• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Earthquake developments

    Posted by Sean at 12:18, October 23rd, 2004

    Sixteen people are confirmed dead in last night’s earthquakes, and more damage has been reported: a collapsed tunnel, what sounds like an entire buried village. (In Japan, news footage of mudslides is relatively common, BTW.)

    Added at 18:03: As you can imagine, NHK is all earthquake, all the time, today. A few things I should probably clarify: I’ve been saying this wasn’t a “major” catastrophe. The terms in which I’m speaking are other quakes of 6.8-ish magnitude we might use as a point of reference: The Bam quake in Iran that flattened a city and killed 30000 last December, for example. You might count the Kobe quake (6.9 MJ) itself, for that matter. It killed 6500 people, caused upper floors of the city hall to pancake, and took out sections of the bullet train and expressway that link Tokyo with the south. By comparison, 21 dead, 1500 seeking treatment, and some buckled roads and crumbled concrete are tragic but manageable. (I’m not making light of the loss of houses and other property, but if you’re going to suffer from an earthquake, it’s better to have to rebuild your house than to die when it crashes on your head.) It’s also fortunate that there weren’t more fires; the first quake hit at 6 o’clock, when a lot of people probably had gas flames going preparing dinner.

    The Mainichi is reporting that last night’s quake actually had higher “acceleration” than the Kobe quake. This is apparently different from 震度 (shindo, the ground-level movement measured by the JMA scale) and magnitude (measured by the Richter scale). Something to do with how furious the vibrations are. Note that Niigata was still getting aftershocks into this afternoon. They may still be, though NHK hasn’t said. Some of the aftershocks were weak 5’s on the JMA scale, which was surely intense enough to scare the blazes out of people who’d just gone through three strong 6’s in succession.

    I thought men like you were called fruit.

    Posted by Sean at 22:25, October 22nd, 2004

    Susanna Cornett posted about Gay Patriot’s allegation that the Log Cabin Republicans’ political director, Chris Barron, may be a Democratic plant.* Well, that he was an Edwards supporter who may not have been working sincerely to further Republican goals for gays. Things are looking as if this story may check out, and if it does, bully for GayPatriot for pursuing it.

    * I have to say that I don’t entirely share Susanna’s confidence that GayPatriot doesn’t engage in unsubstantiated partisan attacks. He links to a faxed version of a web page and seems to assume his readers will just take it at face value, when any of the bloggers I’m used to reading and trusting would have looked for the Google cache, which isn’t difficult to find (the page I found dates to February, not to August 9, but GayPatriot seems to be saying that the page he was faxed came up in an August 9 search–in any case, “Edwards for President” was a meaningless concept by then), and posted it. I also haven’t seen any confirmation that the assumptions underlying his “Someone threw a bottle at my car–obviously a disgruntled Kerry campaign worker!” post were borne out–and how the hell does one manage to be “straight-acting” while driving, anyway? I don’t have a problem with his running an anonymous website, but he doesn’t seem to understand that that makes it more, not less, important for him to give as much objective evidence for his contentions as possible. (Well, unless he just wants to reach those who already agree with him, and it doesn’t look that way.)

    We’re all gonna die! [unnumbered]

    Posted by Sean at 18:34, October 22nd, 2004

    Something I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned, but that many of you may have encountered in the course of reading about Japan, is that the Japanese don’t use the Richter scale when describing the intensity of an earthquake. They do use it to measure it for geological purposes (as in, to record how much energy was released), but for the purposes of broadcasting how strong it was, they use a system developed by the Japan Meteorological Agency. The scale is interesting because it’s calibrated by what most of us really want to know: How was it experienced by people?

    7 – In most buildings, wall tiles and windowpanes are damaged and fall. In some cases, reinforced concrete-block walls collapse.

    6 upper – In many buildings, wall tiles and windowpanes are damaged and fall. Most unreinforced concrete-block walls collapse. 315 — 400 gal

    6 lower – In some buildings, wall tiles and windowpanes are damaged and fall. 250 — 315 gal

    5 upper – In many cases, unreinforced concrete-block walls collapse and tombstones overturn. Many automobiles stop due to difficulty in driving. Occasionally, poorly installed vending machines fall. 140 — 250 gal

    5 lower – Most people try to escape from danger, some finding it difficult to move. 80 — 140 gal

    4 – Many people are frightened. Some people try to escape from danger. Most sleeping people awake. 25 — 80 gal

    3 – Felt by most people in the building. Some people are frightened. 8 — 25 gal

    2 – Felt by many people in the building. Some sleeping people awake. 2.5 — 8 gal

    1 – Felt by only some people in the building. 0.8 — 2.5 gal

    0 – Imperceptible to people. Less than 0.8 gal

    They use a pendulum to measure how much the ground moves at locations around the country. (At least, they used to–it’s entirely possible they have electronic sensors now.) As you can see, the quake in Niigata a few minutes ago, being a strong 6, may have caused considerable damage. NHK still, of course, doesn’t have much word. I’m not sure whether building codes there are similar to those in Tokyo. One of the problems in Kobe during the Great Hanshin Earthquake ten years ago was that, in Japanese terms, that region is not a major earthquake zone, so most buildings weren’t built quake-proof and older buildings were not retro-fitted. They’re reporting an explosion at a gas station and 3 cars buried under a cliffslide (I’m only half-hearing–it doesn’t sound as if anything major collapsed or anyone was killed).

    Another shake at the NHK studio in Niigata. It started 30 seconds ago, and now we’re feeling it. Big-time. Whew. This one’s at least as big as the one a half-hour ago. The newscaster’s telling people to open a door or window (that way if the frame’s distorted you can still get out if there’s a fire), so they may be expecting more aftershocks. Okay, it was a weak 6 in Niigata, and another 3 or 4 here. It’s in rural areas that the biggest worry of falling roof tiles and collapsing wooden buildings exists; it’s a good sign that they’re not reporting much damage from areas outside Niigata cities, but it’s too soon to say for sure.

    18:45: And now they’re correcting that one to another strong 6.

    18:55: Or wait, they’re saying it was a weak 5. That one was spooky for me because you could see the newsroom in Niigata start to shake, and then we felt it half a minute later. It’s interesting to note that, while everyone’s afraid of another big quake here in Tokyo, the major ones we’ve had over the last ten years have all been in other regions: Kobe, of course, but also Sendai and Hokkaido (always a hotspot, I think).

    Looks as if there was a train derailment and there were a few people injured in falls, but fortunately nothing major. BTW, there was another one in the middle there at 18:15 that I didn’t get around to mentioning. The Nikkei has its first report up and says that the magnitudes (this is different from the JMA scale–“magnitude” still isn’t the Richter scale in Japan, but it’s more comparable) were 6.8, 5.9, and 6.3.

    23:09: Three deaths have been reported, and inevitably there were some houses that collapsed. Something else Reuters mentions, which I’d wondered about, is that in places where the ground is already soaked and destabilized from this year’s barrage of typhoons, even low-intensity shaking could be enough to cause more mudslides. That doesn’t apply to Niigata, I don’t think. But since the center of the quake was pretty close to the geographical center of mainland Japan, it could apply to some of the prefectures in southern Honshu.

    We’re all gonna die! II

    Posted by Sean at 18:09, October 22nd, 2004

    The ongoing mad cow disease flap has meant that Japan is still not importing US beef. There’s talk (again) of negotiations to end the ban, but Japan had been demanding until recently that every [Another quake! This one’s milder, but I hope no one’s getting it big-time somewhere else…Where’s that remote?…Looks like there’s no worry of tsunamis, but the one a few minutes ago was over 6 on the Japanese scale at its center in Niigata. We felt it at 3 or 4 in the Tokyo area, according to the NHK map.] head of cattle be tested. Having been persuaded that the risk can still be minimized with random testing of fewer than 100% (the article doesn’t say how many fewer), Japan may be in more of a mood to negotiate.

    We’re all gonna die! I

    Posted by Sean at 17:55, October 22nd, 2004

    Enough potassium cyanide to kill 1000 people has been stolen from a professor at Kyoto University:

    Officials of the graduate school’s pharmaceutical school said that one of its professors had found a 20-year-old bottle of potassium cyanide labeled KCN, the chemical symbol, while sifting through old chemicals on a shelf Wednesday night.

    The professor kept the lethal chemical in a locked box to distinguish it from others he planned to dispose of.

    On Thursday, the 62-year-old professor asked an assistant researcher to check the box that had been left in the corridor.

    Not having taken chemistry for a good long time, I don’t know whether potassium cyanide degrades after 20 years, but I’m assuming a university would know how to store it properly to preserve it–and in any case, the professor, who’s in a position to know, sure seems worried. [Ooh, earthquake, one of those swaying ones…getting bigger…Whoa! Not intense, but not dissipating, either, and it’s been 30 seconds or so.]

    A promise

    Posted by Sean at 11:33, October 21st, 2004

    Someday, I will write an entire post that doesn’t contain a single parenthetical.

    You see if I don’t.

    Powell comes to Japan to discuss troop redeployments

    Posted by Sean at 10:38, October 21st, 2004

    Colin Powell is coming to Japan tomorrow to talk about the restructuring of US troop deployments in Japan. It looks as if the plan will be engineered through a three-step process of negotiating: First the US and Japan need to arrive at a level of “strategic mutual agreement*” to serve as a basis for furthering their shared security interests, then the concrete plan for reorganization needs to be hammered out between them. (Apparently, the order of these two steps was originally supposed to be reversed–that is, it would be decided how many soldiers would be retained in Japan, and then the two governments would talk about how best to allocate them to various needs.) And then…well, they’ll actually implement it.

    Of course, if it were that easy, diplomats and negotiators would not have a reputation for liking a drink or six, and in this case, probably the biggest potential sticking point is this:

    The objective is to finalize a restructuring proposal, predicated on the willingness of local authorities in Japan, by the end of May 2005.

    The US military is not popular in many base towns, especially those in Okinawa. This article covers the most recent arrest for sexual assault (this time by a civilian base worker who allegedly broke into the victim’s house). There was a 12-year-old girl assaulted and murdered by three servicemen in 1995. These incidents have outraged Okinawans, who tend to feel–not without foundation–that mainland Japan has been only too happy to shove as much US miltary presence as possible off on its poor southern cousins. Unmentioned, oddly, was the relatively recent notorious 2002 conviction of a USAF staff sergeant for the rape of an Okinawan woman outside a nightclub in 2001. (The Time article was written before the conviction, but I linked it because its discussion of the tension between servicemen and locals was relatively well worked-out and even-handed.)

    I’m not trying to slam the armed forces here. How to handle thousands of guys living pent up lives away from their wives and girlfriends was a problem for military leaders long before the US was a superpower. And there’s probably no way to maintain the security of, say, a crashed military helicopter without miffing the local police who come to the scene.

    At the same time, making an effort not to give locals the impression that they’re being treated with curt, secretive occupying-army superiority is not just the nice and ethical thing to do, it becomes important when negotiations of the sort that are to surround the planned restructuring take place. It’s unclear how much movement there will be of personnel to other parts of Japan from Okinawa–there’s been talk for a while of closing certain intallations there, anyway–but it’s likely that it will relieve many Okinawans and rattle many Japanese in the new location.

    * I know “mutual agreement” is redundant. “Agreement” alone wouldn’t have had the connotation of back-and-forth negotiation that’s implied by the Nikkei article, so I decided to compromise. Translation, like mutual defense agreements, is full of compromises.

    Talk to me / Like lovers do

    Posted by Sean at 23:27, October 19th, 2004

    Okay, you know, I’m a big fan of rain, but enough is enough. This is number 23, for those who are keeping count. There are already 28 dead or missing; it’s supposed to pass us here in Tokyo some time before sunrise. Here’s hoping there are no further casualties.

    Added at 23:54: And now that I pay attention, things are awfully quiet out there. Maybe the worst is past already? From what the news says, Utsunomiya is still getting rain. Doesn’t even look all that windy, though.

    Added on 21 October: This CNN article has the number of dead at 30 and the number of missing at 40; the Nikkei has the numbers at 46 and 42, respectively. As usual, most of the casualties were in Western Japan, where the jagged landscape makes landslides and the flooding of valleys an ever-present danger. And then there are the high waves and flying objects from the wind to factor in. Atsushi’s fine; his city didn’t get hit this time, but in addition to the 88 dead and missing, there were 300 injured, and no one’s begun to count the property damage and agricultural losses. They’re bound to be high, especially in places such as Ehime Prefecture, which has taken it on the chin more than once this season.

    This typhoon and the one that came through Tokyo a few weeks ago have not only been unusually strong, they’ve also been lastingly unpleasant: Neither was followed by the usual clear weather you get after a typhoon. “Probably because there’s another one in line,” everyone jokes. But we can still joke because Tokyo hasn’t had much damage or injury.

    Added on 22 October: It feels a bit unseemly to keep posting updated casualty counts, as if one were keeping score at a baseball game, but since Simon World kindly linked this post, those who are interested in what we can only hope is the final word can go to the English Asahi : 65 dead and 21 missing. That’s the worst for any single storm since 1979. And as the article points out, a lot of the soil was saturated practically to liquefaction by previous storms, so landslides were even worse this time than they have been before this year. It reminds you how fragile our infrastructure is when nature decides to play rough…though on the other hand, feats such as the rescue of a bunch of bus passengers, who sat on top of their vehicle as the water rose, remind you how fortunate we are to live in a world with such resilient systems to respond to disasters. The sun is out in Tokyo today, at least, so let’s hope there will be some respite before anyone gets hammered again. It’s not yet the end of typhoon season.

    Ups and downs in Japanese technology

    Posted by Sean at 14:36, October 17th, 2004

    For anyone who’s been sleeping too soundly, here are two reports from the Asahi that I didn’t get around to mentioning. One relates that, while Japan is pouring money into its spy satellite network, it is still overwhelmingly dependent on information actually picked up by US satellites:

    It was only after North Korea lobbed a Taepodong missile over the Japanese archipelago in August 1998 that the government decided to step up monitoring of the reclusive state via satellite.

    Almost five years and billions of yen later, Japan launched its own reconnaissance satellites–one optical and one radar–in March 2003.

    Two more were planned to go up last November but remain grounded after the H2A rocket No. 6, which was to carry the satellites, failed to launch.

    In the past 18 months, a whopping 250 billion yen has been spent on the project. To top that off, annual running costs are in the range of 20 billion yen. In August, the government announced that another optical satellite will be launched next fiscal year. A second radar satellite is slated for fiscal 2006.

    As always, my point is not that Japan’s image as technologically advanced is a lie. It’s that Japan, like every other country, is better at some things than at others. And at the moment, rockets are not its strong suit. (Last November is not the first time one has failed to launch or had to be shot down.) As someone who loves both America and Japan, I’m glad as always that we’re helping each other out.

    Of course, America is not the only country Japan trades with, and investigators are now trying figure out exactly how measuring instruments (which can be used to make aluminum tubes–we all remember from Colin Powell why those matter, right?) shipped to Malaysia ended up in a Libyan nuclear facility:

    Seemingly innocuous but high-tech precision instruments that found their way to a nuclear facility in Libya were rerouted after being shipped directly from a manufacturer in Japan to a company in Malaysia, sources said.

    The devices included precision instruments for three-dimensional measurements, which can be used to develop nuclear weapons.

    Asked for comment, a senior official with the Kanagawa company said it “was beyond imagination” that the equipment ended up in Libya.

    A spokesman for the Scomi group, parent company of SCOPE, said it had no idea how the instruments were resold for onward export. It strenuously denied having links to the nuclear black market.

    There doesn’t seem to be any indication that the Japanese company knew its instruments were going to be routed illegally to Libya, which is good, of course.


    Posted by Sean at 13:38, October 17th, 2004

    Just mailed in my absentee ballot. Nobody here but us chickens.

    Added on 18 October: Per Janis Gore’s instructions, I decided to celebrate my ballot-casting by being an unpredictably shameless vodka martini-drinking homosexual Democrat.

    Well, okay. Those weren’t her instructions, exactly. I improvised. But I’m happy (if not entirely a Democrat). About the vote and the martinis.

    And BTW, I’m not the first gay guy named Sean Ki— to vote by absentee ballot. The “secret ballot” thing worries me a bit, though. I mean, the instructions from the Lehigh County Board of Elections did say you couldn’t talk to anyone about the process, but people don’t get in trouble for participating in exit polls, do they? I haven’t been particularly secretive about whom I was likely to vote for, at least in the presidential and senate races. I’m willing to start cultivating an air of teasing mystery around the whole thing if necessary, though.