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    Living herstory

    Posted by Sean at 12:37, April 20th, 2004

    I don’t plan to say much about politics here, assuming I keep it up, because…well, there are already plenty of sharper and more knowledgeable people commenting on it. I like joining conversations in people’s comment sections, but that’s different.


    I think I seriously just heard a straight-faced Hillary Clinton tell Larry King that the problem with the Bush administration is that it’s too insular, with a secrecy/insider complex that keeps out the sunshine of opposing points of view. Either I’ve had too much Scotch or too little.

    I don’t mean that I’m in love with the Bush administration or think that HRC is definitely wrong, either; I only mean that for either Clinton to make such a criticism without appending a hearty, “and we know how easy it is to succumb to that temptation!” is pretty rich.

    And Hillary, for Pete’s sake, not that shade of aqua. It gives your skin an iced-mackerel cast, which can’t possibly have been the idea.

    I do have to say, though, that while I think I’m past the ability to like her at this point, she’s learned to project warmth and ease of tone (leaving aside the truth of what she’s saying). Her voice used to have this chilly, impatient, I-know-something-you-don’t-know edge–like tape hiss. Her eyes used to narrow and look flinty. But now she comes across as thoughtful and self-deprecating. Maybe she even means it.

    Secrets and lies

    Posted by Sean at 22:36, April 19th, 2004

    Agenda Bender is accusing me of exploiting the AB Tokyo bureau for my own gain and then cutting and running. A case in which messenger and message are equally inverted. Someday, I’ll tell my story of struggling to keep an office going with no capital, a product that couldn’t be localized, and endless screams of “Profitability! I need to see profitability!” during conference calls with HQ. But it’s just too painful right now.

    On the other hand, he did usefully ask whether I’d seen the parallel fatherson interviews with the Terrys linked to later by Andrew Sullivan. I had. They aren’t likely to change many minds on either side. My only point was that, even if we took Randall Terry’s statements at face value, the strict Christianity of Jamiel’s upbringing was not the most plausible explanation for his alleged problems.

    And they didn’t even need a sand tray

    Posted by Sean at 22:25, April 19th, 2004

    Joanne Jacobs posts on education, so it’s not surprising that the Japanese public education system comes up in posts and comments pretty frequently. Many of the advertisements on commuter train cars here are for cram schools, and one of the big ones…amazing that I forget which, since I’ve been seeing its ads for a fifth of my life now…uses its space to give sample questions for tests at its various program levels. This week’s is for the grade-school kids. I didn’t take a photograph of it or write it down, but the content of the problem is as follows:

    In this exercise we will use a simple experiment to estimate the value of pi. Assume a square piece of paper, 20 centimeters on a side, with a circle inscribed in the square. You have sprinkled 50 sesame seeds evenly and randomly over the paper. If there are 39 sesame seeds inside the circle, estimate the value of pi to two decimal places.

    Two things jump out at me about this problem that I find hard to articulate when commenting at Joanne’s and other places: for one thing, in its math education, Japan doesn’t emphasize creativity any more than it does anywhere else. What it does emphasize is resourcefulness and learning how to be “good with numbers” even if you’re not naturally gifted that way, in addition to demonstrating how to set things up formally.

    The other thing is that Japan is not afraid to use unforced-sounding Japanese situations in its story problems. Granted, things can get kind of lunaticky in the opposite direction. If I recall correctly, a textbook was edited to remove mention of pizza a few years ago, since Ministry of Education (as it was then) bureaucrats didn’t deem such a foreign food item suitable for young minds to be exposed to. But having come of age in an era in which every word problem about welding pipe identified the pipefitter as female, I find it kind of nice to see questions about boiled rice and paper lanterns all the time.

    Long-distance cohabitation (III)

    Posted by Sean at 21:49, April 19th, 2004

    Today was the day to quake-proof the bookshelf; there’s a brand of hardware called Magnitude 7, for the kind of earthquake it’s supposed to last through (that’s the Japanese scale, not the Richter Scale). Precisely because so many people object to nailing and drilling holes, you can get fittings that work by pressure between the ceiling and the top of a piece of furniture. I sounded for joists and didn’t hear anything solid–wood or metal, though it wouldn’t surprise me to learn they’re made of PVC in Tokyo these days–for a good two yard * two yard square of Triscuit. This raises the disturbing possibility that I live in a joistless building, but I’m ignoring it. What is this life without some risk?

    Also finalized the placement of breakable objects by fixing them with Anchor Wax. We can’t go beyond risk into rashness, after all. No angry earthquake goddess is taking the Baccarat away from this household unchallenged!

    Thank you

    Posted by Sean at 16:39, April 18th, 2004

    (Darn. I keep forgetting that I haven’t published this.)

    Thanks to Dean Esmay for setting this up for me.
    I have a feeling that I’m going in and doing shoemaker-type coding by hand when I could be using a template somewhere for a lot of things, but that’s my problem. At first, I was thinking that I’d just leave it plain and unfussy. But in the course of navigating templates, I started to think, I want a gimmicky title! and smirky in-joke link categories! and open comments! and way too many colors from the hexadecimal HTML wheel sprinkled all over the place, too!

    There, I’ve said it.

    The name, for anyone who wonders, is of course adapted from the phrase “yellow peril,” which is what a dear Japanese friend of mine was going to name his bar when it was about to open a few years ago. Apparently, one reason he chose another name was that he and I became buddies in the interim and he didn’t want to offend me. But I would have thought it was hilarious, so I’m expropriating it.

    The domain name is the first line of what may be my very favorite Japanese poem:



    Iwama todjishi / koori mo kesa ha / tokesomete / Koke no shita mizu / michi motomuramu


    Even the ice that shackles the rocks has begun to melt this morning–the water under the moss will be seeking a pathway.

    the Priest Saigyo

    It’s the seventh waka in the “Spring” section of one of the court anthologies. April is a bit late in the year for it to be strictly appropriate to the season. But I’ve always, since we were first assigned it in graduate school, loved its economical way of combining ice, moss, and nurturing water–new beginnings that are so fresh they’re not quite ready to occur.

    Long-distance cohabitation (cont.)

    Posted by Sean at 12:07, April 18th, 2004

    Susanna Cornett has nearly settled into her new digs in Alabama. She doesn’t miss New Jersey. (Duh.) I’m glad (and sorry I didn’t tell her that this here site is up and running). I basically finished the apartment today–the spare room is still the trash room for a few more days, but they don’t pick up recyclables like corrugated cardboard and fiber packing sheets until Friday. I love the place, even if the most important part is missing.

    Despite the basketweave-embossed beige wall vinyl that makes me feel as if I were living inside a giant Triscuit, I’ve been able to integrate the rest of my stuff with what Atsushi’s left over to make it look as if we both live here but I use it more. Most couple’s houses look that way, anyway. It was tougher than I thought, though: for a few hours today, it was starting to get that creepy death-shrine look. You know, as if there were a chair and a side of the bed and a shaving brush at the sink that were waiting for someone who’s not coming back. But we’re okay now.

    I do wish, while I understand that bland beiges and greys are probably the best bet for builders who are kitting out apartments to be acceptable to a variety of buyers, that someone in their design departments would bear in mind that not all neutrals go together. Our bathroom has a cool-toned grey floor and warm-toned beige bathtub, a combination that can only be pulled off if done with a lot more cheeky wit and confidence than was the case here. I’m going to try to brazen it out with a collection of glass bottles in odd shapes and a spectrum of intense colors, but I’m not sure it’s going to work. I have extra throw pillows and throws, of course–one acquires such a lot of them by ten years into adulthood–but you can’t use those in the bathtub.

    My, my, my. So much for my not, as a friend remarked to me recently, turning out to be yet another “gay blogger.” Just wait till I put all three of you who might read this to sleep with my agonies over houseplant selection. The magenta-and-yellow orchid I bought the day my stuff arrived is getting lonely.

    Something in the water?

    Posted by Sean at 02:38, April 14th, 2004

    So my boyfriend gets packed off to darkest Kyushu, and I seriously need the sensible, even-keeled advocates of gay acceptance to remind me that all the shit you go through is worth it because we’re collectively getting our act together, and they pick this week to be slipshod and waffly.

    Their slipshod waffliness is even accessible all in one location: a day of posts over at Steve Miller’s Culture Watch on the Independent Gay Forum. Miller inexplicably approves of Andrew Sullivan’s swipe at Randall Terry, whose adopted son (1) is a messed-up parasite and (2) is gay. He also implicitly praises Jonathan Rauch’s performance in a debate with Bob Enyart, conservative Christian radio host out of Denver.
    Sullivan says of Terry

    Christian right leader, Randall Terry, has a troubled gay son. Dick Cheney has an untroubled gay daughter. Anti-gay crusader Pete Knight has a gay son. Charles Socarides, the chief proponent of reparative therapy for homosexuals, has a gay son. Phyllis Shlafly has a gay son. When will these people begin to understand that being gay is not a “choice”; it’s a fact of human nature?

    And Miller adds, linking Sullivan, “Growing up gay in the Terry household, it’s no wonder the kid is ‘troubled.'” Yeah, sure, that’s probably part of it. Maybe not, though. My parents made it clear emphatically and often that they thought homosexuality was disgusting and sinful. But they were also the ones who taught me that each of us has the responsibility to weigh the lessons of history, the counsel of our elders, and the cause-effect relationships we can detect in our own experience to determine what we believe the right path is. My decision to come out didn’t thrill them, but they know that I didn’t just fall into it because I find it easier to chase orgasms than to live a responsible life. Unless Sullivan or Miller has inside information on what went on in the Terry household, isn’t there another more likely environmental factor in his son’s behavior? To wit:

    In March 1988, my then-wife and I took Jamiel and his younger sister as foster children. He was 8 years old. We adopted them when he was 14. He came to us a wounded boy, from an incredibly troubled home. He was literally born in jail. By age 8 had learned a lifestyle of deceit and been a victim of treacheries that would mar him for life.
    Jamiel was adopted when he was nearly 15, not 5. To gloss over the tragic events of his youth is deceit. Many homosexuals want to ignore the causes of their sexual behavior; they want us to believe it is genetic, not behavioral.

    We’re not talking about a child who spent all his formative years in Terry’s household and ended up screwed up in the head. His mother was jailed (unless her water broke during a visit to her incarcerated husband/boyfriend). Who knows how many foster families he saw before the Terrys? And the delay in adopting him means either protracted proceedings or a wait-and-see position on the Terrys’ part. Isn’t that a likely enough explanation for why–gay, straight, or hermaphroditic–he’s turned out be an untrusting and untrustworthy manipulator? And don’t untrustworthy, manipulative, immature people use every weapon at hand to stick it to people they resent? Not all of them have their homosexuality to use against a parent who founded Operation Rescue, but I daresay they all think of something to capitalize on. The Sullivan/Miller line (“Them socially-conservative Christians fucked him up!”) strikes me as no less sententious and questionable than the Terry line (“His mental problems are part and parcel with his homosexuality!”).
    Jonathan Rauch wasn’t being sententious in his radio appearance, but he also wasn’t answering the questions very well. It frustrated the hell out of me, because just about everything he was challenged on was covered–and covered well–in Gay Marriage. I can only assume that he figured it was a good idea to stay on message and say over and over that marriage will help keep gays from behaviors that are destructive to themselves and others, but the effect was that he sounded evasive. Sincere and well-intentioned, but evasive. There was a particularly strained point at which Enyart was trotting out the usual figures about suicide rates, mental disorders, crime, and domestic violence among gays. In fact, he didn’t even bring up figures; he just pronounced that rates are higher among homosexuals. Rauch didn’t point out the self-selecting nature of sample populations when gays are studied. He didn’t point out that the urban areas that are more accepting of gays also have higher crime for reasons that may be unrelated. He didn’t point out that (given how many gays are still closeted) committing a sex or domestic crime is a great way to pack the books with known homos who are criminals.
    When Enyart came up with the bumper sticker-worthy “Heterosexuality produces life; homosexuality produces death,” Rauch didn’t point out that what produces death is promiscuity, or that what makes us a human civilization is that we have people who are stewards over the production of artifacts, not just new people. Okay, fine, Rauch was giving the interview, not me. Monday morning quarterbacking, and all that. But still: these questions have answers, and Rauch knows them. I wish he’d spoken them as well as, for the most part, he writes them.

    The Commish

    Posted by Sean at 12:00, April 13th, 2004

    Well, the Iraqi insurgents who have been offering to demonstrate the superiority of their way of life to ours by burning to death the three Japanese hostages they snagged six days ago have taken four Italians (assuming all the culprits are in the same or related groups). I hope they’re all safe (the hostages, I mean). Koizumi and his Foreign Ministry appointees have been accused up down and sideways of kissing American ass, but when they talk about how we can’t back down in the face of threats, they sure say it with conviction.

    I’m not sure why I’m watching Louis Freeh testify before the 9/11 Commission. Probably mostly because he’s cute. With the sound off, you can just read the two-line caption that summarizes what he’s saying. Let’s see: need for restructuring, limitations on preventive measures imposed by lack of resources, and a call for better staff guidelines. There’s a shocker: anyone who’s been in a supervisory position in an organization larger than Mabel’s Corner Bakery has used that routine to explain why Things Didn’t Get Done. I include myself. And a lot of times it’s even true. But these hearings aren’t about getting at truth. They’re about demonstrating to America that things are being taken seriously by Washington in the best way it knows how, namely by coopting several hours of live television so that higher-ups in the government can look worried and ask grave questions. You can’t really complain–they’re only filling a psychological need that the public clearly has. But as a citizen who takes at least eight long-haul flights into and out of major US cities per year, I’d rather see someone explain why security at airports right now is still so flipping farcical. I’d even watch with the sound on.

    The all-night DJ serenade’s the only company that I keep

    Posted by Sean at 12:36, April 12th, 2004

    I love most things about living in Japan, but here’s one that I don’t: if you work for one of the stodgier companies, you can be informed in March or September that you’re being transferred to another office, effective in a week or two. It’s kind of an extension of the practice of having new management track hires do rotations through sales and operations in their first few years; you belong to the company as if it were your clan, and it gets to tell you what to do. Depending on your organization, you can be moving every two to four years until you’re middle aged.

    And so it is that Atsushi was told on 10 March that he was leaving Tokyo for the far end of Kyushu on 24 March. He’d worked at the same office for four years; he’s still single in his mid-30’s; he’s already done a two-year stint abroad. We knew he was an obvious target for relocation somewhere outside commuting distance from Tokyo. Like a lot of people who’ve been stationed here for several years, he owns an apartment. There was no question what had to happen: I moved into his place from my pied à terre three stations away so we’ve got a household for him to return to on monthly visits. That we couldn’t live together while he was here because his parents and colleagues would have started to wonder what was going on, but it’s perfectly fine for me to live here now, in the guise of a helpful friend who’s sparing him the necessity of letting his house to strangers, precisely because he’s not here, is not one of life’s little ironies I’m inclined to find humor in right now.

    But trust me–lots of others have it worse. There are married couples with children in this very situation twice a year. The opportunities for education in Tokyo (the power center in politics, economics, and culture for Japan–imagine DC + New York + Cambridge in one megalopolis) are superior to those in the provinces. Also, it’s hard to unload an apartment in an existing building–partially, I think, since the construction industry is still building as if the bubble hadn’t burst 15 years ago, but that’s a topic for another day. All of which means that a number of couples have husbands who are off working in Sendai, or Sapporo, or wherever, while the wife and children hold down the fort in Tokyo and see him once every six weeks or so when he flies back. It’s such an unremarkable thing that there’s a word for it: 単身赴任 (tanshin funin), or “going unaccompanied to one’s assignment.” Perhaps it’s not as difficult as we’d imagine as Americans: a lot of childrearing here is done by the educational system, and the friend/closest companion model of marriage isn’t traditional. But for couples who think of themselves as a team, even if romance isn’t part of the psychological support they rely on, it has to bite. It sure sucks plenty for me, and I have a flexible enough job that I’ll be able to see him twice a month or so.

    This kind of thing happens all the time. I don’t mean my boyfriend’s moving away to Ultima Thule; I mean simultaneously admiring the way the Japanese subordinate themselves to collective goals and thinking they’re crazy for doing it. What I’ve described is certainly not as hard to bear as what military families go through when the enlisted parent is deployed somewhere, or what poor families go through when Dad has to spend months out of the year up in mining country to keep everyone clothed and fed. The thing that makes it so…weird…both in the conversational sense of “strange” and in the original sense of “spooky”…is that this is what graduates of elite universities, the people with the most mobility and choices in the power center of the second-largest economy in the world, think perfectly normal to sign onto at the end of college, knowing exactly what they’re getting into. Yes, things are changing somewhat–switching jobs is much more common here than it used to be. And people who feel stuck are far from unknown in America. But the distribution of such attitudes among people with the resources to choose is very different. If I were a sociologist, maybe I could write the millionth book trying to explain Japan to a Western audience.


    Flamin’ Norah. Interrupted by the nightly call from the man himself: he left the office at 11:45 for the fourth day in a row. That’s another thing about being transferred: you get to spend quality time getting to know your new clients during the first few weeks. What that poor darling goes through to keep me in the style to which I’ve become accustomed. Time for me to get back to devising saucy new color combinations in decorative fabrics so he has a beautiful apartment to come home to.

    For three days in May.

    What A Wonderful Day To Start A Weblog

    Posted by Sean at 23:55, March 31st, 2004

    Is this thing on?

    Looks like it is!