Monthly Archives: October 2014

Free Natural Disaster Films: 01: Absolute Zero

Free Natural Disaster Films: 01: Absolute Zero

Not having brought any DVDs with us to Japan, having only put a few on our external hard drive, and not being able to access services such as Netflix from outside of the U.S., I began searching for movies available free online. I found a few disaster films on YouTube that I wanted to share with y’all here. I’ve rated them based on Believability, Graphics, Story, and Acting. The latter three—Graphics, Story, and Acting—are judged simply:

* Poor

** Below Average

*** Average

**** Above Average

***** Excellent

Believability is based both on the scientific principles presented in the film and on the activities of the actors within the movie. There may be times when scientists generally agree with the basic concept, but the details of how it is accomplished in the movie may make it unbelievable.

* Completely unbelievable

** Mostly unbelievable

*** Moderately believable

**** Mostly believable

***** Completely believable

I decided to start with the worst. I promise it gets better!

absolute zero

Absolute Zero (2006, Marvista Entertainment) *1.5

Warnings: Not Rated (but I would call it PG). Blood/Gore—there are two instances of slight blood and gore, not appropriate for young children. Language—none. Violence—none. Sexuality—none. Also not suitable for young children due to suspense.

Summary: This is essentially a lower-budget, crappy version of The Day After Tomorrow. The basic concept of both films is that increasing temperatures results in an ice age. In both films, some underappreciated climatologist (the main character) predicts in shocking detail exactly how global warming will cause catastrophic climate change, resulting in a new ice age. In the beginning, scientists in Antarctica record measurements and discoveries that give weight to the impending changes predicted by the underappreciated climatologist, partly due to some of their buddies falling down a huge crack that appears unpredictably in the ice. Later, back in the U.S., the underappreciated climatologist risks his life to save certain people and he and his group survive only because of his intelligence and/or knowledge of the climate. In The Day After Tomorrow, people evacuate south (in essence, the whole planet’s temperatures drastically decrease, so the equator is still the warmest location); in Absolute Zero, they flee north (in essence, the poles completely shift so the equator is the coldest). In the end, people who survived the cold are rescued by helicopter. The main differences between The Day After Tomorrow and Absolute Zero are that the story, acting, and graphics are decent in the former and completely suck in the latter. The Day After Tomorrow is also far more believable than Absolute Zero. Furthermore, The Day After Tomorrow came first by two years, so the incredible similarities lead me to call Absolute Zero a copycat of The Day After Tomorrow, not the reverse.

Believability:  *  I went back and forth between one star and two because the basic premise that human-caused global warming may result in severe climate change is accepted by, at most, a slight majority of climatologists. However, I finally settled on one star because of the manner in which they suggested it would occur. Basically, the magnetic north and south poles migrate to the middle latitude of the earth (known as cataclysmic pole shift hypothesis), which may or may not actually be possible; but if it is possible, it would happen over a much slower timescale than that depicted in the film (in fact, a 90° shift occurs in just a few days in the film but it’s believed to occur at a rate of 1° per million years at the most if it occurs at all). Because weather is partially controlled by the poles, the theory presented in the film is that the new north and south poles, now along the equator, would be frozen. However, the earth’s weather is not entirely controlled by the magnetic poles; it’s also controlled by the tilt of the earth’s axis, the moon, the sun, etc. Finally, there’s no explanation of how global warming itself caused the magnetic poles to shift. Furthermore, the climatologist predicts down to the second when Miami (the primary location of the film) will reach absolute zero temperatures. Seriously? To the second? Oh, yeah, also… absolute zero temperature is impossible to attain. In the beginning of the film, he escapes absolute zero temperatures in Antarctica by diving into a cave, and somehow the completely open and unblocked mouth of the cave stops absolute zero temperatures—that is, stops the air itself—from reaching him inside the cave. Uh… huh??? Later, in Miami, he escapes absolute zero temperatures by… running really fast. Except he doesn’t run really fast. So not only does he once again outrun the air itself, he even does it by pausing for dramatic effect to express sorrow over the death of a complete jerk. *sigh* The more I think about this movie, the more depressed I get. There’s more on the completely unbelievable scale, including the ability of grad students to determine the polarity of the earth 10,000 years ago based on a paint sample from a cave in Antarctica (why has no one else—particularly a well-funded PhD—done that before?), but I don’t have the time. These were just some of the worst.

Graphics:  **  Initially, I was somewhat impressed with the graphics… and then the car sequence. First, a poorly rendered palm tree flies through the windshield and skewers a guy, then an even more poorly rendered funnel of absolute zero air comes down out of the sky and blows over the car with even more poorly rendered bursts of absolute zero clouds. But aside from the car sequence, the graphics were pretty good—in fact, minus the stupid car sequence, I would have given it four stars.

Story:  *  Aside from being a poor copycat of The Day After Tomorrow, the story sucks in many ways. The main character is unlikeable—in fact, only one or two characters are particularly likeable in my opinion. A newly widowed woman acts like her husband’s death is no big deal, then seems to remember she’s supposed to be sad about it and yells at someone, then goes right back to not caring. Similarly, a newly orphaned grade schooler’s only reaction is to pull a pouty face and comment, “I miss him.” Really? Two good guys die (too often in disaster films, all the good guys make it), but that’s about the only redeeming quality in the story. The story is painfully predictable. Furthermore, the villain is completely unrealistic. He also predicts the exact second at which Miami will reach absolute zero, but convinces the government that it won’t happen for another 200 years so that he can get money out of them. Seriously, it never occurred to him that such money, if he could cash it in the next few hours before Miami froze over, would do him no good in what is essentially a post-apocalyptic U.S.? I’m sorry, that’s absolutely unbelievable. Equally unbelievable is that, after commenting that the government probably won’t honor their contract when they look outside (at which point, absolute zero is about 1 minute away, so Miami is completely frozen over already), the villain ultimately dies because he’s trying to save the paper contracts that he dropped on the floor. Seriously? There were other unrealistic issues, such as the villain refusing to allow the scientists in Antarctica to move or leave with their very expensive equipment when the weather turned and they felt they and their equipment would be destroyed. Even if you’re so callous as not to care about your scientists, you’d surely not be stupid enough to risk your very expensive equipment!

Acting:  **  There were about two or three good actors among those playing significant roles—the only reason this movie gets two stars here. Otherwise, most of the acting involved overacting or underacting. Again, the lack of apparent emotion in the widow and orphan following the death of their husband/father was especially shocking, and part of that is due to the writing, which the actors can’t control, but much of it is directly due to the acting. As I said before, the main character is not likeable, and again, that’s partly due to the writing and partly due to the acting. The villain is overly villainous, if that’s possible, and unbelievably stupid. And again, the car sequence… after being skewered through the chest, the victim repeatedly yells full-throated at his daughter to get out of the car, run for shelter, stay put, etc. I’m sorry, as an ER nurse, I think that if I had a tree trunk in my chest, I wouldn’t be yelling like a soccer coach. I think at most I’d be offering weak coughs, gurgles, and whispers.

Overall: Don’t waste your time. One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, even worse than Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie. Coincidentally, there is no score for this movie on Rotten Tomatoes, but only 23% of viewers liked it. The average audience score is 2.6/5 (higher than I gave it). I decided to leave a review as well, so you might see it on the site if you look.


10 Language Mistakes I Hate

Or 10 Language Mistakes and Choices I Hate*

Noah Webster wrote his famous dictionary because he felt that language use and spelling should be standardized and that American English should be distinct from British English. Many linguists argue that because language is an ever-evolving thing, dictionaries should adjust to changes in language. Noah Webster might somewhat disagree, though the dictionary that still bears his name has made such changes. Which is correct?

I think that, to some degree, both are correct. Precise language and precise definitions are important—just ask any person or country who’s ever been pressured by the U.N. to make changes based on the loose interpretation of some bureaucratic (activist) committee that lacks anything resembling oversight. Furthermore, there are very definitely times when common use is objectively incorrect, no matter how common (see #3 below). Hats off to Noah Webster.

On the other hand, language truly is constantly evolving. This is an objective observation. And such evolution can so drastically change the connotations of words and the way in which they are spoken that what we say or mean now may be completely incomprehensible a thousand years from now. Compare the English of 1014 to the English of 2014 if you don’t believe me! Words have a tendency to take on new connotations (often as a result of changing social politics) distinct from their literal definitions. If the dictionary fails to take these new connotations into account, you (or someone learning and speaking English as a second language) would not be able to figure out solely from the dictionary what it means when someone calls you an “ass” (and you might consequently use it in the wrong context without understanding what it means to others) and you would think the word “condescension” or “condescend” described a good thing. So hats off to modern linguists.

In other words, a good dictionary not only sets standards to which people may return in order to ensure correct use of language in such a way that writing is not taken to mean what it ought not, but also records new connotations in common use. Honestly, I think that’s two sides of the same coin. Nevertheless, my point is that there are still some changes which should not be accepted as correct use of the English language. A few of my (personal opinion) deepest-felt word use and grammar pet peeves are listed below.

Side Note: Some people are much more creative than I. While I write a blog on the topic, which has only been done a million times or so, Weird Al Yankovic wrote a song!

1) “awe” in place of “aw” or “aww”

“Awe” means “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” (“The sight filled me with awe.” “God is awesome.” “He spoke in an awed whisper.”) “Aw” or “aww,” on the other hand, is an interjection someone makes when protesting injustice (“Aw, do I have to?”), exclaiming over something (“Aw, what a cute baby!”), etc. Too often, I see people respond to a photo of a friend’s pet or child with, “Awe, how cute!” It makes me grind my teeth every time.

2) “myriad of” in place of “myriad”

“Myriad” means many things—literally! It describes something as “numerous” or “countless” or “great in number.” Originally, the correct use of “myriad” was to say “myriad seashells” (as either noun or adjective), not “myriad of seashells,” in the same way that you would say “numerous seashells,” not “numerous of seashells.” However, “myriad of X” has become so common a usage that it is now even written in Webster’s dictionary as a correct use of the word as a noun. Nevertheless, it still makes me groan.

3) “I could care less” in place of “I couldn’t care less”

I mentioned this one above as an example of a situation in which common use is objectively incorrect and will always be objectively incorrect, no matter how commonly used. “I couldn’t care less” means that you care so little, it is impossible for you to care less. That is, on a “caring scale” of 0 to 100, you care 0—in other words, it means “I don’t care at all.” If you say “I could care less,” it means you are capable of caring less than you currently do, so you care somewhere between 1 and 100—in other words, it means “I care, but to an undefined degree that is anywhere from hardly at all to more than anyone else on the planet.”

4) omitting the Oxford comma

The Oxford comma is the comma between the last item in a list and the next-to-last item in a list. For example: “I bought apples, pears, and grapes.” It is widely acknowledged as personal choice whether to use the Oxford comma—in other words, there’s technically no right or wrong use, grammatically speaking, so it would be just as correct to write, “I bought apples, pears and grapes.” Generally speaking, it’s simply recommended that you be consistent—that is, always omit it or always use it, rather than going back and forth in the same written piece. However, there are a great many times when omitting the Oxford comma results in ambiguity or even changes the meaning altogether. For example: “I dedicate this work to my parents, Marie Smith and God.” If you should either always omit it or always use it, always using it makes more sense so as to avoid those times when omitting it would result in ambiguity or misunderstanding. I know people are going to hate on me for this one, but I personally don’t like ambiguity—hence, I prefer to use the Oxford comma and it irritates me a little bit when it’s omitted and TO NO END when it’s omitted in one of those ambiguous cases that makes it difficult for me to know what the writer actually meant.

5) incorrect use of apostrophes

Seriously. Third grade grammar. It’s one thing if you have ADD, but something else if you have no learning disabilities and just never bothered to remember which is which.

You’re = you are; your = possessive form of you

It’s = it is; its = possessive form of it

They’re = they are; their = possessive form of they

Almost any other use of “X’s” is possessive, but for “you” or “it” or “they,” the possessive form does not utilize an apostrophe.

Miscellany: I once wrote a short lesson on correct use of the apostrophe for a writer’s group of which I was a member. After sending it out, another member wrote back to inform me I had misspelled “apostrophe” throughout the entire lesson. I never quite lived that one down.

6) “to not” in place of “not to”

Contrary to what seems popular opinion, “to not” is not the correct way to make a verb negative. Interestingly, even Weird Al got this one wrong in his song, where he says, “Try your best to not drool.” Basically, because of Latin grammar rules being adopted into English, “to” is considered part of the verb—in this case, “to drool”—in which case, it is called an “infinitive.” In the same way that you would say, “I will not drool” (“drool” being the verb), you would say “I will try not to drool” (“to drool” being the verb or infinitive). When you place “not” in the middle of the verb/infinitive—“to not drool”—that’s called a split infinitive, which, in classical grammar, is an error. However, largely because common use has made some split infinitives sound natural and, by extension, made non-split infinitives sound unnatural (and also because English is much more Germanic-based than Latin-based), many grammarians accept use of split infinitives. After all, today, it is considered correct use of the language to split the infinitive when we say “I will work to swiftly resolve the matter” even though technically, a few hundred years ago, it would have been considered correct to say “I will work to resolve the matter swiftly,” moving the adverb to the end of the sentence. Nonetheless, I still hate most split infinitives. When explaining why he considers “not to learn” cleaner than “to not learn,” a grammarian wrote, “Split infinitives are dirty, grubby beasts that we employ when we don’t have too many other options. Every time I split an infinitive, I feel like I need a hot shower afterwards.” My feeling exactly.

7) misusing “two,” “too,” and “to”

Again, this is elementary level spelling, and if you don’t have a learning disability but you have graduated from high school, you should know better. “Two” is the number. “Too” means “an excessive amount” (“This is too much. I’m too tired!”) or “also” (“I’m tired, too.”). “To” is directional (“go to bed”), or identifies whatever/whomever is affected (“I was rude to her”), or indicates an infinitive (“They told me to give him my toy but I didn’t want to.”). I die a little inside every time someone writes, “That’s to hard!” GAH!!! It’s “too”!

8) misplaced quotation marks

My husband strongly disagrees with me on this one. And I have to say, he has a point. Originally, the comma and the period were placed within the quotation marks because, in typesetting, the comma and period were fragile little keys that needed to be protected and placing them at the end of a line ran the risk of damaging them. Allegedly. There are actually problems with this story. For example, typesetting started in the 1500s but quotation marks weren’t used for direct speech in English writing until the 1700s; periods and commas went inside quotation marks in other languages before then, which may have had some influence on English writing; and 95% of sentences do not end with quotation marks, so, if this theory is correct, the comma or period would have been unprotected 95% of the time. At any rate, the American style requires that commas and periods go inside quotation marks, that colons and semicolons go outside quotation marks, and that exclamation marks and question marks go inside or outside the quotation marks based on how it was used (She said, “Try it—it’s great!” But I couldn’t believe that about Super China Buffet’s “Grilled Alley Cat Special”!). All American institutions, with the exception of a few hoity-toity literary institutions, require American style. British style, also known as logical punctuation style, requires that the punctuation go wherever it makes sense for it to go—if it’s part of the original quotation, it goes inside, and if not, it goes outside. However, British institutions require American style in several areas and even many news sources, such as The Guardian, generally or frequently use American style. Furthermore, it’s not as “logical” as it appears at first glance; or, as a British columnist writes, “The Economist style guide, which has a substantial and generally helpful section on American and British English, claims: ‘The British convention is to place such punctuation according to sense.’ Which makes sense, until you think about it, and realise it is meaningless.” He goes on to say, “The debate about ‘logical punctuation’ suggests… there is nothing very logical about it. As with so many aspects of language, what you use tends to be the result of a battle between what you were taught, and what you like the look of.” In sum, British or “logical” punctuation style isn’t all that logical, but American style is very straightforward; and the form almost exclusively used in America and taught and accepted as the correct form of American writing is American style (similarly to how we use “realize” instead of “realise”). If you write/publish in Britain (or Australia), the correct form to use is the British style. If you write/publish in America (or usually Canada as well), the correct form to use is American style.

9) “towards” and “forwards” and “backwards”

Generally, the “s” tacked on to the end of “toward” makes it the British form; omitting the “s” makes it the American form; there is no difference in the definition or connotation. (To be fair, some people in America use the British form and some people in Britain use the American form; and, in fact, the American form has recently been gaining ground in Britain. But generally speaking, “towards” is still accepted as British and “toward” is accepted as American.) As to “forward” vs. “forwards,” “forward” is by far the preferred form in both American and British English. In other words, “forwards” is basically the uneducated form of the word in any type of English. Finally, “backwards” is considered the British style (for adverbs) and “backward” the American style (and also the British style for adjectives).

At any rate, it irritates me when American writings use British style. Anyone knows that “color” is American and “colour” British. The degree to which people don’t know that “towards” is British and “toward” is American suggests rampant misinformation or poor education or simply a lack of care regarding writing (though certainly a few may knowingly prefer to use British style in just these one or two words while using American style in every other word, though why I can’t imagine).

10) affect vs. effect

One is an action (affect) and the other is the result (effect). For example, “English language mistakes affect me quite severely. The effect on me is profound.” It drives me absolutely nuts when people misuse these two.


Don’t hate me!



*In Japanese, there are two basic styles of writing: the kana (hiragana and katakana, which are sound-based symbols) and kanji (symbols which, alone or in combination, stand for a word or concept and where the pronunciation is not clear and therefore must be memorized). Therefore, to say “I” or “me,” you could technically write わたし (hiragana) or 私 (kanji), both of which mean the same thing. Derek told me once that between the two, わたし is generally preferred. When I commented about that in a Japanese language thread, someone who had been studying Japanese for 25 years and was married to a Japanese linguist argued that the correct form is the kanji (私), not the hiragana (わたし). Realizing I didn’t actually know anything about it except what Derek had told me, I looked it up. Lo and behold, the only reputable Japanese source I found, a guidebook for use of kana vs. kanji in published writings produced by a Japanese publishing company, stated that わたし is preferred over 私. When I provided the reference, he refused to admit that that standard, written by a Japanese company specializing in Japanese linguistics, might be true. I try not to be like that—refusing to admit I’m wrong when something comes out to objectively prove I’m wrong—but I know several of the things I wrote on my list of “Language Mistakes I Hate” are really just personal preference. I should probably have called it “Language Mistakes and Choices I Hate,” because some of the ones I hate technically fall within the realm of acceptable use, but the title “Language Mistakes I Hate” sounded better. 🙂

Dear World: Stop Asking! (This Means You.)

There are certain questions you never ask a woman. “Have you gained weight?” is really obvious, as is “Aren’t you married yet?” But one question that it seems no one has a filter for is “Are you pregnant?”

There are many reasons not to ask.

1) Weight/girth. In many cases, you are indirectly suggesting that she looks fat or pregnant but you can’t tell which. If she’s early in her pregnancy, you’re suggesting she just looks fat. If she’s very pregnant, it’s insulting that you haven’t caught on yet. As an ER nurse, I had to ask all women, “Is there any chance that you might be pregnant?” Often, I shortened it to, “Are you pregnant?” It’s especially relevant if the complaint is abdominal pain. I once asked a woman with abdominal pain that question and it just so happened that she did look pregnant due to a medical condition that caused abdominal bloating. Obviously, she was embarrassed at the question and later went to great lengths to explain why she looked pregnant but wasn’t and I had to apologize profusely.

2) Privacy. It may be an (unintentional) invasion of her privacy to ask. For example, I had a friend whose family, being Catholic, drinks alcohol at every family gathering. She had just had a miscarriage and was taking a medication which the patient cannot drink alcohol when taking. Whether a woman and her husband choose to disclose a miscarriage is their business; in her case, she and her husband chose not to. However, when she didn’t drink at the family gathering (again, because she couldn’t drink alcohol while taking the medication), they asked whether she was pregnant, which, because they had just lost a baby, was like a knife being dug into her chest. That heartache could have been avoided if they had just waited for her to tell them about her presumed pregnancy when she was ready.

3) Pressure. No woman should feel like she’s failing at her role as a woman if she doesn’t produce a child at a specified time. And although that’s definitely not the impression most potential grandparents intend to give, I can tell you from personal experience that it’s definitely the feeling the woman gets. If she’s having trouble getting pregnant, asking just highlights her difficulty and makes her more frustrated. If she’s in the process of deciding when to have another child, asking just irritates her because she hasn’t made up her mind yet and doesn’t want to feel pressured. (In fact, it may make her delay pregnancy even longer because the pressure ticks her off so much that, whether she realizes it or not, she has to overcome her anger before she can settle on the choice to have another child.)

4) Trust. Just trust that the woman will tell you when she’s ready. I know you’re just excited about the possibility of another baby, but asking will either make her tell you before she’s ready or won’t have any effect. Either way, you have an unhappy woman who wants to avoid you as much as possible because she knows you’re going to ask the same inane question again and again and she doesn’t want to be asked. She can have many reasons for not wanting to tell you yet. Maybe she hasn’t told her husband. Maybe she wants to wait until a miscarriage is not likely*. Whatever the reason, it’s rude and selfish to insist that she tell you before she’s ready.

To all who have already asked me personally: It’s okay. I know you aren’t in my shoes and you don’t know how I feel. Furthermore, not all of these apply to me—for example, I know you don’t just think I look fat. I’m not mad at you, but I am tired of being asked. So just stop asking.



*I’ve read very good articles, including interviews of the Duggars, about whether to wait or whether to share about a miscarriage or about an early pregnancy. As Dr. Seuss said in Horton Hears a Who, “a person’s a person no matter how small,” and you want to recognize the personhood of your tiny child. However, regardless of the reasons in favor of or against telling about a miscarriage or about a pregnancy during that time when miscarriage is more likely, it’s still the woman and her husband’s choice whether to say anything about it.

Japanese Abortion

As I explained in the previous post, I had the opportunity to interview employees of Bare Hope adoption agency here in Japan, and they shared with me a great deal of information regarding Japanese adoption and its closely related issue, Japanese abortion. My previous post was on adoption, and this post will focus on abortion. Again, if there are any flaws or misinformation in my post, the fault is mine.

In Japan, abortion has been legal since 1949, earlier than any other industrialized country. Because of this, Japan was once a site of medical tourism specifically in the area of abortion. The birth control pill was only finally legalized in Japan in 1999 (partly due to pressure from abortion doctors not to legalize it and thereby potentially reduce their incomes), but most Japanese prefer to use condoms due to the side effects and cost of the pill. In recent years, Japan has conducted about 300,000 abortions per year; however, in the most recent year for which I could find data, 2012, there were approximately 200,000 reported abortions. It is legally permitted up to the 24th week of pregnancy*.

The interviewees explained to me that in reality, there are a great many abortions not reported for various reasons. The primary reason they discussed was abortions conducted after the legal limit. Because it is not only illegal to perform an abortion after 24 weeks, but also to purchase an abortion after 24 weeks, all involved (the doctor performing it, the hospital hosting it, and the couple seeking it) are legally at risk. Therefore, should something go wrong, the woman wouldn’t dream of suing the doctor or hospital, even in cases of ridiculously blatant malpractice, because she would have to confess to committing a crime in order to do so. In other words, unethical physicians whose entire income is from abortions may frequently conduct illegal abortions because it translates to money with extremely little risk of reprisal because neither the hospital nor the woman and her family would report him for seriously damaging or even almost or actually killing her.

There’s also a significant economic impact. Prior to entering nursing school, I was required to watch an older (I think 1990s) PBS documentary on medical systems around the world. Though it attempted to portray the various systems with equal weight and without bias, it was very obviously, even from the beginning before any information had been shared, biased in favor of socialized medicine. Interestingly, it discussed Japan in a positive light, even though Japan’s system isn’t technically socialized medicine. In Japan, the government sets price controls on medical services rendered so that people can better afford their care; insurance companies also exist in Japan and, thanks to price controls, their premiums tend to be lower than those in America, to the truth of which I can now personally attest. However, these government price controls are so strict that a great many doctors go out of business because they simply cannot afford to work with such little pay, especially when they have business overhead and student loans to pay for. The end result is not enough doctors in Japan to care for the population (though, to be fair, the population is shrinking and growing older, so these physician-to-patient dynamics may change for better or for worse).

Where this relates to abortion is in the cost of maternity care. The Bare Hope interviewees told me that abortion costs much more than live birth**, so most hospitals cannot afford their overhead without abortion. In other words, they will very definitely go out of business if they do not perform abortions. Furthermore, illegal abortions cost significantly more than legal abortions—again, with no risk of getting sued by the family should something go wrong or should the doctor and/or hospital engage in ethically questionable financial practices such as hidden fees—and so the ultimate effect of illegal abortions is to result in obscene financial gains for the doctor and hospital and potentially a great number of women harmed and even killed or nearly killed with no legal recourse for the woman or her family.

In the U.S., the majority of abortions occurring after 24 weeks gestation are for convenience, according to the late Dr. George Tiller’s own figures, with less than 10% due to disabilities or medical conditions incompatible with life. I’ve read that those Japanese babies illegally aborted after 24 weeks are primarily disabled and majority capable of surviving outside the womb, but it’s impossible to know for certain since reporting of illegal abortions is obviously nil. The #1 reason for legal abortion is that the parents are not married. Many of the parents seeking an abortion for disability—specifically, Down Syndrome—come first to Bare Hope saying that they will give birth and place the baby for adoption rather than aborting if the adoption agency can ensure the child will be adopted. Obviously, Bare Hope can’t make such a promise, and so many babies who would otherwise be born alive and potentially placed with a loving family are instead aborted. For this reason (and for other reasons discussed in the last post), Bare Hope is seeking a partnership with a U.S. adoption agency that specializes in placing Down Syndrome babies. If you have any information on this, please let me or Bare Hope know!



*At this stage, the child has a beating heart, brain waves, fingerprints, all vital organs in place, and a personality, and is capable of feeling pain. There is at least a 50% chance of surviving outside the womb if born at this stage. Abortion at this stage is more dangerous to the mother than live birth.

**I honestly don’t know how much of that is due to price controls and how much is due to the 5-day postpartum stay in Japan as compared to the typical 24-hour stay for vaginal births in the U.S.

Japanese Adoption

I had the opportunity to ask numerous questions of employees at a Japanese adoption agency, Bare Hope. They talked a lot about both adoption and its closely related issue, abortion. Here are some of the facts of adoption in Japan; I will present Japanese abortion in the next post. If there are mistakes or misinformation in either post, the fault is mine.

The Hague Convention (1993) set certain standards for international adoptions. However, although about 90 countries signed on to the Hague Convention (including the U.S.), many have not (including Japan). It’s not illegal for parents from a Hague country to adopt from a non-Hague country. However, according to another interviewee who recently adopted from Japan, U.S. law specifically prohibits it. In other words, it is allegedly no longer possible for a U.S. resident to adopt from Japan. However, when I attempted to verify this online, I found this page on the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website regarding the process for adopting from a non-Hague country; nowhere does it say it is prohibited.

Japanese law used to require adoptive parents to live in Japan for a certain length of time before adopting, but no longer does. In other words, should a couple who are U.S. residents wish to adopt a Japanese child, they could technically begin the adoption process immediately without first moving to Japan. However, it still takes about 2 years to get a visa approval. In other words, a U.S. citizen may travel to Japan, adopt a child in Japan, and apply for the child to get U.S. citizenship, but it will generally take 2 years for the citizenship to be approved, during which time you have to stay in Japan. So while technically you don’t have to wait to adopt, you do have to wait to bring your adopted child home. Nevertheless, Japanese law requires Japanese adoption agencies to give preference to Japanese potential parents (resident or non-resident, but preferably resident) for adoptions.

Japan has various means of caring for orphans. Of the two primary means, one is baby- or child-institution and the other is foster care. Japanese law requires children in foster care to be adopted within 6 months in order to encourage workers to ensure these children get adopted. Unfortunately, the law says nothing about institutions. Similarly to how it works in the U.S. with foster caseworkers*, Japanese institutions get paid according to the number of children they care for and are not given any incentive whatsoever to get the kids adopted. Naturally, they usually make the truly economical choice: not to place their children for adoption. For example, last year, out of thousands of children in dozens of baby- and child-institutions in Tokyo, only two were adopted. Once a child enters an institution, it’s virtually impossible to get them out. Organizations like Bare Hope are trying very hard to get the law changed in this area. Bare Hope also tries to get to potential adoptive parents before the state does, because the state will convince the family that the best place for the baby or child is in a baby- or child-institution–where, of course, the child stays until majority age because adoption out of institutions is so rare–whereas Bare Hope and other adoption agencies will try to get the child adopted as quickly as possible.

The exception to most of the rules on Japanese adoption is Down Syndrome. Bare Hope employees told me that people will much more readily adopt a child with severe physical health issues than a baby with Down Syndrome**, so the country will basically approve the adoption of a Down Syndrome baby to non-Japanese foreign residents as soon as you can put the paperwork in front of them to sign. The employees I spoke with asked whether I knew of any U.S. adoption agencies that specialize in Down Syndrome adoptions and I promised I’d ask. So far, I’ve gotten only one response (the same which incorrectly stated that it’s impossible due to an alleged U.S. ban on non-Hague adoptions), so I’m still looking for Down Syndrome adoption agencies. If you have any information, please oblige.



*Note that I’m not talking about foster parents, who generally have absolutely no control over whether a child in their care is adopted. When the foster parents are the potential adoptive parents, they may have some tiny amount of influence, but that’s it. Most of the influence is held by caseworkers, which is why organizations like Fatherheart (Texas) will occasionally hire a lawyer to act on behalf of the child and take the case to court to approve an adoption without requiring the caseworker to actually do any work on the adoption process. Note also that I’m not saying all caseworkers are evil. Far from it. They fill a very important and desperately needed role. But when there is no incentive to work harder than you are currently working, few people will. As a result, in spite of huge waiting lists and so many people desperate to adopt, kids in foster care most often are not adopted, except by their foster parents.

**This is because Down Syndrome can be so unpredictable. If you adopt a child with a genetic disorder, the doctors can tell you exactly what sort of complications to expect, what the child’s life expectancy is, etc. However, with Down Syndrome, the child may be anywhere from so functional you almost can’t tell they have Down Syndrome to so severely handicapped that the farthest they ever progress is to the intelligence-equivalent of a 4-year-old. Furthermore, many Down Syndrome children have health issues as well and their life expectancy varies considerably depending on their health issues. Many adoptive parents will opt for the child whose future they can somewhat anticipate over the child whose future is so uncertain. Unfortunately, this means it’s virtually impossible to get Down Syndrome babies or children adopted, especially in Japan. The interviewee told me several very sad stories of parents calling in a panic saying, “Our baby was just born today and he has Down Syndrome. We already told our family he died. Can you get him adopted today?”