• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Diagnostic criteria for asbestos-related diseases to be fixed

    Posted by Sean at 04:30, November 4th, 2005

    The asbestos scandal has been one of the biggest news stories of the year here in Japan. It doesn’t seem to be getting much attention from Western journalists here, though I suppose I could be missing things. I don’t think so, though, and it’s kind of bizarre, because the issue taps into the sorts of broad-brush changes in society that journalists like to play up–especially old favorites such as emerging problems with Japan’s national health system.

    This is from the latest from the Nikkei:

    The Ministry of the Environment announced on 4 November that, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, it will establish an investigative committee to determine the medical criteria for diagnosing illnesses caused by asbestos. The committee’s goal is to set recognition criteria for confirming the presence of five kinds of ailments, including not only lung cancer but also mesothelioma and asbestos lung.

    On 16 November, the Environment Ministry will gather six medical experts and open the committee’s first meeting. The plan is for the committee to meet once a month and to have generated a report within a year. [I’m not sure whether they’re referring to the fiscal year here; if so, that would be by April.–SRK]

    The government is in the process of establishing new laws to give relief money to residents of areas upon which asbestos has had an impact on public health. The confirmation criteria will be centered around lung cancer. The government’s judgment is that it is necessary to put in place medically detailed criteria for adding [people to the list of] relief money recipients, given that [diseases such as lung cancer] can also be caused by smoking and other factors besides asbestos exposure.

    One of the growing number of televised specials on the asbestos problem, aired a few weeks ago, showed a thin, weak old man with mesothelioma (I never thought I’d need to learn that word in Japanese, much less use it so often) weeping piteously and telling the reporter, “I can’t believe that they already knew about these health risks in America twenty years ago, and our government is only getting around to doing something now.”

    There was special pathos there. The Japanese health system is designed around the idea that collectivism and federal involvement produces better care. People are aware that there are treatments available abroad that are not available here, and there’s the occasional scandal when a pharmaceutical company produces non-performing drugs. For the most part, though, people have tended to believe that the close ties between civil servants and health care providers ensured the best of both worlds–more standardized, more equitable, less expensive, more readily accessible. Japan’s high average life expectancy seems to bear that out.

    Japan’s last major public health scandal involving industry was, of course, Minamata disease; there was a feeling that, with the money and resources poured into the health care system by the former Ministry of Health and Welfare–and with federal agencies for just about anything and everything–that sort of thing couldn’t happen again. But it has. Bureaucracies in Japan love to keep records, but they don’t like to share information with each other. The asbestos scandal, in which key ministries and agencies didn’t communicate with each other, is like many of the hospital screw-ups that have become staples of the nightly news here: patient and personnel records often aren’t transferred, and when they are transferred, they often aren’t verified. It remains to be seen how many asbestos victims will qualify for compensation. The numbers reported vary widely, but it’s at least in the thousands.

    I don’t even know what to call this

    Posted by Sean at 00:18, November 3rd, 2005

    I love Erin O’Connor (what I know of her from her blog, that is) to death, but I hate opening her site because what she reports always makes me want to punch something. Get a load of this:

    The University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire has forbidden RAs (students who work as residential assistants) from leading Bible-study groups in their dorms. Administrators claim they are compelled to forbid RAs from engaging in this activity because RAs who lead such groups risk seeming “unapproachable” to the students entrusted to their care.

    Last summer, RAs who had been leading Bible study groups in their dorms–not as official dorm activities, but privately, on their own time, in their own rooms–received a letter from Associate Director for Housing and Residence Life Deborah Newman forbidding them to continue and threatening them with disciplinary action if they did. When one RA questioned the edict, Newman informed him that “as an RA you need to be available to your residents both in reality and from their perspective.” The suggestion is not only that students who work as RAs don’t have the same First Amendment rights that other students have, but also that religious RAs are off in some nether world, and that leading religious study groups violates in some manner their obligation to live in “reality” and to share their residents’ presumably godless “perspective” on life. Newman has also forbidden RAs to lead Koran- and Torah-based study groups.

    She also links to FIRE’s report on the matter.

    When I entered college, I was a creationist. None of this wimpy-ass, evolutionist-placating Intelligent Design crap, either–the religion I was brought up in believed that the Genesis account of creation was only marginally non-literal. That is (IIRC), the order of events was accurate, but since length of time doesn’t bind God as it does us, the actual space between the steps was not necessarily what we humans, with our limited understanding, would know as a single day. I’m probably misrepresenting it somewhat–ten years of Japan-dwelling atheism and you get a little rusty–but that was the basic idea.

    Anyway, my point is, both RAs I had the two years I lived in campus housing were very, very liberal. I think they were both atheists. But aside from the occasional Saturday when, coming back from church services, I’d be teased good-naturedly for being the only person on the hall who wasn’t rising for the first time that day after nursing a hangover, it was never an issue. Yes, our differences in beliefs also emerged when we were discussing academic or intellectual issues, but it was a university, so I guess we just figured that, you know, that was what was supposed to happen. I would have found it incomprehensible if someone had asked whether I found Elise “unapproachable” because she was pro-abortion or Bob’s “perspective” alienating because he didn’t like my letter to the editor about some retarded column saying David and Jonathan were gay. (If you think I don’t like gay leftism now, you can imagine what I was like when I was a conservative Christian!) What the hell does that have to do with a burned-out light bulb in the bathroom or whether Professor Soandso in the biology department is a good teacher?

    Actually, I didn’t go to Penn right out of high school. My parents’ dream was for me to go to the college affiliated with our religious sect. It was in the middle of nowhere in eastern Texas (halfway between Tyler and Longview, for anyone who knows the area). I was devout at that time, too, and while I thought the academic standards were likely to be somewhat slack, it seemed a worthwhile sacrifice to be at a Godly college.

    Until I actually got there and experienced it in practice. There were some ritual pronouncements about being all Berean and proving everything by testing it against reality and counter-arguments, but in the classroom and college-run discussion groups, you were shut down immediately if you deviated from the party line. I ventured the opinion that perhaps some women might hypothetically be able to serve in combat positions in the armed forces and WHAM! I was cut off.

    After six weeks of this, I snapped. I might not have minded a frank Bible seminary, but the post-Enlightenment bait-and-switch act was more than I could take. I called my parents very agitatedly, and they sorrowfully sent me an Amtrak ticket home to Pennsylvania. I worked for a year at my high school restaurant job, reactivated my application to Penn, was reaccepted, and started gratefully the next fall.

    When, in due course, I started hearing people talking about how silenced they were on campus, I thought they were insane. These were the most stridently voluble silenced people I’d ever encountered. There was a women’s studies program. The newspaper always seemed to have at least one gay columnist. The WEB Dubois College House was expressly devoted to housing students who wanted to work for black community interests. There were arguments–real, substantive arguments over competing ideas–inside the classroom and out.

    Most of the time, my religious beliefs made me the freak, but I don’t remember more than two or three people in the entire four years I was in college being frankly disrespectful, even during that screaming match after we watched The Accused and had a discussion about rape. The idea was still in the air that people were supposed to bring their most sincere, reasoned beliefs to the table and pit them against each other. Everyone got a fair hearing, and everyone got the chance to approve or disapprove of what he heard.

    But you could already see things hardening. It was in 1993 that the Eden Jacobowitz incident occurred, after all. Now, apparently, you don’t even have to make specific remarks that could offend a given group at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. You just have to sit around reading a book that might kinda indicate something vaguely different about your “perspective” from those of unnamed hypothetical students. Oh, and you probably won’t be surprised by this from the FIRE page:

    FIRE also pointed out a 2004 article in UWEC’s student newspaper in which the Office of Housing and Residence Life praised an RA who for three years in a row staged the controversial feminist play The Vagina Monologues as an official “residence hall activity.” This praise came despite the RA’s acknowledgement that “with the Vagina Monologues…she [did not have] as much time as she would have liked for her wing.” UWEC has failed to respond to FIRE’s letter.

    Well, she was probably still approachable in spirit. It’s not as if she’d been reading the Bible, or anything.

    Sometimes you need a little finesse

    Posted by Sean at 22:22, November 2nd, 2005

    Another Gay Republican links to this post by Chris Crain at the Washington Blade blog. As A.G. Republican says, it’s a “justified bitch slap.” As Crain says:

    HRC strategists will claim in their defense that the public needs to be educated first on the issue, but how can we educate if we shirk from opportunities to talk about our lives?

    Last year, when Laura Bush was pressed on whether she supported her husband’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, her innocuous answer was that the issue was “something people should talk about and debate.” Rather than welcome such a rare invitation, HRC’s then-leader Cheryl Jacques released a letter criticizing the first lady, saying there were more important issues — like the economy! — for Americans to discuss.

    When our biggest gay rights lobbying group is ducking opportunities to actually lobby for our equality, and then makes excuses for those who oppose us, is it any wonder we aren’t winning?

    This is, of course, a staple topic of gay conversation. The more loyal Democrats tend to frame it as “How far should gay advocacy groups go in compromising to help our DNC friends gain power so they’re less politically vulnerable and can later effect the real change on our behalf that they desire with such obvious sincerity?” The rest of us tend to frame it as “Aren’t these jackasses supposed to be working for us?”

    Single-issue activism on the part of an individual often produces tunnel vision; but at the same time, if a group is going to exist for the express purpose of representing the interests of gays, then that’s what it’s supposed to do. Most of our organizations seem to veer between soft-pedaling anti-gay practices on the part of Democrats and implausibly claiming a gay stake in some favorite lefty sure thing or other (opposition to the war comes readily to mind, but so do Social Security privatization and the like).


    Posted by Sean at 06:39, November 2nd, 2005

    This time around, it’s Dale Carpenter guest-blogging (Here is the first post; I’d link the rest, but you can find them yourselves, and PowerBlogs sends an automatic trackback for every link.) Carpenter makes the best case I’ve seen–for example, he does a better job, I think, at arguing that community pressure will be brought to bear on gay marriages than Jonathan Rauch himself did in his book.

    Well, Carpenter isn’t perfect on that point, either:

    In our culture, marriage is the way couples signal the ultimate commitment to one another; and through marriage they communicate this deep commitment to their families, to their friends and co-workers, and to their communities. That commitment is then reinforced by the web of familial and other relations, created by marriage, that they have around them. This reinforcement helps strengthen their bond, and therefore their family. It helps keep them together, especially in tough times.

    Gay couples need this sort of reinforcement and suffer for the lack of it. As of now, no gay relationship can reach the cultural pinnacle signified by the words, “Will you marry me?” Telling your families and friends that you are “partnered” will not, usually, signal the same depth of commitment that marriage would. And if they doubt whether you have invested heavily in your relationship, why should your families, friends, and communities invest heavily in it?

    Fine, but if people don’t believe gay marriages are authentic, they’re not going to invest in them heavily anyway. Some of these will be ignorant folks who don’t believe there’s genuine commitment within gay couples; others are the most gay-friendly types imaginable but believe the purpose of marriage is to ensure, as best we can, that children are provided for. In either case, I don’t think the chicken-egg question is resolved as well as Carpenter appears to.

    Be that as it may, Carpenter argues carefully, and his presentation is orderly. Of course, Britney Spears has already been mentioned in the comments, and embarrassingly, Eugene Volokh has been driven to gently pointing out the following [his emphasis]:

    Folks, let me mention something that I hoped I didn’t need to: If you don’t like reading arguments that condemn homosexuality or homosexual relationships, don’t read a debate on same-sex marriage. Conversely, if we were to exclude all arguments that you think of as “bigotry” against homosexuals, or that convey “moral disapproval” of homosexuality, it wouldn’t be much of a debate, would it?

    A few years ago, when Connie’s site was in one of its former incarnations and Dean was still in his old World, I joined in a few discussions about gay marriage that frightened me in a big, bad way. One of them rattled me so much that I unloaded on Dean in very raw terms. (And cheese and crackers, was I PISSED that he printed some of it when I asked him not to. It was over two years ago now, so I don’t really care anymore.) Several of the gay commenters that I disagreed with were people whose writing on other topics I’ve really enjoyed and been inspired by. I’d never liked lockstep gay leftism, but this was the first time that it was borne in on me how much question-dodging a lot of otherwise-reasonable gays were willing to do in order to get the Marriage seal of approval and have their relationships (glory be!) validated. Or they probably weren’t dodging questions; they just didn’t seem to understand what they were being asked, so they weren’t addressing it.

    Support for Koizumi cabinet

    Posted by Sean at 23:34, November 1st, 2005

    The Nikkei‘s latest poll [insert usual caution] finds support for the Koizumi cabinet up to 56%:

    The Nippon Keizai Shimbun Corporation conducted a rapid opinion poll on 31 October and 1 November in response to the formation of the third Koizumi cabinet. Support for the Koizumi cabinet was at 56%, an increase of 9 points from the last survey at the beginning of September. The proportion (down 6 points over the same period) that did not support the cabinet was 30%, a manifestation of [the administration’s] maintenance of its vigor since its crushing victory in the lower house elections. The percent of those surveyed who “had esteem” for the members of the new cabinet was 49%. That far exceeded the 24% who “did not have esteem”; expectations have solidified around the struggle for reform to be waged through the “post-Koizumi” candidacies of [cabinet members] such as General Secretary Shinzo Abe.

    That last sentence is so deformed in my version it gives me physical pain, but I don’t really have the time to fuss over it. In any case, the idea comes through that, if the Nikkei poll is remotely dependable, Koizumi’s continuing popularity with the Japanese electorate, combined with the reputations that several of his new cabinet picks have already been cultivating, mean that his new administration is starting out once again with the public’s endorsement.


    Posted by Sean at 07:23, November 1st, 2005

    What’s funnier than the fact that someone landed on this page after searching Google for “discreet chastity” (a sorely underused phrase, more’s the pity)? That mine was the first site to come up.

    Today Toshiba finally deigned to call me and tell me how much ransom I’m going to have to pay to get my laptop back with a new CD-ROM drive: about the equivalent of US $420. Not all that bad, I suppose. So I assume it’s going to be ready within the week, because Nittsu came to pick it up Monday a week ago and the last person I talked to at Toshiba said the turnaround time shouldn’t be more than ten to fourteen days. Yes, I’m aware of Toshiba’s rep for atrocious customer service, but the hype is that they’ve been working hard to combat it, and all the people I talked to in tech support (when I first thought it was a driver/software/settings problem) were great. So I’m hoping to be wired at home again by this weekend.

    I’ll definitely need my Dynabook back within a few weeks, because I’m going to a company meeting at the beginning of December. I like travel, but I have to say that I find the idea of going all the way to the Caribbean a bit fatiguing, especially since Atsushi and I haven’t been able to take a vacation together for a year and a half. I will, however, be able to sneak in an extra week to stay in the States after flying back to New York. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to, but I have a month or so to get things arranged. I’ll be writing to people individually, but let this be the first notice to friends in the NY-NJ-PA-DC area that I’ll be around to shuttle frantically among you during the second third of December.

    Actually, when the time comes, I don’t think I’ll mind the Caribbean so much. Today is the first day that the coldness is sharp enough that I may actually put on a sweater before leaving the apartment [!] later, and fall is my favorite season. (It’s such a relief to be able to use that word–most Japanese people don’t know what you’re talking about unless you say “autumn.”) But by December, there will be a fair amount of non-sharp, non-crisp, gritty-gelatinous rain. Love that particulate matter!

    For those who are slow on the uptake–actually, your flue would have to be entirely blocked not to have noticed this–this is one of those scatty brain-dump posts I deposit here at regular intervals, usually when my datebook is beginning to do its tyrant act and I am VERY SLIGHTLY irritable. Time for home and a cup of tea.


    Posted by Sean at 06:49, November 1st, 2005

    Gaijin Biker has to be kidding.

    Actually, what am I saying? The only surprise is that no one’s already paved over Yoyogi Park. Nothing in this archipelago escapes the cement mixer once some politician sets his sights on it. Ever:

    Via Taro Akasaka at Japan Real Estate Blog, the Yomiuri Shimbun reports that Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara is talking about paving over Yoyogi Park and building a new sports complex there to beef up Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Olympics.

    This is, quite simply, a horrible idea. Tokyo is already one of the most under-parked major cities around. It needs more open spaces for the people who live here every day, not giant stadiums for athletes who will swing by once and then leave.

    When I lived in Shibuya, I used to run at Yoyogi Park, one of the few places in the city where you can find enough trees together to call so much as a copse. To anyone coming here from just about any other world-class city, the paucity of green is something you don’t notice much at first because the riotous visual interest–from all the neon signs and weird architectural shapes and highways stacked on train platforms stacked on footbridges–keeps you distracted. But then you walk down one of the few streets that are treelined, and you’re like, Ooh! Wilderness! Do I have my Swiss Army Knife?

    As Gaijin Biker says, vainglorious Olympic (or Olympic-equivalent) sports complexes nearly always end up windy, spookily underpopulated white elephants after the games end. The idea that Japan needs another underused monstrosity of a public works project is beyond lunatic.


    Posted by Sean at 06:36, November 1st, 2005

    Zak, who’s begun commenting around here lately and has mercifully not laid into me about any of my free ‘n easy translations from Japanese, has resumed his own blog and posted this today:

    I’m sorry, I have no sympathy whatsoever for these people booted out of their church:

    In a pair of decisions that bolstered conservatives, the highest court of the United Methodist Church defrocked an openly lesbian minister yesterday and reinstated a pastor who had been suspended for refusing to allow a gay man to become a member of his congregation.

    Granted, I personally think it’s ridiculous to ban homosexuals based on the teachings of a man 2,000 years ago who apparently never said anything about gays and seems to have instead preached universal acceptance. For these homosexuals, however, I think it’s far more idiotic to want to worship that man in an organization that has confused those teachings to the point of exactly reversing them as far as you are concerned. Brings to mind the image of a woman who repeatedly begs her physically abusive husband to take her back: Who really has the bigger problem here?

    My conclusion is basically the same as Zak’s, though I’d get there somewhat differently. I don’t think the Bible is infinitely stretchable, but there’s enough give that I don’t think people who are arguing for non-traditional tolerance of this or that are necessarily being disingenuous. Many of them probably do believe that the truest interpretation of whatever difficult scripture they’re looking at is the one that’s less obvious because of this ambiguity in Aramaic roots, or what have you.

    Still, different Christian sects usually have a long-standing body of theological writing behind their doctrines, and it’s not unreasonable for them to reject new understanding of scripture that they think unfounded. If you’re gay or lesbian (or supportive of gays and lesbians), there are plenty of churches nowadays that will accommodate you. I suppose that switching sects to find the one that you think is most closely following Christ’s intent is difficult if you’ve been brought up to believe, say, that the Roman Catholic Church is the only legitimate vessel for Godly spirituality; but I don’t recall having been taught as a boy that the individual covenant with God was easy to navigate.

    People who sincerely believe that the organizations to which they now belong are interpreting the Bible in error have what seems to me a pretty clear duty to present their arguments, but eventually someone is going to have to make a doctrinal decision, and it’s not necessarily cruelty that produces one that hews to tradition.

    New cabinet installed

    Posted by Sean at 06:10, November 1st, 2005

    Prime Minister Koizumi has announced the results of his cabinet reshuffling:

    Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi, at the first meeting of his third cabinet of the evening of 31 October, laid out the fundamental direction [of his latest administration] in five items:

    1. To persevere in [transferring power and resources] “from public to private” and “from Tokyo to local districts”
    2. Economic vitality
    3. Ensuring safety and security in [Japanese] life
    4. Diplomacy, national security, disaster management
    5. Political reform

    Concerning structural reforms, he stated that “the October 2007 privatization of Japan Post will be smoothly executed” and that “the scale of government will be limited through a review of the financing of programs, general labor costs for private sector employees, and the management of government assets and bonds.”

    Particular positions of interest: Shinzo Abe is the new Chief Cabinet Secretary. Taro Aso is the new Minister of Foreign Affairs. Sadakazu Tanizaki was reappointed as Minister of Finance. Each has been tipped as a possible successor for Koizumi, who has vowed to step down in 2006 and has not been grooming any obvious candidates to take over at that point.

    Aso, the new Foreign Minister, was previously Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications. A few weeks ago he got in PR hot water for calling Japan a “single-race” nation. You can imagine how resident Koreans and indigenous ethnic minorities loved that. He’s had a reputation for being tart-tongued for quite a while, though, and he’s been a rising star in the LDP for some time. The last outspoken rising-star Foreign Minister under Koizumi was Makiko Tanaka, and we all know what happened to her. The post of Foreign Minister is a particularly strategic one at the moment, given Japan’s delicate relations with the PRC and the Koreas and its push to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Aso’s profile on his website is here. A less interesting English version is here at his old ministry.

    BTW, in addition to Minister of Finance Tanigaki, banking/Japan Post reform czar Heizo Takenaka was reappointed to his posts.

    Added on 2 November: Didn’t anyone catch that “Heizo Tanaka” screw up? Glad I seem to have seen it first.

    Paradise Place

    Posted by Sean at 03:41, October 30th, 2005

    Ghost of a Flea has a post up that shuttles from Kelly Osbourne to Kylie to Sharon Osbourne to Madonna. Here are the first two:

    While people have been rather mean about Kelly Osbourne’s figure she turns out to be an admirer of Kylie Minogue’s. Echoing the considered observations of countless communication studies essays I have read, Kelly believes that “sex really does sell”. Kelly is right to credit Kylie some of her success to her pixie-like proportions but Kylie also claims a vast gay fan base to whom her pixie-like figure is secondary to some nebulous something else. This something else is what Kelly might better spend her time cultivating than surgery and botox and so forth.

    I thought Nick was going a little overboard warning a woman of twenty-one off Botox, but according to the linked article, apparently not. Sheesh. I’ve always thought it was excessive for Kylie herself to use Botox. She’s not even forty.