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“For A Greener Planet?”

January 4, 2011 Leave a comment

New Year’s day had its share of commercials pushing the “eco” this and “green” that. In Japan, it seems the car companies are ready to roll out electric/hybrid cars. Zero emissions here we come. But is it really going to make life better?

Have you ever wondered what it takes to make these new fangled cars? Cars used to be a bucket of bolts and wires and leather (for the seats). Steel belted rubber hit the pavement and the engines were powered good ole fashioned gasoline, which is derived from environment killing fossil fuels. I’ll stay away from the fact that even though one will not have to stop at a gas station, one has to use electricity, which comes from fossil fuels, for now anyway. Let’s tackle the simplicity of constructing these wonderful machines (and most electronic items that surround our lives).

Rare Earths Unleashed
Ever hear of rare earth minerals? (Some say just rare earths.) To use the word rare is an understatement. These minerals are used in the production of parts that eventually end up in fuel efficient, no-emission producing cars. The advancement of battery technology depends on having a healthy supply of these rare earths. Japan is not rich with these minerals, or other ones for that matter, but thanks to China, Japanese companies have been getting a healthy supply of rare earths. Actually, about 50% of the rare earths mined and refined in China go to Japan. However, that situation took a real blow last fall when a Chinese fishing boat hit a Japanese Coast Guard boat near the Senkaku Islands, which lie in disputed waters. Japan arrested the fishing boat captain, and China stopped shipments of refined rare earths to Japan. Japan rather immediately released the Chinese fishing boat captain. Rare earths miraculously began arriving in Japan from China. You draw the conclusions.

Rare earth oxides, clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium and gadolinium.

Anyway, check out the periodic table of elements and you will see these wonderful minerals in “the so-called lanthanoids, from lanthanum through ytterbium, plus…scandium, yttrium and lutetium.” The New York Times Online has some great background stuff on these rare earths. I won’t go into the science of these elements because quite frankly I have zero clue about this stuff. That said, I do know China controls a lot of it, and here in lies what I believe will be major battleground for 2011, and beyond.

The Reality
Over 95% of the world’s consumable rare earths come out of Chinese mines. America, Australia, and Central Asia make up the majority of the rest of the deposits, but basically, China holds sway over the world’s supply. Why will this cause clash? Let me illustrate through simple examples.

Do you own a flat screen TV? If the answer is yes, you own rare earths. Do you own a cell phone or smart phone? If the answer is yes, again, you own rare earths. Own a computer? – made with rare earths. You want to own a hybrid car? – It will be made with rare earths. In fact, almost all the electronic devices we have in this digital age needs rare earth minerals. Without them, no more of the above. I haven’t even mentioned all the high grade medical technology that relies on this stuff. You didn’t think the MRI machine was made of aluminuum, and some duct tape?

The Environment
So, what does all that have to do with the environment? Simple, getting to the rare earths means destroying a certain environment. Some rare earth’s are really toxic, and if they seep in to the ground water, people will be adversely affected (to put it mildly). Back in the 80s a U.S. based mine had to shut down because rare earth minerals in liquid form got into the local drinking water. Since this time it has been impossible in the United States to get a permit to mine rare earths. China’s environmental regulations are far more lax than the U.S.s. This goes for most of the world outside of Europe and maybe Canada. To get at the amount of rare earths needed to develop our “Eco” or “Green” society we have to muddy some waters. What do you think is happening in China? I can tell you this, in some places, don’t drink the water, and bring your air filter.

Who To Blame?
I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming China for having resources. I just want to point out two things. One, China has a stranglehold on the world, and will not hesitate to apply pressure whenever and wherever necessary. Two, “Eco” isn’t what it appears to be. There are a lot of things to consider when advocating for a “greener” planet. Like Newton’s Law – for every action there is an equal and opposing reaction. When we wash ourselves clean the dirt has to go somewhere.

Tragic Irony
Ironically, there was a time the United States was the leader in this category, but for some reason China now has the technology and advanced techniques to mine and process the minerals. Getting them out of the ground is not so difficult, depending on your environmental stance, but refining and smelding are quite complex, apparently, and the Chinese are good at it, environmental and human health degradation being par for the course.

Why can't the U.S., and the world catch up to this?

You would think the U.S. and Europe could figure out more advanced ways to get at these minerals, but the slates seem blank. For now, China is in the driver’s seat, and taking the world for a nice ride. Hopefully other countries open mines to counteract China’s stranglehold, but that all takes time. I don’t want to deny the Chinese their prosperity, I just want to level the playing field and encourage more competition, which could raise standards for everyone involved in the process.

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The Big 4 Blogging…Well 3?

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

The speed and vastness that is the Internet will never cease to amaze me, especially when it comes to blogs. Obviously, I have one (even though I’m poor at updating it). Blogs are everywhere and for everyone, including the chief executives of nations. I’m sure this is not news to those who live in cyberspace, but who would think that the leaders of 4 major national powers would be blogging (when they probably should be attending to more pressing national issues – poverty, inflation, unemployment, raising taxes, etc.).

Who are these 4 nations – Russia, The United States, Japan and China. You can get to the first 3 of these blogs very easily, just hit the links. Apparently there was a rumor that Hu Jintao, President of China, did some microblogging, but I could not find it (didn’t really put all that much effort into it).

Out of the 3 I could easily find I am not surprised by the look and feel of Obama’s or Medvedev’s. Both really reflect the men, and how I think they see themselves and their nations. Obama’s is sophisticated and polished, and easy to navigate, much like Obama himself. As far as I’m concerned Obama isn’t hard to understand, if you listen to the man, and not the diatribes of the dimwits who roast him. He hasn’t done everything I would like, but he surely hasn’t put the U.S. on a course of disaster any more than Dubya and his cronies did. If the Republicans actually had some ideas and could actually present them in an articulate manner then maybe things would be better. Will the real conservatives please step forward!

President Medvedev’s blog is very clean cut and easy on the eyes. Like the man himself. It looks like it could have been conceived by a well-trained lawyer who also served in the Russian military, like Medvedev. For a nation with all the problems of Russia, the mere appearance of the blog gives me some hope that this nation with great potential will one day come back to full form, but with a more benign and humane profile.

Like I said, the Chinese blog was not found, except for the rumor that President Hu did some blogging somewhere. I gather the blogger Hu Jintao is much like the man himself – brief and to the point, but also elusive from the camera’s eye, or reporters’ questions. The blogs look would of course highlight the very best of China, and be cast in read and yellow. It probably would also be very serious and not send any indication that China is lesser than any other major world player. If the Beijing Olympics was any indication of the grandeur and sophistication of China look for a blog equally as grand, but also very sophisticated and intelligent.

The final blog is the most interesting (I think) because it fully characterizes what I think Prime Minister Kan means to the people of Japan – a bit of a cartoon. Anime and manga might be big in Japan, and a cultural export the Japanese have marketed to perfection, but it doesn’t need to appear on the blog of the Prime Minister. Kan’s header is basically a big caricature of himself. I have been trying to give Kan the benefit of the doubt, and take him seriously in all that he says, but the blog just looks unsophisticated and unintelligent. I’m not talking about the commentary, I’m just talking about the look. Japanese aesthetics might be grounded in minimalism, but the minimalism also has some taste and style to it. This looks like the blog of an elementary school child. Compared to the sophistication of Obama’s and Medvedev’s blogs I can’t really take Kan’s too seriously.

Now, maybe I’m just looking at this with a pessimistic perspective. Kan could very well be taking the piss of himself when it comes to the illustration that heads his blog. If so, more power to him, but after being in Japan for some time now, and knowing Japanese people the way I do, I think these people deserve more and better from their leader. I do like that Kan, apparently, writes comments himself, and posts regularly. That said, Japan has some big issues to deal with. I hope Kan can balance dealing with structural deficit that will collapse the nation, and attending to his blog.

So, what does this all mean? Not much, just that leaders of nations feel they need to connect with people and to do that blogging is great. All the sites are seemingly nationalistic and promote the overwhelming positive aspects of the nation. Why not? What would be the point of posting critically negative stories? Ironically (or not if you think about it), and for what it is worth Medvedev’s blog is set-up to appear in multiple languages (Russian and English).

Peace

Not So Easy Being a Princess

March 14, 2010 4 comments

When I was a kid I was bullied a bit. I was picked-on and called nasty names. I had my moments where I wanted to burn down the school, everyone in it and stand on my little kingdom of ash like that kid in the Pearl Jam video, “Jeremy.” The only things that separated me from the kid in the video were that my parents paid attention to me, and that led me to not being self-destructive and suicidal. I had outlets and ways to deal with such pressures. Like I said, my parents listened to me. But my parents never kept me home from school. They never said, “Wayne, you can stay home because some kid called you nigger.” They usually helped me confront these people and put the fear of God in them. I quickly realized that the best defense was having a set parents who were ready to throw punches with any bully in school. That in turn gave me some confidence, and eventually if someone tried to put me down, I would throw punches. I didn’t always win, but I stood my ground and was ready for whatever.

Why do I share this little memory? Because Princess Aiko seems to be going through this exact episode. But her parents have taken her out of school, and seem to be sheltering her. I’m not royalty, nor do I pretend to understand what those people go through, but hell, you’d think the granddaughter of the Emperor of Japan could go through school without being bullied? And you’d think, at least, the parents of this little girl would throw down, and say, “My daughter is a princess of Japan, and if anyone bullies her, heads will roll.” Trust me, my parents said a lot worse to all sorts of people – other parents, kids, school administrators, you name them. I still remember seeing my vice principal piss his pants when my dad rocked his world in his office…great memory, but I digress.

Okay, so I know it may inappropriate to say that, and maybe it only adds fuel to the fire, but at least let her go back to school, and teach her that bullies should never win. She may get bullied, but god damn-it don’t let them win! Teach that girl how to fight for herself! She may not have to throw punches (hopefully), but teach her that mental toughness is what separates the greats from the losers. Bullies pride themselves on having controlled someone, and thus breaking that person. If you don’t let them break you, they can’t win, and they will know it. If it ever comes to it, you may have to fight. So be it. It isn’t wrong. I don’t advocate physical altercations, especially with 8 year old girls, but like my father always told me, “If you do not listen, you will feel.”

I hope Princess Aiko goes back to school, and tells those bullies, “Listen, you have a choice, stop harassing me, or feel my sumo charge.” Incidentally, I read that she is quite knowledgeable on sumo so maybe she can use it to her advantage.

Good luck Princess Aiko, you have a big supporter in a guy who used to be in your shoes…well, without the whole royal family thing.

Peace

Japan 2009 World Baseball Classic Champs!!!

March 24, 2009 2 comments

Team Japan as 2009 World Baseball Classic Champions

Team Japan as 2009 World Baseball Classic Champions


Stars perform when they have to. That was Ichiro Suzuki in the 10th inning of the 2009 World Baseball Classic final. A slumpy Suzuki, Ichiro underperformed throughout the entire competition. But when his team needed him he came through by driving in the winning run, in a close 10 inning epic with 2008 Olympic champions, South Korea.

If I were a betting man I would have put my money on Japan. I knew they would pull it out. I think the consistent team work and team support allowed the Japanese to pull out some tough victories. The talent was always there, it was just a matter of making it all click just right.

Congratulations!

Peace

No ‘I’ in Team, or Japan

March 23, 2009 2 comments

I love my home nation, the United States of America. Despite the economic downturn, and being the center of international criticism, I defend the merits of my country.

Mike Blake of Reuters Captures Japan's Greatest Strength - Team Work

Mike Blake of Reuters Captures Japan's Greatest Strength - The Team

That said, I am cheering for Japan to win the World Baseball Classic. Why this flinching patriotism? Am a traitor to the cause? Quite the contrary.

You see, if U.S. baseball wasn’t so tarnished by drugs, dishonesty, downright selfishness I would be singing a much different tune. Japanese baseball isn’t weighted down by these things. The players are focused on the team, and play with a spirit that has long been lost in U.S. baseball. In the States big contracts have enhanced bad behavior, and do little to curb out-of-control egos.

I hope that one day U.S. baseball gets back to the level it once was. In the meantime I will cheer on my second home, and it’s native sons – Nippon Ichibon!!!!

The Newest Supermodel -Yokozuna Asashoryu

In prime Asashoryu fashion, he is in the limelight while his fellow mates are hard at work getting ready for the 2009 Spring Basho held in Osaka beginning Sunday, March 15th and ending Sunday, March 29th. This time though the bad boy of the Sumo world is showing his hip side.

Appearing at the Shibuya Girls Collection fashion show in Tokyo, Asashoryu brought his grand style to the Yoyogi National Gymnasium and it’s 20,000 strong.

Asashoryu waving to fashion crowd

Asashoryu waving to fashion crowd

As the title of this event suggests, the crowd was made up of 20,000 teenage girls, mostly. I don’t think these same people will be the majority of the audience who will attend the Spring Grand Tournament in Osaka. That said, from the pictures provided by Kyodo Photo (above) and Chris Jue (below) you’d think the exciting but controversial yokozuna is trying to change the face of Sumo, instead of promoting his latest sponsor, FANTA (he’s wearing a FANTA shirt, and recently appeared in a TV commercial for them).

According to Kyodo News via The Japan Times Online, the big guy sounded a bit nervous, but seemed to enjoy the whole event, “I felt a kind of tension that was new to me….The shrill voices were also impressive.”

I bet he worked on his turn alot.

I bet he worked on his turn alot.

I will hold my criticism towards the big guy because when it comes to success this guys record stands on its own. He’s grand champion, and has the hardware to prove it. Regardless of what people might say about him his showcase of Emperor Cups is one not to be rivaled, even by current co-Yokozuna Hakuho (they are both Mongolian by the way). Frankly speaking, I love Asashoryu, whose name means “Morning Blue Dragon” (what a badass name) because of this aggressiveness and individuality (I’m a U.S. American from the New York City area – go figure). I understand how some see his actions as disrespectful to the centuries old traditions that make Sumo what it is. And I don’t approve of his rumored womanizing and his bad attitude ego trippin’. I’m not going to hang out with him over a bowl of chunko nabe. All that said, I will watch him stuff the rikishi down the throat of another opponent, and cheer him on.

Somehow, and there is great speculation that his matches are sometimes fixed, he manages to win. I for one think he beats people because he’s better. His technique is very good. His speed and strength compliment each other very well. And he believes in himself and his ability to beat anyone (sometimes to a fault some would say, but like most elite athletes).

But before all the talk of who will be hoisting the Spring Basho’s Emperors Cup, I guess Asa has a few other things to attend to…I wonder if he listened to Right Said Fred before his catwalk debut?

Peace

Learn Your Big Numbers Kids

March 4, 2009 4 comments

Recently I’ve been amazed at the kinds of numbers I’ve had to digest. When I teach, I usually talk about news and such things to get warmed up, and as many of us know the headlines are dominated by this global recession. One thing I’ve found I have to review with my students are large numbers.

In Japan large numbers are a way of life, but Japanese people have real trouble figuring out large numbers in English (not to criticize because large numbers in Japanese are my nemesis). When translated into yen they become even larger. So, I have to explain large numbers; and I’m not talking about just millions. Those are digits of the past. These days I’m talking about billions and trillions. I sware I saw a figure like “1.5 quadrillion” in some newspaper. What is that? Help me out!

With the release of President Obama’s first budgetary figures for the United States it seems we should just get used to talking in billions and trillions. No longer is the norm to strive to become a millionaire. Old standards friends. Now we have to adjust everything to billions. How many billionaires are there within the borders of your nation? That’s where we are starting. Becoming a trillionaire will be the new exclusive club for all to reach for. Scary!

Just FYI, billions = 9 zeroes (1,000,000,000); and trillions = 12 zeroes (1,000,000,000,000); and I speculate quadrillions = 15 zeroes (1,000,000,000,000,000). I’ll vouch for only the U.S. system since I am a U.S. American. I’m sure there are different ways of counting…Isn’t it always that way.

Welcome to the new reality.

Peace