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    Posted by Sean at 06:30, May 22nd, 2006

    So my friends Jon and Margaret are married now. Jon was the one I lived with here in the City when I was in grad school; he’s visited me in Japan a few times. Of course, you have a special relationship with each of your friends, but Jon and I did a lot of the sort of talking-about-your-hopes-for-yourself stuff you do in college and immediately afterward. Seeing him get together with Margaret–who not only got everyone’s approval but has become a trusted friend in her own right–has been wonderful over the last few years. Now they’re all official and stuff.

    Of course, with my usual absent-mindedness, I had to go and make things exciting for myself. I bought a new formal shirt last week and figured I’d pick up a new tie at the same time. I could’ve sworn the one I bought at Isetan was the one I’d just tried out. But apparently not. At 16:45 on Saturday, getting ready for the 18:00 wedding, I realized that even when I lengthened it all the way, my tie was too short. (Is a size 15 really that big even for Japan? Doesn’t matter in any case now.) Luckily, I used to live in Murray Hill, so I know I could shoot down from my hotel on 49th to Brooks Brothers a few blocks away and be back in twenty minutes if I kind of jogged it.

    But you know how it is when you’re in a hurry: Life gets a sense of mischief. So I get on the elevator from the 15th floor, and there are two women around my parents’ age already aboard. The buttons for the 9th, 8th, and 7th floors are pressed. One of the women smiles gaily and says, “Sorry–I’m a little preoccupied because my daughter’s getting married today, and we just kept pressing the wrong button until we finally managed to hit 7!” The sort of thing that would have been adorable during any other five-minute period of the weekend. I managed to smile back and wish Mother of Bride the best through my teeth, and we descended (very slowly) lobbyward.

    When I got to the shop, the guys in formalwear were merciless. “Cutting it a little close, huh, buddy?” Yeah, no kidding. To the point that as an insurance policy, I got a pre-tied number, too. Men in the audience will know this, but bow ties don’t necessarily come in standard sizes–the gourd-like bulges that you fold to make the bow are off a little from tie to tie, so it can take a few tries before you get a new one to look right. I didn’t have time for a few tries.

    I did, however, manage to get to the ceremony on time and with all parts where they were supposed to be. I didn’t even flag and start falling asleep during the reception, despite the evening hour and flowing alcohol. And the dancing.

    Between the wedding and the rest of the walking (we must have crossed the park four times yesterday) and the eating out and drinking, I certainly hope I can sleep on the plane back home to Tokyo today. Luckily, I’m still on Japan time, so I was wide awake at 5 a.m. I didn’t…this is how busy I was…have a chance to go to the bookstore even once, so I may be at the mercy of Hudson News for in-flight material when I get to JFK. Oh, or I could pop down to Grand Central in the time before my ride comes, I guess.

    Hope everyone else has a good Monday.

    With a twist

    Posted by Sean at 13:31, May 19th, 2006

    There have been a few comments over the last few days that I want to respond to, but life is interfering. I just got into New York for my friend’s wedding and am refreshing myself with a Bloody Mary in the hotel lobby while I wait to check in. It would be a perfect opportunity to snatch some time to post, but I’m feeling, you know, just a bit out of it. (I’m also mildly worried that I forgot to pack all components of my dinner jacket. I’m good at that kind of screw-up. I also once left my bag of souvenir green tea–about two dozen sachets for the various homefolks–sitting in the middle of my tatami room when I left for Narita Airport.) I’m kind of hoping not to get over my jet lag, since I have to fly back on Monday; the problem, of course, is that the danger hours for sleepiness when you go Tokyo > NY are around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m.–exactly when I want to be alert so I can enjoy quality time with my friends who are gathering. I see a series of desperate naps in my near future.

    Brokeback Mountain was the in-flight movie, BTW. While I’d kind of resisted seeing it (though a friend had basically convinced me to go this coming week when I get back to Tokyo), I figured, hey, I can spare two of my twelve hours in this fuselage. I liked it much more than I’d expected. I never thought I’d live to see the day when I said this, but I thought Jake Gyllenhaal was just as convincing as Heath Ledger. I didn’t think the movie revealed many fresh angles on the short story, but the one moment that did move me in a big, bad way was at the end when Ennis fastens the button on the shirt. There are few things more tender, sexy, and intimate than buttoning your man into his shirt. It’s like you’re putting on his armature before you send him out into the great, wide world. (For straight women, too, I’d assume?) I thought the moment was beautifully handled.

    Okay, before I start getting truly incoherent, I’m going to sign off for a while. Post-shower and nap, I may be in better condition to make a point about something or other.

    Once a queen, always a queen, says Welfare Queen

    Posted by Sean at 09:54, May 17th, 2006

    So that remark by John Stossel in the last week or so has drawn the predictable response (via the Washington Blade ):

    Promoting his new book “Myths, Lies & Downright Stupidity,” Mr. Stossel said: “There are these groups like Exodus International that says, ‘We can fix you. If you just pray, if you turn your life over to Jesus, we can make you straight.’ And I’ve talked to lots of people who supposedly were cured, and they were not.”

    “John Stossel’s assertion that homosexuals cannot change is an affront to the thousands of individuals, like me, who have experienced it,” said Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International.

    Mr. Chambers, who describes himself as a former homosexual, called Mr. Stossel’s remarks a “mischaracterization of our views and oversimplification of this issue.”

    Well, there are plenty of affronts to go around, there, Mr. Chambers. Plenty of us gays aren’t too happy about having it implied that our lives are about promiscuity, addiction, and bitchy exploitation.

    At Ex-Gay Watch, Mike Airhart has a fuller transcript of Stossel’s remarks, which are more carefully qualified than the soundbyte above would make them appear. Also at XGW, Daniel Gonzales has a post that indicates why it’s so difficult to take ex-gay advocates at their word on the efficacy of their programs. Melissa Fryear, who apparently spoke at a Love Won Out conference, defended her assertion that thousands of men and women have overcome homosexuality as follows [excerpted, of course]:

    One, organizations like Exodus International have been in existence for several decades. Currently, for example, there are over 125 member ministries throughout the world. Each of these individual ministries have participants ranging in number of a dozen to hundreds. Given the longevity of Exodus and its breadth of referral ministries, again, thousands of men and women have participated and overcome their struggle with homosexuality.

    In addition to Christian organizations, secular organizations and secular therapists such as Masters and Johnson and the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) have also been working for decades with thousands of men and women seeking to overcome their same-sex attraction. The therapists and clinicians associated with NARTH alone, for example, have seen over 1,000 clients since its inception.

    Finally, while you and/or your readers may not hold to a biblical worldview, as Christians our biblical witness of former homosexuals dates back to the first century. 1 Corinthians 6:11 states, “And such were some of you…” referencing men and women who once lived homosexually. Needless to say, in the millennia following, many have followed in those same footsteps.

    An XGW commenter named Joe Brummer responds with a point that should be obvious to anyone with so much as a modicum of understanding of statistics (about halfway down the thread): “She states in her email how she came up with the numbers, but then explains only how people have signed on to the programs. While millions of people sign on to weight watchers, a much smaller number stick with the program and actually succeed. I see this as the same.” Exactly. Plenty of organizations exist long-term without being able to offer strong evidence, let alone proof, that they’re helping people to achieve their aims. Zen Buddhism has been trying to help people attain enlightenment for far longer than Exodus has been around, but I’m guessing that Fryear would not take that as an indication that it’s actually doing so (even if its adherents claim to be satisfied with the results).

    And that last paragraph has to be one of the most astonishing displays of disingenuous PR-maneuvering I’ve ever seen…and remember, darlings, I follow Japanese politics. Who on Earth would listen to a statement that “thousands of people have made that decision [to leave the practice of homosexuality]” and assume that it included everyone in the last two millennia? There is simply no way to take that as a good-faith statement made in the expectation that its auditors would understand what was being omitted. If we’re going to be consistent in our math and it’s just a few thousand people since AD 1 we’re talking about, that’s a handful a year worldwide. Not exactly encouraging (assuming your idea of “encouraging” is the possibility that you can leave homosexuality behind).

    And yes, I know: Gay activists massage statistics all the time, too. It’s just as wrong when they do it. My point is that this quackery is bad no matter who does it, and it frustrates the search for the truth. As things stand now, no one appears to have reliable data. The figures that are offered always rely on testimonials, which are notoriously unreliable when used by themselves.

    To judge from the commentators whose tone suggests the lowest level of axe-grinding, it’s at least possible for a tiny percentage of highly-motivated people to change their behavior long-term. Whether that’s just a behavioral adaptation or an actual change in sexual orientation as experienced by the subject is probably impossible to prove. And perhaps it doesn’t matter much to those who succeed in learning to function as heterosexuals if their goal is getting behavior that they consider sinful or sick under control. But it matters if “reparative” therapists and ex-gay support programs are going to make flat statements of the “Change is possible” variety. I’m not much moved by arguments predicated on the idea that selling people false hope is okay if it’s for a worthy cause.

    Far from home

    Posted by Sean at 05:56, May 14th, 2006

    The Washington Blade has an op-ed by an American who’s living in the Netherlands with his Dutch partner:

    I’d like to come home to live in America. No, let me be clearer. I’d like to be able to live in America. But I cannot.

    Even though I am a native-born U.S. citizen who lived in America until I was 42 years old, I have been exiled by U.S. law. I am a “love exile.” Because I am gay, I am a second-class U.S. citizen, lacking the basic right to live in America together with my non-U.S. partner.

    The use of “second-class citizen” in the context of the gay marriage debate makes me curl up at the edges. I do think it’s more apt in this case.

    The problem is two-fold: (a) We who are abroad are politically invisible, and (b) a lot of Americans simply do not believe that it is difficult to bring someone to live in America. Even my well-informed friends in the U.S. will say to me, “But you can marry in Massachusetts!”

    That is irrelevant, because immigration is a federal issue. Or, “Surely Rik can get a green card!” or “There are so many foreigners here, I’m sure you can find a way for Rik.” But we can’t.

    Moreover, current U.S. policy is causing a massive brain drain. Thousands of our best-educated and experienced professional people are leaving the U.S. as love exiles, and we are taking our U.S. earned qualifications with us.

    “Massive” may be an overstatement, but the number of gays taking their credentials and productivity abroad to be with their partners is certainly considerable. (People really do seem to be blown away by how difficult it is for a highly-qualified foreigner to get a green card.) In East Asia, the issues are somewhat different from in Europe; here, what makes things easier is just that there are a lot of jobs for foreigners. It’s certainly not the presence of partnership rights. But if the pull factors are often different, the results are often the same.

    Of course, immigration is a complex issue (something you could easily forget listening to people bellow past each other over the last several weeks). If nothing else, Robert Bragar’s story (website for his advocacy group here) is a good corrective to the idea that gay unions are all “transient.” You don’t leave a comfortable life and career trajectory to spend the rest of your days in an unknown country for someone who just happens to be a good lay.

    Lame duck

    Posted by Sean at 05:01, May 14th, 2006

    Okay, Jun’ichiro Koizumi isn’t technically a lame duck because he’s leaving his post as head of state by choice, but anyway….

    The news outlets here, naturally, have been keeping close watch on how things are developing within the LDP, given that Prime Minister Koizumi plans to step down in September. Most of the updates are pretty boring, so I haven’t been commenting on them. The Yomiuri has a nice summary of things to date up today, though:

    Even members of the Mori faction, headed by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, which has managed to maintain a semblance of unity, are having difficulty reaching a consensus on fielding one candidate in the election, indicating that the influence of the faction on their membership is declining.

    At a press conference Friday, LDP General Council Chairman Fumio Kyuma said it was no longer in agreement with the recent trend for factions to choose candidates or take members’ opinions into consideration to field a single candidate, referring to the failure of the Mori faction, the largest in the party, to reach an agreement on fielding a single candidate.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda of the Mori faction are seen as increasingly likely to run in the LDP presidential election, which could signal a split of the faction. But the Mori faction may not be the only faction that will have two candidates competing for the top LDP post.

    Oddly, the article doesn’t mention that Koizumi himself was once a member of the Mori faction; his relationship with his former mentor has been strained at times. (Mori ticked the Prime Minister off by commenting against the perceived rashness of his threat to dissolve the lower house last year over Japan Post privatization.) Koizumi has been signaling that he wants factional string-pulling to be kept to a minimum in the selection of the next party leader:

    “It’s no longer easy to unify (a factional candidate). The old LDP is gone,” Koizumi told reporters Tuesday night. “There is no way to stop them if they wish to run.”

    The comment was widely viewed as a move to keep former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in check as Mori was moving to select a candidate who will have the unanimous support of his faction.

    Both Abe and Fukuda are members of the Mori faction, to which Koizumi once belonged.

    Mori had apparently wanted to avoid rivalry between Abe and Fukuda as it could split his faction, and thus chip away his clout.

    Whatever you may think of Koizumi’s policies, the man has charisma; few other politicians gunning for the LDP presidency and prime ministership do (though I’ve always liked Fukuda and was disappointed two years ago when scandal forced him to resign as Chief Cabinet Secretary). Many of Koizumi’s brash promises of reform have been abandoned for the sake of political maneuvering, and those that have gone through have usually been watered down. There’s a lot of political time between now and September, and whether Koizumi’s approach will live on after him remains to be seen.


    Posted by Sean at 04:40, May 14th, 2006

    A well-intended proposal was introduced by some concerned citizens yesterday:

    The annual number of persons who commit suicide having topped 30000 for seven years running, some non-profit organizations and families of suicides began on 13 May to collect signatures on a petition seeking the institution of a society-wide suicide prevention law, provisionally called “The Fundamental Measure Against Suicide.” Signatures were collected in seven places nationwide: Akita, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Saga.

    The plan is to collect 30000 signatures, to match the annual number of suicides, and to submit the proposal to both houses of the Diet next month. Supporters plan to work on Diet members of both ruling and opposition parties to get the fundamental law enacted through the legislative process.

    Tokyo wants to decrease the number of suicides by at least 5000 annually by 2015, and the proposed law would make suicide prevention a federal responsibility.

    Given the Dr. Phil-ization of American culture, this may be hard for some of my compatriots to register, but psychotherapy is seriously underdeveloped in Japan. There are any number of reasons for that. Japanese people learn from a young age to brazen their way through sadness and depression without letting them show. Let alone talking about them directly. Let alone talking about them directly with someone who’s not a family member or teacher. Of course, people will admit to feeling kind of blue or being in a bad mood every now and then, but people aren’t taught to identify signs of serious trouble in either themselves or others.

    Could some kind of federal initiative help with that? Possibly on that last point, in the sense of providing education and maybe more trained counselors in known pressure cookers such as schools. (I don’t know that simply bringing more attention to the issue would help much; Japanese citizens are already plenty aware that they have a high rate of suicide, not all of which can be attributed to noble attempts to save the family or company honor after some massive screw-up happens.) For people to feel okay about seeking help, acculturation probably needs to change at the household and neighborhood level, and those sorts of shifts don’t play to the federal government’s strengths.

    Okinawa governor relents (a bit) on Futenma relocation

    Posted by Sean at 23:27, May 11th, 2006

    The governor of Okinawa has caved, at least provisionally:

    Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine on Thursday gave broad agreement to a government plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to Camp Schwab’s coastal area as part of plans to realign U.S. bases in Japan.

    Inamine, however, stressed he had yet to fully approve the government plan, saying, “There is no change in the basic stance.” He then said, “I’d like to make efforts to incorporate the prefecture’s concerns in the discussion process with the central government,” indicating the prefecture would again ask the central government to build a temporary heliport at Camp Schwab as a measure to alleviate the dangers connected with the Futenma base until the relocation is completed.

    Inamine initially opposed the government plan, but changed his position as he judged that it would be better to push the prefecture’s demand for government subsidies and development programs ahead of Cabinet approval, sources said.

    Of course: nothing like subsidies to motivate you to play ball, huh? Okinawa being Japan’s least-rich prefecture, it has particular incentive to be pragmatic.


    Posted by Sean at 23:20, May 11th, 2006

    And now, for an exciting change of pace, a data leakage from a Self-Defense Force Internet site. Sheesh.

    Instructional materials related to a surface-to-ship guided missile (the SSM-1) in the possession of the Ground Self-Defense Force were leaded over the Internet, it was learned on 12 April. The leak was reported to have occurred through file-sharing software called Share. The position of the GSDF’s Ground Staff Office is that “no information that would cause security problems to arise was included.”

    Included in the instructional materials were a system summary, information related to launch preparations, and the locations of deployed personnel units. Information with an impact on security, such as the range of the missile, was reported not to have been included.

    The SDF is getting together a plan to prevent the recurrence [of such a leak], having just suffered the leak of classified information through file-sharing software such as Wini in April.

    I feel much better.


    Posted by Sean at 05:13, May 9th, 2006

    Go Fug Yourself is too funny for this world…yet again. Of course, Jessica Simpson’s an easy target. But still, it’s worth reading and guffawing through to the very end.

    I realize that trying to decide which of the music videos of the last few years has been the absolute nadir of stomach-churning, un-provocative sluttiness is pretty futile; but I did think there was something egregiously demeaning about that “These Boots Are Made for Walking” clip, right about the point at which Simpson was shaking her moneymaker in that orange bikini and whooping, “Can I get a ‘Sooooweeeee!’?” Sheesh. I’ll take Veruca Salt any day.

    Speaking of exposure of dubitable shock or aesthetic value, if you’re the last person on Earth who hasn’t ever seen Madonna’s boobies, she’s decided to take ’em out again, this time for W (via Beautiful Atrocities). Is she afraid we’ve forgotten what they look like?

    I don’t see why a middle-aged woman can’t pose for nude photographs. Madonna has a naturally luscious figure–to my mind at peak attractiveness in the “Open Your Heart” video, when she was sculpted through martial self-discipline at the gym but still had a flirty softness to her. Madge is very shrewd about her plastic surgery, and to judge from the Confessions on a Dance Floor videos, she hasn’t made the mistake of getting clearly fake Mariah-style inflata-dugs, if she’s had work done there at all.

    But sexiness is as much about attitude as about skin, and the attitude Madonna’s been projecting lately is desperation. The woman may have the single most well-tended body on the entire planet, but she seems to know less and less what to do with it. But then, that applies to her work in general.

    A few Sundays ago, I was walking toward Shinjuku for a drink or two with friends. Atsushi had just flown back to Kyushu, so while it had been a good weekend, I was in a somewhat melancholy mood. It was cloudy and a little chilly. Perfect for Madonna ballads.

    Remember when she seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of gorgeous, somber slow songs? There are the famous ones like “Crazy for You” and “Live to Tell” and “This Used to Be My Playground” and “Frozen,” but there are plenty of not-so-famous ones, too. She collaborated with Massive Attack on an unexpectedly wonderful version of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” ten years ago. “Look of Love,” from the Who’s That Girl? soundtrack, doesn’t deserve to be forgotten and should, in my view, have been on her ballad retrospective Something to Remember. On her slow songs, she played the role of a self-controlled diva risking herself to extend an offer of love or reveal sentiment. It was a stately but emotive persona that would have been perfect to mature into through her forties.

    It’s not that she should never sing uptempo pop or disco again, but the frantic look-how-fast-I-can-still-dance vibe shuddering through her new songs and videos does not bode well. And I’m sure it’s distorting her work in other media, too. I find it very difficult to believe that she approached the W photo shoot was as a relaxed matron who still knows how to enjoy being playfully naughty…as opposed to an aging party girl who feels the need to prove she still has sex appeal. That sort of thing always seeps into the final product.

    Getting from A to B

    Posted by Sean at 01:46, May 9th, 2006

    This article in the English Asahi is promisingly headlined “Ministry gets tough on transport safety.” Unfortunately, the truth appears to a little less cheering:

    Currently, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport issues suspensions only if transport companies accumulate a certain number of penalty points for employee traffic violations.

    Not only does it take a large number of violations to draw a suspension, the ministry’s shortage of inspectors means that many are not counted.

    In most cases, suspensions are imposed only after serious violations, such as fatal traffic accidents, the sources said.

    I added emphasis to that one clause above because it conveys one of the problems that lead to lax safety enforcement in other sectors (the nuclear power industry springs to mind) also: lots and lots of bureaucrats, very few inspectors out in the field. The Asahi reporter doesn’t do much with it, instead shifting to a discussion of how more market competition after deregulation of transportation industries has encouraged companies to overwork and underprepare their vehicle operators.

    Did deregulation contribute to the increase in the number of accidents? That’s certainly plausible. It’s hard to judge from the statistics provided by the Asahi, though. Restrictions on entrants to the trucking industry were relaxed in 1990; to bus and taxi in 2002. The increase in the numbers of accidents caused by different types of vehicles was measured over the period from 1995 to 2005. What correlates with what is difficult to divine.

    But in any case, one of the main points of having a government at all is to protect citizens–from external enemies and, sadly, from compatriots who want to harm or exploit them. If existing safety regulations are being enforced slackly or arbitrarily, there are systemic problems that instituting tighter regulations probably won’t address. On the other hand, the government may be more willing now to take a firm line in enforcing safety standards precisely because the increase in the number of competitors means it’s not just dealing with established giants that have long-standing connections to a lot of federal agencies. Cozy relationships tend to facilitate cover-ups.