Friday, October 03, 2003

"Surely the helicopter is the ultimate sign of the greatest news station."

"No, I HADN'T recalled that Action News first told me about this story last week. Thanks for the reminder!"

"Oh, they're LIVE at the State House. Well, alright then. There was no way I was going to believe a pre-packaged story about the budget."

I think they're on to something. Read the whole thing.

BEANTOWN BOYS ARE IN TROUBLE. Some folks may have to eat their words and (lose some money to boot). While I've been a fan of the Bo-Sox ever since I had the incomparable pleasure of consuming Fenway dogs on a warm afternoon in the early 90's, I am a realist on this one: the curse of the Bambino cannot be gainsaid.

The individual selling the $30 “backup” copy of the $999 Final Cut Pro program assumes you already have a full-price copy and just need the backup to be safe. He will be crushed if you have lied to him.

The skeletal remains of bicycle frames you see chained to various bike stands and signposts are all part of a massive art project by pointless modern artist Christo.
Read 'em all.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

THIS IS JUST SICK AND WRONG. A staffer for Missouri Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond created a website and blog on which he comments on Missouri politics in a way that makes it clear he care little for the Democrats. So far so good; after all the U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech and the free expression of political views is generally thought to be included in the category of free speech. However, the name of the site, N8354N, is the tail number of the plane that crashed and killed Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, along with Carnahan's son and an aide (Google cache of the site can be seen here). Was this an important political event in Missouri? Sure. Does it deserve to be highlighted (celebrated?) in this fashion? Not in my book. This was sheer stupidity from a politically tactical viewpoint and, more importantly, just sick and wrong. I don't know if I agree with the folks commenting over at Daily Kos that this is representative of all Republicans everywhere (example: "Unfortunately, not shocking, just appalling. There does'nt seem to be a limit to the depth that "republicans" sink. There is something about the faction that just draws the asshole personality types") but I am certainly glad that Bond has apparently fired the guy.

A year ago, before signing the Pyongyang Declaration, North Korea must have made certain calculations as part of its overall strategy. For one, it sought to evade pressure from the United States, which had labeled it part of the ``axis of evil.'' Pyongyang also appears to have placed great expectations on securing economic assistance from Japan.

In an attempt to rebuild its destitute economy, North Korea implemented drastic economic reforms on July 1, 2002, two months before Koizumi's Pyongyang visit. Kim Jong Il ordered the reforms in early October of the previous year. Observers believe it was around then that Japanese and North Korean officials started to secretly develop behind-the-scenes contacts, at North Korea's initiative. It is also believed that plans for the Japan-North Korea summit in September were finalized around May 2002, shortly before Pyongyang enacted its economic reforms.

In light of these developments, it seems likely that North Korea implemented the reforms on the assumption that it could obtain economic aid from Japan on the back of improved bilateral ties.

But things did not go as planned. Contrary to North Korea's expectations, Japanese public opinion of the North went from bad to worse with the revelation of abduction details. When a high-ranking U.S. official visited Pyongyang in early October, shortly after Koizumi, new suspicions emerged over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, intensifying tensions. Economic reforms appear to have inflicted rampant inflation, and in general produced disappointing results. It is thus natural that Pyongyang would want to expedite the process of normalizing diplomatic relations with Japan.
If P'yongyang recognizes the nature and implications of its miscalculation, it could make some progress in rectifying the situation by offering some relatively painless concessions on the abuctee issue (more here).

U.S.-ROK SPIN: Don't believe a word the North Koreans say!
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said he expected further negotiations "will be held in due time and will produce good results".

James Kelly, the US envoy to North Korea, also expressed hope that a meeting would be scheduled before too long.

But in a speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Su-hon said: "We have been driven not to maintain any interest in or expectation on such talks."

There's something surreal about a situation in which we must steadfastly maintain that the North Koreans are lying in order to lure them to the negotiating table where we can resolve issues based on mutual trust.

As Harvard economist Juliet Schor has examined, Americans' working hours have been steadily increasing for the past 30 years. Between 1969 and 1987 alone, paid employment by the average American worker jumped by over 160 hours per year, or the equivalent of an entire extra month on the job. We now work the equivalent of nearly nine weeks more a year than our European counterparts. This burden threatens to expand even more as Congressional Republicans push to end the deterrent of overtime pay in sector after sector of the workforce. That doesn't count employers simply breaking the law – like the Wal-Mart managers now being sued in 28 states for allegedly forcing employees to punch out after an eight-hour day, and then continue working for no pay at all.

The increase of work hours complements a more general politics of the whip. Whatever our jobs, most of us now work harder than we used to, do more in less time, and worry more about being downsized. This is true whether we're on a factory assembly line, writing code for a software company desperately struggling to survive, or teaching the kids of the poor in an underfunded school. If we're going to have a decent future, and not become "losers" in an increasingly divided economy, we're told that we need to become wheeling and dealing self-promoters constantly selling ourselves to survive. Meanwhile, we spend more hours driving to and from our jobs, as urban sprawl, escalating housing prices, and lack of decent public transit options raise the stress of our commutes. Once we could rely on employer-funded pensions and Social Security, confident that if we worked long enough, our old age would be provided for. Now, for most of us, saving for retirement has become an uncertain journey through treacherous shoals. The US has long been the only advanced industrial nation in the world not to offer universal healthcare, but most of us used to be covered through our jobs. Now we pay more and more to get less and less, and spend hours choosing between equally bad options, trying to cover our families as best we can.

This seems consistent with my own experience. When I'm frequently stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-95 at 5:00 am it is clear that there are a lot of people that work long hours. I wonder how this intersects with the frequently heard claims that Americans are the most productive people on earth. Are we? Or do we simply put in more time, energy, and effort?

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

NORTH KOREA: Japanese abductees' families aren't coming to Japan any time soon.
A senior North Korean diplomat on Tuesday dismissed the idea that the family members of Japanese abductees repatriated last year would visit Japan any time soon and reiterated Pyongyang's criticism of Japan on the issue.

Pak Ryong Yon, deputy chief of the North Korean Foreign Ministry's Asian bureau, also highlighted Pyongyang's demand that Tokyo pay compensation for past incidents against Koreans as well as providing economic aid as a condition for establishing diplomatic ties between the countries.
When I see stories like this, I have a much harder time hanging on to the "North Korea really wants to get along with its neighbors if only they would stop threatening it" train of thought. The issue of abducted Japanese citizens would seem to be an ideal one for the DPRK to make some good-will gestures with a minimum of fallout or downside. If they really want peace with their neighbors, why don't they?

POOR DICK GEPHARDT: even the AFL-CIO won't endorse him.

THANKS SIS: I'm sure Cruz Bustamante is as pleased as punch that stories like these about his "performance artist" sister are circulating around days before the recall vote.

DAILY KOS SPEAKS: Time for people to drop out of the Democratic Presidential Primary (and they may not be who you think).

SO MUCH FOR PFFFT So says Bill Herbert on the still-unfolding Palme/Wilson scandal-affair-issue-thing.

There are an estimated 15,000 people in Japan over the age of 100, most of them women.
I'm surprised we haven't seen more attempts to understand and sell the "miracle Japanese diet" that produces so many long-lived folks. Perhaps it is because there really isn't a clear dietary link outside of "healthy eating":
Born on 23 March 1889, he attributed his own longevity to healthy eating and being an optimist.

"He hates vegetables but loves to eat meat and drink milk," his daughter once said.

She said his favourite meal had been boiled rice mixed with bits of chicken meat.
The downside to the longevity of many Japanese is the social strains this will put on an aging society:
Japan has the world's longest life expectancy - 78 years for men and 80 for women.

But experts say there is a downside in Japan to this otherwise rosy picture of health.

The country is an ageing society with a shrinking workforce, which must support more and more retired people.

Economists are predicting a crisis in the state pension system within a few years, because the benefits being paid out far exceed payments being made into it.
The aging and reduced birth rates of developed nations may prove to be one of the more significant trends of the next century.

SOUTH KOREAN POLITICS THROUGH POLITICAL CARTOONS: Seeing Eye Blog summarizes the latest from Korean newspapers.

THE MARMOT ON THE MONGOLS IN IRAQ. He highlights the interesting point that the Mongol contingent in Iraq arrived unsolicited by the United States. Quoting a NYT article:
Mongolia's offer of troops surprised the American government because it had not asked Mongolia for help.
Another question: do Islamic fundamentalists use the same rhetoric and invective on the Mongols who, unlike the Americans, actually did destroy libraries and museums in Baghdad (and throughout much of the Islamic world), that they use on the "crusaders?" After all, the Mongols came to the middle east after the crusades were over.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

OH THAT ARIANNA: Ms. Huffington has dropped out of the race and now claims to support Gray Davis, the politician she spent much of the last few weeks savaging. Mickey Kaus has the goods. What a joke.

North Korea has said it is taking "practical measures" to strengthen its nuclear "deterrent" because diplomacy over its nuclear programme has failed.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said the country was no longer interested in holding negotiations on the issue with the United States.
Amazingly, my first reaction to this story was "ho hum; can't they think of anything new to say?" Of course, this is actually rather frightening because if the DPRK leadership decides that the current rhetoric isn't doing the job it may resort to more provocative measures.

JUST GOT BACK FROM BACK TO SCHOOL NIGHT at our kids' elementary school. The place was packed with kids and parents. The roads and parking lots were clogged. Out in front local boy scouts were handing out free popcorn. Inside we waited in line to chat briefly with both of our kids’ current teachers and then of course had to make the rounds to say hello to all teachers past. For all its flaws, the American public education system is really a rather remarkable and praiseworthy institution.

FEEL LIKE AUTUMN. Bright blue skies. Cool days and brisk nights. Leaves showing the first signs of turning. The kids still play outside but it is no longer with the “it’s still light we can’t go to bed yet” abandon of a month ago. This ushers in my favorite time of year. I’m sure I would get jaded and unappreciative if the weather were always like this but autumn goes by far too quickly in my estimation. Not enough time to do all the apple and pumpkin picking, cider drinking, football watching, leaf raking, and simply breathing in that brisk air that I want to do. Best place to do many of these things? Harvard, Mass (the town, not the school). Millburn Orchards in Maryland isn’t bad; neither is Belvedere Plantation in Virginia.

President Roh Moo-hyun yesterday officially resigned from the Millennium Democratic Party.
"My affiliation with the ruling party has been a matter of political dispute. I do not want it to be the subject of a controversy and decided to leave the party,” the Blue House spokesman Yoon Tai-young quoted Mr. Roh as saying before he sent his resignation letter. Mr. Yoon said the president would devote himself to economic recovery and other important affairs of state.
Mr. Yoon also said Mr. Roh will probably not decide on his ultimate party affiliation until the end of the year, when the National Assembly’s regular session ends. “Mr. Roh will decide his next step later,” he said.


ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SIGHTSEEING AND BUSINESS IN NORTH KOREA CAN BE FOUND HERE (along with a nice Korean folk song; thanks to Parapundit for the link). Possibilities include a cycling tour. These "regulations" demonstrate a need for a good translator:
a) North Korea worries about the occurrence of the accident most. Please follow the instruction of the driver of those (guide) who guide it in North Korea or tour buses when you run.

b) The car must run the row on a right edge of the road in the road in North Korea the right side passing when you run by bicycle.

c) It is the people that run on the road who participate from Japan. Please run safely by own responsibility after noting putting out too much and boiling looking driving etc. of the speed. Do ..helmet.. put on a hat for safe in the cycling.

d) It continues and it is not likely to be able to run in rain while staying. In that case, the cycling schedule is adjusted, and it tries to run. However, running might be discontinued when judged it is dangerous because of rain. Please acknowledge it.
"putting out too much"???

See here for some photos of the "new" DPRK currency, an internet cafe in P'yongyang, and cell phones on sale (scroll down).

Still, evidence is mounting that the economic lives of ordinary North Koreans are radically changing. Another aid worker who visits North Korea frequently said he was impressed by the number of bicycles in cities on the poor, industrial east coast, most of them made in Japan. “There were bicycles everywhere. To me, that’s an indicator of some kind of progress,” he said. “Something is happening.” Small-scale commercial activity had picked up and people were making economic choices for the first time in their lives. “Along the roadsides you would see these ladies with basins full of fruits and vegetables” for sale, he said. On previous trips they would scurry away when foreigners passed, but not this time, he said. “Clearly, this had some kind of official sanction,” he said.
Read the whole thing.

PROOF THAT THERE'S SOME JUSTICE IN THE WORLD: "Man Steals Identity of Sex Offender." (link courtesy of Number 2 pencil)
A good rule of thumb for an identity thief is not to steal the name of someone whose reputation is worse than yours, such as a sex offender.

Police said James Perry stole the name and identity of a neighbor who turned out to be a convicted sex offender.

Perry stole the identity of Robert Kowalski in order to obtain a drivers license, police said. Perry was living in Florida at the time and Kowalski was his neighbor.


DAILY KOS ROUNDS UP THE LATEST ON THE CALIFORNIA RECALL. Lots of juicy detail but the basics are:

--Davis is toast.
--Bustamante's chances are fading.
--Arnold is most likely to become the next governor of California despite the fact that he did poorly (in the eyes of "intellectuals and political junkies") in the televised debate.

The nation's first scientific satellite, launched on Saturday, is literally lost in space, as the Ground Operation Control Center had still not been able to communicate with the satellite as of Monday night.

Starting with a first attempt at a link at 10 p.m. Saturday, the control team attempted unsuccessfully to reach the satellite eight times, said team members from the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). As a result, the team has been unable to determine where the satellite is.

Monday, September 29, 2003

NORTH KOREA SEEKS TOURISTS (link courtesy of Cathartidae)
Strapped for cash, reclusive North Korea is looking to attract foreign tourists to its forested mountains and showpiece capital, a travel industry official said.

"We definitely got the impression that people were quite keen to see more international visitors come in," said Neil Plimmer, who recently led a team from the Pacific Asia Travel Association to the communist country to assess its tourism potential.
I say bring 'em on. The more people traveling to North Korea, the better.

UPDATE: more about the etymology of the Korean term for tourism (kwangwang) than you will ever want to know can be found here

PFFFFT: That, says Pejman Yousefzadeh is the air going out of the Palme/Wilson scandal. This is especially the case because Robert Novak has recanted/clarified his story. Scroll down to the comments for dissenting views and see Josh Marshall's response to Novak's statement. One question I keep asking is whether this is such an inside-the-beltway issue that the average voter won't care one way or another. Should they?

745 YEARS AFTER SACKING BAGHDAD, THE MONGOLS ARE BACK. I wonder if The Marmot will have anything to say about this?

PILING ON THE DEAD. I certainly have not agreed with everything that Edward Said has written or spoken. I think that Orientalism, despite its flaws, was/is an eye-opening and important work. But whatever one may think about the late Professor and his work, some rather scathing denunciations (here and here for example) of a man barely passed from this world seem in extremely poor taste at best.

To be sure, the accusation -- frequently made by those on the right -- that college campuses are hotbeds of professorial radicalism is grossly inaccurate. Most of those who make this charge probably don't realize (or else choose to ignore) the extent to which careerist imperatives mitigate against political activism. Still, I think it's fair to say that in many humanities disciplines, the default setting is roughly left-liberal (though not hard left, by any means).
UPDATE; more interesting observations here.

In power politics, you got to pay to play. South Korea, on the face of it, appears to have all the goods required to be a major player in world affairs. But if you're not willing to use those goods, you can't complain when other powers cut you out of the loop. A major project in currently underway in Iraq, a project that will impact Korea regardless of whether it succeeds or fails. An American defeat in Iraq carries with it profound dangers for Korea's economic well-being and security, while an American success in Iraq without South Korean support would not only be an opportunity wasted for Seoul, but call into question the utility of the entire ROK-US alliance. If South Korea truly wishes to have an "equal relationship" with the United States, then Iraq is the perfect place to prove it.
UPDATE; Seeing Eye Blog examines some Joong-ang Ilbo editorials on the subject.

THE WIT AND WISDOM OF WESLEY CLARK. (link courtesy of Andrew Sullivan) Snippets:
A Man Who Remembers the Little People: It's like what we did in the military when we went to the motor pool and talked to the troops — only better.

A Man With a Mission: I miss being in the Army. It's a wonderful thing to have a team, to have a mission, to build a sense of purpose, to see a plan come together.

A Man of Peace: Let's make one thing real clear, I would never have voted for this war. I've gotten a very consistent record on this.

A Man of War: At the time, I probably would have voted for [war in Iraq], but I think that's too simple a question.

A Man of Peace and War, but probably War: I've said it both ways because when you get into this, what happens is you have to put yourself in a position -- on balance, I probably would have voted for it.

A Man of Peace now, and War later: That having been said, I was against the war as it emerged because there was no reason to start it when we did.

A Man of Peace after all: I never would have voted for war. What I would have voted for is leverage. Leverage for the United States to avoid a war. That's what we needed to avoid a war.
This does not so much disparage General Clark, a figure that I know very little about, as it disparages our political process that demands that politicians in general and candidates in particular make definitive statements on complex issues that are no more than two lines (our attentions spans are too short for anything long), and that are utterly consistent with anything else the person has ever said in his or her lifetime (context doesn't matter; evolving views don't matter; responding to the public needs and desires that said politician is supposed to represent doesn't matter). And yet, somehow, the system seems to work (sort of).

UPDATE: Ronald Bailey gets it.
Clark utters meaningless bromides and gets a boost in his poll numbers. Why? Like Chauncey Gardiner, Clark is an empty vessel and as such Democrats can project any of their fantasies and hopes onto him. I am not saying that Clark is retarded; he is a very accomplished man. However, Clark evidently believes like almost all other professional politicians and their spinmeisters that the only way to get elected in 21st century America is to act like Chauncey Gardiner and make a lot of pretty noises, but say nothing. I fear that they could be right.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

THE WILSON/PALME SCANDAL (rapidly becoming Wilsongate): JOSH MARSHALL IS ALL OVER IT. Start here and keep scrolling down. Note, Marshall also has a follow-up to his New Bridge Strategies post earlier. Still no revelation as to who the legions of equally competent but acceptable alternatives to the Bush-crony-oil-Chalabi nexus might be though (see here for why this may (or may not) matter).

UPDATE: more here with lots of juicy bloggy links.

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