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    Posted by Sean at 10:43, December 18th, 2006

    Still busy. There’s been a lot going on that I haven’t posted about–the JDA will soon be a full-fledged ministry, the 6-party talks are back on, and everyone’s talking about Abe’s low approval ratings.

    Oh, yeah, and the LDP public policy committee chair reminds us what a real war crime looks like:

    LDP public policy committee chair Shoichi Nakagawa made a statement, during a 17 December evening lecture in Nagasaki, about the United States’s decision to drop the atom bomb on Nagasaki during World War II: “America’s decision to deploy that thing is unforgivable–truly inhumane. Dropping the A-bomb was a crime.”

    Nakagawa stressed that “we must work to our fullest capacity to ensure that no one uses weapons of mass destruction again. Obviously, we will maintain the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).” He also indicated that “Japan’s surroundings are full of nukes. People say they’re there for purposes of deterrence, but a country has recently emerged that appears ready to use them if things don’t go its way,” referring to North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons.

    No word on Nakagawa’s view of the relative morality of, say, performing vivisections on prisoners.

    Nakagawa actually said not long ago that Japan should consider developing its own nuclear weapons, so that part about definitely upholding the non-proliferation treaty is, to my knowledge, new coming from him. I’m not sure I worry about a Japan with nukes, but I do think that it’s a poor idea to adopt North Korea’s characteristic put-upon tone when discussing them. The idea that Japan was a victim in World War II plays well to some segments of the Japanese population; it plays less well in the United States and British Commonwealth and way less well in Japan’s co-prosp…er, “surroundings.” The charitable view is that the Abe administration is still finding its footing and establishing its voice; but, of course, to right yourself by building on your policy strengths, you have to have some, and the Abe government hasn’t been covering itself in glory on domestic issues, either.


    Posted by Sean at 08:51, December 5th, 2006

    Thanks to those who have sent gingerly inquiries about whether I’m in some kind of spiral of post-breakup depression that’s keeping me from blogging. Things are fine. Work and play are both busy. Additionally, the Japanese news seems to consist mostly of children’s committing suicide, school officials’ committing suicide out of remorse for having denied that bullying played a part in said children’s committing suicide, and admissions by the Ministry of Education, Et c., that even if the children had declined to commit suicide and continued to attend classes, they wouldn’t have been learning any compulsory subjects anyway. Interesting stuff, to be sure, but not the kind I feel like fixating on just at the moment.

    Speaking of dead students, I somehow managed, while visiting a friend in Kyoto, to encounter an English translation of The Ring, so I picked it up for the bullet train ride back. I’ve been asked several times by Americans what I thought of Lost in Translation and the Ring series as an American in Japan, so I thought I’d write it down, sort of as a stop-gap post. I fear this will be kind of disjointed and not very inspired, but the books and movies themselves are interesting, and if nothing else, the following longueur will put paid to any idea that I’m dead.


    Posted by Sean at 00:47, November 10th, 2006

    The Nikkei editorial about the Rumsfeld resignation was published this morning. American readers may be interested to hear that it pushes the Robert McNamara comparison–the meme has arrived in Japan:

    There has been no two-term president who has had the same Secretary of Defense for all eight years in office. Rumsfeld assumed the post after the Bush administration began in 2001; combined with his year as defense secretary under Ford in the 1970s, that gives him a total of seven years in the position. His only rival [in that regard] is McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense for seven years under Kennedy and Johnson.

    Both men have had experience running private enterprises, and both applied their private-sector administrative methods to policy in the Department of Defense. As a result, both ran into snags–McNamara in Vietnam, and Rumsfeld in Iraq. Rumsfeld, especially, in beginning the war in Iraq, attempted to get results with the lowest possible amount of military force. This move invited opposition from the armed forces and is connected to the current state of confusion.


    Posted by Sean at 22:43, November 8th, 2006

    Predictably, the lead editorial in this morning’s Nikkei is headlined “US Midterm Elections Reflect Iraq Dilemma.” The unwritten subhead is “Does This Mean Japan Is Screwed?”

    In the mid-term elections for United States congress and state governorships and such, held in the off-years between presidential races, it’s usual for the president’s party to lose seats.

    In that sense, the results this time around are not a surprise. However, it seems that they bear witness to a rise in dissatisfaction with the Bush administration revolving around the ongoing circumstances in Iraq–the Democrats have recaptured the majority in the House after twelve years and gained seats in the Senate. The Bush administration has not discovered a way to extricate itself from its dilemma in Iraq.

    Everyone reasons that if the [Iraqi] economy improves public order will also be restored; but the current reality is that because public order hasn’t been restored, the economy has not improved. No method has been found to stop this vicious cycle and reverse the trend.

    The option of restoring stability through a large-scale increase in the deployment of US military personnel has not gained political support within the US; nor has it gained the support of the Iraqi government.

    The argument for complete withdrawal that had been advanced by part of the Democratic Party could result in the abandonment of Iraq, leaving it to become a breeding ground for international terrorists. This is the mistake that has already been made in Afghanistan.

    The argument for phased withdrawal, after strengthening Iraqi infrastructure [to maintain] stability, appears to be rational. But the deepening opposition of Sunni and Shia elements makes prospects difficult to assess.

    A government in which the Republicans hold the White House and the Democrats have taken the leadership of the congress also existed during the Reagan and Bush [I] administrations in the 1980s. It was called “gridlock,” and it prevented efficient decision-making. Will history repeat itself?

    Now, of course, one of the reasons the Nikkei is paying attention to elections in the United States is that they’re important to geopolitics in general. But there’s plenty at stake for Japan specifically, too. The role of the military here is a hot topic, made ever hotter by movements in the PRC and the DPRK. Russia isn’t making many noises at the moment, but it’s never far from the Japanese mind. Japanese politicians have generally perceived the GOP as invested in maintaining close US-Japan security ties. Even those who are not eager to do so are, like most of the global media, interpreting the results of Tuesday’s election as a direct rebuke to the Bush administration on national security and Iraq; it’s not clear how that will affect strategic policy in East Asia, but plenty of people are worried.


    Posted by Sean at 13:35, November 8th, 2006

    Unsurprisingly, the news that Rummy is going to resign has been posted on the Nikkei site approximately four nanoseconds after it hit the US-based wires. There’s no Japan perspective in the preliminary report, but I’m sure the news will be folded into one of the main editorials tomorrow.


    Posted by Sean at 11:48, November 8th, 2006

    The Japanese media don’t seem to be saying much of anything interesting about the US election results. This is the Nikkei story thus far, useful chiefly if you don’t know how to say “midterm election” or “incumbent” in Japanese. I expect an editorial tomorrow about what the Democratic takeover of the House means for our support for Japanese security. For now, I’m expecting that most of the world press, unfortunately, will adopt the interpretation given in the Asahi:

    In addition to whether the Bush administration’s policies surrounding the Iraq invasion are right or wrong, questions about ethics were posed, related to scandals and incidences of corruption engaged in by Republican congressmen that had come to light. As a result, the Democrats got a boost, and made significant gains in the number of seats they held in both houses.


    Posted by Sean at 03:37, November 4th, 2006

    Since I’ve already cast my vote, I can settle in to enjoying the frantic final week before the election with no pressure.

    For US Senate, I ultimately decided on Casey. I know, I know: The power elite among the Democrats are traitors who want to promulgate the Culture of Death and you can’t expect the GOP to be perfect and anyway I’m just throwing a fit because Santorum won’t let me marry my dog.

    I really did have serious misgivings when I was filling out my absentee ballot, but they’re dissipating. To find out why, consider Peggy Noonan’s latest column (via Michael). I like Noonan very much. Her writing style isn’t showy, but she has a distinctive voice–careful and sober and considered. It’s a voice that makes her love of America come across very movingly, especially when she talks about the textures of daily life or personal interactions.

    Unfortunately, it’s a voice that also betrays her when she says stupid things. There’s nothing worse than saying something way-ass dumb while making it clear that you’re thinking real hard about it:

    Rick Santorum’s career (two Senate terms, before that two in the House) suggests he has thought a great deal about the balance, and concluded that in our time the national is the local. Federal power is everywhere; so are the national media. (The biggest political change since JFK’s day is something he, 50 years ago, noted: the increasing nationalization of everything.) And so he has spoken for, and stood for, the rights of the unborn, the needs of the poor, welfare reform when it was controversial, tax law to help the family; against forcing the nation to accept a redefining of marriage it does not desire, for religious freedom here and abroad, for the helpless in Africa and elsewhere. It is all, in its way, so personal. And so national. He has breached the gap with private action: He not only talks about reform of federal law toward the disadvantaged, he hires people in trouble and trains them in his offices.

    One thing that’s really starting to get on my nerves: Can we please stop referring to politicians who are publicly opposed to gay marriage as if they were being brave and taking a political risk? Such a stance may get you into hot water at certain cocktail parties and rubber-chicken dinners, but voters have demonstrated in state after state that they concur with it.

    Anyway, the things Noonan discusses–Santorum’s prankish sense of humor, his genuine gratitude at the support he gets, his concern for the Casey family as human beings, his personal efforts to help individuals in straitened circumstances become self-sufficient–are all wonderful. They speak well of the man. But we’re not voting for a church choir director.

    Santorum genuinely does seem to voice his beliefs more candidly than most senators; but then, who wouldn’t look like a straight-shooter next to Arlen Specter? Speaking of Specter, Jacob Sullum hasn’t forgotten that Santorum supported him in the last primary against challenger Pat Toomey (an odd choice for someone who’s restoring principledness to the GOP). Additionally…

    I realize social conservatives are a big part of NR’s audience, but Miller offers economic conservatives, the other major component of Frank Meyer’s grand fusion, little reason to root for Santorum, aside from the fact that he supported welfare reform (so did Bill Clinton) and “has served as a leader” on Social Security, which seems to mean he favors Bush-style baby steps toward “personal” (not “private”) retirement accounts. On the down side, he opposed NAFTA, supported steel tariffs, and considers Bush’s immigration reforms “too lax.”

    And Sullum didn’t even mention the $20 million-ish in federal money Santorum scored for farmland preservation in the commonwealth.

    My point here isn’t that Santorum is a closet social democrat, or even that he’s been a bad senator on balance. My point is just that going off the deep end and portraying him as an implacable opponent of federal waste and mission creep is ridiculous. He plays the game just like his ninety-nine colleagues, and it’s condescending for opinion-shapers to cherry-pick his record in the hopes of convincing us otherwise.

    Orange Appled

    Posted by Sean at 22:54, November 1st, 2006

    Wonderful. This is just what I wanted to hear:

    Stephen Viscusi, 46, of Manhattan, said the divide has made dating even more fraught. Mr. Viscusi, who is gay and a Republican, said he has been rejected by Democratic suitors once they learn his political views. [from this NYT article–SRK]

    (Gee, I think it’s even worse for them than for 40-something single neocon Jewish women in NYC.)

    I know for a fact that I would have had more sex, and maybe a long-term relationship by now, if the social arena was not so polarized. Spirited argument is sexy to me (think William Powell and Myrna Loy), and a marriage with someone who disagrees with me on various issues sounds energizing and playful and always interesting. (I would insert a link to Mary Matalin and James Carville here, but I think Carville is just too weird.) But most people don’t feel that way anymore, at least not liberals. Champions of diversity, they want lovers and friends just like themselves.

    It’s probably as good a time as any to mention that Atsushi and I are no longer a couple. Though it’s not something I’m eager to discuss, I’ll say that we’re still friends, there was no animosity, the long-distance thing was hard on both of us, it’s very unfortunate but we’re fine, et c. My buddies have been doing a great job of making sure I don’t spend these few months sitting on the floor of my darkened apartment drinking Laphroaig from the bottle and listening to Dusty in Memphis.

    Anyway, one of Atsushi’s many wonderful qualities is that he knows how to argue. He’s perfectly willing to discuss sticky topics such as World War II and hold his ground, while giving you an honest hearing and without being an asshole. Most other Japanese gay guys I know are…well, Japanese: they just avoid unpleasant subjects, including politics. Most American gay guys here assume, when politics comes up, that I’m a Democrat. And most other foreign gay guys put any right-ish tendencies down to my being the usual simple-minded, unworldly Yank.

    Eric links to the Kesher Talk post above and adds:

    I’ve noticed this for years, and it seems to have gotten worse. You’d think that none of these liberal activists knew that about half the country voted for Bush, and the other half for Kerry.

    Like many people, Judith notices that Republicans don’t behave this way towards Democrat friends. I think the reason is that Republicans are very accustomed to keeping their mouths shut, to not telling friends and coworkers how they voted. In some cases, their very livelihood depends on being “in the closet.”

    Have things really gotten that bad in New York and Philadelphia? I only spend a few days a year home, so I have no real way to judge. The friends I visit tend to be those with whom I’ve been debating politics since those 3 a.m. conversations in college, so nothing about my policy positions is news to them; and we still have good, rousing arguments. When politics comes up in a conversation with someone I’ve just met, I generally say what I think as firmly but genially as possible, and that’s that. Sometimes I’ll have to answer a bewildered follow-up question (“How the hell could you not be in favor of gay marriage?!”), but the discussion usually remains respectful.

    That said, it really is true sometimes that people will practically refuse to believe that I’m not a lefty fellow-traveler. The probability that a random urban gay guy who works in educational publishing is a liberal is very high, so I don’t mind the initial assumption that I am. What’s irksome is the half-hour of incredulity–expressed through lots of hamming, mugging, and double-takes–I have to work through to convince people that, you know, I really am right-libertarian on most issues and tend to vote Republican. No one likes being told what he thinks, especially by people who purport to be open-minded.

    Added on 3 November: Eric is trying to decide which senatorial candidate to vote for. I don’t envy him.

    Ooh, and, I almost forgot about this old but very good post from Megan McArdle:

    When the Q&A came around, unsurprisingly, the majority of the questioners turned out to be Democrats. And every single one of their questions started off something like this:

    “I think that one of the major problems we face, as Democrats, is that our policies are all about nuance and deep intellectual focus on maximizing the welfare of the public at large, while Republicans are a pack of venal liars who want to kill poor people and minorities. The American public seems to be far too stupid to understand the subtle genius of our ideas. How do we, as Democrats, overcome that?”

    The answer, from the Democrats on the dais, generally went something like this.

    “While the rest of the American public may not actually be drooling lackwits who should herded into camps for their own protection, they are clearly struck insensible by the blinding power of our intellects. As their voting record demonstrates, they are constitutionally incapable of comprehending the overwhelming superiority of the Democratic platform on the merits. We will have to make sure that this election cycle we speak very slowly, and clearly, and make our visuals on very large sheets of construction paper with pictures of puppies. We may also consider lying, since after all, the shameless mendacity of the Republicans is the only reason anyone ever votes for them.”

    Now, is all this embarassing self-congratulation because Democrats are inherently arrogant bastards, crude elitists out of touch with the simple, homespun virtues of the common man? Or because losers need to lie to themselves in order to salve their egos? I’ve heard both explanations from Republicans who need to get out more.

    What is true is that Democrats, right now, have more ability to insulate themselves from being confronted with the views of the other side. Geographically, they can isolate themselves into coastal cities, which is why I never met any Republicans except my grandparents until I went to business school. And informationally, provided that they don’t watch Fox news, don’t subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, and keep the radio tuned to NPR, they can keep from ever hearing if the other side has a good argument.

    She was writing specifically about the Howard Dean phenomenon, such as it was at that point; but her points are certainly still relevant.


    Posted by Sean at 08:31, October 31st, 2006

    Not in the best mood this week, for a variety of reasons. Mostly giving myself over to music that makes me feel immersed in feelings without having to hear them articulated, if that makes sense.

    Of course, there’s no getting out of drawing some distinctions sharply. My absentee ballot got here, and while there’s no point in not voting for the dumb-but-pretty congressman who replaced Pat Toomey two years ago, and I’m going Lynn Swann for governor, I’m…uh, what else? Oh, yeah: the senate race. The pandering communitarian or the pandering communitarian? Decisions, decisions.

    On the upside, the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that it, the US, and the DPRK have agreed to restart the 6-party talks.

    Pitch the Baby

    Posted by Sean at 01:04, October 27th, 2006

    So the Tokyo Gas repair guy on Monday spent an hour jiggling things around, frowning at my bathroom and kitchen keypads, and turning taps on and off before announcing that my water heater was on the fritz because a leak had caused a short at the main heating unit. The repair would cost about US $350, and the part wouldn’t be in for three or four days. Not the worst-case scenario, possibly, but a pain.

    That means I spent the next few days relying on the largesse of friends to stay hygienic. (I work out religiously, but I have equipment at home and run outdoors–no gym membership. And this being Japan, there must be a bathhouse somewhere in the neighborhood, but it seemed more trouble to figure out where it is than to bum off a buddy or two. Besides, borrowing someone’s shower gives you leave to look at all his products at leisure without feeling as if you were snooping.) The part came yesterday; I skipped out of the office between our morning administrators’ meeting and my evening mid-year performance review to be at home while it was installed. This morning I was able to perform my ablutions at home again. And to wash my tea cup and strainer without boiling another kettle of water.

    What with all the busy-ness, I’ve only barely been keeping up with the news. (Something gay appears to have happened in New Jersey, right?) Anyway, Camille has another Salon interview that’s worth reading. I usually don’t agree with more than about 60% of her political pronoucements, but she seems to me to hit more bull’s-eyes than usual this time around.