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I wrote a few times about the changing family dynamic in Japan and the rise of the woman worker. Despite Japan’s shrinking and aging population the article makes clear the crime rate is low, unemployment is very low for a developed nation (less than 4%) and the country is still quite middle class. It does not sound like a crisis, it sounds like Japan is going the way of some less dynamic and mature European countries. It is becoming what I like to call a “museum country”, it is stagnating.

So what can Japan do? Further deregulate and import more foreigners? That might be a long term solution, but I’m not sure the social cost outweigh the benefits for most Japanese people.

I believe one of the key problems in Japan is how decisions are made. Japanese people, since the Late Tokogawa Period (and likely before) have be very high on consensus. They do not tend to like strong independent leaders making controversial and difficult decisions. They do not like this in CEOs and they especially do not tend to like this in Prime Ministers, therefore these positions are historically weak. Some of the issues that plague Japan need a strong leader, but due to the way the political and economic establishment has been historically structured this individual or “new generation” of leaders is unlikely to manifest.


For Japan, a Long, Slow Slide

Declines in Productivity, Population Combining to Stifle Economic Growth
By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 3, 2008; A17

TOKYO — As the United States frets noisily about a recession, Japan is quietly enduring a far more fundamental economic slide, one that seems irreversible.

This country, which got rich quick in a postwar miracle of manufacturing and alarmed Americans by buying up baubles such as Rockefeller Center, is steadily slipping backward as a major economic force.

Fifteen years ago, Japan ranked fourth among the world’s countries in gross domestic product per capita. It now ranks 20th. In 1994, its share of the world’s economy peaked at 18 percent; in 2006, the number was below 10 percent.

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-Africa: Africans Stuck With EU Deals – Europe attempting to screw Africa economically again. Wow, big shock.

-Ghana 2008: Who Benefits from the $ One Billion ACN Merchandise Sales? – The spending boom in Ghana with the African Cup at its epicenter benefits China the most? Benin Mwangi thinks so and I have to agree. It is an interesting that this trade boom is being lead by African women who are outsourcing production to Asia! That is just amazing, in a bad way. Then again they may have no choice due to Ghana’s poor infrastructure it might not be possible to manufacture the amount of product they need faster and cheaper than it is to import it.

-Ma ‘never intended’ to hide green card – Apparently the new big scandal in Taiwan. I suppose if I was voting for a president to lead my nation and he was a permanent resident in another nation that would disturb me. I would think he was not completely loyal or was looking for a back door to exist quickly if things started to fall apart. Not good Ma Shensheng.

-Permanent mechanism to close urban-rural gap – More ideas on that harmonious society that the CCP has been talking about since the the 17th Party Congress. As I mentioned before, the Chinese government is in a race against time to secure the future stability of China. This article focuses on investments in rural infrastructure as an attempt to improve the economic condition of the hinterland.

Reforming the university system in S.Korea is a good thing, especially as it relates to research and development; as economic issues have long been on the mind of South Koreans, due to stagnant wages and weak aggregate growth. Technological innovation could lead to Korea developing lucrative specialized niche markets.

This kind of jumped out at me: “When I was a student here in the mid-1980s, some students stopped before the national flag at the library in the morning and observed a moment of silence, vowing to dedicate ourselves to the nation’s industrial development,” said Cho Byung Jin, a professor of electrical engineering.”

The underlying problem, as pointed out, is that the same Confucianist work ethnic and respect for hierarchy that helped South Korea develop at such a rapid clip has now brought them to a point of diminishing marginal returns. To reach a higher level they must be creative enough to innovate. “Outside the box” thinking and military style conformity for big “push” initiatives usually do not mix well. This has been a problem in Singapore and Japan in recent years, as both nations have tried to promote creativity and “relax” cultural constraints, to varying success.


South Korean science prepares to take on the world

DAEJEON, South Korea: In Professor Cho Dong Ho’s laboratory at Kaist, South Korea’s top science and technology university, researchers are trying to develop technology that could let you fold a notebook-size electronic display and carry it in your pocket like a handkerchief.

It’s too early to say when something like this might be commercially available. But the experiment has already achieved one important breakthrough: it has mobilized professors from eight departments to collaborate on an idea proposed by a student.

This arrangement is almost unheard of in South Korea, where the norm is for a senior professor to dictate research projects to his own cloistered team. But it’s only one change afoot at this government-financed university, which has ambitions to transform the culture of South Korean science, and more.

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-Desperately seeking students (Japan) – What is interesting about this is that Japan’s government is fully aware of the increasing student shortage and will allow the market to decide which schools stay open. This is something Americans should let happen with HBCUs.

-Bloggers push China to prosecute beating death – What is most interesting about this is that the Internet was instrumental in pressuring the government to adhere to the rule of law. This is a powerful tool for public outcry, that despite government efforts; they really can not effectively control.

-Asia: ‘Internet forces’ in China and Taiwan step up cyber attacks – Last time it was Chinese hackers attacking South Korea, now it is Taiwan v China. This article is a little different from the one I read on the South Korean attack. It goes into a lot more detail about the nature of the attacks. The United States and German governments also appear concerned as well. The article also mentions that due to security measures Taiwan is less vulnerable to cyber attacks than Japan, the U.S., and EU.

-Japan asked China to tone down Nanjing Incident exhibits – This is somewhat shocking to be honest. I have said all I have to say on Japan’s WWII issues here, but I do not think it is wise for Japan to make statements like this.  Instead they should demand for a international panel of historians from China, Taiwan, South Korea, and the United States to decides what occurred during WWII and in its aftermath once and for all and have high ranking government representatives sign it and agree to abide by the findings.  As I said before I do not think China would ever agree to that, for reasons obvious to me.

-West Africa: Food Prices Still Climbing, Crisis Feared – This is not good at all.

-Uganda’s Economy Grows By 7% – I found this over at Booker Rising. Apparently, Uganda has discovered more oil. I mused about my concerns, which mainly center around “Dutch Disease“, at Booker.

-The East African Standard (Nairobi) – The Kenyan Election Committee Chairman, Samuel Kivuitu, announced that he was pressured to announce the incumbent, Kibaki, as the winner. He is urging the matter to be reviewed by a court and the commission has condemned the violence. There is more background information on what is happening in Kenya here.

-MAC rejects PRC asylum seeker – Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) has refused to help an asylum seeker from the Mainland who is facing imprisonment in a Laogai. The committee’s response:

“‘As unfair judicial rulings exist in many countries, he should deal with this problem via the legal system in his country. We ask that he leave when his trip finishes [today],’ Liu said on Friday.” Basically that means, “we don’t care“.

-Vietnam economy grows nearly 8.5 pct in 2007 – More good news on Vietnam’s economy. I’m very impressed by the industrial mix of the economy; agriculture is only 20% of the economy. I also did not know America was their largest export market; followed closely by the EU. Vietnam also has over 20 billion in investment pledges pending. This is outstanding!

-Foreign journalists report continued harassment in China – I fully expect this to increase for reasons I outlined previously. The new law is nice, but I doubt they will be widely enforced at a local level. Local officials do not want to lose face before their superiors, especially during the Olympics. I would be a lot of these assaults are due to these officials acting on their own (by the use of plain clothed thugs) to prevent any embarrassing details from leaking out to foreign press.

This is surprisingly a good article. So is China buying into the argument that greater appreciation of the Yuan is good for everyone, or is this a hollow show of good face to appease critics? The article is likely correct that the Chinese government will appreciate slowly if they do intend to do that so as to maintain greater control, but the point about speculation is ominous. What is more disturbing to the CCP is the thought of massive unemployment in export related industries leading to even greater social instability, as rural migrants have nowhere to go. They can not go to the city to work and the value of agricultural products at home could fall due to greater foreign competition. Remember that most Chinese still live in rural areas, not large cities.


 China appears to allow faster appreciation of yuan

By Keith Bradsher
Friday, December 28, 2007


The yuan has risen faster against the dollar this week than at any time since the end of the Chinese currency’s peg to the dollar in 2005, feeding speculation that the Chinese government has begun allowing a brisker pace of appreciation.

The currency, also known as the renminbi, rose 0.9 percent this week. That included an increase of 0.18 percent on Friday to close at 7.3041 to the dollar in Shanghai trading.

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-Japan’s ODA ranking expected to slide -  I’m glad Fukuda is on top of this,  so it will not become another example of Japan becoming irrelevant.

-China to play greater role in World Bank-  This is good, but I will be much more excited when someone besides an American can lead the World Bank and an EU member can run the IMF.

-China, Japan in talks over Fukuda’s visit – Talking is good, better than silence.  I will keep watch for any interesting developments.

-Resolving crisis in Congo hinges on foreign forces – An update to an earlier discussion on the Congo. Talk about “entangling alliances”…and people claim the genocide in Rwanda ended? Seems like it just moved into a less organized form in the Congo. (sigh)

-Selection Spurred Recent Evolution, Researchers Say -  The gist of this new study is that recent evolution = large populations + moving from ancestral environments to quite different ones (jungle to desert for instance).  The authors claim there has been significant evolution in the last 40 years and it varies between population groups around the world.  Larger populations have more potential mutations, some of them being good and eventually sweeping across the population.  You will have more selection for a  mutation if you move to a place where they are advantageous.  If you stay in the same place and do not leave for hundreds of thousand of years and the environment rarely changes you will not evolve as fast, because you do not need to adapt to change. 

This paper is not scientific law, there are a lot of holes that need to be filled  The researchers are getting their sample data from the  hapmap, but keep in mind that although we have mapped the human genome, we do not know what most genes do.  all Humans are about 99% similar, so we are talking about  1% of the genome.  The issue I have is that people (racists with low IQs) read these studies and think evolution means “becoming superior” or that the fact different groups of people are more superior to each other or very different from each other, almost to the point of species or subspecies.  That is not the case.  Evolution just means acquire traits that will allow a person to reproduce offspring.  In some societies that can mean being more intelligent, having shinny skin, or being more less muscular or hairy.  It depends.   Most of the genes they are tracking,  that we know vary in humans, have to do with things like cancer rates, skin coloring, lactose tolerance, etc.  In everyday life for most people this is not significant.  My wife and I are “genetically distant”, especially when compared to some of my relatives, but I get on with her and her family much better than I do with some of my extended family, so although different groups might have different average frequency of genes, that does not mean there is no overlap or that different frequencies of some genes make people significantly different, especially in behavior.  Genes do not operate in a vacuum they interact with the environment as well.  The picture is much more complicated.  

Racists and other types of idiots read “divergent” and “population group” as “far apart” and “political race”.  In reality if I told you that my house was closer to the nearest store than the post office, that tells you nothing about the actual distance you need to travel or how far apart the buildings are in relations to each other in miles (km).  It could be my house is right next to the store and the post office is two buildings over from the store, or the store is 50 miles from my house and the post office is 80 miles from the store.  Without comparing “divergence” to something and giving a measure of what it means people tend to get carried away with their own political bias or stupidity. 

In the end, the old belief, that people have not evolved since the dawn of civilization (about 10K years ago) is likely false but the extent of that evolution on the species and the resulting utility is still largely “educated guess work”.

-Japan completes missile intercept test from ship – Bonzai! Looks like Japan will not be burning in a sea of North Koreans nuclear fire in the near future.

-Inquiry opened into S. Korean front-runner – Another investigation into Lee Myung-bak’s business dealings.  I’m do not know enough about the issue to determine if it is purely politically motivated or not.   I blogged Sunday on Lee’s popularity, hinging primarily on faith that he is the person who can renew the economy. Here is another interesting article on what is going on in S.Korea.  It looks like no one is sure if a sitting president can legally stand trial, so hopefully this mess will resolved without more fighting. :-)

-Signs of TB in Ancient Skull Support Theory on Vitamin D -  The long and short of it is that tuberculosis has been found in ancient people, and scientists believe that it was an environmental pressure that led to the selection of light skin in populations that lived too far from the equator to produce enough Vitamin D, due to sun exposure, in order to maintain a healthy immune system.  Today we have fortified milk and multivitamins, in ancient times if you were dark skinned and lived in the England or Siberia you would likely get various infections, rickets, and not live very long, unless (like Inuits) you eat something rich in Vitamin D to make up the differences, such as seal blubber.  The other side of that is light skinned people who live in the tropics have to monitor their sun exposure or risk sun burn.  In ancient times repeated sunburn could lead to infection and death, you likely would not live long enough to get cancer.  Since light skin (and eyes for Europeans) is relatively recent and evolved convergently in East Asia and Europe,  I am guessing people avoided the far North due to the ice age(s) so it would not matter.

-Nigeria: Fayose, Ibori Sent to Prison – “The two men are being tried for several offences, bordering on abuse of office, corruption and money laundering”.  This is always a positive thing.  The loyalists are up in arms because they know their gravy train of kick-backs has just stopped.  The “rule of law” has to start somewhere, there is bound to be push-back.

In other words: “Its the economy stupid!” It did mention S.Korea being squeezed economically between high end Japan and low end China, something I blogged about before. It will be very interesting to see how Lee interacts with his neighbors, as in the past he has favored a harder line on North Korea and demonstrated some anti-Japanese animus.


Only suspense in Korean election is margin of victory for front-runner

Sunday, December 16, 2007

SEOUL: South Korea’s presidential elections have tended to be bruising, down-to-the-wire contests that exposed voters’ ideological schisms and raw emotions over the country’s tortured relations with North Korea and the United States.

But this time, in a campaign that has otherwise failed to grab the electorate’s attention, there has really been only one issue: the economy. And the only suspense had been whether the clear front-runner would sail smoothly to victory or have his campaign derailed by charges of stock manipulation. He was cleared early this month.

As candidates crisscrossed the country in the final days before the vote, on Dec. 19, the front-runner, Lee Myung Bak, a former mayor of Seoul and a construction industry executive nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his take-charge style, was almost certain to be elected South Korea’s next president.

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-Inflation – China’s lost battle – There are some great examples in this article of how the rise in inflation effects manufacturing in China. The writer also speculates that part of the CCPs refusal to reevaluate the yuan (RMB) is to avoid a drop in wages, but this policy has produced a de facto decrease due inflation. He believes a reevaluation would offset a decline in wages, as wealthier Chinese would be able to afford to consume more from abroad. I do not believe the CCP is that optimistic, well at least not so much as to do an immediate revaluation or a float.

-Jet Li says China, Tibet should be unified – Not shocking, as he is from the Mainland. I did not know he was a Tibetan Buddhist. That is strange for a Han Chinese. Well, I the Dalia Lama no longer calls for Tibetan independence, because he knows it is impossible. What he calls for is the autonomy that Tibet had under the last dynasty (Qing).

-Japan monks promote Buddhism through fashion, rap – This is just bizarre. This would only happen in Japan, no place else, just Japan. LOL

-China becomes Canada’s 2nd-largest trade partner – Well, I do know China is the first or second largest trade partners for Japan, South Korea, Canada, and the list grows every year.



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