Sunday, February 25, 2007

The week in Washington - a little color

Last week was something of a slow news week for many of us in the Japanese media here in Washington. Monday was President's Day, so the federal government was closed, and Congress was in recess. The few newsworthy events of the week (President Bush traveling around the country to promote his health care and energy initiatives, the South Korean defense minister, Kim Jang-soo, visiting the Pentagon on Friday, and the war of words between the Clinton and Obama campaigns), didn't really concern us. The major U.S.-Japan event was Vice President Cheney's visit to Japan, but since Tokyo covers these events, we had nothing to do with it.

So instead of going into some kind of analysis of developments I didn't cover, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you the lighter side of a few press conferences and discussions I attended this past week.

On Tuesday (February 20), the National Press Club sponsored a discussion with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and a few seasoned members of the White House Press Corps. Hosted by CBS chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer (who turns 70 today), the hour-long discussion shed some light on the personal lives and day-to-day job responsibilities of six White House correspondents (listed at the bottom of the page here). The format was a mostly friendly, reverse press briefing, where the press secretary asked members of the press about their lives and experiences covering the White House. While humorous anecdotes abounded, my favorite exchange came when Tony Snow asked David Gregory what it was like to go to his hometown and be recognized or celebrated for being a TV personality. It went something like this (these are not direct quotes):

Snow: "What's it like going back home and having people recognize you when you go out? I'm sure it's pretty awesome to be a hometown celebrity."
Gregory: "I don't think I get recognized enough! But I think the most memorable moment when I was recognized was one time when we were covering a convention in Nevada. I will never forget when this sweet older woman came up to me with the biggest smile on her face and a sweet voice, saying, 'You're that guy on TV! Wow, it's great to meet you! By the way, you are completely ridiculous. Why do you ask such silly questions at press conferences?' The woman then asked to take a picture with me."

I want to shake that woman's hand.

Mark Knoller, the CBS radio correspondent with a very distinctive voice put in his two cents on the subject shortly thereafter...

Knoller: "Tony, one of the good things about being on the radio is that nobody knows what I look like. It means I can go to Barnes and Noble and look at dirty magazines without having to worry about getting spotted."

For those of you who are curious, here's a link to an article on CBS's website with a picture of Mr. Knoller. Be on the lookout next time you're at a big bookstore.

Mr. Knoller was on a role this week. Now I haven't been attending White House press briefings or gaggles (sort of mini-briefings held off-camera most mornings), so he might be on a roll all the time, but I was a big fan of his joke in the gaggle on Friday. Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto was going over the schedule of the president for the following week. When he mentioned the president's photo-op with the Miami Heat on Tuesday the 27th, there was little discussion in the room. Mr. Fratto seemed like he was about to explain that it was a pro basketball team, when Mr. Knoller cut him off with: "They're a global warming group."

Maybe you had to be there, but we all thought it was funny.

Perhaps the best exchange last week was the one between Ambassador Christopher Hill (the U.S. representative to the six-party talks among the U.S., Japan, China, Russia, and North and South Korea) and a reporter from Fox News.

This was on Thursday (the 22nd) at the Brookings Institute. Brookings had a live satellite uplink with the Asia Society in New York, and to be fair to both audiences, was alternating questions between the two venues. Two questions from NY, two from DC, back to NY for 2, then back to DC for 2... Pretty easy, right? You'd think so.

After 2 from DC, the moderator was about to ask NY for two, but didn't have the chance to get started when a woman standing on the side of the room shouted out (again, no direct quotes):
"This is (name deleted) from Fox News and I have a question!"

She got to mid-question before she was cut off, but then the strangest thing happened. She left the room. She barely made it back in time to be the 2nd person to ask a question from DC. It went a little something like this:

"This is (name deleted) from Fox News and I have a question. Yes, so the IAEA came out with a report today outlining how the Iranian government has not complied with UN Security Council resolutions calling on it to halt uranium enrichment. All the evidence points to them continuing this enrichment. What do you think of this?"

Keep in mind that this discussion is 100% about the six party talks and the NORTH KOREAN nuclear problem. Not one to keep a speechless audience waiting, Ambassador Hill shot back with:

"I think you're in the wrong press conference. I field questions about the six party talks, North Korea, and the Boston Red Sox."

Well, the U.S. and North Korea will be holding a working group meeting sometime in the coming weeks in New York, which I will likely be following, so I will try to keep posting updates on the ambassador's snappy answers to stupid questions. Somehow I doubt this will be the last instance...

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Just fooling around...

Well, I haven't worked on my blog in ages, but since I've been busy playing around with some new technology (namely, Google Earth), I've decided to see what kind of cool new stuff I can figure out. Google Earth hosts pictures posted by users of Panoramio, a photo-hosting site much like Flickr. I've opened an account there hoping that some of my photos will be viewable by Google Earth users. I think it takes a few weeks after you post before anyone can see them, so I've uploaded this Panoramio map that should show the locations of the pictures I've loaded to their site. I'm going to keep Flickr as my primary photo-sharing online album, but I'm thinking of using Panoramio as a sort of "best of" site, where I'll try to load a few pictures from places around the U.S. and around the world that I've been to that I feel are representative of the time I spent there. Since the map above shows the whole world, you have to zoom in on one location to see all the different pictures from that place. Florence, Italy, for example, has about six pictures currently loaded for it, but you won't see where they are unless you zoom in pretty close. I've done my best to get the locations where the pictures were taken as accurate as possible, but if you feel any are misplaced, please let me know.

I have also added geo-tags to most, if not all, of my flickr photos on that site. This is no small task, considering the 2,000+ pictures I have on there (I had a long winter vacation), which you can also explore using my flickr account by going to this site: but the problem with flickr is that it uses Yahoo maps, which are frequently are available at a lower resolution or with less information than google maps (which Panoramio uses). This is especially true for Japan. Google's maps of Japan are very detailed and have extremely high resolution satellite images for major metropolitan areas (unfortunately not so for smaller towns like Isesaki).

Anyway, please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


...which means: "Oh yeah, that's right! I passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (Level 2)!" That was my big news a couple of weeks ago. I was fairly confident, but I had some trouble with the reading/grammar section, so it was a relief to get my certification.

Just wanted to brag a little...

久しぶりですね! 好久不見!

Or “long time, no see”. I know I’ve been really bad about posting since I’ve gotten back to the States, but things are pretty hectic for me right now. This semester is going well, but I’m having a hard time remembering ever being busier. My classes aren’t too hard this semester, but I’m also teaching, working, and looking for and applying for jobs. Spring Break is coming up next week, but it’s going to be a working vacation for me. I’m going to Washington, D.C. to try to look for jobs, hang out with old friends, and get some schoolwork done in the midst of it all.

Looking for a job is the most tedious task I have to right now. I’m planning on moving out to D.C. after I graduate whether I’ve found a job by the end of the semester or not, but obviously it would be better to get hired before making the move. Unfortunately, most of the interesting jobs require more experience than I have and the jobs that I know I can get don’t interest me much. The competition for the interesting international affairs research positions that I’m going for is intense, but I have a feeling something will come along eventually…

I’m trying to do all the job searching I can in the next couple of weeks, because I doubt I’ll have much time for anything after Spring Break. Since we’ll be in the last half of the semester, I will be working full-steam on my research papers, work for professors, and getting the 101 class I’m teaching ready for their comprehensive final. April will be an unusually busy month for us in the political science department; we will have at least three separate conferences on campus. On April 1 and 2, we are hosting a conference about Taiwan’s relations with the outside world (see: “Taiwan and the World” for more information). I will be driving some of our guest speakers around that weekend, which should be fun, especially if I get some Taiwan independence advocates in the same car with the pro-PRC scholars.

On April 11, I’ll be helping Dr. Olimat with a conference he has organized about America’s relations with the Middle East (“America, Islam, and the Middle East”). And from April 19 to 21, Missouri State is hosting a Public Affairs Conference that is drawing in a lot of well-known speakers for panel discussions and plenary sessions on various topics (see “Public Affairs Conference” for more information). This is the second year of the conference and I missed it last year, so I’m hoping to see as many of the sessions this year as I can.

I apologize if my writing lacks lucidity today. My brother left for an English conference in Fort Lauderdale, FL this morning and I had to wake up at 4:30 to drive him to the airport. He was accepted to give a presentation on research he’s done on a genre of horror writing (the name of the genre escapes me at the moment) and he’s staying for the whole week. Although he’s going to arrive a little sleep-deprived, I think he’ll perk up when he gets there and can attend the panel session on zombies! (Sometimes I think I’ve chosen the wrong field…)

See ya!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

I'm baaaaaack!!!!!

And it feels good to be back! Sorry for the long absence, but I’ve been taking some much-needed time off to relax and get reacquainted with American life. This has included lazy days of TV, video games, Papa John’s, shopping at Wal-Mart, and hanging out with friends and family. That was my pattern for about a week and a half after Christmas, but I did do some work during winter vacation. I finished my paper for my Cross-strait Relations in Asia-Pacific Security class on Taiwan-Japan relations and a job application for a fellowship position at the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). I also had to make a syllabus for Political Science 101 (American Democracy and Citizenship), which I’m teaching one section of this semester.

School started on Tuesday because Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. My first class of the week was my PLS 101 class. I have to admit, I didn’t sleep too well the night before because I had a little anxiety about teaching a college class for the first time, but I think it went quite well. I decided to let them off easy on the first day – just a course introduction and overview of the syllabus. I thought about giving a lecture on the first day, just so they wouldn’t think I’m going to be a total pushover, but I decided against it because I always hated it when professors lecture on the first day.

I’m taking political science (PLS) classes this semester – “Quantitative Methods in Political Science” (statistics) and “International Organizations”. Both look like they will be a lot of work, but not extremely difficult work. I think the International Organizations class in particular will be very interesting.

I’m also taking Chinese this semester. I felt like I learned a lot in my three months of studying Chinese in Taiwan, but an American guy in our class spoke excellent Chinese (at least compared to mine) after only spending three months in mainland China. Our professor is Chinese, but she lived in Kyoto for 10 years, so she also speaks excellent Japanese and teaches both languages. Although I’m not taking this class for a grade, I still want to do well because I’m really interested in learning the language. Unfortunately, it seems like the students here have learned a completely different set of vocabulary and grammar than we learned in Taiwan. Our teacher had us ask each other questions at the beginning of class as a kind of review, but I didn’t know some of the vocabulary that they were using and they didn’t know a lot of the words I used. I am also unfamiliar with the simplified Chinese characters we’re using in class. It may sound strange, but the more difficult traditional characters are easier for me because they are more similar to the ones used in Japan.

The biggest problem I foresee with this class is the lack of intensity I’m used to from Taiwan. Although our teacher spoke English well in Taiwan, she refused to use it in class unless it was ABSOLUTELY necessary, which was very rare. She only spoke in Chinese, so we really had to listen to her pronunciation and try to figure out what she was saying from context. Our teacher here translates everything, so you don’t really hear the Chinese. You instinctively wait for the English translation, limiting the attention you pay to the real Chinese. Oh well, it’s better than nothing and I’ll stick with it anyway…

I’d like to get back to posting on a regular basis this week, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m going to be really busy with classes and work this semester, but writing posts is a nice way to take a break from more stressful activities. I still have a lot to post on from my overseas travels, so I will get around to that throughout the semester. As a teacher in a class about American government this semester, I want to try to get my students to pay attention to America’s role in the world. I think my experiences as an American abroad give me some credibility on this subject, but we’ll see…

Anyway, enough rambling for now. I think I’m out of practice at this blogging thing, but I’ll get the hang of it again soon…

See you soon!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Home at last!

I have sooooo much to write about, but soooooo little time right now! I got in last night safe and sound and will start catching up on this blog thing when I get some time. Until then, please enjoy catching up on my old posts!

Be back soon!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I'll be home for Christmas!

Well, this is it. I'm completely packed and ready to go. I'm leaving my room in about 30 minutes to an hour to go to a going-away party, then some of my fellow students are going to drive me to the bus station. I then have a four-hour bus ride to the airport, followed by twenty-some odd hours of flights, layovers, security checks, and customs. Fun!

Am I excited to be going home? Certainly, but I'm also sad to be leaving. It's been an amzing six-and-a-half month adventure and it feels like a major chapter in my life is closing. It may sound a little cliche, but I'm really trying to think of this more of a beginning than an end. I have no doubt that I will visit most, if not all of the places I've been again. I have met so many wonderful people in this past half-year that I plan on staying in touch with that it doesn't even seem right to say "goodbye"; "see you later" seems much more appropriate...

Anyway, the road home will be long, but my wonderful family will be waiting for me when I get there. (Right? You guys are going to be there, right???) I can't wait to see them again and, of course, eat some good-ol' fashion American home-cooking!

I've still got many stories to tell about Italy, Taiwan, and Japan that will keep me busy for another month or two on this blog, so be sure to keep checking for updates!

From MO next time! See ya!