Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shoot the moon (literally)

We live in a time when truth really is often stranger than fiction.

We are just now finding out that the US had planned to scare the bejeezus out of the Soviets (not that they had a whole lot of bejeezus to begin with) by... wait for it... blowing up the Moon.

What makes this story even more fun is that this old story was dredged up by... wait for it... The Sun:
America planned to blow up the moon with a nuclear bomb in the 1950s, reports have claimed.

US Military chiefs were reportedly keen on the sensational plot as a show of strength to intimidate arch-rivals Russia at the height of the Cold War.

The secret project was codenamed A Study of Lunar Research Flights and given the nickname Project A119.

The classified plan was to attach a nuclear device to a missile and launch it 238,000 miles to the moon.

The bomb would then explode on impact and the flash could have been seen from earth.
Physicist Leonard Reiffel told Associated Press that the plan was to "intimidate" the Russians and boost morale in America.

A nuclear bomb was chosen because a hydrogen bomb, the most powerful in the US arsenal, would have been too heavy to fly to space.

However the plan was ditched because of a number of fears over safety, including what effect the blast would have on the Earth.

Scientist Carl Sagan was involved in the project and was responsible for calculating what would happen to the moon dust and debris if there was such an explosion.
If this is true (and I'm not so sure it is), I just don't what to say. Except that it is arrogance like this that doesn't exactly win hearts and minds.

I don't have anything really Korea-related to add here, except that North Korea seems to be going a similar route with its own nuclear intimidation: scaring the crap out of its neighbors by nuking deep holes in the ground.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Uber Gangnam Style

They may not have Bieber Fever, but they seem to
have Psy-chosis. Get it? Psy-chosis. I'm here all week.

It's official: Psy's "Gangnam Style" video is now the most watched video of all time on YouTube:
YouTube says in a posting on its Trends blog that "Gangnam Style" had been viewed 805 million times as of Saturday afternoon, surpassing Justin Bieber's "Baby," which has had 803 million views.

The blog says the "velocity of popularity for PSY's outlandish video is unprecedented."
I concur, on its popularity, its unprecedentedness, and its outlandishness. Despite some reporters' claims that Psy is already a has-been and that "Gangnam Style" is dead.

Now lest you think all these hits is another case of Korean netizens with waaaaaay too much time on their hands, I can attest that the song, the video, and the singer are all inside people's heads and on their lips. Not just in Hawaii but everywhere.

Anyway, I must admit that I am responsible for at least three or four of those hits, including when I used it for a Korean Studies demonstration lecture (it was supplemented by clips from The Way Home, and I think I may have made a point about homosocial behavior in Korea).

I hang my head in shame.

Anyhoo, I have never watched a Justin Bieber video, which may be part of the reason the Bieb was dethroned.

For those of you who have never heard of, seen, or read about this song and its video, here it is in all its silly glory (and I note it has shot up to 814.4 million as of this writing):

I bang my head in shame.


NoKo a no-go?

Travel & Leisure, a magazine that usually promotes places where you can travel and enjoy leisure, has a piece on "the world's most dangerous countries to visit."

North Korea made the list, naturally. And I say "naturally" not because it's dangerous, but because Hermit Kingdom 2.0 is perceived as dangerous for travelers, even though it actually probably isn't. I'm willing to bet a typical tourist is more likely to get out of Pyongyang alive than Oahu (we've got sharks).

The Great Fright North as a state is clearly dangerous, to its neighbors and especially to its people, but does that translate into being dangerous for tourists? Granted, there is that infamous case of a South Korean traveler visiting the Kŭmgangsan (Diamond Mountain) resort who was shot in the back when she ventured off the reservation.

And then we have the case of the accidental tourists. I'm referring to the Stupogants™ who willfully crossed into North Korean territory hoping not to get caught, in the case of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, or wanting and expecting to get caught, as in the case of Robert Park and later Aijalon Gomes. All four of them had unpleasant visits, but they were, in the eyes of North Korea, illegal aliens and highly undesirable visitors.

But what if you're on a tour to Pyongyang or Kaesŏng or the DMZ or Mt Paektusan (if they go there from the North Korean side)? Are you actually in a great amount of danger as a tourist?

With its low crime stemming from the tight control of the regime, I'm guessing the answer is not just no but may be the opposite.

But as usual, what passes for reporting on North Korea ends up as little more than a caricature of what has already been reported. Superficial is funnier, I guess.

Now, to be fair, I have never set foot in North Korea except the five meters or so at the Joint Security Area in P'anmunjŏm where you can mill around that one building that straddles the border. Perhaps until I go there myself my own opinion is just as superficial, but it is informed by people who have traveled there, and they generally say the place is eerie but not dangerous.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Psy-ched out?

Enlarge to see
girls in bikinis.
The Orange County Register is reporting that South Korea's Internet sensation Psy — he of Gangnam Style and its three-quarters of a billion YouTube views — has decided to cancel a major performance at the Honda Center, the OC venue formerly known as "The Pond" (because the Anaheim Mighty Ducks play hockey there).

While this wouldn't be particularly blog-worthy, I'm writing about it because the OCR music reporter is making the case that this is a sure sign of the end of Psy's US career, a run that shouldn't have lasted beyond August.

A snippet the entire article:
Let’s change that overplayed phrase to “oppan cancel style!”

South Korean pop star Psy, whose summertime sensation “Gangnam Style” is already played-out and much-parodied as the holiday season arrives, has scrubbed his headlining performance at Honda Center in Anaheim on Jan. 26. Refunds are available at point of purchase.

The official cause for the cancellation is “a scheduling conflict caused by unexpected international travel issues.”

That’s likely true. But it’s hard not to wonder if deleting the date from his itinerary had anything to do with ticket sales perhaps being sluggish for such an enormous debut gig. The fact that the show isn’t being rescheduled is also a telling indicator.

No word about whether the man born Park Jae-sang will also need to bow out of his appearance at the second night of KIIS-FM’s Jingle Ball on Dec. 3 at Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, alongside Justin Bieber, Ke$ha, Flo Rida, fun., Owl City and more.
Presumably he’ll be there. He’s still listed in the lineup on Ticketmaster.
I'll admit I was as baffled as I was amused not just at Psy's phenomenal popularity, but by how high and broad it went, with numerous appearances on all sorts of American mainstream media, from The Today Show to Saturday Night Live.

And for the past few months, including up to now, I had all sorts of people asking me to translate the lyrics or explain its meaning, and I've overheard countless people singing the song, calling out the title phrase, or doing the dance. On more than one occasion when I was writing something in Korean, I've had people asking if I was writing "Oppan Gangnam Style" (and I always say yes).

I'm not so sure the phenomenon is as dead as Ben Wener makes it out to be, nor am I entirely convinced Psy can't pull off another popular song or two (though it's nearly a given it won't reach 750 million YouTube views, because, well, virtually nothing reaches 750 million YouTube views).


Happy Thanksgiving!

Most Koreans think turkey is abut gamey, but who can resist pumpkin pie... from Costco?!

Do they sell this in Yangjae?


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Romney can still win this

I'm not sure how much more desperate the far right can get. Afflicted with Obama Derangement Syndrome and oh-so-certain that Obama's 2.8%, 3.5 million vote margin of victory was outright voter fraud, they have concocted a plan for Mitt Romney to emerge victorious in the Electoral College (sort of). 

Simply put, if 17 states can be convinced not to send Electors to vote, then there is no quorum and the process is thrown to the House, where GOP-led state delegations would undoubtedly choose Romney (and the Senate would choose Biden — or Obama). 

Never mind that this relies on a wholly inaccurate reading of the US Constitution. But hey, when has that ever stopped anyone?


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

HuffPo on Korea's homeless

The Huffington Post has an interesting piece on the challenges faced by the homeless in Seoul, along with some efforts by the homeless themselves to help each other.

An excerpt:
I recently had the privilege of visiting Seoul, South Korea. As part of my trip, I talked to several homeless organizations. One of the homeless men I met with was Mr. Lee. In 1997 he lost his job when the company he worked for (making clothes for school kids) was replaced by a bigger company.

He was homeless for 10 years. Then he fell and ended up in a hospital. When he left the hospital a local civic organization helped him. He repaid their help by agreeing to volunteer. He organized a homeless group of six men. These men simply reached out to other homeless people to talk. They offered no services. They simply asked people what they needed.
In his conversations, he learned that welfare was being cut. There was not enough money to help people. Mr. Lee learned that homeless people lacked any savings and could not get bank credit. So he and his group of six decided to start a bank cooperative and offer their own social services.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Huffington Post: World Bank Issues Dire Warning On Climate Change

  Wit Jim Kim at the helm, the World Bank has become more interested in issues like climate change and how they might adversely affect nations, particularly poorer nations.

World Bank Issues Dire Warning On Climate Change
Gulf Platform Explosion.. Dolphin Killing Rampage.. Baby Gorilla Photos.. Seniors Missing In Hurricane

This succinct email was sent from my iPhone (possibly with the help of Siri voice recognition, so please excuse any weird typos). 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Creepy or charming or charmingly creepy or creepily charming?

A prominent name in the K-blogopshere sent me a link to this Japanese smartphone app, which features a cute girl staring at you ichinichiju and occasionally making comments appropriate to the time of day, plus some random ones ("I want to go to the onsen!").

Though some may find this quite strange, it does not surprise me because, for some reason, I thought this already existed.

After all, the whole point of a smartphone is that it incorporates into a single high-tech device all the devices and other things we had (or wished we had) elsewhere in our life. My iPhone is an encyclopedia, a map, a music player, a camera, an address book, a little black book, a ticket holder, a wallet, a handheld game machine, a restaurant guide, a word processor, a flashlight, a television, a newspaper stand, a magazine rack, a sports page, an insurance card, a sex offender locator, and yes, even a telephone.

So why not also include a girlfriend staring longingly or inquisitively back at you, as every other girl I've dated was wont to do? (Kushibo is frickin' adorable, and also occasionally has spinach in his teeth.)

Let's face it, in a world of demographic collapse like Japan, where there are 23 octogenarians for every 2 workers and 432 eligible men for every 100 available women (disclaimer: I pulled those stats out of my butt, but I'm pretty sure they're accurate), we are going to need to jerry-rig society with technological workarounds and altered expectations so that the men who lose out in the affection lottery can still feel loved and not turn into violent sociopaths. Ditto with Korea, where it is only 328 eligible men per 100 available women, but only a fraction of those women would ever consider dating you.

So while my K-blogging friend claims this is proof that Japan is "still home to 70% of the world’s weird shit," I say that country is presciently prudent in its efforts to invent ever more realistic sex toys (today's second reference to pulling things out of one's butt) and develop robots to take care of the elderly.

Heck, Korea should be embracing this path. Because what could possibly go wrong with robots?

Or a girl staring app?


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Turning Japanese?

Foreign Policy has an interesting article that suggests that Korea's econic development is inexorably leading the country down the Japanese path. Given that the ROK has deliberately used japan as an economic model and it is sitting on the same demographic grenade, that's hardly surprising, though I'm not so sure Japanese-style doldrums and lost decades are an inevitability. 
An excerpt:
Despite differences in politics and size, China can be seen as representing South Korea's past and Japan its possible future. Like China, Korea prospered by picking the low-hanging fruit of globalization; its growth was driven by the rural-to-urban migration of its population and the successful pursuit of export markets using low-wage labor. And as in Japan's case, Korea's exports started out with a less-than-savory reputation -- such as when Hyundai cars first reached the United States -- but eventually became accepted global brands. But after Japan exhausted the economic engines of urbanization and low-cost exports, it stopped growing -- and now may be slipping into recession again.
In some ways, South Korea is already on the same track. There are a number of ominous parallels: Korea's rate of economic growth has been falling since the early 1990s, and its overall trend tracks Japan's with a delay of about 20 years. In terms of urbanization, the lag may be closer to 15 years, but the resemblance is clear. Also, the age profile of Korea's population 15 years from now will likely be very close to Japan's today. You can make similar comparisons between Korea and China, which sits another 15 or 20 years behind.
The rest is worth a read.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Beaucoup bucks for Ryu

The Los Angeles Dodgers have bid $25.7 million for South Korean ballplayer Ryu Hyun-jin.

This succinct email was sent from my iPhone (possibly with the help of Siri voice recognition, so please excuse any weird typos).

Friday, November 9, 2012

Did Superstorm Sandy save Obama from defeat?

That's certainly the refrain coming from the Republican side, where pundits and planners made the mistake of falling for their own propaganda and were certain that Governor Romney would not just eke out a win but would crush President Obama in an electoral landslide.

(As we now know, the only landslide they effected came from Bull$hit Mountain.)

So rather than admit they were foolish to demonize Nate Silver and instead believe poll outliers Gallup and Rasmussen (which systematically overestimated the share of Republicans in the "likely voter" pool), they have to blame it on something else. And Hurricane Sandy, which shut down the Romney campaign and blunted his "momentum," is the scapegoat.

Never mind that the Obama campaign machinery was also sidelined during the once-a-century storm. True, the superstorm response gave Obama a chance to look presidential, but what was really at work was that folks were reminded of Romney's call for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to dismantled and disaster response thrown to the states and/or the private sector.

Is that fair? No. Not at all. No one had forced Romney to say those words or take that position. Is it fair that Obama gets all that credit? Yes, just as it would have been fair for him to be skewered had the Federal response been a huge screw-up.

As Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times, Obama deserved whatever boost he may have gotten:
The point is that after Katrina the government seemed to have no idea what it was doing; this time it did. And that’s no accident: the federal government’s ability to respond effectively to disaster always collapses when antigovernment Republicans hold the White House, and always recovers when Democrats take it back.

Consider, in particular, the history of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Under President George H. W. Bush, FEMA became a dumping ground for unqualified political hacks. Faced with a major test in the form of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the agency failed completely.

Then Bill Clinton came in, put FEMA under professional management, and saw the agency’s reputation restored.

Given this experience, you might have expected George W. Bush to preserve Mr. Clinton’s gains. But no: he appointed his campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, to head the agency, and Mr. Allbaugh immediately signaled his intention both to devolve disaster relief to the state and local level and to downgrade the whole effort, declaring, “Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level.” After Mr. Allbaugh left for the private sector, he was replaced with Michael “heckuva job” Brown, and the rest is history.

Like Mr. Clinton, President Obama restored FEMA’s professionalism, effectiveness, and reputation. But would Mitt Romney destroy the agency again? Yes, he would. As everyone now knows — despite the Romney campaign’s efforts to Etch A Sketch the issue away — during the primary Mr. Romney used language almost identical to Mr. Allbaugh’s, declaring that disaster relief should be turned back to the states and to the private sector.
Let me put it another way. At ROK Drop, GI Korea (whom I greatly respect) posed the question this way: "What should President Bush should have done after Katrina hit?" Before even getting into those messy details, I would first respond by asking, "What should President Bush have done before Katrina hit?"

And therein lies the difference between the two philosophies. The Bush43 and Romney administrations did/would not properly prepare because they see no need for an effective Federal response to natural disasters until it's too late, and they are hellbent on dismantling government programs wherever they can because of a bias that government programs are, by definition, major screw-ups.

I submit that the reason Republican politicos see FEMA as a grossly mismanaged agency is because they were the ones grossly mismanaging it. They harp about how the government can't do anything right and when they get into power they go about proving it.

Democrats, on the other hand, are in love with Lincoln's philosophy that "government should do for people what they cannot do better by themselves" (I deliberately omitted Lincoln's only right before they, because, after all, we're talking about Democrats).

So it's not random luck that a "perfect storm" roared across the Eastern Seaboard a couple days before the election. Luck is when preparation meets shit happens opportunity, and Obama was prepared in a way that Romney would not have been. And that is what made people see Obama as more presidential. That was where Sandy may have clinched it for Obama (never mind that Romney's "momentum" had already petered out and was reversing, but that's another post for another time).

In the end, it comes down to this: Republicans are complaining that Obama got a second term because Hurricane Sandy came in 2012 instead of 2013, when they should realize George W. Bush got a second term because Hurricane Katrina came in 2005 instead of 2004.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

South Korea's Lee Congratulates Obama - Korea Real Time - WSJ

Presently President Lee (stupid Siri!) has written a real-life letter, you know, like as in snail mail, to US President Obama to congratulate him on his reelection.

I guess Obama and President Lee have developed a very close relationship, and it might be good for ties between South Korea and the United States if the Obama administration continues, even if the Lee administration is coming to a close in February.

It's actually quite unusual that the five-year South Korean presidency is ending at the same time for US presidency is ending.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Obama wins re-election!

Four more years! Four more years!

With Wisconsin being called for Obama, the president's electoral vote tally has topped 270 (whoops, there goes another one with Nevada... and now Colorado, so now it's 283) and the Democrats control the White House for at least the next four years. (He's still behind in the popular vote, by the way.)

But the "four more years" refrain isn't just about that. The House of Representatives will still remain firmly in Republican hands, while it's looking like the Senate will still remain in Democratic hands. That Congressional situation will be the way it is for at least two more years.

Now that "the single most important thing" on the GOP to-do list (i.e., "achieve... for President Obama to be a one-term president") is in the crapper, maybe they'll take stock of how badly the Tea Party has led them astray and go back to being (or pretending to be) fiscal conservatives who aren't complete duckweeds on healthcare, immigration, gay rights, women's issues, etc.

In other words, it is time they realize they need to have an agenda that isn't simply "oppose whatever Obama supports and support whatever Obama opposes" (including Obamacare).

I, for one, am happy because a Romney administration would have meant working my butt off to prevent Obamacare from being repealed and then replaced with nothing (which is what the Republican-led Congress did with healthcare in the dozen years they controlled both the House and Senate during the last six years of Bill Clinton's administration and the first six years of Bush43's reign of error).

A Romney win would not have made me sad, but rather, would have made me angry and energized.

I'd like to suggest that Obama also be prepared to reach across the aisle, but one of his weaknesses has been that he tends to start from a triangulated position that takes into account what the Democrats and the Republicans might agree on, rather than starting from further left and meeting the Republicans in the middle. This is precisely why Obamacare is so similar to the conservative Heritage Foundation's healthcare proposal (from the 1990s, in the wake of Hillarycare's demise) and not a single-payer system that could have resulted if Medicare were expanded to the entire population.

If Obama does in fact go on to lose the popular vote, it will be all the more important for him to recognize that the country is still deeply divided (heck, even if he wins the popular vote) and that he needs to keep on keeping on in order to win back their support.

But for now, I'm happy. I'm happy that the vile, years-long smear campaign against Obama has failed. It was both a reflection of the deep-seated racism so many Americans still have, as well as a glorious attempt to use that racism as a blunt object.

I'm also happy to see that the Republicans have largely failed to use obstructionism in order to gain control of government. In fact, the whole notion pushed by Romney in the final days of the campaign that he, as the Republican, could put an end to that smacked of political extortion.

Indeed, winning is the best revenge.

Y'know, there is one sad thing about Romney losing the election: Now we'll never know what was in his mystery budget proposal.

As for Romney, I wish him well. I'm sure that, on a personal basis, he is a very decent man. I don't think he has any clue what people in my socioeconomic status or background go through in life, but I'm sure he's a decent man. I'd love to have a beer with him. Er, coffee. No, um... lemonade.

I'll tell you something, Governor Romney, I would have voted for you on principle if you had decided to stand by Romneycare by acknowledging that it was the near identical forerunner of Obamacare and promising to tweak it and not repeal it. But you couldn't do that, not if you wanted to win the Republican primary.

And in that vein, a note to Governor Jon Huntsman: I hope you'll run for the GOP presidential nomination again in 2016. I will vote for you in the primaries and, if by some miracle you succeed there, in the general election.

I promise. (And what makes Kushibo unsuitable for politics is that I keep my promises.)

Believe it or not, this graphic is from Fox News.


I like being able to fire Mitt Romney

Yeah, yeah, I know: Mitt Romney doesn't actually have a job, other than being a professional presidential candidate (not unlike Kim Daejung, who was a professional candidate for about two decades).

Nevertheless, I still feel good about firing him from that particular role.

This is a California ballot, not a Hawaii ballot. I had taken a picture of my Hawaii ballot as I was filling it out and then posted it here, but this is apparently illegal. 

UPDATE (1:16 pm HST on November 6, 2012):
If you read this post about five minutes ago, you may have noticed that there was a Hawaii state ballot in place of the picture above. I took it while I was in the voting booth, though I posted it after I was done voting. 

"M," who is from Kansai, in Japan, and cannot vote in the US at all for the time being, texted me that I may want to reconsider having posted a picture of my ballot. Apparently, this is illegal in some states, possibly including Hawaii, where showing your ballot to another person may be grounds for it being thrown out

As soon as I got home, I removed it and replaced it with a picture of my absentee ballot from Orange County, which I received even though I had changed my voter registration from Orange County to the City & County of Honolulu. (And of course I did not send in the OC absentee ballot; voting twice is a felony.)

Whether or not one is able to post a picture of their ballot differs from state to state. Some organizations encourage people to photograph (and post) their ballot as a way to prevent fraud by those who collect and count the ballots. Not being able to post pictures of your ballot may come from a time when people could be intimidated if their voter preference was known (which I guess can still happen). 

This is the first time since the 1990s that I've voted in person, owing mostly to being in Seoul, where I voted absentee in every election (as long as Orange County got me my ballot in time, which was not always). And in the past, I've not only photographed and posted my ballot, but I've also given a description of my voter choices. Such as in 2008, when I wrote New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's name in for president, as a protest against then-candidate Barack Obama using Korea and Japan as whipping boys in his stump speeches. 

I never got in trouble for that, and I figured that the right to proclaim for whom you voted was as solid as your right to keep your ballot utterly secret. I figured we had the right to choose. 

Anyway, voting in Hawaii is probably not as fraught with the problems voters face in other places, like Ohio and Florida where there are long lines for "early voting" and there have probably been long lines all day today. 

At my polling place, I literally waited no more than five seconds. I was required to show ID, and for a minute there I was worried I might be prevented from voting because this semester I moved for the first time since I lived in Honolulu and I haven't yet changed two of my three major forms of ID (a Hawaii state ID and a California driver license which has my Honolulu address on it; my student ID does not have an address). A California driver license takes a few weeks to get in the mail, while a Hawaii state ID takes a three-hour wait in line at a downtown office.

But they took my word for it that even though my IDs say "Turtle Bay Drive" I actually live on Aulani Avenue. Just took my word. I'm guessing that if I were an elderly Black man in certain Ohio or Florida counties, my right to vote would have been challenged. In the interest of preventing voter fraud. (Real voter suppression is not a problem if you're combatting imaginary voter fraud.)

Something you would have seen in the picture of the ballot I took down is the list of Office of Hawaiian Affairs candidates. Although I was eager to vote for a mayoral candidate who (a) is in favor of the Honolulu railway project and (b) is not his corrupt opponent, I did not feel I was informed enough to make a decision about that particular office. I did vote for all my representatives and a handful of ballot initiatives. 

Anyway, it feels good. In an hour or so, I'll go and watch the results come in, simultaneously on NBC and on Comedy Central. 


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The un-pacific Pacific:
Are maritime territorial disputes a powder keg in East Asian waters?

That's what Foreign Policy is asking, and it uses South Korean anger over Japan's continued claim on the Tokto Islets as the lead-in for the article:
When I was in Seoul a few weeks ago, the English-language news program Korea Today broadcast a strangely fascinating story about an "I Love Dokdo" contest at Taegu University. The idea was to see who could come up with the most inspiring tribute to the patch of microislands that has been the focus of a recurring and bitter dispute with Japan. It was strange to see young Koreans sitting on a spare, modernist television set, smiling, laughing and calmly celebrating a nationalist routine. Even odder was the fact that a Mexican exchange student named Emilio, along with a multinational team, won the contest. The goal of their performance, he said on Korea Today, was to "to express our love for Dokdo," in part by showing "the people who have protected Dokdo throughout history" and demonstrating "how beautiful" the islands are.

The contest was but one example of a surge of patriotic fervor in Korea after President Lee Myung-bak visited the islands this August. Stories about the issue fill the pages of daily newspapers. A Dokdo museum has opened in Seoul. During his August visit, Lee called the islands "a place worth staking our lives to defend." At the London Olympics, after the South Korean soccer team's victory over Japan, a Korean player rushed to the center of the field and held up a sign that read, "Dokdo is our territory."
I'm not so sure if there was a "surge" in patriotic fever, any more than a bubble shooting to the surface of a simmering pot is a surge. In fact, I think such silliness as the "I Love Tokto" contest simultaneously keep Tokto fever on the radar and under control. (But that doesn't mean I like it.)

Despite scenes like these landlubbers in the photo above, the likelihood of Korea actually getting into a shooting war in the waters around Tokto is nil unless Japanese boats (or Chinese, I guess) actually enter those Tokto territorial waters, so it is a bit disingenuous to use South Korea as the initial focus in an article that is highlighting how the rhetoric and behavior over such territorial disputes is so shrill and irrational that it could spark an actual conflict with real deaths.

But that's what they do:
Korea's attitude toward its territorial argument with Japan is symptomatic of the central emerging strategic reality in Asia: Much of the region is passing through a sort of geopolitical identity crisis, with key regional powers determined to find a more elaborate role for themselves. Globalization and interdependence are making people nostalgic for a more secure grasp on local cultures and traditions. The result is likely to be a period whose major risks of conflict will derive less from intentional calculations of national advantage than from a boiling clash of identity, pride, prestige, nationalism, and honor.

The conventional wisdom says that the main test of American strategy in Asia is the "rise of China." In fact, a far bigger challenge may be the growing dominance of these emotional identity issues, because traditional U.S. instruments of statecraft are simply not well suited to dealing with them. A year into the "pivot to Asia," Washington has designed a strategy for a 21st century, Soviet-style deterrence challenge: cold, calculating, pragmatic. Yet when dealing with the psycho-social dramas of countries clashing over pride and identity as much as interests, America's usual m.o. may not have the intended effect. Remarkably, the major strategic risk confronting the United States in Asia today may be its insistence on thinking "strategically."
I do agree with the sentiment here, but I don't think it's all that hard to figure out. The Japanese right has been fed a line about how cruelly and unfairly Imperial Japan was crushed and they believe that all these territories — Senkaku, Kuriles, and Tokto/Takeshima — are rightfully theirs and should be "defended" (even the ones they don't control) at all costs. That they have so much political influence makes the cost greater to Japanese companies and Japanese diplomacy, while eroding so much good will that Japan created following World War II. The FP article notes this:
On the Japanese side — which refers to the islands as Takeshima — the public is not as generally engaged, but the dispute has been fodder for right-wing groups, which have harped on the issue for years as a nationalist cause. More broadly, Japan is tentatively nosing into new debates about its own identity even as it is challenged by regional counterparts who believe it has yet to come fully to terms with its past -- and the likely candidates for prime minister in Japan's surging opposition party, such as former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are more hawkish nationalists than the current leaders. "Japan's beautiful seas and its territory are under threat," Abe has said, "and young people are having trouble finding hope in the future amid economic slump. I promise to protect Japan's land and sea, and the lives of the Japanese people, no matter what."
Meanwhile, China's contribution to the disastrous equation is that, in addition to having 1.3 billion mouths to feed, China has a tendency to distract its citizens (or at least try) from the failures and transgressions of the unelected Communist Party Leadership by turning other countries into temporary or long-term bogeymen. We've seen that with the United States, France, South Korea, and Japan. The FP chimes in on the Chinese as well:
The same sort of nationalistic, prideful identity-seeking has been unleashed in China. While Beijing's interests in the South China Sea are typically viewed as hard-nosed and measurable (resources, regional influence, naval bases), in fact the disputes are increasingly being posed by many domestic commentators as a test of China's ability to throw off centuries of "Weste
The thing is, though, that China's attempts to whip up the citizenry often lead to violent outbursts against the foreign targets. The American embassy in Beijing was practically destroyed by protesters following the US military's accidental killing of Chinese journalists in Serbia during the bombing of Belgrade, and after Europeans protested against China during the Olympic Torch relay in 2008, Chinese citizens took out their anger toward the French on Carrefour stores in several cities. Not much later, Chinese citizens ran riot in Seoul, attacking people who dared to protest the Olympic Torch there.

Let's not also forget the deadly confrontations that regularly occur between "Chinese fish pirates" and South Korean authorities (and even North Korean authorities), as well as China's southern neighbors.

It is for this reason that I do worry about China's behavior, and why I continue to be an enthusiastic supporter of the Pax Americana in the Western Pacific. But it's also for this reason that I think Japan needs to recognize that its insistence on clinging to territorial disputes from its Imperial past is not only costing far more than it will ever gain from them, but could also lead to a disastrous shooting war that envelops the whole region.

Yeah, China is the worse player here, but Tokyo (and Seoul and Taipei and Manila) are Washington's close allies, not Beijing.

At the very least, I'm glad that Foreign Policy is paying attention to this issue, because awareness of the disputes and the fact that emotion is a wild card in how these disputes flare up and play out in the future.

(And as an aside, this is why South Korea should not take the Tokto issue to the International Court of Justice.)


"Love of country" versus "Revenge"

I see that in the final stretch of this way-too-close campaign that Romney is trying to run with the idea that there's something wrong with Obama because he wants to get "revenge" on someone. Romney seems unaware of where Obama's "best revenge" comment comes from, and he hopes his audience and the electorate are, too.

In fact, Obama's comment, that his audience shouldn't boo but should instead make sure to get out the vote because "voting is the best revenge," is a takeoff on a centuries-old quote by 17th century poet George Herbert in Jacula Prudentium: "Living well is the best revenge."

His message: Be voter, not a hater.

Frankly, people who are going off about this are revealing their utter ignorance of our Anglican-influenced culture — even though it's often the same people who hold up our Anglo-American heritage as the supreme identity of the United States. (I'll admit, though, that I first learned this quote from watching an episode of Frasier, where Frasier suggests to his brother Niles that their comfy existence in Seattle high-rises was revenge enough from the high school bully who they'd encountered anew when he showed up as a plumber to fix Frasier's bathroom.)

Meanwhile, Romney himself offers "love of country" as a counter to "Obama's revenge." Romney's insistence on "love of country" versus "revenge" is made even funnier by an 18th century quote made famous by Samuel Johnson: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." (For those of you in Rio Linda, patriotism = "love of country.")


Monday, November 5, 2012

Putting feet to one's faith

Perhaps the passage of the Bible I quote most often is the second chapter of the book of James:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. ... Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
I'm also quite fond of the commandment to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Now I'm no saint, but many of the choices in my life, which have often meant opting for jobs that paid less money but helped more people and working on projects that had no financial value for me but bettered the lives of other people, are deeply informed by passages like these.

I'm posting this because I happened across an Obama ad on YouTube that dovetails almost perfectly with where I'm coming from, from a faith perspective.

And this is one reason I find it so galling that the so-called "religious right" has abandoned core Christian teachings, such as the New Testament admonition that the pursuit of cash:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
I don't think I can make it any clearer that the pursuit of profit in an unmitigated free market is at odds with basic Christian tenets. Jesus was no Ferengi and he despised the Pharisees and moneychangers who made a mockery of the Jewish faith of the day.

Now, I can understand many of my fellow Christians' hatred of abortion causing them to turn away from the pro-choice agenda of the Democratic Party, but I urge them to pay attention to former President Clinton's goal of keeping abortion "safe, legal, but rare." My values are simultaneously pro-choice and pro-life, and they stem from a belief that making it illegal does not end it, and that the efforts to curb abortion should focus instead on demand rather than supply.

Where I part ways with my conservative Christian brethren is that I refuse to hold my nose (in the interest of pro-life values) at all the greed and lack of caring for the less fortunate, not to mention hatred for some groups, that is at the heart of today's Republican agenda.

I'll end this with a quote from 1981 by Billy Graham, the virtual pastor-in-chief to every president for a half century:
I don't want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.
Sadly, the nonagenarian minister seems to have strayed from this, manipulated by his son, who is more interested in promoting the values of the GOP than those of Christ. (His decision to stop referring to Mormonism as a "cult" — something drilled into the head of every evangelical — comes not from interfaith outreach or a change in theology or a redefining of "non-Christian doctrine," but from cold, political calculation.)

I'll have more on that later. I wonder if Billy Graham's embrace of Mormonism is not so different from (and cannot be followed by) acceptance of homosexuality that is common among liberal churches (but which goes against the teachings of Paul).


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hour by hour: What to watch on Election Night

Hour by hour: What to watch on Election Night

thumbnailWASHINGTON (AP) - Stock up on munchies and make sure the batteries in your TV remote are fresh. With this year's presidential election razor-close to the finish, Tuesday could be a long night. Even if the presidency isn't decided until after midnight EST, there will be plenty of clues early in the evening on how things are going for President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. Obama has more...

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Daylight losing time

Here's a public service for all Monster Island readers: Daylight Saving Time is about to end in most of the US (in fact, it's already over in some parts). It used to be 2 a.m. on the last Sunday in October, but now it's the first Sunday in November that we change our clocks back.

Hawaii, of course, does not follow DST, so the time remains the same here. It's nice when the Mainland gets a little closer to us, though. Instead of a three-hour difference between Honolulu and my friends and family in California and Las Vegas, it will be only two.

It's important to note this for people in Korea as well, which (like time-zone next-neighbor Japan) doesn't follow DST. In fact, Korea and Japan both mutually agreed not to go on DST unless the other did. So this means that the Los Angeles is now only seven hours ahead of Korea (minus one day*) instead of eight hours. New York City is ten hours ahead instead of eleven.

This is as good a time as any to rehash a post about the plans of some in Hawaii to make the Aloha State even closer to its major tourism base in Japan and Korea, by moving it over one time zone, for a four-hour difference (minus one day*) instead of a five-hour difference. According to that 2011 article, this plan would have gone into effect by now, but it hasn't.

*I prefer the seven- or eight-hour time difference calculation, which includes subtracting one day, over the more confusing sixteen- or seventeen-hour time difference calculation. 

above: Adjusting for Daylight Saving Time in England.
(recycled not-all-that-funny-the-first-time gag from here)


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hyundai and Kia caught fudging the MPGs a bit (just a bit)

Though most of the Hyundai and Kia fleet were off by only 1 or 2 miles per gallon, the Kia Soul was off by a whopping 6. I guess they had actual hamsters driving the cars when they did fuel efficiency tests. 

It was only the other day, when I was talking about Hyundai's minor slip in quality rankings, that I made the case that Hyundai's (and sister automaker Kia's) rise relied heavily not just on looking cool but also on building trust with car consumers. Hyundai went from being a laughingstock maker of cheap econoboxes (see meme #46) to manufacturer of smart-looking cars that are near the top of the safety rankings, among the most reliable, and yet remain some of the most economical cars around.

The thing is, Hyundai and Kia really can't afford to screw that up. You know, with things like this:
South Korean automakers Hyundai Motor America and Kia Motors America overstated the fuel economy on nearly a million late model vehicles and will issue owners special debit cards to reimburse the extra money they are paying for fuel.

The error was announced Friday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which monitors the fuel economy tests by automakers.

The mileage on most vehicle labels will be reduced by 1 to 2 miles per gallon, and the largest adjustment will be 6 mpg highway for the Kia Soul, federal regulators said. Both automakers will place new labels reflecting the corrected mileage estimates on cars currently at dealers.

“Consumers rely on the window sticker to help make informed choices about the cars they buy," said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “EPA’s investigation will help protect consumers and ensure a level playing field among automakers.”

The Korean automakers, which are siblings, and share automotive components and testing, said they had overstated fuel economy ratings for about 900,000 vehicles, or 35% of the 2011-13 model year vehicles sold through Wednesday.

They blamed “procedural errors” at joint testing operations in Korea for the problem.
To be fair, Hyundai and Kia are by no means the only automakers to have been caught making "errors" in their MPG ratings, and it seems they are taking a page out of Apple in the wake of its recent Maps app fiasco by just admitting they'd made a mistake and then offering a financial reimbursement:
“I sincerely apologize to all affected Hyundai and Kia customers, and I regret these errors occurred,” said Dr. W. C. Yang, chief technology officer of Hyundai/Kia research and development.
Don't worry, no administrative sepukku has accompanied that statement. But instead, Hyundai/Kia are going to give out personalized debit cards to owners of the vehicles, calculated to reimburse customers for the shortfall in the companies’ mileage claims and what the EPA has found is the correct number for combined city and highway driving fuel economy rating.

My mother has a two-year-old Hyundai Santa Fe, and I plan to help her follow up on this. In the meantime, you can go seek reimbursement yourself, at Hyundai and Kia, respectively.

It turns out our family Santa Fe is the wrong model year to have been affected by this. The Los Angeles Times has a nice pictorial on which cars are affected.


Friday, November 2, 2012

You're a day late for Halloween, Pyongyang.

North Korea has announced that the Ryugyong Hotel, the spooky and humongous monstrosity in the middle of Pyongyang that looks like it might be Batman's not-so-secret lair, is going to open for business in the middle of next year

It will be operated by the Kempinski Hotel management group, which runs a lot of luxury hotels around the world.

In all seriousness, I expect this to be the spark for a tourism boom that North Korea will soon enjoy, riding, ironically, on the heels of Gangnam Style and other Korea pop culture products. There are a bunch of people looking for something new and different, and staying at a Kempinski-branded hotel in a New North Korea that has left the door slightly ajar to Western influence may be just the right combination of exciting and safe.


Huffington Post: Sobering Findings In Poll On Racial Bias

  I'm not sure what to make of something like this. More thoughts later. 

Sobering Findings In Poll On Racial Bias
WASHINGTON — Racial attitudes have not improved in the four years since the United States elected its first black president, an Associated Press poll finds, as a slight majority of Americans now express prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not. Those views could cost President Barack Obama votes as he tries for re-election, the survey found, though the effects are mitigated by some people's more favorable views of blacks. Racial prejudice has increased slightly since 2008 whether those feelings were measured using questions that explicitly asked respondents about racist attitudes, or through an experimental test that measured implicit views toward race without asking questions about that topic directly. In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell. "As much as we'd hope the impact of race would decline over time ... it appears the impact of anti-black sentiment on voting is about the same as it was four years ago," said Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who worked with AP to develop the survey. Most Americans expressed anti-Hispanic sentiments, too. In an AP survey done in 2011, 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57 percent in the implicit test. The survey on Hispanics had no past data for comparison. The AP surveys were conducted with researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan and NORC at the University of Chicago. Experts on race said they were not surprised by the findings. "We have this false idea that there is uniformity in progress and that things change in one big step. That is not the way history has worked," said Jelani Cobb, professor of history and director of the Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut. "When we've seen progress, we've also seen backlash." Obama has tread cautiously on the subject of race, but many African-Americans have talked openly about perceived antagonism toward them since Obama took office. As evidence, they point to events involving police brutality or cite bumper stickers, cartoons and protest posters that mock the president as a lion or a monkey, or lynch him in effigy. "Part of it is growing polarization within American society," said Fredrick Harris, director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University. "The last Democrat in the White House said we had to have a national discussion about race. There's been total silence around issues of race with this president. But, as you see, whether there is silence, or an elevation of the discussion of race, you still have polarization. It will take more generations, I suspect, before we eliminate these deep feelings." Overall, the survey found that by virtue of racial prejudice, Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of the popular vote in his Nov. 6 contest against Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But Obama also stands to benefit from a 3 percentage point gain due to pro-black sentiment, researchers said. Overall, that means an estimated net loss of 2 percentage points due to anti-black attitudes. The poll finds that racial prejudice is not limited to one group of partisans. Although Republicans were more likely than Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism (79 percent among Republicans compared with 32 percent among Democrats), the implicit test found little difference between the two parties. That test showed a majority of both Democrats and Republicans held anti-black feelings (55 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans), as did about half of political independents (49 percent). Obama faced a similar situation in 2008, the survey then found. The AP developed the surveys to measure sensitive racial views in several ways and repeated those studies several times between 2008 and 2012. The explicit racism measures asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about black and Hispanic people. In addition, the surveys asked how well respondents thought certain words, such as "friendly," "hardworking," "violent" and "lazy," described blacks, whites and Hispanics. The same respondents were also administered a survey designed to measure implicit racism, in which a photo of a black, Hispanic or white male flashed on the screen before a neutral image of a Chinese character. The respondents were then asked to rate their feelings toward the Chinese character. Previous research has shown that people transfer their feelings about the photo onto the character, allowing researchers to measure racist feelings even if a respondent does not acknowledge them. Results from those questions were analyzed with poll takers' ages, partisan beliefs, views on Obama and Romney and other factors, which allowed researchers to predict the likelihood that people would vote for either Obama or Romney. Those models were then used to estimate the net impact of each factor on the candidates' support. All the surveys were conducted online. Other research has shown that poll takers are more likely to share unpopular attitudes when they are filling out a survey using a computer rather than speaking with an interviewer. Respondents were randomly selected from a nationally representative panel maintained by GfK Custom Research. Overall results from each survey have a margin of sampling error of approximately plus or minus 4 percentage points. The most recent poll, measuring anti-black views, was conducted Aug. 30 to Sept. 11. Andra Gillespie, an Emory University political scientist who studies race-neutrality among black politicians, contrasted the situation to that faced by the first black mayors elected in major U.S. cities, the closest parallel to Obama's first-black situation. Those mayors, she said, typically won about 20 percent of the white vote in their first races, but when seeking reelection they enjoyed greater white support presumably because "the whites who stayed in the cities ... became more comfortable with a black executive." "President Obama's election clearly didn't change those who appear to be sort of hard-wired folks with racial resentment," she said. Negative racial attitudes can manifest in policy, noted Alan Jenkins, an assistant solicitor general during the Clinton administration and now executive director of the Opportunity Agenda think tank. "That has very real circumstances in the way people are treated by police, the way kids are treated by teachers, the way home seekers are treated by landlords and real estate agents," Jenkins said. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York state assemblyman and candidate for a congressional seat being vacated by a fellow black Democrat, called it troubling that more progress on racial attitudes had not been made. Jeffries has fought a New York City police program of "stop and frisk" that has affected mostly blacks and Latinos but which supporters contend is not racially focused. "I do remain cautiously optimistic that the future of America bends toward the side of increased racial tolerance," Jeffries said. "We've come a long way, but clearly these results demonstrate there's a long way to go." ___ AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report. ___ Online: Poll results: Academic analysis:
Read more at AP


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