Doug Lerner reports from Tokyo and St. Louis, and points beyond…

Archive for August, 2011

Republicans Against Science

Published: August 28, 2011

Jon Huntsman Jr., a former Utah governor and ambassador to China, isn’t a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. And that’s too bad, because Mr. Hunstman has been willing to say the unsayable about the G.O.P. — namely, that it is becoming the “anti-science party.” This is an enormously important development. And it should terrify us.

To see what Mr. Huntsman means, consider recent statements by the two men who actually are serious contenders for the G.O.P. nomination: Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.

Mr. Perry, the governor of Texas, recently made headlines by dismissing evolution as “just a theory,” one that has “got some gaps in it” — an observation that will come as news to the vast majority of biologists. But what really got peoples’ attention was what he said about climate change: “I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

That’s a remarkable statement — or maybe the right adjective is “vile.”

The second part of Mr. Perry’s statement is, as it happens, just false: the scientific consensus about man-made global warming — which includes 97 percent to 98 percent of researchers in the field, according to the National Academy of Sciences — is getting stronger, not weaker, as the evidence for climate change just keeps mounting.

In fact, if you follow climate science at all you know that the main development over the past few years has been growing concern that projections of future climate are underestimating the likely amount of warming. Warnings that we may face civilization-threatening temperature change by the end of the century, once considered outlandish, are now coming out of mainstream research groups.

But never mind that, Mr. Perry suggests; those scientists are just in it for the money, “manipulating data” to create a fake threat. In his book “Fed Up,” he dismissed climate science as a “contrived phony mess that is falling apart.”

I could point out that Mr. Perry is buying into a truly crazy conspiracy theory, which asserts that thousands of scientists all around the world are on the take, with not one willing to break the code of silence. I could also point out that multiple investigations into charges of intellectual malpractice on the part of climate scientists have ended up exonerating the accused researchers of all accusations. But never mind: Mr. Perry and those who think like him know what they want to believe, and their response to anyone who contradicts them is to start a witch hunt.

So how has Mr. Romney, the other leading contender for the G.O.P. nomination, responded to Mr. Perry’s challenge? In trademark fashion: By running away. In the past, Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, has strongly endorsed the notion that man-made climate change is a real concern. But, last week, he softened that to a statement that he thinks the world is getting hotter, but “I don’t know that” and “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.” Moral courage!

Of course, we know what’s motivating Mr. Romney’s sudden lack of conviction. According to Public Policy Polling, only 21 percent of Republican voters in Iowa believe in global warming (and only 35 percent believe in evolution). Within the G.O.P., willful ignorance has become a litmus test for candidates, one that Mr. Romney is determined to pass at all costs.

So it’s now highly likely that the presidential candidate of one of our two major political parties will either be a man who believes what he wants to believe, even in the teeth of scientific evidence, or a man who pretends to believe whatever he thinks the party’s base wants him to believe.

And the deepening anti-intellectualism of the political right, both within and beyond the G.O.P., extends far beyond the issue of climate change.

Lately, for example, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has gone beyond its long-term preference for the economic ideas of “charlatans and cranks” — as one of former President George W. Bush’s chief economic advisers famously put it — to a general denigration of hard thinking about matters economic. Pay no attention to “fancy theories” that conflict with “common sense,” the Journal tells us. Because why should anyone imagine that you need more than gut feelings to analyze things like financial crises and recessions?

Now, we don’t know who will win next year’s presidential election. But the odds are that one of these years the world’s greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge. And, in a time of severe challenges — environmental, economic, and more — that’s a terrifying prospect.


A view of Irene from the International Space Station

Everybody on the east coast, take care!



There have now been 1,500 earthquakes of magnitude 4 or greater in Japan since 3/11

People in the U.S. east coast are naturally talking about their magnitude 5.8 earthquake today. It was the largest quake in that part of the U.S. for 114 years.

As of this morning, here in Japan, we have had exactly 1,500 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 or greater since March 11.

Current tallies are:

15,707 known dead
4,642 still missing
5,717 injured

Over 45,000 buildings destroyed
Over 144,000 building damaged
Over 230,000 cars and trucks destroyed

And there are still over 85,000 people living in evacuation centers.


Kurage (jellyfish) ice cream

Taken at the Yamagata Aquarium, the sign says, “All have jellyfish inside! Crunchy and delicious, so try and eat some! 200 yen each.”

(From my friend, Dave.)



Due to high radioactivity some areas to stay closed well past cold shutdown

Kan to spell out no-go zone reality


Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Monday he intends to visit Fukushima Prefecture as early as Saturday to tell local officials and residents that some areas near Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s radiation-emitting Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are likely to remain no-go zones for a long time.

Kan is expected to explain that some of the areas with high radiation exposure will have to be declared off-limits — even after the crippled power plant’s reactors are finally coaxed into a cold shutdown.

He is also expected to outline measures to help the evacuees in the future, sources said.

“We cannot deny the possibility that there will be some areas where it will be hard for residents to return to their homes over a long period of time,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

Edano said the final decision on assigning no-entry designations will be made after considering the outcome of a detailed radiation monitoring and decontamination plan for areas within 20 km of the plant and after consulting those communities.

He declined to say which areas would remain no-go zones and for how long.

As for a proposal to buy up land in such areas or compensate their owners through a leasing arrangement, Edano said the state has not yet made a decision on the matter and is studying whether decontamination will succeed.

The science ministry released an estimate Friday of annual accumulated radiation exposure in the hot zone. The estimate says an exposure level of over 100 millisieverts is expected at 15 of the 50 points surveyed in the zone, which exceeds the International Commission on Radiological Protection’s guideline of 20 to 100 millisieverts even in emergencies.

The annual radiation exposure limit set by the government is 1 millisievert.

At a spot in the town of Okuma, 3 km from the plant, the ministry expects an accumulative level of 278 millisieverts.

Fukushima beef shipment ban stands because of radioactivity

The shipment ban on Fukushima Prefecture beef will continue, as more meat has turned up contaminated with an excessive level of radioactive cesium, officials said.

The government had planned to lift the ban for Fukushima Prefecture on Friday. The ban on shipments of beef from Miyagi Prefecture was still expected to be lifted Friday as planned.

Nobutaka Tsutsui, senior agriculture vice minister, said it would take two or three more days for the government to lift the ban for Fukushima.

According to the health ministry, radioactive cesium exceeding a provisional safety limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram was detected in a cow transported in April from a farm within a radius of 20 to 30 km of the stricken nuclear power plant.


Wednesday quakes – 7 in all

Wednesday there were more quakes greater than magnitude 4 than usual lately – 7 in all (see map).



Cicada on a tree in Tokyo

Near the bus stop by my house…


Stop claiming food is safe, ministry told

Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto has committed an about-face on policy by telling his ministry to refrain from vouching for the safety of Japanese food.

The ministry stance changed after radiation-tainted beef was found to have been sold to consumers nationwide, sources said.

The contaminated meat is coming from cattle that were fed rice straw contaminated with cesium isotopes ejected by the disaster-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

To handle surging concerns abroad about the food supply, the Foreign Ministry told embassies and other diplomatic offices overseas to brief local authorities, importers and media organizations on measures the government is taking to prevent contaminated food from making it into public distribution channels.

The ministry has also asked its diplomatic offices to repeat its stance of disclosing safety information in a timely manner.

On July 8, Matsumoto said that he wanted to dispel food safety concerns by explaining what the government is doing to prevent tainted food from making it into the food supply.

But several countries have since asked about the beef scare after several cattle suspected of being fed tainted straw were found to have been slaughtered and their beef shipped to market months ago to stores and restaurants.

TV again!

Somebody from the Katsushika-ku office just came by and lent me a digital tuner until I can find one of my own. They have them for people like me who don’t have cable or satellite and don’t have a digital TV and haven’t been able to find a digital tuner on sale because they are all sold old.

They lend them for free for three months until I can find one of my own.

So now I have TV again on my 1988 Fujitsu General TV. Who needs an expensive flat panel!


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