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    The fine art of personal correspondence

    Posted by Sean at 08:15, February 19th, 2007

    Oh, dear. Michael links to commentary about this disturbing article:

    Buying a greeting card for someone’s birthday, anniversary or if they’re feeling under the weather is pretty straightforward. But what if they’re undergoing chemotherapy or struggling with depression? “Get Well Soon” probably won’t cut it.

    Likewise, most cards lining the store shelves don’t work on occasions as someone leaving an abusive spouse, undergoing drug rehab or declaring their sexual orientation.

    For illness: “Cancer is a villain who doesn’t play fair … but it can’t dim your spirit, and it can’t silence prayer.”

    For eating disorders: “All I want is for you to be healthy – healthy and happy with yourself. Please take it one day at a time until you are.”

    For depression: “When the world gets heavy, remember, I’m here to help carry it with you.”

    Leaving aside my overall dislike of pre-printed cards in place of handwritten notes, I still have to wonder why “Get well soon” won’t cut it in such cases. Do people with depression or bulimia or abusive spouses really prefer cards in which their friends spell out all the finicking details of their medical conditions or marital problems? “I am aware of EXACTLY how screwed up your life is” is not, it seems to me, an improvement on “Thinking of you in your time of trouble.”

    And of course I had to see whether there was more about the gay part. There was, with the bonus of a truly awful usage-related solecism (in addition to the faulty parallel construction in the very first sentence of the article):

    No topics were off-limits, said company spokeswoman Rachel Bolton, noting two cards that could be sent to gay people who have disclosed their sexuality. The cards don’t directly refer to homosexuality, only extolling the person to “Be You” or “This is who I am” or featuring a rainbow, a symbol of gay pride.

    Mr. Malaprop, honey? The word you want is exhorting. You might want to tell your copy editor, too.

    Need I say that anyone who had responded to my coming out with a card printed with a rainbow and “This is who I am” would have found himself living a Sean-free life from then on? (I do, however, like the way it’s said that no topic was “off-limits” in one sentence and then that no cards directly address homosexuality in the next.)

    There used to be books–the Japanese still use them–that gave templates and models for writing particular kinds of letters. They strike me as useful. There are plenty of things that are necessary, or at least beneficial, to express that are nonetheless tricky to put across well. I’m not sure off-the-rack doggerel is a good modern equivalent, though.

    Added after more coffee: While I’m on the topic of excessive cuteness, I may as well post these pictures of the ‘rents’ cats, which I promised to do. Like all Siamese cats, these two are drunk on their own fabulousness.

    The guy on the left is Ludwig, who had the aesthetic sense to pose in an environment that picked up the browns in his fur and the blue of his eyes. He and I get along just fine. The one on the right is Romeo; if you’re detecting a bit of animosity in that stare of his, you’re right. Neither of them likes giving up their room to me when I visit, but Romeo pretty clearly dislikes me for reasons that are unrelated to mere sleeping arrangements. He was apparently abused by an owner when he was a kitten, so he takes a while to warm up to men he doesn’t know. I never see him for more than a week at a time, which means that I’m a perpetual stranger. His antipathy does not, however, stop him from seeking out my most expensive sweaters and nestling into them as if they were pet beds.

    Added after dinner: Just to round out the theme of Quadripeds Who Fail to Love Me, here are my old roommate and his wife’s chihuahuas:

    The blond guy is Captain; his swarthier brother is Chance. These dogs HATE me. Whenever I come back to New York and stay with M. and J., the dogs yap at me incessantly. When they do cease yapping, they register their displeasure by growling. Right now they’re being quiet, possibly because they think I may have food to offer them between now and when I take off for JFK tomorrow morning.


    Posted by Sean at 09:28, February 16th, 2007

    This morning’s giggle provided by NOVA:

    The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government have conducted on-the-spot inspections at major English-language school NOVA, it was learned Friday, after ex-students complained that they hadn’t had their tuition fees returned after canceling their contracts.

    Among the allegations NOVA faces is a violation of the Special Business Transaction Law. If NOVA is found guilty, it could receive an official order to improve its business practices or have its business activities suspended.

    But then where will people in Japan go to keep from learning English?

    The English Asahi has more detail about the actual complaints people are making. Note that while the article ends with the statement “According to sources, local consumer affairs centers throughout the country hold about 1,000 consultations about Nova-related issues every year. The annual figure is much larger than those of other English conversation schools,” NOVA is the largest of the English conversation schools, so it’s not clear what actual proportion of NOVA students complains or what the relative seriousness of the average complaint is.

    “You know there isn’t one”

    Posted by Sean at 10:28, February 15th, 2007

    Via Bruce Bawer (13 February 2007 post), who really needs someone to show him how permalinks work, this priceless exchange on CNN. Glenn Beck is the CNN interviewer; Irshad Manji is a lesbian Muslim who lives in Canada:

    BECK: OK. Real quickly, we have about a minute. What — who is standing with you as a woman’s organization? Who — what National Organization of Women is coming up and saying I’m with you?

    MANJI: You know there isn’t one.

    BECK: Why?

    MANJI: Fear. Fear of offending. So many people today in America come up to me to say, “Irshad, I wish I could support your call to reconcile Islam with human rights, but if I do, you know I’ll be called a racist for sticking my nose in somebody else’s business.”

    Bawer’s comment: “Against people who are willing to die in the cause of destroying freedom, people who are unwilling to stand up for freedom for fear of being called a name don’t stand much chance of victory.”

    Beck and Manji focused on women’s groups, but of course the gay organizations are mostly just as bad. And a lot of rank-and-file gays, too. Plenty of gay men and women who “don’t care what people think” when they’re having a noisy good time at brunch–or giving conservative relatives a heart attack with their views about social policy–will turn into the most craven protocol-followers alive when it’s time to venture, even gingerly, the opinion that maybe there are strains of thinking in non-Western cultures that are incompatible with human rights and are not the fault of Western imperialism. Or that gay advocacy groups often choose cheap partisan expediency over gay interests.

    Something Bawer and Pieter Dorsman, whom he cites, didn’t quote, gives a little bit of perspective:

    BECK: And everybody is crying out, where are those Muslim voices? You and people like you are in so much danger. How much — how much does fear play a role in silencing the voices of Islam?

    MANJI: Huge. And fear of many things. Fear not just of being ostracized in your community, but obviously fear of violence, as well.

    You know, Glenn, I speak at university campuses right across not just North America, but around the world. And invariably, young Muslims come up to me afterwards to whisper thank you in my ear. And when I ask them, why are you whispering? They say to me, “Irshad, you know, you have the luxury of being able to walk away from this campus two hours from now. I don’t, and I don’t want to be stalked for supporting your views.” And if they’re women, a lot of them say, “I don’t want to be raped for supporting your views.”

    So this is happening in America, and I don’t want to suggest, Glenn. Let me just be clear. I don’t want to suggest that every Muslim feels this kind of fear. But every Muslim does know that, if you take on the most mangled aspects of our faith today, you will be subject to such a vitriolic smear campaign that it will bring shame and dishonor upon your family. So there is huge pressure to say nothing.

    It isn’t just from women’s groups dominated by non-Muslims that Manji isn’t getting support. Moderate Muslims who think Islam needs reform are going to have to speak out eventually, or it’s not going to happen. As Manji herself said a few years ago, “Society needs people who offend, otherwise there will be no progress.” (She’s also addressed gay activists’ problems with Islam and Israel.)

    The Keystone State welcomes you!

    Posted by Sean at 12:18, February 13th, 2007

    Kermit the Frog: Sam, Elton John is a very important musician.
    Sam the Eagle: Then why does he dress like a stolen car?


    I got into my hometown on Sunday night. Not fond of Hyundais, but the rental car was fine. Great playlist on the soul station, too, once I got past Bernardsville or so. Might have been made to my specifications: “Automatic.” “Brick House.” “I’m Coming Out.” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” “Raspberry Beret.” It was like being inside my own personal karaoke box. (Don’t worry. I was watching the road. Mostly.)

    Then, home. As always, the transition was…really something. Monday morning when I woke up, my parents were drinking bag tea.

    And watching Touched by an Angel .

    On the Hallmark Channel.

    I won’t give you the blow-by-blow of how I spent the week in New York with my old roommate and his wife and with assorted other college/work/gay friends. But, you will not be surprised to hear, we didn’t drink bag tea while watching Touched by an Angel on the Hallmark Channel. Not even one episode.

    Just so there’s no ambiguity here, I’m not being snide. One of the best things about America is that there’s a place (often there are several equally suitable places) for any personality. I love seeing my parents and brother, who really enjoy living here. I can certainly see why people would rather rear children here than in, oh, say, Chelsea. And, after all, where you grew up is where you grew up and has a special kind of pull. It’s just that culturally, I’ve become so…very…different…from my family that I invariably spend the first day or two back at my parents’ place slightly disoriented. Where are all the people crowding the sidewalks? Where, for that matter, are the sidewalks? What do you mean, I have to drive to get to a Starbucks? Why are you all staring (I mean, my little pink stretch sweater isn’t that tight)?

    I’m a little more settled in now, watching my little brother’s Muppet Show DVDs and planning to go for a long run this afternoon–the snow is kind of accumulating, but it should be fine, and this is a great place for running. I think I’ve gotten more reading done in the last two days than I did in Tokyo in all of December. My father’s on night shift, so we’re supposed to be going out for lunch. I assume I’ll make it through at most one quarter of my portion, as always happens when I come back to PA. And the day after tomorrow, I’m supposed to see these two weirdos, which is always a pleasure to look forward to.

    I assume Japan hasn’t fallen into the Pacific or anything. Will be back to checking the news…uh, sometime after I see whether there’s any more shoo-fly pie.

    Tomb raider

    Posted by Sean at 11:40, February 5th, 2007

    I know that slideshows are a social menace, but people have been asking about photos from Thailand and Cambodia. So okay. Those who want to sign in and see all of them can do so here.

    Those who are happy with just a few images can look at them below the jump. One of the nice things about the Internet age is that you don’t have to take pictures of historical sites and things you visit just to record what they look like. The official preservation agency often has images of all the major points–usually lit properly and without people in the way–already. That frees you to focus on trying to get exposures of things that just caught your eye for one reason or another while you were walking around.


    Posted by Sean at 22:05, January 29th, 2007

    It turned out that I was able to take some of my pooled vacation time and appliqué it onto the end of the session I had to run for work in Bangkok this past weekend. A friend or two and I will be here in Thailand and Cambodia for the rest of the week, and from here I’m flying back to New York on Monday to see friends and then spend a few days with my parents and friends up and down the Mid-Atlantic. For reasons I hope I don’t need to go into, I’m taking a break from paying attention to Japanese news for a little while. Will probably be posting intermittently, but then that’s the only way I’ve been posting for a few months, anyway. Hope everyone’s doing well….

    “This will be the answer to all of your problems”

    Posted by Sean at 05:39, January 22nd, 2007

    I’d bet I was the last gay man with an Internet connection to be turned on to this set of videos on You Tube. Part 1 is a better crack high if you want fast-burning fuel for queeny comments: though it’s hard to blame her for recommending silhouettes that plenty of other people thought were hot back then, you get the feeling that she’s not even aware matte-finished fabric exists.

    But Part 2 is, to me, more deeply and genuinely horrifying. First of all, the way the woman handles a slotted spoon and unceremoniously plunks that banana into the blender makes it abundantly clear that she couldn’t find her way around her kitchen without GPS navigation (sadly unavailable in the late ’80s). Second–given the flinty glint in her eye and her pasted-on, curled-lip smile while she gives dietary advice–you just know she’s standing there thinking, I COULD MURDER A STEAK AND BAKED POTATO RIGHT NOW! MY GRANDMOTHER’S SOUL FOR A RIBEYE!!!!!

    The not-so-surprise update to the story is that, to judge from her website, Ms. Dickson has enrolled in the beauty maintenance program at the Joan Rivers School. A real pity. She had the bone structure to age with character.


    Posted by Sean at 23:42, January 16th, 2007

    According to the Mitsubishi Fuso website, the company name has charming origins:

    When the B46 autobus was created, the company held an internal search for a nickname, and the name that was selected was Fuso. Fuso (扶桑: “caretaking” + “mulberry”) is a Chinese word of ancient origin that refers to “sacred trees that grow in the Land of the Rising Sun on the East Sea” and was used as a variant name for Japan. The actual fuso trees are called “bussoge” and are more generally known as “[Chinese] hibiscus.”

    The site doesn’t mention that, while mitsubishi (三菱) is commonly understood to mean “three diamonds,” the hishi literally means “water chestnut,” so there’s kind of a mixed plant metaphor thing going on there. I suppose that might be considered an additional part of the charm.

    Not so charming, unfortunately, is the company’s endless string of problems with defective trucks. The latest problem is with wheel hubs that were introduced in response to previous defects:

    Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp. has announced it will recall tens of thousands of its large trucks because of concerns over a potential defect in the wheel hub, company sources said Tuesday.

    The wheel hub in question is a new type introduced following a large-scale recall in 2004. However, fractures and cracks in the hubs have been discovered in a number of cases since October.

    Until now, the company has maintained to the Construction and Transport Ministry that the problem would not occur under normal conditions and that it was the result of a maintenance error. However, the sources said the company now believes the new hub is simply too weak.

    Five years ago, a woman driving with her two children in Yokohama was killed when a wheel detached from a passing truck. The accident was highly publicized because it’s the kind of thing that’s not supposed to happen in Japan, with its vaunted transportation systems and technology. Note that Mitsubishi Motors, M. Fuso’s parent corporation, has had completely unrelated problems of its own with, among other things, the clutches in its cars.


    Posted by Sean at 01:10, January 16th, 2007

    The new movie about Japanese abductee Megumi Yokota looks to be an interesting treatment of her case. Next to Hitomi Soga, who gained fame as the wife of US Army deserter Charles Jenkins, Yokota is the abductee who’s received the most publicity. Her family has been very vocal in its demands that the Japanese government use all diplomatic means possible to find out what happened to her and the other abductees who are still unaccounted for. There’s been little development on the issue lately, but those who are interested in the push and pull over the last few years can click the category button below to see some of the news items that have appeared.


    Posted by Sean at 22:35, January 15th, 2007

    Eric is hot when he gets angry.

    He, Tim Noah, Clayton Cramer, and Radley Balko have amply attended to most of what’s inane about Dinesh D’Souza’s characteristically coarse arguments. I will only add that if the combination of irreligiousness, acceptance of homosexuality, blithe rearing of children out of wedlock, and preening leftism in the universities is what exercised the terrorists who attacked on 9/11, one is left wondering why on Earth they didn’t choose Europe (say the Netherlands or somewhere in Scandinavia) as their target. Not only have those countries institutionalized those social phenomena far more thoroughly than America has, but they also have large minority Muslim populations that are inflamed with humiliation over their dependence on the largesse of the social-welfare state. The United States is clearly the single most significant global symbol of Western cultural power; the idea that it’s the most significant global symbol of Western cultural leftism strikes me as very suspect.