This Asbestos thing is way more complicated than I thought…

Ishiwata? Sekimen?
Looks like Japan isn’t the last country to figure out asbestos is bad for you after all:

Friday, September 9, 2005

Japanese Labor Unions Ask Canada To Stop Exporting Asbestos

TOKYO (Kyodo)–Three Japanese labor unions including one comprising construction workers requested in a joint action on Friday that Canada, the biggest single supplier of asbestos to Japan, stop exporting the carcinogenic mineral, union officials said.

Representatives of the unions delivered a letter of request to the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo saying that ”60 percent of asbestos used in Japan is imported from Canada. We would like the export promotion policy to be terminated, given the hazardous nature of white asbestos has been confirmed.”

Canada is the third biggest producer in the world of white asbestos, a type of the mineral known to be relatively less carcinogenic than other types.

The request was made by the All Japan Construction, Transport and General Workers Union, National Confederation of Trade Unions and the Liaison Conference of Public Promotion of Public Works Related to People’s Life.

The embassy told the unions that they will refer the matter to Ottawa and promised to offer a reply in writing, according to the union officials.

The move was part of a global action by labor unions belonging to the Trade Unions International of Building, Woods and Building Materials Industries. Similar requests have also been filed with Canadian diplomatic missions in 12 countries including Australia and Colombia.

The All Japan Construction, Transport and General Workers Union, which led the action on Friday, has 46,900 members. It is affiliated with the two other unions.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral used in buildings, among other things, which is known to cause diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer even many years after being inhaled.

Aichi Expo Update: Good news and “bad” news

Before you read this, remember the Osaka Expo in 1970 attracted a whopping 64.2 million people, so comparatively this one is a big flop!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Number Of Visitors To Aichi Expo Tops Targeted 15mn

NAGOYA (Kyodo)–The number of visitors to the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi Prefecture on Thursday surpassed the 15 million mark, the target set by the Expo organizers, 40 days before the event’s closing Sept. 25.

According to the Japan Association for World Exposition 2005, the 15 millionth visitor entered the gate at around 10:15 a.m. on the 147th day of the 185-day expo, which began March 25.

”We believe we were able to achieve the goal more than a month earlier than the event closes because many people highly valued the exposition’s unique exhibits and a variety of events,” Shoichiro Toyoda, the association’s chairman, said in a statement. Toyoda is also honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corp. (7203).

An association official said the number of visitors is likely to reach 18 million by the closing day of the expo and may even top 19 million.

Shortly after opening, the expo saw low turnout, blamed mainly on poor weather, but it began getting crowded after Japan’s Golden Week holidays in early May. The number of visitors each day has often topped 100,000.

About 216,000 people visited the expo July 17, a single-day record.

Five indicted for making porno video on Expo cable car

NAGOYA — Police sent papers Friday to prosecutors on five people on suspicion of shooting pornographic video footage on a cable car at the site of the World Exposition in Aichi Prefecture, in violation of the Minor Offenses Law, police officials said.

The police allege a 33-year-old producer, a 28-year-old director and a 31-year-old video photographer for a TV program production company, a 39-year-old actor and a 26-year-old actress of shooting the video footage for about a minute May 2 on the Kikkoro Gondola cable car. The case came to light after a person who saw the video on a pornographic cable channel informed the Expo organizer, Japan Association for the 2005 World Exposition, about it, the police said. (Kyodo News)

Extra details on the porno incident from ZAKZAK:

According to investigations, the minute-long scene is of a man groping a topless woman on the Kikkoro Gondola. The gondola can seat 8, and the scene was likely visible to those outside the craft as it is mostly clear glass, designed to give a view of the scenery and activity below.

The five suspects originally planned to shoot a scene outdoors within the Expo grounds, but had to change the location to inside the gondola since the Expo was crowded with Golden Week tourists. The group also filmed a scene in which they ask foreign staff sexually explicit questions.

My jealous contempt of the Aichi Expo has been documented on this site before, so you can see why this incident steams my beans. Taken one way, this is a pretty good sign for the Expo — it was so crowded the porn directors had to change their location to someplace quieter! Curses…

Where is Dick Cheney?

I have been wondering for several days, ever since the appalling announcement that President Bush had not decided to end his vacation early until after New Orleans had already been devastated, where exactly the Vice President has been. Now, Cheney is well known as an unusually secretive VP, known for avoiding the spotlight (sidenote: vampires are well known for avoiding sunlight), but this absence is going far even for him.

Even after 9/11, when Cheney was famously spirited away to an undisclosed location, presumably the underground bunker from which the shadow government* would operate in the event of the death of the President and other top officials, he still issued statements to the media to prove that he was still alive. Now, in the time immediately after 9/11/2001, when a plane had crashed into the Pentagon and another was possibly aiming for either the White House or Capital Hill, this was not an unreasonable precaution. Clearly there were people out there who wanted government officials (and other people) dead, and there was a serious expectation of followup attacks, in some form or another.
*(Keep in mind that I don’t mean ‘shadow’ in a conspiracy theory sense, just ‘backup’ as in the ‘shadow cabinet’ in some parliamentary systems.)
Why is Cheney hidden away this time? Is he scared that the terrorists will aim another hurricane at him? Is he on vacation? Is the application of artificial skin over his glowing radiated body flaking off at faster and faster rates, prohibiting him from appearing publicly?

Andrew Sullivan’s latest article in The Times points out that “The vice-president was nowhere to be seen.” confirming that I am at least not the only person on Earth to have noticed this fact.

An article from the New York Times gives what seems to be the only tantalizing speck of information regarding Cheney’s whereabouts at any time since August 18.

In interviews, these Republicans said that the normally nimble White House political operation had fallen short in part because the president and his aides were scattered outside Washington on vacation, leaving no one obviously in charge at a time of great disruption. Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush were in Texas, while Vice President Dick Cheney was at his Wyoming ranch.

My last sentence may be surprising, but in fact, according to my search on Google News, there hasn’t been a single public appearance or statement by Vice President Dick Cheney since the 18th of August, when he appeared at a meeting of the “73rd National Convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Springfield, Mo.”

There are a number of articles about that event, but they all give pretty much the same dry account of Cheney’s statements to the veteran’s group. Here is one typical example, written by a member of the American Forces Press Service.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 2005 – The U.S. military will not relent in its effort to track down terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere, Vice President Richard Cheney said Aug. 18.

“This is not a war we can win strictly on the defensive. Our only option against these enemies is to find them, to fight them and to destroy them,” he told the 73rd National Convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Springfield, Mo.

“These enemies hate us, they hate our country, and they hate the liberties for which we stand,” he said.

“They have contempt for our values. They doubt our strength. And they believe that America will lose our nerve and let down our guard. They are sorely mistaken.”

Seriously, where has Cheney been? What does he actually do? How can he possibly stay invisible at a time like this? Was he being kept alive all this time by New Orleans voodoo mojo that has now been disrupted by the storm? We all know about the long connection between New Orleans and voodoo zombies after all. It’s the only scenario that makes any kind of logical sense to me. After all, the Vice President couldn’t just be on vacation during the worst natural disaster the country has seen in living memory, right?

[Edit]: An op-ed piece by a Washington Post staff writer in the September 6th edition asks:

Anybody seen Dick Cheney?

Is Bush to Blame?

With the rare exception of economic issues, I don’t normally discuss domestic politics on this blog. However, as a departure from my regular routine, today I offer a few quick thoughts on recent criticisms of the Bush administration in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Comments are based on an article in today’s Washington Post titled, “Critics Say Bush Undercut New Orleans Flood Control.”

Would more money have helped? Probably not. The Post article notes that the President’s Democratic accusers willingly admitted that, “even with full funding in recent years, none of the flood-control projects would have been completed in time to prevent the swamping of the city. This lag between approval of funds and completion of projects seems to suggest that there is more at blame here than just Bush’s refusal to increase spending to the Army Corps of Engineers. As former assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, Michael Parker told the Post, “[e]verybody is to blame – it transcends administrations. It transcends a party.”

And this is probably the most honest and realistic assessment of the situation in the entire article. According to Parker, there is widespread resistance in government to investing in long-term projects such as those required to protect cities like New Orleans from flood damage. And why shouldn’t there be resistance? Long-term projects are often costly and benefits are not immediately seen or reaped. Furthermore, in the case of flood control projects, they may never be reaped. It isn’t difficult to imagine that for the holders of government purse strings there are always more immediate and potentially rewarding causes. The long-term gain is simply not always worth the short-term cost, be it political or monetary.

Are criticisms of the President’s refusal to allocate more money deserved? Perhaps. The details of the budget debate are not clear to me at this time and they were not elaborated upon in the article. It would therefore be premature to make assumptions about Bush’s reasoning for cutting spending on the Corps of Engineers. If a closer investigation of the matter revealed, for example, that the initial proposal to be a public works boondoggle, would anyone have blamed the President at the time for cutting funding? On the other hand, if accusations by the Democrats that Bush’s motivation was a reshuffling of resources to pay for tax cuts and the war in Iraq are true – in other words Bush consciously prioritized tax cuts and the war over domestic spending intended to protect American citizens – then some degree of responsibility certainly lays with the President. It does not mean that he deliberately ignored the safety or well being of these citizens, but in the end he simply made an unfortunate decision. The bitterly ironic fact that in July the White House attempted to block $1 billion to be used for the restoration of coastal wetlands but just yesterday asked Congress for $10.5 billion as the first installment of aid seems to support this point.

Should Bush accept responsibility for this decision?
This is irrelevant. Hoping for contriteness from this President might soothe some raw nerves around the country, but it is unlikely to happen, unrealistic to expect, and in the short-term not much will change as a result. The President will adopt a serious, but positive sounding, forward-looking stance, not acknowledging any missteps of his own, as he has done since taking office following every major catastrophe, natural or otherwise. Bush supporters will unquestionably stand behind the President as they have in the face of past criticisms over tax cuts or the war. Those who do not support Bush will continue to be out for his blood. And perhaps a small number of Americans might experience disenchantment great enough to shift their political allegiance. In the long-term, if combined with growing dissatisfaction over the war in Iraq, rising oil prices, or some other unforeseen disaster, might reflect negatively on the President, but for now the issue is rather moot.

Partisan politics aside, we are all faced with choices and no one gets everything right. We cannot expect Bush to get it all right either. Certainly the decisions he makes as President may have greater consequences than those made by you or me on a daily basis, but another point of similarity is that in the end we must all bear the consequences of our decisions and Bush is no exception. It is hard to say at this point exactly what those consequences might be.

Did you know that North Korea has an animation industry?

Uniting the Two Koreas, in Animated Films at Least (NYT)

“North Korean animators are excellent,” he added. “They learn quickly and work very hard.” The SEK animation studio in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, which did the animation, has been involved in an array of international productions since the late 1990’s.


Mr. Shin has not finished working with North Korea, though. He said that both North and South Korea have agreed to produce his next project: a six-part animated series on Goguryeo, an ancient state that once occupied the northern half of the Korean Peninsula and much of Manchuria about 2,000 years ago. China recently created a furor in Korea when it claimed historical ownership of Goguryeo.

While South Korea is well known as a source of low-end cell drawing and inbetweening contractors for Japanese and American animation studios, the number of creative productions coming from that country has been dismally low. Despite being a fairly big animation fan, I have only seen a single long piece, a beautifully drawn film called Oseam, and a few shorts. Why after all these years is Korean animation so undeveloped? Why haven’t they benefited from this so-called ‘Korean wave’?

Be careful what you say about kimchi in Pyongyang

Be careful what you say about kimchi in Pyongyang

By Nopporn Wong-Anan Wed Aug 31, 5:40 AM ET

PYONGYANG (Reuters) – In
North Korea, it may be a crime to speak ill of the Dear Leader, but visitors are also advised not to badmouth the beloved national dish.

“Kimchi can prevent
SARS and bird flu,” a North Korean official told reporters at a dinner in a state-owned restaurant in Pyongyang, urging them to spread the word around the world.

Kimchi, typically radish or cabbage that has been packed with garlic, ginger and hot pepper and then pickled, is a staple on both sides of the divided Korean peninsula.

Although kimchi has been said to prevent bird flu and SARS, cure the common cold, prevent certain types of cancer and improve the skin, few of the claims have a scientific basis.

That meant nothing to an official guide escorting a group of Thai journalists travelling with Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon on a recent visit to the secluded Communist country.

Asked by one journalist how he knew the SARS and bird flu claims were true, the guide — who gave his name only as “Mr Kim”, answered in an angry voice:

“Where were you? I don’t understand why you never knew this information. Everybody in North Korea knows about it.”

North Korea had an outbreak of bird flu at poultry farms in Pyongyang earlier this year.


Other questions agitated the guide.

A journalist working for a Japanese news agency wondered aloud if North Koreans used “Ajinomoto” — a Japanese brand name for monosodium glutamate seasoning — in kimchi to make it so tasty.

“What do you mean?,” Mr Kim asked. “You said a Japanese word. We live in Korea and we only eat Korean food.”

North Korea’s official media roundly criticises Japan, the former colonial overlord of the Korean peninsula which was divided into North and South at the end of World War Two.

North Korea has stayed isolated since the split in the spirit of its national ideology of “juche”, or self-reliance, and is now feared by the international community to be building a nuclear weapons programme — the subject of so-called six-party talks being held on and off in Beijing.

Propaganda about North Korea’s leaders and the Communist revolution is part of life in the state. It assails visitors arriving at Pyongyang airport and thrusts itself from fields and roads on billboards in the countryside and from state television.

In fact, propaganda is launched at visitors before they even get out of the plane. Soon after touchdown, the plane’s speakers lauded Kim Il-sung — North Korea’s founding Great Leader, Father Leader and Eternal Leader — and his son, Dear Leader Kim Jong-il.

Billboards plastered with slogans are everywhere, from the government’s reception hall to paddy fields along highways.

“Long Live the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il!” reads a group of billboards, each carrying a Korean syllable, erected in the middle of a paddy field outside Pyongyang.

Another row of billboards on a grassy foothill read: “Whatever the party decides, we will do it!”

When asked who put up the billboards, Mr Kim consulted a colleague, then said: “It is the people who put up those signs themselves.”

The visit by the Thai foreign minister was timed to celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations between Thailand and North Korea. Foreign journalists rarely visit and are closely supervised when they do.