Saturday, June 28, 2008

Greenpeace game aims to spur grass level efforts to free activists

Greenpeace is asking people to add the following game to their websites in an effort to spur more responses to its mailing campaign to the Japanese government over the arrest of two activists in Japan.
Police arrested the activists on suspicions of theft (of whale meat) and trespass. (See stories here and here.)
Playing the game (and either succeeding or failing to free the caged individuals) leads to a screen asking the player to take real action, by signing a letter to the Japanese government protesting the arrests. The pro-forma letter opens on a separate web page.

Is this ad racist?

The ad, played in Japan to promote a mobile phone company, eMobile, draw some deeply felt criticism from individuals identifying themselves as African Americans living in Japan. In their eyes, they said, the monkey was a stand in for American presidential candidate (presumptive) Barack Obama.

The implication is that the monkey is a demeaning depiction of African Americans as monkeys.

My own perception, my own experience, is that this is clearly a very sensitive issues for Americans who have faced racial discrimination in America. Any kind of discrimination, of course, can cause deep emotional pain -- and can have a lasting impact.

But was this racism -- or a confluence of events, leading to unintentional pain?

There is no confirmation on eMobile's website (either in English or Japanese) as yet (see press releases in English here), but an article in The Guardian dated June 27, 2008 says the company has decided to pull the ad.

The article quotes an interview with eMobile's chief executive and Reuters, saying, "We had no bad intentions, but this is a cross-cultural gap issue and we have to accept it".

Monkeys, like the one used in the ad, are native to Japan. This wikipedia entry gives the lowdown and provides some pictures.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Ikan -- I want one!!!

To quote from David Pogue's article on the topic:

Each time you’re about to throw away an empty container —
for ketchup, cereal, pickles, milk, macaroni, paper towels, dog food or whatever — you just pass its bar code under the scanner. With amazing speed and accuracy, the Ikan beeps, consults its online database of one million products, and displays the full name and description.
In a clear, friendly font, the screen might say: “Nabisco Reduced Fat Ritz Crackers 14.5 Oz.,” for example. Now you can toss the box, content that its replacement has been added to your shopping list.

The website is a pain though -- all Adobe flash. And the grocery order is supposed to go through Ikan, so a) there is room for Ikan to try and take a cut on the grocery bill (just what any of us need [NOT] and b) well, if they have a flash based website that is a pain to use, it doesn't bode too well for the actual product (more flash than substance?).
But, I love the idea and I want it now.
Pogue points out, and it is becoming a more common refrain -- where are the days of the Jetsons we were promised as children? With some significant differences (and the internet is one) the world is not all that much changed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Endangered fish

Greenpeace has a new "red list" of endangered fish. It recommends we (that is you and me) avoid buying and eating these fish, as they are at risk for the following reasons:
    • They have a life history that makes them very vulnerable to fishing
    • They are commonly sourced from overfished and depleted stocks, or are being fished at such a high rate that stocks are being depleted rapidly
    • The fishing methods used to catch the fish are often highly destructive to other oceans creatures and/or habitats.

The list can be seen here, and it includes many of my favourite and a number of very common species, including Tuna, Eel, Haddock, Hoki, Red Fish, Orange Roughy, Atlantic Salmon, Tropical Shrimp, Sole and Swordfish.

Can anyone imagine Japan without these fish? It seems almost impossible. Of course, Japan has been a paradise for seafood eaters for a very long time. With the bubble and Japan's economic successes much of Australia's best seafood catches began making their way predominantly to Japan from the '80s on.

One of the smells "Japan" evokes in my mind is of fish; the slippery, cool, icy smell you come across in so many small fish shops dotted all over the country. Change has come to many other sectors, but it is hard to imagine Japan without that smell.

Monday, June 16, 2008

"Let 10% of Japan be foreigners"

And in the continuing realm of "Japan facing up to reality" comes this pronouncement from the LDP.

I haven't done any original reporting on this, but if this Japan Times article is at least some indication, there is significant change afoot in the way Japan plans to adjust its policies towards foreigners in the coming decades -- and in a positive sense.

The fact that Japan's population size is in rapid decline has been known for some time. Historically, however, the Japanese archipelago and government relied on the construct (artificial) that the nation was homogeneous. Government policies and social norms were constructed consciously (and subconsciously) to maintain these distinctions.

To give an example, Japan was (and still is) one of the few developed countries in the world in which one can live long term without needing to set down roots, learn the language or take out citizenship or even permanent residence -- and the citizenry and government, as a whole, seem to prefer it that way.

But, times they do change -- and Japan appears to have accepted it really needs to open up to the world. Of course, we have been here before. The '80s saw a wonderful [sarcasm] age of "Internationalisation" 国際化 that resulted in a rush of university educated English teachers on good salaries (and a few others), but not much more. Japan's long-term "foreigners" (particularly, second and third generation "immigrants" of Korean origin) did not find too much increased acceptance.

More on this soon I hope. But, the indications (along with the Diet's acknowledgment of the Ainu as an indigenous people [see link below] does suggest change of some kind is under way.

Japan urges greater role for its women

Yes, wouldn't that be nice. The white paper, unfortunately, is more words on a subject that has been rehashed repeatedly for years.

A government white paper on gender equality released Friday calls on the public sector to help women advance into leading roles in society.
Noting the relatively slight presence of female leaders in society, the 2008 white paper says women make up only 10.1 percent of the leadership of parent-teacher associations.
"Taking advantage of women's will and ability would be very fruitful for regional communities that are currently saddled with various problems," the report says.*

Yes, wouldn't it just.

But, then Japan, as we know, can surpise. Like this announcement, accepting the obvious (so long denied): Diet rules Ainu are indigenous.

* Sorry, this is the print version URL, JTO's online search is not returning any results (at this time).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sexism - alive and well in the US

Prepared by the Women's Media Center and focussed on the candidacy of Hillary Clinton as covered by some of the US press; this youtube video will warm the cockles [NOT].

Clearly, the context is missing, as this is a compilation of clips, so the montage can't be taken too seriously. Think of it as a moment of controlled channel surfing...

Saturday, June 7, 2008


Well, I did it. Saw the movie -- and loved it. And if you haven't seen it yet, please don't read on. You will only spoil the fun.

And it was fun, and everything we have come to expect of it. I've lived that life -- in the past -- and, at the end, I yearned to go back, and dance that dance through life again. The colours were great, the production values were high and their were the moments of laughs, smiles and gentle tears.

I want the DVD, just to study the clothes further. The story, that could be enjoyed one more time, but the shots on the clothes were way too short and snappy.

The big problem, the one complaint that can't be made to go away, is the place given to the secondary, even to the tertiary characters. In the series, rightly, as the story lines and years progressed, more time was spent on the sub plots; on bringing depth to the men. This was missing this time around -- and the movie suffered for it.

Granted, after four years, the emphasis could return to the girls, there was more than enough for them to say and do. But, more depth could have been given to the boys; their failure to speak up, was at times a noticeable failing. Had there words been left on the cutting room floor? Had they even made it into the script? Too often, it felt the men were shortchanged.

Not doing so would have made this movie a perfect ending to an enchanting, gritty confection that deserves its plaudits (and some of its brickbats).

Monday, June 2, 2008

Used cooking oil is "hot"

The left over oil from fast food fryers is a new hot item among thieves, according to a New York Times report.

processed fryer oil, which is called yellow grease, is actually not trash. The grease is traded on the booming commodities market. Its value has increased in recent months to historic highs, driven by the even higher prices of gas and ethanol, making it an ever more popular form of biodiesel to fuel cars and trucks.
Biodiesel is derived by processing vegetable oil or animal fat with alcohol. It is increasingly available around the country, but it is expensive. With the right kind of conversion kit (easily found on the Internet) anyone can turn discarded cooking oil into a usable engine fuel that can burn on its own, or as a cheap additive to regular diesel.

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