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    North Korean blast not nuclear, regime tells lying foreigners

    Posted by Sean at 22:57, September 12th, 2004

    Okay, you know that mushroom cloud they saw over North Korea across the border from China on Friday? Well, we certainly heard about it here in Japan (flyover country for the DPRK’s test missiles). There didn’t seem to be much to say about it, since, unlike the explosion a few months ago, when casualties were reported almost immediately, there have been none from this weekend. It seems to be as certain as it can be that the explosion this weekend wasn’t nuclear. The DPRK says it was for a hydroelectric project. North Korea is very mountainous and has plenty of hydroelectric potential–in fact, it’s significantly more resource-rich in many ways than the South–so that’s not a far-fetched explanation. Neither is South Korea’s conjecture that the explosion might have been an accident in an underground munitions facility. In any case, the Chinese have reported no influx of the injured into their hospitals across the river, so it’s possible that it was a controlled blast with no injuries, or (more darkly) that the operation was so secret that the DPRK is not allowing the injured to be treated where they might be noticed. You never know, especially since the North Korean government would account for its actions the same way no matter which was true:

    The BBC said that when [DPRK Foreign Ministry official] Paek was asked why North Korea had not explained earlier about the blasts he told Rammell Pyongyang had not done so because all foreign journalists were liars.

    And if a double-decker bus / Crashes into us

    Posted by Sean at 22:07, September 12th, 2004

    Glenn Reynolds has decided to take a break from posting about contentious things like the election and tackle gay marriage. It’s an uncharacteristically long post, and I agreed with most of it. I especially liked this passage:

    Now, of course, any question beginning “what is John Kerry’s position. . .” is a tough one. But — correct me if I’m wrong here — the only real difference between Kerry and Bush is that Bush has offered vague support to the certain-to-fail Federal Marriage Amendment. But it’s, er, certain to fail. Now that’s a difference, I guess. But it’s not a huge one, and to me it doesn’t seem to be a big enough difference to justify the vitriol. (Kerry’s been, maybe, more supportive on civil unions, but I wouldn’t take that to the bank.)

    I support gay marriage, of course, though I’d be lying if I said it was as important to me as it is to, say, Andrew Sullivan. But if you look at the polls, it’s opposed about 2-1 by voters. What that means is that you’re not likely to see much difference between the parties until somebody thinks they can pick up enough votes to make a difference.

    I think that gay marriage is good for everyone. Marriage is a good thing, and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be just as good a thing for gay people as for straight people. Judging from the gay couples I know, it would be a good thing — and I’m entirely at a loss to understand why people think gay marriage somehow undermines straight marriage. But to get there, you need to make that case, not just accuse opponents of being closedminded-biblethumping-bigotsoftheredneckreligiousright. (Andrew Sullivan made some of these positive arguments quite well in Virtually Normal, but I don’t think the tone on his blog has been as constructive of late.)

    That last sentence is tact of the most delicate. Somehow over the last few years, gay marriage went from being something to work toward, as current gay life recovered from its origins in the social upheavals of the ’60’s and ’70’s, to being something that the government has to provide right now if we’re to stop being “second-class citizens.” And, of course, it’s not just Andrew Sullivan.

    Stephen Miller has posted his own non-endorsement of Bush on the IGF Culture Watch blog:

    I wish I could support Bush, since I’m in his camp on a wide range of issues (the War on Terror, entitlement and tort reform, pro-investment tax cuts). But I can’t. He’s sold my vote to the religious right.

    Yet I won’t be voting for Kerry, with whom I disagree on most foreign and domestic policies, not to mention his wishy-washy position on topic G (he opposes gay marriage and supports state amendments to ban ’em, but claims he also opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment � just not enough to vote against it).

    That’s nice, but who does it leave? Lyndon LaRouche? Also, as Reynolds pointed out, the fact that the FMA looks pretty certain not to pass should be factored in, but few people do so. Whether it changes the character of Bush’s election-year endorsement of the amendment is an open question, but a question that has to be given due consideration. (Many gays, of course, twist themselves Tantric trying to excuse Kerry’s endorsement of the Massachusetts amendment and failure to vote on bringing the FMA to the table.)

    And then there’s the fact that the religious right is not the only constituency that opposes gay marriage. I know a number of married people who have personally, and in public, treated Atsushi and me as a perfectly “legitimate” couple but don’t believe all the implications of gay marriage have been thrashed out sufficiently.

    If I keep going, I’m in danger of producing yet another anagram of my usual gay marriage rant. That would be a dull old thing for everyone, so I’ll cut it out and just hope once more that people can stop talking past each other sooner rather than later.


    Well, okay, I would like to point out just one more tangentially related thing that’s been bothering me lately. Last week, I left a rather intemperate comment on this post at Classical Values, and immediately thought I’d been out of line and kind of panicked. Rereading it, I suppose it fortunately wasn’t as belligerent as I was feeling. But the issue (of anonymity, not of outing) came back this afternoon when I received an e-mail from Janis Gore pointing out this story, which mentions short-fused lawyer John Rawls in connection with the proposed SSM ban in Louisiana. There’s a picture of a gay couple in their living room, addressing envelopes for a drive to oppose the ban.

    You know, when I see people from little regional cities–and I want to make it clear that I’m not tarring the South here; there’s just as much busybodying in the Mid-Atlantic–who are willing to have their names and faces put in the paper in relation to gay issues, I think of these anonymous website commenters who bitch about gay marriage and the ineptitude of the HRC and hostile politicians and the meanies on the religious right and blah blah blah, and I want to backhand them.

    There are plenty of honorable reasons not to use your full name on-line–from fear of identity theft to the trade-offs you might be making to work in an environment that’s not gay-friendly. The fact remains, though, that our gains are mostly made by people who are willing to be unsecretive and take whatever sacrifices go along with that.* It’s they who are going to make things better for the gays of the future, assuming our pushy activists don’t spoil it all by issuing straight folk a new ultimatum every five minutes. For that matter, even the activists, tiresome as they can be, are putting themselves out there for what they believe, using their real identities. I don’t think there’s any ethical obligation for people posting under a pseudonym to absent themselves from discussions of gay issues. I do wish they’d show some respect and stop griping that other people aren’t doing enough to make their lives easier.

    * Especially if they aren’t among those of us who live in super-big cities where there’s already a lot of pressure on people to appear hip and gay-positive, which is why I say “they” rather than “we”

    Conversation fear

    Posted by Sean at 13:00, September 11th, 2004

    9 September is the anniversary of the opening day of the bar where Atsushi and I met. This year, for the first time in three years, I went to the anniversary party alone; Atsushi sent a congratulatory e-mail to the bar’s message board. The guy who runs the place, who along with his partner of 17 years has become one of my best friends, responded that he’s glad we’re still together (despite Atsushi’s being transferred to a distant city) and that we’ve become “like a pair of mandarin ducks.”

    This is a Japanese expression, though I suppose it might be a borrowing from Chinese. It’s usually used as 鴛鴦夫婦 (oshidori fuufu, “Mr. and Mrs. Mandarin Duck”), to describe a couple that’s settled and obviously devoted to each other. So I was touched. I was also amused enough to start my next message to Atsushi with ガーガー (gaa gaa: “Quack quack!”) under the assumption that he’d seen our friend’s post. (He had.)

    And I idly looked up mandarin ducks on Google and found this page, which made me smile. Like a lot of male birds, mandarin drakes have colorful plumage to attract mates (they shed it outside the mating season and look like the females then, says one of the sites I read, which I think is also not unusual).

    What was funny about it was that it really is what people tell us we look like as a couple. I mean, where one is decked out and the other plain. I’m not particularly high-maquillage, but I like intense colors and work in a casual enough office that I can wear them on weekdays. Atsushi works at a bank and has to dress conservatively, but–I can say this with confidence after three years with the man–he also really, seriously prefers black, white, navy, and charcoal grey. Only. He has a single (very dark) maroon T-shirt, a single (very dark) hunter green T-shirt, and a single (very dark) cocoa-brown cardigan. Otherwise, everything in his closet is a wintry neutral.

    That’s not a complaint–he has that Asian coloring that’s just heart-stoppingly beautiful in black and white–but it’s funny to go shopping and see him make a beeline for the grey clothes. Like, that’s what catches his eye. I, on the other hand, was once asked by a friend who was going through my closet for a shirt to borrow, “Do you have anything in here that’s not orange or purple? Oh, my bad! I guess this counts as magenta.” Atsushi laughingly pointed out that that’s why I have to wear khakis all the time; my shirts and sweaters don’t go with anything else except jeans.

    Anyway, I thought the picture was cute, even if we could always be snazzier if we tried. It also, being from the Meiji Shrine right here in Tokyo, reminds me that I’ll get to see Atsushi this weekend. I’m flying down Saturday morning, and we’re going to a hot spring. (No lewd jets-of-foam jokes, please; our friends have amply attended to those already. I have to say, I don’t mind that everybody’s a comedian nowadays. I just wish they didn’t all have to be the same commedian.) Just five days to waddle through first.

    Jenkins in US Army custody

    Posted by Sean at 22:54, September 10th, 2004

    It does not seem frivolous on 11 September to update the story of Hitomi Soga, a now-repatriated Japanese abductee to North Korea, and her husband Charles Jenkins, accused deserter from the US Army during the Korean War. Japan has a mutual-extradition treaty with the US, so there was a long series of negotiations over whether he would bring their two daughters to Japan so that the four of them could restart their lives here. Ultimately, the family was reunited in Indonesia and came to Japan to have Jenkins, who is said to be ill, admitted to one of the major research hospitals.

    Japanese public sentiment is pulling hard for Jenkins to be permitted to settle with his wife in her hometown. The Japanese government, accordingly, pressed the US to show clemency. I don’t know how much that has affected Jenkins’s treatment–he just turned himself in–but I do know that it’s hard to imagine the following scenario surrounding an accused military deserter almost anywhere else in the world:

    Details are not yet clear, but according to the US Army, pay calculated at the rate for an officer of Jenkins’ rank and years of service would amount to base pay of $2200 per month. Adding in housing and living allowances would bring the total to $3270.

    [I’m snipping out the section that explains that he’s been advanced some cash already and will not be asked to repay any money even if found guilty.]

    [I]n Camp Zama, where Soga and Jenkins’s family would be able to live together, there are, in addition to barracks, family housing, a school, and recreational facilities. Jenkins would also be free to use the 18-hole golf course and fishing pond.

    Yeah, America’s the real world center of barbarous, unforgiving inhumanity, huh?


    Posted by Sean at 11:17, September 10th, 2004

    I was going to wait to post this until I get home from the office tonight. But the date has been 11 September here in Tokyo for 11 hours now, and something about the way all the folks back home in the States are getting ready for bed, the way they did on 10 September three years ago, makes me want to say it now.

    On 9/11, I came to Atsushi’s apartment to watch what was happening on CNN. The whole night, while I sat staring at the television, shaking in anger, he came out to keep making me tea. He had to wake up at 6:30 as always, but he must have gotten up six or seven times overnight to boil water and change the leaves and express relief that the attacks had stopped. Over the next few days, messages from friends kept coming to my cell phone: “So sorry to hear about what happened in America. I hope your friends in NY and family in PA are safe. You must be white-hot mad–here’s to a quick retaliation by your government.” And last year, when I took Atsushi to meet my parents, his mother (who was a child during the War and married into a family whose property and holdings were wiped out by the bombing of Tokyo) asked him to offer a flower at Ground Zero while we were in New York.

    Sixty years ago, Japan and America were in a war that made a disaster area of the Pacific Rim. By 2001, I could be an American man living in a gloriously rebuilt Tokyo, in a relationship with a Japanese man, with Japanese friends who expressed fellow-feeling with America when we were attacked. The Japanese Prime Minister has been one of our staunchest allies; the Japanese Self-Defense Forces have been sent on non-combat missions in Iraq. Japan’s relationship with America and the rest of the West will always be complicated, but it is undeniable.

    This is possible because our civilization is the real deal; the things we value are the things that are worth valuing. Our people are free. We feel a sense of control over our own destiny. We have hope and can-do resilience, which make it unnecessary to cling like death to grievances and turn them into inheritable grudges. Yes, America and Japan and the UK and the rest of the democracies sometimes do bad–seriously bad–things in our relations with the great wide world. We don’t always live up to our ideals. We have plenty of individual resenters in our midst, too. But resentment and destructiveness aren’t what characterize us. Indeed, we’re even nice when we’re vengeful: Since 9/11, we’ve spent our energy debating how to protect ourselves without having to be too hurtful to other people and peoples in the process. And we’re still getting on passenger jets and taking elevators up skyscrapers.

    I can’t think of what to say about those who died without feeling as if I were exploiting them for symbolism, so I will just say that they aren’t forgotten in the two languages I love, today those of allies rather than enemies:

    Rest in peace.


    Added at 23:00: Minutes after the moment of silence to mark the attack by the first plane, Atsushi sent me a cell-phone message: “CNNを見ていた?9・11から3年だね。悲劇を乗り越えるアメリカに敬服します。 [Were you watching CNN? 3 years since 9/11. I really admire America for so triumphing over tragedy.]” At the end of that sentence was a graphic of a star. I think I’m done crying now.

    Medicine finds the substance of style

    Posted by Sean at 20:41, September 8th, 2004

    Virginia Postrel reports on a design-contest entry that envisions a hospital people might not find off-putting. She then notes:

    You have to be pretty obtuse to define hospital “function” without paying any attention to how the environment makes patients feel–but that’s exactly how hospitals have historically viewed the problem. Aside from the sheer ugliness of most health care environments, lots of them are also extremely confusing to navigate, adding that extra dollop of stress that patients and their loved ones so need and want.

    But of course, that’s only true of first-world hospitals, and only very recently. I’d wager it used to be that mere antisepsis and standardized-looking equipment carried a reassuring feeling of safety, standard practices, and quality control. (The layouts, I can’t think of a defense for, though hospitals are no worse than government offices, airline terminals, and all manner of other public facilities in that regard.) Louis Pasteur made his discoveries about germs only a century and a half ago, after all. And hospitals in less-developed countries still can make you yearn for ugly vinyl tile and the acrid smell of disinfectant. It’s a measure of how advanced our health care systems are that we think of sterilization as a given, something we can guarantee and work around in the process of making the environment more psychologically restful.

    Whenever I hear your music / Singing the same old tune

    Posted by Sean at 01:17, September 8th, 2004

    I am seriously going to go bonkers if I hear this locution out of some fag’n’dyke activist’s trap one more time before Election Day:

    I don’t think any self-respecting gay individual can vote for George W. Bush and I think that Republican leaders like Washington DC council member David Catania have made it clear that Bush has given the LGBT community no reason to reelect him this fall,” Stonewall Democrats’ Marble told 365Gay.com.

    You know, I can see someone making the case that public opinion will not allow Kerry to skedaddle out of Iraq and soften up on the WOT even if he wants to, and that therefore it’s okay not to be a single-issue war voter, and that therefore gays should vote Kerry-Edwards because (despite their no-show on the vote to bring it to the floor) they don’t support the FMA. I’d be hard to convince, but it’s an argument that could be made respectably. Or you could talk about the Bush administration’s inconsistent approach to securing our borders and entry points. And on and on. However, to say that we all vote, or should vote, solely on the basis of whose policies are gay-friendly–to say this less than a week before the 9/11 anniversary–what the hell are these people thinking?

    And for one homo to inform others what constitutes their self-respect as gay people is just…I mean, excuse me, Marianne? I didn’t let my parents, my pastor, my gym teacher, or the Book of Leviticus define my self-respect for me, and now I’m supposed to let you do it? And that would be because…you look hot in Brooks Brothers, maybe? I have no problem with lobbyists’ saying they think a vote for so-and-so will be damaging to the rights of gays in the long-term, or what have you. That’s presumably what their job is, or part of it. Say that a lot of LGBT voters aren’t thinking analytically enough about the issues–fine. Argue. Make your case contentiously. Make it passionately if you’re fired up about it. Push the handful of issues your organization works on. But don’t play the self-respect card every time someone in the Family weighs making a trade-off you don’t understand. All that does is reinforce the idea that some ideological laundry list goes along with being out, which has to be one of the very most pernicious ideas floating around gay activism (and the competition is fierce). And yes, I know it’s the Stonewall Democrats, and no, I don’t expect anything more. It’d be nice to be able to, is all.

    Land o’ Goshen, isn’t it November yet?

    I’ll forgive and forget / If you say you’ll never go

    Posted by Sean at 13:44, September 5th, 2004

    So. The question clearly is: Are Republicans willing to let gays contribute to the American economy for a few overtaxed years of working life before herding us into death camps, or will they have us all exterminated the very moment after a reelected Bush is sworn in? At least, that’s the clear question to some people I’ve talked to. If you’re interested in other possibilities, Rex Wockner seems to have about the best summary I’ve seen of what happened during convention week. We already know that the platform backed up Bush�s endorsement of the FMA and specified that homosexuality is �incompatible with military service.� And we know that the speakers (Giuliani and Schwartzenegger are almost always named together to demonstrate this, sometimes with Pataki and McCain) put a more moderate face on the convention regarding social issues.

    The most cynical interpretation of last week’s events is that the platform was calculated to get the hard-right vote, the speakers were trotted out to get the centrist vote, and one of the two is a scam. (Which one depends, naturally, on your own ideology.) I don’t have the energy I’d need to get into my views of the gay marriage controversy yet again.* Suffice it to say that if its proponents wanted a showdown, they basically got it, with the predictable result that the minority that constitutes less than 5% of the population had less leverage than everyone else.

    Don’t misunderstand–I ache for the Log Cabin Republicans people. They have a whole set of problems that are not their own fault and are not specific to this election year. The noisiest gay liberals–using the word colloquially–have spent the last three decades hammering home the messages that (1) gayness and leftism/Democratic party affiliation go together like bacon and eggs, (2) gays demand to be loved for what we are, and (3) no one must ever be allowed to speak a word against gay people without getting hell for it. In that context, it’s hard to blame some conservatives for believing that gay advocacy stands for nothing but entitlements, special protections, and intrusive public school programs. And it’s correspondingly hard to imagine that LCR people don’t get sick of constantly having to go out of their way to be the nice gays that everyone can do business with. I know that would drive me nuts. I was not impressed by the content of the ad that everyone got so heated up by last week, and I’m not LCR myself, but I made a donation just for the sake of moral support. They’re our guys and gals, and they’re working for us in the way they think best, and they felt kicked in the teeth.

    I do have to ask, though, do people still think making marriage the focal point of gay advocacy is a good idea at this point? There is nothing close to a consensus among gay activists on why we need it–some talk about equal protection, some talk about inheritance and hospital visitation and taxation, some talk about the health benefits of long-term relationships, and some talk about the taking of one’s place in adult society (in a sort of anthropological sense). That’s not a criticism, BTW. I think debate is good. But the fact remains that it is still a debate. In the wider society, marriage and childrearing have gone through all kinds of destabilization in the last 40 years or so. We shouldn’t be suckered by those conservatives who say that with the WOT and current state of society, “Now is not the time” to be discussing gay marriage, in the clear hope that we’ll just go away and forget about it. On the other hand, if we get pushy and really cause a backlash, we could succeed in making life suck for those who come out several decades from now. Is that what we want?

    I have no affection for the Republican Party. But my sense is that many of its members are genuine live-and-let-live types. They may not be pro-gay, exactly, but they recognize that part of being an American is the ability to choose your own happiness, and they can’t look at two people who clearly nurture and sustain each other and tell them that society should stand in the way of their relationship. They may be immovable on marriage but open to persuasion on, say, hospital visitation and social security transfers.

    Whose voices were loudest during the drafting of the RNC platform, I don’t know. But it’s possible that some who supported the FMA clause and the part about “the accompanying benefits afforded couples” were willing to do so because they were aware that they’re unlikely to come to anything. That is to say, perhaps the message sincerely was to back off this particular issue right now, not that you can’t be gay and Republican. For those who adhere to the denying-gays-marriage-rights-keeps-us-second-class-citizens line, I realize that that’s a non-distinction. But we and those who come after us have plenty to lose if we try to change people’s minds by fiat. Much as it offends my crabby loner sensibilities to say so, we need to choose our battles and capitalize on goodwill where we can find it; persuasion takes longer to accomplish, but its effects last longer, too.

    * Sorry for the flurry of self-linking. Got started and couldn’t stop.

    Added on 7 September: And the link to the 365gay.com page is fixed. (Thanks for letting me know, Mike.) Confounded smart quotes! I could’ve sworn I’d un-selected them….


    Posted by Sean at 22:31, September 4th, 2004

    So it was stronger elsewhere; it usually is:

    An earthquake measuring 6.8 on the open-ended Richter scale hit western Japan on Sunday, setting off tsunami waves along the Pacific coast, but there were no reports of serious damage, national broadcaster NHK said.

    Two people were slightly injured in the city of Kyoto, although some of the strongest tremors were felt in the area of Nara, the ancient capital of Japan where there are many temples.

    Here in Tokyo, it was one of those spooky swaying quakes that lasted for a while, as opposed to a quick shake. Glad there was no damage closer to the center. As the article from Reuters points out, people in the Kansai area are still on edge from the Kobe earthquake a decade ago. (The Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe region isn’t considered an earthquake zone in Japanese terms, so construction codes were not the same as they are here in Tokyo-Yokohama.)

    I also hope everyone in Florida is okay. This is a bad year for storms all over, it seems. Western Japan has also had its share of typhoon casualties and property damage this year, so when I haven’t been watching the weather report to see what’s happening in Florida, I’ve been worried about Atsushi in Kyushu. Yet another reason to look forward to fall.

    The Axis of Evil becomes a grid

    Posted by Sean at 15:52, September 4th, 2004

    I haven’t had much to add to everyone else’s comments about the sort of people who would keep hundreds of children captive for days, with no water, in midsummer, and then bring the roof down on their heads. It does dominate the thoughts, though, especially in combination with other news this week.

    South Korea has been doing lab tests with uranium enrichment. The results were apparently a small amount that was “close to” weapons grade. Now, if there’s going to be a headline that reads “—– May Be Close to Developing Nukes,” I’d much prefer that the —– be South Korea over some of the alternatives. (Additionally, the experiment was done four years ago, and the IAEA inspectors found no evidence it had been expanded upon since then.) And despite the clear potential for diplomatic problems that would result from the ROK’s developing nuclear weapons, with the DPRK less than a two-hour drive from Seoul, who could possibly blame it for wanting to do so?

    I wonder, does North Korea get much play in the US media? Here, it’s in the news all the time. Some of the reasons for that are obvious: It’s nearby, so the potential for patrol boat skirmishes and things is high, and there’s some Japan-North Korea trade. But what you most memorably see (I’m talking over the last five years or so) on television are human interest stories about refugees. For a while there, it seemed as if there were a new Japanese wife of a North Korean escaping back here through China every Thursday. Often, she would tell the reporter, her voice and face distorted to protect her identity, about eating potatoes when there was no rice–a shocking deprivation to East Asians. And that was before the appalling Japanese abductee story broke and began dominating news coverage. Recently, the focus has also been more on diplomatic talks, particularly now that the six-way nattering over the DPRK’s nuclear program is doing the on-again-off-again thing.

    And that leads to the other exposure you get to North Korea here: excerpts from its news broadcasts, usually when some higher-up has made an anti-Japanese remark or some trade issue or summit has been reported on. The North Korean TV technology is so antiquated it has to be seen to be believed. The microphones have that dead sound the local news from an unaffiliated station had in the ’80’s. There’s only one camera angle. And this creepy girl in traditional Korean costume (whose job is to grin like a lunatic and deliver fulsome praise about Kim Jong-il) often appears against a blue screen. And I mean just a blue screen, as if they’d forgotten to put in the background footage. In a humorous-but-not-funny way, it reminds you what riches we have: the lamest music video by the most faceless new pop-product non-talent in our world gets production values that are many times better than the broadcasts North Korea uses to remind citizens that they live in the perfect society.

    I was going to say that this is all some comfort because, you know, if the DPRK can’t get it together to make a decent news broadcast, they probably can’t contrive something as tricky as nuclear warheads that detonate. But that’s ridiculous, because if there’s one thing all these types care about and will put every last resource into doing successfully, it’s wrecking things. The reasoning runs, If your way doesn’t produce a prosperous society that nurtures its citizens, don’t bother changing; just blow the opposition and their artifacts up (and don’t forget to torture the children while you’re at it) until there’s nothing left to stand as a rebuke to it. There’s no fate bad enough for such people, but the Russian authorities had the right idea in making them dead, even if it’s determined that they acted precipitously.