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    Apple listens to the opera and disco queens

    Posted by Sean at 04:08, October 22nd, 2006

    Do my eyes deceive me, or does iTunes say it’s loading gapless playback information? Very exciting….

    I said, “In these shoes? / I doubt you’d survive”

    Posted by Sean at 05:20, October 21st, 2006

    An old friend sent me a link to this column from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. I agree with her that the angle it takes is interesting:

    In every movement to right a perceived social wrong, a fringe element with no apparent social upside (who hence emphasize their differences from the traditional) becomes the image of the enemy to supporters of the status quo. In this case, these are the leather- and tutu-clad lads who wind up in defense-of-marriage literature and DVDs. Only after a movement has gained some visibility, some credibility and some respectability do suit-and-tie supporters, people invested in society with something material to lose, risk identifying with it.

    Here’s where the paradox of rising expectations kicks in. Even as overt public discrimination against same-sex couples grows smaller, the inequities of law loom larger. The Williams Institute study suggests same-sex couples are more at ease declaring their relationships. They do so, however, with expectations of expanding their participation in society on equal terms with heterosexuals. Taking a risk, they are impatient with barriers to fulfillment of expectations of equality.

    Of course, that still begs the question of what “equality” looks like, and I don’t think that Westover’s seeming conclusion that it requires the legalization of gay marriage follows very well from his own argument. Nevertheless, one useful thing he does is to consider the push for SSM in the larger context of the American entitlement mentality and how interest groups jockey for government goodies. (Reading some opponents of gay marriage, you could get the impression that decent Americans were all self-effacingly going about their business when all of a sudden the fags and dykes burst in and introduced self-centeredness into public policy debates.) Anyway, it’s worth a read if you’re not heartily sick of the subject already.


    Speaking of tired subjects, music today is apparently tuneless, witless, and derivative. This is the opinion of Sting, which is pretty rich, considering the upscale adult-contemporary crap he’s shoveled at the public on most of his releases over the last ten years. Boring and pretentious–not exactly a winning combination.

    I guess I don’t buy a whole lot of new music by musicians I don’t already like, either, anymore. I was pleasantly surprised that Cassie‘s album lived up to the hype–though “Me & U” is getting the seriously-overplayed treatment here in Japan at the moment. The new Janet is okay, but the last week or two has been mostly a Full-Figured British Diva moment in my household: Alison, Kirsty, and some Gabrielle.

    Various debates

    Posted by Sean at 01:37, October 21st, 2006

    For obvious reasons, everyone is talking about how the PRC has reacted to the DPRK’s nuclear test, but it’s worth paying attention to the ROK, too:

    South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun confirmed Friday morning that South Korea will faithfully implement the U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea, which was passed following Pyongyang’s nuclear test last week.

    Roh made the remark during a meeting with Foreign Minister Taro Aso at the presidential Blue House in Seoul.

    However, Roh implied that South Korea would proceed cautiously with the sanction measures. “Each country has final authority over how to interpret the resolution,” he said.

    Roh, with an apparent reference to Japan’s possible nuclear armament, said to Aso, “There are various debates [in Japan] on how best to respond to North Korea’s nuclear test.”

    Aso countered by saying, “Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe has promised that Japan will uphold the three nonnuclear principles [in which Japan pledges not to produce, possess or allow nuclear weapons into the country].”

    Japan has been considering a full-scale cessation of not only imports from North Korea (which have already been implemented) but also exports to it. South Korea’s participation in executing UNSC-based sanctions matter, of course, because part of the package is maritime inspections:

    In South Korea, criticism of the “sunshine policy” of the administration of President Roh Moo-hyun increased after the nuclear test.

    Tokyo and Washington intend to make more efforts to coax the South Korean government over to their side, a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

    Though the U.N. resolution includes inspection of cargo carried to and from North Korea, the measure cannot be effective unless checks around the Korean Peninsula are intensified.

    The key is whether South Korea will participate in and cooperate with the inspection on ships entering and leaving North Korea.

    Also, while Japan and South Korea regard North Korean nuclear weapons as a direct threat, what the United States fears most is proliferation of the weapons to other parties, such as terrorists.

    Joel also posted on more fundamental (and well-recognized) differences in perceptions between the US and the ROK.

    She thinks she’s Brenda Starr

    Posted by Sean at 04:08, October 20th, 2006

    I hesitate to link yet another post of Eric’s, lest it appear that he has ties to The Scourge of International Homoism, Expats in Japan chapter; but as usual, he has one of the more sane takes on a topic that everyone’s nattering about at the moment:

    I think that most American voters (even the 70% who oppose gay marriage) take a dim view of persecuting homosexuals by invading their privacy. Homosexual witch hunts should have died with McCarthy, and the reasoning behind reviving them in the current political context is so convoluted that it would make sense only to a bigot.

    I’m not saying that the Republican Party is free of bigotry, because it isn’t. But if the activists keep this stuff up and ordinary voters find out about it (I’m not sure whether they have) pretty soon someone’s going to ask which party has more bigots.

    Ann Althouse makes sense, too:

    I think aggressive characters like our “lefty blogger” think that uncovering gay Republicans will disgust social conservatives and change their voting behavior. […] But, honestly, I think these creepy, gleeful efforts at outing will only make social conservatives more conservative, and they will continue to look to the Republican party to serve their needs.

    The truly bizarre contention one occasionally hears is that somehow this will all contribute to making it easier for gays to come out of the closet. The more gays outed, the more out gays there are, and the less isolated and fringe-y we seem…or something. The problem, besides the ethical infraction of invading people’s privacy, is that the tone is all wrong. The petty vindictiveness on display is of a kind that most people associate more with a junior high school girls’ locker room than with adults making serious arguments about social policy. It gives social conservatives more reason to think of gays as suffering from arrested development and poisons the atmosphere for gays thinking about whether now would be a good time to come out. Brill.


    Posted by Sean at 00:46, October 16th, 2006

    I’m not nearly the science geek that this guy is, but I still greeted this site like a long-lost friend when a commenter at Hit & Run linked to it. Atsushi’s home for the weekend, and we went to see the Lille Museum of Modern Art exhibition at Bunkamura. Then tea at Wedgwood. Tie shopping, scone shopping.

    Anyway, all the preciousness was threatening to suffocate us, so we decided to compensate with a Lite, brain-cell-eating DVD with pizza for dinner: The Core , which I’m pretty sure I saw on an airplane once. And lo, it is a thing of Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics beauty. I have to say, I don’t mind implausible scientific stuff when it’s skated over quickly and used to fuel fantasy that’s genuinely entertaining or to ask interesting questions about human nature. (My inner lit. major is much more annoyed by Insultingly Stupid Out-of-Character Movie Behavior for Cheap Plot Compliance, which is too massively indulged in by Hollywood to be done justice by a single website.) But lazy internal inconsistency of any kind is annoying. Using the tremendous pressure inside the mantle as an explicit reason something or other is impossible at one point and then expecting us to believe, a half-hour later, in a giant amethyst-lined cave in the mantle in which people in space suits can gambol around freely–that’s unforgivable. Two of the chief science-geek types in The Core also seem to think that one is a prime number, unless I misheard.

    Speaking of video art that leaves me cold…yeah, I’ve seen the video for “Jump,” the new Madonna single and my favorite song on the most recent album. I kind of like the way her outfit and dancing recall “Lucky Star,” but she has to get over this idea that simply intercutting shots of her with those of significantly younger and more agile dancers will camouflage the fact that she’s getting older. Also, while “free running” may be a phenomenon, it’s not exactly interesting to watch…especially since the video is set in Tokyo. The footage for the first jumps, before Madonna begins singing, was filmed right in the same neighborhood as my office, and one thing I will say is that it portrays Tokyo the way it actually looks when you’re here: grey and brown and full of gnarled power and telephone lines.


    Posted by Sean at 01:40, October 13th, 2006

    It’s still not clear what the UNSC statement on the DPRK’s nuclear test will say, but here in Japan, the Abe government has voted to suspend imports and port entrances from DPRK vessels:

    At a 13 October cabinet meeting, the goverment came to a decision to institute an embargo on imports of all goods from North Korea and prohibit vessels with North Korean registration from entering Japanese ports, as independent sanctions [that is, not in cooperation with the UN or another country–SRK] against the DPRK, which announced that it has conducted a nuclear test. The measures will go into effect at midnight on 14 October and are set to expire in six months.

    Imports from the DPRK consist mostly of agricultural and marine products such as matsutake mushrooms and clams; their total value in 2005 was ¥137 trillion.

    DPRK passport holders have been banned from entering Japan since the middle of this week; permanent residents of Japan who happen to be of North Korean extraction aren’t affected.

    And BTW, for those following the possible evolution of the SDF into a recognized full, standing armed force, Japan may assist the US in freighter inspections:

    The government has entered into discussions over providing support and port access to U.S. forces in an effort to assist in the inspection of North Korean freighters, if the U.N. Security Council adopts a resolution to impose sanctions on North Korea, government sources said Thursday.

    Although the government remains cautious over the Self-Defense Forces participating in the inspection of ships, a role supporting U.S. forces’ inspection of North Korean ships would be covered by the law concerning Self-Defense Forces operations to assist U.S. forces during emergencies.

    The related ministries, agencies and local authorities are expected to begin making arrangements in parallel with the discussions between the central government and the U.S. military, which have already begun.

    This would mark the first application of the law since it was enacted in 1999.

    The DPRK has reacted to the threat of across-the-board sanctions by stating that it will regard them as (what else?) a declaration of war.

    Everybody out

    Posted by Sean at 05:27, October 10th, 2006

    Joe and I disagree over outing, but his approach is measured and thoughtful, and he’s capable of discussing the issue without going into hysterics of the those-bitches-deserve-to-FRYYYYYYYY! variety.

    This is how he’s put it most recently:

    Similarly, it’s time we all stop buying in to the “straight person assumption” and with it the whole notion of “outing” as a violation of privacy. Let’s recognize that the damage done by a life lived in the closet is harmful to all of us.

    Joe approvingly links to Louis Bayard, who wrote this in Salon.com:

    But I do believe that every man or woman who courts public office must be held to some public standard of honesty–of coherence.

    The decision to come out is personal. So is the decision to run for office. Why should the second choice be privileged over the first? Why should homosexuality be privileged over heterosexuality? Why should a same-sex partner (Foley has apparently had one for many years) be any less a subject of discussion than a wife or husband?

    Perhaps I’m just too cynical; or perhaps that second paragraph is really as bafflingly illogical as I think it is. Politicians tend to trot out their families while campaigning because they help their image and make them more electable; mouthy, socially inept wives and bratty children have been the bane of campaign managers for generations. Being openly gay is still a great way to make yourself unelectable in many districts. If both partners agree to keep their relationship secret (or at least not to make an issue of it) or an unattached gay candidate just doesn’t discuss his or her dating habits, I can’t see where the lack of “coherence” is.

    Besides, if we move from theory to practice, we need to decide who has the power to determine who deserves to be outed; and as is so often the case, those most eager to play Enforcer are those whom we can least trust to exercise prudence. It’s all very well to say that being a practicing homosexual while supporting anti-gay policies is hypocritical, but it simply isn’t true that all of us can agree on what’s “anti-gay.” I’ve been out for a decade, but I’m against hate crimes laws and gay marriage as it’s currently being campaigned for, and I just do not concede that that’s hypocritical.

    Do gays in powerful positions who live closeted lives hurt the rest of us–I mean, in some intrinsic sense by not contributing to the visibility of gays as ordinary citizens? You can make a case that they do. But there are lots of private decisions that hurt other people. Parents who don’t teach their children manners cause harm to the children themselves and, conceivably, to everyone who encounters them for the rest of their lives; even so, we don’t take kids away from their parents unless there’s serious and immediate harm being done. It’s a plain fact of life that we can’t always intervene in people’s lives to stop them from doing things we disapprove of. We can only shun them or try to persuade them to change their behavior.

    Added later: Eric has another post about the outing angle, to which Connie has added a comment. Surprise! I think they’re both worth reading. Eric:

    For those who didn’t grow up in a gay ghetto, sodomy laws existed until fairly recently in a number of states, and while they weren’t enforced, they reflect a tradition which was once mainstream. To deny this is to deny reality as well as history. Times were changing gradually, but the “old guard” still exists, and it fought hard to keep the sodomy laws in the minority of states which still had them. For the most part, this old guard has to content itself by spearheading opposition to same sex marriage.

    While that’s what leads gay activists to denounce opposition to same sex marriage as “bigotry,” the fact that 70% of the public (including the leadership of the Democratic Party) also think the country is not ready for same sex marriage seems to receive less attention.

    However, admitting opposition to same sex marriage, mainstream though it is, is these days an easier way to be called a bigot than voicing opposition to affirmative action.

    The result of all this is that homosexuality remains the sensitive topic it has always been. A new taboo has quickly arisen to replace an old taboo.

    Too many gays and supporters of gays take an approach to “debate” that involves deliberately raising homosexuality as an issue and then flipping out on people who actually say what they deeply believe and feel about it. One would think the hazards of such an approach would be obvious: people who feel baited tend to tune out and assume their interlocutors are incapable of winning an argument without stacking the deck. I sometimes wonder whether there are people who remain closeted simply because the effort to demonstrate that they don’t have the approve-of-me-or-else attitude that the public faces of gayness so often project is just too exhausting.

    Added still later: This via Michael:

    Middlebury College is this year for the first time giving students who identify themselves as gay in the admissions process an “attribute” — the same flagging of an application that members of ethnic minority groups, athletes, alumni children and others receive, according to Shawn Rae Passalacqua, assistant director of admissions at Middlebury. His announcement surprised many of those who attended the session, and who said that they had never heard of a college having such a policy. (Officials of the Point Foundation, a group that provides scholarships to gay students, especially those denied financial support from their families, said that they had never heard of such a policy.)

    Passalacqua said that gay students bring “a unique quality” to the college, which he said tries hard not “to be too homogeneous.” Of 6,200 applications last year, 5 students noted their gay identities in their application essays and another 50-plus applicants cited their membership in gay-straight alliances. Passalacaqua said that Middlebury admissions officers were also likely to look favorably and give an admissions tip to “straight allies” of gay students — not just out of support for that view, but because a college benefits from having people who are “bridge builders.”

    Yeah, because, you know, if there’s one place in America it’s difficult to find gay youths, it’s the hoity-toity universities and liberal arts colleges. As Michael says, “In my opinion, [a measure such as this] will do nothing more than lend credence to the cries of the far Right that we’re demanding special treatment.” He was too diplomatic to point out the disgusting condescension involved in talking about gay students as the spice that gets stirred in with the Normal People to keep the place from being too homogeneous. Or in giving points to straight students who play the “some of my best friends are gay!” card. (The scholarship, on the other hand, strikes me as a nice idea.)

    On edge

    Posted by Sean at 02:16, October 10th, 2006

    WTF? The US Embassy here in Tokyo sent out a notice to those of us on the mailing list to say that the DPRK’s reported nuclear test does not mean that American citizens are at risk in Japan at the moment. Also, the embassy is operating normally.

    Can someone give these people a shot of brandy? We’re talking about a single test. An important test. A scary test. A test with a lot of implications for regional and global politics. But a test. There’s no indication that North Korea has even one deployable nuclear missile, let alone that it’s aimed at Japan. I understand the need for caution, but assuring us that the embassy is still open for business seems so…flighty. It makes me wonder whether hysterical expats have been calling and asking whether they need to fly back home. Surely not?

    Added later: Okay, I’m a little bit less edgy myself after having dealt with my e-mail backlog. When I went back and reread the message more carefully, I realized it was referring to “health risks”–presumably from the radioactive material that might have been released by the nuclear detonation. That makes a certain amount of sense: yellow dust that drifts over from Chinese industrial cities is a big problem in South Korea and parts of Japan.

    DPRK nuclear test safe and successful, says DPRK

    Posted by Sean at 02:06, October 9th, 2006

    Ready to spaz? Okay, good.

    The DPRK’s central news agency is reporting that its nuclear experiments have been resumed and that it’s successfully conducted an implosion test on weapons-grade plutonium:

    On 9 October, North Korea announced through the KCNA, that it had conducted a nuclear experiment. It appears that the goal was to push through the test on the day before North Korea’s Korean Workers Party’s Founding Day [whatever that is in English–SRK] and make a display of the power of the Kim Jong-il regime. “Our scientific research division has conducted underground nuclear experimentation safely and successfully,” the report states. It also says, “In these experiments, which were conducted using scientific and meticulous calculations, it was confirmed that there was no danger at all from radiation leakage.”

    Pyongyang apparently sent word to Beijing less than a half-hour before the test was conducted. There’s no substantive reaction from the government here yet.

    The timing, especially, throws a wrench into the works because Prime Minister Abe met with PRC President Hu Jintao over the weekend:

    During the meeting, Abe urged the Chinese leaders to cooperate with Japan to stop Pyongyang from carrying out the nuclear test. The Chinese side responded that Beijing would pressure Pyongyang to refrain from the test.

    As to Pyongyang’s nuclear test plan, Abe told Hu, “It is a serious threat to peace and security in the international community and Japan will never tolerate it.”

    This was Abe’s first visit abroad as head of state; that he went to China and not the US is significant. That Japan-PRC relations may thaw, because Hu is willing to give Abe the benefit of the doubt about the Yasukuni Shrine, doubtless worries the DPRK because it needs to maintain its position by playing other parties off each other. It will be interesting to see Beijing’s reaction to the announcement, which I haven’t heard reported yet.

    You just can’t get good help these days

    Posted by Sean at 01:43, October 8th, 2006

    Question: How is it that the best PR strategists, brand managers, event planners, and visual merchandisers the world over are gay…while top jobs at gay PACs attract people who are so irredeemably incompetent at image management?

    I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this whole thing about “The List” (via Eric), but it’s looking more and more like (surprise!) a strategy by lefty gay groups to show the rest of America how readily queers are willing to turn on each other for cheap, short-term political expediency. Way to show gay youths who are just coming out that they’re taking their place in a community in which people value forthrightness, respect individual choice, and stand up for each other, guys. The clear ethical infraction of exposing people’s private lives without their permission is bad enough, but the sheer self-defeating idiocy on display here is almost too much to stand.