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    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.

    Maybe I was mean / But I really don’t think so

    Posted by Sean at 22:03, August 29th, 2005

    See, my problem with this ad (via Ace) is that it cuts off before Brian and Partner Simon turn on each other hungrily, start making out, and tear off each other’s crisp little dress shirts. (That white totally washes you out, BTW, sweetie.)

    Okay, my other problem is that there’s just plain not enough of Partner Simon, who’s the way cuter of the two.

    Okay, my other problem is that Ellner is not running against George W. Bush for Borough President, so I’m not really sure how going negative on him demonstrates anything whatever about what Ellner can do for Manhattan. However much of a tough guy he is who stands up for his progressive beliefs, is he going to do anything about troop deployments?

    I know–he needs to get himself name recognition and is appealing to Manhattan voters as effectively as he can in a fraction of a minute. Whatever works, do it. I’m also seriously cheered to see a gay guy appearing openly with his partner in a campaign ad. It’s just unfortunate that what accompanies it reinforces the image that urban gays are suckers for the emptiest, most unhelpful sort of lefty jeering.

    The NYT has more about the election itself, BTW.

    Setting a good example

    Posted by Sean at 10:32, August 29th, 2005

    Hi, this is Rob Marciano, your CNN On-the-Spot Idiot. I’m under this here cinderblock lean-to as winds whip debris and rain through the air around me–and, hey, we’re not even close to being slammed by the eyewall yet! Uh, was that an anvil that just went by? Or maybe a big ol’ rock? My baseball cap is totally gone, dude. This lady in the hotel where we are? She tried to open her door, and it slammed shut–like, from the wind–and whacked off half her finger, and the nurses are trying to give her first aid. But yup, here I am.

    For Pete’s sake, I wonder where people get the idea that maybe they don’t actually need to evacuate when they’re told to because they’ll be able to brazen it out no matter how bad the storm is. I especially like the way Daryn Kagan solemnly warned everyone immediately after Rob’s report that they shouldn’t go outdoors until it was safe. (BTW, Daryn? What’s with the hair? Do we think we’re the Joan Jett of journalism? Is that who we think we are? Maybe Siouxsie Sioux? Sheesh.) And here’s Jeanne Meserve (outdoors) to tell us about more of the Superdome roof skin flying off. One of her crew seems to have blown away–they cut back to Atlanta.

    On the bright side, the proverbial ten pounds the camera adds are very flattering to Rob there, who looks kind of excessively lean and blow-dried in his CNN bio pic.

    Added at 23:52: Okay, Anderson Cooper is acting seriously scared–and do you wonder? He’s also bitching to Daryn about the lack of common sense on the part of other people who are walking around outside. They’re not super-cool reporters, so they could get hurt.

    Michele Catalano is collecting stupid over-hype coverage at her place.

    Japan may extend SDF deployment in Iraq

    Posted by Sean at 06:03, August 29th, 2005

    Japan says Iraq has asked it to maintain its non-combat SDF presence in the reconstruction past the current December end date:

    Iraq has asked Japan to extend its noncombat mission of troops in the southern part of the country beyond its expiration in December, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Monday.

    Koizumi, in a debate with the leaders of five other major political parties in Japan, said that the government had not yet made a decision about whether it would extend the mission, which is opposed by many in Japan.

    “Japan has received an official request to extend its presence in Iraq,” Koizumi said.

    “So we will continue to monitor the situation there, and make a comprehensive decision on the issue based on realities within the country, the opinions of the Iraqi people, U.S.-Japan relations, and Japan’s responsibilities in the international community,” the prime minister said.

    Japan has about 550 troops in the southern city of Samawah on a humanitarian mission to purify water, rebuild schools and other tasks.