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    Love is all you need to purchase all the merchandise

    Posted by Sean at 18:49, April 24th, 2004

    Dolly Parton has always been one of my favorite celebrities. Yeah, I know, big surprise. But seriously, while she did that whole what-was-she-thinking? all-around entertainer routine for two decades, she also made some extraordinary music–I could listen to “Down from Dover” on repeat for hours–and she shows the very best American earthiness and self-deprecating humor:

    “There’s not going to be no wardrobe malfunction this evening,” she said, referring to Janet Jackson’s infamous breast-baring during the Super Bowl halftime show. “There’s not supposed to be, it’s not planned.

    “But as tight as my clothes are there’s no telling what will happen. If it does happen, I’m going to wipe out the first three rows,” she said.

    She still has that amazing ability to do bawdy humor without making it seem cheap or brazen. Incredible. (I do have to say, though, that the fact that the show is called the Flameworthy Awards made it sound like a joke at first. Apparently not.)


    Posted by Sean at 23:00, April 23rd, 2004

    I adore my friends (obviously, or I’d go be friends with different people), but I wish I could get them to stop treating me like a terminally-ill patient. I know that Atsushi’s being transferred out of Tokyo won’t be news for much longer, now that he’s been gone a month today. I’m also genuinely grateful for the support.

    But I swear: I’ve dealt with and oriented myself toward the fact that I’m not going to be seeing Atsushi more than twice a month for a year or two. It abrades me, but it isn’t the end of the world. What will most assuredly make me lose my mind is spending another night out being asked every ten minutes whether I’m okay. My four or five very closest friends know that I like to deal with my hurts in my own way, but “the guys” in the larger sense don’t seem to, and saying so in response to an offer of concern would sound as if I were telling them to buzz off.

    When these things come up, I never know whether the problem is cultural (in that my Japanese is good but not perfect, and understanding people’s expectations is frequently much harder than just learning to speak colloquial Japanese) or individual (in that even people who grew up together can misinterpret each other). Often, that’s kind of freeing. Having grown up in Oprah-era America, I know how crazy people can drive themselves when trying to analyze every batted eye and stray tossed-off remark as the key to one’s soul. Here, I more or less have to assume that a specific perceived slight from someone who overall treats me with kindness and respect isn’t worth fixating on.

    Not that clapping someone on the shoulder and wishing him well is a slight. It’s just that knowing that people are going to spend the evening feeling sorry for me makes me not really want to be around my own friends. And that makes me feel like a kvetchy ingrate who doesn’t deserve them. I don’t seem to have much choice but to smile and say, “Well, he’s coming back for Golden Week; that’s only a week away. I hope we’ll see you around so he can say hi.” I only wish people knew I meant it.

    The superiority of the juche ideal

    Posted by Sean at 11:11, April 22nd, 2004

    Wow. Two trains containing inflammable materials have collided in North Korea near the Chinese border. Both the CNN and the Nikkei (Japan Economics Journal) articles report that the DPRK news agency hasn’t broadcast the incident. This is not just some little sideswipe in the middle of nowhere that’s going to cause a government energy agency to lose (even more) money. There may be up to 3000 casualties. Those poor people. Given that the accident involved fire and industrial chemicals, the injuries are probably pretty nasty.

    It isn’t hard to imagine the combination of mismanagement and substandard equipment that might have brought this kind of thing on. It also isn’t hard to imagine the quality of medical care people will get, even with China’s assistance. The proximity of “self-sufficient” North Korea, with its news blackouts and constant leakage of refugees (not to mention those missile tests), is one of the creepiest and most depressing things about living in this part of the world.

    Living herstory

    Posted by Sean at 12:37, April 20th, 2004

    I don’t plan to say much about politics here, assuming I keep it up, because…well, there are already plenty of sharper and more knowledgeable people commenting on it. I like joining conversations in people’s comment sections, but that’s different.


    I think I seriously just heard a straight-faced Hillary Clinton tell Larry King that the problem with the Bush administration is that it’s too insular, with a secrecy/insider complex that keeps out the sunshine of opposing points of view. Either I’ve had too much Scotch or too little.

    I don’t mean that I’m in love with the Bush administration or think that HRC is definitely wrong, either; I only mean that for either Clinton to make such a criticism without appending a hearty, “and we know how easy it is to succumb to that temptation!” is pretty rich.

    And Hillary, for Pete’s sake, not that shade of aqua. It gives your skin an iced-mackerel cast, which can’t possibly have been the idea.

    I do have to say, though, that while I think I’m past the ability to like her at this point, she’s learned to project warmth and ease of tone (leaving aside the truth of what she’s saying). Her voice used to have this chilly, impatient, I-know-something-you-don’t-know edge–like tape hiss. Her eyes used to narrow and look flinty. But now she comes across as thoughtful and self-deprecating. Maybe she even means it.

    Secrets and lies

    Posted by Sean at 22:36, April 19th, 2004

    Agenda Bender is accusing me of exploiting the AB Tokyo bureau for my own gain and then cutting and running. A case in which messenger and message are equally inverted. Someday, I’ll tell my story of struggling to keep an office going with no capital, a product that couldn’t be localized, and endless screams of “Profitability! I need to see profitability!” during conference calls with HQ. But it’s just too painful right now.

    On the other hand, he did usefully ask whether I’d seen the parallel fatherson interviews with the Terrys linked to later by Andrew Sullivan. I had. They aren’t likely to change many minds on either side. My only point was that, even if we took Randall Terry’s statements at face value, the strict Christianity of Jamiel’s upbringing was not the most plausible explanation for his alleged problems.

    And they didn’t even need a sand tray

    Posted by Sean at 22:25, April 19th, 2004

    Joanne Jacobs posts on education, so it’s not surprising that the Japanese public education system comes up in posts and comments pretty frequently. Many of the advertisements on commuter train cars here are for cram schools, and one of the big ones…amazing that I forget which, since I’ve been seeing its ads for a fifth of my life now…uses its space to give sample questions for tests at its various program levels. This week’s is for the grade-school kids. I didn’t take a photograph of it or write it down, but the content of the problem is as follows:

    In this exercise we will use a simple experiment to estimate the value of pi. Assume a square piece of paper, 20 centimeters on a side, with a circle inscribed in the square. You have sprinkled 50 sesame seeds evenly and randomly over the paper. If there are 39 sesame seeds inside the circle, estimate the value of pi to two decimal places.

    Two things jump out at me about this problem that I find hard to articulate when commenting at Joanne’s and other places: for one thing, in its math education, Japan doesn’t emphasize creativity any more than it does anywhere else. What it does emphasize is resourcefulness and learning how to be “good with numbers” even if you’re not naturally gifted that way, in addition to demonstrating how to set things up formally.

    The other thing is that Japan is not afraid to use unforced-sounding Japanese situations in its story problems. Granted, things can get kind of lunaticky in the opposite direction. If I recall correctly, a textbook was edited to remove mention of pizza a few years ago, since Ministry of Education (as it was then) bureaucrats didn’t deem such a foreign food item suitable for young minds to be exposed to. But having come of age in an era in which every word problem about welding pipe identified the pipefitter as female, I find it kind of nice to see questions about boiled rice and paper lanterns all the time.

    Long-distance cohabitation (III)

    Posted by Sean at 21:49, April 19th, 2004

    Today was the day to quake-proof the bookshelf; there’s a brand of hardware called Magnitude 7, for the kind of earthquake it’s supposed to last through (that’s the Japanese scale, not the Richter Scale). Precisely because so many people object to nailing and drilling holes, you can get fittings that work by pressure between the ceiling and the top of a piece of furniture. I sounded for joists and didn’t hear anything solid–wood or metal, though it wouldn’t surprise me to learn they’re made of PVC in Tokyo these days–for a good two yard * two yard square of Triscuit. This raises the disturbing possibility that I live in a joistless building, but I’m ignoring it. What is this life without some risk?

    Also finalized the placement of breakable objects by fixing them with Anchor Wax. We can’t go beyond risk into rashness, after all. No angry earthquake goddess is taking the Baccarat away from this household unchallenged!

    Thank you

    Posted by Sean at 16:39, April 18th, 2004

    (Darn. I keep forgetting that I haven’t published this.)

    Thanks to Dean Esmay for setting this up for me.
    I have a feeling that I’m going in and doing shoemaker-type coding by hand when I could be using a template somewhere for a lot of things, but that’s my problem. At first, I was thinking that I’d just leave it plain and unfussy. But in the course of navigating templates, I started to think, I want a gimmicky title! and smirky in-joke link categories! and open comments! and way too many colors from the hexadecimal HTML wheel sprinkled all over the place, too!

    There, I’ve said it.

    The name, for anyone who wonders, is of course adapted from the phrase “yellow peril,” which is what a dear Japanese friend of mine was going to name his bar when it was about to open a few years ago. Apparently, one reason he chose another name was that he and I became buddies in the interim and he didn’t want to offend me. But I would have thought it was hilarious, so I’m expropriating it.

    The domain name is the first line of what may be my very favorite Japanese poem:



    Iwama todjishi / koori mo kesa ha / tokesomete / Koke no shita mizu / michi motomuramu


    Even the ice that shackles the rocks has begun to melt this morning–the water under the moss will be seeking a pathway.

    the Priest Saigyo

    It’s the seventh waka in the “Spring” section of one of the court anthologies. April is a bit late in the year for it to be strictly appropriate to the season. But I’ve always, since we were first assigned it in graduate school, loved its economical way of combining ice, moss, and nurturing water–new beginnings that are so fresh they’re not quite ready to occur.

    Long-distance cohabitation (cont.)

    Posted by Sean at 12:07, April 18th, 2004

    Susanna Cornett has nearly settled into her new digs in Alabama. She doesn’t miss New Jersey. (Duh.) I’m glad (and sorry I didn’t tell her that this here site is up and running). I basically finished the apartment today–the spare room is still the trash room for a few more days, but they don’t pick up recyclables like corrugated cardboard and fiber packing sheets until Friday. I love the place, even if the most important part is missing.

    Despite the basketweave-embossed beige wall vinyl that makes me feel as if I were living inside a giant Triscuit, I’ve been able to integrate the rest of my stuff with what Atsushi’s left over to make it look as if we both live here but I use it more. Most couple’s houses look that way, anyway. It was tougher than I thought, though: for a few hours today, it was starting to get that creepy death-shrine look. You know, as if there were a chair and a side of the bed and a shaving brush at the sink that were waiting for someone who’s not coming back. But we’re okay now.

    I do wish, while I understand that bland beiges and greys are probably the best bet for builders who are kitting out apartments to be acceptable to a variety of buyers, that someone in their design departments would bear in mind that not all neutrals go together. Our bathroom has a cool-toned grey floor and warm-toned beige bathtub, a combination that can only be pulled off if done with a lot more cheeky wit and confidence than was the case here. I’m going to try to brazen it out with a collection of glass bottles in odd shapes and a spectrum of intense colors, but I’m not sure it’s going to work. I have extra throw pillows and throws, of course–one acquires such a lot of them by ten years into adulthood–but you can’t use those in the bathtub.

    My, my, my. So much for my not, as a friend remarked to me recently, turning out to be yet another “gay blogger.” Just wait till I put all three of you who might read this to sleep with my agonies over houseplant selection. The magenta-and-yellow orchid I bought the day my stuff arrived is getting lonely.

    Something in the water?

    Posted by Sean at 02:38, April 14th, 2004

    So my boyfriend gets packed off to darkest Kyushu, and I seriously need the sensible, even-keeled advocates of gay acceptance to remind me that all the shit you go through is worth it because we’re collectively getting our act together, and they pick this week to be slipshod and waffly.

    Their slipshod waffliness is even accessible all in one location: a day of posts over at Steve Miller’s Culture Watch on the Independent Gay Forum. Miller inexplicably approves of Andrew Sullivan’s swipe at Randall Terry, whose adopted son (1) is a messed-up parasite and (2) is gay. He also implicitly praises Jonathan Rauch’s performance in a debate with Bob Enyart, conservative Christian radio host out of Denver.
    Sullivan says of Terry

    Christian right leader, Randall Terry, has a troubled gay son. Dick Cheney has an untroubled gay daughter. Anti-gay crusader Pete Knight has a gay son. Charles Socarides, the chief proponent of reparative therapy for homosexuals, has a gay son. Phyllis Shlafly has a gay son. When will these people begin to understand that being gay is not a “choice”; it’s a fact of human nature?

    And Miller adds, linking Sullivan, “Growing up gay in the Terry household, it’s no wonder the kid is ‘troubled.'” Yeah, sure, that’s probably part of it. Maybe not, though. My parents made it clear emphatically and often that they thought homosexuality was disgusting and sinful. But they were also the ones who taught me that each of us has the responsibility to weigh the lessons of history, the counsel of our elders, and the cause-effect relationships we can detect in our own experience to determine what we believe the right path is. My decision to come out didn’t thrill them, but they know that I didn’t just fall into it because I find it easier to chase orgasms than to live a responsible life. Unless Sullivan or Miller has inside information on what went on in the Terry household, isn’t there another more likely environmental factor in his son’s behavior? To wit:

    In March 1988, my then-wife and I took Jamiel and his younger sister as foster children. He was 8 years old. We adopted them when he was 14. He came to us a wounded boy, from an incredibly troubled home. He was literally born in jail. By age 8 had learned a lifestyle of deceit and been a victim of treacheries that would mar him for life.
    Jamiel was adopted when he was nearly 15, not 5. To gloss over the tragic events of his youth is deceit. Many homosexuals want to ignore the causes of their sexual behavior; they want us to believe it is genetic, not behavioral.

    We’re not talking about a child who spent all his formative years in Terry’s household and ended up screwed up in the head. His mother was jailed (unless her water broke during a visit to her incarcerated husband/boyfriend). Who knows how many foster families he saw before the Terrys? And the delay in adopting him means either protracted proceedings or a wait-and-see position on the Terrys’ part. Isn’t that a likely enough explanation for why–gay, straight, or hermaphroditic–he’s turned out be an untrusting and untrustworthy manipulator? And don’t untrustworthy, manipulative, immature people use every weapon at hand to stick it to people they resent? Not all of them have their homosexuality to use against a parent who founded Operation Rescue, but I daresay they all think of something to capitalize on. The Sullivan/Miller line (“Them socially-conservative Christians fucked him up!”) strikes me as no less sententious and questionable than the Terry line (“His mental problems are part and parcel with his homosexuality!”).
    Jonathan Rauch wasn’t being sententious in his radio appearance, but he also wasn’t answering the questions very well. It frustrated the hell out of me, because just about everything he was challenged on was covered–and covered well–in Gay Marriage. I can only assume that he figured it was a good idea to stay on message and say over and over that marriage will help keep gays from behaviors that are destructive to themselves and others, but the effect was that he sounded evasive. Sincere and well-intentioned, but evasive. There was a particularly strained point at which Enyart was trotting out the usual figures about suicide rates, mental disorders, crime, and domestic violence among gays. In fact, he didn’t even bring up figures; he just pronounced that rates are higher among homosexuals. Rauch didn’t point out the self-selecting nature of sample populations when gays are studied. He didn’t point out that the urban areas that are more accepting of gays also have higher crime for reasons that may be unrelated. He didn’t point out that (given how many gays are still closeted) committing a sex or domestic crime is a great way to pack the books with known homos who are criminals.
    When Enyart came up with the bumper sticker-worthy “Heterosexuality produces life; homosexuality produces death,” Rauch didn’t point out that what produces death is promiscuity, or that what makes us a human civilization is that we have people who are stewards over the production of artifacts, not just new people. Okay, fine, Rauch was giving the interview, not me. Monday morning quarterbacking, and all that. But still: these questions have answers, and Rauch knows them. I wish he’d spoken them as well as, for the most part, he writes them.