Category Archives: Uncategorized

F*** cover saves, what I need is an invuln++

Been playing a lot of Warhammer 40K lately.

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Olympic illumination in Japan

So for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Skytree continues its trend of special illuminations.

The standard illumination during the games rotates between white and red for the Japanese flag (日の丸):

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And yellow and green for the Brazilian flag:
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But on days when Japan has won a Gold Medal, they illuminate the Skytree in gold:
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Gold Medal Skytree

No silver or bronze.  Guess Japan is win or go home.
Its neat to think that I might see they games in 4 years from now.  That is, after all, why the JET Program has expanded to Tokyo.

Surviving the Heat in Japan

Another hot day in Tokyo.  Currently, it is 95 degF or 35 degC.  Thankfully the humidity is rather low today.

 

Coming from Seattle, where the weather is usually in the mid-70’s, it is difficult to bear the heat even after being here for a year.  I try to spend as much as my time in-doors during the day, but it isn’t a panacea for avoiding heat in Japan.  Japanese schools aren’t designed to be climate friendly to the occupants.  Moreover, use of the AC is selective on a staff-by-staff basis.  In the teacher’s staff room, for instance, the AC runs at an extremely low setting.  There is a large fan, not far from where I’m sitting, but it remains unused.

In the English staff room, however, things are different.  The AC is running continuously throughout the day, sometimes even when staff members are absent.  The English room is much smaller though, and uses fewer resources to cool.

Much of the heat disparity is motivated by two separate but related issues.  First, Japan’s “COOL BIZ” policy. The current governor-elect of Tokyo, Koike, spearheaded Cool Biz as a policy from back in 2005.  It aims to reduce the usage of power that AC units consume.  Currently, from May to October, most government organizations and many businesses discard dress code of wearing a full suit to a button-down shirt with an open collar.  Sleeves can be worn rolled-up or short.  Not only does it reduce the environmental impact with reduced energy consumption, but it also saves money.

The second reason is more abstract, and has more to do with Japanese culture.  Japan is a famously austere culture, which abhors waste or over-consumption.  Followed by the fact that the leadership structure in Japan is incredibly verticalized, when a frugal boss doesn’t use the AC for whatever reason, the rest of the staff toe the line and forgo AC use too.  Japan has the saying of “gaman,” which loosely translates as “to endure with dignity and without complaint,” it’s generally out of place for a subordinate to complain at conditions which the leader has already accepted to endure.  From my experience, information is always disseminated by leaders here, and rarely is feedback elicited.  It doesn’t mean that feedback is always buffed, but it can be seen as a poor team dynamic for a team member to express their needs to the group.  Thus, since my vice-principal forgoes the AC, the rest of us with use “gaman” and make due.

Outside of work, my ongoing interest in recreational cycling and my more recent hobby of PokemonGO as started to falter.  My cycling route lacks sufficient light source to bike safely at night.  And since sundown is usualy prior to 7pm, I wait until the weekends. However with the heat, I have opted to remain in-doors as much as possible during the day.  As far as PokemonGO is concerned, I still regularly take walks after sundown.  Unfortunately, my motivation suffers once I have returned home and settled-in for the evening.

Japanese news often reports on heat-stroke casualties in Japan. The numbers seem really high, until you realize that Japan does not differentiate from heat-stroke and the less severe heat-exhaustion.  Even in extreme heat, heat-stroke is rare.  It typically requires that a person not only be exposed to heat, but fail to hydrate as well as physically exert themselves.  Heat-exhaustion is much more common.  Thankfully preventative measures can reduce the risk.

First**Stay Hydrated!  Make sure you also balance electrolytes periodically with a sports drink.  But water should be first and foremost.
-Dress appropriately.  I have done away with my button down shirt and am mostly wearing an untucked polo shirt on my average work day.  Additionally, I wear a spandex or Under Armor type shirt below.  It helps wick away sweat and dries faster than the cotton of my shirt.
-Stay out of direct sunlight.  On top of the obvious heat of the sun, Japan has a much higher humidity than my hometown.  Humidity is a multiplier of the heat and can drain the body, causing it to sweat even while not in direct sunlight or with exertion.
-Don’t overdo it.  Its always a good idea to take frequent breaks in the shade or in an air-conditioned room.

Return to the Third-way

Everyone knows partisan politics is divided.  The cliché is that modern politics is in a flux of extremes.  Looking at the current GOP primary field would seem to support this argument with candidates such as Trump and Cruz in the lead.  The level-headed adults have left the building (Rubio) with the exception for Kasich, who clings to the remote possibility of being spoiler at the July convention.

What is more in doubt is the chicken-or-the-egg quandary which asks, “Are politicians extreme because of their base, or is the base moving toward extremism because of the bent of current political leaders?”  Looking back at recent history, American Presidents of the not to distant past seemed fairly moderate in both parties.  Even the much abhorred Neocon movement of the early 2000s is a mild salve compared to the frenzy of the Tea Party.  Now emerging on the political left is a surprising showing by Bernie Sanders (I-VT).  But even Sanders, with his social populism, is a mirror of the trend of political divide in America.  As Trump engages with the sizable political fringe on the right, Sanders has found a niche on the left to exploit.

Conventional wisdom holds that political extremism exists in both parties, though arguably more obvious in the GOP, but for the sake of electability, moderate politicians are selected to run in general elections.  George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush are Presidents, while Bob Dole and Mitt Romney are candidates, who are politically moderate examples of the GOP by today’s standards.  Correspondingly, President Bill Clinton is the founder of the New Democrats from the Third Way movement that came to power by advocating moderate policies and appealing to centrist voters.[1]  President Barrack Obama, despite allegations to the contrary, is also a center-left Democrat who won power by appealing to a coalition of voters.

Since 2010, when the rise of the Tea Party and the loss of the Democrat controlled House of Representatives, the run-to-the-middle approach of the GOP floundered as more moderate Republicans were unable to advance against more radical primary challengers.  Conservative and libertarian populism meant that successful Republican politicians often had to cater to the whims of the far-right of the party.

Now, there is a danger that the caricature of the angry voter who has found a voice in Donald Trump’s candidacy has emerged in the Democrat Party.  While mainstream Democrats are often marginally aligned with the belief of the fringe-left, politicians like Elizabeth Warren have galvanized the liberal parallel to the Tea Party—the Occupy (Wall Street) movement.  Other groups have emerged with narrowly focused interest but a huge public presence, like the Black Lives Matter movement, to dominate liberal political discourse.  It would seem that liberal groups are adopting the divisive zero-sum attitude of their conservative counterparts.

Occupy (Wall Street) has some legitimate points it makes on the topics of income inequality and the control of wealth.  Black Lives Matter also makes fair criticism that there is a problem with structural discrimination in society, specifically in law enforcement.  What the dangers the groups represent is found in a spectrum from a lack of a coherent plan that tackles the root of their niche point of advocacy to unrealistic and poorly constructed plans that have no chance of success, such as Sanders’ implausible plan for single-payer healthcare.[2]

Now that Sanders has entered the national political dynamic, away from his ideological-island territory of Vermont (greater New England), he is playing a dangerous game by giving mainstream political attention and support to the fringe-left advocacy groups.  He has gained a significant amount of success through populist ideology.  Unfortunately, giving undue credibility to fringe-groups hurts actual discourse as the groups have less incentive to moderate their message to less friendly audiences.  Fringe groups then double down on their rhetoric with even more ideologically impassioned voices emerging, rather than the ones coming from a place of logic and well-formed articulation.  The reality is that ideologically based advocacy groups have their biggest cheerleader and validator in Sanders; the face of angry populism on the left.

Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for President is supposed to be a call for a political revolution.  What he might actually do is damage the Democrat brand.  To Sanders’ credit, he has been able to capture the support and enthusiasm of large numbers of voters who typically shun the political process with apathy and inaction.[3]  These enthusiastic foot soldiers in Sanders’ revolution identify with his fervor.  They are the true believers.  One might cynically say they swallowed the bait hook-line-and-sinker.  But like the proverbial fish in the fishing analogy, one they get off the hook, so much harder it is to get them to bite again.  That’s perhaps why polls show that a quarter of Sanders’ supporters won’t back Clinton in the case that she was selected as nominee to the Democrat Party.[4]

That’s right.  By Sanders whipping his voting base into an ideological frenzy, the invested parties in his “revolution” have stated that many of them won’t compromise for anything less than his ideological purity.  It’s not hard to see why his voters threaten to take their metaphorical ball and go home, since this far into the primary process, Sanders and his supporters have resorted to demagoguery, by slamming Hillary Clinton as counter-revolutionary and part of the problem he crusades against.  But while Clinton is largely a centrist, she’s still incredibly liberal by many standards.  To shun Clinton as the nominee, I would relate to a person throwing out a hundred dollar winning lottery ticket in anger that they didn’t win the jackpot.  A win is still a win.

The second self-inflicted wound that Sanders may inflict against the Democrat Party is something I’ve heard Sanders’ supporters gleefully but myopically brag about.  When confronted by the delegate math and the difficulty Sanders faces at getting the nomination, I’ve personally heard his supporters allude (I paraphrase,) “It’s not important that he win so much as it’s important that he contribute to the conversation, “ or “At lease Sanders’ campaign is pushing Hillary to the left.”

This attitude is problematic for a couple of reasons.  For a quarter of Sanders’ voters it doesn’t matter if Clinton shifts left, they still won’t back her in the general election.  Sam Stein of Salon.com makes the point that forcing Clinton to shift to the left will alienate moderate or transition GOP voters.[5]  And right now there are a lot of disaffected GOP voters who are worried about the hard-right swing of Trump’s angry populism who the Democrats will fail to woo if it appears there is an equal hard-left swing that Clinton is forced to make to compete with Sanders’ fringe ideology.

Sometimes conventional wisdom is conventional because it works.  Hard shifts to either extremes don’t help political parties in the long run and they don’t help American voters.  America enjoyed one of the longest economic expansions in its modern history under President Clinton and has recovered from the greatest loss of wealth in American history under President Obama.  Both presidents are largely centrists.  It doesn’t make sense to choose a high risk ideology which has dubious chances of success.

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[1] Stein, S.  (2015)  Salon.com, “The Rise Of Bernie Sanders And The Panic Of Democratic Centrists”
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/third-way-presidential-campaign_us_563237f2e4b0c66bae5b4066

[2] Klein, E.  (2016)  VOX.com, “Bernie Sanders’s single-payer plan isn’t a plan at all”
http://www.vox.com/2016/1/17/10784528/bernie-sanders-single-payer-health-care

[3] Wallace-Wells, B.  (2016)  The New Yorker, “Sanders, Trump, and the Rise of the Non-Voters”

http://www.newyorker.com/news/benjamin-wallace-wells/sanders-trump-and-the-rise-of-the-non-voters

[4] Savransky, R.  (2016)  TheHill.com, “Poll: 1 in 4 Sanders Voters Won’t Back Clinton” http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/bernie-sanders-leads-hillary-clinton-national-poll#

[5] Stein, S.  (2015)  Salon.com, “The Rise Of Bernie Sanders And The Panic Of Democratic Centrists”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/third-way-presidential-campaign_us_563237f2e4b0c66bae5b4066

On Bernie Sanders’ self-defeating, angry populism

While Sanders continues to gain steam by winning later primary states, his momentum is a snowball effect of angry populism on the Left rather than successful arguments made with refined policy. There is a jumping on by so-called “Bernie Bros” who want a reason to be angry.  Little of the dramatic changes he proposes from global security to geo-economics are articulated in a way that satisfies critical analysis.  From anecdotal experience, when I questioned Sanders supporters with the nuts and bolts of his policy platform, they either recite papers that have eviscerated by peer review or simply revert puerile reasoning that Sanders’ candidacy is important because it brings up ‘important issues’ and shifts the primary process to the Left.  Sanders’ policy continues to be dangerous to American interests and here’s why:

Sanders’ angry populism is a mirror of the angry mob that Trump represents. While both candidates have vastly different ideology and end-goals in mind, they both follow the same track of criticizing the establishment, profess a desire to disrupt the mainstream status quo and argue mostly from a hypothetical standpoint of what America should do rather that what we could do to further our interests and prosperity. Should is a subjective point of view that reflects a specific imperative about what is the right policy. Could is a critical standpoint that outlines what capability is available. Should sounds more sexy in a political context while could seems boring and passive.  Nevertheless, I want a could-President because that type of reasoning acknowledges political reality which puts American prosperity within an attainable grasp.  There is nothing attainable about much of Sanders’ should-policies.

What most people don’t realize about what Sanders things America should do, is that it would transform our society in ways that the end result would be near-unrecognizable.  One of the main traits of the United States, for good or for ill, is that we are an outward leaning nation.  We look at the world around us and have an innate nature to want to sculpt it with our influence.  As Thomas Wright states, Sanders is a politician whom is single-mindedly inward oriented.  Wright asserts that Sanders takes a “zero sum” attitude of “either American workers’ win or other nations do.[1]”  Consequentially, Sanders is aligned against trade and is an advocate against the US’ free-trade agreements.  “Sanders has opposed all U.S. trade agreements throughout his political career, including General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).[2]”  Yet as much as it can be argued that free-trade agreements have hurt the American worker and manufacturing sectors, free trade is also a cornerstone to American success.

Free-trade has many laudable features such as helping to create a more interdependent and diversified world economy. There is no better way to create an ally than to engage in trade with a foreign nation.  Specifically for the US economy it has help diversify new sectors of industry that would not be as successful in the American market alone.  Additionally, trade helps firms expand into other markets which help domestic companies create jobs by producing goods for the export market.  Furthermore, trade helps the poor and raises standards of living.  By having competition in consumer markets, trade helps to provide goods to the consumer at lower prices.  Being able to buy at lower prices allows the consumer to stretch their dollar with the effect of an increased standard of living.  Personal electronics, for instance, would not be as affordable to the average worker if the market provided only devices that were designed and manufactured within America.  The Economist cites the economists Lawrence and Edwards as estimating that trade solely with China put $250 in the pocket of the average American in 2008.[3]  It is a point which is lost to rhetoricians like Sanders and Trump who serve up trade as a scapegoat, whipping up anger at trade as a source of lost American jobs.PPF.PNG

 

Sanders’ isolationism is counter from the prevailing liberal viewpoint that the world is stronger when nations work with each other for collective prosperity. Economic isolationism may work well on the campaign trail, but will put the US at a competitive disadvantage and is plain just bad economic theory.  As liberal, and Nobel Prize-winning, economist Paul Krugman stated, “If there were an Economist’s Creed, it would surely contain the affirmations ‘I understand the Principle of Comparative Advantage’ and ‘I advocate Free Trade’.[4]”  Realistically, the United States is already participating in a global economy.  Sanders’ attempts to withdraw from the global economy would hurt America more than it would help.

The problem of Sanders’ economic policy is further exacerbated by the fact that it is limited to two facets, raising taxes (audibly for the rich, but realistically for everyone) and ramping up entitlements. The tax increases are claimed to be offset by growth in the economy.  Most economists, like the previously mentioned Paul Krugman, believe that estimates of over 5% in GDP are unfathomable. [5]  In the case that Sanders really does withdraw from the global economy with overly protectionist policies, then a contraction of the GDP is much more likely.  Furthermore, Sanders has a plan to vastly inflate the federal minimum wage.  Such a large increase in costs is likely to hurt business.  The firms that survive will be the ones who are likely to push for increased productivity measures that has a two-fold effect of hurting low skilled workers by causing firms to replace workers with automation and the remaining jobs will have such low turnover that workers unemployed workers will have difficulty in finding open positions.  Without growth in revenue base, Sanders’ only solution to fund his programs will be to pile on the already staggering amount of debt or by printing money with the dangers of rapid inflation.  As far as taxes go, Ezra Klein states that Sanders’ plan would raise taxes “by more than a trillion dollars per year.[6]

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Sanders’ social programs are a disaster waiting to happen for several reasons. First, the realpolitik of getting any of his signature policy platform into legislation is a fantasy.  Since the GOP took both houses of congress, bipartisanship has been halted and most of President Obama’s actions have been through executive order.  Compared to Sanders, Obama is moderate in political ideology.  What seriously makes voters think that any of the bigger items on Sanders’ agenda is going to pass through congress when a more moderate president has been hindered at every turn?  Krugman also contends that Sanders has “little chance of enacting” any of the sweeping legislation that would be needed to bring about single-payer healthcare.[7]

The second hazard of Sanders’ policy platform is that the details don’t bear fruit. Ryan Cooper of The Week rebuts Klein and Krugman, partially stating that they are Clinton minions who are harping on Sanders’ healthcare plan for a lack of detail that can be resolved when resources are available after he becomes POTUS.[8]  Cooper’s argument is ignoring that big plans, such as the ones held by Sanders, have incredible amounts of moving parts.  Sanders’ supporters are trying to drown out legitimate questions about how something is going to Underpants gnome Bernie.PNGbe done with the insistence that it should be done, and if you don’t support Bernie, you’re part of the problem.  Sanders’ supporters have slogans and anger, but not a lot of data on their side.  It is a point used by Klein to eviscerate Sanders’ plan as “puppies-an-rainbows,” meaning that Sanders’ promises are shoulds rather than coulds.[9]

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]Wright, T. (2016) “Sanders’ great leap inward: What his rejection of Obama’s worldview means for U.S. foreign policy”http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/order-from-chaos/posts/2016/02/26-bernie-sanders-foreign-policy-wright

[2] ibid.

[3] The Economist (2016), “Trade, at what price?” http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21695855-americas-economy-benefits-hugely-trade-its-costs-have-been-amplified-policy

[4] Krugman, P. (1987), The Journal of Economic Perspectives, “Is Free Trade Passé?”

[5] Krugman, P. (2016), The New York Times, “Varieties of Voodoo” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/19/opinion/varieties-of-voodoo.html

[6] Klien, E. (2016), Vox.com, “Bernie Sanders’s single-payer plan isn’t a plan at all” http://www.vox.com/2016/1/17/10784528/bernie-sanders-single-payer-health-care

[7] Krugman, P. (2016), The New York Times, “Varieties of Voodoo”

[8] Cooper, R. (2016), The Week, “Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman both face-planted in their Bernie Sanders takedowns”http://theweek.com/articles/601908/ezra-klein-paul-krugman-both-faceplanted-bernie-sanders-takedowns

[9] Klein, E. (2016), VOX.com, “Why Bernie Sanders’s campaign makes me worry about how he’ll manage the White House” http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/2/22/11086292/bernie-sanders-political-revolution-wonks