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    The Keystone State welcomes you!

    Posted by Sean at 12:18, February 13th, 2007

    Kermit the Frog: Sam, Elton John is a very important musician.
    Sam the Eagle: Then why does he dress like a stolen car?


    I got into my hometown on Sunday night. Not fond of Hyundais, but the rental car was fine. Great playlist on the soul station, too, once I got past Bernardsville or so. Might have been made to my specifications: “Automatic.” “Brick House.” “I’m Coming Out.” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” “Raspberry Beret.” It was like being inside my own personal karaoke box. (Don’t worry. I was watching the road. Mostly.)

    Then, home. As always, the transition was…really something. Monday morning when I woke up, my parents were drinking bag tea.

    And watching Touched by an Angel .

    On the Hallmark Channel.

    I won’t give you the blow-by-blow of how I spent the week in New York with my old roommate and his wife and with assorted other college/work/gay friends. But, you will not be surprised to hear, we didn’t drink bag tea while watching Touched by an Angel on the Hallmark Channel. Not even one episode.

    Just so there’s no ambiguity here, I’m not being snide. One of the best things about America is that there’s a place (often there are several equally suitable places) for any personality. I love seeing my parents and brother, who really enjoy living here. I can certainly see why people would rather rear children here than in, oh, say, Chelsea. And, after all, where you grew up is where you grew up and has a special kind of pull. It’s just that culturally, I’ve become so…very…different…from my family that I invariably spend the first day or two back at my parents’ place slightly disoriented. Where are all the people crowding the sidewalks? Where, for that matter, are the sidewalks? What do you mean, I have to drive to get to a Starbucks? Why are you all staring (I mean, my little pink stretch sweater isn’t that tight)?

    I’m a little more settled in now, watching my little brother’s Muppet Show DVDs and planning to go for a long run this afternoon–the snow is kind of accumulating, but it should be fine, and this is a great place for running. I think I’ve gotten more reading done in the last two days than I did in Tokyo in all of December. My father’s on night shift, so we’re supposed to be going out for lunch. I assume I’ll make it through at most one quarter of my portion, as always happens when I come back to PA. And the day after tomorrow, I’m supposed to see these two weirdos, which is always a pleasure to look forward to.

    I assume Japan hasn’t fallen into the Pacific or anything. Will be back to checking the news…uh, sometime after I see whether there’s any more shoo-fly pie.

    Tomb raider

    Posted by Sean at 11:40, February 5th, 2007

    I know that slideshows are a social menace, but people have been asking about photos from Thailand and Cambodia. So okay. Those who want to sign in and see all of them can do so here.

    Those who are happy with just a few images can look at them below the jump. One of the nice things about the Internet age is that you don’t have to take pictures of historical sites and things you visit just to record what they look like. The official preservation agency often has images of all the major points–usually lit properly and without people in the way–already. That frees you to focus on trying to get exposures of things that just caught your eye for one reason or another while you were walking around.


    Posted by Sean at 22:05, January 29th, 2007

    It turned out that I was able to take some of my pooled vacation time and appliqué it onto the end of the session I had to run for work in Bangkok this past weekend. A friend or two and I will be here in Thailand and Cambodia for the rest of the week, and from here I’m flying back to New York on Monday to see friends and then spend a few days with my parents and friends up and down the Mid-Atlantic. For reasons I hope I don’t need to go into, I’m taking a break from paying attention to Japanese news for a little while. Will probably be posting intermittently, but then that’s the only way I’ve been posting for a few months, anyway. Hope everyone’s doing well….

    “This will be the answer to all of your problems”

    Posted by Sean at 05:39, January 22nd, 2007

    I’d bet I was the last gay man with an Internet connection to be turned on to this set of videos on You Tube. Part 1 is a better crack high if you want fast-burning fuel for queeny comments: though it’s hard to blame her for recommending silhouettes that plenty of other people thought were hot back then, you get the feeling that she’s not even aware matte-finished fabric exists.

    But Part 2 is, to me, more deeply and genuinely horrifying. First of all, the way the woman handles a slotted spoon and unceremoniously plunks that banana into the blender makes it abundantly clear that she couldn’t find her way around her kitchen without GPS navigation (sadly unavailable in the late ’80s). Second–given the flinty glint in her eye and her pasted-on, curled-lip smile while she gives dietary advice–you just know she’s standing there thinking, I COULD MURDER A STEAK AND BAKED POTATO RIGHT NOW! MY GRANDMOTHER’S SOUL FOR A RIBEYE!!!!!

    The not-so-surprise update to the story is that, to judge from her website, Ms. Dickson has enrolled in the beauty maintenance program at the Joan Rivers School. A real pity. She had the bone structure to age with character.


    Posted by Sean at 23:42, January 16th, 2007

    According to the Mitsubishi Fuso website, the company name has charming origins:

    When the B46 autobus was created, the company held an internal search for a nickname, and the name that was selected was Fuso. Fuso (扶桑: “caretaking” + “mulberry”) is a Chinese word of ancient origin that refers to “sacred trees that grow in the Land of the Rising Sun on the East Sea” and was used as a variant name for Japan. The actual fuso trees are called “bussoge” and are more generally known as “[Chinese] hibiscus.”

    The site doesn’t mention that, while mitsubishi (三菱) is commonly understood to mean “three diamonds,” the hishi literally means “water chestnut,” so there’s kind of a mixed plant metaphor thing going on there. I suppose that might be considered an additional part of the charm.

    Not so charming, unfortunately, is the company’s endless string of problems with defective trucks. The latest problem is with wheel hubs that were introduced in response to previous defects:

    Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp. has announced it will recall tens of thousands of its large trucks because of concerns over a potential defect in the wheel hub, company sources said Tuesday.

    The wheel hub in question is a new type introduced following a large-scale recall in 2004. However, fractures and cracks in the hubs have been discovered in a number of cases since October.

    Until now, the company has maintained to the Construction and Transport Ministry that the problem would not occur under normal conditions and that it was the result of a maintenance error. However, the sources said the company now believes the new hub is simply too weak.

    Five years ago, a woman driving with her two children in Yokohama was killed when a wheel detached from a passing truck. The accident was highly publicized because it’s the kind of thing that’s not supposed to happen in Japan, with its vaunted transportation systems and technology. Note that Mitsubishi Motors, M. Fuso’s parent corporation, has had completely unrelated problems of its own with, among other things, the clutches in its cars.


    Posted by Sean at 01:10, January 16th, 2007

    The new movie about Japanese abductee Megumi Yokota looks to be an interesting treatment of her case. Next to Hitomi Soga, who gained fame as the wife of US Army deserter Charles Jenkins, Yokota is the abductee who’s received the most publicity. Her family has been very vocal in its demands that the Japanese government use all diplomatic means possible to find out what happened to her and the other abductees who are still unaccounted for. There’s been little development on the issue lately, but those who are interested in the push and pull over the last few years can click the category button below to see some of the news items that have appeared.


    Posted by Sean at 22:35, January 15th, 2007

    Eric is hot when he gets angry.

    He, Tim Noah, Clayton Cramer, and Radley Balko have amply attended to most of what’s inane about Dinesh D’Souza’s characteristically coarse arguments. I will only add that if the combination of irreligiousness, acceptance of homosexuality, blithe rearing of children out of wedlock, and preening leftism in the universities is what exercised the terrorists who attacked on 9/11, one is left wondering why on Earth they didn’t choose Europe (say the Netherlands or somewhere in Scandinavia) as their target. Not only have those countries institutionalized those social phenomena far more thoroughly than America has, but they also have large minority Muslim populations that are inflamed with humiliation over their dependence on the largesse of the social-welfare state. The United States is clearly the single most significant global symbol of Western cultural power; the idea that it’s the most significant global symbol of Western cultural leftism strikes me as very suspect.


    Posted by Sean at 05:42, January 5th, 2007

    The “suffering passive” is a construction in Japanese that we foreign language students tend to have trouble wrapping our heads around at first. Today’s news brought a ghoulishly apt example of how it’s used:

    At around 7:55 on the evening of 3 January, a man’s voice reported to 110, “I killed my mother,” from the residence of [Ms.] Yaeko Tsukumo of 2 Mizue, Edogawa Ward, Tokyo.

    [Her 53-year-old third son] Minoru was suspected of having strangled her using his hands and socks at about 7 p.m. “She was getting on my case about my not having a job, and I went ballistic” he stated. Yaeko and Minoru lived together.

    The suffering passive is not used to make the direct object the subject and the subject the agent; instead, it’s used to emphasize the way the speaker (usually) was made to suffer by the action. You learn sentences such as 妹にケーキを食べきられてしまった, which doesn’t just mean “the cake was completely eaten by my younger sister” but rather “little bitch hoovered all the cake on me!” The cake is still the direct object; the verb is passive because the speaker feels powerless to do anything about his or her suffering (not an uncharacteristic Japanese attitude by any stretch).

    Mr. Tsukumo did, of course, take matters into…uh…his own hands; but he still used the suffering passive to describe his mother’s scolding. The “getting on my case” part is in the passive voice: 仕事をしていないことをなじられ –> “I was made to suffer by her taking exception to my not having any work.”

    It’s impossible to determine from that preliminary report whether the Tsukumos mère et fils had a history of arguing; however, elder abuse has become a recognized social problem in Japan, despite its image of uncommon respect for the aged. Many elderly people still live with their children–traditionally, it’s the oldest son and his wife–but households are now rarely structured around the clan, with the patriarch and matriarch presiding over several generations under one roof, or at least in one compound. Nowadays, elder care is frequently seen as a burden added onto that of stretching tight post-Bubble incomes. It also involves carving up close quarters in tiny urban apartments. The freestanding houses in major metro areas aren’t much roomier.

    The rules against venting about family problems to friends who aren’t relatives appear to have relaxed a bit, but the sense that seeking professional counseling or assistance is shameful remains strong, perhaps especially among those who would most benefit from it. There’s a major tendency to keep gritting your teeth through your frustrations until you crack. And Japanese society does revere the elderly as repositories of experience and wisdom; but as a shame and not guilt culture, it also makes it relatively easy to do nasty things if no one’s looking and you think you can get away with them.

    Excising the fabulousness gene

    Posted by Sean at 03:34, January 3rd, 2007

    Oh, come on. Michael and Henry Lewis are having a spaz over this statement by James Joyner:

    Is being gay tantamount to being deaf? My instinct is that it is not, since it impacts a much more narrow range of the human experience. At the same time, would I choose for my kids to be gay? Absolutely not. There are plenty of disadvantages that come with it and no obvious upside. If they turned out to be gay, though, they would continue to have my love and support.

    Michael and Henry both say the only downside to being gay stems from other people’s narrow-mindedness. Is that the case for everyone, though? I’ve known a fair number of gay couples who regret that they can’t have a child together. Is it really possible to believe that social pressure alone accounts for the desire to see their combined genetic heritage reflected in their child? You don’t have to be one of those mean-spirited people who think of adopted children as somehow not “real” or who assume every childless person lives a pathetic, unhappy life to recognize the human instinct to procreate and to concede that responding to it is “valid.”

    From a different angle, parents do all sorts of things to ensure happiness by their own definition for their children. The line between encouraging a child to rise to high standards and tamping down his personality isn’t always clear. Still, it’s not uncommon for parents to foist piano lessons on their children, or to pressure them into going to parochial school, or to refuse to pay for college if it’s not Ivy, when the children’s native aptitudes and interests clearly run in different directions. There’s an obvious and direct way in which rejecting an existing child’s core self and trying to substitute another of the parents’ own choosing causes unhappiness.

    Would manipulating genes have a comparable effect? It doesn’t seem to me that it would, though I can only speculate, of course. A child might feel a bit odd if told that Mom underwent some kind of drug regimen to incline him toward engineering rather than painting, but since the only life he would know would (presumably) be that of an inclination toward engineering, I can’t imagine that he’d be haunted by not having been able to live as his “natural” self. Anyway, it’s already natural for people, when they’re feeling down, to wonder whether people living different lives are happy or more productive or what have you.

    And that’s always struck me as what this debate is really about for a lot of gay people: they seem to think that accepting that some people might not want themselves or their children to be gay somehow reflects badly on us. Hence the indignant declarations that we are too happy and that prejudice from hetero-meanies is all that keeps us from being more so. I don’t see why that stance is necessary. Life is about trade-offs for everyone, and part of living in a free society is respecting people who prioritize things differently. Those of us who are out homosexuals should be more aware of that than anyone.


    Posted by Sean at 00:02, January 3rd, 2007

    I’ve just finished former Knight Ridder Tokyo bureau chief Michael Zielenziger’s book Shutting out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation . So many books have now been written about what’s wrong with post-Bubble Japan that I wish I could say that Zielenziger’s is redundant, that the big problems have already been sufficiently teased out and there isn’t much more to add to the discussion. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and one of the virtues of Zielenziger’s book is that he focuses on the patterns that emerge from talking with individual Japanese people about their lives.

    His focus, as his subtitle implies, is on Japanese adults born in the ’60s and ’70s. He’s spoken mostly to men who’ve dropped out of society and rarely leave home and to women who are approaching middle age but unmarried. At this stage in their lives, they would be expected to have their families and careers and, for lack of a better term, life goals established pretty well. Why is it that so many do not, despite living in an affluent, well-educated, democratic society?

    One obvious but clever way he considers the question is by way of comparison: Why is it that Korea, so similar to Japan in so many ways, was specifically able to rebound from the Asian financial crisis a decade ago and is generally more receptive to social and economic reforms? One of Zielenziger’s key answers is something that, while extensively discussed in academic circles, doesn’t get much play in the mass-audience books about East Asia I know of:

    In my somewhat conventional coverage of the political and economic character of these two competing societies while working as a journalist, it had never dawned on me that the role religion played could prove so decisive in altering a people’s attitudes toward self-esteem, individuation, or communal responsibility. Nothing in my background or disposition as an American Jew prepared me to accept that the rise of Western religion–and especially the Protestant Church–had served as a vital force crucial in transforming South Korean society. It may be too simple to argue that exposure to Christianity alone has changed Korean consciousness. Yet the churches have coached the Korean people in forming social networks, building trust among strangers, and accepting universal ethics and individualism in ways that served as powerful antidotes to the autocratic worldview their grandparents–and, indeed, the Japanese–had been taught.

    I happen to think that the Japanese view of nature–as crowded with turbulent, competing and complementary forces that are, on balance, indifferent to human joy and pain–is a much more accurate reflection of reality than Christian theology. But the same imagination that allowed our Western ancestors to conceive of God as an immanent, transcendent, more super-cool version of us (complete with a highly-evolved personality) is what allowed them to conceive of principles above and beyond group-rule and of the possibility of asserting will over nature.

    There’s a danger in extending that explanation too far, of course. Korea, despite having been the Hermit Kingdom, is a peninsula attached to Asia; the neighbors with which it shares borders are huge and frequently pushy. Korea has a long history of dealing with and adapting to external forces, and since the 1950s, the South has had the proximity of the DPRK to maintain a sense of urgent mindfulness of hard reality. So Christian missionaries have not been the only source of difference in outlook between Korea and Japan; nevertheless, Zielenziger is right to pay attention to them.

    On a more amusing note of possible ill portent, the Mainichi reports the following:

    Four people suffered an ominous start to the Year of the Boar when they were attacked in the street–by wild boars.

    Local police suspect that several different wild boars attacked the four, noting that their descriptions of the animals were different.

    It may be that nature is rebelling; it’s more likely that boars are just more newsworthy right about now than they have been since twelve years ago. The New Year danger of choking on sticky rice cakes, by contrast, is an annual thing; in the Tokyo area, eleven elderly people were taken to the hospital, with five still in critical condition. In Japan, even the rice cakes have hidden dangers.

    Happy New Year, everyone.