• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Thish aircraft is ready for departure

    Posted by Sean at 03:39, May 28th, 2005

    It’s something of a dark relief to read that JAL isn’t alone in having some safety concerns recently:

    Eight flight crew members and five of their bosses have been punished after most of them were boozing and partying past the time permitted before they were supposed to be on a domestic flight from Akita to Tokyo, All Nippon Airways said.

    All 13 were given a reprimand of some sort, with the eight actually drinking — the flight captain, a co-pilot, a co-pilot trainee and five flight attendants — served with written warnings. The five others — the bosses of the crewmembers — were verbally reprimanded.

    ANA regulations forbid flight crew members from drinking within 12 hours of their duties, but the group partied on until just 11 hours before the flight.

    Okay, in practice, that’s not so bad. 11 hours is more than enough time to sober back up. For those who don’t know, this gives an indication of how Japanese people put it away:

    The flight captain drank two large jugs of beer and two flasks of sake. Together, the eight members of the flight crew went through two bottles of wine and more than one dozen jugs of beer.

    When the captain returned to his hotel, he realized they had been drinking past the time permitted by company regulations. Early on the morning of May 5, he notified ANA staff in Tokyo and the replacement crew were sent up.

    So the captain adhered to the letter of the law and followed protocol, even though everyone was probably fine to fly. That’s nice to hear, given the way misjudgments by transportation crews have become so prominent in the public mind lately. It’d be even nicer if it were my airline.

    Change is possible

    Posted by Sean at 03:20, May 28th, 2005

    Michael is right: this is why-didn’t-I-think-of-that? hilarious. Love the sinner and hate the sin, I say. And you have to read the FAQ.

    Gurl-on-gyrl action (sort of)

    Posted by Sean at 02:58, May 28th, 2005

    I’ve been summoned to the role of gay big brother more than usual these last few weeks. I’m glad to do it–お互い様でしょう?–but it’s made me more jealous of my time alone and less likely (if you haven’t noticed) to feel like posting.

    I’ve been reading enough to notice that class is one of the topics of the day, though. Virginia Postrel’s advice for one of the people profiled in the final installment in the NYT series on class, who is making plans to go back to college and become a schoolteacher, is good:

    Blevins sounds like a fine man, the kind of person who makes communities–and supermarkets–work. Too bad the Times won’t honor him for his real accomplishments, including finding a demanding career he’s good at. (Most of his buyer colleagues have college degrees.) Instead, he’s portrayed as a victim and the “happy ending” is that he’s going back to college so he can get a job he’s totally unsuited for. A guy who hates school this much doesn’t belong anywhere near a classroom, least of all in front of one.

    She’s right, but it’s interesting how the article raised and then didn’t follow through on one of the more interesting angles here. A lot of working-class people see college as a trade school with more books and more job security waiting when you finish. Merely going to college no longer makes you plummy, given how the economy has evolved; but still, feeling engaged by school is, in many ways, not encouraged.

    My father read to my brother and me from the Bible every night before bed until I was, probably, 15 or so. The church to which we belonged published two monthly magazines with a lot of writing about world affairs (it was big on prophecy), and they were always lying around. Or Mom would be reading one of them while the television was on. Additionally, my Catholic mother and Anglican father married and then converted to an extremely tiny fundamentalist sect; without disrespecting the dead, I think I can say that this sequence of events was met with something less than enthusiasm by key family elders.

    So I was brought up by parents who read when they didn’t have to (if that makes sense) and who were sympathetic to the idea that your parents’ expectations may not be what’s really best for you. They made an effort to become friendly with my teachers and, without being neurotic, kept after me if I got lazy. We also happened to live in a school district in which there was a critical mass of well-off families. The people I was in classes with were talking about MIT and Bucknell and Penn State main campus and Columbia from junior high school on. So were the teachers and guidance counselors.

    By the time I got to college, my experiences had made me much more like the people I was surrounded by than like the people I’d actually grown up with. I don’t mean “experiences” in the sense of having summered on Mackinac or watching Dad casually write a check for $15,000 for that semester’s tuition–those I obviously didn’t have. I mean feeling like part of the progression from high school to competitive college to choice of major to a good job in a major city; I was in on the dance and knew the steps. Barring a financial emergency, it would never have occurred to me to drop out temporarily. You might have a semester when you were bored by most of your classes and feeling hiply disaffected, but you kept going and maybe drank a little more.

    What we’re talking about is an entire vision of the world and where you fit into it. It’s not surprising at all that well-meant preschool initiatives (as the Kay Hymowitz article linked above discusses) and increased attempts by big-guns institutions such as UVA to recruit in poor districts don’t succeed in getting more low-income students to leave college with a degree. If you’re focused solely on the prospect of getting a job and think of learning as nothing but the means to the end, it’s easy to be tempted away by an offer of solid, full-time work that makes you feel you’re doing something. And because Mom and Dad’s constant worrying about money is almost certain to have colored your upbringing a lot, the impulse to start saving now and figure you can come back to college after you have a safe amount stored away is also probably strong.

    Virginia Postrel’s comments reminded me of an article I read last week-ish that made me so angry I nearly started hurling my saucily-patterned throw pillows around. It was by one Cameron Scott, whose unfathomable non-argument in this opinion piece was apparently sufficient to get it into the SF Gate (via Gay News), but who exhibits all the sociological insight of a two-slice toaster and the coherence of my utility drawer.

    The main topic is, actually, an interesting one: why is it that the public presence of gay culture is so weighted toward us boys? Scott points out that lesbians in general earn less than gay men and are, therefore, a less attractive market for investors who want the bars and events they fund to turn a profit. Fair enough.

    Next she asks whether this is the result (1) of choices made by lesbians or (2) of forces beyond their control. The answer is, uh, yes:

    Charity work, bohemianism, working-class culture: These enduring affinities reveal that out lesbianism has long been at odds with middle-class values and income.

    The mutual exclusivity of lesbians and the middle class does not mean that there are no lesbians who get by in the middle-class world. It means that lesbians can become part of public culture only to the extent that they turn away from their own culture. Lesbians as lesbians have virtually no role in public culture.

    Dyke culture’s long-standing opposition to middle-class values is one of its most vital and empowering aspects. But the impossibility of middle-class existence for dykes means that we still have to deal with some aspects of homophobia that have been ameliorated for gay men.

    Economic disempowerment leaves people more open to the blows of discrimination. Middle-class jobs do not tolerate lesbian attitudes or attire because they suggest that the prospective employee is not already a member of the middle class — a sin greater even than private perversion.

    Yes, it’s a good thing the working class exists–otherwise, where would slumming lesbians go for empowerment? (Or maybe I mean disempowerment–am I imagining things, or did she not describe it as both, almost in the same breath?)

    I’ve known plenty of lesbians with formidable management skills who flourish in corporate environments like fish in water, but everyone has her own set of strengths. If someone who was brought up in middle-class surroundings decides she’d rather work with her hands than play the often soul-destroying career game of office politics, great, I say.

    But if you opt for working-class life, you’re going to get the whole thing: money is tight and you worry about it a lot, you come home from work physically worn out, and you have little direct input into the shaping of images in popular culture. You don’t get a pass just because you fancy that your little épater le bourgeois dress-up game of Hard Hat Barbie is a noble gesture of non-conformism. Bitching along the lines of “Can’t I wear the comfy clothes to work and have a job with no staff meetings and make enough money to vacation at a dedicated hotel in South Beach and be a creative consultant on a soon-to-be hit show?” is asinine.

    If you want access to the money and connections that allow your group to raise its issues and work its agenda, you have to demonstrate a basic willingness to do business. That does, indeed, mean dressing up and being nice and putting the project at hand ahead of sexual frankness sometimes when you don’t feel like it.

    Everyone born into this world is limited to a degree by the circumstances of his genes and upbringing. In America, unlike almost everywhere else, decisions about how to build on that foundation are left up to the individual rather than the group. That’s a great and wonderful thing, but it doesn’t mean that trade-offs are unnecessary. Andy Blevins’s views of education may be misguided, but at least he’s taking the right approach: asking how he can improve himself and considering the possibility that he may need to do things he doesn’t like. He’s a far more sympathetic character than Scott, who seems to believe that her coterie’s problems stem from the fact that neither the middle nor the working class sees how cool they are.

    Japanese hostage reported dead

    Posted by Sean at 01:15, May 28th, 2005

    There’s been basically no news of late about the Japanese man taken captive in Iraq a few weeks back. This morning, the Nikkei passes on a report:

    The Iraqi militant group Ansar Sunna, which is believed to have captured Akihiko Saito (44), an employee of a UK-based security company, published sound and video files on its website early this morning that indicate that Saito has been killed. The video includes the corpse of a man who appears Asian and a passport; the Japanese government is hurrying to gather and analyze available information to determine whether the man is Saito.

    The video, just under 4 minutes long, shows a short-haired Asian-looking man lying face up and bleeding from the head. He is wearing a black T-shirt and beige trousers. Explanatory subtitles state in Arabic, “This is a tape of a Japanese who was working as a security manager for the US base at Assad. He was captured in a fierce battle with soldiers of the Jihad. He died of multiple bullet wounds.”

    I assume NHK will have more by evening. Incidentally, the word used to translate jihad here is 聖戦 (seisen: “sacred” + “war”). It’s generic enough to refer to the Crusades as well, but the specific word used for them is usually 十字軍 (juujigun: “cross” + “army”). Because the character for 10 (十) is cruciform, they say “shaped like 10.” 聖 is one of those characters that are applied to native Japanese words in a way that seems to reveal meaning associations from way, way back. The Japanese reading, kiyo, is frequenty found in names and can also be designated by characters such as 清 (“clear [water]”), 淳 (“ingenuous”), 浄 (“pure”), 潔 (“clean”). Ritual purity is the most important element of sacredness in Japan.

    Added on 29 May: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says, “There’s little choice but to say that this is Mr. Saito.”

    I’m in a funky way!

    Posted by Sean at 03:22, May 26th, 2005

    So was there some kind of singing contest on television this week, or something?

    Underwood’s version managed back-handed praise from Paula Abdul. “You sang the song beautifully,” Abdul said. “You hit a couple of not-so-great notes, but who cares?”

    Take it from someone who knows, honeychile.


    Posted by Sean at 23:01, May 24th, 2005

    If you’re wondering what Prime Minister Koizumi meant by that comment about Japan’s opposition parties yesterday, here‘s an example:

    Debate remained stalled in the Diet on 24 May, as the Democratic (DPJ) and Social Democratic (SDP) Parties, both of which opposed the establishment of a special lower house committee on Japan Post reform, failed to consent to the discussion of any bills. The ruling parties plan to begin debate on the Japan Post privatization bill in the lower house plenary session on 26 May whether the opposition parties agree or not. Ruling and opposition parties will open talks between the chairmen of their Diet committees, but there is little hope that they will find a way out of the impasse.

    Koizumi and other higher-ups in the LDP are, of course, taking the opportunity to warn the opposition that the citizenry will not look kindly on this kind of stonewalling. Katsuya Okada of the DPJ has shot back that voters will understand the party’s motivations because the bill does not provide a premise for adequate debate. I would say “here we go again,” but that would imply that we’d had a respite from this at some point.

    …and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia…

    Posted by Sean at 08:45, May 24th, 2005

    The spread of virulent theocracy appears to be well-nigh unstoppable in my home state:

    A Pennsylvania school district violated the free-speech rights of a parent who was prevented from reading the Bible to her son’s kindergarten class, an attorney for the woman said on Monday.

    The parent, Donna Busch, has filed a lawsuit against the Marple Newtown School District near Philadelphia, claiming her constitutional rights were breached when a school principal stopped her reading from the Bible in a class last October.

    Busch, of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, attended her son Wesley’s class as part of “Me Week,” which gave parents an opportunity to read aloud from their child’s favorite book.

    Busch planned to read Psalm No. 118 but was told by the principal the reading would violate the separation of church and state, according to the suit filed earlier this month.

    Yes, letting mothers read Bible chapters alongside Make Way for Ducklings and Where the Wild Things Are is clearly comparable to the institution of a state religion. Dorkwads. Children are left in the care of people with this kind of judgment?

    The school district has defended the principal, saying his actions upheld the law, and its policies forbid the teaching or advocacy of any religion.

    Ed Partridge, president of the school’s board of directors, said Busch would have broken the law if she read the Bible because it would have amounted to a promotion of religion.

    So this mother is the state? I suppose there’s a dark Freudian appeal there, if you go in for that sort of thing. BTW, for those who, like me, are a bit rusty on which Psalm is which number, Psalm 118 is here. It talks a great deal about God’s role as a protector, but there doesn’t seem to be much about it that endorses an identifiable brand of theology over any other. Any little atheist children traumatized by it aren’t likely to fare any better when it’s time to talk about the spirits in Native American religions, or about how wonderful and peaceable Buddhism is.

    And you’re one, too

    Posted by Sean at 08:27, May 24th, 2005

    That Jun’ichiro can be a real card:

    Speculation is spreading within the Japanese government about why PRC Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi actually canceled her meeting with Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi at the last minute and abruptly returned to China.

    “I don’t know why,” said the Prime Minister yesterday evening [the day the meeting was to have taken place], addressing the press about Wu’s conduct. “I don’t know,” he repeated seven times, oozing discomfort. “You know, maybe she’s been infected by our opposition parties’ habit of refusing discussion,” he cracked.

    The Chinese government has now indicated that the reason for Wu’s sudden departure was, indeed, the Yasukuni Shrine issue:

    “During Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi’s visit to Japan, Japanese leaders made remarks on the Yasukuni Shrine issue that are damaging to China-Japan relations. China is extremely dissatisfied with this,” spokesman Kong Quan said in Beijing late Monday.

    Kong made the remarks hours after Wu canceled her talks with Koizumi and returned to China for “sudden official duty.”

    “The Chinese government attaches much importance on China-Japan relations and is continuing efforts to improve and develop ties. Deputy Prime Minister Wu’s visit to Japan is part of these efforts,” [Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman] Kong said, suggesting that Japan is responsible for her canceled meeting with Koizumi.

    Change of plans

    Posted by Sean at 05:45, May 23rd, 2005

    The scheduled visit by the PRC’s Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi to Prime Minister Koizumi today has been canceled by the Chinese side. LDP leader Shinzo Abe says that Tokyo is not considering it a diplomatic affront:

    “If sudden business came up, that can’t be helped; however, most Japanese citizens may be left harboring the feeling that they have been treated discourteously,” he indicated. At the same time, he expressed an understanding that “the purpose of her visit was to pay her respects; she it not the Prime Minister’s counterpart [in rank]. This is not a major problem.”

    The official reason given was, as Abe referred to, that Wu had business at home that she could not delay attending to. There’s been some speculation that the real reason for the cancellation was Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. The Mainichi reports that a government official (not named) said ofthe cancellation:

    “Is it not possible that Ms. Wu canceled her visit because it was conveyed to the Chinese side that, if she raised the issue of the Yasukuni Shrine during their meeting, Prime Minister Koizumi would have no choice but to reply very forcefully that her conduct constituted interference in [Japanese] internal political affairs?” The official was of the view that the Yasukuni Shrine pilgrimage issue was the cause of the cancellation.

    Unfortunately, you can’t translate 内政干渉 (naisei-kanshou: “inside” + “affairs of state” + “interference”) in a way that gets its irritable four-character hissiness across. In any case, China has not been particularly skittish about addressing the issue before. It’s one of the reasons visits between the two heads of state have been suspended. There’s the possibility that Wu suddenly realized, for whatever reason, that bringing it up on Japan’s home turf wasn’t a good idea; and “sudden business” certainly sounds like an expedient excuse. President Hu Jintao had no trouble registering his displeasure about the pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine with the chairmen of the LDP and Shin-Komeito.

    Jewish conspiracy to deal with membership shortfall

    Posted by Sean at 02:06, May 21st, 2005

    Almost alone among my American friends, I’m not Jewish. It’s probably just as well, because if I were, I’d be spelling doom for the race (via Gay News):

    In addition to AIDS, Weiss [who owns a Jewish community newspaper that rejected an ad about the Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus] said, she is also concerned about “the perpetuation of the Jewish people” in the face of demographic trends, including young Jews who stay in the gay lifestyle.

    “They can’t produce children,” she said. “And you can’t build a people with adoption.”

    Weiss said Jews everywhere are concerned about assimilation and the demographic numbers that show a decline in the growth of the Jewish community outside Israel.

    “All of the Jewish organizations are concerned,” she said, “because we’re going to need support in the future for all of the needs of our aging population. There are so many ramifications – there won’t be support for old people or for our institutions or for the State of Israel.

    I always find these sorts of arguments interesting. There have been plenty of childless people since time immemorial. In affluent societies, I daresay a greater proportion of adults have children than probably did at many other points in history, since medical advances cut down on the incidence of barrenness and childhood diseases, and a more complex set of status accoutrements can be used to attract a mate. As wealth rises, though, birthrates fall because the average couple has fewer children. Part of it is that people are busy with other things, part of it is that they marry later, and part of it is that it’s easier to pass on the psychological equipment needed for adulthood in a free society to three children than to 20.

    I’m not at all in favor of coercing the majority of straight people to have more children, but if we were really worried about keeping the birth rate at replacement levels, that’s what we would have to think about. The idea that the 3 or so percent of the population that’s gay is playing some major role in declining birth rates that must be contained immediately is just bizarre.