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    If wishes were horses

    Posted by Sean at 22:56, August 23rd, 2004

    Maybe this is why my Atsushi has such contempt for The Asashi Shimbun. One of its op-eds today is by a veteran correspondent about Japan-China relations, which is a topic that certainly demands attention. I’m not so sure the “high-minded” approach recommended by Yoichi Funabashi has legs, though:

    This summer, I met a number of Chinese officials and business people in Shanghai and Beijing who are well versed in Japanese affairs. Here’s what some of them said:

    “China is about to acquire reflexes not to make China-U.S. relations worse than they are from a strategic viewpoint and is learning to be patient. But China-Japan relations show no signs of maturing. I’m worried that they could fall into a bottomless pit.” (A senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official)

    Yeah, I bet China’s “about to acquire reflexes not to make China-U.S. relations worse than they are from a strategic viewpoint”–also known as trying to destabilize and unseat a rival quietly enough to avoid arousing its suspicions. I mean, I’m no hardened geopolitical strategist, but I’m not a Pollyanna, either. Antagonizing China is a dumb idea–can’t dispute that. Market liberalization in China, distorted and disfigured as it is by being filtered through the appalling corruption in every crack and crevice of its economic and political systems, will keep taking the country in all kinds of unpredictable directions. As a free market guy, I believe in making people, ideas, and capital mobile. But the unequal way its happening in the PRC is going to continue to cause unrest in the short term that could boil over. We can’t afford to ignore that, however much we don’t want the place to go back to its old policies.

    But Funabashi glosses over the conflicts of principle. With unintentional comedy, he waxes nostalgic about a former high Chinese official:

    In advancing such initiatives, we must not forget that China once had a leader who seriously worked at reconciling Japan and China. This person was former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Hu Yaobang, who aimed for political reform and was ousted. In my view, no postwar Chinese politicians had a higher opinion of Japan’s postwar peaceful development nor made a greater effort to seek cooperation with Japan than Hu.

    Three cheers for Hu, then. But, um, are we supposed to glide over that “aimed for political reform and was ousted” bit? Maybe I’m just tactless, but it kind of caught my eye. Granted that the China of today is not the China of 20 years ago, that doesn’t mean that we can just buy that the only factor that makes Japan-Korea and Japan-China relations different is who’s received a written apology for Japan’s wartime abuses. That kind of thing shouldn’t be underestimated, certainly–Japan, China, and Korea all set great store by ceremonial gestures of respect. Recommending that officials not visit the Yasukuni Shrine, or that they make public apologies to China for the occupation, is fine. But Japan and Korea, though no strangers to corruption, still have stable, dynamic free societies that make them more systemically compatible with each other than either is with the PRC. High-mindedness should not be indulged in to a degree that obscures that.

    The language of love

    Posted by Sean at 22:00, August 23rd, 2004

    So the headline on this Reuter’s story says, “US Military Sodomy Ban Upheld in Narrow Ruling-NYT.” Okay. But then the article says:

    In a limited ruling, the highest U.S. military court said that under certain circumstances, the military’s ban on sodomy was constitutional, the New York Times said on Tuesday.

    The case in question, United States v. Marcum, concerned the conviction four years ago of former Air Force Sgt. Eric Marcum on charges that included consensual sodomy, for his having sex with men under his supervision, the newspaper said.

    He is on parole after first being sentenced to 10 years in prison, a term later cut to six years.

    Marcum, a linguist at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, appealed the conviction on the consensual sodomy charge, saying the Lawrence case invalidated it.

    The five judges gave considerable weight to military regulations barring sexual relationships between superiors and subordinates in the same command.

    They said several subordinate airmen testified they engaged in consensual and nonconsensual sexual activity with Marcum, including one who said Marcum might have taken advantage of him. On that basis, the court said the Lawrence decision did not protect Marcum.

    That “men under his supervision” puts a slightly different cast on things (“under certain circumstances”!), does it not? I’m not quite sure what the “considerable weight” part is; if you’re not supposed to be banging your subordinates, that seems to me to settle it, vociferously committed to gay rights though I am. Emotional upheaval and conflicts of loyalty probably aren’t as potentially disastrous in the linguistics department as they are closer to combat; but if Marcum’s people can argue that Lawrence v. Texas invalidates the ban on homosexual contact between supervisor and supervised, why can’t some straight Lieutenant who’s screwing a woman underling (so to speak) get out of punishment by pointing out that heterosexual sex is legal nationwide?

    I really, seriously hope I’m being an idiot and missing something here. I did look for the NYT story to see whether it clarified things a bit; unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be on-line. Past references to the case don’t clarify things much for non-lawyer me. Maybe he wasn’t originally tried on the supervisor-subordinate charge because the same-sex charge would so plainly hold up, making it not worth the bother?

    Added on 26 August: I’d managed to miss this on 365gay the other day; it makes the reasoning behind the ruling seem clearer.

    If you don’t have room for your broccoli….

    Posted by Sean at 01:44, August 23rd, 2004

    So you know how they were talking about redoing the food pyramid a few months ago? Apparently, they were not just fooling around. I had to read the opening of this CNN.com article five or so times before I was sure I was really seeing what I was seeing:

    A federal dietary advisory panel is considering whether its revision of nutrition guidelines should let some people treat themselves to guilt-free desserts.

    Such treats would be bonuses for healthful living, under proposals being considered by the advisory panel that’s drafting an update of the nutritional guidance.

    The experts are looking at what are called “discretionary calories.” Those could be allowed for people who get nutritious meals while staying below the calories they need to burn for energy.

    The panel is looking at ways to write discretionary calories into the recommendations that the government is to issue early next year, in tandem with an update of the food guide pyramid.

    Discretionary calories are what’s left when the calories needed to meet all of a person’s nutrient needs are subtracted from the greater number of calories needed to meet energy needs.

    To gain discretionary calories, people would eat a balanced diet of foods that are high in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, but not high in calories. This could include vegetables and fruits, for instance, as well as protein from meat and carbohydrates from bread. But consumers would have to eat in moderation, so they get all their nutrients while staying below their energy ceiling.

    The payoff: They could pick up the extra calories for energy without having to worry about nutrition. And this allows a variety of high-calorie fun foods. Ice cream would be one possibility, said committee member Joanne Lupton, a nutrition professor at Texas A&M University.

    I’ve sliced out a bunch of paragraphs in a row because it was the overall effect that bothered me. Unless there’s something here I didn’t get, the content of all this is: (1) Dessert contains sugars that give quick energy. (2) If you want to eat dessert in a fashion that gives you access to its quick energy without suffering ill health effects from its otherwise empty calories, be sure your actual dinner consists of especially nutritious foods. (3) For those who haven’t heard of it, ice cream is a food that some people might enjoy as a dessert. Why don’t I ever get recruited for federal panels that can proclaim that fruits and vegetables are healthy and have it treated as news?

    And then there’s the creepy, solemn tone with which servings of “fun foods” are described as being “allowed” as “bonuses” to those of us the panel thinks can be trusted with “discretionary” calories. It makes me feel as if the home ec teacher had just singled me out for making the shapeliest lasagne in the whole eighth grade.

    I realize that while this is pretty much a waste of tax money (reason enough to oppose it), it’s not strictly coercive. But I have no trouble imagining that if, say, some of those inane lawsuits against fast food outlets result in settlements or–heaven forfend–victories in court, one way restaurants might conceive of to protect themselves against future litigants might be to make sure the set meals they offer can be shown to adhere to the new food pyramid.

    But in the real world, you make it so hard

    Posted by Sean at 15:25, August 22nd, 2004

    Oh, yeah. I just remembered: The other night I was hanging out with some friends, and this new video by Wilson Phillips came on. It was a remake of “Go Your Own Way.” Absolutely hideous, with the melody all denatured and slushed together with aaaahhhhh-ooooohhhhs and junk. You-all who are still at home are not, by permitting this stuff, making it easy for us patriotic expats to extol the wonders of America here, you know? I understand that, now that Madonna lives in England, you couldn’t stun-gun her out of posing as Che Guevara for the cover of American Life. These things happen. But Chynna, Carnie, and Wendy are still on native soil, right in front of your noses. Work for us, already.

    I guess it could have been worse. If they’d put their Montessori-schooled mitts on “You Make Loving Fun,” I’d be on a plane to LA to scratch their eyes out right now. Then, too, my understanding is that they have some new concept album out about California, and the fabulous Christine McVie was from the British contingent in Fleetwood Mac, so she would have been mercifully inappropriate.

    BTW, what did Carnie do to herself? I’m glad that, being morbidly obese, she was able to get surgery and bring her weight and health under control. But she used to have that gorgeous, glossy dark hair and mischievous eyes that were really set off by her plumpness. And she was the only one of the three with an actual vocal personality–Chynna and Wendy both looked and sang like Barbie dolls. Now all three of them have the same weedy hair and muddy make-up. It’s a shame.

    Loose threads

    Posted by Sean at 12:25, August 22nd, 2004

    I know I have this tendency to point out Japan-related stories and then kind of drop them. I figure that interested people are probably looking at the same news sources I do. For anyone who’s been wondering, though:

    Charles Jenkins–US Army deserter, defecter to North Korea, and husband of Japanese abductee Hitomi Soga–is considering making a plea bargain to avoid being imprisoned by the US, with which Japan has a mutual extradition treaty.

    Mitsubishi-Tokyo Financial Group and UFJ Holdings are moving ahead with their plan to create the Bank That Ate the World, despite noises from Mitsui-Sumitomo Financial Group about UFJ’s broken promises and its own continued desire for a merger (especially the trust banks, I believe). UFJ is in bad shape; MTFG has actually officially repaid its federal bailout, so the idea is for money to start flowing UFJ-ward as soon as possible.

    Speaking of banks, Ashikaga Bank (for anyone who knows The Princess Mononoke, that’s the same compound as the hero’s name: 足利) will be the object of first bank bailout in a few years. Ashikaga had bad credit totalling around 36,000,000,000 yen (US $327,000,000). I don’t know whether there’s a connection, but it’s also well-known here as the only Japanese financial institution with normal relations with DPRK banks.

    My little golden book about manipulativeness

    Posted by Sean at 22:31, August 21st, 2004

    Amritas writes that Arthur Golden’s book Memoirs of a Geisha is going to be made into a movie. Now that it’s mentioned, I’m surprised it didn’t happen long ago, when the book was an event.

    Not that I’m sad the movie hasn’t been made or eager to see it once it is. I hated that freakin’ book. And for once, I’m not heaping the usual Japan specialist’s disdain on someone who didn’t get things right. Golden has a lot of experience in Japan, by all accounts–and while the cutesy, contrived is-it-fact-or-fiction controversy was annoying, there were many passages that seemed genuinely revelatory of contours in Japanese thinking. (I should note, though, that the book is set in Kyoto and all my experience in Japan has been here in the Tokyo-Yokohama area.)

    No, what I detested about Memoirs of a Geisha were two things. One was its prose. People writing about Japan or in the voices of Japanese characters just can’t stop themselves from giving each word equal rhythmic weight. You know, that every-syllable-is-a-cherry-blossom-petal-floating-softly-to-the-surface-of-the-lake -while-a-crane-glides-by monotone that’s supposed to convey Zen-like contemplativeness, or something. There are writers whom it’s hard to translate without slipping into that, even if you try to put some gusto into it; Kawabata Yasunari is notorious for being difficult that way, for example. In Golden’s case, he was probably just giving the paying customers what they want out of their Japan fantasies.

    I’d imagine that’s the source of my second problem with the book, also. That is, Golden breaks faith with his readers from the very first paragraph:

    Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, “That afternoon when I met so-and-so…was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.” I expect you might put down your teacup and say, “Well, now, which was it? Was it the best or the worst? Because it can’t possibly have been both!” Ordinarily I’d have to laugh at myself and agree with you.

    Surely Golden could reasonably assume that the way many in his book’s potential readership were introduced to the very concept of the great novel was through reading Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities in junior high school (at least, those of us who managed to squeak through before Dickens was thrown over for Toni Morrison). It’s hard to follow Sayuri into the world of the geisha when one is involuntarily giggling at the thought of putting down one’s chocolate (dutifully fussed over by four servants, of course) with a rattle and demanding, “Well, now, which was it? The best of times or the worst of times? Wisdom or foolishness? Come on! Belief or incredulity? Which, then? Huh? HUH?”

    But even for people who don’t remember their Dickens, this opening is a micalculation. It’s exactly because we’ve all felt simultaneously happy and sad, or triumphant and frustrated, that we go to novelists. The great ones, from Dickens to Austen to Melville, help us sort out and interpret and contextualize our own conflicts. The lesser-but-fun ones, like Agatha Christie, entertain us by turning human conflict into puzzle or drama. But whatever you’re looking for in a novel, contradictory feelings are part of it. This passage requires you to confront, consciously, the certainly that Golden thinks either you or his own narrator is a simpleton. And that’s before you even turn the first page.

    Of course, things get worse from there. Golden can’t be content to get some sexy good fun out of the fact that he’s writing about geisha. Whenever something amusingly trashy happens–the heavy-handed way our heroine’s rival descends from being one of the most popular and classiest performers to being a prostitute in the gutter is only the most obvious example–you’re not allowed to just enjoy the pulpy soap-operaness. Golden has to have Sayuri jerk back into that reflective tone that signals Mysterious Oriental Wisdom, as if she’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in The Joy Luck Club.

    All in all, an annoying read. The movie might actually be an improvement if it just gives way to stereotypes and, without asking to be taken seriously, titillates people for an hour or two.

    Threw away my old clothes / Got myself a better wardrobe

    Posted by Sean at 21:33, August 21st, 2004

    Finally got around to putting the new banner up. Connie, if you’re having trouble seeing it again, please let me know. There shouldn’t be a problem, though, since this one isn’t done with a background image.

    The real McGreevey issue

    Posted by Sean at 14:30, August 21st, 2004

    Is Golan Cipel hot? That’s not a rhetorical question that ends with an implied “or what, baby-baby!” I mean, you look at some photographs, and you’re like, Hello! This dude really needs to do a photo session with Kobi Israel, barechested and sitting on a mattress (no sheets–just the ticking) and maybe eating a handful of sloppy joe from a paper plate.

    Okay, fine. You’ve got a picture of two guys in dinner jackets who look as if they’re going to start making out as soon as the photographer leaves. I’d probably be hot for William Demarest if you caught him in that kind of pose.

    Even so, there are others that are like…okay, David Byrne with a little more meat on him and not so bug-eyed. Maybe I kind of see it. But couldn’t the Gov. find someone to fill that bill in Bergen County?

    The nastiness comes so easily to your people

    Posted by Sean at 21:12, August 20th, 2004

    A visitor from Susanna Cornett’s site sent me a very polite inquiry about this story from down her way:

    When Mike Johnson, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, which represents conservative politicians and “pro-family” organizations, called Rawls a “homosexual,” Rawls charged at Johnson. Rawls’ voice rose and his face turned red, and he approached Johnson, pointed his finger at him and labeled him a “homophobe.”

    “I am not a homosexual,” Rawls angrily told Johnson. “I am a gay man.”

    Rawls considers the term “homosexual” derogatory. “No one calls me the ‘h’ word,” he said later.

    Johnson said Rawls had berated him earlier that morning by calling him a member of the “radical, religious right” in a television debate they taped to be aired Sunday on WDSU-TV.

    “He just went nuts. I was shocked by it,” Johnson said of the courtroom encounter. “He lunged at me because I used the word ‘homosexual.’ I thought that was an appropriate term, I didn’t know it was derogatory.”

    I wish this surprised me, but it doesn’t particularly. It just happens to be the gay version of one of the most unpleasant features of contemporary American culture: the practice of fantasizing into existence one’s own arbitrary system of etiquette and then going ballistic on people who unwittingly violate it. Janis Gore, who kindly gave me the link to the original story and then to her own take on it, sensibly says,

    When did the term ‘homosexual’ become derogatory? ‘Homo’ has never been a neutral word, but ‘homosexual’ is a descriptive term, like its siblings ‘heterosexual’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘asexual’, isn’t it?

    It is a bit more complicated than that. One sometimes hears social conservatives proclaim that they refuse to use gay to mean “homosexual” because they’re standing firm against the corruption of a useful word without any good equivalent. I find that explanation improbable. Considering their presumed civic-mindedness about the usage of our great native tongue, such people don’t seem to get around to complaining much about the slipshod way people use infer/imply, or disinterested/uninterested, or momentarily/in a moment. And I have a funny feeling that when the slang use of gay to mean “homosexual” had connotations of promiscuity and chirpy light-in-the-loaferness, they might not have been such sticklers. What does seem to irritate them is that, unlike the medical homosexual, gay is neutral and doesn’t retain even a trace of pathological implications.

    I’ve been known to call such people on what I see as their disingenuousness–most of them don’t exactly try to hide their disapproval of homosexuality, so why they need to make a great show of language persnicketiness to dress up this particular aspect of it is beyond me–but I don’t really care what word they use as long as they don’t try to keep me off my man. I probably reach for the word gay more often than I do homosexual, but on this site, I yak about gay stuff so frequently that if I didn’t have more than one word to choose from, I’d start to sound like a broken record. Come to think of it, when I’m feeling especially playful or nettled, I throw the word fag around quite a bit. I think I’ve used invert here once or twice, too.

    So Rawls’s reaction doesn’t make much sense to me, but some people will never miss a chance to work themselves into a froth of indignation. One might actually dispute his use of the word homophobia to characterize someone who wasn’t expressing any skittishness, let alone irrational fear and hatred, toward homosexuality. But I can understand why Johnson either was too shocked to do so or just figured it was best to let the matter drop.

    Added on 22 August: Mike A. from Ex-Gay Watch has a post relevant to the topic here that links to the predictable reaction to Rawls’s outburst by World Net Daily.

    More Asia news

    Posted by Sean at 12:40, August 19th, 2004

    Florida isn’t the only place being hammered by bad weather. Typhoon 15 has been pounding western Japan; 5 people have been killed and 2 are missing. Actually, that was as of 6 p.m., so the number may be higher now. Luckily, Atsushi’s city is getting wind and rain but is on the periphery of the storm. Let’s hope there are no more casualties. Japan is, of course, mountainous; many areas are prone to mudslides.

    Speaking of destructive forces, the juche ideal is doing its usual sterling job of keeping the people of North Korea fed and secure…so much so that yet again, 15 people have entered the South Korean embassy in Beijing seeking asylum. (BTW, there’s a word for escaping from North Korea that…I think it existed before, but I’ve never seen it used in Japanese newspapers to refer to anything else: 脱北 [“escape to the north”]. Desperation to get out of that hellhole is such a fixture of the news that it essentially has its own dedicated kanji compound.)