Monthly Archives: January 2009

Old news of Montclair

I decided earlier today to write something about Montclair, the town where I grew up in New Jersey, and spent a few minutes looking through the free NYT archives to see what I could find. That post will be up another day, but here are a few of the amusing articles I turned up.

Graham and Kim

Our friend Curzon over at the Cominganarchy blog posted last week an excellent piece on the history of the involvement between the familes of the Reverend Billy Graham and the Kim dynasty of North Korea. The connections are, as usual, longer and more interesting than one would expect from just reading the news. I highly recommend reading it.

The Masonic Bible

Slate’s Explainer column is always a good read, but this week’s installment on the bibles used for presidential inaugurations was particularly amusing.

George W. Bush wanted to use the Washington Bible for his first inauguration, as his father had done, but the plan was foiled by drizzly weather. The Masons are extremely careful with the Washington Bible: They refuse to let the artifact be X-rayed at airport security and demand that the president be the only one who touches it without gloves.

Drug war roundup

I know we have a lot of fans of The Wire on here, and I think we’ll all appreciate this series on the drug war by Culture 11 magazine. The link is to an anti drug-war piece, which itself links to a pro drug-war piece, a piece specifically on the insanity of marijuana prohibition, and then some debate between the sides. It really is the height of madness that, as a society, we aggressively promote the consumption of the two deadly drugs of alcohol and nicotine and the one moderately safe drug of caffeine (which, did you know, can be freebased like cocaine?) while devoting endless resources to combatting the production, trade, distribution and consumption of every other category of recreational drug. I would be perfectly happy to see 100% legalization of all recreational drugs for adults, replacing the entire drug war aparatus with a moderate boost in traffic cops to manage DUI cases, which are probably the main way that legal drug use can directly harm people besides the user. Of course drug use causes harm to society, but I don’t see how even unrestrained drug use by everyone who wants to go down that road could possibly cause even a fraction of the damage that has been caused by the drug war itself.

[Update] One of the comments on that first piece links to this opinion piece in Time Magazine by the chief three writers of The Wire, in which they suggest that the best way to fight the drug war is through massive civil disobedience.

If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun’s manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.

Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest.

They make an interesting case. Of course, if I publically stated here that I was willing to make the same pledge, I might be disqualified from ever serving on such a jury, so I’m going to officially call it a “clever theoretical exercise in civil disobedience as a means of protest”.

In Japan, Obama inauguration inspires English lessons, off-kilter likenesses

The Adamu household is just ecstatic and relieved to see Obama inaugurated as president. We can’t tell which feels better: not-Bush in the White House or Obama in the White House? 

Though you might not know it to look around you, there are many in Japan who are excited about Obama who don’t live in a certain newly famous town that happens to be named after him. As just one indicator of interest, NHK announced its late-night ratings almost quadrupled for live coverage of the address. A fairly universal attitude by my observation has been, “Why don’t we have dynamic leaders like that in Japan?” So the buzz over Obama may in part be a kind of vicarious thrill.

So even before the inauguration, individuals and businesses in Japan have been finding interesting ways to express their enthusiasm. Let’s take a look:

1. Learn English

  • Listening to one of the great speechifiers of our time can be inspiring. Obama’s message can call you to serve your country, resolve to be a better person, or sacrifice for the greater good (but tragically apparently not to prosecute those responsible for the Bush regime’s crimes). Some aspiring English speakers in Japan have taken this opportunity to brush up on their own speaking skills. Prominent among the “Obama books” that are currently flooding Japanese bookstore displays is CNN’s Obama Speech Collection for students of English as a second language. The book, so far having sold over 400,000 copies, features excerpts from famous Obama speeches with a Japanese translation on the opposite page, which students can use to follow along as they listen to an attached CD. I picked it up the other day and it has proven useful both as a translation reference for US politics and as a handy record of his landmark addresses. I’m not sure how effective it is as a teaching tool, but for a Japanese learner of English inspired by Obama it will no doubt give them easy access to the tools they need (minus the inauguration address, of course).

  • Meanwhile, much like Kenya’s “Obama imitation contest“, some private English classrooms have started offering Obama mimicry lessons to a reportedly favorable response. In one TV news report, groups of 20+ students lined up to wait their turn to recite famous Obama speeches as a White-boy instructor barked orders on how to mimic Obama’s unique oratory style.

2. Create a mildly unsettling Obama likeness

Here we see some examples of creativity from both traditional and modern artists that deserve an “A” for effort but unfortunately didn’t turn out all that appealing:

no resemblance whatsoever?
No resemblance whatsoever?

Zombie Reagan looking gaunt (or is that Carter??)
Zombie Reagan looking gaunt (so Carter really is irrelevant!)

Compare to the real thing:


That’s more like it!

Making a future for corporate aircraft in Japan – maybe using airports you didn’t know existed

Japan has long had an aviation policy which favors airplanes as a mode of mass transit, and favors big carriers like ANA and JAL. You can view this as populist or pro-corporate, or perhaps both. But one thing is for certain: private aviation has never been able to take off here, despite all the wealth and business available to support it.

As late as the mid-90s, long-haul private jet flights had their pick of five daily slots at Narita which were shared with charter flights, making it impossible to fly in and out of Tokyo without a couple months’ notice—enough to make US biz-jet industry representatives complain to Congress. Even for domestic flights today, the flight plan must be filed with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport a week or so before the flight, making it impossible to just jet around the country at short notice.

Another key problem is the lack of available facilities. Most huge cities around the world have airports with little or no scheduled service which can serve private planes almost exclusively: New York (Teterboro and Westchester), London (Luton and Farnborough), Paris (Le Bourget), Los Angeles (Van Nuys), Miami (Kendall) and Atlanta (DeKalb) have all gotten it right. The closest thing in Tokyo is the tiny airport in Chofu, which isn’t big enough to handle business jets and can’t be expanded due to the surrounding city area. (The situation is easier in Japan’s secondary cities, though—Osaka has the giant Yao Airport and the new Kobe Airport, and Nagoya’s old Komaki Airport offers many slots for private flights now.)

It isn’t even practical to keep a business aircraft on the ground in most parts of Japan because of high landing and parking costs. The Japanese business jet charter industry, inasmuch as it exists, largely relies on planes and crews based in Guam or other cheaper locales which are close enough to be halfway practical.

Still, Japan has an active Business Aviation Association which has been lobbying to make the government’s policies more friendly to small planes. Just last month, JBAA sent MLIT’s aviation bureau a request to upgrade Tokyo’s airports for easier use by private aircraft—mainly focusing on better facilities at Haneda and more slots at Narita.

The most interesting component of JBAA’s efforts is their proposal to upgrade of a third Tokyo airport for use by business aircraft. There has been much-publicized talk over setting up a big third airport to serve commercial traffic as well, but if the third airport’s role is downscaled a bit, more options become available. One thing you might not know about Tokyo is that it already has a ton of airports—at least ten within a couple hours’ drive of the city center. A good handful are enormous and can theoretically accommodate planes of all sizes. The only problem is that most of them are used for military/defense purposes. Here’s a Google Maps mashup I threw together to illustrate the options available.


View Larger Map

The JBAA has centered its lobbying efforts around the four largest military bases: Yokota, Kisarazu, Shimousa and Atsugi. Each is about as far from Tokyo as Narita (in the 50-90 minute range) and fairly well-situated for access by road (assuming someone who can afford a jet will at least spring for a limo to the airport).

Of course, there are problems inherent to any such proposal. These fields would have to be vacated or at least significantly ceded by defense units which seem to like their digs, and which might do more for the neighborhood economy than a collection of Learjets and Cessnas would. There’s also the ongoing presence of community protesters to consider—the same folks who forced Itami Airport to stop accepting 747s could easily derail plans to keep a vacated defense facility alive. And, of course, we live in a time when private jets often seem like an unacceptable luxury for many of the businesses which used them with reckless abandon just a couple of years ago.

Chinese economy now #3

China has edged above Germany to become the world’s third largest economy, based on newly revised GDP data:

China’s economy leapfrogs Germany

A Chinese farmer transports his produce.

The Chinese government has increased its estimate of how much the economy grew during 2007.

The revision means China’s economy overtook Germany’s to become the world’s third largest in 2007.

Gross domestic product expanded 13%, up from an earlier estimate of 11.9%, to 25.7 trillion yuan ($3.5 trillion).


The BBC tries to play this down (“Many Chinese people have not benefited from the boom”), but let’s use some simple algebra with vaguely realistic numbers pulled out of thin air to take a look at some rough growth scenarios:

China vs. Japan

  • Scenario 1: Given zero growth in Japan’s economy vs. 8% annually for China, China will overtake Japan in 2011.

  • Scenario 2: 2% growth in Japan vs. 6% for China = China overtakes Japan in  2014.

  • Scenario 3: 2% growth in Japan vs. 4% for China = China overtakes Japan in 2021.

China vs. US

  • Scenario 1: Given 2% growth in the US economy vs. 8% annually for China, China will overtake the US in 2034.

  • Scenario 2: 3% growth in the US vs. 6% for China = China is top economy in 2057

  • Scenario 3: 2% growth in the US vs. 4% for China = China rules us all in 2080.

So barring some major calamity or re-Maoization, China will overtake Japan as the #2 economy in a few years. The US seems a little safer but numbers like this make you sit up and pay attention to the Business section!

Sean Connery vs. Japan: “Rising Sun” and “You Only Live Twice”

The man himself

In a rare instance of parallel lives with MF commenters (who were doing the same thing in the replies to this post), I got into a spontaneous fit of impersonating Sean Connery’s Japanese last weekend. When my girlfriend started demanding the original article for comparison purposes, we decided to have a private screening of Rising Sun, where SC speaks a lot of Japanese, and You Only Live Twice, where he actually “becomes” Japanese.

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