Monday, June 29, 2009

Madoff Smug

Bernie Madoff has been sentenced to 150 years in prison. Much (some) stolen wealth has been recovered from his family. But Bernie took far more. He & his family enjoyed pillage and living large; now the wife reportedly is left with just $2.5 million cash... so unfair! In this darkest of cases, crooked financiers and their supporters are given leniency; typical folk get shafted. Many of Bernie's victims have been ruined. Bernie's family thrives as American gentry...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chiasso Bearer Bond Payoff?

Is speculation true of active news suppression over the Chiasso bearer bond case? I'd like to taste good fortune! This post evaporates for one 500 million-dollar bond... (No "termination with extreme prejudice" please...)

On 3 June 2009 two Japanese men at Chiasso train station on the Italian border to Switzerland were detained by Italian financial police (Sezione Operativa Territoriale di Chiasso, in collaboration with Guardia di Finanza del Gruppo di Ponte Chiasso). Undeclared bearer bonds valued at US$139.5 billion were found in a false sided case.

The first report was official (in Italian), at:

One blogger began providing followup:

Japan's Kyodo & the wikinews soon chimed in:

Bloomberg eventually picked-up the story: stirred the pot with innuendo:

What's happening? One reasoned analysis says it's foolhardy to imagine anyone would cash a US$500 million bond without sure authentication (they hold $10 checks until they're clear... they'll hold a half billion dollars till they're damn certain it's real). So what's going on? Who are the men? Why were their names not released? Where are they now? Can I feed at the honeypot?

Disease of the Dollar

Big capital has pushed and prodded the USA into a corner. The American people have been largely abandoned by our government (notwithstanding "of, for, and by The People..."). Huge resources drain to mismanaged banks & failed industries, supporting stupidity, as talent & promising resources waste away in a "credit crunch."

The US Congress decided this week to fund continuing overseas combat. The Yankee-led "Coalition of the Willing" & Operation Iraqi Freedom have dwindled. The US armaments industries & military bureaucracies scream that freedom has a price, and "support our troops" -- but their true concerns are money, jobs & power. Surviving millions of Iraqi & Afghan refugees suffer daily from the fallout of America's blood & guts adventurism.

In other news this week, the governments of Brazil, Russia, India & China (BRIC), and next the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, met in Yekaterinberg to discuss a new multilateralism. The US government sought to be included, but was rejected. Yekaterinberg (Ekaterinburg/Sverdlovsk) is iconic as the execution spot of the last Russian Tsar (Nicholas II) & his family; it's also the site of a highly-fatal Soviet bioweapon accident. Now there's a new breakout: the consensus that US unilateralism can't continue. The dollar has become diseased.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Washington Wars

The Obama administration today rudely twisted arms to pass a huge war funding bill. The Democratic leadership has forgotten promises to end overseas adventurism. With a new crowd now firmly in power, they dish up continuing military-industrial wastefulness, and promote the worst of the Bush/Cheney/Whitewater legacy.

These billions, the people's money, spent on America's warfare industries. Such riches could grow many better things. Instead, war machines & needless heroics stomp the world, made in the U.S.A.

America can't promote positive change through waging foreign wars. Bombing & maiming creates more enemies than friends. US money & energy should be spent at home, caring for our own people. Elected politicians who've abandoned their constituencies and damaged the nation will be voted out. Now they are parasites bathing in blood... We expected better!

Monday, June 15, 2009


Japan is a great place! It's world-leading in some ways. Could it be better?... certainly!

I've lived in Japan for 13+ years, and now visit regularly. There's much I like. (Perhaps I'll add more kudos later, but -- quickly -- some areas I admire are the hot springs, the people, culture, food, holidays, predictability, reliability, etc.).

This post, however, will list major weaknesses. Over time I'll add & revise the items. These are personal observations; suggestions welcome!

Prepare plenty of yen (cash) for Japan. Only a small percentage of ATM machines handle cashcards / creditcards issued outside Japan (this means 1% or less!) In early 2009 I was in Beppu, Oita Prefecture. There was no place in that city to withdraw cash using a foreign Visa or Master card... I asked at two Tourist Offices, the major local bank, at a high-end hotel, and at a foreign tourist assistance desk. It was recommended to go to the neighboring city of Oita. Terrible for a city that attracts international tourists and has an globally-oriented university.

Most hotels & many restaurants accept credit cards (foreign or domestic) but a great many places in Japan require cash. Foreign exchange at banks in many cities is a tedious & costly procedure. In this earlier cited trip, I visited Oita Bank and exchanged Korean won at 15% over the interbank rate, and Australian dollars at 21% above that day's interbank rate; it took about 25 minutes for the paperwork. (I'm interested in this as a structural weakness. I wasn't out of cash, and had more than 50,000 yen and also plenty of U.S. dollars). The lesson is that well-off foreign visitors to Japan can expect to be seriously inconvenienced. They'll also feel Japan as rigidly domestic and financially archaic. It's sad that Japanese financial institutions haven't fixed this...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Zagat Sucks

I formerly subscribed to Zagat Survey, an excellent review of restaurants, hotels, nightspots, etc., around the world. I also submitted many reviews, which were published online & in Zagat printed guides.

But now I don't subscribe; rather, I believe Zagat sucks.

What soured me? They've a scummy system that automatically renews subscriptions. They don't allow immediate opt-out. The system is skewed to their convenience: the user is automatically billed again next year, and again forever. They claim a call or letter later can end a subscription. But I don't wish to "subscribe for life until further notice" -- I'd be OK for a year, but this is bad practice. Zagat sucks.


Haiku by Genki

Distraction left me
knowing "Something Was Just Lost"
Then refreshing smell


Our world ain't fair, but
Children's chalk marks, blood, and grime
All purged by Spring rain


One quiet breath, then
Another. Without chatter.
Rustles mix with wind.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dangerous Korea?

Having spent some years in South Korea, with three trips to the DMZ and once across, I'm often asked by friends in Europe & the USA -- how dangerous is South Korea?

It's a tough question to answer. South Koreans don't feel much danger, but proximity to North Korea is certainly a problem. It's only 35 miles (55 kms) from the DPRK border to Seoul, 120 miles (190 kms) between Seoul & Pyongyang. It's costly to be bottled-up on the Korean peninsula by an unpredictable neighbor.

In terms of marketing, people around the world are both confused & frightened by the jointly-used name "Korea"...

There are smaller problems in living anywhere; sometimes irritation seems to accumulate. In Korea I've been bothered that incoming international mail is a few days slower to arrive than to Japan or Europe or the USA. It was also an irritant that an international service I use regularly will not ship to Korea (VistaPrint; they ship to 120 other countries...). An associated problem is finding Korea in international postage lists: is it under "K" for Korea, "S" for South Korea, "R" for Republic of Korea, or is it not listed...?

Some weaknesses leave locals unfazed, but I've been surprised: the university regularly issued us medicine to kill intestinal parasites. And don't drink the tap water!

But most people in South Korea prefer not to think about these wider problems, and don't spend time worrying about them. People busily focus on the everyday business of life.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Obscured Imprisonment

(poetry by Genki)

I expend
My lonely energies
Building barriers
Against Others

Wrong race
Bad nation
Can't be trusted

What threat
Built my prison?
Unforgiving jailer
In every mirror

But sometime
solitude breaks
I'm outside, in

Fresh air
A few breaths
Banter with others

No whistle of "time's up"
I trudge back
To my cell
and lock my own door

I may wake one day
In a better world
I hope. I pray.
Simple things may set me free.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Poking at Pyongyang

Media reports about Lee Seung-Eun (리승은 Euna Lee) & Laura Ling have been unfairly inflammatory. These two 'journalists' were arrested while unreasonably probing the Chinese / DPRK (North Korea) border on 17 March 2009.

To illegally cross the border, or even to be close enough that North Korean guards could grab them, was dumb. They were in a controlled area, and are now convicted provocateurs. Certainly we want them back as soon as possible; they and their families must be suffering terribly.

Who are these women? They were clearly in a dangerous place, with producer-cameraman Mitchell 'Mitch' Koss and a North Korean-born naturalized Chinese guide (who both evaded North Korean capture, but were subsequently detained by the Chinese; Koss was quickly released and returned to the USA a few days after the incident). Koss before has traveled the full length of this North Korean border (see his LA Times report from 2003). For what reasons were inexperienced women sent into danger? (Some facts emerge in a 30 March 2009 article by Barbara Demick). Why no clear statements from Koss - the direct witness who abandoned them? Most press coverage shows bias, and facts have been woefully inadequate.

Within hours of this incident, a Japanese man with wire cutters was arrested by the South Korean military attempting to break through the North Korean border. (A video report in Japanese is here). Strange goings-on for a highly-dangerous area!

The best strategy available for these women is to beg for mercy & clemency.

Update: It is unhelpful that in 2006 the older sister of imprisoned Laura Ling, Lisa Ling, infiltrated North Korea with hidden cameras posing as part of a medical relief team; the resulting National Geographic production "Undercover in North Korea" was highly critical of the DPRK.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Foreign Devils Left My House

I've lived in assorted countries as a student & teacher; over 28 years as a foreigner! (About 14 years in Japan & Korea as a racial minority). This could be characterized as miserable or wonderful - mostly it's been good. There are many thousands of people such as myself: highly skilled global migrants who regularly learn to enjoy new tastes & experiences. Our numbers are increasing.

Mixed-race people are also increasing in number (I've Hawaiian, Chinese & European roots). In comparison with citizenship, racial ancestry is less likely to be public knowledge and is often misreported: U.S. President Barack Obama is regularly termed "Black" when he's as much Caucasian as otherwise. Racial groupings and definitions are imprecise and often used as a mechanism for exclusion...

I've lived in Sweden since 1995, and was a foreigner until a couple of months ago, when I joined my American-born wife as a naturalized Swede with multiple citizenship. Now I feel more interest as a local stakeholder, and more empowered. It's nice.