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    LDP seeks women Diet candidates; Osaka assemblywoman comes out

    Posted by Sean at 01:13, August 14th, 2005

    Interesting, this:

    Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi upped the ante in his war against party rebels by instructing that priority be given to fielding female candidates in the Lower House election next month.

    The strategy started to take shape with a decision by ruling Liberal Democratic Party executives on Thursday to field Satsuki Katayama as its candidate in the Shizuoka No. 7 constituency. The seat is held by Minoru Kiuchi, 40, one of the party’s 37 rebel lawmakers who voted against Koizumi’s postal reform bills.

    What’s the reasoning, I wonder? Are LDP strategists trying to get out the housewife/single woman vote? Do they just feel that female talent hasn’t been sufficiently tapped and that this is a good opportunity to make a statement about the party’s values? Koizumi’s stated reason is this:

    Regarding the backing of female candidates, The Prime Minister told the press corps, “[The move is] because there are very few women members of the Diet. I want those who rise to be the most competent people possible.”

    Fair enough. I’m sure he means it. It seems likely that the strategy is also part of an effort to change the party’s image. Koizumi sees himself–and has pitched himself–as a revolutionary. More visible women in positions of power would help dispel the impression that the failure of the Japan Post privatization bill to pass means that the LDP is still under the control of well-connected old men who are tied to the old patronage system.


    Speaking of women politicians–the Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade 2005 was held here in Tokyo yesterday. I didn’t watch and, of course, it got next to zero news coverage as always. The Mainichi did report on it tangentially, though:

    The Mainichi has learned that Osaka Prefectural Assemblywoman Kanako Otsuji (30) plans to participate in the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade on 13 August, coming out in public as a homosexual herself. Her autobiography is also to be published soon. It is extremely rare for sitting elected officials to come out in public as homosexual. Assemblywoman Otsuji stated, “Because of discrimination and prejudice, gays frequently haven’t made themselves known. I hope that, by making myself visible as gay, I can throw the issue into relief and put and end to the vicious cycle of discrimination and prejudice.”

    I assume Otsuji made the announcement yesterday; no one was talking about the parade when I went out last night, but as I say, it isn’t really an attention getter. More power to her. The image of gays in the Japanese media is very much on the freakishly-funny end of the spectrum. If Otsuji is able to be charmingly ordinary and gets a reasonable amount of coverage for her book, she could do a lot of good.

    No Yasukuni pilgrimage for Koizumi this week

    Posted by Sean at 00:18, August 14th, 2005

    Shoichi Nakagawa, the Minister of Economics, Trade, and Industry, made a pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine this morning. I assume the reactions from the rest of East Asia will be all over NHK by this evening. Yuriko Koike, the Minister of the Environment, and Hidehisa Otsuji, the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, plan to go tomorrow on the 60th anniversary of the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II; twelve members of the cabinet, including Prime Minister Koizumi and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, have announced that they will not go to the shrine tomorrow.

    Like a horse and carriage

    Posted by Sean at 22:18, August 12th, 2005

    Megan McArdle posted something that inflamed Eric into writing one of his usual good posts on the gay marriage debate:

    In the incident cited by Megan McArdle, gay activists are apparently claiming that two heterosexuals should not be allowed to marry each other if they are of the same sex. Yet nowhere have I heard “heterosexual activists” making a similar argument (that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry each other if they are of the opposite sex).

    Clearly, there’s a lot of misunderstanding — both about existing marriage laws, as well as laws which would legalize same sex marriage.

    What gives?

    I have no idea, man, but when you find out, let me know.

    Actually, maybe you should leave me in blissful ignorance. I’m in my early 30s and in good shape, but I’m afraid hearing a detailed explanation of these people’s non-thinking might give me a coronary. Here’s part of that article:

    Two heterosexual fellows in Canada, invoking their rights under Canada’s recently passed same-sex marriage legislation, have announced their intentions to marry. Drinking pals Bill Dalrymple, 56, and Bryan Pinn, 65, intend to marry not because they are gay but for the tax breaks.

    News of the pending engagement didn’t sit well with same-sex marriage activist Bruce Walker, a Toronto lawyer. He complained that marriage should be for love.

    You know something, bitch? The day our civilization puts people like you in a position to adjudicate (1) whether what my boyfriend and I have is love and (2) whether that qualifies us for government goodies–that’s the day I depart for, like, Zimbabwe without looking back. I don’t think it’s possible to verbalize how angry this kind of thing makes me.

    To the extent that gay activists began formulating their ideas about marriage a decade or so ago, when the opposing argument most frequently encountered was “Gays have sex, not love,” I can see where it comes from. The problem is, the argument has moved on, and a lot of activists haven’t. What kind of topsy-turvy world are we living in when queer activists are the ones who want to peer into other people’s bedrooms and pass judgment on what goes on there? And who’s to say that Dalrymple and Pinn–who are friends, after all–don’t love each other? I think I could fairly say that I love my drinking buddies (especially after I’ve had a few).

    The point that gays fall in love and make the sacrifices necessary to take care of each other is an important one, but it cannot serve as the fulcrum for an argument in favor of gay marriage. How gay activists can fail to be aware of this by now is beyond me–their inability to see themselves as the public sees them is astounding–but the more they push the “We’re cute! We’re cuddly! Approve of us!” line, the more they reinforce the feeling that we suffer from arrested development and have not taken adult control over our lives.

    20th anniversary of Osutaka crash

    Posted by Sean at 00:39, August 12th, 2005

    Today is the 20th anniversary of the crash of JAL flight 123, which killed 520 people and remains the worst single-plane disaster in civil aviation history. The plane depressurized suddenly while flying from Tokyo to Osaka after losing its vertical stabilizer and hydraulic lines. The anniversary is played up on the news every year here not only because of the large number of deaths (including Kyu Sakamoto, who sang the song released as “Sukiyaki” in the US) but also because the crew’s heroic efforts to use momentum to control the plane bought it 30 minutes before it crashed, enough time for many passengers to prepare farewells for relatives and affix identifying documents to their bodies. The flawed repair and maintenance that led to the tailfin separation were the fault of both Boeing and JAL; a round of suicides ensued.

    Japan’s transportation networks are objects of intense national pride, and after the JAL 123 crash, the airlines and civil aviation authorities redoubled their efforts to prevent accidents. In one of this morning’s editorials, the Nikkei drily notes:

    On that day [12 August 1985] Japan became acquainted with the pain of aviation accidents in the era of jumbo jet transport, and since then the assumption has been that those in the aviation industry continue to work hard, motivated by a resolve to assure that such an accident can never happen again. For 20 years, there have been no regular Japanese airline has experienced a crash.

    However, recently, a incident upon incident has called into question that hard work and resolve.

    In recent years, there have been a number of nail-biting near misses, the most famous of which was the 2001 incident in which air traffic controllers mistakenly steered two JAL jets into each other’s paths. The planes, carrying a total of almost 700 passengers and crew, came within about 30 feet (!) of each other midair; one of the jets had to make collision-avoidance maneuvers so violent that 42 people were injured.

    There have been plenty of other, lesser incidents (try searching this site for references to “JAL” and “ANA” just in the past year), and both major airlines have been officially censured by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Infrastructure. The best light to put on things is that the bad press about safety has given everyone concerned excellent motivation to tighten up operations; what tightening up is actually being done remains uncertain.

    Pretty baby / You look so heavenly

    Posted by Sean at 04:59, August 11th, 2005

    Downtown Lad asks an age-old question with the snark factor removed:

    Are gay people better looking? That’s a serious question. One of my gay friends mentioned how all of his gay male friends were better looking than their male siblings. Why is this?

    • Because gay men use moisturizer?

    • We keep in shape, because (like women) we know that men are visual, and we have to stay fit in order to stay attractive?
    • The gay gene is the same one for good looks?

    I’m inclined to think the factor with the most effect is item 2, along with some others.

    For one thing, gay bars in New York and other big metro areas attract a self-selecting population that is disproportionately (though far from entirely) made up of guys who believe they belong among other beautiful people. That’s often at least in part because they’re of above-average attractiveness themselves.

    Also, in addition to staying fit, urban gay guys are more likely to dress carefully than straight guys. Most of us tend to gravitate toward clothes that fit neatly and trimly–even those who don’t care about style and stick to khakis + chambray shirt. A homely man can make himself look way, way yummier with flattering hair and well-cut clothes; sometimes, he can even work the beau-laid thing to his advantage if he’s confident enough and has interesting bone structure.

    Of course, if you had a good sample size of gay men and their straight brothers, you could test the third and most interesting proposition, theoretically, by checking things like face and body symmetry, thickness and luster of hair (in those who don’t do the shaved-head thing), clarity of complexion, and other universal signals for sexual attractiveness. Who knows? Maybe there is a correlation. It doesn’t seem any more far-fetched than our over-representation in arty careers.

    Hurry up / Hurry up and wait

    Posted by Sean at 11:54, August 10th, 2005

    The Mainichi has done a poll that indicates the electorate is turned on by Prime Minister Koizumi’s implacability in the face of the opponents who defeated his Japan Post privatization bill:

    The Mainichi conducted a rapid nationwide opinion survey (by telephone) on 8 and 9 July, [to gauge reaction to] the news that Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi had gone ahead with his threat to dissolve the lower house of the Diet. Support for the Koizumi cabinet was at 46%, up 9 points from last month’s poll, in which the figure (37%) had been the lowest ever. In contrast, non-support was at 37%, 3 points down. Additionally, the 54% of respondents who said they “agreed” with the dissolution of the lower house far outnumbered the 36% who said they “opposed” it. And with respect to the results of the 11 September lower house snap election, 50% said they “hoped for an administration with the LDP as ruling party,” outnumbering the 35% who said they “hoped for an administration with the DPJ as ruling party.”

    Interestingly for a cabinet with a carefully cultivated young-upstart image, the Koizumi administration got its highest level of support, when broken down by respondents’ ages, among those in their 60s. Jun-kun also isn’t just for housewives to swoon over anymore: 52% of men and 43% of women support the cabinet according to the Mainichi survey.

    We can’t take polls at face value, of course; but allowing for give in the figures, is the Mainichi tracking something significant? I think it may be. Koizumi was elected as a reformer–he was the broom that was going to sweep away corruption and waste. The bank clean-up worked better than expected. The Yasukuni Shrine visits in and of themselves don’t sit well with voters, but I suspect that to many people they represent a real, if impolitic, devotion to his country. Privatization of the postal service was one of his key reforms. He did not, as members of his own cabinet have pointed out, bring a lucid explanation to the average voter of why it was necessary to move from the existing semi-governmental Japan Post corporation to a fully-privatized set of institutions, but the public has at least been able to recognize the move as part of his effort to uproot the fat-cat LDP old guard.

    Simply put, the Japanese people seem to like Koizumi when he’s being a stubborn pain in the ass. They don’t like when he caves to pressure and does the politically expedient thing, such as cutting off Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka (who, remember, was more popular than Koizumi with the public before his 2001 selection as PM). Koizumi said last month that the LDP would not support the reelection of any Representative who voted against Japan Post privatization, and he seems to mean it.

    It’s only fair to note that the Yomiuri‘s poll, also conducted this week, showed less support for Koizumi than the Mainichi‘s:

    Fifty-two percent of the respondents thought it was inevitable that Koizumi should dissolve the lower house after the postal bills were voted down Monday, while 35 percent said they did not think it was inevitable.

    Asked who should be blamed for the dissolution, however, the number of those who said Koizumi should be blamed, at 39 percent, was close to that of those who said the responsibility lay with LDP members who rebelled against Koizumi, at 41 percent.

    Among LDP supporters, 57 percent criticized the LDP rebels. But among independent voters, who are seen as the key to the election, those who said Koizumi was to be blamed recorded the highest percentage, at 43 percent.

    The respondents’ opinions were close again when asked if they wanted Koizumi to keep his post if the LDP was voted back in power–46 percent said they wanted Koizumi to remain as prime minister, while 43 percent said they did not. Among independent voters, 53 percent opposed Koizumi’s retaining his post.

    This result is another sign of the fall in Koizumi’s popularity because in an interview-style Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted before the previous lower house election, 55 percent of respondents said they wanted Koizumi to continue as prime minister.

    Those who wanted the LDP to retain power after the dissolution, at 43 percent, surpassed those who preferred the Democratic Party of Japan to take power, at 33 percent.

    Who’s right? As I say, I think the Mainichi is likely to prove closer to the mark, and largely because of a phenomenon (let’s cite all the dailies today, shall we?) that the Asahi notes: Koizumi is great at confounding his opponents, and they suck royally at banding together to push back at him because there’s too much else they disagree on. The talk of a new party–against the entrenched LDP old timers but not as extreme in reformism as Koizumi’s cabinet–hasn’t come to anything. Even if Koizumi doesn’t get, as he wants, new LDP candidates to run against every LDP Representative who voted against Japan Post privatization, he may still have leverage he can use to bring some of the dissenters back into line.

    BTW, Koizumi’s latest gambit is still causing his mentor, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, grief. Whether Koizumi or his more cautious friends are in touch with reality, it’s too early to judge. The next month should make for some lively NHK news broadcasts, though!

    Added on 11 August: The Nikkei‘s poll shows, naturally, yet different results:

    In a rapid nationwide opinion survey conducted by the Nikkei on 9 and 10 August, support for the Koizumi cabinet was at 47%, up 4 points from the previous survey in July. Non-support was 6 points down, to 37% percent. Regarding the non-passage of the Japan Post privatization bill by the upper house, 47% of respondents said they “support Prime Minister Koizumi[‘s position],” outnumbering the 36% who said they “supported the LDP opposition[‘s position].” About the make-up of the administration that results from the upcoming lower house election, 47% of respondents expressed hope that the administration would be led by the LDP in some configuration, with just 31% hoping for leadership from the DPJ.

    Added on 13 August: Japundit has posted in more detail about which cabinet members are proposed to go up against which privatization foes.


    Posted by Sean at 10:54, August 10th, 2005

    Joe e-mailed to ask whether I’d heard about this story from the Lehigh Valley, where I grew up and he has a lot of relatives. I had not. Now that I have, I’m appalled:

    KUTZTOWN, Pennsylvania — They’re being called the Kutztown 13 — a group of high schoolers charged with felonies for bypassing security with school-issued laptops, downloading forbidden internet goodies and using monitoring software to spy on district administrators.

    The students, their families and outraged supporters say authorities are overreacting, punishing the kids not for any heinous behavior — no malicious acts are alleged — but rather because they outsmarted the district’s technology workers.

    In Pennsylvania alone, more than a dozen school districts have reported student misuse of computers to police, and in some cases students have been expelled, according to Jeffrey Tucker, a lawyer for the district.

    The students “fully knew it was wrong and they kept doing it,” Tucker said. “Parents thought we should reward them for being creative. We don’t accept that.”

    A hearing is set for Aug. 24 in Berks County juvenile court, where the 13 have been charged with computer trespass, an offense state law defines as altering computer data, programs or software without permission.

    “Reward them for being creative”? I know that a lot of hard-working school administrators have to deal with parents who are lax disciplinarians and make every excuse imaginable not to find fault with their own little snoogums, but that didn’t ring very true to me. (The felony the kids are charged with, BTW, is computer trespassing.) There’s a website to support the thirteen students who are being charged, and on its comments board, the parents of a few of them have posted. There are a lot of questions raised: information and support to the parents about the laptop program was slack from the beginning, parents were not alerted that the district considered their children’s conduct serious infractions, and the students who have been charged may have been selected because their parents don’t have connections. Of course, none of this is corroborated–I’m only going by what’s posted there.

    Looking for reasons to sympathize with the school district requires major effort, though, because the facts that do appear undisputed make it look like a warren of dumb bunnies:

    The computers were loaded with a filtering program that limited internet access. They also had software that let administrators see what students were viewing on their screens.

    But those barriers proved easily surmountable: The administrative password that allowed students to reconfigure computers and obtain unrestricted internet access was easy to obtain. A shortened version of the school’s street address, the password was taped to the backs of the computers.

    The password got passed around and students began downloading such forbidden programs as the popular iChat instant-messaging tool.

    The students were clearly breaking rules and deserve punishment. It does seem reasonable to expect, though, that administrators help encourage students in the direction of obedience by not making the rules ridiculously easy to break. Of course, if they don’t know how computers work, that may be hard to manage. Maybe sticking to programs that they themselves understand would have helped.

    Nagasaki bombing anniversary

    Posted by Sean at 10:37, August 9th, 2005

    The anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing gets less attention, I think, in the Western media than that of the Hiroshima bombing, which precedes it. The speeches on 9 August tend to contain harsher soundbites, though. Part of that is that the mayor of Nagasaki is outspoken about nuclear disarmament; given that he’s not responsible for defending the nation, he can afford to be. A few months ago, he stated that the US has not made serious efforts toward nuclear disarmament. His sentiments were, as always, echoed by speakers today:

    A representative of the survivors of the bombing, [Ms.] Fumie Sakamoto (74), read the “Peace Pledge,” calling for the abolishment of nuclear weapons: “I have managed to live 60 years since that day; no one else must be allowed to taste this kind of suffering.”

    Prime Minister Koizumi also made the usual bland statements in support of worldwide nuclear disarmament. However, with due respect to Ms. Sakamoto and her fellow survivors’ truly awesome fortitude, it is simply not possible for rich nations not to arm themselves with the best offensive and defensive military technology available.

    Well, I guess it would be possible in the short term, but it would also be foolish. Practically the entirety of world history consists of the building up of material and intellectual riches by imaginative and hard-working peoples, followed by attempts by other peoples to grab those resources by force. Life is strife, unless we want to return to subsistence farming in isolated hamlets. The best way any free country can honor its war dead in deed is to allow its citizens to better their lives without impediment and to protect them, unwaveringly, when when others go after the fruits of their labor.

    Added on 10 August: I saw this a week or so ago and forgot to mention it when posting on 6 August: Romeo Mike likes to take pictures of stupid-lefty political posters and stapled-up handbills around town. Last week, there was one about Hiroshima in the middle of this post.

    I can’t tell whether the pattern on the woman’s obi is supposed to be origami doves of peace or, you know, lotuses of enlightenment or something. I can say that the first time I read the main message of “No more US wars / Abolish all nuclear weapons / Troops home from Iraq now,” I thought, For crying out loud, is that a flippin’ haiku? Please tell me they didn’t…oh, sweet Amaterasu, they couldn’t have…. Luckily, they hadn’t–I was faked out by that five-syllable first line. That was where the relief ended, of course. (You have to read the “What will socialism look like?” one, too, which pushes the time-dishonored line that real socialism would lead to paradise on Earth; the problem is that no one’s done it right yet. And at the risk of cramming too many topics in here, you might want to read RM’s thoughts on the push for same-sex marriage in Australia, which appears to be prey to the same problems as it is in the States: disagreement among advocacy groups about both strategies and goals, contempt for dissenting gays and thoughtful opponents. The sun never sets on lefty stupidity.)

    Added on 11 August: I don’t want to beat this topic to death, but Michael and Daily Pundit have noted the way reports about the bombings land in La-la Land non-reality. Michael questions a Globe and Mail headline, and Bill Quick–well, if you want to know why I never cite The Japan Times here, it’s because I don’t read it. Check this out:

    The U.S. actions arose not from any rage but from cool, calculated thinking. The intent was to deliver a crippling psychological blow to Japan by obliterating two of its important cities. No warning was given to the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before unleashing the nuclear holocaust.

    Before dropping the second bomb, shouldn’t the U.S. have given Japan a reasonable and firm deadline to surrender? In rushing into a second nuclear attack before Japan could grasp the strategic significance of the first bombing, Truman achieved little more than showing that a tested implosion-type bomb worked.

    No warning? A reasonable and firm deadline? You’d think we were talking about that employee in cubicle A7 who never submits his paperwork on time.

    Japan Post privatization voted down

    Posted by Sean at 02:35, August 8th, 2005

    The Japan Post privatization bill has been voted down by the upper house of the Diet; Koizumi pledges to dissolve the lower house and call new elections on 11 September. There were 22 LDP votes against the bill, 4 more than the 18 required for it not to pass. The final total was 108 for, 125 against. It’s the only thing NHK is talking about right now, naturally, but there’s nothing really enlightening being said. The main noise in the House of Councillors’ chamber after the tally was announced sounded like cheering, naturally.

    Given the pressure the party leadership had put on LDP legislators to vote in favor, I’m sure some of those who weren’t cheering were still feeling inward relief. There had not been much effort to get voters behind the bill, and those constituents that did voice opinions–such as, you know, the postal workers’ unions–didn’t support it. Ditto, of course, for the unelected officials in the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which oversee the current semi-governmental Japan Post corporation. Japan Post privatization has been presented in public all along as an example of the rifts in the LDP; it fulfilled that role to the end. The next month or so promises to be interesting.

    Added at 16:00: As Atsushi just remarked to me while NHK’s camera panned the assembled cabinet, the Prime Minister decided against cool biz today (though Heizo Takenaka and another minister or two are tie-less), and man, were they wearing some sour expressions.

    Added at 11:59: Much hot air emitted since this afternoon. Few surprises. Koizumi has vowed that the lower house members who voted against the Japan Post privatization bill will not be supported by the LDP in the upcoming snap election. Otherwise, mostly a reaffirmation of positions by those whose talking heads have appeared for months.

    BTW, it’s worth noting in all the brouhaha that the point to which Japan had progressed before todays set of documents was formulated represented no small feat. The 2001 reorganization of the federal ministries involved the dissolution of the Trust Fund Agency of the Ministry of Finance, to which all Postal Savings deposits had theretofore been required to be routed. Granted, the creation of the Japan Post semi-governmental corporation didn’t solve the spending problems, either on pork-barrel public works projects or on government bonds, but at least it let some light and air into the shadow budget. These things take time.

    Word for the summer: 石綿 (sekimen: “rock” + “cotton” –> “asbestos”)

    Posted by Sean at 22:55, August 7th, 2005

    The asbestos scandal has been expanding so rapidly that it seemed wise to wait to say anything about it–there have been new and disheartening revelations just about daily for the last several weeks. The story actually began, of course, decades ago:

    The Environment Agency, predecessor of the Environment Ministry, failed to measure asbestos fiber particle concentration in the air near asbestos-processing factories between 1979 and 1986, despite fears of health risks to residents, sources said.

    Though the agency conducted research for two years starting in 1977 at 14 factories, it did not conduct measurements until an emergency study was made in 1987, when the use of asbestos in school buildings attracted attention as a health problem.

    The agency introduced regulations on use of asbestos in 1989 by revising the Air Pollution Control Law.

    It was known since the 1960s that many residents near asbestos-processing factories overseas had suffered from health problems.

    The agency’s study team urged in 1980 that research near asbestos-processing factories should be done as soon as possible because residents there had inhaled large concentrations of asbestos.

    This is not like the asbestos hysteria in the States twenty years ago, when schools and other public buildings with contained asbestos were subjected to removal programs that actually risked ejecting it into the air at higher levels. Most of the problems that have been recently discovered in Japan involve either workers who handled asbestos of residents of areas near asbestos-using plants. There has been a shopworker whose mesothelioma has been linked to his work in a shop insulated with blue asbestos, but it was in a confined space that he spent a great deal of time in and often cleaned. To my knowledge, no other similar cases have been publicized, but as I say, there have been so many new announcements over the last month and a half that it would be easy to miss one.

    There have been some concerns raised over asbestos in building materials–the latest involved Pacific Materials, a maker of building materials for public works projects, used asbestos in fire-retardant coverings (including what seems to be spray-on foam insulation) up to 1989. Japan tears down and rebuilds facilities at a much higher rate than the US, and that increased turnover makes it more important to know where each fiber in use is. Walls and ceilings do not sit unmolested for long here.  Additionally, Japan has a track record of playing fast and loose with the use and disposal of hazardous materials. Despite Japan’s image as a safety-conscious society with a tightly-controlled economy, safety regulations are often sketchy and slackly enforced. Nuclear screw-ups are the most well-known problem. Americans who arrive in Tokyo get a window on this attitude at seeing construction sites, which are separated from pedestrian pass-throughs by nothing more than traffic cones and plastic tubes; the walkways are often surfaced with pieces of old plywood. Unless there’s a crane swinging I-beams overhead, it is extremely rare for a sidewalk to be entirely closed off for construction.

    Most of the newly publicized cases of illness involve workers who came into repeated high-risk contact with uncontained fibers. The government has been slow to move on this problem, which has been known for decades; and as so often happens, its laxity is coming back to bite it all at one time. Multiple big-name companies have revealed that employees have been known to die of mesothelioma, the cancer most commonly linked with repeated airborne asbestos exposure (and, indeed, not known to be caused by anything else). The problem has invaded public consciousness to the point that fraudulent contractors are coming, uh, out of the woodwork to offer bogus asbestos containment or removal.

    For those who want a run-down on the vocabulary used in the Japanese coverage of the scandal, this Yomiuri article hits most of them in the process of giving a description of the properties of asbestos. One thing that article doesn’t point out is that the blue and brown fibers are considered more carcinogenic than the white fibers; use of new blue and brown asbestos was outlawed in Japan in 1995, and white asbestos wasn’t banned until last year. Remember, though, that if a manufacturer or contractor can argue convincingly that no alternative material is suitable, use of asbestos is still permitted. The statute of limitations on wrongful death claims is also very short–within five years from the day after the victim’s death. Given that asbestos inhalation has been a problem for decades but was largely unpublicized, the government is looking into extending it. Unsurprisingly, victims’ advocates say the move is too little, too late.

    One of the sad things about this recent spate of revelations is that it doesn’t appear to be the result of the usual collusion and cover-ups. Not that I’m a fan of corruption, but there will always be opportunistic and evil people in the world, and if we can’t always prevent them from gaining power, it’s a good thing when we can discover them and address their wrongs as best we can. Regarding asbestos, the problem appears to have been sheer complacency. The companies involved were doing work to keep the Japan, Inc., machine going at relatively low cost, and no one noticeable was dropping dead right at the moment, so…well, even if studies had repeatedly shown that asbestos is a carcinogen, there were other things to worry about.