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    Posted by Sean at 03:02, March 30th, 2007

    Virginia Postrel links to a post by her husband about bad design and why we can’t stamp it out immediately. My favorite part of his list was this:

    Auto-numbering in Microsoft Word, which behaves like a peevish poltergeist, randomly changing number and letter headings, creating and destroying tabs, etc., instead of almost any other numbering utility I can imagine.

    When I give instructions about how to submit documents to me at work, the very top of the list is “Before making a single keystroke, go to ‘Autocorrect,’ choose the ‘Autoformat’ tab, and TURN EVERYTHING OFF. No smart quotes. No automatic lists. NOTHING.” I like me some properly-sized em-dashes, but even they can turn on you if you have to use both Japanese and English in the same document and then have it read by computers with Japanese and English versions of Word.

    Postrel focuses mostly on design that isn’t utile, but I had a funny exchange with a friend last night about design that’s just not good to look at. The fast food chain Lotteria has been changing the design of its outlets, and last night when a few friends and I came around a corner (in Jimbocho), I said, “I like the Lotteria redesign (though I could do without the ‘straight burger’ part).” One of my friends smirked and said, “No, honey, you don’t necessarily like it. It’s just the only building on the entire street that’s not assaulting your eye with neon, blinking lights, a menu board written in every available color of dry-erase ink, various gew-gaws pasted to the facade, and some rotating thingamajig somewhere. Just stripping away the junk is enough to result in a Design Statement around here.” Too true.

    Rain, train

    Posted by Sean at 09:46, March 27th, 2007

    It rained over the weekend, and I snapped this at the new Marui building in Shinjuku when I was on my way to meet friends for a drink. My cell phone is two or so years old, so the camera doesn’t have as good resolution as the new ones:


    All those objects of like colors, with clean lines, grouped together and arranged in beautiful neat rows. Doesn’t it remind you of your sweater chest (if you’re gay, I mean)?

    Actually, it also kind of looks like the climactic confrontation scene from a ’50s sci-fi film: Day of the Umbrellas. I somehow don’t expect seawater, of all things, would kill them?

    It also sort of reminds me–have I mentioned that I love this song?–of Tracey Thorn’s newest video.

    Actually, while I was taking snapshots of umbrellas, enjoying my freedom without a care in the world, one of the friends I was supposed to meet was trapped on the bullet train. No, I don’t mean the monorail here in Tokyo–that was another accident. My friend was on the Shinkansen headed here from Kyoto, where he lives. He’d planned on a night of carousing and bitchy one-liners, but someone threw himself…er, a wrench in the works. So he got this:

    The unidentified man may have leaped or fallen from a bullet train after operating an emergency latch and manually opening a door, Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) officials said.

    However, the door had been closed again. That does not occur automatically after a door is manually pulled open, which leaves open the possibility that the man was pushed out.

    The discovery prompted officials to halt the Tokaido Shinkansen Line for more than three hours.

    At first, they were reporting it as an apparent suicide–that’s the first explanation you think of here when you hear “dead body on train tracks.” But as the Asahi says, there’s a significant chance the closing of the emergency door indicates someone else was involved.


    Posted by Sean at 05:04, March 26th, 2007

    And, in case you missed it, there’s a lesson to be learned from yesterday’s earthquake:

    The earthquake was unexpected in the region, and so provided us with a lesson that any place in Japan can be hit by a disastrous temblor.

    Do we still need that lesson? Just two and a half years ago, there was an earthquake in Niigata Prefecture that was unexpected. And in 1995, there was–you may have heard about this–an earthquake that wrecked Kobe, killing 6000 people, leaving thousands more homeless, and severing several major transportation arteries. By this point, anyone who doesn’t know a disastrous earthquake is possible outside the historical hot zones is brain dead.

    Another earthquake

    Posted by Sean at 09:53, March 25th, 2007

    I have my iwamatodjishi.com domain name set up for auto-renewal, but apparently it didn’t work this time around. Not sure why. I assume it’ll be back up in a day or two.

    In the interim, northeastern Honshu had yet another high-magnitude earthquake this morning, a strong 6 on the JMA scale (which measures shaking at the surface), and a 6.9M Richter:

    According to the police, one woman has died in the city of Wajima; in addition, in Ishikawa, Toyama, and Niigata Prefectures, there have been 159 cases of injuries. According to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, around 100 dwellings in Ishikawa Prefecture have been destroyed or partially destroyed.

    The one death was–very Olde Japan, this–from a stone lantern that toppled and crushed a woman in her 50s. (In the ghoulishly vivid Japanese expression, she 下敷きになった [shita-jiki ni natta]: “became underpaving.”) Parts of Japan far from the major metropolitan areas still tend to have a lot of older buildings, so fallen clay roof tiles and stone fixtures are common after earthquakes. The Nikkei also says there have been at least 130 aftershocks already; I haven’t seen word that any of them have been serious. As in the Niigata Prefecture earthquake a few years ago, there’s a good chance that some of the aftershocks will be almost as intense as the first quake. The terrain there is rugged, and it’s been rainy, so landslides are a constant danger.

    No, I got ’em all cut

    Posted by Sean at 04:10, March 22nd, 2007

    People can be very odd.

    I got my hair cut yesterday. Exact same haircut as I’ve gotten every month for the past decade (including the gunking up of the finished product with styling wax, as if it were long enough to be disarranged even by a typhoon).

    You’d think I’d gotten cosmetic surgery. “Wow! Something’s different…you look great!” said one of the giggly, flirty girls behind the counter at Dean & Deluca. She was politic enough to add, “I mean, even better than usual. Refreshed.” A less politic friend last night gushed, “Don’t you look butch tonight!” Her “I mean, more than usual” wasn’t forthcoming for a good thirty seconds and several further sips of beer. I’m not averse to compliments by any means, but is it too much to ask that they not be so time-specific and be delivered without hammy astonishment?


    Posted by Sean at 01:00, March 20th, 2007

    I consider his support of hate crimes one of Michael’s quirks. (I do agree with the push to prevent “gay panic” defenses from succeeding at scoring reduced sentences, but that doesn’t happen all that often.) He’s clearly given it a lot of thought, but I still think his conclusions are wrong.

    So when someone says, “All crimes are hate crimes” a lot of us accept it without thinking about it.

    All crimes are not hate crimes. And all dangerous criminals are not equally dangerous.

    People argue that we shouldn’t tack on extra time for what a person “thinks.” But we already do that. An obvious example is murder. The sentencing for First degree murder is largely based on pre-meditation, or what the perpetrator was thinking at the time of the murder. Second-degree murder has a shorter sentence because, basically, less thought was put into the crime. Manslaughter gets a lesser sentence because a person acted “out of passion.” The sentencing for each of these varying degrees of homicide is based in large part on what the murderer was thinking at the time of the act.

    I happen to think “all crimes are hate crimes” is a stupid, slushy formulation, but I think Michael’s being equally slushy about types of “thought.” What matters to society in distinguishing degrees of murder isn’t just how long and intensely the perpetrator had it in for his victim; it’s whether he’s likely to do it again. All other things being equal, the sort of person who’s capable of coolly and rationally planning to whack someone is more of a danger than the sort of person who just cracked when pushed too far.

    One could imagine similar degrees of hate crimes. You could have first degree (has been denouncing queers publicly since elementary school and is on record as looking for the opportunity to whack one), second degree (suddenly realized when he saw that dyke crossing the street what a menace to the social order she was and flipped out), and third degree (uh…I guess that’s feeling free to be more reckless in a gay neighborhood out of an unarticulated feeling that we’re expendable?). But that’s not the way proponents of hate crimes legislation usually talk about “thought.”

    To my knowledge, the laws that have actually been enacted provide for penalty enhancement: if you commit an existing crime, you can get added punishment if you were found to be motivated by bias against a particular pre-approved group. The idea is that you’ve done harm that extends beyond the person or persons you directly victimized; you’ve by extension done harm to the whole category. The courts–I think in every case, though I could be wrong–have ruled that such laws don’t violate equal protection or due process.

    So what’s the problem? For one thing, the concept of group harm is tricky to negotiate. For another thing, it’s difficult to know what someone’s thinking. Michael gives a hypothetical example:

    In order to understand a hate crime, you have to get inside the mind of the characters. Joe hates blacks. Joe hates faggots. Joe hates Latinos. When the guy at the bar has dealt with the man who spilled his drink, he will probably be finished with it. He’ll get a fine or a short jail term. Most likely, he’ll consider how stupid it was the next time someone touches his drink.

    Is a simple fine or a night in jail going to make Joe think about how stupid this hatred is and how much trouble acting on it can get him into? Doubtful. Joe will sit in jail and stew about how some queer got him locked up. When Joe gets out, who is going to pay for his time in jail? Is it going to be the same black guy, or gay man, or Latino that he beat up in the first place? This is where the difference is. To Joe, it doesn’t matter. To him, one fag is as good as another.

    Sounds good while you’re reading through it, but is it corroborated by real life? It’s possible to imagine someone who got into an out-of-character barfight being all contrite and realizing that, hell, he doesn’t really have anything against the drink-spillers of the world, and going away and never doing anything like that again. But it seems equally plausible to figure that the sort of guy who would deck someone for spilling his drink would also get into other dustups–someone took “his” parking space at the supermarket, or complained that his music was too loud, or whatever–because he has little self-control and deals with problems that way. America has no shortage of hotheads who are the despair of their local police, after all. Perhaps there’s research to indicate that the degree of viciousness or the recidivism rate for bias-motivated criminals is higher than that for garden-variety troublemakers, but if so, I’ve never seen it publicized.

    Of course, the theory also is that hate crimes hurt the whole group. Here‘s the Anti-Defamation League:

    Hate crimes demand a priority response because of their special emotional and psychological impact on the victim and the victim’s community. The damage done by hate crimes cannot be measured solely in terms of physical injury or dollars and cents. Hate crimes may effectively intimidate other members of the victim’s community, leaving them feeling isolated, vulnerable and unprotected by the law. By making members of minority communities fearful, angry and suspicious of other groups — and of the power structure that is supposed to protect them — these incidents can damage the fabric of our society and fragment communities.

    Thinking just in terms of pragmatics, do gays really think it’s wise to buy into this? That you can intimidate the whole lot of us by beating up a single gay man on the way home from the clubs? That we see ourselves as outside mainstream social and legal institutions (a.k.a. “the power structure”)? And wouldn’t the tacking on of gay-specific jail time or fines be likely to make Joe even more resentful of homosexuals than he would if he were just charged with assault?

    If the police are responding listlessly to crimes in gay neighborhoods, then residents should be angry; but that doesn’t mean that hate crimes provisions are the only possible response. There are neighborhood crime watches, there’s the Pink Pistols. Anger can galvanize you into action, not send you into a spiral of fear.

    So terribly unfortunate

    Posted by Sean at 11:25, March 19th, 2007

    …and the whitewashing of James McGreevey’s coming out story is apparently complete. This is from The Washington Blade:

    Former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, who resigned after revealing that he was gay, says culture is outpacing politics in the acceptance of homosexuality.

    McGreevey, who was in Santa Fe this past weekend to speak at a fundraiser for the Human Rights Alliance, called his decision to come out “one of the most painful but honest decisions of my life.”

    Even though the revelation of being gay can hurt family and friends, McGreevey said Friday that people must learn at an early age to be open about their sexuality.

    “Hopefully, this generation will be the last generation of American youth that has to choose between their heart and their career, between love and acceptance,” he said.

    Hmm…”resigned after revealing he was gay” certainly gets the temporal order of the two events correct–give the reporter that. But the whole “amid allegations that he’d used his position to give an unqualified but hot foreign national a key counter-terrorism post” isn’t part of the story anymore, I guess?

    I don’t think the entire distasteful saga needs to be recounted in detail every time McGreevey’s name is mentioned in the media, but is it too much to ask that the gay press not uncritically let pass remarks about how his “decision” to come out was all “honest”? Coming out doesn’t cancel out corruption.

    Added later: It’s perfectly obvious from the dateline on the article, but just in case the citation above is misleading, the Blade was reprinting an AP story. I did notice that initially but apparently forgot–this’ll teach you to post at midnight–in the process of typing and magically converted the AP into the “gay press.” (It’s rare to see addenda given on wire service stories.)

    Come to think of it, maybe it’s even more disturbing that the non-gay press is buying the line that McGreevey’s resignation was a gay issue.

    Just this once / Let me tell you you’re the sweetest thing

    Posted by Sean at 04:30, March 17th, 2007

    So Belinda Carlisle finally released that album of French pop songs she’s been threatening to unleash on the world for a while now. A friend of mine was raving about it. Despite (because of?) being a committed Go-go’s fan, I was cautious. We need a version of “La Vie en Rose” by Belinda? But I sprang for it, and it really is good. She clearly chose songs she’d come to be personally fond of, and she pours herself into them. Even if it’s just a curio, the album’s enough to make you forget some of the crap she’s shoveled out over the course of her solo career. (Requisite bitchy comment: Belinda’s brow lift makes her look like Marcia Cross.)

    I wish Tracey Thorn’s new album were less scattershot, but the single really is super-cool, even (I assume) if you don’t remember the Yazoo songs it’s produced to recall. And the video is the best I’ve seen in a few years. A friend e-mailed that I had to see it, and he was right: memorably interesting and actually pleasing to look at. The budget for every damned music video made by a pop diva in the last half-decade seems to have been spent on (1) making her up to look like Beyoncé, (2) dressing her up to look like Beyoncé, and (3) having her frolic in various outdoor settings (the desert! the beach! the rain forest! the savanna! the edge of the savanna at the exact moment that the process of desertification turns it into part of the Sahara!) like Beyoncé. Beyoncé is very good at what she does, and of course people imitate what sells. You can’t fault them for that. But it’s all gotten samey and dull. And cluttered.


    Posted by Sean at 06:01, March 16th, 2007

    Interesting week in Japan. Livedoor’s Takafumi Horie has been sentenced to 2.5 years for securities law violations:

    Horie, the 34-year-old founder of Internet services company Livedoor Co., pleaded innocent to the charges of window-dressing and stock market manipulation.

    He argued that he was simply the victim of a witch hunt by prosecutors who had concocted a story to punish the young businessman who shook up the Japanese business world with his aggressive tactics.

    But the court sided with the arguments of the prosecutors.

    “He illegally boosted his company’s share price by announcing fake business performances,” Judge Kosaka said. The crimes “could not possibly have been conducted without (Horie’s) instructions and approval.”

    From what I can tell, neither side is entirely in the right. Horie is right that the business-bureaucratic machine left over from the Japan Inc. era hates him for succeeding without playing their game. There is no doubt in my mind that the prosecution and other government agencies involved investigated every potential charge with grim, intense relish. But this isn’t the Japanese version of the Martha Stewart case; Horie was pretty clearly involved in real violations, though the court disagreed with the prosecution’s contention that he’d masterminded the whole shell game.

    Turning to coverups of a more frequent kind, we see that yet another nuclear power plant operator failed to report an accident:

    Hokuriku Electric Power Co., known as Hokurikuden, failed to report a criticality accident in 1999 at its nuclear power plant in Shikamachi, Ishikawa Prefecture, in which there was an uncontrollable chain reaction for 15 minutes, the government and the power company said Thursday.

    On June 18, 1999, three of the 89 control rods inserted from underneath into the reactor core suddenly slipped out during a regular checkup at Shika Nuclear Power Station, causing the reactor to reactivate.

    The reactor was not automatically stopped and the chain reaction lasted for 15 minutes. But the company did not sufficiently inspect the cause, and failed to keep records of the accident or report it to the government.

    Nobody was exposed to radiation, however, because there were no workers near the reactor in the building at the time of the accident.

    One of the operating errors stemmed from an erroneous description in the procedure manual for operating the water pressure control valve.

    That’s just what we want in operations manuals for nuclear facilities, huh? Erroneous descriptions of equipment! There seems to have been no major threat to human life here; the point is that we hear about these little mishaps based on slack procedure or faulty maintenance at power plants every few months. And it’s not as if it were always the same power company. The problems seem more systemic than that.

    The Chinese premier is set to visit Japan in April. Head-of-state visits were suspended a few years ago, mostly over the Yasukuni Shrine pilgrimages and history textbooks:

    Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit Japan for three days from April 11, government sources said Thursday.

    Wen will meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the first day of his trip and then plans to visit Kyoto.

    This will be the first visit by a Chinese leader in about seven years–the last such visit was made by former Premier Zhu Ronji in October 2000.

    China initially proposed a weeklong visit for Wen from April 9-15, but this was cut short because he decided to visit South Korea before coming to Japan. As a result, Wen’s planned appearance on Japanese television for direct interaction with the public will be canceled. Even so, Wen still plans to make a speech in the Diet–the first Chinese premier ever to do so.

    Presumably, Wen and Abe will discuss the DPRK, those disputed gas and petroleum fields in the East China Sea, and trade policy. Neither side likes the other’s nationalists.


    Posted by Sean at 04:14, March 11th, 2007

    So–apparently, there’s this guy, right? And over the last ten years or so, he’s changed some of his social and political positions. He’s trying to persuade his fellow citizens, through argumentation, that his new positions are better.

    Where does he think he is–America or something?

    As usual when it comes to these things, Eric says most of what needs to be said. I will only add that I think my parents did me a disservice by teaching me a niggling, narrow little definition of hypocrisy. They gave me to understand–those fuddy-duddies–that in order to be a hypocrite, you had to act in ways that were inconsistent with beliefs you purported to hold right now.

    But if we expand that definition, we can have all sorts of self-righteous fun by pointing out that the way someone lives now conflicts with the way he lived years ago. After all, no one ever sincerely changes his mind about important issues as he ages. Especially not in a free society where we all have access to lots of information and are taught to think for ourselves.

    I suppose it might be just possible to accuse Matt Sanchez of being hypocritical if it were proved that, say, he was still earning income from movies he made despite being down on the adult film industry. Even that’s tenuous, though; the guy’s not a vociferous anti-porn crusader, to my knowledge. He just thinks it’s an exploitative business, and he’s glad his time in it’s behind him. It would be lame of him to be mewling about invasions of his privacy, considering the nature of the work he did, but he doesn’t seem to be doing that, either. What exactly do these people in hysterics think he would need to do to reclaim his integrity–contribute a few hundred grand to Ken Ryker’s retirement fund?

    Way to underscore the point that gays are reasonable adults, guys.