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The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer

6 Feb
436px Jroppenheimer Losalamos

J. Robert Oppenheimer

PBS‘s The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer breaks no new ground in Oppenheimer biography or the history of atomic weaponry. It would be a standard, if insightful documentary, if not for the insertion of dramatic recreations of 1953 public hearings Oppenheimer himself requested to defend his security clearance status. Portrayed by veteran actor David Strathairn, Oppenheimer is a complicated, insecure figure. Juxtaposing reel footage and stills of the actual Oppenheimer with Strathairn in a bare crucible of a hearing room reveals the man inside the public figure. Oppenheimer comes across as both pitiable and human.

Oppenheimer was a telegenic man, and stills record the fragility of his character, as well as his brilliance and charisma. The crystal-clear eyes especially are revealing of a sort of man who is lost in a labyrinth of bureaucratic deceits and turf battles. It was all particularly haunting.

I realize now, that a security clearance is no compensation for a human life. I think Oppenheimer seduced himself to believe he could attain power responsibly and use his scientific knowledge for national benefit, perhaps human service. He realized his error in 1953, and Strathairn reveals that in his performance. There was always something repugnant about Edward Teller, one of Oppenheimer’s rivals. Yet, Teller is a very average and common sort of man who deserves the burden of responsibility. Leadership is not a favorable calling, rather it’s a sacrifice: the man who protects others must die. Jesus Christ himself died for others, but suffered immeasurably, or so the scribes wrote.

But, the Monday never comes, and there’s no accolades, or even understanding of what a leader sacrifices, especially if the service is excellent. The myth of glory that leads complicated persons to sacrifice happiness for trivial distinctions is a modern travesty. The denouement is always the same, and Oppenheimer’s fate is the rule, not the exception.

I’m very happy I can write this, and didn’t have to sacrifice my complications.

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Fighting Somali Pirates Is Not the Route to East Asian Peace

6 Feb

Bless Robert Farley for being optimistic, but “The notion that Japan and South Korea might grow closer because of military action off the coast of Africa…” strikes me as just plain wrong. And, Pyongyang’s antics might be the least of the causes for launching Japanese and South Korean politicians to placate their respective constituencies. Success itself could be the undoing of both rivals’ “joint” participation in Combined Task Force 151.

Firstly, neither South Korean nor Japanese naval forces have actually received the green light to sail. March 2009 might witness the beginning of the tour to Somalia. It seems the rules of engagement for both naval contingents will be very tight, if Japan’s is any example.

Coping with piracy is fundamentally the Japan Coast Guard’s job, and the law supposes that such action is limited to areas around Japan.

Under the provision, the MSDF can protect only Japanese-linked ships, such as Japanese-registered or managed ships and ships with Japanese crew members or cargoes. Outside Japanese waters, use of weapons is limited to self-defense. MSDF ships can fire warning shots but cannot shoot at the hulls of pirate boats to stop them. The government has let the Defense Ministry write detailed guidelines for use of weapons in the MSDF’s rules of engagement, which are not made public. This undermines civilian control of the SDF.

And ROK’s Minister of National Defense had to bend over backwards to narrow the parameters of the rules of engagement:

“While following engagement rules established by the Combined Maritime Forces under the United States’ Fifth Fleet, we will also establish our own rules of engagement to carry out missions,” said the minister.

That leads to a second headache: both ROK’s Lee Myung-bak and Japan’s Taro Aso are not popular. Neither ruling parties represents more than 50% of their respective electorates. The best either leader can hope for is, that nothing happens, particularly where either navy takes casualties, or one naval contingent errs causing loss of life to the others force.

And, if, say, one of ROK’s finest destroyers does its country fine, South Koreans will respond with chest-thumping sufficient enough to question any cooperation with Japan on anything. The bolder South Korean politicians get, the less inclination they will have to make deals with Japan. In ROK, cooperation is for weaklings.

It’s just a no-win situation all around. The only way to solve Japan-ROK issues is to take them head-on.

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Japan’s Madoff Was No Charmer

6 Feb

Kazutsugi Nami speaks to the press before being arrestedJapan’s Bernie Madoff? I think the moniker is an insult to Madoff!

Reading the more helpful accounts of the Divine Yen scheme perpetrated by L&G executive Kazutsugi Nami and 21 others, the outrage isn’t that Nami charmed the cash from the rich and famous, as Madoff notoriously pulled off, but that police or government regulators took over two years to notice L&G’s implosion.

The suspects are specifically accused of swindling six victims out of about 118 million yen in what they called “assistance funds,” by promising that they would receive a 9 percent dividend every three months for each 1 million yen of investment — yearly interest of 36 percent — and promising to return the principal investment after one year. The suspects allegedly made the unrealizable promises after the company’s management ran into financial trouble in 2006.

When questioned by the Mainichi before his arrest, Nami denied the allegations.

“We had a business plan and merely collected investments, and it was not fraud,” he said.

L&G was founded in 1987. At first the company sold its own futons and food products, but from 2001 it started collecting money from investors. From about 2004, people who deposited 100,000 yen or more received the same amount in “Enten” through their mobile phones, and a system was introduced to enable the currency to be used to buy products on an Internet site, speeding up the company’s collection of investments.

However, in February 2007, L&G informed all members that it was converting investment dividends from cash to Enten. The one-sided announcement resulted in a flood of requests from investors to cancel contracts, and sparked lawsuits demanding the return of principal investments. In October that year, police searched the Tokyo-based company’s head office on suspicion of violating the law concerning regulation of investments.

The company’s bankruptcy administrator said that L&G filed for bankruptcy in November 2007, and an order was issued for the company to protect its assets. However, a large amount of investors’ money remains unaccounted for.

The Times even says as much.

It is remarkable that Mr Nami was at large and operating a business as long as he was: the net has been tightening steadily around him since L&G went into administration 16 months ago, after a career in which he constantly attracted the attention of the police and served a jail sentence for an earlier fraud.

Previous fraud? Perhaps the police are the ones who are to blame for letting Nami continue to swindle consumers, and just didn’t know how to nab him without looking worse for the flare?

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