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    Yrs. faithfully

    Posted by Sean at 13:59, January 2nd, 2010

    Tim Cavanaugh at Reason.com has been really, really, really big on sliding in the gay jokes these last few months. Not that I mind; he’s exceptionally handsome, and it’s an odd fact of life that, while gay jokes told by unattractive straight men are lame, offensive, retrograde manifestations of deep-seated sexual insecurity, gay jokes told by exceptionally handsome straight men are witty, bravely edgy, and charming. It’s interesting, though, that when the subject is Barney Frank—which is to say, when there’s a gigantic “INSERT MOST OBNOXIOUS POSSIBLE GAY JOKE HERE” sign flashing—Cavanaugh lets the opportunity pass right by, the PC coward!

    What was I saying?

    Oh. Right.

    Cavanaugh posts, not for the first time, about an article in the genre I love to hate: Technology is ruining our human relationships in ways only your humble, soulful Cassandra of a correspondent is aware of. The specimen in question, by Rachel Marsden, ends the way they all do:

    When I set up a meeting with someone, they’re the only person in the room. My friends are few and dear. I refuse to sign anything “xoxo” or “love” unless I mean it.

    Too many people seem to be grasping for ways to connect with others while rarely actually connecting in a way that has true value or significance. What so many people end up with is something that looks like a connection from the outside as they text each other a million times a day, or sign notes with “much love.” Sadly, that’s the new standard of personal value in this technological era.

    You can imagine what came before: Cell phones? Bad. Facebook? Bad. Twitter? Bad. True Intimacy with Rachel Marsden? Good.

    Singing: “Dialed about a thousand numbers lately / Almost rang the phone off the wall….”

    Besides the smugness of tone, what drives me berserk about these diatribes is the way they put the moral agency on the gadgets themselves. One of Marsden’s first sentences is “Does anyone care that technology is destroying social graces and turning people into rude jerks?” I am, I believe, of a somewhat older vintage than the lady, so maybe she doesn’t know this from first-hand experience, but there were a lot of rude jerks before cell phones and the Internet. Indeed, you can argue that technology has made it easier to escape from them. In the pre-cellular era, if some bore chatted you up in the airport departure lounge about the results of his latest colonoscopy, it was nearly impossible to shake him off without moving. You could not, after all, pretend that your magazine had suddenly started vibrating with what might be an important call from Mom.

    As for meetings, has there ever been an era in which at least half of those parked around the table in any conference room on the planet weren’t desperately angling for ways to get the hell out of there? I’m not willing to defend the constant diverting of attention away from people in the room, who have first claim on it, toward taking any and every stray call that comes in. That’s rude. It should Not be Done. However, the not-nice part of me can’t help wondering whether Marsden is the sort who loves the sound of her own voice over clicking PowerPoint slides and insists on convening a meeting when a phone call, hallway discussion, or e-mail exchange would do. Arriving late and not paying attention are ill-bred behaviors, but they long predate the gizmos in question, and sometimes there’s a useful message beneath the rudeness: there’s not enough content here to be worth my time. There are few tactful ways of saying, “This gathering is pointless—can we wrap up so everyone can go back to getting some real work done?”

    I wish that, just once, these people who bitch about how technology is wrecking everything would pin the blame squarely where it belongs: on the users. There are obligations connected to work and family that have changed in texture with the introduction of some communications technologies, sure; but otherwise, no one is forced to accept Facebook friend requests, respond to every text in three nanoseconds, or keep his cell ringer on even while asleep. The kind of person who badgers casual acquaintances on Facebook for attention is the kind of person who would have badgered casual acquaintances at a dinner party for attention in eras past, and at least now his victims can use the expedient of making his updates invisible, rather than switching to double shots of whiskey and trying desperately to look interested. Human interaction is a wonderful thing, but it’s hardly the unalloyed good Marsden and others want it to be.

    Besides, would we really want to go back to a time when you couldn’t be at the supermarket, press a button, and say, “Hi, darling. I know you’re still at the office, but can you please just remind me which brand of marinara sauce you wanted me to get before you kill me for grabbing the wrong one again?” Properly used, the communications technology we now enjoy makes a whole lot of things easier and less time-consuming so that we can actually spend more time and energy on what’s really important.

    What to do when people don’t use it properly? If they’re clearly irredeemable, shun them. If they might listen to hints, say gently that you’ll be happy to resume the conversation when they’re not so tied up with other things. If they’re irredeemable but you can’t avoid them anyway, be frostily polite to them to take the edge off your irritation and maximize the probability that they’ll pick up on the fact that something’s wrong. In my experience, these things generally work. And even when they don’t, they have to be better than working yourself into a reductive, sanctimonious froth about what a nasty, vulgarizing force Technology is.

    Added on 5 January: Thanks to Eric and to Donna B., who I believe comments at his place frequently, for linking back. Eric sticks with the do-cute-guys-say-more-interesting-things? topic, and Donna sticks with the doesn’t-technology-enable-valuable-new-types-of-communication part of the topic. Or maybe they’re talking about two entirely different topics, and this post is just incoherent. In any case, thanks to them for the links.


    アケオメ!

    Posted by Sean at 11:17, December 31st, 2009

    It’s now 2010 in Tokyo, and Atsushi just sent me my first New Year’s greeting. So while it’s anticipatory for those west of Japan, Happy New Year! Best for the next twelve months and the coming ten years. (Yes, dear pedants, the end of the decade is technically a year away, but most of us see the changing of the tens digit as the significant transition.) Lots to complain about these last ten years no matter what your political persuasion, eh? And yet…what a wonderful world we live in! I’ll be spending the run-up to countdown time with friends—safely removed from Times Square, you may be sure—but for now I’m in my apartment gearing up to run a few errands. The evergreens out the kitchen window are dusted with snow and shivering, but boiling-hot water comes out of the tap at will and whistles through the 1940s radiator in the living room. (I’m in a T-shirt and thin silk pajama bottoms.) I’m watching the Alfred Hitchcock collection my little brother gave me for Christmas—fourteen movies in a case the size of a football—and typing this on a machine that will send it to parts unknown as soon as I hit the “Publish” button. Such riches our ancestors have stored up for us, which enterprising people are still building on. Well, until our confiscatory tax system gets ’em.

    Oh, come on—don’t make that face. If you don’t want dyspeptic cracks about big government, even in a holiday post, why are you reading a blog written by a libertarian? Do you have any idea how much effort it takes to preserve my good humor about these things nowadays, even with the bottle of Scotch I got in my stocking?

    Anyway, there’s plenty of time to return to pushing grimly back against nanny-state-ism in January. For now, safe travels to everyone, enjoy your champagne, and here’s to an even freer, even more prosperous, even happier 2010s.

    Added later: Eric has a more detailed post up about what it was like to be a libertarian (of a particular stripe) in the 2000s.


    Everything but the oink

    Posted by Sean at 08:20, December 22nd, 2009

    Advice Goddess Amy Alkon posts about successful lobbying on behalf of blocs that will not, as a result, be among the “special interests” that health-care reform does anything to keep at bay:

    White House budget director Peter Orszag has claimed that the bill’s 40% excise tax on high-cost insurance plans is key to reducing health costs. Yet the Senate Majority Leader’s new version specifically exempts “individuals whose primary work is longshore work.” That would be the longshoremen’s union, which has negotiated very costly insurance benefits. The well-connected dock workers join other union interests such as miners, electrical linemen, EMTs, construction workers, some farmers, fishermen, foresters, early retirees and others who are absolved from this tax.

    So the rule of thumb is, if you could appear in a men-in-uniform fantasy on a gay porn site, you’re exempted. And they say Washington in the Obama era isn’t being kind to us homos! The WSJ summarizes things this way:

    In other words, controlling insurance costs is enormously important, unless your very costly insurance is provided by an important Democratic constituency.

    To libertarians, the lesson from this, of course, is that concentrating power in federal hands facilitates these sorts of machinations by making DC a one-stop-shopping source for favors and deals. To big-government fans, the lesson is, as the WSJ puts it:

    The press corps is passing this favoritism off as sausage-making necessary to “make history,” but that’s an insult to sausages.

    Yeah. No food processor could hope to get away with putting a product with so much filler over on the buying public.

    * And yes, being from PA, I’m aware that the post title refers to scrapple, not sausage. It’s a metaphorical fit.


    Thanksgiving

    Posted by Sean at 12:39, November 26th, 2009

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Even in these times, we’re a nation of real abundance, materially and otherwise. Stay safe, enjoy your celebrations, and thanks for checking back after all these weeks. :)


    On the radio

    Posted by Sean at 22:03, September 30th, 2009

    Those who miss reading Connie and Kim du Toit’s writing will be interested to know that they’re going to begin broadcasting an Internet talk-radio show this coming Saturday. The site is here. I’ll be interested to hear what that first guest of theirs has to talk about….


    Step away from the dishwasher

    Posted by Sean at 11:16, June 21st, 2009

    Happy Father’s Day, to my own and other fathers. Since my father is of the make-life-easier-for-Mom school, I’m busy practically wrestling him to the kitchen floor to keep him from cleaning up after his own breakfast. While I’m doing that, Eric has posted about Dr. Helen’s Father’s Day message.


    Hello world!

    Posted by Sean at 10:04, June 7th, 2009

    ludbehinddoor

    The owners of Powerblogs have devoted their energies to other things for the last few years and are thinking of shutting it down soon, so it seemed like a good time to make the jump to another platform.  I’m trying things out here without redirecting whiteperil.com to it for the moment, for anyone who’s happened on it and been confused.  At first I was going to delete this post and start with a new one after importing everything from my existing blog, but I like the title, which reminds me of the chorus to the first song on the Go-Go’s reunion album eight or so years ago.  Not the most consistent album, but a fantastic opening volley.  Think I’ll listen to it.

    Anyway, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll see this after I redirect my domain to WP.  If anything’s displaying weird or what have you, please let me know.

    Added later: Is it my imagination, or does this fixed-width format make me look even more long-winded than usual?

    Added still later: Naturally, mine seems to be the only computer in the free world that is still directing to the old Powerblogs blog. GRRRR! I wouldn’t have been able to get things up and running here last night were it not for my mother’s behemoth desktop, on which she uses AOL. AOL! Who’d have thought I’d ever be thankful to have AOL to fall back on?

    Added yet later: Okay, I think it’s displaying fine in Firefox now, though it took me a bit to figure out what the problem was. (Why on Earth would you want to put the code in for the footer at the end of your Main Page template? That would be silly!) If anyone’s getting weirdnesses (besides that related to the content of what I post), please let me know.


    申告漏れ

    Posted by Sean at 12:21, May 24th, 2009

    Not only are the two Japan Post subsidiaries related to the mails less profitable than the bank and the insurance company, but they also, according to the Yomiuri, owe back-taxes for Japanese fiscal year 2008, halfway through which the system was privatized:

    Following investigations by the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau into the two companies, the bureau notified the firms of their unreported earnings for the business year ending March 2008, according to sources.

    The companies are expected to be levied about 9.2 billion yen in back taxes, including penalty, corporate and local taxes, the sources said.

    The total undeclared income reportedly is more than 20 billion yen.

    It also said Japan Post Service and Japan Post Network logged 3.53 billion yen and 5.69 billion yen, respectively, to pay for taxes, on the assumption that the two companies would likely have to pay back taxes.

    Although Japan Post Group said it had a “difference in understanding” with the bureau, the group said it would abide by the notification.

    Well, you know, in Japan, these things are all about perspective.


    Japan Post update

    Posted by Sean at 14:50, May 23rd, 2009

    The Japan Post family of companies released its first financial statements for a full fiscal year since privatization–well, more like partial governmental divestiture, but in today’s climate, anything that even resembles a shift in the direction of less federal control of a major industry feels like a refreshing change–and the numbers are mixed:

    In the consolidated financial statements for J-FY 2008 Q4 that Japan Post released on 22 May, current income (corresponding to sales revenues) was JPY 19.9617 trillion, current profits were JPY 830.5 billion, and net profits (for the quarter) were JPY 422.7 billion. Since privatization in October 2007, this round is the first release of financial statements for a full fiscal year, and while all four companies operating under the Japan Post umbrella ultimately secured balances in the black, the three remaining companies when Japan Post Insurance is excluded fell short of standing projections. CEO Yoshifumi Nishikawa indicated in an interview that he intends to stay on the pitcher’s mound until the two financial subsidiaries [the insurance companies and the savings bank] are in a condition to list their stock, which is planned for as early as J-FY 2010.

    It’s the two finance-related arms that are making most of the profits; the holding company wants to jack up the contribution from the remaining two companies, one of which runs the post offices and the other of which runs the shipping and courier logistics of the old postal system. The Mainichi has an English version here, which scrambles the order of the original Japanese article but doesn’t omit much of the information.


    Is it true I’m an eagle?

    Posted by Sean at 16:40, May 22nd, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei this morning is headlined “How should Japan contribute to ‘demand within Asia’?”

    In getting the global economic crisis under control, Asia, which is called the growth center of the 21st Century, looms large. In a 21 May lecture, Prime Minister Taro Aso called for the expansion of “demand within Asia”; how can Japan fulfill a leading role in doing so? The challenges posed and responsibilities thrust upon it are weighty.

    The prime minister took as his topic “Toward an Asia that surmounts the economic crisis and soars again,” and he stressed that there is a need to shift the Asian economy from the export-driven structure it’s had up to now into a structure driven by internal demand. Where that is concerned, the diverse nations and territories of Asia are not likely to dissent.

    A supplementary-budget proposal for FY 2009 that undertakes additional economic measures on a scale that exceeds the previous maximum of JPY 15 trillion is not under deliberation in the House of Councillors. It’s necessary to start taking financial action, but annual expenditures that it’s not unrealistic to expect to be tied to money politics will not contribute to an increase in Japan’s ability to grow. There’s a need to move forward in parallel with structural reforms, such as deregulation, as well.

    On the other hand, we will have to accept more from Asian nations and territories–not just imports but also human resources. Pain will accompany the opening of agricultural markets and things, but there’s no way to get around it.

    In connection with the stability and expansion of Asian financial markets, the prime minister stated, “we want to make the ‘yen’ something that different countries can use for financing in times of crisis.” The idea is to provide emergency loans of Japanese yen to countries that have insufficient foreign currency, but it can also be considered an intention to “internationalize the yen.”

    In Asia, China has pushed for an economy built on the yuan with trade negotiations with neighboring nations and territories such as ASEAN. These are activities with a view toward a “yuan currency sphere.”

    China is the 3rd-largest economy in GDP after the United States and Japan. There’s a high probability that it will pull ahead of Japan in one or two years. Still, the hurdles to internationalization for the yuan are higher than for the yen.

    The prime minister has issued invitations to heads of state of five nations in the Mekong River Basin, such as Thailand and Vietnam, and also announced that he will hold the first “Japan-Mekong Summit” within the year. The nations of the Mekong Basin, which border China, are of major geographic importance.

    It is important for Japan to strengthen its tie-ups with and trust from Asian nations and territories and to show some ability to develop a concept for the expansion of demand within Asia. That will also have an effect on the renaissance of the Japanese economy.

    I quote the editorial at some length not because it says anything new but because it doesn’t. Take away the figures specific to the budget and to China, and this sounds like just about every editorial on the Japanese economy in the last fifteen years: Asia is becoming more important, we need to liberalize our markets and make nice with the neighbors, and that means not being so closed off. The current crisis does change things, and it will be interesting, if that’s the word, to follow possible damage to the dollar as the world currency.

    But I’m not so sure the yen is a good candidate for a replacement, even in Asia. I’ve always found it interesting that we in the West are so bent on explaining Japan; in my experience, people from other places in Asia are far more willing to conclude that Japan is just plain weird and leave it at that. Perhaps part of the reason is that they already understand Buddhism and Confucianism and therefore don’t get hung up on trying out novel ways of applying them to the Japanese–I don’t know. In any case, countries in Asia know they need Japan and have a lot to gain from tapping into its industrial capacity, but they seem to recognize the Japanese political and economic systems as real headaches for outsiders beyond a certain point. And the Nikkei can wag its finger about the necessary but difficult process of making Japan more open to foreigners, but to this point, somehow talk of “internationalization” has rarely resulted in meaningful action. If nothing else, it should be interesting to see how Beijing reacts to Aso’s Mekong Basin thing.