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Chicken Sandwiches and Marriage

Chik-fil-A.

 

And the larger issue of gay marriage.

 

I haven’t really touched on any political issues yet in this blog. There is no premeditated reason for this, but maybe on the spot I could try to think of some. One would be that I feel like the vast majority of people who might read this will have the same opinion on most issues, making me a useless cheerleader. Another reason might be my general aversion to political discussions in a public place, which are typically seen as opportunities to determine who is the smartest person in the room.

 

But what if there was a major issue that was not only political, but religious and social? What if it was in my opinion one of the biggest internal issues the US was facing today? What if it was so big that fast food chains, cookie makers and the legacy company of the guy who made the Muppets were participants? Surely that’s serious business.

 

My social networks have been flooded with (largely copied and pasted) statements either for or against Chik-fil-A’s recent foray into the public discussion regarding their stance against gay marriage. In the interest of full disclosure, I support gay marriage in principle (more on that later), so I agreed with some people who were upset by the decision. But as the vitriol increased and the rhetoric against chicken sandwiches made with evangelical Christian hands became more derisive, I began to wonder if this was really necessary. Wasn’t the company’s founder just exercising his right to free speech? Is he throwing chicken at gay people? Is he unleashing thousands of live chickens into gay marriage ceremonies? No, he’s just a dude who happens to be in charge of a fast food company and also happens to have the same opinion as a lot of people in America.

 

Then last night I realized something. It is necessary, at least now. That’s because there’s a war on. The culture war is here, and it’s going to be a drone-striking, suicide-bombing, throat-slitting, child-napalming, water-boarding, mass grave digging, village-raping, ethnic cleansing, civilian massacring mess.

 

That’s not my opinion, nor is that the way I think it needs to be. But that is the way that people in America on both sides of the political spectrum (though not necessarily the political parties, since Democrats are basically a spineless, message-less husk) view the situation. Political arguments in American society have become reminiscent of arguments between my father and I. You should all take a moment to account for how serious that is: if the analogy I just used is anywhere in the neighborhood of truth, you are all fucked. My father and I have the unique ability to vehemently argue about things we agree on.

 

Both sides accuse each other of doing the same exact things. According to them, both sides want to install a totalitarian police state. Both sides are doing the same things that Hitler did before his rise to power. Both sides have no idea how the economy works. Both sides are out of touch with Joe American.

 

I’m not one of those college student Ron Paul cheerleader types, but I like many things he has to say, and one thing that’s relevant here is his idea that liberty is liberty. Democrats and Republicans make distinctions between social liberty and economic liberty. Republicans tend to want to restrict the former and Democrats the latter. I’m not a libertarian per se, but it’s a bit depressing to see a massive war being waged regarding which set of our liberties will be taken from us. But I’m betting on social liberties being restricted, since Democrats have no discernible policy other than to feebly react to what Republicans do.

 

So is that why I’m hiding out in Japan? God damn it, no, I covered that in the last entry. But my overarching point is, this political polarization can’t continue at the federal level.

 

So here comes the answer to the burning question you’ve all been waiting for, what’s Sean’s stance on gay marriage? Certainly my fan(s) are dying to know.

 

Well, I believe, at least in a normative sense, they should be able to get married. I have no good reason to oppose it. However, I don’t believe the federal government has the grounds to intervene on either side of the debate. This must remain a state issue. We can’t have the federal government forcing a one size fits all solution on all 50 states. Values and morals across the states differ greatly and those differences must be respected. So even though I think gays should be able to get married if they want, they may have to move to another state to do it.

Why do you live here?

Why do you live here?

 

I get asked this question a lot. By the way for those of you who don’t know I’m a Tokyo-based……guy. I guess if I was cool and actually doing something meaningful with my life at this present moment I could tell you I was a “Tokyo-based journalist” or “Tokyo-based scholar” or “Tokyo-based man of action” or something like that. Anyway, back to that question.

 

You see, I don’t really have an answer.

 

That hasn’t stopped me from giving people answers over the years mainly out of politeness. It’s quite awkward to say in the middle of a conversation you have no idea why you live in the place on Earth that you live in. It leaves the other person full of questions they might not want to ask someone they don’t really know, like “What the fuck is wrong with you, dingleberry?” so I make things up. I tell them that I was left with a feeling of unfinished business after my time in Yokosuka was up with the Navy. I guess that is true, but you’d better not ask me about what business I feel I need to finish, cause I have no clue. I tell them that I love the vibrancy of the atmosphere and the amount of things there are to do, this is also true, but people just don’t seem satisfied with this answer. I feel like they want some kind of soundbite, like everybody is required to play Karl Rove and prepare their talking points on this question and then rehearse them in the mirror, and they just can’t understand why I have failed to do this.

 

But if the kind of person exists who can boil down their choice of city or town or country into one sentence…is this someone you really want to hang out with?

 

“I live in America because monster trucks.”

“I live in England to act like a snob and feel like I’m getting back at America.”

“I live in France because bleahrarhgh.”

“I live in (anywhere) because of my husband/wife.” Ouch.

 

The simple fact is I live here because I like it. If you want a more detailed explanation than that, you’re just going to have to suffer through me listing every single reason why I like Tokyo and Japan. Moreover, I haven’t rehearsed this so it’s going to be jilted and awkward. And just when you think I’m finally done, I might remember something else. So maybe you shouldn’t ask me.

 

The moment when this question comes up the most is when I relate to people that I don’t really like Japanese food, usually posed in a shocked and somewhat aggressive manner. Of note here is Japanese people almost never react that way, it is almost always some weeabo foreign dork. And just like the “Why do you live here” question, this also has many complicated dimensions. When I say I don’t really like Japanese food, I don’t mean that I don’t like any of it. But this country has a particular fascination with soft textures, sauces, mayonnaise, and mixing things together, four things that normally intersect to create an unpleasant dining experience to my taste. But there is a lot of Japanese food that I do like eating. Again, I don’t feel like explaining all this to random douchebags that I meet. I don’t even feel like blogging about it in detail!

 

I think people put way too much emphasis on food in general. It is, after all, only fuel for this machine. No reason to spend 6 hours making something that takes 6 minutes to eat. I’m just not into cuisine, period. I don’t really care about food anywhere. Put me anywhere on this planet and I’ll still be boiling pasta, sauteeing chicken breasts and heating up oatmeal. Why? Because it’s easy and it tastes all right. Maybe I really sound American now, but I am god damn it. I didn’t flee to Japan to escape the oppression and abject misery of not having a French patisserie (whatever that is) on every corner. You’re talking to a dude who refuses to cook his own breakfast unless he has at least 6 hours before he needs to be somewhere. I used to roll into my community college class with two Special K protein bars and a Monster I would pick up every morning from 7-11 and people used to call my diet fucked up. You’re the fucked up one waking up at the crack of dawn to scramble eggs like a prick. So all you anthropologists and sociologists talking about the historical importance of food as a ritual and measure of culture can anthropologize deez nuts.

 

But obviously in this country food isn’t seen like that, and I understand. When I first got here in 2007, and began meeting Japanese people, one of my earliest impressions was that of a distinctly unpatriotic citizenry. Almost everyone, especially young women, confided in me that they didn’t like Japan and they wanted to leave. Ironically now, in 2012, when things are arguably much worse, this has changed dramatically and I’m talking to a lot more prideful patriots these days. But even in the bad old days of patriotic apathy, that never extended to food. Pride in Japanese cuisine was strong. I had the sense that you could lambast Japan’s political, economic and social institutions all you wanted, but if you ever came for the onigiri so help them they bludgeon you to death with a bokken. (I just did something I really hate..intentionally alienating anybody who doesn’t know those words and making people who do know them feel cool, AND I used italics. Sorry everybody. Onigiri is a rice ball, bokken is a practice katan—-sword for kend—Japanese fencing, and if you knew those words you are not cool, stop feeling that way right now. I also have just slapped myself).

 

Is McDonald’s still serving breakfast?

Freedom is Free

(For context, I originally wrote this around Memorial Day, but never got around to finishing it because of school, laziness, and the Internet).

 

 

I can’t take it anymore.

 

I’ve been wanting to write these words for a long time, and I feel my patience is at an end. I am so eager to write them I am doing it with the knowledge that no one will be able to read them for a few days since I am still awaiting the installation of the Internet into my apartment. I am also writing them even though the timing may be in poor taste, considering the American holiday which coincides with this entry.

 

Let me get to the point.

 

I was in the US military. In the interest of full disclosure, I never was in combat, nor did I spend any time in Iraq or Afghanistan. Still, there are those Americans who, with all of the best intentions in the world, might decide to thank me for defending their freedom. But I’m afraid my guilty conscience simply won’t abide such praise, because the thing is I never defended any American’s freedom, not even for one moment.

 

Moreover, the million or so still on active duty aren’t currently defending any American’s freedom, nor have any of my living veteran brothers or sisters. I understand these assertions may be quite shocking, and this really isn’t meant to be provocative. I don’t want to offend anyone, simply to clear the air, or perhaps make people reconsider the state of the world, particularly with respect to US foreign policy.

 

Your stance on this issue largely depends on how you define freedom. If you take a rather liberal definition of it, for example freedom from attack, or freedom from death, I guess you could attempt to justify the ongoing War on Terror as defending freedom, arguing that the use of the American military to hunt down foreign terrorists provides Americans with freedom from worry about terrorist attack. I don’t think such a definition of freedom is sensible, however. Freedom from being arbitrarily killed is a basic right I have by virtue of being born a human, not something that needs to be granted to me by my government.

 

The quickest way for me to furnish my definition of freedom would be to simply list the Bill of Rights, which I will spare you from in the entirety, but as a brief review they give us things like freedom of expression, fair trials, etc. I would also like to take the time to challenge the assertion that the US is exceptional in having such rights, since basically every liberal democracy in the world has more or less the same values, but I digress. The task of depriving Americans of these rights would be a nearly impossible task for any foreign power or terrorist organization. Osama bin Laden was never in a position to amend or annul the U.S. Constitution, no matter how many lives he took. And whether or not you believe the People’s Republic of China is an emerging superpower, they are nowhere close to having the capability to invade and occupy the US, nor could they attempt to gain such capability without alerting the entire world to their intentions.

 

So I must ask the question, who has truly threatened the freedom of the average American? Recent history does not provide any good examples. Saddam Hussein’s armies might as well have planned to invade the moon as invade America, whether in 1991 or 2003. The Viet Cong and the NVA were fighting for the destiny of their own nation, their only interest in America was to kill its soldiers and drive the country out of their affairs forever (which they were basically successful at).

 

What about World War II? Didn’t we fight on the side of democracy and freedom against fascist powers rooted in racial superiority? Well, maybe, but don’t forget we fought on the side of some of the world’s largest imperial powers, and all of the Allies (save maybe the Chinese)had racist ideologies though perhaps not as ferocious as the Axis ones. You may be foaming at the mouth at this point, screaming at your computer screen about how Japan clearly attacked America(not only at Pearl Harbor, but in Alaska as well). Well, yes, but did they ever truly threaten our freedom? Admiral Yamamoto himself knew this was impossible, leading him to make one of his famous quotes: “Should hostilities break out between Japan and the United States, it is not enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, e would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. I wonder if our politicians, among whom armchair arguments about war are glibly bandied about in the name of state politics, have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.” While he does not directly state he does indeed not believe it is possible to march on Washington, it is not difficult to read between the lines, especially taking into account his characteristically indirect Japanese manner. And while certainly Hitler would have loved to see Nazi flags fly from every corner of the world, it was quite clear by 1940 that he would not even be able to invade Britain, let alone the US.

 

I am no historian and I’m not going to attempt to analyze every major war in US history from this perspective, but I daresay you would have to go all the way back to the War of 1812 to find the last time American sovereignty was truly threatened.

 

Now, none of this is to say that I am not proud of my naval service, or that I regret it. The truth is quite to the contrary. For 3 ½ years I had the privilege and/or curse of straddling 9,000 tons of US foreign policy named McCampbell. I don’t feel as though I was ever asked to do anything immoral or that was to the detriment of those who did not deserve it. We reversed the course of North Korean gun-running ships sending arms to Burma that they likely would have used against their own people. In every port we stopped at, and these were sometimes incredibly poor countries, sailors painted schools or renovated buildings. We helped administer aid to Indonesia after an earthquake (though I should point out my contribution to this effort was arguing with people on other ships about tactical data links).

 

I’m no politician but I do have an easy plan for preserving America’s freedom. Even if we reduced the size of the military by half, but focused only on self-defense and legitimate multi-lateral interventions in the best interests of the international community for example, we would still experience no threat to freedom. Half of our military combined with our natural two-ocean border is more than enough to deter any would-be threat. Not only that, but if we reduced our massive spending on inflated numbers of personnel and equipment, we wouldn’t have to worry about canceling things like the F-22 because they were too expensive.  

XXIV-While I’m at it

Let me complain about some Japanese people for a minute.

Technically I don’t have to ask your permission since it’s my fucking blog and I can write about whatever I want. But I still try to observe decorum, and that counts for something in this crazy world. 

This isn’t going to be a Japan Times(read: Debito Arudou) style gaijin rant about racist Japanese society or anything like that. Just me pointing out some actions by certain groups of Japanese people that my irrelevant and overly judgmental ass finds incredibly annoying.

Group I: Old people who stare at me

First of all, I have to admit, Group I, you should be flown in by the Crips and Bloods (is this a dated reference now?) as subject matter experts on mean mugging. I’m from Philly and have traipsed through some rough neighborhoods in my time but I have never been on the receiving end of such vitriolic gazes as those I have received from Japanese octogenarians(and overzealous middle-aged people). Your beady black eyes burn into my very soul with irrational hatred. 

But if you believe that you’re intimidating, or that your harsh ocular judgment puts me firmly in my place as the stranger in a strange land, you’re mistaken. You just look like an old prick who is about to have a fucking brain aneurysm from trying to hate me too hard.

Group II: Wannabe tough guys

I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t these annoying in every country? That’s true. But what I find peculiar about the Japanese case is that there’s just no need for it here.

If you grew up here, let’s face it, unless you had some kind of extreme circumstance, you lived a life of relative peace and tranquility. Maybe you got into fights at school or something, but that’s your own fucking fault. Seriously, there are no potential predators that you need to scare away by acting all hard. You live in Japan dude. Maybe an old person will stare at you really hard, other than that you have nothing to worry about.

A couple weeks ago I tweeted about an incident in McDonald’s. Let me tell you about this asshole. This jackass was trying harder to look cool and tough than anybody has ever tried at anything. He had dyed blonde hair, and first of all, I don’t know who told him that tough guys dye their hair, but outside of MMA that has never been true in human history. This moron had a kanji tattoo on his fucking calf…you might wanna ask me which one, WHO CARES?!?!? WHY WOULD A JAPANESE PERSON GET A KANJI TATTOO?!?! That’s like a Westerner getting a tattoo that says “Faith” or …ahh shit. Never mind.

Anyway, him and his friend (who was really hurting his tough guy image because he was dressed like a Culture Club reject with the latter-day amendment of those stupid fucking empty glasses) had ordered a shitload of food so a bit of a line had formed. The Usher song “OMG” came on in the store and after grunting some words in his overly deep voice (seriously, the exaggeratedly high voice of some Japanese females gets a lot of attention, why does no one point out that males do the same thing in the other direction?) he had to say “AH! USHER DA” like anybody fucking cared if he knew what song was playing. There were a couple other gaijin in the Micky D’s at this point so I think he was trying to tell us “HEY GUYS, I’M COOL….I KNOW ABOUT WESTERN MUSIC.” 

Finally, he got his food. Apparently there was some kind of debacle with his cherry shake (BTW Japan, this could even be a separate section, but please stop portraying things as American that are in no way associated with America, like cherry fucking shakes). Not seeing fit to engage the enemy at the point of attack, he conducted a tactical retreat into the night and THEN began screaming at the guy, as if the manager of McDonald’s would ever dream of abandoning his sacred post to engage in fisticuffs with this dude. 

This is the only guy I’ve actually caught in the act of being a prick, but I see these types of guys all the time, loudly barking at each other or no one in particular on the street. Oddly they are never with women. 

Group III: Umbrella people

We are experiencing, maybe, 1mm of rainfall. Put the goddamn umbrella away.

Group IV: Girls who want me to buy them champagne

Are you fucking kidding me? Why don’t you just do like all the other girls and wear a vodka tampon to the club.

Group V: Late departures from the train


It’s a tense moment. Our crowd gathers expectantly in front of the train doors, licking our lips in anticipation. We are a crowd only in the sense of composition, density and purpose, there is no unity among us, for only the fittest shall find their asses placed in a seat. The moment of truth arrives. The door swings open. The diligent and business-minded people begin their exit. Now is the time to attack. I take a huge step forward, not only to gain a foothold inside the train but to avoid the preposterously large gap between the platform and the car (seriously, what is that about?) when suddenly, some jackass who just realized he needs to get off here gets in my way, allowing the people on the other side to infiltrate the train earlier and get the seats. Seriously man, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT??!!? This is a grave matter.

Group VI: Slow walkers in one of the most densely populated places on Earth

You know what man, I’m glad you’re having a good time with your lady friend. I’m glad you’re having a leisurely stroll, she’s laughing at your jokes and you got a big smile on your face. You know what, maybe your intentions are even pure. Maybe you’re truly in love with this woman, and not just trying to get into her pants. Maybe your stomach is tingly with the feeling of butterflies and pixies sprinkling magical love dust or some shit.

None of this means that I don’t want to hit you in the back of the head with a bat, because you decided to do this in Shibuya in the middle of the afternoon. Walk faster. 

Well, that’s it.

XXIII-No, it wasn’t

As I alluded to in my final class-related post, I knew there was a possibility that the end of CIS 0835 wasn’t necessarily the end of this blog. Hell, what can I say, I missed vomiting my thoughts out onto the Internet. You might say that I do this very frequently on a daily basis via Facebook and Twitter. Well those are merely baby spit-ups compared to the steaming pile of undigested food and stomach acid that I can unleash with a blog.

Times have been strange since the semester ended. I live a mainly solitary life in Ikebukuro that is suddenly and rudely interrupted by bits of diligent partying and wild working. This is really a cesspool of a neighborhood so it’s a good thing I’m only apartment sitting and won’t stay here long. Ok, so I guess it’s unfair to characterize all of Ikebukuro as a cesspool, but I live on the east side of the station, quite literally the “wrong side of the tracks”, the side with the massage parlors, soaplands, angry, vomiting, and angrily vomiting drunks. However the popularity of the more admittedly more fashionable west side is inexplicable to me. It’s almost as if every weekend it’s visited by hordes of people who woke up that morning and thought, “I’ve been basically everywhere in Tokyo…..why not Ikebukuro? Meh.”

 Allegedly Sunshine City is some kind of incredible mall, but I was less than impressed with it, it reminded me of a standard American mall in the middle of a nondescript town. On the plus side, I live within walking distance of Donki, Subway, three McDonalds’, three or four Matsuyas, many ramen shops, Starbucks, Burger King, Cocos, etc. etc. etc. 

On May 9th, Inshallah I will be moving to an apartment in a sleepy but beautiful neighborhood very close to Itabashi station. And I’ll no longer be sleeping on an air mattress which produces 40db of sound every time I roll over (making sex out of the question). 

Well, as my math teacher would abruptly say last semester, that’s it.

XXII-The Grand Finale…?

Well here it is, the last ds106 assignment. 

And here’s my submission…

THE ASSIGNMENT 

In the interest of full disclosure, I have actually deviated somewhat from the instructions. I was supposed to re-create the sounds of MY family around the dinner table. We rarely ate around a table, and during the times that we did, well, I’m not sure the world is ready to hear this. So I made a fictional family, which I never actually gave a last name. The recording is actually titled “The Patriarch”, because I feel the father is the main character of this short play.

THE PROCESS

I was afraid this would be really difficult, or I would sound really silly, or that somebody might knock on the door of my dorm room and ask me if I was okay, but I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. I wrote a script in about an hour, rehearsed it 1.5 times, and then recorded it in one take. 

 

Anyway I hope you guys enjoy it. It’s been a pleasure doing this blog for this class, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t in fact the last entry in it. 

XXI-Renaissance

Once upon a time there was a crazy guy who painted the ceiling of a building somewhere in Europe. Also, some other stuff was happening. Historians refer to this period as “The Renaissance”, which is a word they made up. Bryan Alexander liked this made-up word so much he used it to describe his 4th vision of the future. 

 

In all seriousness, trying to predict the future is a funny thing. Predictions usually either end up like this:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Urdv-CTuEpo

 

Or like this:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9h3jRaZyB4

 

And what I mean by that is not that predicting the future is a thinly veiled attempt by Sean to get you to listen to some metal bands. What I mean is that predictions of the future are either unrealistically bleak or rosy, mostly the former, which is why that song went first. To be honest, I found all of Alexander’s predictions interesting, and definitely found his efforts to go about making them worthwhile. After all, as we learned way back at the beginning of this course, it IS possible to predict a future event with an alarming degree of accuracy. Moreover, in situations where someone does just that, is it truly because they successfully predicted the future, or is it because their prediction is what actually influenced the future? Case in point, Doug Engelbart reading Vannevar Bush. Who knows, maybe someday Cyberspace & Society professors will tell their students that Sean Clancy was inspired to create his Awesomeness Device after watching a talk by Bryan Alexander. Probably not though, since he couldn’t stop watching YouTube videos and refreshing Facebook.

Truthfully, I don’t believe that the advent of any one of the particular futures is the most likely outcome, but rather a combination of all four is in fact the most likely. But that’s a cop out and not really useful for mind-expanding discussion, so I was left with no choice but to pick one. It was a difficult choice, because all of the possible futures save one could be summed up by saying that technology played a much greater role in our lives and had changed the world in fundamental ways. The differences in how this manifested itself is what delineated the three positive futures. 

So then why Renaissance? For one, I’m a big fan of the game-centric concept. While I have a fairly strong background with video games, I’m not much of a “gamer” anymore and that didn’t really influence my decision. Actually, I have strong faith in the idea of game-based learning because it worked for me. About 2 years ago, I made the decision to re-attack the problem of learning Japanese with vigor. Going to a school was a temporal impossibility for me at the time, so I thought I would use the traditional method of textbook and notebook, augmented with some PC software. This proved boring and ineffective, and someone recommended My Japanese Coach for Nintendo DS to me. I actually bought the system only for this purpose, and the breakthroughs I made using it were incredible. My only complaint about the game was that it was too short and wouldn’t carry one all the way to Japanese fluency. 

So how could this actually affect my future? If I may play Bryan Alexander for a moment, right now my plan is to join the US State Department after graduation, though this could change of course. In 2022 I will hopefully be a 34 year old (many thanks for making me imagine this) gainfully employed diplomat. How could game-based learning and simulations help me? Well, in the first case, much the same way they did 12 years prior. Obviously I would be stationed in foreign countries on a continuous basis. Since English has become the de facto world language, and this is unlikely to change, it’s doubtful I would directly need knowledge of a foreign language for my work, but it would be incredibly useful in my personal life would it not? I was impressed by game-based language learning in 2010, imagine how the game-based language learning of 2022 will far eclipse that. Imagine having a simulated conversation with a native speaker using voice recognition technology, with a dynamic system that could give you instant feedback on how you did,  for example how much of a foreigner you sounded like to the person you were speaking with. I feel like people often reach for the word “dynamic” when they’re really not sure how to explain what they’re talking about (and being in the recruiting business, I see lots of job openings for a “dynamic individual”, though I have yet to hear a candidate refuse one because he is a “static” type of person) but in this case I feel it’s appropriate.

Also, simulations could be a huge part of my job. What if the US government used simulation software that could give reasonably accurate predictions about the implementation of certain policies, either by the US government, host government or both? More importantly, what if this type of software wasn’t on the periphery of serious discourse like say, chiropractic, but held enormous weight? What if jaws clenched around a conference table in light of a particularly grave prediction? 

Well, now that I mention it, it doesn’t sound like too bad of a future to me. Hopefully I’ll be standing in it someday.