Friday, June 5, 2015

Stories from My Mom: Why Can't Anyone be an Empress?

Now that my Mom, Sook Cha Lee Kennel, has moved to Beavercreek we are spending more time with her and listening to her stories (only like a million times).  My mother was born in Seoul Korea during the period of Japanese Occupation.

The family moved from Korea to Japan in 1933, just before the birth of Crown Prince Akihito.  She remembers that event strongly, because the whole country celebrated for days.  Even the streetcars were covered in beautiful flowers.  My mother was too young to understand much about politics and the intricacies of being a Korean in Japan, but understood that something wonderful had happened, and that a royal baby had been born.  

Found this picture of a Tokyo streetcar from 1934.  I found it interesting to see the mixture of eastern and western styles, plus signs in Japanese (Chinese Kanji plus Hirigana),  quasi-foreign Katakana spelled right to left,  and even English (Romaji).  

     One of my mother's early memories is being asked by her father what she wanted to be when she grew up.  "I want to be the Empress of Japan!" she replied.

       "Silly girl!  You can not be the empress!"  her father said.  

       "Why not?"

    Her father tried to explain that an empress must first be a princess, and a princess must be born in a royal family, and above all the princess must be Japanese.  Korean girls simply can not be princesses, but this made no sense to a stubborn little girl.  Why, anybody should be able to be a princess, she figured!   My mother always had the idea that people should be allowed to do great things, and that the human spirit can overcome just about anything. In that sense, she was really an American, though I suppose the concept of royalty does not fit well with our way of thinking.  

    Well old dreams die hard.  Let us now flash forward 80 years to the future, when her little granddaughter got her ears pierced.  And actually this story is only funny if you believe that I knew, absolutely knew, what her reaction would be.

    Me:  "Well your grandaughter got her ears pierced last week."

    Mom: "Oh..."  (voice trailing)

    Me:  (frowning because I know what's coming next)
    Mom:  "You know, in Japan.."

    Me:  "Stop it, mother."

    Mom:  " can not marry a member of the Japanese royal family if one's ears are pierced."

    Me:  (eyes rolling to the ceiling)  "How nice that we live in America!"

    Mom:  "Of course I will always support the decisions made by my granddaughter..."

    Me:  "Mom!  Japan lost World War II!  Who cares what the Japanese Royal Family likes?!" 

    This may seem like a totally off the wall conversation, but I think it will make Japanese Americans from my generation laugh.  Many folks from my Mother's generation feel compelled to follow the example of the Royal Family in all things, whereas people from my generation are completely unconcerned about these traditions and have no desire to emulate Japanese Royalty at all.  But in my Mom's day, the Royal Family were considered to be almost like Gods. 

     The last laugh, however, comes from my daughter who recently showed Grandma a picture she had found of a Japanese princess....with pierced ears.

My Mom, Sook Cha Lee, upon graduation from Ewha Womans University, Seoul Korea 1948. My Mom also graduated from Teacher's College in Tokyo, and would later graduate from Baldwin Wallace College in Berea Ohio, and Western Reserve University in Cleveland.  But definitely not an empress.  

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders Oppose Continuing the War in the Middle East

    In US politics, one of the few things that Republicans and Democrats are firmly united in, is the desirability of continued war in the Middle East.   President George W. Bush initiated the combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, which continued unabated by President Barack Obama.  Republicans of course are visibly upset at Obama's policies, but the alternatives they propose are basically more troops and perhaps shifting the commitment of troops from one zone to the next, but both parties support a Department of Defense Budget of some $500 billion dollars or more, much of which goes to protect our trillion dollar investment in the Middle East.  

    President Bush initiated the concept of "Regime Change" in Iraq, which basically states that the US has the right to overthrow foreign governments in order to improve them as a public service for the inhabitants.     Thus the condition for victory is a stable, happy Iraqi populace with an internationally accepted government.  This has so far not been achieved, necessitating further military commitments. 

  The Obama Administration, while critical of its predecessor, is nevertheless fully committed to maintaining and expanding the US military presence in Afghanistan, Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations who might be helped by the Regime Change policy.  
    Currently, there are some dozen serious candidates for the Republican nomination, and most are in the mode of trying to be more hawkish than the others.   All agree that Obama was too soft on Middle Eastern extremists, and what is needed is a fresh jolt of funding and military action.   According to the Washington Post, the total cost of military actions in the Middle East can be broadly estimated at four to six trillion dollars.   

Probably the best known antiwar candidate is currently Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who believes that nation building is outside the Constitutional purview of the United States.  He is probably right.   However, most of America holds a very negative opinion of Senator Paul because of his ultrastrict views about the role of the government in America.   

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is also staunchly anti-war and opposes gargantuan spending on military defense expenditures.  He is likewise held in low regard by most Americans, most of whom enjoy the affable manner and pro-war views of Secretary Clinton.  

    Are there only two candidates in US Presidential politics who oppose more wars in the Middle East?  Sadly, this appears to be the case, although additional candidates may be added to the field and they will have a chance to weigh in on this issue.

    Currently, the mainstream policy on war in the Middle East is difficult to follow.  It's rather clear that the US is anti-Syria (President Assad), but also against the anti-Syrian movement led by ISIS.  So, when we step up our military forces, who are we supporting?  The anti-Syrian/anti-anti-Syrians of course.  I don't know a single group or individual by name that belongs in this group, sadly.  I doubt that you do either, dear reader.  

    Who are our friends?  Who are we trying to help?  What are our objectives?  How will we know when we win?    Those who ask such questions (that is, people like me) are currently regarded as fringe extremists and kooks without common sense, and maybe some of us are.  But common sense says that we are not winning friends in the Middle East.  Increased perpetual warfare may be comforting to the world psyche, but it is not promoting increased security and stability.   

    My prediction is that the American people may be slow to learn, but eventually we figure things out.   These wars are wasteful and costly, and I don't care to lose my children to them.   We need to give serious thought to candidates with the guts to debate this out in the open and to seriously advocate putting an end to the these wars.  Those who advocate escalation and increased war spending will eventually be thrown out of power in both sides of the aisle.   By 2016 this will be one of the most hotly debated issues in Presidential politics, and the candidate who is antiwar will probably WIN THE ELECTION.   

     It's common sense. 

Americans believe that dropping more bombs and spending more trillions will bring stability to the region and eventually engender pro-American sentiment.  Hence they have thus far avoided anti-war candidates like the plague.   Americans thus far have lacked common sense. 


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Avengers Disassemble!

     I regard Marvel Comics and Stan Lee as one of the greatest multimedia giants of this century as well as the last.   Incredible to think he has been creating comic characters professionally since 1941 and he is still at it.   So of course you must see the latest masterpiece in the Marvel Universe, Avengers Age of Ultron.  Or is it Iltron?  Oltron?   No matter.

    Marvel is great because they are willing to still do original things and take chances, unlike the sorry franchises from movies like Batman (Bruce Wayne's parents killed at least 10 times) and Star Trek (re-running characters from the 1960s with ho-hum plot twists and echoed dialogue).  The natural tendency with big budget movies is to copy methods that have worked well in the past and not tinker with a successful formula---precisely the opposite of the requirements for creativity.  So if Marvel tries a few things that bomb, I'm not that upset.  I am more concerned if they become boring and predictable.  

    I don't want to give away any plot spoilers, but let's just say that Avengers pick very odd times for romance, drinking parties as well as vacation time.  Hey, the world is being destroyed, Avengers! What will you do about it?   I dunno, let's spend some time in the country thinking about life and reflecting about country values.  Our maybe let's have a little us if anything happens, ok?  

    Thor turns out to be a party animal, and wins a lot of money on the "pick up the magical hammer" game as shown in the movie trailers.   There is a lot of funny dialogue.  Natasha Romanova and Tony Starks are witty as well, although Tony is sometimes nerdy.   

     Marvel has done a great job of creating original bad guys. Until now.  Iltron, I mean Ultron, is a really lame villain.  It seems that someone left an alien floppy disk with a copy of Windows for Aliens Operating System on it, and that led to the creation of a really crabby android named Ultron.   It takes him only a few minutes to turn really bad, get superhuman powers (though we're not sure what they are) and decide to destroy the earth.  I had the same experience with Windows 8, so this part of the plot seems realistic although a bit lame.  

 This is everything you need to know about the character of Oltron, I mean Ultron.   Same-o, same-o, same-o.   He's just a crabby alien intelligence who wants to blow up the earth.  

We also don't know much about his plan to blow up the earth but it involves anti gravity and dropping large rocks on the earth.  Not sure why that results in the destruction of the earth, maybe a tsunami or something, but ok I am willing to be terrified that Eltron, I mean Ultron, will do something bad.  

     Another android, known as the Vision, was created under conditions that I at least found confusing. As far as I can tell, though,  Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Thor seemed to have collaborated on an update to the Windows for Aliens Operating System, and then some red android showed up.   But no one in my family could remember who he was, what his powers were or what happened to him at the end of the movie.  I will have to see it again to keep track of the guy and figure out why (or if) he was important to the movie.  Just because the plot is more complicated, does not mean it is better.  

Who is this guy?  What is his name?  How did he get here?  What happens to him at the end of the movie?  Nobody in my family could remember much about him, though we kind of think he was some sort of key character.

We also are introduced to new characters Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver.  Are they good or are they bad?   Does anyone care?  Answer: no.

The Scarlet Witch was really sexy in the comic books, but toned down for the movie.   Is she going to fight?   And on whose side?   Again, we are not sure why we should care.  Her powers were never well defined, though she could zap people or else make them have delusions.   That was cool for a while, but she got a headache and had to stop.  "Not tonight, I have a headache!"  

Stan Lee is old enough to remember Errol Flynn, the original Superhero in Robin Hood (1939).   They've been trying to find another Errol Flynn for 76 years, but neither Hawkeye or his DC cousin Green Arrow have been able to live up to Robin Hood's legacy.  Face it, Hawkeye is boring and doesn't make any sense in a world that uses AK-47s.   

      The Hulk is probably the most compelling character, though his rampages are so out of control that there must certainly be an unacceptable level of civilian casualties.   Still, if they enforce the no-killing rule then the movie wouldn't work, so I guess we just have to suspend our disbelief.

     Something needs to be done about minor armies. Last movie they had hordes of naughty elves, and this time it is naughty robots. Suffice it to say that each Avenger can just wade into them and pretty much clean their clocks, and the naughty robots get weaker and more easily defeated later in the movie.   In short they are boring.   

Hint:  Don't use karate chops, just send in the Hulk to clarify all this mess.  

   In summary, the Age Of Ultrun, er, Ultron, is a fun spectacle with great special effects, well worth watching.  The writing has definitely taken a step backwards over the first Avengers movie, however.  I hope they won't get too conservative, but will improve the writing for the next movie.  


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Is Apple Losing Its Way?

  Frankly, I am mind-boggled at the news that Apple Computer is buying some 800 million dollars worth of solar energy.  Apple cites the need to reduce consumption of fossil fuels in the name of planetary ecology.  And they are right that large companies need to lead the industry in creating environmental policies, rather than being behind the curve and having to retrofit later on.  

    On the other hand if I were a shareholder of Apple (I'm not) I would be aghast that they have some 800 million dollars to invest in something other than a consumer electronic gadget. 

     Will solar power actually save money?   I doubt it.  Photovoltaics are still expensive.  The numbers I see are still around $0.30 per kwH, and higher if you want to use batteries for power at night or on cloudy days.   Natural gas plants are more in the range of $0.05 per kilowatt hour.  So I can't understand why Apple thinks its a good idea to pay like six times the amount that everyone else pays for electricity. Is their real goal to invest in real estate that supports all these photovoltaic panels?  Maybe if they are getting some help from the government to buy land for this photovoltaic enterprise, that might be the real money maker.  

     The use of more expensive energy is a classic case for government involvement, if that is what the people really want.  I always thought it would be very hard for industry to voluntarily select a more expensive energy source (environmentally conservative, financially wasteful).  Hence this apparent decision by Apple is amazing and riveting. Now it is not just a consumer electronics company, it seeks to make money by consumer electronics as well as energy trend setting by promoting photovoltaic energy.  

    It doesn't stop with photovoltaics.  Apple also seeks to start building automobiles, as early as 2020.  Apple has great expertise in batteries for consumer electronics. Does that mean that they are also experts in automotive batteries?   And what about the rest of the car?   This is an amazing leap from cell phones and computers to cars and photovoltaic power systems.  

Apple figures that it is so smart it can challenge Tesla for leadership in electric car production.  But I think their money has finally exceeded their good sense.  

     Perhaps Apple will continue to be darlings on Wall Street and lead the United States and the world into a new way of life, with environmental responsibility and electric cars.  Or perhaps they are creating billion dollar financial messes.  I fear that it may be closer to the latter.  


Friday, August 22, 2014

Is Global Warming Energy Stored in the Deep Ocean?

This is starting to sound like science. For a long time, climate conservatives and climate liberals had great difficulty talking to each other. The fundamental problem is that there is a very good model to describe global climate, but the data does not all agree with the model.

But I continue to believe that the scientific method will eventually prevail.

Global warming is real, and the earth really did warm up a lot from about 1976 to 2002, and also from 1908 to 1945. But there was a hiatus from 1946 to 1976 and from 2002 till the present, during which time the earth's average temperature (as estimated by the National Climatic Data Center) did not increase. 

I was heartened to see articles such as a recent study by 
Xianyao Chen  of the University of Washington, and  Ka-Kit Tung of the Laboratory of Physical Oceanography, Ocean University of China, Qingdao, China publishing in Science (vol 22 August 2014: Vol. 345 no. 6199 pp. 897-903).  Their research suggest that changes in the earth's circulating oceans allow global warming to slow down temporarily, or to speed up temporarily.  This could cause the global average surface temperature to change by a few tenths of a degree, perhaps.   This might explain why global warming has taken an apparent hiatus after a rapid rise in the late 20th Century.   

I don't know whether it is right or not, but I do take it as a positive that they are trying to model the actual data, including the thirty year hiatus of the early to mid 20th century and our current hiatus of a dozen years or so.  Maybe they are on the right track. We shall see.

To sum up, some amount of global warming has to occur because the absorption of infrared energy increases in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide increases.  But the pause in global warming of the past twelve years is real, and so is the 30 year pause from about 1945 to 1975.  These features should be obvious, but historically conservatives fail to observe warming trends and liberals have failed to note the pauses in global temperature rise.   The oceans may act to produce temporary (but real) warming and cooling signals, which may confuse the climatologists.   Most importantly, the Scientific Method cares not a whit about politics and the answers will ultimately be made clear.      

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy is great!

(disclaimer:  I try not to give away any major plot twists or punch lines in this review, and instead concentrate on the characters, actors and viewability).
   Peter Quill (Chris Pratt),  Drax the Destroyer (Dave Batista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel) are the Guardians of the Galaxy. 

    I love this movie, even though I have never read one of the comic books.  The great thing about Marvel movies is that you never know what is going to happen next.  And you also will meet totally unique characters.  Marvel seems to always be striving to be original, rather than relying on recycled superheroes and bad guys from previous movies.    The movie works because the cast did a great job of pulling this off and making their characters both interesting and believable. 

     First of all, there are no good guys in the movie. None whatsoever, only different levels of bad.  The Guardians are an unruly, uncivilized group of talented misfits who would rather steal a bunch of money, but who instead find themselves forced to save the Galaxy.  Peter Quill is a con man and hi-tech thief.  Drax the Destroyer is a killing machine seeking to avenge the death of his family at the hands of Ronan the Accuser.  

My kids liked Rocket Raccoon, a smart-talking genius who inhabits the body of a raccoon.  He is furry and cuddly and will blow you away at the slightest provocation.  

Gamora is a true babe, even if she is green.  The character didn't make great sense, but I didn't mind.  

Groot is a tree creature who doesn't talk much, but has amazing tree powers.   He seemed to become (surprisingly) more interesting as the movie progressed.   

Ronan (Lee Pace) definitely suffers from "Shakespearian Overacting Disease").  

Ronan is definitely a bad guy and has awesome super powers.  He better, because he is also super dumb. Consider this question from Bad Guy 101:

Bad Guy 101 Test Question:

When you have the opportunity to steal the most powerful weapon in the universe, you:

     a.  Send your entire army to go get it.

    b.  Send yourself to get it with your awesome superpowers. 

     c.  Send one person to steal it.
Well, our boy Ronan picks option c, of course.  That's rather dumb right there, but okay. So, who do you suppose Ronan sends?  

     a.  Send a super powered bad guy.

     b.  Send somebody whose loyalty is unquestioned because you are holding their parents hostage or something.

      c.  Send your cutest employee.

    Yup, old Ronan isn't very bright, and once again he goes for option c.  Oh well.  That was the option that made the director happy, I guess.  Despite those mental lapses and a tendency to overact, Ronan is a formidable bad guy.   

     On the other hand, we can't be certain that the good guys are truly all on the same side, and indeed they all have their own agendas and tend to work at cross purposes.  That indeed makes them interesting.

      Definitely this movie is worth seeing, though not necessarily as good as the Avengers movie which came out earlier this year.  My kids  (age 12 and 9) seemed to like it, although some of the violent scenes were a bit much, especially for the younger one. If they liked Avengers and X-Men they will be okay with this one, I believe.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Loki Versus the Hulk Rematch for a Future Thor Movie

   My colleague Loren and I should definitely be plot consultants for superhero movies.  At lunch we broke down the Thor movies, and came up with our version for the plot for the next one. 

In our opinion, Loki needs to have a better motivation than sibling rivalry and a desire to take over the world.  Ho hum.

   The basic problem with Thor movies is that despite having a brilliant cast with excellent special effects and great directing, we don't really identify with Thor's home of Asgard, which is kind of a drinking establishment for super-powered aliens.  Why is it a cause for worry if Loki takes over the place or leaves it for old geezer Odin?  The traditional cliché bad guy motive of wanting to take over the world (either Earth or Asgard) doesn't seem to fit Loki.
      Here's what Loren and I came up with for the next Thor movie:

       Loki was badly humiliated after having been beat up by the human Bruce Banner, aka the Incredible Hulk.  The whole thing was witnessed and recorded by Heimdall, keeper of the Rainbow Bridge, so other Gods laugh their asses off when they see it on Asgard youtube. 

     He resolves that this will never happen again, and decides that he must find a way to infuse himself with the same gamma ray energy that transformed Bruce Banner into the Hulk. 

     Loki also despises Thor for being too obedient and too boring.  Chaos, he reasons, is the only hope for the Asgardians to save themselves from stagnation and eventual oblivion. This is another reason why he needs the Hulk.  Loki worships chaos, and believes that life is not worth living unless there is a certain amount of chaos present. The orderly path selected by Odin and his straight arrow son Thor leads to stagnation and spiritual emptiness and ultimately death. Yet Loki realizes that the Hulk seems to love chaos almost as much as Loki.  

    Thus Loki decides that, having been rejected by the Asgardians,  he will create a new race of DemiHulks on Earth.  He will use his godlike intelligence with the help of earth scientists to create a hybrid Asgardian and human race, and to reproduce and refine the gamma rays that changed the Hulk (talk about GMOs!).   He chooses earth subjects and modifies their DNA with Asgardian gene sequences.  For his friends, he wants other chaos worshippers:   Mixed Martial Arts fighters, athletes, drug addicts,  Hollywood sex symbols, musicians....anyone who has thoroughly indulged the sensual chaotic side of life.  Loki realizes that the genetically modified race he is creating might eventually exceed his own power, but he doesn't care.  Better to create a world in which chaos is present to drive change rather than be the ruler of a sterile and deadly boring universe. 

Can the Green Hulkster Gamma Energy change Loki and make him more powerful than Thor and the Hulk combined? 

     Soon Loki creates a gang and as a test kills some Asgardians he doesn't like and forces the rest to retreat from Asgard.  Others, including Thor's ex-girlfriend Sif (jilted in favor of wimpy human Jane Foster for reasons that never made sense), decide to join Loki.  Moreover, Sif wishes to kill Jane Foster as one side agenda. Now it is time to track down the Hulk.
   But while all this is going on, Thor and Jane Foster find out that something is up.  They try to join forces with the Hulk, who is very very angry.  So angry he goes in for a second dose of gamma radiation.  Thor and Jane are not convinced this is a great idea, but...

   You want a piece of HULK?  HULK SMASH!!

As for Jane Foster, the scientist also prepares a surprise for Loki and Sif. 

What kind of surprise?  Maybe something like this. 

   Now everyone is ready to do battle. Serious thunder, serious smashing.  Casualties on both sides. Intrigue as  Loki fools Thor by appearing to be Jane Foster, and then fools him again into thinking that the real Jane is Loki.  Thor might thus unknowingly injure or even kill Jane.  Oh dear, that is real mischief.  The angry Thor might find himself actually embracing chaos through his anger!

      Put it this way, Loki is in for more than a half minute pounding this time.  But who wins ultimately?   Stay tuned for Thor 4.