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    News flash: Living on Big Macs and Haagen Dazs is still bad for you

    Posted by Sean at 09:40, April 6th, 2007

    You don’t say.

    Only one in seven Americans exercises enough and eats enough fruits and vegetables, and men are worse than women, federal health officials said on Thursday.

    “These results underscore the need to promote diets high in fruits and vegetables and regular physical activity among all populations in the United States and among racial and ethnic minority communities in particular,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers said in a report.

    The CDC tracked the percentage of Americans who eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily and engage in moderately intense exercise for at least 30 minutes five days per week or vigorous exercise for at least 20 minutes three days per week as recommended by the government.

    Hmm…you know what I bet would help? If some kind-hearted government agency started haranguing us about it regularly.

    Oh, yeah. Forgot.

    “The population right now really needs to take responsibility for their own health,” Mary Kay Solera, head of the CDC’s National Fruit and Vegetable Program [*sobbing*–SRK] and one of the report’s authors, said in a telephone interview.

    “People know that they need to be eating more fruits and vegetables and they know they need to be doing more physical activity. But we’re not doing it,” Solera added.

    Well, I guess that depends on how you define “need.” Surely if you’re an American who hasn’t heard by now that obesity increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer, you’ve been living in a cave. Otherwise, you’re presumably weighing your options and choosing your own priorities. Which is to say, people are taking responsibility for their own health, but physical fitness is only one among many things they value. What is it proposed Washington do about this–declare National Steamed Kohlrabi Day? Switch to having kids do artichoke rolls (cholesterol-free, and you can’t start encouraging healthy habits too early!) on the White House lawn on Easter?

    The report was based on self-reported data from a 2005 telephone survey of 356,112 Americans. The survey asked respondents to report their level of exercise and their diet with questions such as, “How often do you eat potatoes, not including French fries, fried potatoes or potato chips?”

    Well, if French fries, fried potatoes, or potato chips are the only ways of consuming potatoes that count as unhealthy, I can keep on getting mine the usual way. Which is to say, time for a vodka and tonic. (Starch and malaria prevention! Ooh, and scurvy prevention if we count the lime.)

    Have a good weekend, everyone.

    I love you when you dance

    Posted by Sean at 09:33, April 4th, 2007

    While Alanis hasn’t been in the public eye much lately, she proves there’s still reason to love her. Too funny. Fergie is one of the most annoying female singers around at the moment, and while her soi-disant street-wise routine is so laughable it’s almost not worth satirizing, Alanis keeps you entertained all the way through. My day is made.


    Posted by Sean at 10:53, April 2nd, 2007

    The thinking that seems to lie behind statements like this one, by the father of murdered English teacher Lindsay Hawker, disturbs me:

    The killing of a British language teacher whose naked and battered body was found outside Tokyo has “brought shame” to Japan, her father said Sunday, as the British Ambassador urged the public to help the police investigation.

    “My daughter loved this country. She loved meeting Japanese people and thought of Japan as an honorable society,” William Hawker said in a statement read out Sunday by British Ambassador to Japan Graham Fry.

    “My daughter’s killer has now brought shame on your country. He must be caught,” Hawker was quoted as saying.

    I realize that he’s grieving for his lost daughter, and if he’d made the “shame” comment during an emotional outburst under stress, it would have been very understandable. But this was a prepared statement, and it seems to hold Japan to a standard of safety that one can’t imagine Hawker would dream of imposing on, say, Greater London.

    Lindsay Hawker was not snatched off a busy midday street while no bystanders responded to her cries; that would be shameful. She went, alone, to the apartment of a man who’d already exhibited decidedly odd behavior:

    The suspect first approached Hawker near a train station March 21, saying he wanted to learn English, and followed her to her apartment, according to police. Hawker let him in because she had a roommate and he seemed eager to learn.

    The suspect drew a picture of Hawker and wrote down his name and phone number before leaving her apartment. Hawker agreed to give him an English lesson the following Sunday.

    Hawker is not to blame for her own death, and her killer (it’s looking as certain as it can be at this point that it was, indeed, Tatsuya Ichihashi) deserves the harshest punishment the law allows. But sometimes citizens exercise poor individual judgment, and it’s no “shame” on society’s part that it can’t protect them from what may happen when they isolate themselves from the police or from honest citizens who might help them. Parents can, in general, feel good about their young adult children’s coming to Japan to teach or study; most of the sorts of crime we worry about in Western cities–street crime and burglary–are rare. That doesn’t change the fact that vigilance against nut cases is part of the price of living unmonitored in a free society, even one with a low murder rate such as Japan.


    Posted by Sean at 03:02, March 30th, 2007

    Virginia Postrel links to a post by her husband about bad design and why we can’t stamp it out immediately. My favorite part of his list was this:

    Auto-numbering in Microsoft Word, which behaves like a peevish poltergeist, randomly changing number and letter headings, creating and destroying tabs, etc., instead of almost any other numbering utility I can imagine.

    When I give instructions about how to submit documents to me at work, the very top of the list is “Before making a single keystroke, go to ‘Autocorrect,’ choose the ‘Autoformat’ tab, and TURN EVERYTHING OFF. No smart quotes. No automatic lists. NOTHING.” I like me some properly-sized em-dashes, but even they can turn on you if you have to use both Japanese and English in the same document and then have it read by computers with Japanese and English versions of Word.

    Postrel focuses mostly on design that isn’t utile, but I had a funny exchange with a friend last night about design that’s just not good to look at. The fast food chain Lotteria has been changing the design of its outlets, and last night when a few friends and I came around a corner (in Jimbocho), I said, “I like the Lotteria redesign (though I could do without the ‘straight burger’ part).” One of my friends smirked and said, “No, honey, you don’t necessarily like it. It’s just the only building on the entire street that’s not assaulting your eye with neon, blinking lights, a menu board written in every available color of dry-erase ink, various gew-gaws pasted to the facade, and some rotating thingamajig somewhere. Just stripping away the junk is enough to result in a Design Statement around here.” Too true.

    Rain, train

    Posted by Sean at 09:46, March 27th, 2007

    It rained over the weekend, and I snapped this at the new Marui building in Shinjuku when I was on my way to meet friends for a drink. My cell phone is two or so years old, so the camera doesn’t have as good resolution as the new ones:


    All those objects of like colors, with clean lines, grouped together and arranged in beautiful neat rows. Doesn’t it remind you of your sweater chest (if you’re gay, I mean)?

    Actually, it also kind of looks like the climactic confrontation scene from a ’50s sci-fi film: Day of the Umbrellas. I somehow don’t expect seawater, of all things, would kill them?

    It also sort of reminds me–have I mentioned that I love this song?–of Tracey Thorn’s newest video.

    Actually, while I was taking snapshots of umbrellas, enjoying my freedom without a care in the world, one of the friends I was supposed to meet was trapped on the bullet train. No, I don’t mean the monorail here in Tokyo–that was another accident. My friend was on the Shinkansen headed here from Kyoto, where he lives. He’d planned on a night of carousing and bitchy one-liners, but someone threw himself…er, a wrench in the works. So he got this:

    The unidentified man may have leaped or fallen from a bullet train after operating an emergency latch and manually opening a door, Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) officials said.

    However, the door had been closed again. That does not occur automatically after a door is manually pulled open, which leaves open the possibility that the man was pushed out.

    The discovery prompted officials to halt the Tokaido Shinkansen Line for more than three hours.

    At first, they were reporting it as an apparent suicide–that’s the first explanation you think of here when you hear “dead body on train tracks.” But as the Asahi says, there’s a significant chance the closing of the emergency door indicates someone else was involved.


    Posted by Sean at 05:04, March 26th, 2007

    And, in case you missed it, there’s a lesson to be learned from yesterday’s earthquake:

    The earthquake was unexpected in the region, and so provided us with a lesson that any place in Japan can be hit by a disastrous temblor.

    Do we still need that lesson? Just two and a half years ago, there was an earthquake in Niigata Prefecture that was unexpected. And in 1995, there was–you may have heard about this–an earthquake that wrecked Kobe, killing 6000 people, leaving thousands more homeless, and severing several major transportation arteries. By this point, anyone who doesn’t know a disastrous earthquake is possible outside the historical hot zones is brain dead.

    Another earthquake

    Posted by Sean at 09:53, March 25th, 2007

    I have my iwamatodjishi.com domain name set up for auto-renewal, but apparently it didn’t work this time around. Not sure why. I assume it’ll be back up in a day or two.

    In the interim, northeastern Honshu had yet another high-magnitude earthquake this morning, a strong 6 on the JMA scale (which measures shaking at the surface), and a 6.9M Richter:

    According to the police, one woman has died in the city of Wajima; in addition, in Ishikawa, Toyama, and Niigata Prefectures, there have been 159 cases of injuries. According to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, around 100 dwellings in Ishikawa Prefecture have been destroyed or partially destroyed.

    The one death was–very Olde Japan, this–from a stone lantern that toppled and crushed a woman in her 50s. (In the ghoulishly vivid Japanese expression, she 下敷きになった [shita-jiki ni natta]: “became underpaving.”) Parts of Japan far from the major metropolitan areas still tend to have a lot of older buildings, so fallen clay roof tiles and stone fixtures are common after earthquakes. The Nikkei also says there have been at least 130 aftershocks already; I haven’t seen word that any of them have been serious. As in the Niigata Prefecture earthquake a few years ago, there’s a good chance that some of the aftershocks will be almost as intense as the first quake. The terrain there is rugged, and it’s been rainy, so landslides are a constant danger.

    No, I got ’em all cut

    Posted by Sean at 04:10, March 22nd, 2007

    People can be very odd.

    I got my hair cut yesterday. Exact same haircut as I’ve gotten every month for the past decade (including the gunking up of the finished product with styling wax, as if it were long enough to be disarranged even by a typhoon).

    You’d think I’d gotten cosmetic surgery. “Wow! Something’s different…you look great!” said one of the giggly, flirty girls behind the counter at Dean & Deluca. She was politic enough to add, “I mean, even better than usual. Refreshed.” A less politic friend last night gushed, “Don’t you look butch tonight!” Her “I mean, more than usual” wasn’t forthcoming for a good thirty seconds and several further sips of beer. I’m not averse to compliments by any means, but is it too much to ask that they not be so time-specific and be delivered without hammy astonishment?


    Posted by Sean at 01:00, March 20th, 2007

    I consider his support of hate crimes one of Michael’s quirks. (I do agree with the push to prevent “gay panic” defenses from succeeding at scoring reduced sentences, but that doesn’t happen all that often.) He’s clearly given it a lot of thought, but I still think his conclusions are wrong.

    So when someone says, “All crimes are hate crimes” a lot of us accept it without thinking about it.

    All crimes are not hate crimes. And all dangerous criminals are not equally dangerous.

    People argue that we shouldn’t tack on extra time for what a person “thinks.” But we already do that. An obvious example is murder. The sentencing for First degree murder is largely based on pre-meditation, or what the perpetrator was thinking at the time of the murder. Second-degree murder has a shorter sentence because, basically, less thought was put into the crime. Manslaughter gets a lesser sentence because a person acted “out of passion.” The sentencing for each of these varying degrees of homicide is based in large part on what the murderer was thinking at the time of the act.

    I happen to think “all crimes are hate crimes” is a stupid, slushy formulation, but I think Michael’s being equally slushy about types of “thought.” What matters to society in distinguishing degrees of murder isn’t just how long and intensely the perpetrator had it in for his victim; it’s whether he’s likely to do it again. All other things being equal, the sort of person who’s capable of coolly and rationally planning to whack someone is more of a danger than the sort of person who just cracked when pushed too far.

    One could imagine similar degrees of hate crimes. You could have first degree (has been denouncing queers publicly since elementary school and is on record as looking for the opportunity to whack one), second degree (suddenly realized when he saw that dyke crossing the street what a menace to the social order she was and flipped out), and third degree (uh…I guess that’s feeling free to be more reckless in a gay neighborhood out of an unarticulated feeling that we’re expendable?). But that’s not the way proponents of hate crimes legislation usually talk about “thought.”

    To my knowledge, the laws that have actually been enacted provide for penalty enhancement: if you commit an existing crime, you can get added punishment if you were found to be motivated by bias against a particular pre-approved group. The idea is that you’ve done harm that extends beyond the person or persons you directly victimized; you’ve by extension done harm to the whole category. The courts–I think in every case, though I could be wrong–have ruled that such laws don’t violate equal protection or due process.

    So what’s the problem? For one thing, the concept of group harm is tricky to negotiate. For another thing, it’s difficult to know what someone’s thinking. Michael gives a hypothetical example:

    In order to understand a hate crime, you have to get inside the mind of the characters. Joe hates blacks. Joe hates faggots. Joe hates Latinos. When the guy at the bar has dealt with the man who spilled his drink, he will probably be finished with it. He’ll get a fine or a short jail term. Most likely, he’ll consider how stupid it was the next time someone touches his drink.

    Is a simple fine or a night in jail going to make Joe think about how stupid this hatred is and how much trouble acting on it can get him into? Doubtful. Joe will sit in jail and stew about how some queer got him locked up. When Joe gets out, who is going to pay for his time in jail? Is it going to be the same black guy, or gay man, or Latino that he beat up in the first place? This is where the difference is. To Joe, it doesn’t matter. To him, one fag is as good as another.

    Sounds good while you’re reading through it, but is it corroborated by real life? It’s possible to imagine someone who got into an out-of-character barfight being all contrite and realizing that, hell, he doesn’t really have anything against the drink-spillers of the world, and going away and never doing anything like that again. But it seems equally plausible to figure that the sort of guy who would deck someone for spilling his drink would also get into other dustups–someone took “his” parking space at the supermarket, or complained that his music was too loud, or whatever–because he has little self-control and deals with problems that way. America has no shortage of hotheads who are the despair of their local police, after all. Perhaps there’s research to indicate that the degree of viciousness or the recidivism rate for bias-motivated criminals is higher than that for garden-variety troublemakers, but if so, I’ve never seen it publicized.

    Of course, the theory also is that hate crimes hurt the whole group. Here‘s the Anti-Defamation League:

    Hate crimes demand a priority response because of their special emotional and psychological impact on the victim and the victim’s community. The damage done by hate crimes cannot be measured solely in terms of physical injury or dollars and cents. Hate crimes may effectively intimidate other members of the victim’s community, leaving them feeling isolated, vulnerable and unprotected by the law. By making members of minority communities fearful, angry and suspicious of other groups — and of the power structure that is supposed to protect them — these incidents can damage the fabric of our society and fragment communities.

    Thinking just in terms of pragmatics, do gays really think it’s wise to buy into this? That you can intimidate the whole lot of us by beating up a single gay man on the way home from the clubs? That we see ourselves as outside mainstream social and legal institutions (a.k.a. “the power structure”)? And wouldn’t the tacking on of gay-specific jail time or fines be likely to make Joe even more resentful of homosexuals than he would if he were just charged with assault?

    If the police are responding listlessly to crimes in gay neighborhoods, then residents should be angry; but that doesn’t mean that hate crimes provisions are the only possible response. There are neighborhood crime watches, there’s the Pink Pistols. Anger can galvanize you into action, not send you into a spiral of fear.

    So terribly unfortunate

    Posted by Sean at 11:25, March 19th, 2007

    …and the whitewashing of James McGreevey’s coming out story is apparently complete. This is from The Washington Blade:

    Former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, who resigned after revealing that he was gay, says culture is outpacing politics in the acceptance of homosexuality.

    McGreevey, who was in Santa Fe this past weekend to speak at a fundraiser for the Human Rights Alliance, called his decision to come out “one of the most painful but honest decisions of my life.”

    Even though the revelation of being gay can hurt family and friends, McGreevey said Friday that people must learn at an early age to be open about their sexuality.

    “Hopefully, this generation will be the last generation of American youth that has to choose between their heart and their career, between love and acceptance,” he said.

    Hmm…”resigned after revealing he was gay” certainly gets the temporal order of the two events correct–give the reporter that. But the whole “amid allegations that he’d used his position to give an unqualified but hot foreign national a key counter-terrorism post” isn’t part of the story anymore, I guess?

    I don’t think the entire distasteful saga needs to be recounted in detail every time McGreevey’s name is mentioned in the media, but is it too much to ask that the gay press not uncritically let pass remarks about how his “decision” to come out was all “honest”? Coming out doesn’t cancel out corruption.

    Added later: It’s perfectly obvious from the dateline on the article, but just in case the citation above is misleading, the Blade was reprinting an AP story. I did notice that initially but apparently forgot–this’ll teach you to post at midnight–in the process of typing and magically converted the AP into the “gay press.” (It’s rare to see addenda given on wire service stories.)

    Come to think of it, maybe it’s even more disturbing that the non-gay press is buying the line that McGreevey’s resignation was a gay issue.