• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post


    Posted by Sean at 04:47, October 1st, 2007

    While everyone else is debating whether there are gays in Iran, this fag (note unapologetic hegemonic-Western assertion of identity–BUTCH, huh?) is wondering anew at how beyond sexy Hugh Jackman is, even if the hair needs a trim (just the hair on his head, obviously).

    Speaking of body hair, I’m normally pretty persnickety about this sort of thing–don’t get me started on visible clip-on bow ties at black tie parties–but I’m not sure I can fall in line with this post (via Ann Althouse). I can see arguing that grown men shouldn’t wear shorts because it violates adult etiquette. I can see pointing out that shorts flatter well-shaped legs and don’t flatter dumpy ones. Hell, attractiveness isn’t even always the issue. I’ve been fighting with friends who tell me I should show more chest hair when we go out for years. My relatively smooth buddies can have three buttons open, and you don’t even notice. I have three buttons open, and I look as if I should have a sign around my neck that says, “Ask about my low all-night rates!”

    But looking decent and looking comely are two different, if related, considerations that it’s not good to slush together. (Is it proposed that we go the whole way and ask people who lost the genetic lottery on bone structure and complexion to wear paper bags over their heads?) Noisome breath and body odor or noisy chewing–that sort of thing is inescapable to people around you, so it’s flat-out inconsiderate to inflict it on them. I have a hard time equating that with covering up your legs lest someone deem them too hairy.

    Shopping for voters

    Posted by Sean at 01:35, September 28th, 2007

    So the composition of Fukuda’s cabinet is nearly the same as that of Abe’s most recent one. (Two ministers who supported Taro Aso for prime minister were apparently surprised to be retained.) The approval rating for the new cabinet is 53%.

    No, make that 59%.

    Oops! I mean, 58%.

    Whatever. It looks as if a majority-and-change of voters approve of the new Fukuda administration, though that may change once it’s had a chance to start doing things. (And to look at it from another angle, 74% of eligible voters think the lower house should be dissolved at some point within the year.)

    Most of us foreign bloggers who write about Japanese politics pay a lot of attention to foreign policy, for obvious reasons. But domestic policy is a potential cause for worry, too, in ways that could eventually affect the balance of power in East Asia.

    There’s been a lot of talk that the recent economic recovery has disproportionally benefited urban areas and [ominous radio soap opera organ music] “big business.” Fukuda and Aso both made a point of talking about assistance to rural areas, which have traditionally been a crucial part of the LDP voting base. I can’t find the Japanese report I originally saw, but the AP noted one of Fukuda’s statements before the election:

    “I’ll seriously consider the rural problems and will listen to the voices of the residents,” Fukuda, 71, said as he walked through a shopping arcade near a local train station. “I see a lot of shops that had been closed down. We must take care of the problem.”

    Reforms in recent years have allowed the economy’s steady expansion after long years of stagnation, but critics say the benefits are limited to big corporations and are not reaching small business and rural towns.

    Dissatisfaction over the slow economic recovery among rural voters was also considered a major cause for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s loss in the July elections for the upper house of parliament.

    I’m not sure that rural areas can realistically recover without undergoing even more pain in the short term. During the era of economic hypergrowth, Japan did not encourage its workers to expect shocks and be adaptable. Small, depopulating towns have done a terrible job of capitalizing on opportunities for tourism and niche-market manufacturing. (In that sense, they’re following the leads of the major cities, with their ridiculous high-tech “new city” boondoggles, but at least the metro agglomerations have wealth-creating enterprises to counterbalance them.) The laws governing urban planning and large-scale retail stores have morphed over the years, and there’s more regulatory control in the hands of local governments; but the fact remains that the poorest parts of Japan are places where the potential for cheap distribution is least capitalized on. Not that big corporations are benefiting solely because of greater efficiency and quality control; they know how to leverage their longstanding relationships with the bureaucrats that effectively regulate them to their benefit, too.

    Japan is still stuck in the mindset of trying to predict and then micromanage the future. That may provide a comforting sense of stability in the short term, and it enables politicians to unveil grand plans that show they’re “getting things done,” but it’s a recipe for disaster when the world changes in unanticipated ways. Me, what I anticipate is more rhetoric and economy-distorting subsidies.


    Posted by Sean at 22:46, September 24th, 2007

    Gay Patriot West takes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to task for claiming that there are no homosexuals in Iran. Well, he’s more taking gay and liberal groups to task for not calling BS:

    Yesterday, we had a lesbian claiming she had a little crush on this man who, even she acknowledged, would “probably have [her] killed” because he was so forthright in “calling out the horrors of the Bush Administration.” [Yeah, you know, if there’s anything it’s hard to find on the world stage, it’s a head of state who’s willing to score cheap political points off President Bush.–SRK]

    As bad as those on the gay left claim this Administration to be, it doesn’t execute gay people. Yes, we should fault the president and his team for failing to repeal the pernicious Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell Policy preventing gays from serving openly in the military and should take the president to task for endorsing the Federal Marriage Amendment. But, there is a world of difference between opposing gay marriage and open service of gays in the military and murdering gay citizens as matter of state policy.

    It’s amazing that some people on the gay left are so caught up with their hatred of Bush, that they refuse (or, are otherwise slow) to condemn the leader of a nation whose government does just that — murder its own gay and lesbian citizens.

    A good rule of thumb is that anyone from anywhere at all who says his country doesn’t have homosexuals doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Since I’ve been living in Tokyo, I’ve met guys from Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, and Nigeria out at the bars–all just as up on Britney’s new single and this season’s Prada as any fag in the Castro. One of the most annoying skeeves my friends and I currently run into is from–I’m not making this up–Papua freakin’ New Guinea. And as for Iran…ha! I can’t count the number of Iranian guys who’ve hit on me since I’ve been living in Tokyo.

    Now, yes, we can get into the usual tiresome identity-politics discussion of what exactly constitutes a homosexual. (And I might note that when I first arrived in Japan, people told me they didn’t have gays here, either, which has to be just about the most clueless thing I’ve ever heard.) But the men I’ve met from developing countries have mostly said something on the order of, “Well, sure, I’m married and have children. I have to be. My country is not America. Don’t get me wrong–I respect my wife, and I love my kids–but you don’t know how lucky you are to be able to have a partner.”

    BTW, I know it’s pointless to get exercised over this sort of thing, but why do people insist on being so idiotic?

    Protesters also assembled at Columbia. Dozens stood near the lecture hall where Ahmadinejad was scheduled to speak, linking arms and singing traditional Jewish folk songs about peace and brotherhood, while nearby a two-person band played “You Are My Sunshine.”

    “You Are My Sunshine”? An allusion to Silverlake Life , maybe? But surely that would be way to esoteric for even a gay-friendly lefty audience to pick up on, especially when most of them were probably in second grade back then? Odd.

    Added later: I should have known Eric would have posted about this already:

    I’m not holding my breath either. Feminists who once condemned the veil now allow that it might be “liberating,” and gay activists in Berkeley dismissivly compared the systematic murder and torture of Palestinian gays to what “happens in every western society, including in San Francisco.” And what about the treatment of the murdered Pim Fortuyn?

    Maybe because I’m friends with a lot of Brits and Europeans, I still hear Fortuyn referred to pretty frequently. But Eric’s right that the gay left sure as hell hasn’t seized on the opportunity to hold him up as an example of how tragically gays can be persecuted.

    Added on 26 September: Naturally, one of Columbia’s gay groups has gotten into the act (via Eric). Andrew Sullivan reports:

    “We stand in solidarity with our peers in Iran, but we do not presume to speak for them. We cannot possibly claim to understand the multiple and diverse experiences of living with same-sex desires in Iran. Our cultural values and experiences are distinct, but the stakes are one and the same: the essential human right to express our desires freely. Moreover, we would like to strongly caution media and campus organizations against the use of such words as “gay”, “lesbian”, or “homosexual” to describe people in Iran who engage in same-sex practices and feel same-sex desire. The construction of sexual orientation as a social and political identity and all of the vocabulary therein is a Western cultural idiom. As such, scholars of sexuality in the Middle East generally use the terms “same-sex practices” and “same-sex desire” in recognition of the inadequacy of Western terminology. President Ahmadinejad’s presence on campus has provided an impetus for us all to examine a number of issues, but most relevant to our concerns are the complexities of how sexual identity is constructed and understood in different parts of the world.”

    Ahmadinejad was right, you see? There are no gays in Iran. Just ask the Queer Studies Department.

    Having spent my entire adult life toggling (not always successfully) back and forth between American English and Japanese, I’ll certainly agree that you have to be exceedingly careful when using words from one language and culture to describe abstractions in another.

    It’s the tone that’s grating: We Westerners, with our inadequate terminology and our resistance to examining deep “issues” unless a thugocrat shows up to give a lecture, just can’t understand how complex all those people from other cultures are. But if that’s the case, where does the CQA get off calling anyone in Iran its “peer”? The relationship between their sexual identity and their “same-sex practices” isn’t like ours, after all.

    Added on 1 October: Eric has still more reaction to the subject-changing debate that’s resulted from Ahmadinejad’s remarks:

    I’m sure that a good defense of the author’s thesis could be made too. In theory, I might be willing to venture such a defense, but I’m not about to take my cue from a murdering tyrant who believes in executing homosexuals — whether “homosexuals like in your country” or homosexuals like in his country.

    It’s a legitimate topic, but I think it’s rather unsettling to have to parse a murderer’s words and judge their theoretical meaning according to the trends of the latest Post Modernist jargon.

    Yeah, at least when the post-structuralist brigade was lining up to explain away Paul de Man’s pro-Nazi writings, it wasn’t discussing someone who’d actually presided over a murderous government.

    In the red

    Posted by Sean at 04:56, September 23rd, 2007

    Man, no one’s given me a BJ like this for years:

    We had been told that [Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez] would take a couple of questions from us during the show. Quite a rare opportunity.

    We probed him on a deal he struck with London’s mayor.

    [London mayoral candidate Boris Johnson] has questioned why a country with such poverty is giving to one of the world’s richest capitals.

    “This man is stupid,” Mr Chavez told us. “There are poor people in London. I have seen them.”

    He answered a question on his links with Iran by calling President Ahmadinejad “an extraordinary man”.

    He said he could deal with whom he liked and that he did not go round telling the UK prime minister that he could not be friends with the “genocidal George Bush”.

    It was classic Chavez – he has never been one to mince his words.

    There are a few rote sentences observing how staged and lacking in dissent the event being covered was, of course; that’s how you maintain “objectivity.” But just how “probing” could those questions have been if they could be answered with sassy little quips? A close buddy of mine, an Englishman whose politics are pretty close to mine, likes to raise my blood pressure by sending me links to these things. His comment on this one was “Oh, please….”

    The banality of evil

    Posted by Sean at 04:17, September 23rd, 2007

    Oh, great. I hadn’t noticed that someone got the bright idea of remaking Halloween . And, this being 2007, the major change is that we now have way more backstory about Michael Myers. John Carpenter and Debra Hill kept it blessedly simple thirty years ago–the child had some inchoate evil in him that was crystallized by his sister’s sexual experience. He was a just plain wrong’un.

    But that’s not good enough anymore. Now we have to have the over-worked and under-attentive stripper mom, the abusive step-dad, and the bullying meanies at school depicted in exhaustive detail so we Get the Message: What’s scary isn’t primal, unknowable evil. What’s scary is that Child Protective Services doesn’t perform more interventions.

    And yes, I’m trashing a movie I haven’t seen. Perhaps it’s well-executed. That doesn’t make the concept any less tiresome.


    Posted by Sean at 03:31, September 23rd, 2007

    No surprise here: Yasuo Fukuda will be the new LDP president. He’s the same age (71) as his father, Takeo Fukuda, was when he became prime minister. Oddly for such an insider-driven country, he’ll be the first child to succeed a parent to the position. (There are other children of former prime ministers active in politics, of course–Makiko Tanaka springs readily to mind.) My good friend and politics junkie Jun’ichiro commented the other day that Fukuda is a good technocrat but may not be a leader. I can see that. I’d have liked it if we could have had Taro Aso’s foreign policy approach without his power lust and general jerkitude. Unfortunately, you have to take candidates as they are.

    I like confrontation, so Fukuda’s make-nice approach is not one I warm to easily, but I think it may actually work in the LDP’s favor for the next few months. He’s apparently planning to keep most key ministers in the cabinet, so there won’t be another upheaval. And looking outside, the DPJ is open about wanting war (between the ruling and opposition coalitions, I mean), so if Fukuda comes on all friendly, it could make the opposition look petty and mean. Not the best image to have if you want a dissolution of the lower house of the Diet to work in your favor.

    BTW, Will Wilkinson has a long post up about research into the moral dimensions of politics. One of his throwaway examples caught my attention:

    Haidt’s early research on moralized disgust shows that its cultural manifestations vary. The Japanese apparently find it disgusting to fail their station and its duties.

    Well, I don’t know that I would refer to that as a cultural “manifestation” of disgust, exactly. I think it’s more accurate to say that the Japanese are acculturated in such a way as to attach reflexive, visceral disgust to dereliction of duty. Doing what you’re told…being what you’re told…is drilled into people to the point that it becomes second nature, so they tend to flinch with child-like “that’s yucky!” horror when someone harshes the wa. (Many foreigners are driven bonkers by the Japanese tendency, when asked to do something that doesn’t follow the usual rules, to grimace, pull the chin inward, and suck in the breath as if confronted with a slug in the salad.) From that vantage point, it’s interesting to think about how the commentators reacted to Prime Minister Abe’s sudden resignation. Faces registered shock but also revulsion. Of course, that’s just my interpretation based on what I happened to see on television. But I really don’t think I’m projecting.


    Posted by Sean at 04:54, September 21st, 2007

    Virginia Postrel slides into the end of an otherwise-lite post that she has breast cancer and is beginning treatment soon. I wish her the best.

    Keats and Yeats are on your side

    Posted by Sean at 22:03, September 20th, 2007

    I very rarely take exception to something Eric says, but I think part of this post is misleading…or maybe just reductive:

    In the context of boys into men, an especially stubborn category consists of something that’s risky to write about, but what I’ll call the “Born That Way High IQ Gay Men” for lack of a better term. Whether anyone likes it or not, society (and I include gay culture, which is very bigoted towards this type of person) really has no comfortable niche for young men who share the following two characteristics:

    • obviously gay (and thus incapable of the “closet” option)

    • extremely high IQ

    I think it’s a tragedy, and that’s because I hate waste. And I hate seeing potential Einsteins frittering away their lives because of early emotional reactions to stuff that really ought not matter. There’s an old Japanese saying that the crooked nail gets hammered down. With these people, all attempts at hammering them down are doomed to fail, because there simply is no place for them.

    Lots of people get hung up on stuff that really ought not to matter and end up feeling isolated because of it. I’m not sure what “society” could do better to prevent that. Some isolated mavericks may be geniuses manqués, but I suspect that a lot of them just aren’t willing to learn how to get along with people better, which involves risking rejection, giving of yourself, and making compromises. It’s best to be taught such things by adult mentors and role models in childhood, I agree, but it’s possible to pick them up in adulthood if you’re willing to learn from experience. A free, mobile society doesn’t preclude people’s being cruel in enforcing conformity, but it does allow you to move away from them and try different communities until you find a niche in which you can flourish. Those who decide to stay put where they’re unloved so they can keep indulging in drama-queen hysterics about how put-upon they are are hard to sympathize with.

    Fukuda and Aso speak

    Posted by Sean at 22:42, September 17th, 2007

    Since we all know that polls are the last word in reliability, Yasuo Fukuda supporters can take comfort in last week’s Asahi poll. 53% of voters polled preferred Fukuda as the new Prime Minister, while 21% supported Taro Aso.

    Of course, that poll was taken on 15 and 16 September, and a lot can change in the run-up to an election. Fukuda and Aso appeared at Shibuya Station on Sunday to lay out their policy positions for the public, now that they’re the only two remaining contenders for Prime Minister this coming weekend. The Asahi probably has the best overall summary. Both took care to play to the LDP’s rural voting base by promising to address economic inequalities between urban and non-urban areas. (Aso assured voters that he did not support unbridled market liberalization and competition–as if we needed to be told that.)

    They also addressed foreign policy:

    Disturbed by the serious souring of Japan’s relationships with China and South Korea during the Koizumi era, Fukuda was trying to mend the ties. Abe’s visits to the two countries soon after he came to power have changed the atmosphere between Japan and these countries. But Fukuda appears to be hoping to bring fundamental changes to these important relations.

    Aso vowed to promote the “arc of freedom and prosperity” initiative he proposed as Abe’s foreign minister. This initiative is based on the idea of supporting countries that share such basic values as freedom and democracy. But his vision of the “arc” doesn’t include China and is therefore criticized as an attempt to create a network of countries around China to contain the expansion of its regional influence.

    Aso seems to be advocating a dual approach to dealing with China that combines dialogue with diplomatic maneuvering to put a brake on its influence.

    There’s a transcript of a lecture Aso gave about his “arc” vision here. It might be noted that he doesn’t mention post-Soviet Russia as part of the “arc of freedom and prosperity” either, and in a way it comes off as a more pointed omission than China, because he discusses the democratization and EU membership of the Baltic States and the need for greater stability in Georgia and Ukraine.

    The objective is for us to help democracy take root in a region that we envision as an ‘arc of freedom and prosperity,’ extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black and Caspian Seas.

    Hmmm…any ideas what we might be arcing around? (He does mention the importance of improved relations with both the PRC and Russia at the beginning.)

    North Korea, of course, is one of the biggest issues. The issue of the Japanese abductees is always in play here, and voters liked Aso’s firm line. Fukuda promises to take a more flexible approach:

    In Osaka, both candidates addressed the North Korea abductee issue. Fukuda stated, “I want to be the one to solve this problem,” and his indicated that he had resolved to effect normalization of Japan-DPRK relations through dialogue. Aso stated emphatically, “Without pressure, no dialogue will get off the ground.”

    Abe’s approach was to patch things up with economic heavy-hitters China and South Korea while taking a hard line toward economic empty set North Korea. It was popular. The abductee issue tends to be back-burnered in favor of nukes at the six-party talks, so Japan has essentially resigned itself to trying to resolve the problem with catch-as-catch-can support from its allies. But I’m not sure there is a resolution. The DPRK has been jerking around the families of abductees (notably poor Megumi Yokota’s parents) for years now. Maybe there is no approach that’s going to get Japan the information it wants.

    It wasn’t just Fukuda’s position on the DPRK that came off as dithery; his delivery was shaky, too. Aso was more confident; on the other hand, he hides his lust for power about as well as Hillary Clinton does, and his glee at being in the running for the top spot was possibly a bit too naked. But there are plenty of points that could be scored and lost this week. And as the Asahi notes, neither of them really explained how he planned to work with the newly strengthened opposition parties. For now, Fukuda still has the support of all the major factions.

    Do you wanna hear me sing pop?

    Posted by Sean at 00:11, September 14th, 2007

    Kylie’s new single is due out in a few months, and she is looking absolutely fantastic. I think it’s great that celebrities who love clothes have the money and leisure and connections to try out crazy, adventurous looks–Kylie’s done some experimenting herself–but there’s something to be said for just looking beautiful (and alert and sober and happy) for your adoring public. Surprised the Flea hasn’t noticed yet, actually.

    Added later: Unrelated, except with respect to being fabulous, is this comment by Andrea Harris:

    Personally, I always thought the metric system was for people too dumb to divide by 12.

    She was prompted by this post by Kim.