Duc, sequere, aut de via decede!

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 awarded jointly to Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka

October 8th, 2012 . by Errol

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 was awarded jointly to Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka “for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent”.

Gurdon and Yamanaka have developed a process in nuclear reprogramming that instructs adult cells to form early stem cells which can then be used to form any tissue type.

Like embryonic stem cells, iPS cells are also capable of developing into any cell in the body, but crucially their source material is readily available.

“John B. Gurdon challenged the dogma that the specialized cell is irreversibly committed to its fate,” the assembly said in a statement. “Shinya Yamanaka discovered more than 40 years later, in 2006, how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells.”

The Nobel Assembly at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said Gurdon and Yamanaka had “revolutionised our understanding of how cells and organisms develop”.

For Julian Savulescu, Uehiro professor of practical ethics at Oxford University, the researchers’ work deserved particular praise because reprogramed cells overcome the moral concerns that surrounded research on embryonic stem cells.


“This is not only a giant leap for science, it is a giant leap for mankind. Yamanaka and Gurdon have shown how science can be done ethically. Yamanaka has taken people’s ethical concerns seriously about embryo research and modified the trajectory of research into a path that is acceptable for all. He deserves not only a Nobel prize for medicine, but a Nobel prize for ethics.”

Sir John B. Gurdon: Affiliation at the time of the award: Gurdon Institute, Cambridge, United Kingdom

Shinya Yamanaka, Affiliation at the time of the award: Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan, Gladstone Institute, San Francisco, CA, USA

Link to Nobel Prize 2012 site

Shinichi Mochizuki has released a proof of the abc conjecture, which proposes a relationship between whole numbers

September 12th, 2012 . by Errol

“The abc conjecture, if proved true, at one stroke solves many famous Diophantine problems, including Fermat’s Last Theorem,” says Dorian Goldfeld, a mathematician at Columbia University in New York. “If Mochizuki’s proof is correct, it will be one of the most astounding achievements of mathematics of the twenty-first century.”

Mochizuki has developed techniques that very few other mathematicians fully understand and that invoke new mathematical ‘objects’ — abstract entities analogous to more familiar examples such as geometric objects, sets, permutations, topologies and matrices.


“At this point, he is probably the only one that knows it all,” says Goldfeld.

Brian Conrad of Stanford University in California, says the abc conjecture “encodes a deep connection between the prime factors of a, b and a+b”.

Conrad says that the work “uses a huge number of insights that are going to take a long time to be digested by the community”.

Philip Ball, Nature, 10 September 2012

Japanese opposition wins election

August 30th, 2009 . by Matt

The Japanese opposition party has one a landslide victory with more than 300 seats in the 480 seat lower house.

The former governing party, the LDP, needed this disastrous loss. Hopefully the loss will return them to principle and the new government will be able to break entrenched special interests.

The little known religion exercising enormous political power in Japan

August 25th, 2009 . by Matt

Not many people outside Japan, but there is a religion in Japan that exercises political power in Japan through it’s political party ‘Koumeito‘, which is a coalition partner of the current governing party, the LDP (indeed, most people don’t even know the LDP has a coalition government). Although religious parties are unconstitutional under Japanese law, Koumeito claims they are independent of Souka Gakkai, the religious group that many say controls it.

This Japanese member of the diet says that there is no Koumeito if you take away Souka Gakkai. Quite interesting, if you understand Japanese.

Justifiable discrimination? An op-ed in the Japan Times

January 19th, 2009 . by Matt

Gregory Clark, who has been a critic of Debito in the past, has written an op-ed for the Japan Times (where Debito has a regular column).

“Japan girai” — dislike of Japan — is an allergy that seems to afflict many Westerners here. If someone handing out Japanese-language flyers assumes they cannot read Japanese and ignores them, they cry racial discrimination. If they are left sitting alone in a train, they assume that is because the raci st Japanese do not want to sit next to foreigners. If someone does sit next to them and tries to speak to them in English, they claim more discrimination, this time becau se it is assumed they cannot speak Japanese.

Normally these people do little harm. In their gaijin ghettoes they complain about everything from landlords reluctant to rent to foreigners (igno ring justified landlord fear of the damage foreigners can cause) to use of the word “gaijin” (forgetting the way some English speakers use the shorter and sometimes discr iminatory word “foreigner” rather than “foreign national.”). A favorite complaint is that Japanese universities discriminate against foreigners. How many Western universi ties would employ, even as simple language teachers, foreigners who could not speak, write and read the national language?

Recently they have revived the story of how they bravely abolished antiforeigner discrimination from bathhouses in the port town of Otaru in Hokkaido. Si nce I was closely involved, allow me to throw some extra light on that affair.

An onsen manager who allegedly had earlier been driven to near bankruptcy by badly behaved Russian sailors had decided this time to bar all foreigners fr om his new enterprise. The activist then filed a suit for mental distress and won ¥3 million in damages. In the Zeit Gist and letter pages of this newspaper, some ha ve criticized these excessively zealous moves by the activists. These critics in turn have been labeled as favoring Nazi-style discrimination and mob rule. Maybe it is ti me to bring some reality to this debate.

Otaru had been playing host to well over 20,000 Russian sailors a year, most arriving in small rust-bucket ships to deliver timber and pick up secondhand cars. I visited the wharves there, and as proof I harbor no anti-Russian feeling let me add that I speak Russian and enjoyed talking to these earthy, rough-hewn people i n their own language. Even so, the idea of them demanding freedom to walk into any onsen bathhouse of their choice, especially to a high-class onsen like Yunohana, is abs urd.

The antidiscrimination activists say bathhouse managers can solve all problems by barring drunken sailors. But how do you apply a drunk test? And how do you throw out a drunk who has his foot in the door? Besides, drunken behavior is not the only bathhouse problem with these Otaru sailors. I can understand well why regula r Japanese customers seeking the quiet Japanese-style camaraderie of the traditional Japanese bathhouse would want to flee an invasion of noisy, bathhouse-ignorant foreig ners. And since it is not possible to bar only Russians, barring all foreigners is the only answer.

The antidiscrimination people point to Japan’s acceptance of a U.N. edict banning discrimination on the basis of race. But that edict is broken every tim e any U.S. organization obeys the affirmative action law demanding preference for blacks and other minorities. Without it, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama would probabl y not be where he is today.

Malaysia has also ignored it, with its Bumiputra policy of favoring Malays over Chinese and other minorities. There are dozens more examples of societies deciding to favor one group of people over others in order to preserve solidarity or prevent injustices. A large chain of barbershops in Japan has signs saying service i s denied to those who do not speak Japanese. Non-Japanese speakers probably cause much less harm to a business than delinquent Russians. But we do not see our activists i n action there.

The activists say there should be action to educate Russian sailors in bathhouse behavior. But do we see any of the activists in the friendship societies where worthy Japanese citizens try to ease problems for foreigners living here? Not as far as I know. Presumably close contact with these citizens would also upset their Japan-girai feelings.

In Otaru the obvious answer from the beginning was to create a seamen’s club similar to those that exist in many major ports. But here too the activists were very silent. It seems they prefer to move against weak targets where they can gain publicity with a minimum of effort. One result, either of the intensity of their beliefs or of their self-aggrandizement urges, is the vitriol they pour on those who have criticized their actions.

While not naming Debito directly, it is obvious that the criticism is directed at Debito and his mostly non-Japanese speaking followers. Is discrimination ever justified? Well, perhaps it is in a personal sense. If a certain group of people continually abused my trust, then I would probably be wary in the future of that particular group. It is a no-brainer.

Letter critical of Debito

September 5th, 2008 . by Matt

Here is a letter to the Japan Times about Debito’s theory about the word gaijin, via JAPUNDIT.

Regarding the Sept. 2 article “The ‘gaijin’ debate: Arudou responds”: Debito Arudou’s claim that the word “gaijin” is racist not only borders on whining but also smacks of something that could only be brought up by a white person. I’m part Japanese and part black, and I’ll tell you right now that I would rather be called a “gaijin” over “nigger” any day.

Arudou sounds like someone whose whiteness got him special treatment in the United States. He sounds as if he must have been shocked when he went to another country and realized that being white there wasn’t the same as it was in the U.S. All of a sudden, he was in the marginalized category normally reserved for nonwhite minorities.

I have news: “Citizenship” does NOT make one part of the Japanese race, no matter how much one wishes it. In the eyes of the Japanese, Arudou is a gaijin. Japan is not where he is from. Arudou appears to be going through a major identity crisis. To think that one can walk into another country, change citizenship and then expect the whole country to accept one not as a foreigner but as a fellow Japanese is something ripped out of the pages of Western colonialism.

What I cannot understand is that Debito expects people to know that he is Japanese just by looking at him. It might inconvenience him from time to time to be thought to be a foreigner by Japanese people, but he can hardly say that he did not expect that when he became a Japanese citizen.

Debito on TV

August 20th, 2008 . by Matt

Debito managed to get on TV to complain about police harrassment during the G8 summit.

He claims to have been treated like a terrorist. I listened to the recording he made of the policeman talking to him, and I do not think it was like that at all. Perhaps the police were looking for foreign agitators, but found a naturalised one instead 😉 .

Debito leading foreigners down the garden path

July 21st, 2008 . by Matt

Debito has a lot of misinformation on his site, especially regarding the extent of racism and manifestations of racism in Japan. The girl in the youtube below is an American living in Japan, and is an English teacher studying Japanese in her spare time. She been posting video blogs on youtube for sometime, and thanks to the fact that she is a white girl that is trying to speak Japanese, she gathered a Japanese following.

At some point she came across Debito’s site and decided to give a speech on youtube about human rights and Japanese racism towards foreigners in Japan. In her summary of the video, she included a link from Debito.org. The selection of topics are all from Debito’s site so it is obvious that she got her “opinions” from there. The original video is no longer visible as she has taken it offline, but someone made a rebuttal video, so we can see most of what she said there. The Japanese writing in the video is the rebuttal, not her words.

My translation (please remember that she is a beginner in Japanese and I am doing my best to translate it and not put words in her mouth) –

“… But to me the is one aspect of Japan that is still old fashioned. That is that Japan does not have a law to eliminate racial discrimination. So if I try to rent a place, go to a hotel, or a restaurant, it is accepted to rejected foreigners. When I was looking for an apartment, I saw this for myself. I cannot accept judging people just on their faces, their faces or their nationality.

Even then, there are foreigners in Japan who obtained Japanese citizenship, and they are often being judged based only on their faces. From now on Japan really needs foreigners, that it clear. It is not just me, the UN, economics newspapers and magazines, all are saying this. Japan is aging, and the number of people that can work is decreasing every year. So foreigners don’t come to Japan to replace them, who knows what will happen to the entire country. That is scary… I don’t want to see that.

Also, I don’t want Japan’s image to become worse. However, if tourists at Japan’s travel locations, for example, if there are signs excluding foreigners, saying “Japanese only”, Japan’s image will become worse. After the foreign tourists go home, they will talk about what happened in Japan. I don’t want that to happen.

Also, there is some talk of having the olympics in Tokyo in 2016. But in the current sitution if the olympics take place, I don’t think that would be good. First, think about foreigners rights and make laws, and live together in peace”

Again, her original video included a link from Debito’s site, which is obviously where she got the idea that foreigners were being discriminated against left and right. The fact is that instances of discrimination are quite rare, and when it occurs they are radical exceptions. Debito would have people belive that Japan is an exceptionally racist country, which it is not.

The result was that many of her Japanese fans took exception to what she was saying, and posted counter arguments on the comments section of her video blog. They corrected the misinformation she repeated from Debito’s site, and because of that she posted another video apologising. See below.

I am not going to translate it all, but basically she apologises for the Debito sourced and factually incorrect rant.

This is what happens when people take what Debito is saying at face value. I am a foreigner. I lived in Japan. I rode a bicycle. But I did not get stopped by police while riding a bicycle an average of 17 times a year (in fact never), which is one story about discrimination that Debito is spreading about. I have never seen a sign rejecting foreigners, except when that sign was in front of a brothel or other similar establishment. I have never been turned away at the door of a shop or denied service or ignored by wait staff. All of the foreigners that I know do not have the kind of experiences that happen to Debito, and the reason is simple – he goes looking for it. I am sure there are all kinds of racism in Japan, but it is by no means extraordinary, very widespread, or systematic. Furthermore, in terms of personal safety, I have never felt safer anywhere than I felt in Japan, and I know a great many foreigners feel the same way. They would not feel this way if they really experienced racial prejudice.

Debito is spreading misinformation that is actually harming the foreigners living in Japan. There are foreigners that will not go to an onsen (hot springs) anticipating discrimination, mainly because of Debito’s activism, and his refusal to point out in his writings that discrimination at onsen are exceedingly rare.

At some point excessive complaints that are not based on the facts about a particular people turns into race hustling and even outright racism. I have noticed how increasingly extreme Debito’s site has become, with posts proclaiming that the Japanese government condones the outright murder of foreigners appearing on his site. People that follow Debito down the garden path are going to find their lives in Japan to be that of miserable paranoia.

Ponta’s memorandum

July 19th, 2008 . by Matt

This site by Occidentalism commenter Ponta is about the closest thing we have to a “Debito watch” at the moment. Some of you may remember we had difference of opinion with Debito over a sign that seemed to exclude foreigners from a restaurant in the Tsukiji fish market (here and here).

Before writing those articles on Occidentalism, I posted some comments on Debito’s blog politely informing him about where he was wrong on the issue, and my comment was deleted and I was called a troll. Ponta also posted on there and Debito also deleted his comments, while strongly suggesting later that Ponta’s comments were offensive, which is most untrue.

To correct this injustice and to preserve the comments of other people that correct Debito’s errors, Ponta created “Ponta’s memorandum”, where he gathers his own deleted comments and the deleted comments of others. As you will see the comments are not offensive at all, although that is how Debito justifies the deletions. I am sure that you will see, as I have seen, a consistent pattern of Japan bashing in what Debito chooses to delete, and what to allow.

Got a comment that Debito deleted or wouldn’t allow? Let Ponta’s memorandum know and have your voice heard!

Japanese essays series: essay 2

June 23rd, 2008 . by Matt

This essay, also by my Japanese doctor friend Oscar, is called ‘Is inter-racial dating damaging for Asians?’. The essay concerns itself with the mainly Asian-American concerns about the so called ‘dating disparity’. Although the topics that the Asian-American men seem worried about do not really affect Japanese people, Oscar looks at the issues and also answers a query by a Japanese person that was asking about it. If you cannot read Japanese, the one of the funniest lines in it is “It is the media’s fault that I’m not popular with girls!”.

By the way, if anyone is good at translating, I welcome a translation and will put it in the main post if someone will go to the effort.
















現実問題として、アジア系アメリカ人女性が白人と結婚する例が多いことには、もともと結婚を目的に移民するアジア人女性が多いという背景があります。さらに、アメリカ政府が行った人口統計で言う「アジア人」の項目(Asian and Pacific Islander category)には中国人、日本人およびフィリピン人しか含まれません。最も騒いでいる韓国人、ベトナム人などは統計ではアラブ人やトルコ人、オーストラリア原住民と共に「その他の人種」に含まれており、本当に彼らが結婚難に直面しているかどうかは政府統計からは不明なのです。



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