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    Posted by Sean at 09:59, June 23rd, 2005

    When I was in high school in 1989, there was a brouhaha over flag burning. I wrote an indignant letter to the local newspaper supporting the ban–or rather, the amendment that would make a ban possible, which I think is what we’re actually talking about. Of course, I was 17. I wouldn’t now.

    Backers argue the legislation is needed to protect a symbol of American democracy; foes warn it would infringe on First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech.

    I’m rabid about free speech, but I’m not so sure about the First Amendment argument, however well it may have worked in the past. Expression usually involves gestures of creation: you make words or you make pictures (if you hold with Camille Paglia’s definition of images as pagan speech). In making it possible to legislate against flag burning, no one is limiting your ability to shout, “Death to America!” or what have you, if that’s what you think needs to be said.

    Be that as it may, let’s have a sense of proportion here. It is perfectly possible to shun people who injure the flag, or to point out that their ability to criticize their own society so unequivocally is one of the things it represents. I understand the ire that a lot of people have stored up over the last few decades of PC run amok, but this is a bad outlet for it.

    Picture this

    Posted by Sean at 09:05, June 23rd, 2005

    Honeychile? Seriously, take yourself off to a remote Micronesian islet already:

    Former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey who came out, announced he had an extramarital affair, and resigned from office may be gone from the state capitol but he’s not about to be forgotten.

    A life-sized portrait of McGreevey will hang in the governor’s office in Trenton. The official portrait was completed this week.

    McGreevey sat for the painting, done at a cost to taxpayers of about $25,000, after he left office. It was done by Chen Yanning who has painted portraits of Christie Whitman and Queen Elizabeth II.

    Details of the ceremony to unveil the painting have not been finalized.

    Last August at a hastily arranged news conference McGreevey announced “I am a manipulative whore.”

    I edited that last sentence for clarity.

    Maintaining the 和

    Posted by Sean at 09:12, June 22nd, 2005

    It’s been a soundbite kind of day here in Japan. From Shinzo Abe, the LDP’s acting General Secretary:

    Of China-Japan relations, Abe, addressing a press conference, stated, “It is necessary for Japan to engage in a good deal of humble consideration, but we must also be able to count on China to make efforts [to change] structural problems of its own, such as it’s anti-Japanese educational system.” About Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, he said, “His behavior is perfectly proper for a leader of the nation.”

    I’m not sure, but I think there’s a pun there: 一国 refers to “ultra-nationalists” as well as “the whole country,” doesn’t it?

    Speaking of Koizumi and the Yasukuni Shrine, as one so often does these days, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Katsuya Okada did, in fact, put the screws in on that topic today. And why would he? There were more important criticisms to level, such as, “Dude, you were so totally schnockered at the meeting the other day–DON’T. EVEN.”

    At a meeting of the lower house Audits Committee [Literally this would be the “Book Settling Operations and Audits Committee,” and if anyone has any idea how the hell we’re supposed to translate that one, I’d love to hear.–SRK] on 22 June, the Prime Minister and DPJ leader Katsuya Okada sparred energetically.

    In his first response [to questioning], Koizumi disputed [the claims about him]: “I hadn’t drunk so much as a drop. Is it proper to go around making these ridiculous accusations without any confirmation?” Okada retorted, “We tried to get a confirmation through the Operations Committee, but the LDP issued no response [to our inquiries].” The Prime Minister refused to concede: “So with no confirmation, you went ahead and submitted a motion to have me censured?”

    Just another day running the government of the most mature democracy in the world’s most populous region.

    The Yasukuni Shrine has not been neglected, though:

    Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi spoke to reporters about Health, Labour, and Welfare official Masahiro Morioka’s declaration that he had doubts that the Tokyo tribunals [after WWII] had been just. Indicating that he perceived Morioka’s statements as inappropriate, he said, “I’d like to you bear in mind that this was the viewpoint of a single official.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda also emphasized at a press conference that “while (we can debate over) the widely-harbored questions about whether it is appropriate for the victors to pass judgment on the vanquished, the fact remains that the government accepted the judgments handed down, and so we have no standing to register dissent.”

    Morioka, speaking at a meeting the same day, stated, “Japan implemented its war operations in compliance with international laws governing wartime conduct; that aspect should not have been subject to [further trial and] judgment. It is a mistake to say that the victors only were upright and that the losers were [entirely] in the wrong.”

    Banal observation: If government officials didn’t have the word appropriate at their disposal, they’d never be able to open their mouths lest some actual value judgment slip out.

    By the way, the word I’ve translated as “victor” here is one I very much like, as you might imagine: 戦勝者 (senshousha: “war/battle” + “win” + “person”).


    Posted by Sean at 21:58, June 21st, 2005

    Who knows how it’ll end up, but the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, under the slightly soggier name Uniting American Families Act, has been reintroduced in congress. I know I strike this gong all the time, but I’m far more concerned that policy-based impediments to our taking care of each other be removed than that the government confer [gag] “recognition” on our relationships.

    My finest hour

    Posted by Sean at 10:14, June 21st, 2005

    Joe Riddle, who frequently posts at Ex-Gay Watch, has a post up that more succinctly and effectively makes a point I was trying to make the other day:

    My advice to the gay child born to fundamentalist Christian parents: keep your head down and try to stay out of harm’s way until you’re an adult and you can get away from them.

    And obey them as cheerfully as you can muster. They’re wrong, unfortunately, about homosexuality; but other aspects of fundamentalist Christianity–constancy, honor, discipline, and the recognition that the world does not revolve around oneself–are not wrong at all. And you’ll need them later.


    Posted by Sean at 09:51, June 21st, 2005

    Katsuya Okada, the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, has opined that Prime Minister Koizumi has a decision to make:

    Speaking about pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine that were a focal point of the recent meeting between top Japanese and ROK officials, Katsuya Okada told a press conference on 21 June, “Koizumi has failed to convince [people of the rectitude of his position], and therefore his only options are to cease making pilgrimages of his own volition or to resign as Prime Minister.” Okada will pursue this line of argument with the Prime Minister on 22 June at a meeting of the Audits Committee of the House of Representatives.

    Of course, being the opposition leader, Okada has more or less a duty to throw darts at Koizumi. Much as I like Koizumi, though–especially as a forceful and articulate US ally in the WOT–he really has botched this particular issue and good.

    Lack of safety in numbers

    Posted by Sean at 09:37, June 21st, 2005

    In its campaign for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, Japan has been reduced to trumpeting that it’s gotten the support of…Tunisia.

    There was an interesting article in the Asahi about Japan’s screw-ups on the issue (the piece is from a few weeks ago–this is one of those posts I started and then somehow never finished):

    Japan made two serious miscalculations that have all but sunk its strategy to win a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

    Tokyo overestimated support from the United States by failing to recognize that U.S. interests come first in Washington, not the desires of a key ally. [Duh.–SRK]

    The second mistake was Tokyo’s underestimation of anger against Japan in China, which has used its growing influence in the world to thwart Tokyo’s long-cherished dream to join the exclusive club at the United Nations.

    Foreign Minister Machimura’s tour through Brunei, Vietnam, and Cambodia to drum up support didn’t work so hot–relations with China are important to everyone in the region. Its position right about now is pretty clear, and that makes it hard for its southern neighbors to cross it.

    Part of the problem is, though that the G-4 strategy (that is, banding together with Germany, India, and Brazil to push for a set of seats) carried risks that are inherent, predating the recent flare-up of troubles with China. This English Yomiuri article explains one main disadvantage:

    Another government source, however, was pessimistic about maintaining the G-4 position.

    “As the United States doesn’t want to see the European Union getting more say on the international stage, Germany’s permanent membership, at least, was out of the question for Washington. Berlin must have been shocked by the U.S. announcement, and the G-4 may end up in disarray,” the source said.

    Grouping resources allowed the candidate countries more angles from which to massage support out of less-strategic governments, but it also meant that they all stood or fell on each other’s alliances and enmities. Need it be pointed out that all these countries have their enemies? We in Japan have been paying the most attention to China, for obvious reasons. But Pakistan has made its feelings known, too.

    That the Bush administration seriously supports Japan but does not want a permanent seat for Germany along with it is believable enough. (Reuters has a summary of the Thursday announcements here, BTW.) Let’s not forget that the issues surrounding Article 9 of the constitution–which obviously affects whether Japan can participate in collective military defense–have not been resolved. Prime Minister Koizumi has promised to push on with the G-4 plan, but it seems inevitable that the group will, some time after its coming Brussels confab, be announcing its own face-saving postponement to deal with other matters.

    If you believe in faeries

    Posted by Sean at 01:58, June 20th, 2005

    I’ve finally found my gay spiritual leader, and sugarcakes, I haven’t been this excited since Kylie hooked up with the Scissor Sisters.

    I mean, finally! A gay public voice that’s willing to cut the crap and speak the uncomfortable truth we so often try to avoid facing:

    “Straight folks, all our problems are your damned fault !”

    You know, I realize that op-ed writers with bylines speak for themselves and may have actually been chosen, at least in part, for their idiosyncratic, conversation-starter sorts of opinions. I also realize that The Village Voice likes scare-the-soccer-moms assertions of combative leftism. There’s nothing wrong with shaking people up a little on the opinion page.

    But couldn’t some editor somewhere have given a thought to basic coherence before publishing this? Writer Patrick Moore makes a few passing, ritual acknowledgements that gay individuals might in some sense be responsible for their own conduct. He specifically uses crystal meth use as a point of departure for a discussion of what he thinks is a more general dearth of mentoring among gay guys. But the promising idea that we (as in, gays ourselves) need to change the environment in which gay men come of age is backed-and-filled into meaninglessness:

    There are some problems with environmental prevention. First, if used in a simplistic way, it can lead to judgmental sexual repression that is anathema to gay culture. Second, the approach does not help those who have already entered into active addiction. So the question remains, how to create a healthier environment in the gay community.

    The questions Moore asks about what we can do to help keep more people from wrecking their lives are important, but some of the answers are more apparent than he makes them seem. Sooner or later, anyone in a position to give spiritual and moral guidance to rudderless gay guys is going to have to address a few facts: exposing yourself to the mucous membranes of multiple partners a week is hell on the immune system. The problem is not just STDs per se: it’s also the lowered resistance to colds, and the mysterious sore throat that keeps you from making a key presentation at work, and the tiredness from fighting things off all the time.

    Then there are the psychological issues. Moore relates that he frequently asks residents in a drug rehabilitation program what it is that getting high allows them to do: “[F]or most, their fantasy is no more than to get fucked and to connect with another man. Albeit in all the wrong places and all the wrong ways, these guys are basically looking for love.” Well, no. They’re looking for the self-affirmation that comes from being loved without the self-discpline you have to exercise to love back.

    Mentorship from older guys with their heads screwed on straight is, indeed, necessary to help the young and lost to avoid falling into the trap of short-term gratification that eventually turns into long-term disaster. Moore never seems to get around to explaining how that’s supposed to work, though, if we’re not going to tell guys that a little “repression” wouldn’t hurt them. The most specific his advice gets is…okay, I’ll tell you, but you have to promise not to laugh.

    Seriously, promise?

    Okay, here it is:

    Coming out of the gay faerie movement, the Gay Men’s Medicine Circle continues to create rituals that encourage spiritual growth. These organizations and their rituals may seem like quaint reminders of a more innocent time. However, they are vital models for the kind of programs that might actually change the tone of gay life in America.

    Bitches, you promised! But then, I sprayed my tea all over the monitor when I first read that paragraph, too, so who am I to judge?

    Speaking of exercising judgment: I can only assume that the, erm, “gay faerie movement” has developed rituals that celebrate nature and our place in it. As an atheist, I’m not troubled by the obvious paganism there. However, I do have to wonder what good such practices are for “spiritual growth” if they’re incompatible with acknowledging that nature favors procreation and does not favor indiscriminate promiscuity. Our human civilizations are founded on defying and fending off the power of nature, true; but there are limits within which we must work, and there is ample evidence that screwing around all the time almost always leads to a sickly, short, destructive, miserable life. You would think that even those for whom monogamy has nasty bourgeois associations would be able to recognize that.

    Added on 21 June: I stuck back in some stray phrases I’d cut out of the draft of this post when finalizing it. I hope it reads better. Also, Eric (to whom I sent a somewhat intemperate honey-will-you-get-a-load-of-this-crap! message when I started thinking about Moore’s article) has a post of his own that comments more generally on the annoying tendency for people to ask to be protected from themselves.


    Posted by Sean at 22:04, June 19th, 2005

    Amritas has a sensible post on how far emergency service providers should go to accommodate people who can’t speak English. There’s a fire department in Georgia (the state, not the former Soviet republic) that’s supplying its personnel with certain useful phrases in the native languages of many area immigrants:

    I’m usually opposed to multiculturalism, but I don’t see anything wrong with a few phrases (mispronounced, alas) that could save lives. I’d treat emergencies like these as exceptional.  Immigrants to the US should learn English, but should people die just because they got off the plane yesterday and can’t answer the firefighters’ questions?

    The problem is … what counts as an emergency?  Here’s my take: Fires are split-second situations.  Most other situations aren’t. So I don’t believe in multilingual ballots.  You won’t die if you don’t vote.  Multilingual welfare?  You want our (tax) money, you learn our language.  But what about medical emergencies?  Your every ache and pain tended to in Whateverese? You want that, you pay for it.

    Ah, that brings a soft libertarian-flavored solution to mind: public emergency services are in English only – the language of the majority of taxpayers – but one can pay for private emergency services in the language of one’s choice, just as one can pay for Whateverese-speaking doctors, lawyers, etc. (Hard libertarians would of course argue that all services, emergency or not, should be privatized because the government is eeeevil.) So in this scenario, a small, poor community of Whateverese speakers who can’t afford private emergency services (which aren’t in Whateverese, because there’s no money in it), would have to (gasp) learn English or die.

    Does that sound depressing?  It’s not much worse than what linguistic minorities face in parts of the world which haven’t sipped any mooltee-kooltee Kool-Aid yet.  If you are an Iranian in Japan, do you think a 消防士 shouboushi extinguish-prevent-person’ will deign to speak to you in فارسی Persian?

    Another consideration is that, even if dispatchers and firemen have memorized a few useful questions, will they understand when the person they’re talking to says, “My daughter’s still in her bedroom–northeast corner of the fourth floor–and she has asthma!”? Ideally, some able-bodied and civic-minded members of the various immigrant communities would be moved to serve as emergency and law-enforcement personnel. Or, at least, some bilingual community leaders would agree to be on-call if they were needed in such an emergency. Those who emigrate to the States as teenagers usually become fluent in English pretty rapidly, even if they retain an accent.

    Book stick II

    Posted by Sean at 03:54, June 18th, 2005

    Okay, third time’s the charm. Tom, Joel, and Susanna have all passed me that book thing again. I got it from Dean a while ago, so I’ll post an updated version of my original response:

    How many books you own

    On which land mass? If you count the books I have here, the ones I have at my parents’ house, the ones that are still in the apartment in New York with my old roommate, and the ones that are still at his parents’ house (yes, I plan to recollect them all eventually), uh, I’m going to say 1000. Of course, I pitilessly throw away books I think suck (Tokyo-sized apartment, kids).

    Last book you bought

    Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (Ordered with a bunch of others from Amazon, of course; some day when I’m up to it we’ll talk about how much Kinokuniya or Tower or Book 1st shakes you down for imported books.)

    Last book you read

    The Division of Labour in Society by Emile Durkheim (No, I haven’t gotten around to reading it before. I should have stuck with French after high school, because the translation is pretty turgid; but anything that dense I would have had to read again, anyway, so it’s going to end up being the next book I read, too.)

    Five books that mean a lot to you

    • 恍惚の人、有吉佐和子作 (kokotsu no hito, ariyoshi sawako saku: “The Ecstatic Ones by Sawako Ariyoshi,” translated pretty effectively as The Twilight Years )

      This was the first novel I read all the way through in Japanese. It was first published serially in the early 1970s. It follows a housewife with a part-time job as she copes with the death of her mother-in-law and the realization that her widowed father-in-law is senile. It was written at a time of great transition in Japanese society, and Ariyoshi was very prescient about which issues would prove to be the thorniest as the Japanese household (the center of any society) evolved. It starts to lose focus and emotional charge toward the end, but the final scene is still devastating. I reread it every year.

    • A History of Civilizations by Fernand Braudel

      I’m terrible at keeping historical dates straight or, conversely, at reading what was going on in some corner of the world in 1350 and being able to recall what was happening at the same time elsewhere. Braudel’s book was written for high school students, but it was written for perceptive, industrious high school students to use as a basis on which to build further knowledge about specific historical facts. Some of his predictions (the book was written in the 60s) are outdated, but overall you get a real feel for the overarching development of social and political structures over time.

    • The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

      Dickinson is the greatest American poet, and I will not deign to entertain counterarguments from supporters of that insufferable Whitman guy.

    • 新古今和歌集 (shinkokinwakashu), the third of the great anthologies of Heian poetry

      The earlier 古今和歌集 (kokinwakashu: “Collected Poems Old and New”) is usually regarded as the best of the three great anthologies, but, perhaps because of the way I was taught them, I like the third one the best. That’s especially true of the inclusions by the Priest Saigyo and the Princess Shokushi.

    • Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

      I think you have to be a certain kind of person to have your world reordered by this book, so I’m not sure how much universal value as art it has. Officially, it’s a mystery, but there’s less interest in the whodunnit aspect than in why protagonist Miss Pym thinks and acts as she does. It’s a really acute study of the unconscious factors that often impinge when we think we’re making clear-eyed ethical judgments: favoring people who are attractive and well-spoken, lazily drawing conclusions from circumstantial evidence, clinging to assumptions we’re comfortable with even after it’s obvious we should be questioning them.