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  • Eric Byler, filmmaker, director of "Charlotte Sometimes," "9500 Liberty," "Tre," and "Americanese"

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  • Dodgers' Chan Ho Park: Glory, A Fall, Near Death, and Now...?

    Monday, Mar 24, 2008 5:45PM / Standard Entry

    Last Feb. 18, I did something rare: while flying between Los Angeles and Washington DC, I was so pleased with a newspaper article that I clipped it out and saved it. No, it wasn’t about Barack Obama… It was a sports article by Dylan Hernandez of The Los Angeles Times about the first Korean born star in major league baseball, Chan Ho Park. This was the part that jumped out at me, describing how he almost died 2 years ago while pitching for the San Diego Padres:

    "Finding massive amounts of blood in his stool in late July, Park had a stint on the
    disabled list but returned to action without discovering the source of the bleeding.

    The bleeding returned on a day Park was scheduled to pitch and only an angry phone
    call from teammate Woody Williams convinced him to go to the operating table
    instead of the mound.

    As it was, Park said, he lost half of his blood.

    "[Williams] was yelling," Park recalled. "He said, ’Think about your family. You have a
    daughter on the way.’ If I was single, I probably would’ve pitched. My wife and baby
    probably saved my life."

    Backing up a bit.... I’m a life-long baseball fan -- my grandfather was a professional and I still play the game today -- but I was beginning to lose interest in the Major Leagues until Hideo Nomo and Chan Ho Park came to the Dodgers in the mid 1990’s. For the next 10 years, Dodgers baseball was more than a spectator sport for me; it was about identity. It was about Asian pride in a way that I related to even more than movies and TV (believe it or not). Each summer for the next decade, I would time the purchase of Dodger tickets to watch only those games that Nomo or Park were scheduled to pitch.

    Although there are many sports heros today for Asians and Asian Americans, Nomo was the first to rise to the top of his profession, starting in the All-Star game in his rookie year and winning the Rookie of the Year award at season’s end. Unlike Nomo, who had already established himself in the Japanese Major Leagues, Park was a high school draftee who had to compete in the Dodgers’ minor league system for a chance to prove himself in the Majors. Seeing Nomo leave Japan to dominate the best hitters in baseball was exciting and empowering. But with Park, it was more than that, because it was like watching a kid, filled with big dreams, joy and wonderment, growing up before your eyes. He battled nerves in his first few outings, pitching with, not only the pressure of competing at baseball’s highest level, but also the pressure of being a national obsession in South Korea. At only 22 years of age, he was also faced with the psychological obstacle of competing in a team sport in a foreign country -- where cultural differences can cause you to feel isolated and uncertain rather than backed by your teammates. To top it all off, Park faced a looming, mandatory 26-month stint in the South Korean military. The Dodgers had drafted him in spite of this law, but no one, least of all Park, wanted to see his promising career interrupted just when he was hitting his stride. In 1998, the Dodgers worked out a deal with the South Korean government: Park could be exempted from military service IF AND ONLY IF he led South Korea to a gold medal in baseball at the Asian Games that December. So, he went out and did it allowing only 1 run in the Gold Medal game.

    By 2002, Park had become one of the best pitchers in baseball. That’s when he left the Dodgers to do what most successful Major League ballplayers do – sign a big free agent contract and go where the money is. Feeling pressure to perform for his new team (the Texas Rangers), he played through a serious injury, leading to other injuries and a string of sub-par seasons.

    Most people thought Park’s career was over after 2007 season in which he languished in the minors for the New York Mets. For 2008, he told his agent to get him back in Dodger Blue (regardless of salary) for one last attempt at redemption. Provided a minor league contract, it looked like Park had a slim chance of cracking the starting rotation for the pitching-rich Dodgers.

    But with his health in tact and renewed zip on his fastball, Park has pitched unexpectedly well in spring training -- he didn’t even give up an earned run in his first five outings (that’s good) including a stellar performance when the Dodgers played an in Beijing, China after which he clashed with Chinese police trying to stop him from signing autographs.

    Right now, Park is competing with Estaban Loaiza for the fifth and final starting spot in the Dodgers rotation. Even though Park has pitched much better this spring, Loiza is said to have the edge because the Dodgers have agreed to pay him $6.5 million this season whether he makes the team or not. Park would be paid half a million, only if he makes the team.

    According to the Dodgers website, Loaiza and Park will both pitch this Saturday against the Red Sox at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum -- the final tune-up for both pitchers before the start of the regular season.

    So if you’re in Los Angeles, in Asia, or wherever you are, please root with me for Chan Ho Park to pitch well on Saturday, make the team, and have an awesome season in Dodger blue. Baseball needs a story like this, and so does America.

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  • News Story on Bigotry in America Shocked Me Twice

    Friday, Mar 21, 2008 2:29AM / Standard Entry

    Maybe it’s just me, but this brought tears to my eyes, both eyes! And it’s only a news report:


    I was shocked once by the reinforcement bigotry, and shocked twice by the courage in standing up to bigotry. In the end, more people did nothing. This is how we became the America of the Bush years, an America many of us can’t even recognize at times. Acts of courage were a rarity, while the majority of us did nothing.

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  • Back in the U.S. -- Obama speech today -- Annabel blog today

    Wednesday, Mar 19, 2008 2:45PM / Standard Entry

    I arrived in DC this morning after traveling across the Pacific, then across the country three times, as well as up the California coast all in the past few days. I slept for an hour, woke up for Obama’s speech, and then went back to sleep until 10 PM. I guess we can safely say my schedule has been thrown out of whack by my travels. Tomorrow morning Annabel and I will talk to students at Georgetown about immigration and our documentary 9500 Liberty. We gave a similar talk at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan a week ago.

    My last blog was written while in Seoul, Korea. Among several other amazing experiences that occurred since that post, we traveled to the House of Sharing, where many "Comfort Station" survivors live together, and we met and talked with Lee Ok Sun, the second of two women whose stories we told in this YouTube video (Lee Ok Sun’s translated testimony was read by Kimberly-Rose Wolter). As soon as I recuperate, I promise to post footage from this encounter, and many other experiences during the past two weeks in Asia and in Houston, Texas (for Obama). Annabel wrote eloquently about the "Comfort Women" issue, her philosophy, and our experience in her first addition to our new blog for AsianWeek.

    During a very brief visit to San Francisco over the weekend, I encountered several people who thanked me for writing for AsianWeek, confessing that they had been embarrassed by current and past columnists such as Kenneth Ng and Emil Amok (that’s what they call him but this is not his name). I’ve long struggled with the question: to what extent should we be embarrassed by people who come from the same community? Perhaps I’ll address this in a future column.

    In a related issue, I wanted to briefly reference Barack Obama’s speech today -- click here to see it as broadcast on CNN, with the text of the speech included or click here to see it in high resolution (but it takes some navigating).

    In my view, this speech was historic, much more so than the Iowa speech (during which I chased down a 10-year-old and made her watch it for posterity), or any of the speeches I have seen Obama make in person. I would encourage anyone reading this to watch the speech in it’s entirety before reading my or anyone else’s commentary on it. I think the message here is deeply personal, both for the speaker, and for all those of us he is speaking to. How you respond should be your own choice. After all, this choice is fundamental to your personal identity, and, I collectively, will be fundamental to our identity as a nation.

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  • Update from Seoul, reaction to Obama Win in Mississippi

    Wednesday, Mar 19, 2008 2:44PM / Standard Entry

    The stuff my camera has seen in the past week... I couldn’t begin to describe. Annabel and I have been in Tokyo and Seoul to meet with progressives, politicians, and activists about next steps for "Comfort Women" truth and reconciliation. The best part of today was spending quality time with Lee Young Soo, a survivor of a "Comfort Station" set up in Taiwan, and the most wonderful person on earth. You can see her in this video, but she is not the regal pillar of strength that she appeared to be at our White House protest. She is a warm, joyful, spunky lady, 79 years old, but so full of life and energy. Lee Halmoni spoke at a Congressional Hearing early in 2007 in Washington DC. Annabel, who was in the audience, became inspired to lead the national movement that led to a historic breakthrough just six months later. We are producing a documentary on the subject, which I hope will do justice to it. Annabel and I have worked with and hung out with (even karaoked with) Lee Halmoni in DC, LA, and San Fran. But today, we met a survivor for the first time. Kim Koon Ja also testified that fateful day in Washington. She is the person that Karin Anna Cheung gave voice to in our first 121 Coalition video. Koon Ja normally lives with other survivors in Seoul at The House of Sharing. But right now she is in a rehab hospital in a suburb of Seoul because of a broken hip. We had a lovely visit with her. Annabel presented her with an American flag, one of three that was flown over the US Capitol on the day that House Resolution 121 was passed. I’ll post video soon. Like Lee Young Soo, Koon Ja is a warm and loving woman, the kind of grandmother we all love dearly, especially those of us with Asian grandmothers.... Anyway, we attended the weekly protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. I’m proud to say I made the sign that all the reporters snapped photos of. Lee Halmoni held it, and it read: "Thank you USA for H. Res 121, A Step Toward Peace and Reconciliation." Then, Annabel did a press conference. Then, she gave a lecture at a university. Then, we went out to dinner. Then, I passed out during the car ride back to our hotel. Luckily I wasn’t driving.

    Meanwhile, Barack Obama was winning the Mississippi primary. I’m really concerned that the Clinton camp has resorted to stirring up racial division in an attempt to turn white voters (and others susceptible to prejudice) against Obama. This latest Ferror ofiasco is only one of many attempts to dismiss Obama’s global appeal as some form of affirmative action. Every time Obama wins a state with some African Americans in it, we get the statistical analysis breaking down voting patterns by race. At least the media doesn’t bother us with such breakdowns when Obama wins a state like Iowa or Wyoming. "He’s only winning because he’s Black" is obviously a Clinton campaign talking point, only some are better at finessing it than others. I’ve been working on a new column for our blog on AsianWeek that will try to address some of this. Here are some preliminary thoughts:

    Why Does The Clinton Campaign Sound Like A Republican Campaign???

    In 1996, Bill Clinton won reelection to the White House without resorting to the types of tactics his wife’s campaign is employing now. With a booming economy and American prestige soaring around the world, Clinton’s campaign required little more than a turn a of phrase on challenger Bob Dole’s unfortunate platform. The 68-year-old Senator said his plan was to build a bridge to the past. Clinton offered a bridge to the future and that was that. In 2008, the Clinton dynasty has become the establishment, and a candidate in Barack Obama could effectively use the same "bridge" analogy if he didn’t have several even more convincing arguments. So how has it come to pass that the Clintons are resorting to "Republican" tactics made famous by George Bush and Karl Rove? The answer is simple. For the first time in their careers, the Clintons finds themselves in the disadvantaged position that Republican candidates so predictably endeavor to smokescreen: they have a weaker candidate, weaker arguments, and a less realistic vision than their Democratic opponent.

    Why Do Some Washington and Democratic Party Insiders STILL Support Hillary?

    Bill Clinton left office 8 years ago with a promise that he would return, and all those who demonstrated continued loyalty would be rewarded with high paying jobs that would set them up for career advancement in the private sector. Some have maintained such loyalty simply to keep their word. While others, in particular those who rested a little too much on their laurels during the lost years of the Bush Administration, find themselves painted into a Clinton corner, unable to reassess the choice we face as an electorate because they have too much at stake in seeing the old guard return. Meanwhile, policy experts and Washington insiders who have remained neutral or endorsed Obama are the types whose accomplishments and credentials are enough to recommend them for jobs or appointments under any Democratic administration.

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  • Arrived in Tokyo, Japan -- Essay About Hillary’s Victories Tuesday

    Thursday, Mar 6, 2008 5:24PM / Standard Entry

    I just completed a 16 hour journey to Tokyo, Japan. Soon I'll add more about our weekend in Houston, including video footage on United For Obama. While on the plane, I wrote an essay that I posted on the new AsianWeek blog I am writing with Annabel Park. AsianWeek is planning a "launch" event next month when Annabel and I are in San Francisco. We are currently shooting an upcoming documentary in Japan and Korea and Annabel has yet to post. Anyway, here is my tirade about the "negative campaign" strategy being employed by Hillary Clinton:

    Flying to Japan on Wednesday I was wearing a Barack Obama hat, and I was asked twice by strangers whether the new voters that Obama has inspired would continue to participate if Hillary Clinton somehow managed to steal the nomination. My answer: “It would be very discouraging if the will of the voters was reversed. Many of those who are new to the process (people of color and young people in particular) would go back to being apathetic. But others would stay with it, much the way those who were inspired by Howard Dean’s candidacy became major contributors to John Kerry’s campaign. It would be better for the party and for the country if Obama’s coalition of new voters, young voters, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents stayed in tact. Although the die-hards like me would be there anyway, I wouldn’t want a repeat of 2004.”

    Hillary Clinton has no chance of legitimately winning the nomination. With the process now 80% complete, Obama leads by 154 delegates. Clinton’s victories on March 4th netted her 6 delegates, three less than Obama’s net gain of 9 delegates in the Washington DC primary. Nonetheless, she has vowed to prolong the Democratic nomination process, probably until the convention in August. While I welcome the fact that more Americans will have the opportunity to participate in a way that is meaningful, the tragedy is that Clinton strategists have reached a consensus that “going negative” is the only way they can win. For Hillary Clinton, this may be so. But for our nation, “going negative” is a step in the wrong direction.

    During the past three weeks, few can recall a positive statement offered by the Clintons. Their calculated attacks on Senator Obama have overshadowed all substantive discussion. The Clintons have complained about media bias (a classic Republican tactic) while using the media to spread rumors and put forth “stories” that are irrelevant and/or dishonest. They have delivered negative speeches criticizing Obama for making positive speeches, and crafted negative slogans to criticize Obama’s positive slogans. Worst of all, they have devised attack ads that employ the same fear-mongering manipulation we saw in the darkest years of the Bush Administration.

    Barack Obama’s candidacy, and more importantly, the movement he has inspired, offer us a chance to move beyond a diseased and dysfunctional era of American politics, and commence a 21st century approach to the deliberative process, in which “government by the people” involves an engaging, honest, and substantive conversation. Barack Obama is the leader best suited to conduct that conversation. That is why the Clintons are seeking to prolong the previous era.

    For Republican strategists, misrepresentations and distortions are necessary to induce us into supporting policies that are not in our interest: tax breaks for oil companies, war profiteering, corruption and incompetence at all levels of government, etc. The Clintons employ such tactics, not to distract from bad policy (their policies are sound), but to compensate for “high negatives,” that is, a high percentage of Americans who vehemently dislike them. Because over 40% of voters say they will not vote for Hillary Clinton under any circumstances, Clinton strategists are forced to “go negative” in order to raise the negatives of their opponents to Clinton-like levels.

    But there is a price to pay for this style of politics. It hardens and embitters the politicians who employ it. It causes them to look upon the voters in much the same way advertisers look at consumers. They rely on exaggerated or fabricated “attacks” and distortions to manipulate as many people as possible in one fell swoop. They assume that we are too passive to see through their tactics, and too distracted to be persuaded by anything else. This style of politics benefits Republicans more than Democrats. If the Clintons do manage to engineer a takeover at the Democratic convention in August, negative politics will continue whether or not they are successful against McCain.

    As we have seen during each of the previous administrations, a government that is dominated by negative politics makes it difficult, indeed dangerous, for elected officials to tell us the truth. For example, during the run-up to the Iraq War, Democrats in Congress, including Senator Clinton, felt compelled to vote to authorize the war because public opinion at that time had been so masterfully manipulated by slogans like “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” and lies like “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussien has weapons of mass destruction.” Barack Obama, then an Illinois State Senator, spoke out against the war, and he has made this contrast a top issue during the primary campaign. In response, the Clintons’ have offered the disappointingly cynical argument that, if Obama, like Clinton, had been a U.S. Senator at the time, being honest about his opposition to the war would have been politically dangerous. This illustrates the sharp contrast between the Clinton approach to politics and the approach being offered by Senator Obama. Hillary Clinton voted for war when war was popular. Years later, she revealed that she was opposed to the war (not surprisingly, just as the war had become unpopular). That’s not good enough for me. I don’t want a President who calculates the best political timing for the truth; I want a President who tells the truth as a matter of principle.

    The politics of fear and manipulation lead to detachment and disillusion.  In turn, a detached and disillusioned electorate is more susceptible to manipulation.  This is what allowed Republicans to overshadow the accomplishments of the Clinton Administration (a balanced budget, a powerful peacetime economy) by obsessing over an extramarital affair. It allowed the mediocrity and intellectual laziness of George W. Bush to be glossed over by astonishingly misleading slogans like “I’m a uniter not a divider,” and “I’ll restore the dignity of the White House.” It allowed the tragedy of September 11th to be parlayed into an inhuman war for profit, waged against a people whose only infraction was having the same religion and skin color as our attackers (but not the same nationality). It allowed John Kerry’s heroism during the Vietnam War to be turned against him by the infamous “Swiftboat” lies propagated through TV commercials.

    If Bush/Clinton Era politics were the only option available, I would embrace the Clintons as proven warriors in a world of partisan gridlock. But until and unless the Super Delegates decide to reverse the results of the primary process, I will be asking Americans to aim higher. This election is not just about who will be our President; it’s about who we will be as a people.

    If the Clintons somehow steal the nomination, the Democratic Party would be fractured, while the Republican party would be unified against a familiar enemy. This would be toxic for Democratic Congressional candidates. By contrast, the Obama movement HELPS Democratic Congressional candidates. A “wave” election would result in a filibuster-proof, Democratic majority in the Senate and a commanding majority in the House.

    If this weren’t such a crucial period in our history, I’d be pleased to see the Clintons get another chance. We’d see a continuation of petty, partisan gridlock, but it would be in its preferable form: with Clintons in the Oval Office instead of Bushes. Essentially, a new generation of leaders would be put on hold while we watch a last hurrah for 20th century prejudices, 20th century politics, and 20th century culture. I prefer a President Obama sooner than later because so much more will be accomplished when we enter an era of true democracy, led by those who are already living in the 21st century.


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  • Eric Byler (born January 15, 1972) is an American film director, screenwriter and political activist. He identifies as hapa biracial, born to a Chinese American mother and a white American father...

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  • Occupation:  Director
  • Gender: Male
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