For many Americans, our country’s foreign affairs are just that: foreign. Don’t believe me? Ask someone on the street to identify the location of Belgium. Better yet, engage him or her in a discussion regarding the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and you might just learn that Brussels is a country.
America can hardly be blamed for its ignorance. Unlike Europe where people frequently travel to neighboring countries and speak multiple languages because of necessity, Americans have had the luxury of physical isolation from much of the world. And it shows. According to at least one report, approximately 38% of Americans possess passports, with more than half of all Americans never having traveled outside of the United States.
When I lived in New York, I skimmed news relating to North Korean shenanigans. Now, I take time to read it. Indeed, it is not every day that one’s mobile phone provides an emergency alert informing you that North Korea has just launched something towards your home. (The alerts were in Japanese, but my savvy Husband was able to translate the message during our February family walk.)
When I lived in Cayman, Cuba and Honduras were of great interest. Now, China and North Korea are center stage–and with good reason.
It’s all about perspective.
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RE:PRINT (NYT): Patrolling Disputed Waters, U.S. and China Jockey for Dominance
ABOARD THE U.S.S. CHANCELLORSVILLE, in the South China Sea — The Navy cruiser was in disputed waters off the Spratly Islands when the threat warning sounded over the ship’s intercom: “Away the Snoopie team. … Away the Snoopie team.”
As the sailors of the “Snoopie team” went on alert and took up positions throughout the ship, a Chinese naval frigate appeared on the horizon, bearing down on the cruiser Chancellorsville last week from the direction of Mischief Reef. More alarming, a Chinese helicopter that had taken off from the frigate was heading straight for the American cruiser.
“This is U.S. Navy warship on guard,” Ensign Anthony Giancana said into his radio from the ship’s bridge, trying to contact the helicopter. “Come up on Frequency 121.5 or 243.”
Ominously, there was no response.
Here in the hot azure waters off the Spratly and Paracel Islands — which encompass reefs, banks and cays — the United States and China are jockeying for dominance in the Pacific. From Mischief Reef, where China is building a military base in defiance of claims by Vietnam and the Philippines, to Scarborough Shoal, where the Chinese are building and equipping outposts on disputed territory far from the mainland, the two naval forces are on an almost continuous state of alert.
Although the South China Sea stretches some 500 miles from mainland China, Beijing has claimed most of it. Tensions have risen sharply, and the topic is expected to dominate President Obama’s meeting in Washington this week with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
America’s goal is to keep the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, open to all maritime traffic. But administration officials are increasingly worried that tensions will only deepen if an arbitration panel in The Hague rules as expected in the coming months on a 2013 case brought by the Philippines, which has accused China of making an “excessive claim” to most of the sea.
“Would you go to war over Scarborough Shoals?” General Dunford asked Admiral Harris, in a conversation overheard by a reporter. If Admiral Harris responded, it could not be heard.
The White House and the Pentagon have made clear that they do not want a war with China over a group of uninhabited islands. But neither does the White House want to cede the South China Sea to China, which is what administration officials fear will happen if Beijing continues on its current course. James R. Clapper, Mr. Obama’s director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that by early next year China would “have significant capacity to quickly project substantial military power to the region.”
That could mean that other countries could eventually need Beijing’s permission to traverse the heavily trafficked sea.
And so for the moment, the Obama administration is sending Navy patrols through the Spratlys and other disputed island chains in the region, to drive home the message that the sea is free to all. Some 700 American patrols have gone through in the past year, Navy officials say. Three weeks ago the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis and four other American warships sailed into the South China Sea for routine exercises, meant to convey the message, Pentagon officials said, that the United States is the dominant military power in the region.
Aboard the Chancellorsville last week, the minutes — and the tension — stretched out as the Chinese helicopter pilot refused to answer. The helicopter kept circling and eventually flew back to the Chinese frigate, which then continued toward the American warship. At the helm, Capt. Curt A. Renshaw, who had skipped his morning shower to race up to the bridge when the Chinese helicopter approached, huddled with his officers.
The day before, Captain Renshaw had warned the entire ship over the intercom that the Chancellorsville would be transiting through the Spratlys, and he told the crew members to be on their toes and alert to trouble. He had been expecting the Chinese to show up — Beijing, in recent months, has taken to shadowing American warships that have dared to enter the South China Sea.
On a stand near the captain’s chair, a copy of “Jane’s Fighting Ships” was open to Page 144: “China Frigates.”
“You’ve ever been shadowed before?” Captain Renshaw asked Ensign Kristine Mun, a navigations officer. He turned to Ensign Niles Li, one of several officers who spoke Chinese, and wondered aloud at the Chinese helicopter’s refusal to answer the radio message.
Finally, when the Chinese frigate was six miles away and clearly visible to the naked eye on the horizon, the ship-to-ship radio crackled with the sounds of accented English. “U.S. Navy Warship 62. … This is Chinese Warship 575.”
And so began an elaborate diplomatic dance.
“This is U.S. Warship 62. Good morning, sir. It is a pleasant day at sea, over.”
“This is U.S. Warship 62. Good morning, sir. It is a pleasant day to be at sea, over.”
Captain Renshaw turned to Ensign Li. “You’re up,” he said. “They can’t pretend they don’t speak Chinese.”
“Chinese Warship 575, this is U.S. Warship 62,’’ Ensign Li said in Chinese. “Today is a sunny day for a sea voyage, over.”
More minutes ticked by. Ensign Anthony Giancana, the junior officer on deck for the morning, was getting antsy. “This is like Opening Day,” he said to no one in particular. “We’ve done spring training.’’
Suddenly, the radio crackled again as the frigate responded in Chinese: “U.S. Warship 62, this is Chinese Warship 575. Today’s weather is great. It is a pleasure to meet you at sea.”
Ensign Li responded, also in Chinese: “This is U.S. Warship 62. The weather is indeed great. It is a pleasure to meet you, too, over.”
Preliminaries dispensed with, the Chinese ship got down to business, switching to English. “How long have you been since departing from your home port? Over.”
Captain Renshaw was immediately shaking his head. “No, we’re not answering that. I would never ask him that.”
Ensign Giancana picked up the radio again. “Chinese Warship 575, this is U.S. Navy Warship 62. We do not talk about our schedules. But we are enjoying our time at sea, over.”
And on it went as the two warships, each loaded with missiles, torpedoes and heavy artillery, confronted each other with an exchange of weather pleasantries at sea. Testing whether the Chinese were openly following, the Chancellorsville made a turn, and its officers stood back and waited.
A shout came from another one of Captain Renshaw’s junior officers: “He just turned, sir!” The Chancellorsville now had a tail. But for how long?
Apparently the Chinese ship wanted an answer to that question as well.
“U.S. Navy Warship 62, this is Chinese Navy Warship 575,” came a new message. “Do you continue to have long-term voyage at sea? Over.”
Another no-no. Telling the Chinese the intended duration of the trip could be an inherent acknowledgment that they had the right to know, Captain Renshaw said. And that is not considered freedom of navigation.
“This is U.S. Navy Warship 62,’’ Captain Renshaw responded. “Roger, all of our voyages are short because we enjoy our time at sea no matter how long we are away from home. Over.”
As it happened, the Chinese ship had a ready answer for that.
“U.S. Navy Warship 62, this is Chinese Navy Warship 575,” came the reply. “Copy that I will be staying along with you for the following days. Over.”
That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Chinese frigate was replaced by a destroyer, which followed the Navy warship until midnight Thursday, when the American vessel exited the South China Sea.
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Regular readers know I spend a lot of time thinking about garbage. As our family’s designated trash sorter, I know what is recyclable, what needs to be cleaned, and what needs to be stripped of labels before being placed into one of four clear bags. Fortunately, we live in a country of innovation. Indeed, Japan is known for its forward-thinking ideas, inventions, and experiments. (This week, Russell’s mobile phone provider, SoftBank, will staff one of its mobile phone stores with Pepper robots. Really.)
Here, when I have to strip a bottle of its plastic labeling, it takes a second or, at the most, two. No, I’m not exaggerating. For those of you who struggle with stripping the plastic coating from laundry detergent bottles, know that there is a better way. Products in Japan are made with thinner plastics, affecting both bottles and labels. But the true time-saver is the perforated strip on nearly all recyclable items. Pull the strip and off comes the label.
Simple. Easy. Ingenious.
In the words of Ina Garten, how easy is that?
We don’t allow [S] to watch television. She is too young. But I permit her to look at photos of herself on my iPhone. (I know, I don’t know if that is much better.) Lately, much to my dismay, she’s been exploring other apps on my phone. Earlier this week, I found her browsing through the App Store on my phone, something I never do. After wrestling my phone away from her little, but strong, hands, I took a look at the top free apps. And there it was. Standing out like a beacon at number four on the list was the game Stack. I had no idea what it was, but it was free and the graphic intriguing. The app sat untouched for 48 hours. Then, last night, as I struggled to fall asleep, I opened it.
Sliding colored tiles move across the screen in different directions. The goal? To stack the moving tile atop the static tile. Any portion of the tile hanging over the edge is cut off, resulting in smaller and smaller tiles, until it is impossible to stack one atop the next. Game over. It appears that if one stacks enough tiles perfectly, the tiles grow back bit by bit. But I haven’t played the game well enough to know this to be fact. Rather, it is merely speculation and misplaced hope for possible redemption. That said, Stack is addictive. It’s hook? The game appears far too simple to be as difficult as it is.
Being the spouse of an active duty servicemember has its perks. Living abroad for finite periods of time, excellent health care coverage at a reasonable cost, and commissary and exchange privileges, just to name a few. Of course, there are reasons for such incentives, including lengthy deployments, high-risk day-to-day activities, and being called to combat.
While I was wholly unprepared to marry into the military family, I did so joyfully. My Husband offered to limit his relocation to a geographic area near my then law practice. No, that was unnecessary, I reassured him. We rolled the dice, allowing him to be called where needed. No one, myself included, could take issue with moving to San Diego, California. And then came Okinawa, Japan. We should probably head to Vegas before our luck runs out.
While where we are living isn’t a problem, giving up ties to any particular locale has become troublesome. When I prepared our taxes this year, I was asked to list my state of legal residency. For most, this question is simple. It is the state in which one owns property, registers his or her vehicle, pays taxes, votes, has a diver’s license, etc. We don’t own property. We own two vehicles registered in Okinawa. Upon the advice of our tax preparer, I didn’t file (or pay) state taxes last year. (But it appears we should have filed in California despite not having a tax liability.) I am registered to vote in Maryland and possess a Maryland driver’s license.
Were I forced to “go home” today, where would I go? Frankly, I don’t know. I love New York. I will always consider the City to be my home. But I don’t envision it being our home. Washington, D.C., where I attended law school and where I lived during our courtship, also has favored city status, especially areas bordering select parts of Maryland. (I try to stay as far away from Virginia as possible.) And then there is Maryland, the state in which I was raised, where my parents reside, and the location of our first marital home. Legally, other than a driver’s license boasting my former home’s address and my voter registration status, there is nothing connecting me to the state.
Why is determining my state of legal residency keeping me up at night? There are two reasons, but only one matters now. The first involves tax liability. The details are irrelevant, but suffice it to say that where I reside (or intend on residing) is a significant factor as to whether–and where, if at all–to file taxes. The second–and more pressing–reason is because I want to vote in the general election. Yes, I know, I can vote by way of absentee ballot. But it’s not that simple. The last time I voted absentee ballot, I completed an online questionnaire and had to speak with State Board of Elections staff who asked numerous questions. Where do I live? What is my address? When will I be returning home?
Uncomfortable questions for a mostly-truthful person, considering. In an attempt for my vote to be meaningful, I would like to receive my ballot as soon as practicable. I’ve stared at the online questionnaire for some time, but have yet to undertake answering its routine questions. The irony is that I value our nomadic way of life. I suppose some would argue we don’t have much. But that is our sweet spot, at least for now. Unburdened by things and stuff, we are able to travel lightly and start anew wherever we make our home. But for now, I just want to be able to vote.
Ideal Conceal, a Minnesota startup, is developing a two-shot pistol that folds into a palm-sized square. It can be slipped into a back pocket or displayed openly in a coffee shop with no one the wiser.
“Ingeniously designed to resemble a smartphone, yet with one click of the safety it opens and is ready to fire,” says the company website. “Smartphones are everywhere, so your new pistol will easily blend in with today’s environment. In its locked position it will be virtually undetectable because it hides in plain sight.”
The company said the gun will cost $395 when it becomes available mid-2016. Developer Kirk Kjellberg said he’s already received 2,500 emails from people who want to buy one.
The past five days have been filled with insightful moments. Take today at 11:48 a.m. On a whim, I purchased a container of wasabi and mayonnaise flavored Pringles. I placed [S] in the car seat, my purchases in front passenger seat and hopped into my Premacy. As if possessed, I opened the Pringles and began eating them in the car. (This never happens.) And I continued doing so until I arrived home. Upon arrival, I placed my now-sleeping daughter in her crib, and continued eating the entire can of Pringles. No. Not my finest moment. Not by far.
But I have an excuse, if not a reason, for my actions. It has been five days since my Husband left Okinawa. Yes, of course, he’s coming back. But nevertheless, it’s been a long five days. I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m cranky. In some ways, I feel as if I’ve reverted to being single. The house is quiet at night. The bed seems far too large. And I can’t wait for the light of the morning.
There are funny moments. The day after Russell left, I was changing [S]’s diaper when she said in a clear and undeniable voice, “I know. I know. I know.” I stopped, stared at her, and started laughing. Yes, a young child’s vocabulary reflects upon his or her primary caregiver. And, yes, for the past several days, I have been patting her bum with a wipe and, in response to her cries from the pain, saying, “I know. I know. I know.” I smiled as I mused about Russell’s reaction to hearing her daughter mimic his wife.
There are the early morning moments. The moment I bring [S] into our bed to sneak in a few extra minutes of sleep. Each morning, when she first lays down, she looks around the bed and says “Dada, Dada.” The moment when I make her breakfast and wonder what I’m not doing quite right. And then there are the evening moments. That moment when I realize I’m looking at my phone, rather than engaging with my daughter, while eating dinner. That moment of startling realization that, despite my love of food and cooking, if I didn’t have a family to care for, I don’t know if I would ever cook. Or clean. Or go grocery shopping.
And then there is the moment I realized a singular truth: Russell rescued me from myself.
Too much sitting increases heart failure risk and disability risk, and shortens life expectancy, studies have found. But according to an analysis published Wednesday of 20 of the best studies done so far, there’s little evidence that workplace interventions like the sit-stand desk or even the flashier pedaling or treadmill desks will help you burn lots more calories, or prevent or reverse the harm of sitting for hours on end.
“What we actually found is that most of it is, very much, just fashionable and not proven good for your health,” says Dr. Jos Verbeek, a health researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
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“The idea you should be standing four hours a day? There’s no real evidence for that,” he says. “I would say that there’s evidence that standing can be bad for your health.” A 2005 study in Denmark showed prolonged standing at work led to a higher hospitalization risk for enlarged veins.
— Stand To Work If You Like, But Don’t Brag About The Benefits, NPR, March 18, 2016.
The standing desk movement has been afoot for some time and continues to gain traction. Indeed, I’m only marginally in the workforce, yet have been up close and personal with the trend. My supervisor has a standing desk. And I have used his office on more than one occasion. The first time I had a call with a client, I found standing at the desk to be distracting, disorienting and uncomfortable. Yes, I understand that behavioral modification is a science and, likely, the reason I disliked my experience was because it was new and different. Regardless, I prefer sitting down, even if it is considered to be the modern day cigarette, and putting my feet up. And now there’s no reason to be ashamed of my bad habit.