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Tuesday, October 21, 2014


In two weeks I embark on my regular Spring adventure, this time through Oceania (New Zealand and Australia, although the term generally includes all the islands in this general region) and the Orient.  In advance, I thought it would be of interest to highlight what's newsworthy these days in that portion of the world.

Best as I can tell, nothing much is happening in New Zealand.  Some of the headlines include:
Remember that 20-year drought of Australia?  Well, that's over.  California?  Still suffering.

The primary news item in the Orient has to do with the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong.  To summarize:
  • On 1 July 1997 the United Kingdom returned Hong Kong to China.
  • Hong Kong retained much of its freedoms.
  • Changes were cosmetic, like new flag (previous above, new below), etc.
  • However, in small ways, you could see the screws turning.
  • A recent adjustment had to do with electoral reforms, essentially, China would largely determine who could run for office.  The current lightning rod has to do with the Chief Executive, but there is the additional matter of  the Legislative Council also being vetted. 
  • What is the point of voting if all your choices will have pro-China inclinations.
  • On 22 September 2014, the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism began protesting.
  • On September 28, protesters began blocking streets and occupying them.
  • There was some teargas and other measures taken by the government, but China has been relatively subdued about a counter reaction.  
  • This community attitude is hardly unanimous, as polls indicated that "only" 59% were supportive of the students. 
  • Tonight, five Hong Kong officials, led by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam (above right), squared off against five students dressed in black T-shirts that read FREEDOM NOW.  Everything was covered live on television.
    • These were not government officials from China, but Hong Kong residents running the city.  
    • The students beseeched these officials to become heroes and support the cause.
    • The government debaters basically indicated that they have no power and China controls everything.
    • One point of view is that, if allowed to proceed as currently edicted, this was at least a step towards democracy, as each citizen will still be able to freely vote...for the candidates blessed by China.
My take?  There will eventually be minor adjustments on how candidates are selected.  Will this be the future of China?  WILL STUDENTS LEAD THE WAY?  Clearly, Beijing is especially worried about how this issue will inflame mainland China students.

The fourth largest country, Indonesia, yesterday inaugurated a new president, Joko Widodo.  Jokowi, a 53-year old businessman, who usually travels in tourist class on commercial flights, and is now running 13,000 islands inhabited by 252 million people, 87% Muslim, more in number than any country in the world.  Because of deforestation, Indonesia is the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, and, ironically, because of those islands, the country that could most be devastated by sea level rise.

Switching to Thailand, the country continues to be under military rule.  Thursday is Chulalongkorn Day, a national holiday.  Also known as Rama V, he was that outspoken son of Yul Brynner (when he played the King of Siam) in the King and I (watch this clip, and you will know which one will become Rama V).  At least all should be calm when I get to Bangkok.  I might try Gaggan, said to be the best Indian restaurant in the world.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's popularity is finally declining.  The nuclear disaster at Fukushima is only getting worse.  The update today (which is already tomorrow in Japan):
  • Radiation levels in the drainage ditch were the highest since monitoring began.
  • The government limitation for strontium, which causes bone cancer, is 30 Becquerels/liter.
  • The measurement was 140,000 B/l.
  • The ditch is about a thousand yards from the sea.
  • More than 100,000 people are still restricted from returning:
    • The cost of clean-up could cost $500 billion.
    • A French study put a bad case financial disaster of $7.53 trillion at their Dampierre nuclear plant, a secret study which was just leaked.
    • You think the Fukushima cataclysm might eventually exceed a trillion dollars?
The past couple of times I visited Japan I went to Fukushima, but probably won't this time.  Why.


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