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    Mysteries of the pyramids

    Posted by Sean at 09:58, July 13th, 2004

    You gotta love stories like this. The USDA is thinking of redesigning its food pyramid, which tells you the recommended number of daily servings from the various food groups. The reasoning is…well, you can see here (note the assumptions packed into the use of but in the second paragraph):

    The [United States Department of Agriculture] is asking for public comment on whether to replace the pyramid or update it, Hentges said. He was taking no stand on that choice. “We do not have a preconceived notion,” he said.

    Federal officials say about 80 percent of Americans recognize the pyramid, but about 66 percent are overweight or obese.

    And clearly this is because the federally-approved graphic representing the ideal diet is the wrong shape. The entire article paints a pathetically humorous picture of a nation of affluent, literate, free citizens–with more dietary choices than most of history’s emperors–who have no prayer of figuring out how to eat well without the USDA. No joke. This is the second paragraph from the article:

    Too many are confused by the recommendations and can’t figure out how to implement them. The proof, Agriculture Department officials say, is that two out of three Americans are fat.

    I doubt any higher-ups from the USDA are reading this, but just in case, here is my public comment: No one gives a flying f**k about the food pyramid. Go think about something else.

    Surely somewhere in America, there’s a pig with trichinosis or a slaughterhouse with substandard sanitation to keep you occupied. As far as nutrition goes, we wouldn’t exist if thousands of years of our ancestors hadn’t known how to combine foods for a healthy diet without the assistance of a food pyramid. Granted, the problems nowadays are somewhat different. It used to be that, say, knowledge of the Three Sisters (a garden stand combining beans, squash, and maize) was precious to Native Americans because it made sure no nutrients were missing from the diet. Today, we’re so decadently rich we want to avoid getting too much nutrition.

    Still and all, everyone in America knows that you need fresh fruit and vegetables, starchy foods, and (because most of us can afford them regularly) meats, in moderate portions, for a balanced diet. Unless you’re insane, you know that you can’t expect to eat nothing but Entenmann’s pound cake and be healthy. Whether you think enriched wheat flour and high-fructose corn syrup are the foods of Satan, or think meat and carbohydrates shouldn’t be eaten at one sitting, or never eat anything but organically grown plant foods, or whatever, doesn’t change the list of essential nutrient-rich foods much. Those who prefer to eat yummy products with low food value will not be enlightened or guilt-tripped by a revised food pyramid into changing their eating habits. The taxpayers, however, will be out yet more money, and an office-full of busybodies in an industrial park will have something to do for the next few years. And we all know that’s what’s really important.

    Nothing’s better than more

    Posted by Sean at 12:12, July 11th, 2004

    I keep not commenting on things Alice in Texas says because it’s fun to go to the site of someone you have no communication with and occasionally see yourself linked. (Seeing yourself upstaged by having your ideas fleshed out with more point and humor than you yourself managed is not fun, though it is instructive.) Unfortunately, homeschooling four children appears to make it difficult for her to hang around in gay bars where we might meet, so our mutual introduction will have to be on-line. So, taking her links as an offer of a handshake, let me say, Welcome to America, Alice…uh…from a guy who lives in Japan.

    Anyway, she’s almost always right on, as when she says this:

    But then, liberals have always had a problem with boundaries. They would like all walls taken down, giving everyone free access to everyone else’s possessions and property, allowing us to be one big happy family all together. Because if only people would simply hand over everything they most treasure to complete strangers, the world would be a nicer place. Oh yeah. You see, it’s all about stuff.

    What most bewilders me about such people is their ability to act, on the one hand, as if our kind of social order were so natural to the human organism that you can meddle with it at will without making it collapse…and then to display, on the other hand, a tendency toward control-freak micro-planning when they get their hands on actual institutions. But as Alice encapsulates here, there’s a whole skein of other, equally nasty assumptions involved: that there’s a fixed amount of good fortune to go around, that therefore envy is the natural and proper reaction to others’ good fortune, and that it’s better to make everyone equally miserable than to allow unequal outcomes of any kind.

    Unsurprising lack of shake-up in the Diet

    Posted by Sean at 11:05, July 11th, 2004

    The morning edition of the Nikkei says the LDP + Komei Party coalition won 59 seats, eight more than it was shooting for. There were still, when the dead-tree version was going to press, two seats that hadn’t been decided. The chief opposition group (the Democratic, Communist, and Social Democratic Parties of Japan–no jokes from the peanut gallery, okay?) won 55 seats, so the result is, not surprisingly, an uneasy split. Voter turnout seems not to have been all that high, considering how it was hammered into us that this was a referendum on social welfare policy and the Iraq occupation.


    Posted by Sean at 22:10, July 10th, 2004

    Polls are closed, and vote counting has started. We’ll see what happens.

    On this occasion it’s not true / Look at me, I’m not you

    Posted by Sean at 17:04, July 10th, 2004

    Asymmetrical Information, in the process of debating gay marriage, points to a post of Myria’s that’s few months old and, like most of what she writes, good. Her main point (later in the post) is about the Presidential election and people who would vote for John Wayne Gacy if it meant defeating Bush, but she leads up to it by talking about other issues:

    To my way of thinking only an idiot, or an immature child, defines their sexuality by what sex they don

    Rock the vote

    Posted by Sean at 15:59, July 10th, 2004

    Parliamentary elections here in Japan today. (Actually, unless you’re Amritas, you probably want this link). There are 120-odd Diet seats up for election. The magic number for Koizumi’s LDP base to stay solid is 51 seats won. CNN says:

    Now he is struggling and his ratings have plunged to just 40 percent after he decided to keep Japanese troops in Iraq and pushed through an unpopular bill to reform the country’s pension system.

    The beleaguered system is unable to pay for its aging population and Koizumi’s answer was to introduce legislation that increases payments and cuts payouts.

    They were necessary reforms, Koizumi says, but it was not a popular policy.

    On Iraq, the public is deeply divided over the wisdom of Koizumi’s ambitious deployment — Japan’s riskiest mission since WWII.

    When Koizumi announced that troops would be staying on after the Iraqi handover — without consulting lawmakers — the public was not pleased.

    “The government is abusing its power. Since they represent the people of Japan, they should stand by us,” voter Hiroko Furuya says.

    The Japanese are clearly unhappy with Koizumi, but few are impressed with the opposition either. The result is that a chunk of former Koizumi supporters are now undecided.

    The problem is that Japanese voters are like voters everywhere. At the bunting-and-motivational-speech stage, it’s easy for 80% of them to approve of a candidate that represents change. When he’s in office and actually wants to, you know, change things, it’s a different story. That’s not to say that I’m necessarily all that hot on the way the National Pension scheme is being reformed. It’s just that there’s no way to fix the damned thing without taking goodies away from some constituency or other, and most Japanese people (especially the appointed, unaccountable bureaucrats who actually run the place) would drop dead at the merest hint of privatizing it. Maybe they could just invest the whole thing in Mitsubishi Motors stock; then the whole problem, along with all the money, would disappear and we could start over. In any case, at least making contributors kick in more money and beneficiaries take less has the equal-treatment virtue of screwing everyone over.

    Another thing to bear in mind is that, through the post-Nakasone ’80’s and ’90’s, Japan went through Prime Ministers faster than Madonna went through shades of Clairol. A lot of Japanese people don’t feel that Koizumi fixed everything he talked about fixing and were opposed to the deployment of SDF troops in Iraq, but they’re used to him, they’re suspicious of the old guard of the LDP, and the economy has been pretty okay. It’ll be interesting to see what the final count is.

    Added at 20:00-ish: I’m apparently much too used to CNN’s airbrush-everything style. When I cut and pasted from the article above, I didn’t even notice that the SDF Iraq deployment was referred to as “Japan’s riskiest mission since WWII.” World War II was a…risky…mission…for the…Japanese? My sainted aunt.

    Your eyes say yes / Even when you tell me no

    Posted by Sean at 15:30, July 9th, 2004

    I can’t tell whether Eric Scheie is seriously stumped or playing up the naive tone for effect, but all the questions he raises about some current definitions of rape are good ones. Not for the first time, a woman college student who got drunk and went back to a dorm room with two college guys is accusing them of rape.

    In an accompanying article, a “mutual” standard is announced, and the reason I’m putting it in my blog is that I am having conceptual difficulty understanding it:

    “The good that can come out of this is that more people will see the problem for what it is,” Bath said. “We have to educate young women about this issue, and we also have to educate young men. Don’t put yourself in position to be a victim or a perpetrator.

    “Young men, including athletes, have to be made to understand: You’re not entitled to sex. And if the woman is drunk, you’re even less entitled to sex. It’s a crime.”

    OK, let’s parse that.

    I think I have a pretty good idea how to avoid being a victim. But how do I avoid putting myself “in position” to be “a perpetrator”? Any idea what that means? I mean, usually, the way I manage not to perpetrate crimes is simply by not perpetrating them.

    Position? Do they mean sexual positions? Or merely in any tempting locations? There are sexually attractive people in many locations; does this mean that there should be no dating? No kissing? No heavy necking?

    Analogizing to other forms of crime, does that mean that people shouldn’t work near money lest they put themselves “in position” to be a perpetrator?

    Then there’s the entitlement issue. Certainly, I am not entitled to sex. Agree completely. I never thought I was. The statement makes me wonder whether there is an entire new class of people out there who believe in sexual entitlement as a matter of right. Is that true? What have I been missing?

    Then there’s this:

    if the woman is drunk, you’re even less entitled to sex. It’s a crime.

    Only if the woman is drunk? Isn’t that sexist? Or is all drunken sex a crime?

    (The article he links to is here.)

    Part of the problem may be a generation gap. When we arrived at college in 1991, there was a sexual assault session as part of freshmen orientation. It was one of those that we were herded to–you didn’t just show up and have the ability to skip out on it. In it, we were given to understand that, basically, a woman was permitted to say no at any point between “Hi, can I buy you a drink?” and orgasm. If the man didn’t stop, he was a rapist. (Yes, they kept the language scrupulously gender-neutral, but we all knew they weren’t trying to prevent crew guys from being mounted and pinioned by sorority girls.)

    This was before the infamous Antioch College behavior code, which required explicit verbal consent at every step along the way. Still, the undisguised intention was to let men know that they could be considered rapists if they did anything to displease the women they slept with. So even though I think such a definition of rape is inequitable, infantilizes women, treats straight men like lowest-common-denominator barbarians, and prevents everyone from assuming adult responsibility–though I think all those things, I’ve been hearing people talk that way since I was 19. It repels but doesn’t faze me.

    Along those lines, I was most interested by this: “The statement makes me wonder whether there is an entire new class of people out there who believe in sexual entitlement as a matter of right. Is that true?” I don’t think it’s true specifically. What I think is that the leftish nannies in charge of student life programs can’t resolve a certain conflict in their thinking. (Well, there are many conflicts they can’t resolve, but I’m speaking of just one here.) Their overarching message is that all choices are equal and that individualism means feeling free to act on whatever impulse wafts into your pretty little head.

    Naturally, 18-year-olds living away from home are going to take this to mean free sex, as part of a more general sense of entitlement. Then student life dean-types have no choice but to back and fill and point out that, well, no, dear, you aren’t really entitled to sex with anyone and everyone just because you want it. Desires must be refereed, and since academic feminism is the highest priority among such people, the woman gets to make all the choices and the man gets to make none of them.

    One of the most darkly hilarious aspects of our freshmen orientation about sexual assault came at the end. The perky graduate student had led our group of ten or so students through discussions about why you were a rapist if you had sex with a partner who was drunk, a partner who was high, a partner who said no but didn’t stop you later when you fumbled with her bra again, or a partner who tried to push you away when you’d already been copulating for ten minutes. She wrapped things up by saying, “Well, I’d just like to point out that, while it’s okay to say no, it’s okay to say yes, too.” Really? Well, there you go. That makes it all clear. It isn’t surprising that, after four years in the charge of such people, a lot of college kids end up more confused about sex and sexuality than when they arrived as teenagers.

    Added 5 seconds later: I would just like to point out that I’m aware of the ambiguity in “there was a sexual assault session as part of freshmen orientation” and decided to leave it in because I got a giggle out of it. Rest assured that the only things actually being assaulted during the session were morality, ethics, logic, and common sense. This is why we go to college, right?


    Posted by Sean at 14:35, July 9th, 2004

    Japanese abductee Hitomi Soga has arrived at her hotel in Jakarta after meeting her husband and daughters. They’ve been apart for a year and nine months. I wonder whether the girls have ever been outside North Korea–probably not, but I haven’t read anything about it one way or another. The Nikkei says that the younger daughter addressed her as “Mommy” in Korean when they met, which reminds you of how much adjusting they’re all going to have to do if they settle in Japan. I imagine their life in the DPRK was pretty privileged; the girls will probably miss home for quite a while before settling in if they come to Japan or settle elsewhere. BTW, it looks as if CNN is covering the reunion and has a nice summary of most of what led up to it.

    Messy and long–be warned!

    Posted by Sean at 13:08, July 9th, 2004

    Only twelve hours left in this week. Good. Last Saturday, I got a message from a church friend of my parents–like an older sister to me growing up–that another friend of ours–like a little sister to me growing up–had died. So I wrote back asking what had happened, of course. I’m thinking, Oh, no, leukemia. Or a car accident. Well, that wasn’t it. I don’t want to name her or give details, but suffice it to say that I was listening to Zen Arcade this week, and “Pink Turns to Blue” hit me like a sledgehammer. I’ve lost touch with most of the people I knew at home–I can’t blame anyone, since I’m the one that was eager to leave–but (I know this sounds dumb) I just kind of assume that the friends I went to church with are okay, you know? Sure, there were a few who had scarily repressive parents and ended up rebelling and getting pregnant at sixteen. But most of us turned out okay, even those who didn’t stay in the church. And C. was so sweet. She was neurotic, she dressed in black, she listened to the Cure–I hated the Cure and was always pushing New Order on her, go figure–but unlike me, she wasn’t a neurotic and brittle and mean teenager. She was disaffected, but she didn’t resent other people who were ordinary and happy. Knowing she’s not around anymore has made me feel hollow all week. She’s buried in my hometown, so it’ll be easy to make time to visit when I’m home in the autumn. 安らかに休んで下さい。

    So I’ve been feeling low, and last night, I had the misfortune to run into two of the people I’d hoped most to avoid. 30 million people in this city and–again, go figure–there they were a few feet down the bar. One is an old acquaintance who refuses to shut up about how he thinks Atsushi’s moving away is the perfect opportunity for me to be a ho. Normally, I’d be happy to walk away or push him off the bar stool if he didn’t cut it out, but last night he was so pitiably schnockered that it would have made me look like the one who was picking on him. I know what the popular image of urban gay life is, but in truth I know very few effed-up, insolvent alkies and have a hard time dealing with those I do know.

    Thankfully, my buddies behind the bar weren’t far from cutting him off. But he managed to get in a last dig: “It’s easy for you to talk about self-discipline, because you’re one of the guys who get to choose, and everyone does what you want.” I’d shrug something like that off normally, but something about the way another guy we know giggled gave me one of those moments of paranoia: Jeez, is that the way people see me? I mean, I’m probably the least attention-courting man in the free world. I take no pleasure whatever in rejecting people who are attracted to me–unless they obviously believe they’re irresistible. I’m very fortunate to have Atsushi, but it’s not as if we don’t work at being good to each other. And furthermore, the only reason we were talking about this in the first place is that this character wouldn’t change the subject even after I tried the old “The weather is really extraordinarily muggy this summer, isn’t it?” routine twelve times.

    So the last thing I needed, having been accused of being a princess, was to keep talking about myself. Enter acquaintance #2. Well, actually, it was two friends. They’re in college, both 20, and they come out together. We met a few weeks ago, and one of them grilled me about Atsushi and me for–I swear–two hours. I kept trying to ask them what they were studying, how long they’d been in Tokyo, you know, keep the conversation two-way. No such luck. And I couldn’t really get irritated, because here’s this kid who’s 20 and saying that he never meets any guys who are interested in anything but one-night stands, and what a relief it is to know a foreigner in a committed relationship with a Japanese man. I was flattered–who wouldn’t be? (And yes, I know what it means that he’s extra gushy and chatty around me, and yes, you can trust me not to do anything about it.) When I was coming out, I made older friends who took care of me, you know? Sometimes they practically had to body-check me away from scummy guys. One of them gave me the talk about not getting so into having sex all the time that you forget how to connect with guys any other way–all that big brother stuff. So now I’m 32 and it’s my turn. I’m happy to do it. But last night, I was no longer in the mood to make my relationship the topic of conversation. Unfortunately, my 20-year-old friend can’t talk about anything else. And being 20–was I this oblivious to older people’s wisdom ten years ago? Sheesh!–he doesn’t seem to understand what I mean when I tell him that he’s not going to find the guys he’s looking for by hanging out in pick-up bars. There are 100-odd gay bars in Shinjuku, and only four or five are flat-out cruising spots–want me to introduce you to one that’s not? No, it’s late. So okay, let’s sit here and talk about me.

    Time to go home. All this talk about Atsushi has helped to remind me that I really am lonely without him, a lot of the time. I can deal, and that’s life, but it isn’t easy. So just to cap off the night, I came home and gave an unsuspecting friend of mine an avalanche of raw it’s-hard-to-be-faithful-pity-me drivel, probably convincing him to give me a wide berth from here on.

    It’s hard to write about any of this without coming off smug, I realize. But I’m really not looking for a backdoor way to brag about how perfect my life is. What drags me down is when other people act as if being happy and together somehow puts you outside the great human drama that everyone else participates in. I’m not going to start publicizing all my disppointments for the sake of “humanizing” myself (my whole point is that I’d like not to talk about myself), but I’ve walked around this week feeling like some kind of museum piece. It sucks, even though my friends have, naturally, told me not to let it bother me. My next post will be back to normal–I know how to ride out my down cycles–and the week will, in any case, be over soon. Can’t come quickly enough for me.

    The pilot says we’re climbing

    Posted by Sean at 13:06, July 8th, 2004

    There aren’t many fascinating things about CNN.com, but one is the frequent distance between its photo captions and the content of the stories they’re attached to. Check out this story, headlined “Coping with in-flight violence.” The accompanying photo shows…well, I’m not sure who’s subduing whom there, but the caption pretty clearly says, “As a passenger it’s best to leave it to the experts when flying.” If you fly frequently, you’re already silently qualifying that statement in your head, and if you read the accompanying story, you get:

    “If — and that could be a big if — air marshals are on board it would be preferred that the passengers allow them to do what they have been trained to do,” Hamilton said. “Passengers must cooperate with them and do exactly as told.

    “Federal air marshals have credentials and will identify themselves as soon as practical. It will be easy to see who they are. They will not identify themselves until after someone has identified themselves as a terrorist/hijacker,” Hamilton added.

    But, as he indicated, not all flights carry air marshals.

    “You can’t put them on every flight,” said Mark Bogosian, a first officer who crews Boeing 757-767s for a major U.S. airline. He said he knows that because flight crews are told when an air marshal is on board and who it is.

    “Unless law enforcement is on board, especially now with cockpit doors locked, the passengers and flight attendants are the first line of defense.” Bogosian said. “If law enforcement is not on board and there’s an incident, it is up to the flight attendants and the passengers.”

    In other words, if (purely felicitously) you wander onto an airliner that’s been assigned an air marshal (which you won’t know until an emergency begins), stay out of the way and do what you’re told. Otherwise, it’s you and the flight attendants, baby. Just hope the gay ones are the gym-bunny/tae kwan do-class type! It isn’t until two-thirds of the way down the page that you learn that the article is publicizing…a book about self-defense for airline passengers. No, I’m not kidding.

    I realize that these issues are not simple. Keeping air marshals undercover allows their existence to be used to intimidate hijackers but avoids the expense of putting one on every plane. It also prevents terrorists from taking them out before turning on the passengers, and so on. What sticks in my craw is the way leaning on agencies (or private groups funded by same) for sustenance and protection is constantly portrayed as the desirable state of things. Learning how to take responsibility for your non-specialist self is presented as the outlier, the special case, the thing you do when your minders are busy with other things and you’re caught off-guard.

    Training flight attendants to deal with hijackings would mean more if they were armed. They are, after all, the particular subset of “professionals” and “experts” who know the ins and outs of the planes they man. More than the passengers, they would be able to use their familiarity with the environment strategically. Besides, how cool would it be if one of those hard-bitten, frosted-haired old dinosaur stewardesses on American or United planted herself in the middle of the aisle, growled, “The captain has turned the seatbelt sign ON, sir!” and saved a planeload of people by shooting a terrorist? Her 300 million countrymen would adore her forever.

    Well, probably not all 300 million. In a few days, there would be a story on Reuters headlined, “Flight 123 ‘heroine’ may have committed procedural violation.” There would be investigations and soul-searching and a stack of new clearance forms and a segment on Crossfire. Knowing this, passengers who can’t arm themselves, and who can’t depend on armed crews to protect them, may as well make the best of it and learn how to knee miscreants in the groin. It’d be nice if CNN realized that was the real story, though.