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    Times change II

    Posted by Sean at 11:32, June 22nd, 2004

    So this is what it’s going to be like looking at the morning headlines now: One of the Olsen sisters has an eating disorder, Clinton said something or other about the Lewinsky affair, and another hostage has been beheaded in the Middle East. The South Korean guy was an Evangelical Christian of some kind. I’m no longer a believer myself, obviously, but–I hope this doesn’t sound hypocritical–I hope his last moments were at least made less traumatic by thoughts of meeting his creator.

    Times change

    Posted by Sean at 11:24, June 22nd, 2004

    Holy sh*t! The neighborhood I just moved out of had a shooting this morning:


    At 8:45 on 23 June, in the underground pedestrian walkway near Exit 9 for the Hanzomon-Den’en Toshi lines at Shibuya Station (Dogenzaka 2-1), an employee of the Tokyo Metro subway lines was shot in the right side of the abdomen and seriously injured.

    It’s not that shootings and murders never, ever happen in Japan, of course. But Shibuya Station is the fourth-busiest in the world. That particular arm of the station is less busy than the giant intersection of JR and Tokyu lines at the center, but this couldn’t exactly have taken place without anyone around. That‘s unusual–the broad-daylight aspect, I mean. Hope the guy’s all right; the report doesn’t say anything about what led up to the shooting.

    No word on Korean

    Posted by Sean at 17:08, June 21st, 2004

    Happily, still no word that the organisms that kidnapped Sun-il Kim in Iraq have beheaded him, at least on any of the sites I read. I’m not much more hopeful than others that he’ll be released. Still, in the last few months, some hostages have been, including two Japanese and all but one of the Italians. CNN’s newest posting on the abduction features a picture of protesters agitating for South Korea to pull its soldiers out and says,

    Overnight, hundreds of South Koreans gathered in central Seoul on to condemn the dispatch of South Korean troops to Iraq, but the government is so far not backing away from its decision.

    Hundreds? In a city of 12 million that’s the capital of a country of almost 50 million? That isn’t very many. I think I’ve shared a single Seoul subway car with hundreds of people at one time or another. It’s hard to tell what the mood of the public is, of course, especially since I don’t live there. On the other hand, unlike the Japanese, the Koreans do not hesitate to pour into the streets when they’re angered by the latest corruption scandal or evidence of fiscal mismanagement. (This is Asia, so there’s always some such thing to get het up over.)

    The real shame–besides, that is, the outrageousness of having thugs from willfully backward loser societies strike poses of superiority over a country that used grit and industry to become the twelfth-largest economy in the world (and a free, safe democracy, despite the proximity of the most hostile neighbor imaginable) a mere half-century after it was humiliated by occupation and then ravaged by civil war…[deep breath]…besides that, the shame is that South Korea is one of the best sources of exactly the sort of engineering that a rebuilding country needs, and the government’s pulling its citizens out (while I sure as hell don’t blame it for doing so) means seeking other providers.

    Added at 1:38 a.m.: The Nikkei is reporting that the deadline for Korea to pull out its troops has been extended and that the same intermediary who helped secure the release of the Japanese hostages in April is working with the Korean embassy in Iraq and has had a face-to-face meeting with Kim. Maybe there’s hope after all.

    It’s your honesty

    Posted by Sean at 14:33, June 21st, 2004

    I would like to take this opportunity to announce that, under the guidance of my spiritual mentor, Madge the Fully-Realized Being and Pillar of Modesty, I have decided to adopt the name Vashti. This is not a gesture of disrespect toward the Beatles rhythm section, for whom my parents named me. Rather, I feel a higher-plane identification with Vashti because (1) I’m an insolent queen and (2) my lord is constantly having to say things like, “We were supposed to leave twenty minutes ago, darling. If you don’t get out here this minute, I swear I’m going to kill you!” My hope is that the energy of this new name will help me make people forget that I only became a Jew after I made a pile and tried to take over the world.

    Ever since I seen your face / This life of mine has gone to waste

    Posted by Sean at 13:09, June 19th, 2004

    I would like to interrupt my recent streak of asexual commentary to make two pressing faggotry-related announcements:

    (1) I normally don’t go for Korean guys particularly, but the actor who just strolled into the subtitled drama I’m watching on TV totally needs to have my love child. If that’s not going to happen, I’ll settle for a plot development that has him taking off his shirt.

    (2) Eric Scheie economically makes a point I’ve been gassing verbosely about ever since I began posting here:

    If that’s the case, I must disagree. Homosexuality is not heterosexuality. There are many differences between gay and straight relationships. The laws and social mores designed for the heterosexual scheme of things reflect these differences. I see no reason why homosexuals should feel the need to ape heterosexuals, and even less reason why they should be forced to do so. This is my biggest objection to same sex marriage. It would place undue pressure on what were once private relationships outside the sweep of society’s radar. It would allow gay palimony, gay divorce, and bring the heavy hand of the state where it does not belong. Same sex marriage would not be limited to a “right” chosen voluntarily, because it would create new duties and causes of action which could be used even against homosexuals not wishing to marry. I realize that many do not share my concerns, but I think that to call people who neither need or want the state to enter their lives in such a manner lacking in self respect is a bit of a stretch.

    However, the FMA is another issue, because it would, by making incidents of marriage a suspect category, bring the state into private relationships in another, horrendous, way. I vehemently oppose the FMA, and I disagree wholeheartedly with Bush’s support of that ill-written amendment. Why, though, would Bush’s support for the FMA make homosexuals who vote for Bush lacking in self respect? What about the many heterosexuals who don’t support the FMA? Are they too lacking in self-respect if they vote for Bush? Or must “self respect” touch on important, personal, hot-button issues?

    My only quibble is with the “outside society’s radar” part, since the wording sounds as if it collapses together government and culture. I think having our relationships recognized by the circles we move in socially, with the attendant pressure to behave ourselves, is a good thing. But the more Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch and others use that reasoning to promote the legalization of same-sex marriage, the more they reinforce the idea that we just resent being different and want to force people to like us. Speak of lacking self-respect!

    And your sex-life complications are not my fascinations

    Posted by Sean at 20:08, June 18th, 2004

    Wow. Lookit this:

    Bill Clinton says in his new autobiography that his wife looked as if he had punched her in the gut when he finally confessed to his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and he slept on the couch for at least two months after that.

    In “My Life,” a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, the former president wrote that the affair with the White House intern revealed “the darkest part of my inner life.”

    Fascinating. You know, you think super-cool people like Presidents are on this, like, totally high pedestal, but it turns out Hillary made Bill sleep on the couch, just the way dear old Mom would have if Dad had gotten blow jobs from a fresh-faced intern at the office! Guess they really are just folks, like the rest of us.

    Gag me with a spoon. Though I have no high regard for the man, I’m not a Clinton basher. But is it too much to ask that someone in the great publicity chain exercise a willingness to let all the soap-opera details of the Lewinsky affair recede into the mists of time? He was President, not Peter in Chief. Surely he said something, somewhere, about welfare reform, the balanced budget, or the economic boom that’s worth leading with.


    Posted by Sean at 11:09, June 18th, 2004

    I’m unable to get as foulmouthed here as I can be in intimate conversation because I post under my own name. Good thing Rosemary Esmay doesn’t have the same constraints. I heartily concur.

    May I also say that if just one more person talks uncritically about how Muslims of whatever stripe are driven to film themselves hacking the heads off American civilians, blow up Israeli cafés with nail-filled bombs, or hang bodies from bridges by their “sense of honor,” I will not be responsible for my behavior? Certainly, given the cooperation of Western governments with morally cloudy regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere, the degree to which we’re reaping what we’ve sown is a legitimate topic for debate and self-reflection. But I’m sorry, honor is an English word being used among Westerners; it loses all meaning if you define it as something others do to you but you don’t have to do back. That simply is not what it means.

    And I’m doubly revolted as someone who lives in Japan. It’s not that the Japanese are innocent of atrocities against civilians, of course. But I’m reminded in these cases of the story of the 47 ronin. The story is world-famous, but people often forget that the man the 47 samurai killed had not actually killed their lord. They held Kira responsible for Lord Asano’s death because his merciless goading provoked Asano to commit the breach of protocol that got him executed, but Kira wasn’t technically a murderer. They stormed his house and offered him the chance to commit seppuku to preserve his honor; he froze, and they beheaded him. After laying Kira’s head on Asano’s grave, they went to Sengaku Temple and waited for the inevitable: an order from the shogun to commit seppuku themselves. Bear in mind that seppuku involves slicing your own intestines open and is about as painful a way to die by dagger as can be imagined. In other words, the 47 ronin avenged their lord’s honor with a willingness to die more painfully than the man they killed.

    No one is ever going to convince me that civilians are properly thought of as equal to combatants, but to the extent that I can even imagine such a thing, I can only do so under such circumstances: If those who attacked the unarmed pledged to sacrifice themselves in a fashion that involved suffering equal to their victims’, and then did it. That’s why I think the dead-in-a-flash suicide bombers in Israel look like milquetoasts, and those who off civilians and just move on to the next task shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as the word honor.

    (Of course, I didn’t realize until after posting this that that was Dean’s post on Rosemary’s site. Whoops.)

    But I’m quite sure that you’ll tell me / Just how I should feel today

    Posted by Sean at 22:26, June 17th, 2004

    You know, most days I wake up and go about my business and come home and turn in and think, You know, the world has plenty of problems, and they take a while to sort out, but most people are really pretty decent and on the ball.

    Days like today, however, I think, My, but people are stupid. Erin O’Connor reports that a student in a San Diego high school decided not to go along with the administrator-approved lesson in loving us fragile, downtrodden queers and was suspended. Her summary of the story she links to (As Joanne Jacobs is wont to say, Is your blood pressure too low?):

    Chase Harper, a sophomore in the Poway Unified School district, was offended when his school recently participated in the “Day of Silence,” a national event sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. GLSEN describes Day of Silence as

    It takes a long time to get over there / Nearly seven hours in the air

    Posted by Sean at 01:44, June 16th, 2004

    Japan’s latest close shave with air travel disaster: two passenger jets (a KLM Boeing 777 and an Asiana Airlines A321) ending up facing each other from opposite ends of a runway at Narita Airport. The KLM plane was just landing, and the Asiana plane was about to take off. Takeoff was aborted, naturally, and the runway shut down for a while. A few years ago, air traffic controllers engaged in a comedy of errors (a comedy because there was no accident, but 700 people’s lives hung in the balance), mistakenly guiding a JAL 747 and a JAL DC9 closer together, rather than farther apart, so that they passed each other at a midair distance of 30 feet. Shintaro Ishihara, Governor of Tokyo and famed xenophobe, blamed the air traffic patterns necessitated by US military presence in the area. And hey, that could be a factor.

    But it’s also true that Narita Airport is old, tiny, unwieldy, and in the middle of bloody nowhere. It takes an hour and a half to get there by express train from central Tokyo. If you’re coming in by air, landing requires all kinds of corkscrewish turn-while-descending maneuvers, especially fun during the summer, when the heat and humidity make turbulence a given. The waits for takeoff are ages long, even if you fly most-favored carriers JAL (mine) or ANA (Funny thing about that name: it stands for the English All Nippon Airways. The Japanese pronounce it “Ay-En-Ay,” but of course, to a native English speaker it looks like Ana, pronounced like the Spanish form of Anne. The funny thing is that ana 穴 in Japanese means “hole,” which when plastered on the tail fin of an airliner has a subtle but unsettling suggestion of augering in hard. Not exactly the image of effortless loft you’d think an airline would want to project, but no one seems to mind. The fact that ANA hasn’t had a crash for thirty years probably helps). Like every other public facility in Japan–especially those that show its transportation system to foreign visitors–the Narita Airport Authority gets cash by the tankerful, so the place is always being resurfaced, repainted, and retiled. But the routing problems remain, so it seems likely that we’re going to keep having these nail-biting near-misses and eventually–though I hope I’m wrong–a real disaster when luck runs out.

    There’s not much here that’s gonna hold you down

    Posted by Sean at 18:29, June 11th, 2004

    I was shocked by President Reagan’s death, needless to say; we were so busy getting ready to go to the airport that I didn’t really have time to think about it. The first time I cried was on the plane, when we were over the Equator and I was listening to True Blue–a document of the optimistic, Americana-loving Reagan Era if ever there was one. It was going from “La Isla Bonita” into “Jimmy Jimmy” that got me, the shift from yearning for a utopia in the inaccessible past to affectionately speeding a dreamer on his way to better things. I wasn’t heaving and keening, or anything, but I was glad that most people around me were sleeping with their reading lights off.

    The heaving only started in the last few days, when the state funeral and later the arrival at the Reagan Library were broadcast. I’m never ashamed to be an American, but I’m sometimes embarrassed at the way our forthrightness makes us indifferent to formality or symbolism when it matters. This time it mattered, and things came off beautifully. It may have seemed different for people who were there, but the funeral was perfectly done from the standpoint of television. That’s not a slam: TV is the way public figures communicate with the people now, both at home and abroad. The secondary colors are my favorites, but the red, white, and blue of the American flag have both real dignity and real vitality. Tucked over the casket, all they needed was the field of concentric stone circles to be memorable to the imagination.

    They were also the perfect background for mourners to convey real heartbreak. The Japanese know this: when ceremonial composure is deployed well, you don’t need to go bananas to convey utterly devastating emotion. (Alex Kerr has called this the “flash to the heart” that one gets when an old-school Japanese person uses a turn of phrase, like the sun breaking momentarily through clouds, that exposes his true feelings.) There’s something to be said for the way more hot-blooded cultures wail and toss flowers on coffins, and I’m a great believer in florid displays of emotion. But I broke down when Margaret Thatcher, herself widowed not long ago, stared at the casket as if she’d just lost the last person who Remembered and quietly laid her hand on it. And I didn’t think I would ever stop crying when Mrs. Reagan, in her black clothes and the chunky gold jewelry we all remember on prominent women through the ’80’s, just laid her cheek on the casket and shook. I know she appreciates the people’s love for her husband, but it must have cost her dearly to have to postpone her private grieving for this whole week, even down to the last moment before he was buried.

    I wonder what the rest of the world will see in these broadcasts. Even BBC World, which we had at the hotel, seemed to be limiting itself to saying that Reagan’s policies had been controversial–Aside: Has anyone ever been able to deal with viciously-debated issues in a way that was not “divisive”?–and that he and Thatcher had mostly agreed (its viewers will presumably know what’s implied by that). Since we’ve been back in Japan, coverage of his transport to California and burial has nostalgically emphasized the presence of so many retired foreign leaders at the DC service (Yasuhiro Nakasone was there) and has recounted his role in the end of the Soviet Bloc. That’s understandable. Also not surprisingly, the idea that he restored hope in America is getting less play here, where such things are of less immediate interest. But it might be a better idea for people to pay attention, considering that Americans are questioning the state of the War on Terrorism and could be effected in unpredictable ways by this week-long reminder of the last time they needed buoying.