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    HIV in China

    Posted by Sean at 01:27, December 15th, 2004

    The failure of a lot of the larger Asian countries to do something about their emerging AIDS problem–while places such as Thailand, which as a sex trip destination got hit very soon after the US did, have gotten theirs more or less under control–is in the news very frequently here. The latest story is that the PRC is making gingerly moves toward dealing with what everyone acknowledges is an AIDS disaster waiting to happen:

    A study funded by the Chinese government shows few men who have sex with men have an understanding of how the disease is transmitted.

    At least 80 percent of the men surveyed believed they were not at risk the official People’s Daily reports.

    The survey, conducted by the center of AIDS control and prevention found that only about 20 percent of those questioned knew how HIV/AIDS is spread.

    The survey was conducted in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province. Information was largely collected from pubs, parks, public bathrooms, squares, cyber cafes and other public places.

    The survey method was obviously not very scientific, so who knows how reliable the numbers are? But it’s not unusual in Asia to believe that you’re only at risk for HIV infection if you have sex with Westerners–a pattern that goes triple for the Japanese, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, AIDS first gained publicity as the sort of disease you find in big, crime-ridden American and European cities, which gave it the image of something that safe and orderly Japan, which in addition has a world-renowned health care system and traditional cleanliness fetish that make it feel insulated, would not be vulnerable to. Men who bring the disease back from business trips to Southeast Asian countries in which prostitution is easily available are the most commonly discussed way the virus has entered Japan, and the fact that the Japanese blood supply was still tainted long after the West had cleaned its up was highly publicized for a while. But people get complacent, and in my experience, a lot of Japanese gay guys are pretty blasé about STD’s in general. No one is really sure what the infection rate is here, but it’s pretty much a given that it’s higher than the official figures.

    Another, not really related, article on 365Gay reports that Andy Bell of Erasure is HIV positive. I’m not a fan–his singing always sounds to me like Phil Collins trying to imitate Alison Moyet (who is a favorite of mine)–but he’s been one of the most out men in popular culture for years and years, and while I don’t think he and his partner had an obligation to make this particular revelation, it’s nice that they decided to.

    Mother love

    Posted by Sean at 12:00, December 14th, 2004

    Everyone is aware that Atsushi, always looking out for my well-being, has told me not to read the Asahi, yeah? And that the only reason I do is that I’m a disobedient boy? Okay. As long as we’re straight (so to speak) on that, one of today’s editorials is a model of weightless sentimentality, as you can see if I can just manage to pin the following citation down so it doesn’t float away:

    The most beautiful English word is “mother” to non-native speakers of the tongue worldwide, Britain’s organization for international exchanges found in a survey. The British Council polled 40,000 people.

    Other words that followed “mother” on the list included “passion,” “smile” and “love.” But “father” was not on the list, though I looked through it to the 70th place.

    The phrase “mother test” has several meanings in the United States. One of them is that the the U.S. president, as commander in chief of the armed forces, must be able to explain to the mother of a U.S. soldier why her son or daughter might die in some armed conflict.

    You can see where this is going, right? Actually, if you do, maybe you should tell me. I’ve read the whole thing, and I’m still not exactly sure what the big policy point is. The idea that adding a provision about withdrawing Japan’s SDF personnel if the on-the-ground situation in Iraq deteriorates seems odd at this juncture–that strikes me as warranting half a paragraph, not a whole op-ed, but otherwise, the author doesn’t, um, have, like, a whole lot to, y’know, say.

    But you know what? That doesn’t really matter. What really matters is that we’re all once again assured that President Bush is a very bad man:

    Was the addition of the provision a year later a ploy to soothe the stiff public sentiment against extending the term of the Iraqi mission? Couldn’t appropriate measures be taken if it were not for such a provision? How did the troops fare in the past year without it? [Just fine, dumbass, which explains the almost complete absence of casualty reports–SRK]

    This summer, I read the words of an American mother whose son had died as a soldier in Iraq. “It was the hollowest letter I have had in my life,” she said of the form condolence letter she received from President George W. Bush.


    Added (just barely) on 16 December: I’m not sorry I posted this one, but I do normally try to avoid just clipping the stupidest section of an article I don’t like, appending some smarty-pants comments, and then pushing “Publish.” I would, therefore, just like to repeat that I wasn’t aiming to produce the ultimate slap-down of the arguments against the Iraq War in general or the deployment of SDF personnel there specifically. I was just dumbfounded that someone working for the Asahi actually got paid to write an editorial that could have been scribbled on the back of a bar napkin after 13 rounds of shochu.

    Of course, I don’t think that the Koizumi administration is being out of line in extending the deployment. There was, after all, a Diet election a few months ago, which voters were incessantly admonished to treat as a referendum on Koizumi’s WOT and economic policies. Everyone who voted for an LDP or Shin-Komeito candidate knew that that meant formally supporting that coalition’s war policy and had the chance to send the opposite message. I’m sure a lot of people struck an uneasy balance between foreign and domestic issues, perhaps hoping that Bush would be voted out of office in November and the Japanese support for the Iraq occupation would become less intense. But those are the trade-offs you have to make as a voter, and you don’t get a do-over when external circumstances shift in ways you didn’t gamble on.

    There’s no rhyme or reason / That keeps me playin’ along

    Posted by Sean at 04:10, December 14th, 2004

    Oh, this is kind of along the lines of that last post, but not really: Yesterday, Amritas said, “If Sean can quote from songs, so can I.” He’s right, of course. What was funny was that he was the first to mention it. See, I’m sure this will strike people as weird, but post titles give me the darnedest amounts of trouble. I’m not a journalist, so I often feel as if Sam-the-Eagle-serious headlines are…maybe not misrepresentations, but a bit gussied up for what they’re being used to label. Occasionally, a stray line from a pop song would seem fitting, so I started using one when it came to me.

    Then I got into a serious Kylie Minogue jag, and before I knew it, it became like a game: If within 5 seconds, I could think of something from one of her songs that fit the post and would help me recognize it in a list if I needed to edit it later, I went with it. If not, I used something more ordinary. But it was off the cuff. I mean, at some point, I noticed I’d named a good five or six different entries for lines from “Spinning Around,” which is not exactly what you’d normally consider a model of quotability. It gave me a chuckle precisely because it was so random, and I figured few readers would have reason to pick up on it.

    Then I noticed that I was getting a decent number of hits from Australia, the UK, Canada, Israel, and other non-US sources. I think most Americans know this by now, but Kylie is a massive celebrity of the Madonna/Janet/Mariah order just about everywhere on Earth except the States. You start using lines from her most inescapable hits, and the chances are not slim that people will recognize them, so I kind of started to expect that sooner or later, I’d open my inbox and be confronted by a message that ran something like

    Dear YankeePoofterBitch,

    Not a bad blog, but the Kylie lyrics as post titles?


    Cheers, from the Commonwealth,


    This is not to be taken as an offer to change my MO, you understand. Life is too short to be sitting around ruminating over the perfect single-sentence title for a blog entry. I just found it funny that, of the things people comment on in correspondence, that one never came up. In fact, Amritas himself put it in a casual footnote to a post of his own, not anything directed at me. You just never know.


    Posted by Sean at 03:49, December 14th, 2004

    To whoever it was who nominated me for Best Japan Blog: Thank you! What a sweet gesture. Please don’t feel slighted because I’ve asked Simon to remove me from the list. I’m very, very to myself in some ways, and that’s one of them; but it doesn’t change the fact that I feel very fortunate that people read what I post here.

    I do think the Asia Blog Awards do a good service by giving people a chance to look at clusters of sites they may not otherwise have been able to look into at once, and Simon’s being generous with his time by taking charge of overseeing the nominating and voting. So if you haven’t, please go see the variety of blogs in the region that are represented, and remember that when you visit them, they’ll have other worthy sites blogrolled that you may not have seen in the lists of nominees.

    CNN tells all ((座禅の挿話))

    Posted by Sean at 21:39, December 13th, 2004

    I cannot make this scene. I turned on CNN while putting my jacket and bag away, naturally figuring American Morning would be featuring Bill Hemmer here in Tokyo. I mean, what better place to broadcast in the morning than from the Land of the Rising Sun itself!

    And what’s the first thing out of his mouth? “Zen Buddhism is synonymous with Asia and its traditional beliefs.” Sufferin’ Soseki. If no one minds terribly, I’m going to break my bottle of Perrier here off at the neck and slit my throat with it. Message to Bill’s TelePrompTer writer-people: One hates to be a one-note sourpuss, but Asia is a large continent. It contains multitudes. No really–it keeps going west (no, the other…left, people, left! the hand that looks like an L when you hold it out in front of you!) after China for a while. There’s India, there’s Pakistan…gosh, all kinds of places in which Zen is useless for understanding the fabled Traditional Beliefs. Of course, they don’t make Toyotas and Sony equipment or have Harajuku street erks in those places, so really, why should we care?

    Besides, Bill Hemmer, stereotype-shattering man that he is (HOLY F**KING SH*T, they DID NOT just lead back in from the commercial break with synthesized koto music followed by a gong. They COULD NOT have. What is this, the commercial for SPAM Oriental from 1978?), apparently spent 20 minutes this morning going to a REAL JAPANESE TEMPLE and learning meditation! That’ll teach me to be all making like a know-it-all.

    It’s the interview of Ambassador Howard Baker right now. He’s just resigned, BTW–nothing embarrassing happened, mind you, he’s just old and ready to retire. Naturally, he’s talking like a diplomat, meaning he’s saying nothing much but saying it very personably. Nice performance. Is it my imagination, though, or is he wearing a rust-colored tie and a pale lilac shirt? Never saw that seasonal combination for late autumn before. Maybe they’re resignation colors. Or maybe they’re a protest against that theme music.

    Of course, it could be worse. They could have no one in an Exotic Locale, which would free up more time to interview various combinations of Peterson jurors in somber tones about why, exactly, they thought he should fry. (And I don’t mean Amber, baby!)

    How much do you want to bet that, even though it’s December, cherry blossoms will make their way into this pageant before it’s over?

    Okay, enough of this.

    Added at 23:19: Everyone giving those frantic “Hi, Mom!” waves from behind Bill’s affably blocky frat-boyish head while he demonstrates the AMAZING TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT of Japanese cell phones? You look just as idiotic as you would back home.

    I told you there’d be bile.

    Feed the world tripe

    Posted by Sean at 03:15, December 13th, 2004

    So I’m at one of my hang-outs, and the manager goes, “Sean-chan! There’s a new version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ out–Band Aid 20. Want us to put it on?” He means on the DVD player that feeds the three televisions around the bar. Band Aid 20? Well, jeez, why not?

    It’s even more awful than I could have imagined. I mean, okay, I was a pre-teen when Bob Geldof was birthing the first version, and it wasn’t much later that “We Are the World” and “That’s What Friends Are For” were saturating the airwaves with showy benevolence. So maybe they were more horrible than I remember–not that I think of them all that fondly.

    But, man, this was…was…you had Dido singing in that placid, contented “I-ayyyyyyeeee wanna thank yew” Ebba Forsberg half-yodel, seemingly unaware that the lyrics were about starving people who have not managed to sell several million albums. You had Robbie Williams (wearing a shirt, unfortunately, but no matter–I can play back the “Rock DJ” video in my head at will) grimacing through a couplet or two. Naturally, you had Bono rasping away for a bit–that man can smell an opportunity for notice-me professional compassion the way a vulture zeroes in on the closest pick-cleanable carcass.

    But the most amazing part was when a close-up of the shrunken face of a suffering child was faded into the head of some plump, pampered pop singer–I don’t think it was Des’ree, or Heather Smalls, or Caron Wheeler, because I probably would have recognized them, even if I haven’t clapped eyes on them since college. Anyway, as my mother would say, Boy, I’ll tell you–no shame! And naturally, we had to climax with wide-angle shots of the contributors assembled, choir-style, to show how sincere they were. After all, if all those cool people were willing to coordinate their booking schedules to be filmed in the same studio at the same time, well, it must be something important they’re on about, right? It was a full-force reminder of why it’s so outrageous to hear celebrities grouse about how callous and crass the general public is. Give me the Human League cluelessly pomposing about the Lebanon any day.

    Added in the morning: I see through Amritas that others have had the displeasure already, too. Like some of the commenters, I found David Carr’s last paragraph a little misdirected–poor Africans are deserving of more, not less, sympathy because they’ve been seized on by self-righteous Western celebs, in my view. But the contempt the song itself deserves can hardly be overstated. Did I mention the rap in the middle?

    Added on 17 December: Okay, I’ve now seen the video again, and it looks as if the dissolve from the child’s face may not have been to one of the Band Aid singers but rather to an African woman blooming with health thanks to the transformative powers of rock-star self-promotion. A small but significant ethical improvement.

    I’m sorry, but I’m just thinking of the right words to say

    Posted by Sean at 19:09, December 12th, 2004

    Michael J. Totten is having a discussion with various commenters about this post about this story, in which he draws parallels between being a resident foreigner and being an immigrant and then calls on everyone to remember to a good “guest.” I agree that that wasn’t the greatest choice of words–in fact, it gave me a double-take–but I also think his point is obvious enough that it doesn’t warrant going ballistic over.

    I wouldn’t renounce my American citizenship for all the gold in the world, but even if I wanted to, I probably wouldn’t be able to become a Japanese citizen without supernatural help. Very much like many Muslim cultures, I suspect, Japan is the kind of place with very hospitable individuals and a very insular government. And I am, essentially, a guest, so I do most of the adapting.

    What would I do if I did, in fact, immigrate? I would still do most of the adapting, only in that case we would usually call it “assimilating.” Immigrating into a pre-existing country with its own traditions is not like founding a new one where you can stack the deck in favor of your own worldview. When you join a society whose tolerance for different ways of life is one of the very principles that allowed your entrance in the first place, you have to get used to being exposed to points of view that are opposed to your own. That doesn’t mean you have to change your beliefs, necessarily, only that you have to accept that you won’t be insulated from others’. Either that, or stay home where the surrounding culture is the same as your own but you have no job.

    I didn’t see any evidence in the Yahoo! article that the Christmas play, nativity scene contest, or Christmas songs were mandatory. And if they’re not mandatory, well…suck it up. When I was little, I was part of a church that didn’t believe Christmas was a true Christian celebration. When the rest of the class had a Christmas party, I was allowed to eat a treat or two and then went to the library. When we sang Christmas songs in music class, I was unshowily silent. Same at Hallowe’en, Easter, and Valentine’s Day. None of this seduced me into believing in mainstream Christianity, or traumatized me, or what have you. Since Muslims have become such a large minority in Italy, it strikes me as a perfectly reasonable idea to incorporate their celebrations into fun-time activities in public schools where they’d be appreciated, and it’s hard to believe there’s nowhere the children of religious Muslims can go if their parents wish them to absent themselves from the sliver of the day devoted to Catholic activities.

    But that requires appreciating a diversity of viewpoints, without trying to wipe out everyone’s identity the minute it could cause friction. It’s disturbing to see Italy, a country whose contributions to the development of Western civilization are older and vaster than those of almost any other, slowly let itself be cowed into becoming part of the ummah.

    Kung-fu girls

    Posted by Sean at 13:38, December 12th, 2004

    Oh, my. How very unfortunate. You know how, despite different cultures, languages, and aesthetic and spiritual traditions going back thousands of years, all East Asians are basically the same and can communicate with each other intuitively, using their yin-yang-mystical Oriental powers and stuff? Well, somehow, that’s not the way it’s working on the set of Memoirs of a Geisha. I can’t say I’m sad. Why that book was hyped so much is beyond me. I do think it’s funny, though, that the fact that a bunch of people with different native languages can’t communicate is considered remarkable.

    Added on 14 December: Laughter is, apparently, the universal language. Either that, or the chatroom is the great global equalizer. Maybe both.

    Sleeping in beauty

    Posted by Sean at 12:45, December 12th, 2004

    This is what the quilt looks like in its new habitat:


    As you can see, the apartment is outfitted in resale-value beige, so even a hint of color is welcome. Of course, this is more than a hint, but what I liked about this particular quilt was that it didn’t scream, “Look how tricky it was to make me!” The design isn’t ostentatiously complicated, but when you look closely, you see that the whole thing is made of rectangles of fabric that aren’t more than 2″ * 2″ each, and many of them are smaller.


    You can also get a sense in that exposure that I was able to avoid having a bedspread covered in girlie-ass flowers. (Not that I have a problem with real flowers. I just don’t need them printed all over the place.) The border, as you can see, is made of flowered cloth, but the flowers all look dark and tangled and menacing rather than prettied up. Like the brambles a medieval knight might have hacked through to rescue the hot stable hand at a neighboring castle from a life of certain drudgery.

    The only drawback is that now I’m going to have to stop eating and drinking, slovenly-bachelor style, in bed. Or I guess I could try to stop spilling stuff all over the place, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

    Japan expands scope of “defense”

    Posted by Sean at 12:02, December 12th, 2004

    The Japanese government publicized a new defense outline, including a rejiggering of the mission of the SDF, Friday. The Yomiuri‘s English article is ineptly translated but gives good background; the Asahi‘s English article gives more information about the outline itself. The new outline stresses that flexibility and resilience (not to mention missiles, which the LDP’s coalition partner the New Komeito has not been keen on) will be key elements in the portfolio of possible responses to terrorist and military threats from here on. It also breaks new ground by naming names: China and North Korea are referred to as potential threats, and the Middle East is deemed a key strategic region with respect to Japan’s defense. The old assumption that SDF activity would be limited to reactions to threats in or very close to Japanese territory is gone. And a good thing, too. The last time the government updated its SDF mission statement was to deal with the end of the Cold War, nine years ago. The world is a different place–or rather, we now recognize how different it is.

    On the other hand, the head of the SDF announced this weekend that if the situation in Iraq becomes too dangerous, the non-combat SDF personnel, whose deployment there has been extended for a year, will be pulled out anyway. That’s fair enough. They are not, after all, on a combat mission.