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    Posted by Sean at 11:05, April 27th, 2004

    So I chose saigyo, the name of the priest who wrote the poem I used in my domain name, as the login for something or other at some point in configuring my site preferences (or preferring my site configurations, or whatever tech people call it). Now it’s my default e-mail user ID, which is not what I had in mind, but until I can figure out how to fix it, that’s the address I have here (most of you who might see this know me through e-mail at my Hotmail address, anyway, which of course can still be used freely).

    As long as I’m misappropriating a major name in Japanese literature as my username, why not spread the pretentiousness around? Another of my favorite poets is Akiko Yosano, who wrote a century ago. At her best, she’s so sexy you can’t stand it:



    yawa hada no / atsuki chishio ni / fure mo mide / sabishikarazu ya / michi wo toku kimi
    Yosano Akiko

    Having never felt
    the hot tide of blood that throbs
    beneath this soft skin
    even you who seek the Way
    must know what you are missing
    –Akiko Yosano

    I can’t seem to get my English to surge and sweep forward between caesuras the way her Japanese does–Japanese poems have a reputation for stillness and contemplation, but Akiko is often all sensual force coming at you. The fact that tanka are usually printed in one vertical line down the page accentuates the effect. She also married another of the brashly innovative poets of her age. His talent dried up early, so she spent the rest of her life bearing about a hundred of his children and making money to move them around the world to try to get his muse talking to him again. A fascinating woman.

    Symantec differences

    Posted by Sean at 23:32, April 26th, 2004

    I’ve come to the conclusion that Mr. Norton is not as interested in providing my Internet with Security as he led me to believe. The IT-geek friend who went with me to get my new laptop warned me that XP has its problems playing well with other programs, but jeez. I’m starting to understand why all my Mac-loving friends guffaw whenever they hear the word “registry.” Norton can’t uninstall, can’t reinstall, and when installed, tells me (the Administrator!) I’m not cool enough to get into my firewall. Not even when I widen my green eyes while making them go hard and mineral-y, which always gets what I want from a man. This is why my favorite medium is still the fountain pen and linen paper. There’s the occasional ink blot to contend with, but at least there’s none of this “Installation failed!” malarkey to contend with.

    I’ve misplaced my ontologies

    Posted by Sean at 12:02, April 25th, 2004

    Paul Varnell doesn’t break new ground in his characteristically sensible IGF article on queer theory, but he does iterate a point that needs to be made over and over: “None of this seems very coherent. To the extent it is coherent it seems simply wrong.” On the one hand, even taking the energy to point out how contentless and irrelevant these people are as scholars is a waste. On the other hand, they do have plenty of influence in the campus gay culture that’s the backdrop for a lot of people’s coming out. I daresay that most gay students, even when their entire sense of themselves and the world is being broken down and remade, are together enough not to buy full-on into the laundry list of pomo beliefs. But those who do are those who most desperately need what a humanities education traditionally provided: lots and lots of information that took you outside yourself.

    In my book of dreams

    Posted by Sean at 03:37, April 25th, 2004

    Planned Parenthood is not an organization toward which I feel any loyalty. I can understand why religiously devout people would object to a good deal of what it represents. But Nathan quotes a Suzanne Vega-lookalike rock critic who provides an object lesson on why so many gay and lesbian people regard even well-meaning conservative Christians as nut cases. Here’s how Dawn Eden summarizes the Planned Parenthood GLBTXYZPDQ page she links:

    “Find “lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender” sex partners online.

    “Let me repeat that.

    “If you or someone you know is sending money to Planned Parenthood, that money is going to some adult sitting at a computer, who writes detailed instructions for underage teenagers on how to pick up lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender sex partners online.

    “I would be offended if they were inviting 14-year-olds to meet heterosexual sex partners online. But the thought of this organization, which claims to be protecting teenagers, instead inviting them to meet sexual predators who may steer them into homosexuality at a time when they are most impressionable, is truly disgusting.”

    Being a trusting sort–I really have to cut that out–I was expecting a page full of lascivious detail about safe sex techniques and how to get around having your parents find out you’re a dyke or poofter. Such a thing wouldn’t surprise me, when there are educators who seem to think that elementary school students need to be taught fisting.

    But, um, unless I missed something, the linked page assumes you’ll be working overtime to screen out lecherous 45-year-olds and having a chaste first date with another high school sophomore over Cokes at Chick-fil-A. Half the page is devoted to obsessing over the inability to verify that on-line correspondents are who they say they are–with good reason, of course.

    There is a line that gives instructions “in case things don’t go as you hope and you want to make an early exit,” and while I wouldn’t exactly be floored if Planned Parenthood types just used that as the most explicit reference to potential sex they dared include, it could refer to nothing more than not banking on a ride home from a blind date. In any case, neither it nor anything else I could see qualifies as “detailed instructions for underage teenagers on how to pick up lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender sex partners online” as any thinking person understands the phrasing.

    I don’t believe, needless to say, in encouraging teenagers to disobey their parents. Where I grew up, “You can do what you want when you’re eighteen, but while you’re living under my roof, you’ll do what I say” was the rule, and unless the household is abusive, I think it’s a good one. But teenage is when children are, if anything, most susceptible to the idea that they should fit in with their friends at any cost. The idea that being “impressionable” is the only reason a sixteen-year-old would be looking for a same-sex date simply doesn’t pass the smell test, however comforting it may be to people who cherish the belief that we’re all fixable.

    Love is all you need to purchase all the merchandise

    Posted by Sean at 18:49, April 24th, 2004

    Dolly Parton has always been one of my favorite celebrities. Yeah, I know, big surprise. But seriously, while she did that whole what-was-she-thinking? all-around entertainer routine for two decades, she also made some extraordinary music–I could listen to “Down from Dover” on repeat for hours–and she shows the very best American earthiness and self-deprecating humor:

    “There’s not going to be no wardrobe malfunction this evening,” she said, referring to Janet Jackson’s infamous breast-baring during the Super Bowl halftime show. “There’s not supposed to be, it’s not planned.

    “But as tight as my clothes are there’s no telling what will happen. If it does happen, I’m going to wipe out the first three rows,” she said.

    She still has that amazing ability to do bawdy humor without making it seem cheap or brazen. Incredible. (I do have to say, though, that the fact that the show is called the Flameworthy Awards made it sound like a joke at first. Apparently not.)


    Posted by Sean at 23:00, April 23rd, 2004

    I adore my friends (obviously, or I’d go be friends with different people), but I wish I could get them to stop treating me like a terminally-ill patient. I know that Atsushi’s being transferred out of Tokyo won’t be news for much longer, now that he’s been gone a month today. I’m also genuinely grateful for the support.

    But I swear: I’ve dealt with and oriented myself toward the fact that I’m not going to be seeing Atsushi more than twice a month for a year or two. It abrades me, but it isn’t the end of the world. What will most assuredly make me lose my mind is spending another night out being asked every ten minutes whether I’m okay. My four or five very closest friends know that I like to deal with my hurts in my own way, but “the guys” in the larger sense don’t seem to, and saying so in response to an offer of concern would sound as if I were telling them to buzz off.

    When these things come up, I never know whether the problem is cultural (in that my Japanese is good but not perfect, and understanding people’s expectations is frequently much harder than just learning to speak colloquial Japanese) or individual (in that even people who grew up together can misinterpret each other). Often, that’s kind of freeing. Having grown up in Oprah-era America, I know how crazy people can drive themselves when trying to analyze every batted eye and stray tossed-off remark as the key to one’s soul. Here, I more or less have to assume that a specific perceived slight from someone who overall treats me with kindness and respect isn’t worth fixating on.

    Not that clapping someone on the shoulder and wishing him well is a slight. It’s just that knowing that people are going to spend the evening feeling sorry for me makes me not really want to be around my own friends. And that makes me feel like a kvetchy ingrate who doesn’t deserve them. I don’t seem to have much choice but to smile and say, “Well, he’s coming back for Golden Week; that’s only a week away. I hope we’ll see you around so he can say hi.” I only wish people knew I meant it.

    The superiority of the juche ideal

    Posted by Sean at 11:11, April 22nd, 2004

    Wow. Two trains containing inflammable materials have collided in North Korea near the Chinese border. Both the CNN and the Nikkei (Japan Economics Journal) articles report that the DPRK news agency hasn’t broadcast the incident. This is not just some little sideswipe in the middle of nowhere that’s going to cause a government energy agency to lose (even more) money. There may be up to 3000 casualties. Those poor people. Given that the accident involved fire and industrial chemicals, the injuries are probably pretty nasty.

    It isn’t hard to imagine the combination of mismanagement and substandard equipment that might have brought this kind of thing on. It also isn’t hard to imagine the quality of medical care people will get, even with China’s assistance. The proximity of “self-sufficient” North Korea, with its news blackouts and constant leakage of refugees (not to mention those missile tests), is one of the creepiest and most depressing things about living in this part of the world.

    Living herstory

    Posted by Sean at 12:37, April 20th, 2004

    I don’t plan to say much about politics here, assuming I keep it up, because…well, there are already plenty of sharper and more knowledgeable people commenting on it. I like joining conversations in people’s comment sections, but that’s different.


    I think I seriously just heard a straight-faced Hillary Clinton tell Larry King that the problem with the Bush administration is that it’s too insular, with a secrecy/insider complex that keeps out the sunshine of opposing points of view. Either I’ve had too much Scotch or too little.

    I don’t mean that I’m in love with the Bush administration or think that HRC is definitely wrong, either; I only mean that for either Clinton to make such a criticism without appending a hearty, “and we know how easy it is to succumb to that temptation!” is pretty rich.

    And Hillary, for Pete’s sake, not that shade of aqua. It gives your skin an iced-mackerel cast, which can’t possibly have been the idea.

    I do have to say, though, that while I think I’m past the ability to like her at this point, she’s learned to project warmth and ease of tone (leaving aside the truth of what she’s saying). Her voice used to have this chilly, impatient, I-know-something-you-don’t-know edge–like tape hiss. Her eyes used to narrow and look flinty. But now she comes across as thoughtful and self-deprecating. Maybe she even means it.

    Secrets and lies

    Posted by Sean at 22:36, April 19th, 2004

    Agenda Bender is accusing me of exploiting the AB Tokyo bureau for my own gain and then cutting and running. A case in which messenger and message are equally inverted. Someday, I’ll tell my story of struggling to keep an office going with no capital, a product that couldn’t be localized, and endless screams of “Profitability! I need to see profitability!” during conference calls with HQ. But it’s just too painful right now.

    On the other hand, he did usefully ask whether I’d seen the parallel fatherson interviews with the Terrys linked to later by Andrew Sullivan. I had. They aren’t likely to change many minds on either side. My only point was that, even if we took Randall Terry’s statements at face value, the strict Christianity of Jamiel’s upbringing was not the most plausible explanation for his alleged problems.

    And they didn’t even need a sand tray

    Posted by Sean at 22:25, April 19th, 2004

    Joanne Jacobs posts on education, so it’s not surprising that the Japanese public education system comes up in posts and comments pretty frequently. Many of the advertisements on commuter train cars here are for cram schools, and one of the big ones…amazing that I forget which, since I’ve been seeing its ads for a fifth of my life now…uses its space to give sample questions for tests at its various program levels. This week’s is for the grade-school kids. I didn’t take a photograph of it or write it down, but the content of the problem is as follows:

    In this exercise we will use a simple experiment to estimate the value of pi. Assume a square piece of paper, 20 centimeters on a side, with a circle inscribed in the square. You have sprinkled 50 sesame seeds evenly and randomly over the paper. If there are 39 sesame seeds inside the circle, estimate the value of pi to two decimal places.

    Two things jump out at me about this problem that I find hard to articulate when commenting at Joanne’s and other places: for one thing, in its math education, Japan doesn’t emphasize creativity any more than it does anywhere else. What it does emphasize is resourcefulness and learning how to be “good with numbers” even if you’re not naturally gifted that way, in addition to demonstrating how to set things up formally.

    The other thing is that Japan is not afraid to use unforced-sounding Japanese situations in its story problems. Granted, things can get kind of lunaticky in the opposite direction. If I recall correctly, a textbook was edited to remove mention of pizza a few years ago, since Ministry of Education (as it was then) bureaucrats didn’t deem such a foreign food item suitable for young minds to be exposed to. But having come of age in an era in which every word problem about welding pipe identified the pipefitter as female, I find it kind of nice to see questions about boiled rice and paper lanterns all the time.