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    Lack of safety in numbers

    Posted by Sean at 09:37, June 21st, 2005

    In its campaign for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, Japan has been reduced to trumpeting that it’s gotten the support of…Tunisia.

    There was an interesting article in the Asahi about Japan’s screw-ups on the issue (the piece is from a few weeks ago–this is one of those posts I started and then somehow never finished):

    Japan made two serious miscalculations that have all but sunk its strategy to win a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

    Tokyo overestimated support from the United States by failing to recognize that U.S. interests come first in Washington, not the desires of a key ally. [Duh.–SRK]

    The second mistake was Tokyo’s underestimation of anger against Japan in China, which has used its growing influence in the world to thwart Tokyo’s long-cherished dream to join the exclusive club at the United Nations.

    Foreign Minister Machimura’s tour through Brunei, Vietnam, and Cambodia to drum up support didn’t work so hot–relations with China are important to everyone in the region. Its position right about now is pretty clear, and that makes it hard for its southern neighbors to cross it.

    Part of the problem is, though that the G-4 strategy (that is, banding together with Germany, India, and Brazil to push for a set of seats) carried risks that are inherent, predating the recent flare-up of troubles with China. This English Yomiuri article explains one main disadvantage:

    Another government source, however, was pessimistic about maintaining the G-4 position.

    “As the United States doesn’t want to see the European Union getting more say on the international stage, Germany’s permanent membership, at least, was out of the question for Washington. Berlin must have been shocked by the U.S. announcement, and the G-4 may end up in disarray,” the source said.

    Grouping resources allowed the candidate countries more angles from which to massage support out of less-strategic governments, but it also meant that they all stood or fell on each other’s alliances and enmities. Need it be pointed out that all these countries have their enemies? We in Japan have been paying the most attention to China, for obvious reasons. But Pakistan has made its feelings known, too.

    That the Bush administration seriously supports Japan but does not want a permanent seat for Germany along with it is believable enough. (Reuters has a summary of the Thursday announcements here, BTW.) Let’s not forget that the issues surrounding Article 9 of the constitution–which obviously affects whether Japan can participate in collective military defense–have not been resolved. Prime Minister Koizumi has promised to push on with the G-4 plan, but it seems inevitable that the group will, some time after its coming Brussels confab, be announcing its own face-saving postponement to deal with other matters.


    If you believe in faeries

    Posted by Sean at 01:58, June 20th, 2005

    I’ve finally found my gay spiritual leader, and sugarcakes, I haven’t been this excited since Kylie hooked up with the Scissor Sisters.

    I mean, finally! A gay public voice that’s willing to cut the crap and speak the uncomfortable truth we so often try to avoid facing:

    “Straight folks, all our problems are your damned fault!”

    You know, I realize that op-ed writers with bylines speak for themselves and may have actually been chosen, at least in part, for their idiosyncratic, conversation-starter sorts of opinions. I also realize that The Village Voice likes scare-the-soccer-moms assertions of combative leftism. There’s nothing wrong with shaking people up a little on the opinion page.

    But couldn’t some editor somewhere have given a thought to basic coherence before publishing this? Writer Patrick Moore makes a few passing, ritual acknowledgements that gay individuals might in some sense be responsible for their own conduct. He specifically uses crystal meth use as a point of departure for a discussion of what he thinks is a more general dearth of mentoring among gay guys. But the promising idea that we (as in, gays ourselves) need to change the environment in which gay men come of age is backed-and-filled into meaninglessness:

    There are some problems with environmental prevention. First, if used in a simplistic way, it can lead to judgmental sexual repression that is anathema to gay culture. Second, the approach does not help those who have already entered into active addiction. So the question remains, how to create a healthier environment in the gay community.

    The questions Moore asks about what we can do to help keep more people from wrecking their lives are important, but some of the answers are more apparent than he makes them seem. Sooner or later, anyone in a position to give spiritual and moral guidance to rudderless gay guys is going to have to address a few facts: exposing yourself to the mucous membranes of multiple partners a week is hell on the immune system. The problem is not just STDs per se: it’s also the lowered resistance to colds, and the mysterious sore throat that keeps you from making a key presentation at work, and the tiredness from fighting things off all the time.

    Then there are the psychological issues. Moore relates that he frequently asks residents in a drug rehabilitation program what it is that getting high allows them to do: “[F]or most, their fantasy is no more than to get fucked and to connect with another man. Albeit in all the wrong places and all the wrong ways, these guys are basically looking for love.” Well, no. They’re looking for the self-affirmation that comes from being loved without the self-discpline you have to exercise to love back.

    Mentorship from older guys with their heads screwed on straight is, indeed, necessary to help the young and lost to avoid falling into the trap of short-term gratification that eventually turns into long-term disaster. Moore never seems to get around to explaining how that’s supposed to work, though, if we’re not going to tell guys that a little “repression” wouldn’t hurt them. The most specific his advice gets is…okay, I’ll tell you, but you have to promise not to laugh.

    Seriously, promise?

    Okay, here it is:

    Coming out of the gay faerie movement, the Gay Men’s Medicine Circle continues to create rituals that encourage spiritual growth. These organizations and their rituals may seem like quaint reminders of a more innocent time. However, they are vital models for the kind of programs that might actually change the tone of gay life in America.

    Bitches, you promised! But then, I sprayed my tea all over the monitor when I first read that paragraph, too, so who am I to judge?

    Speaking of exercising judgment: I can only assume that the, erm, “gay faerie movement” has developed rituals that celebrate nature and our place in it. As an atheist, I’m not troubled by the obvious paganism there. However, I do have to wonder what good such practices are for “spiritual growth” if they’re incompatible with acknowledging that nature favors procreation and does not favor indiscriminate promiscuity. Our human civilizations are founded on defying and fending off the power of nature, true; but there are limits within which we must work, and there is ample evidence that screwing around all the time almost always leads to a sickly, short, destructive, miserable life. You would think that even those for whom monogamy has nasty bourgeois associations would be able to recognize that.

    Added on 21 June: I stuck back in some stray phrases I’d cut out of the draft of this post when finalizing it. I hope it reads better. Also, Eric (to whom I sent a somewhat intemperate honey-will-you-get-a-load-of-this-crap! message when I started thinking about Moore’s article) has a post of his own that comments more generally on the annoying tendency for people to ask to be protected from themselves.


    Multi-lingualism

    Posted by Sean at 22:04, June 19th, 2005

    Amritas has a sensible post on how far emergency service providers should go to accommodate people who can’t speak English. There’s a fire department in Georgia (the state, not the former Soviet republic) that’s supplying its personnel with certain useful phrases in the native languages of many area immigrants:

    I’m usually opposed to multiculturalism, but I don’t see anything wrong with a few phrases (mispronounced, alas) that could save lives. I’d treat emergencies like these as exceptional.  Immigrants to the US should learn English, but should people die just because they got off the plane yesterday and can’t answer the firefighters’ questions?

    The problem is … what counts as an emergency?  Here’s my take: Fires are split-second situations.  Most other situations aren’t. So I don’t believe in multilingual ballots.  You won’t die if you don’t vote.  Multilingual welfare?  You want our (tax) money, you learn our language.  But what about medical emergencies?  Your every ache and pain tended to in Whateverese? You want that, you pay for it.

    Ah, that brings a soft libertarian-flavored solution to mind: public emergency services are in English only – the language of the majority of taxpayers – but one can pay for private emergency services in the language of one’s choice, just as one can pay for Whateverese-speaking doctors, lawyers, etc. (Hard libertarians would of course argue that all services, emergency or not, should be privatized because the government is eeeevil.) So in this scenario, a small, poor community of Whateverese speakers who can’t afford private emergency services (which aren’t in Whateverese, because there’s no money in it), would have to (gasp) learn English or die.

    Does that sound depressing?  It’s not much worse than what linguistic minorities face in parts of the world which haven’t sipped any mooltee-kooltee Kool-Aid yet.  If you are an Iranian in Japan, do you think a 消防士 shouboushi extinguish-prevent-person’ will deign to speak to you in فارسی Persian?

    Another consideration is that, even if dispatchers and firemen have memorized a few useful questions, will they understand when the person they’re talking to says, “My daughter’s still in her bedroom–northeast corner of the fourth floor–and she has asthma!”? Ideally, some able-bodied and civic-minded members of the various immigrant communities would be moved to serve as emergency and law-enforcement personnel. Or, at least, some bilingual community leaders would agree to be on-call if they were needed in such an emergency. Those who emigrate to the States as teenagers usually become fluent in English pretty rapidly, even if they retain an accent.


    Book stick II

    Posted by Sean at 03:54, June 18th, 2005

    Okay, third time’s the charm. Tom, Joel, and Susanna have all passed me that book thing again. I got it from Dean a while ago, so I’ll post an updated version of my original response:

    How many books you own

    On which land mass? If you count the books I have here, the ones I have at my parents’ house, the ones that are still in the apartment in New York with my old roommate, and the ones that are still at his parents’ house (yes, I plan to recollect them all eventually), uh, I’m going to say 1000. Of course, I pitilessly throw away books I think suck (Tokyo-sized apartment, kids).

    Last book you bought

    Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (Ordered with a bunch of others from Amazon, of course; some day when I’m up to it we’ll talk about how much Kinokuniya or Tower or Book 1st shakes you down for imported books.)

    Last book you read

    The Division of Labour in Society by Emile Durkheim (No, I haven’t gotten around to reading it before. I should have stuck with French after high school, because the translation is pretty turgid; but anything that dense I would have had to read again, anyway, so it’s going to end up being the next book I read, too.)

    Five books that mean a lot to you

    • 恍惚の人、有吉佐和子作 (kokotsu no hito, ariyoshi sawako saku: “The Ecstatic Ones by Sawako Ariyoshi,” translated pretty effectively as The Twilight Years)

      This was the first novel I read all the way through in Japanese. It was first published serially in the early 1970s. It follows a housewife with a part-time job as she copes with the death of her mother-in-law and the realization that her widowed father-in-law is senile. It was written at a time of great transition in Japanese society, and Ariyoshi was very prescient about which issues would prove to be the thorniest as the Japanese household (the center of any society) evolved. It starts to lose focus and emotional charge toward the end, but the final scene is still devastating. I reread it every year.

    • A History of Civilizations by Fernand Braudel

      I’m terrible at keeping historical dates straight or, conversely, at reading what was going on in some corner of the world in 1350 and being able to recall what was happening at the same time elsewhere. Braudel’s book was written for high school students, but it was written for perceptive, industrious high school students to use as a basis on which to build further knowledge about specific historical facts. Some of his predictions (the book was written in the 60s) are outdated, but overall you get a real feel for the overarching development of social and political structures over time.

    • The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

      Dickinson is the greatest American poet, and I will not deign to entertain counterarguments from supporters of that insufferable Whitman guy.

    • 新古今和歌集 (shinkokinwakashu), the third of the great anthologies of Heian poetry

      The earlier 古今和歌集 (kokinwakashu: “Collected Poems Old and New”) is usually regarded as the best of the three great anthologies, but, perhaps because of the way I was taught them, I like the third one the best. That’s especially true of the inclusions by the Priest Saigyo and the Princess Shokushi.

    • Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

      I think you have to be a certain kind of person to have your world reordered by this book, so I’m not sure how much universal value as art it has. Officially, it’s a mystery, but there’s less interest in the whodunnit aspect than in why protagonist Miss Pym thinks and acts as she does. It’s a really acute study of the unconscious factors that often impinge when we think we’re making clear-eyed ethical judgments: favoring people who are attractive and well-spoken, lazily drawing conclusions from circumstantial evidence, clinging to assumptions we’re comfortable with even after it’s obvious we should be questioning them.


    Nobody knows how dry I am

    Posted by Sean at 22:23, June 17th, 2005

    The Japanese tolerance for drunkenness is something you never quite get used to. I mean, I’ve got English, German, and Polish genes in me, so I know how to tie one on–believe me. What I’m talking about is public, undisguised drunkenness, which is a big no-no in the States (at least, everywhere I’ve been).

    That Tokyo stress gets to everyone, though, including LDP members of the Diet:

    The session [of the House of Representatives on Friday] began its recess at 5 p.m. and reopened just before 9 p.m. Tomoko Abe (Social Democratic Party), who had stood up to argue against voting [to extend the Diet session], looked out over the red faces of several members and spoke. “We should all get out of here right now,” she said, raising her voice. “If this is going to be the ‘Pickled Diet,’ there’s no need to extend the session.”

    When Osamu Yoshida (DPJ) got in Ken’ya Akiba’s (LDP) face, Akiba left the chamber immediately after casting his vote, despite the fact that the doors were officially sealed for the session. Subsequently, there was commotion in the chamber.

    There’s often commotion in the chamber. (That’s a fact that seems to floor a lot of Westerners schooled to think of Japan as a place where the citizens do everything in neat rows.)

    DPJ leader Katsuya Okada censured the Prime Minister:

    “Prime Minister Koizumi and former Prime Minister Yoshio Mori were both casting votes red-faced. You’d think they’d understand how to comport themselves during these sorts of proceedings.”

    Fingers are being pointed in multiple directions: the DPJ has submitted a motion to the Speaker of the House that Akiba and Mori be disciplined. The LDP is seeking disciplinary action against Yoshida.

    I’m a big believer in strict formal behavior on ceremonial occasions, and obviously public service at the level of Diet membership deserves to be performed very respectfully. On the other hand, it doesn’t take much alcohol for a lot of East Asians to turn bright red. I don’t know that I’d be affronted if a bunch of MP’s had one or two servings of liquor over a four-hour period. It’s odd that the opposition party was apparently able to abstain, though.

    Added after lunch: Atsushi–safely delivered to me by JAL, thankfully–says that there was at least one DPJ representative who was also looking extra-ruddy at this particular Diet session, so it wasn’t just the LDP.

    Added before dinner: Thanks to Dean for linking this. His angle is interesting. I’ve now lived in Japan for a quarter of my life, so I’m used to undisguised curiosity about ethnic characteristics. It can get annoying. Japanese people don’t always apply to foreigners the respect for personal space they use among each other, and I get heartily sick of having my arm hair yanked as if I were a science exhibit. (Being told, “Wow! That’s so sexy!” while it’s happening doesn’t help. Hair is attached, people.) And some of the reasoning is a bit sketchy. I’ve heard all of these multiple times over the years: “Are you sure all your ancestors are northern European? You’re so dark!” (I have no idea where this one comes from. I have green eyes and the skin tone of a dead mackeral’s underbelly; only my hair is brown.) “You can’t be American! Americans are fat!” (Not if they have to pay Tokyo food prices for eight years.) “You can’t be American! You’re so quiet!” (If it makes any difference, my superpower arrogance more than compensates for my lack of volubility.)

    It can also get ugly. One frequently hears Koreans blithely characterized as congenitally lazy and stupid, for example. My standard reply is to wonder aloud where all those impressive math/science scores in the ROK and among Korean immigrants in the US come from.

    On the whole, though, the sheer frank acknowledgement that there are physical differences in the way people have evolved in various parts of the globe can be refreshing. When the tone is good-natured rather than petty, hearing one Japanese person tell another that he has “a Thai nose” or “Indian eyebrows” is kind of sweet.


    また始まった

    Posted by Sean at 14:02, June 17th, 2005

    Okay, must we always do this right before Atsushi is scheduled to fly home?

    An All Nippon Airways (ANA) plane made an emergency landing at Osaka Airport Friday morning after its cockpit filled with smoke, airline officials said.

    At around 10:55 a.m., the captain of ANA DHC8-400 turbo-prop plane radioed to air traffic controllers that its cockpit had filled with smoke, ANA officials said.

    The aircraft returned and made an emergency landing at the airport at 11:09 a.m. None of the 64 passengers or crewmembers was injured.

    This has been a real banner week for airline mishaps/publicizing of mishaps.


    Natural order restored: gay guy inherits furniture and artworks

    Posted by Sean at 09:41, June 17th, 2005

    A few months ago there was a story about a South African man’s partner who was suing over inheritance rights. The parents have settled:

    The parents of a deceased property dealer have agreed to give his home, furniture and several of his valuable art works to a French chef whose serious romantic involvement with their son they had previously denied.

    And James Middleton and his wife, Joan, retired parents of Phillip Middleton, have agreed to contribute R250 000 towards the legal costs that Dominique Ripoll-Dausa had to pay to dispute their denial that he and their son had been involved in a “life partnership”.

    It’s hard to tell whether they came around to recognizing the relationship or just didn’t have the money and energy to keep battling in court. The judge encouraged them to settle, but there’s no indication of how encouraging he was.


    Japan Post, now with more pork

    Posted by Sean at 09:28, June 17th, 2005

    Brick wall, meet head:

    Questions still remain even after 48 hours of debate over postal privatization bills among members of the House of Representatives’ special committee, which is discussing how the three postal services will change following privatization.

    [Social Democrat Mitsuko] Tomon said she was concerned the amount of depopulated areas could change as a result of continuing town, city and village mergers, adding that the mergers could make it difficult for the government to maintain the current number of postal employees. [No! Not fewer government employees!–SRK]

    She then asked the government to release the number of post offices at the end of fiscal 2005 after consolidation under the former Special Mergers Law was complete.

    In response to her question, Cabinet Councilor Makoto Hosomi from the government’s postal privatization preparation office reassured Tomon that the number would not change because the areas would continue to be regarded as depopulated even after increasing in size and finances through mergers.

    The government has said the number of post offices in urban areas will drop after the privatization.

    Heizo Takenaka, state minister in charge of economic, fiscal and postal reform policy, has not mentioned any details about efforts to streamline the services, but has said such actions would depend on the judgment of post office network management, and the ministry would direct and supervise if necessary.


    困惑した表情

    Posted by Sean at 12:19, June 15th, 2005

    Been a great day for Japanese aeronautics, yeah? First, we had this morning’s incident in which a JAL flight landed at Haneda so bumpy-like that two of the plane’s tires were shredded:

    The Ministry of Land, Transportation, and Infrastructure designated this a “serious incident” in which there had been risk of a major accident. Four investigators were dispatched by the Air and Rail Accident Research Committee.

    According to JAL, the captain (39) and copilot (37) have stated that at the time of the accident, “The rear wheels showed absolutely no aberrations up until landing, but at the instant the front wheels touched down, there were several abnormal jolts that made a bang.” At the time, the copilot was steering the plane.

    Cheeringly, JAL’s managing director affirmed that future passenger safety is not in jeopardy with a comment that can be best summarized as, “Huh?”

    On the afternoon of 15 May, JAL International’s managing director, Takao Imai, addressed a press conference held at the Ministry of Land, Transportation, and Infrastructure. “We have no idea what the origin of the problem was. We’ve heard of no precedent for this kind of thing, including at other airlines,” he said with a bewildered expression.

    Not to be outdone, ANA had to suspend a pilot and copilot after an incident last week in which a plane flew in the wrong air lane for over a half-hour:

    Flight 664 bound for Tokyo took off from Nagasaki Airport just past 11 a.m. on June 5.About 10 minutes after take-off, while ascending past 3,000 meters, the captain of the Boeing 767 noticed that his computer screen showed a higher altitude than the one on the co-pilot’s screen.

    The captain reconnected his altimeter to what he mistakenly believed was a third computer in the cockpit. In fact, he had reconnected it to the co-pilot’s computer-the one that had malfunctioned and displayed the wrong altitude.

    But the captain believed that nothing was wrong because the two figures for altitude matched.

    “The biggest factor in this case was the captain’s error on the number of computers,” ANA’s chief of operation control division told reporters at the transport ministry Tuesday.

    “This was a critical matter of impermissible nature. Mistaken altitude figures could nullify the air traffic controlling system that administers the safety of other airplanes.”

    The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on Tuesday gave a stern warning to ANA.

    Why should JAL get all the stern warnings?

    All in all, the perfect time to announce that Japan and France are planning to cooperate in the development of a new SST to replace the defunct Concorde. (Yes, I know the new jet will be created by aerospace engineers and not pilots or air traffic controllers. The coincidence is still funny.)


    洗脳

    Posted by Sean at 08:38, June 14th, 2005

    I don’t entirely agree with Michael’s quickie assent to Andrew Sullivan’s comment on this poor kid, who’s being packed off to a de-gay-programming retreat by his conservative Christian mother. (At least, assuming Michael was agreeing with everything Sullivan said.)

    There are all kinds of things parents do to their children that most of us find cruel but aren’t in a position to liberate them from, from telling them they’re stupid and will never amount to anything to sending them to sports programs/music lessons with mean coaches who are supposed to toughen them up by tearing them down. Yes, of course, as a gay man, I feel this is in a different league–the reason I’ve been rewriting this for days without posting it is that I haven’t been able to keep it even-tempered.

    Here’s something I think worth considering, though, if I can get it to come out correctly: we all have issues to resolve with our parents, and in my experience knowing that you’ve done what they asked and tried their way and not disobeyed them while you were under their authority is a real comfort when you’re navigating life as an adult. No, I wasn’t sent to several weeks of straightening camp, to be sure. I don’t know what it’s like to go through that sort of concentrated brainwashing in which your mind is not your own (the better to enable you to make a covenant with God as a free moral agent, one is left to assume?) for weeks at a time, and I won’t pretend to. But Zach seems like a grounded, if understandably shaken-up, kid. There’s a lot of ethical leverage in being able to point out later that you were never a compulsive, resentful little trouble-maker.