Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Sensitive Korean sites available at Google Earth

The Donga Ilbo reports that "concerns are being raised" that South Korea's national security may be compromised by the incredibly easy access to satellite maps available at the new Google Earth service.

In particular, the Donga Ilbo cited Ch'ong-wadae and US military bases as major security facilities whose detailed photos, building locations, and roads can be found in great detail.

This is not true just of South Korea, of course, and the Donga Ilbo mentions that an magnified or enhanced view of Pearl Harbor in the U.S. state of Hawaii reveals war vessels and can help identify facilities, roads, and routes.

Why is Korea concerned? The article sums it up nicely: "However, critics say such information could be utilized as basic material for foreign terrorist organizations trying to attack Korea."

That's right, terrorism is as big a threat as it ever was, and long before 9/11, visitors to the tower at Namsan were required to leave their cameras at the base of the tower so they couldn't take pictures of USFK's Yongsan Garrison. Let's not forget, there's technically still a war going on.

Both the Ministry of Defense's National Intelligence Service (NIS) and Ch'ong-wadae are saying they don't think they could do much:
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) will make specific judgments, but the satellite photos of Cheong Wa Dae and military bases released on the website‘Google Earth’ might violate domestic security laws. However, there is no way to regulate it with domestic laws as it is a foreign website in which the pictures are taken by foreign commercial satellites.
For now they're just trying to get Google to cooperate. Ch'ong-wadae said, "The National Security Council is striving to find ways by cooperating with the related agencies of the U.S.” I really do understand their worry. I'm sure other countries feel the same.

As for me, my apartment block is clearly visible, and people can see me blogging in my breakfast nook.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

U.S. congressmen head for Pyongyang

In olden times, Korean kings would sit in their palaces and wait as a parade of emissaries and other important people dropped in to show their respects, do a little kowtow, gush praise, and then get to business.

Given that the North Korean leadership likes to have the world come to it instead of them going to the world (and who can blame them, when people may or may not be trying to blow up your train), it seems like Pyongyang is a modern-day re-enactment of those days long past.

Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon was on the agenda last week, and now it's U.S. Representatives Tom Lantos (D-California) and Jim Leach (R-Iowa). According to AFP, Lantos and Leach are headed North "in a bid to narrow the gap separating the two sides and urge the Stalinist state to quickly return to talks on its nuclear weapons drive."

At Beijing Airport, Lantos said he and Leach would try to convince North Korea it was in its interests to return to the bargaining table as early as possible:
The last session went extremely well. We are headed to Pyongyang to clarify the remaining problems and to urge the North Korean government to return to talks in two weeks. We have a very positive outlook and approach and we are highly optimistic that the talks will succeed.
North Korea has been lashing out at the United States over US-ROK war games and the appointment of a U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights, saying that "Dialogue and war exercises can never go together." As if in response, Lantos says has said,"The major issues will be resolved and our job ... is to lubricate the process."

As Nora Park has sometimes mused, North Korea's leaders seem to respond well to incidents where they're getting respect. If Albright dancing with KJI gets us somewhere, maybe having reps from both the Democrats and the Republicans come there to sweet-talk the fat man might earn some points.

South Koreans mansei!
Long live South Koreans!

Korea is a nation of heavy smokers, heavy drinkers, reckless drivers, and traffic dodgers* but according to a report by South Korea's Ministry of Health and Welfare, Korea's life expectancy will be the second-longest in the world, topped only by Japan's, by 2020.

Longevity will each 81 years in 2020, second only to Japan's 84.7 years, so say data from the United Nations. I don't know if this is accurate, but they already say that South Korean life expectancy will be around 78 years this year, behind Japan's 82.1 years and Italy's 79 years (China's is 71.4 years and and the U.S.'s is 77.5 years).

The same report warns of Korea becoming an "aged society" where a dangerously low birth rate, 1.19 children per mother in 2003, means that the average age will get older and older (Japan and Italy, which have the aforementioned long life spans, also have very low birth rates).

The CIA World Factbook, has different statistics, however. For women, it is 79.76 years, but for men it is only 72.19 years, maybe due to all the smoking, drinking, reckless driving, sleeping around, and choking on one's own vomit on a frozen street in Chongno on Friday nights. The CIA Factbook also gives the "fertility rate" as 1.26. Those 0.07 babies are important: they're paying for my social security.

Of course, if North Korea launches Korea War II, longevity could be cut in half, but we're trying to be optimistic here.

* To be fair, there are many, many, many exceptions to all four things on this list, probably constituting a majority of the people, but these are major life-shortening behaviors that come to mind.

Monday, August 29, 2005

China versus Thailand on North Korea

North Korea seems to have agreed to come back, but after a two-week delay. According to Reuters, a spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry said Pyongyang thought it would be best to wait until after the joint U.S.-South Korean drills were over to resume the nuclear discussions: "Our position is to resume six-way talks in the week of September 12 by when some of the dust of war exercises has subsided ... this is all what we can offer at this stage." The appointment of a U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights was another reason for the delay.

Thailand says North Korea is not ready to return to the hexagonal table in Beijing, while China's ambassador to the U.S. says that the talks are very close to a joint statement. Meanwhile the United States says talks are "likely" but not this week.

The comment by Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon has people concerned. Is it a return to months or years of delay, or is it just a ploy to up their bargaining position? Either way, nothing the U.S., Japan, or South Korea has done to warrant this, at least in world opinion, so the onus is on Pyongyang if things fall apart.

For your edification and information, here is what the Thai FM had to say:
...The North Koreans said that they are willing to dismantle their nuclear weapons as long as there is trust among the parties concerned. They say they are ready to dismantle and go back to the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency to step in, as long as there is trust among parties.
How about some trust from the North Koreans? Geez, if they weren't the ones bringing the nukes, we wouldn't even invite them to the party.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

"North Korea Trip Down Selective Memory Lane"

The Los Angeles Times is carrying Barbara Demmick's report on the recent opening of Kaesong to South Korean tourism. While the LAT is not exactly breaking the story, its take will probably be the one that most widely molds American public opinion on this issue, as is the case on just about every other Korea-related issue.

Australia-born Australians not Australian

Go here for a story on how the Australia-born children of people seeking asylum in Korea have been stripped of their right to stay in Australia.

Double ouch!

Due to a drastic reduction in babies being born, the Korean government is encouraging men to reverse their vasectomies.

Daewoo to buy Westinghouse?

Daewoo has plans to buy nuclear facility builder Westingthouse in an effort to boost its own technology base. The U.S. balked at a Chinese firm buying Unocal, so how will it feel about South Koreans buying out this industrial giant?

The Seoul Times

UCLA has a reprint of an interesting article in the Korea Times by Andrei Lankov on the Seoul Times, a mouthpiece of the Japanese Government-General that was the forerunner to the post-annexation government that ruled Korea with an iron fist.

The paper, which was published in English from 1906 to 1937, was designed to sway international opinion about Japan's domination of Choson/Chosen. Clearly an example of how the Japanese understood the importance of good PR, especially since a pro-Tokyo English paper would be necessary to counter the Korea Daily News, an anti-Tokyo paper.

Even if mere propaganda, the paper is probably a good window to at least one side of things during that turbulent era. Read the article and then go look for some old issues on-line or in the real world.

Professor Lankov sums it up nicely:
The Seoul Press was a propaganda exercise. But does it mean that it should be erased from the pages of history? Of course not. After all, despite all of its shortcomings and bias, it did tell people about Korea. And it also laid the foundation for the flourishing of the English-language press after 1945. But that is another story ...

Korea Exchange Bank to offer "Korean Dream" for "foreigners" in Korea

The issue of discrimination against foreigners takes a new turn as the Korea Exchange Bank, controlled by U.S.-based Lone Star investment fund, announces plans to sell a deposit product only for international residents in Korea with valid visas. This is a first among local lenders, many of whom already offer the same savings plans that Korean nationals can use.

The one-year deposite product is called "Korean Dream" and will enable a growing population of foreign residents to deposit money on a regular or irregular basis.

In order to boost the product's appeal, Korea Exchange Bank plans to apply a favorable foreign exchange rate for customers while issuing check cards for depositors, enabling them to make credit-based purchases, although the amount is limited to the size of subscribers' deposits in their accounts. For customers whose deposits in the product exceed 700,000 won (a little less than $700 right now), the bank will issue credit cards to foreign residents holding the correct alienation registration cards. It will also cut remittance fees by 20 per cent for subscribers, and reduce airfares by 3 per cent when foreign customers pay for international flight tickets using the bank's credit card.

While i think it is great that some banks are focusing on "foreigners" as a consumer force, I would like to see the Korean government and Korean businesses--the whole of Korean society in fact--stop differentiating between "Koreans" and "foreigners." The Korean constitution, in fact, probably makes this kind of thing illegal, although determining so would involve someone challenging it in court. And that probably isn't going to happen.

Movie plot

Wouldn't it be a cool movie if people were going to Internet cafes and playing on-line games for hours and hours and then died, and everybody just thought it was a combination of prolonged smoking, stress, sleep deprivation, and bad posture, and so the authorities had no idea that there was a killer virus floating through the Internet that was killing off people who happened to piss someone off... or spend too much time in front of the computer blogging?

Another Japan-Korea-Philippines connection

The Manila Times reports that South Korea is becoming the new haven for Filipina/o entertainers because Japan has been restricting entry by a change in its immigration rules. That has meant hundreds or thousands of Filipinas and Filipinos, mostly "entertainers," have been heading for South Korea "without proper documentation."

Filipino entertainers, estimated at 3,000 to 4,000, are working in the periphery of the more than fifty US military bases in various places in South Korea, said the new migrant newspaper, the Pinoy Overseas Express, in its most recent issue.

How these workers were able to leave for Korea without proper work contracts was attributed to the flourishing “escorting” racket at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Their exits were facilitated by unscrupulous immigration personnel for a fee of P15,000 each.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) calls this "human trafficking" and has sought the help of the South Korean Embassy in Manila. The POEA has requested the South Korean Embassy not to issue employment-based visas to Korean-bound Filipina entertainers without presenting the POEA’s exit clearance papers.

According to the Manila Times, under an existing government-to-government arrangement, all workers for South Korea have to be hired directly through the POEA. Before this agreement, the Korean government repatriated thousands of illegal Filipino workers in that country under an amnesty program, with the assurance that they would be given priority to return to their jobs.

So while Japan has been closing itself off to this kind of work (read the link for more details on how and why that is), Korea is still a haven. But since so many are here illegally, that means they can easily fall victim to abuse.

Meanwhile, the Manila Times is worried that the Philippines cannot handle the influx of Filipinas and Filipinos returning from abroad:
It is feared that when Japan implements its threatened massive drive to clear the country of its illegal foreign workers, thousands of overstaying Filipino entertainers may be caught and deported to the Philippines. This is a problem that will hit us between the eyes.

Al Qaeda aims at Asia

After news in the Financial Times last week quoting French intellgience sources that al Qaeda was plotting to attack a major "Asian" city (such as Sydney, Singapore, or Tokyo) in order to disrupt financial markets, South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) told the Korean National Assembly that al Qaeda has listed the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia as prime targets for attacks this year.

According to the NIS, South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines are "secondary targets" in the region. This intelligence was gathered by a "senior" al Qaeda member arrested last month. The arrestee's name was not revealed, nor was the country where he was captured or being held.

With South Korea hosting an APEC summit in Pusan this November, there are concerns that Pusan or another South Korean city could be a major target, just as London was while the G-8 met in Scotland this past July.

South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines have all contributed troops to the US-led war in Iraq, but I think there are things that would tie them in as well, regardless of the troop contribution. All are non-Muslim, all are capitalist, all are political allies of the United States, and all have a history of institutional discrimination when dealing with Muslims or people from predominantly Muslim countries. Add to that that South Korea and the Philippines are considered "Christian" countries (and Japan is arguably Christian-friendly).

But none of these facts make the three U.S. allies the only targets. Indonesia, after all, is the largest Muslim country in the world and yet al Qaeda instigated the Bali bombings there. It seems al Qaeda loathes secular Muslim countries even more than non-Muslim countries.

South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines have been in al Qaeda's sights long before 9/11 or the Iraq War. An al-Qaeda bomb on a Philippines plane to Japan in the 1990s killed one passenger when the group was testing to see how well they could launch a 9/11-style attack from Asia to North America's West Coast.

And I distinctly remember the news on the Saturday before 9/11, in which U.S. intelligence issued a warning of an impending attack on either Korea or Japan.

If an attack occurs in Asia, my greatest hope is that it will not lead to calls for the ROK to remove its Zaytun troops. As I have said in other forums, that would be like putting a bull's eye on every South Korean citizen around the world. President Roh was right to not remove the Zaytun troops in the wake of the Kim Sung-il beheading, and he would be even more right for not doing so in the wake of an attack on Korea or Korea's friends in the Philippines, Japan, or any other Asian nation.

My other hope is that this news will put people on alert for the tell-tale signs of pending terrorist activities. Alert airline passengers have thwarted al Qaeda attacks in the past, and the same could be true for Korea's public transportation system.

Seoul has no plans to renegotiate normalization treaty with Tokyo

Well, this is good news. Sort of.

In the aftermath of releasing reams and reams of documents about the negotiations for the 1965 Seoul-Tokyo normalization treaty, the Roh administration has suggested that

But Seoul has no plans to renegotiate the actual agreement, as some in Korea are calling for. According to ROK Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-shik:
The government is not considering renegotiating the agreement at the moment, because observance of any agreement is the way for South Korea to maintain and secure trust in the international community.
It is good to see that some in the Roh administration are not as short-sighted as the knee-jerk anti-Japanese camp. It is clear that Lee understands that Korea's credibility would be seriously damaged if Seoul were to scrap the agreement.

While I do think that Korean individuals, especially former "Comfort Women" and forced laborers, do deserve compensation--and a direct apology--from the Tokyo government, the Seoul government as an entity has come away with all it will get from Japan. Trying to get more will cost Korea far more in indirect costs than it will ever hope to gain.


Human rights?! Why that's war talk!

Pyongyang this weekend demanded that the United States cancel its appointment of a special envoy on human rights in North Korea. They warned that the position could hurt progress at the six-way talks in Beijing aimed at ending the nuclear standoff.

North Korea said the appointment "is an act of bad omen that hurts our generous and flexible efforts to resolve the nuclear problem" and demanded the envoy be "removed immediately." Pyongyang sees such moves as a pretext for regime change.

Washington announced last week that Jay Lefkowitz, a former adviser to President Bush, will be in charge of promoting efforts to "improve the human rights of the long-suffering North Korean people." The new post is part of the North Korean Human Rights Act passed by the Senate last year, which provides $24 million a year in humanitarian aid for North Koreans, mostly for refugees.

There is, of course, no reason why the Bush administration should back down on the appointment. If North Korea were to use this as an excuse to end the talks, then they would find something else just as easily.

I'd rather see the Bush administration talking about human rights than military action, which I think at this point is wholly unjustified. Maybe, just maybe, someone will see the light and start realizing that pressuring China into a grand plan (along with South Korea, Japan, and probably Russia and Mongolia) is what is in order.

U.S. says NK's peaceful nukes "not a major stumbling block"

Some people have pointed to future presidential hopeful and current Unification Minister Chung Dong-young as a Pyongyang proxy for having undermined Washington-Seoul-Tokyo solidarity at the six-way talks in Beijing when he said that North Korea should be allowed to have some nuclear capabilities as long as they were under close supervision.

But last week came news that the United States may be willing to accept such a compromise. U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill suggested to reporters that the United States could be flexible on what was "not a major stumbling block." He went on to say: "I think we can come up with something. But I cannot be more specific than that because we are in the middle of a negotiation."

Reuters says that Hill's softer line could anger hawkish officials in the Bush administration who have been skeptical of reaching a deal with North Korea and do not want to give the communist nation any chance of breaking an accord and making weapons, and I have to say I agree. My hours of listening to Rush Limbaugh rail against Clinton for the 1994 agreement have taught me that. But other than attacking North Korea militarily, they offer few other useful solutions.

In the end, the Bush administration will probably end up doing what the Clinton administration did in the bad situation that it inherited in the 1990s: make a deal that can keep as tight a lid as possible and hope that the North collapses or changes soon enough that it won't become a problem.

The deadly French

This was bound to happen. Warning labels on French fries. On golden fries in the Golden State, at least.

Some will complain that we are just contributing to a nanny society when instead people should just be allowed to make their own decisions. But aren't warning labels helping people to make those decisions?

If I were a kid and I saw a label on my French fries, I might have steered clear of this greasy fast-food ambrosia before I ever got hooked. It may be too late for some of us, but at least we can save the next generation.

The way things should be

The Joongang Daily reports that South Korean and Japanese defense officials are scheduled to meet next week to formulate a bilateral military exchange and cooperation agreement, the first between the two neighbors that constantly act as if they're in a sibling rivalry.

Originally, the agreement was to be signed next week, but the actual signing may be postponed due to concerns that it might hinder the progress of the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear arms programs. We don't want to give Pyongyang an excuse to back out.

From the Joongang Daily:

The defense meeting comes after years of expectations that such an agreement would be signed. In 2003, President Roh Moo-hyun and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed in principle to reinforce Seoul and Tokyo's military cooperation. A similar promise was made when South Korea and Japan announced a partnership declaration in 1998.

So far, according to military sources, Seoul and Tokyo have been cooperating in areas of intelligence sharing over Pyongyang's nuclear arms programs and missile systems and in joint search and rescue operations carried out by the South Korean Navy and Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Despite all kinds of talk in the conservative blogosphere that South Korea is practically in China's and North Korea's camp, thanks in part due to gaffes by the South Korean president himself, the reality of what South Korea does with Washington and even Tokyo shows that Seoul is far closer to those two than to Beijing and Pyongyang, and that's not likely to change.

According to a Japanese source, South Korea will be only the second country with which Japan has signed a military exchange accord. The same source said the following: "To cope with changes in Northeast Asia, such as China's growing military presence and North Korea's nuclear issues, closer ties between Seoul and Tokyo are vital."

This also represents, I think, a return to the pragmatism employed by former President Kim Daejung. The Joongang Daily quoted a South Korean official: "There are pending diplomatic issues such as the Tokto territorial dispute with Japan, but it is necessary to bolster our military relationship with Japan."

I have said it many times, and I will say it again: while there are some legitimate beefs between the two countries, South Korea and Japan have far more in common socially, economically, and politically with each other than with any of their neighbors, and those beefs should be resolved but never allowed to derail what should otherwise be good relations between these two nations.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

President's political ally calls for assassination of foreign head-of-state

Note: The following post has been updated (see below).

Imagine this: A political ally or South Korean President Roh Moohyun, who helped garner votes for the left-wing candidate during the most recent presidential election, calls for the assassination of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

The Korean blogosphere would be on fire with condemnation about the left-wing loonies and how extremist Koreans are in their xenophobic fervor. We would probably hear for weeks or months how this is another sign of how crazy and xenophobic Korea really is.

But it wasn't Roh or Korea; it was a supporter of Bush in the United States. A founder of the the Christian Coalition, a major Republican voting bloc. Nevertheless, the condemnation should be just as strong, right?

Reverend Pat Robertson, a former Republican candidate for president and a major vote-booster for President George W. Bush, has called for the assassination of Venezeulan President Hugo Chávez. Chávez is an annoyingly anti-American leftist who I'm sure the White House sees as a pain in the butt, but is this enough for a member of the clergy to call for a political killing?

From the Miami Herald:
Accusing Chávez of turning Venezuela into ''a launching pad for communist influence and Muslim extremism,'' the 75-year-old preacher and former Republican presidential hopeful said it would be cheaper to ''take him out'' now than fight a war against Venezuela later.
Every Christian in America should be condemning this man of the cloth for these extremely anti-Christian views. Would Jesus Christ have ever suggest Pilate or Caesar be taken out? Not the Jesus I learned about in church. This sounds more like an Islamist fatwah than a Sunday sermon. "Reverend" Pat Robertson is making a mockery of the faith he professes to follow, and it exemplifies for me exactly what is wrong about the hypocritical Religious Right.

The not-so-reverend Reverend Robertson has apologized, sort of (notice his rationalizations). This was only after he denied actually making the statement. Meanwhile, Venezuela is getting ready to boot Protestant missionaries out of the country.

And as I had hoped, many Christian clergy were quick to condemn this. The president of the National Clergy Council released a statement saying Robertson should "immediately apologize, retract his statement, and clarify what the Bible and Christianity teaches about the permissibility of taking human life outside of law." The Reverend Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals said that he and "most evangelical leaders" would disassociate themselves from such "unfortunate and particularly irresponsible" comments.

The money quote from him:
It complicates circumstances for foreign missionaries and Christian aid workers overseas who are already perceived, wrongly, especially by leftists and other leaders, as collaborators with U.S. intelligence agencies.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson called for an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission, just as it did when Janet Jackson's breast was exposed during the 2004 Super Bowl broadcast. "This is even more threatening to hemispheric stability than the flash of a breast on television during a ballgame," he said.

Friday, August 12, 2005

You don't suppose they'll hold a grudge, do you?

Announcing the Ŭryu Amnesty!

In the midst of a recess at the six-party talks, North Korea is apparently announcing an amnesty timed for the sixtieth anniversary of Korea's liberation from the Japanese, which every child knows was singlehandedly accomplished by Korea's President for Eternity, the Great Leader Kim Ilsung.

Any journalist wannabe knows that a proper story answers the 5 W's and (in the interest of diversity) the 1 H, but with this story, we're limited to just one or two W's: what and possibly when. We don't even know how.

The what is the amnesty itself, rubber-stamped by the rubber-stamp parliament, but we don't know who will be given amnesty.

We also know when: September 1.

We don't even know what kind of crimes the amnesty will cover. We only vaguely know that why may have something to do with international pressure on human rights.

Or does it? Maybe Pyongyang has locked up too many people to run the barely running economy, so they have to let some of them out. Or maybe by letting people out of prison, the leadership is hoping that the pardoned will feel warm and fuzzy when things get really bad this winter, enough that they and their family members won't try to overthrow the ruling cadres.

Holiday amnesties are common in South Korea, with some geared toward beefing up voter support on the cheap by wiping out parking violations. But this is the North's first amnesty in three years. Back then, according to AFP, Pyongyang pardoned people sentenced to labor or re-education, in order to celebrate the 90th birthday of Kim Ilsung.

Even then it wasn't clear how many prisoners were freed, but there probably weren't many double parkers among them.

Monday, August 8, 2005

Peter Jennings passes away

Peter Jennings passed away today from lung cancer, just four months after he announced he had been diagnosed with the disease. There is no word on who his replacement will be.

Peter Jennings has a special place in my heart. Many of my "cross-cultural" courses at the Jesuit university utilized materials from his broadcasts to convey what North Americans were thinking, feeling, and saying. More importantly, it was his cool objectiveness that inspired me to push for news programming at our mom-and-pop network. I very consciously modeled the language of our news broadcasts and my own analysis after the way he said things, and I instructed those who worked under me to do the same.

Without ever having met the man, he was an invaluable mentor.

I should also add that it was thanks to Mr. Jennings, a Canadian who became an American only two short years ago, that I learned about Canada's Northwest Territories being split into two, with the new Native-run territory being called Nunavut. I used that piece of information to win bets against Canadians with a chip on their shoulder about Americans who didn't know anything about Canadian geography, among whom they assumed I was one.

So, where you from in Canada?

Doesn't matter, 'cuz you've never heard of it.

Maybe I have. Try me. I know all the provinces and I can name all three territories.

You're wrong right there, you tool, 'cuz there are only two territories.

How much do you wanna bet there are three?

Peter Jennings, I think, demonstrated the wisdom of having a non-American anchoring a premier American news program. He was objective and dispassionate when he needed to be, though you could feel his passion when it was important. I really respected that man, and as far as my news career was concerned, I aspire(d) to be just like him.

He will be sorely missed.

Koizumi loses "confidence vote"

Well, not exactly. The upper house of Japan's Diet voted down, 125 to 108, a reform bill pushed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that would have split up and privatized the country's postal system and the large financial system it runs (its banking arm's holdings total about US$2 trillion while its insurance arm holds about US$1 trillion).

Proponents of the bill have said that Japan Post represents the bloated bureaucracy that is stifling the economy, and Koizumi has argued the money needs to be opened to more efficient investment in order to stimulate the world's second-largest economy.

While this loss for Koizumi might seem terribly boring, it is significant because the postal bill was a major piece of aggressive reform legislation being pushed by Koizumi, and Koizumi himself had said he would see failure of the bill to pass as a vote of no confidence.

Twenty-two members of his own Liberal Democratic Party (which is conservative, go figure) sided with the opposition, while eight were absent or abstained. Now Koizumi seems poised to make good on his threat to dissolve the lower house and call an election for September 11. According to Kyodo, the LDP's leadership said that Diet members who voted against the bill would not be allowed to run on the LDP ticket.

Fallout for LDP may come from the postal workers' union, which CNN says has long been supportive of the LDP, and from rural voters, who saw the privatization bill as hurting their interests.

Blinded by looking right of the Rising Sun

I'm not going to link where this is from, and I'm removing the name of the author to whom I'm responding, but I thought I should put this up because without seeing the actual words from this person's keyboard, it's hard to imagine that someone can actually be like this.

Bold and italics is an older comment by me. Italics is X's reply to that. The regular type is my response to that.

"X" wrote, in response to me:
You simply don’t know enough about the context [of the "souvenir photo" of a Japanese soldier with the half-naked Comfort Woman he apparently just paid for] to depict this as Korean “peddling” of what you call “false history.”

I have seen the photo I brought to attention used numerous times on Korea websites, and by Koreans online. This is the kind of image that younger Koreans have of the Japanese administrative period of Korea.
Yes, but it's also available in Japan, too, put up by Japanese. It is crafty of you to post this photo, allegedly doctored by Chinese and reprinted in Europe, North America, Japan, and Korea, and call it the "peddling" of "false history" by Koreans.

But that's your m.o. Your primary motivation in having this site is to spread animosity toward Korea, plain and simple. But if you focused on Japan with the same hate-filled scrutiny, you would find many terrible things that you choose to ignore.

You would rather scrutinize Korea, post things that may or may not be legitimate gripes, and then depict them as if they represent everyone's view.

You are no better than the Japan-bashers in Korea, who nitpick every little thing they can find and then portray them as if they represent the true face of Japan.

And, more importantly, since the book and its pictures are presented in Chinese, by a Chinese publisher, about atrocities that occurred in China (including those involving Korean comfort women), it is specious to blame this on Korea or Koreans as a whole for “peddling” this “false history.” Whether true or not, the peddling is being done by the Chinese publisher. You are so gung-ho to bash Korea that you’re smearing the whole country for things that, if they are indeed false, are perpetrated by someone from another country.

Yes, the picture is supposed to be an actrocity of the attack of Nanjing. Nothing to do with Korea, but Koreans keep using photos like these as ‘proof’ that Japan did those kinds of things in Korea.
Are you referring to the Comfort Woman picture or the other atrocities? The comfort woman picture and many others like it are used by Koreans and non-Koreans alike to depict the humiliating plight of the Comfort Women.

But the other atrocities? I have not seen atrocities against Chinese used as "proof" that Japan did this in Korea, because there's plenty of evidence in Korea [of atrocities] to begin with.

Now, it's possible that these photos and photos like them are used to demonstrate the general viciousness of the Japanese military in general at that time, and it's true that the Japanese military was brutal in Korea, in Guam, in the Philippines, in China, etc., so it is a valid point to hold up such photos, if they are legitimately Japanese military atrocities, as evidence of Japanese imperial-era brutality.
And I’ll be willing to bet dollars to donuts that these same books or pictures are reproduced in Japanese somewhere, too (some years ago, I believe I saw them while browsing some train station bookshop). Then the Japanese you so love are also guilty of “peddling false history.” Then your whole anti-Korean argument is moot.

Some people in Japan will believe the authenticity of the above photo. Many ‘actrocity photos’ have been published in Japanese newspapers and contrary to what you likely believe, are widely thought to be genunine.
"Contrary to what I likely believe"? X, you haven't the faintest idea what I believe because, as you've made clear time and time again, you think of people in one-dimensional caricatures based on your world view.

I know there are Japanese who think those pictures are genuine, or that the pictures genuinely depict Japanese military atrocities even if some of them are not accurately labeled. You see, I have Japanese relatives and friends, including some who work as history teachers in the school system or university system. I've been to Japan many times and see evidence that plenty of Japanese are aware of Japanese military atrocities.
And you should come clean with what you think is the false history. Are some of the pictures fake, in your opinion, or are all of them?

Some of them are composite photos or airbrushed or otherwise altered, some of them are removed from their context (hundreds of dead bodies strewn on the ground - massacre or battlefield?), some are quite simply of unknown origin, and may or may not be the Japanese army.
It would be nice to think that the Japanese army went into China and nobody innocent got killed, huh? Then you can feel good about your unconditional love of Japan.
Do you think tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians were or were not killed by the Japanese in Nanjing?

Its quite hard to say. I am not an expert on Nanjing, so you have never heard me comment on it before.
I was not claiming you had. But I think your view on this would be an interesting insight into your true beliefs.

I even gave you a way out: you could have said that you thought tens of thousands were killed but not hundreds of thousands, as people like Iris Chang and the Chinese government claim. But you said about even tens of thousands of deaths that, "it's hard to say."
However I have read some criticisms of the book ‘The Rape of Nanking’, which contains many inaccuracies. I think it is certainly within the realm of possibility that a massacre took place, but equally possible that the wartime Chinese government may have exaggerated it for propaganda purposes.
I think this really exemplifies what people find so scary and offensive about you and your m.o.: you don't want to believe bad stuff about Japan. You find comfort in the possibility that maybe it's all made up.

Yeah, I have read the right-wing Japanese criticisms of Iris Chang's book, but when you distill it all down, they are still not a denial that there were atrocities committed. They only thing they can do is cast aspersions on where and when they happened, not that they happened. But even then, there are many parts they are not able to discredit, including Western accounts of events happening. So even if the critics are right, there are still thousands upon thousands, probably in the tens of thousands, that were killed.

Face it, people from your beloved Japan, people I am probably related to, killed untold thousands of innocent Chinese, as well as others.
Do you believe or not believe that tens of thousands of Korean women were duped, coerced, or forced into sexual slavery?

Korea has had a long history of prostitution before the Japanese came to Korea. I am sure there were many willing prostitutes.
You are parroting the right-wing defense, which attempts to discredit the claim by a vague assertion that there were "willing" prostitutes. Well, then, what percent? Give a ballpark. 1%? 10%? 50%? 90%?
On the otherhand, it seems that some girls were tricked by their parents and Korean pimps into being prostitutes.
When the comfort women issue first came to light, there were stories of girls being duped by stepfathers (Korean) and schoolmasters (Japanese), job brokers (Japanese), etc. But ultimately this was orchestrated by the Japanese government for the military.

That some Koreans were involved in this duplicitous and evil act does not absolve the Japanese government of moral responsibility, which is why Japanese historians pushed their government to admit responsibility, which they ultimately did.

But you, X, seem to believe that the Japanese government (or the Japanese military, take your pick) was not ultimately responsible, right?
You find exactly the same thing happening in many parts of Asia at this very moment.
Yes, this is true. And this was happening in Korea, too, a country where women have historically been maltreated.

But you see, X, that does nothing to absolve the Japanese government of responsibility. They denied it for decades, and then were forced by Japanese historians who found the records to admit they had orchestrated this. Why is this so difficult for you to accept?
While the Japanese government did not do enough to protect the civil rights of some of the women involved,
X, the Japanese government were the ones stripping their rights away. Koreans in Korea had few rights at all, thanks to the Japanese colonial administration. This is why tens of thousands of Koreans voluntarily chose to go to Japan proper or to Japan-controlled Manchuria, because then they might actually be granted the rights they were promised (though these voluntary migrants certainly are NOT the only Koreans to go to Japan and Manchuria; many were forcibly mobilized).
I think the greater responsibilty is shouldered by the Korean parents that sold their female children into prostitution and the Korean pimps that profited from it.
Those people who did that shoulder great responsibility. But the Japanese government which mobilized them and set up the system that forcibly held them there is at least as responsible.

Read George Hicks's "The Comfort Women." Japanese in Korea were duping these women. You can't push this on parents and prostitutes.
In short, I think the majority of the women were normal prostitutes, and a minority were tricked and sold out by their parents.
I'm sure you'd like to believe that's all it boils down to. But it doesn't. The Japanese imperial government was directly responsible for the sexual servitude of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, and has admitted so, your denials notwithstanding.

You are merely parroting right-wing propaganda that, like you, wishes to pretend Japan historically has really done nothing wrong. You are the same as the nationalist Koreans you so despise.
In anycase, tricked or not, all the women were paid for their ‘work’.
Held in sexual slavery in dangerous conditions, repeatedly raped and then "compensated" with pennies, and you think that makes it all okay. If you really think so, X, then you are sick.
If there is some soul searching about the ‘comfort women’ to be done, it should be done by Koreans that place so little value on the rights of females that parents would sell their own flesh and blood to the sex industry.
You know what? You are right. And I made that point many times since this issue came out. But the cases you site are only a percentage of the total. But ultimately, the Japanese government is responsible for those and all the rest.
And if they were duped, coerced, or forced into it, is it or is it not an on-going sex crime throughout the whole ordeal, including when the souvenir picture was taken?

This picture has nothing to do with Korea, and it is unknown if the Chinese brothel owner forced the girl to be a prostitute or not. I choose not to speculate.
"Chinese brothel owner"? Even if that particular brothel was run by a Chinese (as the right-wing critics of Iris Chang claim), the government has admitted that they were running brothels.
What is the false history, X?

False history is the kind of image the Koreans are trying to create about the Japanese rule of Korea.
"The Koreans"? See, this is what you do: fine a nice little piece to rip on, and then depict it as if it represents the entire country. Well, wouldn't Andrew Nahm's more balanced history be as representative? There are others, how about theirs?

Your problem, X, is that you don't want to believe any of it. So even if something utterly objective and level-headed were in front of you, you would reject its assertions, too.

I know people who were beaten up in prison by Japanese guards for not worshipping the emperor. I know people who were beaten by Japanese officers who had gone into their home late at night because they (the Koreans) were "hording" rice so they wouldn't starve. I know people who were forced to work in mines during the war. I know lots of people who have experienced these things.

Believe it or not, not all of these "victims" hate Japan. Some of them think Japan is a good country or that Japanese are basically good people. They blame the people who beat them. Or they blame the emperor for allowing this.

But regardless of how they feel, the treatment was real. Japanese military and governmental authorities did some horrible things. People were beaten, they were tortured, many died. Tens of thousands of people. More if you count those who were killed while wearing a Japanese uniform or through war-induced starvation.
Here is a case in point.

From the introduction of Jo Jung-rae’s Arirang

“How many Jews were killed by the Hitler government of Germany during the Second World War? According to the Jews the number was three or four million.
So how many of us Koreans were massacred and killed by the Japanese during the 36 years of Japanese colonialism? Is it three million? Or four million? Or is it six million? Unfortunately that estimate has not been made public or official. My estimate is between three and four million. With the writing of Arirang, I am going to make that figure concrete.”
You cite the intro to a novel as historical fact? I suppose you think "The Da Vinci Code" is an accurate history of the Catholic Church, too.
There were not any large scale massacres of any kind in Korea, yet this is the kind of image of Japan that Koreans want to show. That is false history.
The hunting down of the Righteous Armies... the suppression of the Samil Movement? These were not large scale massacres? They were larger than Kwangju in 1980, and I would classify that as a large-scale massacre.

I'm with you, though, on any claims that what Korea experienced was somehow comparable to the Holocaust. To me, that is nothing short of offensive. Not even what North Korea is doing to its own people now is on the scale of the Holocaust.
You keep saying that the Japanese leaders apologized, and they indeed did, but then it appears you are perpetrating the right-wing argument that undermines the apology, that these incidents being apologized for are “false history” (your very words). What part is the false history, X?

Most of the apologies are vague because they cannot admit to the specifics of what the Koreans say they did.
But on the Comfort Women issue, the apologies have pretty much admitted government culpability. Culpability you are deflecting and denying.
In my opinion the Koreans keep asking for and rejecting apologies because the Japanese government is foolish enough to play the game. I think its a waste of time catering to Korea’s persecution complex.
They keep demanding apologies because right-wing zealots with the same agenda as yours keep saying tht what is being apologized for didn't really happen.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

I've been tagged.

Space Nakji has tagged me. If you are mentioned in #17, then you are tagged, too.

1. Ten years ago -- In Korea. I fear this might sound boring as heck because answers #1, #2, and #3 will all be in Korea. Ten years ago I was beginning my adult life in Korea (don't think you can figure out my age based on this, though), and I was working at a certain Catholic university's Department of Continuing Education (I'm trying to be vague). I was doing GRE and GMAT courses, a "Cultural Seminar" that advanced English students would take to learn about cross-cultural issues. I had also started work at a mom-and-pop television network where I was doing on-air and behind-the-scenes work on educational programs.

I was always going back to California for four weeks at a time, twice a year (until 1998), so I would just have been getting back from one of those trips. This trip, though, was preceded by a trip to Italy where I tried to woo (re-woo?) my then-fiancée to come back to me. It did work, eventually, and I was enjoying a rekindled relationship. I had also just seen my newborn niece (the first 조카 in a series of five so far), my sister's kid; the baby looked like a raisin (and my sister was asked regularly for the next year or so when the next one is due).

After a series of crazed roommates ("Psycho Bi--h Helen," aka "Hormonal Helen" and "Naked Chick"; Greg the Nazi; and "The Guy Who Wouldn't Leave") I finally had my old but sizable apartment with the huge terrace all to myself, and I let my dogs Nanjido and Kunpo roam around there. Unfortunately, the owner of the building kept trying to jack up my rent, so I was always feeling I was on the verge of leaving.

2. Five years ago -- Still in Seoul. After accountants took over the Jesuit-run university, someone got the idea in their head that they should kick the Jesuits out of the administration. They then decided that they could make money hand over fist by raising tuition and cutting salaries. Imagine their surprise when the good profs/lecturers left and the students stopped ponying up good money to take bad extracurricular courses. After my boss, Father N, got fired and the guy who hired me, Mr. H, was forced to retire, I decided to leave. Them telling me they wanted to redo my contract and cut the "overly generous" salary I was making did have something to do with it.

So I went to work-- temporarily--at another university. Many of my students followed me (I was just like Socrates). A lot of my students had worked me into their Saturday and/or evening routines, and they really wanted to keep taking classes with me, which helped console the major loss of income (standing on principle can hurt the pocketbook). I ended up doing more and more work at the mom-and-pop network, and I was pushing them to make news programs in English, which they were convinced was crazy.

After tiring of the landlady's antics, I found another place to live, just up the street in that old neighborhood in central Seoul, which was a house-house. All to myself. It was two stories, with a small garden in front. It was built around 1935, but it was very sturdy and had since been refurbished. It was a nice, charming place with character. The owner was one of the original occupants, but after her husband died a few years earlier, she decided to live somewhere else.

I was driving around a new LP-gas-powered Kia minivan my company had purchased the previous Christmas. It was big enough to drive around all our performers to on-location shoots (and it was tinted dark so people could change their clothes there instead of in bathrooms that had wet floors that you hoped were covered with water and not something else), and I would sometimes sleep in it or use it as an office.

A few months later I would "audition" to write a language guide for a major travel guide publisher; the audition would be successful and writing the book would end up occupying most of the next year. I was also about to enter a well-known Graduate School of International Studies, seeking an M.A. in Korean Studies, so I would have something tangible to show for my time spent in Seoul.

3. One year ago -- One year ago this weekend, I was just getting done with our mom-and-pop network's "English camp" (which we radio personalities called "stalker camp"). I was doing an evening news program, since the network finally tried my proposal and it turned out people loved the idea of listening to news in English. I was busy applying to teach college-level courses about Korea to military folks at the education center Yongsan Garrison.

I was now living in an apartment I had actually bought (the wonderful old house, which I had hoped to live in until I no longer lived in Korea, was sold when the owner's daughter decided to make some quick money), and I was busy fixing it up.

4. Yesterday -- Yesterday I spent the entire day in the studio doing the pilot and first two episodes of a TV program for our mom-and-pop network. On my feet all day, with hair that looked funny because the k'odi (coordinator) had put too much hair spray in my coif. Between takes I checked my cell phone for word that the script for a documentary translation I was working on would come through. Afterwards I and the other on-camera people went to the local mall and ate "Sizzling teriyaki." It was delicious. I went home by subway and passed out, from exhaustion, on the bed all sweaty-like.

5. Today -- After breakfast at the Dragon Hill Lodge with a friend who is leaving Korea for a while, and then an unrelated trip to the dentist, I "snuck" into the commissary and bought $90 worth of hard-to-find items. Including ice cream sandwiches and decaf General Foods International Coffees. Now I am working on some network stuff. It never ends!

6. Tomorrow -- Documentary translation (this documentary hypothesizes that some concepts of work will change, like people working for twenty hours straight and then not working for three days). I might drive someone to Kwangju.

7. Five snacks I enjoy -- Though I look quite slim to the naked eye, when I am naked, there is a slight pudge. I try to get rid of it with regular exercise and by not eating the following delicious foods I enjoy: ice cream sandwiches; Mother's brand iced macaroons; Mrs. Field's cookies of any flavor, but especially Debra's Special; tiramisu; pumpkin pie; and that rich chocolate dessert thingy that they serve at Starbuck's that has more calories that a box of Mrs. See's candies, which is what I would write down if this asked for seven snacks instead of six.

8. Five bands (or singers??) I know the lyrics of most of their songs -- This would have to be stuff from when I was very young or somewhat young, because I sort of gave up memorizing lyrics after college: the Beatles (which I know because of my parents playing tapes), Johnny Cash (again, the 8-track tapes), Prince (my choice, not my parents', t this applies only for certain albums); and possibly the Cars. I can't think of any more, but it's okay, since I wrote down six desserts.

9. Five things I would do with $100,000,000 -- Huge-ass houses for my immediate family, my aunt in Vegas who is like a second mom, plus my closest friends; nice cars for the same people; some serious money donated to help fight some disease that isn't getting the money it needs; a scholarship fund (in my name, of course) for people studying how medical issues in Korea or among Korean-Americans are affected by traditional mores and modern socio-cultural norms; my own damn network.

10. Five locations I’d like to run away to -- Tuscany and/or Lazio, Italy; Kyoto; an isolated part of Cheju (if there still is such a thing); Orange County; Hong Kong.

11. Five Bad Habits -- Procrastination, including taking too long to do things I promised to do; paying too close attention to the people on the side of the road while I'm driving; eating more than I exercise off; not writing to people who deserve email/snail mail from me; letting my apartment, car, and office get too cluttered.

12. Five things I like doing -- Eating, watching movies, sex/snuggling with someone I love, writing/reading, traveling. Or any combination thereof.

13. Five T.V. shows I like -- I'm going to sound like I'm parroting Space Nakji but: The Simpsons (I'm even the moderator of a major Simpsons-related list and Futurama), Friends (it seemed to dovetail my life, including a serious relationship with a woman very confused about her sexual orientation), M*A*S*H, and either St. Elsewhere or Scrubs (that's three medical shows).

14. Famous People I’d like to meet -- Prior to February 25, 2005, I would have said Bill Clinton first, but I met him when he came to Seoul for a book-signing. Al Gore, Harrison Ford, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Marissa Tomei, Halle Berry. I think I have to think about this more.

15. Biggest joys at the moment -- Finishing a load of work, eating, getting out of Seoul (whether it's to a place inside Korea or outside), doing the news, writing something people thought was thought-provoking or funny.

16. Favorite toys -- Rubik's Cube, Go-stop cards, my Macintosh.

17. Five people to tag -- Well, I would have tagged Space Nakji, but she already did this. I think it would have to be people I know would possibly read my blog, but who haven't been tagged already. Curious, Jodi, Nora, Plunge, and Baduk (just because I want to see his nutty answers).

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Friend or foe of freedom in North Korea?

US News & World Report has an interview with the Seoul-based head of World Vision and his efforts to help feed people in North Korea. It's a somewhat interesting read because he does go into detail about changes he sees in the lives of North Koreans.

But with so many critics of South Korea painting the ROK into a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't corner, I also started wondering what side the critics would say Mr. Oh Jae-shik is on.
Is he a true defender of the North Korean people, helping them get fed when their own vicious government has left them to die? Or are his efforts helping prop up the regime in Pyongyang? Is he a symbol of South Koreans who are concerned about the dignity of people stuck within the DPRK, or is he a symbol of South Koreans willing to make deals with the devil to keep the North from imploding?

If he were based in Los Angeles, New York City, Washington, or Tokyo, would I be asking this question? Would the answers be any clearer?