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    The usual

    Posted by Sean at 21:26, July 1st, 2005

    Atsushi’s plane should be landing in the next half-hour, and since it’s not a three-day weekend, he’ll only be here until tomorrow. That means we have to celebrate the Fourth of July tomorrow, and planning to do anything picnicky is probably a bad idea. (It’s the rainy season right now, and even though it’s been uncharacteristically rainless, the weather’s supposed to be iffy over the weekend.) There’s no question of a cookout, so I’m thinking something from my upbringing. The Pennsylvania Dutch are big on the kinds of meaty, fatty, sugary foods that serve as a constant reminder that they’ve prospered after emigrating from the old country, which is always a nice all-American sort of message. I’ve nearly settled on chicken pot pie, which would have the additional resonance of being what my mother made for dinner the first night I brought Atsushi home to meet the family.

    I don’t have access to a wet-bottom shoo-fly pie for dessert–you should see what molasses costs here, and I actually think the little Mennonite bakeries make them better than you usually can at home. Of course, summer fruits are starting to come in, so we’ll be covered. Cherry pie, maybe? There’s always something satisfyingly lascivious about sharing a plate of that with your sweetie.

    I also have to go to the office today, so I don’t think there will be much posting until Monday. Fortunately, Japan seems to be in its usual groove:

    • Emerging facts in the bridge-building scandal indicate that not only bid-rigging but also unlawful revolving-door employment is a pervasive problem at Japan Highway Public Corporation.

    • A man who murdered five members of his family has explained that he only really wanted his mother dead, but, of course, he couldn’t let the rest of the family live with the shame of being a matricide’s relatives. That an expedient way to avoid such a problem would have been to refrain from murdering his mother in the first place doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.
    • An enterprising Sapporo man has been charged with stealing women’s underwear so he could sell it door-to-door, with the ultimate intention of launching a web-based retailer. In an interesting twist, this was new, unused underwear shoplifted from stores–the idea was to sell it to women to wear, not whatever else you may have been (understandably) expecting. Wonders never cease.
    • The government plans to introduce biometric scanning of foreigners at immigration to help deal with the problem of visa overstays and crime. The WOT, interestingly, hasn’t really been mentioned.

    And Atsushi’s flight was delayed, though he’s on the train from Haneda as I write. Have a good weekend, everyone.


    Posted by Sean at 20:38, July 1st, 2005

    Happy anniversary, Michael and Robert. (Touching picture, too.)


    Posted by Sean at 13:56, July 1st, 2005

    I don’t want to give anyone a heart attack, but I think Andrew Sullivan’s post about gay marriage yesterday was pretty temperate and mostly well-reasoned.

    There, I’ve said it.

    Christianist Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said of the Canadian decision, supported by a majority in the polls: “Similar to tactics here in the U.S., the move for gay ‘marriage’ in Canada was driven by a small minority and liberal activist judges.” And a parliamentary and popular majority, Mr Perkins. And please refrain from those scare quotes around the term “marriage.” Whether Perkins likes it or not, there are now no differences between gay and straight marriages in Spain, Canada, Holland, Belgium and Massachusetts. His scare quotes – and those routinely used by the Washington Times – apply to heterosexual couples as well. Are their marriages now phony, according to the religious right?

    In Canada (where the bill still needs Senate approval) and in Spain, gay citizens and their sympathizers have been able to get a majority of legislators on their side to effect changes in legislation. Who was originally “driving” the movement doesn’t alter that. And as for “activist judges,” I believe the decision that was reached a few months ago was that gay marriage would not itself violate the Canadian constitution–not that denying marriage to gay couples was unconstitutional. The part about scare quotes is shakier, but the point that the law routinely and legitimately defines words in ways that are different from their ordinary usage is a good one.

    I’m still skeptical about gay marriage as policy–for reasons that include those Sullivan raises at the end of his post, which are never far from my mind because of the kind of household I live in. But I’m unreservedly happy that barriers to our being able to form enforceable bonds with our partners are being removed. Neither piece of legislation affects Atsushi and me, of course, but they make a nice lead-in to the weekend. (He’s coming home tomorrow morning.)

    I get the sense that I have few readers who are interested in both gay stuff and Japan stuff, but for those interested in the brief Nikkei article on the Spain vote, it’s here. The Yomiuri‘s is here, and it also has a report up about the Canada vote. Congratulations on Canada Day, BTW.

    The life of the mind

    Posted by Sean at 12:35, July 1st, 2005

    I don’t know whether this woman has a legal case–is freedom of religious expression usually interpreted to mean that an instructor can be punished for assigning an individual paper with some weird criterion, even at a community college?

    I do know that the instructor in question is a ninny:

    Hauf’s teacher approved her term paper topic — Religion and its Place within the Government — on one condition: Don’t use the word God. Instead of complying with VVCC adjunct instructor Michael Shefchik’s condition Hauf wrote a 10-page report for her English 101 class entitled “In God We Trust.”

    “He said it would offend others in class,” Hauf, a 34-year-old mother of four, said. “I didn’t realize God was taboo.”

    I’m an atheist, and I’m offended at the idea that a college instructor would seek to limit rather than expand his student’s inquiry into a topic he approved. Well, okay, sometimes a student tries to bite off more than she can chew and has to be encouraged to focus, but that’s a way different issue. One of Joanne Jacobs’s commenters suggested another possibility: the teacher was trying to force each student to delve more deeply into his chosen topic by leaving out a word or two that he might be inclined to overuse. The part about “offend[ing] others in class,” assuming Ms. Hauf is recalling correctly, makes that seem unlikely.

    The young smoothies

    Posted by Sean at 10:35, July 1st, 2005

    You know how some topics seem to follow you around until you’re, like, “All right, already! Uncle! Uncle!” Two of my buddies and I were talking last night. We don’t usually get around to talking about our preferred varieties of male hotness, but somehow we got on the subject of chest hair for a good 20-minute stretch. Just now, Ace Pryhill commented that a gentleman of her acquaintance once decided to feel the breeze where he’d never felt it before. The idea struck her as kind of gay, but according to Heather Havrilesky, it isn’t anymore:

    The smoothie’s interest in his “look” is more deeply felt and sincere than that, not to mention slightly misguided and disturbingly meticulous: Baseball caps are molded, painstakingly, into the perfect C-shape; stubble is trimmed into the perfect Don Johnson-style 5 o’clock shadow; “distressed” jeans, with their calculated faded patches and hemmed rips, are cleaned and pressed and tugged just below the waist; eyebrows are waxed, as is back, chest and (gasp) the family jewels to boot. The smoothie spends a lot not just on clothes and haircuts, but on highlights, spray-tans, manicures and pedicures, bodybuilding formulas, gym memberships, dry cleaning bills, man jewelry and hip-hop classes. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the smoothie is like a cross between a frat boy and Britney Spears.

    Ew. Ewwwww. Ew, ew, ew. Ih-hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiwwwww.

    We should probably applaud the newfound freedom and the joy these young men take in being objectified; we should probably stand up and cheer when these shiny boy toys shake their asses and pout like Britney; we should encourage them to dress with flair and enjoy those spa treatments and dream their big Chippendale’s-style dreams.

    We should, but we can’t. Because these men might be looking for visual perfection, but we’re not. There’s just something a little bit unappealing about men who spend far more time on themselves than most women do. When the previews for next week’s “Average Joe” flashed an invasion of blond ab monkeys in matching red sports cars, flashing white teeth and spiked hair and shiny, tan six-packs, all I could think was, Where’s the variety? Who wants a bunch of pumped-up clones with the exact same body type?

    And what’s so wrong with a little chest hair, anyway? Doesn’t anyone remember Tom Selleck, with his perfect, dark hair-patches that accented his fit-but-not-too-fit barrel chest? To plenty of women and gay men, chest hair gives the bare chest a signature touch or adds a unique feature to an otherwise featureless landscape. Sure, we loved that hairless, buff body in the black-and-white Soloflex ads when we were teenagers, but that was before every third jerk on the street had one.

    Yes. Well, except for the part about “gives the bare chest a signature touch or adds a unique feature to an otherwise featureless landscape,” which sounds as if the smoothies are working their deleterious way into Ms. Havrilesky’s brain a bit more than she realizes. I think the word she’s looking for is “touchable.”

    There’s nothing wrong with being naturally smooth. But the thing is, even guys with “no chest hair” have that down you only see up close–we’re mammals, right? When it’s shaved or N’aired away, the skin left behind takes on the texture of vinyl. And I’m sorry, when you run your hand down a man’s chest, it shouldn’t skid like a Ford Explorer going into a hydroplane.

    Let’s go ahead, don’t turn around

    Posted by Sean at 23:03, June 30th, 2005

    I don’t plan to make ex-gays a running theme here–Ex-Gay Watch, whose contributors all know a lot more about various programs and theories than I ever will, usually have that stuff covered just fine. Still, the topic is obviously of more than mere passing interest to me, and in the vein of yesterday’s post about MSNBC’s blandified article about Love in Action, here is an interview with an ex-ex-gay in Bay Windows (via Gay News).

    Naturally, my sympathies are going to lie with Wade Richards, but I can’t judge how accurately he’s actually portraying people and events. One thing that he says that jibes with everything else I’ve heard and read about de-gay-ifying programs drew my attention anew, though:

    I took a break from the press stuff and was hanging out in Los Angeles and my boss’s sister was in an open relationship for 12 years with her girlfriend. We would visit her, and when my boss wasn’t around I’d ask her sister Jenny questions. She had really been in a relationship for 12 years? What? You don’t do drugs, you don’t drink, you work for a youth organization? You volunteer your time most of the time? How weird? And then I’d be in her house and see scripture verses taped up to her mirror and little inspirational things, and I was like, ‘What’s going on? I thought this doesn’t happen. Gay people aren’t in monogamous relationships.’

    Reparative (or however they style themselves) programs don’t have any ethical responsibility to give equal time to the opposition. If you’re trying to bring people out of homosexuality, of course, you’re not going to be dwelling on the fact that there are gays in stable, long-term, sustaining relationships.

    But just because people are confused and depressed doesn’t mean they’re dum-dums. If you drum into their heads that all gays are dysfunctional, the immediate effect will doubtless be to spook them away from homosexual behavior. But it simply isn’t true that we all end up in the gutter (such a dusty place, you know, and not the sort of backdrop that flatters the skin tone). Unless kept under virtual house arrest, they’re eventually going to run into some of us gays in regular old couples and start to wonder what other facts you were playing fast and loose with. Irrespective of whose goals you support, bad strategy is bad strategy. Not to mention that, in this case, it’s dishonest.

    All systems 碁

    Posted by Sean at 10:31, June 30th, 2005

    On the other hand, not all the noise this week is good. Lead story of the Nikkei evening edition that I plucked from the mailbox after a hard day at the office:

    North Korea: Pieces in place for building of nuclear facilities, production of nuclear weapons

    The DPRK has revealed that it has restarted the construction of two nuclear reactors, which was frozen after a 1994 agreement it had mapped out with the US. The move is regarded as an attempt mass-manufacture nuclear weapons; both reactors are low-velocity graphite reactors that can be used to extract weapons-grade plutonium.


    Posted by Sean at 09:58, June 30th, 2005

    This is so great!

    Not long ago, the only disturbances at Japanese shareholders meetings came from sokaiya racketeers.

    That era ended Wednesday with round after round of tongue-lashings from legitimate shareholders fed up with deceit, waste and simple incompetence of management.

    Of companies that closed their books at the end of March and are listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, 1,072, or 59.8 percent, held their shareholders meetings on Wednesday.

    It was the first time for the number to fall below 60 percent.

    Amid a series of scandals and heightened interest in corporate takeovers, there was a significant increase in the number of individual shareholders at the meetings, many of whom took management to task.

    (Nikkei version in Japanese here.)

    So, what’s your, uh, position?

    Posted by Sean at 08:44, June 30th, 2005

    I don’t know that Terry McMillan‘s marital troubles constitute a conservative case for gay marriage, but I do know that it’s a shame Ace’s old boyfriend didn’t turn out to be as gay as she is: Imagine the mileage he could’ve gotten from working the name of his employer! And as usual, Ace has good things to say about integrity.

    What are little fags made of?

    Posted by Sean at 04:55, June 30th, 2005

    Via the Washington Blade, MSNBC has this article that starts as a summary of the Love Won Out conference sponsored by Focus on the Family but ends up summarizing several of the different views of the origins and mutability of homosexuality.

    What’s fascinating is that everyone comes off looking more moderate and live-and-let-live than usual. Queer activists prone to hysterics are quoted in austere single-word bites about how “hateful” groups that advocate change are. The representative of Focus on the Family, Bill Maier, emphasizes tolerance for homosexual behavior. This isn’t to say the reporter is being disingenuous, only that the side of each party is different from what’s usually shown. You might start hallucinating that people with strong opposing opinions can live together in a free society without rancor.

    BTW, Focus on the Family’s official take (I assume, since the piece was written by James Dobson) on the origins and malleability of homosexuality is here. There’s much to agree with: gay activists do engage in propaganda, and the evidence should not be suppressed that people who are troubled by their homosexuality to the point of being non-functional are capable of and better off not acting on it.

    The narrative to explain how homosexuality ripens is internally coherent and doubtless appeals to Dobson’s constituency, but calling it “definitive” is a bit much. Even if you accept that homosexuality starts with a genetic predisposition toward certain traits plus some kind of emotional dislocation in infancy, which seems like as good an explanation as any to me at this point, that doesn’t indicate it’s still fundamentally in flux until late adolescence. Dobson calls a dawning awareness of the sensuality of one’s own body and a more-pronounced sense of difference from other boys a stage on the way to homosexuality; most of us who are out would say that we experienced it as the emergence, under the special pressures that start for everyone with puberty, of what it’s clear in retrospect had been dormant all along. Neither has been proved, but what would help the pro-change side would be evidence that a high percentage of gays change successfully.

    Unfortunately, radical gays, egregiously screechy though they be, have no monopoly on exaggeration. Dobson doesn’t screech and, in fact, comes off as sincere and humane in intent, but in his hands Robert L. Spitzer’s carefully qualified finding that some homosexuals with unusually high motivation can learn to function heterosexually mutates into the blanket statement “Change is possible.” Parents and teenagers are assured, “Prevention is effective,” without information about success rates. (After all, if Joseph Nicolosi has data to support the contention that 75 percent of boys with “untreated” gender issues become homosexual, isn’t it reasonable to figure he’d know more about those who get treatment and are thus within the ken of psychologists? I suppose that kind of information could be elsewhere in the book, but it strains credibility to figure that Dobson wouldn’t have cited it–he’s advertising preventive therapy, isn’t he?)

    And the footnotes there are are suspect: Dobson refers to gays’ “shorter lifespan” and cites William Bennett’s “Clinton, Gays and the Truth” from the Weekly Standard (not on-line, AFAIK). William Bennett has many virtues–especially with respect to the field of education–but he is not a statistician. In fact, he was working from Paul Cameron’s notorious “study” of gay life expectancy, which Walter Olson eviscerates here. Bennett himself later conceded that Cameron’s survey was not a reliable basis for generalization about the gay population.

    The average-lifespan-of-43 figure is not the crux of Dobson’s argument, I know. I bring it up because it illustrates a willingness to accept uncritically arguments with which one already sympathizes–a problem that everyone in this debate seems to have in spades but, naturally, only notices in others. It matters even on small points because anyone drawing conclusions on a murky topic like the origins of homosexuality is going to have to look at the fragmentary evidence, make a lot of judgment calls, and ask readers to trust them. Lack of rigor hurts everyone whose primary interest is the truth.

    For the foreseeable future, there are going to be a multiplicity of approaches, and we’ll all be appalled at those that go against our views. Myself, I ache for gay kids whose parents think their brains have to be rewired for their own good–if they think they were setting the children faulty gender-identification signals, shouldn’t they be signing themselves up for brainwashing, too?–but that doesn’t make “reparative therapy” programs a special kind of social emergency. Parents do all sorts of things to screw up their kids (and adults do all sorts of things to screw up their own lives) that aren’t legally punishable. Outsiders can criticize them but not interfere. What we can all do is work to strengthen our arguments as dispassionately as possible. And lead the sort of responsible, happy lives that make people want to emulate them.

    Added on 1 July: Well, sheesh. I would’ve e-mailed Mike, but I thought it was Daniel’s cage we were supposed to be rattling now. :) In any case, Ex-Gay Watch doesn’t have its own post up discussing the MSNBC piece yet, but commenters are already starting to debate its weird even-handedness at the short one linked to in the last sentence. Should be interesting; I’ll be looking forward to reading what Mike has to say, too.

    Added on 7 July: Mike Airhart’s post is up.