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    When a flower grows wild / It can always survive

    Posted by Sean at 12:15, May 16th, 2004

    The human soul craves ritual; one of the things I’m doing to keep the sense that Atsushi’s around the apartment is keeping the vase I bought him for his birthday a few years ago filled. I like lushness and riotous color and things, but I can’t decide whether as a general practice, it’s better in this part of the room to go with Attention-Getting:


    or Steadfast and Unassuming:


    The lighting isn’t so hot in either shot (that inept photography thing again), but if anyone wants to weigh in, I’m open to thoughts from a more experienced flower arranger. My taste in the past tended more to houseplants and potted herbs.

    The boat is the namesake of the place

    Posted by Sean at 22:05, May 15th, 2004

    I wonder whether I’m missing something. In today’s edition, the Nikkei stories about the continuing sad Japan-DPRK struggle over the eight Japanese citizens kidnapped to North Korea in the 1970’s quote a prominent Japanese politician:

    On 16 May, Shozo Abe, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), spoke on a Fuji Television program about the expected focus during Prime Minister Koizumi’s next visit to the DPRK on a former member of the US armed forces, named Jenkins, who is the husband of abductee Hitomi Soga. Abe indicated that Jenkins must be brought to Japan even if against his will.

    Abe said, “Had the DPRK been a country that placed any importance on the will of the individual, the issue of abductions wouldn’t have arisen in the first place. It is in frank talks between the two countries, not according to Jenkins’s will, that this must be decided, and we must get him to come to Japan and bring his and Ms. Soga’s daughters.”

    I’ve read this about twelve times, and while I’m not a native speaker of Japanese, I’m pretty certain that’s what it says. (Jenkins is a deserter–Army, I think–who’s lived in North Korea since the mid-’60’s. The issue that has been raised is that he’s afraid of being arrested if he visits US-ally Japan; whether he really wants to stay in the DPRK has not been clear in anything I’ve read. In fact, I think that his refusal to come to Japan is still hypothetical at this stage.) Granted that being forcibly brought to Japan is not like being forcibly brought to the DPRK, in any sane person’s evaluation…and also that the two girls have a lot more adulthood left than their father and might want to spend it here…the reasoning that Jenkins has lived under a dictatorship for almost 40 years, so we may as well dictate to him some more from a different country, makes my head spin. I could almost see it coming from one of Japan’s unelected, society-manipulating ministry officials; but this guy’s the head of a party that actually participates in the part of the Japanese political system that’s responsible to voters. I certainly hope there’s an angle to the story that I’ve just missed in my newsgathering.

    I like the way you cross the street ’cause you’re…precious

    Posted by Sean at 15:53, May 15th, 2004

    All right, then. If both Nathan and Susanna are going to link John Derbyshire’s latest commentary on homosexuality and just kind of vaguely say that they don’t agree with everything in it without specifying what, I guess it falls to me to point out its weak points. I do so hate having to rouse myself from my normal state of serene benevolence toward the world around in order to be crabby and contrarian. The things I do in pursuit of truth.

    The excerpt that Susanna quotes (which Derbyshire himself cited from someone else) is the part I have the biggest problem with. Line-by-line, it’s perfectly accurate; what it lacks is context. It exemplifies an annoying tendency the hard right often exhibits when the talk turns to social policy: When it wants to make America sound like a sick society that has forgotten religion and individual integrity, it rolls leftist feminist, ethnic, and gay activism together into one big nasty juggernaut produced by broad-based cultural changes in the ’60’s and ’70’s. When it wants to make homosexuals seem manipulative and fundamentally anti-society in our thinking, it slices out gay liberation as a cultural development and gay activism as an industry and presents them in isolation.
    I doubt that this is done out of conscious craftiness, you understand, but it does give a distorted picture. Gay activists, tiresome (and frequently downright destructive to their own people’s interests) as they undoubtedly are, did not invent the idea that citizenship consists of goodies and entitlements, that the way to redress previous wrongs is through quotas and brainwashing and diversity retreats and cutesy bureaucratizing and funding grants. Strip that stuff away, and 90% of contemporary American public life disappears–gay, straight, bi, or other.
    I do agree–and have said before–that the problems such an approach to civic participation presents for gays are different and probably worse than they are for women and ethnic minorities. I’m not big on the idea that we need “role models” who are exactly like us in order to set and achieve goals for ourselves. And yet…if you’re gay and come out in late adolescence/early adulthood, sexual awakening tends to come down on you like a ton of bricks. Straight teenagers find sexuality confusing and frightening, too–I know that–but I think that most of them have a chance to sort of ease into it at the same pace as their bodies are developing. They see their desires for love and companionship and sex mirrored in the way their parents and community elders live. Being gay means learning to navigate those things, in many cases, from square one. It’s hard but nowhere near impossible to do responsibly. However, when that initial stage of big-time identity shift hits the spoiled leftovers of ’60’s anti-establishmentism, the results are not pretty.
    But I don’t think they’re intrinsic to homosexuality, either, which (intended or not) is the way the Johnson quote, with its unleashed-monster metaphor, makes them sound. For all the talk about the return to traditional values in America, after all, the divorce rate is still vertiginously high, the rate of births to single mothers has declined but is not exactly negligible, and you still encounter plenty of rude and uncivilized people. That doesn’t mean that the recapturing of wisdom that was thrown away in the last few generations is a figment of the imagination. It just means that lasting change requires time to take root; the important thing to focus on is which direction things are heading. Despite the many troubled aspects of gay life, I think we’re steadily getting our act together.
    And I feel compelled to point out that there are plenty of straight people who are in on the act. When I was coming out, none of my ten or so close friends was gay. The man with whom I had a halting relationship–I was a selfish, cocky, immature little bitch to him and still regret it, BTW–made arguments in favor of accepting my sexuality that I didn’t really find convincing. The support and encouragement that I responded to came from straight friends who didn’t want to see me go through the rest of my life trying to drink away what was obviously a fundamental part of myself. Some of them have exactly the same instinctive revulsion toward homosexuality that Derbyshire describes, and it doesn’t bother me. I don’t bait them, and they don’t make an issue of it. Pointed but good-natured humor is a big help, in my experience, and the enforced humorlessness of so much of the leftist program has, as Derbyshire implies, done nothing but dam up feelings and leave them to fester. I would just add that, in a free society, both gays and straights have to be equally prepared to be dished at when humor is necessary to dissipate tension and make civilized interaction possible.
    Along those lines, while this issue was only taken up by implication in Derbyshire’s article, it seems apposite here: this debate, like that over the role of women in society, that over parental autonomy in child-rearing, and that over cultural assimilation for immigrants, will continue to be contentious–it’s a debate, see?–and sometimes acrimonious. If we want to deal with these things honestly, we all have to be prepared to have our egos bruised and our cherished ideas exploded sometimes.
    That means that when conservatives say that they believe homosexuality should be decriminalized but still think it’s immoral behavior, gays have to quit wringing their every word for evidence that they “really” hate us and want us all lined up and shot. It also means that conservatives have to stop picking over the lives of gays who say they’re happy for evidence of the slightest misgiving or strain of melancholy to prove that we “really” aren’t. There are quite enough genuinely theocratic religious types and drug-addicted, financially insolvent homos running around, but it’s unworthy of free people who have given their own life choices due moral consideration to have to comfort themselves with the belief that no one could ever possibly be happy (at least in the Earthly sense) living any other way.
    The Internet, for all its virtues, tends to aggravate that particular problem. It is way, way too easy to read someone’s one-paragraph comment, or even ten-paragraph post, and assume that it holds the key to the writer’s entire way of thinking. But while posts emerge clean and self-contained, they originate in real life, where bad traffic, a botched account at work, an old injury that’s acting up, or an irritated exchange with the spouse can influence how one treats a topic as seemingly unrelated as whether Will & Grace should be on the air. The way to find out whether you’re interpreting someone correctly is to ask and see whether he explains it satisfactorily or, on the other hand, digs himself in deeper. The only things you have to lose are your assumptions. (Anyone who wants to point out that I don’t always take my own advice here is welcome to do so; we don’t jettison our ideals for the silly reason that we can’t always live up to them.)
    Added at 16:10: I noticed when going back to Susanna’s page that Myria, who writes the It Can’t Rain All the Time (presumably named after the wonderful Jane Siberry’s wonderful song from the soundtrack to The Crow) weblog had also tracked-back with an interesting response. I’ve always liked her posts, though I don’t read her regularly. Good thoughts on this one, and a color scheme to die for, darling.


    Posted by Sean at 13:32, May 12th, 2004

    After 9-11, then after the Bali bombing, then after the Madrid bombing, I’ve thought, like everyone else, about what would happen if I were blown up or taken hostage. I can’t say that I might not panic in the end, of course, and obviously I lead a good life and don’t want it cut short. But I’ve been free to seek my own definition of happiness, I’ve had plenty of all-American joy, I keep up with my responsibilities. I figure that if my last minutes or days are painful, it doesn’t alter the three decades, courtesy of the American way of life, that led up to them. I hope Nicholas Berg, with his start-up business and nice family in West Chester, had a chance to think those thoughts.

    Stay out there on the town and see what you can find

    Posted by Sean at 03:55, May 11th, 2004

    There’s been a lot of fuss about Loretta Lynn’s new album–by all accounts fantastic, and I can’t wait to hear it. But nearly no one seems to be reporting the really important item: she doesn’t actually cook with butter-flavored Crisco.

    Check items off, let nothing be missed / Say I to myself and my 100 lists

    Posted by Sean at 18:42, May 9th, 2004

    I have today off, so I went out last night and flirted shamelessly while getting schnockered enough to be hung over this morning. Mark you, there was nothing self-indulgent about this: I was preparing for a round of bureaucratic errands (reregister domicile in new ward of city, reregister name seal in new ward of city, renew passport at embassy, change address at banks and credit card offices) that began at 9 a.m. sharp. The hangover was necessary to dull my irritation at the inevitable snags that come up in a full day of filling out forms at government agencies. The shameless flirting was necessary to practice the people skills you need to deal smoothly with functionaries. The woman behind the passport counter did not, it is true, lean in and ask, “So, dude, is the rest of you as hairy as those forearms you’ve got there?” But let me tell you, I’d’ve been ready to answer with aplomb if she had.

    Speaking of functionaries: as much as anyone else, I go in for orgies of complaining about them when they’re surly or clueless. But I have to say that everyone I dealt with at the embassy today was just great. The man at the next window had what sounded like a legitimate gripe about the way his passport renewal was being processed. He made his displeasure clear, but he was polite about it and didn’t blame the guy behind the counter. The guy behind the counter, for his part, apologized profusely and made sure the poor man knew exactly what needed to happen for his passport to be done as quickly as possible. There’s a lot that I value about Japanese politeness; as long as you act like a civilized person, you don’t really have to mean it, and that understanding can make difficult situations much easier. You deal with what people say and do and don’t get worked up over what you assume they’re thinking. But as an American, I have to say that it’s a beautiful thing to see forthright goodwill in trying circumstances. It made the rest of the day much easier to deal with–how many times can you write your address in six hours before cracking, after all?–even after the hangover wore off.

    Now that you’ve seen the doctor, don’t call me anymore

    Posted by Sean at 23:10, May 8th, 2004

    It’s weird. I understand there’s no more important news to talk about right now than Torture Is Bad and Friends Just Went off the Air, but you’d think CNN or someone would be mentioning, at least, the fact that Yasuo Fukuda (the Chief Secretary of the Japanese cabinet) and Naoto Kan (the very attractive head of the Democratic Party of Japan) are resigning amid scandal: they didn’t pay into the National Insurance pyramid pension scheme for stretches of time. Kickbacks, gladhanding, and revolving-door retirement are so woven into the fabric of Japanese government that maybe no one much notices something so restrained as a simple failure to pay a few months of bills.

    But Fukuda was a very articulate spokesman for the Koizumi government’s support of the US in the War on Terrorism, and there is, after all, an election coming up. That’s the potentially serious part, though how it will play out is not apparent. The joke of the matter is that Kan’s ten months of non-payment occurred while he was the Minister of Health and Welfare (back when that’s what the ministry was). I have no doubt that, given his position, the gentleman was ideally placed to decide whether paying the premiums was a sound move in terms of his personal finances. But it does rather hilariously highlight the frequent gaps between the self-abnegating civil servant image that Japan-groupie social scientists get quivery over and the avoidance of personal accountability that goes on in reality. No, really, it’s funny. You can start laughing any time.

    And when the sun is high / we’ll kiss and say goodbye

    Posted by Sean at 02:19, May 6th, 2004

    One of the best parts of being gay, as I experience it, is that you have the rich emotional responses of a woman and the insulating obtuseness and detachment of a man. One of the worst parts is that you can’t always choose which is ascendant at a given moment.

    I didn’t actually make a spectacle of myself when I took Atsushi to the airport yesterday; I just kind of felt as if I’d had the wind knocked out of me. Since I had to get back to the office, I couldn’t wait until his plane took off. I had to content myself with leaving the observation deck before his flight was scheduled to leave the gate. Haneda Airport, which handles most domestic flights in and out of Tokyo, is actually in the same galaxy as the city (unlike Narita, the airport where most international flights go, which is way the hell out in Chiba Prefecture). It was just turning to night from dusk. You could see part of the incomprehensibly vast lit-up Tokyo skyline across the bay, and under it in the foreground, the planes docked at the departure gates. Two of my favorite sights in civilization (rendered with my appalling, amateurish digi-cam skills in the banner). The rain had stopped, but there was a lot of mist. It flattered both the lights and the JAL and ANA planes (which look a bit cheap to me in strong sunlight). Jets drifted down like big moths and shot into the sky like spears.

    This was one of those vacation weeks that are busier than going to the office. The only meals we didn’t have at restaurants with friends who wanted to find out how Atsushi is doing in West Buttf**k, we had here with friends who wanted to see what the apartment looks like now. (“Like there’s finally a fag living here” was the verdict. I’m not sure how I feel about that.) Too much food, too much drink, and endless assurances that everyone’s looking after me while he’s working in the provinces. I wished I didn’t have to leave him at the airport, but we’d been surrounded by people so persistently since Sunday that a part of me was relieved to head home to the apartment and not have anyone to look after except the plants. Just another month and we’ll be leaving for Bali together. Not that long to wait.


    Posted by Sean at 14:19, May 3rd, 2004

    My favorite fellow Asia-Pacific Island-based blogger, Amritas, responded to one of Joanne Jacobs’s frequent commenters, one Stephen, who characteristically took the opportunity to use this thread about race relations at UCLA to talk about how wonderful his wife’s traditional Asian femininity makes their domestic life. Joanne has already done her usual, wonderfully motherly throwing of cold water, and Amritas is great as always when he gets fired up.

    And yet…Stephen’s comments (he shows up a lot) always frustrate me because there’s usually a very good point buried beneath the self-directed ego stroking: that gay promiscuity in urban areas has been very destructive and that lots of people who reject traditional femininity in a jeering way are insecure about their own life choices seem to be the major ones.

    A point that no one in this conversation seems to make is that in a free society, traditional femininity requires both parties to be willing to hold up their ends of the bargain. Since I don’t know the gentleman personally, I can only assume that his wife, like most American women, would quickly make her latent female power overt if he started treating her poorly–no matter to what degree she identifies with flowers. That’s not always an option women have in countries in which sex roles haven’t been liberalized as they have in America. Japan is politically one of the most free countries on Earth. (We just celebrated its Constitution Day yesterday, and while it’s mostly treated as just a bank holiday, I found it very moving, as a proud American partial to constitutions.) But the status of women here, while it certainly facilitates “femininity,” can be appalling. The median age for marriage has been pushed up to near 30 in the last 20 years. It’s not just that women want to spend their free time shopping instead of taking care of children; they don’t want to be forced to look after men whose idea of a “helpmeet” is a combination of maid and brood mare.

    All of which means that if it adds frisson to a middle-aged couple’s relationship to imagine a ring of vaginismus-afflicted harpies detesting them for their delight in tradition…well, good for them. But it’d be nice if students at a major research university, who are supposed to be in the process of forming their view of the world, could talk about their differences and assess why and in which contexts some attitudes work better than others.

    BTW, the name I officially use in Japan is a transliteration of Sean:

    紫苑 (shion)

    It means “aster.”

    Japanese women’s names sometimes do use flower kanji, but only occasionally does one see a name with a stem pronounced Yuri- (“lily”) or Hana- (“blossom”) or Fuji- (“wisteria”). Japanese women’s names can have any number of kanji, but many pronunciations cluster around a handful of meanings: Mari- (“truth”), Nori- (“law,” “order,” “constancy”), and Aki- (“light,” “clarity”). None of these seems to make their bearers more stern and sententious than those named after flowers or jewels.

    Guerrilla girl, hard and sweet

    Posted by Sean at 01:53, May 3rd, 2004

    The news programs keep talking about a Janis Karpinski who’s a high muckety-muck in supervision of prisons in Iraq. The first time I heard her name, it rang a bell, and I wondered whether she was the woman Geraldine Brooks profiled as having trained the women in the Kuwaiti armed forces during the Gulf War. (Don’t ask me why I remembered the name–there’s a rational reason that’s too personal to recount here.) I can’t find a link that confirms that they are the same person, but there can’t be that many Brigadier General Janis Karpinskis with a decade or so of service in the Gulf.

    Added 05/04 13:25: Sheesh. You’d never know from this pixellated rag that I get paid, in part, for clear prose. Geraldine Brooks’s book has a chapter on the training of Kuwaiti women in the armed forces, in which Janis Karpinski is quoted several times; the book overall is about the lives of women in Muslim countries, not Karpinski.