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    Armed and dangerous

    Posted by Sean at 02:56, April 8th, 2005

    This AP story about a gay soldier who would like to continue serving after recovering from his wounds is making the rounds; it was Gay News where I first saw it.

    Out of all the sticking points over gays, I have to say, this is one of those I understand the least. The Center for Military Readiness, whose president is quoted in the AP article, has a full page of links on gays in the military, including one to the exclusion law. But the actual nuts-and-bolts reasoning given for the exclusion is very thin. It’s self-evident that the armed forces should only train those elibigle for service, but eligible is one of those words like efficient or positive; it only means something if we all agree on the criteria by which it’s being applied to a given case.

    The CMR releases and the text of Public Law 103-160, Section 654, Title 10 refer to the fact that the armed forces are a special environment requiring unusual discipline, close quartering, little privacy, and unit cohesion. That having gays around would compromise these things is an assumption–it’s not even really asserted, much less justified. I understand the value of tradition, and I know it’s been found that military service is not a constitutional right.

    But you’d think that the reasons for declaring people unfit (that “ineligible” bit is a PC euphemism worthy of the English department at Duke, and it conveniently avoids the question of whether people such as the discharged linguists were more qualified for their jobs than others who might have been trained for them) would be less vague. Given that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been in effect for a decade, if homosexuals were going to throw a wrench into the works, wouldn’t we know it by now? Not having two gay guys serving in the same unit makes sense–family members are separated, too, unless they’ve done away with that rule.

    But a lot of opposition, when you press people to be clear about what it is they’re so afraid of, comes down, in my experience, to the old shower-room argument. And try as I might, I can’t find it in me to take the whole “Well, see, I’m such a tough guy that I’m obliged to get spazzy if I think some gay guy just looked at me cross-eyed” routine seriously.

    In any case, Sgt. Stout was wounded while operating a gun, so whether or not he has any influence on policy, he did his job defending his unit and at least serves as an example that all gay guys don’t compulsively flee physical conflict. I’m grateful for his service, and here’s hoping he’s recovered fully. (I’m assuming so, but the article doesn’t say.)

    Added during a particularly overdone episode of Homicide : Apparently, Michael’s trackbacks are not, in fact, getting through. Here is where his response, in addition to his comments here, is.


    Posted by Sean at 01:35, April 8th, 2005

    Riding Sun seems like a good guy, but he and a few of his commenters have an all-too-common reaction to one of the irritations of living in Japan:

    So, over time, I’ve developed a standard response I use whenever someone comments favorably about my ability to use chopsticks:

    Why, thank you for noticing my chopstick technique! It didn’t come easy, let me tell you. I studied under a chopstick sensei every day for five years. My father took a second job to pay for the lessons. I even withdrew from school at one point to devote myself full-time to chopstick mastery. Long into the night, I would practice picking up dried peas until my fingers ached…

    I carry on in that vein until the other person realizes I’m being sarcastic. It usually takes longer than you’d think.

    Personally, I find that the reply “Well, you know, it’s like everything else–it just takes a little practice” works better than sarcasm. If you’re with people you know from work, you can deliver it with that cringey little bow you give when being complimented, to convey gratitude along with the gentle message “Japanese language and forms are learnable skills if you apply yourself; they’re not as hocus-pocusy as you may think.” If you’re with your new landlord, you can deliver it with an extra-respectful cringe to convey, “I’ll be sure to learn which garbage goes out which night so you’ll never see bags sitting there for days.” If you’re with a guy who’s flirting with you, you can deliver it with The Look to convey, “I’m an all-around quick study, baby.”

    The problem with sarcasm in these situations is twofold. For one thing, it’s a no-no in formal Japanese interaction with near-strangers, so using it kind of casts doubt on the idea that you understand the culture here more than your interlocutor thinks you do. (If Japanese people seem not to be picking up on it, it may be that they’re laboring to give you the benefit of the doubt rather than just leaping to the obvious conclusion that you’re being ungentlemanly.) For another, sarcasm deflects goodwill. Yes, it’s trying to be constantly informed how especially special Japan is. But when people compliment your ability to do Japanese things, they’re saying, “I’m proud of my heritage, and I’m honored that you’re learning to navigate it.” What’s the harm in acknowledging that and letting it drop?

    Unwavering support for constitutional reform in Yomiuri poll

    Posted by Sean at 22:05, April 7th, 2005

    The Yomiuri has taken a poll and found that 61% of respondents (all eligible voters) favor revision of the constitution–mostly centered around Article 9. (Thinner English version here.) More than half of those who agreed the constitution should be revised stated (or chose from a list–it doesn’t say), “New problems have arisen in the world that the existing constitution cannot address.” That included privacy and environmental issues as well as Japan’s role in world peace. The percent of DPJ supporters who endorsed constitutional revision (67%) was actually higher than that of LDP supporters (64%). Even when the issue of Article 9 was broken out, LDP (50%) and DPJ (49%) supporters were nearly even.

    Lingering questions about Japan Post

    Posted by Sean at 08:44, April 7th, 2005

    The editorial in this morning’s Nikkei was about Japan Post reform and addresses several sticking points:

    Prior [to the release of the plan] the LDP compiled a document called “Modes of Thinking for Japan Post Reform.” In it, there were several problems with the government’s proposal indicated, including (1) the corporation that will be financed by the government will be state-owned and privately-managed, and so there are fears that its projects will fall prey to corruption, (2) the division of Japan Post into four companies simply increases the number of positions available for 天下り (amakudari: lit., “descent from the heavens”), (3) it has not been proven that the four new companies (posts, savings accounts, insurance, and counter services) will really be independent.

    Amakudari is similar to what we’d call a revolving door: the system in which high government officials retire to semi-public management or “consulting” jobs in which they can use their accumulated connections and influence to manage resources. Civil servants make less than they could with equivalent credentials in the private sector because the assumption that they’ll retire in their mid-50s and take more-lucrative jobs related to their fields. Government officials have complained about attempts to reform the system because–and it’s hard not to sympathize with them to some degree–they’ve all gone through their entire careers with the understanding that things would work this way. On the other hand, the number of redundant positions boggles the imagination, and attempts at reform are seen as suspect by the Japanese people.

    Lucien has one mommy

    Posted by Sean at 07:50, April 7th, 2005

    I normally don’t talk this way, but…

    Man, I’m old.

    Look at this:

    My partner of 12 years, Alison Maddex, gave birth to a baby boy in November 2002 — Lucien Harry Maddex. I am Lucien’s adoptive parent — but certainly NOT his mother! Alison is Lucien’s one and only mother. That “Heather Has Two Mommies” business gives me the creeps! — and it can only confuse a kid.

    12 years?! Oy. I remember when that relationship was all rumor–Paglia’s a local celeb in Philadelphia, and I was in college at the time.

    Of course, she talks about a bunch of things: the absence of poets from the pop-culture landscape and the limitations of blogging in helping people develop as writers among them.

    These are the dreams / Of an impossible princess

    Posted by Sean at 01:28, April 7th, 2005

    Watch yourself, Amritas. Not even a dear buddy like you is going to get away with sideswiping Kylie. I know an insinuation when I see one. (Additionally, the idea of a straight guy who’s so busy looking at pious plucked chickens like Brad Pitt and Bono that he doesn’t notice Kylie on-stage is frying my brain serious-big-time. 😉 ) Whether she understands free markets in general as well as she knows how to market herself, I do not know; on the evidence of this particular charity she supports, probably not. But, you know, I’ve been a Madonna fan for twenty years. I’m used to adoring a diva’s music and videos while simultaneously wishing she’d stop offering opinions about what life must be like for anyone with a fortune of less than US$200 million.

    Speaking of Kylie…well, we’ll get back to Kylie. I’ll start by saying that, if you’re looking for a song to escape into through your headphones while on an inbound Tokyo commuter train at 8:30 a.m., “Rush Hour” by Jane Wiedlin is a very bad choice. Yeah, I know–the lyrics are metaphorical. Somehow, “Feel it gettin’ hot in here / Feel me gettin’ close to you, dear” does not feel metaphorical when it’s one of the first warm mornings of spring and you’re jammed against a middle-aged salaryman who clearly took his last cigarette puff immediately before boarding. I tried closing my eyes and picturing the video, which was all zooming dolphins and stuff, but it didn’t work.

    Oh, yeah, and while I’m on the subject of Jane: Yoo-hoo! Mr. Three-Word-Dismissal? Vacation did not suck. NOT. Five of the songs sucked, but that’s out of twelve. It’s worth it for “Worlds Away” alone, one of the best songs to take a solitary bath to ever.

    Now, Kylie, she’s got some good bathtub songs, but her single from a few months ago, “I Believe in You“? Perfection as a crowded-train song. You could say to yourself, “I’m not actually being crushed to death by enough people to staff an oil tanker squeezed into a space the size of my entryway. I’m standing alone in a cage of abstract neon tubing, with such a lot of invitingly cool, dark space around me, singing devotional lyrics and making climbing-ivy hand gestures of serene ecstasy.” It just took one jab from an umbrella to bring you out of it, but it was a nice place to float off to.

    Around the maypole

    Posted by Sean at 00:26, April 7th, 2005

    It’s touching that Dean has the patience to keep coming up with new anagrams of his position on gay marriage, as if one day one of his gay friends might listen. But then, as someone’s bound to point out, I’m sitting here writing this post, so who am I to talk?

    Anyway, one thing he’s going off about in the comments is the epidemic of revisionist history among quite a few SSM advocates. I think it’s worth expanding backward on that point a little.

    People used not to understand fertility. I don’t just mean human fertility–they didn’t understand why crops grew and hunt animals were plentiful sometimes but not others, either, any more than they understood why sex sometimes produced children and other times didn’t. Further, the competition for precious resources was fierce. Even after the invention of cavalry and chariots and catapults and cauldrons of pitch, war essentially meant hand-to-hand combat; and there was a lot of war. There was also a lot of disease.

    What all this boiled down to was that human societies knew they desperately needed to keep replacing themselves and the things they subsisted on, but they were never quite sure what was going to work. Things like nitrogen-based fertilizer, filmstrips of sperm and ovum meeting under a microscope, and mechanical refrigeration are all very, very new in human history.

    You already know this, so why am I bringing it up? Because I think it’s easy to forget how the pressure to ensure fertility at all costs has shaped civilization. (Well, Japan, with its disorienting blend of super-modernity and raw primalness, has not lost a lot of its old rites.) When people oppose gay marriage because they assume there’s no love or commitment in our relationships, they’re being ignorant and need to be told so. Even in old times, there were people who reproduced and people who didn’t. There’s no reason gay people can’t contribute to civilization just because we’re not contributing children, and having two people willingly take stewardship over each other’s welfare has obvious benefits.

    But you can argue that, and argue that our ability to care for each other needs protecting in a world of competing interests, without necessarily concluding that marriage has to be expanded to do it. The ability to choose your own life partner is a pretty new thing. Maybe it needs a new institution. Maybe it would do better without any overarching institution but a range of contract options. Maybe, maybe, maybe. The point is, the debate is still going on, and not even all of us who are gay can agree that SSM should be legalized or why. Its advocates are not doing themselves any favors by acting as if the correct conclusion were obvious to, like, any fair-minded person with a brain.

    Just close your eyes, dear

    Posted by Sean at 09:38, April 5th, 2005

    It was kind of weird to look at one of ASV Michele’s recent posts of downloadable songs. Among them, the last of the four, was “Possession” by Sarah McLachlan. Good grief–the flashbacks! I still listen to most of the stuff I liked in college occasionally, so it doesn’t feel frozen in 1991-95.

    But “Possession” was one of those songs you didn’t have to own. It was on college radio all the time. All your arty women friends had the album. (They loved that horrible flippin’ song near the end that went, “Your love is better than a butterscotch sundae with extra marshmallows,” or whatever, too. Girls can be such chicks sometimes.) Every a capella group that had women soloists performed it.

    Personally, I already had a favorite smart-folk-Canadian
    -woman-adds-hip-hop-rhythms-to-her-neuroses-circa-1993 album, so I wasn’t all that impressed. Anyway, I don’t know what I’d think of the whole album now, but hearing the single for the first time in 10 years…wow. What a beautifully-modulated song. Pretty and creepy in just the right proportions. Perfect for listening to at night in a darkened apartment. Well, assuming you’re not in the middle of an unrequited obsession in real life, in which case that’s probably not such a good idea. Personally, I find it strangely comforting, since when it was out, I still had no idea I was a repressed homosexual and was figuring I’d become one of those professors who never fall in love with anything but their books. I’m glad I ended up with books and an Atsushi, if not the professorship.

    Japan Post proposal nearly ready–we mean it

    Posted by Sean at 03:58, April 4th, 2005

    Those planning the privatization of Japan Post talked this weekend about selling off in stages the remaining government-held stake in the two new firms that will handle postal savings and life insurance. Some were still balking at the idea of offloading the entire government stake in ten years, but an agreement appears to have been reached: all government shares are to be sold by the end of March 2017. The government will unveil its basic proposal tomorrow after presenting it to the leaders of the LDP and Shin-Komeito.

    BTW, people occasionally ask me how much money we’re talking about here. The answer: a WHOLE LOT OF MONEY. There are about ¥230 trillion (US $1.9 trillion) in postal savings accounts. That’s between one-third and one-half of the personal savings in Japan, and the “bankers” that manage it are in a special department of the Ministry of Finance. Much of it has been invested in government bonds that no one else is buying, much of the remainder serves as a sort of slush fund for favored government projects, and the rest is invested elsewhere. This Q&A-style piece from The Japan Times last fall gives some of the figures and major problems (consider that I haven’t discussed the insurance money). I’m in favor of privatization, but–like bank, pension, health care, and social insurance reforms–it’s going to be painful.

    Added at 19:20: PM Koizumi has announced his joy over the completion of the proposal. Something I’ve kept forgetting to mention, though it’s at the bottom of most articles about the issue: if the new computer systems aren’t ready in time, the beginning of the switchover will be delayed by up to six months.

    Added on 5 April: The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, naturally, was not looking forward to the loss of control–its objections are not surprising. The somewhat thornier issues involve how to ensure that mail delivery continues to isolated communities, and they’ve been around for months. There are still questions about the plan that raise California-energy-fiasco-type worries. From the Yomiuri :

    After the two units are fully privatized, the holding company will be allowed to buy back some of the shares it sells. In addition, the outline includes a provision that allows the four postal entities to hold shares in each other after the privatization process ends in 2017.

    The outline also stipulates the creation of a 1 trillion yen fund to cover the privatized entities’ potential losses in providing postal savings and life insurance services in less populated areas as part of their universal service obligations.

    So they’re being privatized but only partially deregulated. From what I can tell, the opening is also made for a version of 持ち合い (mochiai: “mutual-shareholding“), a Japanese business practice that may, as that page states, “[create] a sense of shared responsibilities and obligations of each other’s business success” but also makes you wonder what the point of having four separate companies would be.

    Outing and hypocrisy, cont.

    Posted by Sean at 00:33, April 4th, 2005

    I meant to draw attention to a link I got from Joe yesterday, but I got sidetracked by spring cleaning. (Is there anything worse than having dingy sheers at your windows? I feel so much better now.) Anyway, here’s part of his response:

    I realize that for me hypocrisy is the trigger, but the justification is political. Outing is a legitimate and reasonable political response to the current political climate. It’s a deliberate, open, and peaceful act of nonviolent resistance, an act in some ways similar to civil disobedience. (And not, as Mike Rogers suggests, merely reporting.)

    I know it’s obnoxious to assume that people are disagreeing with you because they don’t understand what you’re saying, rather than that they do and just think you’re wrong. Nevertheless, I think Joe isn’t focusing on the real point.

    One of the most precious things in a free society is the ability an individual has to set his own priorities, to make his own trade-offs when he can’t optimize all values at once. In traditional societies, the wider group decides what trade-offs are best, which is why people who have their own ideas about where their talents lie or what means happiness for them so often leave them. Outing someone takes away that right. It says that self-assigned arbiters of the proper way to be gay get to dictate that someone has to be openly homosexual and just deal with the resulting loss of options. Anyone who plans on doing such a thing had better be armed with something less lame than “But he’s a hypocrite.” (Sorry, Michael. I know you’re not writing a dissertation here, but when we’re talking about revealing things about people’s private lives without their consent, you’re going to have to do better than that.)

    It’s not just that hypocrisy is insufficient as ethical grounds for outing–though it is. It’s that there may be nothing hypocritical about these people at all. If some people believe the best work they can do is as legislators or campaign leaders, and they’re willing to keep quiet about their private life to facilitate it, where’s the hypocrisy? I’m about as big a flamer as you can get without physically being on fire (as a straight acquaintance once put it), but I oppose the campaign for gay marriage, I oppose hate crimes laws, and I oppose the endless workshops for elementary school students about the variety of sexual options open to them. Perhaps I sincerely and mistakenly believe a few things that are inconsistent with each other, but I can assure you that there’s no double-dealing or cowardly self-preservation involved. It’s not at all hard to believe that there are conservative gay politicians in the same situation, and that’s their lookout.

    And as for the civil disobedience analogy, I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work. Civil disobedience involves putting yourself on the line and risking arrest in order to make a point. Outing involves screwing up other people’s lives without risking anything of yourself. There’s no comparison.