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    On campus

    Posted by Sean at 00:10, February 7th, 2006

    Joanne Jacobs writes that Queer Studies is spreading. And a good thing, too. There’s no more difficult project than getting spoiled 20-year-old gay men and women at elite private colleges to obsess over themselves and feel disadvantaged. It can only be hoped that giving them academic credit for it will help.

    She also links FIRE’s website. I should know not to click through to FIRE by this point. It’s not that the organization isn’t doing wonderful, necessary work; it’s just that the cases it documents are so infuriating that reading about them makes me want to flee to another planet.

    Of course, you have to wonder which planet the good folks at Jacksonville State University think we’re living on already. They feature in a post on FIRE’s blog-like “The Torch”:

    There must be something illiberal in the water in Alabama. [I blame Susanna.–SRK] In October of last year, FIRE Legal Network attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against Troy University in Alabama for violating the First Amendment by maintaining a restrictive speech code and censoring student artwork.

    Now FIRE has learned that Jacksonville State University (JSU) in Jacksonville, Alabama, maintains one of the most illegally overbroad—not to mention simply inane—speech codes that we have ever seen. The student code of conduct at JSU provides that “No student shall threaten, offend, or degrade anyone on University owned or operated property.” Got that? No student shall offend anyone on University property. The only way for students to ensure they are in compliance with this policy is to remain in complete silence. Otherwise, how could a student possibly know whether an opinion she wants to express might offend one of the 9,000 other students at JSU, each of whom has his or her own particular sensitivities?

    I hate to break it to Samantha Harris (who wrote that on behalf of FIRE), but as a rather laconic guy myself, I can assure you that being quiet only invites Chatty Cathy types to be offended at one’s perceived “unfriendliness,” “aloofness,” or even “elitism.”

    Personally, I cracked up with unrestrained offensive glee at the “degrade” part. I have this vision of some outraged, fresh-faced 19-year-old (of either sex) showing up in a huff at the Dean of Student Life’s office and declaring, “That guy who lives two doors down in the dorm just totally degraded me!” Presumably then there would be a Threat/Offense/Degradation Incident Report to file?

    Bonkers–just bonkers.

    Brokeback Mountin’

    Posted by Sean at 00:16, February 6th, 2006

    I’m afraid my best friend has ruined Brokeback Mountain for me. I’ll try to watch it when I get the chance, but I’m pretty sure I’ll end up disgracing myself and have to leave (or turn off the DVD player).

    He’s just seen it himself, and he was describing it to me the other night. To get the full picture, you need context: We were at GB, sitting right under the framed photograph of Bette Davis. Backs to the wall. Surveying the gay drama in action (as it very much was on Saturday). So A. is trying to explain what he thought of the movie without giving too much away, but we’ve both read the short story, so eventually he decided to give me his entire take: “Heath Ledger–the Australian? He was pretty clearly going overboard on the Wild Wild West of America thing. But…I guess something gets lost in the translation from the Outback, though. If Heath Ledger knows anything about the Outback. And Jake Gyllenhaal was trying for the rugged thing, too, but he came off like a total f**k-me Mary! You know, he batted his eyes in every scene. They were trying to set him up as all gruff and crap, but the whole time you were sitting there thinking, ‘He’s gonna be the one to take it.'” Now, at this point, I was guffawing so hard I had the dry heaves. I managed to get my drink in both hands and set it down on the counter before I really made a scene, but not before dumping a few mouthfuls of it down the leg of my jeans.

    So it’s going to be hard for me to appreciate the layers of love and intimacy and pain on-screen with A.’s clipped, educated British voice, slightly but perceptibly aghast, calling Jake Gyllenhaal “Mary” in my head. And while imagining I can see Heath Ledger’s Method Acting cogs turning: Kinda like the Outback, just, like, no kangaroos…yeah.

    Hope it gets some Oscars, though.

    The sacred and the profane

    Posted by Sean at 23:53, February 5th, 2006

    Grand Stand has a post up about the cartoons thing, and of course, it’s good. I’d love to agree with it. I go on and on about civilized discourse myself all the time.

    The reason I can’t is that I think context matters. We accept that there are settings in which any political speech would be offensive–you don’t take your aunt’s funeral as an opportunity to decry her having voted for Dukakis two decades ago. Political cartoons are at the opposite end of the spectrum. They operate on caricature; they condense complex issues and actions into jolting pen-and-ink images. A public figure who’s recently displayed greed will soon open the paper and see herself depicted as a very large pig with its snout in a very large trough.

    Does that mean that there are no lines to be crossed? Of course not. But whether a drawing is mere childish provocation or a genuine contribution to the public debate that uses its shock value in a meaningful way is often going to be an issue that no one can settle. Perhaps the result would be unladylike and ungentlemanly either way, but that’s why we look for context clues: Do the other cartoons this guy has drawn consistently jeer at a particular group? Does the rest of the editorial page at this publication take a balanced view of the issue being treated? One doesn’t want to slide into easy defenses of caddish behavior, but one also doesn’t want to stifle genuine free thought by demarcating some ideas as off-limits to criticism or extrapolating too much from a 9 in2 drawing.

    Maybe you could argue that if the hang-up is over iconography, the debate has to be conducted in words rather than images; but I think you could just as easily argue that if visual representation is the issue, images are the most direct and immediate way to get to the heart of the matter. You could also argue that there are some questions the free, skeptical mind can’t ask without offending people. So fine–people are offended, and they respond with more speech. The minute newspapers that print controversial material start bleating that people are getting furious with them, I will be back at Grand Stand’s side immediately. That’s what’s supposed to happen. What’s not supposed to happen, when you dwell among the sane, is the torching of embassies and the issuing of death threats.


    Posted by Sean at 23:17, February 5th, 2006

    While you’re on your way to the Ginza….

    US research firm Risk Management Solutions (RMS) has compiled a report that predicts Japan could suffer large-scale damage, including the deaths of possibly around 290,000 people, in the event of a major terrorist attack using a compact bomb in downtown Tokyo.

    The terrorist bombing in the projected scenario uses a small military nuclear device obtained on the black market from the former Soviet Union by a terrorist organization and is detonated around noon in the city center. The destructive power of the bomb is assumed to be about one third that unleashed by the A-bombing of Hiroshima. It is projected there would be 290,000 immediate deaths and up to 1,690,000 further casualties.

    The probability that large-scale terrorism employing a weapon of mass destruction will occur in Japan within the next year is low, at 0.4%; however, the report cautions, “The risk cannot be ignored altogether.”

    In the event of a major epidemic of a particularly virulent new strain of influenza, the report also predicts that 24,000,000 people could be infected and 500,000 could die even if the government responded rapidly. It indicated that total insurance premiums would reach US $58,000,000,000 (around ¥6,700,000,000,000), and the economic losses and damage in human terms would be even greater than those from a downtown terrorist attack.

    Root causes

    Posted by Sean at 06:06, February 5th, 2006

    I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, That psycho who attacked the gay bar in Massachusetts must have been egged on by the Religious Right, because…well, the Religious Right is responsible for all gay problems right down to that hangnail you got before your last blind date. And right correct you are (via IGF):

    The hatred and loathing fueling this morning’s vicious attack on gay men in New Bedford is not innate, it is learned. And who is teaching it? Leaders of the so-called Christian right, that’s who. Individuals like James Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, the Rev. Pat Robertson and their ilk are obsessed with homosexuality. They use their vast resources, media networks and affiliated pulpits to blame lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for all the ills of society. They disguise their hatred as ‘deeply held religious beliefs.’ We have witnessed seven years of vicious anti-LGBT organizing in Massachusetts — and endured the hate-filled rantings of Brian Camenker of the Article 8 Alliance and Parents Rights Coalition and Ed Pawlick of MassNews. The blood spilled this morning is on their hands.

    I wasn’t aware that the NGLTF PR office was staffed by research psychologists–there appears to be no evidence presented for the claim that the teenaged suspect in this case was socialized into his psychopathic behavior, rather than being just a plain wrong-‘un. I was also under the impression that genuine Nazi-sympathizing nut cases–as the suspect appears to be–thought Dobson and Robertson and their fellow-travelers were a bunch of pussies, in part precisely because they stop well short of recommending that faggots be shot.

    Steve Miller also deadpans an appropriate response to the predictable call for more hate crimes legislation:

    From HRC: Anti-gay hate crime in Massachusetts is enraging reminder of need to pass law. I agree; walking into a bar and shooting people really ought to be against the law. Glad to hear that HRC is on the case.

    The suspect has been apprehended, having now added the murder of another woman and a traffic cop to his record of impishly charming little escapades. CNN also has, BTW, an interview with one of the original victims at the gay bar. (I don’t know whether the link will work, but here it is.) The guy reacts with such equanimity and such sweetly self-effacing humor it breaks your heart. Some lunatic almost murdered him with a freaking hatchet and gun a few nights ago, for crying out loud. I’m glad he says he has friends and family to help him through, and I hope the other two victims are as lucky.

    Islamofascist Mad Libs

    Posted by Sean at 23:04, February 4th, 2006

    Unreal. Just unreal. I know this stuff shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but I’ve gone back to Michelle Malkin’s site and looked at those pictures several times over the last few days, and I find it hard even to get angry, exactly. (I’m sure that would be different if this were the aftermath of a suicide bombing or other sort of attack.) It’s just so depressing: “[thesaurus word for kill] those who [thesaurus word for assail] Islam.” These people can’t even come up with stimulating, idiosyncratic thoughts on their protest posters.

    This is probably going to sound ridiculously petty, but I wish our civilization were clashing with a force that at least gave us a run for our money when it came to imagination and…flair. Not that that would make the bloodthirstiness or illiberalism any better at all; but it would at least give the feeling of fighting a worthy, equal evil, as opposed to one that just happens to breed in such large numbers that its presence can’t be ignored. As Steven Malcolm Anderson would have said, they have no style.

    I hadn’t really planned on doing the Buy Danish! thing, but if the enemy insists on being so incandescently lame, I figure I’ll go the whole way and take the in-your-face gay approach: I will stop by Seibu on my way home and drop some money on Royal Copenhagen. Yeah, fine, I spend too much on housewares even when there’s no moral message to be conveyed, but see, I hadn’t planned on buying anything there TODAY, so I still get to feel all upright and socially responsible. So say I.

    Still standing

    Posted by Sean at 03:24, February 4th, 2006

    Great news: Kylie is in remission. (Via Ghost of a Flea, as if you had to ask)

    I’ll hold my breath until I turn blue!

    Posted by Sean at 23:01, February 3rd, 2006

    Okay, I know I shouldn’t be disrespectful, but I laughed aloud at this (via Rondi Adamson). Luckily, I didn’t have a mouthful of tea and cake at the time:

    A leading Islamic cleric called for an “international day of anger” today over publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, and a Danish activist predicted that deadly violence could break out in Europe “at any minute”.

    As more European newspapers reprinted the cartoons, what started off as a row between Denmark’s press and its Muslim population grew into a full-blown “clash of civilisations”.

    As Rondi says, “But isn’t every day an international day of anger for Islamofascists?” Yeah, seriously, what is that all about? We infidels are going to be glowered at especially hard today? The shrieky denunciations of Western culture and institutions will be ratcheted up a decibel or two?

    The Danish cartoons thing is one of those stories that everyone with a blog had written about the moment it broke, so I wasn’t going to say anything about it. If you believe in freedom of thought and freedom of speech, the political position you need to take is obvious. As Virginia Postrel says:

    My response to this nonsense is to wonder why Muslims don’t grow up. If your co-religionists are going to take political stands, and blow up innocent people in the name of Islam, political cartoonists are going to occasionally take satirical swipes at your religion. Those swipes may not be nuanced, but they’re what you can expect when you live in a free society, where you, too, can hold views others find offensive. If you don’t like it, move to Saudi Arabia. Or just try to peacefully convert people to Islam.

    We all cherish the right to free speech, but of course we have to try and assess motives in order to be able to deal with each other, and there’s no reason not to raise the question of whether the cartoons in question are merely coarsening the public discourse rather than contributing useful thoughts to it. That’s the angle of the whole thing that pisses me off; there are legitimate issues about civilized behavior in a liberal society that this could be an opportunity to discuss. It’s useful to ask where vigorous opposition shades off into unenlightening jeering and disrespect.

    But, you know, you have to stop frothing at the mouth in order to get to the point at which you can contemplate such things, and that’s something many Islamic activists seem incapable of doing. Not only that, but moderate Muslims haven’t figured out how to grab the spotlight when these sorts of things happen and put a sensible, civilized public face on their faith. (Virginia’s right about Kindly Inquisitors, BTW. Short but very good.)

    Added after finishing tea: Trust me to get through an entire post about something I’d planned not to post about without posting about the thing that spurred me to post about it in the first place. (Don’t bother rereading that sentence–you got the gist already, trust me.)

    It was the State Department (via Michelle Malkin):

    “These cartoons are indeed offensive to the beliefs of Muslims,” State Department spokesman Justin Higgins said when queried about the furore sparked by the cartoons which first appeared in a Danish newspaper.

    “We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility,” Higgins told AFP.

    “Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable. We call for tolerance and respect for all communities and for their religious beliefs and practices.”

    “Not acceptable”? Give me a break. “Not acceptable” is, like, the locution I use when scolding an employee for being late or not filling out his paperwork properly. It would be “not acceptable” for Electrolux to refuse to make restitution if it sold you a defective vacuum cleaner. It’s “not acceptable” for a commercial flight to take off an hour late with no apology from the crew.

    Given that candid eye contact from a woman in public is enough to “[incite] religious or ethnic hatreds” in some of these people, going all extra-sensitivo when writing (of all things!) political cartoons seems a bit pointless. Especially if our standard is going to be wifty-ass PR-speak like “acceptable.”

    BTW, while I’m citing a series of beautiful, smart, fierce women, Samantha Burns hasn’t yet posted about this whole ridiculous cartoon drama, but presumably she will. (A commenter has prodded her.) And when she does, you know it’s going to be a corker.

    Added still later: In the interest of diversity, here‘s a post that’s not by a beautiful, smart, fierce woman. Since this is Beautiful Atrocities we’re talking about, it goes without saying that it’s not safe for work. Not safe for play, either. I’m a big proponent of civilized discourse, but there are times when targeted offensiveness makes a point that can’t be made any other way.

    You’re the one for me, fatty

    Posted by Sean at 22:22, February 3rd, 2006

    Wow. Do you think this way of thinking could somehow be made to catch on elsewhere?

    “We can only provide information on how to lead a healthy life,” Health Ministry official Shigefumi Nakano said Friday, referring to a report on the ministry’s Web site. “The rest is up to the individual.”

    There’s a concept, huh? The context is that the Japanese are failing to meet health and fitness targets set by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare.

    The ministry’s 10-year plan also measures awareness about the health impact of activities such as smoking and alcohol consumption.

    While Japanese are becoming more conscious about how lifestyle affects health, many still do not get enough exercise, the ministry report said.

    Of course, Japan is a rich society, so people are taking in an increasing number of calories that are for pleasure rather than subsistence. Partially because everything is so expensive and partially because dainty portions are valued culturally (well, everywhere except ramen shops), you tend not to be served the great mountains of french fries or chocolate cake that you would be in the States, but it’s not hard to believe that people are getting somewhat fatter and lazier. That said, there’s no shortage of nutritional information available. The food labeling here is as good as it is in the States. And Japan has the same magazine articles, news and talk show segments, and advertisements extolling the benefits of fish and whole grains and green leafy vegetables that you’d see elsewhere in the First World, too.

    2004 banner year for DFAA

    Posted by Sean at 21:49, February 3rd, 2006

    Apparently, 2004 was a good year for bid rigging:

    It now appears that every major civil engineering and construction project commissioned by the DFAA in fiscal 2004 was tarnished by bid-rigging, according to sources close to an investigation by Tokyo prosecutors.

    Projects that were believed rigged include the relocation of a runway at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture as well as quay and bank protection work at the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Activities Sasebo and Yokose Fuel Terminal, both in Nagasaki Prefecture. Revelations about Iwakuni emerged Thursday.

    Of particular interest to prosecutors is a retired DFAA official who held the post of technical councilor, the third-highest job in the agency, an arm of the Defense Agency that its chief has pledged to dissolve.

    The construction project in Sasebo was contracted for 4.032 billion yen, while work on the Iwakuni project in fiscal 2004 cost 3.517 billion yen.

    The Sasebo project was the most expensive commissioned by the Fukuoka Defense Facilities Administration Bureau in fiscal 2004.

    The joint venture that won the project was headed by Penta Ocean Construction Co. and the bid price was 99.28 percent of what the agency was willing to spend. [Incompetents! They couldn’t find a way to wring out the other 0.72%?–SRK]

    The project at the Yokose Fuel Terminal cost about 1.575 billion yen and the contract was won by a joint venture led by Toa Corp. The bid price was 97.76 percent of what the agency had earmarked.

    Experts said such high percentages are unheard of when bidding is open to all.

    Three sitting or former DFAA high officials were arrested last week, but of course, you don’t get dirty doings of this magnitude without help from another post-War institution: the revolving door, known in Japanese as 天下り (ama-kudari: lit., “descent from the heavens [of powerful government work into a private-sector position in which one can exploit one’s accrued connections]”).

    Retired DFAA bureaucrats also played key coordinating roles in deciding which joint ventures got contracts.

    Sources close to the investigation said a retired technical councilor who moved to an executive position at a construction company was a key individual in the bid-rigging for the Iwakuni project.

    The individual, whose name was withheld, served as head of the DFAA’s Construction Department as well as technical councilor from the 1980s until the 1990s.

    A textbook case of amakudari at work.