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    Posted by Sean at 08:18, July 6th, 2011

    Congratulations to my friend Sarah Hoyt, whose Darkship Thieves has won the 2011 Prometheus Best Novel Award. Very good news!

    Sugar-crystal lightning/Mystic evening thunder

    Posted by Sean at 23:14, April 26th, 2011

    Phoebe Snow apparently never really came out of the coma she fell into after having a brain hemorrhage last year, and today she died.

    This NYT obituary gives a reasonable, if potted, survey of her career, but as it acknowledges, that wasn’t what was most important in her life. Snow’s daughter Valerie suffered severe brain trauma during birth, and from then on, her priority was finding a way to finance her home care:

    “At the end of ’77, I toured for five weeks while this young couple looked after Valerie. When I came home, she was literally starving herself, and I was virtually insane. I would say that I had a breakdown. I took her down South for treatments, and the doctor at a clinic there said to me, ‘Have you ever thought about a little voluntary rest commitment for yourself?’ I said, ‘I’ve been away from my kid for over a month, and I’m not gonna do it again.’ He said, ‘What are you going to do when you tour again?’ He said he knew a woman who would take Valerie while I was on tour, and I agreed to talk to her.

    “That night, from my hotel room, I called the woman. She was a sweet, gentle lady. She told me she looked after five other kids, and so when she came to the clinic to meet me, I was gung ho. She asked when I was going on tour again. I said probably not for another six months. She said, ‘Well, then, we’ll take care of the adoption papers now.’

    “I looked at her and said, ‘You adopt them?’ ‘Oh yeah,’ she said, ‘I don’t just babysit. I’m the adopted mother of these children.’

    “I thought, ‘Oh, God.’ And for one hot minute I looked at her — you know how someone just oozes kindness and beauty? — and I thought, ‘Well, maybe…maybe it’ll be best.’ And then I looked at my little girl who was lying there so messed up and I just said, ‘No, thanks.’ I never thought about it after that.”

    Phoebe Snow is my parents’ age, and Valerie, who died in 2007, was a few years younger than I am. Snow kept her home for the rest of her life. I’ve adored her music for decades, and I’ve often thought of that story: Snow, who coolly commemorated an adulterous relationship in her biggest hit (“Poetry Man”), proved capable of a different kind of complete devotion when she’d grown up a bit. You don’t hear a lot of stories like that about celebs who came of age in the early ’70s. (And let me just say that I’m not standing in judgment of parents who decide their children really need to be in a facility; every case is different. My point is that Snow clearly had a sense of what she herself must do, and she did it.)

    I kept meaning to see Snow live, but I never did, though I return to her albums again and again. After her career as a recording artist stalled, she was never really in the public conscience except as a singer of ad jingles. But listen to her records, after all these years of being clobbered into submission by Whitney and Mariah and Christina, and you remember what it’s like to listen to a gorgeous, limber voice with an impossible range that serves the song rather than shoving its impressiveness in your face all the time. And unlike the bitter/smug Joni Mitchell of The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Snow critiqued post-war American suburbia from the inside, as one of its products, and with real empathy underneath the resentment. Only a few of her albums are great overall, but almost all of them have great songs: “Two-Fisted Love,” “Something Real,” “I Don’t Want the Night to End,” “All Over,” and lots that’s not on YouTube: “My Faith Is Blind,” “Key to the Street,” and scads of wonderful covers (such as “Love Makes a Woman,” which is on YouTube). A remarkable legacy from a remarkable woman.


    Posted by Sean at 07:00, March 7th, 2011

    Happy birthday to Taylor Dayne, who made some of the most gloriously histrionic pop music of my high-school years. Note how Dayne brings the attention-grabbing hot with no “concept” but a black dress, some red lipstick, and a wind machine. (Try that, Lady Gaga.)

    You’re a zero

    Posted by Sean at 16:32, December 10th, 2010

    More hazards of living in Brooklyn: you might end up crammed into someone’s tiny studio with pretentious vulgarians drinking eggnog from plastic cups while the Cure is played at you (via Instapundit):

    So when Claudia Argiro, 33, gave a holiday party last Saturday night, she pared down her guest list to about two dozen of her closest friends, hid the TV behind an industrial column wrapped with holiday lights and turned the media console [!] into a bar.

    But one thing she had to have was a bartender. “I’m an adult now, living by myself, and this is my sh-bam, my moment,” said Ms. Argiro, who runs a clothing boutique nearby called Charlie and Sam.

    She called up Tealicious, a catering company in Queens, which sent over Eric Villani, a 33-year-old bartender, who was stationed in a two-foot-wide triangle in the middle of the room. For the next four hours, Mr. Villani stood there, not to make special cocktails, but to pour a vodka punch or a rum eggnog into clear plastic cups, trimmed with sugar-coated cherries and cinnamon sticks.

    As a free-market type, I approve of service industries that fill niche needs. If Argiro is unaware that it’s more traditional to ask trusted friends to pour for guests from a teapot or punch bowl at a small party at home, I think it’s great that she was able to find Villani to help her out. He gets rent money, she gets to enjoy being a hostess without having to worry about the drinks table, and everyone’s happy.

    What’s touching is that anyone in the scenario thinks there’s anything sophisticated about it.

    His presence did not go unheralded in the apartment, in a new warehouse conversion along the Brooklyn waterfront, although the intimate cluster of guests could have easily served themselves. “In my opinion, if you don’t have a bartender at your party, you’re a loser,” said Dustin Terry, who lives a floor below Ms. Argiro and said his job was to get models and Saudi royalty into hot clubs. “The bartender brings class and sophistication.”

    “If you can’t afford to hire a bartender,” he added, “you shouldn’t be having a party.”

    Ah, yes—I remember well when I was a boy and dear mama told me that you must always look for guidance in the social graces from gentlemen who make their living trying to wangle admission to glitzy nightclubs for jumped-up trash that can’t get in by reputation or mien.

    Me, I think that the people who shouldn’t be giving parties are those who, in the words of one bartender, “don’t want to have to look after their guests’ needs.” That’s what giving a party’s about, even if you have a footman for every pair of dinner partners. If your priority is “bringing your party to the next level” (barf!), it’s not surprising that that gets lost.

    One last thing that caught my eye was this parenthetical attributed to some event planner: “Putting out a tip jar, said Lyndsey Hamilton, a New York events planner, is a definite ‘faux pas.'” Is it, indeed? Why on Earth would that be? It seems to me that a bartender who was asked to shoehorn himself into a 2’*2′ space in someone’s studio to ladle stuff into plastic cups—just so the hostess could show the assembled revelers that she can afford a bartender—might as well appropriate a disused KFC bucket, wrap it in construction paper, scrawl “TIP$ MUCH APPRECIATED THANX!” across it with a glitter pen, and park it prominently in front of himself. It would be in perfect keeping with the setting.

    Hope everyone’s weekend is starting well.

    Added later: The Go Fug Yourself ladies noticed this article, too, and they mention something that also struck me: “I feel like the reporter just cackled with glee as the people he interviewed said yet douchier things.” He must have, yes.  The whole thing sounds like a parody; on first reading, I hoped it was a parody.


    Posted by Sean at 08:24, November 17th, 2010

    A few weeks ago, the NYT asked a bunch of academics to comment on the closing of the French department, among others, at SUNY–Albany. Its respondents obliged, vouchsafing that the humanities ennoble the soul, make workers more savvy about operating in culturally diverse environments, and teach critical thinking. Oh, and they’re interesting and stuff. John McWhorter argues that losing humanities programs at universities doesn’t mean humanist studies will be killed off; otherwise, though they come at it from different angles, all the other contributors think closing humanities departments is a very bad thing.

    Assuming that the NYT asked its contributors to respond to the question as framed here, their answers aren’t all that bad, but it’s interesting that most of them didn’t raise the issue of quality. Harvard professor Louis Menand—try not to hold it against him that he also, blech, writes for The New Yorkerargues as follows, for example:

    First, no department is an island. Universities are places where scholars in one field have opportunities to debate, collaborate with, and learn from scholars in very different fields. The loss of any department is a loss to every department at that institution.

    Second, what parent does not want his or her child to have access to literature, philosophy and the arts? Who thinks those are dispensable luxuries for educated professionals in an advanced society? You would have to have a very primitive view of the purpose of education to believe that the cultural heritage of humanity has no place in it.

    Finally, of course the humanities teach something. Their subject matter is culture, and since everything human beings do is mediated by culture — by language, by representations, by systems of values and beliefs — knowing how to understand other languages, interpret cultural expressions, and evaluate belief systems is as indispensable to functioning effectively in the professional world as knowing how to use a computer. This knowledge may or may not make you a better person; it can certainly make you more productive and successful in the workplace.

    All that sounds nice, but it leaves out one important practical consideration: a lot of the humanities programs that exist at real American universities suck. They make it too easy to skate through to a degree. They assess “critical thinking” through lots of paper-writing—to the near-exclusion of, not as a companion to, testing whether students have systematically absorbed hard facts. And for all the blather about broad education, they have watered-down math and science requirements.

    The Albany program closures are still a topic, and when I clicked through to this NPR story about them from Ann Althouse this morning, these paragraphs caught my eye:

    Upon learning about the suspension of the foreign language programs, David Wills, a professor of French, was shocked at first, but then he was angry.

    “None of us accepted that it was something that a university could do and still call itself a university,” Wills said. “This is not a university if you only have one non-English European language program left standing.”

    That’s also not an unreasonable argument, but I couldn’t help looking up Professor Wills to see what kind of contributions he’s been making to the life of the mind. He’s in the French department, so you can probably guess what’s coming:

    His original research was in Surrealist poetry but his published work has concentrated on literary theory, especially the work of Derrida, film theory and comparative literature. He teaches classes in 20th century literature, literary theory, and film.

    Wills’s major work, developed first in Prosthesis (Stanford, 1995), concerns on the one hand the originary technology or “non-naturalness” of the human, and on the other, the ways in which writing functions as a technological in/outgrowth of the body. Those ideas are extended via what he calls “dorsality,” a thinking of the back and what is behind – the other of the facial – where the emphasis is on certain ethical, political and sexual implications of a technological rewriting of identity. In recent work he also investigates the question of conceptual invention against the background of musical improvisation, for example in jazz, and the instrumentality or technology of the voice.


    Single author

    Dorsality: Thinking Back Through Technology and Politics (Minnesota, 2008)

    Matchbook: essays in deconstruction (Stanford, 2005).

    Prosthesis (Stanford, 1995; Editions Galilée, 1997, 1998 [author’s translation]).

    Self (De)construct: Writing and the Surrealist Text (James Cook University Press, 1985).

    In short, if this joker hadn’t existed, Roger Kimball would have had to make him up. Let me take a wild guess and say that it’s unlikely that Professor Wills’s course students and advisees do not emerge from his tutelage with a comprehensive grounding in the historical facts and artifacts of French culture. Maybe the rest of the French faculty at Albany takes a more traditionally rigorous approach; I don’t know. I do know that every college student in America knows that if you want to minimize effort and maximize GPA, you choose a humanities major. And within your humanities major, you target courses taught by professors who incorporate lots of “relevant” material from pop-culture and personal experience into the syllabus, because watching movies is easier than reading Choderlos de Laclos in the original. Nowadays, there are at least a few like that in any language and literature department; there were even back in my day.

    I suspect that employers have learned from experience that people whose studies were heavy on post-structuralism (or whichever of its heirs is hot now) deal just fine with “texts” but are not so hot with reality. Critical thinking that only allows you to poke holes in someone else’s hermetically sealed argument isn’t all that useful when you leave the academy and need enough facts at your command to assess and fill your own gaps of knowledge in order to do your job. The more shrewd students have probably figured that out, too, even if they might not be able to articulate why they avoid certain departments. Derrida et al. gave us some fun word games, but when you didn’t finish the deliverable on time, you can’t exactly send an email stating that, human knowledge being inevitably contingent and human subject-hood being inevitably decentered, the client is not in any position to make a firm claim that the widget didn’t arrive. (If you decide to try it, though, please let me know how it went. I could use some amusement. My computer came down with a serious infection over the last few weeks, and I finally got Blue-Screen-of-Deathed and had to reinstall everything. Fortunately, I’m obsessive about backing things up, so I didn’t lose anything but time.)

    Added later: Someone at College Misery links to this withering open letter to the Albany president, which gives all the usual (and valid) defenses of the humanities:

    I utterly refuse to believe that you had no alternative. It’s your job as President to find ways of solving problems that do not require the amputation of healthy limbs. Voltaire said that no problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking. Voltaire, whose real name was François-Marie Arouet, had a lot of pithy, witty and brilliant things to say (my favorite is ‘God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh’). Much of what he wrote would be very useful to you. I’m sure the faculty in your French department would be happy to introduce you to his writings, if only you had a French department, which now, of course, you don’t.

    Science unleavened by the human heart and the human spirit is sterile, cold, and self-absorbed. It’s also unimaginative: some of my best ideas as a scientist have come from thinking and reading about things that have, superficially, nothing to do with science. If I’m right that what it means to be human is going to be one of the central issues of our time, then universities that are best equipped to deal with it, in all its many facets, will be the most important institutions of higher learning in the future. You’ve just ensured that yours won’t be one of them.

    Once again, that’s great in the abstract, but I’m not sure it applies to the concrete example of SUNY—Albany as it exists. Professor Wills doesn’t strike me as the type to be offering courses on Voltaire, taught with old-style rigor, that he just can’t find students for. Perhaps even the French studies program director isn’t. Erin O’Connor links to another open letter from Albany’s Brett Bowles, which does a good job of pointing out the legerdemain involved in blaming tight budgets for the proposed cuts:

    At a time of severe budget crisis when a business model is being invoked to justify the elimination of academic programs, non-academic units such as athletics should be held to the same standard of cost effectiveness. At a minimum, athletics should be expected to rely on the intercollegiate athletics fee and whatever external revenue they manage to attract.

    Following that principle would allow the $4.27 million that athletics is receiving from the state to be redistributed to cover academic-related expenses.

    If those savings do not sufficiently address future academic budgetary needs, athletics should be downsized before eliminating academic programs and compromising the educational mission of the university.

    True, all of it. But I note that Professor Bowles’s faculty page states that his specializations are “Politics, society, and mass media; contemporary France; European Union; French and European film; documentary film,” so we have another scholar who focuses pretty narrowly on the era of French art and thought that began just before our grandparents were born and extends into the present. There’s nothing wrong with that on a scholar-by-scholar basis, exactly, but when whole departments get tipped too much in that direction, the historical depth the humanities are supposed to provide gets compromised. I have no idea whether it’s been compromised at Albany specifically, but I do note that I haven’t seen anyone address whether it has.

    John Ellis wrote on Minding the Campus this month about the dubitable moral logic behind “defending the humanities”:

    There was a time when “save the humanities” would have been an appropriate cry, but that was years ago, when they were being dismantled in one department after another and replaced with the intellectual triviality and sheer boredom of endlessly repetitive Marxist identity politics, as cowardly administrators looked on and did nothing. The poverty of intellectual content was masked by an elaborate jargon, but that only made things worse: the remade programs became the laughing stock of their campuses. But now the day of reckoning has arrived. Enrollments have collapsed, to the point where the smaller departments face extinction. Those enrollments are sinking not because students don’t value the humanities, but because they do.

    Yet the crisis does need a response–but not the one that is asked for. Now that this day of reckoning has arrived, the appropriate cry should be: “restore the humanities.” That rather different slogan would suggest that we should take hold of these failed departments where enrollment has collapsed following abolition of the humanities, and bring them back to health. There is a traditional way of dealing with failed departments in academe. An external chairman is appointed, with a mandate to remake the department as one that can function properly. In this case that will mean remaking them as genuine humanities departments, rather than departments that have been reshaped to indulge the whims of faculty who never outgrew their adolescent utopian political fantasies. That is what we owe our students, who have been telling us so, loud and clear, as they have voted with their feet. The bill is finally coming due for years of irresponsible behavior by faculty and administrators alike. Bailing them out is not the way to go; holding them accountable for the disaster they have created is. Without reform, proposals to pour new funding into “the humanities” will only perpetrate a fraud. Unless this is part of a conscious effort to restore a genuine humanities, it will only prop up the pseudo-humanities.

    Professor Ellis may be exaggerating the extent of the rot; I don’t know. But he’s certainly right that the nobility of the humanities means little if they’re not taught responsibly. Mark Bauerlein was one of the few who made a similar argument in the NYT.

    Can you feel me in stereo?

    Posted by Sean at 18:24, July 23rd, 2010

    If you live outside the BOS-WASH population belt, you may retain the quaint idea that Manhattan is where all the most obnoxious people in New York, if not the world, live. But a funny thing happened while I was in Tokyo: all the annoying people apparently moved to Brooklyn.

    The converse is not true, mind you. I know plenty of non-annoying people who live in Brooklyn. Some of my best friends live in Brooklyn. To paraphrase Tina Fey, I can see Brooklyn from my house. (Actually, it’s Queens, and I can see it across the river from 49th and 1st when I walk down to the bodega, but the idea’s the same.) Anyway, lately when I’ve come across some first-person feature article bleating about modern life and started to think, Hmmm…this character’s really annoying, the next sentence invariably says something about “my neighborhood in Brooklyn” or “down the street from me in Cobble Hill.”

    The most recent example is this, in which the author becomes the millionth city-dweller to lament how technology is draining the human interaction from daily life. Yeah, I know—what was I expecting from reading the “Consumerism” section on Salon, anyway? I live in hope.

    So, you know, Blockbuster’s about to go out of business, and now we all get our movies from Netflix, and there’s “community” instead of community. It’s the perfect chance to contrast one’s own depth and sincerity with the soullessness of his surroundings!

    There used to be four or five Blockbusters within walking distance of my apartment in Brooklyn. [Ruh-roh! – SRK] Now there’s one, and I keep thinking it’s closed until I peer in for a second and spot that one clerk slouched behind the counter. Odds are he’s either talking on his cell phone or reading Vibe.

    The electronic parameters of Internet relationships mean that you get to enjoy the benefits of other peoples’ enthusiasm without the accompanying melodrama. If you were ever part of one of the circles I’ve described, you found yourself wondering, at one point or another, “Why am I friends with this person? We have nothing in common but movies, and if it weren’t for that, I’d cross the street if I saw him.” Internet friendship means you don’t have to follow up an intoxicating geek-fest argument about Stanley Kubrick vs. Martin Scorsese with a two hour discussion of your friend’s latest workplace drama, or her recent breakup with that guy who always wore a hoodie and kept forgetting her birthday.

    The rub, of course, is that any friendship that satisfies the first part of that description and not the second isn’t a real friendship. Which brings me to the one part of Blockbuster’s slow fadeout that is worth lamenting: the sense that the human touch, or what’s left of it, is being lost. Mind you, I’m not talking about Blockbuster’s idea of the human touch, because the chain never had one.

    I’m talking about the pre-Internet experience of daily life, which was more immediate, more truly interactive: in a word, real.

    Sigh. People have been saying crap like this since I was a teenager. First, the Walkman was insulating us from enriching conversations with people we encountered randomly on the street. Then email was making our communications vulgar and superficial. Then cell phones were forcing us to be available to all callers at all hours. Amazon and iTunes killed the mind-broadening experience of stumbling into obscure stuff at hipster-approved independent book and record stores ages ago. Now its Netflix. We get movies by pointing and clicking, whereas Blockbuster used to be where we laughed, cried, argued, and began and ended relationships.

    I’m not kidding:

    Bland and aloof as it was, Blockbuster was a part of that — and for certain types of people, it was a big part. There was nothing special about Blockbuster as a business, but special moments did happen there, simply by virtue of the fact that the stores were everywhere, and they stocked a lot of movies, and people who wanted to see movies went there regularly, sometimes alone but more often in the company of relatives or friends.

    I had some involved, sometimes pivotal conversations while loitering in the aisles at the Blockbuster near my school or apartment or workplace, including one in which my best friend helped me talk myself into breaking up with a girl I was dating who was beautiful and charming but not remotely interested in any film released before the year of her birth. She fell asleep during “Dr. Strangelove.”

    “You’ve got to break up with her, Matt,” my friend advised me. “Hey, have you seen the Albert Brooks movie ‘Real Life’? Seriously. It’s one of the funniest films ever made.”

    That kind of thing never happens when you’re browsing Netflix.

    Of course, some of us like being able to get to a copy of The Eyes of Laura Mars without having to squeeze past some schmo bleating, “She’s got a rockin’ body, dude, but she just doesn’t get how much Bond means to me!” at his buddy, however precious the shared moment may be to the two of them. I find that with Netflix (and Amazon and iTunes and Fresh Direct), I get to spend just as much (if not more) time with my friends while spending less time hearing TMI from people behind me in checkout lines about, like, their bunion surgery. There are fewer places to browse among physical stock, but they’re not hard to find. The Barnes & Noble near my office on Union Square is almost always packed. And that’s not even considering the people who live so far from Brooklyn that the nearest Blockbuster was always far away, even at the height of its success. For them, Netflix must seem little short of a miracle.

    Seitz’s complaint is especially odd since, in that first part cited above, he acknowledges that in his pre-Internet life, he didn’t have genuine friendships with all his movie buddies, anyway. Is the idea that palling around in person made that more palatable or (perhaps more likely) disguised it better than just chatting online about subjects of confirmed mutual interest? I’ve never understood why people who find that technology makes their lives impersonal don’t just find ways to avoid using it. I regularly stop reading Facebook or (have you noticed?) posting here when I consider what’s going on offline more important. I try to respond to non-urgent telephone calls and messages in a timely fashion, but if I’m busy, I let them wait. When I feel like reading, I shut off the TV. If I felt like browsing through videos with a friend, I suppose I’d ask a friend to go to the video section of the bookstore with me. I don’t consider any of this all that hard.

    I assume Eric doesn’t either. He posts about hating videos contrived to prove a polemical point, but in his view, “I am not obligated in any way to create or watch videos.” No, indeed, although acknowledging that does mean forgoing the opportunity to get all windy about how one is too soulful for this impersonal age.

    T party

    Posted by Sean at 08:25, July 14th, 2010

    No, nothing to do with crystal meth. Just an eye-roll-worthy typo on the CNN homepage:


    Posted by Sean at 08:22, July 1st, 2010

    Just when I think it’s safe to put down my Pimm’s and ginger and return to the blog, I click a link to something that forces me to put both hands around the glass and chug.

    You’d think that, at this point, the Edwards family would just want to retreat from the public eye and…I don’t know, spend a few months at the manse playing backgammon. There’s nothing any of them can say without piling further cheapness on cheapness.

    And yet here they are again. This is from People:

    Elizabeth Edwards – and, for the first time, daughter Cate – are opening up about John Edwards’s infidelity and the breakup of the marriage.

    Daughter Cate? That’s a relief. Clearly, the problem was that not enough of the principals were airing their feelings in public about John Edwards’s philandering. But then, for Elizabeth’s part, it’s understandable that she feels the need to take back the spotlight by force, because that Rielle Hunter is charismatically bonkers enough to steal it and hold it for a good, long time. This is my favorite exchange from her interview with GQ a few months ago:

    [GQ: ]Why do you think he loves you?
    [Hunter: ]Um… How do I answer that? [long pause] I mean, I could give so many answers. I could give a spiritual answer, that I reflect back to him large parts of himself that were unconscious. Like, he’s a huge, huge humanitarian. He is very kindhearted and sweet. He’s very honest and truthful. And all of that was hidden.

    Yes, Rielle, dear: when you live a life of mendacity, opportunism, calculation, and cynical power-chasing, it does tend to obscure your native honesty and purity of heart. That’s a point no one will gainsay. I do wonder, though…when you groove to someone because he or she seems to reflect you back, are we calling that “spiritual” now? We used to call it “narcissistic,” but I was out of the country for eleven years and have missed a lot of cultural developments.

    I also liked this part:

    What do you think will happen to Andrew Young?
    I think like I do with everything: the truth eventually reveals itself. And we’re all here to grow and evolve. And I think Andrew will grow and evolve, even if it’s behind bars.

    It’s all part of, like, the process, isn’t it? Poor Elizabeth will never be able to top that interview, even with the wronged-woman right (as it were) on her side.

    And women associated with the zipper problems of famous Democrats are already upping the ante. Janis says she’s ready to add “crazed sex poodle” to her lexicon, having encountered it in this statement by the masseuse who’s accusing Al Gore of sexual harassment. Jesting aside, she comes off as pretty credible. I was especially struck by this part:

    It seemed to me that the way he came across to me was like a scary, without a conscience, spoiled out of control fraternity boy at a kegger type of person with a perverse sense of entitlement, a rich kid who is used to getting what he wants and whatever, including from hookers, from women fawning over him, and that he was used to money or power bailing him out of trouble. […] He simply would not take no for an answer on anything and I verbally told him no way more than once. My body language said no as well. I even said to him at one point, Al, no means no. To which he just laughed and groped me some more.

    Remember, this man once had Naomi Wolf on the payroll. Didn’t she ever look up from her earth-toned fabric swatches and remind Al about the whole “‘no’ means ‘no'” thing? That rich-college-boy-on-the-rampage image is fascinating, too. I wonder whether the same people who, a few years ago, used the same framework to condemn (furiously) the Duke lacrosse team—before most of the facts were known—will be working themselves into a similar lather of high moral dudgeon over Gore now.

    Why, yes, I have still been nipping at the Pimm’s and ginger. Why do you ask?

    Some Japan stuff

    Posted by Sean at 11:54, April 18th, 2010

    If the plane-grounding Icelandic ash cloud hasn’t been sufficient reminder of how vulnerable we are to nature’s vagaries (and how fortunate that we have such an extensive technological arsenal to protect ourselves), check out this story about Japan’s vegetable shortages:

    The government is calling on farmers to speed up vegetable deliveries after cold weather and lack of sunlight led to a poor spring crop and spiking vegetable prices.

    “The vegetables prices may remain high for the foreseeable future. We’d like to ask farmers to bring forward their shipments in a bid to stabilize retail prices,” Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu told a news conference following a regular Cabinet meeting Friday morning.

    Also on Friday, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry asked the National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations to bring forward vegetable shipments. Consumer organizations as well as the ministry have also asked farmers to ship malformed vegetables that are usually discarded.

    However, noting the measure will have only limited effects, government sources say they fear vegetable prices are unlikely to decline until May or later, and farmers pointed out that complying with demands for early shipment is difficult.

    “We harvested lettuce and other vegetables earlier than usual in response to an increase in demand from the restaurant industry during the spring vacation period. Even if we are asked to bring forward shipments, it’s difficult to comply,” said an official of the Ibaraki Prefecture chapter of the agricultural federation.

    Shredded lettuce and cabbage come with nearly everything in Japan: you walk into a little restaurant, and the waitress plunks down a small bowl of shredded cabbage and carrots with ginger dressing as your o-tooshi-mono. That there would be a shortage of them is really unsettling. Of course, Japan isn’t facing a famine—you’ll notice that one proposal for making up the difference is just not rejecting too many misshapen cabbages, which is a problem the DPRK would have loved to have around a decade ago. Still, the story is a good reminder of how intricate our supply and distribution systems are. (Of course, you could also take the opportunity to bring up Japan’s insane agricultural-subsidy system, but I’m feeling generous today.)


    It’s a few days old, but the Asahi English site had a good rundown of what’s led up to the current confusion—impasse doesn’t seem to be quite the best word—over the relocation of the Futenma facility in Okinawa:

    U.S. officials certainly have no intention of jeopardizing the decades-long alliance with Japan, but there is growing concern and frustration at the lack of a meeting of minds on such important matters of mutual concern.

    Hatoyama broached the issue of the relocation of the U.S. Marines Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture during a short meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in the U.S. capital on Monday. Neither Japan nor the United States explained how Obama responded.

    What did come across, however, is that the meeting did not change the U.S. government’s position, which is that the best solution to the Futenma issue lies with a 2006 agreement reached by the two nations to relocate the base to the Henoko district of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture.

    Behind this extremely defensive and careful approach of the U.S. government is its resolve not to make the same mistake of 2005, when Washington compromised and accepted current Henoko option.

    During those negotiations, U.S. officials for a long time advocated a plan to construct a replacement facility on a landfill off the south coast of Henoko, Nago city. This plan was commonly known as “Nago Light.” However, during the final stage of the talks, U.S. officials abandoned it and accepted instead the Japanese proposal to build the new facility on the coastline of Camp Schwab at Henoko point.

    Richard Lawless, who negotiated the agreement for the United States as deputy undersecretary of defense, recalled his decision to go along with his Japanese counterparts.

    “They guaranteed that they can implement the proposal,” Lawless said. “I made sure about this point with several people in charge (in the Japanese government) a number of times.”

    Four years after the agreement was reached, the Japanese government has done an about-turn and told Washington the Henoko option cannot be implemented. Japan’s turnaround frustrated not only Lawless, but also current U.S. administration officials. They also share a deep sense of mistrust over Hatoyama’s frequent flip-flops on this issue.

    It’s very difficult to assign blame in this scenario. It’s not possible to indulge the NIMBY-ism of every municipality, but it’s understandable that many towns don’t want the side-effects of a military installation. I’m very much a supporter of the military, but it’s a plain and simple fact that putting a lot of hopped-up kids in their early twenties far from home—in an environment of literal martial discipline in which their violent impulses are deliberately brought to the surface so they can be channeled to useful purposes—nearly guarantees an increase in crime and a tense relationship with the locals, whatever job-creating benefits may come along with the installation. Washington wants the existing agreement to be implemented; Tokyo seems to see the new administrations in both countries as an opportunity to restart negotiations practically from square one. Neither seems likely to have all its expectations met.


    Sugarpie, I have just found the must-have camp accessory of the year:

    Herman Van Rompuy, the European Union’s first permanent president, has published his first anthology of haiku poems.

    Van Rompuy, a former prime minister of Belgium, said here Thursday that he hopes to compose haiku when he is in Tokyo for the annual EU-Japan Summit, which convenes April 28.

    The book, titled “Haiku,” contains 45 haiku he wrote in Dutch and which have been translated into English, French, German and Latin.

    Can you just…?

    A new commission–
    the joy of its formation
    like freshest spring rains


    Indifference from
    sassy Yank colonials–
    our cries sad, owl-like!


    Dry cicada shell–
    an easy relationship
    would be so empty

    Okay, in all seriousness, van Rompuy could be very good; but haiku is one of those genres that bring out the “I could do that!” dilettantism in people, and the results are nearly always irredeemably precious, in my experience. For some reason, the combination of shortness (not a major time investment!), nature themes (I love Nature—I’m a good person!”), and Japaneseness (aesthete capital of the world!) makes haiku hard to resist, but it also makes them difficult to execute well. Maybe Catherine Ashton will be flogging her first manga this summer?

    Added later: Thanks to Instapundit for the link. I have a half-dozen regular commenters who routinely agree with me, for which I am very grateful; but if you have a dissenting comment to make, I’ll be glad to read it, since I don’t get much dissent around here. (That’s not an aspersion, regular readers.) If you’re wondering where my interest in Japan comes from, I studied Japanese literature in college and grad school, and I lived in Tokyo from the ages of 24 to 36. I am unapologetically American down to the bone, but I love Japan also, and I’m very interested in seeing our alliance not screwed up.


    Posted by Sean at 23:10, April 4th, 2010

    Atsushi sent me this picture of the cherry blossoms in full bloom:

    The top of that hill is where my office was the whole time I lived in Tokyo; there are two gay bars along one of the side streets run by a couple who became dear friends of mine. Atsushi and I were first introduced to each other, a scant ten years ago, at one of them. I spent countless working dinners at several of the little restaurants in the neighborhood, where the proprietors would take care of me as if I were family. So it’s a street that has a great deal of meaning for me. Tokyo is a riotously exciting, adventurous place, and I’m an inquisitive person, so I did a great deal of exploring. But of course the moments that are really meaningful are those off-hand ones when you’re with people you value who make you feel that you, in turn, add value to their lives. Many of those moments were on Sakuragaoka (“Cherry-Tree Hill,” fittingly enough) for me.

    Japanese literature is choked with poems about cherry blossoms, but surprisingly few of them are about the fragrance. When they’re in bloom, the visuals are so painfully lovely that they tend to monopolize the attention. This waka by Ki no Tsurayuki is an exception:


    hana no ka ni/koromo ha fukaku/nari ni keri/ko no shitakage no/kaze no manimani

    The blossoms’ fragrance
    has saturated my robes
    to the very depths
    borne on the breezes stirring
    and stirring beneath the boughs