Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Taking nationalism too far


A silicon breast implant manufacturer in Ch'ŏngju [Cheongju] has designed breast implants shaped like the East Island and West Island of the "disputed" Tokto Islets (Dokdo/Takeshima) at the center of the diplomatic row du jour between Seoul and Tokyo.
"Truly patriotic women will see this as the must-have items to show their love for their fatherland," says synthetic chemical developer and sculptor Shin Kyutaek of Silico-pia Enterprises. "After surgery, the flesh around the implants will smooth out the accurately contoured shape of the implants. Instead of looking rough, they will look very perky."
With mounds shaped like these, the Japanese won't be able to resist grabbing your Toktos.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Save the plastic bag?

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on L.A. City Council efforts to ban plastic bags. They include a link to a plastic bag industry group that insists that plastic bags are a superior choice over paper bags. I have to admit, in the absence of any opposing argument to the points they make, they sound somewhat convincing. 

While it's true that paper bags have their own problems (depletion of natural resources, bulkiness in landfills, attracting cockroaches, plastic bags aren't much better. Neither one should end up in landfills to begin with, so maybe stepping up recycling is the answer. I like what we do in Korea where someone is charge 100 won (about ten cents) per bag; it creates an incentive to use fewer of them. Los Angeles is thinking of doing the same thing, but a heftier 25 cents. 

The plastic bag industry is up in arms about the planned user fee, but I think the fair thing to do would be to impose the same on paper bags, to address the problem of the consumer not bearing the true environmental cost of the bags. This may provide an incentive to invest in a sturdy canvas plastic bag that can be used hundreds of times, like they sell at Ikea. 

Photo above: Environmental disaster that makes children cry, or a hip seabird going for the Prince look, circa 1983?  Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ham-handing it up

Reportedly, President Bush likes Lee Myung-bak because he thinks Lee is the Asian guy on "Lost." Sphere: Related Content

Port Lazareff

Over at the Marmot's Hole, Frogmouth, the ardent defender of the Korean side of the Tokto/Takeshima controversy, cited a memorandum on punishments the Japanese military authorities meted out against wayward Korean subjects in the early days of colonial rule.

The English-language notice mentions a place called Port Lazareff (aka Port Lazarev), which frankly I had never heard of (well, I might have encountered the name in an old book but neglected looking up what it was referring to). Back in the late 19th century, lots of East Asian ports, islands, and bodies of water had very European-sounding names that had little to do with what locals called them. 

Liancourt Rocks, of course, is a prominent example for anyone studying Korean issues. Quelpart Island, which referred to Chejudo [Jeju-do], is another example, as is Dagelet Island, which was what Europeans once called Ullŭngdo [Ulleung-do], not terribly far from Tokto [Dokdo]. Port Arthur, site of an important battle site during the Russo-Japanese War, was what what we call Lüshunkou, China, at the southern tip of the Liaodong Peninsula. Port Hamilton was the name of the British fortification (held from 1885 to 1887) on the small island grouping of Kŏmundo [Geomun-do] off Korea's south coast, in the East China Sea. I could go on and on. 

Anyhow, back to Port Lazareff. Having never heard of it (maybe), I looked it up. And what I found was a fascinating archive piece from August 2, 1886, in the New York Times, something worthy of the archives I used to post in the past (mostly from Time). 

Besides the nonchalant way in which the London Times (from which the 1886 NYT article was originally printed) talks about foreign powers having rights to parts of Korea, one reason the article is fascinating is the polyglot way in which Korean place names are described. "Broughton's Bay" was (and sometimes still is) used to refer to Yŏnghŭng Bay [Yeongheung], where "Gensan" (Wonsan, North Korea) is located. A nearby island called Chotoku, almost certainly a Japanese name, is also mentioned, along with a town called Yonfun. There's also a Virginie Bay. 

Such was the mishmash of names for things on "the Peninsula of Corea" in the 1880s. With so many nautical Europeans and Americans swinging by, oftentimes getting their information about Korea filtered through Japan, it's no wonder that one would end up with place names like Gensan instead of Wonsan or Virginie Bay for whatever Virgine Bay is now called. For something similar, take a look at this entry on Korea in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. It lists not only the aforementioned place names, but also Port Shestakov, which I found was "located a third of the way down Korea's northern coast."

Anyway, here is the 1886 article in its entirety:

From the London Times.

Port Lazareff, named after the Russian General who so much distinguished himself at the capture of Kars, and who died during the progress of the Turcoman campaign, is situated on the northern, or more strictly the easter, side, of the Peninsula of Corea. It lies in Yunghing, or Broughton's Bay, which was discovered by Capt. Broughton in 1797, and which contains, perhaps, more fine harbors than all the rest of the Corean coasts together. The bay is filled with numerous islets, of which Chotoku is considered the most important, and the flourishing port of Gensan, opened to external commerce in May, 1880, furnishes practical evidence that the advantages claimed for the whole of this gulf or bay by navigators are not fanciful or based on insufficient information. Port Lazareff itself is situated opposite to Gensan, and is east of the Corean town of Yonfun. It is also near the mouth of the Dungan River and west of Virginie Bay. Navigation is open at all seasons of the year, and the depth of the water as well as the highness of the tides furnishes additional facilities for making Port Lazareff, at the moment only a geographical term, the headquarters of Russia's Pacific squadron. In many of these particulars Vladivostock could not be excelled. but its insuperable drawback is that for several of the Winter months navigation is closed by the ice. For those curious as to the line of policy Russia has pursued in this matter, we may say that the necessary information is given succinctly in an article on "The Ports and Trade of Corea," which appeared in the Edinburgh Review last July. Port Lazareff, it should be stated, has the additional advantage of being situated in one of the most prosperous and well peopled provinces of Corea. The Russians are understood to base their right to seize Port Lazareff on account of our occupation of Port Hamilton, but the two cases are radically different. Port Lazareff is an integral part of the Corean kingdom. ITs occupation would be resented by the Japanese at Gensan and by the Chinese Government. Our own interests are such that we could not regard the event with indifference, and the very ease with which we could prevent it would be an additional reason for upholding the treaty rights of Corea. Thhose rights were not infringed by the British Government in occupying Port Hamilton—two rocky islets with only a few resident families of fishermen—for this step was taken after an express arrangement between the late Sir HArry Parkes and Li Hung Chang, and with the acquiescence of the Seoul Government. The two cases are, therefore, completely dissimilar.  
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Did scientists really predict an ice age in the 1970s?

Time Magazine reported in 2006 that the the Upsala Glacier (above), part of the South American Andes in Argentina, has dramatically retreated. The upper picture is how it looked in 1928, and the lower picture is how it looked in 2004. It reportedly has been retreating at least 180 feet (54 meters) per year.

Did scientists in the 1970s really predict an ice age, and if so, what's up with that?

Well, yes, they did. That meme is a favorite counterpoint by those who think that global warming is all a fantasy by Former Vice President Al "Chicken Little" Gore. The thinking apparently goes, "How can we trust scientists who tell us today that the Earth is warming up when those same scientists warned us in the 1970s that we were headed for an ice age?"

Good question. For answers, let's go back to what the scientists were saying four decades ago.

Indeed, in the 1970s scientists were reporting that the Earth had cooled by 0.2 degrees Celsius since 1945. The result was, scientists explained at the time, due to particulate matter, which is sometimes a human creation (but certainly not always, witness volcanic eruptions and naturally occurring forest fires and brushfires). This in turn led to greater cloud cover and more cooling. Nuclear winter lite, one could call it.

But since the 1970s, the United States and the rest of the industrialized world have been working to reduce pollution from particulate matter. I know that California, where I grew up, has much cleaner air than back when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. Without the yŏntan coal bricks burning in every home and far fewer dirty Diesel vehicles, South Korea's air quality has also improved considerably. In other words, reduction of manmade particulate pollution may have reversed that trend.

The other point to be made is that in the 1970s, people were in fact predicting global warming for the very same reasons as now, and those factors have not changed much.

So that's the skinny behind the oft-cited "prediction" of 1970s scientists that we'd be in an ice age by now. Here's a snippet from Time Magazine, dated February 2, 1970 (cover shown above):
Some environment experts visualize future dramas of disaster that seem to border on science fiction. A few scientists feel that the outpouring of carbon dioxide, mainly from industry, is forming an invisible global filter in the atmosphere. This filter may act like a greenhouse: transparent to sunlight but opaque to heat radiation bouncing off the earth. In theory, the planet will warm up. The icecaps will melt; the oceans will rise by 60 ft., drowning the world's coastal cities.

Other scientists argue the exact opposite: they point out that the earth's average temperature has dropped by .2° C. since 1945, though the carbon dioxide content of the air keeps increasing every year. To explain this phenomenon, many ecologists think that various particles in the atmosphere are reflecting sunlight away from the earth, thus cooling the planet. Since about 31% of the world's surface is covered by low clouds, increasing this cover to 36% through pollution would drop the temperature about 4° C.—enough to start a return to the ice age.
Make of that what you will. The following Time article from August 9, 1976 (cover below), addresses the same issues—particles causing cooling perhaps offset by a greenhouse effect. Here they report that since 1949 temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere were one degree Celsius cooler, which would be disastrous if they occurred globally:
Climatologists admit that they really do not know. A substantial number believe the earth is undergoing a cooling trend and is returning to the conditions of the "Little Ice Age"—the generally cold, damp weather that prevailed from around 1600 to 1850. British Climatologist Hubert Lamb believes the change is cyclical, occurring every 200 years or so. Reid Bryson of the University of Wisconsin and many others blame the earth's cooling on an increase of dust particles in the atmosphere; the particles act like tiny mirrors, reflecting back some of the sunlight sinking the atmosphere and depriving the earth's surface of solar heat.

There is some evidence that the earth had cooled down—at least temporarily—in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1972, according to German Climatologist Horst Dronia, the atmosphere in the Northern Hemisphere was one full degree centigrade colder than in 1949. But there have been indications of a slight warming since then. If the cooling-theory school is correct, however, the prospects for man are chilling. A global average temperature drop of only 1° could shorten the growing seasons in the temperate zones by a critical week or more and reduce food supplies. Increased heating requirements would put a further strain on energy sources.

Other climatologists believe that any long-term cooling trend is being offset by a "greenhouse effect," caused by an increasing atmospheric content of carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels. The CO2 prevents some of the heat radiated by the earth's surface from escaping out into space, thus warming the planet's atmosphere. Warming-trend advocates note that winters in such normally chilly regions as Scandinavia and New England have been uncharacteristically mild in recent years, and glaciers in the Alps have actually retreated. Even a modest rise in world temperatures would bring with it other perils. Ocean levels raised by melting polar ice could drastically change global air-circulation and rainfall patterns, as well as cause extensive flooding. The result could be a radical decline in the productivity of many of the world's important agricultural regions.

Climatologists tend to agree that whatever the long-term trend, the earth's climate is entering a period of increased variability that will make prediction and planning ever more difficult. "I do not see glacial melts or an ice age," says Jerome Namias of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. "What I see is fluctuations." Stephen Schneider, deputy head of the climate project at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., says the evidence of the past few years suggests that there is a good possibility the climate is becoming more unpredictable.

To learn more about these fluctuations, an international consortium of scientists is compiling a record of the earth's climate. Climatologist Lamb and his colleagues have assembled an accurate historical record of the seasons going back as far as 1400 A.D.—based on parish registers, government documents, monastery records, and such physical evidence as sediment deposits in lakes and growth rings in trees. Says Lamb: "The more we know about cycles of the past, the better we can work with the highly detailed and sophisticated observations we have of our weather today." Geophysicist Willi Dansgaard of the University of Copenhagen is studying cores taken from the ice in Greenland and Antarctica to learn about temperature and precipitation through the ages. Researchers at Columbia University's Lament-Doherty Geological Observatory are examining sea-floor cores for clues to ocean temperatures and circulation.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, naysayers who like to tell us what scientists in the 1970s said. I think it's interesting to note that now that we have a better record—as they were starting to put together in the 1970s—the consensus on global warming due to manmade causes has become stronger and stronger (though not universal).

Personally, I don't think this is something that can ever convince everybody. I think it's entirely possible we may wake up tomorrow and realize that it was all a great miscalculation. But erring on the side of caution would be to try to clean up the environmental mismanagement we have inflicted on our waters and our atmosphere, and the efforts to curb global warming is a major part of that drive. In other words, even if it turns out we have exaggerated the effect of manmade carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, we still would win if we made strenuous efforts to reduce them.

... Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ryugyong Hotel back under construction

In a follow-up to this post and this post, the Los Angeles Times reports that "the worst building in the history of mankind," Pyongyang's Ryugyŏng Hotel in North Korea, is back under construction again. (The Ryugyong Hotel is the pointy thing in the back.)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

US commander say high crime rate a misperception (in Japan)

Critics of Korea in the Korea-related blogosphere liked to share their wet dream that Washington will get fed up with criticisms about USFK (United States Forces Korea) by parts of the government and the public and just pack up and leave. Complaints about USFK crime and pollution are particular complaints that rile them. 

Let's just leave Korea to its own devices and just shore up Japan, "our real friend and a true ally." 

Among many things that are ignorant about this view is that ignores that some Japanese politicians and members of the Japanese public also complain about USFJ (United States Forces Japan). 

This is enough of a problem that the USFJ commander Lt General Edward Rice has spoken up out about it:
The rate of off-base crimes committed by members of the United States military in Japan is much lower than the rate for Japanese in general, but a "misperception" that the opposite is true still persists, the commander of U.S. Forces Japan said Tuesday.

"We are able to keep the off-base serious crime rate for U.S. service members to approximately half that of the overall Japanese population," Lt. Gen. Edward Rice told reporters in a group interview in Tokyo.

Rice emphasized that "a balanced view" is needed to discuss crimes involving U.S. service members in Japan.
The unbalanced view is not just from civic groups (as is also the case in Korea), but from the government:
U.S. forces have been coming under particularly strong criticism from the opposition parties in the Diet, which now control the House of Councilors. In April, the upper chamber made a decision to reject a budget bill for host-nation support, the first time it had ever done so. The budget eventually went into effect in May because it had already been approved by the more powerful Lower House, whose decisions on foreign treaties prevail under the Constitution.
I have long contended that if the squeaky-wheel leftists who (under Pyongyang's tutelage) have for decades been agitating for USFK's departure were to ever succeed, the effort would be stepped up in Japan as well, starting with Okinawa, where anti-US NGOs work in conjunction with their Korean counterparts. 

And a US departure from Korea or Japan would be a disaster for US interests and peaceful democracy in general.
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