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    Just this once / Let me tell you you’re the sweetest thing

    Posted by Sean at 04:30, March 17th, 2007

    So Belinda Carlisle finally released that album of French pop songs she’s been threatening to unleash on the world for a while now. A friend of mine was raving about it. Despite (because of?) being a committed Go-go’s fan, I was cautious. We need a version of “La Vie en Rose” by Belinda? But I sprang for it, and it really is good. She clearly chose songs she’d come to be personally fond of, and she pours herself into them. Even if it’s just a curio, the album’s enough to make you forget some of the crap she’s shoveled out over the course of her solo career. (Requisite bitchy comment: Belinda’s brow lift makes her look like Marcia Cross.)

    I wish Tracey Thorn’s new album were less scattershot, but the single really is super-cool, even (I assume) if you don’t remember the Yazoo songs it’s produced to recall. And the video is the best I’ve seen in a few years. A friend e-mailed that I had to see it, and he was right: memorably interesting and actually pleasing to look at. The budget for every damned music video made by a pop diva in the last half-decade seems to have been spent on (1) making her up to look like Beyoncé, (2) dressing her up to look like Beyoncé, and (3) having her frolic in various outdoor settings (the desert! the beach! the rain forest! the savanna! the edge of the savanna at the exact moment that the process of desertification turns it into part of the Sahara!) like Beyoncé. Beyoncé is very good at what she does, and of course people imitate what sells. You can’t fault them for that. But it’s all gotten samey and dull. And cluttered.


    Posted by Sean at 06:01, March 16th, 2007

    Interesting week in Japan. Livedoor’s Takafumi Horie has been sentenced to 2.5 years for securities law violations:

    Horie, the 34-year-old founder of Internet services company Livedoor Co., pleaded innocent to the charges of window-dressing and stock market manipulation.

    He argued that he was simply the victim of a witch hunt by prosecutors who had concocted a story to punish the young businessman who shook up the Japanese business world with his aggressive tactics.

    But the court sided with the arguments of the prosecutors.

    “He illegally boosted his company’s share price by announcing fake business performances,” Judge Kosaka said. The crimes “could not possibly have been conducted without (Horie’s) instructions and approval.”

    From what I can tell, neither side is entirely in the right. Horie is right that the business-bureaucratic machine left over from the Japan Inc. era hates him for succeeding without playing their game. There is no doubt in my mind that the prosecution and other government agencies involved investigated every potential charge with grim, intense relish. But this isn’t the Japanese version of the Martha Stewart case; Horie was pretty clearly involved in real violations, though the court disagreed with the prosecution’s contention that he’d masterminded the whole shell game.

    Turning to coverups of a more frequent kind, we see that yet another nuclear power plant operator failed to report an accident:

    Hokuriku Electric Power Co., known as Hokurikuden, failed to report a criticality accident in 1999 at its nuclear power plant in Shikamachi, Ishikawa Prefecture, in which there was an uncontrollable chain reaction for 15 minutes, the government and the power company said Thursday.

    On June 18, 1999, three of the 89 control rods inserted from underneath into the reactor core suddenly slipped out during a regular checkup at Shika Nuclear Power Station, causing the reactor to reactivate.

    The reactor was not automatically stopped and the chain reaction lasted for 15 minutes. But the company did not sufficiently inspect the cause, and failed to keep records of the accident or report it to the government.

    Nobody was exposed to radiation, however, because there were no workers near the reactor in the building at the time of the accident.

    One of the operating errors stemmed from an erroneous description in the procedure manual for operating the water pressure control valve.

    That’s just what we want in operations manuals for nuclear facilities, huh? Erroneous descriptions of equipment! There seems to have been no major threat to human life here; the point is that we hear about these little mishaps based on slack procedure or faulty maintenance at power plants every few months. And it’s not as if it were always the same power company. The problems seem more systemic than that.

    The Chinese premier is set to visit Japan in April. Head-of-state visits were suspended a few years ago, mostly over the Yasukuni Shrine pilgrimages and history textbooks:

    Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit Japan for three days from April 11, government sources said Thursday.

    Wen will meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the first day of his trip and then plans to visit Kyoto.

    This will be the first visit by a Chinese leader in about seven years–the last such visit was made by former Premier Zhu Ronji in October 2000.

    China initially proposed a weeklong visit for Wen from April 9-15, but this was cut short because he decided to visit South Korea before coming to Japan. As a result, Wen’s planned appearance on Japanese television for direct interaction with the public will be canceled. Even so, Wen still plans to make a speech in the Diet–the first Chinese premier ever to do so.

    Presumably, Wen and Abe will discuss the DPRK, those disputed gas and petroleum fields in the East China Sea, and trade policy. Neither side likes the other’s nationalists.


    Posted by Sean at 04:14, March 11th, 2007

    So–apparently, there’s this guy, right? And over the last ten years or so, he’s changed some of his social and political positions. He’s trying to persuade his fellow citizens, through argumentation, that his new positions are better.

    Where does he think he is–America or something?

    As usual when it comes to these things, Eric says most of what needs to be said. I will only add that I think my parents did me a disservice by teaching me a niggling, narrow little definition of hypocrisy. They gave me to understand–those fuddy-duddies–that in order to be a hypocrite, you had to act in ways that were inconsistent with beliefs you purported to hold right now.

    But if we expand that definition, we can have all sorts of self-righteous fun by pointing out that the way someone lives now conflicts with the way he lived years ago. After all, no one ever sincerely changes his mind about important issues as he ages. Especially not in a free society where we all have access to lots of information and are taught to think for ourselves.

    I suppose it might be just possible to accuse Matt Sanchez of being hypocritical if it were proved that, say, he was still earning income from movies he made despite being down on the adult film industry. Even that’s tenuous, though; the guy’s not a vociferous anti-porn crusader, to my knowledge. He just thinks it’s an exploitative business, and he’s glad his time in it’s behind him. It would be lame of him to be mewling about invasions of his privacy, considering the nature of the work he did, but he doesn’t seem to be doing that, either. What exactly do these people in hysterics think he would need to do to reclaim his integrity–contribute a few hundred grand to Ken Ryker’s retirement fund?

    Way to underscore the point that gays are reasonable adults, guys.

    You scumbag, you maggot

    Posted by Sean at 23:55, March 7th, 2007

    For the first time in a dozen years, I woke up this morning wondering whether I was a faggot.

    See, Eric is trying to figure out what Ann Coulter’s explanation of her remark at CPAP would mean if applied consistently:

    At any event, it would seem that Ann Coulter is urging upon us the following, very novel definition of “faggot.”

    • Correct usage: a) a schoolboy who is considered by another schoolboy to be “weak or timid” and b) pretty much every Democratic politician — male or female, specifically including Hillary Clinton. (Um, does Bubba know?)

    • Incorrect usage: any homosexual.

    While I guess I should be glad that Ann Coulter has taken it upon herself to unburden homosexuals from the yoke of this rather unpleasant word (as well as change the word’s gender), there’s that stubborn common-sense part of me that just doesn’t quite understand.

    There was a time not that long ago when calling a heterosexual man a faggot was the worst insult you could bestow on him. It was considerably worse than calling him a “wuss,” and that’s because not all wusses are homosexuals. According to the popular stereotype prevalent at the time, however, all homosexuals were wusses. So, if you called someone a faggot, it carried extra weight.

    Now we are told it no longer does, because the word “faggot” does not carry the imputation of homosexuality. It only means “wuss” — and the “wuss” factor is completely detached from the gay factor.

    Hmm. Maybe I’m not the best judge, but I don’t think I mince or flounce or anything. And I think I’m good at facing problems squarely and doing what needs to be done about them. Does that mean I’m a homosexual non-faggot? I’m pretty sure that fantasizing about Bobby Cannavale makes me a homo; could the specific things I fantasize about doing with Bobby Cannavale push me back over the line into faggotry? Will I become a faggot again if I wear purple three days in a row (no difficult feat given my closet)? Does it matter whether it’s plum or lilac?

    This is all very disorienting, so to speak. Next thing you know, someone’s going to tell me I’m not actually a bitch.

    I never figured Coulter was anti-gay*. I have friends who’ve seen her out having drinks or dinner with prominent artfags, for one thing. And for another…well, generally speaking, a lot of loudmouthed, high-strung, unmarried urban professional women are fag hags. I’m pretty sure she’s against gay marriage and abolishing the DADT policy in the military, but those are specific policy positions, not overarching attitudes. Not that I gave it much thought.

    Now, of course, it’s suddenly become impossible to open a browser without encountering a solemn discussion of what exactly Coulter meant when she mentioned John Edwards and the word faggot in close proximity to each other. Her explanation strikes me as sincere. “You can’t understand the joke I was trying to make without bearing in mind that I operate at the developmental level of a second-grader” sounds about right, doesn’t it?

    So while I think she’s wrong about the way the word is used in contemporary American English by adults, I wasn’t particularly offended. I agree with Connie that fetishizing words is a bad idea, and I think it’s especially bad in this case. The last thing we need as gays is to look yet again as if we were easily-bruised creatures who need to be protected from hurt by big, strong, kind-hearted straight people. (See, for example, that letter a bunch of conservatives wrote in protest, as posted by Michael: “Coulter’s vicious word choice tells the world she care little about the feelings of a large group that often feels marginalized and despised.” Even conservatives are bleating about marginalization now? Ick. And people wonder why I cling to the designation “small-l libertarian”!)

    * We’re still allowed to use gay to mean “homosexual,” right? Or are we now to be treated to a revival of the pseudo-Mencken mewling that it’s some kind of crime against English expression that you have to find other ways to talk about the gamesome and happy-go-lucky nowadays?

    You can’t fight fate

    Posted by Sean at 00:12, March 7th, 2007

    This weekend, the delivery guy brought an envelope bearing those three little words every gay man loves to hear: “Unframed art enclosed.” A present for my birthday (today–exactly ten years younger than Taylor Dayne) from my old roommate in New York. Of course, since I haven’t found a new apartment yet–in the middle of looking–it’s going to stay enclosed and unframed for a bit.

    In less aesthetically pleasing news, Empress Michiko is suffering from stress-induced intestinal bleeding. (Irreverent question: if they’re the intestines of the sitting empress, do we call them 御腸–miwata, maybe? Seems like a word that might do nicely in a waka written by her exalted husband to celebrate her recovery.) I’m being flippant about the level of detail, but of course the condition is serious enough. For those who might have thought that Princess Masako’s adjustment problems were the kind of thing that might iron itself out in a decade or three, the example of the empress, who’s been beset by stress-related ailments pretty regularly, sadly offers little hope. Empress Michiko was also a commoner before marrying Akihito. She wasn’t an up-and-coming diplomat like Masako, but she was the active daughter of a rich industrialist and lived a varied life.

    Japan and the DPRK will be discussing the abductee issue and possible normalization of relations between the two countries. You will not be surprised to hear that it’s Japan that wants to know what happened to the remainder of its abducted citizens and the DPRK that wants money:

    Japanese and North Korean delegations agreed Tuesday to discuss the abduction issue on Wednesday and diplomatic normalization Thursday during a two-day bilateral working group meeting within the framework of the six-party talks.

    The two sides agreed during informal talks Tuesday that the two sides would separately discuss “pending issues including the abduction issue” on Wednesday and “normalization” on Thursday.

    The government welcomed the fact that the North Korean side agreed to first discuss the issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea, as Pyongyang has claimed the issue has already been settled. The government hopes to see some progress during the Wednesday talks.

    I guess we’ll know by the end of the day.


    Posted by Sean at 01:13, March 4th, 2007

    One nice thing about being on vacation was that during the inclement weather and the flights, I had time to read without that nagging feeling that I should be doing something for the office instead. The books I chose were worth investing time in, though I thought they both felt kind of short of what I’d hoped.

    One was Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne , a themed biography of sorts by Australian reporter Ben Hills. I don’t remember seeing any egregious factual mistakes, though there were little inaccuracies and self-contradictions; but I was distracted by the way Hills has trouble controlling his voice. There are writers who can move from journalistic sobriety to flippancy to human-interest bathos with ease; Hills isn’t one of them. Sure, that’s subjective on my part, but when the meat of a book is speculation–as an attempt at explicating how the forces operating on Masako got her into her current state necessarily is–its author needs to come off as unusually trustworthy and sensible. The swings in tone are jarring and subliminally make Hills seem a bit flighty.

    I was also a little unsettled at the unremittingly flat way Masako was cast as a victim. One doesn’t want to underestimate the way the royals in Japan are treated by their handlers as living museum pieces, which Hills is hardly the first to document. (Under pressure from the palace governing agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kodansha isn’t going to publish the planned Japanese translation.) But as he himself notes, plenty of other eligible women turned down the opportunity to marry Crown Prince Naruhito. I was especially charmed by those unnamed candidates who threatened to make themselves unfit to be royal brides by getting body piercings or tattoos–never underestimate the resourcefulness of the Japanese woman!

    Naruhito’s mistake seems to have been in promising Masako that she could channel her talent for and credentials in diplomacy into modernizing the role of the Crown Princess and, later, Empress; Masako’s mistake was in believing him. Even so, she was an experienced woman of the world by that point and presumably knew how to weigh her options. She also had the example of the current Empress Michiko to learn from. No, she probably didn’t know exactly what she was getting into–otherwise, it’s hard to imagine that she would have accepted the prince’s proposal. But part of being an adult who makes a risky decision is that you might lose.

    Princess Masako was better than Jimmy Stewart: A Biography , which I picked up while hanging out with Eric. I was distracted by Marc Eliot’s inability to do basic math and by his factual errors. (For a gay man, I’m hardly a film expert, but I’m pretty sure that if Auntie Mame had won the Oscar for Best Picture, I’d have remembered. It’s also pretty obvious that you can’t say Cary Grant retired from acting a half-decade before making North by Northwest .) And to read Eliot’s summaries of Stewart’s own movies with Hitchcock, you’d never know how deeply, powerfully disturbing they are. In fact, nothing Eliot writes indicates why Stewart was a fascinating enough character to warrant a four-hundred-page biography.

    Feels like home

    Posted by Sean at 04:43, March 1st, 2007

    Cruel but so, so true.

    The fine art of personal correspondence

    Posted by Sean at 08:15, February 19th, 2007

    Oh, dear. Michael links to commentary about this disturbing article:

    Buying a greeting card for someone’s birthday, anniversary or if they’re feeling under the weather is pretty straightforward. But what if they’re undergoing chemotherapy or struggling with depression? “Get Well Soon” probably won’t cut it.

    Likewise, most cards lining the store shelves don’t work on occasions as someone leaving an abusive spouse, undergoing drug rehab or declaring their sexual orientation.

    For illness: “Cancer is a villain who doesn’t play fair … but it can’t dim your spirit, and it can’t silence prayer.”

    For eating disorders: “All I want is for you to be healthy – healthy and happy with yourself. Please take it one day at a time until you are.”

    For depression: “When the world gets heavy, remember, I’m here to help carry it with you.”

    Leaving aside my overall dislike of pre-printed cards in place of handwritten notes, I still have to wonder why “Get well soon” won’t cut it in such cases. Do people with depression or bulimia or abusive spouses really prefer cards in which their friends spell out all the finicking details of their medical conditions or marital problems? “I am aware of EXACTLY how screwed up your life is” is not, it seems to me, an improvement on “Thinking of you in your time of trouble.”

    And of course I had to see whether there was more about the gay part. There was, with the bonus of a truly awful usage-related solecism (in addition to the faulty parallel construction in the very first sentence of the article):

    No topics were off-limits, said company spokeswoman Rachel Bolton, noting two cards that could be sent to gay people who have disclosed their sexuality. The cards don’t directly refer to homosexuality, only extolling the person to “Be You” or “This is who I am” or featuring a rainbow, a symbol of gay pride.

    Mr. Malaprop, honey? The word you want is exhorting. You might want to tell your copy editor, too.

    Need I say that anyone who had responded to my coming out with a card printed with a rainbow and “This is who I am” would have found himself living a Sean-free life from then on? (I do, however, like the way it’s said that no topic was “off-limits” in one sentence and then that no cards directly address homosexuality in the next.)

    There used to be books–the Japanese still use them–that gave templates and models for writing particular kinds of letters. They strike me as useful. There are plenty of things that are necessary, or at least beneficial, to express that are nonetheless tricky to put across well. I’m not sure off-the-rack doggerel is a good modern equivalent, though.

    Added after more coffee: While I’m on the topic of excessive cuteness, I may as well post these pictures of the ‘rents’ cats, which I promised to do. Like all Siamese cats, these two are drunk on their own fabulousness.

    The guy on the left is Ludwig, who had the aesthetic sense to pose in an environment that picked up the browns in his fur and the blue of his eyes. He and I get along just fine. The one on the right is Romeo; if you’re detecting a bit of animosity in that stare of his, you’re right. Neither of them likes giving up their room to me when I visit, but Romeo pretty clearly dislikes me for reasons that are unrelated to mere sleeping arrangements. He was apparently abused by an owner when he was a kitten, so he takes a while to warm up to men he doesn’t know. I never see him for more than a week at a time, which means that I’m a perpetual stranger. His antipathy does not, however, stop him from seeking out my most expensive sweaters and nestling into them as if they were pet beds.

    Added after dinner: Just to round out the theme of Quadripeds Who Fail to Love Me, here are my old roommate and his wife’s chihuahuas:

    The blond guy is Captain; his swarthier brother is Chance. These dogs HATE me. Whenever I come back to New York and stay with M. and J., the dogs yap at me incessantly. When they do cease yapping, they register their displeasure by growling. Right now they’re being quiet, possibly because they think I may have food to offer them between now and when I take off for JFK tomorrow morning.


    Posted by Sean at 09:28, February 16th, 2007

    This morning’s giggle provided by NOVA:

    The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government have conducted on-the-spot inspections at major English-language school NOVA, it was learned Friday, after ex-students complained that they hadn’t had their tuition fees returned after canceling their contracts.

    Among the allegations NOVA faces is a violation of the Special Business Transaction Law. If NOVA is found guilty, it could receive an official order to improve its business practices or have its business activities suspended.

    But then where will people in Japan go to keep from learning English?

    The English Asahi has more detail about the actual complaints people are making. Note that while the article ends with the statement “According to sources, local consumer affairs centers throughout the country hold about 1,000 consultations about Nova-related issues every year. The annual figure is much larger than those of other English conversation schools,” NOVA is the largest of the English conversation schools, so it’s not clear what actual proportion of NOVA students complains or what the relative seriousness of the average complaint is.

    “You know there isn’t one”

    Posted by Sean at 10:28, February 15th, 2007

    Via Bruce Bawer (13 February 2007 post), who really needs someone to show him how permalinks work, this priceless exchange on CNN. Glenn Beck is the CNN interviewer; Irshad Manji is a lesbian Muslim who lives in Canada:

    BECK: OK. Real quickly, we have about a minute. What — who is standing with you as a woman’s organization? Who — what National Organization of Women is coming up and saying I’m with you?

    MANJI: You know there isn’t one.

    BECK: Why?

    MANJI: Fear. Fear of offending. So many people today in America come up to me to say, “Irshad, I wish I could support your call to reconcile Islam with human rights, but if I do, you know I’ll be called a racist for sticking my nose in somebody else’s business.”

    Bawer’s comment: “Against people who are willing to die in the cause of destroying freedom, people who are unwilling to stand up for freedom for fear of being called a name don’t stand much chance of victory.”

    Beck and Manji focused on women’s groups, but of course the gay organizations are mostly just as bad. And a lot of rank-and-file gays, too. Plenty of gay men and women who “don’t care what people think” when they’re having a noisy good time at brunch–or giving conservative relatives a heart attack with their views about social policy–will turn into the most craven protocol-followers alive when it’s time to venture, even gingerly, the opinion that maybe there are strains of thinking in non-Western cultures that are incompatible with human rights and are not the fault of Western imperialism. Or that gay advocacy groups often choose cheap partisan expediency over gay interests.

    Something Bawer and Pieter Dorsman, whom he cites, didn’t quote, gives a little bit of perspective:

    BECK: And everybody is crying out, where are those Muslim voices? You and people like you are in so much danger. How much — how much does fear play a role in silencing the voices of Islam?

    MANJI: Huge. And fear of many things. Fear not just of being ostracized in your community, but obviously fear of violence, as well.

    You know, Glenn, I speak at university campuses right across not just North America, but around the world. And invariably, young Muslims come up to me afterwards to whisper thank you in my ear. And when I ask them, why are you whispering? They say to me, “Irshad, you know, you have the luxury of being able to walk away from this campus two hours from now. I don’t, and I don’t want to be stalked for supporting your views.” And if they’re women, a lot of them say, “I don’t want to be raped for supporting your views.”

    So this is happening in America, and I don’t want to suggest, Glenn. Let me just be clear. I don’t want to suggest that every Muslim feels this kind of fear. But every Muslim does know that, if you take on the most mangled aspects of our faith today, you will be subject to such a vitriolic smear campaign that it will bring shame and dishonor upon your family. So there is huge pressure to say nothing.

    It isn’t just from women’s groups dominated by non-Muslims that Manji isn’t getting support. Moderate Muslims who think Islam needs reform are going to have to speak out eventually, or it’s not going to happen. As Manji herself said a few years ago, “Society needs people who offend, otherwise there will be no progress.” (She’s also addressed gay activists’ problems with Islam and Israel.)