Saturday, September 27, 2008

Conservatives want Palin gone?

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was supposed to fire up the GOP base — religious conservatives and especially pro-lifers — but in several interviewers it appears she may be out of her league. Even conservative columnist Kathleen Parker is saying so, and asking that she step down graciously — just make up an excuse, something family-related — because John McCain himself is in no position to do so. 

Palin seems to be doing a bit better than former US Navy Admiral James Stockdale, the VP pick of indy candidate H. Ross Perot (whose whiny voice and nerdiness were the inspiration for Ross Geller of "Friends"), but not by much. We'll have to see if her debate with Senator Joe Biden plays better than Stockdale's 1992 performance. 

All I remember from that debate were his one-liners that mocked his own unpreparedness: "ping-pong match" and "Gridlock!" The SNL skit in which the great comedian Phil Hartman (requiescat in pace) played the confused Stockdale is priceless. (I'm still looking for the clip on YouTube.)

The question is, who would replace Palin? 

Little pink houses... in Pyongyang?

While real estate markets in the United States appear to be bottoming out, Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times reports that there is a veritable construction boom going on in Pyongyang. It appears there are two reasons: the 100th anniversary in 2012 of Great Leader Kim Il-sung's birth, plus a pragmatic sense that Pyongyang needs to spruce itself up to attract tourists and investors and to keep the locals feeling comfortable.
By the dizzying standards of Asia's exploding mega-cities, the construction here is nothing you could call a real estate boom. But it is a remarkable -- and somewhat mysterious -- development in a city that looks like it was frozen in time, with its Stalinist slabs of concrete from the 1950s and '60s.

Except for the monuments glorifying leader Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, hardly anything new has gone up in decades. By night, the city is so quiet you can hear a baby crying from far across the Taedong River, which cuts through the center of town.

Yet these days, high-rise apartments in shades of pink are taking shape near the Pueblo, the American spy ship captured in 1968 and still anchored in the river. A tangle of construction cranes juts into the skyline near Pothong Gate, a re-creation of the old city wall. About 100,000 units are to be built over the next four years.
The big question is: Who's paying for all this (and what are they getting out of it)?

New horizons

Alaska governor Sarah Palin has gotten a lot of flak for suggesting that Alaska's proximity to the Russian Federation (Russia's Big Diomede Island where the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea meet is about four kilometers from Alaska's Little Diomede Island), and here CBS News anchor Katie Couric gives her a chance to explain. 

Frankly, her answer is lacking. She makes the case why Alaska the state might be important when it comes to international relations, what with Russia and Canada forming an Alaska moosemeat sandwich, but not why Palin as governor of Alaska gets any foreign policy enhancement from this geographic location. 

For what it's worth, the distance from Seoul to Vladivostok, Russia, which is by no means the closest point between the Republic of Korea and Russia (which borders North Korea at the Tuman-gang River), is less than that between Wasilla or Anchorage and that remote, virtually uninhabited part of Russia that you can see from Alaska.  

Back when he was still governor of Texas, I used to jest that George W. Bush's idea of international relations was putting salsa on an omelette. But to his credit I think his state's proximity to Mexico and the resulting tide of Mexican migrants and immigrants coming up gave him a keen sense of urgency about that particular issue, and maybe even some insight. But that's about it: he failed on just about every other IR issue, and was instead led around as if on a hook through the nose by neocon elements that were reliving the Cold War by starting another. Us versus them, you're either for us or against us. 

Thanks to her utter lack of preparedness or savvy on international issues, Palin as president scares me in a way that McCain as president doesn't. Simply put, I think she will be too easily influenced by people who have a narrow set of interests, much as Dubya was. 

I'm not frightened of an Obama or Biden presidency either, although I wish we were looking at a Bill Richardson first term. Maybe they'll pick him as secretary of state. My only qualm about Obama so far is that he's bashing Korea and Japan vis-à-vis imports and that might mean a delay or cancellation of the Korea-US free-trade agreement

By the way, when I was young I used to have as one of my dreams to walk from America to Russia, though it was the Soviet Union at the time. I loved geography, and the challenge presented by those two dots on the map, just 2-1/2 miles from each other across what was a frozen mass during the winter, was so enticing. Maybe some day I'll make it to the Diomedes. 

Of course, there are people who want to build a bridge or tunnel across the Bering Strait, with the Diomedes as a likely stop along the way. The last time I was in Korea, AFN-Korea had something on what an engineering feat that would be. At least it would be a bridge to somewhere.

[above: The Diomede Islands in summer 2006. The United States is on the left; Russia is on the right.]

Friday, September 26, 2008

Anti-Japanese Kushibo?

Another blast from the past. It always baffled me when die-hard Japanophiles labeled me as a Japan hater, Japan basher, etc. With myriad connections to Japan — voluntary and otherwise — I dare say I myself have a healthy love and appreciation of the country (though I loathe using the loaded term Japanophile to describe myself). 

Anyway, I ran across this comment on the Marmot's Hole, where I used to be a frequent commenter, circa December 2005:
If Korea were to be judged based on the deeds of its worst citizens in the same way you’re talking about Japan, Korea would be an international 왕따*.
My comment was made as a warning to someone else not to judge the nation of Japan on the basis of Dr. Ishii of the infamous Unit 731 in Manchuria, which conducted extensive research on live human subjects in one of the cruelest acts of World War II.

That was one of many such comments I made, though some of my critics tended to ignore them when accusing me of Japan-bashing. Sure, I have been a strong critic of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and right-wing aspects of Japan's ruling LDP, but disagreement with elements of the Japanese government does not make one anti-Japan. Were that sufficient criteria, I would also be anti-Korean (a list of my criticisms of Roh Moohyun would cripple Blogspot), anti-American, anti-Chinese, etc.

Of course, some people are such lovers of Japan themselves — or haters of Korea — that for them that single criterion is enough. 

* 왕따, or wangtta = outcast

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sex and guns and burgers and mortgages

The Marmot brings us news that the sex industry in Korea amounts to 14 trillion won per year (a bit less than US$14 billion), which, he says, should lead to South Korea "[taking] responsibility for its own defense" (that is, make the US reconsider it's military presence in South Korea). 

I like the Marmot and I agree with him on most issues, but I think he is myopic and extremely short-sighted when it comes to the United States military alliances in Northeast Asia, particularly with South Korea. 

In addition to the idea that the 14 trillion won figure is almost certainly exaggerated (in addition to being projections, typically a lot of non-sex activities, including drinking and eating at certain establishments, is included in these figures, so the actual prostitution and pimping is considerably smaller, though it is still large), it looks like a couple people called the Marmot on what was a completely irrelevant point. 

What's the logic here? Korean men spend money on sex, therefore they shouldn't enjoy the umbrella military protection of a close ally... because that money spent on sex could be spent on the military? The best analogy for something so irrelevant that I could come up with is this: Americans spend $110 billion each year on fast food, therefore the Asian economies shouldn't help with a bailout of their banking industry. Something like that.

Anyway, I do understand some of Marmot's concerns, especially on cost. More on this later but South Korea does pull its own weight militarily, spending a much higher percentage of GDP than most other American allies on its defense and subjecting almost all its young males to at least two years of military service. 

The US military presence buys a guaranteed ass-whipping that no amount of money could buy if the South Koreans were on their own, which would make them go nuclear, something the US doesn't want and basically prevented South Korea from doing in exchange for its umbrella protection. Departure from South Korea would also make it harder to defend ally Japan.

The notion that the US could sit on the sidelines of a Northeast Asian conflict (a conflict far more likely to occur if the Americans are not firmly rooted in the region) is a fantasy. These things have a way of dragging the US into them, only by then they're bigger and much more messy.

I think the solution is to get South Korea to carry its own weight, since it does have a large enough military and its feet are on firmer ground than before. The US provides a military guarantee on the peninsula that the ROK could never muster on its own, so the ROK Navy could augment the US's patrolling of the waters around important trade routes to alleviate the demands put on the US Navy. Win-win, and everybody is providing what they're good at. 

Unlike Japan, China, and Russia, South Korea has not been a territorial threat to any of its neighbors in the past century, so there would be little cause for alarm in South Asia and Southeast Asia were South Korea to take on this role. This would justify the US spending money to station troops in South Korea (although the US has its own justifications for doing so), etc., etc. A win-win-win. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Kim Jong Il's reported stroke taboo in North Korea

The Los Angeles Times reports that asking one's interpreter in Pyongyang "a simple question about Kim Jong Il's health" will be met with "a torrent of angry, broken English."

Well, duh. 

[More substantial content than this can be found at the LAT's North Korea coverage page.]

Is this the reason Samsung wants to take over Sandisk?

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on a deal between memory chip maker Sandisk and major players in the music industry to boost sales of music in retail stores as CD purchases continue to decline.
The four major record labels plan to start selling their music on mini flash memory cards that can be loaded into some mobile phones, digital music players and car stereos.

Made by SanDisk Corp., the slotMusic cards are expected to go on sale before the holiday season at Best Buy Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Neither SanDisk nor the record labels would disclose the price of the cards, other than to say they would be comparable to CDs.
Could this be a reason Samsung is so keen to buy out Sandisk (putting them firmly in the music industry like their rival Sony). [By the way, I think WangKon936 and his financial insights are a great addition to the Marmot's pantheon of contributors, unlike a past writer who was long on ambition and short on erudition.]

UPDATE (Tuesday, October 21, 2008):
Samsung Electronics Wednesday (Korea time) that it has withdrawn its bid to acquire SanDisk, citing "growing uncertainties" in SanDisk's business.

Harold & Kumar skewer America

I must concur with Metropolitician that the second installment in the Harold & Kumar saga is indeed worth watching. Even if you're not a stoner or hopelessly flatulent, the movie is pretty funny. Sure, there's a lot of potty humor, but it goes way beyond that. It is an indictment of much of what our nation is and has become—a country scared of anyone different (especially if they're not White) that wraps itself up in the flag for protection. 

Unlike Metro, I didn't have to watch it on bootleg (and he is forgiven, since the movie is not out so the bootleggedness of his viewing experience didn't really cost the creators and owners of the film any money), since I was able to see it with my Blockbuster membership. Not sure if the "unrated" version I saw is what was in the theaters, but let's just say the DVD has more beavers than Canada. (That's about as crude a joke as I'll ever make. On this blog anyway.)

Below is the profanity-filled (sorry, Sonagi) trailer for the film. It also contains one set of buttocks. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Is this racist?

I don't have the regular readership I'd had before my retirement, so I don't know how much "discussion" there really could be, but for those of you who do wander by, take a look at this commercial for Kyochon fried chicken (a popular chain of neighborhood fried chicken franchises in Korea) and answer this question: Is this racist?

A man is captured by hungry (and apparently cannibalistic) "natives," a meme that is itself Western in origin. He is saved by offering them Kyochon fried chicken, which they devour. Okay, here's the problem: the natives look Black (though they could be from a bunch of places in the South Pacific or Indian Ocean region). 

My own take on it is that Koreans are mostly unaware of the American stereotype of Black Americans (read: not Africans themselves) as lovin' that fried chicken (and watermelon). So is it racist if they accidentally and coincidentally put together the image of Black people and the enjoyment of fried chicken? It sounds a bit more like it's an American issue of racism, not a Korean one. 

Koreans in general also love their fried chicken and watermelon, by the way. As in, don't get between Koreans and a fried chicken stand like you don't get between a mother bear and its cub. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

COPS (or, meth in America)

Random, incoherent thoughts.

Late-night TV in the United States is hella different from late-night TV in Korea. I usually have a Blockbuster DVD on if it's late, but for some reason I decided to just turn on whatever was on. I would prefer to watch Friends, but the local Fox affiliate has been showing COPS. And it seems grittier than in the past. They still have the car chases, but the crash scenes and the crime scenes are more gruesome than before: actual dead bodies of innocent victims shown (and the uncomfortable smiles of some of the cops who are not being insensitive but just don't know how to deal with the day-to-day carnage). 

This show has been on since forever. I guess the other notable thing to me tonight (notable enough to prompt an impromptu blog post) was that the on-going meth epidemic has meant that a much lighter cast of characters appears among the "innocent until proven guilty in a court of law."

Blonde haired lily-white criminal suspects all over the place.

This meth epidemic, I fear, is going to end very, very badly.

To make this Korea-related, it is true that Korea's drug problem—apparently far smaller than that of the United States—has long been centered around meth, which is called hiroppong [히로뽕], after the Japanese pronunciation of the German word (Philophon?) on which it was based.

Korea was in fact an exporter (along with Taiwan and Japan) of meth to places like Hawaii. But Americans have taken to the free-trade challenge and have begun manufacturing this substance themselves. And blowing up buildings, causing deadly fires, etc., etc. (back in about 2004, the granddaughter of our neighbor and her boyfriend set up a meth lab in the garage of the grandmother's upper middle-class Orange County home, a hazard to my parents and our dear neighbor). 

Anyway, back to the issue of meth in America, I found these ads from the Montana Meth Project to be very powerful, if they can effectively be directed at kids who have not yet taken the drug. That is the message there and at (unlike other drugs perhaps) even once with meth is enough to send you down a very bad road.

[photos are still shots from the Quicktime ads at the Montana Meth Project. Unfortunately they don't yet offer a way to embed the ads, but I have contacted them about that.]

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

SNL hits it out of the park

As many had hoped (and even expected), Tina Fey did a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live, her former haunt. (I would have blogged this earlier, but I have been on the Mainland visiting family until just a couple hours ago, and the site was the first chance I had to see the skit.)

Fey and former "Weekend Update" co-anchor (as if it's a real news show) Amy Poehler played Alaska Governor and Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin and former Democratic presidential candidate and still New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

It was brilliant. Tina Fey had the mannerisms down, and the writers did a great job of skewering both the cluelessly ambitious Palin and the ruthlessly ambitious Clinton.

By the way, this is my first attempt at embedding video in a post. Let me know if it isn't working.

This post's Korea-relatedness rating: 0/100 (since Gov Palin can't see Korea from her kitchen).

UPDATE (September 22, 2008):
Apparently Governor Palin liked the skit, calling it "hilarious" and "spot on." Back before she was considerably less famous than the "SNL" and "30 Rock" writer-actor-comedian (and arguably, Gov Palin's now more famous than Ms Fey), the self-described hockey mom "once dressed up as Tina Fey for Halloween."

I'm not so sure the love is mutual. After the Emmys, where ratings-beleaguered "30 Rock" got some well-deserved recognition, Fey said, "I want to be done playing this lady November 5. So, if anyone can help me be done playing this lady, that would be good for me."

In fact, if the McCain-Palin ticket were to prevail in November, it's not so certain that Tina Fey will be the one pulling Palin duty. 

By the way, I cannot emphasize too much how brilliant I think Tina Fey is. She's funny and a thoughtful social critic. Her funny film Mean Girls (she wrote the screenplay) is a must-see for people who want to understand the social dynamics of popularity in high school today and the havoc it wreaks on kids in their formative years (I had a stint as a high school educator, so sue me). And "30 Rock" is just plain laugh-out-loud hilarious, thanks largely to the self-deprecating Liz Lemon role played by Fey.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We're not out of the woods yet

[above: South Koreans at Yongsan Station learn about Kim Jong-il's health status while watching the news. "News" is reality television, old-school style.]

With recent news and speculation about North Korea's Dear Leader Kim Jong-il being in ill health and possibly even near death, it should be no surprise that there is so much media focus on what is going on in Pyongyang and what it might mean for the future of the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia.

So, as Korea Economic Review writer Tom Coyner put it it, "we can all breathe easier" at news of the South Korean intelligence report that KJI is recovering from surgery following a cerebral hemorrhage related to a stroke. KJI not dying is good because "no one is adequately prepared for the chap's demise and its ensuing consequences."

True, that. But I would advise that we are not out of the woods just yet. If you've ever known someone close to you who has had a stroke, especially a significant one, you may have noticed a marked change in their personality and even their behavior during and after their recovery. 

It is not uncommon for people to have experienced wide personality changes. Well, "changes" is not as accurate as, well, amplifications. What is widely reported (and my own personal experience with this supports) is that entire parts of a stroke victim's personality can be largely wiped out, depending on where and to what extent the brain is damaged. 

Some people who had long been largely cantankerous and difficult, for example, can become good-natured, cooperative, and congenial. It is as if the contentious part of their personality has been stripped away, leaving the amiable parts of their personality that were always there but were often overshadowed by their more argumentative traits. This very thing happened following the stroke of someone close to me. 

On the other hand, the opposite can happen as well. The friendly and acquiescent traits that may even dominate a personality can also disappear, with the stroke victim left as a bitter and even angry person that is difficult to work with.

[UPDATE: A note about strokes. I wish to admonish that being a stroke victim is not the same as being in bad health from, say, cancer. Having suffered from a stroke is like having been shot with a bullet: If you survive the injury, the same stroke can't keep trying to kill you just like the same bullet doesn't come back to get you (except for that nasty bullet that shot JFK several times). You are likely at higher risk of a future stroke, but once you're out of the woods with the original stroke, it can't come back and get you, so once you've survived its effects then you only need worry about the next one coming. Like with a bullet wound, your impairment from the stroke is not something that gets worse over time (except insofar as lack of use of limbs or the brain may lead to atrophy).No doubt the Dear Leader probably is imbibing more Coumadin than cognac these days, lest he get another stroke that could off him completely.]

So our question is a two-parter: Will this happen to Kim Jong-il? And if it does, which direction will he go? Actually, it's a three-parter: And what does this mean for North Korean governance and how it deals with the outside world?

Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if KJI's stroke turned him into a kitty cat and he dismantled his government's systematic vice-like grip, thus ending a reign of terror? All the political prisoners could be freed and North Korea could open up to its neighbors and tensions would drop like Lehmen Brothers stock when the Korea Development Bank decides not to back them.

Or... KJI could turn into a completely irrational and paranoid tyrant whose dangerous acts threaten to ignite a volatile Northeast Asia. I mean, more so than before. 

No, Mr Coyner, we are not out of the woods yet.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Join the brown parade

While reading up on this story and looking at de rigueur images of North Korean militarians goose-stepping through Pyongyang, something important occurred to me: A well-coordinated parade could take over the whole damn country.

Nobody would ever expect it since—sh¡t!—the paraders are always walking past crucial government buildings with grenade launchers, tanks, machine guns, and giant phallic-shaped missiles. 

"We thought they were just practicing!" would be the famous last words of some such high-ranking member of the military junta before he's strung up*.

[Post headline inspired by this song by My Chemical Romance, who themselves once took an entire country by storm (and whose name may have been inspired by North Korea's methamphetamine-trafficking efforts to gain hard currency).]

The beginning of the end?

[above: All smiles. Has stroke damage put a permanent look of jocularity on Kim Jong-il's face?]

I awoke this morning to a friend having emailed that he saw on the MSNBC news ticker that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may have suffered a stroke. Though I don't have cable TV (heck, I barely have digital TV), I went to the MSNBC site and, lo and behold, there it was. I thought I might come out of hibernation/retirement and post a note to one of Marmot's open threads, but R. Elgin beat me to the punch (note that he used a question mark in his title, too). 

News of this possible stroke comes amid speculation about the Dear Leader's whereabouts after he failed to attend the 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, that's the communist one up north). This, of course, following speculation by a North Korea watcher Toshimitsu Shigemura of Waseda University in Japan that the Dear Leader had kicked the bucket five years ago and what we see right now are his doubles. 

[It's interesting side note, by the way, that this all comes down on the 60th anniversary of the DPRK founding. In Chinese-dominated East Asian tradition, sixty years is considered a full cycle, five rounds of the twelve symbols of the Chinese zodiac, roughly equivalent to a full life back in the day (this is why hwan•gap, a person's 60th birthday celebration—61st birthday in Korean age—is such a big deal). The sexagenary system for naming years (kabo, ŭryu, imjin, kyeyukapshin, etc.) goes through sixty names before it starts over. Maybe the 60th anniversary of the DPRK founding is a time for new direction and renewal, just like the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II should signal the end of loathing toward Japan.]

"For the North Korean people," my friend wrote, "I hope this is true." 

Careful what you wish for. 

I, like most people in South Korea, would love for the DPRK not to exist. But, like most people in South Korea, I am very apprehensive about how we will get from the current Point A to a future Point B where the North has been absorbed, integrated, and normalized by the South, à la East and West Germany. It will be expensive, painful, and possibly bloody. The only thing certain is that nobody is ready for what is going to happen. Being a resident of central Seoul, I fear I'm also going to be in the middle of ground zero for whatever social turmoil erupts in the south over this (be it refugees, protests against new policies, or even violence, God forbid). 

A new and possibly even greater concern is how China will react. I've made no secret of my fear that Beijing has been positioning itself ideologically and politically for a takeover of the DPRK were it to collapse. It has punished North Korea for stepping out on its own to create free-trade zones (like in Shinŭiju, in the northwest corner of the DPRK), and it has tried to convince the world with its "Northeast Asia Project" that Koguryǒ, one of Korea's historic "Three Kingdoms," is historically a part of China.

In other words, as they see with Tibet and Mongolia, the Chinese government trying to convince the Chinese people that they have a claim of sorts over what is now North Korea. That may be just enough to justify a takeover of the DPRK, as I mentioned here and other places. The result would be a bloody uprising—it's doubtful that the North Koreans would tolerate any non-Korean occupier—that could get very, very messy before it's over.  

South Korea, of course, claims all of Korea, just as North Korea does. The two are competing governments over the same territory. It had been assumed for decades that a North Korea collapse would be followed by a South Korea takeover, hopefully a peaceful one. That prospect is not only expensive, but China's moves put it in doubt. But even if Beijing completely backs off, things could get messy with North Koreans rioting over policies ranging from property redistribution to food distribution to retribution against their former leaders. 

Messy. All this will be very messy. No one knows how the military and the leadership, who have abused their people for years, will react. Will they cut and run, à la the Nazis at the end of WWII? Will they hunker down, à la many countries that have fallen? Will they just give up their arms, à la Japanese soldiers at the end of WWII? Will they perhaps point their fingers at their superiors to avoid getting in trouble, as some Nazis did? Will they try to maintain a semblance of governance so they can negotiate a way out of their predicament? 

Will the people string up their leaders, à la Ceaucescu in Romania? Will the people demand goods and services from South Korea? Will the people welcome the South Koreans? 

So many questions. I hope there's a plan in place to give the military leaders a way out so they don't hunker down and cause even more damage, even if that means letting some people go without punishment. I also hope there's a plan in place to grant the North Korean people the rights to the property they've been using, so we don't cement in place permanent poverty for those unlucky enough to be living up there.

So many question marks today. So many more to come. 

Of course, after all this hubbub, it might turn out in the end that Kim Jong-il has sneaked out of the country to record his next album. (It looks like someone has stolen my gag! Intellectual property-stealing biatch!)

Special to Monster Island: transcript from video where above photo was lifted:
KJI: ... Okay, I've got another one. 
COMRADE 1: We would all love to hear it, Dear Leader.
COMRADES: [in unison] Yes, please! Another one!
KJI: What's the difference between George Bush and a bucket of shit?
COMRADE 2: We do not know, Benevolent One. Please enlighten us!
COMRADE 3: Yes, enlighten us so we may make sure your will is followed!
KJI: The bucket!
COMRADES: [intense laughter] Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! [one COMRADE is heard falling on the floor] Ha ha ha ha ha ha!
KJI: Actually, I don't get it. But it had Mark Chinoy in stitches when Bill Richardson told it to him. 
KJI: Mao? Dammit, Cho. You're such a buzz kill. 
COMRADE 2: Would you like us to re-educate him, Sir? 

Happy birthday, Grandma!

Today is my grandmother's birthday. If she hadn't died in 1980-something from complications following a stroke, she'd be 110 years old today. 

(Lest you think having a 110-year-old grandmother makes me half a century old or something, she was almost 40 when my immediate forebear was born and that forebear was well approaching 40 when I was born. Do the math: that puts me between about 30 and 40. My personal protest against Korean ageism—나이주의 반대!—has barred me from telling my own age or asking the age of others since I was 23 in 1990-something, but I will say I was born when Ronald Reagan was the governor of my state.)

[Sitemeter update: Some sick bastard in Brandenburg, Germany, linked to this site by googling MONSTER+GRANDMA+sex. Dude, that's my Nana!]

I wear my sunglasses at night

And what is up with the sunglasses? Lately Kim Jong-il seems to wear them everywhere. Many Pyongyang observers believe he is trying to hide a medical condition, but I wonder if he's being abused. Maybe leader of big-brother China Hu Jintao has been giving little-brother Kim a beatdown. Maybe that's why the Dear Leader acts up and rebuilds his nuclear reactor after he said he wouldn't pursue nukes. 

When he gets him alone in Beijing, I'm sure Christopher Hill would like to ask him about it, but you know Marshal Kim will just deny it: "I walked into the door again." Well, if you ask, that's what he'll say. "And it's not your business anyway. I guess I'd like to be alone."

Kids, this post contains several 1980s pop music references, what radio stations today refer to as "oldies." Can you spot them? Bonus points if you can name their B-side. Even more bonus points if you knew what a B-side was without following the Wikipedia link. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Viva la Vinyl

One of my new favorite songs is Viva la Vida by Coldplay, a catchy tune with string instruments and a thought-provoking set of lyrics (I think it's an allegory about George W. Bush with broader applications to leaders of any time or place).

I liked it so much that I paid the iTunes Store the 99¢ required to download it onto my iPhone and iPod. That's right, kids, Kushibo doesn't believe in piracy. Despite the way Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley colorfully portray them, pirates were killers who wreaked havoc on innocent people just trying to live their lives, and I'm not going to support that. Sure, piracy today typically involves non-violent theft of intellectual property, but it's still stealing and the fact is someone deserves to get paid for their work (or else they won't produce the next one). Write a book sometime and you'll feel the same way. If you like the movie, song, book, or software, pay for the freakin' thing! It's ninety-nine f-ing cents, for criminy sake!

Anyway, I'm writing about this because I heard recently that Coldplay decided to release this single on vinyl. "Vinyl?" my born-after-1990 readers (if I have any) might ask? "What's that?" Well, vinyl is what we called those big black plastic disks with all the tiny grooves that played the music on the turntable. "What's a turntable?" you ask. Shut the fu¢k up! 

Yes, Kushibo may not be Biblical old, but he's old enough to remember vinyl records. I might even have a few, most purchased for about $10 at Tower Records, which doesn't exist anymore. Man, maybe I am Biblical old. A flood... I remember something about a flood. Wait, no, that was Katrina. 

Anyway, I just thought releasing a song on vinyl in 2008 was novel and cool, and it's interesting that it seems to be coming back. Madonna released one of her albums on vinyl, but, well, that's just coming full circle for her. Just how old is she? Let's just say if she breaks a hip in one of her dance videos, Medicare will cover it. 

In conclusion, I would like to add that I really think the album cover for Viva la Vida is way cool, though a tad unrealistic. I mean, if I were marching along and some hot chick ended up topless in front of me, the last thing on my mind would be getting caught up in something that had a good chance of getting me killed. 

I'd be rethinking that whole political martyrdom thing real quick. You can see it in the eyes of the guy on the left in the top hat (click on the link for a larger image): he's a well-dressed fellow of some means and he's looking at the rack on that woman and thinking, "Am I really ready to give all this up just to make a political statement I'll be too dead to appreciate? Hell, no! Now if only I can get Miss Exhibitionist up there to feel the same, I'd be stylin'." He's about ready to grab her arm and make for the exit. 

The guy on the right, that's a different story. He either hasn't hit puberty yet (they didn't have BGH-infused milk and flickering televisions in those days) and therefore naked breasts don't excite him, or he has hit puberty but he's still at that stage of adolescence where he thinks he can impress girls by doing whatever they ask. She can't show you her appreciation (or her boobs) when you're dead, Pierre!

Monday, September 8, 2008

What happened to the Korea posts?

Someone emailed me recently and asked why (in her mind) I had stopped posting about Korea issues. The short answer is I haven't. 

The long answer is I've only recently been able to carve out the time to start semi-regularly posting again, but the Korea-related posts usually require a lot more energy and thought to be put into them. 

I will try to write more later. Among the topics I hope to address: 

1. the Chinese students run amok in Seoul during the Olympic torch relay
2. President Lee Myungbak's apparent appeals to the Christian right in South Korea
3. the out-of-hand candlelight vigils against beef imports ostensibly due to concerns about Mad Cow Disease but, behind the scenes, really about sticking it to President Lee
4. the Beijing Olympics and what it means to Chinese nationalism and how other countries should view China
5. the impending collapse of North Korea (?)
6. Cho Seung-hui
7. comparing Korea's economic crises due to mismanagement and deceit with America's economic crises due to mismanagement and deceit
8. making nice with Japan in a post-Roh Moohyun Korea (or a return to the days of the Kim-Obuchi accord)
9. the future of the ROK-US free-trade agreement and why I might not vote for Obama because of that one issue

I'm sure you're all waiting with bated breath. 

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Worst superhero concept ... ever!

Not sure what kind of superpowers Toilet Man would have. Traveling through the sewer? Flying in an arc-like trajectory? Sanitizing the city for our protection? 

[photo taken outside men's restroom at temple in Sŏraksan National Park]

Friday, September 5, 2008

Swiftboating Obama

Media Matters has a nice flow chart of how the right is going about "swiftboating" Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Hussein Obama. Swiftboating, if you don't remember from 2004, was the act by a GOP operative, who had no first-hand knowledge of then Lt. John Kerry's own actions during the Vietnam War, of starting rumors, making innuendo, and successfully calling into doubt Kerry's heroism during the Vietnam War.

This year, the goal is to get enough voters to question Senator Obama's patriotism, American citizenship, religious faith, etc., that he won't win election. This is where we get the memes — often repeated in right-wing blogs and talk radio — that "B. Hussein Obama" is a Manuchurian candidate of sorts for Muslim extremists, among other things.

Media Matters is tasked with calling foul on incorrect things put forth in the media, though they tend to attack right-wing positions more than left. They often target "fair and balanced" Fox News, which is often not fair, not balanced, and increasingly not news. With the "Swiftboating 2.0" article linked above, you can see not just what the memes are, but who is generating or repeating them and how.

See this link for the anti-Obama memes in list form.

To be fair, many of the same usual suspects also went after Senator John McCain when he was running against then-Texas Governor George W. Bush for the GOP nomination in 2000. Had it happened to me, the smear campaign done to McCain would have made me extremely bitter, enough that I might not be able to stand in the same room as the president. But if McCain wants to get elected, he needs to play nice with Dubya and he needs to cater to the listeners, viewers, and readers of the right-wing media that crucified him eight years ago. (Enter Sarah Palin, a darling of Rush Limbaugh who had been pushing for putting her on the ticket.)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

United we live, divided we dine

That's a paraphrase of former South Korean president Syngman Rhee's [yi sŭng•man, 이승만] famous (if you're Korean) proclamation about a divided Korean peninsula. And that's appropriate given the topic of this post, a Koreatown restaurant (courtesy the Los Angeles Times) that's as heavy on the nostalgia as it is on the bean paste. 

Some people go to Olive Garden for a Tuscan atmosphere; others will go to E-Hwa Jang [i•hwa•jang, 이화장; Good God, people, learn to Romanize!] for a bit of kitsch from South Korea's not-too-distant past. 

But in SoCal a lot of people (kyopo included) will be blissfully unaware of how controversial this sort of nostalgia is. For while Rhee is the guy who may have single-handedly forged a pro-American Korean island out of a Communist morass, he did so at the expense of tens of thousands of lives lost in wartime and peacetime crackdowns on leftists, spies, and North sympathizers (which in his mind was small compared to the millions more that would have been lost had Pyongyang prevailed in the south). 

The owner of the restaurant, Hi Duk Lee [yi tŏ•k'i, 이덕희] is a cousin of Rhee (Yi, Lee, and Rhee, same same), so it's likely he cuts his hyŏng a bit of slack. So did my favorite Yonsei University professor, who was a college student during the heady days of protest against Rhee in 1960 which led to his overthrow and exile in Hawaii: he now says if he had known then what he knows now about how instrumental Rhee was in preserving South Korea as a (relatively) free, capitalist, and pro-American entity, he wouldn't have protested.

While a lot of people are reasonably divided on Park Chunghee's [pak chŏng•hi] legacy — was he the brilliant architect of South Korea's economic rise or was he an authoritarian figure who crushed Korea's democratic dreams — I'm not so sure South Koreans are yet ready to do the same with President Rhee.

While in Hawaii, one thing I've been able to do that was interesting to me (as a Korean Studies academic) was to see the modest home where Rhee spent the last years of his life in exile. I'll post pictures sometime, but it's a regular house on a quiet street, not far from where Senator Barack Hussein Obama would later be educated at the prestigious Punahou School. In many ways, it reminded me of Ihwajang, the equally modest home in central Seoul's Hyehwa-dong where the First Couple lived. 

By the way, one thing I've always found interesting in the whole Korea-is-xenophobic discussion is how widely Francesca Rhee, his Austria-born wife, was accepted. It certainly underscores the notion I've long championed that the worst xenophobic (and let's face it, usually racist) instincts of those Koreans who opposed "international marriage" are only one part of the entire spectrum.

fake blogs of famous people

While looking for real things fair-and-balanced™ television pundit Bill O'Reilly actually said about health care, I ran across this fake blog entry purported to be by the no-spinmeister himself. There are links to others, some of which are milk-out-your-nose hilarious. 

This one by Christopher Walken on Bigfoot (Sasquatch for the culturally sensitive) is pretty amusing. I guess you have to imagine these done in the voice of the person who "wrote" them.

Now is it fair to spoof people like this? Well, these folks are in the public eye and so the courts have said satire is okay. I mean, it's not like someone has gone out and hacked into their accounts, pretended to be them, posted things in their name, turned their blog into a spambot, and got it shut down for a while. That would just be asshole-ish beyond belief. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Kush?! I am so going to sue.

Kids, this is why it pays to read the paper every day. You miss one 24-hour cycle of news and the next thing you know you've missed the article about how someone stole your life story and turned it into a movie. Now, I haven't seen this movie Kush, but with a title like that, can it be about anything other than me (or the ancient Nubian civilization)?

I mean, this is totally me. Although my nose isn't quite that big, I have been known to wear giant sunglasses while looking at palm trees and guys holding guns. And I do run around unshaven from time to time. 

And I hang out with these two totally hot White chicks who also hang out with these two annoying White guys who follow them around all the time looking all worried and shit. This is totally ripped from my life!

And that slogan, "It's a Kush Life, but Somebody Has to Burn"? Man, that was title of my blog up until 2004! 

Man, I'm so totally going to sue. And I'm not stopping there: Seth Cohen is a total Kushibo rip-off, too: witty dark-haired Orange County guy with a fondness for pop culture and dark-haired, light-skinned women who ignore him. After I get done suing The O.C., they won't be able to afford the "The" anymore. 

More on the Tina Fey-Sarah Palin connection

[left, Tina Fey of SNL and 30 Rock]
Oh, come on. They do look alike. And I reiterate: Tina Fey is a total hottie: brains, humor, intelligence, and cute as all get out. Smart is sexy 'cuz I'm the kinda guy that likes talking about stuff after, um, after we "snuggle."

[below, Tina Fey stunt double and Alaska governor (and, for now, Republican vice presidential hopeful) Sarah Palin]

Even more on the Fey-Palin connection here


Ben Muse in Alaska is running a great blog that presents news of the Korea-US free-trade agreement, which is awaiting ratification in Korea's National Assembly (where the ruling party says it will pass) and the US Congress (where Democrats may try to make changes or not pass it altogether). Obama is not a big fan but McCain is, though the latter would have trouble getting it passed (or anything passed) in a Democrat-led House and Senate. 

If McCain does win (and after Kerry's defeat in 2004, I think it's folly to assume Obama's got this in the bag) I think there will be some good opportunity for the Democrats to sit down with McCain and hammer out some meaningful reforms dealing with the corruptive influence of lobbyists and other deep-pocket contributors that end up distorting what our country does. A silver lining, if you will.

But if you do win, McCain, please stay healthy for the next four years: A throughly unprepared and inexperienced President Palin is a scary prospect, even if she is a hottie (in that Tina Fey kinda way, which I must admit I like). 

This blog is a similar set up on the prospects of a future Taiwan-US FTA. 

This State Government site makes the case for the ROK-US FTA. Also available as a PDF file.

I'll add more on this later, but I may become a single-issue voter this election, and that single issue would be the Korea-US free-trade agreement. 

One Chinese person's thoughts on Korea

Reflecting some of the anti-Korea bias that is now being discussed at the Marmot's Hole, I've had some conversations recently with a few Mainland Chinese students about Korea. The universities in Hawaii are fascinating places if you want to hear what people from all over the world think (Han China, Uighers, Iraqis, Mongolians, Tibetans, Burmese, Iranians, Palestinians, etc.).

Anyway, I'll get into this more later, because some of the things I've heard are a trip! But one woman with whom I am friends boldly told me that (1) Korean men generally beat their wives and (2) Korean women are forced to quit their jobs when they get married. She had also heard from her friend who lives in Korea that (3) Korean cuisine is very boring because all Koreans eat is rice and kimchi