Thursday, March 28, 2013

Special delivery

North Korea has been doing a lot of saber-rattling lately. And saber dancing. And saber-waving. Lots of saber activities, actually, except for actual saber use.

That last one is a good thing, obviously. No one wants war on the Korean Peninsula. Although it would, without any doubt, end badly for the government in Pyongyang, even a few days of real warfare would create a huge death toll, including civilians in Seoul, just a hop, skip and an artillery shell away from the DMZ.

The Democratic People's Republic of North Korea can still issue threats, though. And oh, how they do issue them. It is getting to the point, as several commentators have noted, that they are running out of substantially different things to say. There's only so much crazy you can pump across the border before you're repeating yourself.

South Korea and its ally, the United States, have generally responded to these threats with the geopolitical equivalent of eye-rolling. But with the volume of caterwauling turned up lately, the U.S. made a fairly grand gesture this week: it flew B-2 bombers on a training mission over South Korea.

That's about 13,000 miles round trip, all to drop some inert practice bombs.

A long way to fly, and not even bi bim bop to show for it.

Will this give the hot-blooded pause in North Korea? Who knows. It's equally unclear whether even the hottest-blooded general (or whatever Kim Jong Un's title is these days) had plans to do any button pushing or trigger pulling in any event.

But the message South Korea and the U.S. are trying to deliver could not be clearer. This is a weapon system that gives the U.S. Air Force first-strike capability anywhere in the world, with no warning... including, say, downtown Pyongyang. To complete the poke in the eye, the Air Force issued a press release to spell out to the DPRK that the only reason it knew about these planes' participation is thanks to, well, a press release.

In other words, what they can't see can hurt them.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Supremely important

Dear readers, you know and I know that online political discussions can get messy. Personal. And of course very stupid*. That's one of the reasons why I try to stay away from anything overtly political in my postings here. You're more likely to find an in-depth discussion of China's military budget than the U.S. "fiscal cliff."

But today I'm going to briefly break my rule. Partly because I think it's an important issue. But mostly because I can't believe it's political at all: gay marriage, or, as I like to call it, equality.

To me, it's difficult to see as an issue, period. Philosophically speaking, there's not much of a cogent argument to be made against consenting adults who love each other being able to make their bond legal and permanent. Nor is there any kind of evidence that gay marriage will cause harm to society, the economy or anything else.

On a more visceral level, I am friends with many people who are gay. It seems unfathomable to support a law or practice that systematically discriminates against them for no discernible reason. I don't understand how anyone in my position could feel otherwise without suffering head-exploding cognitive dissonance.

I am less confident in my understanding of the various elements of constitutional law at play here. But as a rights issue, this--like, say, Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education--should be a no-brainer.

All of which is just a less-dope way of saying:

*for a great example of this, check out the comments posted under the video on YouTube, where the it is hosted.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Britannia rules, colonists drool

Much has been made in the last couple of days about the Falklands' vote to remain part of Britain. The decision was almost unanimous. How almost? There were three people (out of about 1,700 votes cast) who voted to leave British rule. That the Falklanders (Falklandians? Falklandish?) do not want to become part of Argentina--or at least leave the aegis of Britain--is abundantly clear.

Meanwhile, in another former British colony, Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post took a poll about how the Hong Kongers might hypothetically feel about returning to U.K. rule. The result was that nearly three in four respondents wanted to stop being a Special Administrative Region and get back to the good old days of the British Empire.

That would seem to be a pretty solid endorsement. But there are a couple of things that bear noting.

First of all, there are a few nuts and bolts issues. It's an online poll; anyone with an Internet connection can vote. That means there is no way of guaranteeing a good sample... or even guaranteeing that the voters are in Hong Kong. To put it another way, it's not remotely scientific. Maybe if it were, it would still get the same results. But even in that case, there's another problem.

Without additional questions, there is no real way of getting at the motivations for people's votes. In other words, do Hong Kongers yearn to be British pseudo-subjects again, or do they just not want to be part of China? What if another question or voting option were, "Should Hong Kong be an independent country?" What would the responses be?

This is important, because there is a lot of subtext to both the rejection of China and the embrace of Britain. Hong Kongers, in general, harbor a certain amount of annoyance and resentment of China, which many see as kind of an uncultured older brother. Mainlanders are derided for stuff like pooping in public, invading Hong Kong stores in search of baby formula and even swarming Hong Kong hospitals.

As far as ads go, it's not particularly subtle.

Every year since the handover, there are massive street demonstrations on July 1 by Hong Kongers who want to make sure China knows they value political autonomy, freedom of speech, and so on.

Many voices, (basically) one message.

In short, Hong Kongers seem warily OK with being part of China as long as China doesn't get too much up in their business. When it seems like mainland influence is becoming too strong--for instance, when there was a push to get pro-China history courses in Hong Kong schools--people flip out a little bit.

So when given the choice of playing by China's rules or Britain's, it's pretty easy to see how polling results would play out.

And to be perfectly fair here, British rule of Hong Kong went pretty well. I have visited other former imperial colonies that suffered from more oppression and economic manipulation, and are in much worse shape today. And it's not like anyone went around tearing down British statues here after the handover. Hong Kongers, at least the ones I have met, don't have much bad to say about the way things were.

The problem, in the end, is that the poll results represent a false dichotomy. In a whole universe of choices about who is in charge, it's hard to say what Hong Kong might decide it wants.

Britain didn't really have a choice about returning Hong Kong to China in 1997; the airport and most of the water supply were in the part of Hong Kong on which the 99-year lease was running out. (Hong Kong island could have remained Britain's in perpetuity.) Today, Hong Kongers don't really have a choice about whether they can leave Chinese rule.

But if you were to ask me my opinion, my one-man poll would show I think Hong Kong could function pretty well as an independent city-state, except for the small issue of funding a military.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The universe is a basketball, and it has exploded

I really don't know what commentary to add here--it's Dennis Rodman sitting next to Kim Jong-un. And they're watching the Harlem Globetrotters (three of them, anyway) show off their fancy dribblin' in front of a crowd of identically dressed North Koreans. The clapping is polite, rhythmic and almost in unison.

And then there's a basketball game.

A slam-dunk for democracy? A propaganda exercise for the Evil Empire? WHO CARES!? My. Mind. Is. Blown.