Sunday, November 30, 2008

갑오 개혁 (甲午改革)

The Kabo (Gabo) Reforms of 1894
  1. Korea shall be a sovereign country (i.e., not controlled by China).
  2. The government is to be controlled only by the king (i.e., not the yangban elite).
  3. Those with talent shall be allowed to study.
  4. The army shall be established on basis of conscription, regardless of background.
  5. Appointment to the government shall be based solely on merit, not social status.
  6. Leather working, acting, and so on shall no longer be regarded as degrading work.
  7. Slavery shall be abolished, as well as the shinbun class system.
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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Georgia on Kia's mind

While Detroit asks for a $25 billion bailout package, folks down south in West Point, Georgia, where Kia is setting up a new factory, feel little sympathy (and in towns where Hyundai, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan are setting up shop, it might be the same). 

Meanwhile, they're enjoying the Korean barbecue known as pulgogi (불고기, also bulgogi) that is becoming quite common as more Koreans set up shop in this former textile town.

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Black Friday indeed

I don't mean to make light of the situation, but Black Friday has turned deadly. This day, the day after Thanksgiving, is traditionally one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Television has been full of advertisements telling of stores opening their doors at 5 a.m. (Macy's among them) or even 4 a.m. (Kohl's). 

Best Buy, which I happened into at around 4 p.m., had also been open since 5 a.m. and the special deals on blank DVD-R disks (fifty for $7.99) were long gone. I spotted box sets of Seasons 1 through 8 of The Simpsons for $15 each. I was all set to buy 4 through 8 (I have 1 through 3 already) but then I saw the hour-long line. 

At least it was an orderly line. At a Walmart in the Long Island, New York, community of Valley Stream in Nassau County, a 34-year-old temporary employee was trampled to death when a throng of shoppers at 5 a.m. literally broke down the doors to the store. (Erika Hayasaki in the Los Angeles Times also a good article on this.)

Closer to home in the California community of Palm Desert in Riverside County, two men shot each other to death inside a Toys-R-Us:
Joan Barrick, 40, of Desert Hot Springs said she was buying a Barbie Jeep for her daughter when two women started brawling. As the women swung at each other, the men they were with also started arguing. 

The younger of the two lifted up his shirt and flashed his handgun, pulling the grip from his baggy pants pocket. The other man yanked out his own handgun and started chasing him down the aisle and firing, witnesses said.

Barrick hid behind a stack of DVDs and recited the Lord's Prayer. "If I'm going to die, I need to make peace," she said. "A lot of people were crying. I was crying. We were all very, very scared."
If this were a scene from a movie I'd probably be complaining how cliché it is, but this is real life.
Several witnesses saw the gunmen clearly. Some cried out warnings: "He has a gun!" and "¡Pistola! ¡Pistola!" Barrick was so close she could see the smoking gun.

"This is horrible," said a shaken Sara Frahm, 25. "I'm never shopping on Black Friday again."
Damn straight. Before yesterday, a friend of mine was talking about the movement for people to stay away from the stores on Black Friday as a way of avoiding consumerism and rampant capitalism. Now I'm guessing it might be a good way to stay alive until Christmas.  Sphere: Related Content

Seoul's orange cabs

Seoul is planning to change the color of its taxis to orange, actually a hue of orange found in Korean aesthetic works. Apparently the Korea National Tourism Organization has "suggested" certain hues to be used in city affairs, especially those involving tourism. 

Taxis in Seoul are a mishmash of colors, black for deluxe mobǒm taxis, and white, gray, or silver for the regular taxis. Years and years ago, I think they were a light green, like that found in the color scheme. At some point I think they were also yellow, and some used to be white with a blue stripe (?). Most of them sported side mirrors that were placed not next to the driver's and front-passenger's windows, but way up on the front of the car, a little bit behind the headlights (that way the driver could look into them without turning his head). 

Anyway, back to the orange taxis... I'm quite happy they're doing this, and not just because taxis that look like orange sherbet & cream should stand out better when you're trying to flag down a cab. Right now the taxis look no different from all the black, white, silver, and gray privately owned vehicles that ply Seoul streets. 

The other big reason is that I'm tired of drunk people trying to jump into my car while I'm in the right lane getting ready to  turn into my neighborhood. Living near Seoul Station and Namyŏng-dong, which have more than their share of late-night revelers reveling late at night, people would assume that my white Hyundai Sonata was a taxi. 

I kid you not: I was constantly getting people shout destinations at me as I slowly drove by or, worse, actually open my door and try to get in. Even after saying (in Korean) that I am indeed not a cab driver and this vehicle they were halfway in was not a taxi, some would insist I drive them home. (Only once did I actually drive anyone home; it was a very snowy night and a woman who had been waiting for over an hour for a car literally jumped in front of my car and begged me to drive her and her drunk friend to the nearest subway station, which I did.)

I thought that when we (my company) purchased a black Kia Carnival minivan, this would end. But then they came out with the "jumbo taxi" (점보택시), typically a black minivan. For those desperate around midnight to get home, trying to jump into my pimped-out minivan seemed like a good option. 

So bring on the Great Pumpkins. Sure, I think I might prefer the red-themed taxis found in Hong Kong (below), but I think I could get used to the tangerine taxis. They can call them kyulshi (귤시)! [hat tip to Marmot]
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Japan's biometric fingerprinting and photographing regime finds 846 "undesirables" (including 290 Koreans)

The Japan Times is reporting that over the past year some 846 "undesirables" (that's the JT's word) were prevented from entering Japan's airports or seaports. All were forced to leave Japan immediately. Justice Minister Eisuke Mori has praised the biometric scanning regime. 

The program is not without critics, who say it as best very inconvenient (the Immigration says it "reduced waiting times at airport immigration booths") and at worst xenophobic and discriminatory. 

More from the JT:
The number accounts for 8.5 percent of about 10,000 foreigners whom immigration officers at airports and seaports expel every year after learning, through questioning and other measures, they had criminal records or were involved in illegal acts.

Despite complaints from foreigners who say mandatory fingerprinting, which resumed in November last year, makes them feel like they are being treated as criminals and violates their human rights, Justice Minister Eisuke Mori praised the system for helping to block illegal entries.
Ninety-eight of the 846 who used fake passports are banned from re-entering for five years. 

I'm curious how many of the 290 "South Koreans" are actual ROK citizens and how many are using forged or stolen passports, since prior to Korea's introduction of advanced passport systems (in order to get into the US visa-waiver program), they were among the easiest to use to get into other countries. 

The others cited were Filipinos, Chinese, Iranians, and Sri Lankans. 
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No, you canNOT has cheezburger, you illiterate f&*%$ing feline!

Nope. You can't. Too expensive

McDonald's is bringing to an end the $1 double cheeseburger that was a staple of college students and the poor. Rising energy costs have forced them to raise the cost to $1.19. 

$1

It looks so clean and neat—not to mention affordable. Sure, $1.19 isn't that much more, but it just doesn't have that tidy look of "$1." Well, at least two McD's apple pies will have a price that's, ahem, in apple-pie order. [That's right: For puns involving 18th century idioms that haven't been used since the Great War, Monster Island cannot be beat!]

Frankly, although I've gone in for a double cheeseburger more times than I care to admit (with their $1 parfait and $1 three-cookie deal), there is something inherently misplaced or misguided about a one-dollar double cheeseburger. 

Simply put, we as Americans not only consume too much meat, but we also manufacture too much of it. Factory farming lots of cows in small areas, requiring copious amounts of feed, antibiotics, and hormones. Not good for the body and not good for the environment. 

In other words, a $1 double cheeseburger falls far short of its true costs—the social and environmental costs for starters. Maybe, then, a $1.19 cheeseburger, while it doesn't roll off the tongue, is a teeny tiny step in the right direction. 

Already the Filet-o-Fish (my favorite McD's item when I was a kid) is starting to reflect the truer cost of fish stock depletion. In Korea they've taken it off the menu altogether. 

I wonder if Mickey D's in Korea is still serving W1000 double cheeses? 

Oh, and I promise never ever ever to mention the lolcats site again. Never ever. 

The digestive tract of cats is different from humans', which means that feeding them people cheese—especially in the high amount found in a cheeseburger—can cause a plethora of problems ranging from painful symptoms associated with lactose intolerance to the dangers associated with high salt or fat in the diet. Why supposed cat lovers are making light of the plight of cheese-fed cats is beyond me. Sick bastards!

For the hopelessly bored, click here for more posts about McDonald's. 
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Friday, November 28, 2008

a tough time for immigrants

The Washington Post has a report on how the current economic crisis is "spreading pain" across the capital region, especially to close-knit immigrant communities such as Ethiopians, Central Americans, and Koreans. 

Korean business owners are reaching out to oégugin (외국인, non-Koreans, a term that often gets mistranslated as "foreigner," though Korean nationals in other countries are the "foreigners," right?) in order to expand their customer base in tough times:
There are signs that Korean business owners who once catered almost exclusively to their tightknit community are also trying to branch out. Sang K. Lee, owner of Spa World, a Korean-style luxury bathhouse in Centreville, said he has been trying to make up for a recent decline in Korean customers by advertising in publications that serve immigrants from countries such as Russia and Turkey that also have a tradition of using bathhouses.
The article also talks about some hagwon (학원, extracurricular academies that augment classroom learning, especially when it comes to test preparation) closing down. Frankly, I see that as a positive development, especially for the kyopo kids whose parents think that the few extra points they might gain on their SATs are worth their childhood. (Note to parents: If your kids just read a good selection of modern and classical English literature, they will do quite well.)

Having gone through the 1997-98 Asian economic crisis, I see so many similarities between how people then and now are dealing with the fallout. Expect to see lots of stories like this for the foreseeable future. 
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Sunday, November 23, 2008

deadly school violence in Ch'ŏngju

And speaking of the sick culture surrounding the encouragement of suicide, another twisted antisocial phenomenon that appears to be all too common in South Korea is school bullying. 

It's been a problem for quite some time and is a regular feature in the Korean-language press. A seemingly intractable problem, since it is perpetuated by ingrained social hierarchy, which prevents some from speaking out against or about their sŏnbae ("senior"), giving a sadistic student (male or female) carte-blanche to bully their "juniors." 

Many kids don't tell their teachers, other school authority figures, or their parents, for fear of retaliation and a real sense that the adults cannot or will not do anything. When things do erupt into illegal activity, some schools have opted to cover up the situation lest the school's reputation be damaged and the school administrators lose face. 

It is against this back drop that a middle school student in the central Korean city of Ch'ŏngju [청주, Cheongju] was apparently killed in a beating by bullies. Matt of Gusts of Popular Feeling has a very good write-up on this. Matt's blog is one of my regular reads, as he is quite skillful at taking Korea-related issues and getting to the heart of the matter. 

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sun, ski, and surgery

Way back in 2005 I discussed the idea of Korea's potential to become a destination for medical tourism. Its world-class hospitals (not all of them, certainly, but more than just a few) and relatively inexpensive care (even for those who don't have national health insurance) were reason enough, but at the time it was hoped that Korea would be a hub of stem-cell research (and it still might be). 

Anyway, the New York Times has an article focusing on how South Korea is joining the likes of India, Thailand, and Singapore, with a number of facilities setting themselves up to help so-called "medical tourists." It's hoped that they'll stick around and see the sights (and perhaps spend a bit more money). 

The Japanese, who already come to Korea in droves, would be a good place to start. Set up a clinic with Japanese-speaking staff near Myŏngdong, and you're all set. 
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China to the rescue? Not so fast, says South Korean.

A New York Times article suggests that emerging markets could be the engine of recovery in this global economic downturn. But at least one prominent figure in the South Korean business world is not so keen on the idea of China supplanting the United States:
“China cannot replace the U.S. economy as the engine of global growth,” said Chang Dae Whan, chairman of Maeil, a South Korean newspaper company. “We’re going to need a huge stimulus package from the United States, on the order of $2 trillion, to get the global economy out of the financial crisis. So far, we’ve only seen about $700 billion. As a result, next year I expect to see more pain and fear.”
For those at the Marmot's Hole and elsewhere in the Korea blogosphere who think that all Koreans are caught up in a pro-China love fest, this ambivalence toward China's economic rise is not at all uncommon. Sphere: Related Content

A very public viewing

UPDATE (Saturday, November 22, 2008, 10 p.m. HST):
The father of Abraham Biggs has put some of the blame on those who watched and did nothing.  He's quoted as saying, "It's a person's life that we're talking about; And as a human being, you don't watch someone in trouble and sit back and just watch."

His sister Rosalind Biggs offered similar sentiments. "It didn't have to be," she said. "They got hits; they got viewers; nothing happened for hours."

ORIGINAL POST:
A Florida teenager has committed suicide on camera and online. Nineteen-year-old Abraham Biggs consumed a lethal combination of opiates and benzodiazepine, a depressant used to treat insomnia. 

What prompted me to blog about this is that the case sounds disgustingly similar to social phenomena that have been occurring with greater frequency in Korea, where the suicide rate is obscenely high and authorities seem at a loss as to how to curb it. 

You see, this guy blogged about his plans to commit suicide, and nobody had tried to stop him. Then, as he was doing it, although some people on the bodybuilding website where this all went down tried to talk him out of it, others were encouraging it

Still a few more were "debating whether the dose he took was lethal," which I think can reasonably be chalked up to disbelief. If you've ever encountered someone who is actually trying to take their life—or at least letting you know they are thinking about it—disbelief is a common reaction. We don't want to believe it. We are at a loss for what to do when it happens. Or worse, we're afraid of embarrassing ourselves and/or the person we would want to save if it turns out the "suicide" was a sick joke or something. (When I was a teenager I had that very experience.)

In Korea, the sick thing is that so many people seem to think that those who commit suicide are "brave" because they went through with it. The idea being that they overcame their fear of death and ended whatever suffering they had. Brave. And while the public tragedy of the latest in a rash of celebrity suicides deeply saddens most people, a handful are twistedly looking to these fallen stars as role models. 

Of course, the narrative used in the West today is that such acts are cries for help or, less generously, cowardly acts of fear about facing one's troubles. The easy way out. No bravery there. 

Curbing the suicide rate in any culture is a difficult enough task without such encouragement. Now we have people who think there's some glory in going out with a bang—like a public self-execution—and the Roman circus-goers who egg them on. This has been going on in Korea online for a number of years, with the disturbing twist that some people meet on websites that are purportedly oriented toward suicide prevention, so they can either encourage each other to go through with it, or so that they can talk someone into going through with it. 

For public health specialists, this is an issue with no easy solutions. In countries like Korea, Japan, and elsewhere where people perceive so much stigma if they seek psychiatric help, getting to those people and helping them in a meaningful way is a daunting task. 
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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Frogger

The Korea Times reports that the metropolitan government is seeking to replace Seoul's noisy, pollutant-spewing scooters with "eco-friendly electronic motorbikes." 

The 50,000 gasoline-powered scooters that currently tool around Seoul are favored by Chinese food deliverymen, pizza deliverymen, Kyochon chicken deliverymen, locksmiths who come to your door, appliance repairmen, emergency roadside service, families of four that cannot afford cars, pimps taxiing "coffee girls," high school students who illegally drive to school instead of walking or taking public transport, low-rent biker gangs, fuel deliverymen, and insomniacs who try to deal with their disorder by boisterously taking to the streets and sharing their condition with the sleeping masses. 

The facts are these: The tens of thousands of scooters with 50-cc engines each produce far more carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons than cars with engines of 1500 cc. Eight times more carbon monoxide and 140 times more hydrocarbons from their inefficient engines. 

The idea is to get the 30,000 used commercially off the roads, thus reducing atmospheric pollution and noise pollution. An electronic scooter can travel 40 kilometers—traveling up to 50 kph—on a four-hour charge, which costs only 3.2% the cost of gasoline for a gasoline-powered motorbike. For short distances to and from a commercial establishment, this should be no problem. If you're planning to travel across the country, that's another story.

These bikes currently cost 3 million won, more than double the cost of a gasoline-powered bike, but the electric bike cost could go down as mass production goes forward. In the meantime, the fuel savings should offset much of the higher price. The government could also try subsidizing the bikes, since they represent a social benefit that is worth the cost of the subsidy. 

I want to go on record, though, saying this is a terrible idea. I predict a massive death toll as these silent killers mow down unsuspecting pedestrians strolling unsuspectingly down Seoul sidewalks, unaware that they are in the path of a reckless and physics-impaired deliveryman who places no value on human life—not his own and certainly not yours.

With noisy motorbikes, at least the pedestrian who finds himself an involuntary contestant in a death match of sidewalk Frogger™ can use the cacophonous rattling of an inefficient motorbike as a warning to get the hell out of the way, or at least to get right with God before being plowed into. With these eco-friendly electric bikes, we shall see day after day of headlines announcing the latest case of pedestrian pancakes. 
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An ode to McCune-Reischauer

[To the tune of Istanbul (not Constantinople). Say "CH" so fast that it counts as one syllable.]

In-CHE-on was I-N-CH-O-N
Now it's In-CHE-on, not I-N-CH-O-N
Been a long time gone, I-N-CH-O-N
Now it's Wolmi delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in I-N-CH-O-N
Lives in In-CHE-on, not I-N-CH-O-N
So if you've a date in I-N-CH-O-N
She'll be waiting in In-CHE-on

Even old Busan was once spelled with a P
Why they changed it I can't see
People just thought B is more EZ

So take me back to I-N-CH-O-N
No, you can't go back to I-N-CH-O-N
Been a long time gone, I-N-CH-O-N
Why did I-N-CH-O-N get the axe?
Blame it on some spelling-challenged hacks

In-CHE-on (In-CHE-on)
In-CHE-on (In-CHE-on)

Even old BOO-sahn was once spelled with a P
Why they changed it I can't see
People just thought B is more EZ

In-CHE-on was I-N-CH-O-N
Now it's In-CHE-on, not I-N-CH-O-N
Been a long time gone, I-N-CH-O-N
Why did I-N-CH-O-N get the axe?
Blame it on those spelling-challenged hacks

So take me back to I-N-CH-O-N
No, you can't go back to I-N-CH-O-N
Been a long time gone, I-N-CH-O-N
Why did I-N-CH-O-N get the works
Blame it on those spelling-challenged hacks

In-CHE-on
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Carter's press conference on removal of US troops from South Korea

Three decades ago, when a different Democrat had just moved into the White House, there was talk about removing US troops from a different theater of operations over a matter of months. 

Jimmy Carter, responding to human rights abuses by the Park Chung-hee regime, was determined to withdraw all USFK (United States Forces Korea) personnel. Air support in the event of war with North Korea would have been the primary US military commitment after that. 

Of course, things changed. The assassination of Park and then the subsequent turmoil left things too messy for a troop withdrawal. A few years later, the much less dovish Ronald Reagan was elected president and the talk of removing troops quickly subsided. (Forgive me if I'm getting this slightly wrong; I was but a wee child during the Carter administration so I can't rely on memory like I do with Bush-43, Clinton, and Bush-41.)

Anyway, through an incident of serendipity, here is the transcript from the March 4, 1977 Carter press conference where he talks about the troop removal:
Q. At the risk of oversimplification, sir, I believe I understand during the campaign you proposed a gradual withdrawal of American troops from Korea.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes.

Q. Yet, after your revised budget went to Congress, the Army has gone to Congress and asked in fiscal 1978, for a doubling of military construction funds for Korea and in the 3 ensuing years, for more than $110 million for similar construction. How does that square with your withdrawal plans?

THE PRESIDENT. My commitment to withdraw American ground troops from Korea has not changed. I'll be meeting this afternoon with the Foreign Minister of South Korea. This will be one of the matters that I will discuss.

I've also talked to General Vessey, who is in charge of our Armed Forces in South Korea. I think that the time period as I described in the campaign months, a 4-or 5-year time period, is appropriate. The schedule for withdrawal of American ground troops would have to be worked out very carefully with the South Korean Government. It would also have to be done with the full understanding and, perhaps, participation of Japan.

I would want to leave in place in South Korea, adequate ground forces owned by and controlled by the South Korean Government to protect themselves against any intrusion from North Korea. I would envision a continuation of American air cover for South Korea over a long period of time. 

But these are the basic elements, and I'm very determined that over a period of time, as described just then, that our ground troops would be withdrawn.
It's definitely not something I would have supported—I'm a firm believer in the power, importance, and success of the Pax Americana—but I understand where Carter was coming from vis-à-vis human rights. 
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Hyundai-Kia to the rescue!

If Detroit and beleaguered autoworker unions don't get their way in Washington, and the credit crisis pulls GM and/or Chrysler under, the New York Times reports that "foreign" automakers with manufacturing plants in the United States, including Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Hyundai-Kia would become the "new kings of the auto industry" (along with still-standing Ford, with its still-popular gas guzzler, the Ford F-150 pickup, a favorite of Mexican drug dealers). From the NYT:
Given Chrysler’s weakness, the new kings of the auto industry would presumably be Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Volkswagen, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Hyundai-Kia. (Volkswagen has not yet opened a plant in the United States, and BMW and Hyundai each have one plant.)

Like the Big Three, they would together dominate manufacturing in the United States, becoming big customers for steel, aluminum, plastics, glass, machine tools, computer chips and rubber.
So if Detroit goes south, then look south... to Alabama. In the meantime, why not save $14K on a Detroit monster machineSphere: Related Content

Life on Marmot's

A month ago I made mention of Oranckay's apparently defunct site. Now just about the only website I visit regularly is The Marmot's Hole. Any regular reader of my blog will see the Marmot's Hole reference with some frequency, and if you look at his comments section prior to my temporary retirement in summer 2006, I was a frequent commenter myself.

I know the Marmot personally—have had beer with the hanbok-clad yangban that he is—and he's a great and humble guy with a lot of insight and knowledge (particularly linguistic and cultural), not to mention objectivity and all around good guy...edness. 

His site is the go-to site on a number of Korea-related topics, and many of his regular commenters also offer great insight into those same Korea-related issues (and sometimes bring up others). I wish I could say all of his commenters, but that would be grossly misleading. Often the comments section is a real-world example of the proverbial asylum run by the inmates. 

To put it another way, The Marmot's Hole is like a great hall of learning, built (unfortunately) atop a very large whine cellar. 
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Elbow Raum

The discussions at Marmot's Hole on the specter of xenophobia in Korea (more on that in another post) and another on last century's German and Japanese expansionism into the Pacific (namely, Saipan) prompted one commenter to mention Lebensraum, the concept Adolf Hitler outlined in Mein Kampf about expanding Germany to the east (in a quite vicious way).

Lebensraum translates as "living space," but I wonder if it could just as easily be translated as "elbow room":


Government-sanctioned cartoons taught me that our country took over the West "without a fuss." No mention of the Indians, except Sacajawea, who helped out those nice Haole folk from back east. I guess extermination of the Indians doesn't make for good filler between Josie & the Pussycats and He-Man.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Making the Korean War "contemporary"

The online Smithsonian Magazine has a fascinating series of color photographs from the Korean War. (Hat tip to Cactus McHarris commenting on the Marmot's Hole.)

There's an interesting article on the photographer, then a war correspondent for a variety of wire services and networks. His name is John Rich, and he's now ninety-one years old, living in his hometown of Cape Elizabeth, Maine (pictured below half a century ago). 

As a long-time Seoulite, I think it's fascinating how much and how little has changed. The concrete-ensconced rooftop workspace Rich uses above looks like it could be my ex's house. Another photo has a hanbok-clad harabŏji standing in front of a burnt-out modern city (and, no, that's probably not an opium pipe he's got there). 

The long-ago Korean War seems even more ancient thanks to all the black-and-white photos, but these color-rich Kodachrome pictures make everything seem much more real, even modern (I've heard the same sentiment about the Korean War film "Brotherhood"). As one photography expert was quoted: "When you see it in color you do a double take. Color makes it contemporary."

I want people to visit the article, so I deliberately didn't post my favorite picture, the one with the kids playing on a deserted street near a very recognizable Seoul City Hall. That's not too far from where I live. In fact, I recognize the location of a lot of photos.

Seoul residents might easily see that the picture below is the heart of Seoul facing southward. Namsan, minus N-Tower (Seoul Tower, Namsan Tower, whatever it's called nowadays). If you look closely you can see the buildings of modern Seoul, which was many millions smaller than it is today. At that point there was little urban development on the south side of the Han River, which is now lined with apartment blocks and high-rises. Some at Marmot's Hole think the photo was taken from Mt. Puk'ansan, but I think it is from the high hills right behind the Blue House. 

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Orange County is burning

... along with much of the rest of Southern California. While Korea, Japan, and most of the United States are already experiencing winter freeze, Southern California is still in the midst of a hot fire season. 

The parents of one family friend had their recently renovated home burn down in Yorba Linda, where the above picture was taken. A cousin has had to evacuate from their part of northern Orange County, not far away from that. The portion of the Riverside Freeway connecting OC with Riverside County is closed as flames lick the highway itself. 

It's an odd thing, the weather we have in SoCal. September and even October see some of the hottest days of the year (May, June, and even early July can be overcast and chilly). Compound that with the fact that by September and October, the grass and brush on the hillsides and mountains of Southern California have gone their longest without substantial amounts of water (summers are hot and sunny; the rainy season is in the winter). Conditions are significantly drier than in July or even August. And when the Santa Ana winds, those hot, dry gusts from the desert, start to blow, it's like a tinderbox. 

That adds up to a fire season that often hits in the fall. Last year's multitude of massive fires across Southern California hit in the last part of October and ended nineteen days later in the first part of November. So far these fires have not yet reached that level, but things are still not fully under control, so who can say what will happen? I just pray everyone gets out okay. 

This is really no surprise. This November has seen temperatures well past 90°F. That seems weird even to me... temperatures in the nineties—in mid-November! I am so trying to resist the urge to say anything about global warming or global climate change. So trying. 
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CSI: Koreatown

Warning: This post contains spoilers. Also, I've been writing it in stages, so if it says "more to come," don't be annoyed. 

Last Thursday night, the new episode of CBS's hit show CSI (the original one that takes place in tawdry Las Vegas) centered around a double murder that took place at a street market in Las Vegas's Koreatown (yeah, I didn't know they had one either). The season 9 episode is entitled "Say Uncle."

After I get done with a midterm, I'll share some thoughts. It's not pretty, but it's not the horrible caricature or wildly inaccurate depiction that it could have been. I'll start with comments that I'm impressed that they made an effort to make the business signs look passably legitimate. There's a noraebang (노래방, karaoké divided into small rooms); a "color copy fax" business, though they should have written "copy" as poksa (복사) instead of Hangulized k'ap'i to represent "copy,: 

There's also a sundubu (순두부, spicy tofu stew) restaurant called "Sundubu Village." Yeah, I guess I can imagine that being the name of a Korean restaurant, though Korean businesses in the western United States (or at least in Orange County and I guess here in Honolulu) more typically have place names from Seoul or elsewhere in Korea in their name. Thus, you have Apkujŏng Noraebang, Chongno Kalbi, or Pusan Sushi (better yet, Chigalch'i Sushi or Noryangjin Sushi).  

We then have a bicycle repair shop (why not a bike shop in general), and a family restaurant run by Miyŏn, whoever the heck she is. At the top of the signs it says tambae (담배, cigarettes) but that would in fact be an unusual sign to have in a list of stores. 

The episode starts with the camera following an Asian (presumably Korean) teenage girl biking through a block party or street market populated by other Asians (also presumably Korean). This being CSI, you hope that this innocent girl (girl-next-door cute neophyte actress Olivia Sui) is not about to fall victim to something horrible. Instead, she witnesses a double murder. Actually, everybody on the freakin' street witnesses a double murder. 

More to come, but for now here are some pictures...


More to come, but for now here are some more pictures (captured with my EyeTV recordings on my iMac)...

Han•gŭl is so hip these days, it is now part of the "CSI" opening. In the picture above, the main character and head CSI, Grissom, is standing in front of a store with a sign that says 부탄 in styled Korean (i.e., vertically placed with the consonants broken up into their separate components). This is pronounced putan and can refer to either the country Bhutan or the fuel butane
<— The part in red is obvious.

Some naysayers may say, "Nay, it says either HOTEL or MOTEL." But I say "nay" to the naysayers, who aren't as hip as I. Clearly it is either a Korean-owned Bhutanese restaurant (and the dirty secret of Bhutanese cuisine is that, like most Japanese restaurants in America, they're owned by Koreans) or it's a shop that sells butane. Or both (that's another dirty secret of kyopo commerce). 

Was this episode offensive to Korean-Americans for the way it stereotypes the kyopo community? Kia Motors seems not to think so, since they paid good money to hawk the Kia Sorento on the show. The Kia Sorento which got a five-star crash rating on in all four categories from the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). 

Not shown, but in the same commercial, was a Kia Sedona minivan (which is what I drive back in Seoul), because you can get $5000 cash back if you purchase either of these vehicles before December 31, 2008. See your local dealer for details. Not available on Sedona base model. 

This is the guy who died. Poor guy just got out of prison, which is why the CSI team incorrectly believed that his murder had something to do with gang violence and/or something that happened in prison. 

Just why are CSIs trying to solve crimes? Isn't that the job of the detectives? Maybe if the CSIs were just doing the science stuff like they're supposed to this double murder wouldn't have taken the whole hour to solve. Get some detectives in there and we can solve more cases in less time, which means more gore for the viewers. If you haven't figured it out by now, CSI viewers tune in for the stylized depiction of gore. It's like forensic pornography. Sick bastards!

This is the second victim, Kora Sil (played by actress Jin Yang). I already warned you there were spoilers, so I'll just tell you now she's not an innocent victim: she killed the other guy, who was her brother, because her brother tried to take her son away. Why'd he do that? Because the mother and her gangster boyfriend were getting kickbacks from a haole pharmaceutical guy to put her HIV-positive son on a highly suspect experimental regimen. 

So the uncle takes the boy away, the mother goes after her brother (the uncle), and shoots him in front of a whole bunch of strangers at a Korean street market because we know from the cops' narrative (at the beginning of the show) that Koreans won't talk to the cops. Something about not trusting the police back in the motherland. Yeah, thanks, CSI, for setting up every freakin' Korean immigrant in America as a crime target. 'Preciate it. Loads. 

Anyway, the mother ends up being killed, but the CSIs think it's at the hands of the dying brother, in some last act of vengeance. (Me, if my sister shot me, I'd be going, "What the hell?" I wouldn't be trying to shoot her. But that's me. Maybe if my sister were also an HIV-positive, heroin-addicted prostitute like the mother in the story, I'd have different thoughts about my sister coming after me with a gun.) 

Later in turns out that the little boy killed his own mother after his mother shot the uncle who was trying to save him (like we need more depictions of troubled Korean immigrants gunning people down in public). Not only did the CSIs not figure out that the boy had done the killing, but they actually believed him when he said it was someone else. Am I the only one who is disturbed by the lack of detectives in the Las Vegas Police Department?

The only detective the crime lab seems to have is Ando Masahashi from "Heroes" (actor James Kyson Lee). Why is Ando playing a bit role as an LVPD police officer? Are there even fewer Asian-American actors than there are LVPD police detectives? 

Maybe they shouldn't trust Ando when he translates for them. I've seen enough of "Heroes" to guess that Ando might be there in Vegas posing as a police officer as part of some plot to help Hiro do something or other in the past to prevent some bad something or other in the future, and he really doesn't give a rat's ass whether this double murder gets solved. 

[Seriously, though, I wonder if this is the beginning of Ando playing a larger role in this series. Does this mean his character on "Heroes" is about to disappear? I hope not. I think the guy does very convincing Japanese dialogue on "Heroes." Probably everybody watching "Heroes" thinks James Kyson Lee's really Japanese, just like the Kia Sorento.]

You see from other parts of the show that the young Korean mother (murder victim #2) is sort of hot. Thin—maybe too thin for someone who has had a kid—and crazy nutso. But hot. Though she's lying on her back, you can see her breasts are still standing at attention, which is nearly a sure bet that they're mercenaries. The moral of this episode is simple: never trust a Korean-born woman who gets a boob job. They're nuts. I'm not kidding. Certifiable. If you don't like 'em small and natural, move along, brother. Move along. 

The picture of the dead woman reminds me of something I've heard by a few people who have said they want to die young so they can leave a beautiful corpse. The problem with that is that if you do manage somehow to die young, there's a pretty good chance it's going to be in a way that involves a lot of blood, maybe splattered brains, or at the very least a lot of vomit and/or evacuated bowels. It's never pretty. Just accept that getting old is a natural process and look forward to life with your future grandkids and great-grandkids. 

In the show, this woman heard gunshots and whisked her child away to safety. Sure, she's being a protective mother now, but you know in fifteen years she'll be torturing this child to no end about her grades and her SAT math scores if they fall lower than 3.95 or 750.  

This is a gun-toting Korean halmŏni (할머니, i.e., grandmother, also used to refer to an elderly woman). Never mind that most Korean women (and most men, I guess) are so scared to even look at a gun, if they ever held one they would be shaking like a leaf instead of boldly pointing it at a cop. 

This actress, June Kyoko Lu, has appeared in small parts on many television shows over the past few decades, including Lost, ER, and M*A*S*H. So if you're thinking all Asians look alike, they might all just be her.

Back to the street market. Except for the sign, nothing about this looks like a Korean-run shopping center. And even the sign is missing the English that most signs in America would still have. The parking lot should be bigger, it should be full of white, black, silver, or gray Japanese cars, and it shouldn't be across the street from 1940s-era Los Angeles homes. 

I used to love watching CSI for the fact that they showed so much of Las Vegas, where I had spent many summers with relatives when I was a kid. They really captured the tawdriness and the soullessness of Sin City. But as the franchise grew, you can tell they've gotten lazy and they try to use Southern California locations to stand in for Vegas. They do the same with CSI: Miami, using Long Beach in particular to look like Miami. 

But it's just not the same. There are older homes in Vegas, but with Clark County growing by 38,279%* over the past twenty-five years, most of the homes are hastily built cookie-cutter stucco jobs with small lawns filled with barely surviving grass. Come on, CBS, what are we paying you for?!

More to come...

* I pulled this statistic out of my butt. 
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"Brown Clouds" is what the Grey Lady calls "yellow dust"

Those of us from Seoul or other parts of South Korea (or next-door Japan, for that matter) are familiar with the annual ritual of staying indoors or going out only if you have a white mask to cover your nose. "Yellow Dust" on pink flowers as a rite of spring. (For those inclined to learn a Korean word, it's 황사/黃沙, or hwangsa, in Korean.)

Well, the New York Times has a piece on hwangsa and wider problem of Chinese pollution (and pollution from other East Asian countries) in general, of which hwangsa is just one part. 

"Brown clouds," which is how the thick soup of particulate matter is referred to in the NYT, may not be just the fault of China. Seoul with it's millions of cars in a small area gets much of the blame for its own problems, though Seoul has long been working to put cleaner vehicles on the roads and to completely phase out residential coal-burning (the most common way that Korea's ubiquitous ondol floor heating was fired up back in the day).

But the NYT, citing a United Nations report on air quality, focuses primarily on Beijing and the China-generated problem of the dust clouds—which occasionally make it all the way to California to mix with the smog there. Maybe they should start calling the Chinese capital Beige-ing. Get it? Beige... like the bland color of the sky there? Feel free to use that one. 
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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Attorney General Hillary Clinton?

Update (Tuesday, November 18, 2008 HST):
Obama has selected Clinton administration Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder as Attorney General (the first Black to hold that position), so that's currently not an option for Hillary Clinton. But it's looking more and more like she's the frontrunner for Secretary of State. 

Original post:
In an update to this post on John McCain's future prospects, it looks like I may have been onto something about the prospect of Hillary Clinton in an Obama administration. Yeah, people think that's nuts—Hillary and Obama hate each other, don'tcha know?—but I think that's more media hype than anything else. They are both driven but I think their common goals are more important than anything else.

Anyway, the bit of news, reported in the New York Times, is that President-elect Barack Obama met with Senator Clinton yesterday (Thursday) at Obama's transition office in Chicago and discussed the Secretary of State position. (The Los Angeles Times also has the story. So does the Washington Post.)

This does not mean she is a shoo-in for what many consider "the most prestigious cabinet position in any administration." My man Bill Richardson also met with the team to discuss the job. 

Governor Bill Richardson is ideal for that position. Hillary Clinton, though she would make a fine Secretary of State, is well suited for other positions as well. Positions that are prestigious enough for someone of her stature and accomplishment. Say, Attorney General? She is a lawyer, after all, and I think she would appreciate the opportunity to do some damage make her mark in that coveted position (seriously, I mean "do some damage" in the sense of shake things up and get things done). 

I doubt Hillary would be a vocal critic of the Obama administration, but having her as AG would certainly rein her in. But I don't think it's about that at all: Hillary and Bill were both loyal supporters on the campaign trail once the primaries were over and it was clear that Hillary had failed to prevail (though only by a tiny margin). In fact, the NYT cites an Obama aide as saying that "in the last few months of the campaign Mr. Obama came to appreciate the effort [Hillary] made to rally her supporters on his behalf."

In other words, there is no need to rein her in and I think she could prove to be a valuable asset in the Senate. In fact, I think getting Hillary to be the go-between for the White House and the Senate on health-care reform (including her authoring and sponsoring whatever bill is passed) would be a good way to use her.

Some worry about former President Bill Clinton hanging around the White House if Hillary gets any kind of cabinet position. I don't think that's really a problem, though, as Bill has his own thing going on. But if you really wanted to get rid of him, I have three words: Supreme Court justice. He'd love the challenge, but I think he would not enjoy being out of the limelight. Still, the historicness of a former president becoming Associate Justice or Chief Justice would be too tempting to pass up, I think. (Former President William Howard Taft was appointed Chief Justice eight years after his administration ended, but it is a rare thing.)

The NYT article ends with a bit of advice from former US Ambassador to the United Nations (a position also previously held by my man Bill Richardson) John Bolton, who predicted in July that Hillary could wind up at Foggy Bottom:
Obama should remember the rule that you never hire anybody you can’t fire, especially as secretary of state.
Or Chief Justice.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Taipei demands Japan provide redress and apology for "comfort women" sex slaves

In the Korea-related blogosphere, it's a common tactic of Korea bashers and Japan apologists (two groups that are not interchangeable) to look at still seething historical issues from World War II and the earlier colonial period and brush them off, saying that it is just the Koreas and China that complain about these. The rest of Asia and the world, so the argument goes, have moved on, so it must be nationalistic agitators in Korea and China that are causing trouble, not the occasional revisionist military figure or politico who denies this atrocity or excuses that invasion. 

A big part of that premise, of course, is not true, as anyone actually paying attention would know. While people in Taiwan, a former colony of Japan just as Korea was, tend to look less critically at Japan's history and its nationalists' modern revisionism (or at least are less vocal about it), past wrongs are still in the public mindset. 

Today's headline from Taipei is a good example of this. According to the Japan Times, the Taiwanese parliament yesterday "adopted a resolution seeking an apology and compensation from Japan for forcing women into sexual slavery during the war."

It was "a rare show of unity" for the Greens and the Blues (respectively, the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] that just lost presidential power, and the lately Beijing-friendly Kuomintang [KMT] which just gained presidential power). By unanimous vote, the two parties passed the Taiwan Comfort Women Resolution.

The legislation calls on Tokyo to "accept historical responsibility for its World War II sex slavery institution, and apologize to and compensate surviving victims." This follows similar resolutions passed last year in the United States and the European Union (among whose citizens are some Dutch former comfort women). 

As the JT states, these resolutions are "calling on Tokyo to own up to its wartime military brothel program that forced thousands of women and girls to become prostitutes, euphemistically referred to as 'comfort women' in Japan." Taiwanese politicos don't think the resolution will adversely affect Taipei-Tokyo relations:
"I don't think the resolution will have any specific impact on Taiwan's relations with Japan. We just hope Japan will begin to hear the voices of the world on this issue," said Huang Sue-ying, an opposition Democratic Progressive Party legislator and cosponsor of the resolution.

Taiwan's parliament, or Legislative Yuan, timed the resolution to roughly coincide with a similar resolution passed by South Korea's National Assembly last month, Huang said. That resolution calls on Japan to compensate surviving comfort women in South Korea.
To be fair, it's not exactly true to say that Japan hasn't officially addressed the issue at all. After decades of denial in which the front-line brothels were said to be privately operated affairs, Japanese government representatives acknowledged Japanese government culpability, which was followed by heart-felt statements of regret by the prime ministers at the time. However, Japan has refused to take any substantive measures beyond that. In the case of South Korea, for example, Tokyo insists all claims were settled by the soft loan guarantees and other financial instruments that were provided as part of the 1965 normalization treaty between Seoul and Tokyo. 

Obviously, many people find that response to be wholly unsatisfactory. The comfort women of Korea (or any country) were not party to the agreement, Japan was denying any involvement for the comfort women as it paid out the modest settlement anyway, and any dealings with Seoul have no bearing on women in North Korea, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, or anywhere else. In other words, there's still a long way to go. (And not just a few people in South Korea blame the Park regime for failing these women, as well as current administrations for not doing enough to help out the elderly survivors.)

In the meantime, while it's possible to argue that US Representative Mike Honda's Comfort Women Resolution comes from a country that was unaffected by the horrific acts perpetrated on women in Asia by the Imperial Japanese military during World War II, the same cannot be said of Taiwan. 
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Who's running the show?

Kim Jong-il's brother, that's who. This, according to the Korea Institute for National Unification, a semi-government organization in Seoul. 

As Kim Jong-il supposedly suffers yet another stroke in late October, the Dear Leader's bro-in-law Chang Sŏngtaek (The Admired Leader? The Adored Leader? The Cool-to-Have-at-Parties Leader?) is reportedly minding the store while KJI recuperates from a stroke he may or may not have had three months ago. 

The husband of KJI's baby sister Kim Kyŏnghŭi is "in control and is leading North Korea." Even before the alleged stroke other important figures consulted Chang, said to be KJI's "right-hand man" (오른팔). 

Could this 62-year-old son-in-law of the Great Leader be the one that KJI is grooming to take over? Certainly one would assume that he had the stamp of approval of Kim Ilsung himself to sleep with the President-for-Eternity's daughter, so why not screw the entire country?

Sorry. That was terribly uncalled for. 
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Remembering "Japan's Schindler" and his widow

This past Sunday was the memorial service for Yukiko Sugihara, the widow of Chiune Sugihara (杉原千畝) who is better known in Japan as "Japan's Schindler." Mrs Sugihara died on October 8 at age ninety-four. 

In 1995, she wrote a book called Visas For Life about her husband's heroic work to save the lives of thousands of Jews in Soviet-occupied Lithuania who were fleeing the Nazis. 

Sadly, too few people outside of Japan are aware of Sugihara's story, which is a shining example of how someone can and should do the right thing even when it is a violation of rules and/or protocol and can cost one their livelihood or their freedom. 

Resisting demands by Japan's German allies to turn over or kill the Jewish refugees (largely from Poland), in 1940 this lower-level diplomat issued many thousands of transit visas that allowed the ineligible refugees to head for points east (including Japan) via the Trans-Siberian railway. Had these people and their families not left, their fate would have been sealed when the Nazis occupied Lithuania the following year. 

Sugihara was dismissed from his post and his wife Yukiko claims that this act of disobedience cost him his job after the war (Japan's Foreign Ministry cannot confirm that, but in 1991 it praised Sugihara's "courageous and humanitarian decision"). The circumstances are a bit too complicated for this short post, so I recommend you read what's written on the web or in books on the topic, but here is a snippet of the Wikipedia entry that provides some insight:
Sugihara continued to hand-write visas (reportedly spending 18–20 hours a day on them, producing a normal month's worth of visas each day) until September 4, when he had to leave his post before the consulate was closed. By that time he had granted thousands of visas to Jews, many of them heads of household who could take their families with them. According to witnesses, he was still writing visas while in transit in hotel and after boarding the train, throwing visas into the crowd of desperate refugees out the train's window even as the train pulled out. Sugihara himself wondered about official reaction to the thousands of visas he issued. Many years later, he recalled, "No one ever said anything about it. I remember thinking that they probably didn't realize how many I actually issued."
It's easy to see how Sugihara earned his later nickname, and why the State of Israel honored him as a Righteous Among the Nations and granted he, his wife, and their descendants perpetual Israeli citizenship. He and his wife are remembered in other ways, including this film (and, interestingly, a children's book by writer Ken Mochizuki and Korea-born illustrator Dom Lee). 

Above (reproduced from here): Jewish refugees at the gate, July 1940. Thousands of Jews lined up in front of the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania, hoping to receive transit visas allowing them to escape to the Far East and to America or Palestine.
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Monday, November 10, 2008

Whither John McCain?

Move over, Nostradamus. The political prognosticator for our times is legendary television producer Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing. It was only this past summer that I finally got hold of the final season of that brilliant show (season 7, 2005-06), which ended with the Bartlet presidency being succeeded by the Matt Santos administration. (Whoops... that was a spoiler.)

Season 7's story line is eerily parallel to the political goings-on this side of the reality-fantasy threshold (including Russia going to war during the election year!). Santos, a young and ethnic Democratic senator (played by Jimmy Smits) is catapulted into the national spotlight largely on the strength of his own charisma. In political hand-to-hand combat he defeats the more established candidates to win the Democratic Party nomination. His challenger on the Republican side, four-term US senator Arnold Vinick (played by Alan Alda of M*A*S*H fame), is not a social values conservative but a moderate of high principles who is largely reviled by the conservative members of his own party. 

If this is already sounding like Obama and McCain, it gets even better. Vinick ends up being saddled with a running mate meant to appease the right-wing base of his party, which has threatened not to come out and support him. Sarah Palin, anyone? Meanwhile, ObamaSantos has picked an old hand as his vice presidential candidate to bolster his own perceived shortcomings but who also tends to stumble during debates. (Pssst... that's Biden.)

So far this isn't earth-shatteringly strange. Anyone who tuned in to right-wing talk radio over the past few years could have seen McCain-Palin coming from a mile away, and Obama—despite his name rhyming with Osama—wasn't that much of a long shot. 

In both our world and the world of The West Wing, Republican Vinick is doing fine until a major national catastrophe forces him to eat his own words. In the reality of our reality, that was the once-in-a-century financial collapse not long after McCain had declared that everything was just fine and okay. In the parallel universe of The West Wing, it was a major disaster at a nuclear power plant in California (Vinick's home state), a short time after which video is found and rebroadcast ad nauseum of Vinick having declared (before the disaster) that nuclear power is perfectly safe. 

The beginning of the end for both Vinick and McCain, despite both of them being what would have been in any other time (2000 for McCain) the perfect candidate for the presidency. 

Vinick narrowly goes down to defeat, resists the urge to drag American through a challenge to the results, and graciously congratulates his opponent. But it is eating away at him that he came so close and lost primarily due to this unforeseen circumstance (the nuclear accident) and he plots how he might run again four years later (okay, so this is different from McCain, as far as we know). 

In the world of The West Wing, however, politicians make up in wisdom what they lack in vindictiveness, and Santos decides that, since he and Vinick on balance have almost identical views on international issues, his best choice for Secretary of State should be Vinick himself. Vinick, sensing a trap (keeping him from running?) is at first skeptical, but he accepts. In the West Wing universe, Americans have won two great leaders for the price of one.

Maybe Aaron Sorkin was on to something. I seem to remember from 10th grade something about early presidencies where the runner-up became the VP. That, of course, was forced on the new president, but in cases where the winner and loser still are friendly and see eye to eye on some issues, why not bring in the also-ran as a valuable member of the administration? 

I think Senator McCain would make a fine Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense. He is knowledgeable and—despite his Palin pick—highly respected by many in the US and around the world. I dare say that to the rest of the planet, he is the most favored of any Republican other than Colin Powell (who lost points for play front man for Cheney's war). As long as McCain feels he can represent Obama's foreign policy, this would be a fine position for a statesman such as McCain, at least for one term. 

I think putting McCain in the position of Secretary of Defense would also be a stroke of genius, if McCain would be willing to take the position. Obama's most pressing military task would be to extricate us from the Iraq War while ensuring that we don't end up losing the war in Afghanistan. If McCain is resigned to the inevitability that we will get out of Iraq sooner rather than later, perhaps he would like a say in handling that delicate task (and it is delicate: like an arrow that has shot halfway through the body, is it best to pull out quickly or push it all the way through?). And he certainly would love to oversee a successful reworking of the situation in Afghanistan. 

So I offer that idea to Obama and his people: McCain for Secretary of Defense. 

Obama has already expressed interest in having Republicans in his cabinet (see this Wall Street Jounral list of possible candidates). There has been a lot of talk about Nebraska US Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican who was always opposed to the Iraq War, being picked for SecDefense. Obama's promised departure from Iraq is going to meet strong resistance from the right, so perhaps it's better to get someone from the right to handle it. And that means Hagel or McCain. 

I'd rather not see McCain as Secretary of State, just because that elevated position should go to Democrats worthy of the position. Hillary Clinton's name has been thrown about, and Senator John Kerry has been jockeying for the position. I've even heard Bill Clinton suggested. 

But I think the job should go to New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. Despite the mainstream media virtually ignoring his run for the presidency in favor of Hillary and Obama, his résumé is more substantial than either of them, and it includes a great deal of diplomatic experience, for both Democrats and Republicans. He is someone who has shown results when dealing with countries that don't care much for the United States (including North Korea) and all signs point to him being an effective representative of the US overseas. 

Not only is he among the best qualified and most capable, but he also deserves it on the basis of political favors. When he dropped out of the presidential race, he became an active campaigner for Obama. I believe he had quite a hand in several western states (e.g., New Mexico and Colorado) flipping to blue. 

So those are my picks: Richardson for Secretary of State (putting him in a position to be the next Democratic nominee, though he will be eight years older in 2012... but won't we all?), McCain or Hagel for Secretary of Defense. [And though I like Richardson much better for SecState, I could see Obama putting Hillary Clinton in that role as well, despite media-generated buzz about Hillary and Obama not being able to get along at all.]

I think it would be good to pick Hillary as Secretary of Health and Human Services with it clearly understood that she would be at the forefront of the effort to expand health care. Yeah, yeah, I know that has echoes of 1993 and 1994 when the un-elected First Lady seemed to be overstepping her bounds and pushed for a radical change many Americans were simply not ready for. A decade and a half later, after many Americans have become bankrupt or otherwise seriously hurt by America's failure to ensure that we take care of our own, it's a different story: maybe the United States is mostly ready for a prophetic Hillary Clinton, now elected or appointed, to get back to work on that issue that is near and dear to her heart. That would also ensure that she is a major contender for the White House in 2012 (when I'd like to see a Richardson-Clinton or Clinton-Richardson ticket). 

But back to McCain. If the good senator from Arizona is not offered or does not accept a position within the Obama administration, then I sincerely hope he plays an active role in building bridges between the majority Democrats and the minority Republicans. Believe it or not, there's still a lot of common ground, and even where there's not much, it's good to have a voice who knows how to reach out to the other side. 

As I also said several months ago about a silver lining to a McCain win, I also think McCain is a good person for the Democrats to work with on campaign finance reform and environmental issues. Even as last Tuesday's loser, that's still true. 

McCain is a valuable statesman. Let's not let that go to waste. 
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