Friday, November 12, 2004


U.S. Flag Posted by Hello

Mark Kleiman has some interesting thoughts on rituals, symbols and the significance of the American flag. Some snippets:
We live in a ceremony-poor culture. And I'm afraid my fellow Seculars are in part to blame. Denominational religion is, in many ways, more trouble than it's worth. But it seems to me that Confucius was right about the centrality of ritual in binding a community together.

I suspect that many Seculars don't really object to the theatricality of ritual as much as they do to the affirmations it involves. Joining in a ritual seems to be the opposite of the "thinking for oneself" so beloved of the half-baked Emersonians who still write our school curricula.

I'm sorry that the Pledge to the Flag is such a lousy liturgy and has such a piss-poor bit of ritual built around it, and even sorrier that the Bible-thumpers decided to pollute that simple common patriotic act with a touch of forced worship. But the idea of some sort of daily patriotic act by schoolchildren, which many of my friends find slightly disgusting, seems to me a sound one.

And the flag itself, which doesn't appeal to me at all as a piece of graphic design or heraldry, and which represents a nation whose flaws I could catalogue as well as anyone else, is still our Flag.

My personal opinion concerning some of these rituals is a bit different. I confess to getting a bit choked up watching the American Flag flutter beneath the afternoon sun at a rodeo I attended several years ago. It seemed the perfect encapsulation of much of what is great and good about this country. But I suppose I do find the rote recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to be a bit artificial and stultifying. (And even as a kid I wondered what the big deal was about the flag itself. No problem with "to the Republic for which it stands" but why pledge allegiance to the flag itself?) But an interesting thing about the ritual of presenting the flag and singing the national anthem before sporting events and the like is that it isn't required by the state. Rather, it is a voluntary expression of patriotism/nationalism of the type that some foreign observers find so perplexing and troubling about Americans.

As for the more general point of living in a ceremony-poor culture, I couldn't agree more. An example: shortly after 9/11, the condominium complex in which I lived at the time announced that there would be a candlelight vigil held in the evening. My wife, kids, and I attended along with many of our neighbors. We all brought, lit, and held candles but no one seemed to know what else to do. We mostly sat in silence until someone finally suggested in a rather timid voice that we should sing the national anthem. So we sang and that was essentially the end of it. It occurred to me at the time that we had no shared ritual tradition (other than the fairly empty symbol of burning candles--what does that mean anyway?) upon which to draw in this rather dire situation.

Kleiman goes on to make a more narrow political point about the flag:
Think about it: when you pass a car on the highway and see an American flag bumper sticker, what do you assume about the political views of the driver? Right. So do I. And so do all those voters whose behavior you simply can't understand. At some level, many of them were voting for the party that wasn't made uncomfortable by the sight of an American flag bumper sticker.

The habit on the anti-Vietnam War left of dishonoring our flag and honoring that of our enemies wasn't really very widespread. But it wasn't entirely made up, either. And its result was to allow the right to seize the flag as a partisan symbol, giving its candidates an advantage they still enjoy. If we want to start winning elections, the first thing to do is to recapture the flag for our side.
So here's my idea, which I offer to any seeker of the Democratic nomination for 2008 who wants to take it: ask your supporters NOT to put your bumper sticker on their cars without a separate American flag bumper sticker, or to wear your campaign button without an American flag lapel pin. Yes, that will make some of your potential supporters uncomfortable. But that's exactly the problem we're trying to solve.
Anecdotal evidence from my neck of the woods would seem to support Kleiman's point. From time to time I tried to make the mind-numbing commute up I-95 go by more quickly by counting the number of cars with Bush or Kerry bumper stickers as well as the number of cars that had a campaign bumper sticker as well as either an American Flag or a "support our troops" sticker or ribbon. I don't recall ever seeing a "support our troops" yellow (or red, white, and blue) ribbon alongside a Kerry-Edwards sticker and I can't recall if I ever saw a flag alongside a Kerry sticker.

For some of the more left-leaning of Kerry supporters, this would be consistent because, in the words of Katha Politt, "the flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war." But I suspect that many, many more are closer to Kleiman on this issue: the U.S. is hardly without faults and flaws, but it still is "our flag." I hope Americans of all political persuasions heed his advice.


Play the "Give Bush a Brain Game" (via Consolidated Truth)


Why not? Because it is the perfect component to make an "unusual lamp." That is, unless you have already used your old meat grinder to make a wall plaque. Don't blame me for this stuff. Blame this guy; he was there.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


Indiana Pacers superstar, Ron Artest, is tired. So tired, in fact, that he asked his coach and team if he could take a few games off to recuperate.
Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest said Wednesday that he asked head coach Rick Carlisle for as much as a month off to heal his aching body and recover from a hectic schedule.
"My body has been aching, I was going to take some time off and I said it the wrong way," Artest said during a short news conference before the Pacers' 102-68 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. "Everything that happened wasn't too negative. I kind of surprised the team by wanting to take some games off, just to get back together, maybe stay home for a little bit, rest a little bit and come back."

He certainly surprised Carlisle, who said Tuesday that the situation, "compromised the integrity of the team. It's a private team matter, and I'm going to leave it at that."

"I don't know what that means," Artest said. "They probably expected a little more; expected me to play every game. Everybody's different. It's early in the season, so I feel like I could take some time off early and be ready for the long stretch."
Poor guy. He will only make nearly $6 million this year and even more over the course of the next four years.

Call me an old-fashioned purist, but for $6 million a year, you'd better believe that I would expect Mr. Artest to play every game, and to arrange his busy off-court schedule so as to be in the physical and mental condition necessary to play every game.



Oh yeah; he's the guy CBS cut away from the exciting conclusion of CSI: New York in order to announce that he had died. No matter, CBS has apologized for the intrusion. Good thing they have their priorities straight!


but just fine as AG? This is, according to Ryan Lizza, what the Bush Administration thinks:
Given the right's hostility to Gonzales, it might be tempting to interpret his nomination yesterday to run the Justice Department as a sign that Bush is going to start elevating moderates to key posts. After all, Gonzales is less polarizing and less conservative than Ashcroft. But the appointment probably signals the opposite. Conservatives seem to have vetoed Bush's first choice for the Supreme Court, and instead of a lifetime appointment to the bench, Gonzales gets the consolation prize of a few years as attorney general. This may appear to be the first post-election loss for members of the religious right. In fact, it is their first post-election victory.

To be sure, it would be possible for Gonzales to use the Justice Department as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. But it's doubtful that this is what Bush has in mind. With Chief Justice William Rehnquist ailing, a Court vacancy could open in a matter of months; and it would hardly make sense to appoint someone attorney general with the intention of almost instantly turning around and nominating him for the Supreme Court.
I suppose this might be possibly be true, but the reasoning seems too clever by half.


author of the famous and somewhat controversial (especially in Japan) The Rape of Nanking is dead, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Steve Clemons has some thoughts on her life and work.


You've all probably heard it: the story that Europe, particularly "old Europe" is on the verge of being overrun by waves of fertile and fecund Muslim immigrants and their offspring. Given that birthrates in many European nations are now veering down toward (or under) the replacement rate, we have a vision of a future Europe being more Muslim than Euorpean (whatever either of those terms actually mean). Well, Alexander Engel throws some cold water on these breathless prognostications by looking at the numbers:
Two things to comment. First point: Demographic change is often less dramatic than it was implied in the discussion. There isn’t any ground in the assertion that within 20-50 years "perhaps Germany will become predominantly Muslim". Most German Muslims are Turkish, so let’s just for a moment pretend that the German society (pop. 82.4 mio) could be divided into "demographic Turks" (1.8 mio, that is) and "demographic Germans" (80.6 mio). Using the CIA factbook quoted by Iris Borowy, we can derive by the given death and birth rates that Germany shrinks at 0.20% a year, Turkey grows at 1.1. The German shrinkage is even a bit worse, as "Turkish fertility" goes into these -0.2%. Without the "demographic Turks" it is a 0.23% decline. If this goes on, then even in fifty years (which is a very long time for a statistical trend to continue!) there would be 72.0 mio "demographic Germans" vs. 3.2 mio "demographic Turks" in Germany. Turkish/Muslim predominace? Hardly. Now let's try the EU perspective: Take the 68.9 mio inhabitants of Turkey plus the 1.8 mio "German Turks" (i.e. 70.7 mio) to the 80.6 mio Germans today: In fifty years, it would be 120 mio Turks vs 72 mio Germans in Europe. A change in ratio from 80:70 to 72:120 is hardly insignificant, but Germans are not going to be demographically extinguished, far from it.
He adds:
The fear that European, or even Western culture is threatened by "Muslim fertility” is silly. In practical terms, the Westernisation (more specifically, Americanisation) of cultures around the globe is much more imminent than their "Muslimisation”. If you want clash-of-cultures rhetoric, then it is not the West who should fear.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


This time it is regarding an e-bay account I don't have:
Dear valued customer
We regret to inform you that your eBay account could be suspended if you don't re-update your account information. To resolve this problems please click here and re-enter your account information. If your problems could not be resolved your account will be suspended for a period of 3-4 days, after this period your account will be terminated.

For the User Agreement, Section 9, we may immediately issue a warning, temporarily suspend, indefinitely suspend or terminate your membership and refuse to provide our services to you if we believe that your actions may cause financial loss or legal liability for you, our users or us. We may also take these actions if we are unable to verify or authenticate any information you provide to us.

Due to the suspension of this account, please be advised you are prohibited from using eBay in any way. This includes the registering of a new account. Please note that this suspension does not relieve you of your agreed-upon obligation to pay any fees you may owe to eBay.

Regards,Safeharbor Department eBay, Inc
The eBay team.
This is an automatic message. Please do not reply.

A no-brainer that this is a hoax (see here for details, also here). This is actually a fairly sophisticated one.


The Marmot links to a translation of a Der Spiegel article in the New York Times which, in turn, appears to based largely on a soon-to-be-released book by British journalist Jasper Becker (an aside: I haven't read Becker's book on Mongolia, nor his book The Chinese. I have read, enjoyed and use excerpts in some of my classes his Hungry Ghosts).

So we're talking about a translation of a story based on excerpts. Usual caveats about grains of salt etc. Still, the piece contains some interesting anecdotes that provide a compelling counter-narrative to the usual one of the unquestioning loyalty of the North Korean people to the Kim regime. Some snippets:
Slogans against the dictator ("Down with Kim Jong Il") appeared on railroad cars, overpasses and factory walls. Flyers condemning the dynasty's unbelievable ostentation were even posted outside the Kumsusan Mausoleum in Pyongyang, where the elder Kim's embalmed body lies in state.
When the bodies of the eight functionaries, including two Central Committee members, fell into the dust, a woman in the crowd yelled: "They did not try to enrich themselves, but to help the workers. Shooting them is brutal." The courageous woman was one of the town's most respected citizens. As a nurse working in an elite hospital in Pyongyang, she had even taken care of the country's leaders. But that didn't protect her. Three soldiers grabbed the woman and shot her on the spot. The crowd, deeply fearful and horrified, quickly dispersed. A few hours later, however, the factory's employees stopped working. The peaceful protest was short-lived. The next morning, tanks broke through the factory gates and mowed down the demonstrators. According to eyewitness reports, hundreds lost their lives. Several days later, dozens of suspected agitators were shot, and countless so-called counter-revolutionaries and their families were taken away to labor camps.
An agricultural expert who fled the country began discovering the first signs of famine in 1987. But in a North Korea dominated by the cult of personality, no one dared inform old Kim Il Sung about the situation. By the time the "Great Leader" became aware of the problem, it was already too late. As Becker discovered, a serious disagreement between father and son must have occurred during this period. The patriarch was furious because his son had kept the economy crisis concealed from him for so long. Kim junior apparently opposed his father's plan to reform the economy based on the Chinese model, and to seek reconciliation with his South Korean compatriots. When Kim Il Sung died of heart failure in his villa on July 8, 1994, things may not have entirely above-board. Apparently, his son forbade doctors from entering his father's room for a long period of time. Two of the five helicopters that were to take the corpse and the dead man's entourage to Pyongyang crashed, killing the doctors and bodyguards on board. Other functionaries later disappeared without a trace.

All of this has the ring of the types of exciting but often unfounded rumors that are the staple of a commentariat reduced to resorting to P'yongyangology to comprehend a reclusive and secretive regime. Still, if these stories are accurate, it might cause some to reconsider what is the conventional wisdom among Korea-watching academics at least: the idea that North Korea isn't anywhere near the brink of collapse. I think I will have to go order the book to see what kind of sources Becker uses.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Dan Drezner has some conflicted thoughts after having viewed the trailer to Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith.
It's tempting, so tempting to plan on seeing the movie on the big screen. It reminds me of the last time I was excited about a sci-fi trailer -- oh, right, that was Episode I.

This is going to be vexing me until May.

Damn George Lucas and his beguiling trailers!! [Calm down! Trust your feelings! And rise--ed. Yes.... master.]

I actually have such low expectations for the film that I will probably be pleasantly surprised when I see it.


Met with someone who works for the Japanese Ministry of Finance today. It seems that I have somehow gotten on the "Americans in DC who will meet with foreign diplomats/bureaucrats/journalists and talk about Korea" list. It was an interesting and wide-ranging conversation. Two observations he made stood out:

1) He was very interested in what he saw as differences between East and West. One such difference, he observed, was the long-standing Eastern (Chinese-Korean-Japanese) tradition of what I would call the Confucian Dynastic Cycle. Within that framework (which emphasizes the virtue, morality and ability of kings and emperors as indices of dynastic prosperity and longevity), he emphasized what I describe to my students as the "expander/consolidator" position in the traditional dynastic cycle. This is a monarch who is usually not the son of the dynastic founder but rather the grandson. This Japanese technocrat made much of the fact that dynasties in China and Japan that had a smart, capable 3rd monarch generally lasted for a long time. "What," he wondered, "does this say about North Korea?" Well, if Leader #3 in the DPRK ends up being this guy, I don't know that this bodes well for the long-term viability of the Kim Dynasty. On the other hand, many said the same thing about Kim Jong Il.

2) He also observed that because of the lack of information about the DPRK, it is easier for everyone to discuss and speculate on the issue. When he makes the rounds to discuss an issue such as real estate markets or interest rates, the people he meets with have a vast knowledge and extensive information and thus, there is often little room for an open, free-flowing discussion. But when it comes to North Korea, we're all feeling around in the dark and, therefore, we all can be a bit more bold, a bit more sweeping in our questions and conclusions. Very interesting and very true.


Doing so may get you either disciplined or fired.
Dennis Lee Stalheim, a security guard at Portland's Greyhound Bus Terminal, chased down a man who robbed a ticket counter cashier Sunday and held the suspect until police arrived.

Stalheim thought he was doing what was expected of him. Portland police commended his courage.

But Stalheim's employer threatened to suspend or fire him because he left his post.

"They just said I messed up and I might lose my job over it," Stalheim said.
It seems that Stalheim violated company policy:
Stalheim said he has reread the company policy manual. It does require guards to remain on the site and call 9-1-1.
I can't say that knowing that this is the written policy of a security company makes me feel more secure. (hat tip to Let's Fly Under the Bridge for the link though I can't say that I understand the significance of the fact that Oregon voted for Kerry in this particular story).

Monday, November 08, 2004


Interesting and insightful commentary on Michael Moore's influence on the election and the asymmetry in calls for a "Sister Souljah moment" by Matt Welch. Among other things, he asks:
When, during the entire presidential campaign, was the incumbent president of the United States ever asked to come up with a Sister Souljah moment?
I find this to be a fair and significant question. Are only Democrats required to repudiate odious statements made by their supporters? Were there many calls for Bush to repudiate statements by Jerry Fallwell, Pat Roberston, or even Pat Buchanan (not to mention Michael Savage or Ann Coulter)? Welch goes on further to contrast the fact that most of the cases in which Kerry was criticised for not repudiating statements made by Michael Moore or Whoopi Goldberg were cases of non-elected celebrities making statements. On the other hand, there are many Republican elected officials who have made controvrsial statements with apparent impunity (read the whole post for examples). I don't know if I believe that an elected official has the obligation to single out and denounce anything and everything said by one of their supporters. But if we are going to demand this of some politicians, we probably should demand it of all of them.


This virulently anti-American (and profanity-ridden) video claims to be a North Korean product. I have my doubts. The original cartoons may have originated in the DPRK, but the style of the subsequent song, the issues raised in it (do North Koreans really care that much about the ROK being robbed of a Olympic gold medal?), and the issues not raised in it (no talk of the Great Leader, Dear Leader, juche, songun, etc.) all lead me to the conclusion that this is actually either a South Korean or a Japanse-Korean production. The fact that some can't tell the difference may be telling and interesting in its own right (thanks to INDC journal for the link).


Some interesting and thorough analysis of exit polls (?!) by Kevin Drum. Worth reading the whole thing, but here are his conclusions:
Based on this, my tentative conclusion is that the "moral values" vote is a red herring. It played no bigger a role this year than in 2000.

Terrorism played a bigger role, mostly by being a more important issue to a lot more people. Bush's level of support among people who based their vote primarily on world affairs increased only modestly.

And that good old mainstay the economy was the most important of all. Compared to 2000, fewer people personally think they're doing better but more people believe the economy is in good shape anyway. And Bush was overwhelmingly successful in convincing those people that his policies deserved the credit.
"It's the economy stupid." Who would have thought ...?

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