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    You scumbag, you maggot

    Posted by Sean at 23:55, March 7th, 2007

    For the first time in a dozen years, I woke up this morning wondering whether I was a faggot.

    See, Eric is trying to figure out what Ann Coulter’s explanation of her remark at CPAP would mean if applied consistently:

    At any event, it would seem that Ann Coulter is urging upon us the following, very novel definition of “faggot.”

    • Correct usage: a) a schoolboy who is considered by another schoolboy to be “weak or timid” and b) pretty much every Democratic politician — male or female, specifically including Hillary Clinton. (Um, does Bubba know?)

    • Incorrect usage: any homosexual.

    While I guess I should be glad that Ann Coulter has taken it upon herself to unburden homosexuals from the yoke of this rather unpleasant word (as well as change the word’s gender), there’s that stubborn common-sense part of me that just doesn’t quite understand.

    There was a time not that long ago when calling a heterosexual man a faggot was the worst insult you could bestow on him. It was considerably worse than calling him a “wuss,” and that’s because not all wusses are homosexuals. According to the popular stereotype prevalent at the time, however, all homosexuals were wusses. So, if you called someone a faggot, it carried extra weight.

    Now we are told it no longer does, because the word “faggot” does not carry the imputation of homosexuality. It only means “wuss” — and the “wuss” factor is completely detached from the gay factor.

    Hmm. Maybe I’m not the best judge, but I don’t think I mince or flounce or anything. And I think I’m good at facing problems squarely and doing what needs to be done about them. Does that mean I’m a homosexual non-faggot? I’m pretty sure that fantasizing about Bobby Cannavale makes me a homo; could the specific things I fantasize about doing with Bobby Cannavale push me back over the line into faggotry? Will I become a faggot again if I wear purple three days in a row (no difficult feat given my closet)? Does it matter whether it’s plum or lilac?

    This is all very disorienting, so to speak. Next thing you know, someone’s going to tell me I’m not actually a bitch.

    I never figured Coulter was anti-gay*. I have friends who’ve seen her out having drinks or dinner with prominent artfags, for one thing. And for another…well, generally speaking, a lot of loudmouthed, high-strung, unmarried urban professional women are fag hags. I’m pretty sure she’s against gay marriage and abolishing the DADT policy in the military, but those are specific policy positions, not overarching attitudes. Not that I gave it much thought.

    Now, of course, it’s suddenly become impossible to open a browser without encountering a solemn discussion of what exactly Coulter meant when she mentioned John Edwards and the word faggot in close proximity to each other. Her explanation strikes me as sincere. “You can’t understand the joke I was trying to make without bearing in mind that I operate at the developmental level of a second-grader” sounds about right, doesn’t it?

    So while I think she’s wrong about the way the word is used in contemporary American English by adults, I wasn’t particularly offended. I agree with Connie that fetishizing words is a bad idea, and I think it’s especially bad in this case. The last thing we need as gays is to look yet again as if we were easily-bruised creatures who need to be protected from hurt by big, strong, kind-hearted straight people. (See, for example, that letter a bunch of conservatives wrote in protest, as posted by Michael: “Coulter’s vicious word choice tells the world she care little about the feelings of a large group that often feels marginalized and despised.” Even conservatives are bleating about marginalization now? Ick. And people wonder why I cling to the designation “small-l libertarian”!)

    * We’re still allowed to use gay to mean “homosexual,” right? Or are we now to be treated to a revival of the pseudo-Mencken mewling that it’s some kind of crime against English expression that you have to find other ways to talk about the gamesome and happy-go-lucky nowadays?

    You can’t fight fate

    Posted by Sean at 00:12, March 7th, 2007

    This weekend, the delivery guy brought an envelope bearing those three little words every gay man loves to hear: “Unframed art enclosed.” A present for my birthday (today–exactly ten years younger than Taylor Dayne) from my old roommate in New York. Of course, since I haven’t found a new apartment yet–in the middle of looking–it’s going to stay enclosed and unframed for a bit.

    In less aesthetically pleasing news, Empress Michiko is suffering from stress-induced intestinal bleeding. (Irreverent question: if they’re the intestines of the sitting empress, do we call them 御腸–miwata, maybe? Seems like a word that might do nicely in a waka written by her exalted husband to celebrate her recovery.) I’m being flippant about the level of detail, but of course the condition is serious enough. For those who might have thought that Princess Masako’s adjustment problems were the kind of thing that might iron itself out in a decade or three, the example of the empress, who’s been beset by stress-related ailments pretty regularly, sadly offers little hope. Empress Michiko was also a commoner before marrying Akihito. She wasn’t an up-and-coming diplomat like Masako, but she was the active daughter of a rich industrialist and lived a varied life.

    Japan and the DPRK will be discussing the abductee issue and possible normalization of relations between the two countries. You will not be surprised to hear that it’s Japan that wants to know what happened to the remainder of its abducted citizens and the DPRK that wants money:

    Japanese and North Korean delegations agreed Tuesday to discuss the abduction issue on Wednesday and diplomatic normalization Thursday during a two-day bilateral working group meeting within the framework of the six-party talks.

    The two sides agreed during informal talks Tuesday that the two sides would separately discuss “pending issues including the abduction issue” on Wednesday and “normalization” on Thursday.

    The government welcomed the fact that the North Korean side agreed to first discuss the issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea, as Pyongyang has claimed the issue has already been settled. The government hopes to see some progress during the Wednesday talks.

    I guess we’ll know by the end of the day.


    Posted by Sean at 01:13, March 4th, 2007

    One nice thing about being on vacation was that during the inclement weather and the flights, I had time to read without that nagging feeling that I should be doing something for the office instead. The books I chose were worth investing time in, though I thought they both felt kind of short of what I’d hoped.

    One was Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne , a themed biography of sorts by Australian reporter Ben Hills. I don’t remember seeing any egregious factual mistakes, though there were little inaccuracies and self-contradictions; but I was distracted by the way Hills has trouble controlling his voice. There are writers who can move from journalistic sobriety to flippancy to human-interest bathos with ease; Hills isn’t one of them. Sure, that’s subjective on my part, but when the meat of a book is speculation–as an attempt at explicating how the forces operating on Masako got her into her current state necessarily is–its author needs to come off as unusually trustworthy and sensible. The swings in tone are jarring and subliminally make Hills seem a bit flighty.

    I was also a little unsettled at the unremittingly flat way Masako was cast as a victim. One doesn’t want to underestimate the way the royals in Japan are treated by their handlers as living museum pieces, which Hills is hardly the first to document. (Under pressure from the palace governing agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kodansha isn’t going to publish the planned Japanese translation.) But as he himself notes, plenty of other eligible women turned down the opportunity to marry Crown Prince Naruhito. I was especially charmed by those unnamed candidates who threatened to make themselves unfit to be royal brides by getting body piercings or tattoos–never underestimate the resourcefulness of the Japanese woman!

    Naruhito’s mistake seems to have been in promising Masako that she could channel her talent for and credentials in diplomacy into modernizing the role of the Crown Princess and, later, Empress; Masako’s mistake was in believing him. Even so, she was an experienced woman of the world by that point and presumably knew how to weigh her options. She also had the example of the current Empress Michiko to learn from. No, she probably didn’t know exactly what she was getting into–otherwise, it’s hard to imagine that she would have accepted the prince’s proposal. But part of being an adult who makes a risky decision is that you might lose.

    Princess Masako was better than Jimmy Stewart: A Biography , which I picked up while hanging out with Eric. I was distracted by Marc Eliot’s inability to do basic math and by his factual errors. (For a gay man, I’m hardly a film expert, but I’m pretty sure that if Auntie Mame had won the Oscar for Best Picture, I’d have remembered. It’s also pretty obvious that you can’t say Cary Grant retired from acting a half-decade before making North by Northwest .) And to read Eliot’s summaries of Stewart’s own movies with Hitchcock, you’d never know how deeply, powerfully disturbing they are. In fact, nothing Eliot writes indicates why Stewart was a fascinating enough character to warrant a four-hundred-page biography.

    Feels like home

    Posted by Sean at 04:43, March 1st, 2007

    Cruel but so, so true.

    The fine art of personal correspondence

    Posted by Sean at 08:15, February 19th, 2007

    Oh, dear. Michael links to commentary about this disturbing article:

    Buying a greeting card for someone’s birthday, anniversary or if they’re feeling under the weather is pretty straightforward. But what if they’re undergoing chemotherapy or struggling with depression? “Get Well Soon” probably won’t cut it.

    Likewise, most cards lining the store shelves don’t work on occasions as someone leaving an abusive spouse, undergoing drug rehab or declaring their sexual orientation.

    For illness: “Cancer is a villain who doesn’t play fair … but it can’t dim your spirit, and it can’t silence prayer.”

    For eating disorders: “All I want is for you to be healthy – healthy and happy with yourself. Please take it one day at a time until you are.”

    For depression: “When the world gets heavy, remember, I’m here to help carry it with you.”

    Leaving aside my overall dislike of pre-printed cards in place of handwritten notes, I still have to wonder why “Get well soon” won’t cut it in such cases. Do people with depression or bulimia or abusive spouses really prefer cards in which their friends spell out all the finicking details of their medical conditions or marital problems? “I am aware of EXACTLY how screwed up your life is” is not, it seems to me, an improvement on “Thinking of you in your time of trouble.”

    And of course I had to see whether there was more about the gay part. There was, with the bonus of a truly awful usage-related solecism (in addition to the faulty parallel construction in the very first sentence of the article):

    No topics were off-limits, said company spokeswoman Rachel Bolton, noting two cards that could be sent to gay people who have disclosed their sexuality. The cards don’t directly refer to homosexuality, only extolling the person to “Be You” or “This is who I am” or featuring a rainbow, a symbol of gay pride.

    Mr. Malaprop, honey? The word you want is exhorting. You might want to tell your copy editor, too.

    Need I say that anyone who had responded to my coming out with a card printed with a rainbow and “This is who I am” would have found himself living a Sean-free life from then on? (I do, however, like the way it’s said that no topic was “off-limits” in one sentence and then that no cards directly address homosexuality in the next.)

    There used to be books–the Japanese still use them–that gave templates and models for writing particular kinds of letters. They strike me as useful. There are plenty of things that are necessary, or at least beneficial, to express that are nonetheless tricky to put across well. I’m not sure off-the-rack doggerel is a good modern equivalent, though.

    Added after more coffee: While I’m on the topic of excessive cuteness, I may as well post these pictures of the ‘rents’ cats, which I promised to do. Like all Siamese cats, these two are drunk on their own fabulousness.

    The guy on the left is Ludwig, who had the aesthetic sense to pose in an environment that picked up the browns in his fur and the blue of his eyes. He and I get along just fine. The one on the right is Romeo; if you’re detecting a bit of animosity in that stare of his, you’re right. Neither of them likes giving up their room to me when I visit, but Romeo pretty clearly dislikes me for reasons that are unrelated to mere sleeping arrangements. He was apparently abused by an owner when he was a kitten, so he takes a while to warm up to men he doesn’t know. I never see him for more than a week at a time, which means that I’m a perpetual stranger. His antipathy does not, however, stop him from seeking out my most expensive sweaters and nestling into them as if they were pet beds.

    Added after dinner: Just to round out the theme of Quadripeds Who Fail to Love Me, here are my old roommate and his wife’s chihuahuas:

    The blond guy is Captain; his swarthier brother is Chance. These dogs HATE me. Whenever I come back to New York and stay with M. and J., the dogs yap at me incessantly. When they do cease yapping, they register their displeasure by growling. Right now they’re being quiet, possibly because they think I may have food to offer them between now and when I take off for JFK tomorrow morning.


    Posted by Sean at 09:28, February 16th, 2007

    This morning’s giggle provided by NOVA:

    The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government have conducted on-the-spot inspections at major English-language school NOVA, it was learned Friday, after ex-students complained that they hadn’t had their tuition fees returned after canceling their contracts.

    Among the allegations NOVA faces is a violation of the Special Business Transaction Law. If NOVA is found guilty, it could receive an official order to improve its business practices or have its business activities suspended.

    But then where will people in Japan go to keep from learning English?

    The English Asahi has more detail about the actual complaints people are making. Note that while the article ends with the statement “According to sources, local consumer affairs centers throughout the country hold about 1,000 consultations about Nova-related issues every year. The annual figure is much larger than those of other English conversation schools,” NOVA is the largest of the English conversation schools, so it’s not clear what actual proportion of NOVA students complains or what the relative seriousness of the average complaint is.

    “You know there isn’t one”

    Posted by Sean at 10:28, February 15th, 2007

    Via Bruce Bawer (13 February 2007 post), who really needs someone to show him how permalinks work, this priceless exchange on CNN. Glenn Beck is the CNN interviewer; Irshad Manji is a lesbian Muslim who lives in Canada:

    BECK: OK. Real quickly, we have about a minute. What — who is standing with you as a woman’s organization? Who — what National Organization of Women is coming up and saying I’m with you?

    MANJI: You know there isn’t one.

    BECK: Why?

    MANJI: Fear. Fear of offending. So many people today in America come up to me to say, “Irshad, I wish I could support your call to reconcile Islam with human rights, but if I do, you know I’ll be called a racist for sticking my nose in somebody else’s business.”

    Bawer’s comment: “Against people who are willing to die in the cause of destroying freedom, people who are unwilling to stand up for freedom for fear of being called a name don’t stand much chance of victory.”

    Beck and Manji focused on women’s groups, but of course the gay organizations are mostly just as bad. And a lot of rank-and-file gays, too. Plenty of gay men and women who “don’t care what people think” when they’re having a noisy good time at brunch–or giving conservative relatives a heart attack with their views about social policy–will turn into the most craven protocol-followers alive when it’s time to venture, even gingerly, the opinion that maybe there are strains of thinking in non-Western cultures that are incompatible with human rights and are not the fault of Western imperialism. Or that gay advocacy groups often choose cheap partisan expediency over gay interests.

    Something Bawer and Pieter Dorsman, whom he cites, didn’t quote, gives a little bit of perspective:

    BECK: And everybody is crying out, where are those Muslim voices? You and people like you are in so much danger. How much — how much does fear play a role in silencing the voices of Islam?

    MANJI: Huge. And fear of many things. Fear not just of being ostracized in your community, but obviously fear of violence, as well.

    You know, Glenn, I speak at university campuses right across not just North America, but around the world. And invariably, young Muslims come up to me afterwards to whisper thank you in my ear. And when I ask them, why are you whispering? They say to me, “Irshad, you know, you have the luxury of being able to walk away from this campus two hours from now. I don’t, and I don’t want to be stalked for supporting your views.” And if they’re women, a lot of them say, “I don’t want to be raped for supporting your views.”

    So this is happening in America, and I don’t want to suggest, Glenn. Let me just be clear. I don’t want to suggest that every Muslim feels this kind of fear. But every Muslim does know that, if you take on the most mangled aspects of our faith today, you will be subject to such a vitriolic smear campaign that it will bring shame and dishonor upon your family. So there is huge pressure to say nothing.

    It isn’t just from women’s groups dominated by non-Muslims that Manji isn’t getting support. Moderate Muslims who think Islam needs reform are going to have to speak out eventually, or it’s not going to happen. As Manji herself said a few years ago, “Society needs people who offend, otherwise there will be no progress.” (She’s also addressed gay activists’ problems with Islam and Israel.)

    The Keystone State welcomes you!

    Posted by Sean at 12:18, February 13th, 2007

    Kermit the Frog: Sam, Elton John is a very important musician.
    Sam the Eagle: Then why does he dress like a stolen car?


    I got into my hometown on Sunday night. Not fond of Hyundais, but the rental car was fine. Great playlist on the soul station, too, once I got past Bernardsville or so. Might have been made to my specifications: “Automatic.” “Brick House.” “I’m Coming Out.” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” “Raspberry Beret.” It was like being inside my own personal karaoke box. (Don’t worry. I was watching the road. Mostly.)

    Then, home. As always, the transition was…really something. Monday morning when I woke up, my parents were drinking bag tea.

    And watching Touched by an Angel .

    On the Hallmark Channel.

    I won’t give you the blow-by-blow of how I spent the week in New York with my old roommate and his wife and with assorted other college/work/gay friends. But, you will not be surprised to hear, we didn’t drink bag tea while watching Touched by an Angel on the Hallmark Channel. Not even one episode.

    Just so there’s no ambiguity here, I’m not being snide. One of the best things about America is that there’s a place (often there are several equally suitable places) for any personality. I love seeing my parents and brother, who really enjoy living here. I can certainly see why people would rather rear children here than in, oh, say, Chelsea. And, after all, where you grew up is where you grew up and has a special kind of pull. It’s just that culturally, I’ve become so…very…different…from my family that I invariably spend the first day or two back at my parents’ place slightly disoriented. Where are all the people crowding the sidewalks? Where, for that matter, are the sidewalks? What do you mean, I have to drive to get to a Starbucks? Why are you all staring (I mean, my little pink stretch sweater isn’t that tight)?

    I’m a little more settled in now, watching my little brother’s Muppet Show DVDs and planning to go for a long run this afternoon–the snow is kind of accumulating, but it should be fine, and this is a great place for running. I think I’ve gotten more reading done in the last two days than I did in Tokyo in all of December. My father’s on night shift, so we’re supposed to be going out for lunch. I assume I’ll make it through at most one quarter of my portion, as always happens when I come back to PA. And the day after tomorrow, I’m supposed to see these two weirdos, which is always a pleasure to look forward to.

    I assume Japan hasn’t fallen into the Pacific or anything. Will be back to checking the news…uh, sometime after I see whether there’s any more shoo-fly pie.

    Tomb raider

    Posted by Sean at 11:40, February 5th, 2007

    I know that slideshows are a social menace, but people have been asking about photos from Thailand and Cambodia. So okay. Those who want to sign in and see all of them can do so here.

    Those who are happy with just a few images can look at them below the jump. One of the nice things about the Internet age is that you don’t have to take pictures of historical sites and things you visit just to record what they look like. The official preservation agency often has images of all the major points–usually lit properly and without people in the way–already. That frees you to focus on trying to get exposures of things that just caught your eye for one reason or another while you were walking around.


    Posted by Sean at 22:05, January 29th, 2007

    It turned out that I was able to take some of my pooled vacation time and appliqué it onto the end of the session I had to run for work in Bangkok this past weekend. A friend or two and I will be here in Thailand and Cambodia for the rest of the week, and from here I’m flying back to New York on Monday to see friends and then spend a few days with my parents and friends up and down the Mid-Atlantic. For reasons I hope I don’t need to go into, I’m taking a break from paying attention to Japanese news for a little while. Will probably be posting intermittently, but then that’s the only way I’ve been posting for a few months, anyway. Hope everyone’s doing well….