AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Hauling ash

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, May 29, 2012

LAST SUNDAY we had a post that dealt, in part, with a mini-sit-in held at the entrance of a refuse incineration facility in Kitakyushu that was to conduct a trial burning of 80 tons of debris generated by the Tohoku disaster. The demonstrators held up the process until the police removed them from the premises.

The incineration went ahead as scheduled, the city measured the radioactivity in the fly ash collected in the smokestack filters, and the results were announced yesterday. The national government’s minimum standard for landfill is no more than 3,000 becquerels per kilogram. As I noted last week, the city is known for its rigorous environmental standards, and their target for the fly ash was a much lower 330 becquerels per kilogram.

One of the incineration sites measured 19 becquerels, and the other measured 30.

The city’s standard for the bottom ash (the ash that never left the incinerator) is no more than 100 becquerels per kilogram. They detected none at either location. The mayor will announce the city’s decision next month on whether to continue the incineration, and these results make it more likely that they will.

It is of critical importance that other regions help with the incineration.  The Tohoku earthquake disaster created 29 million cubic meters of debris. Most of it has yet to be disposed of, though it has been organized into piles. Preventing that disposal is a combination of hysteria, willful ignorance, and the Not In My Backyard phenomenon:

“We think the debris is contaminated with Caesium and we do not trust the government tests,” she said. “There has been a lot of misleading information from officials so it is difficult now to trust any directive from above.”

Mrs Aki, who conceded that the city was probably evenly split for and against the decision, suggested that the waste should remain in the tsunami zone, and perhaps be stored in the exclusion zone around the stricken nuclear plant, which will be a dead zone for decades.

In other words, out of sight, out of mind. One foreigner on Twitter recently asked an open question (in Japanese) of the protesters: Do you really think the government is making all this up? Is this man betraying the public trust?

“We have tested all of our rubbish and not found any radiation,” said Sato Yoshinori, a spokesman for Ishinomaki council. “The amounts we found were background levels. So it is a shame that people perceive there is danger in a place like Ishinomaki, that does not have any radiation. It is a shame they do not see that.”

Ishinomaki is the source of the debris incinerated at Kitakyushu.

As to be expected, the usual concerns remain, and some of them are on the legit. The Nishinippon Shimbun quoted someone identified as being in the “agricultural and maritime industry” as saying:

“No matter how often the government insists that it is scientifically safe, it is possible that the reputation of our products will be harmed if that is not fully understood by the consumers.”

Then there was this from Saito Toshiyuki:

“It is a fact that radioactive material was detected in the fly ash, and the city’s target figures themselves are unclear.”

Mr. Saito is an attorney and an anti-nuclear power activist, but you probably guessed that already. The patter and the pattern are universal. That includes the implication that it’s a terrible, terrible outrage if everything everywhere isn’t absolutely perfect and pure and socially just at all times, and there are no leaky faucets in anyone’s lives.

Meanwhile,  a citizens’ group in Tokyo called (roughly) “National Referendum on Nuclear Power: Let’s All Decide Together”,  asked the metro district government today to pass a law to allow a local referendum.  You’ve also probably guessed what their preferred outcome would be.

That cranky old fart xenophobic right-wing nationalist creep Ishihara Shintaro, the metro district governor, replied briefly and to the point:

“That is a judgment the national government should calmly make.”

He has the ear and political friendship of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, who has emerged as the national leader of the nuclear hysteria faction. Perhaps Mr. Ishihara would consider playing the role of wise old uncle and lay some wisdom on him.

It has not escaped the notice of some Japanese that one man is behaving like an adult and the other is behaving like a child.

N.B.: For reason #21,947 demonstrating why I bang on so often about the lackwits assigned by the overseas English-language media to write about Japan, look carefully at the linked Telegraph article. On this website, I use the Japanese (and Chinese and Korean) custom of writing family names first and given names second. Most English-language media outlets, however, reverse them into the Western order. The names of the two people provided to the Telegraph’s correspondent were in the traditional Japanese order. That would be obvious to anyone who has spent about a month in Japan and gotten accustomed to people’s names.

Not the journo at the Telegraph, however. He refers to the woman as “Mrs. Aki”. That’s the equivalent of calling someone “Mrs. Debbie”. A closer look at that page shows that he is identifed as a “foreign correspondent” and Tweeting from China. There is no mention of whether he packed his Burberry trenchcoat for his grand East Asian adventure.

Afterwords:

Let’s continue the theme from the previous post, titled Cultural Notes.

The situation in the Tohoku region is bad enough, but it’s much worse in Haiti, more than two years after its earthquake. The emphasis is mine.

But two years later, over half a million people remain homeless in hundreds of informal camps, a majority of the tons of debris from destroyed buildings still lays where it fell, and cholera, a preventable disease, was introduced into the country and is now an epidemic killing thousands and sickening hundreds of thousands more. Haiti today looks like the earthquake happened two months ago, not two years.

Haitians ask the same question as the US Congress, “Where is the money?”

The authors think they have identified the problem.

The effort so far has not been based a respectful partnership between Haitians and the international community.

But the New York Times thinks real progress is being made:

Haitians have seen real progress in the last two years. About half of the 10 million cubic feet of quake debris has been removed from Port-au-Prince and other areas. More people have access to clean water in the capital than before the quake. With investment from a Korean garment maker, an industrial park is being built in the northeast, with the promise of 20,000 jobs.

They have a suggestion for speeding up the process:

A United Nations analysis showed that while many nations have been generous, particularly the United States, Brazil, Canada, Spain and France, almost all the money has gone to nongovernmental organizations and private contractors. To build Haitian capacity, that will have to change, and the commission can help — by giving guidance to Haiti’s ministries and monitoring their efforts.

But oddly, in the next paragraph, we see the answer to the charge that there’s hasn’t been a respectful partnership, and the reason the money isn’t going to the government:

President Martelly is a more engaged leader than his predecessor. In the fall, he announced a plan to house 30,000 residents of six tent cities with rental subsidies and new construction. More than a half-million Haitians remain in camps and it is not clear if he will take on powerful landowners to free up the land needed for rebuilding. He needs to abandon his focus on building an army. What Haiti needs is a professional, accountable police force.

If this president is more engaged, even though his focus is on building an army instead of cleaning up the rubble, we can only imagine what his predecessor must have been like. (Perhaps the threat of invasion from the Dominican Republic is greater than we realized.) We also can imagine the behavior of the local police.

Ah, but the human spirit remains triumphant in the face of all disasters. Here’s a glowing report on the response of some Haitians:

The metal figures standing like sentinels in the middle of an exhibit of contemporary Haitian art are created from a mishmash of scrap metal and found objects: nails, marbles, old shoes, bed springs, tire treads, hub caps, pieces of fans and other discards.

…The figures created from found objects were sculpted by Guyodo, Andre Eugene and Jean Herard Celeur, three members of the group Atis Rezistans, an artists’ collective living and working in downtown Port-au-Prince. The group has showcased its artwork and creative process in a mash-up of high art-meets-the developing world called “Ghetto Biennale,” which opened a month before the earthquake and returned last month.

Their work in “Haiti Kingdom of This World” exemplifies the exhibit’s theme of celebrating Haitian artists’ creativity and resourcefulness while challenging viewers to look beyond Haiti’s reputation for disorder, poverty and failure.

If I were so challenged, I’d return the challenge and ask why they thought it was so important to stage an art exhibit created from earthquake debris instead of temporarily suspending their artists’ collective after the earthquake and organizing volunteer groups to drag and drop into piles the crap that remains where it fell, enabling the NGOs and private contractors to get at it while Monsieur Le President is reviewing the troops and the police are busy shaking people down.

It’s worth reading that piece, by the way, if only for entertainment purposes. It contains enough adjectives, adverbs, and artsy-fartsy platitudes to choke a museum curator.

The Haitians do have one advantage over the Japanese, however. I doubt any of them are complaining about the environmental hazards of the cleanup operation or holding sit-ins in front of incineration sites.

*****

The Huffpo culture critic missed her chance to really impress her readers when she used the term “found objects” instead of the official Art jargon of objets trouvés.

Speaking of finding things, I found this video on YouTube of a performance by the son of my favorite Haitian singer, Coupé Cloué. Everything seems to be spic and span in his neck of the woods. His father chose that stage name, by the way, because it combines two French words used in Haiti as slang for the sexual act.

One Response to “Hauling ash”

  1. toadold said

    It is interesting from the point of cultural comparisons to compare the Dominican Republic to that of Haiti since they are both on the same Island. The former French colony that revolted vs. the Spanish colony. The Dominicans overall don’t have much sympathy for their neighbors. The politically correct elite in the US carefully avoid the opinions of Black immigrants from overseas about the Blacks of the US inner cities and the entitlement mentality sponsored by the left.. The Kenyan computer programmer and even the retired gentleman from Zimbabwe were appalled by the conduct and educational levels of “African-Americans.” The gentleman from Zimbabwe said what disturbed him the most was that the US was full of educational opportunities and chances that the young American blacks were passing up on.

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