Genre For Japan

Paul Raven @ 28-03-2011

For all its insular quirks, for all its internecine disagreements and flamewars and fragmented subschisms, I’m proud to be part of the online genre fiction scene, because every now and again it gets together to do good things for the world beyond its borders. Point in case: the Genre For Japan auctions. Originally conceived by Amanda Rutter, review blogger of Floor-to-Ceiling Books, and joined by an impressive roster of writers, editors and publishers from across the UK (and beyond), it’s all about auctioning off rare books and other literary prizes – such as Tuckerizations or detailed one-on-one writing critiques – to collect money to give to the Red Cross Japanese Tsunami Appeal. The complete list of 137 lots (!) can be seen here; you have until the end of the week to make your bids.

Of course, if the bids are already too high (or if there’s nothing there that takes your fancy) you could just donate directly, if you haven’t already. Given these troubled times, there are hundreds of good causes in need of support, and in an ideal world such causes would be flooded with money while the missile silos of the world echoed emptily with the footfalls of carefree and complacent spiders… but they don’t and they aren’t, and pockets are empty everywhere, so if all you’ve got is a moment to reflect on the misfortunes of others, that’s better than nothing at all.


FUDushima continued

Paul Raven @ 21-03-2011

I appear to have lost my original source for the tweet that pointed me to this piece at Talking Points Memo, so my apologies for the lack of attribution; I think it’s been doing the rounds, and – if there’s any justice on the intertubes – it should continue doing so (preferably at high volume), in the hope that it might counteract even a small part of the underinformed lipflapping about the Fukushima reactor. So: excerpts from a letter to TPM from a Japanese student who was in the country for the quake and its aftermath:

… the Japanese news coverage has been largely calm, rational, informed, and critical. Some of this is naturally to avoid creating panic, but it has been able to do that because as a whole it has answered many of the questions people have and thus gained a certain level of trust. As a media scholar, I can pick this coverage apart for its problems, and of course point to information that is still not getting out there, but on the whole it is functioning as journalism should.

It also just looks good because there is something so ugly beside it: the non-Japanese coverage. That, I am afraid, has been full of factual errors and other problems. This has not been just Fox News, but also CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and even the New York Times to differing degrees. They get the reactors mixed up or report information that is simply wrong (e.g., writing that the TEPCO workers had fully abandoned the effort to control the plant because of radiation levels when TEPCO had only withdrawn some non-essential personnel). They are perpetually late, continuing to report things the Japanese media had shown to be wrong or different the day before.

[…]

There are results to this irresponsible journalism. Many foreigners in Japan who do not have the language capabilities to access Japanese media or who are used to foreign media are in a state of panic, when around them Japanese are largely calm. People in California start searching for iodide pills on the internet and there are already people voicing worries about whether Japanese cars are now all going to be radioactive. But worst of all, the inordinate and sensationalist attention given to the reactors by American and other media has taken attention away from where it should be: on the likely nearly 20,000 people who died in the quake and tsunamis, on the nearly 400,000 homeless people, and on the immense suffering this has caused for Japan as a whole.

[…]

Japanese people and government officials will have to spend many years investigating all that went wrong in this accident. I feel it is likely that many at TEPCO and in the government will be found at fault for inadequate preparation, overly optimistic projections, willful ignorance, and just plain lying to the public. This will be an investigation in which the Japanese media will play an important part. But the non-Japanese media should also look at itself and see where it went wrong―so that it can better prepare for a similar accident which, unfortunately, is not altogether impossible in the United States as well.

I don’t think I need to add anything to that, really. But as a side-dish, here’s Tim Maly on the half-life of information in the 24-hour newschurn:

At this moment, the current status of the nuclear plants in Japan matters for about 200,000 people in the world. This is the number of people who can do anything about it. Most of those 200,000 people can only decide whether or not to flee further away. They need information at the 15-minute scale probably. A very tiny minority of the people need information at the moment to moment scale. This is the team of people tasked with bringing the reactors under control. For the rest of us, we need information at the daily scale or less. Because the ramifications of Japan reactor situation IF THEY MATTER AT ALL matter in regard to decisions made at the scale of decades and centuries.

It is completely insane that countries are announcing that they are scaling back or cancelling nuclear programs based on Japan’s troubles. If those programs were a good idea two weeks ago they are still a good idea now. And if they might have been converted from a good idea to a bad idea based on evidence coming out of Japan then smart decision makers need to wait until the information has the stability and solidity of data that will support a decade/century scale decision.

As a number of people have said to me over the last week or so, there surely needs to be new debate and research into nuclear safety.However, it needs to be done by experts in the field in question, with as much verifiable information as possible, as opposed to being done by uninformed television anchors with a five-minute Physics 101 briefing tucked in their suit pocket.

We have access to an utterly unprecedented volume and rate of information flow. Unless we learn to filter for the truth, we’ll drown in lies.

[ And yeah, I make mistakes from time to time; I’m making no claims to perfection here, and I learn a lot from sharp people in the comment threads, for which I’m grateful. It’s a collaborative effort, really… which is another thing we’d do well to remember as we look at problems overseas and worry about how they’ll effect us. ]


Moar liek FUDushima, AMIRITES?

Paul Raven @ 16-03-2011

I’ve assiduously avoided talking about the nuclear situation in Japan at the moment, partly because I know little more about nuclear reactors than the average layman-with-a-science-education, and partly because there’s more than enough opinion and information – informed or otherwise – floating around the intertubes already without me adding more. (Plus I’m finding the what-about-meeeeee flavour of much of the opinion pieces a bit galling; yeah, you might get some fallout drifting over your neighbourhood if things go badly, but hey – you still have a neighbourhood, so suck it up.)

However, I feel fairly safe talking about the reaction to the nuclear situation, because I’m just about old enough to remember the Chernobyl panic here in the UK and Europe. The Chernobyl disaster (coupled with the last gasps of Cold War existentialism and my unhealthy interest in science text books from the grown-up section of the local library) contributed to making me stridently anti-nuclear for most of my life. Over the last five years or so, however, I found myself making peace with nuclear power (though I’m still totally opposed to nuclear weapons); sure, it has its downsides, but when measured against the downsides of fossil fuels as our primary energy source, nuclear look like a pretty decent option… especially when considered as the central support pole of a renewable energy wigwam.

I suspect others have reached a similar rapprochement in recent times, but the Fukushima flap is about the worst sort of PR that nuclear power could get, and plenty of folk have seen the sun shining and set out for the fields with their hay-making equipment; at this crucial time in global energy policy development, the last thing we need are distortions of the truth. (There are enough of those floating around already, after all, and the nuclear FUD-flood has already started in comment threads worldwide; when you’ve got an ideology to peddle, everything looks like a sales-pitch factoid.) But as Brian Wang points out at Next Big Future, if you’re going to suggest banning nuclear power for killing people, you should suggest the same for fossil fuels first… and even solar has a higher fatality rate per terawatt-hour.

Yes, this is a tragedy for the people of Japan and for the world as a whole, but tragedies are opportunities to learn and develop. To turn our backs on the lessons we’re learning here would be a far greater tragedy, and the greatest disservice to the hard work and sacrifice going on in Japan right now. As I said the other day, seeing Fukushima as someone else’s problem that might just blow back on you is not just myopic, it’s symptomatic of the biggest barrier to progress we face. Nothing that happens on this planet is someone else’s problem. Japan’s tragedy is a human tragedy. Whether we like it or not, we all stand shoulder to shoulder; the sooner we face up to that, the sooner we can start fixing things properly.

I don’t know that one more person’s best wishes and hopes for a successful fix will make any difference, but the folk trying to forestall disaster at Fukushima have mine nonetheless – they’re pretty much the epitome of bravery in the modern age, so far as I’m concerned.. I hope they have yours, too.


Robots: unpopular in the home, increasingly popular on the front

Paul Raven @ 08-02-2011

We’ve made mention previously of Japan’s strategy to help its rapidly greying population with robot home-help, which is a wonderful idea on paper… but there are a few problems: for a start, effective useful robots aren’t cheap, and the care recipients aren’t actually that keen on the idea.

“Robotic support of the infirm and elderly has got to be aimed at improving quality of life,” says Geoff Pegman, managing director of one of the UK’s few robot manufacturers R.U.Robots. “It should not just be for governments to save money in caring for them.”

Robot guides have been removed from hospitals because they “put patients off”

The Japanese government and care industry now seems to agree after robots have turned out to be too expensive, impracticable and sometimes unwelcome, even in “robot friendly” Japan.

The country’s biggest robot maker Tmsuk created a life-like one-metre tall robot six years ago, but has struggled to find interested clients.

Costing a cool $100,000 (£62,000) a piece, a rental programme was scrapped recently because of “failing to meet demands of consumers” and putting off patients at hospitals.

“We want humans caring for us, not machines,” was one response.

That said, one look at the institutional care system in the UK should be enough to tell you that human-provided care isn’t de facto better; the underlying problem seems to be the way we’re increasingly viewing the elderly and infirm as a sort of toxic asset on the social balance sheet, something to be stored away out of sight, “managed” with minimal resource expenditure. “Grannyfarming” – especially in light of of a new ConDem policy of withdrawing most regulatory oversight from an already deeply corrupt and greedy industry – is a shocking business; when pictures of animals being neglected on a similar scale are broadcast, there’s a national uproar. A sad state of affairs.

But there’s a definite pattern emerging, wherein we’re turning to machines to do the sort of jobs that meatfolk aren’t so keen on. According to Wired, one in fifty soldiers in Afghanistan is a robot. One assumes they’ve been programmed carefully so as not to get disillusioned with the task of exporting democracy and deciding to leak sensitive documents to whistleblower websites…


Huis ten Bosch: Japan’s nigh-deserted Little Holland themepark

Paul Raven @ 25-01-2011

I’m sure someone has a snappy neologism for things like this, but I’m damned if I can recall (or otherwsie invent) one. Nonetheless, and offered largely just for the WTF? factor, here’s oddball collapse-fetish travelogue-blog Spike Japan describing Huis ten Bosch, a vast Holland-themed amusement park on the shores of Omura Bay, Nagasaki Prefecture:

Huis ten Bosch, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan

On a busman’s holiday in the Mediterranean in 1979, so the legend goes, Kamichika and his businessman travelling companion, the president of the real estate division of ball-bearing maker Minebea (slogan: Passion is POWER, Passion is SPEED, Passion is the FUTURE), are surveying a shimmering seascape when his companion turns to him and asks:

“Is there a sea like this in all Japan?”

So many consequences were to flow from such a simple question.

“Yes,” Kamichika is reported to have replied vehemently, “the marvelous sea of Omura Bay in Nagasaki, where I was born and raised. It’s every bit as good as the Mediterranean. Why can’t we get people to visit it, just like the Mediterranean?”

[…]

Emboldened by success—at its 1990 peak, Nagasaki Holland Village attracted 2mn visitors—in 1988 Kamichika began planning something a tad more ambitious: Huis ten Bosch. It was the Bubble; anything was possible. Six kilometers of canals, 3.2km of underground tunnels for the communications, energy, and water infrastructure, 400,000 trees, and 300,000 flowers and shrubs—sure, why not? Kamichika took his plans to the bankers and the bankers liked what they saw.

A strange story; almost a Doctorowian fable for the modern age.

Beware Spike Japan, by the way – if you have any interest in Japan (or simply other places in general), collapsonomics, good storytelling or all three, you could get lost for hours wandering the archives. Though there are far worse ways to spend an afternoon… [image is presumably copyright Spike Japan’s author, and hence is reproduced under Fair Use terms; contact for immediate takedown if required]


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