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    You’ve got a lot to learn if you think that I’m not waiting for you

    Posted by Sean at 22:35, October 18th, 2005

    If I have any readers who are fellow Pennsylvanians…well, first of all, hi! How’s the old commonwealth doing? Second, next time you run into PennDOT, could you please kick it REAL HARD for me?

    You wouldn’t think PennDOT could find a way to make your life miserable on the opposite side of the planet, huh? Ha! You forget–Pennsylvania used to have more paved roadway than any other state. At least, that’s what we learned in elementary school. It may still be true. Anyway, the point is, PennDOT functionaries have had a lot of practice getting their obstructionism down to a science. I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that their reach is now global. Save yourselves!

    My birthday was in March; like a good boy, I did my driver’s license renewal bureaucrap in February.

    You know what’s coming, right? I still don’t have my renewed license, despite regular e-mails, a few phone calls, and (futile) attempts to actually open PennDOT’s website to find out what the hell is going on. I thought about writing a letter of inquiry, as someone old enough to remember how paper correspondence works, but I got stuck in that mode…you know, when you’re like, dammit, this is 2005, the website is SUPPOSED to be accessible, and I’m going to keep at it until I get the homepage to come up.

    Yesterday, I gave up and went to the Lehigh County government site (with such exotic features as pages that open) and got the phone number again. After two or three unsuccessful loops through the phone tree (ACK!), I was connected with a flesh-and-blood operator who, to be fair, was very helpful. I’m confident, perhaps naively, that if I do what she told me to do, there is an unexpired driver’s license waiting for me at the end of the process. That way when I visit my family in a few months, I’ll be able to play obstacle course with PennDOT’S was-there-actually-a-pothole-there-or-did-they-just-decide-to-dig-a-hole-and-fill-it? projects like everyone else. I’ll feel that I’ve really gone home, you know?

    And while I’m on the subject of paperwork, that immigration processing center out in the wilds of the monorail line down from Shinagawa Station? Not as bad as I’d expected. This is the first time my visa’s come up for renewal since they closed the little office in Shibuya (a seven-minute walk from my old apartment–man, was that convenient). Having people line up and ask for the forms they need was probably a good idea; the way they used to set them out in plastic trays just invited a free-for-all and guaranteed that some people would grab the wrong ones. There were long waits, of course, but as someone who’s constantly complaining about the number of redundant mandarins in the Japanese government, I can’t exactly bitch when they decide to consolidate two or three offices. And maybe I was just lucky, but everyone I dealt with was downright solicitous, even (dare I say?) amiable.

    You’ve been around for such a long time now

    Posted by Sean at 12:18, October 18th, 2005

    My cell phone was doing some weird things lately, and Atsushi pointed out that the inside of the tea kettle was getting corroded-looking; so I decided to use some errand time yesterday to get new ones. When I described the afternoon to Atsushi later, he laughed. “You’ve been contending with both the ancient and the modern today, huh?”

    The kettle we had before was a regular aluminum job with a whistle–the sort of thing you buy when you’re just moving into your first apartment and prioritize speed of acquisition over aesthetics. But while I was getting a new one, I figured I’d go for a 鉄瓶 (tetsubin: lit., “iron vessel”, though the 瓶 part usually refers to bottles nowadays). A tetsubin is a traditional kettle for boiling water. I thought about looking through the catalogue at Seibu for one with an offbeat design, but when it’s something as elemental as boiling water, it’s kind of nice to go for the standard-warhorse model, so I did:


    The good thing about an iron kettle is that, used over an open flame, it establishes an uncanny connection with our prehistoric ancestors, who had direct contact with fire, water, and mineral in slowly advancing out of subsistence on the raw provisions of nature.

    The bad thing about an iron kettle is that it is a total pain in the ass to take care of–as I’d forgotten, not having used one for years, but quickly relearned yesterday. Those who care for their favorite old cast iron pans without a lot of huffing and puffing may wonder what I’m complaining about, but thing with a frying pan is, usually if you leave it sit for a while before cleaning it, all it has in it is grease. As long as you clean it before the contents go rancid, you’re pretty much fine. You can’t let water sit in a kettle, though, because it’ll start rusting almost immediately. It’ll also start rusting if you leave it wet, which is why you have to be sure to empty all the water and, while it’s still hot, wipe around the spout and lid, where condensation is especially likely. (The instruction packet says, “Be careful not to burn your hands in the process.” Yeah, no freakin’ joke!) That means that if you’re going to make a quick cup of tea before taking off in the morning, you need to factor in an extra 30 seconds or so.

    The other thing you have to do, of course, is season it. So yesterday, while I was sitting hunched over my frighteningly competent new cell phone, I was also boiling kettlefuls of water and then dumping them. When they ran clear, it was ready to use. It took about an hour all told (for Tokyo, we have a very satisfyingly gusty set of gas jets).

    Not so the cell phone, and it wasn’t just because I was an overgrown boy playing with a new mechanical toy, though that was mostly it. The resolution power for both camera and display screen is unreal; I cropped one of my favorite pictures of Atsushi and set it as his…uh, what would we call it in English? 着信画面. Incoming call screen? I’m used to phones with good displays–this is Japan. But I haven’t bought a new model for three years or so, and I’m still not quite used to it.

    The ring tones are a trip, too, since phones now have their miniature version of surround sound. I went to one of the sites with Western pop music and looked at a few of the offerings. Eclectic doesn’t begin to describe it; I made a beeline for the Tracey Ullman version of “They Don’t Know.” (Was that a hit in Japan? Do people remember it? I wonder. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a karaoke book, but I wasn’t looking, either.) It doesn’t really apply to Atsushi and me very well–our friends kept trying to push us together and were frankly exasperated at the stately pace at which we courted each other, actually–but it’s a very sweet tune to use to signal that your love is calling, so I programmed it in.

    What isn’t sweet is the fact that all the functions–the diacritical marks for kana, the delete button–are in different places. I asked at the shop whether going with the same manufacturer as my old model would help, but the saleswoman said National-Panasonic’s moved everything around. It took me twenty minutes to type a four-line e-mail to Atsushi today. At least I haven’t hung up on anyone, or anything.


    Posted by Sean at 11:00, October 18th, 2005

    The LDP’s constitutional revision committee confirmed today that its proposals will, in fact, include an item that redesignates the Self-Defense Force (自衛隊) as the Self-Defense Army (自衛軍). Of course, the English there doesn’t match up exactly, but the new title makes the SDF sound more like a substantial standing army and less like a modest squad that can be called in if there happens to be a need:

    When the committee leaders met with the Prime Minister and former Prime Minister [Yoshiro] Mori on 14 October, they concurred on guidelines: (1) the philosophical underpinnings of Article 9, which decrees that Japan “renounces war,” would be strictly maintained, (2) it would be stipulated in Article 9 Item ii that Japan maintains a self-defense army with the goals of defense of the homeland and of international cooperative efforts, and (3) in the revised text of Article 9, laws for “basic security,” “international cooperation,” and “emergency circumstances” would be established without explicit mention of a right to participate in collective self-defense operations.

    It will be interesting to see what Japan’s neighbors make of that, though the Bush administration will doubtless be happy.

    Monday morning you sure look fine

    Posted by Sean at 13:01, October 17th, 2005

    Presumably for National Coming Out Day, the Washington Blade ran two editorials last week (at least on-line) about coming out–one by Log Cabin Republicans’ Patrick Guerriero, and one by the National Black Justice Coalition’s Keith Boykin.

    Boykin’s criticisms, especially, are aimed at people who remain closeted in order to play both ends against the middle:

    If you don’t come out, then you can’t complain. You can’t complain about homophobic politicians who want to take away your rights. You can’t complain about bigoted ministers in church. And you absolutely cannot complain about the direction of the gay and lesbian movement.

    Too many of us are good at offering critiques without offering help. “Why are there so many ‘queens’ in the movement? Why aren’t there any people of color? Why are they talking about marriage, the military, hate crimes, AIDS, or fill-in-the-blank issue that ‘real people’ think activists shouldn’t be talking about?”

    Well here’s another question: Why aren’t you doing something about it? Posting an anonymous comment on someone’s blog is not enough.

    I’m not saying the activists shouldn’t be criticized when they do something wrong. But I am saying we need to be participants instead of observers in our own liberation. If you don’t like the way things are going, then come out and be visible so you can be the change you hope to see in the world.

    Yes, yes, yes–with a side of sauteed morning glory greens. (One qualification: I don’t see anything wrong with commenting anonymously on blogs. A person who’s out in real life could still have legitimate fears about identity theft, for example, or be interested in protecting her relatives’ privacy rather than her own.) But I can think of few more annoying gay personality types than the ones who piss and moan about how poorly our public advocates are handling things…and then expect sympathy because they “can’t” come out at work or to the ‘rents or to their friends from college. I think Boykin strikes exactly the right balance. Honorable people who are really willing to make the trade-offs that going along to get along requires recognize that they’ve disqualified themselves from bitching that our activists aren’t doing enough to make the world safe for them. Honorable people who want to bitch that our activists aren’t doing enough recognize that the way they live shouldn’t offer cravenness as an alternative course of action.


    Posted by Sean at 10:29, October 17th, 2005

    Autumn is prime moon-viewing time in Japan. The yearning summoned up by the combination of chill, moaning winds and a cloud-wreathed moon is one of the major clichés of Japanese aesthetics, known by now throughout the world. But like most clichés, it still seems stark and real in its original formulations. The following are from the Shin-Kokin Waka Shu:



    aki kaze no/itari itaranu/sode ha araji/tada ware kara no/tuyu no yuugure

    kamo no chōmei

    Though the autumn wind
    does not leave as it passes
    sleeves here touched, there untouched,
    on my sleeve alone settles
    the dew of this eventide

    Kamo no Chōmei




    tanometaru/hito ha nakeredo/aki no yo ha/tsuki mite nebeki/kokochi koso sene

    izumi shikibu

    I am not waiting
    for a suitor to arrive,
    but this autumn night
    I sit gazing at the moon
    without any thought of sleep

    Izumi Shikibu

    Kamo no Chōmei is most famous as the writer of the Houjouki, but quite a bit of his poetry shows up in the third of the great court anthologies. Dew in classical poetry usually represents tears of longing. Though Chōmei knows that the autumn wind blows equitably–it literally and symbolically scatters dew everywhere–he feels isolated in his yearning, as if he were the only one weeping into his sleeve with stirred memories.

    Izumi Shikibu is the daughter of Murasaki Shikibu, the writer of the famous (and massive) Tale of Genji . She’s no Princess Shokushi, but she often turns images very well. In this poem, she slyly underscores her melancholy by pointing out that not only is the beauty of the moon keeping her from getting any rest, but she also has no lover to refocus her attention.

    The Japanese have a worldwide reputation for loving nature, and that’s not unjustifiable; they’ve written about it for over a millennium. However, one of the reasons that many Western attempts at waka or haiku fail is that they just describe beautiful scenes…and that’s it. They sound merely quaint. Japanese poetry–the good stuff–doesn’t just document the existence of a stand of pine trees that were sitting there being pretty. It describes nature to convey a moment of keen feeling on the part of the writer, when inner thought and external environment had a spark of connection.

    Yasukuni visit gets usual reaction

    Posted by Sean at 08:50, October 17th, 2005

    This morning I apparently posted in the single nanosecond between Prime Minister Koizumi’s paying of respects at the Yasukuni Shrine and the resulting Asiawide condemnation (both links are to the Mainichi):

    Critics, especially in China and the Koreas, say that the shrine glorifies Japanese militarism, but Koizumi says that he is only mourning the country’s war dead.

    China in particular has taken a hard line with regard to Koizumi’s Yasukuni visits, halting all meetings between the heads of government in both countries since he began attending the shrine.

    Koizumi had said he would visit the shrine to attend its autumn festival, which runs from Monday to Friday.

    What Koizumi is thinking when at the shrine is an open question. Whether the shrine glorifies Japanese militarism is somewhat easier to assess. The Asahi has a quotation from a PRC official I hadn’t seen elsewhere:

    “The Chinese government will staunchly oppose Prime Minister Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine where the Class-A war criminals are enshrined–regardless of how the visits are made,” said Wang Yi, the Chinese ambassador to Japan. “The fact that the prime minister has done such a thing on the day when the Shenzhou 6 made a successful return to Earth is a challenge to all Chinese people. The prime minister should accept historical responsibility for destroying China-Japan relations.”

    South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Ban Ki Moon summoned Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Shotaro Oshima in Seoul. Ban said the South Korean government felt “deep regret and disappointment” over Koizumi’s actions.The leaders of China and South Korea have repeatedly called on Koizumi to refrain from visiting Yasukuni this year, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

    I’m not entirely sure what the Shenzhou 6 has to do with anything. Japan has a history of botched rocket launches, but the ambassador doesn’t seem to be getting in even a veiled dig about that.

    What’s likely to happen is that Korea will do its grit-its-teeth-and-bear-it thing, and China will do its still-no-official-head-of-state-visits thing while continuing to try to use Japan as a target for domestic restlessness that’s actually at least partially directed at the CCP. Today’s visit didn’t happen at a moment that was any more strategic than any other of late–there’s no specific tricky development in the dispute over oil and gas deposits in the East China Sea, say, or trade relations. But as always, today’s visit will be a convenient thing to bring out later as an indication that Japan cannot be trusted to have dealt with its misdeeds during the occupation of Asia.

    Risky business

    Posted by Sean at 22:06, October 16th, 2005

    I’ve discovered something worse than being told you look like Tom Cruise.

    I don’t mind that a lot of guys think some celebs are cute whom I find unappetizing–different strokes and all that. Also, as a white guy in Japan, you get a lot of hyperbolic comments comparing you to celebrities you only resemble in the most rudimentary terms of coloring. If you’re dark, you look like Tom Cruise. If you’re fair, you look like Brad Pitt. Now that I think of it, I haven’t happened to be involved in this discussion when one of my black acquaintances was present, but I’m going to bet they get told they look like Denzel Washington. Maybe Will Smith, but my money’s on Denzel.

    Anyway, the point is, I have dark hair, so the script calls for Tom. If someone deviates from it, that generally means that the comparison is heartfelt rather than formulaic. Which is why this line nearly gave me a coronary: “You look just like Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love.”

    “Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love“?


    Blech. Ew, ew, ew. Just, ew. That is not a way to get in well with me. Not.


    Koizumi visits Yasukuni Shrine again

    Posted by Sean at 21:30, October 16th, 2005

    Prime Minister Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine this morning for its autumn festival. It was the fifth visit for him since 2001. I don’t think there’s been enough time for the rest of Asia to flip out; even the Nikkei story is barely two lines long.

    About time

    Posted by Sean at 01:14, October 15th, 2005

    This is the first piece I’ve seen that defends the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court on the basis of how she’s going to do the job. “Why Harriet Miers is the sort of thinker who would make a good justice,” as opposed to “Why someone without a Harvard law degree, two decades of publications to her credit, and regular invitations to dine with the Kristols could make a good justice”:

    It is true that Harriet Miers, in everything she does, gives high attention to detail. And the trait came in handy with drafts of presidential speeches, in which she routinely exposed weak arguments, bogus statistics and claims inconsistent with previous remarks long forgotten by the rest of us. If one speech declared X “our most urgent domestic priority,” and another speech seven months earlier had said it was Y, it would be Harriet Miers alone who noted the contradiction.

    It may be, in fact, that a details person is just what the Supreme Court needs right now. If anyone can be counted on to pause in deliberations over abortion cases, for example, and politely draw attention to small details like the authority of Congress and of state legislatures, or the interests of the child waiting to be born, it will be the court’s newest member. As a justice, however, she will command the kind of respect that has nothing to do with being conservative, or liberal, or anything else but a person of wisdom and rectitude.

    Okay, so Miers takes texts at face value, has a memory like a steel trap that helps her spot inconsistencies, stays focused on the job at hand, and is more likely to fulfill her job description with self-effacing meticulousness than to try to make a name for herself. You could certainly take issue with Matthew Scully’s argument here–I’m not really convinced by it–but it is an argument, with evidence summoned to make a relevant point.


    Posted by Sean at 07:20, October 14th, 2005

    A belated happy 80th birthday to the UK’s inimitable former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, which occasioned this week’s second gay-shiver-of-pleasure-inducing comment referring to her:

    Another guest, actress Joan Collins, said she adored Thatcher.

    “She is the ‘Iron Lady,’ and I want to be just like that when I grow up,” Collins said.

    [sighs] Oh, and this is a good place to point out that Susanna, a lady of considerable gravitas herself, has written a very thoughtful post about what general patterns in differences between the sexes mean to individuals trying to live as well and happily as they can.