Saturday, November 26, 2011

Who "Owns" Radioactive Waste?

from the November 24th Asahi Shimbun:
During court proceedings concerning a radioactive golf course, Tokyo Electric Power Co. stunned lawyers by saying the utility was not responsible for decontamination because it no longer "owned" the radioactive substances.
“Radioactive materials (such as cesium) that scattered and fell from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant belong to individual landowners there, not TEPCO,” the utility said.
You can read the rest of the article here.

TEPCO's position is as ridiculous as Chichikov's in Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Hachiya. Furry feeling on the tongue before ripe. Astringent. Must wait till ready to burst to eat.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Yucca, Yucca Moths, and Bogus Yucca Moths

Yucca is not native to Japan, but it does well here in our area. This one has been planted in a cozy, reflecting spot against a wall.

It does well with this one caveat — there's no one around to pollinate it, so any plant you see is at an evolutionary dead end. The Yucca in the United States, Mexico, and Caribbean rely on female moths of the genus Tegeticula to deposit pollen into the stigma of each flower. Without these moths, and absent anyone to hand pollinate them, the flowers won't produce seeds.

In their native habitat they are also host — and I love this term — to "bogus yucca moths," smaller moths that reside in the relative safety of the flowers, but don't do any of the heavy lifting/pollinating work.

My guess is that some day in the misty future, these "bogus" moths will — like the much-maligned and removed appendix in the human body — be shown to serve some useful purpose and will have to be renamed.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Right Enzymes

Echosquirrel and I have this running dispute on how long it takes to digest a meal. I've always tended to think that at most it takes a day, whereas she argues that the whole process from intake to elimination of wastes takes a few days. While doing a little basic research to find out that she is right — it takes 72 hours on average (the large intestine is not 9 meters long for nothing) — I also discovered that many Japanese people carry an enzyme in their gut not found in Westerners' for digesting seaweed.

According to a May, 2010 article by Karen Schwarzberg and Mike Gurney in the Microbe Blog Small Things Considered,
the Japanese can digest their nori (Porphyra) courtesy of the particular strains of B. plebeius that they carry, strains that are not found in North Americans. Furthermore, genomic evidence suggests that the initial acquisition of the β-porphyranase genes by B. plebeius was by horizontal transfer from a marine Bacteroidetes. The likely site for the transfer might well have been within the human GI tract since such Bacteroidetes are present on the uncooked seaweeds that have been avidly eaten by the Japanese since at least the eighth century. The transfer would have provided the host with a selective advantage: the ability to metabolize and derive energy from a frequently-eaten carbohydrate source that others in the population could not digest. Interestingly, the paper (Hehemann, Nature) reports an incident of transfer from mother to infant, implying that we can pass those modified bacteria to close family members and perhaps others.
I don't have any particular problems digesting nori or the various other seaweeds I ingest on an almost daily basis.
Here's hoping I have the right enzymes.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

November Flowers

I've been seeing these here and there about town the past few days, but I haven't been able to identify them yet. Not immortalized enough to be in the haiku flower book; not tasty enough to make the edible plant guide; not pedestrian enough to grace the field flower guide.

**** after writing these lines I decided to do a quick Google blekko search in Japanese — don't know why I didn't start with that — and quickly found out who they are: koutei dahlia (皇帝ダリア) or Dahlia imperialis, native to Central America.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Racy Ancient Literature

In a previous post, I wrote a little about Haruki Murakami's new book of essays, The Enormous Turnip; The Difficult Avocado. At the time I hadn't yet read the first eponymous essay and so did my best to project my own thoughts onto what our lover of deep holes might be up to.

I'm happy to report I've read it now — to my surprise Murakami has shot off in an entirely different direction. After introducing us to the wholesome version of the tale that all Japanese children know (with all of the townspeople pulling together to remove the turnip) Murakami tells us that the Russian "original" indeed has a precursor — in ancient Japanese literature — and the story is a racy one.

According to Murakami, before the Russian version, there was a similar story in the Konjaku Monogatari (今昔物語) a thirty-one volume collection of tales from India, China, and Japan written  in the Heian Period (794-1185). All of the stories in these volumes start with the phrase "Now long ago (今は昔) which Murakami himself slips into the retelling of the turnip tale.

His recounting goes something like this: Now long ago, a prince was traveling from the Western Capital to the Eastern one, when all of a sudden he was overcome by a burning sexual desire (i.e. a raging hard-on). He happened to be in the countryside near a field, so he went over and pulled out the biggest turnip he could find, made a hole in it, and, after relieving his desire inside it, tossed the used thing back into the field.

The next day, a young woman came by and found the ravaged vegetable with the hole in it. What did she do? Of course, she ate the whole thing (I kid you not) and soon thereafter became pregnant. Her parents couldn't quite comprehend how the eaten turnip could have caused their daughter's condition, and were not a little put out, but nine months later, when a beautiful child was born, they changed their minds.

Of course, all that is needed is for this strange tale to have an even happier ending — which we get in the form of the Prince coming back round after five years to see what has happened to the turnip he had poked. After learning the story, and meeting his child, he decides to do the right thing by sticking around and marrying the girl.

Murakami tells us it is a strange tale. He tells us it's surreal. That there is no moral. That to arbitrarily have sex with a turnip can be a good thing (turnips not possessing personality or feelings). That the Russian and Japanese tales, are two entirely different species.

"Somewhat strange, but good, this fairytale," he tells us. Yes.

This One's For You

A heartfelt kampai! to Jon Allen at The Japan Blog List and Nicolas Soergel at The Japan Blog Directory for including links to my blog on their directories.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ai Weiwei's Waiting For You

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was released from jail in June but has recently been slapped with a $2.4 million "tax" bill which he must pay within two weeks or risk further harassment and/or imprisonment from the government.

According to a report in the New York Times, he had begun receiving small donations from people over the internet to pay the bill until Big Brother shut that down:
"The donations began pouring in on Thursday, many of them delivered  electronically and accompanied by politically tinged comments. “You helped them to design the Bird’s Nest, but they sent you into a bird cage,” said one donor, referring to Mr. Ai’s role in designing the Olympic stadium in Beijing. “You charged them fees, but now they fine you more than hundreds of times that in blood and sweat.'"
Most recently people have begun walking past his property in Beijing and floating paper Maos over the wall into his garden.

How To Make Flying Money:

First, tape a couple of high denomination Yuan together, then follow the instructions above.

Ai Weiwei will be waiting for you.


Update 2/19/2016: I don't know if the situation for Weiwei in China has changed, but here in the U.S., the website Artsy has a dedicated Ai Weiwei page which includes his bio, pictures of over 120 of his works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date exhibition listings. 

You may also want to follow Ai Weiwei on Instagram @aiww where he has been chronicling the plight of refugees coming into Greece by boat.

Little White Dog

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Artificial Persons

I was heartened yesterday to learn that Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks had created a group called Wolf-PAC with the aim of calling for a constitutional amendment through the state legislatures to abolish the absurd fiction that corporations are somehow persons — in effect ending corporations' ability to spend unlimited amounts of money to finance elections. (See Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.)

That two-thirds of the states must call for a convention, and then three-quarters of states must ratify the amendment makes the likelihood of such a thing happening perhaps small, but the mere fact that people are starting to push back and get directly involved in democracy makes me feel not a little hopeful — especially with my participation being limited so many miles and time zones away.

I've been listening to Thom Hartmann rail against the notion of corporate personhood for quite some time now. When I used to live in Montana, I'd drive around to the local bookstores and hear him and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders eloquently and it seemed fruitlessly pleading for the rights of regular, working class people. He argued (and continues to argue) that the only way we can restore a true democracy in America is to abolish the notion of corporate personhood.

From Hartmann's website:
The Supreme Court ruled on an obscure taxation issue in the Santa Clara County vs. The Union Pacific Railroad case, but the Recorder of the court - a man named J. C. Bancroft Davis, himself formerly the president of a small railroad - wrote into his personal commentary of the case (known as a headnote) that the Chief Justice had said that all the Justices agreed that corporations are persons.
And in so doing, he - not the Supreme Court, but its clerical recorder - inserted a statement that would change history and give corporations enormous powers that were not granted by Congress, not granted by the voters, and not even granted by the Supreme Court. Davis’s headnote, which had no legal standing, was taken as precedent by generations of jurists (including the Supreme Court) who followed and apparently read the headnote but not the decision.
What is especially ironic about this is that Davis knew the Court had not ruled on this issue. We found a handwritten note in the J.C. Bancroft Davis collection in the Library of Congress, from Chief Justice Waite to reporter Davis, explicitly saying, “we did not meet the constitutional issues in the case.” (In other words, the Court had decided the case on lesser grounds, which it always prefers to do when possible.)
Yet Davis wrote that the constitutional issue of corporate personhood had been decided, and his headnote was published the year Waite died, most likely after Waite’s death. The railroads were persons, he wrote (in the headnote), implying that they’re entitled to the same rights as persons. And Davis attributed this new legal reality to Chief Justice Waite who had specifically, in writing, disavowed it.
Another great irony of this event is that the Bill of Rights was designed to protect human persons because of their vulnerability in relations with other human persons who may be much more powerful. But corporations are bestowed with potential immortality, can change their identity in a day, or even tear off parts of themselves and instantly turn those parts into entirely new “persons.” Yet regardless of all these superhuman powers, corporations are now considered persons.
People are ethical, moral beings. Corporations are blind, amoral, entities whose sole reason of being is to maximize shareholder profit. Which is not to say that there are not unethical, immoral, or amoral people, or that there are not ethical corporations. There are both.
I think we need to go back to calling corporations what they are: artificial persons.

Or this is the story of your enslavement.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Vintage Cars Around Town

A Renault:
An Aston Martin. (This one's my favorite):
A Mini Cooper:
A Chevy Chevelle? (Can't read the writing on the side.)
A Honda Civic. (This one needs some work):
 I could be wrong on any or all of these. If you have any insight, please comment.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Under Surveillance
Growing up in a Roman Catholic household, the fact of God's ubiquity and hence ability to see what I was up to at all times and in all places, instilled in me a healthy dose of paranoia.

A smart trick, certainly, when a mere concept can deter someone from doing something. No need to spend lots of money on pesky priests peeking out from the confessional to see what their nasty boys are doing.

Smarter certainly than the Chinese who, with the help of good ole Cisco, are in the process of plastering the entire city of Chongqing with video surveillance cameras. 500, 000 of them to be exact. Fulan Gong is fucked.

But it's not much better in Manhattan, where Wall Street elite get to play God next to the NYPD's Jesus, spying on peaceful protestors, anarchists, antichrists, and just regular sick-of-it-all peeps who, I think, might have some conceptual smashing to do.