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    Still standing

    Posted by Sean at 21:13, September 27th, 2006

    Shinzo Abe is now Prime Minister of Japan and has appointed his cabinet and blah-blah-blah…but more importantly, Kylie says she’s back on track after he breast cancer treatments (via the Flea (who heard from some other people):

    The 38-year-old singer–who was given the all-clear by doctors at the start of the year–was a surprise guest at the Red Square concert, where she introduced the Scissor Sisters. [Sorry I missed that!–SRK]

    She enthusiastically urged the crowd to cheer louder, and was even seen ‘spinning around’ as she danced along to the music in the wings.

    She said: “My energy’s coming back now. I am so revved up. I can’t wait to get back to my day job.”

    I know I’ve said this before, but how is it possible not to love Kylie? I will adore Madonna until the day I die, but you just know that if she’d gotten breast cancer, she’d have been all over the media by now talking about the battle to survive and attendant profound spiritual transformation–as if she’d been the first cancer patient in human history. (At least, she would if the way she handled first-time motherhood is anything to go by.)

    In any case, good for Kylie. Can’t wait for the album.

    This is not a coincidence

    Posted by Sean at 00:06, September 22nd, 2006

    James McGreevey isn’t the only controversial public figure offering “confessions” of dubitable religious sincerity this week.

    If you live in a major Asian city and have spent the last few days wondering where all the fags got to, I have your answer. It’s still warm enough to sit outside at night, so a few buddies and I were having a drink when one of us noticed all the men around speaking Chinese. Gucci trainees off the chain after a day of workshops? Traveling dance or drama company? Nope. “We’re here for Madonna!”

    Of course. You could see gaggles of them in Shibuya Wednesday and yesterday, too. And at the last show last night (a friend and I went).

    I wasn’t sure how I’d like the show, but I loved it to pieces. The political and religious [ahem] commentary was predictably witless…or I guess “directionless” is a better way to put it. The mirror-tiled crucifix from which she sang “Live to Tell” has become the most notorious part of the show, but it was way less thrilling than the big mirrorball that was lowered to the stage and opened like a flower from outer space to disgorge her and her dancers at the start of the show. And while it was clear that Madge was repeatedly addressing us as “motherf*@ers!” as a gesture of inclusiveness–we in the audience were part of her in-group of fearless, super-transgressive free spirits, you know?–the effect was lame compared with the pleasurably shocked sense she could produce so reliably twenty years ago.

    Madonna’s a better live singer than you’d expect. I know she has plenty of gizmos to help her with power and pitch; but there were enough blue notes and cracks to convince you that she was mostly going au naturel, and she projected lots of personality and charm. And there’s no faking that amount of energy. Toward the end, she was obviously kind of tired from having been flinging her limbs around for two hours, but it didn’t come off as the Tired of someone frantically pushing herself beyond the physical limitations of age. Though I think she’d look sexier if she settled into having just a little body fat, it’s hard to deny that her healthfulness obsession is paying dividends in the long term. (The party of hopped-up dykes in the row in front of us paid frequent and voluble notice.)

    And my two favorite songs from the latest album (“Jump” and “Forbidden Love”) were spectacular–high points even in a show full of crowd-pleasers. A good time all around.


    Posted by Sean at 22:47, September 20th, 2006

    Surprise! It’s Abe.

    I mean, the next president of the LDP and therefore Prime Minister of Japan will be Shinzo Abe. He got 66% of the vote. Of course, that’s internal. The public has been ambivalent, despite Abe’s Clinton-ish way of addressing himself to the average middle-class citizen and even as reports hammered away at the near-inevitability of an Abe win.

    It now remains to be seen how his “beautiful country” plan will take shape. He’s promised to deepen ties with the US while repairing relations with the PRC and the Koreas. Sounds good, but it’s hard to tell what concrete approach he plans to take. He’s been one of the highest-profile members of the Koizumi administration to make pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, which is hardly a way to endear oneself to the rest of East Asia. He’s also in favor of amending the constitution, and there’s little doubt he’s referring to Article 9 (which contains the non-aggression clause). How far does he want to go in restoring military capability to Japan? No one’s sure.

    Economically, the guy’s a wild card, too. Koizumi was an economic liberal from the get-go; he brought in Heizo Takenaka and, as much as possible, gave him carte blanche when it came to banking and finance reform. The bills for privatization of Japan Post ended up going through a predictable defanging process on the way to ratification, but Koizumi was willing to draw a line in the sand over them. Abe wants to control deflation, doesn’t think the Allied military tribunal that sentenced Japanese war criminals (yeah, I’m begging the question there…you know what I mean) was just, and doesn’t seem to want schoolchildren learning about comfort women during World War II.

    Since it’s not clear what his prime policy directives are, it’s not clear what his deal-breakers are. He’s obviously pretty nationalist by personal conviction, but he lacks the long-standing network of powerful connections to make it likely that he’ll be able to push through controversial pet proposals. He doesn’t seem to have the force of personality to convince people to put aside their doubts, but he will need allies–the LDP is not in the most secure position itself. We should begin to see pretty rapidly what will be the driving force behind his policies when his beliefs hit reality. You can bet that the rest of East Asia, in addition to the Japanese public, will be watching.

    Reflection without introspection

    Posted by Sean at 21:53, September 18th, 2006

    Former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey’s memoir is excerpted in this week’s New York magazine.

    I was prepared to warm to the guy. However self-serving his initial reasons for coming out as he did may have been, McGreevey’s had nearly two years to do some hard thinking since then; and there’s nothing we Americans like more than a redemption story. Also, I’m not really worried about whether, in general, McGreevey will do good work for the causes that employ him from here on; it seems almost certain that he will.

    But a good portion of the gay press has been touting him as a potentially worthy and worthwhile public representative for our interests. My sense–and I’m just going by the New York excerpt here–is still that we can do better. This is how McGreevey describes the beginning of his affair with then-aide Golan Cipel (or alleged affair, since Cipel denies that anything beyond sexual harassment by McGreevey ever happened between them):

    It was wrong to do. I wasn’t an ordinary citizen anymore. There were state troopers parked outside. My wife was in the hospital. And he was my employee. But I took Golan by the hand and led him upstairs to my bed.

    My core group of supporters still felt [when the scandal was about to break because of Cipel’s threatened lawsuit] I should serve out my term, but not run for reelection. I wasn’t convinced that was penance enough for my transgressions. What I did was not just foolish, but unforgivable. Hiring a lover on state payroll, no matter the gender, was wrong. I needed to take my punishment—and to begin my healing out of the fishbowl of politics.

    Having sex with state troopers outside? Hot!

    Uh, I mean, the logic of that first paragraph eludes me. I can see the point about its being a betrayal of voters’ trust to court scandal just when you’ve ascended to the job they elected you to do. I’m not sure whether cheating on your unwitting wife is worse when she’s in the hospital, but her having just borne your child would certainly make it more difficult to leave you if she decided to do so. And no, one should not be propositioning employees, who may not feel in a position to refuse without repercussions.

    It remains difficult to shake the feeling that McGreevey sees his coming out as a way to spin potential political and legal lemons into lemonade–a convenient opportunity to start a less pained and stressed-out life but not a moral or ethical necessity. He has an interesting way of using the word integrated to refer to “not feeding different people different lies to get what you want from each of them,” but one is left wondering whether he thinks that approach is good and right or just eats up less space on his BlackBerry. And as for his “punishment,” well…the gay political machine may not get you into the White House, but it’s powerful enough in liberal circles in the Mid-Atlantic to be a good place for a soft landing from the governorship of New Jersey. Especially if the alternative is a costly sexual harassment suit.

    Homosexuality isn’t a club, and the guy is clearly as gay as the rest of us. We own him now. I’m just not sure why we’re exhorted to be proud of him.

    Added on 20 September: Joe has, if anything, more apserity to direct at McGreevey’s public grandstanding than I did. He begins by quoting an AP story:


    Once publicly opposed to gay marriage, former New Jersey Governor James E. McGreevey now says he spoke out against the idea as a way to keep his homosexuality hidden.

    “I did not want to be identified as being gay, and it was the safe place to be,” McGreevey said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “I wanted to embrace the antagonist. I wanted to be against it. That’s the absurdity.”

    No, the absurdity is the fame, fortune and acceptance he’s getting for his despicable, craven, cowardly and profoundly immoral behavior.

    I disagree with Joe that McGreevey is a good example of justifiable outing. There’s no evidence that he expected to use his power to circumvent the law against gay marriage he supported. The man went so far as to marry two women, after all.

    I do find the use of the word absurd very interesting, implying as it does that McGreevey’s conduct was irrational. Poor thing, he wasn’t quite thinking clearly, et c. (Chris at Gay Orbit seems as aghast as Joe, but he also implicitly labels McGreevey’s actions “crazy.”) In fact, opposing gay marriage was an eminently sensible, reasonable, even inevitable move for someone who’d made the conscious decision to place his highest priority on fulfilling his lust for political power. McGreevey himself acknowledges as much later in the article, saying, “I was proud to be against gay marriage because that’s where I thought a majority of New Jerseyans were. That’s successful politics.” One wonders whether this joker has any deep convictions at all.


    Posted by Sean at 03:28, September 16th, 2006

    Well, it’s about time:

    The cost of DDT is low, so it had become the insecticide of choice to kill lice and mosquitoes after the 1940s, but after the heightening of interest in environmental problems in the ’60s, it was designated a harmful chemical substance and its use forbidden in country after country.

    According to WHO, in cases in which it is restricted to indoor use, it has almost no environmental impact, and it has become clear from recent research that it has no carcinogenic effect on humans. WHO states that it is s it diffuses through indoor spaces, it “makes the inside of the house into one big mosquito net,” preventing the mosquitoes that transmit malaria from landing on walls and ceilings.

    This is not new information. (Kindly ignore Ronald Bailey’s misplaced participle in the second sentence.):

    DDT has, of course, been a major target for the environmentalist movement ever since Rachel Carson hexed it in her influential 1962 book, Silent Spring. Widely used as an agricultural pesticide, Carson accurately indicted DDT for harming various forms of wildlife. Less accurately, she and others in her wake fingered residual DDT as causing problems in human beings, including increased rates of cancer. In 1972, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, then only two years old, banned it, a policy adopted by many other countries. Worldwide use of the pesticide plummeted. DDT remains a powerful symbol of environmental sin and environmentalists have literally been pursuing it to the ends of the Earth in their efforts to banish it forever. Elimination under the POPs Treaty was to be their final triumph over this accursed chemical.

    However, it turns out that spraying small quantities of DDT on the interior walls and eaves of living spaces is one of the most effective ways to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes. In fact, during the 1950s and 1960s, DDT use nearly eradicated malaria in many countries. For example, malaria in Sri Lanka dropped from 2.8 million cases in 1948 to 17 in 1963. In India, the case load dropped from 100 million in 1935 to under 300,000 in 1969. Bangladesh was declared a malaria-free zone. DDT was also an important weapon against malaria in parts of the United States and Italy. The World Health Organization estimates that DDT may have saved as many as 50 million lives since it was introduced in 1945. A grateful world cheered when the man who discovered DDT’s properties as an insecticide was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1948.

    Let’s hope WHO follows through.


    Posted by Sean at 02:29, September 8th, 2006

    Dear Jessica Simpson,

    Please go away. Please.

    Yr. most humble and faithful servant,

    Sean K.


    Posted by Sean at 00:21, September 5th, 2006

    Thanks to everyone who’s written to make sure things are okay. It’s flattering to have smart, interesting people say they miss your writing. Unfortunately, extra-blog life is still pretty busy at the moment, and I’m still mentally kind of tired; so while I’ve been posting about things as they’ve caught my attention, I fear my recent output, such as it is, has been lame and distracted.

    One thing I expected to be more interested in blathering about was the upcoming LDP election, but the twists and turns have turned out not to be particuarly interesting or revelatory. It’s still looking like Abe. Maybe my dullness of mind is making me miss telling little allusions or suggestive turns of phrase, but it all sounds like bland campaign-speak to me. Abe wants to make Japan a great land for men, women, children, and the elderly, to live prosperous, healthy lives. Relations with the US, China, and the Koreas will be good. The pension system will be easy to understand. Birdies will sing and crocuses bloom in the mild sunshine. Daisies will spontaneously weave themselves into nosegays. Adorable fawns will munch on tender young leaves by the babbling brook, in the clear water of which you will see minnows playing merrily and blah blah blah.

    No, I’m not really getting cynical. I’m just kind of tired, and I’m only following this stuff to the degree I am because that’s what a responsible citizen resident does. Well, that and I’m a news junkie even on auto-pilot.

    In any case, posts should become more frequent and (I hope) sharper within the next few weeks. In the interim, I was directed to a site called Japan for the Uninvited last week, which those who have a casual interest in Japan may find entertaining. The front page makes it look sex-obsessed, but there’s actually quite a bit on a variety of cultural topics, little of it exhaustive but most of it delivered without that irksome ain’t-these-Yamato-folks-weird? tone that you get from a lot of writing on Japan.

    A broken frame

    Posted by Sean at 01:37, September 3rd, 2006

    Since the Aneha scandal broke last year, federal officials have manifested a charming capacity for surprise. The latest shock:

    The infrastructure ministry, stunned to learn that builders rarely bother to scrutinize architectural blueprints, will require that they do so for all new wooden homes to make sure the structures are quake-proof, officials said.

    They said builders must study the design plans before construction starts after learning that such procedures are rarely observed these days.

    The ministry was so shocked at the finding that it decided to rescind an exemption put in place 22 years ago to allow builders to skip such checks.

    The move comes on the heels of recent disclosures about a Tokyo company that built and sold nearly 700 wooden homes with substandard earthquake resistance, officials said.

    Even more surprising was a finding by a cooperative association for quake-proof strength on wooden buildings, whose members are mostly medium- and small-sized builders.

    It said that 62 percent of about 24,000 wooden homes it surveyed were not strong enough to withstand an earthquake even though they were put up in or after 1981, when quake-proof standards were tightened.

    Is it really that surprising that construction companies would skip a step they’d been expressly exempted from having to execute? After all, the Aneha scandal demonstrated that not even civil servants whose explicit responsibility was to verify structural calculations roused themselves to do so.

    The wooden building problem is a big deal, of course. Despite the folksy belief that wood-framed buildings are less likely to collapse in earthquakes because their flexible joints and organic materials allow them to flop around in harmony with Gaia until she settles down–seriously, you hear that from people here all the time–the fact is that wooden buildings have to be very well engineered to be safe. And when they do collapse, they’re more likely to tip over than are buildings of rebarred concrete, which makes them more dangerous for the neighbors.

    Vehicles moving in North Korea

    Posted by Sean at 01:13, September 3rd, 2006

    The ROK reports (via the Nikkei ) that the DPRK may be preparing for another missile test in December:

    South Korea’s Yonhap News Service reported on 3 September that there is a possibility that North Korea will launch more missiles in continuation of its 5 July tests. The report is from informed sources in the ROK government, which say that US-Korean information agencies captured [images] of several large transport vehicles moving in the area of the missile base at Gitdaeryeong, Gangwon Province.

    According to the same report, a different information agency official stated, “Since we cannot dismiss the possibility that North Korea will time a missile launch to coincide with talks between the US and the ROK, we are paying close attention to movements in regions of suspected missile bases and nuclear experiments.

    Reuters also reports that the PRC has managed to dig deep and find a little more neighborly feeling than is its wont lately:

    Yonhap also reported China is likely to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to visit this week in an effort to restore their relationship strained after North Korea’s missile tests in July.

    China is the North’s main benefactor. Beijing voted in support of a U.N. Security Council resolution chastising Pyongyang for the missile tests.

    Beijing was expected to convey its formal invitation to Kim early this week when its new ambassador to Pyongyang takes office, Yonhap reported, citing unnamed diplomatic sources in Seoul and Beijing.

    The US is still refusing to meet with the DPRK one-on-one, and the DPRK is still refusing to resume the 6-party talks until economic sanctions are lifted.


    Posted by Sean at 09:50, August 31st, 2006

    A very late thank-you to Rondi Adamson for linking to one of my posts about the atom bombings. Perhaps it’s unfair to take this up when the gentleman concerned can only assume the discussion is over, but I must take exception to the unfortunately common sentiment expressed by one Martin in Rondi’s comments:

    Although a common mythology promoted assumed by many in US and Canada, the bombs were not necessary for Japan’s surrender and were probably not the major provoking factors…they were used to establish the US and the most pwerful nation on earth and to tell the Russians that Japan belonged to the US. see Hasegawa 2005 “Racing with the Enemy” or other serious historians on the subject.

    Thus its use was cynical. It did not save lives; it destroyed lives (the overwhelming majority of them innocent civilians). All wars have many criminals on both sides. War is essentially a criminal activity. The victors get to spout propaganda but we dont have to believe it.

    Where to begin? For starters, I grew up in an all-American town–during the Reagan Era–and we were never told once in my public school system, in any year that World War II was covered, that the atom bombs had been necessary to cause Japan to surrender. We were taught that Hirohito’s leaning toward surrender had produced an eruption of dissent among his military advisors and generals, that there was a real danger that an official surrender from the imperial palace would not stop a significant proportion of citizens from fighting Allied military personnel who then landed, and that the bombs were intended to send a message both within and outside Japan that it had been decisively crushed. Let’s also remember that the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa had happened only months ago and probably affected, a bit, strategists’ calculations of how many enemy lives it was worth risking in order to guarantee surrender and save lives on our side.

    As for showing the Soviet Union that the United States was the most powerful nation on Earth and would, thank you very much, take charge of Japan…yeah, so? Considering what happened to the economies the USSR managed to pull into its orbit (not to mention millions of its own people under Stalin), I’m not entirely sure that was a bad thing for Japan. Within a few decades after the Treaty of San Francisco, Japan was outcompeting its former occupier in many consumer product sectors; by the 1980s, Akio Morita and Shintaro Ishihara were freely arguing, in The Japan That Can Say, “No!”, that Japan had the geopolitical power to play the US and USSR off each other in the nuclear arms race. Just try to imagine China or Korea in a similar position if Japan had won and continued to establish its East Asia [ahem] Co-Prosperity Sphere.

    As for Hasegawa, his contentions are far from universally accepted by “serious historians.” The book caused a stir when it came out and won a prestigious award or two, but Hasegawa has been (pretty conclusively, from what I can tell) shown to have relied on evidence that contradicts his conclusions. Note that we’re not talking about merely failing to deal thoroughly with possible counterarguments or account for contrary evidence; the charge is that his own sources have to be twisted in order to say what he wants them to say.

    There are meaningful debates to be had over how peoples should reflect on their wartime conduct and what lessons they should take from it; the controversy over the Koizumi cabinet’s Yasukuni Shrine visits makes them of particular practical importance now. Unfortunately, they won’t happen if we rely on sludgy statements of morality such as “All wars have many criminals on both sides.”

    [Frighteningly apposite gay moment: I happen to be watching The Manchurian Candidate right now started typing that last paragraph just as the scene in which Angela Lansbury reveals her true loyalties to Laurence Harvey. *shiver*]