"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Marriage Note: Japan

This fascinates me, in part because I've been reading so much yaoi manga lately and the status of gays in Japan is fairly unclear -- there is a range of reactions toward homosexuality represented there (although the stories are, obviously, supportive of same-sex relationships), but I have no real idea of the legal and social context for gays in Japan. (I guess it's time for a little research on my part.)

The Justice Ministry plans to enable Japanese nationals to marry same-sex partners who have citizenship in countries where gay marriage is legally approved, ministry sources said Thursday.

The ministry will issue certificates necessary for such marriage of Japanese citizens and foreigners, the sources said, adding the ministry will soon convey the decision to its legal affairs bureaus across the nation, the sources said.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan, but this decision puts them a long step farther than the U.S. government.

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan.)

Monday, March 30, 2009

More Dreher/Linker

Andrew Sullivan has a nice follow-up to the debate between Rod Dreher and Damon Linker on same-sex marriage that I discussed on Saturday, with an additional -- and truly affecting -- comment by a reader:

I’ve been an active participant for three days in the Dreher-Linker debate comboxes, gnashing and clawing. I should have known that soon, with a bang, you’d stand up and throw the full force of your talent into the fray. With this:

“For many of us, the catastrophe of AIDS was a palpable, grueling reminder that without social structure, without integration, without responsibility, without the love and engagement and presence of their families, gay men were in grave danger,”

you reduced me to tears. Damn you and your words!

It was a cathartic response to my three days of struggling to explain that gay men are human, with complex sexual and political lives, and that maybe we’ve learned something since those heady days in the Mineshaft. We have done much more than come out of the closet and refuse to hate ourselves.

Some of us have watched every friend of ours die in their twenties, or have faced illness ourselves, and have been CHANGED. Some became meth addicts and fell apart. Some of us ran to our families because without them we knew we’d never be able to get through whatever was next. Rod loves to pine for the loss of community, while ignoring the community we have built in the face of almost unbearable loss.

Marriage is the culmination of THAT, not of some nihilistic sexual revolution.

This is one I'm going to try to dive into when I have a bit more time -- I haven't been following it closely (trying to pull some reviews out of a brain gone completely nonverbal), but intend to catch up.

Toward a New Idiotocracy

Catching up a bit, and ran across this coda to the story about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and his remarks about "wasteful" spending -- like monitoring volcanoes. From Joe Connelley in SeattlePI:

Thanks to "something called volcano monitoring," to use the denigrating language of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, passenger jets did not fly into ash clouds when Alaska's Mount Redoubt erupted earlier this week.

Volcanic ash creates conditions akin to flying into a sand blaster. A KLM flight lost power in all four engines after it flew into the cloud created by a 1989 eruption of Redoubt.

The plane dropped by more than two vertical miles before its crew could restart the engines and land in Anchorage. No wonder Alaska Airlines canceled 19 in-state flights on Monday week after Redoubt sent an ash plume 60,000 feet into the sky.

The eruptions of Redoubt carry a lesson that Jindal did not learn back when he was a Rhodes Scholar: Don't sneer at science. . . .

Jindal's remarks give pause, not only about this would-be president but the Republican Party to which he tossed red meat in response to President Obama's address to Congress. "Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.," said the governor.

The official Republican hostility toward science is a direct function of the religious fundamentalist takeover of the party, that much should be obvious: it is overwhelmingly Republicans who oppose stem-cell research, teaching evolution in science classes, HIV research and education (and sex education in general), and who have come up with their own brand of pseudo-psychology in the "ex-gay" farce.

There is also the marked element of crass political opportunism -- Jindal's remarks, like those of Sarah Palin scoffing at funding for research using fruit flies -- are indicative of nothing so much as an appeal to the most ignorant and reactionary parts of the Republican party. Like the Dobson Gang, congressional Republican leaders (and let's not forget that stellar performance by the Republican budget team), Palin and Jindal are deliberately tailoring their appeal to the idiots in the base.

And we can easily see where common sense -- not to mention public safety -- reside on this one.

Jindal for president? Please -- do it. Maybe with Sarah "No Money for Fruit Flies" Palin as his VP choice?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Rule of Law

It's nice to know that, even if our own government is afraid of it, someone, somewhere, still believes in it:

One of America’s NATO allies—which supported the Bush Administration’s war on terror by committing its troops to the struggle–has now opened formal criminal inquiries looking into the Bush team’s legacy of torture. The action parallels a criminal probe into allegations of torture involving the American CIA that was opened this week in the United Kingdom.

Spain’s national newspapers,
El País and Público reported that the Spanish national security court has opened a criminal probe focusing on Bush Administration lawyers who pioneered the descent into torture at the prison in Guantánamo. The criminal complaint can be examined here. Público identifies the targets as University of California law professor John Yoo, former Department of Defense general counsel William J. Haynes II (now a lawyer working for Chevron), former vice presidential chief-of-staff David Addington, former attorney general and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, now a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.

This means that these men are subject to arrest and extradition in 24 countries, automatically. The cherry on top:

Judge Baltasar Garzón is involved in the investigation, according to the El País report. Garzón is Europe’s best known counterterrorism magistrate, responsible for hundreds of cases targeting the activities of ETA and related Basque terrorist organizations. He also spearheaded the successful investigation of Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organizations operating in the Maghreb region, including Spanish enclaves in Morocco. But Garzón is best known for his prosecution of a criminal investigation against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet that resulted in the issuance of an arrest warrant for Pinochet while he was visiting England.

Impeccable credentials, I'd say.

More on the implications of this from Andrew Sullivan.

Sadly, my first reaction is: why is Obama sitting on his hands? (Yeah, I know, but still. . . .)

Reviews in Brief: Hirotaka Kisaragi's Innocent Bird

Innocent Bird is another yaoi that I looked at again recently, after a first reading that left me with mixed feelings. It was worth a second reading.

The angel Karasu is sent to earth to retrieve an illegal immigrant: a demon who has taken up residence as a human and whose visa is about to expire. Kirasu begins his search by the simple expedient of asking a resident of the area where he can find the most beautiful person in the neighborhood. A boy leads him to "the Pastor" -- none other than the demon marquis Shirasagi, who not only lives as a human, refusing to use his demonic powers, but has become a man of the cloth who operates a store-front church where he not only tries to guide souls to God, but also teaches children who can't go to school because their parents are not citizens. Due to his intervention in the case of another demon, Karasu manages to get himself suspended and starts visiting Shirasagi -- as he freely admits, his excuse of "being in the neighborhood" really means that he just wanted to see him again.

But Shirasagi was the Archduke Beelzebub's plaything, and Beelzebub wants him back. He kidnaps Karasu as a means of making that happen.

This one is interesting in a lot of ways. Kisaragi has drawn the angelic forces as a bureaucracy -- Karasu is merely one field agent in the operation, although somewhat of a misfit, as it turns out. And Shirasagi really is interested in finding a way back to God, even though he is one of the Fallen. The take on Christian mythology is interesting, with Powers and Dominions on the side of the angels and Archdukes and marquises on the side of the devils combined with images of a large bureaucracy at work. And the angels aren't necessarily presented favorably: the "enforcers" for Karasu's District Manager, a Dominion, are rendered as jackbooted army officers, World War II vintage, armed with long and very effective swords. (Fortunately, Karasu's swordsmanship is superior.)

The characters of Karasu and Shirasagi are tremendously appealing: Karasu is a bit of a rogue, something of a misfit as an angel, while Shirasagi, the demon, is nothing less than a saint -- although certainly not in the running to be a martyr. Both are faced with moral choices that really are moral choices: both recognize the difference between blind adherence to God's laws and, as Shirasagi says "obeying what's in God's heart." It's a take that hits home to a contemporary American, watching the ongiong battle between those who blindly follow a rigid god of unbending laws and those who follow a god of love and compassion.

The graphics in the main story are strongly reminiscence of Nanae Chronoe's Vassalord -- the same density, the same tendency toward fragmentary images, the same general feel, although I have to say they are somewhat cleaner and less cluttered.

There is a side story, quite a substantial one, "My Sweet Darling," that is also remarkable on several counts.

Two brothers, Shuuji and Souta, live together after the death of their father. Their mother had deserted them years before, and Shuuji harbors a fair amount of resentment. Then a stranger knocks at the door, introducing himself as Kyoto Nishiwaka, their brother: he is the son of the man their mother left them for. She and her husband have also died and Kyoto has nowhere else to go. He moves in and starts behaving like a "mom" to the two brothers, until Shuuji can't stand it any more and throws him out. Another encounter on the street as Kyoto is about to run into major trouble marks a deep change in their relationship.

This is another one that tackles some substantial questions, including one that we've run into before, the complex of what makes a family and the meanings of love. The graphic work is also substantially different from that in the main story: while stylistically identifiable as the same artist, it's much leaner and more open, with a much clearer line that suits the story better.

This series is at three volumes, and I'm in hot pursuit of the remaining two. From BLU.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fixated, Revisited: A Friday Gay Blogging Post

Back to this post by Damon Linker, a response to several posts by Rod Dreher, which I mentioned a couple of days ago. Now, I've had my differences with Dreher in the past, because I think his positions on gay rights and his defenses of those positions are basically meaningless noise. (I'm sort of past being impressed by the "Some of my best friends are gay" defense, if you'll pardon me. I mean, if Sarah Palin can use it with a straight face, it sort of has no meaning, right?)

A thought just occurred to me, so I'll deal with Linker's insight in a minute. There's another mechanism in play here that forms the basis of the disjunct between the "My best friends" defense and the continued hostility toward gays as a group (and no matter Dreher's disclaimer, his position displays what I can only typify as hostility). It is very difficult to apply one's animus toward a group toward individuals who may be part of that group, particularly if they are people you know. It's been a key element of the hate campaign (and I use that term with full appreciation of the implications) waged by the religious right against gays for the past generation: "the homosexuals" are a shadowing, indistinct collection of people with no morals, no scruples, no humanity. It's harder to see your cousin in that light. And it's typical of the "conservative" position that, rather than re-examine their prejudices, they use that as a defense while citing "traditional values" as the core of their animosity toward equality. It's a major blind spot, and as far as I can see, Dreher is as subject to it as anyone else. This is Linker's "money quote" with the inclusion of what I consider a telling sentence at the end that he left out:

Gay-rights supporters typically believe people like me hold to our opposition to gay marriage and so forth because of some animosity towards gays. I know that it's true for a lot of conservatives, but in my case -- and in the case of most people I know who share my views -- it's not an emotional matter. We have gay friends, are comfortable around gay people, and simply don't share that visceral reaction that used to be commonplace in American life, and (regrettably) still is in many quarters. Our position comes out of a deep concern for two things: 1) the moral and sociological importance of maintaining the traditional family as the center of society; and 2) a high view of religious authority.

Again, Dreher is relying on a catch-phrase here: "traditional family." What is this creature? Where did it come from and how did it become a tradition? What he's referring to, of course, is the family as it was when he grew up, established as a norm by Ozzie and Harriet. What he's calling "traditional" is what sociologists refer to as "nuclear" -- mother, father, kids. Truly traditional families often included grandparents, maybe a stray aunt or uncle (unmarried, for reasons I won't investigate here), often living in close proximity to other relatives. (I'm reminded of my mother's family, a fairly close-knit group, complete with bachelor uncle, another uncle who lived just up the road from my grandmother, others who came to visit at least once a week, hordes of cousins who traveled in a pack, the full-dress family complex: that's what I mean by "traditional family.") Dreher's concoction is just that: not a tradition, but a myth.

It also serves to point out how fixated conservatives are on plumbing. Expand your outlook a bit, so that the traditional family is simply two parents and children. Gives you quite a different take, doesn't it? But to conservatives, it's all about sex, in a very mechanistic, dehumanizing sort of way, as evidenced by their chief rationale for preserving "traditional marriage." The procreation argument is laughable, and I'd like to make a clarification that not only has some real meaning, but destroys the rationale: no one needs a marriage license to have children, but it seems that a stable family, with all the social and legal support we can give it, is still the best context in which to raise them. And there is no evidence at all that gay couples are any worse at it than straight ones.

However, it seems that to the social conservative, love is a somewhat mystical state that's only available to a man and a woman who are married (and I guess it's just any man and any woman who happen to visit a chapel in Las Vegas at the right time). It's not something that applies to same-sex couples, who quite obviously and self-evidently -- if you're a social conservative -- are only in it for sex. Strange to me: there are men I've loved, deeply and completely, and you know what? I still love them, even though we no longer maintain close contact. (It's not nostalgia: when we do talk, it's all still there, all the warmth, all the playfulness, all the affection, all the love.) So I think there's maybe something missing from that whole idea, too.

Back to Linker's idea, which actually grows out of the last part of the quote above: he ascribes Dreher's position to his reliance on authority -- and then demolishes that argument as well:

I suspect that Rod's first instinct will be to respond that the issue isn't really homosexuality at all. It's "authority." Rod, after all, believes
that you simply can't discard a teaching on which the Bible -- in both testaments -- and (for Catholics and Orthodox) authoritative church tradition could not be more clear, simply because it doesn't suit contemporary mores.

That sounds like a reasonable view for a serious religious believer. Except for one thing: Rod has shown in his work as a journalist writing about the sex-abuse scandal in (and its cover-up by) the Catholic Church that he's perfectly willing to aggressively challenge religious authorities when he believes them to be acting immorally. Good for him. It shows that he's modern -- that is, he chooses which authorities to obey based on his own subjective judgment. So when Rod obeys the authority of orthodox (in his case, Eastern Orthodox) Christian teaching on homosexuality, he does so because he chooses to obey -- because he makes the subjective judgment that that teaching is true, is right, is worthy of being obeyed.

I'm not going to speculate on Dreher's reasons for choosing to obey that particular teaching, except to note that, as I pointed out above, homophobia is a deeply seated attitude in this country and, although some may find it easier to apply it to anonymous "homosexuals" than to anyone they know personally, it's still at the root of a lot of attitudes, although deeply buried. (I am reminded of some of my own experiences with "liberals" in Chicago, who were perfectly accepting of my sexual orientation on the surface, but couldn't quite hide the fact that they didn't consider my relationships to be "real" ones. And of course, it was the preponderance of those attitudes that made it so much more difficult for me and my boyfriends to establish and maintain solid relationships to start with: we were not only fighting our enemies and everytyhing we'd been taught, we were fighting our friends. I might also point out that some of their sons are complete wreckage -- an effect of the NIMBY syndrome, I suspect. One, at least -- who did have her head on straight -- had the good sense to call me on behalf of her neighbor, who was distraught on discovering that her son was gay -- not because he was gay, she said, but because he hid it from her. I said two things: "He's still your son, he hasn't changed," and "Why does he feel he has to hide it from you?" I don't think that needs additional amplification.)

So Dreher's position on gay rights and the "normalization" of homosexuality in society boils down once again to pick-and-choose Christianity. As Linker makes plain, we have to look a little deeper than a mere appeal to religious authority to find out what's behind it. At least, Dreher should.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Quote for the Day

This is priceless, as quoted by Robert Farley at LG&M:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Take that with you when you go John Galt.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Will of the People, My Ass

From Towleroad:

Governor Douglas has said that he opposes the bill, and this afternoon he announced he plans to veto it. He said he made the announcement to stop speculation and to focus attention on economy."

As one of Andrew Sullivan's readers points out:

The legislature has already taken up the marriage issue, debated it, resolved it, and voted. If he were to sign the bill, there would be nothing else to distract the legislature from its economic responsibilities. By vetoing it, he's guaranteeing that legislators will go through another round of debate and voting.

Douglas is pretty transparent here -- this is politics as usual, GOP style: feed the base.

Update: It occurs to me that Gov. Douglas is really between a rock and a hard place here, which probably goes to explain his reticence on this bill before now: ideologically, and since he does have to deal with the wingnut branch of the party to a greater or lesser extent, he has to oppose equal marriage rights for gays. However, not that I expect this to register with a lot of people, he is thwarting the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives (and, might I point out, that expression is exactly in line with the position of the "don't rock the boat" contingent of gay commentators as well as the right wingnuts who insist that such social issues be left up to "the people" to decide) because of his personal beliefs. (Need I say once again that the will of the people is only supreme when it suits the theocrats?)

As for urging the legislature to focus on the economic crisis, that is, first of all, pretty much a gimme: nothing more than a ploy. And, as any number of commentators have pointed out, he has made that impossible by pledging to veto the bill. He's left the legislature no choice but to take up the question again. I mean, does anyone expect them to just drop it at this point? There's not only the fact that it has momentum and wide-spread support, but there's the fact that this is, indeed, the will of the people of Vermont and Douglas has not advanced a rational reason for opposing it.

(And on that score, I'll try to come back to yesterday's post in more depth for FGB, probably on Saturday.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Interesting column by Damon Linker questioning the reason for the position taken by such as Rod Dreher on gay civil rights. I may get back to this later.

(And note that I'm tagging this "gay men" -- conservative Christians have a lot more problems with gay men than with lesbians.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reviews in Brief: Yuko Kuwabara's Alcohol, Shirt & Kiss

Alcohol, Shirt & Kiss by Yuko Kuwabara is a charming series of stories about the "courtship" between Naru and Kita, two police officers.

Naruse's girlfriend has dumped him. To assuage his broken heart, he goes drinking with his partner, Kita, only to wake up the next morning next to Kita in Kita's bed -- naked. Kita is lying there looking as though he's just swallowed a canary. Naru doesn't remember anything.

It turns out that Kita has an agenda, and it has nothing to do with love: he just wants Naru, that's all -- another conquest to add to his trophies. (It turns out they didn't actually do anything, but Kita's not going to tell Naru that.) Naru is horrified and doesn't know how to react. When it happens again however, both men start to have second thoughts. Kita begins to think that maybe he's missing something here, and Naru finds himself increasingly fascinated by his partner, hard and cold though he is. The series becomes an intricate and sometimes surprising dance as the two men move toward common ground.

This is, as I said, a charming set of stories -- not a lot of drama, and even the comedy is low-key. It's graced by very clean and open graphics -- characters are as appealing visually as in dialogue, and the flow is exceptionally clear. Kuwabara's use of tone and shading is exceptional, leading to rich, almost tactile images.

The side story, "Moon Kiss," is the story of a childhood romance that takes an unexpected turn: Haru met Murasaki when they were children, one night under the full moon. They confessed their love, but Murasaki could not stay: she promised to come back in ten years, and then they could be together forever. Ten years later, Haru is still single, remembering that promise, although it begins to seem more and more a dream. One day a young man appears -- the same blond hair, the same beautiful face, the same odd clothing, but definitely a man, and not the Murasaki that Haru remembers. Murasaki, as it turns out, is really Shimei, a prince of the Moon Kingdom, and he has to find a bride before his father picks one for him -- and the bride he's chosen is Haru.

Two delightful romantic comedies in this selection, from Juné.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thought for the Day

This line has been stuck in my head for a while now. It's from a song by Evanescence, "My Last Breath," which is one of those dreadfully morbid goth songs about suicide, but I think the line has a lot of truth to it:

I love you and I'm not afraid.

We need more of that -- just think what we could do with that attitude -- not as a prelude to suicide, but as an anthem for our lives.

In fact, here's a clip with the song as I originally found it. The AMV is from Winter Cicada, which could have been one of the greatest BL anime ever -- has all the potential for a beautiful tragic love story, but it never quite came together for me. It's a spin-off from a section of Haru wo Daite Ita, a classic yaoi title. One day I'll watch it again.

There Are Ways

Via an online discussion group, a true story:

George Phillips age 82 of Meridian, Mississippi was going up to bed, when his wife told him that he'd left the light on in the garden shed, which she could see from the bedroom window.

George opened the back door to go turn off the light, but saw that there were people in the shed stealing things. He phoned the police, who asked 'Is someone in your house?' He said 'No.' Then they said 'All patrols were busy.. You should lock your doors and an officer will be along when one is available.' George said, 'Okay'. He hung up the phone and counted to 30.

Then he phoned the police again. 'Hello, I just called you a few seconds ago because there were people stealing things from my shed. Well, you don't have to worry about them now because I just shot them.' and hung up.

Within five minutes, six Police Cars, a SWAT Team, a Helicopter, two Fire Trucks, a Paramedic, and an Ambulance showed up at the Phillips' residence, and caught the burglars red-handed.

One of the Policemen said to George, 'I thought you said that you shot them!'

George said, 'I thought you said there was nobody available!'

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Blind to Meanings

Another example of the fact that conservatives just don't get it. From Time:

When a Jewish boy turns 13, he heads to a temple for a deeply meaningful rite of passage, his bar mitzvah. When a Catholic girl reaches about the same age, she stands in front of the local bishop, who touches her forehead with holy oil as she is confirmed into a 2,000-year-old faith tradition. But missing in each of those cases — and in countless others of equal religious importance — is any role for government. There is no baptism certificate issued by the local courthouse and no federal tax benefit attached to the confessional booth, the into-the-water-and-out born-again ceremony or any of the other sacraments that believers hold sacred.

Only marriage gets that treatment, and it's a tradition that some legal scholars have been arguing should be abandoned.

The solution, which this article somewhat laughably calls "Solomonic," is to hand the word "marriage" over to the churches. This presupposes that the word "marriage" is and has been a purely religious term, which is demonstrably not the case: as I've stated any number of times here, marriage as an institution has historically and culturally had a much broader implication than the merely sectarian. Marriage has always been at least as much a civil institution as a religious one, and in most periods, much more so.

The article does actually touch on one of the core issues here:

For many couples joined in matrimony, having the state no longer call them married may make them feel as if something important had been taken away — even if it's hard to define just what was lost. And for many others — the folks who feel most strongly about marriage and most passionately supported the expensive campaign to defeat gay marriage — the issue of nomenclature is only the beginning. They are against not just gay marriage but also gay couples — and especially against government sanctioning of those relationships, no matter what they are called.

Anti-gay conservatives don't want to "preserve" marrriage -- they want to wipe out any chance of legal and social support for gay families in order to make the civil law fit their narrow worldview.

There is also the fact that the courts more than once have very carefully defined what is lost by taking away the word "marriage." That is, of course, exactly what the social conservatives want to take away: the social status of "married" for gay couples.

In spite of the tone of the article, this is neither a new solution nor a particularly creative one. As Andrew Sullivan points out, this is a "solution" that's been around as long as the debate, and it never has addressed the core meaning of the word or the institution.

I'm so tired of this kind of crap being treated as though it had some validity.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reviews in Brief: Sukisyo! by Riho Sawaki and Yuzu Tsutae, Anime

Sukisyo! began as a light novel that was developed into a video game and an anime, and is one of the more delightful things I've run across lately. Just to give you a hint as to the character of the series, the alternate title, Suki na Mono wa Suki Dakara Shōganai!, translates roughly as "I like what I like, so deal with it!"

High-school student Sora Hashiba has been hospitalized after falling out of a fourth-floor window. Fortunately, his injuries were relatively minor, except that his memory of his life before the fall is, at best, patchy. On his return to the dorm, he is awakened in the night by a stranger, who identifies himself as "Ran," addressing him as "Yoru." His childhood friend and classmate, Matsuri, identifies the boy as another childhood friend, Sunao, who is Sora's new roommate. Sora doesn't remember Sunao, doesn't like him, and has no idea who Yoru might be. Things are complicated by the fact that Ran and Yoru are lovers who tend to take over Sora and Sunao's bodies arbitraritly, leading to situations that neither boy really wants to find himself in with the other. The main story line follows Sora's quest to restore his memories and solve the mystery of the alternate personalities inhabiting Sora's and Sunao's bodies. It comes complete with guilty secrets, betrayals, and a mad scientist.

The first part of the series is somewhat episodic, revolving largely around Matsuri's money-making schemes, particularly the "Do-It-All Team," composed of himself, Sora and Sunao, which takes on all sorts of tasks. Valentine's Day turns out to be an especially busy time, as the team finds itself delivering gifts for boys too shy to make their own love confessions. It also gives us a run-down on some of the other relationships in the school, chiefly that between Kai Nanami, the school nurse, and Shinichirou, the math teacher, who live together quite comfortably, and both of whom have some involvement in Sora's past; and Nagase, manager of the chemistry lab and his assistant, Ichikawa, who worships him -- although Nagase seems to be a somewhat shady character with some connection to Prof. Aizawa, the villain.

Oddly enough, I found that the series became really absorbing after about episode 6, when the focus begins to fall more and more on Sora's lost memories and the mysterious Prof. Aizawa. I wasn't really expecting that at all.

There's a thirteenth episode, "Let's All Go to to the Hot Spring," in which the whole crew, including Sei, Ren, and Fuuta (the Chibis, three children associated with Sora, Sunao and Matsuri); Nanami and Shinichirou, Ichikawa and a reformed Nagase; Soushi, Shinichirou's brother; Ayano-chan, older brother to Souchi and Shinicirou and his adopted son, Kano, heads off for an outing. This one is total fluff, and very funny.

As I noted, the story became much more absorbing than I had expected, and if you can accustom yourself to the cotton-candy character designs (yes, Sunao really does have pink hair, while Sora's is blue), it's a lot of fun for a few evenings.

I watched this one as a fansub online. It's licensed by Animeworks, part of Media Blasters.


Director: Haruka Ninomiya
Scenario: Mamiko Ikeda
Music: Naoki Sato
Original Character Design: Yuzu Tsutae
Character Design: Mami Yamaguchi
Art director: Chikako Shibata


Hikaru Midorikawa as Sora Hashiba
Souichiro Hoshi as Ran (anime only), Sunao Fujimori
Juurouta Kosugi as Aizawa (ep 11)
Akira Ishida as Kai Nanami
Atsushi Kisaichi as Ichikawa Gaku
Chiro Kanzaki as Honjou Matsuri (Child - ep 13), Shiina Ren
Daisuke Sakaguchi as Hiromu
Hiro Yuuki as Chris (ep 13)
Kenji Nojima as Hano Yoshihiro
Kouki Miyata as Sei Hashiba
Madoka Akita as Sunao (Child)
Michiru Yamazaki as Kano
Motoki Takagi as Shiina Ren (adult - ep 13)
Rika Higashino as Sora (Child)
Ryotaro Okiayu as Kai Nagase
Shinichiro Miki as Shin'ichirou Minato
Susumu Chiba as Matsuri Honjou
Takahiro Sakurai as Kitamura Fuuta (ep 13)
Takehito Koyasu as Yoru
Tetsuharu Ohta as Okami (ep 13)
Toshiyuki Morikawa as Kozuki Ryouya/Ayano (ep8, 9, 11)
Yu Kobayashi as Kitamura Fuuta (child)
Yuji Ueda as Soushi

Saturday, March 14, 2009

FGB: Stopgap Edition

Just a few notes from the Northeast on marriage. I'm still pretty much under the weather -- spent most of the week sleeping -- but have a little bit of energy today.

It looks as though while we are all focused on the fate of Prop 8 in California (and that looks pretty iffy), things are quietly moving forward at the opposite end of the country. From Maine:

The author of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine says more than 60 legislators from both parties have signed on as co-sponsors.

Democratic Sen. Dennis Damon of Trenton said those lining up in support of his bill include representatives from Maine's smallest towns and its largest cities.

He said many legislators sought to have their names associated with the bill, prompting leadership to open it up to unlimited sponsorship. Normally, no more than 10 lawmakers can be listed as co-sponsors of a bill.

And in Vermont:

Nearly 200 Vermont clergy are speaking out in favor of legislation pending at the Statehouse that would grant equal access to civil marriage for same-sex couples. . . .

The Rev. Linda Maloney, an Episcopal minister from Enosburg Falls, said , "Civil unions are a good thing, but are still not equality."

Maloney joined about 25 colleagues of varying Christian denominations at a news conference at City Hall in Burlington Wednesday to voice their support for marriage equality. They released a roster of Christian and Jewish clergy from across Vermont who signed a statement of support for same-sex marriage rights, framing the issue as one that protects their religious freedoms.

It looks as though the only denomination actively opposed is the Catholic Church. Who would have guessed?

I haven't heard anything recently out of New Jersey, but I'd guess that by the end of the year, there will be a same-sex marriage law on the books there, unless we're once again victims of a play-it-sae mentality. And New York looks to be up for grabs: Paterson has his own problems right now.

The Illinois civil unions bill, I seem to remember reading receently, has been turned out of committee to the full legislature. What's going to happen there is anyone's guess: the Mormons are back in the fray, but it's going to be a matter of Springfield politics, and nothing else.

Realize this is not much, but trust me -- you wouldn't have wanted to be me this week. No focus, no concentration, no stamina. Yech.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Prop 8 Note

Sorry -- I have been really out of it for a couple of days, fighting off one of those obnoxious late-season colds, and so I missed responding to this in a timely fashion, but it highlights a point that's worth keeping in mind. Reader PietB sent this comment on the California Supreme Court and the oral arguments on Prop 8 in response to my post from a couple of days ago:

Nearly everyone who has commented on the Cal Supes' hearing the other day has discussed it in the context of whether anyone was for or against gay marriage. Although some of the questioning and certainly some of the oral argument may have sounded like that, the basis for the hearing was not the validity of the concept of same-sex marriage; the suit is to determine whether Prop. 8 was correctly included on the ballot in the first place -- whether it was simply an amendment to the State Constitution or whether it represented such a fundamental change to the way the State oversees rights that it amounted to a revision. If you watched the streaming coverage, or if you have any knowledge of California's Byzantine Constitution, you know that it has been amended over 500 times, but that amendments amount only to such things as guaranteeing the right to fish for bass with live bait or shoot wild ducks on your own property.

Revision requires a much more convoluted process than simply qualifying a ballot measure, because the theory is that it changes the fundamentals of how the State regards its duties. Anti-Eight forces were noting even as the ballots were being printed that it had been included improperly, and the challenges simply carry that argument to its proper locus. Justice Kennard's questioning seemed to me to indicate a line of thought that saw a necessary connection between qualitative and quantitative change -- that a qualitative change was impossible without a quantitative mass of language in a ballot measure, which I found surprising, to say the least. I mention her specifically because she wasted so much of the appearing lawyers' time in narrowly focussed but wildly over-explained questions that seemed designed to show her deep grasp of the issues rather than on making any headway in comprehending the briefs submitted, and I must say I was not impressed by the fact that she couldn't seem to shut her fucking mouth.

The State's Deputy A.G. was an embarrassment, particularly since he was followed immediately by Kenneth Starr, surely the oiliest advocate to appear on Court TV in a generation. Starr immediately brought to mind Prof. Higgins's description of Zoltan Karpathy -- "ooooozing charm from every pore, he oillllled his way around the floor", as Rex Harrison said. But Krueger, for the State, hemmed and hawed and couldn't seem to put two words together without adding "ya know" to them. There's some suspicion here that Jerry Brown put Krueger on the stand as a way of hedging his bets: Brown's against the validity of Prop. 8 but he needs to lose the case so that voters won't hold it against him when (oh, lordy, please NOT) he runs for Governor again in the next election. Starr's disingenuous arguments, which I would love to read in the brief, were simply too neo-conservative for me to listen to without being sickened: we don't challenge the validity of the marriages already performed but if we prevail we will not recognize them as legitimate -- how Republican is that?

The key point here is that this suit is most likely to be decided on a narrow finding of "revision" versus "amendment," which we do, indeed, tend to lose sight of in the light of the ancillary questions that aren't really germane, although they will most likely be affected by the decision: are those marriage peformed under existing California law still valid? seems the most important one.

In the meantime, efforts do continue -- and should -- to bring an amendment to the amendment to the ballot in 2010, and there's hope that the leadership of No on 8, having proven themselves unbelievably incompetent and irresponsible, will at least allow someone who knows that they're doing to manage the next campaign, even if they can't bring themselves to step aside completely.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Down for the Count

No, I haven't been goofing off. I've been in bed for the past 24+ hours fighting off another very bad cold (actually, trying to avoid a repeat of my hair-raising rescue by the Chicago Fire Department paramedics).

I really hate it when the weather's up and down like this.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Friday Gay Blogging, Saturday Edition: Don't Make Waves

Another muddled commentary on Prop 8 from Andrew Sullivan. I sometimes have real trouble figuring out his position, although I suspect that my basic analysis is correct: he's bought into the right-wing position that the courts in this country are somehow not legitimate arbiters of constitutionally guaranteed rights. That idea seems to permeate his writing on the issue of same-sex marriage (although, be it known, he himself was married in Massachusetts under law that resulted from a court decision).

And any rate, this post struck me as somewhat fuzzy in concept:

Reading all the accounts of the oral arguments on Prop 8 yesterday (for a diverse round-up, see here), I have to say there's a chance of what, to my mind, is the optimal decision. The Justices seemed highly skeptical - and rightly so - that a voters' initiative could not change the results of a controversial court decision.

Once again we have the right-wing position that the whim of the people is paramount, which has never been the case in this country, and it seems to me that the question is a valid one: under what system of government could the majority -- and a relatively slim majority, at that -- strip a group of citizens of fundamental rights? Not ours. Sullivan is sliding past the real issues here (and it seems that the justices may be, as well.) The Supreme Court's decision in Romero several years back should have laid that one to rest.

Since the No On 8 forces campaigned last year under the same assumption, it's a little rich to see them now protest that the vote was not a real one anyway and they engaged in it only on the assurance that they would win. Moreover, if the court upholds Prop 8, we avoid giving the Hewitts and Romneys and Santora their "black robes" moment, an endless harangue about evil judges despotically dictating to God-fearing Americans. I've been in enough of those arguments to want to avoid them in future. They deflect debate from the real issue: that gay marriage is good for gays, straights and society as a whole. They give bigots a legitimate reason to oppose our equality, while allowing them to avoid the real arguments for it.

I suspect that here, for Sullivan, is the real issue: he wants to avoid the specious arguments of the right. Not counter them, not disprove them, just avoid them. The idea that a court ruling in our favor gives bigots a "legitimate reason" to oppose our equality is just so completely through-the-looking-glass that I have trouble believing that this is not tongue-in-cheek. What is legitimate about it? Please, elucidate. (I'm not going to get into the staggering incompetence of the national gay leadership on this one -- that speaks for itself.)

And of ourse, the right has avoided the real arguments in favor of marriage equality all along. That won't change, and for them to use the courts as an excuse is no news at all -- that's been the mode. It's part and parcel of the right's campaign to delegitimize the courts, which has been ongoing. It seems to me that commentators such as Sullivan would serve our cause much better by pointing out the realities of this "debate" -- that the right's position is as morally bankrupt as it is intellectually impoverished, and that an attack on the courts, of which this is part, is about as un-American as anything can be.

Friday, March 06, 2009

On Appreciation

I was not all that long ago raked over the coals, more or less, for publishing a review full of "spoilers," and when I pointed out that the novel didn't depend on plot twists for its quality, was told that "the casual reader" was looking forward to the next wrinkle. (I should point out that I didn't really find anything in the review that I considered a spoiler -- I am aware of those things, and do try to avoid them if I think it's important. But there are other considerations.)

I was forced to conclude that I don't write for the "casual reader," whoever that might be. I write for people who read the way I do: to discover new things in an old favorite, to look again for things I might have missed the first time around, to savor the way the writer has dealt with theme, character, relationships, because there are any number of ways to do that, to understand how a writer -- or any artist -- has brought out new meanings that might echo in my life.

Hence, Rule 1: If you're only looking at the surface, you're missing most of what's going on. I've run into that a lot with manga lately, because it's a tremendously sophisticated medium that brings a lot of subtlety into play. Not always, but the good examples always deserve another look. (It's also most of what I've been reading.)

Just as quick examples, go back and look at my review at GMR of Kimi Shiruya (or the essay I published here) and the Loveless anime. To me, those are tremendously rich works, full of implication and subtle linkages that build amazingly powerful stories. (And I might point out that I am sitting on a 4000+ word essay on Loveless that I really do intend to try to boil down to a review.)

But you don't find that simply by sitting there looking at what's on the page. You have to look beyond that, and that's where it become appreciation. Yes, I suppose it does require a bit of learning, but it's the kind of learning that's easily acquired from experience. I never took a course in how to read a book. I just read them, and thought about them. Being a reviewer helps in that -- I have to think about them if I'm going to write about them intelligently, but by the same token, I would hope that the fruits of that thinking would bring some insights to my readers.

There's an element of connoisseurship here. It sounds very high-brow, but all that connoisseurship is, really, is the result of that experience, that thinking, that searching for meanings under the surface.

There is, of course, the question of how much you bring to the work, as opposed, I guess, to how much the artist put in. It's not an invalid question, but I think too often presented in the wrong framework: once a work is out there, it's no longer the artist's exclusive domain. Yes, there's "being entertained," which is a passive state best indulged in in front of the TV with a reality show or the news, and then there's being engaged: with the latter, it becomes a dialogue between you and the artist, an activity that demands participation, not just acceptance. So you have to bring something, otherwise you're not participating. And at least part of the artist's purpose, I think, is to spark that internal dialogue, to make echoes in your imagination that call up those past experiences and ideas that are going to flesh out that work for you and make it part of your experience.

And that's really what I'm trying to do, it occurs to me: impart something of that experience, without worrying overmuch about my approval or disapproval (that's there, but it's part of the context: did the artist do what they set out to do, and was it worth it to begin with?). It's much more important to me that my readers come away with some sense of what it was like for me to be involved with that work.

(A key point, that: once upon a time, when I was regularly writing art reviews, a friend mentioned that he'd read all my reviews and still didn't know what my opinion was of the art. That wasn't the point: the point was, what was it like to be there looking at it? You can figure out the rest, if you're paying attention.)

So, if I spoiled the plot for you, sorry -- but not very.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Now This Is News

Berthold Steinhilber, Smithsonian

From Smithsonian magazine:

Unlike the stark plateaus nearby, Gobekli Tepe (the name means "belly hill" in Turkish) has a gently rounded top that rises 50 feet above the surrounding landscape. To Schmidt's eye, the shape stood out. "Only man could have created something like this," he says. "It was clear right away this was a gigantic Stone Age site." The broken pieces of limestone that earlier surveyors had mistaken for gravestones suddenly took on a different meaning.

A little more detail from Archeology:

At first glance, the fox on the surface of the limestone pillar appears to be a trick of the bright sunlight. But as I move closer to the large, T-shaped megalith, I find it is carved with an improbable menagerie. A bull and a crane join the fox in an animal parade etched across the surface of the pillar, one of dozens erected by early Neolithic people at Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey. The press here is fond of calling the site "the Turkish Stonehenge," but the comparison hardly does justice to this 25-acre arrangement of at least seven stone circles. The first structures at Göbekli Tepe were built as early as 10,000 B.C., predating their famous British counterpart by about 7,000 years.

The oldest man-made place of worship yet discovered, Göbekli Tepe is "one of the most important monuments in the world," says Hassan Karabulut, associate curator of the nearby Urfa Museum. He and archaeologist Zerrin Ekdogan of the Turkish Ministry of Culture guide me around the site. Their enthusiasm for the ancient temple is palpable.

By the time of my visit in late summer, the excavation team lead by Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute has wrapped up work for the season. But there is still plenty to see, including three excavated circles now protected by a large metal shelter. The megaliths, which may have once supported roofs, are about nine feet tall.

Göbekli Tepe's circles range from 30 to 100 feet in diameter and are surrounded by rectangular stone walls about six feet high. Many of the pillars are carved with elaborate animal figure reliefs. In addition to bulls, foxes, and cranes, representations of lions, ducks, scorpions, ants, spiders, and snakes appear on the pillars. Freestanding sculptures depicting the animals have also been found within the circles. During the most recent excavation season, archaeologists uncovered a statue of a human and sculptures of a vulture's head and a boar.

The interesting thing is that there are no indications of permanent habitation at that location, which, given the time frame, makes sense: if agriculture had been invented yet, it was in a rudimentary form. These were hunter/foragers.

So, your assignment today is to spend some time thinking about the relationship between human creativity, art, and the urge to worship.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Another One Makes the Point

Coming after my post Saturday on the Blankenhorn/Rauch debacle at NYT, Andrew Sullivan has this to say about the whole "religious freedom" mantra:

What level of paranoia and ignorance would lead people to believe that the government could force churches to perform marriages they disapprove of? I guess the kind of paranoia and ignorance advanced by the GOP base.

So Blankenhorn and Rauch are advancing ignorance and paranoia as a "compromise" position.

And this is news exactly how?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Reviews in Brief: Mio Tennohji's Meeting You

One thing leads to another: after reading Don't Rush Love, I picked up a copy of the "prequel," Meeting You, and enjoyed it just as much.

Himeshiro is not a nice guy. He'll go with anyone who asks, male or female, but always holds them at arm's length. And then a really sweet, shy kid, Touru Onozuka, confesses his love and Hime makes him the same offer: Do you want to go out or have sex? Touru is floored -- he never expected to get this far -- and somewhat hesitantly asks if they can go out. Hime sets up a series of little tests that seem meant for nothing so much as to drive Touru away once he sees what Hime is really like, but it finally sinks in that Touru really does love him. Hime starts to think that maybe he doesn't really have to be like that.

This one is pretty much in the mold of Don't Rush Love, with a shy but courageous and determined uke and a fairly despicable seme --Himeshiro and Kusama, who makes an appearance here, are birds of a feather indeed.

And there are side stories --this is actually a collection as much as anything else. The first, "How To Find a Gentle Kiss," is a bit of fluff involving Senken and Sakuma. Best friends in high school, they parted ways soon after one eventful night watching the stars, when Sakuma confessed his love in a particularly intimate way. Three years later, they discover that they work for the same company, although Sakuma has just returned to Tokyo from the branch office in New York. It turns out that the love wasn't really one-sided.

Senken also makes an appearance in the next story, "Mornings at the Bus Stop," which is delightful. Shunpei Machida, in spite of running, is late for the bus one morning. He encounters Kaoru Touhon, who offers him water when he starts to choke while catching his breath, and says he's like a dog Kaoru cared for once -- he drinks the water as though it were supremely delicious -- and can he call him "pochi"? Somewhat put out, but nonetheless attracted, Machida waits for Touhon at the bus stop the next morning, and they strike up an acquaintance. This being yaoi, events take their course, especially after Machida decides that it's OK to be Touhon's dog until Touhon gets it.

The final story returns us to Touru and Himeshiro, in which Hime is forced to conclude that Touru is indeed very sweet and innocent, and probably not playing with a full deck.

The graphics are once again very appealing, and I still can't figure out why I find them so, but I do: Tennohji seems to be one of the rare mangaka who can make the big-eyed uke actually work -- Touru is absolutely adorable. The graphics are firmly within shoujo conventions, with some wonderful page layouts.

This one's from 801.