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    画像

    Posted by Sean at 01:12, January 20th, 2005

    Since Atsushi will see this site before I talk to him tomorrow, and since we won’t actually get to see each other until next week, I’m going to put a picture up, temporarily. Of me, I mean. I mean, the picture will be of me until I age to the point that it doesn’t resemble me, but it’ll be up temporarily. For reasons that will be clear from the next post.


    One bad apple

    Posted by Sean at 12:07, January 19th, 2005

    Right Side of the Rainbow is understandably pissy about the face-value content of this Reuters article:


    Mistrust also runs deep among ordinary people. Some 58 percent of people surveyed in a British Broadcasting Corporation poll in 21 countries said they believed Bush’s re-election made the world a more dangerous place.



    “Negative feelings about Bush are high,” Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes which carried out the study, told the BBC. “This is quite a grim picture for the United States.”



    People in three countries surveyed — Poland, India and the Philippines — said the world was now safer, while Israel, which was not part of the survey, also remains a big supporter of the 58-year-old president who took office four years ago.





    I don’t know that I would take it at face value, though. I mean, when an individual is quoted, you kind of have to assume he means what he says:


    “I think 2005 should mark a new start in our relations … based on listening to each other, having a more regular dialogue and mutual respect,” French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said last week, reflecting the view of the European Union.





    Bureaucrat endorses useless hen-party approach to politics? Okay, I believe him. But 58% of people over 21 countries leaves a lot of room for country-by-country aberrations, and the data themselves are not linked by Reuters. They are, however, on the Program for International Policy Attitudes’ website, here. Japan’s results mesh with those derived from an Asahi poll before the election.



    The reason I’m cautious about interpreting the BBC poll as a Major Statement is not that I don’t want to believe it. (I don’t know whether 58% is the number, but overall, I do think Bush probably has more opponents than supporters in the global population.) Nor is it even just that polls are notoriously squishy. It’s just that, given that the way the non-US media covered Kerry’s campaign–a modern family man with an outspoken wife, anti-war beliefs, and Democratic Party affiliation just like our buddy Clinton!–a “Yes” to “Has Bush’s reelection made the world a more dangerous place?” could imply a range of things.



    My experience is obviously not unbiased, but I know plenty of people who think both Bush and Kerry were unappetizing choices but saw mostly evidence that Kerry was the better option. (Tokyo being a transportation hub, I’m not just talking about Japanese, either.) And those are the people who are even exposed to media outlets from a variety of sources. Who knows what the rank-and-file population saw that sculpted their ideas?



    IOW, I’m not ready to give up on the rest of the world just yet. I wish people had more sense of urgency about the WOT, certainly; but minds change slowly, especially in places where de facto state control of the news media is a constant reality.



    In the meantime, the inauguration is today, no matter what anyone else thinks of it. Congratulations to President Bush and the rest of America.


    The fat of the land

    Posted by Sean at 19:40, January 18th, 2005

    Good news! It’s safe to eat again. The FDA has released its revised food pyramid, designed to make sure that even we stupid non-dieticians can somehow manage to keep body and soul together. Naturally, the CSPI has reacted with a degree of worshipful pyramidiocy that would embarrass J.Z. Knight:


    CSPI Applauds New Dietary Recommendations



    Calls for New Government Campaigns to Implement Them







    Importantly, the guidelines apply to the federal school lunch and breakfast programs. Under the new Guidelines, schools will need to offer less-salty foods and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.





    This puts me in mind of something that happened my freshman year in college. Someone–the Vice-Provost of University Life, or the Greek Council, or some bored Trustees–decided that people were (be sure you’re sitting down for this) drinking too much at frat parties. The solution? Force the frats to offer non-salty snacks. Yes way! My roommate had joined one of the few funky-renegade fraternities on campus; it decided to offer non-salty snacks in the form of lettuce (plunked as-is into a serving dish with hilarious, baleful irony) and jello (not finger jello, just a bowl of jello with no utensils). I don’t remember the others.



    Of course, if the CSPI has its way, publicly treating the new food pyramid with playful irreverence will probably be a felony before long:


    To support the guidelines


    試行錯誤

    Posted by Sean at 12:39, January 18th, 2005

    This post is addressing the several people who have asked me what they can do to learn Japanese, under the flattering assumption that I have useful information to give them. That I am addressing those people will not be very clear for the first few paragraphs, so I’m going to ask in advance for everyone to bear with me. Then, too, if you can’t bear with me for a few paragraphs before figuring out what the topic of the post you’re reading is…not to be rude, but…WTF are you doing coming back here?

    Anyway. Connie du Toit recently posted a half-mischievous-half-serious set of new categories for websites in this general -osphere that, she contends, aren’t blogs in the strictest sense. In it, she gives valentines to all her blog friends, and what’s touching about them is that she’s the sort of woman who doesn’t give praise she doesn’t mean. The section about me–no, I’m not going to quote it; linking it is quite sufficient as a gesture of fatuous self-regard–is something I’m very grateful for, but it’s a little frightening, too. I say that because she pretty much hits all my specific points of vanity; what she wrote is the way I’d describe myself if I had the cheek to believe it’s actually true. I mean, it was spooky.

    One thing she called me was an expert in the Japanese language. Now, I don’t think any linguist (or Japanese person) would agree. I mean, my Japanese is good. Considering that a lot of foreigners here are content to learn what they need to pick up guys (or girls, you know, if that’s their thing), it’s not really hard to distinguish yourself that way. And I’ve lived here for a quarter of my life by now.

    However, the real reason is that I had fantastic teachers all the way through. Because my parents were willing to take out parent loans instead of telling me I could jolly well work my way through college if I wanted to go, I was able to loll about for four years at Penn, with only a work-study job (10 hours a week) to distract me from studying. Yes, I amused myself thoroughly, too, but I had the time and reserves of mental and physical energy to study. Having grown up around people who worked themselves to the bone, physically, I found this a new environment; and I really liked most of my classes, so I did the work gladly. The Japanese program was wonderful, taught mostly by native Japanese speakers who developed their own companion materials to go with Eleanor Jorden’s books, which are classics in their way but are based on some implausible ideas about language acquisition. My mentor on the Japanese side of my comp. lit. degree was just fantastic as an advisor, reticent in that Japanophile way but also willing to express himself with clarity and point when necessary.

    Where I ran into problems was during junior year. It was the worst year of my life, and I probably should have taken a year off to get myself together and resigned myself to being graduated late. But my grants and loans had already come through, and I’d spent the first two years piling on the courses, so I was able to take most things pass-fail and muddle through without disgracing myself (in schoolwork terms) or falling behind. I took fall semester of senior year to study abroad in London–it’s becoming clear that I’m the most pampered son of a steelworker there ever was, huh? I wasn’t able to take Japanese there, so I got the packets from the professor back home, and I worked through them and was able to enter second semester.

    My assumption all along had been that I’d go to grad school. It wasn’t just like, I woke up the summer after junior year, realized I hadn’t learned anything marketable, and it was either a PhD program or law school. I was excited about becoming a professor. I loved Japanese literature; I read it for fun. Get paid to think and teach about it? Hell, yeah. I went to the place that gave me the most funding, a program that’s known for being really demanding.

    And WHAM! I hit a wall. See, for the last two years, I’d been getting by in my Japanese classes on my ability to memorize. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been trying, but I’d been distracted, so I’d focused my energies on getting through the next kanji quiz, the next sentence pattern test, the next translation assignment. I wasn’t lazy, and I deserved my A’s on the finals–I mean, I’d gotten most of the questions right. But the thing is, I was only really putting my heart into learning the hard stuff: the tricky two-part sentence structures, the gajillion-stroke kanji, the names of obscure little plants mentioned in poems. After the placement test and some trial and error, I was assigned to second-year Japanese.

    That’s second-year Japanese. As in, with the college sophomores. It is clear, is it not, that this site is generated by someone of no mean ego. Well, let me tell you, I was unutterably humiliated. Just ABJECT. This sort of thing DID NOT happen to me when it came to coursework. Now, everyone–the Japanese teacher, my mentor, the professors teaching my literature classes–fell all over himself to tell me that my talent as a critic wasn’t in question, it was just that my language had to come up. Yeah, whatever. Lots of people are talented; I ACHIEVE, dammit, was my attitude. This sucked.

    Now, luckily, in a perverse way, my junior year had been so extraordinarily bad that I had enough perspective to realize that this was not the end of the world. Being ashamed did not mean I was going to die, or anything. So I studied, and here, too, the university had its own first-rate materials and uncompromising instructors. Still, being in second-year Japanese was sub-par, and I didn’t pass my review. I did great in all my lit classes, though, so it was agreed that I’d be given the chance to reapply the next year, as a new applicant.

    There was nothing unfair about this; fully-funded spots in graduate programs are not the sort of thing a department can afford to waste on people who show early signs of not making it through. What they did–this is very Japanophile–was say that since I was already a student who belonged to the university, I’d be supported (not with my grad student funding, but by applying to the Japan Foundation and such) as one to do the next year at an affiliated language program here. In the interim, I could write what would be a master’s thesis. So that’s how I first came to Japan. I spent a year doing a program in scholarly Japanese here–classes about research and reading the newspaper and finally figuring out what the hell the newscasters were saying on NHK. Loved every minute of it, and made friends I still have today.

    In that year, it became increasingly obvious that my mentor and I weren’t right for each other. He’s got a stratospheric reputation–it was not his problem. I didn’t really fit the program, and, in his gentlemanly way, he kind of nudged me toward seeing that. At least, that’s the way I interpreted it; one doesn’t exactly talk openly about these things in Japanese departments.

    Now that this post is longer than Middlemarch, you may be wondering what exactly, um, the message is. Don’t bother studying Japanese, because you’ll end up being wrong for grad school? No, not that. The message is: study Japanese. It’s an adventure, and it’s bloody hard. Like all adventurous, hard things, it teaches you about yourself and gives you the valuable experience of meeting and mastering obstacles. You can bluff your way through a lot of humanities courses nowadays, but, honey, when you’re studying an Asian language, either you know it or you don’t.

    And yet….

    Japanese teachers know that they are teaching a subject that foreigners find it hugely difficult to learn. They do their best to be rigorous, but unless you’re the military, you can’t ask people to sit still for 20 hours of instruction for a single course. There’s no way to avoid cutting corners somewhere. That means that, of necessity, much of what they end up testing you on in the first several years comes down to short-term memorizing of lists. They can’t help it. There’s so much to learn that they can’t make even the “cumulative” tests really cumulative. So if you’re a quick study, it’s easy to learn this week’s lesson for Friday’s quiz, cherry pick the things you think are cool enough to retain, and then re-cram everything for the midterms and final. And you won’t even realize you’re doing it, because sometimes, just cramming enough for the final will feel like a medal-worthy feat.

    The Piper will show up to dun you eventually, though. You will be in your first class where you’re supposed to read all those boring sentence patterns strung into paragraphs, and those paragraphs strung into a few pages of argument. And you’ll realize you can’t do it. You know most of the kanji, you’ve seen most of the 文型, but it’s not clicking. The ideas aren’t cohering into a main point, even though you can point to just about anything on the page and remember what it means.

    Normally, I wouldn’t generalize from my own experience about other people’s weaknesses, but my friends who teach tell me that this is a very common problem among bright Westerners studying Japanese. Part of the thrill is that it’s hard, so you gravitate toward the hard stuff. The easy stuff, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ll remember that. Or, well, you recognize it on sight, which seems good enough, until you try to understand a five-page article in which you have to back-translate every phrase in your head to get what it means.

    So here is what you must do: review, obviously, is the first thing. Don’t wait until the next time you’re threatened with a test to go back over p. 23, even though, it’s, like, some stupid thing about when to use はand が. Trust me, p. 23 will come back later to hurt you bad.

    But also remember that you can’t learn a language just through classes. Nowadays, with amazon.com, you can get Japanese paperbacks and DVD’s and audio CD’s. I don’t mean language lessons; I mean regular novels and television shows and movies and (heaven help us) J-pops albums. You won’t understand almost anything at first; what you have to do is let it bathe your brain. Get used to the speech cadences, the way things flow. Get used to the way certain verb endings seem to appear in sentences with certain modifying phrases. Don’t worry about learning the rules in the linguistic sense; that’s why you’re taking classes. Worry about getting an intuitive sense of what follows what. That’s the way you think in your native language; you’re constantly hearing traffic signals that give you a sense of what’s coming next without having to be conscious of it. In your first year or so, books are a lost cause, to be blunt. It might be worthwhile to try reading a translation of a novel in English and then seeing whether you can run your eye over the original and get any glimmers of where you are in the plot. You won’t, most of the time. On the other hand, kanji and kana jumbled together will become familiar to your eye, and you’ll be able to practice reading the kana and recognizing kanji radicals, at least. You’ll be moving closer to the day when your eye falls on a page of Japanese and reacts with, “Oh, words,” instead of, “Huh? What are those squiggles?”

    By this point, I’m sure I’ve lost just about everyone. Lately, most of my long posts have been due to my switched-off editing function, but this one is different. English will always be my favorite language. It’s my native tongue, in which the founding principles of our country were first articulated, with its blend of modesty and plainspokenness. I consider it an immense gift, which I did nothing to earn, to have been born into a country in which my brain was reared to work in English, not just because of its market value, but because of the thoughts it plants in your head. But Japanese has had thousands of years of relative seclusion to develop into a language of formidable intricacy, subtlety, and power. It’s beautiful, sometimes in that lovely way the world goes ga-ga over, but sometimes with a pleasing roughness that’s not so famous. Japanese is worth learning, and it’s worth learning right, which I’m grateful to have had a second chance to do. You won’t need a second chance if you channel your energies properly the first time.

    Okay, a small reward for those who’ve read this far: one of the most touching demonstrations of the way Japanese can use restraint and austerity to tap into large reservoirs of feeling is the best-known haiku by Kobayashi Issa, who lived, as it happens, through the time of the American Revolution. Unlike a lot of the haiku that Westerners take a shine to, this one has nothing quaint about it:

    つゆの世は
    つゆの世ながら
    さりながら
    小林一茶

    tsuyu no yo ha/tsuyu no yo nagara/sarinagara
    Kobayashi Issa

    This world of dew
    is a world of dew
    and yet– and yet–

    Kobayashi Issa

    That’s not my translation; I don’t know whose it is, but it’s the one you normally see, and for good reason. It doesn’t fit the syllable count, but it conveys the economy with which Issa conveys himself in the original.

    The poem was written a month after the early death of his daughter. Buddhism, especially the Japanese strain, encourages an acceptance of the impermanence of life. Well, more like “requires.” Dew is as ubiquitous in classical Japanese as the moon or cherry blossoms; it symbolizes, for obvious reasons, evanescence. Using essentially three concepts (dew, the world, and two related particles that mean something like “while”), he shows how he has not yet resigned himself to his daughter’s death. (There’s also, to me, something of a suggestion of the verb 去る [saru: “to pass”] in the use of the particle さりながら, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it identified as a pivot word, so that interpretation probably isn’t an accepted one.) The different viewpoints and time frames come through, even though the poem could be said not even to be a complete utterance.


    Got my eye on your windowpane / And I’ve smoked a lot of cigarettes

    Posted by Sean at 02:28, January 18th, 2005

    This is interesting:


    Middle-aged and elderly men who smoke heavily are more likely to commit suicide, a major survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has found.





    How, one is moved to wonder, did they go about finding the three non-heavy-smoking middle-aged and elderly men in Japan to serve as the control group?



    Yeah, I know, ba-dum-bum. It’s 2 a.m.–what do you expect? Phyllis Diller? What floored me was this part:


    A total of 108 of the 173 people who committed suicide were smokers. The rate of suicide among people who smoked less than 20 cigarettes per day was about the same as for nonsmokers, but the suicide rate of people who smoked between 30 and 39 cigarettes per day was 1.4 times higher than those in the group who smoked under 20 cigarettes a day.



    The rate of suicide for those who smoked 40 or more cigarettes a day was 1.7 times higher. Researchers said no differences were seen based on the number of years people had been smoking.





    40 cigarettes a day? How do people do that? I’m not moralizing; I’m just trying to wrap my head around it. I mean, I dated a few guys who couldn’t so much as say, “Good morning, dear,” before taking their first drag, so it’s not as if I haven’t seen chain-smoking. But 40? I know, it’s only a little over two per waking hour, which is not uncommon. It just sounds so huge when given as a total.



    That it didn’t matter how long people had been smoking is another interesting part. According to the article, MHLW thinks the nicotine itself may be the important factor, but it seems just as possible that people start puffing away more because they’re feeling stress or depression.


    The middle of the road / Is trying to find me

    Posted by Sean at 10:53, January 17th, 2005

    Okay, good thing I’m not dressed for work yet, because this crack by Simon made me snarf. He’s referring to PRC crackdowns on Chinese citizens who go to casinos over the border:


    There’s actually no need for casinos in China. If they want to gamble, they’ve got roads.





    That, in turn, put me in mind of an article that ran in Salon last spring by one Linda Baker, whose civil engineering legacy will be to have proffered the following paragraphs without a trace of irony:


    As it turns out, I’m far from the first person to think along these lines. In fact, the chaos associated with traffic in developing countries is becoming all the rage among a new wave of traffic engineers in mainland Europe and, more recently, in the United Kingdom. It’s called “second generation” traffic calming, a combination of traffic engineering and urban design that also draws heavily on the fields of behavioral psychology and — of all subjects — evolutionary biology. Rejecting the idea of separating people from vehicular traffic, it’s a concept that privileges multiplicity over homogeneity, disorder over order, and intrigue over certainty*. In practice, it’s about dismantling barriers: between the road and the sidewalk, between cars, pedestrians and cyclists and, most controversially, between moving vehicles and children at play. [Now, what kind of fuddy-duddies could stir up a controversy about that?–SRK]



    For the past 50 years, the American approach to traffic safety has been dominated by the “triple E” paradigm: engineering, enforcement and education. And yet, the idea of the street as a flexible community space is a provocative one in the United States, precisely because other “traditional” modes of transportation — light rail, streetcars and bicycles — are making a comeback in cities across the country. The shared-street concept is also intriguing for the way it challenges one of the fundamental tenets of American urban planning: that to create safe communities, you have to control them.





    Ms. Baker, you will doubtless be surprised to hear, lives in Portland, Oregon, which puts her statements about the “comebacks” made by light rail and other non-automobile forms of transportation in a strange light.



    What this has to do with Simon’s quip, before I forget to tell you (which is always a danger with my scatty, free-associative mind), is that Ms. Baker spent a week observing the city of Suzhou in China, where the populace is unfettered by “dominant-paradigm” rules expressed through signs, color-coded curbs, and traffic cops. And she didn’t see a single accident, even though she was totally paying attention, like, the whole week. Who knows? It’s possible that, in all of China, there are enough yearly traffic fatalities to depopulate Peoria, but none of them happens in Suzhou because its traffic non-system really works. But why is it that what Baker describes still sounds like a hopeful dress-up of the usual traffic free-for-all seen in population centers in developing countries?



    It’s a shame that Baker and the brothers-in-arms she quotes tend toward the post-structuralist-Mad Libs mode of expression (“subvert the dominant paradigm,” “give expression to the suppressed voice,” and “communal,” “communal,” “communal” until I’m going out of my mind), because they’re making some points that aren’t as risible as they make them sound. When you’re accustomed to following the signs and lights, you really do go on autopilot, and that is, in fact, a source of danger. When I’m back at my parents’ place, I always have to remind myself on my first day of driving not to get too comfy, because within a ten-mile stretch, you can go from twisty back roads with Deer Crossing signs to a clogged intersection in downtown Allentown to the notorious Route 22, where you’re jockeying for position with truckers like a video game come to life. I also take a lot of shortcuts when going through the town in which I grew up, the Borough of Emmaus, which has a population of 12,000 and is almost entirely residential.



    Baker is talking about urban areas, but it’s neighborhoods with a lot of houses that she seems most concerned with. Speed limits of 25 or 30 mph seem slow to impatient drivers, but they’re actually just above the speeds at which a pedestrian who gets hit is unlikely to be seriously injured. Couple that with the fact that most people go a good 5 or 10 mph over the speed limit, anyway, and add in the way marking streets as cars-only territory puts drivers off their guard against a child who bikes or runs out into their lane, and…well, you can see dangers that might be addressed by mixing types of traffic.



    Might. I suspect that the sort of intersection Baker is hot on works just fine in relatively small-scale neighborhoods within larger cities where everyone already knows the rules from before (as in the Netherlands) or everyone is used to improvising the rules because the idea of clear, impersonal rule of law is a fantasy throughout the larger society (as in the PRC). It’s possible to imagine that it could work in Portland, where I gather residents are in general more receptive to these sorts of experiments. I just hope they get into the habit of warning us visiting Bos-Wash types at the airport car rental counter, though.

    * Don’t you love this particular polarity? “Certainty”–also known as “having some idea what the motley crew of speeders, pokers, weavers, clinically-diagnosed turnsignalophobes, tailgaters, daydreamers, and let’s-play-chicken brakers with whom you’re sharing the roadway are going to do and where”–is bad because it separates people from vehicular traffic. Trying to negotiate an intersection of random peds and cyclists and cars and peddlers sitting in lotus position is not “anxiety-provoking” or “nerve-racking.” It’s “intriguing.” Turns commuting into a regular Marlene Dietrich movie.


    There goes the neighborhood

    Posted by Sean at 15:49, January 16th, 2005

    Now that Nathan is decamping for Hawaii, it’s apparently time for gay Spokane to make its move:


    Spokane already has a gay newspaper, Stonewall News Northwest, and some businesses that cater to gay residents. It has had an openly gay member of the City Council.



    But creating a district is still important, Reguindin said.



    “It would help youth struggling with their sexuality to realize they don’t have to go away to a big city to be gay. You can be gay right here in Spokane,” Reguindin said.



    Farand Gunnels, local representative for the Pride Foundation, a Seattle-based group that gives grants to support the gay community, wondered if there were enough gay residents in Spokane to support such a district.



    The INBA is also preparing to launch a “visibility campaign,” in which businesses will be asked to display signs in their windows proclaiming their support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.



    “We’ll know where we will be welcome and patronize those businesses,” Aspen said. “We’ve had a very positive reaction from the business community.”



    Gay customers will be able to leave special cards at businesses they patronize, to let the owners know they were there, Aspen said.



    “It will give Spokane an idea of the economic impact gay people have,” Aspen said.





    True, but it could also convince people that it’s not possible for us to pay for a bottle of Windex without announcing that we’re homos, which will not exactly militate against the stereotype that we’ve got sex on the brain 24-7. (It could produce a few comical exchanges, though. “Oh, here’s my queer card. Do I just give it to you?” “No fooling! A gallon of whole milk, a dozen eggs, and Hydrox cookies? I thought all you boys were anorexic.”) Also, if there’s already a gay newspaper and there’s been a gay city council member, does there need to be a whole neighborhood for gay youths to figure out that they might be able to find mates in their hometown?



    I don’t have any trouble with a bunch of investors starting gay-themed businesses on a street where properties are available, obviously. Announcing that you’re pre-planning the creation of a full gay district strikes me as asking for trouble, though. Opponents will have an open invitation to blame gay life for any and every new social ill that hits the place. Some will do that even if a group of gay investors decides to gravitate toward a cluster of shopfronts and beat-up old houses, of course, but the increased revenue and residential gentrification are more likely to register as benefits because they won’t seem like part of some institutionally-funded plot to give the gays a home base.



    Added on 25 January: Michael (the sort of squeamish Charlie who apparently can’t eat squid unless it’s edited to look non-threatening, like X-large Spaghettios) also has a reaction to this, which he cross-posted at Dean’s World and got an interesting discussion going.


    Kobe earthquake anniversary

    Posted by Sean at 14:30, January 16th, 2005

    Today, it’s exactly ten years since the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which killed over 6500 people in and around Kobe. Given the recent catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in developing Southeast Asia, it’s sobering to recognize that, even in a country known for its whizbang technology and millennia of dealing with these things, recovery goes in fits and starts. Reason ran a piece a few years after the quake about bureaucratic problems that hampered both immediate rescue and long-term rebuilding, which has an unsettling resonance given the already-emerging charges of incompetence against UN personnel handling disaster aid now.



    There are a few other parallels. Kobe is not considered a hot earthquake zone in Japan. Neither is Niigata, which just got hit with a series of big ones in October. That means that building codes and disaster rehearsals were not up to the same standards as they are here in Tokyo, and not without justification. It just isn’t rational to expend all kinds of time, energy, and money getting ready for something that’s almost certain not to happen.



    That’s not to say that governments should rest on their laurels–the Mainichi published the results of a survey last week that indicated that many local governments don’t feel prepared to deal with disasters. This year saw an unusual series of typhoons with their attendant floods and mudslides, followed by the Niigata earthquake, so the possibilities are very much fresh in the minds of municipal authorities. Many lessons from the Kobe earthquake have also been assimilated and put into practice–the city of Sendai fitted its gas lines with a different shutoff system, and when a 6.9 M quake happened in 2003, it had reason to be grateful. But no matter what the police and fire departments do, people scattered through buildings and streets still have to know how to live through the first strike long enough to be helped. (BTW, if you’re reading this from Japan, do you have everything attended to?)



    Added on 18 January: Thanks to Far Outliers for linking this post. He went to high school in Kobe (which used to have one of the largest communities of foreigners in Japan, I think), and he offers a few interesting slice-of-life details from what he remembers pre-earthquake.



    Okay, last time I linked to something of Joel’s, I changed his religion and made him the author of a book he hadn’t written. And ended up in a long discussion about green beans. Therefore, I am making doubly sure he says he went to high school in Kobe, because I know he mentioned something about Kyoto in there…um, looks okay.


    Oh, you’ve got green eyes / Oh, you’ve got blue eyes / Oh, you’ve got grey eyes

    Posted by Sean at 13:01, January 15th, 2005

    Amritas, gallantly looking for ways to show solidarity with others of his genetic heritage by sharing their aggrievedness, found a piece on plastic surgery. He can’t seem to get too worked up over it, though:


    Although I think “racial anorexia” is an exaggeration, I never understood the appeal of eye surgery or hair lightening for Asians. I don’t necessarily think eye surgery makes Asians look more Caucasian because there are Asians born with ‘double lids’. But I prefer the ‘monolid’ look (which some Caucasians naturally have!). And I don’t think light hair goes well with Asian complexions. It looks fake.





    “Racial anorexia” is the Naomi Wolf-ish word the writers of the original piece at Model Minority used to describe…um, I don’t know exactly what they’re describing, but it sounds like some sort of inferiority complex that makes Asian-Americans compulsively erase their Asiatic features. That’s what the rest of us get for recklessly walking around looking white all the time.



    I think Amritas is right about the looks stuff. The reason that the Japanese categorize eyes as 一重 (hitoe: “single-layer”) and 二重 (futae: “double-layer”) is that both kinds of eyelids are common here. And some people, like my boyfriend, have single-layer eyelids but don’t have particularly small or sleepy-looking eyes.



    He’s also right about the hair. When Asians bleach their hair and wear it in a way you might call “decorative”–meaning, punkish and playful and frankly artificial, the way people do when they dye their hair green or purple–it sometimes looks cool. The natural-looking blond shades that can be achieved with today’s dyes don’t usually flatter Asian skin tones, though.



    Speaking of skin, it’s weird that no one involved in Amritas’s post mentioned it. Meaning, you can make the case that wide, alert eyes and angular features are prized because they look white, but it’s only fair to acknowledge also how porcelain smoothness and evenness of tone is associated with Asian complexions. Come to think of it, there’s a whole general constellation of this stuff: white guys who generally go for Asian women get sick and tired of having people assume that they like ’em docile, petite, mysterious in manner, and barely-above-jailbait in appearance. I’ve seen educated urban white girls get really, really worked up over this supposed phenomenon. (I say “supposed” because anyone who thinks Mother doesn’t rule the household in Asia just as firmly as she does everywhere else is mistaken.) To the extent that stereotyped standards of attractiveness prod people into changing essential part of themselves, it cannot be said that Asians are always seen as the ones who need to change.



    Amritas’s mention of white celebrities with features that are usually considered Asian reminded me of something else: several times over the years, I’ve been at parties where the conversation spontaneously turned to the topic, “What Asian nationality are you mistaken for?” Once, at a dinner party of a dozen people, this was the topic for a good twenty-minute stretch, with guesses submitted about everyone in turn. As in, “Well, Ryu-chan, you have kind of a flat nose, so I think you look Thai.” “But his mouth isn’t drawn up at the center as much as a Thai person’s! He looks more Vietnamese to me. With those earlobes, he could be Indian, though!”



    The first time it happened, I was dumbfounded. There’s no American equivalent that I’ve seen. I mean, sure, sometimes people will say they get their cornsilk hair and welkin eyes from their German ancestors, or what have you, but it doesn’t become this big group guessing game. (Smug aside: My Atsushi was given what I assume to be the highest possible compliment: “Atsu-chan, you’d never be mistaken for anything except a Japanese.” A handsome Japanese. Weary aside: And, naturally, this became yet another opportunity for me to be told, “Are you sure you’re American? You look so European! If I didn’t know you, I’d guess you were French.” No, there’s nothing wrong with being French; but I’m not, and I don’t like the frequent implication that “looking American” means being pushily fat and having a slightly blank expression.)



    [Ten-minute pause while I ogle Robert Conrad, the murderer on this week’s Columbo, who is working out in nothing but gym shorts while Peter Falk is questioning him. Woof!]



    Amritas is probably right that the only real universal is bilateral symmetry. I think there’s a point to be made that, now that cosmetic procedures are more widely available, a lot of people are taking the opportunity to bring their features in line with the perfectly-homogeneous Karen Mulder sort of face, rather than being happy that they have a few distinguishing features. And it’s certainly true that that sort of neat-as-a-pin angularity is mostly found in people with Northern European genes. (Mulder herself, for example, is Dutch.) But there are also plenty of white people who don’t look like that and get surgery to do so, so whether idealizing it is some special kind of “racial anorexia” strikes me as an arguable point.


    多臓器同時移植

    Posted by Sean at 12:29, January 15th, 2005

    A few weeks back, an article about a multiple-organ transplant to be performed on a Japanese infant caught my eye. I hadn’t heard much more about it, but today, tucked in between the more lurid stories in the Mainichi, is this update:


    Five months after being born, the baby boy was diagnosed as suffering from twisted intestines, and his internal organs began to deteriorate.



    His parents arranged for Yosuke to undergo a transplant of his stomach, pancreas, spleen, liver, and the large and small intestines at the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Center on Christmas Eve.





    That’s pretty much everything down there, isn’t it, except his gall bladder and kidneys? The little guy’s recovering well, so they expect to release him soon (the article seems to imply but doesn’t actually say that it will be earlier than usual). And naturally, they have to watch for signs of rejection. It’s good to hear things are going along smoothly so far, though.