Friday, January 31, 2014

AMERICA SLUMBERS WHILE THE CONSTITUTION CRUMBLES


           In 1938, Winston Churchill wrote "While England Slept," his famous warning to the British people that they must wake up and strengthen their resolve and resources to resist the Nazi tyranny that was ominously gathering strength on the European mainland.  Churchill's warning was heeded barely in the nick of time, and had the English languished in their comfortable lethargy just a little longer, their nation might have fallen to Hitler's relentless march to conquest before the Brits were armed and prepared for the challenge.

            A comparable national lethargy seems to have anesthetized much of the American populace as it becomes increasingly vulnerable to a tyranny of a different sort.  This threat is not posed by the militaristic totalitarians of another nation, but by the domestic tyrants who are asserting an increasingly totalitarian form of political control over the United States.

                                                                      
                                  America Slumbers, while Obama lurches towards tyranny

            Our constitutional Republic is not threatened by external forces, but by insidious domestic political abuse and aggrandizement, thus far unhindered by any vigilant patriotic resistance.  Unless enough right-minded Americans stir themselves from their political slumber, President Obama's ongoing subversion of constitutional government in American could become a fait accompli.

            Obama is engaged in an increasingly blatant expansion of presidential lawmaking and law-breaking power that brazenly flouts the constitutional restrictions so carefully established by the Founding Fathers.  Although other presidents have sometimes pushed the envelope of their authority  at the margins,  Obama is engaging in the most extreme and ruthless expansions of executive power since the exigencies of the Civil War drove Lincoln to resort to harsh measures (like the suspension of habeas corpus in 1861) he considered absolutely necessary to save the Union .  But no such exigencies remotely justify Obama's calculated flouting of constitutional restraints on his politicized power-grab.

            The constitutional rules governing the exercise of the presidential authority are straightforward – and this reckless president violates them directly and regularly.  Under Article I of the Constitution, the legislative authority – specifically, "all legislative powers" -- is granted solely to Congress, and it must be exercised in a specifically prescribed manner.  The laws must be passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and signed by the President – unless his rejection of a bill is overridden by a two-thirds majority of both Houses.  Further, Under Article II, section 3, of the Constitution, the President is required to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

            Obama is usurping and subverting this legislative authority both by purporting to impose laws that have not been enacted by Congress, and by declining to enforce laws that have been enacted.

             Under Art. II, the President exercises the executive power, which is chiefly the authority to execute or administer the laws, as written, and to act as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.  It does not include any direct authority to make laws.  The President does, however, have limited authority to promulgate regulations that are necessary to implement laws passed by Congress.  And he has authority to promulgate executive orders insofar as they implement executive authority he already possesses, either directly under the Constitution, or by legislative delegation from Congress.  For example, the President can issue executive orders regulating certain military matters based on his clear authority as Commander-in-Chief.  Conversely, the President cannot constitutionally issue orders categorically declining to enforce duly enacted laws, or imposing requirements or standards on people or companies that have not been enacted or authorized by legislation.

             But Obama routinely and repeatedly engages in precisely those forms of patently unconstitutional tyranny.  For example, he has impudently refused to enforce the immigration laws against entire categories of illegal aliens, without any constitutional or statutory basis to do so.  Sycophantic legal "scholars" strain to excuse this unconstitutional behavior by invoking the amorphous doctrine of prosecutorial discretion, which merely states the truism that it is impossible to prosecute all violations of the law, and therefore the government must have some discretion to focus its prosecutorial efforts in the most effective manner.  But that is not what Obama and his minions are doing.  Instead, they are categorically exempting certain preferred groups from enforcement of the law, exactly as though Congress had enacted such a categorical exemption in the relevant statute -- even though Congress actually declined to enact such an exemption.  This is the essence of tyrannical usurpation of the legislative authority – usurpation that makes a mockery of a constitutional republic.

            Obama and his lawless Attorney General, Eric Holder, similarly declined to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") because of their fanatical determination to impose same-sex marriage on the Nation.  More recently, Obama has selectively ordered the Secretary of HHS and other federal officials to cease enforcement of mandatory provisions of the so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, because Obama's political designs required it.  Obama has thus made it clear that he has no respect or regard for the Constitution's directive that he "take care" to faithfully execute the laws. 
 
           Again and again, moreover, the Obama administration effectively amends duly enacted statutes by executive action, when such amendment can only be done by corrective legislation in accordance with Art.I of the Constitution.  
 
           Rather than recognizing that he may have pushed too far in this regard, Obama has recently made clear that he actually intends to "double down" with such practices.  His arrogance is such that he utterly fails to recognize the legitimacy of legislative opposition – exactly as contemplated by the Framers as a necessary check against tyranny – and invokes such opposition as justification for unilateral, and unconstitutional presidential lawmaking.

             On top of his illegitimate presidential legislating, Obama has extended his constitutional abuses to the appointment power which he possesses under Art II, sec. 2 of the Constitution.  The President's appointment of "principal officers" – like the Heads of Departments or the members of certain boards and agencies – expressly requires the confirmation of two-thirds of the Senate.  An exception to this requirement exists when the Senate is in recess, during which recess the President may make appointments of limited duration without such Senate confirmation.  But Obama has brazenly distorted this provision by purporting to usurp the Senate's sole authority under Art. I, sec. 5 of the Constitution, to declare when it is in recess.  In 2012, when the Senate formally declared that it was still in session and not in recess, Obama brazenly rejected the Senate's declaration, decided for himself that the Senate was in recess, and proceeded to appoint important federal officers without Senate confirmation.  Three federal courts of appeals have since ruled that these appointments were unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court's consideration of the issue at oral argument several weeks ago strongly indicates that it will reach the same conclusion.  Whether a reprimand from the Supreme Court on this particular constitutional abuse will substantially curtail Obama's relentless quest for unhindered executive power is doubtful.  

             We have now reached the point where the danger posed by Obama's gross disregard for constitutional constraints  is not a matter of mere academic or journalistic debate.  It is real.  Obama is an anti-constitutional tyrant bent on gathering as much power as possible into his radical leftist hands. 
 
             In the absence of a determined political opposition in Congress with sufficient voting power and unity to provide a meaningful check, Obama's relentless reach for unfettered presidential power will continue unabated.  Only if Republicans are able to achieve majority control in the Senate in the 2014 elections, while retaining their control in the House, will such a meaningful check be achieved – and even then, only if the Republican majorities are as unified in their opposition as congressional Democrats are unified in their sycophantic support.

             Regretably, Obama's above-described effort to nullify the restraints inherent in the separation of powers is hardly the only example of tyrannical and anti-constitutional abuse perpetrated by Obama and his administration minions.  In subsequent posts, SR will examine how Obama and his dangerous Attorney General, Eric Holder, have grotesquely distorted the constitutional requirement of equal protection under the laws to benefit their favored political constituencies, such as certain blacks, Hispanics, and homosexuals, to the detriment of the citizenry at large.  SR will also consider the Obama administration's blatant abuse of its law enforcement power to punish political enemies, while protecting favored political constituencies – the very essence of tyrannical government.

Friday, January 17, 2014

CAULDRON OF EAST ASIA: CRISES IN THE EAST CHINA SEA


            For too many years, U.S. foreign policy has been excessively preoccupied with the internal and external crises and fiascos of the Mid-eastern and Muslim nations.  Although the calamitous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, understandably focused U.S. concerns upon the defeat and deterrence of al Qaeda and other Mid-eastern terrorists, the obsessive preoccupation with issues in that area of the world has been unnecessarily prolonged. 
            Such diplomatic myopia is especially misplaced in light of ominous recent developments in other parts of the world -- developments involving nations of far greater size, population, power, and significance than the largely backward Muslim-dominated states of the Mid-East.

            Like the fictional Smaug in his cave, the mighty Chinese Dragon is stirring and spreading its military wings, with ominous implications for peace and stability in its regional neighborhood.  A justifiably alarmed Japan looks to its defenses, finds them woefully inadequate, and contemplates strengthening its military posture to a degree that China is likely to find counter-provocative -- raising the prospect of a dangerously escalating game of politico-military poker.  Meanwhile, both Koreas warily observe these developments from behind their respective national barricades, while massive and nuclear-armed India observes from a distance, with an eye towards an increasingly advantageous partnership with Japan.
            It is becoming difficult to keep pace with the daily reports of disturbing developments concerning Chinese military and political ambition, aggressiveness, and expansionism.  From the U.S. perspective, China's steady movement towards the completion of a modern Blue Water Navy to challenge the U.S. Seventh Fleet's maritime superiority in the East and South China Seas, and ultimately the Western Pacific, is the probably most disturbing trend.  In an especially significant breakthrough, the construction of China's first domestically-produced aircraft carrier was recently commissioned, which will result in a major expansion in the power projection of what is already the largest navy in Asia.  In all, China will reportedly add four aircraft carriers to its fleet as part of its current naval expansion.

                                                            
           Much ado about little? Sino-Japanese Dispute centers on the barren Senkaku Islands

            Inasmuch as China has just surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest trading nation, and most of its trade is maritime, its desire to insure the security of its trade lanes with an improved navy might seem understandable.  But other military and diplomatic activities strongly indicate that Chinese naval expansion is more aggressive than defensive in nature – especially since it is not responsive to any aggressive activities or threats from China's generally docile East Asian neighbors or the U.S. 

            Most recently, it is reported that China is testing an advanced high-speed hypersonic missile, apparently designed to  be carried on the back of an ICBM, from which it could be launched and deliver a warhead at a reported ten-times the speed of sound.  The projected hypersonic  system appears designed to pierce and circumvent U.S. missile defenses, although China demurely denies such a menacing objective.   If the basic facts of the reports are true, however, the hypersonic vehicle represents yet another "great leap forward" -- to borrow a Maoist adage -- in China’s seemingly relentless program to expand its military capacities. 

            Apart from aggressive expansion of its military and naval capacity, China is simultaneously engaged in fairly radical threats and acts of territorial expansionism and irredentism.   It has threatened in recent years to wrestle the fishing-rich but uninhabited Senkaku Islands (which it calls Diaoyu) from Japan, whose claims to the islands date back to the Meiji era and which has exercised active sovereignty over those islands since the U.S. handed over administrative control in 1971.  Upping the ante, this past November China purported to establish an expanded East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone ("ADIZ") to encompass not only the Senkakus, but other territorially sensitive sectors of the East China Sea that overlap the territorial claims of other nations. 
            If China were to seriously enforce this expansionist ADIZ, it could generate a military crisis of the first order with the U.S. and Japan, not to mention the Republic of Korea (whose territorial sovereignty is also affronted by the ADIZ).  Fortunately for all concerned, however, China did not take any hostile responsive action when both the U.S. (with two B-52's) and Japan sent noncompliant aircraft into the ADIZ to challenge the gambit.  Nonetheless, China's willingness to engage in politico-military brinksmanship in East Asia may not always produce the kind of manageable modus vivendi that seems to have emerged thus far from the ADIZ declaration.  Just one ill-considered and egregious misstep in these sensitive areas could trigger a highly combustible confrontation with the U.S. Seventh Fleet or the JSDF.

            China's provocative behavior in the East China Sea seems particularly ill-timed in one key respect.  It plays directly into the hands of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's determination to expand Japan's military capacity and to return Japan to a more "normal" role as an effective power player in international affairs.  An increasingly belligerent China, coupled with the reckless bluster and unsettling gambits of the seemingly mad dictator of North Korea, provides Mr. Abe with compelling external justification for his efforts to expand the strength, capacity, and missions of the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) – the constitutional euphemism for the Japanese Armed Forces.
            Japan has come a long way from the rigidly pacifist post-World War II policies imposed by the U.S. Occupation and codified by Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.  Although Article 9 purports to  "renounce war as a sovereign right of the [Japanese] nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes," and also forewears the maintenance of  "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential," the JSDF now has by some estimates the fifth largest military budget in the world.  Moreover, the JSDF's arsenal and capacity are expanding under Mr. Abe's nationalistic leadership, with military spending having increased by 2.6% last year.  This past November, moreover, the Japanese Diet passed legislation establishing Japan's first  National Security Council, modeled on that of the United States.  The new arrangements are expected to strengthen Prime Minister Abe's hand in directing and controlling a unified defense policy.  This is a far cry from the pacifist Japan that used to recoil in horror and vapors at the thought of nuclear-armed U.S. carriers merely stopping for port  and liberty calls at Yokosuka.

            Although Mr. Abe's more muscular defense policies have provoked speculation that Japan may be on the brink of repealing or amending Article 9, such speculation is fanciful, or at least quite premature.  Powerful countervailing considerations of domestic politics, foreign policy, and regional military stability militate decisively (at least for now) against what would be widely regarded as a drastic and destabilizing step.  There is little indication that the Japanese polity is supportive of what would undoubtedly be a deeply controversial repeal campaign, and the potentially severe external reactions on the part of the Chinese and the two Koreas provide additional strong deterrence. 
            In any event, however, as long as the JSDF's mission, forces, and capacities can be plausibly characterized as defensive, Art. 9 should not prevent Japan from making pragmatic and substantial improvements in the capacities of the ground, air, and naval components of the JSDF.  In short, Mr. Abe and the LDP can be expected to continue substantial expansion and strengthening of Japan's defense capacity and mission without engaging in unnecessarily provocative rhetoric or political posturing.  The more likely, and sounder, approach will be to speak softly, but carry a bigger and more lethal defensive stick.

            Nonetheless, Japanese rhetorical and political restraint may not suffice to sooth the regional tension and turmoil generated by the increasingly belligerent attitude and actions of the PRC.  Nor is the United States very likely to provide a forceful counterweight to China's expansionist adventures in the East and South China Seas.  To the extent that the Obama Administration has an East Asian policy at all, it seems to be one of relative weakness, vagueness, and apathy.

            Still, the United States is not the only power that could play the role of White Knight on the increasingly dangerous chessboard of East Asia.  India, a nuclear power (with an estimated 100 nuclear weapons) with both human and technological resources comparable to those of China, appears to be moving towards an increasingly friendly and supportive relationship with Japan.  Both of these great Asian democracies face territorial, economic, and political threats from China.  As the Times of India reported on January 7, Japan and India have initiated concrete steps to strengthen their diplomatic and military cooperation, "with an eye firmly on China."  According to the Times, the measures to be pursued by the two nations include joint combat exercises, military exchanges, and cooperation in counter-terrorism, anti-piracy, and maritime security.  China is undoubtedly keeping a nervous eye on this developing bilateral cooperation between the capable and resourceful democratic powers on its flanks.

            The question remains whether Japan's apparent determination to pursue a strengthened diplomatic and military posture in East Asia, coupled with its enhanced ties with the Indian giant on China's Western flank, will induce Beijing to adopt a more prudent and cautious policy towards Japan and other neighbors in the East and South China Seas.  Recent Chinese behavior, however, has not been particularly encouraging in that respect. 

            If China instead decides to intensify and expand its diplomatic and military belligerence in the region, the East China Sea could supplant the Persian Gulf as the world's most incendiary trouble spot.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

OLYMPIC CLASH OF THE ASIAN ICE QUEENS


              When the ladies figure skating competition takes the ice at the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 20, viewers around the world will be treated to one of the most stirring and spectacular sporting summits in decades.

                Although accomplished lady skaters from the U.S., Russia, Italy, and others will also be competing, all eyes will focus on the latest dramatic clash between the two world-renowned Ice Queens of East Asia -- Yuna Kim of the Republic of Korea and Mao Asada of Japan.

                Both ladies are 23 years old, and both are precisely 5-feet 4-inches tall.  They are not only the undisputed top lady figure skaters in the world, but both are super celebrities in their respective  countries, with commercial endorsements and pop stature that easily rival that of the top pro sports superstars in the United States. 

                They are especially the idols of teen and pre-teen girls in their countries, and both are lady-like and likeable young women who serve as admirable role models.  Both have won an extensive list of  international championships and both are possessed of astonishing and unusual athletic skill and grace, not to mention the winsome charm and beauty that makes them natural queens of the ice.

                Miss Kim is indeed widely known as Queen Yuna in South Korea, and with good reason.  Her national stature is such that she has served as a host Ambassador for Visit Korea and was a key member of the ROK delegation that successfully persuaded the International Olympic Committee to award the 2018 Winter Olympics to Pyeongchang, ROK.  Her celebrity and ladylike appeal make her a natural international ambassador of goodwill (not to mention commerce and tourism) for South Korea.

                Notwithstanding Mao Asada's astonishing jumping and athletic skills, Miss Kim is almost universally acknowledged as the world's greatest ladies figure skater – perhaps even the greatest ever – and she will be the strong favorite when the ladies take the ice at the spectacular Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi.  She won the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver with the astonishing total score of 228 points, far ahead of Miss Asada's second place.  She has also won two World Championships, in 2009 and 2013.

                                                   
                                         Yuna Kim performs her layback Ina Bauer
                                    
                 While Miss Asada is renowned for her spectacular – but risky -- triple axels, Miss Kim's dominance is based upon a broad variety of flawless and graceful jumps, spins, and maneuvers that she performs with almost inhuman poise and consistency.  Her jumps are performed at a high speed that earns extra points, and she executes a variety of triple-triple combinations that are usually unmatched by the competition.  Her repertoire also includes the gorgeous lay-back Ina Bauer that was the trademark maneuver of 2006 Olympic champion Shizuka Arakawa, although not even Miss Kim can match the extreme contortions of Miss Arakawa's gasp-inducing lay-backs.  The end result of all this is that Miss Kim has achieved total scores above 220 that her competitors thus far have been unable to approach, although Miss Asada has scored as high as 207.

                Some doubts about Miss Kim's readiness for the Olympics were raised last September, when she suffered an injury to her right foot.  The injury resulted in her withdrawal from the 2013-14 Grand Prix series, which was dominated primarily by Miss Asada in Kim's absence.

                Ominously for her competition, however, Miss Kim's stellar performance at the recent Korean National championships left little doubt that she has fully recovered and returned to superstar form.  She easily defeated a field of improving ROK competitors with a reported score of 227.86 points, according to the Korean Times.  See koreantimesus.com/?p=5083.  Although that rather startlingly high reported score may well have been inflated by a panel of friendly ROK judges, it nonetheless sends an alarming signal that Miss Kim is in prime form for the Olympic showdown.

                Notwithstanding Miss Kim's status as a formidable favorite in Sochi, it would be foolhardy to dismiss the gold medal prospects of Mao Asada in light of her unearthly raw talent and superlative accomplishments during her eight years in the international skating arena.

                                                               
                                 Mao Asada landing one of her gorgeous triple jumps

                Indeed, Mao was a more remarkable youthful skating prodigy than Miss Kim, and, for better or worse, much of her early fame and reputation was associated with her amazing mastery of the triple axel. Named for Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen who first performed the jump (a mere "single axel") wearing speed skates in 1882, the triple axel is performed with a forward takeoff followed by three and one-half aerial rotations.  After the legendary Midori Ito landed the first lady's triple axel in 1988, only four additional women have performed the maneuver in competition (not including Miss Kim, who apparently does not attempt it).  The triple axel could be considered the gold standard of feats in ladies figure skating, while the four-rotation quad – which has been performed in competition by only one female, Miki Ando of Japan (Mao Asada has reportedly landed quads in practice only) – could be considered its Holy Grail.

                Mao Asada performed her first triple axel in practice at the age of 12 and her first in competition at the age of 14.  By the age of 15, she had won her first Grand Prix Final in 2005, and even finished ahead of the ultimate 2006 Olympic champion, Shizuka Arakawa, in Japan's National Championships (which also served as Japan's Olympic trials that year).  Although she was then considered by many to be the leading lady skater in the world, she was some three months too young to be eligible to compete in the 2006 Olympics under IOC rules.  Fellow countrywoman Arakawa thus became the first Japanese lady to win the figure skating gold medal with her memorably gorgeous performance to Puccini's Tarandot before an enthralled audience in Turin, Italy, and on worldwide television (see video insert below).

                 In the ensuing years, Mao's accomplishments have been extraordinary, exceeded only by those of the even more extraordinary Miss Kim.  Miss Asada has won two world championships, four Grand Prix Final championships, and six Japanese National championships.  In the 2010 Winter Olympics, she performed a feat of amazing virtuosity, landing three triple axels in an unprecedented performance for a single competition.  Even with that, she was far out-pointed by Miss Kim's world record score of 228 and had to settle for the silver medal.

                In the current 2013-14 Grand Prix season, Miss Asada won both of her assigned events (Skate America with 204.55 points and NHK with 207.59), and went on to win the Grand Prix Final for the fourth time.  In her final official pre-Olympic performance, however, she finished a very disappointing third in the Japanese National championships, where she was edged out by Akiko Suzuki and Kanako Murakami, who will be her Olympic teammates at Sochi. 

                Miss Asada's occasional setbacks on the ice are commonly attributed to under-rotating her triple jumps, especially the axel, and for other arcane technical landing errors that are a mystery to non-experts like this writer.  Knowledgeable observers, however, attribute some of her difficulties in this area to increasingly strict new judging criteria that are especially problematic for a daring jumper like Miss Asada.  This factor, and the relentless pressure of years of competition at the very highest levels, seem to have somewhat undercut the insouciant and joyful style that was the charming hallmark of Mao's performances as a younger prodigy.  While the youthful teenage Mao seemed to smile and almost prance her way through her joyful performances – she even carried a teddy bear during part of one competition -- she has sometimes seemed more grim and tentative in the high-pressure meets of more recent years.  This is certainly understandable, however, when one is constantly measured against so imposing and formidable a rival as Yuna Kim.

               Shizuka Arakawa's gold medal artistry at Turin in 2006 sets a high standard for Mao Asada to pursue at Sochi this year.                              

                As if the stakes in the forthcoming competition between these two Ice Queens were not sufficiently high, the intensity is exacerbated to some degree by the strained state of relations between their respective countries.  Diplomatic efforts to ease tensions between Japan and the ROK have been frustrated by, among other things, a lingering territorial dispute over two volcanic islands and continuing bitterness over what South Korea considers to be inadequate expression of Japanese remorse over the Japanese Army's abuse of young Korean girls known as "comfort women" during World War II.  Although the skating fans of both nations are sufficiently knowledgeable and open-minded to appreciate and admire the accomplishments of both Miss Kim and Miss Asada, it is inescapable that the broader enmities between the two great East Asian democracies tend to infect their competition on the ice with an extra element of intensity.  So on top of everything else, the patriotic hopes and emotions of the nations of Japan and the Republic of Korea will be at maximum focus when Yuna and Mao take the ice at Sochi.

                 Anyone who has stood alone at the line to attempt a critical technical foul shot before a packed arena of fans in the closing seconds of a championship basketball game; anyone who has attempted a game-deciding field goal in a football playoff game; or anyone who has stood above a 12-foot put on the 18th green with the outcome of an important golf tournament on the line – all who have faced those circumstances or others like them know the overwhelming pressure and tension that is placed upon the solitary athlete at such crucial competitive moments.

                Multiply that feeling five-fold to approximate the pressure that will surround Mao Asada when she glides into the takeoff of her triple axel before hundreds of millions of world-wide television viewers, and a suspenseful Japanese nation, in the free-skate finals at Sochi.  Her Olympic fate will likely hang on the knife-like edge of a skater's blade when she descends, hopefully with controlled grace, upon the cold blue ice of the Iceberg Skating Palace.  And if she lands it perfectly, and proceeds to nail the rest of her program, an atmosphere of similarly intense pressure will fall upon Yuna Kim.

                It should be a competition worthy of the ages.  It is only a shame that both of these excellent ladies cannot emerge from Sochi with Olympic Gold.

 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A TALE OF TWO SONGS -- YESTERDAY ONCE MORE AND SEISHUN NO KAGAYAKI

           In the New Year, Splashing Rocks' eyes turn towards East Asia, where a cluster of entirely unrelated phenomena, involving the near future and the recent past, attract our scrutiny and interest.

            As a welcome diversion from the combative or controversial policy issues we often confront, we begin with a renewed examination of the peculiar yet abiding influence  of SR's favorite musical artists, the Carpenters, on the musical cultures of Japan, China, and other East Asian countries.  In ensuing posts we will explore the forthcoming high-tension Battle of the East Asian Ice Queens --Yuna Kim of South Korea and Mao Asada of Japan -- in the Sochi Olympics; and then the increasingly ominous friction between China and Japan in the more menacing arena of potential military confrontation.

                                                                        * * * *

            Splashing Rocks has previously examined the remarkably persistent appeal of the music of the Carpenters, and the near mythical status of the late Karen Carpenter, in Japan, China, and other countries of East Asia.  See, e.g., "Opening Splash:  East Asia and the Carpenters," at splashingrocks.blogspot.com.  While a wide range of Carpenters recordings have enjoyed success in these countries, two songs in particular have achieved such widespread and longstanding popularity in East Asia that they have risen to the status of transnational pop classics.  Both of them were written by the adroit composing team of Richard Carpenter (music) and John Bettis (lyrics), and both of course featured the flawless contralto vocals of Karen Carpenter. 

            The first of these perennial East Asian favorites is the international anthem of pop music nostalgia, "Yesterday Once More" (YOM).  Although YOM was a mega-hit in the U.S. when first released in 1973 – it reached No. 1 on 3 of the 4 relevant pop charts at that time, and easily reached Gold Record certification – it has not enjoyed the longstanding popularity of a classic in the U.S. market.  While that may be attributable in part to the systemic bias of the American rock/pop music establishment against anything that could be considered middle-of-the-road, wholesome, or family friendly, it may also reflect the fact that YOM ranks well behind numerous other Carpenters classics (e.g., "Superstar," "For All We Know," "Good-bye to Love," "Close to You," etc.) in terms of sheer musical depth and quality.

                                                             

                Record Jacket of the Japanese version of Yesterday Once More         

            Regardless, YOM went on to achieve unparalleled success and popularity in Japan, China, and other Asian countries from its release in 1973 and continuing well after Karen Carpenter's death in 1983, and up to the present.  It quickly reached No. 1 on the charts in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia in 1974, and the album on which it was the featured "bookend" song, Now and Then, reached No. 1 on the Japanese album chart (the single held No. 2 in Japan for several months).  As documented on this blog and many others, YOM achieved such popularity and ubiquity in post-Maoist China that Western hipsters traveling or sojourning there were completely mystified by its cult-like popularity in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and even more remote corners of the PRC.  A poll taken by the popular Chinese radio station "China Drive" in 2007 showed that YOM was the first English language song heard by well over 50% of the respondents.  As evidenced by countless reports, articles, and Internet postings out of China, there is little doubt that YOM was the most popular and widely played Western song in China from its first openings to foreign music in the late 1970's until the current era of digitally accessible music on a world scale.

      Karen Carpenter memorably sings Yesterday Once More at Tokyo's Budokan in 1974

            Considering YOM's prolonged primacy among popular songs in the world's most populous country;  the range and duration (30 to 40 years) of its popularity not only in China, but in other populous East Asian countries like Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea; and the number and striking diversity of the countries in which it reached No. 1 (U.S., Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Venezuela, Belgium, and Israel, among others) or No. 2 (Japan and UK) on the national charts;  taking all this into account, a credible case could be made that more persons have heard "Yesterday Once More" than any pop song in history, at least in the pre-Internet and pre-digital age (the "viral" spread of music via the Internet today renders comparisons between the two eras inapposite, as today's conditions permit a degree of access and distribution far beyond that allowed in the earlier era, wholly without regard to the quality of the music or of the listeners' approval).

            The second Carpenters song to achieve cult-like status in East Asia (essentially Japan in this case) is the 1976 recording, "I Need to Be in Love."  Although the recording reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary chart (then called the Easy Listening chart), it peaked at only No. 25 on the more inclusive Billboard Hot 100.  The Carpenters' U.S. popularity – and their personal health – had been on the decline by 1976, and the song was soon forgotten in America by all but dedicated Carpenters fans.  Interestingly, however, it was reportedly Karen Carpenter's personal favorite of all the duo's recordings, probably because of its deeply personal associations and lyrics, including the poignant and memorable line, "I'm wide awake at 4 A.M., without a friend in sight."

            Like "Yesterday Once More," however, "I Need to be in Love" (INTBIL for brevity) enjoyed a second and much more significant surge of popularity overseas.

  The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Band Plays Seishun no Kagayaki in Yokosuka

            In 1995, a teen-oriented television series named "Miseinen" (roughly translated as "Under Age" or "Beginners") was a major hit in Japan.  Seizing on the long-time popularity of Carpenters music in Japan, the show's producers utilized three Carpenters' songs for the themes and soundtrack of the series:  "Top of the World," "Desperado, " and "I Need to be in Love."  As documented in my earlier posts, this led to an enormous resurgence of the Carpenters' popularity in Japan.  A CD single with "Top of the World" on one side and INTBIL on the other reached No. 5 on Japan's Oricon all-pop chart and was certified as a quadruple platinum record; and a repackaged compilation of the "22 Greatest Hits of the Carpenters" (with INTBIL as the lead-off song) became what was then the largest selling album by non-Japanese artists in Japanese history, with over 3 million in sales.   Eventually, and rather oddly to Western perception, the song came to be known in Japan as "Seishun no Kagayaki," roughly translated as something like, "The Glow of Youth."  The bizarre retitling is likely attributable to the song's association with the teen-oriented Miseinen television themes, but, for whatever reason, it has stuck.

            Although the song's enormous revived success in Japanese record and album sales 20 years after its original release was significant in itself, it was the almost obsessive fondness for the song on the part of Japanese musicians, both professional and amateur, that has made Seishun no Kagayaki (SNK, for short) a genuine cross-cultural phenomenon.

            A cursory search on YouTube, using either "I Need to be in Love" or the Japanese characters for Seishun no Kagayaki, will reveal that literally tens of thousands of videos of this 38-year-old American song have been posted.  The vast majority of these videos record instrumental performances of the song by Japanese orchestras, groups, or individuals.  And new video recordings of the song by Japanese posters appear almost daily.

                            A sax-led rendition of SNK by the Kashiwa Brass, circa 2010

            The scope of this cultural phenomenon is demonstrated by the incredible variety of Japanese musicians who have performed and recorded the song.  The plethora of video recordings of SNK include formal recitals by the official bands of both the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force and the Japanese Air Self Defense Force; vocal renditions by popular Japanese songstresses like Keiko Toge and Rei Fu; studio recordings by sophisticated combos like the quartet of elegant Japanese lady instrumentalists known as Vanilla Mood; and, my personal favorite, jazz-club style performances by the likes of a mini-skirted lady saxophonist wearing a Blues Brother-style chapeau, somewhere in the depths of the Shinjuku musical underground.  And the song has been video-recorded by Japanese professional and amateur instrumentalists on almost every instrument imaginable:  piano, organ, guitar, violin, cello, flute, and especially all varieties of the saxophone.

            The remarkable oddity is that so many thousands of Japanese musicians and singers have been (and continue to be) inspired to perform and record what was a relatively minor hit by the Carpenters in the U.S. nearly 40 years ago.  A combination of factors likely explains the phenomenon:  the near-mythical stature of Karen Carpenter and the Carpenters in Japan's pop music culture;  the popularity of Miseinen and its iconic musical score; the mellifluous and user-friendly quality of the song's musical composition; and the Japanese people's exceptional appreciation of beautiful musical compositions, coupled with the exceptionally large number of Japanese who are trained and talented in all varieties of instrumental music.

            Whatever the reason, it appears that somewhere in Japan someone is always playing or singing Seishun no Kagayaki – just as somewhere in China, someone is always listening to "Yesterday Once More" on the radio, in a karaoke bar, or in a hotel lobby.

            Who would think that two songs that originated in the 1970's with three earnest American suburban kids in Downey, California --  Richard and Karen Carpenter and John Bettis – would endure as beloved classics in the musical cultures of Japan and China some 40 years later, and likely for decades yet to come?  

            Somewhere up there, Karen must be smiling like she did in 1970.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

SAME SEX MARRIAGE INVADES THE ROSE PARADE: THE NEW "TERROR OF COLORADO BOULEVARD"


            In 1964, California surfer-boy troubadors Jan and Dean released their hit recording, "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena," which hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became a part of American pop folklore.  The catchy song featured a hot-rodding old lady in tennis shoes, whose NASCAR-style driving was so aggressive that she became known as "the terror of Colorado Boulevard" – the iconic central avenue of Pasadena, which annually hosts the perennially popular Tournament of Roses Parade.

                Fast forward to New Years Day 2014, and consider the dark and depressing state to which Colorado Boulevard, the City of Pasadena, the State of California, and, indeed, the U.S. have fallen.

                The new year has revealed an entirely new terror of Colorado Boulevard, and it has nothing to do with aggressive drivers, whether superannuated or otherwise.

                No, we now learn that the Tournament of Roses Parade, long renowned for its universal appeal to families and enthusiastic New Years Day celebrants of all ages, has been hijacked and corrupted by the emboldened forces of the homosexual advocacy movement (HAM).  Parade officials have announced that the parade will include a same-sex "marriage" (SSM) float, on which a purported homosexual marriage of two men will be performed live during the parade.  The two men, one bearded and one bald, have appeared on TV interviews, and they do not make a pretty sight.

                                                     

                                   Caligula approves the Rose Parade's Same Sex Marriage Float

                It is not enough that the relentlessly obnoxious forces of the homosexual movement have corrupted and undermined such heretofore wholesome and morally upstanding institutions as the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts.

                It is not enough that it has conspired with its political allies in the Democratic Party and the White House to infiltrate the very Armed Forces of the United States, and has cowed the spineless General Staff of the services into not only accepting, but now embracing, what it condemned and opposed only a few years ago – the subversion of unit cohesion and solidarity through the introduction of avowed sodomites into the barracks and naval bunking compartments.

                And it is not enough that forces of aggressive homosexual advocacy have now subverted and degraded the very bedrock institution of modern human civilization – the marriage of one woman and one man for the procreation of children and the formation of enduring families.  The gay rights movement's relentless campaign for the oxymoron of same-sex marriage -- aided and abetted by the Obama-led Democrat Party and the liberal judiciary, and acquiesced in by passive and conformist masses of the citizenry – seeks to equate the romantic matrimonial ideal of "white lace and promises" with the grotesque, smirking parody of black leather and licentiousness.

                Not content with American society's astonishingly rapid acceptance of what that same America would have almost unanimously dismissed as utter lunacy only a generation ago, the HAM has become so smug in its successes that it now feels comfortable in engaging in deliberate public provocation of the remnant of society that is still capable of taking offense at the patently offensive.

                 And, make no mistake, the performance of a purported marriage of two men on a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade is a massive and deliberate provocation and affront to the millions of traditional-values families watching the parade in person or on TV.  That parade (and others like it) is understandably viewed as a family-friendly spectacle where parents and children can enjoy spectacularly beautiful rose-laden floats, spirited college and high school marching bands, and smiling beauty queens without the depressing distraction of the ugly realities of the darker side of modern life.  But the same-sex marriage float obnoxiously interjects an offensive element of controversy, confrontation, and effrontery that is the very antithesis of what the parade represents.

                Further, the same-sex marriage float introduces something even more sinister and subversive into the once wholesome atmosphere of the Tournament of Roses Parade.  There are undoubtedly many parade participants, in high school bands or sponsors or creators of various floats, who consider the same-sex marriage float offensive and objectionable.  Yet these people have devoted enormous amounts of time, effort, and expense towards their participation, and many will have traveled thousands of miles for what may amount to the most exciting event of the year for them.  Given these realities, it is probable that even those participants who object to the SSM float will suppress their objections and enjoy their big day in the parade notwithstanding its subversion by the homosexual activists.  By their participation in a parade that very visibly honors and glorifies homosexual marriage, however, people who actually object to SSM are placed in the position of appearing to approve and endorse it.  They are subtly commandeered as props, providing unwitting support to the SSM movement.  However unfair it may seem, it is difficult to maintain that you object to a movement when you have marched in step with it on national television.

                Sadly, most of American society has descended to a state of such flaccid moral indifference that not even the most offensive public degeneracies can provoke public outrage.  Whether it is Miley Cyrus simulating perverted sexual contortions on a TV awards show or two men engaging in a grotesque parody of marriage on a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade, the great mass of Americans either shrug in amused indifference or profess to a pseudo-sophisticated annoyance at those who are so puritanical to express offense.  Consequently, it is not surprising -- although deeply disappointing -- that one upstanding woman's effort to organize a boycott of the SSM-infested Parade on Facebook has drawn only indifferent support (only 7,571 "likes," including mine, as of New Years Eve, a paltry number by contemporary digital media standards).

                So on New Years Day 2014, it appears that thousands of Rose Bowl Parade participants, and many millions of parade viewers, will fall in lockstep in the mindless march towards societal degeneracy that is epitomized by the festive celebration of the oxymoron of same-sex marriage.  The non-conformists who hark to the principled beat of a different drummer will have no parade they can march in this year.

                 Somewhere, Caligula is smiling.