Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Just lynching"

I read an article about Japanese girl gangs that engaged in lynching. The article, about the world’s five most bizarre gangs, said that sukeban, or Japanese girl gangsters, modified their school uniforms, used yo-yos as weapons, and sometimes engaged in lynching.

I asked Itsumi about sukeban. She said that when she was in high school in the 80s the sukeban were the girls who drank and smoke and maybe shoplifted, but they weren’t really so bad. They were well-liked, and sometimes stood up for other kids against the school authorities.

I asked Itsumi if the sukeban ever did anything violent, and she said not really, by today’s standards. But sometimes there was conflict between different groups of sukeban or within the group, and they burned each other with cigarettes. I asked if there was anything else, and she said not really, just lynching.

“JUST lynching?” I said. Occasionally, she said, but it wasn’t too serious.
Japanese borrows many words from English, and sometimes uses them in novel ways. For example, in Japanese, a “mansion” is an apartment building with more than four floors. And “lynching,” it turns out, means several people beating one person up, and it’s usually not a very serious beating.

In English, unfortunately, lynching means “to put to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

Machine demolishes landmines, as more are installed

Hitachi Construction Machinery Company has built a machine that can hammer its way across the countryside, smashing landmines to pieces.
The machine is so sturdy that exploding landmines seldom damage it. Larger mines, the type designed to destroy tanks, cause minor but reparable damage to Hitachi’s machine.
I recently had a chance to see and climb into this machine at a Universal Design exposition that Itsumi attended for her work. I saw a display of some common landmines, including mines produced by the U.S. (below photo, third from left).This photo shows landmines produced by the U.S., Russia, Iran and China. The large ones on the right are designed to destroy tanks.

There are more than 200 types of landmines. While some are designed to injure or kill adult civilians, others are specifically designed to target children. Today, there are hundreds of millions of land mines waiting to explode in some 120 countries. In Cambodia and Angola, for example, there are two landmines for every child, and forty percent of the victims of landmine explosions are children.

Detonating mines by hand is very slow and very dangerous, causing many deaths every year. Hitachi’s machine uses flailing hammers to detonate mines while the operator is safely inside a sturdy cab. On the back of the machine, a tiller prepares the de-mined area for farming.
So far, seventy of Hitachi’s machines have been delivered to Angola, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Colombia and Nicaragua. The focus has been on demining fields that surround schools and housing areas.

It takes only about $5 to install a landmine, but removing it is incredibly expensive. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be just to transport and maintain demining machines in countries that have few roads. When I visited Laos, I learned that per capita Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world. More than 1.3 million tons of ordnance were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973, mostly cluster bombs of which 30% did not detonate. Ten of the 18 Lao provinces are severely contaminated with land mines and many other types of UXOs.

The U.S., responsible for this contamination, has still not signed the Ottawa Treaty against landmines. Parties to the Ottawa Treaty agree to destroy landmines within their possession, clear their territory of mined areas, provide assistance to mine-affected persons in their own country and provide assistance to other countries in meeting these treaty obligations.

The U.S. should sign the Ottawa Treat, and take action to stop the production of landmines.