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    Wind-borne evil

    Posted by Sean at 23:20, December 29th, 2005

    Damn. Atsushi’s sick. In Japan, they use the same word colloquially for what we’d call a cold and for what we’d call the flu, so when someone says 風邪をひく (kaze wo hiku: “catch cold”), you don’t know how serious it actually is until you find out more about the symptoms. Last night on the phone, he said he had a 風邪–which was a warning sign right there. Atsushi always downplays his ailments, in typical Japanese fashion, so he refers to a regular cold as 風邪気味 (kaze-gimi: “a bit of a cold”) rather than 風邪 (“a [full-fledged] cold”), even if he’s pretty stuffed-up and lethargic. In any case, he caught it from his immediate boss, who is apparently in the hospital with an IV drip, so we are not talking about a hot-water-and-lemon-and-brandy-and-try-to-avoid-going-outdoors cold this time around. I hope Atsushi doesn’t get quite that sick, but it’s the end of the year and they’ve been working him to death. His resistance is obviously down, and tomorrow he’s going to be flying in and then joining the crush on the train to get to his parents’ place in his hometown for New Year’s Eve. Great for picking up more germs.

    So we’ve laid in plenty of fluids and electrolytes. I’ve also made sure we’re not out of…what’s it called, that iodine gargle stuff? People who live in Japan will know what I mean–it’s really great when you have a sore throat. And thanks to that nice Paul Smith, I am now the owner of three more pairs of insolently sexy boxers than I was on waking this morning. If Atsushi’s going to have to spend most of the break in bed anyway….


    Posted by Sean at 06:41, December 29th, 2005

    Joel at Far Outliers–gentleman, scholar, and (as I learned a few months ago) great drinking buddy–has put up his thousandth post. He provides links to several of his posts that have been most accessed by readers. Congratulations to him on his second blogging anniversary.

    You missed me and you know it

    Posted by Sean at 06:15, December 29th, 2005

    Powerblogs had server problems, which means that the site was inaccessible for nearly twenty-four hours and that one or two comments have disappeared (sorry). Also, I’ve lost two relatively inconsequential posts that may or may not be restored. They were both links to good things at other blogs, so I’ll just give them here without much commentary, which I’m not really of the mind to reproduce:

    Simon posted a few days ago about a South China Morning Post article headlined “Still an inspirational leader.” It’s China we’re talking about, so if you’re now thinking, No, it couldn’t be about…, well, yes, it is. The first paragraph of the article (which must have been in the print edition, since Simon doesn’t link to it, goes like this:

    Almost 30 years after the death of Mao Zedong, many are still trying to define the controversial leader. But, like China, Mao defies simple classification. And his name still evokes deep respect amonst many Chinese.

    After all, there’s nothing more important than being free from labels, even at the expense of a few lives. Simon says:

    The latest estimate is Mao was responsible for more than 73 million deaths. In case you’re wondering, that’s a record.

    Simon suspects that many of those people would fail to have respect for Mao if they were alive now.

    The other post was by Gaijin Biker, who reports that the United Nations has–you’ll want to be sitting down for this–been discovered to be guilty of bureaucratic waste. The story he cites is from UPI:

    Up to about a third of the $590 million U.N. fund spent for the Indian Ocean tsunami relief may have gone to pay for overhead.

    The Financial Times says its two-month investigation showed the money appears to have been spent on administration, staff and related costs. The $590 million was part of the United Nation’s $1.1 billion disaster flash appeal.

    The newspaper said details of that appeal it obtained from U.N. agencies such as the World Health Organization and the World Food Program showed 18 percent to 32 percent of the expenditure related to staff, administration and other costs.

    A natural disaster that affects multiple Third World countries is just the sort of thing that the UN is supposed to be more suited than any other entity to deal with.

    Oh, and I guess I could also mention here that I got a very perky e-mail notifying me that somewhere called Red Orbit, which apparently covers tech stuff and is not a site Michael uses as an outlet for any closet communist tendencies, named White Peril as one of its blogs of the day. That’s very kind, though kind of bewildering, since I hardly ever talk about tech stuff. The post that was linked as a sample was this one complaining about the process of getting Toshiba to replace my CD-ROM drive. I was thinking of writing another post complaining about the user-unfriendly iPod remote control, too. Otherwise, the only time technology is a topic here is when Japan is making a deal with the US military to develop cool stuff. But Red Orbit looks as if it may be a good aggregator, so there‘s the link again.


    Posted by Sean at 07:46, December 26th, 2005

    Exactly one year ago today, I posted this:

    Fat lot of good that did, huh? So I figure, as we go from the Year of the Cock to the Year of the Dog–stop that sniggering, you bitches in the back!–I may as well solicit resolutions from even more people this year. If the elements are going to dash your dreams, make ’em work at it, I say.

    In 2006, I would like liberals to decide whether they believe in protecting (1) assertive individuality, even when it has sharp edges and raises uncomfortable questions or (2) the right of the government to adjudicate every potentially offensive manifestation of religious beliefs, sexuality, and even dietary choices. I don’t really care which one they pick–though I’m hoping they go with (1), of course. They just need to knock it off with the cynical, opportunistic toggling back and forth between the two, depending on which tack happens to suit the finger-wagging point they’re making at a given moment.

    In 2006, I would like conservatives to decide whether they believe America’s material prosperity and staggering array of consumer products are (1) evidence that our way of life is the best in the world or (2) evidence that we’ve lost our spirituality and are hung up on the trivial at the expense of the transcendent. I don’t really care which one they pick–though I’m hoping they go with (1), of course. They just need to knock it off with the cynical, opportunistic toggling back and forth between the two, depending on which tack happens to suit the finger-wagging point they’re making at a given moment.

    In 2006, I would like everyone to forgo the opportunity to be an asshole sometimes. Say, every third opportunity to be an asshole. Yes, I know–your opponents don’t make or respond to arguments, they just parrot the same empty talking points over and over and they ignore counterarguments and they suck and you’re not going to put up with it anymore and you’re willing to be a nice person but they force you to play offense all the time. I know, I know, I KNOW. I know because you’ve told us that about a million times. What I don’t know is what you think you’re accomplishing by adding one more uncharitable jerk to the din. Fearlessly offensive, gusty expressions of free thought can be a bracing corrective to namby-pambiness in the public discourse–within reason. When they become the public discourse, we’re in trouble. If you want people to be respectful, rational, and fair-minded, you might want to get the ball rolling by setting them an example.

    Best to everyone in the new year.

    Yamagata Prefecture derailment not due to crew error

    Posted by Sean at 03:44, December 26th, 2005

    Yesterday’s train derailment was very unfortunate, but unlike the disaster in Amagasaki in April, it doesn’t seem to indicate any problems with JR. Cars were swept off the tracks by strong wind as the train went over a bridge; four people were killed and over thirty injured. The driver was going within the speed limit:

    At the moment of the derailment, the train was estimated to be running at about 100 kph, well below the speed limit for that section, police said.

    JR East officials said a wind meter was positioned about 1 kilometer north of the disaster site.

    If the meter detects winds of 72 kph or faster, a warning is sent to an anti-disaster information system installed at JR East’s Niigata branch, which is in charge of the Uetsu Line. An alarm will also sound at the branch, but drivers are not required to reduce their speeds in these conditions.

    However, trains are obliged to slow down to 25 kph when wind speeds exceeding 90 kph are registered.

    Train operations are suspended in areas with winds reaching 108 kph, the officials said.

    But the wind meter near the accident site only recorded a maximum speed of 72 kph at 7:16 p.m., the officials said.

    For that reason, the driver of the Inaho No. 14 was allowed to operate at the maximum speed of 120 kph in that section, according to the officials.

    So it looks as if any human error that contributed was involved in the design of the bridge.


    Posted by Sean at 03:26, December 26th, 2005

    It’s almost time for the New Year vacation. That means Atsushi and I will be entertaining–we’re two of the party-throwers among our friends. It also means it’s time for the yearly Great Gay Veuve Clicquot Exchange. (My theory is that there are actually only five bottles of Champagne Veuve Clicquot in existence in any given year, and they get passed back and forth in a sort of Chinese fire drill as host gifts at fag parties from mid-December to the first week of January. No one ever seems to open them.) Maybe I’ll make stew or something. The weather’s been unseasonably cold in Japan as in the States, so we’re ready for the sort of warming food you normally don’t need until the approach of February.

    Of course, Atsushi and I already set a precedent for food randomness over the weekend. Usually, I make dinner on Christmas Eve; last year, I even roused myself to start preparing a week ahead of time and made sauerbraten and dumplings. This year, my flight landed on the 22nd, and Atsushi arrived on the 23rd (the banks were closed for the emperor’s birthday). Between jet lag and general tiredness, I didn’t make a single dinner while he was here. Christmas Eve we went to a tempura restaurant. Atsushi chose it because I love vegetable tempura and because Western-style restaurants tend to be packed on Christmas Eve. Tempura isn’t quite as traditional as, say, goose, but…uh, you know…tempura was brought to Japan by the Portuguese. And Portugal’s a Catholic country. So you can find a Christmas connection in there somewhere, especially if you’re on your third glass of wine.

    Hope everyone else enjoyed Christmas (or just the weekend).

    Added at 22:30: This guy (via Gay News) obviously moves in very different circles from me. A Ten Commandments of cocktail parties that doesn’t start talking about the drinks until Commandment #9? Whatever. I also like these:

    Commandment #4:
    […] And don’t forget the bathroom! Scented candles, an elegant bottle of hand soap, extra toilet paper, and a basket of high-quality napkins or paper towels make guests feel pampered.

    I’m sorry, honey, if you’re hanging out with the sort of people who can made to feel pampered by a pile of paper towels dumped in a basket, you need to find new friends. (My Crabtree & Evelyn guest towels, embroidered in saucy botanical patterns and housed next to the brushed-metal soap dispenser, are a big joke among our buddies.)

    As for scented candles, this guy has dispatched them handily so I don’t have to. I will only add that having tall, fat candles lit in an enclosed space in which tipsy people are unattended and desperately fumbling with their clothes is not the brightest idea.

    Commandment #7:
    Keep ’em moving! The entire point of a cocktail party is to mingle. To encourage that behavior, set up your bar and your buffet table on opposite ends of the room (or in different rooms altogether). That way you don’t end up with traffic jams and a huge cluster of people in one spot. Also, sitting down is a no-no! To keep the energy up and the party moving, only provide half as many seats as you have guests. Besides, we all look thinner and more elongated when we stand.

    In my experience, people who don’t want to stand will not stand. If you’ve removed every stick of furniture from the room except the drinks table, they will stretch themselves out on your floor. They will close the lid of your garbage can and perch on it. If they know where the bedroom is and you’ve locked it, they will find your utility drawer, get a screwdriver, jimmy the lock, and sprawl on the bed.

    And this David Lawrence character has also forgotten in their entirety two indispensable party ingredients: salt and club soda. Someone will inevitably spill red wine. If you’re lucky, it’ll be a few drops on one of your patterned throw pillows. If you’re not lucky, as one of our friends wasn’t a few years ago, it’ll be a full glass that gets knocked over the edge of a table by someone who’s getting a little over-enthusiastic about hitting on one of the other guests. (Three guesses what color the carpet was.)

    Just one smile on your face / Was all it took to change my fortune

    Posted by Sean at 23:06, December 25th, 2005

    Joe thinks I’m being too dismissive of That Movie . He’s seen it and has posted about it. Here’s (to me) the important part:

    Homosexual and gay are not synonymous; all homosexuals are not gay. Homosexual acts may be circumstantial–a man in prison, a drunken evening–or experimental and do not mean an individual is homosexual by nature. But experimentation can lead to the discovery of a homosexual inclination.

    Once that inclination is realized, how it is addressed matters to all of us. Because then there is a choice to be made: to accept homosexuality or to resist and fight it. To embrace it is to become gay. To resist it leads to all kinds of trouble.

    Urbanization and mobilization–particularly World War II which brought women into the workforce and men together as it took them around the world–brought with it the beginnings of a gay identity. That identity is rooted in the collective experience of those who have gone through the difficult process of making the choice to embrace their homsexuality.

    The nuclearization of the family has had a major effect, too. When you bring people up to choose their own spouses, and when they know that the bulk of their emotional sustenance and support through life’s obstacles will be channeled through a partnership of two, it becomes far more urgent that their partnerships are based on not only duty but also compatibility. Extended family societies impinge more on individual identity–and they tend not to make the pursuit of happiness a high priority, let alone enshrine it in their founding documents–but they also provide a constellation of relationships with in-laws that makes difficulties with any one person easier to manage: you may not get along very well with your husband and mother-in-law, but your helpful sister-in-law and slyly sympathetic father-in-law can always be close at hand to keep you from losing your mind.

    Getting back to what Joe writes, the “collective experience” part is a little on the Richard Goldstein side for me, but in a major sense, he’s right. Those of us you see publicly calling ourselves gay are working culturally, both for better and for worse, off a framework developed by men and women after World War II, especially through the 60s and 70s.

    That doesn’t mean, of course, that our elders have turned their mind rays on us and turned us all into zombies. Poor Eric, practically tearing his hair out as usual to get people to remember that they’re in charge of their own lives, notes the reactions to Brokeback Mountain in a splashy Inquirer article:

    From what I’ve read, the film targets the mainstream heterosexual market, but that doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be lining up to see it in large numbers. Hype won’t persuade people to see a film with which they can’t identify, nor will a good scolding. (It’s a real stretch to blame “heterosexual bigotry” for the failure of people to see a film.)

    If only there’d been a major coordinated attack on the film by social conservatives with massive boycotts and picket lines in front of every theater! That might have triggered a Brokeback Mountain backlash [Say that five times fast–SRK], but the social conservatives seem to be learning what not to do. (I guess I should keep my trap shut about such things….)

    MORE: I think, however, that it would be a mistake to misread this strategic silence as an indication of tolerance or an embrace of a live-and-let-live philosophy.

    That’s because the hard core opposition to the film arises from a moral collectivist belief that people are not responsible for their own actions:

    “If [Brokeback Mountain] encourages even one confused boy to engage in sex with another male, that makes it an instrument of corruption, not one of enlightenment.”

    I may be in a minority, but I can’t think of a single time–at any point in my life–where sex resulted from confusion.

    I haven’t read the short story for a while, but if the movie is faithful to it, the message it sends would seem to be that if you fall in love with another man, you end up living alone in a drafty trailer or murdered with a tire iron. Neither sounds all that encouraging, though naysayers can always work the angle of supposedly endless teenage impressionability.

    In any case, I’m not sure what real, wide-ranging effect Joe expects the movie to have. Most of the public positions people are taking in response to it don’t seem to deviate much from those they were already taking anyway, though I’m sure there will be at least some cases in which people are moved by it to think more sympathetically about gays. He ends this way:

    What we must see, all of us gay and straight alike, is that it’s in our interest to help open the closet door. We must make the choice to come out of the closet and become gay an easier one; the obvious one. Because that’s the right choice, the good choice, the healthy choice, for our society and for all of us living in it.

    I agree, obviously; I just don’t know that a movie like Brokeback Mountain helps much. I can only speak authoritatively about my own experience, but what made the difference for me was a conversation with my soon-to-be first boyfriend. I don’t remember it verbatim, which is kind of odd considering how it affected the way my life has gone since then, but what he said was basically this: “I’m not forcing you into anything. I couldn’t if I wanted to. You want to take the line that you’re just kind of feeling experimental and stuff, you go ahead. But let me tell you what I see: I’m offering you a relationship, and you’re responding. If you want me to go away, you can tell me decisively to get lost, and you’ll never hear from me again. But you won’t.” And I didn’t, because he was right. He was just naming what I already knew I was, and it mattered because he was an actual person that I knew. I don’t think even the most seductive pop culture artifacts would have really made up for the fact that the few stray gays I’d known until then (such as my high school homeroom teacher and the squalling brats in the college LGBA) were 180 degrees opposite from the kind of person I wanted to become. Cultural acceptance is important; it matters. But it can’t do the most pressing job of getting people to own what they are and decide whether they’re going to use it for good or ill.

    Added at 16:27: Joe has also commented on the Christianity Today review.


    Posted by Sean at 19:09, December 24th, 2005

    How rattled are people about the Aneha scandal? This is posted in the mail/package alcove in the lobby of our apartment building. It opened in 2000, and there has never been any suggestion whatever that its structural strength calculations were questionable. Translated, the substantive parts sandwiched between the ritual greetings say:

    Recently, the “scandal in which the Aneha Design office falsified structural calculations” has been reported in newspapers and the like. Please be secure in the knowledge that none of the structural calculations for this building were contracted out to the design office at Aneha.

    Furthermore, we have obtained confirmation that “this building was erected based on properly executed structural calculations.”

    Additionally, the structural calculations have been checked through independent inspection by XXXX Estate’s structural technicians, with no reliance on the design firm or body of inspectors [that originally certified the building]; and the strength and distribution of rebar concrete in actual construction has been checked by quality control experts.

    I’m sure that cost a pretty penny, especially if the company’s dozens of apartment buildings in metropolitan Tokyo are all being re-inspected. But it’s understandable that such measures were deemed necessary, considering the multiple levels of negligence that have been shown to have allowed Aneha to get away with his deceptions. At this point, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport is considering providing assistance to owners of hotels and condominiums that have up to 50% of the mandated earthquake resistance level. The money would cover up to 15.2% of inspection and retrofitting costs.

    If I had one wish / Love would feel like this

    Posted by Sean at 17:38, December 22nd, 2005

    Hi! Is it obvious that I’m jet-lagged and wide awake at 6 a.m.? I tried lying sleepless in bed for a few hours to get my body used to the idea that this part of the day is rest time, but I can only do that for so long before I go nuts. Then I tried reading, but my brain is too fried to concentrate. Ditto with sudoku. And I had enough TV, after two weeks in the States, to do me just fine for a while.

    I could unpack my stuff, but I’m afraid I’m so hazy that I’d start putting the navy T-shirts away in the designated grey/black T-shirt drawer, and we would not want that.

    So one more post, and then I’m going to try to sleep a bit before Atsushi gets here at 11:00 or so.

    I was going to let this point drop–largely because the fights I’ve had about it have been with non-blog people–but it’s something that apparently has to be said repeatedly, so here it is one more time.

    I could have seen…yes, here it comes again…Brokeback Mountain while I was in the States. I decided not to. I’ll probably get the DVD, or if it plays in some arty theater here in Tokyo, I may see it there. How that can be construed as meaning that I think people who have eagerly lined up to see it–and, subsequently, been very affected by it–are suckers, I cannot imagine. Do I really strike anyone as the kind of man to sneer at people for sincere, deep-seated responses to art? Chris has a post up about it that, as his often do, moved me to tears. One of the major functions of art is to remind us that we all labor, in our individual ways, within the human condition, and I’m glad this movie’s been made so that people who see pieces of their own story in it can take comfort in that.

    But those of us who don’t see our story in it have to be allowed to appreciate it on our own terms and to our own degree, and that’s where I find the implication that it’s our homosexual duty to rally around Brokeback Mountain, the pop culture phenomenon, annoying. Gays deserve as much liberty to decide whom to identify with as anyone else does. Sometimes we’ll sympathize with people without necessarily seeing them as reflections of ourselves, even if gay advocates deem it politically expedient to do so. We have to be as free to choose for ourselves as we are to speak for ourselves.

    Personally, my highest hope for Brokeback Mountain is that it’s kind of like Romeo and Juliet, making a generalizable point about the raw resilience of love in the face of social pressure by taking the circumstances to an unusual extreme. Given the frantic “It’s not a gay movie!” PR fusillade, that appears to be the way its makers are also hoping it will be regarded. But that may not make it a metaphor for gay life in any kind of direct and overarching way.

    In 2006, there are plenty of us who have been out our entire adult lives, with more experienced friends who showed us the ropes and became like family. I’d have to dig back in my memory over a decade to recall agonizedly burying a yearning for an electric connection to someone and tamping the dirt down over it just because he was a man. I haven’t forgotten what that was like, obviously, and if it’s depicted skillfully on screen, I’m sure I’ll find it devastating and difficult to watch. I’m not saying every gay-themed movie has to be Beautiful Thing or The Sum of Us . It’s just that self-loathing and the necessity of keeping things hidden don’t govern adult reality for many of us, and it’s not clear to me why we should push the line that Brokeback Mountain says more than it actually does about the gay experience just to get more exposure for gay love stories.

    Have a nice day!

    Posted by Sean at 15:56, December 22nd, 2005

    Christopher Hitchens does his James Thomson act on Christmas cheer (via Ann Althouse). OMG, that man is funny. I grew up in one of those literalist Christian sects that considered Christmas and Easter corrupt, the illegitimate grafting of pagan ritual onto Christianity as a cheap, expedient bid by nasty Papists to get converts. Passover, representing Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, was the most important day of the year; and we believed that his autumn birthday was not meant for human observance.

    Therefore, I have no problem celebrating Christmas as the Japanese do. Here, it’s a couples’ holiday. You spend the seven weeks after Hallowe’en listening to so much piped caroling, seeing so much tinsel and blinky lighting, and being exhorted to buy so many red-frosted cakes that by the solstice you’re ready to shoot yourself. Christmas Eve finally arrives, and you and your honey go to a nice dinner and exchange presents. Then you forget all about it and go back to getting ready for the New Year.

    In the States, where genuine religious conviction is part of the equation for many people, I can see why things get more contentious. I still think it would be nice, though, if people remembered to distinguish between censorship (the government kind) and the policies of private organizations. I think bans on crèches on public property and things like that are misguided; as long as other religions aren’t barred from making displays of their religious symbols and, conversely, no one is penalized for not playing along with this or that celebration, I don’t see what the big deal is.

    When it comes to casual greetings, that goes quadruple. If I’m Merry Christmased, I Merry Christmas back. If I’m Happy Holidaysed, I Happy Holidays back. If I’m nothinged, I say, “Thank you. Goodbye!” Is this really difficult? I know all about the argument that Chanukah and Kwanzaa and the rest have been inflated in significance as a response to Christmas and that, therefore, it’s only honest to treat Christmas outright as the Real Holiday of the season. But at the same time, for all the talk about how Easter is the most important day of the Christian calendar, it’s the Christmas season in which public-sphere chatter (not to mention commercialization) reaches its frenzied peak and in which non-Christians are constantly being roped into merry-making…and are regarded as dried up cynics if they don’t oblige. I find it hard to blame people for trying to find a way to endorse their Christian friends’ general state of benevolence without seeming to endorse religious convictions they do not share.

    Ah, you say, but the people pushing for denatured holiday greetings aren’t the friendly Zoorastrians down the street but rather the PC-niks trying to erase any trace of spirituality from public life. Okay. Who cares? Even crabbed, obnoxious people can have a point sometimes. If someone’s trying to get her first-grader’s teacher fired for so much as mentioning Christmas, she should be opposed. But fulminating about blandly worded commercials or about store policies that instruct employees to say “Happy holidays” when they’d rather say “Merry Christmas”? Please. If we’re going for plainspokenness in advertising, then “Christmas is the excuse for this particular sale, but really, we want your money even if you’re Anton LaVey” should fill the bill. If we’re going to let cashiers say what’s in their hearts, how about replacing “We look forward to serving you again” with “Don’t let the door hit your fat ass on the way out, bitch–assuming you can make it through with those three helpings of potato skins”?

    Except at matey establishments with a lot of regulars, part of the art of working with the public is learning to be impersonally polite while giving the illusion of just-for-you friendliness. In a society as diverse as America’s, yes, that often means using the most ideology-free greetings possible. Considering the general state of customer service today, you’d think people wouldn’t be so eager to make a war out of efforts to be soothingly accommodating.

    Added at 6:00: Oh, almost forgot:

    Merry Christmas to you all!

    If you don’t find that sufficiently offensive, here, have a picture of three flagrant homosexuals:


    Would have posted that here, but I forgot to bring my cable to the States with my digicam. Eric is on the left. Tom is on the right. If you know how the process of elimination works, you can find me.