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    The ring

    Posted by Sean at 00:51, October 24th, 2006


    I realize this site has turned into GoReadClassicalValues.com, but I happen to think that Bill Quick is absolutely wrong about the point Eric makes here. That Eric didn’t digress from his discussion to flesh out yet again why he doesn’t support the push for gay marriage does not mean that his statement has “no logical support whatsoever.”

    Eric clarifies what he meant:

    I agree with Bill that “percentages do not constitute logical refutation,” and I did not mean to imply that just because 70% of the public disfavors same sex marriage, that this means they are not bigoted. However, if opposition to same sex marriage is defined as bigotry, then it flows that they (and most of the leaders of both parties) are. I just don’t think that, considering all the circumstances, opposition to same sex marriage constitutes bigotry, and I’d say that even if only 20% of the country opposed it. I try to reserve the “bigot” label for people who want to do things like call me names, beat me up, put me in prison, or kill me.

    I’m not sure that bigot has to be reserved for people who express their beliefs through confrontation; intolerance can be expressed by quietly cutting people socially or declining to employ them or the like. But I’m also not sure that Bill Quick has been following the gay marriage argument as it’s developed over the last ten years.

    It used to be that you had Andrew Sullivan and, for a few occasional paragraphs, Bruce Bawer arguing in favor of marriage or civil unions of some kind in the not-too-distant future, and you had the case in Hawaii, and that was pretty much it. At that point, most arguments from the opposition were confined to “gays don’t actually fall in love and care for each other” and “most gay couplings are transient.” Those arguments were, I think, often based on bigotry: people who didn’t like gays much to begin with were all too willing to take Friday night in the Castro as representative of all gay life everywhere, pronounce us all sub-adult, and not dig any deeper before considering the issue closed.

    But things really have moved on in the intervening decade or so. Skeptics began discussing how a legal change in the definition of marriage could affect the choices of straight couples who planned to have children. The most sound thinkers among gay advocates (Dale Carpenter and Jonathan Rauch, notably) deliberated over the same issues and often made good counter-arguments; but at the same time, the pro-gay side was frequently stuck in a “we DO TOO love our partners!” mode that the debate had moved beyond. And “self-esteem,” that all but infallible indicator that malarkey is on the menu, was frequently invoked.

    I realize that I haven’t proved that, say, Maggie Gallagher and Stanley Kurtz aren’t bigoted against homosexuals. But even if we could prove they were, does that mean much in policy terms? We’re still left with the fact that they’ve taken the time to research and construct arguments for their positions, and that those arguments have to be answered on their own terms. I’d much rather see gays and those who sympathize with us keep at that than prolong the (already seemingly interminable) back-and-forth over who’s a bigot.

    Piping hot

    Posted by Sean at 01:00, October 23rd, 2006

    Well, that bites. Today’s a day off for me, and I’d planned to run some errands and shop and stuff…then I noticed that the water heater wasn’t working. As in, the electronic panel shut off whenever I turned on one of the hot taps. I’ve tried flipping the breaker and looking for a reset button, but no luck. The customer service operator at Tokyo Gas was very nice, but (naturally) she can’t tell me when between now and 7 p.m. the repair guy will get here, so I appear to be staying close by until he calls to say he’s coming. At least the gas itself is working, so I can boil water at will.


    Posted by Sean at 23:40, October 22nd, 2006

    The US is giving control of some airspace controlled by Yokota Air Force Base back to Japan:

    The airspace controlled by the United States will be reduced from the current six areas, which range in altitude from 7,000 meters to 3,700 meters, to five areas with altitudes ranging from 5,500 meters to 2,400 meters, a reduction of more than 20 percent of the current airspace, the sources said.

    U.S. permission is needed for aircraft to fly through Yokota’s airspace. Because of this, flights to and from Haneda and Narita airports usually fly high over the space or detour around it.

    In January, the Construction and Transport Ministry said that a 40 percent reduction of Yokota’s airspace will benefit the economy to the tune of 19 billion yen annually, due to savings in airline fuel costs.

    The partial return, to be accomplished by September 2008, is the first step in the process of giving full airspace control back to Japan. I have no way of knowing how the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport came up with that figure, but airspace around Tokyo is notoriously overcrowded, and from various observation decks around the bay, you can clearly see planes stacked up for landing at Haneda. And though the Yomiuri doesn’t mention it, the move would fit into possible plans to make Japan increasingly responsible for its own military defense.

    Root causes

    Posted by Sean at 23:03, October 22nd, 2006

    Rondi gets letters and finds that the ability to spell does not necessarily vary directly with the ability to think. She and I may disagree over the relative merits of Madonna (yay!) and The Sound of Music (KILL. ME. NOW.), but she’s absolutely right about this:

    It turns out that students in a Toronto-area high school class were asked to pick a newspaper column they disagreed with. At least 12 students picked mine. In groups of two or three, they explained why.

    Explain they did … and all I can say is, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained defeatism. Rather than the adorable youthful conviction that war is not the answer, these teens seemed sure of two things: 1) The United States is to blame for the anger and actions of Islamofascists, for “creating more enemies,” and 2) War may be the answer, but since Islamofascists will always be two steps ahead of us, we’re bound to lose.

    More student optimism: “As our technology becomes more advanced, so does Al Qaeda’s. An example of this would be the liquid explosives disguised as Gatorade found in an airport in Great Britain this summer … no matter how much we spend on precautions … our lives will always be endangered….”

    Ah, blithe spirits! Did your teacher happen to tell you about fighting on the beaches and landing grounds and never surrendering? Or did he at least, say, mention the intelligence that uncovered the liquid explosives plot and other information? If so, I’d be curious to know the spin he put on it, given these words from a pupil: “Our intelligence is useless today because they are always two steps ahead of us.” Where can I order my burqa?

    Of course, you don’t have to go to Canada to hear such arguments made. Besides frequently being wrong in the particulars–if al-Qaeda were really always two steps ahead of us, life would have looked a lot different over the last five years–they seem to me to betray a more general misunderstanding of the way life works. Civilization doesn’t just happen; human progress is produced by warring against other people’s malevolence and nature’s indifference. Societies that just kind of accept their surroundings and harmonize with them as a first principle tend not to get anywhere. Not every project the human imagination can dream up is practicable, no, but history certainly indicates that wars can be won. Of course, if you’re not convinced that we deserve to win anyway, I suppose that doesn’t make much difference.

    Apple listens to the opera and disco queens

    Posted by Sean at 04:08, October 22nd, 2006

    Do my eyes deceive me, or does iTunes say it’s loading gapless playback information? Very exciting….

    I said, “In these shoes? / I doubt you’d survive”

    Posted by Sean at 05:20, October 21st, 2006

    An old friend sent me a link to this column from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. I agree with her that the angle it takes is interesting:

    In every movement to right a perceived social wrong, a fringe element with no apparent social upside (who hence emphasize their differences from the traditional) becomes the image of the enemy to supporters of the status quo. In this case, these are the leather- and tutu-clad lads who wind up in defense-of-marriage literature and DVDs. Only after a movement has gained some visibility, some credibility and some respectability do suit-and-tie supporters, people invested in society with something material to lose, risk identifying with it.

    Here’s where the paradox of rising expectations kicks in. Even as overt public discrimination against same-sex couples grows smaller, the inequities of law loom larger. The Williams Institute study suggests same-sex couples are more at ease declaring their relationships. They do so, however, with expectations of expanding their participation in society on equal terms with heterosexuals. Taking a risk, they are impatient with barriers to fulfillment of expectations of equality.

    Of course, that still begs the question of what “equality” looks like, and I don’t think that Westover’s seeming conclusion that it requires the legalization of gay marriage follows very well from his own argument. Nevertheless, one useful thing he does is to consider the push for SSM in the larger context of the American entitlement mentality and how interest groups jockey for government goodies. (Reading some opponents of gay marriage, you could get the impression that decent Americans were all self-effacingly going about their business when all of a sudden the fags and dykes burst in and introduced self-centeredness into public policy debates.) Anyway, it’s worth a read if you’re not heartily sick of the subject already.


    Speaking of tired subjects, music today is apparently tuneless, witless, and derivative. This is the opinion of Sting, which is pretty rich, considering the upscale adult-contemporary crap he’s shoveled at the public on most of his releases over the last ten years. Boring and pretentious–not exactly a winning combination.

    I guess I don’t buy a whole lot of new music by musicians I don’t already like, either, anymore. I was pleasantly surprised that Cassie‘s album lived up to the hype–though “Me & U” is getting the seriously-overplayed treatment here in Japan at the moment. The new Janet is okay, but the last week or two has been mostly a Full-Figured British Diva moment in my household: Alison, Kirsty, and some Gabrielle.

    Various debates

    Posted by Sean at 01:37, October 21st, 2006

    For obvious reasons, everyone is talking about how the PRC has reacted to the DPRK’s nuclear test, but it’s worth paying attention to the ROK, too:

    South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun confirmed Friday morning that South Korea will faithfully implement the U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea, which was passed following Pyongyang’s nuclear test last week.

    Roh made the remark during a meeting with Foreign Minister Taro Aso at the presidential Blue House in Seoul.

    However, Roh implied that South Korea would proceed cautiously with the sanction measures. “Each country has final authority over how to interpret the resolution,” he said.

    Roh, with an apparent reference to Japan’s possible nuclear armament, said to Aso, “There are various debates [in Japan] on how best to respond to North Korea’s nuclear test.”

    Aso countered by saying, “Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe has promised that Japan will uphold the three nonnuclear principles [in which Japan pledges not to produce, possess or allow nuclear weapons into the country].”

    Japan has been considering a full-scale cessation of not only imports from North Korea (which have already been implemented) but also exports to it. South Korea’s participation in executing UNSC-based sanctions matter, of course, because part of the package is maritime inspections:

    In South Korea, criticism of the “sunshine policy” of the administration of President Roh Moo-hyun increased after the nuclear test.

    Tokyo and Washington intend to make more efforts to coax the South Korean government over to their side, a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

    Though the U.N. resolution includes inspection of cargo carried to and from North Korea, the measure cannot be effective unless checks around the Korean Peninsula are intensified.

    The key is whether South Korea will participate in and cooperate with the inspection on ships entering and leaving North Korea.

    Also, while Japan and South Korea regard North Korean nuclear weapons as a direct threat, what the United States fears most is proliferation of the weapons to other parties, such as terrorists.

    Joel also posted on more fundamental (and well-recognized) differences in perceptions between the US and the ROK.

    She thinks she’s Brenda Starr

    Posted by Sean at 04:08, October 20th, 2006

    I hesitate to link yet another post of Eric’s, lest it appear that he has ties to The Scourge of International Homoism, Expats in Japan chapter; but as usual, he has one of the more sane takes on a topic that everyone’s nattering about at the moment:

    I think that most American voters (even the 70% who oppose gay marriage) take a dim view of persecuting homosexuals by invading their privacy. Homosexual witch hunts should have died with McCarthy, and the reasoning behind reviving them in the current political context is so convoluted that it would make sense only to a bigot.

    I’m not saying that the Republican Party is free of bigotry, because it isn’t. But if the activists keep this stuff up and ordinary voters find out about it (I’m not sure whether they have) pretty soon someone’s going to ask which party has more bigots.

    Ann Althouse makes sense, too:

    I think aggressive characters like our “lefty blogger” think that uncovering gay Republicans will disgust social conservatives and change their voting behavior. […] But, honestly, I think these creepy, gleeful efforts at outing will only make social conservatives more conservative, and they will continue to look to the Republican party to serve their needs.

    The truly bizarre contention one occasionally hears is that somehow this will all contribute to making it easier for gays to come out of the closet. The more gays outed, the more out gays there are, and the less isolated and fringe-y we seem…or something. The problem, besides the ethical infraction of invading people’s privacy, is that the tone is all wrong. The petty vindictiveness on display is of a kind that most people associate more with a junior high school girls’ locker room than with adults making serious arguments about social policy. It gives social conservatives more reason to think of gays as suffering from arrested development and poisons the atmosphere for gays thinking about whether now would be a good time to come out. Brill.


    Posted by Sean at 00:46, October 16th, 2006

    I’m not nearly the science geek that this guy is, but I still greeted this site like a long-lost friend when a commenter at Hit & Run linked to it. Atsushi’s home for the weekend, and we went to see the Lille Museum of Modern Art exhibition at Bunkamura. Then tea at Wedgwood. Tie shopping, scone shopping.

    Anyway, all the preciousness was threatening to suffocate us, so we decided to compensate with a Lite, brain-cell-eating DVD with pizza for dinner: The Core , which I’m pretty sure I saw on an airplane once. And lo, it is a thing of Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics beauty. I have to say, I don’t mind implausible scientific stuff when it’s skated over quickly and used to fuel fantasy that’s genuinely entertaining or to ask interesting questions about human nature. (My inner lit. major is much more annoyed by Insultingly Stupid Out-of-Character Movie Behavior for Cheap Plot Compliance, which is too massively indulged in by Hollywood to be done justice by a single website.) But lazy internal inconsistency of any kind is annoying. Using the tremendous pressure inside the mantle as an explicit reason something or other is impossible at one point and then expecting us to believe, a half-hour later, in a giant amethyst-lined cave in the mantle in which people in space suits can gambol around freely–that’s unforgivable. Two of the chief science-geek types in The Core also seem to think that one is a prime number, unless I misheard.

    Speaking of video art that leaves me cold…yeah, I’ve seen the video for “Jump,” the new Madonna single and my favorite song on the most recent album. I kind of like the way her outfit and dancing recall “Lucky Star,” but she has to get over this idea that simply intercutting shots of her with those of significantly younger and more agile dancers will camouflage the fact that she’s getting older. Also, while “free running” may be a phenomenon, it’s not exactly interesting to watch…especially since the video is set in Tokyo. The footage for the first jumps, before Madonna begins singing, was filmed right in the same neighborhood as my office, and one thing I will say is that it portrays Tokyo the way it actually looks when you’re here: grey and brown and full of gnarled power and telephone lines.


    Posted by Sean at 01:40, October 13th, 2006

    It’s still not clear what the UNSC statement on the DPRK’s nuclear test will say, but here in Japan, the Abe government has voted to suspend imports and port entrances from DPRK vessels:

    At a 13 October cabinet meeting, the goverment came to a decision to institute an embargo on imports of all goods from North Korea and prohibit vessels with North Korean registration from entering Japanese ports, as independent sanctions [that is, not in cooperation with the UN or another country–SRK] against the DPRK, which announced that it has conducted a nuclear test. The measures will go into effect at midnight on 14 October and are set to expire in six months.

    Imports from the DPRK consist mostly of agricultural and marine products such as matsutake mushrooms and clams; their total value in 2005 was ¥137 trillion.

    DPRK passport holders have been banned from entering Japan since the middle of this week; permanent residents of Japan who happen to be of North Korean extraction aren’t affected.

    And BTW, for those following the possible evolution of the SDF into a recognized full, standing armed force, Japan may assist the US in freighter inspections:

    The government has entered into discussions over providing support and port access to U.S. forces in an effort to assist in the inspection of North Korean freighters, if the U.N. Security Council adopts a resolution to impose sanctions on North Korea, government sources said Thursday.

    Although the government remains cautious over the Self-Defense Forces participating in the inspection of ships, a role supporting U.S. forces’ inspection of North Korean ships would be covered by the law concerning Self-Defense Forces operations to assist U.S. forces during emergencies.

    The related ministries, agencies and local authorities are expected to begin making arrangements in parallel with the discussions between the central government and the U.S. military, which have already begun.

    This would mark the first application of the law since it was enacted in 1999.

    The DPRK has reacted to the threat of across-the-board sanctions by stating that it will regard them as (what else?) a declaration of war.