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    This is the way / Step inside

    Posted by Sean at 22:28, November 14th, 2005

    Audrey…whoops!…Jeff has been posting at Beautiful Atrocities with some regularity again. Here‘s the latest. Hilarious.

    Japan odds and ends

    Posted by Sean at 06:59, November 14th, 2005

    You may recall that even of the federal ministries have been instructed to cut their budgets for subsidies; the odds are that they won’t reach their targets:

    The deadline passed at noon today for responses from seven federal ministries to a proposal to cut a collective ¥630 billion from their budgets, as apportioned by the Prime Minister. By noon, the number of submissions was stalled at two: from the Ministry of Economics, Trade, and Industry and from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. The other five, such as the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, are set to submit their proposals this afternoon, but [their proposed cuts] are not expected to meet the ¥630 billion objective. The Prime Minister’s office indicates that it expects things to be settled up by the end of the month, but the journey promises to be rough.

    I haven’t seen an update since that story was posted at 13:00, and if there was one on NHK, it was delivered while I was out of the room.


    So this whole bird flu thing? Gives me deep thoughts. Like, you know, what if we all totally get sick and die? We’ve certainly been hearing about it, though there was nothing that seemed interested enough to post. Today, the Ministry of Health, Labor…oops! Labour–the u is very important…the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare announced that it’s going to take a six-phase approach to preparation:

    On 14 November, the MHLW unveiled a “plan of action” that stipulated a phase-six policy to contend with new forms of influenza; the risk that such forms will appear has increased. [The policy provides for] coordination if certain measures become necessary: the stockpiling of antiviral drugs will be increased on a large scale; in the event of a global outbreak, schools will be closed and large assemblies banned, commuting to workplaces will be restricted, and citizens will be instructed to restrict their movements by international air and maritime transport. Taking the MLHW’s directive into account, prefectural governments will begin generating independent proposals [for their own local policies] in earnest.

    The worst-case scenario, as projected at the moment, is one fourth of the Japanese population infected.


    Among other threats to health, there’ve been a lot of interesting homicides in the news here lately. One of the more chilling is one that, fortunately for the intended victim, didn’t come off. The chilling part is that the plan could be put into motion in the first place:

    The arrest of a 16-year-old girl who allegedly tried to poison her mother to death with thallium raises the question of how the student was able to obtain the poison so easily even under tightened controls following similar crimes.

    The investigation by the Shizuoka prefectural police has so far found that the high school student in Izunokuni possessed various kinds of chemicals. About 30 substances, including thallium, were seized during the police search of her room at her home.

    The girl told the police she had bought the thallium at a nearby drugstore.

    However, the Poisonous and Deleterious Substances Control Law bans drugstores from selling such poisonous substances to those aged under 18.

    It also requires buyers to submit a form listing their name, address, occupation, the amount of chemical they have bought and other items when they purchase such substances.

    The Health, Labor [!] and Welfare Ministry instructs drugstores to check buyers’ identity and ask them why they want to buy toxic substances.

    Someone apparently read Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse.

    In another archetypal case–this time with a more tragic ending–a high school girl in one of the outer municipalities in Tokyo Metro was killed by a classmate with a crush that spiraled out of control:

    A schoolboy accused of killing 15-year-old Yua Koyama last week because she had gone cold on him had been seen gazing longingly at her suburban Tokyo apartment for hours some weeks ago, a witness told the police.

    The 16-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, also told investigators that he burst into the Koyama home without prior notice as soon as Yua’s mother, Kimiko, left for work on Thursday, the day he is alleged to have killed the fellow student from his high school.

    Police have transferred the boy to the Hachioji Branch of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, where he awaits his fate.

    NHK reported the day after the killing that a neighbor had heard noises coming from the apartment, including the girl’s screams for help, but assumed that she and her mother were having a fight.


    Posted by Sean at 01:10, November 14th, 2005

    Atsushi was here this weekend, one of his short stays–in the door at 11 a.m. on Saturday and on the train back to the airport at 5 p.m. on Sunday. But he’s been stressed lately, so it was good to be able to attend to him, even if only for thirty-six hours. We went to the Meiji Shrine, where the leaves hadn’t yet turned but the wooded walk was beautiful as always. Saturday night, we went out with two friends for Korean barbecue.

    Actually, come to think of it, we went for drinks at a Scottish-themed pub first, so I guess we were subconciously working a peninsular-peoples-persecuted-by-their-more-aggressive-neighbors kind of thing. When I asked where the toilet was, one of the bar guys (Japanese) gave me the most frankly lascivious once-over I’ve gotten in quite a while–and it wasn’t a gay bar, BTW. Must be the influence of that fiery Celtic spirit.

    Anyway, about more literal kinds of fire: Several months back Japundit linked to this NYT article about Korean restaurants in New York, and it made me wonder anew why they haven’t caught on more. That Korean food in Korea is way hotter than what most Westerners are going to want to contend with isn’t a difficult problem to address, after all. And unlike the Japanese food that was made fashionable, which emphasized raw flesh and bizarre creatures of the deep, Korean barbecue and rice dishes are comparatively, comfortingly familiar-looking to Americans. Oh, and they’re delicious–the stuff in Japan is toned down, but it’s still spicy enough to be stimulating. Great cold-weather food. And as far as the service goes…uh, complaints about brusque service in New York? Whatever.

    The one problem I can see is when the hot stone bowls and open-fire cooking hit America’s skittish-schoolmarm safety obsession. On Saturday, Atsushi, our friends, and I sat around a gas-lit brazier in the middle of the table, spreading sliced beef, chicken, and vegetables over the metal grid. It was all you can drink. We drank. Well, except for Atsushi, who doesn’t.

    So after an hour or so, there were three tipsy fags flinging rounds of beef tongue rather sloppily over the flames. (I was reminded–frankly but not at all lasciviously–that I was the only one with hair on the backs of his hands that might get singed. A little lasciviousness might actually have been nice at this point, given that the reminder was coming from my boyfriend, but he’s not big on even mild PDAs.) A lot of those last pieces of kalbi were probably just a little more well-done than they might have been under more alert supervision, but hey, it all goes to the same place. Good weekend, and Atushi gets to come home again the Saturday after Thanksgiving.


    Posted by Sean at 00:08, November 14th, 2005

    Should I be worried about the facility with which Eric can unravel truly loopy states of mind? Our junior senator in Pennsylvania kind of wigged this weekend:

    Santorum, a conservative Republican and usually a strong Bush ally, said the unpopularity of the war should be shared between the White House and the media.

    “Certainly, mistakes were made,” Santorum said of the war’s conduct. “But that’s a criticism you can make of every conflict.”

    “Terror is nothing more than a tactic,” Santorum said.

    He noted Bush recently redefined the conflict as a war on Islamic fundamentalists.

    Bush, however, used the “war on terror” moniker in his speech at Tobyhanna.

    I’ve always thought the designation “War on Terror” was silly-sounding. Perhaps it might have been better if the Bush administration had sat around for a few extra days, with ad hoc committees and posterboards and magic markers, and devised a better one. But it’s been around for years now, it’s basically serviceable at signalling that we’re fighting anyone who would resort to a particular unconscionable low, and we all know what it means. Making a dramatic point of dissing it makes you sound kind of lame.

    Eric writes:

    Santorum has my sympathy, as it must be tough facing a pro-life Democrat. But if he runs to the right of himself and Casey holds the center, I’m not sure there are enough Toomey-style voters to carry it for him.

    There don’t seem to be. While the hard right has its complaints about Bush, I’m not sure it’s going to see back-stabbing as the right approach. Those who aren’t so hard-right are likely to be even less receptive.

    Chill factor

    Posted by Sean at 01:51, November 13th, 2005

    Today, Alice’s teatray offers this slice of very good seedcake:

    I’ve finally figured out what I want to say about Maureen Dowd’s argument about most men only marrying women who are younger/ poorer/ dumber than themselves: (a) what else is new, and (b) why would anybody want to marry “most men” unless they are distinctly average themselves and therefore perfectly happy with the status quo anyway?

    It isn’t easy to find a fantastic life-partner. The best things in life are not supposed to come free, you have to work at them. But not necessarily in the way you might expect: attending hundreds of singles-meets might be part of the job, but more important than that is living your life as well as you can, reaching out to other human beings in an attempt to contribute to the world on a personal as well as professional level, and stretching your own preconceptions and seeking out life’s challenges rather than shrinking from change.

    It’s a real head-scratcher when people who aren’t looking for ways to be thoughtful and interesting wonder where all the thoughtful and interesting people are. Why would they be hanging out around you? one wants to ask.

    I think Dowd may have some other problems, though.

    She was on Larry King this morning; somehow, I don’t think I’d ever seen her live. Well, the show was taped, but I mean, I knew what she looked like from her photograph, but I didn’t remember her voice and mannerisms.

    Oh, my.

    I suppose I should have expected this–in fact, once I saw her, it all made sense. Maureen Dowd is a major tease. It was so obvious I giggled into my apple streudel. She flipped her hair. She simpered. She did that thing where girls cast their eyes downward momentarily and then–with their heads still tilted slightly, intimately forward–glare liquidly up at you from under arched brows and thick lashes. Her mouth worked itself into a sassy-petulant moue so frequently you could have made a drinking game out of it. I didn’t see her move her upper arms forward surreptitiously to squeeze her boobs together, but every other arrow in the flirty-girl quiver was there.

    Now, personally, I say: Work it, baby. But if you’re going to work it, at least in that fashion, there’s something important you need to do. You have to integrate your intellectual jousting with your girliness (or maybe some women find a way to divide them firmly) so they don’t seem schizo. Otherwise, you’re sending potential mates a subliminal message that you don’t know what you want and aren’t quite together. Not knowing Dowd, I wonder whether she does in person what she does in her writing, which is to careen, seemingly uncontrollably, between analytical chilliness and giddy sassiness. It’s the uncontrollable part that gives off “STAY AWAY!” vibes. In a culture in which couples make lives in their own little households, without the constant presence of the larger clan to bring things back to equilibrium when tensions arise, you’d have to be nuts to choose a spouse who promises to be an emotional pig in a poke.


    Posted by Sean at 03:55, November 12th, 2005

    This opinion piece is an excellent example of why I avoid The Japan Times. It’s full of hot air about “cultural diversity,” and if the triteness of that inescapable phrase isn’t enough of a turn-off, just wait until you see where the writer, one Kazuo Ogoura, goes with it:

    What I find worrisome is not the general American reluctance to adopt this phrase but rather the underlying trend in contemporary American society of apparent opposition to the notion of cultural diversity. Specifically, there appears to be a movement in contemporary U.S. society to restore a more traditional form of American culture while simultaneously pushing back the inroads made by Hispanic and other cultures. A somewhat alarming thesis imagines floods of Mexican immigrants dividing and weakening traditional American culture. Whatever the intentions of those who expound them, the existence of such ideas suggests an undercurrent of thought in American society that seeks to restore a more homogenous vision of America, to the detriment of cultural diversity.

    If this trend continues, and if cultural diversity is denied or neglected, it will endanger the development of human society, for diversity ultimately provides flexibility. One can easily grasp this link between diversity and flexibility by considering biological diversity in nature. Unless biological diversity is maintained, living species cannot survive climatic and ecological change. And just as biological diversity guarantees the survival of species in spite of environmental changes, so cultural diversity provides for the survival of human civilizations.

    I expend a lot of energy extolling the politeness and respect for ceremony that makes life in Japan, even in super-crowded Tokyo, work smoothly. But I’m sorry, the nerve–THE NERVE–of some Japanese government flack sermonizing at AMERICA about domestic cultural diversity and fear of immigrants is just way too much. This is the country in which a nurse with a Japanese mother and Korean father, born and brought up here, was denied promotion because her citizenship is not Japanese, a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court. (BTW, if you read that article, there’s more to the situation than nasty Japanese and noble, put-upon Koreans, but it serves to illustrate the point that if former Japanese officials are going to address respect for diversity, criticism should start at home.)

    It’s certainly possible to find rank xenophobes in America, but anyone with even a passing familiarity with the public debate over border security knows that any “thesis” that “imagines floods of Mexican immigrants dividing and weakening traditional American culture” is held by very few. The major worries with regards to Mexico are economic (expensive welfare programs for illegal aliens, for example) and defense-based (slack security could allow terrorists in along with migrant workers and other job-seekers). You don’t necessarily have to favor numerical caps on immigration to favor strict policies to deal with those who come in without permission and documentation.

    The most mainstream “cultural” concern that I’m aware of revolves around the use of English. Many of us oppose hand-holding bilingual public school classes because a lack of native-level English impedes the assimilation of immigrant children into the workforce–not just American, but global. However, no sensible American wants to interfere with people’s ability to speak Spanish at home or in businesses established to cater to immigrant markets, or to celebrate festivals from the old country. If there’s a movement to get us all to start living like some fantasy-nostalgia version of Connecticut WASPs in the 50s, I haven’t heard of it. And Professor, Mexicans are Chicanos, not Hispanics. Don’t make that slide in front of a Puerto Rican if you expect to remain known as a diplomat.

    Speaking of theses, Ogoura’s–“And just as biological diversity guarantees the survival of species in spite of environmental changes, so cultural diversity provides for the survival of human civilizations”–is inane, or at least conveniently foggy. If we view the globe as a cultural ecosystem, then sleekly gorgeous, genetically pure, low-birthrate Japan is the equivalent of, like, the cheetah. America may, in 2006, be looking for ways to limit immigration, but it is already the product of a hodge-podge, a century and a half in the making, of peoples that have contributed their different resources to the general culture. In a world of nations brought closer together by technology, perhaps diversity can be achieved not by walling each country off in its little cell of cultural maintenance but by allowing disparate influences to be more subtly woven together within nations, or even cities and neighborhoods.

    And I haven’t even gotten to what, as the friend who sent me the link remarked, is the biggest problem: “the inherent assumption that ‘cultures’ must be protected from individual choices.” Yes, one does have to wonder how these American cultural exports are finding consumers where no one is interested in buying them. Must be our mind-control rays. Sheesh.

    Veterans Day

    Posted by Sean at 07:58, November 11th, 2005

    Thank you to all Americans who have served in the military–always, but especially this Veterans Day. The rest of us are in your debt. Since I have relatives still in England, thanks and a happy Armistice Day to British veterans as well.

    You just haven’t earned it yet, baby

    Posted by Sean at 06:35, November 11th, 2005

    A few months ago, a soft-spoken Japanese guy in his early 20s came up to me and struck up a very tentative conversation. Later, he called and asked whether I was free for dinner on the weekend. I carefully selected a this-is-not-a-date-little-buddy outfit and met him in Shibuya. (Well, okay–a few friends I met later were all snarky and “That‘s your this-is-not-a-date outfit?” which I thought was kind of uncalled-for. It turned out that there was a bigger issue, though.)

    After dinner, I took Teru to one of my hangouts, run by half of a couple Atsushi and I know. (The other half runs the bar where we were introduced, right down the street. They’re in their early 50s, together for two decades; it’s fun to to go to one bar after the other and listen to them bitch, serially, about each other’s managerial and customer service skills.) It was a Sunday night, not very late, so when we arrived there were only two other guys there.

    Then, just after we’d gotten our drinks, a dozen men came in. The other bar had had a bowling party or something, so they were all regulars. After they swept in, I was busy being greeted and teased and teasing and greeting back. I introduced Teru to those who were within bowing distance. Two old buddies I hadn’t seen for ages asked about a third friend who’d dropped off their radar. Another long-time acquaintance related (with humor rather than rancor) how he’d tried to pick me up once after Atsushi and I got together. At some point I turned to Teru, chuckling, to explain the meaning of some in-jokey thing.

    And pulled up short. He looked mildly alarmed, like an anthropologist starting his first fieldwork and realizing that it was very, very different from reading journals in the library. Since then, it’s become increasingly clear that Teru kind of wants help making friends. I’m happy to do the big brother things, but…how do I put this?…no one should feel forced to affect an outgoingness that really doesn’t gel with his personality, but it still isn’t fair to sit around expecting fabulous friendships and piquant potential love interests to start swirling around you spontaneously. If you never display more than a polite interest in people, they’ll assume you’re not interested in being more than polite to them. Arrogance tends to repel people, but a demeanor that suggests you’re confident you have something to offer doesn’t.

    Yes, I’ve pointed this out, in a fashion that’s as little like a sermon as possible. But Teru seems to think that once you’ve found friends, you’ll be able to act engaged and lively, rather than the other way around. To a degree, I sympathize. After you go through all the upheaval of figuring out that you’re gay and reorienting yourself toward your relatives and friends and coworkers, you just want some relationship…any relationship…to be effortless. In real life, though, coming out is the beginning of the job, not the end. Now you know you’re gay. Great. Next question: what kind of gay guy are you? Quiet is fine, if you don’t mind that your relationships will start slowly and develop pokily; but then you can’t get all mopey over having trouble getting to know people.

    Get this party started

    Posted by Sean at 23:28, November 10th, 2005

    I understand why gays would be excited about ousting Rick Santorum, but this kind of thing (via Michael) is ridiculous:

    New Keystone Poll out in Pennsylvania and the news keeps getting worse for the current GOP number three in the Senate.

    In the same poll in March Senator Santorum trailed by 1 point, in June by 7 points, in September by 13 points, and in the latest (Nov. 2 – 7) Casey leads by a whopping 16 points, 51% – 35%.

    Bottom line, barring a major event that totally reshuffles the national playing field, or a major scandal involving Bob Casey, Santorum will lose in 2006.

    WTF? There’s a year until the next election. A YEAR. (The Malcontent points this out in Boi from Troy’s comments.) Furthermore, let’s remember an important political truth: Pennsylvania is weird.

    Pennsylvania is still one of the most populous states in the union, though its relative population has been sinking like a stone for decades, and–as we’re tediously informed every three seconds in the run-up to a close election–it’s a swing state. There are pockets of hard Democrats in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (of course) but also on the West End of Allentown, in the college towns, and (I imagine, though I don’t know the place well) in Erie. But there’s also a very high rural population; outside the cities, Pennsylvanians, like upstate New Yorkers, are spread relatively smoothly over the land area. That’s where a lot of the conservatives are.

    Of course, there are plenty of people who don’t vote in both town and country. But local coverage in election years always makes it very plain to people that, taking the commonwealth as a whole, we’re pretty evenly split on a lot of hot-button issues. With that in mind, you also have to factor in the Specter Effect: we already have an influential, moderate, triangulating, peace-making man in the US Senate. I suspect–this is just a hunch on my part–that many people are willing to overlook Santorum’s more extreme pronouncements because they just sent Finger-to-the-Wind Arlen back to Washington a few years ago, too. (Given a chance to replace Specter with my then-congressman, hard-conservative Pat Toomey, PA primary voters said, “No thanks” last go-round. And those were just the Republicans.)

    For voters who lean right/libertarian, deciding between Santorum and Casey isn’t likely to be quite as easy as deciding between Santorum and Harris “let’s resurrect HillaryCare!!!!!” Wofford was ten years ago…or between Santorum and What’s-his-face (Colonel Klink, I want to say?) in 2000. Casey’s website takes the now-de rigueur line: “I’m for curbing government spending unless it goes to subisides for the elderly and mothers who need child care and public schools and small-business owners and…uh, have I missed anyone else who might vote for me?”

    That makes it hard to tell what many of his particular policy proposals are going to be. Given Republican spending practices these days, if he can work the pro-family angle and strike a convincingly patriotic pose in connection with the WOT, he’s unlikely to stand out as a statist. He could very well succeed in portraying Santorum as a freaky extremist by comparison, without making himself look like a milquetoast. Casey’s family name is a well-known Pennsylvania brand, of course, and it’s not hard to imagine his adding enough votes from moderate Republicans and Independents to those from his expected Democratic base to unseat Santorum. The idea that Santorum is already finished, though, is highly suspect.

    Added later: Eric (also a Pennsylvanian) writes about Santorum’s “scheduling conflict” with President Bush’s visit to Scranton. He also characterizes himself this way:

    I’m so used to being cynical and disappointed that I barely noticed, and I think it just goes with the turf of being a libertarian Republican. I just voted for the Republicans on Tuesday, and all that entitles me to is to have the label of “RINO” thrown at me by “real conservatives,” and “conservative” thrown at me by liberals. If I registered and voted Democrat with my views, I’d be equally (if not more) suspect.

    I downloaded and filled out the absentee ballot form, then decided not to vote. All the Pennsylvania seats this time around were low-level or local, and as someone who doesn’t actually live at home, I didn’t feel right sticking Lehigh County with, like, a vice-deputy-assistant commissioner that I was never going to have to deal with. But that’s neither here nor there. The point I wanted to make is that this coming senatorial election is probably going to be utterly excruciating for those of us who are sick to death of being told we’re not “real” members of a group whose label we never adopted to begin with. With Santorum and Casey looking like the candidates, there’s room for endless please-make-it-stop finger-pointing over who’s a RINO or DINO or covert totalitarian or closet socialist, all based on, say, the fact that one candidate favors ten or so million more dollars in federal layouts for prozac for senior citizens. Even from the opposite hemisphere, I am not looking forward to this.

    Seen about town

    Posted by Sean at 05:05, November 10th, 2005

    Am I the only one who’s noticed an awful lot of guys running around Tokyo in charcoal grey suits + pointed tan shoes that…you know…TOTALLY DON’T GO TOGETHER?

    What’s up? This has been over, I’d say, the last two or three weeks. Did some popular TV drama feature an actor in that kind of get-up in a pivotal scene? Did Donatella Versace send models down the runway that way? Did Men’s Non-no do a five-page feature (complete with bossy pictorial how-to’s) on healing the rift between antiqued brown leather and grey wool?

    The look is utterly hein, and I can only hope it passes quickly. (When cocoa brown + black–both of which at least have cool, blue undertones to unite them–came in a decade ago, it was here for-flippin’-ever.) There are far better reasons to think about taking men’s clothing off than that it’s COMPLETELY HIDEOUS. Please, just stop.