• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Con panna

    Posted by Sean at 00:36, August 24th, 2005

    I don’t blame Michael or Henry Lewis for not bringing it up, but there’s an interesting aspect to this story that I think worth paying attention to:

    The Concerned Women of America, a “traditional family values” organization run by Beverly LaHaye, wife of fundamentalist preacher Rev. Tim Lahaye, a Christian broadcaster, has targeted Starbucks for promoting “homosexual values” by including quotes from gay individuals on their coffee cups, and for the company’s support of a San Diego gay pride event.

    The campaign also features quotes from other gay celebrities including singer–songwriter Rufus Wainwright, and musician Stephin Merritt.

    Starbucks started the “The Way I See It” quote program “as an extension of the coffeehouse culture — a way to promote open, respectful conversation among a wide variety of individuals.” Other notable figures whose quotes appear on the cups include actor Quincy Jones, New Age author Deepak Chopra, film critic Michael Medved, Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan and coaching legend John Wooden.

    So–our campaign to promote discussion among people of differing viewpoints includes a few gays, a New Age guru, a few movie types–isn’t Q still mostly known as a music producer, BTW?–and a few athletes. Notice anyone missing?

    I suppose it’s possible that there are deep thoughts from conservative Christians on some of the cups Starbucks printed for the program, or at least that there was bland spiritual content in the quotations from those considered notable for non-religious achievements. But it seems odd that the company’s media manager wouldn’t have mentioned that if it were the case. Doing so would, after all, have been the obvious way to deflect criticism from the CWF that Starbucks is promoting one-sided agenda.

    Starbucks program planners probably didn’t sit in their official smoke-filled smoke-free room and say, “Well, whatever we do, let’s be sure to leave out those dreadful Christians!” But the effect of hewing closely to the academic left’s definition of “diversity” is to give the religiously devout yet another little reason to feel that “the coffeehouse culture” believes they have no wisdom of their own to offer but plenty to learn from everyone else. Even if you don’t think that’s unfair, it’s bad strategy, especially for gays and those who think they’re trying to help us.

    Aside: I think that if I were confronted, of a not-yet-caffeinated morning, with a quotation from Deepak f’ing Chopra on my coffee cup, I’d hand the sucker back and head back to bed, perhaps forever.

    Added while trying to keep biscotti crumbs out of the keyboard: Henry Lewis commented to say that the contributors to “The Way I See It” do include a few conservatives; I’m more than happy to admit an error when it turns out I was being too cynical.

    Even so, maybe I’m just too inclined to be hard on gay PR and am making a big deal out of nothing, but…put it this way: you’ve got an exchange of ideas that includes a New Age guy, an out gay guy, an Asian woman athlete, et c. I think that most rank-and-file Americans would say that if you really want to reflect the diversity of society, there should be an obvious Christian, saying pointedly Christian things, in there somewhere.

    I went out on the balcony / With your photograph

    Posted by Sean at 09:56, August 23rd, 2005

    Mark Alger says that summer has begun its slow glide toward fall in Cincinnati. Tokyo had its moment last week, too. I walked out the door, and–uh, if you’ve ever had an inner-ear infection, you know how the doctor gives you anti-biotics and pain-killers and you go home and go to bed and you wake up and it doesn’t hurt and the relief is so overwhelming you almost cry? It was like that. You felt air–real, lovely, moving air that actually felt as if it contained some oxygen along with the water vapor. Suddenly, you knew you could walk down the street without expecting to run into Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego around every corner.

    Fine, so the city turned back into a kiln within twelve hours, but the brief moment of relief was enough to give hope. Today, we had a rain that was actually kind of refreshing. I think I’ve been compulsively downing less iced tea, at least by a little. It won’t be long before guys are no longer walking around in shorts (boo!), but not long after that they’ll be wearing sweaters (yum!), so it all works out.

    Iraqi constitution

    Posted by Sean at 09:25, August 23rd, 2005

    The NYT has the proposed Iraqi constitution posted. Michael has it, I think, in perspective:

    It’s not perfect, but unlike some people, I didn’t expect it to be. A lot needs to be worked out. I’m not happy with laws being based on Islam, but I am happy with Article 151: No less than 25 percent of Council of Deputies seats go to women. That would make it more representative than Parliament in Canada. And, if women are treated unequally, then they, as a majority vote in Iraq, have the right to force change in the law.

    I’m not really fond of Article 151–just removing barriers to women’s political participation strikes me as sufficient in that sphere. I don’t usually go for nationalized industries, either, though in this period of transition holding off on privatization may be a wise initial move. Iraq has several competing ethnicities and a population shellshocked by decades of brutal dictatorship followed by invasion followed by slow reconstruction. Anyone who’s acting all bowled over at the fact that people have clung to tradition (in this case Islamic) to help stabilize things is either disingenuous or stupid.


    Posted by Sean at 09:11, August 23rd, 2005

    Japan’s proceeding with its SST plan:

    Japan’s space agency plans to launch an arrow-shaped airplane at twice the speed of sound high over the Australian outback as early as next month in a crucial test of the country’s push to develop a supersonic successor to the retired Concorde.

    The test follows a three-year hiatus since the first experimental flight of the unmanned aircraft, dubbed the next-generation supersonic transport, prematurely separated from its booster rocket and crashed into the desert.

    “We’ve made some improvements so that won’t happen again,” Takaaki Akuto, a spokesman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, said Tuesday in Tokyo. “This is a pretty important test.”

    A successful mission will pave the way for additional experiments as JAXA aims to develop a plane that can carry 300 passengers at Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound, making the run from Tokyo to Los Angeles in about four hours.

    The aircraft is being developed in a partnership with France, whose history in the way of making profitable supersonic jets is not what you would call promising. But let’s just leave that aside and dream of flying to LA in four hours.

    Four hours! Just think of what you could do with the seven hours you’d save that way: start recovering from your jet lag early…spend more time with your friends…catch a domestic flight to New York and end up spending less time in the air than you would have spent flying Narita-JFK on a 747…write and proofread the great American novel. It would be like winning the chronolottery. Of course, it’s likely to be super-expensive, if it happens at all, so for now we’re still stuck trying to convince ourselves that 12 hours of imprisonment is great because it’s the perfect opportunity to reread War and Peace without distraction.

    Volume control

    Posted by Sean at 23:55, August 22nd, 2005

    I don’t seem to have enough gay readers to fill a taxi, and I doubt that those I do have need this particular sermon, but JIC….

    There’s nothing wrong with being boisterously gay at a bar. I do it all the time myself. But honey, it’s possible to do so without screeching so loudly that everyone else in the place wonders whether he’s accidentally wandered into a junior high school girls’ bathroom.

    Not long ago, I was at one of my favorite hang-outs, and it was fairly full. You had to talk at a bit above normal conversational volume to be heard, which was fine. Then in came a group of four or five guys who decided that if 70 decibels are good, 130 are even better. I don’t just mean, like, every once in a while, they’d all laugh uproariously when someone made a good wisecrack. I’m talking about their sustained volume.

    One of them was talking about his sex buddy Darren back in Boston. I learned (from five stools away, mark you) a lot about Darren. Darren ties him up just the way he likes it. Darren is close to 50. Darren is no movie star, but he’s pretty cute. Darren has as much hair on his abs as on his chest. Darren’s belly has a fair amount of fat on it, but the muscles underneath are still rock-hard. Darren proves that it’s true what they say about guys with big noses.

    This went on and on, loudly. To make matters worse, one of the Japanese guys in the party didn’t seem to understand idiomatic English very well, and Mr. Bostonian was being pretty slangy, so every once in a while he had to stop and repeat something he’d just said, rephrasing it with can’t-miss-it literalism.

    Aside from the tying-up part, and depending on just how much lard there is on his tummy, Darren actually sounds kinda hot. I’m almost sorry that I didn’t encounter him when I was younger and wilder. At this point, though, I’m afraid the next time I go to Boston I’m going to run into Darren, recognize him, and merrily appropriate him as an old acquaintance before I remember that I myself do not, in fact, know him. Adjusting your voice so that your friends can hear you but those around cannot is worth the effort, guys. Otherwise, you look at best impolite and at worst desperate to convince the world at large that your life is exciting.

    Retiring with dignity

    Posted by Sean at 09:14, August 22nd, 2005

    Okay, um, when Dianne Feinstein (1) is calling you petty and (2) has a point, it is time to change your thinking. it is high time to change your thinking. it is way past high time to change your thinking. just what the hell are you thinking, anyway? Jaw, meet desk:

    The USS Iowa joined in battles from World War II to Korea to the Persian Gulf. It carried President Franklin Roosevelt home from the Teheran conference of allied leaders, and four decades later, suffered one of the nation’s most deadly military accidents.

    Veterans groups and history buffs had hoped that tourists in San Francisco could walk the same teak decks where sailors dodged Japanese machine-gun fire and fired 16-inch guns that helped win battles across the South Pacific.

    Instead, it appears that the retired battleship is headed about 80 miles inland, to Stockton, a gritty agricultural port town on the San Joaquin River and home of California’s annual asparagus festival.

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a former San Francisco mayor, helped secure $3 million to tow the Iowa from Rhode Island to the Bay Area in 2001 in hopes of making touristy Fisherman’s Wharf its new home.

    But city supervisors voted 8-3 last month to oppose taking in the ship, citing local opposition to the Iraq war and the military’s stance on gays, among other things.

    “If I was going to commit any kind of money in recognition of war, then it should be toward peace, given what our war is in Iraq right now,” Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said.

    Feinstein called it a “very petty decision.”

    “This isn’t the San Francisco that I’ve known and loved and grew up in and was born in,” Feinstein said.

    For crying out loud, people, I don’t much like the military’s stance on gays, either–but, you know, for much of the time the Iowa was in service, homosexual conduct was flat-out illegal everywhere. This kind of snippy grandstanding disregards any progress that’s been made and looks like…well, snippy grandstanding. (Now, there’s a stance that’s likely to convince the military to consider a change of policy.) Furthermore, anyone who would spurn a ship that was used to help defend American liberties through key events in the 20th century because he happens not to like what the military is doing right now is a fruitcake. Slap Korean War veterans in the face to make a point about the Iraq invasion? I’m only grateful that the article doesn’t spell out what the “other things” are. Happily, the officials from Stockton who are quoted in the article indicate that it’s going to get a proper welcome there.

    Lesser of two evils

    Posted by Sean at 04:07, August 21st, 2005

    This editorial from the Nikkei raises good, albeit depressing, questions about the plans the two major parties have for Japan Post:

    The DPJ plan would maintain Japan Post as a semi-public corporation but lower the cap on savings account balances for a single depositor from the current 10 million yen to 7 million yen by next year, and from there down to 5 million yen over several years, so that the approximate 220 trillion yen now held in postal savings would shrink by half. There would also be some sort of method used to decrease the number of new policyholders for insurance. The party touts its plan as a way of realizing a more definite transfer of capital from the post offices to private banks and insurance companies than the LDP plan would: “A change in the flow of capital from public to private.”

    That’s one way of thinking, but it leaves more than one question open. If the amount of capital contracts greatly, not all of the 26000 regular employees of Japan Post will be needed, but the DPJ plan doesn’t say anything clear about personnel reductions. The party says, “Personnel levels will, of course, be adjusted as more workers reach mandatory retirement age,” but to the extent that the Japan Post unions and other organizations, which are antipathetic to personnel reductions, are expected to form a layer of support for the party, the plan lacks persuasiveness without concrete proposals for personnel management.

    The DPJ plan maintains Japan Post as a semi-governmental corporation but says that it will investigate the full spectrum of options, including integration with federal financial institutions. Privatization is also included among the options. However, if the option of not privatizing Japan Post outright is not selected for now, then there will be no choice but to use money from the profitable deposit and insurance divisions to make up for losses by the postal services division if it once again becomes unprofitable as trends such as e-mail cut into its business. In extreme cases, it’s possible that tax money will need to be used to rescue postal services.

    Of course, it’s not a sure thing that the LDP’s privatization plan is going to bring us salvation, either:

    On the other hand, the privatization bill to be resubmitted by the LDP would split postal services, savings, and insurance into three separate corporations, then establish a fourth for counter services that would absorb the majority of current post office employees. A holding company would manage these four organizations. Government guarantees on postal savings and insurance would be abolished.

    This is privatization in outline, but as a result of compromises with the former Mori faction, added provisions mean that in substance, the three divisions will continue to function as a single monolithic body, and furthermore, and significant government interests will remain.

    For example, the holding company is a public entity for which the government will provide more than a third of its capital. On top of that, the holding company will be able to continue to hold shares in the savings and insurance corporations even after March 2017, when the transition to privatization is to be completed. That means there is a real worry the flow of capital from public to private hands will not be effected: government interests in the organizations’ financial operations, including where capital is allocated, will remain all along.

    This isn’t new–I’ve discussed everything in the above paragraphs in scattered posts from time to time, but it’s a good summary.

    Quake in Niigata

    Posted by Sean at 00:26, August 21st, 2005

    There was an earthquake in Niigata this morning–M5.0 and also a strong 5 on the JMA scale. Reported damage sounds like little more than a few broken windows, but I’m sure the residents are jumpy after last fall’s series of destructive quakes. In Japanese terms, Niigata, like Kobe, is not considered a very seismically active area, so preparations are somewhat sketchy, though I’m sure they’re a lot better now than they were last year at this time.

    Old Japan

    Posted by Sean at 00:18, August 21st, 2005

    I probably would have missed this had Susanna not shot me an e-mail about it: Roger Simon is in Japan and is posting photos and impressions of his stay in Nikko. Worth reading. One thing he said is heartbreakingly true:

    English is only sparingly spoken here [at the inn where he’s staying] and all of the other patrons are Japanese. They seem to be more in search of Old Japan than even this gaijin.

    Yes. There are Japanophile Westerners who get all woozy over “traditional Japanese culture” in a way that makes it seem they care for nothing beyond having somewhere quaint and exotic and Zen and Oriental to go in order to fill in their own spiritual void. But you don’t have to adopt that condescending perspective to see that the Japanese people’s relationship with modernization is complex and not as resolutely amicable as it’s often made to seem.

    Tokyo is a striking city–I’ve lived here for almost a decade and love it to pieces, but let’s face it: no place on Earth brings the fug like Tokyo. A lot of it really does look like Bladerunner. What Tokyo has going for it, however, is that it’s the largest and most kinetic megalopolis in the developed world. Its expansive affluence and churning, insane vitality mean you don’t mind the drabness so much.

    Where the ugliness of modern Japan really makes you want to weep is in places such as Kyoto. Nothing quite prepares you for when you alight at the new Kyoto Station, prepared to immerse yourself in one of the most legendarily beautiful cities in the world…and realize that you’re inside a big modernist glass box of monumental, almost unimaginable hideousness. Across the street from the glass box is the unfortunate Kyoto Tower Hotel, which looks like a giant toilet brush in its stand. The downtown is full of the unprepossessing stucco-ish and tiled building facades you can see anywhere in Japan. Of course, the temples and a few select old neighborhoods really are as gorgeous as you expect. Atsushi and I were there in the fall of 2001 when the leaves were just reaching their peak. It was magical–until you came back down the mountain into the city. Then you may as well have been in Nagoya.

    Japanese people realize that the way they’ve modernized, impressive as it is, has not produced a happy medium. Unfortunately, building codes and public works projects don’t show much sign of changing, and the architects who have found imaginative ways to integrate old-fashioned Japanese ideas of structure with modern technology and materials are way outnumbered by those who are content to design big, characterless boxes. Or who go headlong in the other direction and generate designs for buildings that are so trippy and “experimental” as to be user-unfriendly.

    A lot of the “traditional” Japanese inns have the same visible air conditioning units and formica furniture and artificial fibers that you see elsewhere here. What they have going for them are the water and rock- and cedar-lined baths. And they’re not as crowded as the commuter trains. I’m not sure Tanizaki would have approved, but that’s about as close to nature as life gets for most people these days.

    Domestic goddess

    Posted by Sean at 10:07, August 19th, 2005

    You know what it is about Nigella Lawson? The rack. This is a woman who was clearly designed by God to provide sustenance.* I mean, it would be a relief in any case to see this kind of female celeb–featured in British Vogue and known for being A-list glam–who does not force herself into the ubiquitous Malnutritia McGelboobs silhouette. Bonus points for having mastered the ability to wear clothes that showcase her curves without making her look like a $2-an-hour whore. (Could someone closer to LA and NY maybe remind the stylists of the developed world that fabric is supposed to cover people’s privates in public?)

    Her hair approaches Jaclyn Smith levels of thick, lustrous gorgeousness, too–I bet chewing and swallowing food and then keeping it down long enough to absorb all the nutrients helps with that.

    Good grief–girlfriend just came out in a silk bathrobe to rub oil into some kind of roast with her bare hands in the eerie midnight glow of a kitchen light. If I were a straight man or dyke, I’d be having a stroke right now.

    Added on 21 August: Note to self: if you ever want a sudden increase in weekend traffic, find a way to get Kim to link you with a post about boobies. Good grief. I mean, in a good way. (And thanks, man.)