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    The plunge

    Posted by Sean at 06:59, January 3rd, 2006

    Since Atsushi and I managed to yum-yum our New Year’s rice cakes* right down without choking to death on them, it seems you’re stuck with me for another year.

    For that matter, in a few weeks’ time, Atsushi will have been stuck with me for exactly five years. Not even by being transferred to another island has he managed to escape.

    And–I don’t know what precisely jogged my memory of this, except possibly the general reflections one does on the passage of time during the holidays–it’s ten years ago today that I came out to my parents.

    They were still officially living in their old place, the little rented townhouse they’d moved into after marrying in 1971 and were about to move out of now that my little brother was ready to start college.

    The house they’d finally been able to put up a down payment for was a fixer-upper three or four miles down the road. It had been abandoned by tax evaders and left vacant for a few years, during which time someone had broken in and defaced it. The master bath was sooty with the remains of a fire in the shower. There were holes punched or hacked in some of the walls. And others had been spraypainted: “This is our house.” “Satan lives in this house.” The former message made my parents say that the malefactors had probably been the former owners’ much-tried children. The latter message, which was accompanied by a point-up star inside a circle, made a college friend of mine [from McKean County] roll her eyes and say, “Trust rural Pennsylvania Satanists not to be able to draw a freakin’ pentagram right.”

    I was home from New York for the New Year. My parents were full of talk about wallpaper patterns and rented floor sanders and other sweat equity stuff. Dad makes wooden furniture as a hobby, so Mom was coming up with all kinds of elaborate cabinets that could be contrived for this or that odd space. I’d been dating a man for over a year and out to myself, in that final way, for a few months. My only vague thought about telling my parents had been that it might be a good idea after I’d been in grad school for a few years, when I was twenty-five or twenty-six and my having lived in the City for a while had gotten them used to the idea that my life was not going to be the return to the hometown that they’d envisioned for me. After all, lots of gay men and women with conservative Christian families found ways not to break their parents’ hearts without lying to them.

    And then some time during those last few days of December, the thought creeped up on me that I had an opportunity that wouldn’t come up again. The house was a project that would be occupying my parents for at least a good year; it was something ready to hand that they could throw themselves into if they were feeling distrait. The room I’d slept in for eighteen years before college wouldn’t be down the hall every night. Everything at the house on Broad Street was going to be packed away and removed, anyway; if they decided they had to cut off contact with me, I could get whatever stuff I needed and leave without its being the only such Event going on.

    I also knew that they were not the sort of parents to go to their grave resolutely believing that their son wasn’t a homo but just a workaholic who hadn’t found the right girl. I’d had the usual frictions with them as a teenager, but we’d always gotten along well and communicated frankly. Eventually, I’d be thirty-five years old and home for dinner, and Mom would deposit the platter of Swiss steak on the table with a clunk and demand to know just what was up with me and that long-term roommate of mine. Or Dad would hand me a cup of coffee one morning and ask, once I had a good mouthful, whether I really expected them to believe I’d been sleeping on a couch for six years. My parents have a talent for delivering a zinger when you least expect it.

    Of course, this was going to be my zinger, and I knew that if I started trying to plan it, thinking about all the possibilities–I should probably have bus money in my pocket in case they throw me out right then and there–would make me lose my nerve. So I decided to wait for a good break in the conversation and improvise, but not to think too much about it until then. (That actually wasn’t all that hard; we were really busy entertaining friends and running around and stuff. I was too exhausted at night to lie awake being anxious.)

    Straight readers may find this surprising, but I honestly don’t remember clearly how the actual conversation went. Not really. Not the way, with my lit-major brain, I can often replay other memorable scenes word for word in my head for years afterward. I know I said everything I thought I needed to say, without being halting about it they way I’d been afraid I’d be. I know they assured me they weren’t going to disown me and then, after the inital shock wore off, qualified that by suggesting all the things you can imagine conservative Christian parents’ suggesting.

    And a few days later I was back in New York, and my parents were moving. And things were okay. That much I do remember clearly.

    * お餅 (o-mochi: sticky rice, often cut into cakes of approx. 1 cm * 4 cm * 5 cm that are toasted and eaten wrapped in sheets of pressed seaweed). The Japanese can make deadly foods out of not only poisonous fish but also rice–that’s how bottomlessly resourceful they are. It fills you with a kind of awe.

    Added on 4 January: As a friend just pointed out to me, o-mochi is also often served in soup, which makes it more stretchy.


    Posted by Sean at 01:28, January 1st, 2006

    It is now the Year of the Dog in Japan. Japan follows the Chinese zodiac, but it celebrates the New Year on 1 January of the Western calendar. (The whole thing is very disorienting if you’re studying classical poetry, because you have to keep straight the Western calendar, the solstices, and the traditional lunar calendar by which months and seasons were actually named. Happily, I don’t have to contend with that right now, unless I decide to translate a poem at the end of this post.)

    The personality typology you hear discussed the most here is by blood type, but the year of your birth gets a lot of play, too. When Atsushi and I began to date, it was considered very auspicious that he was a Monkey and I was a Rat–no wiseacre comments from the peanut gallery, okay?–two signs that are held to be compatible. (Of course, my last boyfriend had been a Dragon, and our supposed celestial compatibility hadn’t seemed to help all that much.) With its preponderance of snakes, dogs, wild boars, and monkeys, the zodiac can start to sound like an extended lawyer joke, but none of the descriptions is negative in the main, of course.

    I was born in March, so I’m a Rat according to both Chinese and Japanese measurements. As with all such things, you read your typology, and some of it is so dead-on it’s kind of spooky…

    One of the Rat’s biggest fault is that they try to do too much at once. They often scatter their energies and get nothing accomplished.

    …and some of it is so off the mark it makes you laugh.

    They are very appealing. They have a bright and happy personality, and this keeps them busy socially. They love parties and other large gatherings.

    Yeah, right.

    In any case, those who are thinking about having a child may want to hurry things up so it’s born by the end of this year. The traits associated with the Year of the Dog aren’t bad at all:

    People born in the Year of the Dog possess the best traits of human nature. They have a deep sense of loyalty, are honest, and inspire other people’s confidence because they know how to keep secrets. But Dog People are somewhat selfish, terribly stubborn, and eccentric. They care little for wealth, yet somehow always seem to have money. They can be cold emotionally and sometimes distant at parties. They can find fault with many things and are noted for their sharp tongues. Dog people make good leaders. They are compatible with those born in the Years of the Horse, Tiger, and Rabbit.

    Notice how every sign is described as being eccentric, BTW? And I guess most parents wouldn’t be crazy about that “cold emotionally” part, though given the potential for heartache in life, it might come in handy later on.

    Child, how can you see with all that light?

    Posted by Sean at 00:44, January 1st, 2006

    No, I’m not drinking crushed dried plums in boiling water because I have a hangover.

    And if, just theoretically, I were drinking crushed dried plums in boiling water because I had a hangover, it wouldn’t be because I was with friends carousing until 6 a.m.

    That racket. Please, you have to stop the racket.

    Of course, some people’s headaches are just beginning:

    Looking beyond discredited architect Hidetsugu Aneha, police are now focusing on the companies that likely pressured him to fake his quake-resistance reports, sources said.

    Kumamoto Prefecture-based Kimura Construction Co. and Tokyo-based Huser Co., both named as central players in the wide-reaching scandal, are apparently soon to face criminal charges.

    The sources said a joint team of Metropolitan Police Department and Chiba and Kanagawa prefectural police investigators plan to hold Kimura Construction criminally responsible in the falsification of structural strength reports to cut costs.

    Aneha has told police that Akira Shinozuka, the former Tokyo branch head of Kimura Construction, pressured him to reduce the amount of steel fortification in his designs.

    All parties in the scandal have denied any wrongdoing, apart from Aneha.

    Huser is known to have sold condominium units even after it learned in October that they might have had substandard quake resistance.

    The Real Estate Business Law prohibits firms from signing contracts that intentionally withhold pertinent information from buyers.

    Substandard earthquake resistance is, you know, kinda pertinent here.

    Since Huser ordered the construction of the complexes, it can also be held in violation of the Building Standards Law.

    But unlike Kimura Construction, which drew up the design blueprints, Huser merely ordered them, so its intent to falsify data must be proven for it to be held criminally responsible, sources said.

    We can now look forward to months, perhaps years, of “Oh, yes, you did”…”Oh, no, I didn’t.”

    The good news is that we seem to have gone a few days without the discovery of yet another substandard building. The number is almost certain to break ninety at some point in the new year, though.

    You got to give for what you take

    Posted by Sean at 17:21, December 31st, 2005

    Michelle Malkin links to a graphic from a Georgia teenager (via Q and O) who responded to an Atlanta Journal Constitution editorial cartoonist’s rhetorical question about the Iraq invasion.

    I search for the time / On a watch with no hands

    Posted by Sean at 18:26, December 30th, 2005

    Atsushi is now on a plane. He will land at Haneda at around 9:30, arrive at our door at around 11:00, and leave for his parents’ place at around 14:00. That gives us three hours together (sort of) to celebrate New Year’s Eve, Japan’s major holiday. Given how we’ll have to shoehorn things in, I’m at least trying to make the house as close to spotless as possible, in the hopes that the effort will convey a celebratory air. Accompanying music by Heart. No, not the 70s stuff that we’re all supposed to admire for creating a distaff Led Zep–sorry, Mom and Dad–but the 80s stuff that was out when I was in high school. You know, after the Wilsons looked at each other and said, “Millions of kids shell out for albums at mall record stores every day. Dammit, WE WANT THAT MONEY. Where’s Diane Warren’s card?” There’s something very satisfying about lovingly, tenderly, soothingly moving a dusting glove over your favorite vases while shrieking “Who Will You Run To” along with Ann.

    I don’t know whether I’ll be back between now and tonight’s party. If I’m not, everyone have a happy and safe new year.

    Japan odds and ends

    Posted by Sean at 18:11, December 30th, 2005

    There have been some updates to ongoing stories here:


    The president of JR East has reportedly hinted that he will resign. It kind of seems a shame, because for once, we may be looking at a genuine freak accident:

    The sources said the Construction and Transport Ministry’s Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission believes a microburst may have caused the accident mainly because an anemometer placed near the accident site had recorded winds of only 72 kph at the time an express train on East Japan Railway Co.’s Uetsu Line derailed.

    A microburst produces winds of 252 kph or greater in small areas with a radius of only several hundred meters to two kilometers.

    According to investigations by the commission and other parties, a cold front was passing through the Shonaimachi area, generating thunderclouds at the time of the accident. Thunderclouds are thought to cause microbursts–a phenomenon in which cool air rushes to the surface in an intensely localized area, resulting in strong downdrafts.

    Aviation weather experts have paid more attention to the sudden gusts, as they have led to fatal airplane crashes during takeoff or landing. But because a microburst is locally formed and does not last long, they prove difficult to predict.

    There seems to be evidence that the bridge and artificial embankment were constructed in such a way as to force the air through in a sort of wind-tunnel effect; but at the same time, the driver was going well below the speed limit for that stretch of rail in those reported conditions. It’s good to see JR East talk about installing new meters in the area, but if we’re talking about something akin to wind shear in airline flights, perfect safety is going to be impossible to achieve.


    It’s a bit late in the game, but two DPRK agents with major involvement in the 1970s abductions of Japanese citizens from beaches have been identified:

    Two North Korean agents have been identified as the perpetrators responsible for abducting two couples who have since been repatriated to Japan, sources said Friday.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Il said some people in the intelligence agency “fell into blindly motivated patriotism and heroism,” when he admitted in September 2002 that North Korea was responsible for abducting Japanese.

    However, police authorities suspect that some of the abductors held important positions that could influence the agency’s decision-making, because Sin, who was arrested in South Korea in February 1985 and then transferred to Pyongyang in September 2000, has been treated as a hero at home.

    According to Hitomi Soga, 46, who was repatriated along with the couples, Sin served as a tutor for her and her fellow abductee Megumi Yokota. Soga and Yokota were forcibly taken to North Korea in August 1978 and November 1977, respectively.

    Hitomi Soga, of course, is the wife of US Army deserter Charles Jenkins.


    The man whose wife and two sons were killed by toxic hydrogen sulfide gas at an Akita Prefecture hot spring resort area has died. He never regained consciousness.


    Oh, and I don’t think I mentioned this yet, did I? The government is freaking because the population of Japan has begun to decline earlier than had been projected:

    The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications on Tuesday confirmed what could be the start of a prolonged crisis for Japan: The nation’s population is already shrinking.

    The ministry released provisional figures that show the population on Oct. 1 was about 19,000 fewer than the estimated 127.776 million of October 2004.

    Populations in 32 of the 47 prefectures fell since the last official count. Nine prefectures–Nara, Fukui, Nagano, Ishikawa, Yamanashi, Ibaraki, Miyagi, Gifu and Gunma–recorded gains between 1995 and 2000, but this time around, all nine prefectures saw population decreases. Akita Prefecture had the biggest drop, at 3.7 percent from the level five years ago.

    The census results showed a trend toward population shifts to major metropolitan areas.

    Tokyo had the biggest population gain, at 510,000, a 4.2-percent rise over the last census. Kanagawa Prefecture recorded a gain of 300,000, or 3.5 percent more, and Aichi Prefecture an increase of 210,000, or 3 percent more people.

    Other prefectures boasting larger populations were Okinawa, with a 3.2-percent rise thanks mainly to a large number of births, and Shiga, with a 2.8-percent rise because of an increase in commuters to the Osaka and Kyoto areas.

    The country gained 2.47 million households in the period, or 5.2 percent, to reach a total 49.53 million.

    While there were more households in all 47 prefectures, the average number per household fell to 2.58, from 2.7 in the 2000 census.

    The increase in metro area populations is actually rather interesting; given the much-publicized J-turn phenomenon of the 90s, it likely means not that people are moving into urban cores but that they’re moving into bed towns that are part of contiguous areas of high population density.


    Posted by Sean at 17:48, December 30th, 2005

    From the Japan Defense Agency:

    The Japan Defense Agency and the Self-Defense Forces are adding muscle to their defense preparations designed to respond to a hypothetical attack by the PRC’s People’s Liberation Army on, for example, Ishigaki Island or the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. In January, the Ground Self-Defense Force will conduct its first joint remote island defense training with with United States Marine Corps. The Maritime Self-Defense Force will set its hand to developing Advanced Lightweight Torpedos in order to boost its response capabilities toward Chinese submarines.

    The G-SDF will dispatch 125 personnel from the Western Army infantry regiment [link] (Sasebo City, Nagasaki Prefecture) to San Diego, CA, from 9 – 27 January. It will conduct reconnaissance training to facilitate landing and information gathering on a remote island that could conceivably be occupied. In addition to studying swim-based reconnaissance at the USMC reconnaissance school, the G-SDF will undergo ground training and acquire know-how for planning on-land assaults that incorporate complex conditions such as climate.

    For its part, the SDF has (at least as of 2004, presumably the last year for which finalized records exist) increased the amount of assistance–supplies, equipment, transportation–it gives to the US military:

    The number of cases in which the Self-Defense Forces provided supplies or support for the U.S. military more than tripled in fiscal 2004 from the previous year, the Defense Agency said.

    The increase stems from a 2004 revision to the acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA), enabling the SDF to provide such assistance to the U.S. military even during routine training drills.

    The agreement was originally intended only for U.N. peacekeeping operations or joint training drills.

    But Tokyo and Washington have become increasingly interdependent in terms of military cooperation. In addition, enhancing Japan’s role in logistics support for U.S. troops is part of an interim report on U.S. military realignment.

    According to the Defense Agency, the SDF provided goods and services to the U.S. military in response to requests 212 times between April and December 2004.

    For all of fiscal 2003, the figure was 67.

    BTW, specifically regarding PRC-Japan relations, the latest conflict is over the suicide of a Japanese consul stationed in Shanghai. The Japanese government says Chinese officials pressed him to reveal information about Japan’s policies regarding disputed islands. That incident was not, BTW, a factor in the results of a recent cabinet poll:

    Fewer Japanese than ever feel well disposed toward China, with a Cabinet Office survey finding only about one-third of respondents had positive feelings about the country and a record-high 63.4 percent did not, according to the poll released Saturday.

    The favorable response toward China fell 5.2 percentage points from the previous survey in 2004 to 32.4 percent, marking its lowest level since such questions were first asked in 1978.

    The percentage of respondents who did not have positive feelings about China was up 5.2 percentage points from the 2004 survey, surpassing the 60 percent line for the first time.

    A Cabinet Office official commented, “It may have been affected by large-scale anti-Japanese demonstrations across China and disputes between the two nations over the development of gas fields in the East China Sea and other issues.”

    The survey was conducted on 3,000 people aged 20 or older nationwide in early to mid-October. The response rate was 58.5 percent.

    Concerning Japan-China ties, 71.2 percent, up 10.2 points from last year, said relations were not good, with 19.7 percent, down 8.4 points, saying relations were positive.

    Figures for the ROK dropped also, but they remained above 50 percent.

    Finally, apropos of nothing: the compound that means “torpedo” is 魚雷 (gyorai: “fish” + “thunder”), which I think is just about the coolest thing ever. Land mines are known as 地雷 (jirai: “earth” + “thunder”).

    Say my name

    Posted by Sean at 10:26, December 30th, 2005

    Eric cites LaShawn Barber, who in turn is reacting to this Kathleen Parker column, about blogger conduct:

    But unrestrained power coupled with little to no accountability is a dangerous thing. As a blogger who’s been the subject of nasty and false statements made by bloggers and in comment sections by anonymous cowards, I know what people are capable of saying when they get caught up in online anonymity. When you’re not man or woman enough to stand behind your words using your own name, high ideals like accountability and responsibility are mere afterthoughts.

    I’d soften that just a little. There are people whose political positions would threaten their jobs if known at the office, or who feel that blogging under their full names would compromise not just their own privacy but their families’. I don’t see why they should have to absent themselves entirely from the public debate. But what the anonymous bloggers who are honorable and civil understand is that they are under different constraints from the named. If you’re anonymous, you get less leeway if your criticisms start to drift over the line from stern to insulting. You also get less credence if you’re asking readers to accept your unsubstantiated account of something and have to do an extra-methodical job of laying out your case. Here’s how Eric puts it:

    If only the world of opinion consisted of verifiable facts! But it doesn’t. Even the distinction between fact and opinion can be tricky. Many people believe what they want to believe despite evidence to the contrary. This leads to assertions of being wrong, of lying, and of being stupid or evil. In general, people who are willing to acknowledge that they have said what they said and are willing to defend it in a sincere manner are less likely to resort to insulting ad hominem attacks, they are more accountable, and less like the kids in Lord of the Flies.

    BTW, that goes quadruple for gay bloggers, though I know Eric wasn’t thinking specifically in those terms (and I’m approximately 110% certain that Ms. Barber wasn’t thinking in those terms when she was writing that paragraph above). There are all kinds of good reasons not to post under your own name, but you’re only inviting honest folks to laugh aloud at you if you sign yourself Jason the Raving Invert so you can stay closeted at your cushy I-banking job…and then freely take potshots at others and go on and on about what a daring truth-speaker you are.

    Parker, for her part, is worried that a lot of blogs are all potshot and no truth-speaking because there’s no one playing official referee:

    What Golding demonstrated–and what we’re witnessing as the Blogosphere’s offspring multiply–is that people tend to abuse power when it is unearned and will bring down others to enhance themselves. Likewise, many bloggers seek the destruction of others for their own self-aggrandizement. When a mainstream journalist stumbles, they pile on like so many savages, hoisting his or her head on a bloody stick as Golding’s children did the fly-covered head of a butchered sow.

    I’ve frequently enjoyed Parker’s columns since 9/11. She can be sharp and intelligent in a plainspoken, unfussy fashion. However, she also has a weakness for cutesy metaphors that aren’t as clever or, more importantly, telling as she thinks. The Lord of the Flies reference has emotional appeal, but what it fails to convey is that unearned power doesn’t have to arise from a free-for-all. I don’t think that even the screechiest, most self-important bloggers believe mainstream journalism is populated by loose-running willful tricksters like Jayson Blair and Janet Cooke. They think it’s populated by conscientious, by-the-book mandarins who nevertheless don’t recognize their own biases and are often out of touch with the people whose interests they’re claiming to serve. (And their writing can be just as adversarial as that of bloggers.)

    My blog is too small-scale to be one of those that Parker is thinking of, but for my part, I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge that reporters do a lot more work writing their stories that I do translating and linking to them. But I also know from ten years of adulthood that many Western journalists fall back on cheap, easy, and unilluminating clichés about Japan; that articles about gay topics will frequently cite two or three extreme, grabby opinions by activists as if they represented the full range of what gay people believe about very complex issues; and that pieces about working-class life tend to strike a tone that evokes an anthropologist who’s just returned from doing field work on Pluto. I dare say that most journalism that gets knowledgeable readers exercised isn’t really inaccurate on a sentence-by-sentence basis; it just gives a distorted overall picture by emphasizing some factors at the expense of others. Blogging, with its variety of commentators, can help to correct that. It hasn’t solved the problem of rampant incivility in society, but then, neither has anything else anyone’s tried.

    The Red Cross isn’t looking so inefficient now

    Posted by Sean at 03:18, December 30th, 2005

    And here’s the other post that got dropped.


    You knew this was coming, didn’t you (via Gaijin Biker)?

    Up to about a third of the $590 million U.N. fund spent for the Indian Ocean tsunami relief may have gone to pay for overhead. The Financial Times says its two-month investigation showed the money appears to have been spent on administration, staff and related costs. The $590 million was part of the United Nation’s $1.1 billion disaster flash appeal.

    The newspaper said details of that appeal it obtained from U.N. agencies such as the World Health Organization and the World Food Program showed 18 percent to 32 percent of the expenditure related to staff, administration and other costs.

    Some UN agencies aren’t making good on their promises of transparency in allocating funds. You know, I derive quite a bit of amusement from slagging off the UN. The pharisaism that pours reliably from its every agency makes criticizing it pretty much a guilt-free operation. But we’re not talking here about whether cronyism was involved in the appointment of some dumbass who’s job is to hector us about smoking. We’re talking about the aftermath of a natural disaster that was, for the regions it affected, epochal. It was exactly the sort of multi-national, Third World emergency that the UN’s humanitarian divisions are supposed to be ideally positioned to deal with. And what we get is around US$18 million spent on overhead.

    Over 73 million served

    Posted by Sean at 03:14, December 30th, 2005

    Okay, Chris at Powerblogs says that the posts lost yesterday were still in the mailing list, so, even though I realize that not every word I’ve ever typed needs to be preserved for posterity, I’ll repost them. Here’s the first one.


    Since Simon went group blog, he doesn’t post as much of his own commentary, which–no offense to his co-bloggers–is a shame. A few days ago he gave a good pummeling to a piece in the South China Morning Post (presumably in the print edition, since he doesn’t provide a link). The headline is “Still an inspirational leader.”

    Guess who it’s about.

    Assuming you’ve put down your coffee–no, really, please–here’s the first paragraph:

    Almost 30 years after the death of Mao Zedong, many are still trying to define the controversial leader. But, like China, Mao defies simple classification. And his name still evokes deep respect amonst many Chinese.

    That Mao, he stayed refreshingly unhampered by attempts to pigeonhole him, he did. You gotta love him for that. Respect him, too. Assuming you’re still alive, that is. Simon says:

    The latest estimate is Mao was responsible for more than 73 million deaths. In case you’re wondering, that’s a record.

    To make an omelette, you apparently have to break a WHOLE LOT of eggs (just to bring in yet another loathsome mass murderer). The SCMP piece also quotes an ethnic studies professor at–where else?–Berkeley (Jeff, can’t you do something about these people?):

    Ling-chi Wang, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of California at Berkeley, said that while Mao’s wrongdoings cannot be discounted, he “made an important contribution to Chinese history, as a leader who instilled a great sense of self-reliance and pride in the people.”

    I’ve heard some Iranians say that about Khomeini, too: “He brought in an oppressive government that made life hell for many of its citizens, but he stood up to the West and revived our pride in Persian culture.” It’s always struck me as taking the effort to make the best of adversity just a smidgen too far. The trade-off involved in giving even grudging respect to a leader who champions national pride while committing acts of world-class shamefulness is of dubitable ethical value. Anyway, “Mao sucked” is not an opinion that, in 2006, should have to be supported with all kinds of evidence as if it were controversial, but Simon does a patient, deadly job of it.