Category Archives: other stuff


This one isn’t about bikes, but I wanted to tell the world: Mai is here!
My second daughter was born Saturday night here in our living room in Kawasaki while it snowed outside, with Daddy and her big sister helping. I wrote up a full report of the birth (in English and Japanese) on what up until now has been Lin’s photoblog, but is now the sisters’ blog.
Welcome to the world, Mai. It can be an amazing place, and it’s even better with you in it.

What’s in a name?

The other day I had a long discussion with Bitch Ph.D. in the comments at Unfogged about women keeping or changing their names at marriage.
My basic argument is:
a. I parse “fist name + last name” as “individual name + family name”.
b. My concept of marriage is two individuals founding a family.
Therefore, it makes sense for all individuals of the newly-formed family to have the same last name.
The problem for me then becomes one of what that name should be. In my case, for a number of reasons, my wife chose to share the family name I was born to.

I understand that many people have different concepts of both a and b, and those people should of course be under no obligation to change their names. I am only arguing that this public expression of family unity can outweigh other concerns like not wanting to reinforce a patriachal institution.

Bitch Ph.D., whose blog I read regularly and whose opinion I respect quite a bit, was saying that women taking their husbands names was appalling. Ordinarily when someone judges my actions wihout knowledge of my cricumstances or decision processes, I either ignore them or tell them to fuck off. In this case, however, as a fan, I found it difficult to ignore that she was in effect judging my wife’s choice with no knowledge of the context of that choice. (I know her comments weren’t meant to be taken personally, but it was difficult not to react to them personally.)

We had an interesting (to me, at least) discussion about the issue, and she has many valid criticisms of the practice. I believe that they are outweighed by the argument above alone, but as this is a matter of balancing the values involved, reasonable people can disagree about this.
During the discussion I refrained from bringing up the other reasons why we chose to share my name, because I thought it would be a digression, but since some of those reasons are interesting in their own right (and because I want to get it off my chest), I thought I’d post about them here.

We are an interracial couple living in Japan, and we had to overcome a lot of racist bullshit in order to get married, so racial and cultural issues are a bit more personal and immediate to us than gender issues.
My wife gets a kick out of the fact that merely stating her name is a big publc “fuck you” to those who think she’s a race-traitor.

Keeping her parents’ name would also be seen by many as an attempt not to rock the boat, to keep her choice of a foreign husband in the closet, and to hedge her bets in case of divorce, since everyone knows those Gaijin men tend to be unfaithful.

We also felt that, given that any children we have are going to be dealing with all sorts of racial issues growing up, sharing a common family name could reduce the number of confusing identity issues to deal with.

There were also less important aesthetic issues like the cool factor of an anglo-saxon name tacked onto her common Japanese name, and that she had never liked her surname to begin with. Her surname attached to my name really didn’t scan well, so we rejected that on aesthetic grounds.
She also strongly dislikes her father, and welcomed a chance to separate herself from him symbolically.

And of course there are the reasons that are really just excuses, like the sheer volume of paperwork and bureaucratic nonsense we would have had to go through to choose another option. It is here that I have to agree with Bphd’s assertion that it’s less of a “choice” if government and society coerces it. But we had to go through bureaucratic nonsense to change her name to something that can’t be written in Chinese characters, so this wasn’t a major factor anyway.

So maybe we are failing to send a message that helps subvert the patriarchal norms of society, but I think we’re sending other powerful messages to society on other fronts. As for gender issues, I know that our openly egalitarian family structure has caused fights in more than one neighborhood household where the husband has until now expected to be waited on hand and foot.
In the context of the cultures and societies in which we live, we all sometimes have to make choices between imperfect alternatives, and I believe that we should generally withhold our judgement of others’ choices until we understand that context.

Hey, look over there!

Many right-wing bloggers use the “Hey, look over there!” move when the misdeeds of the Bush administration or the US military are pointed out. The charge is usually that since others are doing worse, it is unfair to single out the US for criticism. (Often the charge is phrased in more inflammatory language: aid and comfort to the enemy, borderline treason, kneejerk anti-Americanism.) My main response to this is that the actions of others are irrelevant to whether or not we have done wrong, and changing the subject just makes it more likely that we will make the same mistakes in the future.

GB at Riding Sun quotes Arthur Chrenkoff deriding what he imagines to be the reasons for lack of outrage at misdeeds by those who aren’t American.

[a]American misdeeds are the worst in the world;

[b]There are worse misdeeds in the world, but that’s to be expected of others, so who cares? now back to American misdeeds;

[c]American misdeeds are the most offensive because America holds itself to a higher moral standard than others;

[d]American misdeeds deserve the most attention because by publicizing them within the Western world, you actually have the greatest chance of effecting change. (This is a sort of backhand, and often unintended, compliment to the strength of the American political system.)

Now, [a] is just a strawman. (Maybe you could find someone saying this, but you can find idiots who believe any given idiocy. The mainstream left is not that divorced from reality.) [b],[c], and [d] , however, are actually pretty good reason for Americans to focus on American misdeeds.

As an American citizen, I am morally responsible for the acts of my government. This means that when agents of that government do wrong, I take it personally. Especially since I still believe (perhaps naively) that the US is the greatest nation in history when it lives up to its ideals, I hold my country to a much higher moral standard than I hold other countries. In my mind, this is the definition of true patriotism. (By the same token, on an idividual level I don’t expect other people to live up to the higher standards I set for myself.)

Outrage about American misdeeds is also more productive. America’s enemies don’t care what I think–in fact they are likely to be happy to have caused my outrage. There is nothing I can effectively do sitting here at my computer that could possibly affect their actions. On the other hand, if I express my outrage at US misdeeds, there is a chance that this could lead to policy changes or at least a dialog. In a democracy, dissent and criticism are a necessary part of the process, and can make a difference for the cause of justice.

The world has many evil people in it. Rapists, murderers, sadists, and sociopaths can be found everywhere, and getting worked up about every evil just wears one out. Of course the atrocities of others disgust and anger me, but I choose not to focus on them because my rage will only make me tired and unhappy without doing any good. So call my outrage “selective” if you wish. I prefer to think of it as rational.


It’s amazing how little time is left for blogging when raising a 2-year-old.

This post is mostly just here so that my slightly hyberbolic response to the November elections isn’t the last entry. I’ve got all sorts of things I want to express, but I get most of that out of my system by posting on our BBS on the main Gaijin Bikers in Japan page. I figure the world can get by somehow even if I don’t regularly publish my thoughts here.

It even looks like the biker gaijin blogging niche is being adequately filled by a guy whose handle is the same as this blog’s title, my sole commenter, Gaijin Biker. I will therefore feel no need to post here unless the spirit moves me and I somehow actually have time to write something. Instead, I will continue my meaningless crusade of pedantic anti-pedantry comments at other people’s blogs.

Now we can talk about it.

If I thought anyone read my blog, I would tell them to go read any of the recent posts at unfogged and apostropher. I understand why this kind of talk was verboten before the election, but it feels really good to have people whose opinions I respect finally expressing it. Separation of Church and State, baby!

This has always been the main reason I vote against Republicans. I care about the economy, and war, and incompetence, and dishonesty, and most of the other major reasons people have given for opposing Bush. But honestly, even if Bush had been clearly superior on all those issues, I still would have voted against him because I believe in secular democracy.

I would never say that the religious right in America are worse than the terrorists or the Taliban or Saddam, but I sincerely believe the RR are a bigger threat to America. The US could afford to lose a few major cities to terrorism and still remain fundamentally unchanged, but if we become a country where religiously dictated morality is enforced by the government, we are no longer America.
Bush, Delay, Hastert, Santorum, Demint and others have made it clear that they fully intend to take several large chunks out of the wall between church and state. Small issues like “under God” in the pledge and Ten Commandments monuments are the canaries in our coalmine.

The major struggle of our time is not “Freedom vs. Terror” or “good guys vs. Terrorists” or “Christianity vs. Islam” or even “the West vs. Islamofascism”. It is the Western tradition of pluralist Enlightenment rationalism vs. Fundamentalism in all its forms, and in that struggle, frankly I’m not sure which side the Bushies are on. We’re talking about Reality-based government vs. Faith-based government. Whether the Fundies are Christian or Muslim makes no difference to me; I know which side I’m on.