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    Posted by Sean at 06:10, September 4th, 2005

    I feel much better after my weekend with Atsushi. I always do, of course, but it was especially good to have him here while watching, say, Céline Dion melt down on Larry King over how New Orleans rescue efforts are going and scold people for getting cross at looters.

    I tell you, I already felt pretty prepared for the next disaster that could hit Tokyo, but after watching this week’s events, I decided the Atsushi-Sean household needed reinforcements in a major way. That now-infamous woman who showed up at the Superdome with a Diet Coke and outstretched hand was…wow. And you don’t even have to bank on people’s being complacent–despite the newness of our building, it’s not inconceivable that part of it could fail and take out a neighbor’s stash of earthquake stuff. I doubt the weird foreigner in Apt. 3## would be the first place people would go for help, but there’s no reason not to overdo the readiness bit.

    So I bought a sterilizing jug that holds 4-ish gallons of in addition to the several bottles of Suntory Natural mineral water I’d been keeping. My old radio had more or less conked out, so I picked up a crank-chargeable one that can also be used to charge a cell phone. I’d never bothered stabilizing the freestanding cabinet in the kitchen; I got a brace for it. An extra candle-in-a-can and an all-in-one kit for Atsushi to take back to Ultima Thule with him, and we were good to go.

    Oh, except that what John’s been saying about carrying around a space blanket and purification tablets piqued me, so I snagged those, too. Actually getting into the sleeping bag would make me feel as if I were dressing as Madge’s Sex book for a costume party, but better to look silly than to be hypothermic.

    Campaigning continues

    Posted by Sean at 00:26, September 3rd, 2005

    Leaders of the major parties showed up on NHK this morning to discuss their platforms for the election on 11 September. Koizumi appeared alone for the LDP, still doing the cool-biz thing. He spoke with conviction as he always does, but I’m not sure that if I didn’t already agree with most of his policies he would have convinced me (not that it matters much, since I’m not a Japanese citizen).

    The two women who appeared to speak for the Social Democratic Party were clearly aiming for the housewife/working woman vote. They played up the number of people with at-will contract and part-time jobs instead of full-time regular positions. (One of their proposals is legislation to guarantee that part-time workers are compensated exactly the same as “comparable” company workers.) They talked about the SDF’s non-combat involvement in Iraq as a dangerous blow to Japan’s vow of non-aggression in the constitution. Their conversation was clearly rehearsed, but sounding artificial is not the sin in Japan it is in America.

    The DPJ was next. Man, has Katsuya Okada slept at all this year? He looked green. He was sunken-cheeked and hollow-eyed. He was accompanied by Ho Ren, who was well-spoken but has a smile that the television camera made look like Mother Bates’s grinning skull at the end of Psycho. From the looks of things, they were representing the Cadaver Party. Even so, it must be admitted that Okada presented the DPJ’s opposition to Japan Post privatization in a way that was pointed and internally coherent. What needs to be done to stop the wasteful use of so much capital that goes through Japan Post is to (1) change the way money is allocated in the government and (2) shrink the amount of household wealth citizens can pour into postal savings accounts and insurance policies. He succeeded in presenting it in a way that made Koizumi sound as if he were obsessed with proving a political point rather than interested in fixing the government. Very shrewd. Too bad he looked as if he’d had to be exhumed for the occasion. The next week will be interesting.

    FWIW, the Nikkei‘s latest web-based poll indicates that 54% of decided voters who responded plan to vote for LDP candidates for single seats. Of course, only 55% of respondents were decided, so WIW may not be much.

    Calming influence

    Posted by Sean at 13:38, September 2nd, 2005

    Atsushi is coming tomorrow–first time in a month, and not a moment too soon. I spent the night of 9/11 quivering with anger and staring at the television while he came in from time to time to make me more tea and sit with me for a bit; he had to get up at 6:30, but I don’t think I was alone for longer than 45 minutes the whole night.

    The hurricane coverage isn’t the same, because it didn’t involve an initial jolt followed by days of looking for answers. If there’s one thing you get used to from living in Japan, it’s seeing the initial reports of minimal damage after an earthquake or typhoon give way to far grimmer discoveries in succeeding days–but of course Japan hasn’t had anything near the broad and deep destruction that was just worked on the Gulf Coast. Poor Atsushi has spent the last few weeks working overtime every business day and going into the office on Saturday and Sunday. I’m going to do my best to provide the two-day respite he deserves, but I’m afraid he’s going to come home tomorrow to a boyfriend who can’t stop bellowing at CNN but can’t stop watching it either.

    I’m also scruffier than usual: my dermatologist told me to grow a beard. Well, she didn’t put it that way, but she told me that some of the treatments I’ve gotten lately would heal better without having a razor dragged over the affected area. I grew out the whole thing for a week. Last night, I was told approvingly by friends that I looked “very hard-gay.” There was unseemly speculation over what color leather goods would best complete the look. But by today I was ready to claw all the skin off my jawline. I’m not fond of goatees, but I have one now as a compromise; it’s my chin I’m not supposed to be abrading, so at least I was able to clean up my itching cheeks. My poor Atsushi may look kind of scuffed up by the time he goes back to Kyushu, though.

    A friend in need

    Posted by Sean at 13:07, September 2nd, 2005

    Japan’s public and private sectors are pledging disaster aid to the US:

    Toyota Motor Corp. led the way with 550 million yen [around US $5 million], and the government pitched in half a million dollars, as Japan rallied to assist victims of the hurricane that ripped through the southern United States.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda announced that Japan will offer up to $500,000 worth of emergency relief: $200,000 for the American Red Cross and the remaining $300,000 for the U.S. government in the form of tents, blankets, generators and other supplies.


    Posted by Sean at 02:59, September 2nd, 2005

    Irma Thomas made it out of New Orleans–great news. (Thanks, Dean.) No, celebrities are of no greater intrinsic worth than any other human beings, but Thomas is beloved by many in her city (and plenty elsewhere). If she’s able to perform over the next few weeks, it ought to be good for morale.


    Posted by Sean at 01:15, September 2nd, 2005

    Yes, and yes (also via Michael). And while we’re at it, Dean’s new contributor Aziz Poonawalla has this to say. And Eric is worried about whether all the finger-pointing going on is creating a serious emotional rift in America–spooky for me to read because I’m over here and have no way to gauge what he’s talking about.

    We don’t control nature, people. There’s a lot we can do that we couldn’t do even a century ago, but natural disasters are still disastrous. Even relatively routine storms can stop air and rail transport or cause flooding that traps people. This was a huge storm in an especially vulnerable area. It’s beginning to seem that the local governments involved could, indeed, have prepared better, but let’s not kid ourselves. To hear some people talk, there should have been a way for the Big, Benevolent Government to make Hurricane Katrina little more inconvenient than a fire drill at the office.

    Please. Even if every single soul in New Orleans, Biloxi, and Mobile had evacuated and were now safe and sound, there would still be sunken oil platforms, inoperative ports, and thousands of non-existent houses and livelihoods to contend with now. As it is, many people decided to stay and take their chances, and some didn’t have the means to evacuate. The area is large and full of hazards. Law enforcement, search-and-rescue teams, and medical personnel are going to be receiving a steady stream of conflicting information and competing emergencies. They’ll be making snap decisions that don’t always put them on the better side of public relations when CNN shoves a microphone in the face of someone who ended up getting the short end of the stick. This is heartbreaking, but it’s not really avoidable.

    Despite our wondrous transport and information network, there are people still alive now who will not be saved. We’re in the best position out of all the peoples in history to deal with this sort of situation even so. The global warming crowd is braying about fossil fuel use, but that’s what powers the helicopters and buses and trucks that are many people’s only hope for getting out of the afflicted areas in one piece. Or getting clean water (in plastic bottles) and non-perishable (processed) food. Now that nature has finished her spree, all those in charge can do is, essentially, muddle through as best they can. That’s no one’s fault.

    Added on 3 September: Connie has a few choice words for people who think they can rely absolutely on the government to save them from harm. Yes, protecting its citizens is a primary government responsibility. But one of the ways natural disasters tend to cause devastation is by incapacitating and isolating people; responsible individuals have to recognize that they may be on their own for several days and prepare accordingly.

    Get ready

    Posted by Sean at 01:12, September 1st, 2005

    This morning’s Nikkei editorials were about earthquake preparedness. Hurricane Katrina isn’t mentioned, but having the current situation in Louisiana and Mississippi in mind while reading certainly adds heft to the warnings for Japan. The writers begin by noting that 20 percent of the world’s earthquakes of Magnitude 6 or above are concentrated in the Japanese Archipelago and that, since the technology to predict earthquakes effectively doesn’t yet exist, preparation to deal with a quake immediately after it happens is our only recourse:

    The Tokyo Metropolitan District, which is supposed to be the leader in measures such as reinforcing structures against earthquakes and developing hazard maps [that predict where the greatest damage is likely to be], made major slip-ups in handling information. Serious problems for urban disaster prevention–people’s being trapped in elevators, the phenomenon in which resonance occurs between super-skyscrapers and low-frequency vibrations, and the vast numbers of people who are stranded away from their residences–have been cropping up continually.

    Looking at the situation nationwide, there are still 20,000,000 houses that are insufficiently earthquake-proofed; in areas along the ocean to the southeast and east, not even 1% of municipalities have warning and shelter systems to deal with the tsunami that an off-shore earthquake could very well cause.

    In the event of a temblor with its epicenter at the plate boundary just off the mainland, there would be something of a time lapse between the vertical P waves, which would be transmitted immediately, and the S waves from the original quake, which would follow. In the August Miyagi Prefecture quake, the gap was 14 seconds in Sendai. We should use this gap, developing as fully as possible “real-time disaster prevention,” which would allow people to seek shelter rapidly and implement safety measures on rail and gas lines.

    There are many tasks for the public sphere, including retrofitting schools and hospitals; however, in the event of an earthquake, most individuals’ fates will be determined by whether they prepared by getting their houses inspected and reinforced and by securing their furniture.

    As we’re seeing now in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, staying alive through the initial catastrophic event can be just the beginning of the battle. Tokyo’s doomsday scenario would probably be a quake at 8:30 or so on a weekday morning; during extreme weather conditions (February, early August, or right before a typhoon); and with a tsunami, which might not be kind to the parts of central Tokyo that are below sea level or built on infill. There are also, IIRC, fewer streets wide enough to serve as firebreaks than is considered advisable. Like New Orleans, Tokyo is also a port. Unlike New Orleans, it’s the economic center of the country; a few days of shutdown would affect a lot more nationwide than gas prices. If we’re fantastically fortunate, the next big Kanto earthquake won’t hit until at least rudimentary forms of prediction are available to help people brace themselves. The probability of that isn’t high, though. It’s encouraging that the defects in planning are being publicized (the elevator problem was all over the news after the Chiba earthquake last month), which is the first step on the way to addressing them.

    Added on 3 September: It was actually the Chiba earthquake right at the end of July that left people in the area trapped in elevators and highlighted that problem. I’ve fixed it above. Lots of earthquakes lately; not easy to keep them all straight.

    Oh, the pain of lovin’ you / Oh, the mis’ry I go through

    Posted by Sean at 05:24, August 31st, 2005

    There’s a search string pattern you straight people with blogs probably never get to see. It’s kind of a pity, because it can be a real trip.

    What you need to do is (1) mention gay stuff on your site a lot, and (2) mention a man who’s in the public eye lately and doesn’t need a paper bag over his head once. Then wait, oh, say 12 hours. At that point, you will be inundated with people searching for “[name]+gay” or “[name]+homosexual” or “[name]+queer+please+god+please.” Several months ago, I brought up the then-future Mr. Renée Zellweger in passing, and for weeks–no kidding, weeks–afterward, I was beset by Googlers and raving Yahoos with Enquiring Minds.

    The latest object of Googlelust is this guy, and I’m sorry to say to the few dozen people who are wondering that I have no idea which way he swings (or, since his hobby is chasing tornadoes, “blows”…oh, maybe not such a great metaphor, given the question…let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and make it “swings”). One lone, novel searcher asked whether he was married; I don’t know that, either. His bio indicates that he spent four years at Cornell thinking about the weather without offing himself, which is pretty impressive. Otherwise, all I know is that he needs to de-pouf the hair and eat a few Big Macs, but you can see that without my help.


    Posted by Sean at 01:30, August 31st, 2005

    LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda has offered Japan’s best wishes to the states damaged by Hurricane Katrina and says that the government will investigate ways to help out.

    Japan has a typhoon season, too, and Number 13, one of the first big ones of the year, is heading toward Okinawa. As always, no one can predict where the storm may veer off to as it changes course. If it keeps along the same path, it could dump 200 millimeters of rain on some islands in the area within 24 hours.

    If this year is like last year, which we all hope it’s not, this is just the beginning. One small thing to be thankful for (besides the fact that Atsushi’s in a big population center with good building codes) is the way the news media here cover disasters. Well, that and the way people react to them–you don’t catch Japanese people bellyaching that a storm was “overhyped” when all hell fails to break loose and deaths and damage are minimized.

    Additionally, for all their flaws in other respects, NHK and the rest know how to cover the aftermath of a disaster without making themselves the center of it. Yesterday, I was watching the ever-repellant Aaron Brown interview Jeanne Meserve on CNN. Meserve had covered the storm from a parking garage above the Superdome and was relating how some of her camera and tech guys had gone along on search-and-rescue boats after the rains stopped. Though her voice sometimes broke as she described some of the things they’d seen, she was clearly steeling herself to give the facts to the extent that she knew them. Her self-discipline and reserve made what she was reporting that much more moving.

    Then Brown had to go and spoil it by doing this oily routine: “You know, people often say that journalists are thrill-seekers, but you can tell by how Jeanne here is practically on the verge of sobbing that that’s not the case. See? She’s about to cry. Journalists are compassionate people. Get it? Oh, and Jeanne and I have known each other for years–why, I just called her ‘Jeannie.’ That’s a diminutive. It means we’re buddies. We’re part of the same selfless humanitarian club, don’t you know.” To her credit, Meserve responded, “Well, sometimes we are thrill-seekers,” and seemed to be trying to remind Brown tactfully that whatever stout-heartedness she was displaying might not be the real story. I don’t know whether she was able to penetrate his force field of smugness, because I had to change the channel at that point.

    Michele has had an idea that’s uplifting rather than just smug: she’s now collecting encouraging stories from the aftermath of the hurricane. No civilization can outwit Mother Nature all the time, and Katrina did plenty of horrifying things that we’re going to be finding out over the next several weeks; but the ability of our society to deal with catastrophic blows in such a way as to address and minimize damage is really inspiring.

    Lady Luck and four-leaf clovers

    Posted by Sean at 09:05, August 30th, 2005

    I don’t want to sound like your kindergarten teacher, but for those who are Americans living in Tokyo, Hurricane Katrina’s doings over the last few days served, I hope, as a reminder that you need to have your earthquake kit ready. If the big one comes, the police and fire departments will have their hands full rescuing the elderly and infirm; it would be nice not to pile the able-bodied and unprepared onto their workload. The US Embassy earthquake preparedness guide/checklist is always a good reference.

    If you read Japanese, Hitachi will also have a helpful feature on its site up the day after tomorrow:

    Residents later this week can find out what their homes would look like after a major earthquake by using a Web site that pinpoints danger spots in the event of a temblor.

    The system, developed by a group led by Shigeyuki Okada, a professor at Nagoya Institute of Technology and an expert in earthquake disaster management, is designed to give residents ideas about preventive measures, such as rearranging furniture, against temblor-induced damage.

    The service will be free.

    Residents will simply enter such information as floor plans and sleeping areas, and the program will highlight the danger areas.

    The system was tailored for ordinary use by Hitachi East Japan Solutions, a Sendai-based software engineering company.

    The start of consultations on Hitachi East’s Web site is scheduled for Sept. 1, the anniversary of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. Earthquake-related drills around the country and reminders about disaster preparedness are expected on that day.

    The site will allow you to configure a model of your house based on room layout, furniture placement, and ages of household members. Feed them in, and the site will give you the most obviously vulnerable points in the house. Sounds pretty cool.