A Long Break


I spent the time during the holiday break studying Korean.  The department was kind enough to let me work one-on-one with two instructors who came into work during the break.  It helped me substantially improve my Korean conversation.  I wasn’t able study outside of class as much as I would have liked, but at least on Monday when classes start again I’ll be better prepared.  I have one month to polish up this infernal language, and after four days of tutoring I feel much better about my ability to meet the language requirement.  I’ll never complain about learning German, Spanish, or Chinese again (until I start learning Chinese characters again).

The death toll from the tsunamis rose to 116,000 after Indonesia reported that over 80,000 people had perished.  What a tragedy!  This is the single worst event in world history since the 1976 earthquake in southern China that killed more than 500,000 people.  I’m my American mind these events are unfortunately measured by numbers of casualties; in reality the situation is much, much worse than merely the death toll.  This will have substantial repercussions for years to come throughout the Indian Ocean Rim–devastated families, lost livelihoods, destroyed villages and towns, ruined local economies, international economic recession, a huge debt burden for donor and recipient nations.  The prospects just don’t look good.  This event does not impact the average American like 9/11 did because it didn’t hit so close to home, but in the coming years it will have just as much impact on the world as 9/11 did.  What a tragedy.

I’ve been following the Washington State Gubernatorial race very closely.  The Secretary of State Sam Reed (R) just certified Christine Gregoire (D) as governor over Dino Rossi (R).  Gregoire won the second recount, a hand recount, by just 130 votes out of 2.8 million cast.  Rossi won the initial machine count and machine recount by 261 and 42 votes respectively.  It’s been 8 weeks since the election, and this may continue to drag out in the courts for weeks or months.  The GOP is now calling for a revote.  Based on all the potential irregularities, a run-off may be the best option.  Most countries mandate run-off elections when a candidate garners less than a majority vote.  Most Washington voters agree that a revote is the best option based on a recent Elway poll.  It’s a tainted race, and no one can know for certain who won regardless of who becomes governor.  I suspect Gregoire will be governor because Washington State is heavily Democratic, but she will carry a burden that President Bush carried for four years after the 2000 Presidential Election–she will have won the governorship based on state supreme court rulings.  It will be interesting to see what the Republicans do in the coming weeks.  This was the GOP’s best chance in decades to win the governorship, but if they aren’t careful they will come off as spoilers.  The Dems were spoilers when they insisted on a second hand recount, a method that is inherently less accurate than a machine recount and prone to divination to determine voter intent.  The Dems took a risk and won–so far.  It’s politics at its worst, unfortunately.  A run-off is definitely the better course of action than conceding in a tainted race or dragging the fight out in court.  The best results are that it will shine a spotlight on the Washington State electoral process and hopefully improve it before the 2006 election.

A New Chapter


My in-laws left yesterday and returned to their home in China.  They have lived with us for over two years.  Before they arrived in 2002, I mentioned to my wife that it was the start of a new chapter in our lives.  Now the page has turned and yet another new chapter has started for us.  They lived with us since our son was born–they have always been a part of his life.  Now as we prepare to head to Korea, we are again a family of three.  Life has been very hectic for us with our impending move, but I can already tell that life feels a bit more settled now that we’re together as a smaller family.  My in-laws were a big help to us.  They were always around to help take care of our son, and for that I am very grateful.  I know that my son already misses them very much because he’s old enough to be aware of their move, but he has been very well behaved the past couple of days.  I hope it continues until we finally arrive in Seoul.  Living together as an extended family has brought blessing, tension, happiness, and frustration–all the human emotions that rise up with family members living together.  I will look back at the last two years fondly and wax nostalgic, but at present I am happy that a new chapter has started.  For me this is the start of our transition to Korea.  We have been in limbo here in the Washington, D.C. area since we arrived in early 2004, and now within 2 months we will be in Korea, our new home for years.  Korea is yet another chapter to be experienced, and this is page one.

The death toll from the tsunamis in southeast Asia and eastern Africa has risen to 77,000+.  What a tragedy.  I am happy that the U.S. and other nations have pledged millions of dollars and logistical aid to combat the ensuing humanitarian crisis.  The tragedy seems so distant to many of us, but it has touched us nevertheless.  Out of this tragedy comes the opportunity for the world to come together to show support just as it did when the Twin Towers were attacked in 2001.  I’m planning to contact World Vision to see what I can do.

I downloaded and tried the new Mozilla Firefox browser.  It’s the new open source browser that is competing with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  Over 12 million copies have been downloaded.  Most people download it because they either don’t like IE or are concerned about security issues with Microsoft’s browser.  Hackers and virus makers have designed nasties around the IE browser because over 90% of Internet users use IE to access the Web (mass audience).  I had to check it out for myself.  I have tested the Firefox browser, and so far I have not been very impressed.  If it will boost my PC’s security I will use it, but I may have to sacrifice some speed and functionality.  Pages appear to load more slowly in Firefox, and you have to manually load some add-ins such as Flash that boost the Web’s functionality.  Still, I will continue to test Firefox and use it for the time being.  I was happy to see that Google is Firefox’ default search engine.  Google appears on the Firefox home page and as a built-in browser toolbar.  If Firefox takes off in 2005, then the Firefox-Google alliance bodes well for Google.  Google impresses more every day.

Tsunamis


On Sunday a massive 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia caused tsunamis that surged across the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, killing thousands in 10 countries from Indonesia to Somalia.  As of this writing almost 24,000 people have perished from the impact of the various tsunamis.  Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and India were particularly hard hit by them.  Large portions of the Maldives were briefly submerged.  What a tragedy.  This is one of the biggest quakes in recorded history and one of the most destructive.  I have colleagues working in Chennai, but I don’t know yet whether they are OK.  Few foreigners have been reported missing or killed–I really hope they’re safe.  Disasters of this magnitude are so tragic.  Earthquakes are among the most destructive natural disasters.  I can only imagine what it must have been like to see a huge wall of water coming toward you.  I pray for the families of the victims and for those who must deal with the aftermath.

If you’re ever abroad and need to check on travel conditions, call the State Department’s hotline at (888) 407-4747 or check their Crisis Awareness and Preparedness Web page.  No one can prepare for a disaster like this, but it’s best to prepare as much as possible.  I plan to check into aid and assistance options and help as much as I can from here.

Economic Priorities


This week President Bush focused on social security and overhauling the tax code during a two-day economic conference at the White House.  Unless changes are made, the Social Security Trust Fund that funds social security could run out of money by the year 2042.  Although 2042 seems so far away, 38 years isn’t that far into the future.  I personally am not counting on social security to be there for me and my spouse when I retire.  I will have other sources of income that will support me and my spouse after I retire.  It’s supposed to be a social safety net, but it is a shaky one for those of us whose retirement is far down into the future.  The fact that the president is even broaching such a hot-button issue as social security is gutsy.  The system does need to be changed so that it remains solvent after the year 2042.  Nevertheless, at present I believe other domestic economic concerns are more pressing and need to receive higher priority than social security or tax code reform.  They should be prioritized as follows:

  1. Reduce the federal budget deficit.  President Bush has made a pledge to reduce the current account deficit by 50%.  He needs to make this his top economic priority.  Over-reliance on foreign investors to buy U.S. debt is dangerous.
  2. Bring down the trade deficit.  The president needs to leverage America’s strengths and fight battles for the country in forums such as the WTO to reduce the nation’s trade deficit.  This is not a problem he created; he inherited it from his father and President Clinton.  He needs to come up with a solid plan for narrowing the trade gap beyond currency devaluation.
  3. Focus on energy self-sufficiency.  It is in the interest of the U.S. to decrease its dependence on foreign oil.  The president needs to evaluate all options ranging from conservation to fuel cells to domestic drilling to minimize energy consumption and maximize domestic production.  Purchasing foreign oil contributes to both #1 and #2 above.
  4. Promote job creation.  The president needs to focus on creating good domestic jobs.  Foreign outsourcing and productivity have put pressure on job creation, leading to fewer good, long-lasting domestic jobs.  I add “long-lasting” because job creation must focus on creating domestic jobs that can withstand an economic downturn.  Job creation during the second Clinton administration was impressive, but these jobs did not survive the dot.com bust.  Those types of jobs are not what the economy needs.  Jobs that can be easily outsourced such as traditional manufacturing jobs are not what the economy needs.  Good jobs with staying power need to be created in fields the U.S. dominate, including technology, services, and biotechnology.

These economic issues should receive highest priority during the second Bush administration.  Focusing on social security and tax code reform are fine as long as these basic priorities are first addressed.

Thinking of Jeddah


I was going to write today about my personal computer woes, but the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah today dampened my enthusiasm.  Problems I thought were big seem so trivial compared to that.  No matter where your opinion falls on political issues, you probably agree that this incident was very tragic.  I worry for my colleagues there.  Fortunately, they’re all safe.  No Americans were killed, injured, or taken hostage during the attack.  I’m very sorry to hear that some of the local employees were killed and injured.  My heart goes out to all of them.  Jeddah is a very tense place now.  In fact, the entire Kingdom is very tense in the run up to their first nationwide elections to be held between February and April of next year.  The Consulate had been on evacuation status earlier this year, and just when things seem to get back to normal this happens.

I am very glad that I will be heading to Seoul instead of Saudi Arabia.  Granted, I will be about 30 miles from one of the most dangerous places on earth, the Korean DMZ.  Seoul itself is very safe despite the DPRK mortar shells within range of the city.  War is for the most part out of sight, out of mind–until incidents like these attacks occur.  The road between Seoul and Kaesong reopened on December 1st for the first time in over 54 years.  It’s part of a new endeavor by the two Koreas to establish an economic zone in Kaesong and promote economic cooperation.  Perhaps this will lead the two countries to work closer together and decrease tensions in the region.  I remain hopeful.  I hope that what happened in Jeddah today or far worse never happens in Korea.