Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Pretenders!

Cyber serendipity seems to rule my life, especially when I go to K-blogs such as Marmot's Hole and then find myself following a trail of bread crumbs from one topic to another. This time it was Robert Neff's comment about how South Korea's current president has a name, Lee Myungbak (i•myŏng•bak, 이명박, 李明博) has a name very similar to that of Emperor Kojong of Chosŏn Korea before he became the monarch, Lee Myŏngbok.(i•myŏng•bok, 이명복, 李命福).

That was something I did not know, though I might not have thought about it too much because, like many Koreans, the different Chinese characters (明 and 命, even though they're both myŏng, and 博 and 福, respectively bak and bok, which have the same consonants but different vowels) would have obscured the similar sounds. 

Anyway, I verified Mr Neff's statement at Wikipedia (the research tool for lazy people) and then proceeded to follow a bunch of different links at the Emperor Kojong entry. Part of the entry lists his children, some of whom married Japanese and obtained Japanese citizenship themselves after liberation in 1945. The guy had sex with a lot of concubines (which I know from doing translations of Korean documentaries was sanctioned for Korean monarchs).

Among his children was Yi Ch'ŏk (李坧), who for three years was Korea's last emperor (imperial name Sunjong, 純宗) before Japan forcibly annexed Korea in 1910. From that time, however (according to Wikipedia), Sunjong was a "pretender to the throne of the Korean Empire." 

So even though the Yi-headed Chosŏn Dynasty was officially deposed in 1910 by the absorption of Korea by Japan, the Imperial House of Yi (李氏, Isshi) lays claim to the throne. 

Now I was aware that there were those who carried on the imperial line despite their commoner status. I even discussed one of them (Yi Sŏk), in 2006. What I didn't know was how formalized they were and that there were now three contested imperial monarchs.

The first I read about was Yi Won (이원, 李源), the 46-year-old general manager of Hyundai Home Shopping network. Next I clicked on Yi Haewon (이해원, 李海瑗), the second main contestant (a third, Yi Chung, is the closest direct male heir to Emperor Kojong who has retained Korean citizenship, but he has no interest in the throne). 

I don't know why, but on clicking the link to Yi Haewon I was expecting to find someone else in their forties, but she was born in 1919, making her eighty-nine years old. That woman has seen a lot of history on the peninsula: her birth year was when the Samil Undong (March 1st movement) had Koreans in the street protesting Japanese rule; when she was in her twenties liberation came and then in her thirties the Korean War broke out. Since then she has seen Korea rise from the ashes to the regional powerhouse that it is. 

Apparently other members of the Korean Imperial Family Association have decided that she, as second daughter of Prince Imperial Ŭi (aka Yi Kang), who was fifth son of Emperor Kojong and his concubine, Lady Sudŏktang, should be crowned empress.

By the way, her father really got around. From 1909 to 1953 (a forty-four year period) he fathered twelve sons and nine daughters through his wife and fourteen concubines. And this is mostly after the imperial family had been deposed!

Upon the death in 2005 of her nephew Yi Ku (이구) who had since 1970 been the official pretender to the Korean throne (his father Yi Ŭn, a former general in the Japanese Imperial Army Air Forces, had held the title from 1926 when his half brother the aforementioned Emperor Sunjong died), she was picked by twelve members of the Korean Imperial Household to take the throne. In September 2006 she was declared yŏhwang, or empress, at which time she declared the restoration of the Korean throne. 

If you are still paying attention to all this, my hat is off to you. I find this kind of history and intrigue fascinating, especially when there are squabbles over who is a rightful successor. It's even more interesting when you add in the Japanese element: many members of the Korean imperial family ended up marrying Japanese royalty or nobility, often under pressure by the Japanese side that wanted to blend the two houses as a way of solidifying the new connection between the two countries. After liberation and the Korean War, some of these ethnic Japanese members of the Korean imperial household obtained Korean citizenship and lived in a traditional Korean palace until their deaths in the 1980s. 

But the "foreign" element was not always Japanese. The wife of Yi Ku, the pretender to the throne from 1970 to 2005, was one Julia Mullock, an American of Ukrainian descent. Both were working for the I.M. Pei architectural firm in the late 1950s shortly after Yi Ku graduated from MIT. 

Divorced from the Prince Imperial in 1982 (due to pressure from the Imperial Family since she had not produced an heir), the former Imperial Highness Princess Julia (Mullock) Lee is still alive at the age of eighty, reportedly living in an apartment in southern Seoul's upscale Kangnam-gu Ward. Universal Studios was interested in making a movie about her life.  

Ms Mullock-Lee (?) is not the only Caucasian to be so close to a high-profile figure in Korea. The Republic of Korea's first president, Syngman Rhee (이승만, yi•sŭng•man) was married to an Austrian, Franziska Donner, whom he had met in Geneva in 1933 when he was trying to prevent occupied Korea's case to the League of Nations. 

"Francesca" (as she was known by those in Korea who revered her) served as First Lady of Korea from 1948 to 1960 when her husband was forced into exile. They stayed in Honolulu, in a home only about a mile as a crow flies from where I now live. I jogged by there one day; it's a humble, non-descript place you wouldn't realize was the home of an ex-president. She returned to Korea and died there in 1992. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Scapegoating Korea and Japan

I like most of what Obama stands for. Just as importantly, I think a lot of what McCain stands for is wrong for America (though he is a vast improvement over George W. Bush). Obama is trying to take America in the right direction vis-à-vis health care (and McCain's proposals would introduce a great deal of adverse selection to an already fragmented insurance pool, among other problems), his economic proposals seem as if they will help the little guy without crippling the not-so-little guy who might give the little guy a job, and his environmental policies are promising (though McCain also is on the right track).

Although I would have preferred New Mexico governor Bill Richardson as the Democratic nominee for Vice President, I think Senator Joe Biden brings international policy experience to the ticket that bolsters Obama's good ideas for bringing America back to a position of responsibility and respect. 

By contrast, McCain's pick—a shrewd one that brings in someone who, like him, is willing to break ranks with his/her party but who also brings in parts of the Republican base that don't trust McCain—is woefully unprepared for international policy. Like Dubya before her, she could easily be misguided by savvy handlers who take the country down the wrong path. That is, if she becomes president, which is no small chance given McCain's relatively advanced age and questionable health. 

But there are a couple little things that prevent me from wholeheartedly supporting Barack Obama, and on the basis of at least one of these, I'm withholding my vote so far. 

One of them is the Iraq situation. I never supported the war and was surprised at both the speed and the blind ignorance with which the Bush administration pursued it. Once it started, though, I at least thought that one good thing to come from it would be the removal of the murderous Saddam Hussein and the restoration of human rights in Iraq. Though one obviously happened, the mounting death toll that continues to climb negated the other. We may be at the point where as many Iraqis have died on average each year since our invasion as died each year in the years preceding it. Not all of them are innocent babes in the woods, but many are. Furthermore, our screw-ups in Iraq (largely stemming from Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush not listening to their own military leaders) have prolonged the war and caused us to pay too little attention in Afghanistan, which was a legitimate military operation, I believe.

But at the same time, pulling out too quickly causes its own problems. Not least of which, it teaches our future adversaries that if they keep up their daily attacks instead of putting down their weapons and coming to the table to find a workable peace, they won't defeat America but they can make America defeatist enough to leave. And that's dangerous for all (and it has parallels with the anti-American civil forces in Korea, Okinawa, mainland Japan, Guam, etc.). 

In 2004 I had hoped for a candidate who would swoop in with the right set of credentials: he/she would have opposed the war before it started but would support staying in Iraq until we can leave responsibly —both in terms of America's aims and Iraqis' needs—and with the Iraq intact. I had hoped that Al Gore, who was very vocally opposed to the war before it began, would be that candidate. John Kerry's noodly support of the war when it started disqualified him from my consideration although I did end up voting for him. 

In 2008 I had again hoped for such a candidate, but none materialized. Even my favorite—Bill Richardson—had plans to get the hell out as soon as possible. Same with Hillary, Biden, and anyone else I would have considered. The Republicans were nowhere near such an approach, but they had all supported the foolhardy war from the beginning. 

The second niggling annoyance with Obama was his scapegoating of South Korea and Japan on issues of trade. Truth be told, Korea and Japan could do a lot more to get rid of trade barriers (though the United States isn't always guilt-free when it comes to free trade, such as the steel tariffs placed on Korea, Japan, Brazil, and other countries in 2004). But South Korea is trying to pass a free-trade agreement (FTA) to get rid of those trade barriers—the same FTA that Obama is suggesting he won't sign because of unfair trade. How's that for logic. 

This post will be edited later, to include parts of the presidential debates where Obama singles out South Korea and Japan.

The FTA, to me, is an important issue. It's not a perfect document, but it goes a long way toward permanently removing a number of hot-button issues that have been thorns in the side of ROK-US relations for decades. It's notable that a very leftist Korean government negotiated the final deal and that the conservative government that replaced them is even more gung ho about the deal. 

The FTA can go along way toward bringing South Korea and the United States economically and politically closer, especially after the last five or six years of neglect and mismanagement of the ROK-US relationship (for which I blame Roh Moohyun and, to a lesser extent, the Bush administration). I want to see South Korea firmly oriented back in the direction of the United States and Japan, and I hope that the current Lee administration will work on finalizing a similar FTA with Japan, for much the same reason. 

Obama should no that there is a bad history of bashing Asian nations over economic troubles in the United States. The case of Vincent Chin, the Chinese-American murdered by two auto workers who thought he was Japanese, is the most infamous example of this. Detroit has problems, to be sure, but their inability to sell cars in Korea and Japan no longer has to do with government audits of people who buy expensive foreign cars, as was done in Korea in the 1990s but is still sometimes cited as a current barrier by Korea's critics. 

The small cars that American carmakers manufacture are already produced in Korea. It is the oversized and inefficient muscle cars that are being produced in Detroit and few people in Korea want those. Ditto with Japan. Note to Detroit: gasoline hovers around $6/gallon in Korea. Koreans are buying foreign cars—smaller Hondas, Lexuses, and German cars—and the number doing so is growing rapidly.

Detroit could sell some US-manufactured cars in Korea or Japan if they marketed them with the right image. Cadillac has some cool commercials with a good-looking White ajumma (I am so trying to avoid saying M.I.L.F.) that makes 30- and 40-somethings want the luxury car. Maybe that could work in South Korea, especially with American cars lower in cost than before. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Kushibo's voter guide, November 2008 edition

So I'm sitting here in McDonald's filling out my ballot and, just as I did in June 2006, I thought I'd share with my sliver of the world the entire ballot filling-out process. Actually I received my absentee ballot a couple weeks ago, but I just haven't been able to bring myself to vote for Obama, given his gratuitous (and misleading) bashing of South Korea and Japan on issues of trade (more on that in a separate post).

I've been waiting for a sign that he's merely telling Michigan residents and Rust Belt voters what they want to hear but after he becomes president he'll pass the Korea-US FTA after giving it a few tweaks, telling those Midwestern voters that this is going to help more Americans sell more American goods in Korea. (And maybe making it clear that the reason Detroit is doing so poorly in Korea when Japanese and Germans have thrived is that they're not selling the kinds of cars Koreans would want to buy). [UPDATE: Two years later, that's kinda sorta how it played out.]

So with eight days to go, I'm filling out my ballot. All mail in Oahu that leaves Oahu is "air mail" (God, I hope that's true, though it did take almost three weeks for me to get my RAM upgrade from Illinois) so I'm confident that my ballot will arrive in Santa Ana (the Orange County seat) in time for me to participate in this essential democratic exercise.

In mid-2006 I did the voting and the blog write-up in a Lavazza Coffee House in Seoul. A devastating family crisis almost prevented me from voting in fall of 2006, but I did manage to give a thumbs-up to Governor Schwarzenegger, the first time ever that I knowingly voted for a Republican. But the guy deserved credit for sticking his neck on the line with his own party to pass certain environmental measures, so I figured I'd cut him some slack.

But don't expect the same this time. As much as I dislike Obama's bashing of Korea and Japan, I don't know if I can bring myself to vote for John McCain. Don't get me wrong here: I think McCain is worlds better than Bush-43 and I think it's a tragedy that he was thrown under the bus and steamrolled by his own party—at the hands of Karl Rove and his dirty tricks in South Carolina in 2000—but I have serious reservations.

Though I think Sarah Palin has some potential value as a maverick (did subliminal forces make me say that?) and I think she and especially McCain could cut into the monied special interests that dominate Washington, I think his health care plan is largely a catastrophe waiting to happen (among other problems, some of his proposals would allow for insurance companies to "cherry pick" healthier clients and leave the government left to insure the rest of the pool, which would be an unmitigated disaster).

His choice of Sarah Palin leaves me worried for other reasons. She's painfully inexperienced and uninformed about international issues, and with McCain being a 72-year-old cancer survivor, I'm not so sure she'd have enough time to learn on the job. Back in 2000 a lot of people chose Bush because they thought global issues weren't important, and they chose a guy who was clueless about international relations and instead let himself be influenced if not out right controlled by people who did not have America's best interests in mind. Here's my subliminal message: Halliburton! Oil companies!

Okay, I'll leave "president" last. Damn, this must be the coldest McDonald's in Honolulu. I'd go outside onto the lanai, but there are no electrical outlets there.

So I've got my black ink pen in hand, and I'm ready to go. House of Representatives? I'm voting party line. Orange County is wholly or partly in six House districts and all but one are reliably Republican (and even that one only dates back to the 1990s); my vote is not likely to sway things barring a sudden scandal.

For State Senator and State Assembly, same thing. Supposedly California has a particularly gridlocked government, which Governor Arnie is trying to change. If a third party were actually running for either of these seats, I'd consider voting for one of them.

For other local elections, including judgeships and school boards, I must admit I have no idea who is who, so I'm inclined to leave those blank.

The good stuff (besides the presidential election) is in the propositions. There are mercifully fewer than in past years (it used to take hours to thoughtfully fill out a ballot), but some are interesting and/or controversial.

Proposition 1A is about floating a $9.95 billion bond issue to establish high-speed train service linking Southern California (where Orange County is located, of course) with the Bay Area. This has long been a dream in California, especially among Southern Californians who also want a link to Las Vegas, which could follow. I'm voting yes. If Korea can have one, why not California?

Proposition 2 is one I first heard about only last week. It is supported by the Humane Society and seeks to put an end to confinement of food animals (chickens, pigs, cows, etc.) in extremely small spaces. This could mean an exodus of farmers and ranchers from California, but I don't think profit motive is a good excuse to force animals to live in unbearable conditions. I'm voting yes.

Proposition 3 would authorize $980 million in bonds for the construction of children's hospitals. California's 36 million strong population continues to grow at break-neck speed, so I'm voting yes, just as soon as I check that I didn't misread the number and it's not actually $980 billion.

Proposition 4 would require a 48-hour waiting period for physicians to notify a minor's parent or guardian when she is seeking to get an abortion. I've always been torn about the issue of abortion: I think it is not something people should take lightly and, frankly, should avoid if at possible, but at the same time I don't think banning it really does much to change demand and only creates other problems. 

I don't mind imposition of waiting periods (in fact, I think I support them so that people don't make rash decisions) but I am not comfortable tying this to parental permission when the parents aren't the ones who ultimately must be the parent of the child for the next eighteen years. There is also the potential for a child to be physically abused by an angry parent who is notified, which might end up forcing some teens into dangerous abortions in Mexico or by doctors who don't follow this new law. I'm voting no.

Proposition 5 would allocate $460 million (right, not billion) to improve and expand treatment programs for drug offenders. It would limit the court's authority to incarcerate certain drug offenders. I've never taken illegal drugs in my entire life, but I'm sympathetic to legalizing (or at least decriminalizing) minor ones. Offering treatment instead of incarceration is better for the individual and their loved ones, not to mention society. I'm voting yes.

Proposition 6 forces the state to provide $965 million to police and local law enforcement. No mention of bonds to pay for it, which is a negative at at time when California's in a fiscal mess. That alone is a reason to vote against it, but I think law enforcement needs our help as the state expands. I reluctantly vote no.

Proposition 7 requires government-owned utilities to generate 20% of its electricity with renewable sources by 2010. Much of California is hot and sunny, so it's a no-brainer that a lot of energy should come from solar power (as Hawaii is starting to do), but you need an economy of scale to make it cheaper. Just as we Californians did with automobile fuel economy in the 1990s, we can use our status as the most populous state (1 of 8 Americans lives in California) to create that economy of scale. I'm voting yes.

And now we come to Proposition 8, eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry. There's a double negative involved here: if you support same-sex marriage, then you vote no on banning it (some people worry that the wording will cause some people to vote different from their intention). Not long ago I used to believe that civil unions were an adequate solution to the social and legal aspirations of same-sex couples, but several gay/lesbian couples close to me convinced me otherwise. 

Proposition 8, in fact, is one reason I chose to keep my voter registration at my permanent address in Orange County instead of temporarily switching it to Hawaii so I could vote yes to bring steel rail to Oahu. California has already opened the door to same-sex couples marrying, and I don't think it's right to close that door. The world will not end; if anything, it can help marriage be something that is again aspired to. I'm voting yes. Wait, no. I'm voting no.

Proposition 9 would expand victims' rights at parole hearings, establishing victim safety as consideration for bail or parole. I'm voting yes.

Proposition 10 floats $5 billion in bonds to help consumers purchase alternative fuel vehicles. I'm voting yes.

Proposition 11 is another controversial measure that would give an independent panel the authority to establish boundaries for state offices. This signature issue of the Gubernator's will supposedly end gerrymandered "safe seats" and make the state senate and assembly more competitive and reflect the will of the voters. I'm voting yes.

Proposition 12 floats a $900 million bond to help veterans establish farms and buy homes. I'm a sucker for helping veterans, so I'm voting yes.

Orange County's Measure J would require voter approval for certain increases in retirement benefits for county employees and officials. I would hate to have my retirement benefits be left to the whim of the hoi polloi, so I'm voting no. Besides, this stinks of scapegoating public employees for the government's fiscal mismanagement.

Well, that's it for the propositions and measures. Damn is it cold in here! But I can't leave until I pick someone for president.

Okay, I'm writing in New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. I shit you not.

Damn! Those cheap bastards in Santa Ana are making me pay for my own stamp! I guess I'll have to mail this tomorrow. 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Samsung's Plan B

So Samsung is not going to buy out SanDisk, but it is still planning to team up with another major corporate entity to enhance its product line. 

Samsung Electronics will team up with Netflix (the mail-in movie people) by equipping their Blu-ray DVD players to retrieve movies and TV shows from Netflix's Internet streaming service. This ties in with Netflix's own plans to develop more delivery methods beyond the US postal service. LG Electronics, another major Korean manufacturer, has since earlier this month been selling a $350 Blu-ray player with Netflix streaming. 

From the article:
The deal, to be announced Thursday, could set the stage for Netflix to embed software connecting to its streaming service directly into television sets made by Samsung.

In a statement, Netflix and Samsung said they are planning to plant the streaming capability in a variety of home entertainment products. Reed Hastings, Netflix's chief executive officer, declined to elaborate on the other possibilities in an interview.
If I weren't a humble student on a modest income, who is already locked into a Blockbuster* membership anyway, I'd actually consider getting one of these. Oh, well. I'll console myself by going snorkeling in the 80°F ocean. 

* I had toyed with the possibility of getting a Netflix membership so I could get the downloads, but they've got it set up to work only on Windows. One of those cases where Macs can't do something not because of technological problems but because of artificial marketing issues, which just cheeses me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If they won't join you, beat them.

Okay. I've got a major presentation tomorrow (disparities in women's health in Korea—always a crowd-pleaser) but I just couldn't let this one go. 

The good folks at the Wall Street Journal would like to turn business students at this esteemed university into good Republicans and conservatives, so they distribute free copies of their paper in the Business Administration Building (really, couldn't they think of a more creative name than that? Really?). 

On the theory that me taking even just one paper will prevent some impressionable sophomore from picking up that rag, I take a bullet every Tuesday and Thursday by nabbing a copy of the paper. Later that day, if I find myself sitting down somewhere for more than five minutes—in today's case, McDonald's—I might actually peruse the Journal, like some slippah*-wearing, long-haired hippie-looking businessman. 

On the Opinion Page was a screed by one Bret Stephens, who writes the "Global View" column. Like much of the WSJ staff, he's not happy about retired General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell's endorsement of the junior senator from Illinois for president of these United States. 

Rather than explain why the esteemed Mr Powell is wrong, or why McCain still represents a better choice, Mr Stephens proceeds to tear down Mr Powell. He's at fault for not speaking up on time against the war in Iraq (a fair point), for not resigning before being "let go," for the Valerie Plame case, etc. 

It's actually an interesting read that makes some valid points, but it underscores more and more why I feel there's no there there with McCain: so few people can talk about why McCain would be a better choice, only the bunch of niggling and nit-picky reasons why Obama should not be chosen.

Anyway, what really set me off was the picture Stephens and/or the WSJ chose to include with the article:
I shit you not. This was the picture attached to the serious and angry op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal

The caption in the print version simply reads "Colin Powell," but in the online version there is no caption. 

What does the picture have to do with NBC, "Meet The Press," George Bush, Valerie Plame, the Iraq War, Obama, McCain, his talk at the United Nations, Foggy Bottom, or anything else even remotely connected with the article? 

Whiskey Tango Fuck! What is up with this? 

Nowhere in the article does it mention that Powell and Obama are both Black, but boy, oh boy, does Stephens and/or the Wall Street Journal want you to know just how "Black" pale-faced Powell really is. And if Powell and Obama are both Black, you know just why that endorsement came about, right? Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge. 

How hard would Stephens and/or the WSJ have had to look to find that picture amongst the many thousands upon thousands of pictures of Mr Powell in their archives and files. 

I still don't know if I'm going to vote for Obama or do a protest vote because of what he has said Korea and Japan vis-à-vis trade, but boy, oh boy, when November 4 rolls around and we elect our first (half) Black president, some people's heads are going to explode. Not to be gory, but it will give new meaning to "red state." 

* slippah = flip-flops. Yah, that's the way we talk on the island, yeah. 


In relation to this story, Samsung Electronics said Wednesday (Korea time) that it has withdrawn its bid to acquire SanDisk, citing "growing uncertainties" in SanDisk's business.

In relation to this post, McClatchy Newspapers offers a story detailing the life and death of Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, mentioned by former Secretary of State Colin Powell as an example of how Muslims, too, make patriotic Americans. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

The real Sarah Palin stands up

In case you missed it, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was on Saturday Night Live this past weekend, playing herself. It was a much anticipated appearance after doppelgänger Tina Fey played her three times with hilarious accuracy.

The opening was a little stilted—the governor is not an actress after all—but it was good fun nonetheless. Say what you will about her marked unpreparedness to take over the reins of government of the most powerful nation in the world if the 72-year-old cancer survivor John McCain were to die, but at the very least she is a good sport who can make a few self-deprecating remarks.

Here are the NBC videos featuring the governor. For the other Tina Fey appearances as Governor Palin, do a blog search for Tina Fey.

$35 movie tickets in Orange County?

I love movies. Back in Seoul I had OCN ("Korean number-one channel!") or CatchOn blaring nearly 24/7. Now in Honolulu I have a Blockbuster membership, alternating between the DVD I get in the mail and the one I get when I exchange it at the store across the street from Don Quijote Supermarket (what is up with that name?) near Ala Moana Shopping Center.

But sometimes I like heading out to the movies. Usually it's the $1 theater at Restaurant Row, which screens popular movies from two or three months earlier, but on (rare) occasion I will pay full price. Well, full price minus the student discount.

Since arriving in Honolulu at the beginning of August 2006, I have done this only three times. Twice in Yolo County with relatives to see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and later Tropical Thunder (the viewing experience of which is enhanced by seeing it with a giddy crowd), and again at the Ward Center Theaters here in Honolulu when I took cousins traveling from Seoul to the Mainland to see "Batman Does Something or Other" while their mother shopped.

I do not regret paying $10 a pop for any of those flicks, but it's not something I could do every day and still maintain my Coffee Bean habit. So it dismays me to see the Orange County Register's peek into the dark future: $35-per-ticket movies.

No, that is not a typo. What it is is Gold Class Cinemas' plans to have movies in a comfy couch with concierge service. [The OC Weekly also has a write-up.] Sort of like what First Class or Business Class travel is to Coach (which I have flown every one of the hundreds of times I've been in a plane, save the one time Korean Air bumped me up to First Class on a flight from Hong Kong to Seoul—oh, what luxury!).

All I can say is, may Gold Class Cinemas crash and burn. I do not want the precedent of a $35 movie ticket in my hometown. Seoul theaters started offering "couples booths" in movie theaters, but they charged only half that price, I think. OC is already expensive enough as it is without other theaters eyeing that price tag and inching toward it. What are OCers going to do? Drive to Los Angeles County? With gas at $4 per gallon, you could jack up movie ticket prices to $15 and it would still be cost-effective to stay behind the Orange Curtain (not to mention safer and less time-consuming).

I like what one OC Register commenter said, that "for 35 bucks, it should include an unnatural act." Actually, I think the idea is that the unnatural act is supposed to come after the film (sorry for that bit of crudity, Mom). But for $35, I'd be happy if they washed and waxed my car.

Let me remind everyone that I'm a grad student on an extremely modest income, my modest net worth has been tanking as the Korean won freefalls against the dollar, and the university has not paid me my modest monthly wage since August even though they were quick to grab up a modest scholarship I'd won when there was an outstanding balance on my tuition statement. In case you missed it, the theme of this paragraph is "modest."

And as long as I have lived in the United States, it has always been thus. Back when I was at the University of California at Irvine, we had $2 movie night every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at the Edwards Cinema across from UCI. This eventually shrank to just Tuesdays and eventually disappeared altogether. There were rumors that people who attended lectures in the cineplex during the mornings or early afternoons (UCI was so overcrowded they'd run out of lecture halls space) parked themselves inside the bathroom stalls until evening came and watched movies for free, but that's probably an urban legend. I was tempted to try it myself.

Now I'm in grad school and, as I mentioned, I'm enjoying the $1 movies at Restaurant Row here in Honolulu. $35 for a movie? Not on my student budget. But even when I was working and had a high five-digit income (ha ha) I don't think I would have spent $35 for a ticket except for that once-a-decade movie event, like Indiana Jones 3 (not 4) or Episode 1 of Star Wars (but not 2 or 3). And only if I were trying to impress a special someone.

Gold Class Cinema, I wish you all the worst.

Colin Powell endorses Barack Obama

One thing that sorta sucks about being in freak-state Hawaii is that by the time you wake up, all the news has already happened on the East Coast (the East Coast of the Mainland, that is; here in Oahu, if we talk about the east coast we be talkin' 'bout hittin' waves at Waimanalo or Bellows, yeah?). 

Well, maybe that's a good thing. If I catch the 4 p.m. Eastern news roundup on NPR (through iTunes) it's only 10 a.m. Here in Paradise™ so it's a little like seeing into the future. And we don't have to get up at ridiculous times to watch the Sunday morning news shows (yeah, I'm a news junkie). 

Speaking of which, former General Colin Powell, who was President George W. Bush's first secretary of state, has endorsed Senator Obama for president. On NBC's "Meet The Press" with Tom Brokaw he praised Obama as a "transformational figure" and criticized the negative tone of Senator John McCain's campaign (that's the Republican candidate, Obama's opponent, for my readers living in the Magadan Oblast).

The 71-year-old former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the top position in the US military other than the commander-in-chief him/herself) had some not so nice things to say about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's qualifications to be president, which helped him make this decision. From the Los Angeles Times:
The retired Army general said that both Obama and McCain were qualified to serve as commander in chief, but not Palin. He also suggested that Obama was better suited to handle the nation's economic problems and build its stature around the world.

"We need a president that will not just continue, even with a new face and some changes and with some maverick aspects, will not just continue basically the policies that we have been following in recent years," said Powell, a longtime Republican who briefly considered seeking his party's presidential nomination in 1996.
Obama himself wasted no time mentioning the endorsement at a rally near Fort Bragg, North Carolina:
Before we begin, I'd like to acknowledge some news that we learned this morning. With so many brave men and women from Fayetteville who are serving in our military, this is a city and a state that knows something about great soldiers. And this morning, a great soldier, a great statesman, a great American has endorsed our campaign for president. I have been honored to have the benefit of his wisdom and his counsel from time to time over the last few years, but today, I am beyond honored -- I am deeply humbled to have the support of Gen. Colin Powell.
General Powell's "unassailable national security credentials" (that's the LAT's description, though I would say his grudging support for Bush-43's ill-fated Iraq war is certainly a smudge on his record, though he really had no choice) help shore up Obama's image as a capable and ready commander-in-chief. 

Powell has made it clear that his support for Obama has nothing to do with both of them being Black. And it is doubtful to me that he is expecting to be included in an Obama-Biden administration (wow, does "Obama-Biden" so look like "Osama bin Laden" if you're not paying attention), given not just his age but also the fact that Obama has so many capable people to choose from. 

I am holding out hope that Obama will choose New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson for a position like Secretary of State. Governor Richardson was far and away my first choice for the Democratic Party nomination. I was an advocate of his candidacy years before he even officially declared he was running, and I voted for him even though he had dropped out of the race by the time the California primary rolled around (the media being in love with Hillary and Barack to the exclusion of all others, even those like Richardson with a much more substantial résumé). He was the only candidate to whom I donated money.

Richardson is not only a capable chief executive (who won re-election with nearly 70% of the vote in a very red state), but he is also a skilled diplomat who has been sent by both Clinton and Bush-43 to political hot spots (including North Korea) because he gets the job done. America needs a capable representative like him on the world stage right now.

Even if Richardson is not chosen for Sec of State, Hillary Clinton would be the next logical choice. She and her husband are favorite American politicos around the world (along with Obama) and with her grasp of global issues she would make a fine Secretary of State as well. My hope, though, is that Richardson is chose for State and she is picked for Health and Human Services so she can spearhead a new health care plan for the Obama administration. 

Maybe Powell or Hillary (or Bill) could serve as US Ambassador to the United Nations. That's an important position (one held by Richardson, too) worthy of someone of their skill and stature. 

Oh, look at me. I'm talking like Obama has already won. And I haven't even decided whether to vote for Obama or withhold my vote in protest against his gratuitous bashing of Korea and Japan on trade issues. 

Above is video of the endorsement. I'm actually amazed at how much I agree with Colin Powell's assessment—positives and negatives—of all the candidates, including McCain and Palin.

Another important thing to come away with from Powell's interview is the part where he talks about the rumors that Obama is a closet Muslim. The answer to the question, "Is Senator Obama a Muslim?" is no. But, Powell says, the real answer is, "So what if he is?"

He then goes on to relate the story of Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. My description won't do it just, so here it is:
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards—Purple Heart, Bronze Star—showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

UPATE (Tuesday, October 21, 2008):
McClatchy Newspapers offers this story detailing the life and death of Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Desperation time?

I like and respect John McCain and I wish he had won the Republican nomination in 2000 rather than George W. Bush. Our country and the world at large would be a very different place had McCain or Gore become president in 2001 rather than Dubya.

But I cringe when I read things like this political emailing that was forwarded to me. Obviously they don't think they can win by talking up what good their own candidate will do, so they resort to fear-mongering and innuendo, a clear sign of desperation. It makes me sick that McCain doesn't stand up to this.
Polls show McCain can win EVERY swing state!

We believe that when voters in these key states find out that Obama backs giving illegal aliens driver's licenses, they will turn on him.

The 9/11 hijackers began their plot with driver's licenses. Obama is such a radical he still wants every illegal to get a driver's license.

It gets worse.

He's called for illegals to get Social Security benefits. He even wants them to get free government health care.

Who pays? You do!

Help us expose Barack Obama.
The email includes a link to their new video (I tried to embed it, but there was no code). Just the headline and the picture are enough to let you know what's in store.

Obama’s Plan:
Mohamed Atta Gets His Driver’s License

That's right! Obama supported giving the 9/11 hijackers driver licenses, which makes him part of that dastardly act. Terrorist! Terrorist!

Just a question, but weren't the 9/11 hijackers in the country legally? What does their situation have to do with what this National Republican Trust PAC emailing says Obama is trying to do?

And how could an illegal who gets a driver license use it to get Social Security or to register to vote? Don't the Social Security folks and the voter registrars across the country check for eligibility since not every citizen is entitled to Social Security benefits (until they reach a certain age or meet a narrow set of conditions) and since legal immigrants with long-term visas or green cards are not able to vote? 

How would getting a driver license help an illegal get those things if the people in charge there are doing their jobs? This sounds like a red herring to me, but it could pick up traction and become the Obama's "Willie Horton" where Bill Ayers did not

The sober reality is that we have millions of illegal residents in the United States and even with the harshest of measures that won't change much. Applying some order to their daily lives helps reduce the risks and dangers facing them and the legal residents around them. It's better for me as a legal resident if the illegals who ICE have so far failed to deport are driving legally and with insurance. It's better for me if they go to the hospital when they're sick instead of waiting until they get so ill they are a health hazard for others. And if they are paying Social Security benefits and taxes, I don't exactly see a problem with allowing them to collect on some of that, if that is what they are really doing. 

I guess I am a terrorist hugger, too. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Person on the street: What do you know about the Japanese colonization of Korea?

Imperial Japan just wanted to live peaceably with Korea. But Korea didn't want to have anything to do with us, so we had to go to war and defeat them.
— Kazuo Nakagawa, horticulturalist and graffiti artist

I heard that before the Japanese were invited to Korea, the Koreans were really in bad shape. They mostly ate roots that they dug up, and when food was really scarce, they ate their own feces. The Japanese colonizers showed them how to use chopsticks.
— Naoko Hirotsu, high school student

The Koreans loved us and were happy when we ruled them. The Korean War broke out because the South Koreans wanted to become Japanese again and the North said no.
— Hiro Ozawa, sushi sous-chef

Before Japan ruled Korea, everyone in Korea was Blood Type B. The Japanese government helped make everybody in Korea Type O or Type A. But the war ended and Korea was liberated before they were finished, so there are still Type B and Type AB people. These are the ones who hate Japan and stole Takeshima.
— Shiho Nomura, physics professor

Until 1895, Korea was ruled by an army of vicious monkeys. The Japanese defeated the evil simians in a bloody sumo contest held on Bamboo Island and took their place. But they were concerned that the Koreans would be embarrassed that they had once been ruled by monkeys, so the new Japanese rulers pretended they were the rulers of Korea from the beginning. That's how much Japan cared about Korea.
— Tsuyoshi Kumamoto, anime extra

The Koreans are originally from Japan. Their language is the same as ours, except they changed all the words so we wouldn't figure it out.
— Mayuko Akatsuka, hedge fund manager

What's a Korea?
— Anna Oishi, professional eating contest participant and game-show model

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Empire Bounces Back

Oh, my head is spinning. 

Last week I saw my very modest net worth drop 20% or so as the value of the won plummeted to the 1400 won/dollar mark (which itself came after slipping 20% since the beginning of this year). Then over the past two sessions it went back up over 13%

The Korean stock market also plummeted and then rose again (6% today), in line with what is happening over in New York and Europe.

Most of my net worth is locked up in my apartment, which has been a sound investment. It has tripled in value since I bought it and its central location means it might weather the popping of the real estate bubble that is expected soon. Knock on wood. Anyway, my housing loan at Shinhan Bank is for only about one-fifth of the value of the apartment, so I feel good. I have no plans to sell my apartment anytime soon, so I can ride out the currency roller coaster for the time being.

But half the money I make is still in Korean won. Even while in Hawaii, my company does work for which I am paid in KRW that goes directly into an account for which I have a credit card, plus I have a tenant who pays me into the same account (half of which goes to pay my mortgage, but the rest which I am free to spend). 

I had planned to actually spend that money every now and then in Hawaii (dorms, air fare, food, gas, etc.), but at 1400 won to the dollar, I might as well save it. Fortunately, I also have a modest income in US dollars, so I'm back to spending dollars in America and KRW when I'm in the ROK. 

Okay, so this isn't so bad. I don't have much in the way of other investments, so I'm not feeling the pain of the stock market tumble, though I worry about how my retired parents are going to make ends meet. 

I'm stoked that gas prices have gone down now. At the local Costco (the link is an interesting LAT read about Costco's busiest store), gas prices actually fell to $3.25/gallon, down from $4. My Honda Passport SUV, though I don't drive it much, is a bit of a gas guzzler. A good, rugged practical car for moving stuff around on Honolulu's pothole-ridden roads, but not exactly pocketbook-friendly. I miss the Kia Carnival, my environmentally friendly LP gas-powered pimped-out minivan, but I fill the tank on the Honda only about once every two weeks or more. 

Too bad Costco in Korea doesn't sell gas. 

A friend who will be going to Korea for about a year or two asked me whether or not it was a good time to bring in a bunch of money, in anticipation that the won will bounce back. I think it will, but I'm no expert. 

I do think there are some housing opportunities for prospective buyers, especially people who are in the Seoul area forking out chunks of money for rent. Seriously, if you are interested in buying a small but decently built apartment in an okay neighborhood, email me. I'd like to turn the area into an enclave of decent "forean" folks that don't mind living away from places like Itaewon or the rest of Yongsan. 

UPDATE (Wednesday, October 15, 2008 HST):
In Korea it is Thursday, and the Korean won dropped 133.5 won, 9.7% of its value. It is the single biggest one-day drop since December 31, 1997, at the height of the economic crisis we faced back then. 

The roller coaster ride continues. 

Monday, October 13, 2008

Zero-dollar bills

Apparently the recent financial meltdown (can we call it a meltdown?) has inspired not a small number of artists to depict a "Zero-dollar bill." Some have George Bush on the front, others have people from the past (e.g., 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry or former California governor Gray Davis) whom they thought were going to tank the economy. But I like this one, not just for its relative high quality, but also for its message: "Be-be-be-be-be-be-be... That's all, folks!" 

"Skywalkers in Korea Cross Han Solo"

I just wanted to recycle last year's Washington Post headline about this year's 2008 Han River High Wire World Championship, the annual tightrope-walking event. The festivities were held again this year (hat tip to Robert Neff in the Marmot's Hole, who also wrote the OhMyNews story; his contributions on the late Chosŏn era and the colonial period are informative gems). 

The Han in the headline, of course, is the 514-km-long Han River that lazily winds its way through the capital. Throughout most of Seoul, including where these people are crossing, I believe the river is more than a kilometer wide. Having grown up near the ocean, the remarkably wide Han River is one of the things about Seoul I enjoy the most. 

Mr Neff informs readers that the purpose of the event was to "help globalize the Korean tradition of chul•t'a•gi [줄타기, jultagi in NAKL], pictured above in a photo from around 1914, taken at the Seoul Mining Company. If one goes to the Korean Folk Village [min•sok•ch'on, 민속촌/韓國民俗村] in Yong•in [용인시/龍仁市], you can see some very deftly performed acrobatics on the tightrope. The emphasis is more on bouncing tricks than on walking across the tightrope. When I can get to it, I'll include my own pictures from Minsokchon. 

[above: Asleidy Coromoto of Venezuela, doing something I have neither the guts nor the skill to pull off. And I'm not just talking about the red outfit.]

Get it all, without spending it all.

That would be how I characterize Hyundai's advertising campaign for the Hyundai Genesis [above], the once derided flagship Korean automaker's venture into the luxury car market. I'll post them a bit later, but their television ads make the impressive case that what you're getting is better than the comparable Audi, Mercedes, BMW, or Lexus, but you're not going to pay an arm and a leg for it. 

The ads have been catching my attention for some time now, and an old Marmot's Hole thread, circa 2005, about Hyundai's plans to give Lexus a run for its money (and the people praising or pooh-poohing those plans) spurred me to write something about this. Here it is.

I share the opinion that Hyundai may be planning to "spin off" the Genesis line into its own brand, like Toyota's Lexus, Honda's Acura, or Nissan's Infiniti. Especially after the Genesis Coupe [below] hits the marketplace in 2010. 

© 2008 Taenamu Communications for all written content

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin (part 3): The Katie Couric interview

It just occurred to me earlier today that while I had linked to two of Tina Fey's appearances on Saturday Night Live as her doppelgänger Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, I had not included the third. So here it is: Tina Fey as Sarah Palin being interviewed by Katie Couric (links to the other two appearances can be found here and here).

What's funny (and sad) about this particular Tina Fey impersonation is that some of the lines were taken almost verbatim from Sarah Palin's own answers, particularly the following rambling (directly from Sarah Palin herself) whose counterpart is found at around 2:50 in the video:
That’s why I say, I like ever American I’m speaking with were ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the tax payers looking to bailout.

But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy– Helping the — Oh, it’s got to be about job creation too. Shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americas.
It would be funny if the prospect of someone so ill-prepared to become president weren't so scarily possible. 

North Korea releases pictures of Kim Jong-il

rumors that the Dear Leader had suffered a devastating stroke, causing him to miss major events such as the 60th anniversary of the DPRK's founding, Pyongyang has released the first images of Kim Jong-il seen since August 14. Of course, no one has any idea how old the pictures are, but the background looks a little green for mid-October. No later than September, I guess.

For all you hoping his demise would lead to something better up north, you may have to wait a while longer: he reportedly looked in good health and he was well enough last week to make his first public appearance in two months to watch a college soccer game. 

UPDATE (Sunday, October 12, 2008): 
By way of the Marmot's Hole, it looks like these photos are not recent. Yonhap thinks the pictures are from a trip to a Kangwon-do unit in August 2003 or July 2004. I would say it's doubtful the pictures were recently staged. After all, no one ever plans to have a stroke.

What does this all mean? If the pictures are from several years ago, but he made a recent appearance, then he may well have suffered from some sort of stroke or medical problem that has caused him to appear frail or debilitated in some way.

The real William Ayers and Barack Obama link

I'm a lifelong Democrat, though a moderate Clintonian Democrat (having been raised in Orange County, I know that my Republican relatives and friends are not the devil and I see much merit in the policies of fiscal restraint and entrepreneurial innovation that were cornerstones of Republicanism before the Bush-43 deficits and deregulation made greedy deception the surefire way to make money over actual innovation and hard work). 

However, Senator Obama's bashing of South Korea and Japan in his stump speeches to union members, and his expressed non-support for the ROK-US FTA that goes along with it, are the single thing that give me pause about voting for Obama. And, yes, that may be a deal breaker. More on that in another post. 

I have respect for Senator John McCain and I say wholeheartedly the world would have been better off had he been the Republican nominee in 2000 instead of George W. Bush, an incompetent who was poorly informed on international issues and was easily led around by nefarious puppet masters who had their own selfish interests in mind but packaged and marketed them to the American people using fear. But despite my generally positive feelings toward McCain, I do not like where his campaign is going, and it's largely not his own fault. 

McCain was booed by his supposed supporters at his own rally in Minnesota recently when he said, in response to one attendee who said he was "scared of an Obama presidency," that they have nothing to worry about:
"I want to be president of the United States and I obviously do not want Senator Obama to be. But I have to tell you, I have to tell you, he is a decent person. And a person that you do not have to be scared (of) as president of the United States."
And for that McCain got booed. Obama tried to return McCain's true class in kind, thanking him for toning down the vitriol.

What has gotten so many in McCain's camp riled up is the relentless barrage of memes about how untrustworthy Obama is. "What do we really know about this man?" and "Is he American enough?" seem to be the seeds for these memes, which mostly emanate from uberpartisan sources on the right. That gives us Obama the secret Muslim or clandestine Arab, a Manchurian Candidate for Islam, a man secretly in cahoots with terrorists. It's red meat to swing voters your way by appealing to their worst instincts and deepest fears (and I'm just as critical when it's done by uberpartisans on the left).

It was the latter of those memes that has been gaining traction lately, and it was part of the mini-speech made by that Lakeville rally attendee to whom McCain was responding about Obama's decency and suitability to be president when he got booed. The man stated:
"... but I'm concerned about someone that cohorts with domestic terrorists such as Ayers."
Leaving aside that "cohorts" is not a verb (not yet, anyway), it is interesting to note that Ayers has become such a household word among the right that it's not even necessary to explain who this is: Bill Ayers, the cofounder of the Weather Underground, a radical group that bombed public buildings from the very late 1960s until the early 1970s (mostly preceded by evacuation warnings) in protest against American military bombings in Vietnam. 

When the Weathermen started, the future Senator Barack Hussein Obama was eight years old. What was an eight-year-old doing with such a violent organization? The answer is he was doing nothing. But fast-forward to the 1990s and especially the 2008 presidential campaign, and the right would want you to believe that Obama "cohorts" with this domestic terrorist. 

Ayers was never convicted for his activities and he eventually became a "Distinguished Professor" at the University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Education. He later settled in Hyde Park, a tony Chicago neighborhood where Obama also lived. The Washington Post details some of the interactions between the two, including Ayers hosting a coffee meeting to raise support for Obama's first run for office and a $200 contribution to his re-election. They were also together on the eight-person Woods Fund Board, a community activist group in which Ayers is still active. Quoting the WaPo:
Whatever his past, Ayers is now a respected member of the Chicago intelligentsia, and still a member of the Woods Fund Board. The president of the Woods Fund, Deborah Harrington, said he had been selected for the board because of his solid academic credentials and "passion for social justice."
And see, that's part of the point. Four decades later, this guy has cleaned himself up and is now a respected citizen for his passion and his ideas. 

But a lot of people won't accept that. They think Ayers is still a bad man (and come on, there are some people who were killed by the Weathermen's activities) and they fear a strong connection between Ayers and Obama is an ominous sign of what is to come.

But is this connection so strong? Are Obama and Ayers so buddy-buddy that Ayers's activities of forty years ago will influence Obama in the present day? Leaving aside that Obama has "strongly condemned" the activities of the Weathermen, just how close did Ayers see his relationship to Obama? 

Why would he support Obama in the first place? Starting with his college days' participation in a picket line protesting a pizzeria that wouldn't sit Blacks, he has a long record of supporting justice on race issues. Hardly surprising that in his more mellow later years he would support an up-and-coming Black community organizer. Twice. (And is Obama responsible for the decades-old past of each and every supporter and contributor?)

But to get an idea of how Ayers or anyone viewed the supposed Ayers-Obama connection prior to when this issue came to the forefront in early 2008 (when Hillary Clinton's supporters thought that this could be Obama's Willie Horton if her were to become the nominee), before the Republican smear machine started running with this, before most anyone my age or younger had even heard of Ayers, let's see what was written about the two.

[photo: Bill Ayers in 2007. His shirt says "Cubs," not "Cuba."] 
Surely if they were so close, there would be a long pre-2008 written record connecting the two. Ayers himself is a prolific writer, including several memoirs, so their close friendship would come up again and again, right? 

But in a content search of Google Books, this is all I got, a run-on paragraph on pages 81 and 82 describing Ayers's (and Obama's) upscale Hyde Park neighborhood in "A Kind and Just Parent," written in 1998:
Once a summer colony, Hyde Park is today dominated by the University of Chicago. It is home to the famous Museum of Science and Industry (the coal mine, the chickens hatching constantly), the Oriental Institute, and the DuSable Museum of African-American History. Other important institutions include Jesse Jackson's Operation Push, Doc Films, 57th Street Books, and the Hyde Park-Kenwood Little League, which brings a joyful crowd of children and families to the park across from our house every summer evening. Hyde Park boasts the world's thickest concentration of Nobel Laureates and thinnest selection of good restaurants. Mike Nichols once described Hyde Park as "the only racially integrated neighborhood in Chicago," and then added caustically, "it's black and white shoulder to shoulder against the poor." There's painful truth in that description as the powerful university and its allied neighborhood association have worked to manipulate boundaries and borders to assure "stability" and separation. Our neighbors include Muhammad Ali, former mayor Eugene Sawyer, poets Gwendolyn Brooks and Elizabeth Alexander, and writer Barack Obama. Minister Louis Farrakhan lives a block from our home and adds, we think, a unique dimension to the idea of "safe neighborhood watch": the Fruit of Islam, his security force, has an ye on things twenty-four-hours a day. I pass Farrakhan's mansion, offer a cheery wave to the Fruit, get a formal nod in response, and turn north two blocks across 47th Street, into the lap of urban blight.
In this 200-page book, that's the only mention of his good buddy Obama. I highlighted it in case you missed it. So little was Ayers involved in the life of Obama, that he didn't even mention the latter's nascent career as a state senator, which had begun the year before this book was published.

That's not just where Obama is mentioned in Ayers books, that's also where Obama is mentioned in any pre-2008 book that mentions Ayers. That's it, prior to this shit storm with all the spin, this is objective data of how strong or weak their connection was. Before the books and all the articles trying to create the smear, this is what was out there. 

Yeah, that's right, I excluded the books written in 2008, with titles like "The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality," "Obama - the Postmodern Coup: Making of a Manchurian Candidate," and "Liberty in an Evil Age." (These books on Obama mention Ayers 26, 6, and 5 times, respectively, including one gratuitous reference in the second one to "the bisexual Weathermen terrorist bomber Bill Ayers.")

Make of this what you will, but there's really nothing there. This is about one side trying to whip up fear and anger against the other. Obama will hand over our country to terrorists, just like Dukakis was going to allow ugly Black rapist-murderers to roam free on the weekends (in a program inaugurated by Dukakis's Republican predecessor though Dukakis himself didn't rescind the program until public support looked like it was turning on it).

This is about slash-and-burn, divide-and-conquer politics. And it is poison for our country. Demonizing the other side is a sure-fire way to have a divisive country. Take a lesson from this off-white native of a red county called Orange in a blue state: Don't be a hater. I think Bush has been a terrible president in so many ways, but I can still find at least a few good things to say about his efforts as president and, like Harold and Kumar (about whom I blogged recently), I would be thrilled to ever have the opportunity to sit down with the guy and break bread (I would have said "have a beer," but he reportedly doesn't drink anymore, and I don't smoke pot). 

America needs people like that.