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    Your hairdo is full of diamonds and lice

    Posted by Sean at 16:39, January 30th, 2005

    This just in: Irreverence seen in costuming at Hallowe’en party:

    Despite a public outcry from gay, Jewish and African American civil rights groups, Virginia Military Institute will allow its own students to investigate a party at which some cadets dressed in drag while others wore Nazi uniforms and still others were in black face.

    Pictures of the Halloween party only came to light on weekend when it was learned they had been posted on the Internet.

    One picture shows three cadets in VMI uniform shirts giving the Nazi salute to the camera. Two of the students are wearing swastika armbands and one had a Hitler-style mustache.

    Another photo shows a cadet was dressed as “a starving African”. Other pictures show two men in tiaras, wigs and eye shadow. Both are wearing underpants and tank tops that read, “I [heart] a man in uniform.”

    There is also a picture of a man in a loincloth wearing dark makeup, and one of a man with a bull’s-eye drawn on the rear of his pants.

    Ooh, tell me more about that one! Was he hot? Did he have a bubble butt to do it justice?

    Unfortunately, the article takes off in a different direction:

    Advocacy groups called the pictures disturbing.

    “There’s nothing funny about gay men and lesbians in uniform right now risking their lives in Iraq,” Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia told the Roanoke Times.

    “As future leaders in the military, they [cadets] have to understand you can’t make of fun of people at their expense.”

    I agree. It’s too bad the rest of America doesn’t take a cue from us gays, who wouldn’t think of showing up at a Hallowe’en party ironically dressed as a nun (bonus points for studded leather underwear that can be flashed with a lift of the habit), a priest (bp’s for bringing a friend dressed as a corruptible altar boy), a naval officer (Tom of Finland-style, with too-tight and too-unbuttoned uniform), or a rich Reagan-era Republican (who entertains all with cheery banalities about trickle-down economics).

    Is it too much to ask that our flacks remember that there are straight folks out there who have actually…um…met homosexuals? A queer activist who lectures at people about being more poker-faced and pious is asking to be laughed off-stage.

    Added on 1 February: Thanks to Chris and Michael for the links. Since they mean that someone I don’t know might read this, I suppose I should clarify something. (I cut this out of the original post in a doubtless short-lived nod to conciseness):

    I don’t think that it’s possible, even in photographs, to read people’s thinking very well. Those wearing swastikas could have been viciously parodying the Nazis, after the fashion of Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes. Those who gave the Sieg heil! salute could have been taking a rare opportunity to chafe at the hyperdisciplined atmosphere imposed by their instructors by satirizing it. It’s possible that the “starving African” and drag queens are polite and easygoing around individuals of all kinds but are sick to death of PC coercive compassion (to use Camille Paglia’s term) and identity politicking.

    The point that people who enroll at a military academy are signing on to more rigorous standards of behavior, and that they’re going to represent America in official ways that most of us don’t have to worry about, is a good one. But, for pity’s sake, it’s a bleedin’ Hallowe’en party for a bunch of guys in their late teens and early 20s, off the chain for some well-earned carousing. Do we expect them to come as their favorite Mother Goose characters? I could certainly see their superiors’ advising them to err in the direction of avoiding the appearance of evil…by having the kind of party they like off-time and being sure not to–hello?!–post pictures of it on the Internet.

    Ooh, who’s been teachin’ you?

    Posted by Sean at 12:17, January 30th, 2005

    Weird week. Atsushi was here for a belated anniversary celebration, which was the highlight; of course, it meant I was keyed up before that. Friend’s birthday last Sunday…Monday? Anyway, uncharacteristic work-night carousing. Made for some odd communing between self and current project. Probably odd posts, too.

    Somewhere in there, a friend–not a birthday boy–asked me what he was doing wrong. You know, to find a boyfriend worth making a life with. It’s not the sort of question you can respond to with, “Just about everything,” even if that’s pretty much the answer. This is one of those guys who…his way of showing a man he’s interested is to be all effusive and touchy. Not touchy in a caddish way, where you have to glare at him and be like, “Sorry, bro, that’s my knee”–just with the flirtatious-hand-on-shoulder thing. And he giggles and blushes. A lot.

    Now, there’s nothing wrong with being jolly and boyish, but if you’re too jolly and boyish…and you go for big Australian guys…and you have a tendency to act shocked and affronted when they get the idea they’re going to score with you, you are asking for trouble. Talking to my friend about this stuff reminds me of those dead-end discussions we had in college about whether a woman is being “provocative” if she goes around in an eyelet camisole and micromini and can’t talk to a man without flipping her hair.

    [CNN-related aside: Speaking of clothing choices, who the hell told Dianne Feinstein that the pale-green jade beads were a good idea with the black jacket? She looks as if she were about to show Princess Aurora something in the way of a nice, new spinning wheel.]

    My friend fails, in the by-the-book way, to see where the problem might lie. I mean that he hasn’t made the basic connection between, on the one hand, behavior that attracts men and gives you the thrill of being admired and, on the other, behavior that signals you’re eager to provide a different kind of thrill in return later. You don’t have to subscribe to the revolting belief that you owe a guy sex if you let him buy you a drink in order to believe that it’s dishonest and manipulative to push his buttons to shore up your ego. My friend is well-intentioned and really doesn’t seem to see it that way, and (at least where I usually run into him) the guys behind the bar as well as his buddies know how to keep an eye on him. It’s just frustrating when someone asks you something important and doesn’t want to hear the answer.

    [Is Jane Harman the most annoying person in the world, or what? Sweetie, it’s okay to choke out a single sentence without taking a dig at the President, sometimes. No, really–we’ll be able to remember you hate him even if we go 30 seconds without hearing about it.]

    In better news, since Atsushi was home for the weekend, I was able to pass along my parents’ Christmas present to him, which arrived in the mail after he’d gone home from the New Year. He’d given them a figurine for the Year of the Rooster, so they gave him one back: a cat, probably because he played so easily with my parents’ two (real ones, not figurines) when I brought him home two years ago. They’re Siamese, so suffering themselves to be played with is not a habit.

    The weather is supposed to turn cold today in his part of Japan–actually, along the Sea of Japan coast overall, I think. It’s windier and colder than last week here in Tokyo, too, but it’s still clear. I probably ought to air the rugs while I can. Now that Aaron Brown is on television, I probably ought to change the channel, too. Criminy.

    Elections in Iraq

    Posted by Sean at 09:53, January 29th, 2005

    I only comment on the stories that move me to do so, but it would be madness to let today pass without mentioning the Iraqi elections, even though I usually leave general WOT commentary to people who are better qualified. Reuters understandably, being a news organization, is stressing the attention-grabbing element of conflict in its lead story:

    Insurgents threatened a bloodbath on Sunday when Iraqis go to the polls in an election intended to unite the country and quell violence but which could instead foment sectarian strife.

    Does anyone seriously intend today’s voting to unite the country in the tidy, cut-and-dried way that sentence makes it sound? I haven’t heard anyone talk as if the thrushes will warble with joy and crocuses will bloom tomorrow just because there’s been an election. Of course, the insurgents (you’re catching me intone that word the way I might refer to myself as a “confirmed bachelor,” yeah?) are going to go literally ballistic. Even if the new native Iraqi government is more symbolic than substantive at first, what it symbolizes is change in a direction reactionaries have to resist at all costs. It won’t turn into Malaysia overnight, but here’s hoping that the attacks today are contained and minimized as much as possible. Congratulations to the Iraqis.

    It’s hard to get good help these days

    Posted by Sean at 09:09, January 29th, 2005

    How very strange. Look at this Yomiuri story. The headline says, “Pakistan opposes UNSC seat for Japan,” which makes sense. This is a Japanese newspaper reporting things from the vantage point of local importance. The beginning is fine:

    Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said in an interview with The Daily Yomiuri and other English-language newspapers in Asia on Thursday night that his government would not support the envisioned permanent membership of Japan on the U.N. Security Council.

    [There are two reform proposals. Under Model A, more UNSC permanent memberships would be created for countries such as Japan. Under Model B, permanent membership would not be expanded.]

    “(With Model B), nobody gets on (the Security Council) permanently, but everybody has a chance to represent its own region,” he said. “It is very clear that the Security Council does need reform…but we oppose anything being done to create another permanent class of countries…It has to be done on the basis of equity, justice and in a democratic way.”

    That sounds nice. Who knows? Maybe Aziz even means it, even if Pakistan itself is not a world-class beacon of democratic transparency in government. It’s interesting, though, to note a word that the Yomiuri reporter fails to mention even once: India.

    Nice work if you can get it

    Posted by Sean at 22:07, January 27th, 2005

    Cheese and crackers! The “It’s me” scam–which has now taken so many forms that it’s referred to more elegantly as 振り込め詐欺 (furikome-sagi: “the ‘Pay up!’ scam”*)–caused losses of 28,400,000,000 yen in 2004. (That’s about US $258,000,000.) The figure is nearly four times what it had been in 2003–the phenomenon really took off last year. The Mainichi ran an article a few days ago about one of the rings from which some members have been caught:

    The ring was divided into 10 groups, each of which comprised of some 10 “shops.” Each shop was headed by a “manager” and staffed by approximately 10 “employees.”

    Each shop was required to net at least 10 million yen a month from such frauds. Employees who showed outstanding performances were invited to participate in tours of Okinawa and dine at hotels. While those who failed to fulfill their quota were beat by their bosses.

    Managers received about 500,000 yen in fixed monthly salary and employees got 250,000 to 300,000 yen, plus additional pay in proportion to the money they earned. One manager received 5 million yen as a monthly wage, police said.

    You know, kind of like Fuller Brush, only with kneecappings and not a single satisfied customer. Of course, the efflorescence of this particular swindle only seems sudden; in fact, it’s been gradually becoming more common over the last few years, and there’s nothing surprising in the way more miscreants have been drawn to it.
    * Before Amritas gets over his cold and points it out: 振り込め isn’t the imperative of the verb usually translated “pay.” It’s more like “make the bank transfer” (or, if we’re being literal, “sprinkle it in” or “wave it in”). I was taking license, poetic or otherwise.

    Yasukuni Shrine visits not grounds for civil suit

    Posted by Sean at 20:52, January 27th, 2005

    Something else from the Japanese courts, this time on a recurring topic here:

    The Naha District Court on Friday rejected a lawsuit against the government and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that was filed by almost 100 people seeking damages over Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

    The ruling dismissed claims from the 94 plaintiffs, who experienced or lost relatives in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, that Koizumi’s visits to the shine had caused them to suffer, and rejected their demand for 100,000 yen each in compensation.

    In handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Kazuto Nishii refrained from saying whether or not Koizumi’s visits to the shrine, which enshrines class-A war criminals, violated the Constitution or if they were made in an official role.

    Of course, Judge Nishii refrained from saying so–that’s the million-dollar question. But he didn’t have to; the reason behind the dismissal was “that the legal right to strictly request the separation of religion and state was not a benefit for residents and that that they could therefore not demand compensation if this right was violated.” Okinawans are Japanese citizens, so the issue is not the same as it is with comfort women; they do frequently get the country-cousins treatment, though.


    Posted by Sean at 06:55, January 27th, 2005

    One of the big stories this week is that the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that it was not unconstitutional for the government of Tokyo Metro (an entity equal in status to a prefecture, though I realize I’ve just made it sound like a tram line) to refuse to consider foreign nationals as candidates for management positions. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen the same top story at all three English-version Japanese newspapers I read on-line (the Asahi, the Mainichi, and the Yomiuri), though of course it was in the Nikkei and elsewhere, too.

    Those familiar with Japan will understand the issue here, but for those who are not: we’re not talking about immigrants. The controversy is over ethnic Koreans and Chinese born and brought up in Japan–many of whom have no real ties to Korea or China–who nevertheless do not have Japanese passports and are considered resident aliens. This is from the Yomiuri report:

    The Supreme Court said the metropolitan government’s preventing its foreign workers from taking promotion exams therefore did not violate Article 3 of the Labor Standards Law, which bans discriminating against workers on the ground of nationality, and Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees “equality before the law.”

    Meanwhile, Justices Shigeo Takii and Tokuji Izumi said in their dissenting opinions that the metropolitan government’s refusal to let the second-generation Korean resident sit the promotion examination just because she is not Japanese was “an illegal act of discrimination,” and that rejection of the plaintiff who has special permanent resident status from the first round of promotion exams was “unconstitutional.”

    Japan’s treatment of its resident non-Japanese Asians causes a great deal of strain, especially because of the restrictions on civil service jobs (which can include public health, the field of nursing in which the plaintiff in this case practiced, and public education). For some reason, I can’t seem to find a report on it, but there was a case last year in which the parents of a family of illegal aliens died. They were, I think, Thai and had been living in Japan for years. The government decided to grant the teenaged daughter citizenship and send the younger children back to Thailand. The reasoning was that the girl had never really known any life but that in Japan and was old enough to have formed her personality around her life here, while the younger children still had time to return to their native country and adapt to it without trauma. There’s a case of an orphan like that every few years, and citizenship is, if my memory serves correctly, often granted.

    Second- and third-generation children of intact non-Japanese families are another matter, but it’s worth remembering that pity for them must be carefully qualified. Japan-Korea ill-feeling goes both ways, even if there can be no debate over which side got the short end of the stick over the last century or so. A lot of permanent residents seem to be perfectly happy to retain their special permanent residency while working to expand the rights attached to it. And, well, while the mistreatment of non-Japanese here is real, you can’t ignore the fact that desiring the rights of a Japanese citizen while maintaining one’s identity (and presumably loyalty of some kind?) as a Korean means wanting to have it both ways.

    I have no idea what the plaintiff in this case thinks on the subject. By all accounts, she was encouraged by her superior to take the qualifying exam for promotion; she didn’t go looking for trouble to make a grand point, and she doesn’t seem like a chronic rabble-rouser. The Supreme Court decision, which simply affirms that it’s not unconstitutional for a local government to preserve positions of authority for Japanese citizens, is hard to fault. The court cannot, after all, fix long-standing animosity and divided loyalties.

    Added at 18:00: Man, can I be retarded sometimes. I looked at today’s “Asia by Blog” installment over at Simon’s and didn’t see that he’d linked to anyone’s coverage of this story–as I say, it was big here. It’s sort of odd that I missed it, because it’s the FIRST LINE of the Korea/Japan section. Anyway, his first link was to Joi Ito’s post, which mentions that the nurse in question is, in fact, genetically half-Japanese. I take the point that Japan is bringing many of these problems on itself, though it’s not as if it had a monopoly on xenophobia. I still can’t dismiss the idea of requiring citizenship as a qualification for ranking posts in the government as a trumped-up issue.

    Added on 29 January: Maybe I’m losing my mind. I’m still looking for the story about that Thai girl, but the only one I keep running into is the (far, far more famous case) of the girl who’s applying for permanent residency because her grandmother’s Japanese husband has adopted her. Her parents are dead. But she doesn’t have any siblings, and she didn’t grow up here. I wouldn’t be surprised if I weren’t correctly remembering all the facts of the case I’m thinking of, but I’m usually not quite that much of a space cadet.

    I’ll bake their bones for telling lies

    Posted by Sean at 12:00, January 26th, 2005

    Even in death, Japanese abductee Megumi Yokota is getting no peace. The DPRK handed over a collection of bones said to be hers a while back. About a month ago, Japanese forensic experts determined that–surprise!–the North Koreans were lying. If I recall correctly, it was suggested that the bones received might not all be from the same person.

    It’s taken the DPRK a month or so to respond, and its response, relayed through its state news organ, is, “The Japanese forensic report is a complete fabrication; a thorough fact-finding investigation into the fraud must be undertaken and the responsible parties severely punished.” Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machida replies, justifiably, that if the DPRK has accusations to make, it should make them through direct diplomatic communication.

    Yokota’s first name, BTW, is officially written in kana: めぐみ. The meaning, tragically unfulfilled in her case, is “blessing.”

    I don’t believe I’d love somebody / Just to pass the time

    Posted by Sean at 21:30, January 25th, 2005

    This is from Ghost of a Flea:

    I have not listened to this one in ages. How is it Stock Aitken Waterman got away with releasing the oddly similar backing beat to “Venus” by Bananarama?

    He is referring to Kylie’s much-spat-upon version of “The Locomotion,” and I believe the answer is this (yeah, I’m sure it’s on the Internet in a 1000 places): Kylie was one of the celeb guests at some charity performance-thing, and on the spur of the moment, they asked her…or everyone…to sing something. Anyway, I think she and some friends decided to improv their way merrily through “The Locomotion,” and it went over so well that someone decided it’d be great to, you know, milk it for maximum profit by releasing it as a single. When S/A/W produced, they naturally weren’t going to give it the full Rick Astley–it was just a one-off lark by a television actress whose amateurishness was part of the charm. So the fact that it sucked isn’t all that much a stain on anyone’s record. (The fact that Kylie’s later covers of “Tears on My Pillow” and “Celebration” were made to suck with malice aforethought is another thing entirely.)

    Actually, another funny story I’ve heard a bunch of times is that after the sessions for “The Locomotion,” S/A/W said the usual “This was fun, stop by the studio and maybe we can get something bigger together” stuff, and when Kylie showed up as planned, they’d forgotten all about it. They had to write “I Should Be So Lucky” on the spot. Don’t know whether it’s true.

    Kiss me on the bus

    Posted by Sean at 21:09, January 25th, 2005

    I like John Corvino’s latest article posted to IGF, but, then, I like his writing in general. I could have done without the Rosa Parks analogy, which he crashes through the guardrail and follows in flames as it rolls down the ravine (just to be gallant and cover his bad conceit-making with my own). His priorities are in the right place, though, and I join him in wondering how other people can possibly fail to see this stuff:

    Is that name difference silly? Yes, it’s silly � maybe even insulting. But when health benefits are denied to committed same-sex couples, when a person can’t get bereavement leave upon the death of her same-sex partner; when loving couples are split apart because one partner is a foreigner and can’t get citizenship, that’s far worse than silly or insulting � it’s downright cruel. I contend that we have a fighting chance at ending such cruelty, and that once we do so we’ll have an even better chance at ending the silly name-difference (again, see Scandinavia).

    I still don’t agree that attaining marriage under that name must, must, must be the goal. Even if we accept that legal and social circumstances are unequal now, it’s possible that opening marriage to gays is not the solution in the best interest of the larger society (including us gays). If the child-rearing function really is central to marriage, perhaps it needs to be reemphasized through stiffened divorce laws and greater penalties for parents who make spurious accusations at each other in custody battles, for example.

    The interference in individuals’ ability to make contracts that dictate the disposal of their possessions and persons if they’re incapacitated isn’t even a given everywhere; as Corvino says, we need to start there. Forget even the part about “recognition of our relationships” in the general sense, or at least, hold it in abeyance. Accusations like the one in the hate mail with which Corvino opens his article can only come from people who don’t see the current social and political climate for what it really is, a phenomenon that may be partially explained by their tendency to reach for invective when they should be assessing and countering arguments.

    Along those lines, I’m sorry to see that Maggie Gallagher is the latest columnist who took pay by the Bush administration to plug programs and is only now disclosing it. Gallagher is not my favorite person, as you might imagine. She has always struck me as principled, though, and I’ve cringed whenever I’ve seen someone from my team decide that the way to provide a witty and substantive refutation of one of her pieces is to call her a bitch. What she’s done isn’t an ethical infraction of epic proportions, but it doesn’t speak well of her–how does one forget about a contract for two grand, exactly? And even if her support for the program was there for the asking, anyway, is it impossible to believe that she might have been inclined not to publicize such flaws as it might have had once she and the government had an understanding?

    What this does do is give people who could learn from Gallagher’s arguments a new, easy reason to dismiss her as a bankrupt thinker. That’s not exactly what we need on either side at the moment. (The Gallagher story was foreshadowed by Instapundit and Drudge.)