Archive for April, 2012

Radioactive soil leads researcher to issue an appeal

April 30, 2012 Comments off

A researcher and science lover who dedicates much time to educating the public on the facts surrounding radiation issued an appeal to the people of Japan after revealing the results of soil analysis conducted on samples he received from several locations in Japan.

Thomas Watson, operator of, is known for his scientific approach to the topic of radiation and Japan. In his videos he always shows extreme caution and a healthy degree of skepticism when some embers of the public express concern over the radioactive fallout and its effects from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. This is not to say he in any way supported the government’s claims over science; rather it means he has always put the facts that he has had available at the forefront of his discussions. His new video and report, though different from some of his earlier, is no exception to the rule.

Watson made clear that several members of the public residing in Japan sent him soil samples sometime in the past few months for him to have analysed. Though he has chosen not to reveal the identities of the people responsible, he did provide a lot of information about the soil, its analysis and the results for those who visited his website. In other words, he says he is interested in transparency, and the evidence to date indicates he is acting in accord with that statement.

The findings of the soil analysis he posted are disconcerting, to say the least. In the sample from Kashiwa, located close to Tokyo, it showed at least 97,590 Bq/kg of caesium. It is from a drain located at someone’s house, and that person is constantly being exposed to such high rates on a daily basis. In the same area there was a soil sample from a children’s playground. Its levels were over 51,668 Bq/kg. Watson says that it is an active playground in which there are children at play on a regular basis. The other samples come from Shiga and Saga prefectures, and due to the absence of caesium-134 in some of the samples, cannot conclusively be linked to Fukushima fallout at this time.

It is, with the levels in the playground in mind, this which influenced Watson to send an appeal to the Japanese to do something to clean the radioactive fallout out of the areas where these children play in Chiba. This research was funded mostly through funds he came up with, and required an enormous amount of work for a small group of people who would not normally do such things.

Civis Journal

Copy of report here

Watson’s website here


Racism in Society

April 28, 2012 2 comments

For those unfamiliar with the racist caricatures of the 19th and 20th centuries, they might be surprised to know that a good many objects on sale in society have links to slavery, minstrel shows and racism – including objects designed for children.

In a series of trips to shopping centres in Japan, we collected samples of memorabilia that had characteristics easily identifiable with earlier racist characters. In this first photograph, we documented a series of key chains. Whilst some look just fine, there are at least two that are questionable. The characters in question are called “sock moneys.” It is worth noting that though there is a possibility it is just a funny looking monkey key chain, they have black eyes, a strange noses and exaggerated red lips. If it were just a “monkey.” perhaps one would leave it at that. But it is the inclusion of physical characteristics that resemble those found in minstrel shows that our attention was drawn. No human being, or monkey for that matter, looks quite like these “sock moneys.”

These faces exhibit the exaggerated lips often found on blackface characters.

Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer," 1927.

Many people might remember “The Jazz Singer,” the 1927 film with synchronised audio. In it Al Jolson appears in blackface with large, exaggerated red lips. There are differences, of course. Jolson is supposed to represent “black people,” and not monkeys. The “Sock monkeys” are supposed to represent “monkeys,” but they look more the intent was mimic minstrel characters. If true, one would have to ask why.

Whatever one’s opinion of these objects, there is no question that they can easily be purchased and used by children as ornaments attached to their school bags. It is currently the fashion for children of all ages to buy character pencil cases, note books, key chains, ornaments to attach to bags, pencils, erasers and more. We did not observe many instances of this, but there were a few. When we interviewed the students who had blackface dolls, they said they did not know what blackface was, and it was apparent that they thought they were just “kawai,” or cute characters.

Though this image does not contain a racist image, it illustrates how common characters are in educational settings. In the classrooms we visited, 9 out of 10 children had some sort of character on his/her person.

That is to be expected. Racism is not dealt with in Japan as it is in many societies, and children – according to our investigations – are often exposed to racial treatment that would be appalling to many in Europe of the United States. But Japan is not Europe, and does not ever confronted the major problems of racism. In one of the schools we visited, for example, the first things the teachers and staff did was to say, “Oh, we have mixed-race children in this school.” Such may seem like an innocent comment, and perhaps it was in this case. But why is race the first thing that came to their minds? Why was it necessary to point out and distinguish “mixed-race” children at all? The information, after all, was not solicited, and it was not clear how it would have been helpful to us in the least.

This is not to say that the school officials were racist. The point is show that race is a problem that needs to be dealt with. It is clear that school officials, students and society in general are exposed to things others would recognise as questionable, but are routine in the situations we observed, which go beyond the excerpts we discussed here. What role does ignorance play?

In racism the answer is quite a lot, actually. Just take the students mentioned earlier. They did not even know they were walking around with images designed to mimic slaves in the 1840s. When we pointed this out to them, their demeanor changed. They made it clear that they had no intention whatsoever of insulting African Americans or blacks in general. Some that we spoke, when informed of the similarities, did not look at those characters they had in the same way again. In short, they wanted to distance themselves from objects related to racism.Would education lead to a greater number of individuals rejecting racist imagery? The evidence suggests this is a possibility. Maybe those students might not purchase a “monkey” to walk around with when there is the possibility it is a reference to black people, something many people would find offensive.

Civis Journal

Pro-nuclear arguments under the guise of progress

April 26, 2012 Comments off

This is the cover of the World Economic Forum's report (available here)

The World Economic Forum, a non-profit Geneva based group, recommended that Japan continue to use nuclear power or it would face the possibility that its energy security would be at risk, reports Kyodo.

Received with alarm on April 24, newspapers all over Japan printed this story, giving a lot of space to this organisation’s comments. Few questioned the accuracy of the comment; most just accepted the idea that Japan was headed for energy and economic problems if it decided to end its use of nuclear power. The press is supposed to challenge information released by groups, non-profits or otherwise.

The World Economic Forum’s report, New Energy Architecture: Japan, says

“Decommissioning nuclear power plants is expensive and any rapid change would jeopardize Japan’s energy security and increase its dependence on fossil fuel imports.”

The WEF, however, acknowledges that, in response to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, “the Japanese government has already responded to the concerns of civil society by committing to reduce dependency on nuclear power and promising to find alternatives to non-renewable sources. However, these transition  objectives are not without costs.”

In simple terms, the WEF would appear to be saying “civil society,” or the voters, are very concerned about nuclear energy, and the Japanese government had to address those “concerns” by reducing its use of nuclear power. A government following the wishes of the population is engaging in democracy. Is that a problem?

It might appear that democracy is not the primary concern of the WEF, but it does not state this in its report. Why would it? There are other ways, however, to get the same message across. A look at what it said about Germany might help to illustrate this point. Earlier in its report the WEF criticised Germany’s decision to stop using nuclear power, citing job cuts and a rise in CO2 emissions; it says this would be due to gas and coal being used to generate energy in place of nuclear power plants offline. The WEF said that “environmental impacts may be negative.” That may be true. But, as the report admits, this would be in the short-term, something that is important to distinguish.

First the WEF’s point about jobs losses is one that Germans will not be overly concerned about. “Germany’s jobless rate dropped to a new post-reunification low of 6.7 per cent in March, bucking the trend in other euro zone countries,” reported the Irish Times (here). It is difficult to see how the loss 11,000 thousand jobs (out of 2.84 million) would have any negative impact on the economy, particularly since the nuclear plants – with exception of the Krummel plant – will not all have stopped operating until 2022. Certainly no one wants German workers, or any others, to lose their jobs. But 11,000 is a very low number in the context of the unemployment figures. There is the fact that employees would have advance warning to secure new employment.

Regarding Germany’s long-term energy goals, its renewable energy use would rise from 17% to 35% of its total energy usage by 2020. The WEF stated that this policy was “intended to bring Germany long-term economic and environmental benefits by putting it at the forefront of green technology.” In other words, Germany would be at the forefront of renewable energy (or one of the few); that this position would create new economic opportunities, which would be good for business, which in and of itself would create new jobs far in excess of 11,000. It does not appear, based on the argument presented in the WEF report, that switching from nuclear to renewable energy would have an impact on the economy. Even if one accepts the figure that 11,000 would lose their jobs, is the argument that Germany needs a nuclear industry so they can work a valid one?

The other concern the WEF report raised was the short-term increase in carbon dioxide projected for Germany which, with today’s global warming problems, cannot be taken lightly. The report say that “carbon emissions will also rise, with an increase of between 170 million and 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2011 and 2020, as Germany turns to coal and gas plants to replace nuclear generation in the short-term.”

The numbers 170 to 200 million tonnes of CO2 that the WEF report gave, do not tell the reader very much. The WEF report cited a June 3, 2011 Nature article for this information: “170 million and 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2011 and 2020 (depending on different assumptions about the country’s shifting power mix).” The greater detail in the original source show the numbers are only a guess, and that this guess varies widely depending on the model used to calculate the figures. The numbers are also spread out over nine years – almost a decade – an important variable to consider. Even in Nature’s worst case scenario, the highest figure cited, 400 million tones of CO2, would still not equal even half of one year of Germany’s figure at 829 million metric tonnes of CO2, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. This number is in-line with other figures, though there are a few variations (see figures here & here).

Nature clearly stated the difficulties. It cited “László Varró, head of gas and electricity markets at the International Energy Agency in Paris,” who said: “Without nuclear power, decarbonization is more difficult and more expensive. Varró “predict[ed] that the nuclear phase-out will lead to a surge in lower-carbon gas plants replacing coal plants.” That would cause Germany some difficulties in reducing its long-term CO2 emissions,” but is certainly not impossible, for “if anyone can do it, Germany can,” said Varró.

Reading the WEF report, one might get the impression that Germany would dangerously increase its CO2 emissions and cause problems for global warming by moving away from nuclear power. The evidence the WEF report cited, but did not appear to print in its report, indicated Germany may be able to reduce its long-term CO2 output to pre-1990 levels, with some sacrifices. This would be a major victory for science, not a setback in any way; the WEF report appears to show this as a negative (see Nature article here). Long-term is, without question, the most important consideration, not levels over a few years which may have no great overall impact. How many total tonnes will CO2 have been reduced? If all goes well, despite some temporary increases, the decreases in CO2 will be enough to compensate for them.

Whether its authors use the jobs or CO2 emissions argument, neither seems to raise concerns great enough to suggest Germany’s decision to phase-out nuclear power is somehow in error. This appear to be an argument in support of the pro-nuclear industry, which repeats ad nauseam that “without nuclear power, CO2 emissions cannot be reduced.” Are people supposed to believe that 11,000 jobs and a small temporary increase in CO2 are  more important than “polls showing around 80% of Germans backing Angela Merkel’s decision this year to phase out nuclear faster than planned”? (see here).

Though a “not-for-profit organization that brings these leaders together to work on projects that improve people’s lives,” one would ask if business leaders care about helping people or its profits. Also, what do they mean by “improve”? Its membership might give some idea. The WEF ‘s “members represent the 1,000 leading companies and 200 smaller businesses – many from the developing world.” According to their website, “a typical Member company is one of the world’s foremost 1,000 enterprises with a leading role in shaping the future of its industry or region, a solid projected growth potential and a turnover of a minimum of US$ 5 billion.” Though they claim they are “far from being a ‘rich man’s club,'” it is difficult to take that statement at face value (read here).

Returning to Japan, there are recently published articles that warn a move away from nuclear power “would jeopardize Japan’s energy security and increase its dependence on fossil fuel imports” (see here). This is the opinion of the WEF, which was cited with no comment or scrutiny by most Japanese journalists. This comes from the very same report as the information on Germany. One might want to take these claims with a grain of salt, especially since the Japanese government and businesses are engaged in a war of propaganda to force the Japanese public to accept restarts of the nuclear plants the public prefer to keep closed. “Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, on Monday renewed his call that the government restart idled nuclear reactors as power shortages are anticipated this summer,” reported the Nikkei. The business federation in question is Keidanren, the most influential spokesman for the wealthy companies that want to restart reactors now. In short, there is no convincing evidence a move away from nuclear power will threaten the German or Japanese economy, but there are some who want readers to think so.

Civis Journal

The WEF report can be seen here.

Blackface openly “eaten” in Sweeden – its face shares racial parallels with Jim Crow

April 25, 2012 Comments off

Blackface, a holdover from 19th century American minstrel shows which was long used to support slavery and discrimination, is currently being used in Sweden to apparently speak against female genital mutilation.

The artist Makode Lind, designer of the blackface cake, said its purpose was to bring attention to female genital mutilation in some parts of Africa. One might understand why one would want to bring attention to this topic, but what seems to pass over the head of the artist and Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, is that the cake used – as it was designed – shares unmistakable characteristics from the American south.

The lips are overblown, large and red, going round the mouth in an exaggerated degree. Then there are the large white buck teeth, large black and white eyes. There is a plethora of literature written about this most popular of entertainment in the Unites States (at least for part of the 19th century). For purposes of illustration, these images will show similarities between the Jim Crow and other minstrel images with the blackface cake.

This minstrel character has the exaggerated lips and white eyes. Anyone familiar with the U.S. history of slavery would instantly recognise blackface for what it is.

This next character is “Jim Crow,” but most people in the United States have been conditioned to think of the racist laws that separated whites and blacks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In reality, Jim Crow is a caricature of an enslaved African American whose purpose was to justify slavery and later on discrimination. Originally developed by Thomas Dartmouth (otherwise known as “Daddy Rice), and shown to audiences in 1828, this character soon became a national hit, with a myriad of variations that sometimes manifested themselves in interesting ways.

It did not stop with Jim, though. It continued with the character “Zip Coon,” a highly racist blackface character that had an interesting tune, not all that unlike the Jim Crow song. The Jim Crow song is in part

Weel about and turn about and do jis so, Eb’ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow.”

This image of Jim Crow shows the exaggerated features and “dance.”

It is apparent that the writer intended to mimic “slave talk,” whatever that may have been. In other words, Africans, dragged from their homes across the ocean, forced to live new lives and bear children who would likewise end their days in chains, were never taught proper English. And with good reason. The slave-owners understood very quickly what could result if slaves communicated: they would rise up and kill those who were oppressing them. This and other reasons served to keep slaves in a state of ignorance. When slaves were in the United States, for example, after a generation or so, they would no longer know the African languages, religions or cultures to the extent of the original Africans. The only way slave-owners could keep them under control, since they were already able to speak English, was to prevent any sort of literacy, proper speech or betterment of the mind etc. – or so the logic went.

Needless to say, it is highly insulting to those Africans and their American born children to dress up and mimic their ancestors. On top of this, the caricatures are not even accurate. No one has lips, eyes or teeth in the manner depicted. Did some slaves say “weel”? It is possible. But if it is true, it was due to crimes of slave-owners during slavery, not innate inferiority. Such mimicking in the 19th century was arguably an attempt to dehumanise the Africans, which was an itself an argument to keep them as slaves.

The Zip Coon caricature is one of the most hideous characters of all the slave times. He was a free African American who was out-of-place, always causing trouble, and never quite able to copy the speech or looks of the whites. He is often shown in his former master’s clothes, which do not fit him properly. Unable to dress or act properly, he is blamed for society’s problems, including the tendency for some to claim blacks destroy society. This obviously is false, but the images persist and are very much a part of people’s lives today, even if they do not realise it.

Anyone who is familiar with racist depiction of blacks in the film  Birth of a Nation would immediately understand that blacks were accused of raping white women, and often suffered the consequences, even though in most cases they were entirely innocent. When it is propaganda, especially racist propaganda, facts are often left out. After all, the goal is not inform, but to indoctrinate. Below is a copy of an image of Zip Coon. Notice his clothes, chain and manner of walking. This character is more or less a buffoon. The message is clear: whites who created and distributed these images were saying blacks were inferior. He was the embodiment of the free slave, and an  argument for keeping blacks in chains.

This racist image presents an image of the free black. It is a form of libel which claimed free blacks were the cause of society’s problems.

At this time it might be educational to contrast these images of Jim Crow and Zip Coon with the images of the Swedish Minister of Culture.

Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth apparently feeds an “African” girl part of her own private parts.

The similarities are clear. What is striking is that a serious problem, female genital mutilation, is turned into a joke and a person dressed up to look like an “African” female is apparently having her own vagina fed to her. It is hard to imagine how one could possibly be more insulting to Africans. Listening to the video with the audible screams (here), one does not know if this is a sick joke or just designed to call Africans “backwards.” While the Swedish minister has apologised and the artist has denied racism was involved, it is not easy to ignore the parallels in the blackface images.

What seems clear is that some people have not learned much from the past. Are there no better way sto bring attention to female genital mutilation than using openly racist images of “African” faces or feeding an African to herself? The use of these images calls into question the sincerity of the people involved in dealing with the mutilation problem in Africa.

Lest anyone think this is not serious, the question arises: How does this art fit in with the European narrative that Africans are cannibals? For all the accusations against Africans, there has surfaced very little evidence to suggest Africans were cooking each other in pots. What does this image sugges?

Civis Journal

Japan to Iran: seek ‘restraint’ on its nuclear programme – But isn’t Fukushima in Japan?

April 24, 2012 Comments off

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama in Iran urging the Iranian government to give up its nuclear programme Source: AFP

Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama made a visit to Iran in April, discussed Iran’s nuclear programme and his the desire for it to engage in talks with western powers. The Japanese government, saying the former prime minister acted in his own capacity, had requested him not to go.

Hatoyama reportedly said, “Japan believes that no nation in the world should possess weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear ones, and that the peaceful use of nuclear energy is the right of all countries” (here). The problem is that there is no evidence that the Iranians have a nuclear weapon or are on the verge of building one; even the US takes the position that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon. Though against the trip, Prime Minister Noda “said he hoped the former DPJ leader would seek ‘restraint’ from Tehran on its nuclear program, in line with Tokyo’s official stance.”

One might understand the concern Japanese have for nuclear weapons, but this cannot be the problem since – as mentioned – Iran has no such weapons. Is there a problem with Iran’s use of nuclear energy at its power plants? Perhaps, but it is possible Iran will be returning to talks soon. Are there questions or problems with Iran’s enrichment? Quite possibly there are. But if there are, there is a body set up to deal with it: the IAEA.

One might ask what position Japan is in for it to discuss nuclear problems. Fukushima is the world’s second worst nuclear disaster and it is still not under control, despite government assurances to the contrary. Fukushima is not in Tehran. The irony of Japan discussing its concerns about another country’s nuclear programme at a time when it does not have the technology to end the disaster is a fact the Iranians will not have missed. One wonders if the Iranians would have replied to Noda’s comment by saying: Sure, we will be happy to comply. After you seek restraint on the massive radioactive releases in the disaster called Fukushima.

Iran has no nuclear weapons programme. Japan has an ongoing nuclear disaster and yet the world focuses its attention on Iran. Why? This question is not even being asked in the mainstream press.

Of further interest is the difficult position Tokyo now finds itself in due to US economic warfare against Iran. US rules and sanctions now prevent countries like Japan from importing oil at the same levels it did a short time ago. This means Japan must continue reducing its purchases of Iranian oil if it wants to avoid the effects of the US sanctions. It is a delicate diplomatic problem indeed, and this trip by Hatoyama may have come at a time when Tokyo would rather talk about something else. But then again, “restraint” is a word from the current Prime Minister, not the former, Hatoyama.

At any rate, Hatoyama is keenly aware of the delicate situation (read oil problem), and is reported to have “said the purpose of his four-day visit is to urge the Iranian government to give up its nuclear program” (see here). What nuclear programme? If it is for civilian use, does not the NPT treaty allow for it?  Did the UN’s sanctions interfere with this? In reality, Japan may prefer to keep things quiet and hope a deal can be reached whereby sanctions against Iran are removed and Japan can continue to purchase its oil.

The Yomiuri newspaper hinted at the power struggle between unelected officials and politicians when it quoted a politician, who supported the Hatoyama trip, said: “Japan’s diplomatic power is weak because it depends solely on Foreign Ministry diplomats. Lawmakers should go abroad and state Japan’s position more actively” (see here). Exerting the power of elected officials was one of the main goals of the Hatoyama administration back when it took office in 2009.

Civis Journal

Occupy protest prevented from reaching bank – in pictures

April 20, 2012 Comments off

On Friday, April 13, members of the Occupy movement gathered in Zuccotti Park for training before beginning a march to a local branch of Bank of America. that the NYPD would prevent from reaching its apparent goal of protesting at Bank of America. This photo show documents what happened.

Members of the Occupy movement listen as several people address them, discuss tactics and give instruction on how interact with police.

The theme of protest was too big to fail, a reference to large corporations and banks receiving bailouts.

The bank that protesters singled out for criticism was Bank of America, as is depicted in this piece of art the man is holding.

The participants were from a diverse background. In the picture, a member of the “Granny Peace Brigade” carries a banner.

Occupy members included a woman who was guiding a blind man in the training session of the event. The amount of work and dedication required on their part was not small. This protest involved hundreds of people marching in close order.

The police were aggressive in their attempt to keep protesters out of the street. When protesters began marching, the police pursued them on all sides, especially on the sides. The side of the crowd facing the street were harassed by officers who used their mopeds as moving barrier. This was a problem for anyone, protesters and journalists alike. At one point, an officer drove his moped onto the sidewalk; there were no injuries reported. One can imagine how the blind man in the previous picture would have walked knowing that accidentally stepping into the street could have meant being hit by a police scooter.

The police had their nightsticks at the ready in case the crowd turned unruly (which it did not).

Numerous police officers had plastic handcuffs at their sides, an indication that perhaps they expected a number of arrests.

A young man holds a sign that expresses anger over what some Occupiers feel are arbitrary of wrongful arrests.

Some tourists showed support to the Occupy protest and others just took pictures like these ones above.

A man passing by watches the protest as it goes along City Hall near Bank of America.

The crowd stopped across the street from Bank of America. The police did not allow them to cross the street.

Across from the protesters, police refused to allow anyone to enter the bank. Not even clientele unrelated to the Occupy movement were allowed to enter its doors. In this picture above, the police prevent a man from entering and direct him to another location, even though there were people in the bank and it was during banking hours.

Occupy returns to the centre of it all – in pictures

April 17, 2012 Comments off

Camped outside Federal Hall and the Stock Exchange, dozens of protesters now spend their nights under right next the offices of the most important bankers in the US. Their arrival, which coincides with the warm weather, has led to more talk about police brutality and the rights of protesters to sleep on a sidewalk than on the problems of political and economic inequalities in the United States. Protesters promise to bring in May 1 with a bang, already calling for a general strike. Though too early to forecast its turnout, it may represent a significant turnout of people, which may serve as a much needed impetus to revive a movement that has largely stalled since its removal from Zuccotti Park on November 15.

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Civis Journal