yet, to read reports in the Western press, you get the sense that the streets are a hair’s breadth away from being mobbed by hysterical, X-acto knife-brandishing teens. It’s that aspect that I wish they’d rein in a bit. Japan has social problems that I don’t think are going to improve before they get worse for a while, but I don’t see society collapsing. For one thing, the 30% of the economy that’s world-class competitive is still robust enough to make up for the 70% that serves the domestic market and is plagued by duplication of effort, redundant personnel, and red tape. For another thing, families are slowly finding the benefits in not having Dad ready to drop dead from overwork and Mom driving herself nuts over whether the chambray of her jumper will meet the approval of the rest of the neighborhood housewives. (These are not exaggerations, BTW.)

    Which is to say, Japan is still affluent enough to provide the average student incentive to study hard–not to study like a maniac, but to do well–with the prospect of making a decent living when he finishes school. There’s no more direct conveyor belt from college to company to easy retirement, to be sure, but most people know they’re unlikely to end up in tent villages. And families are rediscovering what it’s like to be involved in the rearing of their children. This transition is proceeding in fits and starts, and there are always dangers involved (the economic threat from China is the most obvious), but I do think it’s happening.

    The big issue, again, is that Japan has not set itself up to help the most emotionally vulnerable children deal with pressure, and now that there are more of them, the problem is correspondingly larger. I’d love to have a fix for that one, but I think that what we can realistically expect is for changes to the relationship between schooling and child-rearing–and therefore improvements–to happen very slowly.

    Added at 21:38: The latest crime just happened Sunday. A 15-year-old boy found that the classmate he wanted to stab wasn’t home, so he murdered the classmate’s mother instead.

    Another accident at a nuclear facility

    Posted by Sean at 18:14, August 8th, 2004

    Sheesh. I was just using this revelation the other day as a way to point out, for those who might not have heard, Japan’s history of mismanagement of nuclear facilities and materials. I had no idea the matter would become topical again so soon:


    According to a message received by METI’s Nuclear Power Safety and Security Commission, a steam leak developed (3:30 p.m.) in a turbine in Reactor 3 (82.6 kilowatts…the design is described as being “pressurized water,” which I’m sure has some specialized English term it corresponds to) of Kansai Electric’s Mihama Power Station. According to the Commission, 11 people have been wounded. According to the local Fire Department, of those, the heart and lungs of five have stopped functioning.

    It looks as if the steam contains no radiation, and the Nikkei is reporting that four of the employees mentioned above (all from an outfit called Kiuchi Keisoku, which my cursory search says is, not surprisingly, a machine maintenance service firm) are dead. It’s hard to tell what might have led up to the problem, but one thing is clear: The screens of those monitoring the turbine didn’t pick up any anomalies, and weren’t registering the leak even after the accident. It’s fortunate that the danger to the surrounding community seems non-existent. On the other hand, the number of deaths and injuries is pretty high already, and we still don’t know whether the other seven are okay.

    Added at 18:24: The story’s already on Reuters , which reports that the leak was caused by insufficient coolant.

    Added on 11 August: The pipe that ruptured hadn’t been inspected for 28 years.

    Added on 16 August: J Bowen at No Watermelons Allowed (a sentiment with which I concur heartily) has posted a fuller explanation of the mechanics of the steam pipes and their relation to the reactor at the Mihama plant. It expands on the information in Toren’s comment here.


    Posted by Sean at 23:55, August 6th, 2004

    Well, Japan just won the Asia Cup, 3-1 against China. Let’s hope the players and fans aren’t dismembered on their way to the airport.

    Modesty and Maud

    Posted by Sean at 04:57, August 6th, 2004

    Alice, back in Texas, is writing about the interplay between freedom and decorum again:

    Well, after trawling through enough racks of clothes for people whose attempts to attract the opposite sex are so subtle that they make Britney Spears look like Maria Von Trapp, one might be forgiven for thinking that a few burquas here and there would smarten the place up a bit. But then, one of the liberations of the West is the right to make a total muppet of yourself in shopping malls.

    I’m at the tail end of the part of the life cycle in which I can get away with appearing in public in a saucy (not to say slutty) little T-shirt without looking pathetic, so I’m working it while I can.

    Within reason. Even when I was in my 20’s, I was never a fan of the leave-nothing-to-the-imagination school. It’s not just that I was brought up to dress properly when appearing in public, though that’s part of it. It’s also that running around half-naked makes lasciviousness less fun. (Yes, I know, that lesson is as old as civilization itself. It could stand to be rediscovered.) There are few better ways to drive yourself pleasurably insane than to be talking to a guy in a dress shirt and loosened tie and try to guess, based on the backs of his hands and what you can glimpse of his throat when he leans in to say something over the din, how hairy he is, how solidly he’s built, and whether his skin is creamier where the sun doesn’t normally hit it. A shredded, low-slung tank top–through which you and everyone he’s shared a train car with today have been able to scrutinize, at leisure, everything but the nipples–kind of puts the kibosh on that kind of amusement.

    Of course, what Alice is talking about operates at an entirely different level. When it’s the burqa (or chador or salwar kamiz) under discussion, you lose the ability to feed the senses in ways that have nothing to do with naughtiness.

    Added at 10 a.m.: Susanna has linked to a portfolio of nude photographs and expressed both delight in their aesthetic value and reservations about the fact that there are naked people in them. I can’t help with that issue from a Christian perspective, but I don’t think that just any old nude image adds to the weird fetishization of sex in American culture. If art is considered a special cultural zone in which inspiration is given the purest possible expression, you can distinguish between posing nude in a photographer’s studio (fine) and being half-naked thoughout a day’s errands at the grocery store, post office, and DMV (problematic).