Saturday, December 17, 2005

Funny...


Last month, a world-wide survey was conducted by the UN. The question asked was... :

"Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?"

The survey was a huge failure because...:

In Africa they didn't know what "food" means.
In Eastern Europe they didn't know what "honest" means.
In Western Europe they didn't know what "shortage" means.
In China they didn't know what "opinion" means.
In the Middle East they didn't know what "solution" means.
In South America they didn't know what "please" means.
In the USA they didn't know what "the rest of the world" means.

(Earth picture from NASA, click to enlarge & enjoy!)

Rice farmers protesting against WTO



Rice farmers in Asia are protesting against trade talks in Hong Kong. Read more here.

Quote:

In Korea and Japan, rise approaches a sacred grain, part of 5,000 years of culture entwined with religious practices.

Pascal Lamy, the WTO director general, should appreciate this. Last year when he was the European commissioner for trade, he spoke about the importance of agriculture. "Agriculture is not like coal, or widgets. It concerns the protection, preservation and promotion of a traditional rural way of life," he said.

In Asia, the annual events of planting, transplanting and harvesting rice were a community activity marking the lunar calendar and reinforcing ties between families and harmony between humans.


Consumers International is noting that the text on the table in Hong Kong does very little to improve trade for consumers in the South or choice for consumers in the North: "Important areas of the text remain anti-consumer, anti-development and anti-free trade. The few signs of progress within the text will mean nothing if the bigger issues, such as firm dates and developed world market access are not addressed."

Read CI's comments here

WTO previous

Stem cell scandal: The Stamp



The Korean stem cell scandal is on the front page of every newspaper in the world today. Just found the stamp that Korea issued, so I post it as a symbol of how this research made a whole country go mad.

It turns out that Korean politicians were involved in the writing of the paper. Billions of tax payer Won have been wasted, that could have gone to wheelchair ramps, elevators, and other aids for people who also suffer discrimination because of their disabilities. Is Dr. Hwang guilty or not? What about the 25 co-authors? The worst is that they lied to people with physical handicaps, essentially claiming that "we will have a cure for you soon..."

That stamp shows no compassion for all those in wheelchairs who will never be able to walk, successful stem cell research or not.

(Picture from the Bioethics Blog)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Stem cell scandal: Updates

I found more details and a background on the website of Science magazine, where Dr. Hwang's "landmark paper" was first published. Today there will be a press conference at Seoul National University. I continue to be baffled about this story, and I'm impressed how Korean media has been able to reveal the truth about this complicated controversy.

Read more here.

Quote:

The investigation comes amid a flurry of claims and counterclaims in the Korean media. On 10 December, a Korean news Web site called Pressian reported that it had seen a transcript from an unaired documentary by the Korean Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. MBC pulled the documentary, prepared for a weekly TV show called PD Notebook, in response to public outcry over allegations that the investigative team had coerced its sources; MBC later apologized for the investigative team's transgressions. Pressian claimed that in an interview for the unaired segment, a member of Hwang's team alleged that Hwang had directed him to manipulate photographs of stem cells.

OhmyNews lists some details about the possible reasons:

The reason given by sources published in the media here, for Hwang's faking of data in the Science article, was that he felt pressurized by the science community to get results, since his team had used several hundred donated ova for the research.

In similar research done in 2004, Hwang had succeeded in creating only one successful cell line, despite having used over 200 ova, which lead to criticism overseas for his squandering such a valuable resources.

Other analysts point to the cost of the research to explain Hwang's actions. The South Korean government has invested more than $26 million in his stem cell project and any failure on the part of Hwang's team would have probably jeopardized future investment by the government.


Stem cell scandal previous

Stem cell scandal: I can't believe it...


Stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk admitted his landmark work was fabricated and agreed to request that the journal Science withdraw his paper on it, his Korean scientific collaborator said Thursday. I'm not sure what is going on, because Dr. Hwang is not making any comments at all. Increadibly strange!

Read the lastest tonight here, here and here.

Photo: People in Seoul Station watch a primetime television news report that says stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk’s work was fabricated, Thursday night. Hwang’s scientific collaborator Roh Sung-il, appeared on television and disclosed the fabrication. (Source: The Korea Times)

Update: BBC is also reporting about this, noting that "many commentators said it was unpatriotic to challenge someone who had given the country a lead in such a promising new area."

I can't believe it...

Stem cell scandal previous

Thursday, December 15, 2005

WTO: "A level playing field"


This cartoon is quite funny, as a commentary on the rules of global trade. It is often said that the rules should be fair to all countries, but in reality, this is not the case. The playing field is clearly giving advantages to the western countries. The rest, or the so-called developing world (although I don't like that term) are not given a fair chance to compete.

The WTO has a set of agreements that need to be changed. A common call from NGOs is "Shrink or Sink". The WTO got too powerful in the Uruguay Round negotiations in the 1980s, and unless the rules are changed, the WTO will collapse as countries start to negotiate bilateral or regional free trade agreements instead. So, what is the solution?

Quote of the day: Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz has come to Hong Kong to collect an honorary doctorate and to sniff the air around the World Trade Organization conference. He agrees the talks have hit a sandbank, but he does not draw the conclusion this is a bad thing. "No agreement would be better than a bad agreement," he says, according to The Standard.

(Cartoon source: The Hong Kong Standard)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Lucia


BBC had this nice photo of Swedish school children who carry out a winter solstice tradition by dressing up as St Lucia Queen of Lights and her maidens.

NHK reporting from Hong Kong


Farmers around the world are watching what's going on in Hong Kong. The World Trade Organization has begun its biennial ministerial talks there. The members have been trying to create a common set of global trade rules for more than four years, so far without success.

The United States and its allies are pushing trade liberalization including agriculture, while the other camp including Japan, remains firm about protecting domestic farms.

NHK World's Shuhei Ikehata tells us more about the six-day ministerial talks.

Delegates from 149 countries and regions are taking part in the talks. It's a crucial gathering.

They're trying to achieve substantial progress towards a final agreement on trade liberalization before their self imposed deadline of December next year.

Creating the new framework has stalled, mainly over agriculture. There are conflicting interests among the members.

Japan, which imposes nearly 800 percent tariff on rice in order to maintain a stable supply from Japanese farmers, says it cannot accept large-scale liberalization.

The European Union is demanding that eight percent of the all imports subject to tariffs be excluded in the trade liberalization deal.

Before the talks started, Japan's agriculture minister Shoichi Nakagawa and ministers of eight other members, including South Korea and Switzerland, had a meeting.

As food importers, they are against setting tariff caps.

Food exporters like the United States and Brazil favor wide open farm trade.

Before the talks, a US delegate said imposing tariff caps on farm products is essential if any progress is to be made.

US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns also criticized the EU's demand, saying if many exemptions are allowed, market liberalization will take a step backwards.

No agreement was reached in the previous talks two years ago.

If this round failures, the existence of the WTO itself might be questioned. Attention is on how big the concessions will be to make a deal.

Shuhei Ikehata, NHK World, Hong Kong.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

WTO protests have begun



In Hong Kong, protesters have held noisy demonstrations. Six days of world trade talks have begun in Hong Kong amid clashes between police and protesters, some of whom have managed to enter the conference. Protesting Korean farmers swam in the harbor, pepper gas was sprayed at the unruly and trade officials hoped for a breakthrough Tuesday in talks that most say are unlikely to produce an agreement.

The Standard, the Hong Kong newspaper, has more details, with a great picture gallery here, updated daily.

Lots of snow


There was lots of snow today in northern Japan. Here is a great photo from Sapporo! It reminds me of Sweden, but, we never have such sunny days in December...

Love...


The kanji character for "love" was chosen in an annual poll as best representing 2005.

Great!

Seihan Mori, chief priest at Kiyomizu Temple, writes the kanji for "ai," (love), which was selected as the character for 2005 in the annual Kanji of the Year contest held by the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation. Organizers said voters may have been influenced by such events as the marriage of the former Princess Nori and the outpouring of aid to victims of disasters like Hurricane Katrina in the U.S

The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation said the character received about 4.7% of the 85,000 votes cast, and it is the first time that a "heart-warming" character was picked since the foundation started holding the event 11 years ago.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Japan will allow imports of North American beef again

Japan's government approved the easing of a two-year-old ban on U.S. and Canadian beef imports Monday, in a move that could resolve a bitter trans-Pacific trade row, says Mainichi Shinbun.

This will allow meat from cows under 21 months old back into the Japanese market. It was not immediately clear when the U.S. meat would again appear in Japanese supermarkets and restaurants, but Kyodo News agency and NHK have reported that North American meat could be back in Japan by the end of the year.

Read more here

Tyson Food sees no future in Japan? Read more here

BSE/food safety previous

Happy Monday...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Results in Montreal

"If you want to talk about global consciousness, I'd say there's one country that is focused on action... dialogue... co-operation and... helping the developing world, and that's the United States," said state department spokesman Adam Ereli in Washington.

Despite the row, environmentalists said the conference had been in most respects a success, reaching agreements on how to quantify gas emissions and how to penalise nations for failing to meet Kyoto targets.

BBC has more here.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Doubts linger about North American beef

Japan's Food Safety Commission finalized a report Thursday declaring U.S. and Canadian beef from cattle younger than 21 months will be as safe as domestic beef, as long as the U.S. adheres to certain conditions, according to the Japan Times. The completion of the report secures the way for U.S. imports to resume as early as year's end.

The article also notes that food safety advocates argue that the U.S. policy of testing 10 percent of all cows -- only those that show visible signs of disease -- looks inadequate compared with Japan's requirement that all slaughtered beef cows 21 months or older be tested.

It may take up to two months before North American beef is sold again in Japan, if the government should choose to approve it in December, and it will never again be the unregulated mass import that Japanese consumer were used to before mad cow disease was first found in North America in 2003.

Update from BBC on December 12, 2005 here

BSE/food safety previous

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Imagine

Today, as every fan knows, markes the 25th anniversary since John Lennon was shot and killed outside his home in New York City. Yoko Ono Lennon has given Amnesty International a wonderful and generous gift: the rights to use her late husband's song "Imagine" in a campaign for human rights. In her words:

Those who know the song 'Imagine' understand that it was written with a very deep love for the human race and a concern for its future. It is about the betterment of the world for our children and ourselves. Like the song, Amnesty International gives a voice to the importance of human rights. And like the song, it has been able to effect change.

Click here for Amnesty's original version of the song, performed by children from all over the world.

Peace...

Getting ready for Christmas in Japan


The air is tingling with the jingling bells of Christmas — piped through store loudspeakers of course. In this season to be jolly, Yomiuri Weekly (Dec 18) was curious to learn how imbued Japan's populace has become to the spirit of Christmas. So to find out, it polled 500 adults about their gift-giving plans for this coming Dec 25.

Japan Today has the rest of the story here.

Shibuya, Roppongi and other areas of Tokyo look truly great right now, with lots of Christmas lights and decorations.

(Photo from Venusfort in Odaiba)

Taking care of forests

C.W. Nicole writes about forests in his latest essay for The Japan Times. He is always an inspiration. Did you know that only 2 percent of Japan's forests are so-called "old-growth" i.e. "natural" and not planted? Read more here. This quote also caught my attention:

Gov. Shintaro Ishihara announced to the press in October that two-thirds of the cedar plantations in Greater Tokyo will be changed to mixed woodland. This will mean trimming out some 20,000 hectares of sugi and either replanting with broadleaf saplings, or carefully nurturing young broadleaf trees that spring up in the cleared spaces. The declared intention is to do this at a rate of 120 hectares a year. The dynamic proposal also calls for the remaining one-third of the cedars to be replaced with ones that produce less pollen. If it is carried out, I think this would be splendid.

This website har wonderful photos of really old trees from different regions all over Japan. Enjoy the magic of these silent, beautiful giants, that have been carefully protected over the ages, often near temples or shrines.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Project X: Rose of Versailles


NHK's Project X shows on Tueday nights are so good! Tonight was about the manga "Rose of Versailles" that became a big hit in Japan in the 1970s. The NHK show also explained how it was moving ladies to tears as a takarakuza musical...

The story about the Swedish count Axel von Fersen and French Queen Marie Antoinette is a wonderful love legend. And the manga really brought the characters to life. This fan site has all the details!

von Fersen was a freemason, who introduced a lot of culture to Scandinavia. Later, after king Gustav III was killed, he was brutally murdered on the streets of Stockholm... Here is a link to von Fersen's castle in Sweden.

Project X previous

Monday, December 05, 2005

Demonstrations for action on climate change


This weekend 40,000 people marched in the streets of Montreal to demand stronger action on climate change. They joined with thousands of other people around the world who also participated in rallies and events. In London, 5,000 to 10,000 people marched for our climate. A petition of 600,000 signatures from American citizens demanding action to fight climate change was presented to the American consulate in Montreal. Citizens from around the world made their demands very clear: our leaders must take serious action to prevent climate change, and they must do so now.

On the hilarious Fossile of the Day Award site, Japan is getting awards for supporting "sinks". All green plants can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, although thay also release it again. Anything that removes carbon dioxide is known in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations as a "sink". So, rather than actually reducing CO2 emissions, countries are using "sinks" as a way to argue that they can continue emitting CO2 that contribute to climate change and global warming.

(Photo from It's Getting Hot in Here)

Climate Change previous

"A crying shame"

"Japan is now about to rob these natural treasures of their habitats. It's a crying shame," said Higashionna. "We are going to disgrace ourselves before the world."

Read why the Okinawan diving instructor is so upset here.

Stem cell scandal part III

The scandal in Korea regarding stem cell research has taken another weird detour as one of the junior staffers under Korean stem cell pioneer Hwang Woo-suk on Sunday said the nation's broadcaster MBC threatened him to get information unfavorable to Hwang.

According to the Korea Times Kim Son-jong, the feeder cell expert who is now at the University of Pittsburgh, on Sunday made the remarks during an interview with the all-news cable channel YTN.

Chosun Ilbo has more:

An MBC executive said if the expose turned out to be false, it would deal a fatal blow to one of Korea’s largest terrestrial broadcasters. Another executive said many within MBC were skeptical about the “PD Diary” allegations, but all MBC staff were now being tarred with the same brush. He agreed that the company would not be able to bounce back if the allegations are disproved, but added he still had faith that the “PD Diary” team would not have done what they did without evidence.

Stem cell scandal previous

Friday, December 02, 2005

Oh my love


John Lennon was always a favourite of mine. Tomorrow, the BBC is realeasing tapes from his angry 1970 interview, where he took the opportunity to lash out against all the hype around the Beatles.


Here is a link to his great song Oh my love

(The photo is from Hakone, it seems John & Yoko stayed at Fujiya Hotel)

Stem cell scandal part II

In South Korea, controversy is intensifying over the scientific breakthrough by a South Korean stem cell expert. The debate centers around allegations by Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. (MBC) that some of the embryonic stem cells created in May by Dr. Hwang Woo-suk's team may be fake. This is a really serious allegation, but the program has evidence to back up the claim.

Actually, I think the Korean journalists are showing some world-class reporting skills as this story continues to unravel. Good science reporting is always fascinating. It will be very interesting to see how this all ends...

Yonhap has all the details.

Stem cell scandal previous