Thursday, March 31, 2005


The Tokyo Metropolitan board of education punished 52 public school teachers Thursday for refusing to stand up and sing the "Kimigayo" national anthem at March graduation ceremonies.

The penalties ranged from warnings to pay cuts -- depending on how many times the teachers disobeyed orders from school principals to rise and sing the anthem.

A law enacted in 1999 recognizes "Kimigayo," or "His Majesty's Reign," as the national anthem and the Hinomaru as the national flag. But their status remains a sensitive issue due to their links to Japan's militarist past.

Yurio Aosaki, a teacher of Osaki High School who twice refused to stand at commencements and will have his salary cut by 10 percent for a month, said the right of an individual to refuse should be respected in line with the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of thought and conscience.

Aosaki said he does not like the anthem because of its link to the nation's past militarism and colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. "I cannot bear being compelled to sing the song," he said.

An increasing number of local governments are pressuring teachers to sing the anthem.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Nice, aren't they?

Hard to believe, though, that Japan and South Korea have been at each other's throats over this useless chunk of rocks for weeks now.

I've tried to collect some pictures of South Korean protests. These are primarily in response to a Japanese prefecture passing a resolution that asserted Japanese dominance over the islands last month.

An anti-Japan demonstration in Korea.

A woman cuts off her finger in protest.

Apparently, one way to manifest your anger is to protest in the nude.

Tearing apart a Japanese flag.

I have no idea what this wanker was thinking.

Boxes with the Japanese flag crossed out.

Burning the Japanese flag.

An array of businessmen.

A man sets himself on fire in front of the Japanese embassy.

Shaving their heads in protest.

Burning the Japanese flag, again.

Someone tries to stop a protestor from stabbing himself with a knife.

Arguably the most ridiculous idea ever: to assert South Korean claims over the islands by building a huge monument on top one of them.

Friday, March 18, 2005


His last op-ed is worth reading.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Sometimes I find the incompetence of the Bush administration simply beyond belief.

I'm talking about the recent fuck-you America sent to the world: the nominations of Josh Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz to the positions of UN ambassador and World Bank president, respectively. Both posts are diplomatic in nature, and both people are elicit visceral dislike almost everywhere outside of America.

The benefit of nominating Wolfowitz and Bolton (as opposed to other candidates) is close to zero, whereas the costs are positive: giving our allies the finger in this way will make it more difficult to obtain their cooperation in the future. It really is not a difficult cost-benefit analysis to carry out, but it seems to have eluded this administration.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

From a comment I tried to post on NKzone,

"Do you really believe that it's in the US's power to avert a conflict with the DPRK no matter what the circumstances?"


Its in the interests of the US to postpone North Korean developement of nuclear weapons (and missiles with the capacity to carry them) as much as possible. Any sort of deal that places restrictions on DPRK weapons programs, and consequently slows them down - though of course they will keep cheating and continue to develop them - work to the advantage of the U.S. Meanwhile, the U.S. will continue to develop missile shield technology that stems the threat posed by DPRK. Since this technology won't be available for a while, its very important to strike some kind of deal with North Korea now.

Ultimately, the United States simply does not have the cards to engage in conflict with North Korea. Given anti-American sentiment in South Korea, and DPRK having nuclear weapons - not to mention the conflict in Iraq - an armed invasion is impossible.
The response?
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Blogger software seems to have gotten markedly more militaristic.

I've just got around reading Thomas Friedman's column from a few weeks back on the EU military policy. The man is a massive embarassment to the Times:

...what really concerns me is Europe. Europe’s armies were designed for static defence against the Soviet Union. But the primary security challenges to Europe today come from the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. If you put all the EU armies together, they total around 2 million soldiers in uniform—almost the same size as the US armed forces. But there is one huge difference—only about 5 per cent of the European troops have the training, weaponry, logistical and intelligence support and airlift capability to fight a modern, hot war outside of Europe.(In the United States it is 70 per cent in crucial units.)

The rest of the European troops—some of whom are unionised!—do not have the training or tools to fight alongside America in a hot war. They might be good for peacekeeping, but not for winning a war against a conventional foe. God save the Europeans if they ever felt the need to confront a nuclear-armed Iran.
Those damn Europeans. Imagine that: they have not bothered to equip their army for invading the middle east. Think it might have to do something with, you know, not wanting to invade the middle east?

Friedman writes "the primary security challenges to Europe today come from the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa." This sort of doublespeak is at the heart of the problems with American foreign policy today. "Security challenges?" What the hell does this beaurocratic-speak mean? Can you name a country in the middle east, central asia, or africa that plausibly wants to invade Europe? Obviously not. Is he talking about terrorism? Europeans are largely concerned with homegrown Muslim extremists who exist in tightly segregated Muslim communities on the continent - foreign terrorists are considerably rarer. So "security challenge" seems to mean something along the lines of "country I don't like."

Finally, did Friedman get the memo on what nuclear weapons are? Friedman writes, "God save the Europeans if they ever felt the need to confront a nuclear-armed Iran." Friedman seems unable to understand the implications of war between two states that have nuclear weapons.

In 1945, Bernard Brodie, a brilliant war strategist then on the faculty at Yale University, picked up a paper at the local grocery store and read about the Hiroshima blast. Brodie, a naval war strategist and historian, is said to have read the first two paragraphs and remarked "Everything I've written is now obsolete." This insight, made by Brodie 50 years ago, seems to elude Friedman. Namely, in a war between two nuclearly powered states, the balance of conventional forces is irrelevant. When both countries have the capability to destroy each other at the push of a button, it matters little whether each one of two or three million troops.

Similarly, fighting a protracted conventional war with an Iran that possessed a nuclear arsenal, and was willing to use it, would be impossible. For one thing, no country in the region would let the U.S use its bases for operation - a threat by Iran to annihilate most of that country's population would outweigh any possible benefits from cooperation with the U.S. Note that deferential way in which the U.S. has treated North Korea which possesses a small number of nuclear weapons - supplying aid despite repeated provocations - and contrast that to the treatment of Saddam's Iraq.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Few things are as politically revealing as the recent bankruptcy bill. Supported primarily by credit card companies, and pushed through the Congress mainly by Republicans, the bill would make it more difficult for poor and middle class families to file for bankrupcy: more paperwork, new complicated rules, more work for lawyers, unwavable deadlines, and increased minimum payments to creditors. By contrast, the law pointedly refuses to close two holes in the systems typically used by the affluent: offshore trusts and the homestead exception.

Details: if you are rich, about to file for bankruptcy, and wish to shield assets from your creditors, here are two well-publicized ways to do it. A small number of states will allow you to set up a trust incorporated overseas - a trust that will be shielded from U.S. courts. Utah is one such state - and you don't need to be a resident to set up the trust. Some states - like Florida - also will shield your home from creditors. Purchasing a home in Florida, filing for bankruptcy, and selling the home afterwards lets you keep your money. It goes without saying that one must be rich to be able to take advantage of these opportunities.

That this bill cracks down on the poor, while doing nothing to harm the rich, is no accident. Democrats offered two amendments (Schumer Amendment No. 42, Feingold Amendment No. 17) addressing the above problems. Republicans voted them down.

The immense hypocrisy of this should be obvious to anyone. Let us also note that while the most visible bankrupcies lately have been by corporations - Enron, Worldcom - and airlines, who go in and out of bankruptcy court almost as a normal business operation - Republicans primarily feel that the only bankruptcy laws deserving of reform involve individuals - and poor and middle class ones at that.

Finally, let's note regardless of the hypocrisy, the arguments for reform are, in any case, weak. The statistics have been endlessly cycled around in this debate: half of all bankruptcies result from medical bills; 90% are immediately preceeded by either ilness, job loss, or divorce. Statistically, the amount of abuse is pretty minimal.

But bad arguments or not, the bill is set to pass, buoyed by a Republican majority willing to do the bidding of the corporations that fund it, and two or three Democrats from states with heavy credit card industries willing to vote the interests of their state. Disgusting.

Stuff to read on this issue:

This Kos entry is a good introduction. Harvard prof Elizabeth Warren and her students have a blog devoted to the bill here - read and scroll up. See here for one survey on the causes of bankruptcy. Paul Krugman always does a good job of explaining economics in an emotionally engaged manner. Scott Lemieux has a good post on the details here.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Over the past four years, the Bush administration has advanced the following claims:

i. It can arrest an American citizen, on American soil, claim there exists evidence showing this man is a terrorist, and keep him in jail indefinitely without trial, without showing this evidence to anyone.

ii. It can fly him overseas and ask friendly governments to torture him, again without showing a shred of evidence to anyone.

iii. The power of the president to do the above can not be taken away by any of the other branches of government. The man who passed this recommendation along to the President is now Attorney General.

Almost surreal.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Short links:

i. Bobby Fischer (who is held up in a Japanese jail pending extradition hearings) has made an intriguing public relations move: he let it be known that he is starting to hate Japan. Whether this will work, and whether Japan will allow him to leave for Iceland, which has offered him save haven, rather than deporting him to America, remains to be seen. It is, though, an intriguing reminder of cultural differences: obviously, this strategy would be a miserable failure in America.

ii. Intriguing story.

iii. This is just sad.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Uganda and HIV prevention: A couple of years ago an interesting article published in The New Republic argued for the promotion of abstinence in Africa to fight AIDS. The logic behind stressing abstinence and fidelity, rather than condom use, was that a campaign largely based on these themes in Uganda seems to have been largely sucessful in bringing down HIV rates. Christian conservatives quickly caught on, hosting Ugandan politicians and conferences; the Ugandan president was invited to the White House; but world health organizations and NGO's remain (unjustifiably?) skeptical.

At the time I thought the piece was intriguing, but a bit oversold. Uganda ran its campaign under the slogan "ABC," meaning "Abstain, Be Faithful, or wear a Condom." Its unclear that we can simply rule out condoms and credit A and B for success. Anyway, since controlled experiments have in the past shown that efforts to advocate faithfulness/abstinence tend to be unsuccessful, the success of such a campaign in Uganda would be surprising.

Now we have the solution to the puzzle. A study that followed 10,000 people over 10 years in Uganda reveals that in fact abstinence and faithfulness have decreased over the period of the ABC campaign; by contrast, condom use has increased. This result jibes much better with previous studies of these techniques in fighting HIV.

There are still puzzles here to be sorted out. One reason why HIV rates are so high in Africa is lower condom usage. Why did men in Uganda use condoms at such high rates, relative to their neighbours? Was it the ABC campaign? If so, why did similar campaigns elsewhere - that places more stress on condoms - fail?