Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hawaiian economy hurting as Japanese tourists stay home

With the devastating Tohoku earthquake and the ensuing tsunami, even those Japanese from other parts of the country are opting to stay home. And as much as people feel terrible about that tragedy, officials in Hawaii — as well as the general population that works in tourism — are fretting about the blow to the local economy here.

This has highlighted a need to attract tourists from elsewhere, including South Korea (from which flights have recently been expanded).

From the Honolulu Star Advertiser:
Hawaii's tourism industry took hits by the Kobe earthquake in 1995, the swine flu epidemic in 2009 and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., but this month's disaster could surpass them after a blow that occurred during what continues to be recovery from a worldwide recession. Japanese visitors to Hawaii numbered 1.2 million last year, down by 1 million from 1996.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority expects April will be the peak of the shortfall. It plans to launch a marketing campaign in Japan after helping in the disaster recovery effort.

David Uchiyama, HTA vice president of brand management, told the Star-Advertiser's Allison Schaefers that it will concentrate on new business from North America, Oceania, Korea and China to offset the shortfall in Japan market.

A special marketing program will be aimed at secondary cities such as Portland, Ore., Dallas, San Diego, Sacramento and Phoenix, according to John Monahan, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Much of the emphasis in marketing has been on Japan, the third-largest tourism source outside the western and eastern U.S., and for good reason. Beyond the sheer numbers of visitors, Japanese tourists spend an average of $274 a day on food, hotels and shopping, while visitors from western mainland states average $146.
Similarly, Japan is hurting from an expected downturn in tourists to their country (which is something South Korea is perhaps setting itself up to take advantage of by easing visa rules to the ROK).

Remember the KORUS FTA? Ron Kirk does.

And he thinks it will pass with strong backing.

That is, if the Republicans don't succeed at holding the more widely supportable Korea-US FTA hostage by insisting that it must be voted on along with the FTAs the United States signed with Panama and Colombia. That is, they know that Panama and Colombia are a tougher sale in terms of labor rights, benefit to the US economy, etc., and so they are pushing them as a package because they know a lot of folks (on both sides of the aisle) don't want to see the Korea FTA fail.

Orange County Finder #2011-04

Guess where this is, including where I'm taking the photo from.
And I promise to get back to regular posting later in the week after things settle down.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A shrinking Santa Ana?

We are getting news that the population of Santa Ana, historically the central city of Orange County (though it is being overshadowed by neighboring Anaheim and now Irvine), actually shrunk by about four percent since the last census. The mayor of that heavily Hispanic city is not taking that lying down.

Since then, the Orange County Register has offered up numerous vacant homes as a clue to the drop in population. And there may be some there there. The numbers from 2010 are a mere snapshot of what was going on in America on April 1, 2010, and we believe that many undocumented residents (perhaps in the millions) in the United States have gone back to their home countries as the economy fell apart and jobs dried up. That kind of thing could lead to a drop in population in some of the heavily immigrant communities that make up Santa Ana.

Nevertheless, color me skeptical. I worked for the Census Bureau effort this past year, but in Hawaii. However, our parent office was in Los Angeles (which I think is also true of Santa Ana). If the effort in Santa Ana had any of the problems emanating from the Los Angeles office, I would not trust their numbers at all.

There were screw-ups from the initial "walk-through" where they determined which houses were livable units (their sloppy work led to duplicated addresses, addresses not counted, etc.), and then there was an effort to reduce the amount of time needed for NRFU (non-response follow-up) at homes where we were fairly certain somebody lived there.

NRFU does not occur just with undocumented residents, lest anyone think that's what's at work here (Honolulu has far fewer illegals, but it still had loads of non-responders). It occurs when people are working multiple jobs, when multiple adults are living in a home and their mail gets lost more easily or there is a lack of sense of who is in charge to respond to something like that, when there are people there that seem temporary but are meet the definition of a resident, when there are less-than-legal add-ons to a home, etc., etc.

My understanding is that these are common characteristics among immigrant-heavy Santa Ana neighborhoods. Legal or not, there are lots of adults sharing a home due to outlandish rental costs, and I know from direct experience from a part-time job back in high school that the landlords often work under the table to expand the capacity of their units.

But all of the aforementioned problems are challenges that can be overcome for a more accurate count, but not when the parent office is insisting that — despite the shoddy documentation they gave you to do your job — everything must be done within a week. Seriously, it was among the worst manifestations of bali-bali get-it-done-yesterday, speed-over-quality efforts I've ever encountered in an American setting.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

SK Telecom to buy Blockbuster?

Perhaps SK Telecom execs should read my blog: It seems they are surprise bidders in the auction to sell off the severely/fatally/very badly hobbled Blockbuster video rental company.

This is either a shrewd move where SK Telecom plans something really innovative with Blockbuster's resources, or it's a case (à la Korea Development Bank trying to buy Lehman Brothers) where a decidedly unsavvy group in South Korea does not understand how toxic a bargain-basement asset really is.

North Korea's take-away message

A lot of people have asked me if I think the Jasmine Revolution will affect North Korea. Tentatively, I would say no, not really. Just as Beijing has such a tight control over information flow within its own borders, most North Koreans are hermetically sealed from the day-to-day news events happening in the rest of the world.

On the other hand, if two characters in a South Korea drama love story talk about Egypt's successful uprising while they're dining at some posh café in Kangnam, the North Korean peasantry might eventually hear about it when the DVDs are smuggled into Shinŭiju in early 2012.

In the meantime, the Pyongyang regime is taking a look at what's going on and they are coming to two conclusions. First, don't let the people know anything. Second, once they give up their nukes (or the threat of nukes) then the Americans can invade.

From the New York Times:
A North Korean statement that Libya’s dismantling of its nuclear weapons program had made it vulnerable to military intervention by the West is being seen by analysts as an ominous reinforcement of the North’s refusal to end its own nuclear program.

North Korea’s official news agency carried comments this week from a Foreign Ministry official criticizing the air assault on Libyan government forces and suggesting that Libya had been duped in 2003 when it abandoned its nuclear program in exchange for promises of aid and improved relations with the West.

Calling the West’s bargain with Libya “an invasion tactic to disarm the country,” the official said it amounted to a bait and switch approach. “The Libyan crisis is teaching the international community a grave lesson,” the official was quoted as saying Tuesday, proclaiming that North Korea’s “songun” ideology of a powerful military was “proper in a thousand ways” and the only guarantor of peace on the Korean Peninsula.
You'll have to take that nuclear trigger out of the Dear Leader's cold, dead hands.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A stroll in Seoul

The South Korean capital's traditional central district was #29 on the New York Times list of thirty-four "Asian Odysseys":
Spend an afternoon wandering through the Samcheong-dong neighborhood, which is filled with traditional houses called hanoks converted into stylish cafes and shops. Try some Korean temple cuisine at Baru, a new Buddhist restaurant that’s part of a temple in the city center, and then sleep over with Buddhist nuns at Jinkwansa, a 12th-century temple in a park in northwest Seoul.
That sounds rather nice, and if the other thirty-three are comparable, I'll give them a try (quite a few are in Japan).

Anyway, enjoy the article while you can, because the NYT is moving toward paid access beginning March 28, 2011.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Honeymooning with a heavy heart

Takaaki Matsumoto and his wife Chiaki feel very, very bad.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser is reporting on Japanese tourists who are still coming to Hawaii despite everything that's happened back home in Japan:
Tourists from Japan are still flying in to Hawaii, but some interviewed yesterday brought pangs of guilt with them.

"I feel apologetic," said 31-year-old Osaka resident Yasuo Mitsuhiro, through an interpreter. "But I planned this trip over six months ago, so I decided to come anyway. Right now people are suffering in Japan, and I feel bad coming on a trip like this."

On March 11, Hawaii was hit by seismic sea waves from Japan's devastating magnitude-9.0 earthquake. And now the state anticipates a drops in visitor arrivals just as the industry was starting to show signs of improvement after the recession.

About 1.2 million Japanese travelers accounted for about 17.3 percent of statewide visitor arrivals in 2010. They spend up on average about $270 a day.

However, several traveling agencies and hotels have reported cancellations and decreases in reservations.

The impact of any significant drop in arrivals would be broad. Toru Hama yasu, who heads the Rapid Transit Division, overseeing the city's $5.5 billion rail transit project, said last week that the city is concerned about a drop in general excise tax collections.

He said Japanese travelers can account for up to 5 percent or 6 percent of the general excise tax and that the rail proj ect depends on a surcharge of the tax for funding.

All of the arriving Japanese tourists interviewed yesterday said they had planned their trips months ago. None of them came from areas heavily affected by the quake or tsunami.
One might find that last bit, about how the Tohoku earthquake and ensuing tsunami will adversely affect Hawaii's coffers, a tad distasteful, but we've seen plenty of news stories talking about the adverse effects of Japan's two-pronged tragedy in economic or commercial areas not in Japan (e.g., that iPad shipments may be held up due to a lack of parts from Japan).

I guess that's just it: life goes on for many people, even if all this is there in the back of their mind. I can imagine, though, that they felt a little awkward having a reporter in Oahu ask them point blank if they feel guilty about taking a pleasure trip at a time like this.

I wonder how I would react if I were one of those honeymooners who was about to get married and take off to start my marriage when the quake and tsunami hit. I have a relative who got married on September 11, but one year earlier. I asked if they were considering changing the date on which they celebrated their anniversary. The answer was, no, they thought that day should still have some good associated with it.

American teacher confirmed among the dead in Japan

This news is just one of many tragic tales.

In a gracious act, Taylor Anderson's family is donating her belongings to victims of the same earthquake and tsunami that took their daughter. Their emotional roller coaster is also heartbreaking:
Taylor Anderson is the first-known American victim of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. The 24-year-old taught English in the seaside town of Ishinomaki.

Four days after the tsunami struck, Anderson's parents were told their daughter had been found alive. Later that day, however, the Andersons were told by the organization Taylor worked for, JET, the Japan Exchange Teaching program, that an error had been made and Taylor's whereabouts were unknown. Taylor's parents were notified of her death on Monday by the U.S. Embassy in Japan.

Officials there say she spent her final moments making sure her young students were safe. But ultimately, she ran out of time to save herself. Her body was found not far from her school.
In this CBS News video, her family speaks out about the death.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why aren't Japanese looting?

Over at ROK Drop, GI Korea poses the above question (also asked at CNN and elsewhere), with some concluding that "Japanese are far more developed humans than Koreans will ever be" (it's a K-blog comments section, so what would you expect?).

I've been discussing this very thing with "M" and some other people from Japan or who have lived in Japan, and these are the conclusions we came up with:
  1. Thanks to the graying of Japan, the number of elderly and older people in the affected area is proportionately much higher than in other areas around the world that have been affected by earthquakes and/or major tsunamis.
  2. Just about everything worth looting has been destroyed in the affected area.
  3. Too much shock to loot.
  4. Strict adherence to a family registry has engrained in people the idea that their bad acts, if found out by the authorities, could adversely affect their family members, which seriously lowers the propensity to commit such bad acts long before opportunity arises.
  5. None of the big league sports teams in the Sendai area just won a national championship.
Back at ROK Drop, the discussion diverged into how South Koreans would handle such a disaster. I believe that what would happen is that there would be little or no looting, but there would be a lot of pushing and shoving at some (not all) of the areas offering assistance, as well as a lot of yelling at aid officials.

Back to Japan, some are offering other answers, and I myself would like to submit that the no-looting condition of Japan is not only a goal for other places, but is also an achieved state in many cases. There was little or no looting after 9/11, nor after the major quakes that struck California in 1989 or 1994 (I think).

Honestly, if I lived in this neighborhood and I thought all this merchandise was going to end up being worthless thanks to the flooding, I'd be tempted to loot, too.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Once more, with feeling?

It looks like another semi-annual meeting of Pyongyang's rubber-stamp legislature will meet next month. Western media is already speculating that this time will be the time that Kim Jong-un gets promoted to Daddy's Heir:
The younger Kim, thought to be in his late 20s, was made a four-star general and vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission in September, and appeared for the first time alongside his father at official functions.

The next step would be to make him vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission, the country's most powerful organ, led by his father. The post has been held by the current leader's brother-in-law since last year.
I'm skeptical, of course, but Kim Jong-un getting a new title or two would be as clear a sign as any that there are powerful people in place trying to make sure KJU takes the reins of power when Kim Jong-il dies.

But I'm not disputing that. Of course the Dear Leader is trying to solidify his legacy, while others in his inner circle are trying to guarantee their seat on the gravy train. Rather, I simply don't think that giving L'il L'il Kim all these vice titles are any indication of wide acceptance of the dangerously inexperienced Kim Jong-un's ascension. When Daddy's gone, those titles may mean nothing to factions that don't want to see a sequel to Godfather II.

And what about that post held by KJU's uncle (KJI's brother-in-law)? Mr Chang Songtaek's own hold on power is what bolsters nephew Kim Jong-un. As they move things around that to shore up this but expose that, methinks the Kim-Chang alliance will soon realize they can't win this game of Jenga.

Is that Kim Jong-un's older brother Kim Jong-chul in the Jenga advertisement?

Orange County finder #2011-01

I'm in California for Spring Break getting some important stuff done.

If you're from SoCal I would hope this is an easy Finder.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

And the Pat Robertson Disaster Prevention Award goes to...

... Pastor David Yonggi Cho of Yoido Full Gospel Church for wondering aloud if the Tohoku earthquake and ensuing tsunami and nuclear disaster were not a warning from God:
In an interview the newspaper, Cho responded to a request for comments on Japan’s difficulties following its largest earthquake in recorded history by saying, “Japan sees a lot of earthquakes, and I think it is regrettable that there has been such an enormous loss of property and life due to the earthquake.” He went on to say, “Because the Japanese people shun God in terms of their faith and follow idol worship, atheism, and materialism, it makes me wonder if this was not God’s warning to them.”

“I hope that this catastrophe can be turned into a blessing and they take this opportunity to return to the Lord,” he added.
And our runner-up, who will step in and perform Parson Cho's duties if he is unable to serve out his term, is no other than Fox News commentator Glenn Beck:
On his first day back from vacation, Glenn Beck addressed the earthquake in Japan, and said he thinks that it could be a "message [is] being sent" by God.

Speaking on his radio show Monday, Beck said, "I'm not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes," before quickly adding, "I'm not not saying that either."

He then said that whatever one called God, "there's a message being sent. And that is, 'Hey, you know that stuff we're doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.' I'm just saying."
No doubt God is listening right now, and well, let's just say I wouldn't stand to close to either of these mooks if I was you. I'm just saying.

The Pat Robertson Award is the namesake of televangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson, who in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 said that New Orleans was struck because God was punishing Americans for their ungodliness.

He managed to win his own award last year for saying something similar after the earthquake that struck Haiti and killed a quarter million people:
Robertson, the host of the "700 Club," blamed the tragedy on something that "happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it."

The Haitians "were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever," Robertson said on his broadcast Wednesday. "And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so, the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' "
The "700 Club," by the way, gets its name from the combined IQ of its regular viewers. True story.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Deep impact from Japan's disaster;
South Korea to divert LNG to Japan

The Los Angeles Times has an analysis of how different sectors will be affected by the massive damage caused by the earthquake, tsunami, and still on-going nuclear disaster that have struck Japan.

Although the impact will be decidedly negative for some, like companies that rely on Japanese goods or parts to do business, corporations that compete with Japanese goods may profit — inadvertently — from Japan's misfortune. Among those are South Korean automakers, though their reliance on Japanese companies' input may make things a bit more of a wash:
Toyota, the world's largest automaker and Japan's biggest company, has halted all production in Japan, including its hybrid Prius vehicle, through Wednesday, representing 45% of its worldwide supply. Automakers Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Subaru and Suzuki have also temporarily shut down their plants to help conserve electricity.

Honda Motor Co., Japan's fourth-largest company, has shuttered several of its plants, including one in Suzuka, where it produces many of its hybrid vehicles, a painful product to lose as worldwide gasoline prices soar and demand for fuel-efficient vehicles rises. Also, two Toyota plants in the disaster-struck Sendai region produce some of the automaker's more fuel-efficient offerings, including the Yaris subcompact.

Nissan Motor Co. said it lost almost 2,300 vehicles awaiting shipment at an eastern port that were destroyed by the tsunami.

Shares in the Japanese auto sector traded down heavily Monday, with Toyota falling 8% and Nissan down nearly 10% in trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Although those production setbacks might seem like an opportunity for ambitious foreign competitors such as South Korea's Hyundai, Germany's Volkswagen and a resurgent Ford Motor Co., Rebecca Lindland of IHS Global Insight notes that most Japanese automakers today produce vehicles in the countries where they sell them. According to Honda, for example, 80% of the vehicles it sells in the U.S. are built here.

Moreover, Lindland said, disruptions at Japan's automotive suppliers could hurt brands from all over the world. That's because carmakers depend on complex global supply chains, and even Chevrolets built in Michigan use Japanese components.

"Nobody works in isolation these days," Lindland said. "All it takes is one missing part. If you're missing something as simple as the cup holder, you aren't selling that car."
There's always something unpleasant about looking at bottom lines while we're still looking for survivors in the rubble (!), but these kinds of business stories affect us whether we like it or not.

I guess, though, that a better economic news story to focus on would be South Korea's decision to divert some of its supply of energy-producing liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Japan to help meet its electricity needs in the wake of the disaster:
South Korea will redirect some of its liquefied natural gas imports to Japan to help its disaster-hit neighbour manage a severe energy shortage, a Seoul official said Monday.

"We will redirect parts of LNG (liquefied natural gas) imports from third countries through late March to April to Japan," an official at Knowledge Economy Ministry told AFP.

Japanese electricity operators on Saturday asked for Seoul's help with its gas supply, predicting it will take more than a month for Tokyo to offset shortages caused by damage to key nuclear power plants, the official said.

Negotiations with exporting countries are underway but it is unclear how much gas will be diverted to Japan, the world's top LNG buyer.

"We will provide as much as we can without disrupting our own domestic needs," she said, adding Tokyo will later return the gas under the LNG swap deal with Seoul.

South Korea, the world's second-largest buyer of LNG, has secured nearly 98 per cent of its estimated needs this year through mid-and long-term contracts, the ministry said.
Y'know, I'd say that it's okay for Seoul to disrupt South Korea's energy needs at least a little, all things considered.

Anyway, I'm proud to see that South Koreans are doing so much to help out Japan. Despite historical grievances and some political disputes that bubble to the surface from time to time (cough! — right-wing historical amnesia — cough! — Tokto and Yasukuni — cough!) the two countries are actually closer than most people realize, socially, economically, politically, etc. And much friendlier, too.

And were the tables turned and it were South Korea suffering from such a horrific disaster, I have no doubt in my mind that the Japanese government and the Japanese people would be stepping up in a very big way to make sure their South Korean neighbors made it through.

NPR punked

When I heard that James O'Keefe was behind the gotcha video that led to the ouster of a fundraiser of NPR and then the publicly funded network's chief, I figured it would eventually turn out that the video we first saw when this news came out wouldn't quite be the same as the raw video that would be released later, after the damage is done, much like with the videos that took down the mighty oak that was ACORN.

I was not disappointed.

Sure, I'm not going to take NPR's word for it that NPR was wronged, but if the editor-in-chief of Fox News's The Blaze "felt like that wasn't the whole story," I think it lends credibility to NPR's claim of being wronged.

An excerpt of NPR's piece on the NPR fiasco:
Upon their release last week, O'Keefe's videos gave fresh life to the push by Congressional Republicans to strip federal funding for public broadcasting. In the shorter video, Schiller appears to be saying that NPR would do just fine without federal dollars, though some stations would go dark. On the longer tape, it's clear Schiller says it would be disastrous in the short term.

Tompkins said O'Keefe's editing is repeatedly and blatantly unfair.

"Except for a couple of unfortunate forays for political opinion, I think that Ron Schiller actually did a fairly remarkably good job of explaining how NPR works and what you can and cannot expect if you contribute money to the NPR Foundation," Tompkins said.

Blaze editor Baker said he emerged from analyzing the tapes with a surprising degree of respect for the professionalism of the two NPR executives, Ron Schiller and Betsy Liley.

"I think if you look at two hours in total, you largely get an impression that these are pretty — they seem to be fairly balanced people, trying to do a fairly good job," Baker said.

In recent days, several influential journalists have written that they regret giving O'Keefe's NPR videos wider circulation without scrutinizing them for themselves, given his past record and some of the objections that the Blaze first raised. They include Ben Smith of Politico, James Poniewozik of Time magazine and Dave Weigel of Slate.

"The speed at which the media operates when a video comes out is a problem," Weigel said Sunday. "I mean, the rush to be the first to report on a video — and, let's be brutally honest, the rush is to get traffic and to get people booked on [cable TV] shows to talk about it — and that nature leads you to not do the rigor and fact-checking that you would do in other situations."
It seems to me now that neither of the unrelated-to-each-other Schillers should have been fired, not over this anyway. Fundraising Schiller had already been scheduled to leave but now he has lost his job at the Aspen Institute, which doesn't seem right.

Chief Schiller, on the other hand, has been a tad radioactive since the very messy firing of Juan Williams for expressing his opinion that he feels nervous when he sees Muslim-looking people on the plane he's flying in, sort of the way some non-Blacks do when they see people who look like Juan Williams walking toward their car in a parking garage.

Although I have an appreciation for investigative journalism, I'm not a big fan of gotcha media, and I certainly think before people are axed or their organizations slashed — as happened with Shirley Sherrod, ACORN, and now the Schillers and possibly Ms Betsy Liley— someone should be listening to the whole thing.

Show some frickin' backbone. Don't be so afraid of looking soft on your fellow liberals, progressives, or moderates that you'll throw one or two of them under the bus at the first sign of boo! uttered by conservative media outlets.

Oh, and if you found my comment up there about Black people in parking garages a bit over the top, well, that was sort of the point.

Over at The Marmot's Hole, frequent commenter αβγδε (stress is on the γ) has provided a link to an interesting discussion that itself points to The Blaze's actual piece.

The ten worst things about living in Honolulu

I found this list while searching for news about whether Olive Garden would be coming to Oahu anytime soon. I have to admit that all of these are true to some degree (my pet peeve is the drivers in Hawaii), though I usually don't let them get to me the way this person apparently has.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Putting the 이 in UAE

While President Lee could be in Japan (where he was born, by the way) or at least in South Korea, helping coordinate ROK assistance to earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged Japan, he's checking on the troops in the United Arab Emirates [HT to RokDrop for the photo].

Well, at least he didn't do the "I love" heart thingy with the troops.

"Homefront" scenario fuels negative views of Koreans and other Asians?

Writing in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, slam poet and "relatively dedicated gamer" (read: unemployed basement dweller) Bao Phi worries that the new first-person shooter video game "Homefront," which depicts an invasion of the United States by a unified Korea in 2027, à la Red Dawn, will cause Americans to get a skewed view of Koreans as violent, inhuman, anti-American, and really tall.

I have just two things to say to Mr Phi and his alarmism over the prospect of a new "yellow peril."

First, anything that erodes the image of Asian men as nothing but wimpy computer geeks and study nerds with spaghetti arms and physiques like that of an eight-year-old girl suffering from anorexic bulimia is probably a good thing.

Second, there is no way even "Homefront" can topple the two dominant stereotypes of Koreans as liquor store owners and massage parlor hos.

In Orange County, the Japanese nuclear meltdown focuses attention on San Onofre

There are three things you notice when you drive I-5 between San Diego and Orange County: the beautiful coastal scenery, the signs warning of illegal aliens crossing the freeway as they flee ICE, and the nuclear power plant that is shaped like two perky boobs pointing upward. Hmm... make that four things.

That plant is San Onofre.

When I was a kid, I took a tour of the plant. That adventure was a half day break from camping at San Onofre State Beach. Yup, we would boogie-board and bodysurf in the shadow of a giant nuclear facility. Good times.

Anyhoo, the problems in Miyagi Prefecture with the still on-going disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant there have prompted questions about how well Orange County's own neighboring nuke plant could withstand an earthquake and tsunami.

Rest assured, we are told, that we can rest assured:
As crews in Japan struggle with shutting down nuclear reactors affected by Friday's earthquake and tsunami, Southern California Edison officials say the nuclear plant in San Onofre is prepared to handle the area's seismic threats.

"A design (for a nuclear plant) is only approved by regulators if it's shown to match all the environmental challenges in that particular region," said Gil Alexander, a spokesman for Southern California Edison.

A surfer heads for the water at San Onofre State Beach in the shadow of the San Onofre Nuclear power plant in this 2006 file photo. Edison officials say San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is built to withstand up to a 7-magnitude earthquake and a tsunami more than 25 feet high.

The 8.9-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Japan and the resulting tsunami have caused problems at six nuclear reactors there by preventing coolant from reaching the hot reactor cores, according to The Associated Press.

That leaves the question: How would San Onofre handle a large earthquake or tsunami generated closer to home?

When San Onofre was designed several decades ago, scientific studies showed that the largest tsunami likely to strike the San Onofre area would measure about 25 feet. The wall was built 30 feet high for extra protection, Alexander said.

As for earthquakes, the facility was built to survive a nearby earthquake with a magnitude 7.0, Alexander said.

During the plant's planning stages, "the best science suggested that the nearest earthquake fault, which is five miles from the plant, could produce an earthquake something less than a magnitude 7 in the plant vicinity," Alexander said.
Um, okay, then. Never mind that since they built it forty-two years ago, loads of new fault lines have been discovered in Southern California. The thing with that is that sometimes they discover them after seismic activity occurs on them. But, we are told, there is no evidence of major seismic activity there for the past 120,000 years. All those greater-than-7.0 earthquakes happen elsewhere in California.

Besides, our best calculations are that a tsunami generated there would be no higher than twenty-five feet, but just to be sure, we built a thirty-foot wall to protect it.

Hmm... echoes of Katrina, methinks.

Actually, I think their description of the safety fallbacks are more reassuring than their reassurances that we're prepared for a pretty good sized quake that is smaller than what other parts of California gets:
"The plant is designed so that if ground-motion sensors on the plant property detect even slight movement, an automatic mechanism will shut the two reactors down," Alexander said, by inserting control rods into the reactor cores to slow and stop the nuclear process. If need be, those rods also can be lowered manually. A total shutdown would take several hours.
That actually does make me feel better (though I hope that problems with construction of the facility didn't muck up those safety features). Nuclear plants of the future need to be designed with the idea that they should be physically incapable of causing a Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, even if everything goes wrong.

San Onofre is actually not in Orange County, but just adjacent to the beachside OC community of San Clemente, home of the Western White House when OC homeboy Richard Nixon was president (earning The Big Orange the nickname "The Land of Tricky Dicky and Mickey"). It's in San Diego County, but it is isolated from the populated part of metro San Diego and even Oceanside by the vast Camp Pendleton, so it's typically considered part of the OC sphere.

My mom, who has lived in California for more than half a century, frequently tells me the San Onofre plant always worries her. If something goes seriously wrong, it could make Interstate-5 impassable for days, weeks, months, or even years. That blocks off a major escape route to Mexico for when the North Koreans eventually invade.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring forward, fall back asleep

above: This chart explains why people are
forced to drive to work in the dark every March.

In one minute, daylight saving time (DST) will have hit the Pacific Time Zone. PST (Pacific Standard Time) will make way for PDT (Pacific Daylight Time).

Unlike most of the rest of the United States, Hawaii does not observe DST, so the West Coast will be three hours ahead instead of just two. That means instead of waking me up at 6 a.m., my mother will be accidentally calling me at 5 a.m.

It also means that instead of flashing 12:00, my parents' VCR will flash 1:00.

above: Adjusting for Daylight Saving Time in England.

And now the East Coast will be six hours ahead instead of five, which narrows that window of opportunity during which you have to call New York or Washington numbers during their business hours while it's still yours.

The time difference between Seoul and Honolulu will remain five hours, minus one day.

South Korea and it neighbor in the same time zone, Japan, do not observe DST. The Blue House in South Korea has recently pushed to again adopt DST, but is not likely to do so if Japan does not.

In fact, most of East Asia does not observe DST.

[left: Among daylight saving, kite-flying, $100 bills, almanacks, and whoring with French girls, the almanack was the only thing Ben Franklin promoted that never really caught on.]

Heart-warming tweets from a beleaguered Japan

Here. There's a lot of people showing a lot of love and caring.

[Hat tip to "M," whose family is all okay.]

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Person finder for Japanese earthquake area;
South Korea provides assistance to Japan

Google has set up a "Person Finder" whereby you can look for persons in the affected area or offer information about the whereabouts of people there.

It's available in Japanese, Korean, English, and Chinese. I don't know how effective it is, though.

This comes at a time when Yonhap reports that some 130 South Korea citizens are still unaccounted for in Miyagi Prefecture, hardest hit by the earthquake.

The US State Department is offering ways to find out about specific individuals. For any American citizen living in South Korea, Japan, or elsewhere, this is a good time to consider informing the US Embassy in that country of your location.

Meanwhile, South Korea stands ready to help Japan out at this difficult time. President Lee, who was born in Osaka, has pledged that South Korea "will do its utmost" to provide assistance:
South Korea said Saturday its rescue workers and military cargo planes were ready to fly to Japan to help the neighboring country hit by the most powerful earthquake it has ever recorded.

A team of 120 relief workers, medical personnel and three military transport planes were ready to depart for Japan, awaiting a request from the Japanese government, officials at Seoul's Foreign Ministry said.
A smaller group of rescue workers and their rescue dogs has already arrived in Japan.

The Japanese media has been taking note of South Korea's and other countries' contributions.

Donate to the Red Cross to help the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami

The US link is here. They accept credit cards and even Amazon Payments, so no matter what country you're in, it should work.

The English-language site for donations to the Korean Red Cross is here. It allows you to donate by your bank account if you don't have a credit card number.

Looks like they were serious

And it looks like I was wrong about Starbucks changing their logo. They really went ahead and did it, even though I thought this story was just a way to drum up free publicity.

And not just the mugs but the paper cups, too. This is apparently their midlife crisis response to turning forty.

In this picture, however, you can still see an old-logo holdover in the bag (which contained the free "petite" they are offering Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons this week.

The coffee, by the way, still tastes the same.

And now it gets political

In the aftermath of the tsunami whose effects were mitigated in Hawaii, Guam, and California, by an effective tsunami warning system, someone dug into Republican budget-cutting plans and noted that the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center here in Hawaii is a target.

From AP, via the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:
A spending plan approved by the House would slash funding for a tsunami warning center that issued an alarm after the devastating earthquake in Japan.

The plan approved by the GOP-controlled House last month would trigger deep cuts for the National Weather Service, including the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii.

A union representing workers at the tsunami center said the proposed cuts could result in furloughs and rolling closures of National Weather Service offices.

Barry Hirshorn, Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, said the GOP bill would affect the center's ability to issue warnings similar to those issued after Thursday's earthquake in Japan.

Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii called the GOP cuts reckless and even dangerous.
Hawaii is a blue state, but we occasionally elect Republicans to the governorship (Linda Lingle) or send one to Washington (Charles Djou). Both of them may be vying for the seat of Senator Daniel Akaka, who has announced he won't run for re-election in 2012. Unless they come out against things like this, it's doubtful they will win.

I realize the budget is busted and we need to do something. I think we need to take a good hard look at what happened to bring us from debt-reducing budget surpluses in the late 1990s to an accumulation of more than $5 trillion in debt into the latter years of the Bush administration. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan do not account for most of that.

Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of people who are so poor they need heating fuel, or children who suffer (and bring the older folks with them) when they are in overcrowded classrooms, or people who are placed in danger by weather emergency services being slashed, we need to look at the real things that are causing the towering deficits.

Over at the Tea Party groups and elsewhere in some corners of the Republican Party, there are folks hoping for a government shutdown. While there is no doubt waste and corrupt quid-pro-quo in the Federal budget, what these folks don't realize is that there are a lot of essential services that, were we to be without them for too long, would lead to a lot of crap we don't actually want. Sure, few are going to die from a tsunami or cold snap or whatever, or fall into a pothole on the Interstate, if the government shuts down for just a week or two, and that simply reinforces their view that "most of what the Federal government does is unnecessary."

Rant mode off.

Massive damage and casualties from Japan's Tohoku Earthquake

A tsunami rushes toward a neighborhood in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture.

In a more Japan-focused update of this post, the death toll from yesterday's devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake is at least in the hundreds as so many people were swept away by the ensuing tsunami that struck the area. My hearts and prayers go out to all the people suffering from this terrible disaster. No doubt the people of northern Japan need a great deal of assistance.

Though I grew up mostly in Southern California, I've been lucky to experience a quake no more than the magnitude-5 range. California has suffered major quakes in my lifetime, but I was in Korea when the Northridge quake hit in 1994 ("just" 6.7), and the 1989 Loma Prieto quake that struck the Bay Area (a "mere" 6.9) was far too away from Orange County for us to be affected by it.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake (aka Kobe Earthquake) that struck Kansai in 1995, one year to the day after the Northridge quake, was initially rated at 7.2 but was downgraded to 6.8. I may be miscalculating, but I believe an 8.9-magnitude quake would be a hundred times more powerful. If in the end there is less death and destruction than in Kobe and its environs in 1995, in which over 6000 people lost their lives, it may be because northeastern Honshu is considerably less densely populated, and perhaps because of changes in earthquake-proof construction since that devastating quake. 

Here in Hawaii, Japanese residents are having difficulty reaching relatives. I've sent emails to several people I know in northern Japan. An old friend from Korea, a Japanese teacher named Akiko, lives in Sendai, which was among the hardest hit by the tsunami.

I would like to link to The Japan Times, but the site appears to be down or overwhelmed. 

The New York Times has extensive coverage here

The Los Angeles Times has a slideshow of pictures of the devastation in Japan.

In the K-blogosphere, GI Korea has extensive coverage at The ROK Drop, as does The Marmot's Hole. So far Japan Probe has nothing.

Godspeed, everyone.

Japan has declared an emergency at one of its nuclear plants:
A Japanese nuclear plant was operating in an emergency, battery-powered cooling mode sixteen hours after an earthquake knocked out its two main sources of the electrical power needed for safe shutdown. But the International Atomic Energy Agency said that "mobile electricity supplies have arrived at the site” to keep the crisis at the crippled plant from worsening.

The Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Japanese government said the plant was releasing steam with a "very small" amount of radioactive material to relieve pressure in one reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The government declared an "atomic power emergency" and told people within 1.8 miles to evacuate, a difficult challenge in the midst of a natural catastrophe.
Like South Korea, Japan has a good safety record for its nuclear power. Despite the devastation from the earthquake and tsunami, I am sure they have effective contingency plans to deal with this.

Some 45,000 people have been evacuated from the area around the nuclear power plants.

Air service between Japan and Korea has mostly been restored.

Also, "Y" and her family back in Japan are all okay. Ditto with the family of "M." Still checking on "A" and "Mo."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquake in Japan,
tsunami watch warning in Hawaii

Hawaii State Civil Defense information site HERE

A tsunami carries boats across waters in Kamaishi city
port in this still image taken from NHK video footage.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of northern Japan, which was struck by a powerful 8.9-magnitude earthquake earlier today, followed by a massive ten-meter high tsunami that swept away cars, boats, and even buildings [update: more tsunami video here]. I have not seen any reports of casualties, but there undoubtedly are many [update: At least 32 deaths].

NHK footage shows a ship upturned by a tsunami in Aomori Prefecture.

Here in Hawaii, the tsunami sirens have just gone off (9:57 to 10:00 p.m.). Immediately after news of the earthquake, there was a tsunami watch for the Hawaiian Islands, but it was just now upgraded to a tsunami warning (the difference between a tsunami watch and a tsunami warning is here). They are saying that all shores in the state are vulnerable, no matter which direction they face.

[Please note that Hawaii is not the only place threatened by tsunamis. The American territories of Guam and the Mariana Islands are also under threat, as are a number of other places in other countries ringing the Pacific Ocean.]

Any possible tsunami event would hit Oahu at around 2:59 3:07 a.m., four and a half hours from now. The western side of the island is most vulnerable. Judging by the last tsunami warning we had (which I live-blogged about here, here, and here), I'm on high enough ground (i.e., outside the evacuation zone), but tourists in Waikiki and especially residents of Waianae or Ewa Beach have got to be nervous.

Stay safe, everyone.

UPDATE 4 (the following morning):
With little news from Japan last night and with the coastal evacuation being a very big deal right here in Honolulu, updates to this post inevitably became more about Hawaii than Japan. I have since made a post exclusively about Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami here.

UPDATE 1 (10:30 p.m. HST):
All coastal areas are to be evacuated immediately. Honolulu Mayor Carlisle is announcing this. Waikiki visitors and residents may have to do a "vertical evacuation."

They are expecting wave amplitudes of two meters (about six feet).

Here is the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's handy-dandy list of refuge centers (outside the evacuation zone, of course).

More precise maps of the evacuation zones can be found here. The Hawaii State Civil Defense site at the top also has a link where you can input your address and see if you're okay or not. (This is something all residents should know before a tsunami watch or warning is issued... just sayin'.)

UPDATE 2 (11:15 p.m. HST):
It's 11:15 p.m. and those eerie sirens have gone off again. I'm out of the evacuation zone, but I suspect I'll be kept up all night from that. I guess that's a small price to pay for not getting killed.

UPDATE 3 (12:30 a.m. HST):
Long lines are being reported at gas stations, convenience stores, and supermarkets like Safeway. Okay, the food and water I get, but why gas? I mean, where ya gonna go? It's an island?

My dad always taught me to be prepared for anything by having as full a tank of gas as possible. That helped him evade the Feds for twenty-seven years.

UPDATE 5 (about 9 a.m. the following morning):
Update 4 deserved to be higher up than this. Anyway, I woke up this morning and everything feels fine here. I guess we're all okay, unless we're in a flash-sideways à la Lost.

The all-clear has been sounded and people can now return to the coast. Some damage from the tsunami was reported here on Oahu and on other islands, but I haven't seen any reports of death.

Schools across the state have been closed for Friday, including the universities and junior colleges. Even though most were not in evacuation zones, enough of their students were, such that it would have been disruptive to force them to go to class after evacuating their homes in the middle of the night.

From the Star-Advertiser:
Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle has issued an all clear for Oahu residents after tsunami waves overnight caused a mass evacuation of coastal areas statewide.

Carlisle said city officials waited until after daybreak to assess the situation before declaring it is safe to return to the coast. No injuries have been reported from the waves, but damage is reported on three islands.

The surges caused extensive damage to piers and boats at Keehi Small Boat Harbor near Sand Island. The King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel got a foot of water in the lobby and canoes in the harbor were destroyed. Flooding was also reported in Kahului.

Tsunami waves from a massive Japanese earthquake began hitting Hawaii just after 3 a.m. today after an hours-long statewide coastal evacuation.

The waters continued to surge in some harbors hours after the intial wave hit.

Indeed, one witness reported a surge at Keehi Lagoon about 5:40 a.m.

Kauai also issued an all clear.

Gerard Fryer, a scientist with the Tsunami Warning Center, said an initial 6-foot surge was detected in Kahului Harbor, and Fryer said a second surge was more than 7 feet at Kahului Harbor.

"There's little question that there was some damage at that level," he said.

At Napoopoo at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island, one wave reached at least 100 feet inland and an elevation of 11 or 12 feet, Fryer said.

"It could have been more than that," he said.
Here's a report on the damage at Keehi Lagoon. Flooding was reported in Maui, and damage was reported in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.

As I've noted before, Hawaii takes tsunami danger very seriously ever since the devastation at Hilo in 1960 (sixty-one killed), and I imagine had they not cleared people from the coast there would have been at least a few fatalities.

Of course, with such disasters and potential disasters, there are often looky-loos:
Off Diamond Head lookout, the water receded twice — once about 3:43 a.m. and again at 3:55 a.m. — exposing reef, before waves rushed back to the high water line.

More than 100 spectators gathered at the lookout to see the waves come in, and many 'oohed' and 'ahhed' when the near-shore reef was fully exposed in seconds.

"It was creepy," said Mike Moylan, 42, who had to evacuate his home on Kuhio Avenue and so decided to watch the waves at Diamond Head. "Seeing the water recede that much, it's scary."

Chana Dudoit, 28, of Kaimuki, saw the waves receding on TV and decided to rush out to see them in person. "I thought it was crazy," she said. "Where did all the fish go?"
Maybe the fish knew enough to get the heck out of harm's way, unlike the humans who rushed to the coast to watch a tsunami come in. Fish are smart. After all, they're always in school.

Anyway, everything seems to be okay on the island, yeah? Tsunami reporting pau.

UPDATE 6 (10:20 a.m.):
When am I going to learn that nothing is ever really pau?

California also suffered millions of dollars of damage from the tsunami that hit. This includes the northern California city of Eureka, which was hit hard by a tsunami in 1964, with eleven deaths, after the 9.2-magnitude Seward earthquake in Alaska.

Would-be candidates for the Darwin Award at Surfrider Beach in Malibu
checking out the surf at the time the tsunami was to hit California. Duh, winning.

I forgot to mention that local hospitals back here in Hawaii had problems during the coastal evacuation because people who were not sick or injured were crowding the hospitals to seek shelter.

The Civil Defense folks offered tsunami information in other languages, including Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Cantonese, and a number of Pacific Island languages. It's something worth noting for the next tsunami advisory. Also, get a hand-crank emergency radio if you don't have one.

Now pau.

UPDATE 7 (5:00 p.m.):
While Hawaii escaped any casualties, California was not so lucky. One man in the northern California community of Crescent City was killed:
The Coast Guard is searching for a man swept out to sea in Northern California while taking pictures of tsunami waves.

Nearby, authorities in Brookings, Ore., say four people have survived after a tsunami surge swept them off a beach in Curry County and into the sea.

The five were on the beach Friday to watch the waves generated by a massive earthquake in Japan. The Curry County sheriff's department says two were able to get out of the water on their own, and two were rescued by law enforcement and fire officials.
Let's give thanks to the civil defense workers, including law enforcement, who were out in force to save idiots from themselves. I'd be furious if some of the police or firefighters got killed because of these mooks.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Holy mackerel!
(And sacred sardines!)

Authorities in the Los Angeles County coastal city of Redondo Beach are reporting that "millions of fish" are part of a massive "die-off" in the harbor there.

They are guessing this is due to oxygen depletion, not pollution, but damn is this a freaky (and frightening) thing to behold).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

From Libya, a solution for North Korea


It looks like the Jasmine Revolution may finally be succeeding in Libya. There are reports that Moammar Gadhafi has seen the writing on the wall and he is plotting his escape.

From CNN:
Moammar Gadhafi is trying to strike a deal with opposition leaders, saying he will step down as Libya's leader if they can guarantee him safe passage out of the country and promise that neither he nor his family will face prosecution, an official with the opposition said Tuesday.
I have long advocated that the powers-that-be in Seoul, Washington, Tokyo, and perhaps Beijing have on the table the same type of deal for North Korea's ruling elite, should disgruntlement with the regime ever erupt into a full-blown challenge to its authority.

As hard as it might be to stomach, it might make for a far smoother demise of the DPRK if Kim Jong-il, his family, his inner circle, etc., are just simply allowed to leave. If they are allowed to make an orderly play for the exits, it might mean less bloodshed (including attempts to attack the South or Japan in a desperate last-ditch attempt to rally the North Korean people), and it might also mean a quicker departure and thus a speedier end to the regime.

Sure, it wouldn't be particularly satisfying if Kim Jong-il avoids the hangman's noose or a prison cell and instead lives out the rest of his days in a palatial estate constructed on a 3km-by-3km plot of land on the steppes of Inner Mongolia, but how many lives will be spared by getting the Dear Leader himself to pull the plug on the regime and not shoot up the place on his way out? Doesn't that trump the desire to exact justice for the lives we could not?

North Korea's ruling elite and rank-and-file apparatchiki must also be reading the writing on the wall, and that means it's time to start laying down some ground rules. This is the time to make it clear that we will go after people who do dastardly things like fire on civilians, imprison people who stand up to the regime in its final days, etc. If some county supervisor in Ryanggang-do Province, let's say, hasn't done anything bad beyond being a party hack, maybe he can at least avoid prison and possibly even keep his job.

In other words, give them alternatives other than going out in a blaze of glory.

More volcanic footage of Pu'u Ō'ō

In a follow up to this story on the collapse of Pʻu Ōʻō crater, part of the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island, here's some cool AP video:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Republicans holding KORUS FTA hostage

President Obama wants the free-trade agreement with South Korea passed right away — and separately from the other pending FTAs — but the Republicans are trying to lump it together with the less attractive and more problematic deals with Colombia and Panama (sort of like how toxic mortgages were mixed in with the good ones).

I guess the Republicans know that the agreements with Panama and especially Colombia don't look as good when examined individually, so they're trying to force the hand of Democrats who support the Korean agreement, making them do the Republicans' dirty work.

Kilauea volcano's Puʻu Ōʻō crater collapses and shoots lava 65 feet

Here's the story on the collapse of Puʻu Ōʻō from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the world's premier newspaper for reporting on Hawaiian volcanic events. I guess this might mean more vog will come our way.

Okay, if I was right in front of this with a video camera and saw the ground cracking, I'd be taking off in the opposite direction. And I wouldn't stop running until I reached Old Navy so I could get myself some fresh underwear.

And I sure as heck wouldn't get in a helicopter and fly over it.

More cool video.

Japan Foreign Minister Maehara forced to resign over Korean connection

Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, who has sought a mutually helpful and enthusiastic partnership with neighboring South Korea (see here and here), has been forced to resign.

The reason? He accepted a donation from a foreign national:
At a news conference Sunday evening, Maehara apologized for causing distrust in his handling of political funds but stressed that the donations did not influence his work as foreign minister.

"The donations had no effect whatsoever on my duties as foreign minister nor have I ever done any favors for donors in my political career," Maehara said. "But regardless of the amount of the donations or the fact that I was unaware (of them), I must seriously accept the fact that a politician who was (appointed) foreign minister accepted donations from a foreigner."
Wow, that sounds serious, you might think. Except the ¥50,000 (about US$500) donation was from a friend of his he's known since junior high school, someone who runs a Korean BBQ restaurant in his 'hood. The foreign national is a South Korean citizen who is a permanent resident of Japan. Such zainichi, even if they were born in Japan, are foreigners and accepting donations from them is illegal. In fact, Mr Maehara faces a punishment of up to three years in prison.

I honestly don't know enough about these aspects of Japanese politics, but I wonder if such laws are archaic. Since the zainichi Koreans in Japan (among whom my former fiancée was one) must choose between the DPRK (North Korea) and the ROK (South Korea), perhaps Japan-born "foreigners" who are not aligned with the enemy state should be exempt, especially if Japan goes forward with laws that allow them to vote in local elections.

I imagine, though, that must be a touchy subject. After all, the zainichi are mostly able to obtain Japanese citizenship, and if they are unwilling to do so, then maybe they shouldn't be allowed to influence Japanese politics. Still, non-citizen residents, particularly lifelong residents, are strongly affected by government policy, so how do they get any say?

Anyway, I'm disappointed that someone who seemed so good for Seoul-Tokyo politics is now gone from the scene. Not only is he no longer FM, he also has no chance of being tapped to be PM.