Washington Post Lets You Know What it’s Like Living Here

Preach it, brother:

In the nation’s capital and environs, the infrastructure had deteriorated to what sometimes seems like Third World standards. In some cases, make that below Third World standards. In most of the developing countries I’ve visited, for example, they manage to keep the power on during a garden-variety thunderstorm. But here, in the most powerful city in the world — a city of humid summers, where thunderstorms are to be expected all season long — all it takes is a few flashes of lightning, and inevitably at least a few thousand households are left in the dark.

The highways around here are so clogged that there’s no longer a predictable rush hour, just random times when the Beltway is at a standstill and other random times when the traffic is merely oppressive. You could take the subway, but whatever station you use, the escalator will probably be broken. Our engineers can design a cruise missile that will turn a 90-degree corner, knock on the target’s door and say “Candygram!” to bluff its way inside, but we can’t quite master the intricacies of the escalator.

You could just walk, but be advised that occasionally something beneath a heavily trafficked sidewalk will short out and explode, turning innocent manhole covers into Frisbees of Death.

That manhole thing is either made up or blown way out of proportion. But he has a point about the other stuff. But hey at least Washington has some cool statues (See above and below):

Tensei Jingo Reveals the Shocking Truth of Aichi Expo: No Awnings

Asahi’s venerable bottom-of-the-front-page anonymous column Tensei Jingo (“Vox Populi, Vox Dei” in Latin, I’ll be damned if I know what it means in English ­čśŤ ) warns against waiting in line at the Aichi Expo in the hot summer sun:

I was told the waiting time for the Japan Pavilion was 90 minutes. Normally, I would give this a miss, but I decided I might as well give it a try.

As the queue crept forward, I waited in the direct sun for quite a while. I dampened my handkerchief with bottled water and covered my head with it.

The waiting came to an end after 75 minutes, but I was in the pavilion no longer than 15 minutes. It was still hot when I came out at 4 p.m. The temperature was over 30 degrees in the nearby city of Nagoya.

I could tell various measures were being taken to beat the heat. For instance, there was a long corridor where an artificial mist was generated to bring relief to many visitors. And throughout the Expo site, the extensive use of wood is apparently meant to tame the reflective heat. But the real summer heat has yet to hit, and I had to wonder if these measures were sufficient.

For instance, if long waiting lines are the norm, the Expo organizers should install more awnings and sun shades. Visitors themselves should bring fans or parasols or wear hats; make sure they have plenty to drink; and not force themselves to keep standing in line if it gets too uncomfortable.

The horror!

Try reading this story in a Russian accent

Be fit with the help of video-player

18:32 2005-07-14
Lots of people dream of becoming fit and slim. Some of them keep to various diets, others prefer to exhaust themselves with endless physical exercises.

But in Japan people lose weight by playing video games. Dance Dance Revolution, a popular Japanese video game makes players leap around on a platform as instructed by arrows – up, down, right or left – to a throbbing techno beat. The moves get faster and harder as players get better, making the game arduous, addictive and inadvertently aerobic.

Matt Keane, now 21, became addicted by Dance Dance Revolution less than a year ago. At the start his weight was 209 kilograms. Dancing at the game platform he lost 68 kilograms.

A recent Pennsylvania study of 35 adolescents found that, on average, Dance Dance Revolution elevated players’ heart rates to double their resting level over a 45-minute period, according to one of the study’s coordinators, Stephen Yang.

“There is no doubt the games are great exercise,” Yang said, “but first and foremost, they’re fun.”

Usually a sedentary activity, video games might seem an unlikely weapon in the battle of the bulge. Earlier video games were blamed even for mass suicides. But over the past few years “exertainment” – a merging of exercise and electronic entertainment – has helped the industry’s image as well as its profit margins, says the AP.

With dance simulation video games making exercise fun and hip, parents, teachers and doctors are starting to pay attention. And manufactures are hoping to capitalize.

Obesity is quite a problem for many societies. Experts differ in ways to struggle obesity. Some of them advise to drink milk, others suggest not to watch TV, but now we know the correct answer – Dance Dance Revolution is the answer to all the health problems.

Jewish populations

I spotted this article in the English language edition of Haaretz via this very cool website, which presents links to and translations of foreign press clippings about attitudes towards the US from around the world.

srael will have the largest Jewish population in the world by 2006, when it will surpass the United States for the first time in history, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute said Monday.

Planning institute director general Avinoam Bar-Yosef presented the research group’s annual report on “the situation of the Jewish people” to the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee on Monday. The institute, which is partly funded by the Jewish Agency, concluded that the State of Israel is the single guarantee of the Jewish people’s continued existence. Bar-Yosef will submit the report to the government next week.

Today about 5.28 million Jews live in the U.S., with 5.235 million living in Israel.

For some reason this makes me a little uneasy. I’d always been a little bit relieved that Israelis were the minority of the world’s Jewish population. With there finally being more Jews in Israel than the US, will it be harder for people to accept that non-Israeli Jews like myself don’t necessarily have any particular bond to the country, support for their policies, or desire for them to have laws granting me special rights and privileges.

The article also notes that are are only about 1 million Jews left in Europe today. As we all know about 6 million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis, and of those who survived a huge proportion emigrated, becoming much of the aforementioned Israeli and American Jew populations.

To see the aftermath of the virtual disappearance of Jews from Eastern Europe, we turn to this fascinating article from the Boston Globe.

”How — if there were no Jews — the world would be enraptured!” she wrote. ”The people that stood at Sinai to receive a desert vision of purity, the people of scholarly shepherds, humane prophetic geniuses, dreams of justice and mercy” — how admired they would be. In a world without Jews, the memory of Jewish civilization would be endlessly fascinating. ”Christian ladies,” Ozick imagined, would ”study ‘The Priceless Culture of the Jews’ at Chautauqua in the summertime” or create Jewish prayer shawls at ”a workshop on tallith making.”

Well, Jews haven’t vanished from the world. They have, however, all but vanished from Poland. More than 90 percent of Poland’s Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and most of those who survived emigrated long ago. The result is that a land that once was home to 3 million Jews — 10 percent of Polish society, the largest Jewish population in Europe — is now more than 99.9 percent non-Jewish. Millions of Poles have never knowingly met a Jew. But, oh, how enraptured they are with the genius that was Israel!

I arrived in Krakow near the end of the annual Jewish Culture Festival, a nine-day extravaganza of concerts, lectures, films, and exhibitions — all with the aim, to quote a festival brochure, of ”presenting Jewish culture in all its abundance.” An elegant catalog, 160 pages long, lists a dizzying array of offerings: lectures on ”Talmudic thought” and ”Jewish medical ethics,” forums on European anti-Semitism and the Hebrew poetry of Haim Nahman Bialik, concerts of klezmer music, liturgical music, and ”Songs of the Ghettos and Jewish Resistance,” workshops on Jewish cooking, Hasidic wedding dances, and celebrating Hanukkah with children.

I suppose it’s kind of sweet in a macabre sort of way that they find us so fascinating now that we’ve vanished from their country, but wouldn’t it have been nice if there had been a little bit of apprecation in Poland for Jewish culture say, between 1900 and 1945?

Arms sales to China

From SFgate via Google News:

The Pentagon estimates that China could be spending as much as $90 billion annually on its military, three times the publicly released defense budget, making China the world’s third-largest defense spender and the largest in Asia. A large portion of the secret budget is spent on buying weaponry from nations such as Russia and Israel, the report concludes.

As we all know, the US recently succeeded in persuading Europe to extend a ban on selling weapons to China. How on Earth does Israel, a country who pretty much relies on continued US military aid for its very existence manage to avoid criticism for doing the same thing? Has there been any outrage about this in Congress?While some news sources covering this mention arms sales by Russia and Israel, some of them mention only Russia.

Associated Press (via WaPo):

The Chinese military is buying new weapon systems _ including important purchases from Russia _ while developing new doctrine for modern warfare and improving training standards, the report released Tuesday says.

This this article from an India based news web site stresses

Chinese military build-up is not only targeted at India, but also at Taiwan, Japan and Russia.

Russia and China have a history of border disputes and are increasing competition for resources. Israel’s national defence relies on the US, whose potential interference in a China/Taiwan war is a primary for China’s military buildup. Why on earth do either of these two countries feel it is in their best interests to help arm China?

The article on the Malaysia Star website provides the most meaty information out of those that I’ve seen.

Continue reading Arms sales to China

Give and take

The NYT reports on a little known industry that has been outsourced to China.

Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art!

At 26, Mr. Zhang estimates that he has painted up to 20,000 copies of van Gogh’s works in a paint-spattered third-floor garret here where freshly washed socks and freshly painted canvases dry side-by-side on the balcony.

A block away, Ye Xiaodong, 25, is completing 200 paintings of a landscape of pink and white flowers in another third-floor garret. And down the street, Huang Yihong, also 25, stands in an art-packed store and paints a waterfall tumbling gracefully into a pool, mixing the paints on an oval palette.

China’s low wages and hunger for exports have already changed many industries, from furniture to underwear. The art world, at least art for the masses, seems to be next, and is emerging as a miniature case study of China’s successful expansion in a long list of small and obscure industries that when taken together represent a sizable chunk of economic activity.

I was a little but shocked and amused to get to the middle of the article and find out that the seat of production had formerly been near my hometown.

Northern New Jersey used to have a small but thriving cluster of businesses with artists churning out inexpensive paintings for restaurants, hotels and homes across the country. But these enterprises have been switching to imports, like the Dae Ryung Company, which had seven painters two decades ago at a studio attached to its offices in Hackensack, N.J., and let the last one leave four years ago without finding a replacement.

“In the beginning it was better here, because we were able to tell them exactly what we wanted,” said Helen Cho, the company’s purchasing and accounting manager. “But after a while, the Chinese caught on.”

Should New Jersey residents be upset that outsourcing has moved yet more crappy, pointless jobs out of our state to a faraway land where people will appreciate them more?

Two days later, the Times printed another article on another industry that is now just beginning to boom in New Jersey.

TEN years ago, New Jersey had 14 wineries. Today it has 27, and within the next year or so the number is expected to reach 40.

Ten years ago, New Jersey made 873,000 gallons of wine (about 360,000 cases). Now it makes almost twice that much, more than 1.5 million gallons. In 1995, it was eighth in the nation in wine production; now it is fifth, behind only California, New York, Washington and Oregon.

But one thing hasn’t changed in that decade of extraordinary growth for New Jersey wine: hardly anyone knows a thing about it. Less than 1 percent of the wine consumed in New Jersey was made in New Jersey – not surprising, considering that few restaurants serve it and few liquor stores carry it. Even experts like John Foy, a consultant who writes a wine column for The Star-Ledger of Newark and assembled the world-class wine list at Restaurant Latour in Hardyston, confess ignorance.

Amazing. Is there really still room for vineyards in the nations most populous state amidst the chemical factories and urban sprawl? Will The Garden State earn its name?

Addendum: A second newspaper reports on a long established Newark, New Jersey based manufacturer whose entire production has been outsourced.

Turpan village holy site

This green dome is built above a cave that is considered the holiest Muslim site in all of China. The Uyghur people who inhabit Xinjiang (or East Turkestan, as it was known during a brief period of independence during the Chinese civil war) were devout Buddhists before they converted to Islam many centuries ago.

According to legend, the king of Turpan, who was a Buddhist, felt threatened by Islam and sent soldiers to chase down the first three Muslim missionaries that came to the region. They were eventually cornered here and sought refuge in the cave. The soldiers thought they would wait them out, but they were miraculously transformed into doves, and flew out of the cave and over the soldiers heads to freedom.

Today, Chinese Muslims often take pilgrimage here, since it is difficult to obtain permission from the government to travel to Mecca.

New photos in Flickr

Some of you may have noticed that the links to my old photogalleries are gone, replaced by Flickr. For those who care, the old galleries still exist at the address Mutantfrog.com/gallery2/ but I was convinced by my friend Joe to try Flickr, and I decided that it was just an easier way to deal with uploading photos, and in particular a good way to avoid bandwidth charges.

That said, with the new service I’m going to try and post photos more often and regularly, and also with blog entries that provide more informative text.

Karl Rove accused one year ago

I just got around to listening to last week’s episode of Off The Hook, the hacker radio show affiliated with 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, and heard something pretty interesting about the current mess with Valorie Plame, Karl Rove, et al. They played a brief clip from a presentation given by a Robert Steele almost exactly one year ago at the Fifth Hope hacker conference in New York City.

I don’t normally write anything about US politics, and I’m not even going to offer any comments this, aside from the fact that it’s kind of cool. However, I did attend this same conference in the year 2000, where I actually met Robert Steele, so let’s just say this falls under my blanket mission of writing about places where I’ve been.

The July 13, 2005 episode of Off The Hook can be downloaded in mp3 form from their web site. The following transript begins 40 minutes into the show.

Bernie S: You mentioned a while ago the need for a national traitor intelligence system. On that subject, what’s your take on the whole Valeie Plame outing, and who do you think did it?

Robert Steele: I think Scooter Libby in Dick Cheney’s office did it with Karl Rove’s explicit approval and Dick Cheney’s explicit concealment after the fact.

Bernie S: What are your feelings on it?

Robert Steele: I think it has the potential to be Al Capone’s tax return. It really does.

Bernie S: Do you think that this will ever be- where do you think this investigation will lead, regardless of who’s found to have done it?

Robert Steele: Well, part of our problem is that the Republicans control both houses of Congress and the moderate Republicans are being intimidated by the extremist Republicans and the people haven’t spoken. Right now the people don’t care about Valorie Plame’s outing. Inasumch as the vice presiden’t office, in my humble opinion, very flagrantly and deliberately violated a national law, I would like to see them brought to justice. i would like to see Dick Cheney brought to justice for sole-sourcing billions of dollars to Haliburton. you know these guys are bending or breaking every rule they can find. and the outing of Valorie Plame is i think one of the things that George Tenet simply had to be honest about and it let to his eventual resignation.

The man asking the questions is Bernie S, co-host of Off The Hook. Here is his official mini-bio from The Fifth Hope conference web page.

Bernie S. has been hacking computers, phones, radios, and the authorities for over 25 years – sometimes pushing the envelope too far. In 1995 he was imprisoned for one and a half years by the Secret Service for possessing hardware and software they said had the potential for abuse. Later the U.S. government admitted “there were no victims in the offense” and that they were more concerned about his exposing their covert activities. Bernie continues to investigate and report on communications technologies and government activities.

The man giving the talk is Robert Steele. His bio from the same web site reads:

Robert Steele is the author of On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World and The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political. He is the founder and CEO of OSS.Net, a global intelligence partnership and network that excels at both teaching and performing legal ethical intelligence collection, processing, and analysis. In the course of a 25 year national security career, Robert has served as a Marine Corps infantry officer and service level plans officer; fulfilled clandestine, covert action, and technical collection duties; been responsible for programming funds for overhead reconnaissance capabilities; contributed to strategic signals intelligence operations; managed an offensive counterintelligence program; initiated an advanced information technology project; and been the senior civilian responsible for founding a new national intelligence production facility. He was one of the first clandestine officers assigned the terrorist target on a full time basis in the 1980s and the first person, also in the 1980s, to devise advanced information technology applications relevant to clandestine operations.

Robert Steele’s web page is here.

Robert Steele’s entire presentation, from The Fifth Hope conference, along with those of every other speaker (and there is some great stuff in there), can be found in mp3 format on the web. His presentation is entitled “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Spying, 9-11, and Why We Continue to Screw Up” and is well worth a listen.