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    But in the real world, you make it so hard

    Posted by Sean at 15:25, August 22nd, 2004

    Oh, yeah. I just remembered: The other night I was hanging out with some friends, and this new video by Wilson Phillips came on. It was a remake of “Go Your Own Way.” Absolutely hideous, with the melody all denatured and slushed together with aaaahhhhh-ooooohhhhs and junk. You-all who are still at home are not, by permitting this stuff, making it easy for us patriotic expats to extol the wonders of America here, you know? I understand that, now that Madonna lives in England, you couldn’t stun-gun her out of posing as Che Guevara for the cover of American Life. These things happen. But Chynna, Carnie, and Wendy are still on native soil, right in front of your noses. Work for us, already.

    I guess it could have been worse. If they’d put their Montessori-schooled mitts on “You Make Loving Fun,” I’d be on a plane to LA to scratch their eyes out right now. Then, too, my understanding is that they have some new concept album out about California, and the fabulous Christine McVie was from the British contingent in Fleetwood Mac, so she would have been mercifully inappropriate.

    BTW, what did Carnie do to herself? I’m glad that, being morbidly obese, she was able to get surgery and bring her weight and health under control. But she used to have that gorgeous, glossy dark hair and mischievous eyes that were really set off by her plumpness. And she was the only one of the three with an actual vocal personality–Chynna and Wendy both looked and sang like Barbie dolls. Now all three of them have the same weedy hair and muddy make-up. It’s a shame.

    Loose threads

    Posted by Sean at 12:25, August 22nd, 2004

    I know I have this tendency to point out Japan-related stories and then kind of drop them. I figure that interested people are probably looking at the same news sources I do. For anyone who’s been wondering, though:

    Charles Jenkins–US Army deserter, defecter to North Korea, and husband of Japanese abductee Hitomi Soga–is considering making a plea bargain to avoid being imprisoned by the US, with which Japan has a mutual extradition treaty.

    Mitsubishi-Tokyo Financial Group and UFJ Holdings are moving ahead with their plan to create the Bank That Ate the World, despite noises from Mitsui-Sumitomo Financial Group about UFJ’s broken promises and its own continued desire for a merger (especially the trust banks, I believe). UFJ is in bad shape; MTFG has actually officially repaid its federal bailout, so the idea is for money to start flowing UFJ-ward as soon as possible.

    Speaking of banks, Ashikaga Bank (for anyone who knows The Princess Mononoke, that’s the same compound as the hero’s name: 足利) will be the object of first bank bailout in a few years. Ashikaga had bad credit totalling around 36,000,000,000 yen (US $327,000,000). I don’t know whether there’s a connection, but it’s also well-known here as the only Japanese financial institution with normal relations with DPRK banks.

    My little golden book about manipulativeness

    Posted by Sean at 22:31, August 21st, 2004

    Amritas writes that Arthur Golden’s book Memoirs of a Geisha is going to be made into a movie. Now that it’s mentioned, I’m surprised it didn’t happen long ago, when the book was an event.

    Not that I’m sad the movie hasn’t been made or eager to see it once it is. I hated that freakin’ book. And for once, I’m not heaping the usual Japan specialist’s disdain on someone who didn’t get things right. Golden has a lot of experience in Japan, by all accounts–and while the cutesy, contrived is-it-fact-or-fiction controversy was annoying, there were many passages that seemed genuinely revelatory of contours in Japanese thinking. (I should note, though, that the book is set in Kyoto and all my experience in Japan has been here in the Tokyo-Yokohama area.)

    No, what I detested about Memoirs of a Geisha were two things. One was its prose. People writing about Japan or in the voices of Japanese characters just can’t stop themselves from giving each word equal rhythmic weight. You know, that every-syllable-is-a-cherry-blossom-petal-floating-softly-to-the-surface-of-the-lake -while-a-crane-glides-by monotone that’s supposed to convey Zen-like contemplativeness, or something. There are writers whom it’s hard to translate without slipping into that, even if you try to put some gusto into it; Kawabata Yasunari is notorious for being difficult that way, for example. In Golden’s case, he was probably just giving the paying customers what they want out of their Japan fantasies.

    I’d imagine that’s the source of my second problem with the book, also. That is, Golden breaks faith with his readers from the very first paragraph:

    Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, “That afternoon when I met so-and-so…was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.” I expect you might put down your teacup and say, “Well, now, which was it? Was it the best or the worst? Because it can’t possibly have been both!” Ordinarily I’d have to laugh at myself and agree with you.

    Surely Golden could reasonably assume that the way many in his book’s potential readership were introduced to the very concept of the great novel was through reading Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities in junior high school (at least, those of us who managed to squeak through before Dickens was thrown over for Toni Morrison). It’s hard to follow Sayuri into the world of the geisha when one is involuntarily giggling at the thought of putting down one’s chocolate (dutifully fussed over by four servants, of course) with a rattle and demanding, “Well, now, which was it? The best of times or the worst of times? Wisdom or foolishness? Come on! Belief or incredulity? Which, then? Huh? HUH?”

    But even for people who don’t remember their Dickens, this opening is a micalculation. It’s exactly because we’ve all felt simultaneously happy and sad, or triumphant and frustrated, that we go to novelists. The great ones, from Dickens to Austen to Melville, help us sort out and interpret and contextualize our own conflicts. The lesser-but-fun ones, like Agatha Christie, entertain us by turning human conflict into puzzle or drama. But whatever you’re looking for in a novel, contradictory feelings are part of it. This passage requires you to confront, consciously, the certainly that Golden thinks either you or his own narrator is a simpleton. And that’s before you even turn the first page.

    Of course, things get worse from there. Golden can’t be content to get some sexy good fun out of the fact that he’s writing about geisha. Whenever something amusingly trashy happens–the heavy-handed way our heroine’s rival descends from being one of the most popular and classiest performers to being a prostitute in the gutter is only the most obvious example–you’re not allowed to just enjoy the pulpy soap-operaness. Golden has to have Sayuri jerk back into that reflective tone that signals Mysterious Oriental Wisdom, as if she’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in The Joy Luck Club.

    All in all, an annoying read. The movie might actually be an improvement if it just gives way to stereotypes and, without asking to be taken seriously, titillates people for an hour or two.

    Threw away my old clothes / Got myself a better wardrobe

    Posted by Sean at 21:33, August 21st, 2004

    Finally got around to putting the new banner up. Connie, if you’re having trouble seeing it again, please let me know. There shouldn’t be a problem, though, since this one isn’t done with a background image.

    The real McGreevey issue

    Posted by Sean at 14:30, August 21st, 2004

    Is Golan Cipel hot? That’s not a rhetorical question that ends with an implied “or what, baby-baby!” I mean, you look at some photographs, and you’re like, Hello! This dude really needs to do a photo session with Kobi Israel, barechested and sitting on a mattress (no sheets–just the ticking) and maybe eating a handful of sloppy joe from a paper plate.

    Okay, fine. You’ve got a picture of two guys in dinner jackets who look as if they’re going to start making out as soon as the photographer leaves. I’d probably be hot for William Demarest if you caught him in that kind of pose.

    Even so, there are others that are like…okay, David Byrne with a little more meat on him and not so bug-eyed. Maybe I kind of see it. But couldn’t the Gov. find someone to fill that bill in Bergen County?

    The nastiness comes so easily to your people

    Posted by Sean at 21:12, August 20th, 2004

    A visitor from Susanna Cornett’s site sent me a very polite inquiry about this story from down her way:

    When Mike Johnson, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, which represents conservative politicians and “pro-family” organizations, called Rawls a “homosexual,” Rawls charged at Johnson. Rawls’ voice rose and his face turned red, and he approached Johnson, pointed his finger at him and labeled him a “homophobe.”

    “I am not a homosexual,” Rawls angrily told Johnson. “I am a gay man.”

    Rawls considers the term “homosexual” derogatory. “No one calls me the ‘h’ word,” he said later.

    Johnson said Rawls had berated him earlier that morning by calling him a member of the “radical, religious right” in a television debate they taped to be aired Sunday on WDSU-TV.

    “He just went nuts. I was shocked by it,” Johnson said of the courtroom encounter. “He lunged at me because I used the word ‘homosexual.’ I thought that was an appropriate term, I didn’t know it was derogatory.”

    I wish this surprised me, but it doesn’t particularly. It just happens to be the gay version of one of the most unpleasant features of contemporary American culture: the practice of fantasizing into existence one’s own arbitrary system of etiquette and then going ballistic on people who unwittingly violate it. Janis Gore, who kindly gave me the link to the original story and then to her own take on it, sensibly says,

    When did the term ‘homosexual’ become derogatory? ‘Homo’ has never been a neutral word, but ‘homosexual’ is a descriptive term, like its siblings ‘heterosexual’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘asexual’, isn’t it?

    It is a bit more complicated than that. One sometimes hears social conservatives proclaim that they refuse to use gay to mean “homosexual” because they’re standing firm against the corruption of a useful word without any good equivalent. I find that explanation improbable. Considering their presumed civic-mindedness about the usage of our great native tongue, such people don’t seem to get around to complaining much about the slipshod way people use infer/imply, or disinterested/uninterested, or momentarily/in a moment. And I have a funny feeling that when the slang use of gay to mean “homosexual” had connotations of promiscuity and chirpy light-in-the-loaferness, they might not have been such sticklers. What does seem to irritate them is that, unlike the medical homosexual, gay is neutral and doesn’t retain even a trace of pathological implications.

    I’ve been known to call such people on what I see as their disingenuousness–most of them don’t exactly try to hide their disapproval of homosexuality, so why they need to make a great show of language persnicketiness to dress up this particular aspect of it is beyond me–but I don’t really care what word they use as long as they don’t try to keep me off my man. I probably reach for the word gay more often than I do homosexual, but on this site, I yak about gay stuff so frequently that if I didn’t have more than one word to choose from, I’d start to sound like a broken record. Come to think of it, when I’m feeling especially playful or nettled, I throw the word fag around quite a bit. I think I’ve used invert here once or twice, too.

    So Rawls’s reaction doesn’t make much sense to me, but some people will never miss a chance to work themselves into a froth of indignation. One might actually dispute his use of the word homophobia to characterize someone who wasn’t expressing any skittishness, let alone irrational fear and hatred, toward homosexuality. But I can understand why Johnson either was too shocked to do so or just figured it was best to let the matter drop.

    Added on 22 August: Mike A. from Ex-Gay Watch has a post relevant to the topic here that links to the predictable reaction to Rawls’s outburst by World Net Daily.

    More Asia news

    Posted by Sean at 12:40, August 19th, 2004

    Florida isn’t the only place being hammered by bad weather. Typhoon 15 has been pounding western Japan; 5 people have been killed and 2 are missing. Actually, that was as of 6 p.m., so the number may be higher now. Luckily, Atsushi’s city is getting wind and rain but is on the periphery of the storm. Let’s hope there are no more casualties. Japan is, of course, mountainous; many areas are prone to mudslides.

    Speaking of destructive forces, the juche ideal is doing its usual sterling job of keeping the people of North Korea fed and secure…so much so that yet again, 15 people have entered the South Korean embassy in Beijing seeking asylum. (BTW, there’s a word for escaping from North Korea that…I think it existed before, but I’ve never seen it used in Japanese newspapers to refer to anything else: 脱北 [“escape to the north”]. Desperation to get out of that hellhole is such a fixture of the news that it essentially has its own dedicated kanji compound.)

    Because East Asia is one big, happy family

    Posted by Sean at 12:23, August 19th, 2004

    So it looks as if the recently announced US troop realignment in Europe and Asia will affect Korea but not Japan. (That second link goes to The Daily Yomiuri, which doesn’t have separate URL’s for each article. It’s the one headlined “Govt Unfazed over Changes,” and I was just lucky that I guessed which changes they were talking about.) Well, apparently, Korea and the US are “consulting” about the proposal to decrease by 12500 the number of armed forces personnel (currently 37000) in Korea and have come to a provisional agreement. The Asahi says that the number of soldiers stationed here may actually increase. The Yomiuri article also contains this comforting passage:

    In the talks, the Japanese side repeatedly emphasized that the most important thing was to maintain the deterrent effect of U.S. forces in the region.

    Even if U.S. forces in East Asia are reduced, a Defense Agency official said, “it’s unlikely the realignment will prompt North Korea to cause a military emergency.”

    But there’s also the PRC to worry about, especially since it’s been making noises again over Taiwan’s attempts to join the UN (or rejoin, since as CNN notes, the Chinese seat was taken from Taiwan and given to the Mao-era mainland in 1971).

    Addendum to 投票 (scattered thoughts)

    Posted by Sean at 12:16, August 18th, 2004

    The title, BTW, means that the post contains scattered thoughts. The compound 投票 doesn’t mean “scattered thoughts.” It means “vote,” literally “cast” + “ballot.”


    Ann Althouse has been writing about her idea of independent political views. She describes the people that partisans are getting impatient with for just being plain dithery when they know they’re going to vote the way they always do anyway, and then says:

    I’m really not one of those people. I’m one of the people whose politics were changed by 9/11. Prior to 9/11, my disagreement with the social conservatives kept me from having much of any interest in Republican presidential candidates. After 9/11, I became quite bonded to George Bush. If I had to vote today, I would vote for Bush, because at this point, I cannot trust Kerry on security matters. Kerry has allowed himself to stand for so many different things, according to what is expedient at the moment. I didn’t buy the strong-on-security pitch of the convention, which I know was aimed at shoring up support from centrists like me. The problem there is that I just don’t believe them. (And I note that I’ve just written “them” and not Kerry. I was going to edit that out, but I’m going to leave it in, because it signifies my queasy feeling that Kerry is a device for returning to power a party that doesn’t stand for much of any of the things that were promoted at the convention.) What would appeal to me from the Republican side, along with a convincing case that they really are competent about the security issues we assume they care more about, would be a more libertarian approach to social issues.

    There certainly are those who seem to get off on calling themselves “independent” because it connotes free-spiritedness, which makes them feel dashing. Others want to cobble together a set of beliefs on policy that feel good to them but aren’t consistent with each other, and they’re too lazy (or fearful of giving up comforting but untenable ideas) to sort them out.

    Personally, I have no objection to being easily categorizable. I don’t want people just presuming without basis that I think this or that, but I don’t think eclecticism is a political value in and of itself. From reading Prof. Althouse, I think I may be somewhat to the right of her on social issues, though she would probably find it easier to be welcomed into the Republican Party if she defected. In any case, I feel much the same about the Presidential candidates and the Democratic Convention as she does. I don’t mind that I don’t agree 100% with either party’s platform; that’s life. I don’t mind that there are people with whom I probably agree on 95% of policy issues who still see me as an enemy because of the gay thing. Well, I mind, but they have as much right not to budge as I do.

    What I mind is the say-anything-to-get-elected-and-start-worrying-about-what-to-do-after-you’re-handed-the-goody-bag mentality. I’m nothing close to a Bush fan, though he’s a very likable kind of guy. It’s hard to buy that all the compromises he makes are actually part of a grand rope-a-dope scheme to triumph over his opponents. I’m also not sent by the designation “man of faith,” though I recognize that sincere religious conviction is often a welcome indicator of non-flakiness.

    Perhaps Kerry would, once installed, be a non-flaky President, too. But at this point, I feel as if voting for Kerry would be buying a pig in a poke.

    [Wait a minute. We don’t talk like that where I grew up….]

    I feel as if voting for Kerry would be an act of faith in and of itself. At least I know what I think Bush does well and badly, and I can be pretty sure we’ll be in decent (not great, but decent) shape when he leaves office. This whole thing–never thought I’d see the day when I said this–is making me nostalgic for the 2000 election.


    Posted by Sean at 11:05, August 18th, 2004

    Okay, a few weeks ago, CNN reported that Democrats Abroad Japan was pulling out all the stops to recruit voters among American expats here. They mentioned–I swear it was mixed in with talking about people who’d come from the States to be celeb draws–that a Terry MacMillan was helping to get out the vote. I assumed it was the novelist who wrote, among others, Waiting to Exhale. Looks as if I spoke too soon; Terri MacMillan is a musician who lives here in Tokyo and is a higher-up with DAJ. I’d seen Terry McMillan (the novelist) interviewed a few times and just thought she’d done an image change, but I was wrong. Sorry about that.

    Since I’m officially registered as a Democrat, and I’m in Japan, I decided to click on a few of the links at the right of the DAJ site. I sent to my county for my absentee ballot yesterday, but I was interested to see what the voter registration sites looked like. The one that most interested me was overseasvote.com. For reasons I can’t quite identify, I was a little unsettled by the exhortations to non-US citizens to encourage their American friends to vote. That doesn’t interfere in any way with the political process, so I’m not sure what the sticking point is.

    It’s probably part of my more general feeling that I’d rather people not vote if they have to be caressed and cooed and cajoled into doing so. I’m not speaking about ethics here, really; I know that it’s DAJ’s job to get as many people to vote Democratic as possible, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what they’re doing. You know, the explanations and FAQ lists and things. (It’s only fair to point out that Republicans Abroad Japan says this on its voter registration page: “RAJ maintains a strictly nonpartisan approach to our voter outreach and registration program. We do not ask Americans seeking to register to vote their party affiliation. Nor do we advocate voting stances on either issues or candidates. We believe that Americans, when allowed to decide for themselves, free of any political pressure, will choose to vote Republican.” It’d be nice if the DAJ site struck that tone, but that’s a quibble.) But one of the pages says something to the effect that most people don’t vote because the process is confusing.

    Oh? I mean, fine, it was a little complicated registering my first time. Those of you who’ve never lived abroad may not have had reason to think about this, but the residency you declare of course affects whose tax laws apply to you. For example, Pennsylvania doesn’t tax you on money earned abroad; you don’t even have to file a return. In other states, you do. We all have to file a federal return–you can run, but you can’t hide–however, you get the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion on everything up to a specified amount. Some people haven’t lived at home for years and are simply unsure where there residence is supposed to be. So there’s kind of a crazy quilt of rules to think about. That’s true enough.

    Still, I’m sorry, it’s not that confusing. If you’re an intelligent person interested in exercising one of his fundamental rights as a US citizen, surely it’s worth the five-minute mental exertion needed to figure out where your official residence at home is. If you Google “united states citizen abroad vote register,” you can refer to pages based at US embassies around the globe that tell you what you need to do and what criteria you can use when you have to make judgment calls. It’s a multi-step but not baffling process. I’m far from the first person to say this, but if you can’t bestir yourself to take an hour or two (for someone who’s lived a very complicated life) to figure out how to vote, I don’t see why anyone should have to come after you.