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    Ne me quitte pas

    Posted by Sean at 02:22, January 30th, 2006

    Interesting, if not entirely unexpected:

    Oscar favourite Brokeback Mountain has been effectively banned from cinemas in China, it has been reported.

    Censors ruled the gay cowboy romance too controversial to be shown in the country where homosexuality is a taboo, industry paper Daily Variety said.

    Brokeback Mountain – by Taiwanese director Ang Lee – is a firm favourite to be among the Oscar nominations when they are revealed in the US on Tuesday.

    One wonders what Lee would have to say about that (via Gay Orbit):

    Director Ang Lee says Asian audiences are more accepting of gay subject matter than Americans.

    A Utah movie theatre, owned by a Mormon, pulled his new film, the gay cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain.

    “I think Asian society is more open,” said Ang. “I think there’s pressure to condemn [homosexuality] in their [Americans’] religion which causes their homophobia.”

    In a way, of course, it’s not fair to make such a comparison–theoretically, Lee could be right about Asia, and the PRC’s censors could be abnormally uptight and lack understanding of what people are willing to see.

    I wouldn’t buy it, though. One doesn’t hear a lot of open condemnation of homosexuality in Asia because people pretend it doesn’t exist. You still get people telling you, “Homosexuality is a Western thing–we don’t have it in Korea.” That doesn’t mean people are accepting, though (at least in Japan) I do think it means that as long as you’re willing to be ultra-discreet, your likely to be able to live without really encountering open hostility.

    It’s important to note, though, that that tradeoff is forced here in ways it isn’t in the States. In America, your choices are limited if you want to live somewhere where you can be a complete, 24/7 flamer and have lots of gay people and institutions at your disposal; but such places do exist, and finding out where they are is very easy. Everyone in America has heard of New York. You can choose to stay in a more socially conservative environment and be closeted to a greater or lesser degree if you like, but you don’t have to.

    In Japan, by contrast, my area of Tokyo is as good as it gets. There are no gay neighborhoods to speak of. There are quite a few areas with bars, of which Shinjuku 2-chome is the largest. Gay guys live in concentrations there and in certain parts of Nakano and perhaps elsewhere. But the social stigma attached to not marrying and having children is very pronounced, and it comes at you from all sides if you’re Japanese. I’ve never lived in Taiwan or Korea, but friends from there tell me it’s basically the same. People we know in Malaysia and Indonesia do have their bars raided; and for the Muslims, their religion is no more hot on homosexuality than Christianity is. (Ang Lee does remember that Asia doesn’t stop at Tokyo, Taipei, and Hong Kong, doesn’t he?)

    So while Lee is Asian and I am not, I don’t think he has any idea what he’s talking about. One final note: Asian viewers, like foreign viewers in many other places, are often entertained by sexual and other behavior in pop-culture artifacts that they think shows what a crazy, disorderly, hedonistic place the West (especially the US) is. That says nothing about how they would react to similar behavior by their children, neighbors, or coworkers.


    Japan notes

    Posted by Sean at 01:58, January 30th, 2006

    There’s been more news about the Yamaha Motor flap:

    Yamaha Motor Co. sold a top-of-the-line unmanned helicopter to a Chinese company that was established in 1993 by high-ranking officers of the People’s Liberation Army, sources said over the weekend.

    Yamaha is also suspected of having received several tens of millions of yen in rebates from another Chinese company that bought the helicopters, said the sources close to the police investigation into the alleged illegal exports.

    Investigators now expect Yamaha will face charges of violating the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Control Law for the unapproved exports.

    The PLA-linked company to which Yamaha sold the unmanned helicopter is Poly Technologies Inc., based in Beijing.

    The vice chairman and president of China Poly Group is He Ping, the husband of Deng Rong, the youngest daughter of the late paramount Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

    It’s not what you know….

    *******

    Though the new Japan Post holding company has just started operations, Nippon Express (Nittsu) is already planning its strategic response to the privatization (or “privatization”):

    As a defensive move against the operations of the new Japan Post public corporation, Nippon Express will become the first private provider to deliver personal correspondence on a nationwide scale. The new service will target documents with a delivery cost of ¥1000 or higher; parcels will be picked up from the user’s address and delivered by the next day. Nationwide delivery of personal correspondence is now monopolized by the Japan Post registered mail service, but Nittsu will provide delivery at lower cost in certain regions.

    *******

    Japan is modifying its approach to angling for a permanent UN Security Council membership:

    Japan’s new proposal has taken into account the United States’ position that Security Council membership should not be expanded by more than six seats, to a maximum 21 from the current 15, including the five permanent members–Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

    The proposal calls for a country seeking permanent membership on the council to receive a seat if it can win the backing of two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly in a vote, the officials said.

    Under the plan, such permanent members, however, would not be given veto power, the ministry said.

    The government is considering presenting the proposal at the United Nations this spring. Whether other countries concerned will support the plan is not known, they said.

    The new draft seeks to have the present Security Council framework comprising the five permanent members and 10 nonpermanent ones increased by six to make the council a 21-member body.

    According to the plan, a maximum of six countries–two each from Asia and Africa, and one each from Latin America and Europe–should be allowed to join the existing five permanent members.

    Japan contributes almost a fifth of the UN’s general budget.


    The prodigy

    Posted by Sean at 08:37, January 29th, 2006

    Atsushi flew home this afternoon. This month was not only our fifth anniversary but also the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Because I don’t believe in asking questions I don’t want to know the answer to, I didn’t ask Atsushi which milestone was more significant to him.

    Have I mentioned that my man is really into Mozart? And the Strausses. And pretty much every other Austrian who ever wrote music. They were running a series of Mozart performances on NHK this week; he brought a tape of The Magic Flute (2003 in Covent Garden) along. We didn’t go to the orchestra when I was growing up, but we listened to classical music at home quite a bit. Mozart’s 40th is probably about my favorite piece–yes, before you say it, it goes with my high-strung personality.

    Opera? Not really my thing, but sometimes entertaining. Atsushi and I watched The Magic Flute while eating our brunch (contrived using the cast-iron frying pan and potato ricer my parents sent me for Christmas). Ichs and Neins were sung. Daggers were handed to psychologically vulnerable maidens with creamy bosoms. Heroes were aided by trios of altar boys sent by (I think) the Sun King. Magic flutes were played. Well, I guess one magic flute and one organ-grinder kind of thing with chimy bells inside. I kind of liked it. Atsushi, however, beamed the whole way through like a four-year-old boy whose dad had just given him his first toy train.

    Since it’s not a bank holiday tomorrow, he’s back in Kyushu already, and I’m doing the laundry and clean-up thing. Great weekend, though, even if I am ending it sitting alone in the apartment eating smushed-together leftovers: mashed potatoes and a grilled peach (yes, obviously in heavy syrup–if God hadn’t meant peaches to come in heavy syrup, he wouldn’t have made cans) and some steamed vegetables. Hope everyone else enjoys the remaining time…about a half-day at home in the States, right?


    One hand clapping

    Posted by Sean at 00:46, January 28th, 2006

    John has posted again on one of my favorite (if that’s the word) subjects, spurred by this at It Comes in Pints? (strong language alert, though it’s in no wise gratuitous) and this at Ilyka Damen’s. This is from a comment he also left at It Comes in Pints? about three-fifths of the way down the page:

    [T]he expats who think they are something special because of the experience are even worse in Asia [than in Europe]. A lot of them have the “spiritual quest” thing going on, too, which makes them even more annoying (if you can imagine that).

    Yes. If I ever start prancing around and getting lecture-y about how living in Asia has made me more Harmonious with Nature (because the post-War steel/glass/concrete/blacktop blanket over Japan is punctuated by the occasional decorative carp pond, don’t you know), you are to punch me. Hard. The idea that Westeners are spiritually empty consumerist vessels, into which mystical Oriental wisdom must be poured to help them achieve cosmic wholeness, is a real menace. (However, it should be pointed out that most expats and travelers don’t think that way; it’s just that those who do are pushy about it.)


    安全啓発

    Posted by Sean at 21:30, January 27th, 2006

    For once, a domestic JAL flight took off on time, so I’d just barely gotten out of the shower when Atsushi arrived; I ended up answering the door in a towel instead of my new Happy Anniversary sweater. “Just in time,” he smirked as he stepped into the entryway in his overcoat and scarf.

    I feel so objectified.

    JAL itself, of course, has also been under scrutiny lately; it’s decided–about time, too–to establish a Safety Awareness Center. One would like to think that safety awareness is so well integrated into the operations of any First World airline that having such a special division would be redundant, but JAL has been pretty mishap-prone lately, so

    Japan Airlines revealed on 27 January that it will set up a Safety Awareness Center at Haneda Airport near the end of April; among other things, the remains of the fuselage of the jumbo jet that crashed in 1985 will be exhibited. The aim is to use the center for the safety training of employees in the JAL group, but JAL says that it will make it possible for others to come in and observe.

    Of course, reprimands from the transport authority have as much to do with this move as the desire to serve customers better out of good business sense or saintliness. It’s probably a wise one, though, given the multiple little incidents it’s had over the last few years.


    Help

    Posted by Sean at 12:57, January 27th, 2006

    Mentee is the sort of coinage that sours my stomach, but the program described here at Penn is doing a good thing (via Gay News). I especially like that the interviewees (shut it) forgo the opportunity to make the campus out to be some sort of anti-gay minefield:

    “I think it’s great that [the program] is helping people figure out things for themselves,” Thalmann said. “They are much more involved in activities and feel more comfortable at Penn.”

    Generally, gay or questioning students seem to find an accepting climate at Penn, Thalmann said.

    “I had no qualms or concerns about the Penn community,” Mangam said. For him, how to come out to his close friends and family presented a larger issue.

    That squares with my experience a little over a decade ago, though it wasn’t until after graduation that I came out conclusively. My college friends were the least of my worries–it often seemed that they were positively champing at the bit for me to be gay, though I know they really just wanted me to accept myself. In academic terms, well, I was in the comparative literature program–not exactly a hotbed of in-your-face anti-gay activity–but I doubt there were many places where being gay presented a problem besides (maybe) some of the sports teams or Greek organizations and, like, Campus Crusade for Christ.

    And I’m not even sure about there. Nevertheless, some time around my junior or senior year, a bunch of people with too little to do decided that the LGBA wasn’t militant enough or something and decided to form a loud(er)-mouthed group called QuIP: Queers Invading Penn. Like most postures of unregenerate in-your-face rebelliousness attempted by the milk-fed children of Bergen County, NJ, and Greenwich, CT, I went to school with, it was pretty damned pathetic. Wholly unnecessary, too, since by 1995 Penn was already deep into its current PC-sensitivo phase.

    However, knowing that other people on campus are going to accept you only helps so much when you’re wondering whether your parents are going to disown you. Level-headed, practical mentoring is a useful thing, and it’s good to see that the program the gay center’s program is being taken advantage of.


    I’ll be the one to take you through the night

    Posted by Sean at 11:25, January 27th, 2006

    Today’s sheesh-not-this-again story in Japan revolves around a business hotel chain and its enterprising approach to building codes:

    It was revealed on 27 January that major business hotel chain Toyoko Inn (headquartered in Tokyo) had committed legal infractions involving renovations. After its Idzumo City, Shimane Prefecture, facility opened, the company converted a guest room designed for disabled guests into a meeting room; at four Osaka hotels, the company converted parking spaces for disabled users into storage and lobby space, in violation of the Building Standards Law.

    There are now at least eight prefectures in which such cases of legal infractions by Toyoko Inn are suspected, and company president Norimasa Nishida [whose given name, 憲正, hilariously uses the characters for “codified law” (now referring to “constitution”) and “rectitude”–SRK] revealed tonight that he intends to have inspections carried out on all 120 hotels owned by the conglomerate throughout Japan and to make the results public next week. The renovations at the Idzumo City hotel are said to have been conducted at the instruction of the company.

    The Asahi English edition has a much lengthier article detailing the various conversions of facilities for the handicapped for other uses.

    Violations of the Building Standards Law aren’t exactly a novelty, now that the Aneha scandal has been going for several months; and in this case, of course, the stakes aren’t as high as they are when buildings don’t meet earthquake resistance codes. I’m not dismissing the need for handicapped people to have facilities that they can use, but the fraud involved in not providing them in order to have more space for smokers is not the same as the fraud involved in lying to people about how likely their house is to collapse on their heads in an earthquake.

    Speaking of earthquake resistance, the Asahi also had an interesting report about retrofitting:

    Many say that fixing up these old wooden homes remains the single most effective way to reduce the number of people dying in the next big earthquake.

    They point to the so-called Imiya memo, a kind of “survey of the dead” compiled by practicing doctor Masahiro Imiya after the Kobe quake.

    The document clearly reveals that most of the people who died in the quake were not killed by the temblor, or by fire.

    They were killed by their houses.

    And yet, comments Imiya, “If some minor measures had been taken, they wouldn’t have died.”

    Enacting those “minor measures,” however, is proving to be more difficult than it sounds.

    In fact, in the 10 years since the government passed legislation in December 1995 to promote quakeproofing upgrades, as few as 10,000 houses across the country have actually had those upgrades.

    Kimiro Meguro, a professor of urban safety engineering at the University of Tokyo, points to what he calls a “lack of disaster imagination”–the idea that people simply can’t conceive of what could happen when disaster strikes.

    Social psychologists also refer to the “normality bias,” the habit of people to assume that they alone will survive. This kind of mentality impedes disaster preparation.

    Both of those are probably part of it. Another part of it, for the old people who live in traditional wooden houses, is probably that they’re just used to the idea that they could be toast when the big one comes. There’s also–you hear this from a really shocking number of people–the conventional wisdom that says that the flexibility of old-fashioned wooden buildings makes them more likely to survive in an earthquake. That not only flies in the face of empirical evidence from Kobe and elsewhere, it flies in the face of common sense. Old houses have heavy clay roof tiles, flimsy walls, and inflammable materials all over the place. While there’s a nice life-lesson sort of feeling to imagining that the lack of rigidity in their framing makes them more likely to survive–you know, you gotta roll with the punches and be adaptable and stuff–in real life, shear is not a good learning opportunity.

    But I think another part of it is that unless you plan to barricade yourself into your house, you’re going to be spending a lot of time on subway platforms, driving on overpasses, working in office buildings with lots of shelves above eye-level, and drinking in little basement bars. An earthquake can strike at any time. While we all want to be prepared, a comprehensive earthquake kit in a properly braced bedroom is of no use if the ground decides to convulse while you’re in line at the video store. I still think it’s irresponsible not to be prepared–you don’t want to add post-disaster stress to fire and rescue services or to leave your family and coworkers in the lurch–but I can see how a lot of people figure a lot of fussing isn’t worth it.


    Yokosuka restricts drinking

    Posted by Sean at 04:34, January 27th, 2006

    I hadn’t noticed this a few days ago, assuming it was in the Japanese print media, but NHK News has just run a segment on it. From Stars & Stripes:

    All Yokosuka-based Navy personnel, civilians and dependents were cut off from late-night drinking in Yokosuka on Thursday by a general order signed by Rear Adm. James Kelly, Commander Naval Forces Japan.

    And all active-duty servicemembers in the Kitty Hawk Strike Group — the Navy’s largest — are under a 1 a.m. curfew ordered by Rear Adm. Doug McClain, the strike group commander.

    All personnel subject to the curfew must be back on base or in their off-base residences by 1 a.m.

    In ordering the drinking restrictions, Kelly cited the recent spate of alcohol-related crime as the reason for his action.

    William Reese, a Navy airman from the USS Kitty Hawk is in Japanese police custody in connection with the Jan. 3 beating death of a 56-year-old Yokosuka woman. Early Wednesday morning, USS McCain sailor Arlon Baker was arrested and accused of breaking into a Yokosuka junior high school. Both men were intoxicated, according to Japanese police reports.

    The restriction applies only to alcohol consumption, said CNFJ spokesman John Wallach. If those covered by the drinking restrictions but not covered by the curfew “want to sit on a bar stool in the Honch till 5 a.m. drinking Coke, that’s fine,” he said.

    The reaction is pretty predictable:

    The alcohol ban is a “smart idea” during the week but extending it through the weekend is “pushing it,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Merlotte.

    “Sunday through Thursday makes sense — that will keep us on our toes for work,” he said. “But Fridays and Saturdays — that means more people will start drinking earlier.”

    Honch bartender Anastasiya Bandarenka predicted people likely will just move their drinking to barracks rooms and private houses. That will be bad for bars’ business, she said, adding, “I think it’s rather foolish to believe that people will stop drinking just because of an order.”

    Maybe. I’m not so sure about private houses–perhaps crashing for the night after having a few too many isn’t feasible for visitors, in which case they’ll be walking home pickled anyway. But if street crime, as opposed to mere drunkenness, is what the policy is designed to prevent, forcing people to get blotto in their own quarters (where they won’t cause a diplomatic incident if they smash windows) doesn’t sound like a bad idea.


    Plunged into turmoil

    Posted by Sean at 04:11, January 27th, 2006

    So Hamas won big against Fatah in the Palestinian elections. Great:

    International peace broking in the Middle East was plunged into turmoil on Friday by Hamas’s shock Palestinian election win and a U.S. vow not to deal with the Islamic group until it renounced violence against Israel.

    Many world leaders turned up the heat on Hamas to moderate policies and Israel itself ruled out talks with any Palestinian government that involved Hamas, which is sworn to its destruction and has been behind dozens of suicide bombings.

    Fears of internal Palestinian unrest grew when hundreds of gunmen from President Mahmoud Abbas’s long-dominant Fatah movement marched in Gaza City, firing in the air to protest against the Hamas victory and demanding that Abbas resign.

    Hamas’s triumph on Thursday in winning 76 seats in the 132-member Palestinian parliament against 43 for Fatah was widely seen as a political earthquake in the Middle East, triggered by voter disenchantment with corruption.

    “I have made it very clear…that a political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of a platform is a party with which we will not deal,” U.S. President George W. Bush told a news conference in Washington.

    The US, Russia, the UN, and the EU (the Palestinian Authority’s biggest financial backer) are pressing Hamas to soften its position against Israel. Since it’s still calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, that’s going to be some softening.

    There’s no cause-effect relationship here, but the Japanese cabinet resolved today to extend the deployment of SDF personnel in the Golan Heights:

    In a 27 January cabinet meeting, the government decided to extend by six months the deployment of the SDF in the Golan Heights, which was to expire in March but will now last until September. The measure follows a half-year extension of peace-keeping activities by the UN Security Council’s United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). The SDF has participated in UNDOF, which conducts peace-keeping operations, since 1996; it conducts operations that include the transporting of basic supplies for living, the dissemination of information from headquarters, and project implementation.


    Looking out for your interests

    Posted by Sean at 03:48, January 27th, 2006

    Chris Crain at the Washington Blade has a lengthy post about Virginia Governor Tim Kaine’s statement that he will not veto a near-comprehensive ban on legal recognition of gay partnerships if it passes the legislature:

    Not to worry, gay Virginians. You still have plenty of leverage here because Kaine is a Democrat and has aspirations to higher public office. Given the influence gay Democratic groups have within the party, pressure will surely be brought to bear on such an abject betrayal of an important constituency, not to mention the party’s historical commitment to civil rights.

    Enter Josh Israel, president of the Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club, which endorsed Kaine’s election. Contacted by the Blade, Israel…well…he didn’t exactly call on Kaine to veto the amendment. In fact, he didn’t even ask Kaine to pressure the Senate to limit its scope. Instead, Israel begged (apparently from within Uncle Tom’s quarters at the plantation, since that term is being bandied about so much these days) the governor to at least make sure the ballot wording is fair.

    How’s that? The ballot wording? Why not call on him to oppose the measure? Because, according to Israel in a remarkable bit of Orwellian spin, “it’s not the governor endorsing this effort when he says he will send it to the ballot. It’s just the governor doing his job.”

    With gay rights activists like that, who needs party hacks?

    Still, even if gay Virginias [sic] are left unprotected by weak-kneed local leaders, they can be thankful there’s a nationwide organization of gay Democrats to put the screws to Kaine. Only…the National Stonewall Democrats were a bit too busy this week to notice what was happening across the Potomac from their Washington headquarters.

    Instead, they were pleasantly distracted by the goings on north of the nation’s capital, in Maryland, where Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich was introducing legislation that would allow gay and unmarried straight couples to sign an official government registry ensuring they can make medical decisions for each other in time of emergency.

    Just how did the National Stonewall Democrats react to a Republican governor in Maryland introducing legislation offering a modicum of legal recognition to gay couples, on the same week that the Democratic governor in Virginia said he would sign the broadest constitutional ban ever on legal recognition for gay couples? By attacking the Republican and not even mentioning the Democrat, of course.

    “A bridal registry at Target would offer same-sex couples more benefits than this watered-down, election-year ploy by Governor Ehrlich,” said Eric Stern, the Stonewall Dems’ E.D., in a press release issued Friday.

    Maybe so, but the Democrat in Richmond is poised to sign a ballot measure that would amend the state’s constitution to forever ban even a “watered-down” registry like the one proposed by Ehrlich, and it would probably take the bridal book at Target down with it.

    People are always asking me why, since I think about politics all the time, I’m not more active in any PACs or in my party. (I bet even my dear friends reading this forgot that I switched my registration to the GOP a few months ago, right? Of course, you did.) The main reason is, the moment discussions of politics veer off policy and into which senator’s aide’s back needs to be scratched to get X done, or why Congressman Y had to use this word instead of that word when responding to a question about a certain issue at this or that rubber-chicken banZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

    I know glad-handing is necessary. I know maneuvering is necessary. I’m also aware that a lot of people make ringing declarations of “principledness” that, in effect, mean they want to hold themselves aloof from the job of getting in there and figuring out how we can all live together in the real world without killing each other.

    But the major gay political organizations provide illustration after illustration of what happens when politicking becomes the end rather than the means. Jonathan Rauch’s National Journal article from last week discussed a similar problem with the Republicans:

    From 1981 through 1998, Republican reformers’ thinking was dominated by Dave Stockman (President Reagan’s first budget director) and Newt Gingrich (the reform-minded House speaker of 1995 to ’98). Both were movement politicians who believed that, by cutting spending, Republicans could build prosperity, tame Big Government, and win majority status.

    The trouble was that budget cuts brought short-term political backlashes that kept interrupting the program. Burned by President Clinton in 1995-96 and then spanked by voters in 1998, Republicans decided to reverse the sequence. First they would build a political machine; then, once safely entrenched, they would reform Social Security and Medicare, shrink government, and so on. The new course was set by DeLay and Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief political strategist—both machine-builders par excellence.

    And so, under DeLay and Bush, the Republicans spent generously, even profusely, to build their base. The number of budgetary earmarks increased from 2,100 in 1998 to 14,000 in 2005, according to Citizens Against Government Waste. To disarm the Democrats, the Republicans gave up on reducing entitlement spending and instead dramatically increased it, notably with an expensive new prescription drug program. (According to Richard Kogan, a senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Republicans have added $540 billion to entitlement costs over the 2001-to-2011 period.) They cut taxes and spent heavily on the Iraq war and defense. (Real spending on defense and security has risen by more than 7 percent a year since 2001, Kogan says.)

    When, last year, DeLay blurted out that the budget had no fat left, he meant that it had no political fat, and he was right. Every dollar now served a constituent group in DeLay’s carefully built machine.

    Naturally, there are a lot of ways in which the cases aren’t analogous. The link I see is in the expediency-prioritizing operating procedure that involves playing the game to get ahead now and figuring you can revert to principle later. Maybe I’m just too trusting, but I find it hard to believe that most of the best-connected gay activists are just being cynical–that is, that they’re consciously using their positions to curry favor with the DNC and its more powerful local pols even if it means selling out gays in general. Their reasoning is probably that you can’t exert leverage you don’t have, and that building leverage means demonstrating a willingness to compromise.

    That’s true enough, but if you haven’t nailed down what it is you’re not going to compromise on, you end up without any leverage anyway, even if you’re invited to some pretty choice receptions. The organizations mentioned in the Blade entry are both Democratic, so you can’t fault them for being partisan. That’s their job. You can fault them for being both disingenuous and pathetic about it.