Sunday, November 15, 2015

Who Will We Support in Syria?

        My main hope in the Paris crisis is that we do not wind up with Democrats supporting one group of Middle Eastern extremists, while the Republicans support a different group of Middle Eastern extremists. 

     In the wake of bombings in Paris, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that we must oppose ISIS.  There is virtually 100% agreement on that point.  No doubt the American Congress will be eager to send more weapons and possibly troops to the area.      
     But it's easy to oppose groups in the Middle East.  A tougher question, is who will we support there?  In order to effectively oppose ISIS, there must be some local Syria-based group that we will support.  Who will get these weapons we will presumably continue to send?  
      In the Village Ellliot's opinion, much harm was done by the Chief Executive proclaiming "Assad must go!"  I think it was an enormous miscalculation based on the Administration's misplaced desire to appear to be at the forefront of the Arab Spring movement (which totally fizzled once we attempted to insert ourselves in it, by the way).  Moreover, by these three words Obama unequivocally threw his support behind the Regime Change doctrine, which basically says the US is entitled to overthrow foreign governments if we believe that they are bad.  

      There are two major Middle Eastern powers involved in Syria:  the Assad government and ISIS.   Russia has backed the Syrian government, which is the only sensible way to oppose ISIS. However, the US wants to posture itself as anti-Russia and anti-Assad and, more recently,anti-ISIS.   We wish to pretend that there is this sensible pro-American progressively-minded third party in Syria, but it does not exist.  

     Recall Middle East Rule Number 1;  all warring groups in the region hate the US and Israel.   There are no US allies in the region. 

     Rule Number 2 is that a charismatic American leader can not overturn Rule Number 1.  

     In fact, it may not be too much of a stretch to say that the US probably saved Assad by demanding his ouster, because 100% of the peoples in the region hate the US more than they might have hated Assad.

     This does not mean that we can not deal diplomatically with countries that hate us.  "Speak softly and carry a big stick," was the way President Theodore Roosevelt explained it.

     Anything we do in Syria is short term.  If ISIS is the number one threat, we can weaken them by attacking their military presence and set them back.   But the purpose of the US military is to destroy military threats.  It does not create stable friendships, does not create progressive attitudes, does not overcome oppression, does not help suppressed minorities.  Understand?  It destroys the opponent's military, and it does that job very well. But that's all it does.  Don't show me any pictures of GI's handing out candy to grateful foreign tots.   That's simply public relations for the US.     

     It seems to me that if the US, Russia and France wanted to help Assad destroy ISIS we could certainly do so.  The outcome is less certain if the US wishes to also oppose Assad at the same time, while hoping for a pro-American faction to emerge (it won't). Meanwhile we may wind up confronting Russia for supporting Assad.  I'm not sure what France will want to do, but I would bet that they will not endorse the weird US non-plan of being anti-everyone.  
     My guess is that France may want to hit back at ISIS.  I doubt whether they are going to care about the fizzled, dysfunctional dream of American leadership of Arab Spring.   If the US had any sense, we would back off this insane concept and stop calling for the overthrow of the Assad government, especially while they are fighting ISIS.  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

MSNBC Commentators Play Disgracefully Poor Host to Republican Debate.

       “How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?”  Heck, no, that doesn't sell.
  I can not emphasize how pathetic MSNBC commentors were in hosting the supposed Republican Debate yesterday. This is not just complaining by the Republican National Committee.   Instead of finding out the candidates' positions on issues, they commentators sought ratings points with deliberately dumbed down and nearly meaningless  questions. 
         American voters, I believe, wanted to hear questions about the economy, the unwillingness to tax the rich, the war in Syria, balancing the budget, alterative medical care.   But no!
     The debate started by asking candidates simply "what's your greatest weakness?"  

    John Harwood didn't ask questions, so much as editorialize to Donald Trump:   "Mr. Trump, you've done very well in this campaign so far by promising to build a wall and make another country pay for it.  Send 11 million people out of the country. Cut taxes $10 trillion without increasing the deficit. And make Americans better off because your greatness would replace the stupidity and incompetence of others. Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?"

     Perhaps this is a comic book version of a debate.  Each Presidential cycle, it seems, brings more ridiculousness and humiliation to televised debates, especially as the networks are seeking advertising revenue rather than a quality debate.

       This is far different from the debates from 1960, in which Kennedy and Nixon debated their differences in political philosophy openly and honestly in response to questions, in a format roughly consistent with that used by scholarly debating societies.   There wasn't really much concern about advertising revenues, although the major networks were interested in televising the debates.  

Kennedy and Nixon debated in 1960 in a manner that was more Presidential and informative to voters, rather than the wild format that the media now uses to generate sound bites and "gotchas."  This business of cross-examining each candidate with rapid fire accusations is ridiculous.  

The debate transcript is found here: Debate Transcript, Washington Post .  Amazingly, "Syria" is not mentioned a single time.   "Global warming" was mentioned once.   It was a pathetic performance, and more than one candidate complained about the poor quality of the questions.

They're right.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Would Gun Control Make our Schools Safer?

Would gun control provide additional protection against armed madmen?   Like most Americans, I'm in the middle on this issue, willing to consider it if it makes sense.  So I'm writing this blog mainly to set down in writing my own priorities and thoughts and what I struggle with.  It's not that I have any brilliant solutions or insights but as voters we all have a responsiblity to think about these serious issues, particularly in light of recent mass shootings.  I hope this blog may be helpful to one or two others, but if I'm off base I humbly ask your forgiveness. 

I am friends with the Chief of Police in a local college town in southwest Ohio, which is very conservative and church oriented.  In this town if the police are seen on school grounds, people get worried and call up to complain.  So the police try to stay away from the schools as much as possible.

Another community a few miles away is close to an Air Force base.  In that community, the police have a presence, and if there is a field trip or something, there is an armed policeman assigned to accompany each bus. They visit the school to talk about the importance of staying away from drugs and stuff.   Plus when the PTA mommies show up they wear tee shirts with school colors, and they also sometimes have a visible holster.

Both approaches have a certain appeal. I'm more  comfortable with the second approach, but I wouldn't want to force the first community to have armed persons at the school facilities if they are not wanted.    I'm comfortable with the idea of having local school authorities controlling the guns, not comfortable with having just anyone who wants to visit the school and bring guns.  

Truthfully I am scared of communities that want to shoo away the police and local authorities,while at the same time others are making it easy for crazy people to own and carry as many weapons as they want.  Let the good guys have some guns too.  

I'm not a Constitutional lawyer, but to me it seems that the Federal Government is prevented by the Second Ammendment from controlling guns.  However, the ability to have a state militia strongly implies that the States do have the right to take care of their own business.  And you can argue about it, but the Second Ammendment isn't getting changed.  That's a waste of time.   

But as a practical matter, it is more efficient to regulate the good guys and prevent them from having guns, while it is much more difficult to regulate bad guys having them.  I think the good guys will obey your gun control law even if they disagree with it, while the bad guys will not obey.  I don't see how you are really going to deny them access. 

On the other hand, some of my friends think that it is better to reduce the police force and simply encourage the rest of the population to carry guns around, figuring that that will help common sense prevail.  Presidential candidate Rick Santorum ludicrously suggested that "gun crimes were not very prevalent back then [in the Wild West days]. Why? Because people carry guns.”   Well, the fact of the matter is that that didn't work in Dodge City.  Overall death rates were low because the population was low.  But deaths per capita were high.   Self policing by gun nuts may be well intentioned, but it is a pathological dream. (Link to Washington Post Santorum article)

No, make it easy for the authorities to protect our kids.  I'd like my kids to continue to be visited by police in a classroom setting and learn to develop a trusting relationship.   I'm open to ideas smaking it difficult for crazy people to operate, but I don't know of many practical proposals for the latter. And I don't think anyone has enough political capital to really overturn the Second Amendment, that's just something to rile up the populace.

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.