Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nissan Leaf In The News In Europe: Car Of The Year, Post Peak

I don't own a car and do not plan to buy one, especially considering the economic situation we face, which is really a global bubble bust, and if you are lucky, you live in a country that still has a banking system. I take the trains and walk a lot. If I was in great need of a car, what would I do? (Again, not a scenario that is on the radar)

In the midst of all the news from Europe about huge risks that the Euro Zone may collapse, and what will the Germans do after the Irish bailout, with worries about Spain (and others), how is this for some "good" news:

The Telegraph: Nissan Leaf wins Car of the Year

Yup. The world's first mass produced battery electric car wins the premier European award. That's how serious things have gotten. No more SUVs, Hummers (and Volvo, now owned by a Chinese upstart, came 6th in the rankings).

I find it ironic that mass media is still so caught up in the car craze. I understand that a lot of people live in places where they really, really need a car to get to work or do whatever they have to do. But that is about to change. Gasoline is not to be taken for granted, not at reasonable prices. We are now living in the post peak era.

As for electric cars, well, The Nissan Leaf has some very clever engineering, but where is the infrastructure? How many nuclear power plants would we really need to shift to all-electric cars? Let's be honest, this is not the solution. Having 500-800 cars per 1000 people is not possible.

How are the hybrid cars doing, so far?

Toyota Prius has sold about 2 million cars worldwide (only 206,000 in Europe, 826,000 in Japan and 931,000 in North America)
Honda Civic Hybrid: 203,000 in the US
Toyota Camry Hybrid: 167,000 in the US
Ford (Escape and Fusion): 138,000 in the US
Honda Insight: Some 100,000 in Japan, 52,000 in the US

OK, I was wrong about the SUVs, there is one that sold a lot. I wonder if the people who buy this vehicle actually think it is good for the environment, or not.

Lexus RX400h/450h: Just over 100,000 in the US

Data from wikipedia: Hybrid electric vehicles in the United States

This is just so pitiful, in spite of all the energy saving that it promises, as global car production annually is in the 40 million to 50 million vehicles zone, with a peak in 2007.

Year Cars produced in the world
2009 51,971,328 (projection)
2008 52,940,559
2007 54,920,317
2006 49,886,549
2005 46,862,978
2004 44,554,268
2003 41,968,666
2002 41,358,394
2001 39,825,888
2000 41,215,653
1999 39,759,847

Source: Worldometers, data from OICA

Wow! What a website! The International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers really cares about CO2 emissions and wants you to drive sustainably! ECO-drive! And there is a call for a new paradigm for the global auto industry! And they know all about it!

OICA: New Paradigm (pdf)

If I was on a city council, wondering what to do, I would vote for something completely different. Transition towns are already trying. I believe more in electric buses. I would support and encourage hybrid taxis, as the drivers would be able to use all their skills to reduce gasoline consumption (did you know that by 2009, 15% of New York's 13,237 taxis in service were hybrids, the most in any city in North America?) and other forms of car ownership such as car sharing - and more bicycles on the roads, yeah! Make your town pedestrian friendly, fast.

The Nissan Leaf will have to do a lot more to convince me that it is not just a part of the problem, but actually a part of the solution. They are ignoring the real picture: Car sales are down, way down. Look at this graph of US car sales (light vehicles) and how it has gone from on average 15-17 million cars per year to about 10.38 million (still too much in my humble opinion).

Casa Food Shed: Less fuel, fewer autos demands different kind of planning

Data from Calculated Risk, from Post Carbon Oregon (great blog). Quote:

Over the last 60 years, anti-urban policies have resulted in an energy-sucking, emissions-spewing U.S. Edward L. Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard University, points to subsidization of highways and home ownership as deliberate policy choices that have bled cities and encouraged a suburban and exurban infrastructure – one that is dependent on high levels of energy inputs (resulting in emissions outputs) both for transportation and to power buildings.

Glaeser cites studies that find each new federally-funded highway passing through a central city reduces its population by about 18%. Cities don’t benefit much from that highway infrastructure because dense areas already have good means of getting around – like walking.

The same, of course, is also true in Japan.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Okinawa Election Results

The results of the election on Sunday in Okinawa are as follows, according to Ryukyu Shimpo, the local newspaper. NHK also notes that the LDP-backed candidate, Nakaima, 71 years old has won.

335708 仲井真弘多 Nakaima Hirokazu
297082 伊波 洋一 Iha Yoichi

Both said they want Futenma, the US military base, moved out of Okinawa. Peace activists, however, doubt that Nakaima Hirokazu will follow up on this pledge. To NHK (video) he notes on Sunday night that the US military bases are not there just for the sake of Okinawa, but for the sake of the entire country. He also says, again, that the base should be relocated outside of the prefecture of Okinawa.


While Iha Yoichi unequivocally opposes a new base in Okinawa, there has been some confusion by incumbent governor Nakaima's expression of his intent to call for relocation of MCAS Futenma "outside of Okinawa." However, throughout the campaign, he has avoided the question of whether he really opposed the government's plan to build a new base in Henoko. "It appears that Nakaima wants to gain Okinawans' support but wants to avoid confrontation with the Japanese government at the same time," the newspaper's editorial suspects. Iha, on the contrary, "will not accept any negotiation based on the current US-Japan plan and challenge the both governments to give up the plan."

Quote and translation by Peace Philosophy Centre: To stop the Henoko base plan, IHA must win. 沖縄に基地を作らせないためには伊波候補が勝たなければいけない

Read more about the peaceful protests at the Tent Village, Henoko, Okinawa on Japan Focus: Henoko, Okinawa: Inside the Sit-In

On December 25, 2009, I visited “Henoko Tent Village” in Okinawa, with Satoko Norimatsu, Director of the Peace Philosophy Centre, a peace education centre in Canada. The “village” has acted as a base for the 13-year long nonviolent anti-base movement. On the day we visited it was raining, which made Henoko beach look like it was crying. We were welcomed by Toyama Sakae, the “mayor” of Henoko Tent Village, and by other activists, including Nakazato Tomoharu, “Yasu-san,” and “Na-chan.” Mr. Toyama invited us to have a seat and proceeded to explain the history of the movement to save Henoko.

And Japanese bloggers of course are also covering this important election: Chura umi o maore (Protect our ocean) and Henokohama Tsushin (Reports from Henoko Beach) and Michisan (a blog to help you know what local Okinawan newspapers are saying) and sumichi and takae and News for the People of Japan...

Photo from rimpeace, stating without a doubt that these Okinawan people do not want US Osprey helicopters on their soil.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saving Forests, Silent Running (1972)

Forests, left alone, are amazing places. This 1972 movie, Silent Running, tried to tell people how precious they are.

Wikipedia: Silent Running

On this planet, we think we can just go in and make profit, cutting down trees, selling the wood elsewhere. I vividly remember my parents had a small mahogany table, bought in the late 1960s:

It has a reddish-brown color, which darkens over time, and displays a reddish sheen when polished. It has excellent workability, and is very durable. Historically, the tree's girth allowed for wide boards from traditional mahogany species. These properties make it a favourable wood for crafting cabinets and furniture.

A wide variety of electric guitars are also made with mahogany, notably the famous Gibson Les Paul, which uses a sandwiched body with a maple cap over a mahogany core. The tighter grain of maple generally yields a brighter tone, the combination of woods produce a warm, rounded tone with great sustain, as well as weight, for which the guitar is famous.

If they had not gotten access to precious wood like that...

Turns out, Gibson was raided by FBI back a year ago,

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Law enforcement officials raided a Gibson manufacturing plant in Nashville after allegations the company has been illegally importing endangered wood from West Africa.

Federal agents confiscated items Tuesday afternoon. They raided Gibson's Massman Road plant and its headquarters on Plus Park Drive.

No charges have yet to be filed.

Gibson officials said they're cooperating with Fish and Wildlife agents on the investigation.

They released this statement:
"Gibson is a chain of custody certified buyer who purchases wood from legal suppliers who are to follow all standards . . . Gibson Guitar Chairman and CEO sit on the board of the Rainforest Alliance and take the issue of certification very seriously."

Gibson manufactures acoustic and electric guitars. The company also makes pianos through its Baldwin brand.

These days, there are a number of efforts to save forests. Few achive their goal. How are we going to save forests?

As a matter of fact, forests are a part of farming, as we need the broad leaves and the compost for healthy farms. This also helps rivers and the areas around river basins. Unless you care about local forests, you will need to import your PK fertilizers, or you will have difficulties.

Silent Running is an amazing film.

I am rather interested in how Yamaha, a major musical instrument maker in Japan, deals with such issues.

Deep connections with trees, initiatives as it aims to create a sustainable society...

PDF file: Yamaha CSR 2010 (Corporate Social Responsibility)

Yamaha notes: The decline of timber resourses makes it more difficult each year to stably aquire the wood materials needed for musical instruments...

And if you read carefully, they are now trying to plant trees in Shizuoka, Japan and in Indonesia.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Zen Peace & Korea (Old Story)

Zen Peace

When a rebel army swept into a town in Korea,
all the monks of the Zen temple fled except
for the abbot.

The general came into the temple and was annoyed
that the abbot did not receive him with respect.

“Don't you know,” he shouted,
“that you are looking at a man who can
run you through without blinking?”

“And you,” replied the abbot strongly,
“are looking at a man who can be run
through without blinking!”

The general stared at him,
then made a bow and retired.

from Trevor Leggett
The Tiger's Cave
Routledge & Kegan Paul, London (1977), p. 160

If you like Kurashi, use it as a tool, and use the Internet links to find what you are looking for. Stop reading what is not helpful for you. Thank you for reading Kurashi.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Consumers Union of Japan: Not Impressed By DPJ's Arguments For A Trans Pacific Partnership Kind Of Free Trade Agreement

Farmers are protesting, while large companies and labour unions are for the TPP. Consumers Union of Japan says, "No thank you" and argues that food self-sufficiency and food safety rules must be soverign national issues, not to be abandoned to trade negotiators with mandates for Mutual Recognition systems.

I. e. if country A says "our milk is safe" then country B must agree, "OK, you seem to have some kind of system in place to ensure that milk from your country is safe, thus we will agree that your system is as good as ours (whatever it is) and we will OK imports of milk from your country."

From Consumers Union of Japan:

The Problems of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement

Yamaura Yasuaki
Secretary General of Consumers Union of Japan
November 3, 2010

1) The Problems of FTA/EPA

Currently, the participation in TPP is a very large political issue for Japan. We regard TPP as simply a part of the Free Trade Agreements (FTA) that have come into effect since May, 2006. The ideal way forward for FTAs is what must be discussed prior to any decision about whether joining TPP is the right path for Japan or not.

Though the government notes that they regard the WTO rules as the basis of Japan’s trading policies, in fact, they negotiated Free Trade Agreements and Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with 12 nations since the first agreement with Singapore in 2002. Moreover, they consider FTA/EPA to be important in the new growth strategy, which attempts structural reform, as well as economic restoration nationwide.

The problem of FTA/EPA is that it provides discriminative trading rules. This is fundamentally based on economism (the reduction of all social facts to economical dimensions) carried out by the powerful nations, reflecting the gaps of power of the countries concerned. We think this will create a world where the law of the jungle prevails. It is quite different from what WTO is promising in terms of rule-based trade, a multilateral trading system such as the most-favoured-nation (MFN) status and national treatment, with considerations for diversified global trade.

(2) Direction of the New-growth Strategy

The current partner countries of FTA/EPA with Japan are as follows: Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, the entire ASEAN block, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia, Switzerland, Mexico, and Chile. India was included in this queue as of October 25, 2010. So far, Japan has been avoiding deals with farm exporting nations. However, Japan is still negotiating with the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), South Korea, Peru and Australia. Australia is another huge farm exporting nation, and being partnered with Australia would mean having to deal with its TPP companion, especially the US, bringing hitherto unequaled effects upon Japanese agriculture.

Also, relying on the logics of export competition as a diplomatic policy means turning a blind eye to future troubles. The current FTA/EPA occurred so far in Japan only helped the strong, exporting-centered industries to survive, neglecting the small-medium sized enterprises. We are particularly concerned about the bad effect on Japan’s agricultural sector.

The Japanese government tells the farm lobby that it is considering some policies concerning agricultural matters, such as structural reform of the agricultural system, and drawing up policies to protect domestic agriculture. But it is quite impossible for any Japanese system to compete with the mega-sized farming systems in America and Australia.

3) The problems of TPP

TPP is a regional FTA started by Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, and Brunei, the countries that signed the original FTA partnership. Its unique feature is the abolition of all tariffs without any exceptions. The aim is zero tariffs and deregulation not only for manufacturing industries or agriculture, forestry and fisheries, but also for postal insurance and the public service sectors.

After the November, 2009 APEC meeting in Singapore, it was declared that the US, Australia, Peru, Vietnam and Malaysia would start accession negotiations with the others and form the TPP. Clearly, the farm product exporting giants, the US and Australia, will have a large influence on the nine countries in the TPP block. Furthermore, Canada has also expressed interest in joining in the future. For Japan, this could result in a huge drop in the rate of food self-sufficiency from the current 40% to around 14%, according to government estimates, and an economic loss of 4.1 trillion yen for the entire country; specifically, estimates for Hokkaido indicates that the influence on local farm products could be losses up to 556.3 billion yen, which can be compared to the entire economy of Hokkaido, which is 2 trillion yen, if it has to compete with Australia and the US (Source: MAFF 2010).

4) Why are consumers opposing TPP?

Consumers Union of Japan is opposed to deregulation of trade, and we have persistently protested against the WTO negotiations, FTA-AP, the FTA between Japan and Australia, Japan and South Korea, as well as Japan and the United States. We also oppose the TPP for the following reasons:

First of all, we note the negative results that FTA has brought. Examples include environmental destruction and the effect on wildlife as tropical forests have been cut down for palm oil production, and the worsening conditions for factory workers as developing countries race to increase exports at the lowest possible price. From many regions, there are also worrying reports of how people’s staple food production has been sacrificed as a result of export-oriented food production. Moreover, large investments and the expansion of financing has led to deprivation and increased debt problems in developing countries. Deregulation and free trade is also the main factor behind the collapse of the industrial order here in Japan, and we consider it directly responsible for deteriorating labour conditions.

In addition, we regard FTA as a cause of the further decrease in Japan’s food security and already low rate of food self-sufficiency and the impetus to the decline of our country’s agriculture. We also fear that food safety standards will be lowered as part of the mutual recognition system that will be put in place on the pretext of removing trade barriers as part of FTA/EPA.

Now, TPP has become a problem as well in the hegemony duel regarding the establishment of economic blocks in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan has had a focus on promoting good relations with APEC and the FTA-AP, while China has taken the initiative to a FTA with ASEAN+3. It seems obvious that the proposed TPP is an attempt by the US to counter the economic growth of China and gain influence in the region.

For consumers, it is crucial to strongly request an ideal way forward for fair trade between people around the world, rather than the narrow, hegemonistic free trade interests of large exporting countries.

Please contact:
NPO Consumers Union of Japan
Nishi-Waseda 1-9-19-207
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-5155-4765
Fax: 03-5155-4767
Email: yamaura (a t) nishoren.org

Friday, November 19, 2010

Japan: Farmers Protesting Around The Country Against TPP (Free Trade Agreement)

There have been massive protests all around Japan during the last week against the proposed TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership). It is a new "free" trade agreement that would make it virtually impossible for Japanese farmers to compete with cheap imports. There is nothing to gain for consumers either, while business and labour think it could be a great idea to revive manufacturing and exports.

I collected some photos from Yokohama (Boston.com), Sapporo (website of Matsuura Munenobu, a local politician), Tokyo (website of Hyogo JA Group), and Fukuoka (Nishi Nippon Shimbun). There is much more on the web, of course, as farmers here are up in arms against a trade deal that is as unfair as they come: reduce all tariffs at once! import more food! get rid of any safety net that is left for farmers in Japan!

Note that the Boston.com Post photo (38) is part of a huge group of some 50 images of protests around the world over the past weeks. Do explore.

(Bonus video from the Anti-APEC demonstration in Yokohama on November 13, 2010)

Update 1: Excellent article on PanOrient News: Asia is "Not Ready Yet" For Trans-Pacific Partnership by Anthony Rowley

Update 2: CUJ: Why Are Consumers Opposing TPP?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thoughts On Peak Oil And What It Could Mean For Us Living In Japan

A flurry of emails followed the last release of an important report on oil from International Energy Agency (IEA), led by Nobuo Tanaka. Blogger Panda Bonium and myself have discussed this topic before, but the latest report seems to confirm that so-called peak oil has already happened:

Peak oil is not just here — it’s behind us already.

That’s the conclusion of the International Energy Agency, the Paris-based organization that provides energy analysis to 28 industrialized nations. According to a projection in the agency’s latest annual report, released last week, production of conventional crude oil — the black liquid stuff that rigs pump out of the ground — probably topped out for good in 2006, at about 70 million barrels per day. Production from currently producing oil fields will drop sharply in coming decades, the report suggests.

Now, curiously, the above comment was hidden away on a blog over at New York Times, called Is "Peak Oil" Behind US? Soon, a much less serious take on the report from the IEA would appear in the NYT.

Just three days later, the same newspaper published a huge article enthusiastically called There Will Be Fuel, basically telling its American readers that all is well, nothing to worry about. They even quoted "experts" who said, the US can achieve "something that very closely approximates energy independence..." Well, that is assuming either that the oil consumption in the US goes way down, or that noone else in the world (China, Japan, Korea, EU, etc. etc.) will import much oil.

The following is an exchange of emails, as Panda Bonium and myself looked through the latest news about oil. And it isn't pretty, if you live in Japan, that imports all of its oil.

Nov. 16 Kurashi wrote:

Very good program on Swedish TV yesterday about peak oil. You can start
from around 8.30, there are some interviews in English, including Colin
Campbell and Kjell Ahneklett.


Nov. 16 Panda Bonium wrote:

> Excellent. The topic is going public at last - as usual, too late to change
> the outcome, but perhaps in time to prepare people for the crash which is
> upon us. Here is a NYT article about the 2010 IEA report (ever the
> optimists) in which they admit peak has already occurred. Look at the graph
> and note how much of it is "yet to be found" or "yet to be developed". In
> fact, I think that in order for business as usual to go on, the world needs
> to come up with a new Saudi Arabia every 3 years or so. Ain't gonna happen.
> http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/is-peak-oil-behind-us/
> by the way, how does one (an English speaker) pronounce "Kjell"? Some
> years ago I sent him a question by email and he very nicely sent a reply.
> Seems like a very well grounded guy (like you). I don't share his
> enthusiasm for nukes, but he makes his decisions rationally rather than with
> some market/political bias it seems to me.

Nov. 17: Kurashi wrote:

Thanks for the link. Wow, NYT really is so clueless...

The Swedish TV program talks to IEA's Birol (in English) and he goes to great lenghts to try to explain what he can say and what he cannot say. Also, the other people they talk to say what you mention here, about finding a new Saudi Arabia every 3 years. The point of the program is clear - there can be no economic growth under these conditions. The party is over. I was surprised how frank they are.

They mention that in the US, some 50 million people may have to go back to farm to be able to feed the population, the guy they talk to is an author of several books about the end of the economic growth (they show one of his books on his desks, translated to Korean). Again, this is a very serious TV program, and I do agree that this is excellent...

Kjell is (ironically in his case) pronounced "Shell"

I do love that graph, it is so hilarious. It looks just like how I think of my income ;)

Nov. 17: Panda Bonium wrote:

> Hah! LOL. Classic!

Nov. 17: Kurashi wrote:

Sorry, I take back what I just said about NYT. Today they are running a big energy special, and the message is "There Will be Fuel" - I have never read such drivel in a long time. Hopeless.

There Will Be Fuel

Nov. 17: Panda Bonium wrote:

> Oh, barf.
> There has been much discussion on "The Oil Drum" site about the gas shale
> nonsense for sometime now. Basically it boils down to the fact that it
> takes constant drilling to exploit the shale as the production curves drop
> off like a cliff on these well. Not to mention the environmental disasters
> caused by "fracking" the rock. Many articles have exposed this "resource"
> as a fraud.
> Oh, well. The beat goes on. I get upset every morning listening to NHK
> radio quote Kan as he talks about "sustainable growth". What an obvious
> oxymoron that is!
> By the way... I can't make head or tails of his talk of "reforming"
> agriculture in Japan. What the hell is talking about doing? If it is to
> change the law to make it easier for people to farm and/or to stop paving
> over good soil then I'm all for it. But if the plan is to expose local
> farmers to competition from poor countries and plan on importing our food
> from halfway round the world, well, you know where I'd stand on that. So
> much BS in the news that is not explained and goes right over the heads of
> the public who by and large an unaware.

Nov. 17: Kurashi wrote:

Kan eyes more money for farmers

I think this must be the news you are referring to. I don't think they have
any clear plan how to "protect" farmers from cheap imports. CUJ is of course
opposed to the TPP, even going as far as saying the WTO rules are actually
better, because they allow for some protection and tariffs (the TPP wants
zero tariffs for all products and services). That doesn't mean the WTO rules
are what we want either...

A case in point are lemons. My supermarket has both domestic and imported
ones (from the US and a few other countries) and they are bigger, cheaper -
and labelled with the names of the pesticides and surfactants that are used.
Nasty stuff, yet most people use cut lemons, peel and all, for many dishes
and even in lemon tea. The Japanese lemons are mostly from Hiroshima
prefecture, and are not sprayed or treated (but not organic either, so it is
difficult to know how much is left on the peel). The domestic ones are not
available year-round. How will they be able to compete? Of course they
basically can't, and my (educated) guess is that the number of lemon farmers
are declining. How to get young people to become lemon farmers when the odds
are stacked against them?

And that is not even mentioning the water issue in California, or the oil
price... So, by the time peak oil and/or severe water shortages hit the
growers elsewhere, there will be almost noone left in Japan with the
knowledge how to grow lemons. And that includes the breeding, pruning,
picking, storage...

It would be nice if they did a few things, like more support for "new
entrants" i e people who would love to start to learn how to farm properly.
The JA should be reformed as well. Supermarkets also need to get funding for
campaigns to promote domestic, organic stuff in more systematic ways, with
long-term projects and experts who can talk about these issues and debate
the pros and cons.

It would also be great if they did proper support programs for organic
agriculture (which is what I will speak about tomorrow). Even if the organic
sector doesn't grow fast, in terms of % or $, they can at least help the
people who want to do it that way. I think many young people would try
farming if they saw it as "clean" and "pesticide-free" which gives
conventional farming a "dirty" image.

I'm told that it is actually easy for foreigners to buy land in Japan,
wheras many other countries like Thailand have strict rules that prohibit
it. I don't see how I could do it right now, but it is something I am
thinking of. Some of the bloggers make it sounds like a good challenge!

Nov. 17: Panda Bonium wrote:

> Thanks. That's what I was afraid of... The plan still
> seems to be to rely on other countries for food while decimating local
> farmers. And this will look good in the short term as it puts downward
> pressure on prices. In the longer term, as peak oil bites and oil goes to
> triple digits again, those "cheap" foreign products will become expense and
> meanwhile Japan will have lost its own ability to grow food. Really stupid
> policy. Really stupid, with a capital pid!

Nov. 18: Panda Bonium wrote:

> Excellent comments on The Oil Drum regarding the NYT article:
> http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7119#more

> One guy knows the author at NYT and gives a copy of the response he sent
> directly to him calling on believing CERA.

PS: To that, dear Kurashi readers, I would like to add just 2 links found on Ken Elwood's excellent blog:

November 7. New from Dmitry Orlov, the best essay I’ve ever read on “peak oil”. He’s right – we need to prepare, double-time. I printed out the Japanese translation {pdf} and gave it to my wife.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Great Buddha In Kamakura

You knew it had to happen at some point. A foreign head of state, "I'd like to visit the Great Buddha which I once got to visit as a child."

The Kamakura bronze statue, perhaps not as well known as other significant relgious statues, if only beacuse this is about meditation, deep restfulness, serene bliss...

A huge, lovely, sexy monument to the fact that we can just sit down, and ignore the buzz of the busy world.

The Kamakura Great Buddha: A fantastic, matrix-like, huge, natural place to... wash your hands, rinse your mouth (do not forget, it is a Japanese temple) and walk slowly towards the deity.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Trading In Your Language: The On & Kun Barrier

I dream, in all the wrong languages. I wake up wondering what that was all about. Did I just dream in Swedish, Japanese, English, French, whatever? Is my High School German suddenly about to usurp the part of my brain that makes dreams more real than the real thing (quoting U2 here).

I do wake up not quite sure what language I just dreamt in.

If you don't know your on from your kun readings, this is where to start.

Learning kanji is a good way to get into a lot of fun and profound imi 意味 I mean "meaning" but rather in the sense of 意見 (iken) and 味 (aji).

I like how that also relates to other senses, taste, smell...

This could be a way for you to finally get your brain to start trying to learn kanji.

For better kanji aids, try Hiroko: it is super easy!

Yes, learning Japanese may seem a lot like learning sign language (or Swahili, or make that Swedish!). This is a very deep and profound language to learn, especially if you are interested in ancient poetry, Buddhist philosophy, Japanese martial arts, great films and animation.

On and kun readings are 2 ways to deal with Japanese kanji. One helps you with the native words, the other deals with the foreign (because Japan always had a cool way to relate to that - hey, some is native, other is imported, "We are cool with that")

On, Kun, and then they invented katakana to deal with the rest...

Friday, November 12, 2010

No G20 Free Trade Deal For Beef And Cars: Are You Surprised?

The U.S. wants more free trade to export its beef and cars to Asia. Yonhap, the official South Korean news channel says, there is no deal, as Obama fails to get Korea to agree.

Meanwhile, Japan is up in arms against the so-called TPP, another badly-thought-out deal, that would make it impossible for Japanese farmers to compete with cheap imports from the U.S.

We know that beef and cars are the main culprits that cause climate change and environmental havoc, and we have noted that the U.S. Officially Do Not Care (C). Case in point, the Obama administration is not even thinking about joining international efforts like protecting biological diversity on this beautiful planet. He will also not visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki when he arrives in Japan this fall.

We do know that there are a lot of intelligent and socially aware citizens in that country who would like to combat climate change and stop the madness, be it nuclear or biocidal. We just wish they would stand up and join the fight against so-called free trade agreements (there are actually clauses that are worse than the WTO TRIPS agreement, to impose strict patent rules on stuff like DNA, that the U.S. Department of Justice has just told courts to be null and invalid). Note that this is all Orwellian speech: there is nothing "free" about trade for countries that sign up to these rules. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the risk was of "competitive devaluation of currencies reminiscent of the Great Depression" - according to a good sum-up of the G20 talks in Seoul by Yahoo/AFP: Currency disputes dominate G20 summit
The TPP is a Free Trade Agreement in disguise, pushed by a government that is now printing paper money (600 billion dollars as we blog) while trying to get Korea and Japan and others to sign up to its so-called policy of "Quantative Easing" which you have to explain to me. "Easing?" What is so "quantative" about it? Wikipedia has some background:

Quantitative easing

More beef (pumped up with artificial growth hormones, force-fed with patented GMO feed) and cars? If you can even call them cars. Just how will this solve the global economic pain?

No thanks.

Yonhap: S. Korea, U.S. fail to reach deal on bilateral FTA

South Korea and the United States failed to meet the deadline set by U.S. President Barack Obama for completing protracted talks over auto and beef trade aimed at winning congressional approval for their free trade agreement (FTA).

Mainichi: Japan will have tough time protecting farmers from trade liberalization under TPP

Japan has already come under mounting pressure from the United States and other countries involved in the TPP to eliminate import tariffs on beef and these countries will not likely agree to exempt rice from trade liberalization, as Japan has demanded during past international trade negotiations.

"Far more effective measures to protect domestic farmers are necessary in preparation to participate in the TPP than those taken when Japan signed the 1993 trade agreement in the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade talks in 1993, under which Japan partially liberalized rice imports," says a high-ranking government official.

Over the next few days we will find out if great countries like South Korea and Japan with a long history will abandon all the efforts to seriously deal with real global issues like peak oil, climate change, and food security. I hope they have a better plan. Stay tuned.

(Image from NHK: US and S.Korea fail to conclude FTA)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Joe Hisaishi - Totoro Theme

Joe Hisaishi plays Totoro Theme with the Orchestra

A Wish to the Moon

Joe Hisaishi - 風のとおり道; a Wish to the Moon; Joe Hisaishi & 9 Cellos 2003 Etude & Encore Tour. A music composition from Hayao Miyazaki's "My Neighbour Totoro".

Monday, November 01, 2010

No More Patents On DNA?

This is an issue I have worked on for over 15 years: No Patents On Life.

I'll keep this brief, suddenly the U.S. is reversing a totally unreasonable position that meant that DNA was something you could patent. It was based on a rather strange decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, and never really debated in Congress or in any democratic way. Now, it seems this will be reversed:

New York Times: U.S. Says Genes Should Not Be Eligible for Patents

Reversing a longstanding policy, the federal government said on Friday that human and other genes should not be eligible for patents because they are part of nature. The new position could have a huge impact on medicine and on the biotechnology industry.

“The chemical structure of native human genes is a product of nature, and it is no less a product of nature when that structure is ‘isolated’ from its natural environment than are cotton fibers that have been separated from cotton seeds or coal that has been extracted from the earth,” the brief said.

However, the government suggested such a change would have limited impact on the biotechnology industry because man-made manipulations of DNA, like methods to create genetically modified crops or gene therapies, could still be patented. Dr. James P. Evans, a professor of genetics and medicine at the University of North Carolina, who headed a government advisory task force on gene patents, called the government’s brief “a bit of a landmark, kind of a line in the sand.”

He said that although gene patents had been issued for decades, the patentability of genes had never been examined in court.

That changed when the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation organized various individuals, medical researchers and societies to file a lawsuit challenging patents held by Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation. The patents cover two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, and the over $3,000 analysis Myriad performs on the genes to see if women carry mutations that predispose them to breast and ovarian cancers.

In a surprise ruling in March, Judge Robert W. Sweet of the United States District Court in Manhattan ruled the patents invalid. He said that genes were important for the information they convey, and in that sense, an isolated gene was not really different from a gene in the body. The government said that that ruling prompted it to re-evaluate its policy.

When I worked in Sweden, researchers at Lund University told me how they had to send data from Swedish cancer patients to the U.S., if they wanted to screen for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, and that such data could be used in any way the American researchers wanted. It meant that Swedish DNA data could become useful for researchers elsewhere, who could patent DNA from subjects in Sweden.

Without patents, Monsanto and other biotech companies would never have been able to create monopolies on food seeds like soy, corn and canola.