Dubai’s downfall just as spectacular as its rise

NYT has a report on the situation in Dubai:

With Dubai’s economy in free fall, newspapers have reported that more than 3,000 cars sit abandoned in the parking lot at the Dubai Airport, left by fleeing, debt-ridden foreigners (who could in fact be imprisoned if they failed to pay their bills). Some are said to have maxed-out credit cards inside and notes of apology taped to the windshield.

The government says the real number is much lower. But the stories contain at least a grain of truth: jobless people here lose their work visas and then must leave the country within a month. That in turn reduces spending, creates housing vacancies and lowers real estate prices, in a downward spiral that has left parts of Dubai — once hailed as the economic superpower of the Middle East — looking like a ghost town.

“Why is Abu Dhabi allowing its neighbor to have its international reputation trashed, when it could bail out Dubai’s banks and restore confidence?” said Christopher M. Davidson, who predicted the current crisis in “Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success,” a book published last year. “Perhaps the plan is to centralize the U.A.E.” under Abu Dhabi’s control, he mused, in a move that would sharply curtail Dubai’s independence and perhaps change its signature freewheeling style.

But Dubai, unlike Abu Dhabi or nearby Qatar and Saudi Arabia, does not have its own oil, and had built its reputation on real estate, finance and tourism. Now, many expatriates here talk about Dubai as though it were a con game all along. Lurid rumors spread quickly: the Palm Jumeira, an artificial island that is one of this city’s trademark developments, is said to be sinking, and when you turn the faucets in the hotels built atop it, only cockroaches come out.

Also, check this video from German TV (in English, via The Big Picture):

Muslim cemetery in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong over New Year’s, I hopped on board one of the island’s incredibly cheap streetcars and randomly rode from Central, the bustling business center of the city, to the quieter but still absurdly developed alcove of Happy Valley. The district is best known for its racecourse, which (not being a fan of equestrian sports) I first learned about from James Clavell’s very fun novel Noble House.

The name “Happy Valley” comes from the area’s use as a burial ground during the early days of the colony. As was the case in many tropical colonies (see Guns, Germs and Steel), the hot climate and marshy terrain of the island were quite incompatible with the Europeans moving in, and the resulting waves of diseases made Happy Valley one of the most populous areas of Hong Kong (if you’re counting corpses).

Even today, the cemeteries of Happy Valley are its most prominent and unique feature, next to the famous racecourse which is literally right across the street.

One of the more fascinating parts of the cemetery is the Muslim section, which happened to be open as I walked past. The headstones, dating from throughout Hong Kong’s history, are written in varying combinations of Arabic, Chinese and English.

The Muslim cemetery occupies a number of slopes wrapped around a hill, which makes it an excellent vantage point for viewing the lower, flatter Catholic cemetery below. Another case of awesome real estate wasted on dead people.

Wartime propaganda in pop culture

Asahi has a neat article with an unfortunately small, if tantalizing, photograph of an exhibit currently being held at the Marunouchi branch of Maruzen (I’m still bitter over you guys closing the Kyoto store!) in Tokyo until Monday, on the way that kimono designs of the pre-WW2 and wartime period reflected the political consciousness of the time. For example, in this photograph you can see a design reflected the tripartite alliance between Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near Tokyo so I’ve asked Adam if he could drop by and get some photos, or perhaps pick up whatever pamphlet or art book they have available because I would love to see more of these, and in some detail.

War-theme designs often mirrored current events. Inui found a kimono that depicted Adm. Heihachiro Togo, who was credited with Japan’s 1905 victory over the Russian fleet in the Sea of Japan.

She also found a design that spelled out the name of Yosuke Matsuoka–in romaji alphabet–then ambassador, when he pulled the Japanese delegation out of the League of Nations in Geneva in 1933.

Heartwarming stories and tear-jerkers also made it into kimono.

The story of the heroic Nikudan Sanyushi (Three human bullets), or Bakudan Sanyushi (Three human bombs)–three engineering corps soldiers who reportedly perished in a suicide bombing during the Shanghai incident in 1932–were given sweeping coverage by the media. Headlines and parts of the articles from The Asahi Shimbun and The Mainichi Shimbun became part of kimono designs.

This article  immediately made me think of one I had seen on BBC news a couple of weeks ago, on a similarly unexpected yet unsurprising penetration of wartime propaganda into popular culture: British boardgames of the World War II era.

Take the early wartime game Battle of the River Plate, for example. Based on the first major confrontation between German and British naval forces, it is one of the earliest known games to reflect the international conflict. Players tried to score points by firing wooden sticks at the ship with a spring action. A direct hit caused the gun turrets on the ship to “explode”.

Another, Bomber Command, depicts bombing squadrons and invites players to bomb Berlin, at the centre of the playing board. Players take turns to throw dice to move toward the target. When materials were in short supply, the dice were replaced by a numbered spinning card.

“It was a game you can easily imagine people playing sitting in the air raid shelter while being bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz,” says historian and author, Robert Opie.

The article then goes on to mention the way in which WW2 comic books incorporated anti-Nazi and anti-Japan motifs, a number of examples of which I posted some time ago. And of course, one can’t forget what you must agree is the best comic book cover of the war, if not all time. That is, unless you like Hitler-and you don’t like Hitler, do you?

What would be some good examples of popular culture reflecting enemies and conflicts in the world around us today? Off the top of my head, there’s naturally “24,” which I’ve never seen but I understand is about how Arab terrorists want to kill us. And then of course there’s the video game Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, in which a disaffected North Korean general stages a military coup on the eve of reunification with the South in some near future year, or on a similar but slightly more afield topic, take the third season episode of the fairly recent Justice League Unlimited cartoon show, in which a number of DC superheroes travel to a fictitious militaristic Northeast Asian nation, clearly modeled after North Korea, to stop a rampaging nuclear powered robotic monster which they claim they had built “to protect us from the foreigners,” clearly modeled after North Korea’s metaphorically rampaging nuclear (non-robotic) monster.

All of these are in fact less examples of government sponsored propaganda than grass roots, genuinely popular culture expressing such things as a society’s popularly held fears and hatreds regarding their enemies at that time. I recall during the first Gulf War, when I was 10 or 11 years old, I saw someone at a flea-market selling “Desert Shield” branded condoms, which exclaimed on the package something along the lines of “Don’t you wish Saddam Hussein’s father had worn one of these?” Perhaps it is due to the fact that I was out of the country during the early stages of the recent Iraq invasion, but I can think of no examples of similarly popular expressions of support for the current war. Is it wrong of me to think that the initial support for the invasion was, however high the level, generally a grudging and ambivalent sort of support, lacking the level of enthusiasm needed to generate items along the lines of the pro-Axis kimono, the Hitler-face dartboard, or the “Desert Shield” condom?

The Mideast envoy?

The following is a brief exchange from this video, beginning at around 4:20.

Narrator: Who is the Antichrist?

Woman:  He will be charismatic but he will also be a man of peace, so he will be one who has promoted peace for many years.

Man: There is gonna be a peace treaty, but that’s a false peace treaty. Eventually when The Lord comes back, that’ll take care of it.

Mustachioed man: The one who forces Israel into a peace treaty with the Arabs is the one who is- you have to watch out for.

Narrator: Is the beast.

Mustache man: Right.

So, if Tony Blair succeeds in his new job, that makes him the Antichrist?

Who blew up what now?

I was just wondering why there are is so much news being created by the Japanese right wing, while the hard core left wingers never even seem to make the paper. Since the Red Army organization was eradicated in the late 80s, Japan has seen several incidents of terrorism and pseudo-terrorism (assassination, sarin gas incidents, death threats, arson, etc.) committed by right wing extremists and religious wackos that live in a universe entirely distinct from the political spectrum, but left wing activity seems to be mainly limited to retirees having picnics. Hence my surprise when I noticed this article, which is actually from a month ago, and yet I somehow failed to notice.

Japanese leftist group claims responsibility for blast near US base

A Japanese extreme left-wing group has claimed responsibility for a small explosion near a US army base outside Tokyo ahead of US Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit to Japan.

The group, calling itself the Revolutionary Army, said in a statement to media organisations here that the blast was an “angry blow of an iron hammer” at Washington’s plan to increase US troops in Iraq.

“It is an preemptive attack to stop Vice President Cheney’s visit to Japan,” the statement added, attacking moves to strengthen the US-Japan military alliance.

Cheney is scheduled to arrive here next Tuesday on a three-day visit during which he is expected to tour the US naval base in nearby Yokosuka.

The Metropolitan Police Department said Saturday they thought the group was a faction of a militant left-wing group called Kakurokyo (The Revolutionary Workers’ Council), known for a series of attacks using crude home-made incendiary devices in protest at the US military presence in Iraq.


This is the first I recall hearing about any left wing bombing attacks in Japan in recent years, but it is certainly more believable than the “Al-qaeda in Japan” theory that US officials suggested. Of course, the fact that kakurokyo took credit for the attack helps.
Below is an actual wanted poster for members of the Kakurokyo (革労協), from the Nagano police department.

外園 悦夫 田中 優
森永 美佐枝 後藤 あざみ

As is typical with these extremist groups (left wing or right wing) there appears to be a confusing array of factions, counter factions, splinter groups and rival claimants to the same, but this wikipedia article on at least some of the people calling themselves kakuryokyo (specifically the “liberation faction”) actually does list some crimes over the past few years of which they are accused. According to the article, there were a total of 8 explosive related attacks, beginning in April of 2002, when they planted a timed explosive device in a train of the Keisei network. There have also been 7 crude missile attacks on US military bases in Japan, beginning with one in 2002, three in 2003, two in 2004, and then in 2007 the one mentioned in the Yahoo news article linked to above.

The early attack incidents are discussed in slightly more detail in this 2003 Ministry of Justice white paper, which for some reason creepily includes discussion of these criminals with attempts by peaceful anti-war groups to increase collaboration with peaceful left wing anti war groups in other countries, such as US based A.N.S.W.E.R. and the UK Stop the War Coalition.

The same MOJ document ends with a discussion of the “continuing threat” of the Japanese Red Army, which it says former supports of have formed the group “Movement Solidarity,” who are responsible for the formation of JAPAC, the Japan-Palestine Project Center. According to this report, “Movement Solidarity” had held a JAPAC conference at which former Red Army members said that they would “Maintain the meaning of the ‘Battle of Lod’ in the joint Palestinian struggle, carry on that sacrificial spirit, and continue with all their power to hammer out the direction of joint Palestinian activities relevant today, as strengthening the bonds of solidarity with the people.” The “Battle of Lod” refers to what is more commonly known as the 1972 Lod Airport Massacre, in which three Japanese Red Army members engaged in a suicide attack in support of the Palestinian cause. Some people believe that this attack was inspired by the Japanese kamikaze suicide squads of World War II, and that it in turn inspired Palestinian suicide bombing, that has now became a widespread feature in guerrilla insurgencies throughout the Middle East region and beyond.

The report also mentions that several Red Army are still wanted by the police (as of 2003, but I do not believe the situation has changed), and that one Bando Kunio had been reported as hiding out in Negros Island in the Philippines.

On a related note, Red Army member Yu Kakumura, who was arrested in 1986 carrying pipe bombs in his car while driving on the New Jersey turnpike is reportedly schedule to be released April 18 of this year. According to this decision of the Tenth Circuit US Court of Appeals on October 31, 2006 in response to a motion filed by Kakumura’s attorney:

He filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 challenging the method by which the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) calculates and awards good conduct time (GCT). Under the BOP’s method, Kikumura’s release date would be April 18, 2007. Employing the method Kikumura advocates, he would be released from prison on November 17, 2006, as he is a model prisoner and has received the maximum amount of GCT that he could earn.

The request for early release for “good conduct time” was denied, which implies that he will be released on this coming April 18.

Federalism and Civil War

Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, speaker for the Iraqi parliament, is quoted by the Washington Post as saying:

The United States is a federated system and it is leading the world. But this was after the Civil War,” Mashhadani said. “So must we go through a civil war in order to achieve federalism?

Now, I was personally under the impression that the United States was in fact federal from the very beginning, and actually became significantly more centralized in governance following the Civil War, but then I didn’t study at Baghdad Medical College, which is of course renowned for its American History courses.

I guess he knows a lot that I don’t. For example, I also didn’t know that:

Jewish, Israelis and Zionists who are using Iraqi money and oil to frustrate the Islamic movement in Iraq and come with the agent and cheap project.

Japan’s nuclear weapons

As the campaign to rewrite Japan’s pacific constitution has ramped up over the past few years, commentators have increasingly thrown around the notion that Japan could “go nuclear” in some short amount of time. Whether it be days, weeks, or months almost everybody seems to agree that a: it would take less than a year and b: it isn’t going to happen unless someone, such as DPRK, strikes first. Still, this column by NYT columnist Nicholis D. Kristof may be the first I have seen to suggest that this has been a deliberate policy decision, and not a side effect of advanced technology and one of the world’s most mature civilian nuclear power programs (driven by the absolute lack of domestic petroleum.)

Few experts expect Iran to give up its nuclear program altogether, but it’s likely that Iran could be persuaded to adopt a Japanese model: develop its capacity to the point that a bomb could be completed in weeks or months, but without testing or stockpiling weapons.

Unfortunately the rest of the column is inaccessible to those without Times Select access (my dad gets a password with his paper subscription), but for those who are curious, the opening line is a rather dramatic “It is quite possible that President Bush will bomb Iran’s nuclear installations over the next couple of years.” Still, Kristof is probably my favorite columnist around, one of the very few who is actually still a real reporter and not just a pundit, and who also lacks a partisan agenda about as much as any columnist possibly can.
It certainly makes sense that, despite massive public opposition should it become know, the government and military would want to have all the pieces ready just in case they ever really needed to make a nuke, but I would like to see some confirmation that this is actually policy as opposed to a “happy” accident of technological prowess and Japan’s unique lack of energy resources among developed nations, leading to a huge surplus of used nuclear fuel.

Japan should just admit it didn’t accomplish anything in Iraq

Now that the troops are home, Japan’s government (and its good buddies in the Japanese media) can’t stop patting itself on the back for “completing its humanitarian mission” building schools and so on in Samawah even as the rest of Iraq succumbs to civil strife. From the initial announcement on June 20:

The Government of Japan decided today that it will redeploy the Ground Self-defense Force (GSDF) troops in Samawah, Iraq. This decision is based on the judgment that the humanitarian and reconstruction assistance activities in Iraq being conducted by the GSDF in Samawah have fulfilled a certain role. The Government of Japan has also taken into consideration the establishment of the new Iraqi Government by the Iraqi people themselves and the ongoing process of transferring security responsibility in Al-Muthanna Province, where the GSDF troops have been operating, to the new Iraqi Government, and close consultations with the United States (US) as well as the Multi-National Forces (MNF) and other nations including the United Kingdom (UK) and Australia.

President Bush apparently agrees with this sentiment during Koizumi’s June 29 US visit:

We — as I mentioned, we discussed Iraq and Afghanistan. By the way, the Japanese defense forces did a really good job when they were in Iraq. And they’re able to leave because they did such a good job. And now the Iraqis will be running the province in which the Japanese forces used to be. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister, as he mentioned in the comments, will continue to provide airlift capacity and naval help.

Japan’s top newspaper, the Daily Yomiuri, gushes over the SDF’s apparent accomplishments:

As Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi put it, “There were no pistols fired, and no guns pointed at anybody,” and there were no fatalities among the GSDF personnel.

The work carried out by about 5,500 GSDF members has been given high marks by the Iraqi government, and their mission was a success.

According to a Yomiuri Shimbun poll conducted earlier this month, 68 percent of pollees said the activities by members of the Self-Defense Forces “contributed” to the reconstruction of Iraq, compared with 28 percent who said they “made no contribution.” Gradually, the public are backing the activities of the SDF.

This is frankly pathetic. Let’s remind ourselves of what it’s like in Iraq right now:

In the first half of this year, 4,338 Iraqi civilians died violent deaths, according to a new report by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq. Last month alone, 3,149 civilians were killed — an average of more than 100 a day.

Some would say “What could Japan realistically do, given its pacifist constitution and the limited mandate provided by the special law that allowed them to be there in the first place?” Well, yeah. But in that case what were they doing there in the first place? And what right do they have to give themselves credit for cursory jobs that could have easily been covered by Americans?

The Nikkei at least admits the self-centered political calculations behind the deployment and doesn’t attempt to trumpet non-existent accomplishments:

EDITORIAL: GSDF Iraq Mission Ends With Constitutional Issue Unresolved

TOKYO (Nikkei)–Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force on Monday finished withdrawing its troops from Iraq after two and a half years of humanitarian activities there in a mission that marked a significant milestone in the postwar history of the nation’s defense policy.

Almost miraculously, GSDF troops suffered no casualties during the dangerous mission, which signaled Japan’s desire to play a greater role in the international arena and raised some important legal questions.

The GSDF’s operations in Iraq, which started in January 2004, were based on a special law to support the country’s reconstruction that came into effect in August 2003.

The government carefully planned and prepared for the operations to ensure that GSDF troops would not get embroiled in any armed battles. It selected the southern Iraqi city of Samawah as the site for the GSDF activities, rather than northern areas where U.S. troops are stationed, mainly for safety reasons. It was apparently the right decision.

I’ll agree with the editorials on the obvious point that Japan has crossed a certain line on its way to normalizing its military. But don’t let that delude you into thinking that somehow equates some actual accomplishments in Iraq, especially since it’s becoming clearer than ever that Iraq is on its way down the toilet.

Awwwww, yeah

King Becomes Prime Minister’s Chauffeur

Aqaba, Jordan (AHN) — After King Abdullah of Jordan hosted a dinner in the city of Aqaba Thursday for visiting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, he decided to chauffeur him Koizumi back to his hotel.

Koizumi stated, “I did not think the king himself would take me back to my hotel.”

After the king and prime minister talked for two hours over dinner, the king suddenly suggested that he drive Koizumi to his hotel in a Range Rover.

With the king behind the wheel, they arrived at Koizumi’s hotel in high spirits, joking in the Range Rover until Koizumi got out.

Thanks to