• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post


    Posted by Sean at 14:26, July 24th, 2004

    Someone at work mailed me this story with the subject line “WE’RE STILL NUMBER 1!” (Actually, I’m pretty sure Finland and maybe one of the other Scandinavian countries still have higher rates of suicide, but 34000+ out of 125 million people is still plenty high. The US has around 30000 suicides per year, but of course, we have double Japan’s population.) The AP article touches on some of the reasons for the anomalies in the way suicide is distributed here.

    Like everywhere else, the rate is highest among old people with failing health. But there’s also been a major upswing, since the 1990-ish collapse of the economic bubble, of suicides among people who are hopelessly in debt. Lender liability law is effectively non-existent here, and a lot of people go to retail loan companies that lend at rates to which usury doesn’t do justice. Unless the laws have changed when I wasn’t looking, 40% (that’s not a typo) is the highest legal rate lenders can charge. But, this being Japan, it’s possible to add on courtesy fees, processing fees, and in-out-around-through fees that make the interest rate effectively 100% for the most desperate borrowers. And of course, being the most desperate borrowers, those are the people with the greatest difficulty paying the money back.

    People in such situations who don’t want to end their troubles and save their honor by committing suicide have another option: They can disappear. Through the ’90’s, the number of people who did 夜逃げ (yonige, “overnight escape”) and took new identities in distant cities to escape the gangster collection agents who were harassing them was increasing by a good 50% per year. In each of the last several years, I think the figure has hovered at between 100000 and 150000.

    The recent reforms of the National Pension and Social Insurance may not, to put it mildly, make debt and health issues easier to deal with. Plans to increase premiums and cut back on benefits (including both pension money and health care) will make things more difficult for the elderly and for cash-strapped workers–exactly the adult groups whose suicide rates are causing all the alarm.

    Of course, suicide is not considered an honorable option unless it’s the only way to make amends or discharge one’s responsibilities. Otherwise–this is one of the most inspiring things about the Japanese–they have an amazing ability to persevere stoically through desperate circumstances. By this point, no one entertains the fantasy that the Japanese government is going to undertake the kinds of real reforms that will speed up economic recovery (as, say, South Korea did after the Asian financial crisis in 1997). So what we’re in for, probably for several more decades, is more of the slow, painful, not-quite-catastrophic same. Suicide is unlikely to become epidemic, but there’s little reason to expect rates to drop very quickly.

    Added at 17:25, 26 July: Just so people don’t think it’s a total free-for-all here, I might point out that punishment is meted out to those who run outright scams in the moneylending business. Sometimes. If you click on the link, you have to promise you’ll read to the end to see how the officer of one of the loan companies justifies himself. Unreal.

    I know what boys like

    Posted by Sean at 12:37, July 23rd, 2004

    Ten minutes ago, I was in a great mood, I swear.

    I know I need to stop sniping at Andrew Sullivan. An obscure person who keeps ragging in public on a prominent person is inviting accusations of envy. He wouldn’t know me if he fell over me in the street. I’m being petty. I suck.

    Having acknowledged that, I will humbly receive the permission of my dozen readers to say, I don’t think I can keep reading him much longer. I really don’t. One of his posts from today (your time over there…as in, it’s tomorrow here, but still today for you…oh, whatever) contains this one-two punch of ninnyism that made me want to scream:

    HE SAID IT! The Washington Blade has found a reference by the president to the word “gay.” He said the phrase “gay marriage” in Pennsylvania, referring to someone else’s question. He knows that gay people exist! Now if he could only apply to adjective to actual human beings. But it’s a start. And don’t give me the pablum abhout not treating people as members of a group. Today, at the Urban League, Bush asked: “Is it a good thing for the African-American community to be represented mainly by one political party? Have the traditional solutions of the Democrat Party truly served the African-American people?” That’s the difference between a group of people you respect and want to win over and a group of people you marginalize for political gain.

    EMAIL OF THE DAY II: “Your blog links to an inaccurate statement in a Fox report which claims that wives should be subservient to their husbands, when the word Judge Holmes used was subordinate. Subservient implies obsequiousness or servility while subordinate implies submitting to the authority of another (which can arguably be considered a sign of strength). You use the incorrect word in your blog.” The strength to be subordinate! And this comes from a religious tradition that began with a man who defied almost every social convention of his time and treated women – even single women – as his equals; who never married and broke up the families and marriages of his disciples; who told his own parents as a teenager that they had no final control over him; and whose best friends were a single woman and a single man who is described in the Gospels as resting his head on Jesus’ breast in an act of profound intimacy. How you get the subordination of women and the persecution of homosexuals from all that is beyond me.

    This is what one of our most literate, urbane, even-handed, generous-minded advocates is reduced to? Wagging his tail at the mention of the word gay, once, by the President? I mean, all right, to an extent I get it. Bush probably is dodging the issue as much as he can, and of course he’s probably doing so for the sake of political expediency. We are not–no surprise here–the constituency he needs to court most urgently.

    If the President really thinks homosexuals should be as free to live our private lives and make private contracts as everyone else, but that marriage shouldn’t be redefined just to make us happy, and that as a Christian he can’t approve of that aspect of our lives, I wish he’d just flat-out say it. I know all the reasons it’s not a good idea for him as a politician up for election, but I, for one, would be grateful. Yeah, he’d give some people on both sides of the argument fits of apoplexy, but they’d be well-earned fits of apoplexy.

    In fact, Andrew Sullivan, 2004 version, would be having the biggest fit of all, because apparently the US government is the arbiter of our dignity as citizens (yes, I’m going off on this again–feel free to go read Instapundit if you’re sick of hearing about it), and anything but approval, using the g word, with concrete examples, affronts it. You have to wonder what exactly would satisfy people who think like this. We’re 3% of the population, so does that mean we need to be mentioned in 3% of Bush’s speeches? Or should we constitute 3% of the individuals he refers to by name? Does “relationships between people of the same gender” count for, say, 0.375 times as many points as the actual use of “gay”? And how is anyone supposed to live a full, rich, satisfying life but still have time to obsess over these things?

    I doubt President Bush cares any more than Andrew Sullivan what Sean Kinsell, actual gay human being and voter, thinks. But for the record, there are two important entities I think he should consider while on the job:

    (1) The United States, in which I include its citizens, infrastructure, territory, and interests

    (2) Well-connected industries that are getting clobbered by the competition, and the identity-politicking PAC’s that imitate them in the seeking of entitlements

    President Bush, it’s your sworn duty to do everything you can to protect one of the above. But only one. Do it, already.



    As for the second entry, Andrew Sullivan is entitled to reconcile his Christian faith with his sexuality however he likes…in his own life. If in public he’s going to make cockamamie-ass equivalences between “a single man who is described in the Gospels as resting his head on Jesus’ breast in an act of profound intimacy” and homosexuality, he needs to be answered, lest people think all of us open homosexuals are that obtuse.

    I have no idea what happens chez Sullivan, but I can assure you that in this household, sex involves more than the resting of one partner’s head on the other’s chest, honeychile. Conversely, I have friends from college who, when we’re all gathered for someone’s wedding and catching up or talking politics, think nothing of leaning on me while I play absently with their hair; but I know they’d be confused and repelled if I ever actually came on to them. For that matter, straight men in most places outside America are permitted more physical contact with each other, but that doesn’t make them homosexual, or even gay-friendly.

    All of this is my characteristically roundabout way of saying, any dope knows that matey intimacy (however the local culture defines it) is different from having sex. And while Andrew Sullivan’s not a dope, he’s an incredibly smart person with an increasingly bad case of tunnel vision. He’s been so honest about his sexuality and his HIV status, given the political circles he moves in, that I still haven’t reached the point at which I can just write him off. But lately, for the first time, I’ve felt as if I’m getting there. And there’s no other commentator who’s as all-around good, in the sense of being an advocate for gays without excluding other political and social issues, as he used to be. It’s sad.

    [Added at 16:00: Spoons wonders whether Sullivan is implying that he thinks Jesus was a homosexual. I don’t think that was the point, actually. He seems to be more saying that Jesus hung out in a merry, tolerant bunch of bohemians that included independent women and companionable piles of male buddies, and that therefore we can deduce that he was, you know, mellow about alternative lifestyles and stuff. It’s still malarkey.]


    On a not-entirely-unrelated note: Agenda Bender’s been up for two years. Tom’s one of those people who can post two lines of tossed-off pervy humor and make me giggle for the rest of the day; though he hasn’t written many lately, he can also do those rants that look as if they’re about to careen out of control any second but never do (a talent I manifestly lack; see this site, passim). And he’s been just incredibly kind to me. I have no idea whether he checks in here, but just in case: Happy 2nd…well, I won’t use the word and spoil your Google joy, but the entire staff of the former East Asia office sends regards.

    The latest fugu poisoning

    Posted by Sean at 21:58, July 22nd, 2004

    Several times a year, people in Japan die from eating home-prepared fugu, the blowfish prized as a delicacy here. Its neurotoxin, which causes tingling in the limbs, shortness of breath, paralysis (while you’re still alert and helpless), and finally coma and death, is concentrated in the skin, ovaries, and liver. Guess which part of the fish is considered the greatest epicurean treat? The latest case happened last night in Fukuoka. The story is by the book: a man caught a fugu and brought it home to four friends. They added the liver and flesh to the miso soup with which they started dinner; the symptoms began two hours later. The two men (including the fisherman) are in serious condition and, though the article doesn’t say in so many words, will die. The women, who I imagine left most of the liver for the men, are expected to recover. I wonder, though, not having read up on it much, whether people who recover from fugu poisoning suffer necrosis of the flesh the way a lot of people who recover from snakebites do.

    In case you’re wondering how it’s possible to make the liver edible at all, the answer is: you can purge the poison so there’s just enough left to give the mouth a stimulating little tingle if you hold the cleaned organ under running water for a very long time before serving. No, I’m not kidding. One wonders how many people through the centuries died agonized deaths along the trial-and-error path to that discovery.

    By the way, the character compound for fugu is 河豚: “river” + “pig.” The dolphin is called iruka, and written (if you’re being stuffy) as 海豚: “sea” + “pig.” Somewhat more recognizable, to us native speakers of English who were made to memorize Latin and Greek word roots as schoolchildren, is the compound for hippopotamus: 河馬, pronounced kaba and literally meaning, of course, “river” + “horse.”

    Since I was brought up on the Levitical health laws, my parents reared me not to eat pork because pigs were God’s natural vacuum cleaners and were bad for the body, even though people who ate pork often seemed as healthy as everyone else. Clearly, the river pig of Japan makes its deleterious effects known rather more quickly, as one member of last night’s unfortunate dinner party apparently knew: she ate none of the fugu miso soup, and she’s fine.

    Politicians play politics

    Posted by Sean at 02:54, July 22nd, 2004

    Stephen Miller at the Independent Gay Forum links to this article in the Windy City Times by Bob Roehr. Miller quotes this segment:

    Most Democrats harped on the fact that, gasp, the Republicans were playing politics with the issue; all the while promoting their own set of political priorities. There was not a lot of defense of the gay community

    Sit back and enjoy the flight

    Posted by Sean at 12:43, July 21st, 2004

    Wow. That’s funny. A few of my friends are flight attendants (you didn’t think I only hung out with lumberjacks, did you?), and I’m sure the ability to get more ripped than the passengers would make the work go by a lot faster:

    Two crew members on a domestic Aeroflot flight beat up a passenger who had complained that the flight attendants were drunk, airline spokeswoman Irina Dannenberg said.

    The passenger, identified only as A. Chernopup, was aboard a recent flight from Moscow to the Siberian city of Nizhnevartovsk, Dannenberg said. She said the crew belonged to another airline, Aviaenergo.

    Seeing that the crew were intoxicated and were not fulfilling their duties, Chernopup asked to be served by a sober and competent flight attendant, Dannenberg said. He was then beaten up by crew members.

    You have to wonder why they didn’t just offer him hits from the bottle until he forgot what he’d been complaining about.

    We’re so glad we’re living in the USA

    Posted by Sean at 11:08, July 19th, 2004

    Linda Ronstadt was not, unfortunately, arrested for assaulting Elvis Costello songs or fraudulently marketing herself as (gag) an “interpretive singer.” Maybe the statute of limitations has run out, which is a pity. However, her praise of Michael Moore did get her booed and thrown out of the Aladdin casino in Las Vegas.

    I do wish the owner had been more up-front than to say that the problem was with her “[espousing] political views.” It’s hard to believe that if she’d dedicated a song to President Bush, the owner would have had her escorted out on principle. It would have been more enjoyable for me, at any rate, if he’d simply expressed deep concern over her physical safety, given her obvious distance from and incomprehension of her audience. But maybe he was thinking that potential visitors to the casino will want a firmer guarantee that the same sort of thing won’t happen at future performances.

    It’s a good thing I’ve found a good man to take care of me

    Posted by Sean at 23:08, July 18th, 2004

    Now that there are a few people reading this who didn’t know me before I started the site, I think I should warn you all about something: I’m a total idiot. This was borne in upon me forcefully yet again today when…. Well, see, we were watching Columbo, and one of the episodes on the DVD involved murder by locking someone in a safe and letting him suffocate. And there’s this Columbo ripoff here in Japan that started as the usual Japanese series of ten-odd episodes. But it proved so popular that it’s become sort of an institution. It doesn’t run every season, but there’s often, you know, a special movie-length episode over a holiday weekend, or whatever. It’s called 古畑任三郎 (Furuhata Ninzaburo, the name of the protagonist).

    Anyway, I started thinking about some of the better episodes, and remembered one from a few years back. A woman’s lover struck her with a water pitcher she’d used as a makeshift vase for a rose from an admirer. He was caught because, when he looked at the container as evidence later, he called it a “vase.” The idea was that anyone who hadn’t seen it with the rose thrust into it at the victim’s apartment would have just thought of it as a regular old “water pitcher.” It was a fiendishly clever episode, because the whole solution to the thing was right in front of you the whole time…there was none of that cheating where the detective faxes the DMV to ask for information and you don’t find out until he confronts the killer. And since (as you would on Columbo) you saw the murder, you were tempted not to notice how odd it was that the murderer referred to it as a vase, either. You associated it with the rose. The scriptwriter was very shrewd or worked from a great source. It all used your perspective as a viewer against you, beautifully.

    If you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering what the point is right about now. Well, it’s not that I’m an idiot because I didn’t notice the difference between a vase and a water pitcher. It’s that thinking about that episode suddenly made me realize how trackbacks work and why people get huffy about them. Until April, I just read blogs. I didn’t have one. So I’d read a popular site, and there would be trackbacks attached to a post, and I’d think, Oh, some blogger wanted to let this person know he’d referred to this particular post, so he left a trail back to this here site I’m reading now. How thoughtful. And then sometimes, I’d see people get steamed up and be like, “I hate when people track back without linking my post on their site!” and I had no idea what they meant or what could be bad about it.

    I swear, it was thinking about that Furuhata episode, with the smug murderer suddenly realizing how he’d incriminated himself by saying the word 花瓶 (kabin, “vase”), that made me suddenly realize my perspective was wrong. You use trackbacks to get people from the site you’ve pinged to come back to you. As sure as I’m sitting here, I just figured this out thinking about a rose in a water pitcher on a television show. Because I’m stupid.

    And now I feel as if I’ve been blogging without a license, or something. Since trackbacks seemed to get people so burned up–for reasons I couldn’t fathom, remember–I made a practice of only putting one in if I’d corresponded with the person I was linking. A few times, I linked a post of someone’s and deleted the URL from the “Ping these sites” box, figuring that using a trackback on a stranger put me in danger of committing a rudeness without knowing…like some kind of excessive intimacy, you know? But every so often, MT would ping the linked site anyway, even after I deleted the URL. And then I’d spaz and hope I hadn’t somehow offended the site owner. I guess it’s okay, though, because I’ve always linked whenever I’ve sent a trackback.

    Um, right? That’s okay? I’m not trying to…what would you be trying to do by tracking back without linking? stealing readers, or something? I’m clearly too much of an airhead to figure this stuff out myself.

    And I haven’t dyed my hair blond for a good three years, even.

    Abductee and family in Japan

    Posted by Sean at 11:27, July 18th, 2004

    Those following the five-way diplomatic tug-of-war over the family of Hitomi Soga and Charles Jenkins probably know already that they’re…well, I was going to say “back in Japan, ” but only Soga herself had been to Japan before. What Jenkins feared, and the Japanese government tried to avoid, has happened: the US government has at least preliminarily made moves to have him extradited so he can be charged as an armed forces deserter. The initial family reunion took place in Indonesia–Soga flew from here, and Jenkins and their two daughters from the DPRK–because Washington and Jakarta don’t have a mutual extradition treaty (if that’s what it’s called).

    But Jenkins has serious health problems and needs surgery that he had to come to Japan for, so he, Soga, and their two daughters flew in yesterday. NNN (the Japanese equivalent of CNN, sort of) followed their bus from the airport to one of Tokyo’s research hospitals as if it were OJ’s van. Atsushi, who’s home for the bank holiday weekend, glanced up at a close-up of the family’s caravan and deadpanned, “The government put them on a Mitsubishi Fuso bus? Great. At least they’re headed for the hospital already.”

    The two daughters are 18 and 21, and much of the news coverage has focused on speculating what life will be like for them here. Me, I speculate that whatever happened to them would scramble their circuits. They grew up, after all, half-Japanese and half-American in an affluent family in North Korea. So both their parents were of intensely hated enemy peoples; their mother had been snatched from her home country when she was their age now. They were among the select families well-positioned enough to live relatively affluent lives in Pyongyang, and who knows whether they know what’s been going on in the countryside for the last decade or so. The people they meet in Japan may know more about the famines than they do. At least for now, the whole family is here. Now we just need to find out what happened to the half-dozen abductees the DPRK has coolly failed to account for.

    Innocents abroad

    Posted by Sean at 01:10, July 16th, 2004

    Virginia Postrel points to an expansive article by Bruce Bawer, which gives side-by-side reviews of a half-dozen books written by American and European authors about the US and its role in the world. It starts to be a bit of a slog toward the end, but it’s great stuff, all of it. The first book he filets is by one Mark Hertsgaard, whose excerpts read like Amritas’s Kevin Kusoyama, only more cartoonishly leftist. Here’s Bawer’s response to a spiel I’ve heard more times than Carter’s has pills (the first sentence is his summary of Hertsgaard’s argument, not his own opinion):

    America, in short, is a mess

    Breathe, breathe…it won’t be long now

    Posted by Sean at 12:44, July 15th, 2004

    LaShawn Barber graciously gave me permission to reproduce this e-mail, in response to a question of mine about her recent posts on the FMA:

    I don’t think homosexual “civil rights” and black civil rights are similar at all, in practical terms or otherwise. People who practice homosexuality do so because they choose to. They have the freedom to do so or not. Even if people believe they are “born” a certain way, the same still holds: you can choose not to sleep with men. Americans who choose to do so are still Americans protected by our Constitution. No one can infringe on your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without the basic protections afforded you.

    White homosexuals walked through the front doors of hotels and stores, sat wherever they wanted on buses and trains, and were not relegated to second class citizenship. To equate sexual behavior and lifestyle choices with the subjugation, degradation, human bondage of Americans of African decent is a dishonest attempt to manufacture emotion over a perceived “right.” I can’t choose not to be black; however, that lack of choice isn’t what determines my basic rights; the Constitution does. And as I said (I repeat myself often), you already have rights guaranteed you under the Constitution. There is no “right” to be married.

    In the message that brought the above tirade on, I probably wasn’t clear enough on why I thought the “movements” are similar in “practical terms,” but what I meant was restricted to how our publicly recognized representatives relate to their constituencies. Which is to say, when Barney Frank shows up on television, a lot of us glance up from making dinner and mutter, “For Pete’s sake, girl, shut up!” And my understanding is that a lot of black people react similarly when they hear Maxine Waters’s talking head. For that matter–to make sure we hit as many lefty sacred cows as possible–my mother practically put her fist through the picture tube whenever Gloria Steinem showed up on the nightly news when I was little. The people who say they represent the interests of “minorities” of whatever stripe do not always know, or even care, what people at the grass-roots level think and experience. That was all I was saying.

    The issues surrounding gay rights and black rights are not the same, as Ms. Barber articulates. There are particular points at which they intersect, sure, but they cannot be equated overall. I hesitate to link Classical Values again, lest its proprieter think I’m stalking him, or something, but he mirrors my thoughts exactly with this:

    Putting aside the states’ rights and tariff issues for the sake of this discussion, the modern idea that human beings should not be property was on a collision course with the institution of slavery. Something had to give, but the moral high ground claimed by each side simply would not allow it. To me, it’s simple logic that the abolition of slavery destroyed what had previously been private property. Rather than wage war over the idea, wouldn’t it have been more sensible to pay slaveholders to free their slaves, declare slavery over and spare the nation the war?

    Slavery was abolished by constitutional amendment, but not until after the war.

    Inflammatory as it is, can the idea of same sex marriage be as noxious as slavery? Some people think so, but I doubt there are enough of them to start another Civil War. But the analogy is problematic, because marriage cannot normally be said to be as coercive as slavery. (Although I have expressed reservations that it might become involuntary.) Remember that in the case of slavery, it was abolition of slavery that was seen as invasive; slavery was the status quo. Here, the status quo is opposite sex marriage only, so the analogous question becomes whether or not allowing same sex marriage amounts to abolition of marriage. I don’t see how it does, because no one would lose the right to marry.

    Clearly, a significant number of people feel that their marriages will be weakened if same sex marriage is allowed. I have not yet seen a logically convincing argument as to how this might happen, and, despite my reservations about same sex marriage, I don’t understand the “dilution” argument, much less the “destruction” one. It strikes me as based largely on emotion.

    Yet the other side’s position is also quite emotional. A piece of paper and a definitional change (neither of which are needed for two people to live together, share or bequeath property, care for or visit each other in hospitals, or even in many cases to obtain insurance benefits) does not strike me as going to the heart of citizenship in the same way as voting, free speech, the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, to bear arms, to sit on juries, etc. Maybe I just don’t care about marriage as much as the people who yell and scream, but the institution strikes me as primarily a legal way to protect children in cases where parents break up. Perhaps it would be more fair to allow marriage only as a child protection institution; childless couples would be legally regarded only as domestic partners and subject to whatever partnership laws existed in a state.

    In any case, I am in favor of states’ rights, and for what it’s worth, I remain implacably opposed to the apparently doomed Federal Marriage Amendment.

    I’m not fond of the “states’ rights” phrasing, but otherwise, I concur. My parents have been together since before I was born, and they didn’t move out of the house my brother and I grew up in until I was out of college and he was 18–and even then, they moved to a place three miles down the road so they’d have more room to entertain. My childhood was the very picture of stability, and I don’t think I’m incapable of seeing the value of marriage.

    But I just don’t get worked up over the fact that it doesn’t include a relationship such as mine. I say this as someone who lives abroad on a work visa that has to be renewed every few years, conducts his relationship in a foreign language, and can’t bring his partner back to the States as a spouse. I am not unaware of the dangers inherent in my own circumstances, and I’d love if they could be legislated away. Sometimes I’m scared when I think about them. But at the same time, I know I’m one of the freest people in history: I chose to live here. And I decided three years ago, without coercion, that taking care of Atsushi was my job from then on. The rest flows from there.

    The most articulate and reasonable gay rights advocates have done a great job of teasing out the meanings and mechanics of marriage in contemporary America. Their conclusions about the weight it bears in signaling the assumption of adult responsibility are correct. But one cannot, from there, summarily argue that marriage rights must be bestowed on homosexuals; the possibility that the way marriage is currently delineated is, itself, flawed must be addressed first. There’s a difference between saying that the government should treat us with dignity, as responsible citizens in full possession of our faculties, and saying that the government can confer dignity on us. Until we get that straight, this whole conversation will be useless.