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    Posted by Sean at 13:32, May 12th, 2004

    After 9-11, then after the Bali bombing, then after the Madrid bombing, I’ve thought, like everyone else, about what would happen if I were blown up or taken hostage. I can’t say that I might not panic in the end, of course, and obviously I lead a good life and don’t want it cut short. But I’ve been free to seek my own definition of happiness, I’ve had plenty of all-American joy, I keep up with my responsibilities. I figure that if my last minutes or days are painful, it doesn’t alter the three decades, courtesy of the American way of life, that led up to them. I hope Nicholas Berg, with his start-up business and nice family in West Chester, had a chance to think those thoughts.

    Stay out there on the town and see what you can find

    Posted by Sean at 03:55, May 11th, 2004

    There’s been a lot of fuss about Loretta Lynn’s new album–by all accounts fantastic, and I can’t wait to hear it. But nearly no one seems to be reporting the really important item: she doesn’t actually cook with butter-flavored Crisco.

    Check items off, let nothing be missed / Say I to myself and my 100 lists

    Posted by Sean at 18:42, May 9th, 2004

    I have today off, so I went out last night and flirted shamelessly while getting schnockered enough to be hung over this morning. Mark you, there was nothing self-indulgent about this: I was preparing for a round of bureaucratic errands (reregister domicile in new ward of city, reregister name seal in new ward of city, renew passport at embassy, change address at banks and credit card offices) that began at 9 a.m. sharp. The hangover was necessary to dull my irritation at the inevitable snags that come up in a full day of filling out forms at government agencies. The shameless flirting was necessary to practice the people skills you need to deal smoothly with functionaries. The woman behind the passport counter did not, it is true, lean in and ask, “So, dude, is the rest of you as hairy as those forearms you’ve got there?” But let me tell you, I’d’ve been ready to answer with aplomb if she had.

    Speaking of functionaries: as much as anyone else, I go in for orgies of complaining about them when they’re surly or clueless. But I have to say that everyone I dealt with at the embassy today was just great. The man at the next window had what sounded like a legitimate gripe about the way his passport renewal was being processed. He made his displeasure clear, but he was polite about it and didn’t blame the guy behind the counter. The guy behind the counter, for his part, apologized profusely and made sure the poor man knew exactly what needed to happen for his passport to be done as quickly as possible. There’s a lot that I value about Japanese politeness; as long as you act like a civilized person, you don’t really have to mean it, and that understanding can make difficult situations much easier. You deal with what people say and do and don’t get worked up over what you assume they’re thinking. But as an American, I have to say that it’s a beautiful thing to see forthright goodwill in trying circumstances. It made the rest of the day much easier to deal with–how many times can you write your address in six hours before cracking, after all?–even after the hangover wore off.

    Now that you’ve seen the doctor, don’t call me anymore

    Posted by Sean at 23:10, May 8th, 2004

    It’s weird. I understand there’s no more important news to talk about right now than Torture Is Bad and Friends Just Went off the Air, but you’d think CNN or someone would be mentioning, at least, the fact that Yasuo Fukuda (the Chief Secretary of the Japanese cabinet) and Naoto Kan (the very attractive head of the Democratic Party of Japan) are resigning amid scandal: they didn’t pay into the National Insurance pyramid pension scheme for stretches of time. Kickbacks, gladhanding, and revolving-door retirement are so woven into the fabric of Japanese government that maybe no one much notices something so restrained as a simple failure to pay a few months of bills.

    But Fukuda was a very articulate spokesman for the Koizumi government’s support of the US in the War on Terrorism, and there is, after all, an election coming up. That’s the potentially serious part, though how it will play out is not apparent. The joke of the matter is that Kan’s ten months of non-payment occurred while he was the Minister of Health and Welfare (back when that’s what the ministry was). I have no doubt that, given his position, the gentleman was ideally placed to decide whether paying the premiums was a sound move in terms of his personal finances. But it does rather hilariously highlight the frequent gaps between the self-abnegating civil servant image that Japan-groupie social scientists get quivery over and the avoidance of personal accountability that goes on in reality. No, really, it’s funny. You can start laughing any time.

    And when the sun is high / we’ll kiss and say goodbye

    Posted by Sean at 02:19, May 6th, 2004

    One of the best parts of being gay, as I experience it, is that you have the rich emotional responses of a woman and the insulating obtuseness and detachment of a man. One of the worst parts is that you can’t always choose which is ascendant at a given moment.

    I didn’t actually make a spectacle of myself when I took Atsushi to the airport yesterday; I just kind of felt as if I’d had the wind knocked out of me. Since I had to get back to the office, I couldn’t wait until his plane took off. I had to content myself with leaving the observation deck before his flight was scheduled to leave the gate. Haneda Airport, which handles most domestic flights in and out of Tokyo, is actually in the same galaxy as the city (unlike Narita, the airport where most international flights go, which is way the hell out in Chiba Prefecture). It was just turning to night from dusk. You could see part of the incomprehensibly vast lit-up Tokyo skyline across the bay, and under it in the foreground, the planes docked at the departure gates. Two of my favorite sights in civilization (rendered with my appalling, amateurish digi-cam skills in the banner). The rain had stopped, but there was a lot of mist. It flattered both the lights and the JAL and ANA planes (which look a bit cheap to me in strong sunlight). Jets drifted down like big moths and shot into the sky like spears.

    This was one of those vacation weeks that are busier than going to the office. The only meals we didn’t have at restaurants with friends who wanted to find out how Atsushi is doing in West Buttf**k, we had here with friends who wanted to see what the apartment looks like now. (“Like there’s finally a fag living here” was the verdict. I’m not sure how I feel about that.) Too much food, too much drink, and endless assurances that everyone’s looking after me while he’s working in the provinces. I wished I didn’t have to leave him at the airport, but we’d been surrounded by people so persistently since Sunday that a part of me was relieved to head home to the apartment and not have anyone to look after except the plants. Just another month and we’ll be leaving for Bali together. Not that long to wait.


    Posted by Sean at 14:19, May 3rd, 2004

    My favorite fellow Asia-Pacific Island-based blogger, Amritas, responded to one of Joanne Jacobs’s frequent commenters, one Stephen, who characteristically took the opportunity to use this thread about race relations at UCLA to talk about how wonderful his wife’s traditional Asian femininity makes their domestic life. Joanne has already done her usual, wonderfully motherly throwing of cold water, and Amritas is great as always when he gets fired up.

    And yet…Stephen’s comments (he shows up a lot) always frustrate me because there’s usually a very good point buried beneath the self-directed ego stroking: that gay promiscuity in urban areas has been very destructive and that lots of people who reject traditional femininity in a jeering way are insecure about their own life choices seem to be the major ones.

    A point that no one in this conversation seems to make is that in a free society, traditional femininity requires both parties to be willing to hold up their ends of the bargain. Since I don’t know the gentleman personally, I can only assume that his wife, like most American women, would quickly make her latent female power overt if he started treating her poorly–no matter to what degree she identifies with flowers. That’s not always an option women have in countries in which sex roles haven’t been liberalized as they have in America. Japan is politically one of the most free countries on Earth. (We just celebrated its Constitution Day yesterday, and while it’s mostly treated as just a bank holiday, I found it very moving, as a proud American partial to constitutions.) But the status of women here, while it certainly facilitates “femininity,” can be appalling. The median age for marriage has been pushed up to near 30 in the last 20 years. It’s not just that women want to spend their free time shopping instead of taking care of children; they don’t want to be forced to look after men whose idea of a “helpmeet” is a combination of maid and brood mare.

    All of which means that if it adds frisson to a middle-aged couple’s relationship to imagine a ring of vaginismus-afflicted harpies detesting them for their delight in tradition…well, good for them. But it’d be nice if students at a major research university, who are supposed to be in the process of forming their view of the world, could talk about their differences and assess why and in which contexts some attitudes work better than others.

    BTW, the name I officially use in Japan is a transliteration of Sean:

    紫苑 (shion)

    It means “aster.”

    Japanese women’s names sometimes do use flower kanji, but only occasionally does one see a name with a stem pronounced Yuri- (“lily”) or Hana- (“blossom”) or Fuji- (“wisteria”). Japanese women’s names can have any number of kanji, but many pronunciations cluster around a handful of meanings: Mari- (“truth”), Nori- (“law,” “order,” “constancy”), and Aki- (“light,” “clarity”). None of these seems to make their bearers more stern and sententious than those named after flowers or jewels.

    Guerrilla girl, hard and sweet

    Posted by Sean at 01:53, May 3rd, 2004

    The news programs keep talking about a Janis Karpinski who’s a high muckety-muck in supervision of prisons in Iraq. The first time I heard her name, it rang a bell, and I wondered whether she was the woman Geraldine Brooks profiled as having trained the women in the Kuwaiti armed forces during the Gulf War. (Don’t ask me why I remembered the name–there’s a rational reason that’s too personal to recount here.) I can’t find a link that confirms that they are the same person, but there can’t be that many Brigadier General Janis Karpinskis with a decade or so of service in the Gulf.

    Added 05/04 13:25: Sheesh. You’d never know from this pixellated rag that I get paid, in part, for clear prose. Geraldine Brooks’s book has a chapter on the training of Kuwaiti women in the armed forces, in which Janis Karpinski is quoted several times; the book overall is about the lives of women in Muslim countries, not Karpinski.

    Touching on my favorite fruit

    Posted by Sean at 16:37, April 30th, 2004

    This week is Golden Week, a bank holiday, so Atsushi is coming back to Tokyo for five days. I work Saturdays until early afternoon; we figured I’d be gone before he got in from the airport, dropped his heavier stuff off, and went to his parents’ place (thirty miles away, which is negligible within the Tokyo megalopolisaurus) overnight. I’d see him tomorrow when he comes back.

    So of course, I ran into him near the station. Just enough time to go back to the apartment together and to be told that he has an appointment at the dermatologist’s, after which his parents are expecting him for late lunch. C*ckteasing J@p.

    Slipping through my fingers

    Posted by Sean at 12:43, April 28th, 2004

    Disconnected replies to M[a]me du Toit’s musings on how we’re socializing teenagers:

    I. Activists tend to argue (often implicitly rather than explicitly) that your gay/feminist/ethic-ness constitutes your entire individual identity, so when someone leaves the fold, it casts doubt on everything some people around them think they are. Hence the spazzy accusations of sell-out. My own solution is to begin mentally composing my grocery list when such people start ranting at me (Optional: shamelessly ogle them if they’re cute). Pointing out that championing non-conformist behavior has to cut in all directions doesn’t seem to have much effect.
    II. I think one big point that can’t be made too often is that we’re never going to make anxiety go away. Letting people forge their own identities means that we’re all going to feel a tension between the pull of the group and the pull of our idiosyncrasies. At this point in time, everyone’s so exhausted by developments since the ’60’s, a lot of people seem to have this idea that if gays and feminists just shut up already, children could grow up without questioning themselves. I think that’s a projection. Developing strong personalities, in nuclearized families, while moving around the country at will, is not compatible with effortless self-assurance that one is always doing what’s best. Personal liberty means living with internal conflict, in addition to the external conflict with the values of those who live differently.
    III. Someone in this skein of blogs referred to our culture as “sexualized” recently. That’s not an original locution, but it caught my attention more than it had before, and I saw it as curiously apposite. Like the way Hamlet calls Ophelia “beautified.” We have a real tendency to act as if life were intrinsically clean, safe, affable, and pleasant when–boom!–sexual maturation descends on a teenager and spoils the party. It makes life complicated, and man, that just isn’t fair.
    I’m not saying we need to…I don’t know…be more like Brazil, or anything. But I do think it odd and sad that when something like the Janet Jackson breast incident happens, you don’t have people just expressing indignation at the violation of community standards–that part’s justifiable; you have people saying, “My word. How can I possibly begin to explain what just happened on television to my child?” As if tits were agents of disillusion in and of themselves.
    None of this is to be taken to mean that parents should watch Debbie Does Dallas with their kindergartners, or that teenagers should just be indulged in the guise of nurturing their individuality. And it certainly doesn’t mean social-welfare programmers should be feeding school kids prefabricated political agenda. But it’s not hard to see how children hit teenage and are completely disoriented by the fact that what’s running through their heads isn’t always explicable.
    IV. While parents understandably want to believe that the changes they like in their teenagers are evidence of maturation and those they don’t are just passing phases, and while a lot of the teenage personality is in flux, it simply isn’t true that they’re at t = 0 in terms of identity formation. Encouraging teenagers to experiment when they can’t know what could result is ridiculous, especially when it goes behind the backs of parents. But–maybe you have be gay to recognize the distinction–there’s a difference in mien between the youngster who just wants to shock her parents and the one who’s gained a shaken but unashamed sense of who he is. Since the job of saying, “Who knows? Maybe you’ll wake up tomorrow and decide you like girls after all.” is already filled many times over, my own inward thought on the matter is, “Good for you, bro. You’re already alive to the world.”

    If you’re not an easy mark

    Posted by Sean at 01:26, April 28th, 2004

    Pat Toomey, my congressman, won’t be the Republican nominee for the US Senate seat that’s up for election in PA this November. I have my problems with Arlen Specter, and there are things I like about Toomey. But on balance, I figure we already have one Rick Santorum.

    Overall, I find myself in the mood to celebrate: A Philly-centric marathon of Hall and Oates, Todd Rundgren, and the Spinners seems in order….

    (Saw it at The Queen of All Evil’s)