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    Odd man out

    Posted by Sean at 10:02, September 21st, 2005

    Last week, a bunch of people wrote to say, “Wow! I had no idea there was another American expat in Japan who was right of center!” It kind of puzzled me because, for one thing, this guy, who’s more visibly conservative than I am, has a blog with a wide readership. And for another, I’ve never really felt all that marooned among leftists–and bear in mind that I’m not only gay but also employed in educational publishing. I only have one or two American friends, but among the colleagues and acquaintances I frequently discuss such things with, I think the majority supported the Iraq invasion, for example, even if they don’t like the way the Bush administration is handling the reconstruction. I’m kind of anti-social and consort with homosexuals and work in a famously left-leaning industry, so I figured I’d see what Gaijin Biker‘s take was, since he’s different on all counts. He said:

    I went to an election day barbecue party last year in my Bush/Cheney t-shirt and I had lots of expat guys coming up to me to argue (plus, more entertainingly, slightly drunk Japanese girls telling me Bush is evil).

    The typical American I-banker is a New Yorker from a well-off family who went to an ivy league college; those folks tend to be liberals, if of the limousine variety. Choosing a quantitatively-oriented job that pays well screens out some of the extreme tree-huggers, but there are still plenty left in the pool. And once you get outside the U.S. and look at bankers from Britain, France, etc., the Bush-hatred escalates in parallel with the love of nanny-state socialism.

    The amazing thing I have learned is that someone can be a razor-sharp capitalist when it comes to analyzing companies or managing money, but still favor extreme liberal positions like super-high tax rates, massive social programs, gun control, etc. Look at George Soros!

    That “Britain, France, etc.” part applies to other industries, too, BTW–especially law, but also consulting, health care, and import-export. There’s nothing more comically irritating than standing in a Tokyo fag bar with a German on your left and a Frenchman on your right–ganging up on you about how America is getting all arrogant as the world’s policeman–and having to bite your lip to avoid going all, “Don’t give me that crap! The only reason we are here having this conversation is that MY grandfathers kept YOUR grandfathers, honeychile, from killing YOUR grandfathers, bitch.” Yes, I have a thing about this.

    Maybe part of it is that Japanese electoral politics tends to be dull; the last few weeks are a real anomaly. The locals don’t keep the air buzzing with the kind of talk about politics that would stimulate up expats to bring up what’s going on at home. Only those of us who are already news junkies really tune in. Be all of that as it may, I’m up-front about my political positions, and I don’t recall having had any tiresome confrontations with leftists who wouldn’t back down when they’re shocked to discover that I voted for Bush (and, in 2000, Santorum) and support the WOT and believe in privatizing everything but the Capitol Building.

    House in order

    Posted by Sean at 01:16, September 21st, 2005

    I somehow missed this when Michael first posted it and have ended up in the odd position of getting my Gay Orbit bulletin through that straight guy over there. The original article is from 365Gay, which isn’t always super-reliable, but I’m assuming it’s accurate in the main:

    During their 19-year relationship, Rene Price and Betty Jordan thought of themselves as married, especially after they registered as domestic partners on the last day of 2004.

    But after Price died unexpectedly in July, Jordan learned that she was not entitled to the couple’s Perth Amboy home, their cars, or the $9,000 in Price’s bank account.

    Price’s death at age 61 exposed one of the many places where New Jersey’s domestic partnership law does not treat partners like married couples: When a domestic partner without a will dies, the surviving partner has no right to his or her possessions.

    This kind of thing always pisses me the hell off. I agree with Michael’s commenter Don: “This is sad. But after 19 years of being together why didn’t they have arrangements already made?” You said it, brother.

    You know, Atsushi’s life insurance goes to his parents. He owns our apartment outright. We don’t have a joint bank account. He’s closeted to both his parents and his company, so we can’t do anything that would indicate official recognition of some kind of relationship between us. This is not my ideal arrangement, but my life with him is what’s most important to me, so I make the necessary compromises. I am, after all, the one who decided to fall in love with a traditionalist Japanese man. And he sacrifices things, too: his company doesn’t promote unmarried men up the management escalator. I make more or less as much money as he does and save responsibly, so I wouldn’t have major financial worries; but I would have to leave the artifacts of our shared life behind almost in their entirety and start over. This is not a fun topic of conversation, but we’ve considered it a necessary one. I know where I stand, and I’ve made my peace with it.

    Therefore, I find myself hard-pressed to lavish unalloyed sympathy on people who don’t make wills, don’t thoroughly acquaint themselves with the terms of their civil unions, and don’t do everything they can to make sure their partners are provided for when they have, from where I’m standing, all kinds of tools at their disposal. Jordan and Price were able to be public about their relationship. They took the availability of civil unions so casually that they put theirs off for six months while one of them decided what to wear. I want to see laws changed so we can provide for our partners as much as anyone does. I also hope things are settled in Jordan’s favor. But she and Price were irresponsible. It might not be fair that we have worries that straight married couples do not, but it’s reality.

    Maehara’s DPJ remake progressing

    Posted by Sean at 10:02, September 20th, 2005

    Seiji Maehara’s attempt to cobble together a viable party from the tattered DPJ is summarized by the Yomiuri. Among the interesting tidbits to date:

    Maehara’s appointment of [Yukio] Hatoyama [as secretary general] is expected to be shortly followed by an invitation to [Ichiro] Ozawa to serve as acting president. It is believed the new leader hopes that by including veterans close to Hatoyama and Ozawa he can ensure party unity.

    Hatoyama told reporters Sunday he believed the new leader was keen to ensure party unity, but his preferential treatment of midranking and younger members might cause unrest unless all members felt included.

    A midranking party member said he thought the appointment of Takeaki Matsumoto, Maehara’s fellow national security expert and member of the party’s right wing would have an immediate unifying effect once discussion on national security and constitutional reform got under way.

    Matsumoto, 46, a Tokyo University law graduate, was elected in the proportional representation bloc for Kinki, the third time he has won a lower house seat since 2000. He had held the positions of Policy Research Committee vice chairman and deputy in the shadow cabinet defense portfolio.

    Maehara said in an NHK program Sunday morning that he did not include former SDP lawmakers, who have close relationships with labor unions, because he needed to reconsider the party’s relationship with labor unions, especially public-sector ones.

    The boys in the trees

    Posted by Sean at 09:39, September 20th, 2005

    I don’t remember how it came up in conversation, but I mentioned “You Belong to Me,” and this guy who must have been all of 23 was like, “Oh, yeah, the Jennifer Lopez song.”

    And I thought, Oh, no.

    That’s just so unjust. At first I was hoping that Lopez had done that whole retro thing that all the boy bands are doing and covered the Jo Stafford song. No, I don’t want to see Stafford abused, either, but there’s something especially repellant about someone like Lopez–whose entire singing career is built on frantic, unconvincing assertions that she’s still down with the regular folk–denaturing something of Carly Simon’s.

    Perspective: when I was in college, the whole Riot Grrl thing was all over the news. You know, you’d have these white-bread women singing, like,

    I go to Brown on Daddy’s dime
    But I’m totally oppressed
    [skronky guitar noise]
    It’s an act of true sedition
    When I shriek about my breasts
    [skronky guitar noise]

    The great thing about Carly, in retrospect, is that she approached her spoiled-brat neuroses without a trace of self-pity. Yes, she sang all solemnly about how empty her life felt despite all the parties and expensive romantic jaunts and stuff, but you never got the sense that she was pissy at the world about it. Who cares if she recycled the same half-dozen melodies for ten years and missed half the notes she sang?

    Speaking of missing notes all the time: Madge. Are you excited about her new album? I am. I just hope it doesn’t suck. The title is promising–whenever she remembers she’s a neo-disco chick and stops trying to address the Darkness in our Materialistic Souls and crap like that, she still has it. I seem to be the only life-long Madonna fan, BTW, who doesn’t think Ray of Light was the second coming. I’m sorry, crooning about how your new baby is wonderful because she was the latest, greatest step in your program of self-discovery is way creepy.

    Have you noticed that my posts are scatty this week? Sorry. Atsushi’s coming home for the weekend on Saturday. As he reminded me on the phone last night, exactly one year ago I was visiting him in Kyushu for the first time since his transfer. The first several months were tough, but we’re in our groove. I still get fidgety right before I know I’m going to see him, though, so, you know, you get randomness.


    Posted by Sean at 08:57, September 20th, 2005

    Japan has had its second fugu poisoning death for this year:

    The man prepared the puffer fish on Saturday after receiving it from a friend, according to a local public health center. Between about 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Sunday, the man ate sashimi from the liver of the fish. At about 11:30 p.m. that evening, he started showing signs of poisoning, and he died in the predawn hours of Monday.

    The man had prepared puffer fish in the past, and his family did not stop him from eating it, officials said.

    I don’t remember having come across the first, but there was a party of four people last year of whom three were poisoned. I think two of them died.

    Everything but the oink

    Posted by Sean at 23:29, September 19th, 2005

    Eric, who’s a Pennsylvania native like me, has listed some projects that funnel federal pork into the commonwealth. As he says, each one is modest in scope, but together they contribute to government bloat. Besides, even a small amount of wasteful spending is, well, wasteful.

    I’m not sure what the most wasteful federally-funded PA project in recent memory is. Being next door to the domain of Robert “Yes, West Virginia, there is a Santa Clause” Byrd kind of makes you complacent about these things. However, I was impressed by the prodigality and why-is-Washington-involved-in-this? pointlessness of a waterfront redevelopment initiative in Philadelphia, for which then-Representative Joseph Hoeffel secured over $10 million a few years ago. (Note Hoeffel’s statist paranoia over what private control might do to the site.) It’s not an ongoing project, so I don’t think it’s eligible for inclusion in Eric’s list.

    Added later: Perhaps I should point out that if you’re thinking you vaguely recognize Hoeffel’s name, it’s because he was the Democrat who ran against Arlen Specter for the PA US Senate seat that was up for election last year. One of his campaign catch-phrases? “Fiscal restraint,” naturally.


    Posted by Sean at 09:50, September 19th, 2005

    Japan isn’t entirely happy with the results of the 6-party talks, however. The abductee problem was basically tabled:

    On 19 September, the families of Japanese abducted by the DPRK held a Tokyo press conference in reaction to the joint statement adopted at the 6-party talks, voicing dissatisfaction: “The abduction issue was back-burnered.” “This is nothing more than a statement predicated on the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, which is already drained of content.”

    The only part of the joint declaration to touch on the abduction issue was this: “After dealing appropriately, in accordance with the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, with various pending issues, we will implement a normalization of relations.” The vice-representative of the group of families, Shigeo Iizuka (67), made plain his dissatisfaction: “The word abduction doesn’t appear in the declaration, and the abduction issue was back-burnered.” He indicated further concerns: “If the debate over nuclear issues goes on and on, and and there is no progress seen, the resolution of the abduction issue could become a great deal more difficult.”

    If you’re not familiar with the issue: the DPRK sent agents to the Japanese coast in the 1970s to abduct about a dozen Japanese nationals in their late teens and early 20s. They were brought back to North Korea and forced to teach Japanese language and culture to DPRK spies. Of course, those who are alive are all middle-aged now. The most famous, because her husband happened to be US Army deserter Charles Jenkins, is Hitomi Soga. Their ending was happy: they’ve come back to Japan and been able to bring their college-age daughters. Other endings have not been happy. Megumi Yokota’s family has probably been treated the worst, with the DPRK dismissively shoving random piles of bones at the Japanese as her remains. Other stories are in between. Kaoru Hasuike, for instance, was snatched while on vacation in Hokkaido as a college junior. Having been repatriated at 46, he received permission from his university to complete his degree but was having difficulty deciding on how to proceed–and do you wonder? There are, I think, five of the fifteen abductees accounted for.

    For reference, the Ministry of Foreign affairs has the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, from almost exactly two years ago, posted in Japanese and English. The section pertinent to the abduction issue is rendered this way in English:

    With respect to the outstanding issues of concern related to the lives and security of Japanese nationals, the DPRK side confirmed that it would take appropriate measures so that these regrettable [遺憾な!–SRK] incidents, that took place under the abnormal bilateral relationship, would never happen in the future.

    Well, the DPRK doesn’t seem to have abducted anyone lately, but it certainly is maintaining an “abnormal” sense of cooperation. At the same time, it’s not hard to understand why the nuclear issue superseded the abductee issue at the 6-party talks. However much the Japanese citizenry feels for the families of the abductees, the fact is that the nuclear problem could directly affect millions of people. The abductee problem, while an outrage, does not. Bilateral negotiations between Japan and the DPRK don’t seem to fare much better much of the time, unfortunately, so Iizuka’s fears may not be unfounded.

    DPRK agrees to abandon nukes

    Posted by Sean at 07:36, September 19th, 2005

    Okay, we’ll have to see what actually comes of this, but strictly as a gesture, it’s good news:

    In a dramatic turn to six-nation negotiations that have been held since 2003, Pyongyang agreed to abandon the weapons and rejoin international arms treaties in exchange for energy assistance from neighboring nations and sovereignty guarantees from the United States.

    Japan’s envoy to the talks in Beijing, Kenichiro Sasae, said North Korea’s nuclear program poses a serious threat to peace in Asia and welcomed Monday’s outcome for finally settling on common goals. Most of Japan, the world’s second biggest economy and host to about 50,000 U.S. military personnel, lies within range of North Korean missiles.

    Japan’s national broadcaster NHK quoted Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda as calling the agreement a positive step but also saying the nations need to “keep a close eye” on North Korea as negotiations proceed. Hosoda also pressed for a resolution to a dispute about the kidnappings of Japanese nationals by North Korea, calling it a key to improved relations between the countries.

    Having to recognize the DPRK’s “sovereignty” in any formal way is galling, but it’s hardly a change from what we’ve been doing in practice. Of course, the DPRK is famous for reneging on agreements, so I’m with Hosoda on this one. We’ll see.

    You look at me with those brown eyes

    Posted by Sean at 02:57, September 19th, 2005

    I was in kind of a funk last night. I worked yesterday, and it was a satisfying but draining day. And even though it’s officially a three-day weekend, Atsushi’s bank has his department in today, so he couldn’t come up to Tokyo. He’s been working late all the time and not getting enough sleep, and I’m powerless to do anything about it except sound devoted during our ten-minute phone conversation each night. So I went out to one of my hangouts, where the guys behind the bar have all known me for years, to mellow out a little.

    They started drawing my vodka as soon as I stepped in the door, and I reached into my bag for my coin purse. It wasn’t there. So I rummaged around a little. Then I took my Discman and CD case and handkerchief and water purifying straw and space blanket out, and it still wasn’t there. My coin purse is frequently a topic of conversation, because the big joke among the bar guys is that I always pay with exact change. (Don’t ask me why, but in this math-skill-obsessed country, paying with exact change is uncommon. Given that the smallest paper bill denomination is ¥1000, the equivalent of US $9 or so, you’d think people would do whatever possible to minimize the number of coins they carry, but they don’t.) So they were standing there expecting me to give my usual exact ¥600, and then the bar master started chortling, “Sean-chan, that’s the coin purse your honey gave you for your birthday two years ago. The one you never let out of your sight. You don’t mean to say you forgot it. We’re going to have to tell your boyfriend. We’re going to have to report you to Hermès for this one–it’s accessory abuse!” Objectively speaking, I guess it was kind of funny–when you walk into a gay bar, naturally, everyone glances over at you, and I’m sure I looked pretty weird yanking things out of my little camera bag and getting increasingly frustrated. All I had to do was get out my wallet for a ¥1000 bill and be done with it, after all.

    The thing was, the master was right: it’s hokey to say, but having my coin purse with me makes me feel as if Atsushi were close by. It was as if I’d been neglectful and forgotten to bring him along; I was even more unsociable than usual the whole night.

    I feel better now, though–not just because I’ve gotten a grip on myself, but because Atsushi and I will have ready-made in-joke material for tonight’s phone call: Instapundit was not only kind enough to give me another link but also kind enough to use it to the end of giving CNN’s Aaron Brown a good cuffing. It makes me so happy.

    I don’t think it’s possible to convey just HOW MUCH Aaron Brown annoys me. It’s possible that in private life, he’s generous and humble and easy-going; but he has to be the most oozingly self-righteous journo on the planet in his professional life. (Once he and Jane Arraf were on a split screen together, and it was like the irresistible smug force meeting the immovable smirky object. I thought they might merge into some vortex of condescension and suck in the whole universe or something.) CNN is the only English-language news source on our cable subscription–not that I miss BBC World, or anything–so I usually grit my teeth and watch to keep from feeling entirely cut off from televised news. I have my limits, though, and Atsushi knows from long experience that when Brown comes on the air, I can be expected to mutter curses at the TV until I just can’t take anymore and have to switch back to NHK. It’s part of our domestic routine by this point. Suffice it to say, I am delighted to be of modest assistance in deflating that gasbag.

    DPJ casts its lot with Maehara

    Posted by Sean at 07:35, September 18th, 2005

    The Democratic Party of Japan has selected its new top four post-Okada leaders:

    The DPJ’s leader Seiji Maehara decided on 18 September to tap Yukio Hatoyama as Secretary General, Takeaki Matsumoto as chair of the Policy Research Committee, and Yoshihiko Noda as chair of the Diet Affairs Committee. He gathered his new top three men in the evening, planning to confer about responses to the special Diet session called for 21 September.

    Maehara is interesting. It appears that he may do the Clinton-in-1992 thing:

    Seiji Maehara, a young conservative, began reshaping the main opposition bloc on Sunday by appointing new officers and outlining plans for a stronger military and smaller spending in a vision that drew comparisons to British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “third-way” government.

    Maehara, a 43-year-old defense expert who wants a more assertive role for Japan’s military overseas, was narrowly elected a day earlier to head the DPJ, edging aside staid party veteran and co-founder Naoto Kan.

    The new leader said Sunday he would re-examine his party’s close ties to labor unions, trim wasteful tax spending and push to amend Japan’s Constitution so the country’s Self Defense Forces would have greater freedom to fight overseas and support its allies. Maehara also wants spending cuts balanced by strong funding for education and other social welfare programs.

    Maehara is strong on defense and says Japan’s Constitution must clearly give the SDF the right to fight back if attacked and include a new article stipulating its role in aiding allies.

    Of course, Clinton wasn’t a defense expert. What I’m referring to is more the idea that Maehara is adopting some positions usually associated with those to his party’s right while sweetening them with talk about spending on social programs dear to those on his left. Maehara’s website has linked, among his writings, this magazine article from November 2001 about Japan’s close defense ties with the US, against the backdrop of 9/11. It’s lengthy, but one thing that stands out is that Maehara doesn’t–or didn’t then–see the Japan-US alliance as arising naturally from our similar societies as Koizumi does:

    [T]he value of offering visible aid, recognized by the American people, when our ally the US is suffering, does not stop at the psychological; rather, it is also necessary from the viewpoint of risk management regarding the allegiance itself.

    It is fine, I believe, for there to be thinking to the effect that we may want to dissolve our relationship as allies, when we take the long-term view. However, at this moment in time, for our allegiance with the US to change character suddenly would most assuredly not work in Japan’s national interest.

    That seems fair enough. Of course, maybe I’m biased in Maehara’s favor because–can I have failed to mention this?–the dude is hot. (He looks better talking than he does in the posed picture on his homepage, but the photo gives you the general idea.) In objective terms, he’s probably not too seriously dreamy, but given the milieu in which he operates, he is very easy on the eyes. The rule seems to be that you’re not allowed to be a middle-aged Japanese politician until you’ve survived a near-fatal whupping with the ugly stick. Right after the election, Gaijin Biker was all crowing about how the LDP had hot women and its opponents were guys who needed paper bags over their heads. Understandably, being hetero, he doesn’t seem to have noticed that all the guys on the LDP side were no better.

    Yes, I can shift in a paragraph from talking about the Japan-US defense partnership to making lustful comments about men. It’s a talent. If you’d like to see me do it in a single clause, I’m sure I can arrange that, too.

    Anyway, politics, blah, blah…Japundit thought, before the DPJ vote, that Maehara looks as if he needs more seasoning before he’s ready to be a serious competitor for Prime Minister:

    Maehara appears at first glance as if he will become a viable leader—in five or 10 years. He is obviously intelligent and talented, but still lacks the gravitas people expect from a prime minister. I got the impression that his candidacy was not for this particular election, but for the next one down the road. With his party in desperate straits, however, he might wind up getting chosen prematurely. Let’s hope he doesn’t have to go on the political version of life support.

    Reasonable enough. On the other hand, we’re all just guessing. Politics in this media age frequently thrusts people into situations that turn out to be trial by fire. We may find out relatively quickly whether Maehara can make his combination of hawkishness, support for increased social welfare spending, talk about small government, and near-unprecedented level of cuteness potentially media-friendly image connect with Japanese voters.