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    Mystery meat

    Posted by Sean at 07:35, June 26th, 2007

    One of the Nikkei editorials today is about the latest food processing scandal: fraudulent labels on meat. Helpful background can be gleaned from the Asahi English edition:

    Meat Hope Co. routinely committed 13 types of misconduct over 24 years, including mislabeling its products, falsifying use-by dates and mixing intestines into ground meat, the farm ministry said.

    The scandal-ridden meat processor based in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, dismissed all of its employees Tuesday in a sign that the company will soon fold. Meat Hope’s production line was halted last Wednesday, when the company admitted to mixing pork into “100-percent” beef products over seven to eight years.

    But the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries found during an on-site inspection that Meat Hope’s misconduct was much more extensive and went further back.

    The ministry determined that Meat Hope’s wrongdoings had been willfully conducted on a systematic basis on the orders of President Minoru Tanaka and other executives.

    Falsifying use-by dates was another common tactic, according to the ministry.

    On a day-to-day basis, the company falsified the use-by date for products by moving forward their processing date by one day.

    The use-by date shenanigans are a big, big deal in Japan, where many favored dishes use half-raw meat. What the Nikkei understandably wants to know is…

    Why was this misconduct not detected earlier? In February of last year, information that would have [constituted] a charge of misconduct was said to have been gathered, but cooperative action was not taken by agriculture ministry officials and the Hokkaido prefectural government. Without a rapid response, measures to protect (internal) whistleblowers cannot be instituted in order to aid in stopping legal infractions.

    At least one other food processor that was a client of Meat Hope’s has been implicated in the manipulation of sell-by dates, too.  Somewhat more comically for those of us who grew up with frugal meatloaf-making mothers, Meat Hope is also alleged to have stretched its ground beef by adding bread.


    Posted by Sean at 07:16, June 26th, 2007

    I wish this were surprising.

    On 26 June, it was learned from a source connected with the organization that Unimat Realty (Minato Ward, Tokyo), developer for the Shiespa women’s hot spring spa in Shibuya Ward, had received instructions from an inspection firm that had assessed the density of natural gases to the effect of “There exists the possibility that an explosion of methane gas could cause a major disaster” before the facility opened for business.

    I’ll have to ask an architect friend whether “developer” is the best word to use for 建築主, but that appears to be the role under discussion. The Unimat Group is conducting internal investigations, and the police are running their own inquiries, too.

    Hazardous occupations

    Posted by Sean at 11:03, June 25th, 2007

    I called home on Father’s Day only to be told that my father was already at work on night shift. Called again Thursday; no one picked up, so I left a message. Tonight, finally, he was home.

    While we were talking, he mentioned that one of the furnaces at the plant was down because of an explosion. He described all this in his usual unflappable-Dad tone, as if it were the most unremarkable thing in the world, but this is what actually happened. Damn:

    A boiler explosion at an industrial plant in Chester County is under investigation. Three workers were seriously burned in the Saturday night explosion and family members tell CBS 3 one of the victims has died.

    “We knew the dangers and I had just talked to him on Thursday and he said ‘I’m fine,'” injured victim’s mother Janice Solen said.

    The Solens’ fears about their son’s work at the Mittal Steel Company, located at the old Lukens Steel Complex in Coatesville, became a reality. He received second and third degree burns to 30 percent of his body as well as other injures when a huge furnace at the plant exploded. The explosion was so loud that residents nearby said their homes shook.

    “We thank God he’s alive and it may take a long time but he’ll make it,” Solen said.

    According to my father, the worker who died was helped out of the building while still conscious, but his lungs had been scalded by super-heated steam. Both the injured guys have extensive second- and third-degree burns, which fortunately for them and their families are no longer a certain death sentence. Best to them.

    Facts are lazy and facts are late

    Posted by Sean at 00:51, June 22nd, 2007

    Steve Miller at IGF posts about a conservative answer to Wikipedia called (natch) Conservapedia, started by one of Phyllis Schlafly’s sons. The entries on topics such as evolution and homosexuality have some critics up in arms, and Andy Schlafly’s own comments give reason for concern. The following paragraph almost gave me a heart attack:

    “We have certain principles that we adhere to, and we are up-front about them,” Schlafly writes in his mission statement. “Beyond that we welcome the facts.”

    I liked this gem, too:

    But consider the entry on Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton (b. 1947). She “may suffer from a psychological condition that would raise questions about her fitness for office” — namely, “clinical narcissism,” Conservapedia asserts. Evidence of her instability includes her “ever-changing opinion of the Iraq war.” Though Schlafly demands that entries be rigorously footnoted, these sentences are not.

    Schlafly calls the armchair psychology “borderline in acceptability” for his site, but he defends the Clinton article on balance as “an objective, bias-free piece from a conservative perspective.”

    Beyond that we welcome the facts? Good grief. My understanding, both from my own super-conservative Christian upbringing and from commentators, was always that the faithful regarded some beliefs as not susceptible to empirical testing by science–not that certain principles were to be declared off limits to inquiry, with observable reality a secondary consideration. Yes, I’m talking about just one sentence, but Schlafly is a grown-up from a very media-savvy family. I have no doubt that he knows how to choose his words.

    As far as the entry on Clinton goes, it certainly sounds more fun to read than what you’re likely to see on Wikipedia, but I thought conservatives were against the practice of repairing to “psychological conditions” as an explanation for venal behavior? Is it proposed that we start accusing all waffling politicians of being mentally unstable?

    Whatever. No proprietors of websites are obligated to champion the disinterested pursuit of truth, though a little more self-awareness might be seemly for those who don’t. Predictably, there are some gays who are up in arms over Conservapedia’s entries about sexuality, and their solution is to infiltrate the place:

    In recent months, Conservapedia’s articles have been hit frequently by interlopers from RationalWiki and elsewhere. The vandals have inserted errors, pornographic photos and satire… The vandalism aims “to cause people to say, ‘That Conservapedia is just wacko,'” said Brian Macdonald, 45, a Navy veteran in Murfreesboro, Tenn., who puts in several hours a day on the site fending off malicious editing.

    Miller’s take is the right one:

    The cost of living in a free society is to suffer being offended—without trying to silence those you find offensive (another example: campus “progressives” who steal conservative student newspapers from their distribution sites and destroy them). Conservatives have a right to their media; and the answer to arguments we find appalling is to criticize them. After all, it’s not as if gay-supportive information isn’t also easily available online.

    One thing he doesn’t mention is how stupid the RationalWiki people are being in tactical terms. I happen to think the jabber about a “war on Christianity” is overheated and, in many cases, disingenuous. Nevertheless, a lot of well-meaning, ordinary Americans have a sense that anyone who agitates for “gay rights” is trying to impinge on their ability to practice their religion and rear their children as they see fit. Gay advocacy has a few decades of ACT-UP-style demonstrations and public shenanigans at pride parades to counteract, and new rounds of guerrila warfare are hardly helpful.

    Added on 24 June: Thanks to Andrea Harris for the link. She appears to believe it’s wrong for men to think conservative commentators get a bad rap because the women among them are so shrewish. Fortunately, Andrea, is that Conservapedia is here to set you straight!

    Femininity builds a woman’s esteem by enhancing her own interpersonal relationships rather than building confidence through the task-orientation of masculinity. Traditionally feminine traits include being emotional, demure, affectionate, sympathetic, sensitive, soft-spoken, warm, tender, childlike, gentle, pretty, willowy, submissive, understanding and compassionate.

    Clearly, Ann Coulter’s problem is she’s not willowy enough.

    Spa explosion

    Posted by Sean at 06:22, June 21st, 2007

    Yes, to those who’ve asked, the spa that exploded Tuesday was in my area of Tokyo. That is, it wasn’t in my neighborhood, but it was in Shibuya Ward (not far from my old apartment, actually). The spa draws in water from natural underground hot springs and also has the usual array of massage and relaxation therapies. It’s a women-only place, and three people killed in the methane explosion–lots of hot springs give off methane and other noxious gases–were all women employees.

    Predictably, the game of Responsibility Hot Potato has begun:

    Top officials of Unimat Beauty and Spa Inc., the company that manages Shiespa, denied responsibility for the explosion at a press conference held Tuesday night. “We charge an external company with safety management. The company has the relevant qualifications,” company President Harumi Miyata said.

    Shiespa’s manager Yumiko Kimura stressed the firm’s maintenance was not defective. “We never conceived that the facility would explode,” said Kimura.

    Hitachi Building Systems Co. in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, maintains the facility’s water-related areas. A company spokesman said: “We’re not in charge of checking the equipment that separates the gas from the spring water, or the pump that brings the water up. Even if methane gas was the reason for the explosion, our operation has no connection [with the accident].”

    Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, Katsuo Sangu, president of Sangu Co., which conducts several maintenance checkup procedures at the facility, stressed their operations were unconnected to the explosion. “Our contract doesn’t include checking the density of methane gas,” he said.

    A spokesman of Taisei Corp., which designed and constructed the facility, said, “We can’t answer questions about responsibility because we haven’t yet collected enough information.”

    Part of the problem is a lack of legal oversight:

    Prefectural governments have almost no regulations in place to prevent gas explosions at hot springs or spas.

    The popularity of spa facilities that combine hot springs and saunas with relaxation rooms and beauty salons has soared in recent years. However, drilled hot-spring sources at these facilities bring the risk of explosions and fires caused by natural gases, such as methane.

    It’s looking like a real possibility that everyone followed the rules but that there just weren’t any rules governing ventilation and monitoring of methane. At the same time, however much faith it had in the firms it contracted maintenance work out to, the management company is ultimately responsible for the safety and comfort of its clients. It doesn’t speak well of the Unimat officials quoted that they’re so eager to avoid responsibility.

    Suicide law

    Posted by Sean at 05:42, June 21st, 2007

    The Asahi‘s editors approve of the new government anti-suicide laws (English version here):

    Until now, it was common to dismiss suicide as a “problem for the individual.” By contrast, the new basic law clearly designates suicide having “varying social factors” in its background. The policies this time around also situate suicide [in the context of being] a “death to which people are driven” and “a major loss for society as a whole.”

    Fine so far. Given that suicide really is a national problem, a federal program to provide hotlines and crisis centers doesn’t seem like a bad use of money, at least in theory.

    Unfortunately, if hardly atypically, the Asahi wiffs when it comes to confronting the “social factors” that need to be addressed. It goes by age group.

    The guidelines stress the importance of helping young people with their personal development and mental-health management. But in addition, it is vital that they are taught more firmly from an early age to respect life.

    Middle-aged and older men continue to be high suicide risks. This applies not only to men in their 60s with growing health concerns, but also to men in their 40s and 50s who are still in their prime.

    Long working hours should be shortened to relieve stress. There should be help for people who have lost their jobs or filed for bankruptcy. Immediate treatment should be available at the earliest detection of depression. These measures are all in the guidelines, and they certainly are of help to prevent suicides.

    The last sentence of the first paragraph cited above is a model of obtuseness. Rearing children in an environment with firm, reassuringly clear rules that still make room for their personalities to develop is not something you can do by just barking cheerily at them to respect life. Many, if not most, suicides among children in Japan are related to school pressure and bullying. Things are improving somewhat, but it’s still common for teachers and school administrators to condone bullying; the response to complaints by the parents of victims tends to be, in effect, that it’s their kid’s problem for being so weird.

    Once children grow into adults and take their place in the workforce, the pressures simply change form. Long work days in Japan are not associated with high output. (If offices simply learned to use their time more productively–rather than having workers spend their days generating redundant documents, attending meetings that proceed with all the celerity of a glacier gouging out a valley, and chasing down stamps of approval–working hours would shorten themselves.) Most people who commit suicide over work-related stress are probably tired from being at the office too much, yes; but I imagine that for most of them, the the constant feeling of being under observation and attendant pressure to stay in line are probably far greater factors.

    I don’t think Judeo-Christian theology accurately represents where we came from and where we go after death, but it must be said that it does offer individuals meaning and purpose outside themselves and beyond the reach of job and family stresses. That’s not to say that Japan doesn’t have a rich spiritual tradition of its own; it does. But in the post-war effort to regain a sense of national dignity by building up the economy, study and work became ends that seem, for many people, to have eclipsed other concerns. And now that economic growth is no longer a year-by-year given, it’s no surprise that a lot of people are having trouble figuring out how to center themselves psychologically.

    The West has its own problems with conformism, certainly; and plenty of Jewish and nominally Christian people commit suicide. Nevertheless, Japanese children do not really learn that it’s okay to trust their own judgment when it differs from that of the collective, as long as they’re following a reliable set of generally applicable moral principles. I’m not sure whether the mental health system, even with the cooperation of both public and private sectors, is going to be capable of helping individuals invest their lives with meaning.


    Posted by Sean at 05:02, June 13th, 2007

    Hmm…. This sounds oddly familiar:

    The National Police Agency revealed on 13 June that 10,000 files that included police information appear to have been leaked from an employee’s private PC over the Internet via the filesharing software Wini. It is possible that depositions and affidavits regarding police cases were included; the content and nature of the leaked data are being thoroughly investigated.

    According to the current investigation, the employee (26) was a chief patrol officer in a regional division of the Kitazawa office. A PC he was using at home became infected with a virus, and approximately 9000 document files and 1000 photographic files that had been saved on it appear to have been leaked through Wini. The chief patrol officer explained of the leaked data, “I received it from the head of the patrol department of the regional division.”

    If you’re thinking, Uh, gee, hasn’t something like that happened before? the answer is, Why, yes, it has.


    Posted by Sean at 00:12, June 13th, 2007

    Some friends just sent me this link with the observation that the story seems to be right up my alley. The article sure as hell looks like a parody to me–and given the number of typos, a parody by non-native speakers of English–but I can’t find anything to indicate that it isn’t legitimate. Given that the timestamp is five days ago, I’m going to assume that every other gay blogger has covered this already, but if you haven’t seen it….

    As part of a military effort to develop non-lethal weapons, the proposal suggested, “One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior.”

    The documents show the Air Force lab asked for $7.5 million to develop such a chemical weapon.

    “The Ohio Air Force lab proposed that a bomb be developed that contained a chemical that would cause enemy soldiers to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistably [sic] attractive to one another,” Hammond said after reviewing the documents.

    “The notion was that a chemical that would probably be pleasant [sic, iterum] in the human body in low quantities could be identified, and by virtue of either breathing or having their skin exposed to this chemical, the notion was that soliders [sic! For the love of Pete, when discussing the gays, can you at least show a token respect for our noted punctiliousness? Sheesh!–SRK]would become gay,” explained Hammond.

    Morons. Haven’t you been listening to James Dobson? Unless you’re looking at a unit full of soldiers who bonded incompletely with their same-sex parent and thus had the direction of their sex drive distorted, you’re pretty much out of luck.

    Besides, it’s perfectly possible for a gay guy to be in a confined space with a few dozen other homos in butch attire and not be attracted to any of them. This is an experience I have almost weekly, though I’m usually holding a drink rather than a weapon.

    Sugar never was so sweet

    Posted by Sean at 01:49, June 9th, 2007

    Virginia Postrel blogs that MIT engineers are figuring out how to transmit electricity wirelessly. No more inconvenient lamp cords. Very exciting.

    I nearly went insane trying to figure out how to task-light (new verb!) my kitchen work space. Hiding the cords wasn’t going to be a problem, but I liked the uninterrupted expanse of cobalt-blue acrylic I’d used as a backsplash and didn’t want to wreck it with a bunch of clip lights or floor lamps. Then I ran across a display of these at Tokyu Hands.


    That picture is not all that far from actual size. Each light has a diameter of 3.2 centimeters at its widest point, and the whole thing is 7-ish centimeters long if you extend the lamp fully. You can hardly see it unless it’s turned on. And the light is powerful. Worked perfectly. Of course, I thought it was nice that the thing is supposed to save on energy and stuff, but it was the design that hooked me. (And no, I did not pay the full suggested list price given on the Kokuyo site. I probably am gay enough to spend the equivalent of US$200 on a light the size of an artichoke heart just because it won a design award, but I didn’t have to.)

    Suicide solution

    Posted by Sean at 04:31, June 8th, 2007

    This story on The Onion isn’t quite a classic–some of the adjective-choked phrasing makes it a little too clear the writer’s trying to be funny, when a topic such as this requires that earnest Sam-the-Eagle deadpan. But the collision between two therapeutic impulses is still hilarious:

    A report published Monday in The New England Journal of Medicine warns that the nation’s obesity epidemic has reached a new level of crisis, with many overweight Americans’ increased girth rendering them physically unable to end their own, fat lives.

    “We’ve known for some time that obesity can cause heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and other potentially life-threatening illnesses,” said report author Dr. Marjorie Reese, director of UCLA’s Obesity Pathology Clinic. “But the fact that obesity impedes suicide is truly troubling. It appears that the more reason people have to die, the less capable they are of doing so. They are literally trapped in their grotesque, blubbery bodies.”

    Given all the propaganda about how fat people are unidisciplined and ignorant and short-lived and…for the love of Pete, how many times do we have to tell you to put down that Big Mac and eat a fistful of carrot sticks?!–given all that, it almost makes sense that some actual “public-health” scold would point out the inability to off yourself as yet another risk of obesity, if only to score points by adding to the list.

    By contrast, there’s no jest involved in Japan’s latest got-a-problem-get-a-program initiative to lower the suicide rate:

    The measures call for comprehensive efforts, including stepping up measures to tackle unemployment and bankruptcy, as well as early detection and treatment of depression.

    The measures include mental health support services such as counseling at workplaces, a network of community psychiatrists, and public campaigns to raise awareness of the problem and to reduce prejudice against mental illnesses.

    They also call for more support for suicide survivors and victims’ families. Students and the elderly were the two groups that had the fastest-growing suicide rates.

    Most of the measures are to be funded by the government, though the Cabinet did not release figures on how much money was available.

    Nearly half of those who committed suicide last year were unemployed, the police said in their report published Thursday.

    Given its track record, I’m not sure I’m going to put much faith in the federal government’s ability to tackle unemployment and bankruptcy. The support programs and things don’t sound like a bad idea; the Japanese are very, very slowly coming to accept the idea that professional counseling is a way for respectable people to deal with intractable emotional problems. It’s going to be difficult for health care providers to address the big acculturation problem, though: Japanese workers are taught to invest most of their adult identity into their jobs, but they aren’t taught to view skills and experience as assets that would transferrable from workplace to workplace. A lot of people, even sixteen years after the Bubble burst, simply have no idea what to do when they become unemployed. That’s especially true of the middle-aged; the free-lancing phenomenon is probably not as common among youths as it’s hyped up to be, but I imagine that most young people at least have a sense of how to be resourceful in patching together a living from temp work as they plot their next move.