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    Posted by Sean at 16:58, January 9th, 2005

    I don’t agree with Michael about marriage policy, but I think he’s dead right about this:

    [We’re part of everyday life.] And it�s our job as gay people to let people know we exist, that we live and work with them, and that we�re family members. You don�t do yourself or anyone else any good when you cry �unfair� from your closet.

    You either stay closeted or get to complain that people aren’t doing enough to make your gay life easier, but not both. It’s perfectly honorable to believe that your sexual orientation is a private matter and live by it. You might (in fact, you almost inevitably would) think gay activists are idiots, but you wouldn’t bitch that society is standing in your way. I’m also not referring to what people do on-line–there are lots of reasons people don’t use their own names that have nothing to do with embarrassment at being known as gay.

    What I mean are the types like this guy a few months ago–I thought I’d drop my drink right there–who thought that he’d have an easier time coming out to his parents if gay marriage were legal, ’cause, see, then he could go with his new spouse and simultaneously come out and reassure his parents that he had someone to take care of him. He had obviously given this some thought and, in the manner of all thoroughly insane people, presented it in the even tones of one who knows he’s being perfectly rational. I’m afraid I myself may have reacted like a raving lunatic: “You think the folks are going to take it better if you present your entrance into what they consider a degradation of a sacred institution as a fait accompli? That that’s going to mitigate their anger at having been lied to for your entire adult life that work kept you too busy to socialize and you just hadn’t found the right girl?” The hardships involved in being gay make integrity more, not less, necessary.

    Tsunami aid to continue indefinitely

    Posted by Sean at 14:12, January 9th, 2005

    You knew this was coming, didn’t you?

    Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday the United States should plan to provide long-term aid to Indian Ocean countries battered by last month’s tsunami as efforts begin to shift from saving lives to rebuilding communities.

    Powell said he would recommend to President Bush “that we stay engaged, that this is a long-term prospect, that we use our money not just for immediate humanitarian relief but for economic assistance for infrastructure development.”

    “The ships can’t stay on station forever because there are other requirements and missions,” Powell said in a series of television interviews from Nairobi, Kenya, where he attended the signing of a peace deal for Sudan, Powell said the reopening of roads would allow vehicles operated by international relief organizations to replace U.S. military helicopters in delivering food and water to victims.

    “What we have to do is to make sure that we’re providing assistance based on what is needed and providing money based on what is needed, not just flooding* all of these places and accounts with supplies that may not be needed, or financial assistance that may not be required yet,” Powell said.

    One can only hope that our Secretary of State is using “other missions” to refer to the military protection of US interests and, you know, stuff like that. On the other hand, that final “yet” is disquieting. Perhaps it’s better for the mental health of all of us that the money spent to rebuild the rim of the Indian Ocean will be given out in dribs and drabs so that we’ll never know how much of the taxes we’ve disgorged went to it.

    Just so the distinction I’m making is clear: I support the use of our equipment and personnel for rescue operations and the providing of emergency food, water, shelter, and medical care. Normally when someone refers to the “international community,” I retch, but the term really does apply on occasions such as this. It makes me proud to be an American and a resident in Japan that we’re helping out.

    The problem is that these long-term rebuilding projects have a bad habit of getting out of hand. Once you get past the initial state of exigency, your construction and telecommunications projects tend to come more and more under the sway of native old-boy networks, with their attendant bid-rigging and graft. (Just about everything the UN touches ends up that way, and it’s not entirely the UN’s fault. Big, boffo undertakings require cooperation from the locals, and getting it often requires that one adopt a “cooperative” mindset oneself.)

    Furthermore, the money that does go to new roads and dams and not to country retreats for provincial governors is not well spent if the locals don’t have the mindset to use them. I am not, I assure you, taking off in the loathsome direction of saying that peoples near the Equator are inherently clannish and primitive. People are people, but acculturation counts. In fractious Aceh, at least, fingerpointing between the rebels and Jakarta over disaster relief has already begun. I haven’t read as much about the Tamils vs. the Colombo government in Sri Lanka, but I’m sure it’s not entirely a lovefest there, either. Once again, I am simply talking about conflicts that in fact exist in the relevant regions, not generalizing about anyone’s genetic inability to get along.

    The resilience we enjoy in the West comes of our valuing individual initiative, imagination, experimentation, and mobility. It seems reasonable to figure that the process could work in reverse to an extent–which is to say, when roads, bridges, and telecommunications networks are provided, people will begin to use them because they’re there, and they’ll pick up the values that produced them. On the whole, though, social progress has to happen as people’s attitudes evolve. Sudden dislocations may make some people more open to change, but they make others cling all the more to known ways of life for security. You can’t produce a dynamic society by dropping rebarred concrete from on high. In a few years, this could prove to be a real tar baby.**

    * Is that really the most diplomatic metaphor to be using when discussing this subject, Mr. Powell?
    ** Speaking of metaphors, appositeness of: Before anyone points it out, I’m aware that the tar baby is from an African, not Asian, folktale.

    Add your voice to the sound of the crowd

    Posted by Sean at 12:47, January 9th, 2005

    I almost never read something at Eric’s and think, “Oh, no, no, no, no, man–what were you thinking?” Even in this case, it’s just a short passage, but I think it’s significant to what he’s saying in this (otherwise excellent) post:

    Much as I abhor thinking the thoughts of other people (one of my favorite gripes), I like to think of the blogosphere as being above groupthink, identity politics, and the herd mentality. Ideas here should stand or fall on their own.

    Those who are easily manipulated or misled, in my view, don’t belong in the blogosphere,….

    Eric is too kind. “Those who are easily manipulated or misled” shouldn’t be running about loose in a free society; taking specific pains to exclude them from the blogosphere is redundant.

    But a big, open group of people is a big, open group of people. I sometimes have a nagging feeling I’m not a very good blogger because I don’t have the sense of belonging to a special -osphere. As I see it, people act like themselves. The medium makes parts of their personality come out that you might not usually see if dealing with them face-to-face, or in real-time phone conversations, or by letter. And given the clicking-through-links way of getting around, it’s easier to avoid the boors than it would be if we were all physically in one big room. However, I don’t think it’s all that realistic to expect less total boorishness than you get in real life. (I’m not pretending the nature of on-line correspondence doesn’t bring out some of my own character flaws, BTW; I’ve been known to fire off an uncharitable comment or e-mail in a fit of temper and have to apologize abjectly later.)

    Dean has been dealing with this sort of issue also, with interesting results. I can’t read his mind, but I suspect he was thinking about what impression it makes when you open a comment thread and scroll through 50 people named things like Stevie Nicks’s Demon Luvr. It probably does suggest that people are not having the most serious, adult-level discussion and that you can loosen your own standards accordingly.

    Actually, I just called the results of Dean’s new rules “interesting,” and I don’t know why–the discussion in fact quickly reached near-transcendent levels of tedium. The interesting part was from the tiny minority of commenters who addressed the underlying issue: Is there a way to make people behave when they’re not naturally inclined to do so? Can you do it by forcing them to use their own names or, failing that, names that sound as if they were attached to real people with their integrity at stake?

    I doubt it. Granted, credulousness and honor aren’t exactly the same issue, so maybe yoking Eric’s and Dean’s posts together will only make sense to me. My point just is that whatever revolutionary character the blogging phenomenon may have, it’s not in how it channels human nature. Once you’ve gotten used to the variations on them that the medium itself requires, the rules that apply are the standard injunctions to avoid shooting your mouth off and not take strangers at face value.

    New Japanese literacy survey

    Posted by Sean at 17:11, January 8th, 2005

    When the OECD education survey was published, indicating lower rankings for Japan than it’s accustomed to, it became clear that the Ministry of Education and Culture was worried.

    We’re now getting an indication how worried: the first national language survey in a half-century may be conducted as early as next year. The OECD isn’t the only factor, though:

    The move is being spurred by rising concern over the linguistic ability of the nation’s youth-or rather, the lack thereof. The initial alarm went off last fall when the government extended its list of kanji characters approved for use in names.

    It became apparent that the younger generation were choosing kanji characters for names more by the way they sounded or the number of strokes (for luck), rather than their meanings.

    I believe that this is a gingerly way of saying that people are trying to give their children names that use kanji that aren’t what you’d normally call auspicious:

    Parents like to make minute adjustments, adding a stroke here and there, by choosing a similar-looking character with an extra radical added to the left hand-unconsciously changing the meaning of the whole character.

    For example, the pretty character for “love” can turn into “dimwit” if an innocent-in-itself radical denoting a person is added to the left. So you get “dimwit” rather than the hoped-for meaning of “people loving.”

    There was a highly-publicized case when I first came to Japan of a couple who wanted to name their son 悪魔 (Akuma: “devil”), kind of like the baby named Satan Speaks in David Sedaris’s hilariously satirical family Christmas letter from the fictional Dunbars. (It’s in this book, which also includes a fantastic short story constructed as review of local children’s Christmas pageants by an embittered old theater critic.) The couple lost their case.

    Literacy problems are not just affecting the naming of newborns. People who arrived in this world long ago suffer, too. Everyone in Japan knows a 聡 (Satoru: “clever [boy]”) who’s sick of being inadvertently addressed in writing as 恥 (Hajiru (?): “shameful [boy]”).

    But, then, it’s understandable why the naming system here gives people a headache. Some names usually come in just one permutation…say, 瑠璃子 (Ruriko: “lapis lazuli” + “child,” which I’ve always thought was lovely). But the very common names are often not so restricted. Japan has scads of women named Yumiko, for instance, but the different kanji create different strings of meaning. The most basic is 弓子 (“bow [as in ‘bow and arrow’] + “child”), which has a nice warrior-culture fierceness to it. You can make it more conventionally girlie by using 有美子 (“has” + “beauty” + “child”) or 優美子 (“outstanding” + “beauty” + “child”) or 由実子 (“source” + “fruit” + “child”). As one of the Asahi articles mentions, people often choose characters or pronunciations based on the advice of their priest.

    BTW, the custom of gay guys’ calling each other by the closest equivalent gals’ name in sarcasm or bemused affection is just as strong here as at home. The other night, someone asked whether we’d see our friend Akihiro that night this way: “Is Akiko coming?” It’s not that Aki (which is what we usually call him) is femme; neither is the friend who asked, for that matter. He was just kind of being mischievous. I didn’t even notice until just now when I was thinking back for an example to use. I’m very used to it, but, oddly, it’s not the sort of thing I usually do in English. Then, too, it’s not always effective: When I’ve written with annoyance about Andrew Sullivan, the main reason I’ve never referred to him as Andrea is that there’s no point–Andrea means “man” in Italian and is originally a guys’ name.

    In any case, it’ll be interesting to see what the new survey turns up when it’s actually conducted.

    Added in yet another fit of free association: Something interesting with 愛 (ai: “love”) and 僾 (honoka, I think, though it doesn’t come up as a possibility when you input those kana: “dim, hazy”) is that the same problem happens in reverse with one of the kanji that are used for names. I mentioned it above as one of the things that come up on the Yumiko slot machine: 優 (yu, in this case: “outstanding”). If you take away the person radical on the left, it becomes 憂 (yu: “apprehensiveness, depressiveness”). Kind of like naming your daughter Dolores, I guess. Actually, since 僾 and 優 look kind of similar, I wonder whether some parents are…not necessarily mixing them up, but looking at the first with the feeling they get from the second.

    Added on 16 January: Okay, as Amritas points out, Andrea isn’t the common noun that means “man” in Italian. I mean, I don’t think it is. It’s just the same male stem as in androgen or androgyny, so it probably means something more like “manful.” If anything, that bolsters my original point. :)

    Age of consent

    Posted by Sean at 14:56, January 8th, 2005

    Among my search keyphrases so far this month:

    “can people ever be berated and bashed into good health?”

    I hope I’m in time to attend to that one for whoever was asking. The answer is:


    Please, please, please, stop trying, please-oh-please. And tell all your friends.

    Added while taking prim but lusty gulps from a very large glass of Coke: I’m aware that my tendency toward parentheticals and long modifiers can sometimes obscure my main point. With that in mind, I would like to make sure the above is absolutely clear.





    What you can do is be charming and warmly appreciative of those around you with all their idiosyncrasies. This will lead them to think that your way of life makes you a secure, happy person and encourage them to emulate it. Or maybe it won’t, but at least you won’t give yourself a stroke worrying about what they’re doing to themselves.

    I woke up with an Australian breeze

    Posted by Sean at 14:11, January 8th, 2005

    Simon World has posted the results of the Asia Blog Awards 2004. The man is a saint for taking on the job, given that he does his Asia by Blog thing twice a week. For people who have blundered into my place here from search engines and don’t know much about other blogs in Asia, the list of finalists (and Simon’s extensive blogroll) is a good intro.

    The sign that leads the way / The path we cannot take

    Posted by Sean at 13:47, January 8th, 2005

    Can we please call a moratorium on asking other adults, “Why are you so quiet?” That kind of question is just–just barely–passable when addressed to a five-year-old you’re trying to encourage not to be shy about joining a conversation with all the adults.

    When the person you’re addressing is 32, it’s inane. I mean, what answer are you expecting, pray tell? “Well, the truth is, I’m painfully shy, and I was just waiting for a big, strong busybody like you to come over here and bring me right out of it”? Maybe next time, I should make my eyes swim dangerously and say, “I’m trying out my Jeffrey Dahmer act,” just to see how that goes over.

    I know I sound obnoxious here. There genuinely are painfully shy gay guys who just wish people would come up to them and flirt when they go out, and here I am bitching that guys are talking to me and asking questions that don’t suit me. But that’s not my point. My point is, if you want to start a conversation, start a conversation. I have no objection to being asked where I’m from, how long I’ve been in Japan, do I like Tokyo. Those are the obvious points of departure, but you’re supposed to use them to depart somewhere. I’m flattered when someone takes an interest in me, but I don’t consider it a proper conversation if I’m just being called upon to hold forth on the details of my personality, particularly when my interlocutor then feels at liberty to pass judgment on whether I’m too this or not enough that.

    Anyway, regarding quietness: I can’t speak for anyone else, but I, for one, am capable of loudly and gratingly monopolizing conversations when I’m in one of my moods. If I’m not doing so, I’m not in one of my moods. Be grateful for lack of bounty. It’s nice of you to reassure me that I don’t need to feel all abashed in front of the grown-ups, but it’s also unnecessary. (The first time, I mean–to say nothing of the next ten repetitions.)


    Posted by Sean at 16:57, January 6th, 2005

    Via Living in Pink, I see that GayPatriot has gotten some trad media attention. Good for its proprietor and his partner. I have my reservations about them, but they’re willing to argue for their political positions in common-sense terms that really could do the needed job of getting more exposure for gay conservatives.

    A consortium of kicked puppies

    Posted by Sean at 11:46, January 6th, 2005

    Mrs. du Toit also said something in a comment on this post that crystallizes a point I’ve been thinking about for a while:

    I don’t think it’s endemic to gays particularly, just any group who have activists who make their living convincing people that potty training isn’t necessary when there is always someone else to wipe your bum for you.

    When people compare the gays rights and civil rights movements, I become very uneasy, because the way they tend to do it is sweeping and lacks (forgive the word choice) nuance. Homosexuality and blackness (or other ethnicity) are not in and of themselves comparable.

    The reason I don’t think we can throw out the comparison entirely is that the dynamic between each group and its sympathizers is the same, and it’s the same in illuminating ways. John McWhorter wrote a few years ago–well, he’s said this multiple times in different wording, but I think this was in a review of a book on depictions of blacks on television–that it’s a cruel fact that, however horrible racism has been historically and still is in places, black Americans cannot expect to live cushioned lives as a way of making up for it. You work to fix the problems, but you can’t expect any kind of cosmic payback.

    The failure to understand this is the main problem with gay, feminist, and minority activism. It’s one thing to sympathize with people who suffer–I probably had an easier time coming out than most people, but it sure did suck, and I have no objection to people’s feeling sorry for me about it–but another thing to let sympathy be the engine that forever drives how you treat them. My experience fits Connie’s: gay people aren’t any more or less naturally self-pitying than anyone else. There is, however, a part of coming out that involves acknowledging that it was wrong for people imply that you’re sick and evil, and when you’re not encouraged to move beyond it, it’s easy to freeze there and think all your problems come from other people’s nastiness. Too many of those who sympathize with gays don’t know when to be warmly supportive and when to knock it off and let us learn necessary lessons through bruising experience.

    And now that our own crew of activists has made itself an industry in most urban areas, the problem has become self-perpetuating. In order to avoid driving myself crazy, I persist in thinking that no one is willfully trying to turn us all into a bunch of dependent ninnies. Nevertheless, the overall effect of gay advocacy is to tell people they can always think in “How can you fix this for me?” terms and still be regarded as sovereign adults. And, however different the issues addressed by feminist or minority advocacy may in fact be, it does the same damned thing.

    Japan to contribute bells and whistles to early warning system

    Posted by Sean at 10:55, January 6th, 2005

    All this talk about warning systems for the Indian Ocean is no longer theoretical, apparently:

    A government-envisioned system to help Asian nations facing the Indian Ocean construct a tsunami early warning system will utilize around-the-clock satellite monitoring of water pressure in the sea, government sources said Wednesday.

    Any abnormal changes in water pressure would be relayed to an alert center to be set up in the region. On receipt of an alert, the center would inform regional governments of the threat, enabling them to issue evacuation orders.

    …to those well-to-do people in a position to hear them. Don’t misunderstand–I have nothing against affluence or the affluent. It must also be said that the planners seem to understand that the method of transmission is going to have to be basic and low-tech:

    The evacuation advisory would be passed on at the local level by radio-linked loudspeaker systems similar to those used in Japan by local governments for public announcements.

    Now everyone around the Indian Ocean gets to be constantly harangued by Japanese-style public service loudspeakers. This is called “development.” (I’m assuming the local authorities won’t take long to catch on to possibilities beyond the once-every-500-years imminence of a tidal wave. In Japan, at least, there isn’t any greeting or caution too trivial to be blasted at you from municipal loudspeakers.)

    Mrs. du Toit’s new essay (it’s bizarre that I almost never link to posts by the people I read most assiduously) covers an important element of this kind of thinking and why it’s a problem. Nature does what it likes, and we can’t get the pretty, rousing, life-affirming parts without also taking the cataclysms. People who haven’t internalized that are thinking about the tsunami in ways that run together a lot of things that aren’t comparable.

    Or, if I’m going to be blunt, a lot of people who aren’t comparable. Before a new reader ruptures an artery, let me hasten to say that I do believe we’re all comparable in intrinsic human worth and that, in societies in which we have choices, it’s our choices that distinguish us. I suspect, though, that when people envision a shiny new early warning system, they have visions of people living subsistence-level lives in remote fishing hamlets being saved from the next tsunami, and that’s just not going to happen. Indonesia is one of the five most-populous countries in the world; it and the other countries of the Indian Ocean have thousands upon thousands of little islands where people are tucked away. A lot of these places haven’t yet benefited from the extensive progress of receiving reliable plumbing and electricity; how likely is it that they’ll all be kitted out with a relative luxury like a tsunami warning system?

    What will actually happen is that population centers like coastal cities and resorts will get the loudspeakers, which means that we’ll just be making it more likely that their relatively rich inhabitants can escape. Once again, my point is not that it’s bad to help the well-to-do escape disaster; it’s that people seem to be seeking a way to help the truly destitute, and this sort of thing simply is not going to do it. Economic development, in which villages find a way to provide something marketable and use the resulting income to upgrade their standard of living, will do it. But that has to be a thousand local projects, not a single gesture of international mega-magnanimity. In order to think in those terms, you have to have realistic hope for people, not just wishes.