Saturday, January 31, 2009

front page news

When I was in elementary school (sixth grade) I had a job delivering newspapers. Kids, newspapers were like Yahoo! News handily pre-printed on paper, but instead of tapping on a story to read more, you turned pages that had a tendency to turn your fingers black thanks to a foul-smelling substance called "newsprint."

That's right: newspapers sucked. But I had a job delivering them, so every afternoon I would come home and take the few dozen copies of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that were brought by newspaper fairies to my house, fold each one up and put a rubber band around it, then hop on my bike and ride the six-mile roundtrip paper route I had. 

This being Orange County, there weren't a lot of folks interested in reading the the number-two Los Angeles paper, except those who had moved out to OC and wanted that little lifeline to their previous life in L.A. With so few customers, I got paid little.

That's right: paper routes sucked. Especially when it was cold or rainy, which was mercifully infrequent in Orange County, California. Santa Ana winds could slow me down, especially when they turned the half-empty delivery bags into mini-parachutes that made the ride feel like I was pedaling uphill. 

That's right: weather sucks. But the whole experience taught me discipline and the value of a dollar (years later, my fiancée would leave me because she thought I was the cheapest bastard she ever met; plus she was a closeted lesbian). And all that exercise also helped me dodge the bullet of childhood obesity, which managed to ensnare a lot of kids I went to school with.

That's right: Hostess snack foods and their insidious efforts to get kids to eat over-processed junk food sucks. Anyway, there was a point to all this. Ah, yes. Folding those papers gave me a chance to read the funnies, and then the front page out of boredom. I actually got into it, and I'd say that this experience got me into the news junkie habit. 

While living in Seoul in the late 1990s, I was anxious to get my hands on an Internet connection so I could start reading the newspapers I was missing back home, particularly the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times. Back in the day, the LAT actually had an option of letting you click on a link to see the front page as it would appear in the actual print addition. That was cool, because you got that old-school newspaper-reading experience, as best as could be reproduced on a computer screen. 

Sadly, the LAT got rid of that feature. But — and this is the point of the post — it is back. A handy website called Newseum has links to the front page of hundreds of newspapers in the United States and around the world, from major publications to local papers, including those in areas where one would assume literacy was too low to support a daily newspaper. Some are downloadable as pdf files. The Korean papers represented are all Korea-language periodicals, but in Japan there is the English-language Asahi Shimbun and the Pacific edition of the Stars & Stripes

The Internet does not suck.


former Hyundai executive extradited to California

In a follow-up to this story on the death of Orange County musician Ryan Cook, the Los Angeles Times reports that 41-year-old Lee Youn-bum is being extradited to California from Seoul for causing the death of Cook and then fleeing the country to escape charges. He is to be escorted today by US Marshals to face felony charges in Orange County. (hat tip to Wangkon936)

Lee has been convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison (December 2009), and Hyundai has settled a lawsuit with the Cook family (September 2010).

Friday, January 30, 2009

CA woman gives birth to octuplets: "By the fourth or fifth it started to get pretty easy since the kids had formed a sort of neonatal conga line."

Shocking news: While assisting a woman whom they thought was delivering sextuplets, doctors discovered that this woman was actually giving birth to octuplets. 

But still not as shocking as what I had originally thought this story was about. Watching CNN in a drinking establishment where the TV was drowned out by drunken revelry and annoying cell phone users with no sense of etiquette, I had to rely on rudimentary lip-reading skills to see what the news item was all about. 

Consequently, I could have sworn they said that a woman devouring sex tablets had given birth to an octopus. Imagine my disappointment relief at the considerably less jaw-dropping actual story. [Note to self: Avoid behaviors that bring a high risk of deafness.]

[above: The caption was missing from this photo attached to the story, but I'm fairly certain it said six of the octuplets have already gone on to successful careers as physicians.]

UPDATE (February 7, 2009):
People are piiiiiiiissed that this unemployed grad student and single mother of six children now has eight more children for Uncle Sam to feed. Sure, she'll be able to simultaneously field a baseball team and a basketball team, but a lot of folks find this grossly irresponsible and her fame has turned into infamy. Maybe if she really had given birth to an octopus, she'd have more sympathy. 

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lost in the dairy section

I don't think I ever blogged about this, but one day while walking through the Safeway on Kapahulu, I passed someone who looked quite familiar, the gentleman at left.

In fact, I run into a lot of people from the university—often folks you walk by several times a week so you know their face but you have never formally met—and I just assumed it was one of those people. It was only when I got home I had my little epiphany: that's the guy who's the leader of The Others!

At that point, I had deliberately not watched any of Lost (I was waiting for a chance to watch each episode in order from the beginning), so I only recognized him from the commercials on ABC. Had I said anything, I would have sounded pretty stupid.

But now that I'm completely up to speed on "Lost," I think there's a good chance I might run into him again. The Safeway on Kapahulu is the largest (and nicest) on the whole island, probably the whole state. In fact, Governor Linda Lingle showed up for the grand opening in November 2007 (as she probably will when Target opens this March and maybe even Trader Joe's if they ever opened one here; there's not a lot going on in Hawaii when the president's not here on vacation).

First off, I will not go up to him and say, "Hey, you're Ben!" I will say, "Oh, aren't you Michael Emerson from Lost? You do a great job on that show." I've been in media long enough to know that it's always nice when people come up to you and say your name instead of, "Aren't you that guy on that news program?" Or worse, "You're on TV!" clearly with no idea who you are or what program(s) you do.

Come to think of it, I probably should also remember the names of the other actors, too. Honolulu and Oahu are not that big and they shoot Lost scenes all over the island, so you never know who you'll encounter. I just hope the meeting isn't a bending of fenders with someone driving inebriated through the streets of Oahu, as seems to be a theme with some of the Lost actors (who end up dead on the show).

The curious case of Mark McDowell

The K-blogs, Marmot's Hole in particular, are abuzz with talk about one Mark McDowell (above, with some of his students), an English teacher in the central Korean metropolis of Taejŏn [대전, Daejeon] who lost his job at Hannam University when it was discovered he had been convicted of child molestation back in the United States in the mid-1990s. 

It was quite interesting when the story first broke, a lot of expats seemed willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. After all, without knowing too many details, it seemed like this might be a case of some poor sap being railroaded by big bad immigration and their xenophobic marching orders. That was, after all, something that many people could sympathize with, and Korea's notoriously "gist of the facts, ma'am" English-language media had been known to sensationalize or otherwise inaccurately report on stories surrounding Korea's international population. 

The Marmot's Hole is a major node of the English-speaking universe in Korea, so it is no surprise that "the guy" in question himself came and gave his side of the story

But as details emerged and facts came out, better judgement seemed to prevail. Maybe the Korean authorities were right about this one. This guy was complaining that his expunged record in the United States should never have ended up on the desk of Korean bureaucrats, but the K-blog Kollective was suggesting that he was probably guilty and even if he wasn't, he exhibited tragically poor judgement and probably shouldn't be anywhere near young girls anyway.

A few people went one step further, linking to McDowell's homepages and pointing out the pictures of Mr McDowell with a couple young Korean girls (one of whom he ominously called his "sweet friend"), as well as his apparent obsession with one leotard-clad Olympic gymnast. 

[UPDATE on February 9, 2009: "The guy" came back to the Marmot's Hole, labeled everyone caught up in the "pathetic witch hunt" as "moronic piles of human garbage," "psycho bastards," and "simpleton hate mongers" with "no ability to reason properly." If anyone sees something wrong with his website, "then they're the perverts," he informed us; Such people are "only seeing what's in your own filthy minds." Thanks for the FYI. END UPDATE]

The pitchfork-wielding mob seems to have completely turned on him (much like what happened when Marmot added "Yankee Anieyo!" to his blog roll before recognizing that the guy wrote about his sex fantasies with his elementary school-aged children). McDowell's side of the story sounds more like rationalization than wrongful conviction, they say, and I tend to agree. I'm loath to dig into someone's privacy, but when a convicted child molester is engaged in work that puts him around children, maybe public safety trumps privacy. 

I'd hate for someone to think that I had done something such that I deserved to have my personal details plastered everywhere, but I wouldn't be putting myself in such a situation in the first place: Even if he is innocent (or convinced of his innocence), he should know better than to actively seek employment that would require him to be around children. America as a nation is sensitive about child endangerment (and maybe rightly so; from personal experience, I believe that molesters of children are more pervasive than we often realize). At any rate, he deserves to be booted out of South Korea, not to have physical harm come down on him, lest anyone is thinking along those lines. 

From his description of events, such as his note to Marmot's Hole linked above, Mr McDowell clearly believes he was unfairly convicted and imprisoned. He has also stated so in forums on Megan's Law, a California statute which requires sex offenders to register and make their presence known to their neighborhood. 

I discovered the post on McDowell's opposition to Megan's Law when looking for evidence to see whether the Mark McDowell in Korea is the same Mark Holland McDowell that one Marmot's Hole commenter discovered through the Megan's Law search function. It's not, since the other one, a former youth pastor from Camarillo, California, is in jail (second link here). 

Not to make light of child rape and molestation, but it almost seems like being named "Mark McDowell" puts you in a high-risk category for committing such acts. 

Anyway, through the search I discovered Mark McDowell's own website ( designed to "combat the ever growing hysteria over pedophilia":
America has become a pedophileophobic insane asylum. More and more adults are having their lives ruined everyday by false or exaggerated allegations of child sexual molestation, oversensitivity as to what constitutes molestation, and exaggerated claims of harm. Naturally, no one wants their children to have sexual interaction with grown adults, but the current hostile climate toward sex crimes has been mainly due to a hand-full of high profile cases where the child victim was murdered -- not because of an increase in inappropriate adult-child sexual interaction itself. The anger and hatred generated by those few crimes are being vented upon any and all who have the misfortune of being convicted of any sex related crime, regardless of how minor it may actually be. Even men caught urinating in public in one state are now having to register as sex offenders! 

Ironically, the root cause of all this, death at the hands of a pedophile, is one of the most rare causes of death of children -- less than being killed by lightening. Fewer than a dozen children a year die at the hands of a sex offender as compared to 30 or so who are killed by lightening. Furthermore, over 1,000 children die at the hands of their own parents, over 2,000 children lose their lives due to drunk drivers, and over 3,000 lose their lives due to firearms. Yet, we do not see drunk drivers having to endure life-long registration or being beaten to death in prisons; nor do we see owners of firearms having such ownership disseminated to neighbors, so children can be warned to not go in or near such households
On the website he talks openly (though I wouldn't say "frankly") about his own case, in an overview of his interest in the subject of pedophilia hysteria and in what appears to be a legal appeal of some kind that provides substantial details of the case with his own subjective (and self-serving) views mixed throughout (e.g., saying the accusers had committed "felony perjury").

Just a thought, Mr McDowell: Maybe the Korean authorities found out about your convictions not by someone in the United States revealing information that had been expunged, but by googling your name and finding the stuff you'd written about your own case. Think about that before you spend $10,000 on a lawyer to go after someone Stateside. 

That said, I truly am sympathetic to the possibility that an innocent person can be wrongly accused of something like this. But his own description itself sounds extremely self-serving, while the pictures of him with his hand on the waist of his adolescent (?) female students, his determination to teach children when propriety would dictate otherwise, his attempts to cover up his past so he could get employment as a teacher, etc., doesn't paint a picture of an honest and innocent victim. 

Mr McDowell, please leave Korea. Go somewhere and work with adults, where your past will be irrelevant. There is a need for foreign residents of Korea to challenge some of the laws and effect improvement to the legal and social systems in Korea, but you are not the one to do it. I dare say you and your bad-faith acts will set us foreign nationals back a bit, and I don't want that. Go away. 

I seem to recall hearing that Rosa Parks was by no means the first Black to refuse to give up her seat, but the local NAACP was waiting for someone like her with an impeccable background to stand up (figuratively) for their rights so that they could push the merits of the issue without getting bogged down in the details of the personality involved. You, sir, are no Rosa Parks. 

Get your ass up and out of Korea. Go back to America and get a job suited for your situation. Fight this alleged pedophilia hysteria, if that's what your calling is. But don't set foot in some other Asian country and start teaching kids again, hoping that the authorities there have not yet caught up with your case. 

Okay. This is way too heavy. Must end with some lighter fare, which means it's time for the Kushibo Kwik-E Kwiz!

QUESTION: Which of the following McDowells is probably not a pedophile or perv of some kind? (Choose one.)

Answer in next week's issue!

Oh, for Pete's sake.

"Oh, for Pete's sake!" That's what my Minnesota auntie would say if she clicked on the link to this Los Angeles Times article on the shenanigans that occasionally erupt in South Korea's National Assembly (and she'd call them "shenanigans"). 

That my aunt sounds almost exactly like Police Chief Marge Gunderson in the Coen Brothers' dark-comedy-based-on-a-truish-story Fargo is the subject for another post. For now, let's deal with the intransigent ignorami in Republic of Korea National Assembly. 

Really, what is there to say? The two sides have spent the past few decades or so utterly demonizing the other and drinking way too much of their own Kool-Aid. That's a sure recipe for an impasse, which is a polite way of saying, "There's no way in hell that I'm ever going to do anything you want." 

So what other choice is there than to come to blows, swing sledgehammers into doors when the ruling party locks you out of a session that you had promised to illegally disrupt, blow fire extinguishers into a room to smoke people out, etc. 

Geez, can't they just boo the politicians they don't like? Anything beyond throwing eggs at a motorcade is beyond the pale. It's just so... Taiwanish. (Don't get me wrong, I love Taiwan; they show what the People's Republic of China could be like if they weren't the People's Republic. Plus, the violence in their parliament tends to distract from the idiocy happening in Seoul.)

I'd like to chalk this up to democratic growing pains rather than some inveterate tendency toward violence among Korea's ruling class, so that's what I'm going to do. South Korea has had only a handful of free elections, dating back to the late 1980s or the early 1990s, depending on who's doing the counting. Ditto with Taiwan. 

But unlike Russia, which appears to be sinking back into autocracy or dictatorship, Korea (and Taiwan) are trudging forward. If history is any indication, they'll get to wear "mature democracies" are, like Japan and the United States. Sure, there may have to be a few stabbings or a fatal duel along the way, but we'll get there. 

[above photos, from top: shenanigans, mischief, high-spirited behavior, manipulative maneuver, roguishness, monkey business, legislative misconduct, The Foul King. To get some idea how Kushibo amuses himself, roll over the pictures to see what I named them.]

Next time you're in Anyang...

... head for the singing road.

My ex is in Anyang. Next time I'm in Seoul and decide to pay her a visit, maybe I'll direct the Kia SedonaCarnival toward this stretch of highway and see if I can get the minivan to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb." If I knew the name in Korean, I could probably find it with my GPS.

I don't know if the Anyang singing road precedes the Honda singing road in the desert community of Lancaster, California, that was the venue for the Honda Civic commercial, or if Anyang's was the result of Honda's, but I learned about the one in Korea when searching for the Honda one, which apparently is getting paved over due to local complaints. There are also several "melody roads" in Japan, some used not as gimmicks but as warnings for drivers. 

When geese attack!

In a follow-up to the terrorism cover-up, here's proof that no disaster is immune from tasteless humor, as long as no one has died.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Smith's songs

BJIT (British James in Texas) has introduced me to the wonderful world of Songsmith. This is software by Microsoft that (he informs me): 
"generates musical accompaniment to match a singer’s voice. Just choose a musical style, sing into your PC’s microphone, and Songsmith will create backing music for you. Then share your songs with your friends and family, post your songs online, or create your own music videos."
I'm fairly sure that's a quote he got from somewhere, because he's not that fast a typist. 

It sounds intriguing. As part of my lifelong goal to be the only straight male ever to make money writing a Broadway musical, I think I could use such software to help me put music to my lyrics, so I might give this a look.

After all... software + Microsoft? What could possibly go wrong?

Okay, well apparently this has turned viral on YouTube, says BJIT, with people taking the vocal tracks from real songs and passing them through Songsmith, and then posting the (often hilarious) results through YouTube.

At his behest, I did a YouTube search (can we start saying "I YouTubed..." already?) for "Roxanne Songsmith" and came up with this:

Freakin... hilarious! Sting is being stalked through the streets of New York by an out-of-work but enthusiastic Jamaican band. At BJIT's suggestion, I shall also YouTube "Billy Idol Songsmith" and "intergalactic songsmith." Because I don't really need to finish the translation of this dinosaur documentary I'm working on. They're dead, what do they care?

Starbucks and McDonald's

I love me some Starbucks (though I love Coffee Bean even better) and I love me my Egg McMuffins and haupia pie from McDonald's. So when I encountered this graphic, I knew I had to repost it here. [Click to enlarge.]

Man, Starbucks is everywhere.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I saw this in a movie once.

The Japan Times is reporting that South Korean president Lee Myungbak and Japanese prime minister Aso Taro agreed earlier this month in talks held in Seoul on plans "to cooperate on antipiracy efforts off the coast of Somalia." Both countries will send vessels to the waters off the coast of that lawless failed state, where pirates run amuck and have captured vessels from numerous countries. (I mused about such a possibility here.)

Such pirate problems have been going on through much of this decade, and countries like Japan and South Korea that rely on far-flung waters to feed their respective nations' demand for fish can no longer afford to stand by while these attacks occur. 

I believe that this is a golden opportunity for Japan and South Korea to embark on productive new realms of cooperation that will show these two countries both do better when working together, as well as to show the United States that they are both active partners in the US-led military alliance that has kept Northeast Asia conflict-free for over half a century. Partners willing to carry their own weight. 

One of the big sticking points is that Japan has a self-defense corps, as it is blocked by its pacifist constitution (imposed by the victorious United States but now widely accepted by the Japanese people) and is constrained when it comes to "military operations" away from the home islands. It is a measure of Lee's own mature politicking that he is (so far) not letting his own opposition raise a stink about this pushing of the envelope. 

Still, this move could cause political issues within Japan and the diplomatic issues across East Asia to get rather convoluted, as complex as the plot of a Disney movie about pirates. 

 News photo 
[above: South Korea's President Lee (at right) relates to Japan's Prime Minister Aso (at left) how former US President George W. Bush frequently mistook him for the Korean guy on Lost.]

Lost in translation?

The Washington Post is reporting that al Qaeda has expanded their arsenal of epithets to use against the US and the West, referring to the new president with something that would have been downright weird had it ban applied to Bush-43: In addition to being a "killer," a "hypocrite," and an "enemy of Muslims," Obama is also a "house Negro."

A house Negro, for those are fortunate to have lived their cushy lives unexposed to this noxious notion, is typically a member of an ethnic minority (typically Black) who makes nice with the folks in the majority (typically White) i
n order to gain their favor in the hopes that some of their bounty will rub off on him/her. This often involves demonstrating how different he/she is from the others in his/her ethnic group, showing that he/she is "one of the good ones" from that ethnic group. An "Uncle Tom," if you will.

The phrase supposedly derives from the days of slavery and later segregation, when "good Negroes" who didn't give Massah or (later) the Man any trouble would be invited to live and work in the house instead of out in the field. And maybe even wear some fine clothes. An oft-cited social phenomenon in lower-income Black neighborhoods is the alleged tendency for kids who seek to do well in school to be shunned, ridiculed, and derided—if not met with outright hostility—for trying to do better themselves by "being like the Man" and ending up like a house Negro.

The term can also be applied to non-Blacks in other minority situations. Marmot himself, a White guy from Long Island who wears traditional hanbok every day to his job as a translator of Korean media into English, was famously referred to as a "house nigger," the more offensive version of this epithet (Marmot refers to this incident here and here). 

Note to al Qaeda: If you were actually referring to the White House being occupied by a Black man for the first time, then you need to fire your translator (or whatever it is you do when you terminate an employee, short of literally terminating them). 

Ah, it's so nice that the Bush-Cheney reign of error is over. Just one week ago, had I passed a note like that to al Qaeda, I would have risked arrest for aiding the enemy. 

[photos from top to bottom: former US Army General, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, house Negro; former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, house Negro; former Republican member of the US House of Representatives, J.C. Watts; and former host of NBC's Today Show Bryant Gumbel, uncle Tom (uncle toms often marry White women)]

Sunday, January 25, 2009

This time they've gone too far.

In the spirit of President Obama's rapprochement with intractable dictators around the world, children's toymaker Lego has announced plans to introduce a Ryugyŏng Hotel play set modeled after the reclusive North Korea's tallest building. 

Children ages three to five will be able to try their hand at re-creating the 105-story pyramid-shaped hotel, which in its deluxe edition ($24.95) will include a Dear Leader piece and eight elevators that don't go all the way to the top. 

[above: Kim Jong-il rendered in plastic. Like the real Dear Leader, this one's left arm doesn't move either. I'd show you pictures of the Great Leader rendered in plastic, but visitors to the mausoleum where he's lying in state aren't allowed to take pictures.]

Two decades before Guitar Hero

The blog called "White on Rice" has what is apparently a diary entry from the spring of 1987 in which he relates how he learned — to his bafflement — that the pop song "West End Girls" by The Pet Shop Boys was banned in South Korea. 

And that sent me down memory lane. I was a teenager in Seoul in the late 1980s. There were lots of banned songs. "Revolution" by the Beatles, even though it made fun of the people that the government feared would try to foment revolution (though I didn't know that at the time).

"Russians" by Sting on Dream of the Blue Turtles was also "not approved," perhaps because it tried to depict the Communist enemy as also being humans who loved their children, too, or maybe just because it had the word "Russians" in it.

Though I have no idea if "West End Girls" was really banned in 1987, I know that the Pet Shop Boys snuck a lot of political subtext into their lyrics, often dealing with East-West relations that may have made the former military junta that ruled South Korea in 1987 quite uncomfortable.

Songs were essentially banned if they didn't get approval by the Ministry of Culture and Information, an Orwellian name if ever there was one. Often you'd get albums that were a bit incomplete, missing one or two songs that would be disseminated in North America or Western Europe without incident.

Of course, it was an open secret that anyone could go and get the illicit songs from shops selling the LPs themselves, or unauthorized copies of the albums on audio cassette. I admit that I had at least a few such tapes from a shop in Itaewon, across the street from where the McDonald's now stands.

It's funny how much Korea has changed. I think one reason I get so annoyed with the commentary of places like the Marmots Hole whine cellar is that the Korean newbies, and even those who have been here for a few years, don't see any kind of big picture.

It seems that to many of them, "Koreans" are a monolithic and uniform entity that is inveterately possessing whatever bad thing they see happening right this minute. On the other hand, the old hands like Oranckay, Sanshinseon, etc., have seen plenty of things change, with change for the better beating out for the worse by about ten to one, and tend to look at things — including things about which they are critical — in a more balanced light. 

The Bridges at Tokori

Right now I'm in the process of watching The Bridges at Toko-ri. Tokori (I assume the Korean is 독호리 [to•k'o•ri]) is presumably a town in North Korea, with several strategic bridges. This movie about the Korean War was released in 1954, just a year after hostilities ended and about two years after the events that were depicted by writer James Michener, a Japanophile who brought us such notable works as XXX, XXX, and XXX.

I don't remember what prompted me to put this in my Blockbuster queue, but it has proved interesting. It's interesting to see what Japan looked like at the time. And to see what Japanese women looked like in the days before plastic surgery. And to see what the Korean War looked like without the lens of time. (well, not too much time, and certainly without the filter of the Vietnam War. 

William Holden looked fifty in this movie, so when he was described as a pilot who looked about thirty, I immediately went to IMDB to check out his bio. Indeed, he was thirty-six when the movie was made, no doubt a testament to how easily smoking can cause a person to age. 

By contrast, the smokin' hot Grace Kelly, his film wife was only twenty-four or twenty-five, and looks about that (maybe late twenties; again, smoking). 

Mickey Rooney provides a bit of comic relief, though he has a seriously role. 

More on this later after I'm finished watching the movie. In the meantime, Wikipedia gives a good synopsis of the film, which I admit I have not read entirely because that would entail reading spoilers. 

Exit, stage right.

[Left: Dick Cheney. Biometricians who have analyzed the Vice President note that his tendency to use the right side of his brain and body almost exclusively has led to grossly asymmetrical corporal development, which is responsible for his tilt. Either that or global warming has caused him to begin melting.]

A discussion in the open thread at Marmot's about the merits and demerits of torture, in the context of Obama's executive order to halt the use of torture and close Guantanamo's detention center within a year, has reminded me of a PBS piece I had planned to blog about. 

While I'll give former President George W. Bush a bit of credit for his eight years, I hold no such sentiment for former Vice President Dick Cheney. He strikes me as little more than a cynical opportunist who deliberately misled the nation into a costly war that would serve his own narrow ideological and financial interests. 

This final interview he had with NPR as VP makes for an interesting closing. When I was listening to it on my iPod during my daily three-mile jog, this part stuck out as what was singularly wrong with his administration:
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, getting from there to here, 4500 Americans have died, at least a hundred thousand Iraqis have died. Has it been worth that?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think so.
At least a hundred thousand dead (many or most of whom are innocent civilians), but it's worth it. Maybe had it been 100,000 dead Americans in our ham-handed response to 9/11 instead 100,000 or more dead Iraqis, he'd feel differently. But it's them, not us, so it's worth it

Now I don't mean to cut off Dick Cheney, who does explain later, but that was his answer before Jim Lehrer followed up with "Why?" Still, his answer was just a lame rehash of the highly questionable connections between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein:

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Because I believed at the time that what Saddam Hussein represented was, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, was a terror-sponsoring state - so designated by the State Department. He was making payments to the families of suicide bombers; he provided a safe haven and sanctuary for Abu Nidal and other terrorist operations. He had produced and used weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological agents.

He'd had a nuclear program in the past. He killed hundreds of thousands of his own people and he did have a relationship with al-Qaida. Now, we've had this debate, keeps people trying to conflate those arguments.

That's not to say that Saddam was responsible for 9/11; it is to say - as George Tenet, CIA director testified in open session in the Senate - that there was a relationship there that went back 10 years.

So this was a terror-sponsoring state with access to weapons of mass destruction and that's the greatest threat we faced in the aftermath of 9/11: The next time we found terrorists in the middle of one of our cities, it wouldn't be 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters, it would be terrorists armed with a biological agent or maybe even a nuclear device.

So I think, given the track record of Saddam Hussein, I think we did exactly the right thing, I think the country's better off for it today, I think it's been part of the effort alongside Afghanistan to liberate 50 million people and establish a vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East. I think those are major, major accomplishments.
One hundred thousand or more Iraqis and 4500 Americans killed... justified in part because Saddam Hussein supposedly "provided a safe haven and sanctuary for Abu Nidal"? Not only had Abu Nidal been killed before our invasion of Iraq (in August 2002, to be precise), but he may in fact have been killed on Saddam Hussein's orders!

The rest of the nonsense—about nuclear programs we had almost entirely dismantled and which we had other ways to monitor—have already been laid out and skewered. But there Cheney goes again with the al Qaeda-Saddam Hussein connection, the same that he deftly planted in the American psyche to scare them into believing that Iraq was somehow behind 9/11. 

After all, when the Vice President says Iraq "had long-established ties with al Qaeda," wouldn't that lend credibility to such a notion? In 2003, 70% of Americans thought that the Iraqi leader "was personally involved" in the 9/11 attacks. (Here's another story on the 2003 polls; as late as December 2005, over two-fifths of Americans still held similar beliefs.)
POLITICAL FUN FACT: In a recent poll, only 4% of self-described lesbians said they approved of Dick Cheney's performance as Vice President, while 21% gave George W. Bush positive ratings. Simple math will show the obvious: Lesbians prefer Bush over Dick by at least five-to-one. 
In the meantime, companies Cheney has represented have made obscene amounts of money off this trillion-dollar war. Despite all his money supposedly being in a blind trust of some kind, I have no doubt he made some coin as well (but I admit that Cheney's enrichment is purely speculative on my part).

Still, not bad for a person who may have been constitutionally ineligible to have garnered the votes he got for Vice President. I'm not even speaking of the illegal means (e.g., removing legally eligible voters from voter rolls so they couldn't vote, among other things) used to win Florida. I'm talking about the Constitutional requirement in the Twelfth Amendment that the President and the Vice President be residents of different states (which is handled by preventing electors from voting for both a President and a Vice President of their state). After Al Gore's concession, a court ruled Cheney was a legal resident of Wyoming. 

In the end, I just have two things to say. First, I'm so glad that Cheney is no longer in Washington (and, frankly, Bush-43 as well). Second, Obama and Biden had better keep their noses clean (and articulate).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Once more, with feeling.

President Obama (gee, that is so pleasant to type) summoned Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr so he could retake the oath of office required by Article II, Section 1, Clause 8 of the Constitution. 

"Because it was so much fun" the first time, the new President joked. 
The President's middle name is "Hussein." Did you know that? Holy shit, when he said, "I, Barack Hussein Obama," that just blew me away! We elected a guy whose middle name is Hussein! What the hell? Were we all high? And what were his parents thinking?! Man, they must have been cruel.
Some feared that if maybe-maybe-not-President Obama didn't redo the oath (as Presidents Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge also did) then his misplaced adverb would mean that he wasn't legitimately the president and he would in fact have no executive authority (and you just know the Obama-is-not-a-natural-born-citizen brigade would be all over that). 

Egads. The grammar Nazis have infiltrated the government (no wonder Sonagi moved so close to Washington DC). 

What happened was that the Chief Justice himself was the one who flubbed the oath, and the President-elect-on-the-verge-of-being-President simply followed suit, repeating back what the Chief Justice had said. During the day's luncheon a short while later, Roberts admitted to the President that the gaffe was the Chief Justice's own fault.

Actually, this entire incident just confirms what Obama's critics have been saying about him all along: Without a TelePrompTer, Obama's really not a very good speaker. 

[above: After the second oath, Roberts and Obama reenact a favorite scene from Valkyrie. (Hey, it was either that or a joke about the Chief Justice high-fiving the Chief Executive.)]

Transitions: The Bush-Cheney era ends

This is rough form. It's a worksheet. It's nowhere near finished. But what the hell, I'll put it out anyway. Feel free to respond. 

Yes, I was one of those who cheered when he got on the plane. I joined the Obamas and the Bidens by waving at the giant screen as the helicopter flew away. I even joined the "nah nah nah nah" song, informing those around me that it was sung when the opposing football team was going down to defeat and that its words included, "Hey, ay ay, good-bye." Quite loudly, singing them for full effect. 

To see what was wrong with the Bush presidency, look at where we were eight years ago as Clinton moved on to New York and Dubya moved in from Texas. The budget deficit had not only been turned into a surplus, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel when our multi-trillion-dollar debt would be paid off. Today we have ...

We are in the middle of two wars when we should have gone forward with only one. Even if we had gone ahead with Both, had he listened to his advisers, we might be done with one or both. And we wouldn't be so many more trillions of dollars in debt.

He thrashed diplomacy. Forget that his rush to war and unilateralistic tendencies and his you're-either-for-us-or-against-us swagger has alienated even our allies, his Axis of Evil philosophy shattered a real chance to make inroads with North Korea and especially Iran, who then felt a real threat from the US not experienced in decades. Their reaction was not to cower at Washington's feet but to gird themselves up dig themselves in for a long and testy confrontation. Even pro-American Iranians, who had supported the moderate policies of Khatami, turned to hardliner Ahmedinejad. 

And in South Korea, anti-Americanism took an ugly turn as many people thought the Axis of Evil rhetoric and subsequent invasion of Iraq meant that an attack on North Korea, which would likely have meant retaliation by Pyongyang against South Korean targets, was a far higher possibility than before. 

Some critics of the idea that Bush-43 was the cause of a spike in anti-Americanism will correctly point out that anti-American sentiment had existed long before Bush came along and it will continue into the Obama administration and beyond. Yes, but in 2002 the degree and type became very different, as people could reasonably surmise that Bush's actions could lead to their own deaths. It wasn't like that under any other president in the past half century except Carter, who threatened to withdraw all troops because of the antidemocratic excesses of Park Chunghee. 

(And Japanese were none too happy either, since a North Korean attack would likely involve them, too, just as Iraq shot missiles at Israel during the Gulf War of 1991.)

Some give him credit for keeping terror attacks off American soil, but so did Clinton, Bush-41, Reagan, Carter, etc. And they did so without eroding our civil rights. 

The wars may have created more future terrorism, so I'm not about to give him credit for a robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul approach that demands payment down the road. 

But I'll give Bush credit.
He has expanded public health facilities. Yeah, the Republican did some mighty good in an area where Democrats are expected to shine. 

He mainstreamed Muslims. He didn't have to speak out on Muslims' behalf, but he did. He called it a religion of peace and he underscored the fact that the vast, vast, vast majority of Muslims in America or around the world had nothing to do with this terrorism and many had risked their lives to speak out against it. There is a sea change that some have not noticed: When we talk about faiths, it's no longer "Christians, Jews, and atheists," it typically also includes Muslims. Dubya had nothing to gain and everything to lose by saying that, but he did. In this case, I'll give him credit for the courage of his convictions. 

I'll also give him credit for trying to deal with the illegal immigration issue. His plan was not perfect—no plan is—but he was trying to realistically and pragmatically deal with the facts on the ground and not do so in a ham-handed way that mostly involved force. He understands the reasons why people come and, more importantly, understands that they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Too bad Dick Cheney doesn't think the same about the 100,000 Iraqis who died, which Cheney answered was justifiable for American security. 

That's what's ending. What is beginning? (That's another post.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Backward development

I will have to take time later to blog in more detail about the six people (it was five, but the death toll has gone up) who died when a SWAT team in the southern part of Yongsan-gu Ward tried to oust squatters armed with Molotov cocktails. The old neighborhood is slated to be razed and shiny new apartments and commercial facilities are to be built in its stead. 

The clashes are an oft-repeated scene in construction-happy Seoul, and it's not the first time potentially deadly violence has been used. Often it is privately hired thugs who handle the violence and threats, but at some point the government often steps in to remove those who have no more legal right to remain (and whether those rights were justly and fairly taken away is not always clear).

I have something long going through my head, but in the meantime, here is an old piece from March 2006 that touched on many of the same issues. 

Obamicon yourself

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I think I'll stay home.

The vicious 60-mph winds have not materialized here in eastern Honolulu (or in southeastern Oahu in general). But there's one place I'd rather not be in Hawaii, and that's the top of Mauna Kea. 

According to the Mauna Kea Weather Center, the observatories up at the top of the 13,796-foot peak are experiencing not just subfreezing temperatures right now, but also winds up to 88 mph. Yikes. 

At some point I'd like to visit the Big Island's highest volcanoes when there's snow (which is often from November to March) or on Maui's Haleakala, but that kind of cold and wind is reminding me a bit too much of Seoul

kushibo konspiracy

What if the downing of the US Airways flight #1549 yesterday was not from a flock of Canadian geese but actually a terrorist attack? The possibility of birds attacking engines on both sides is highly unlikely (though not impossible). 

That improbability plus the timing — on ascent just a few minutes after take-off — suggests to me something else may have brought down the plane. An altitude-triggered device in each engine would have led to the same result. 

I'm not sure what altitude they were at (one report says 3200 feet), but it seems after three minutes in the air they'd be higher than most birds, including migratory birds. This Wikipedia entry says only 8% of "bird strikes" are above 3000 feet. 

Furthermore, the Branta canadensis is usually farther south in January anyway.

If the airport had been somewhere besides the big terror targets — NYC's Kennedy and LaGuardia, LAX, Chicago O'Hare, London's Gatwick and Heathrow, Paris, or Rome's Fiuimicino — I'd be less suspicious that terror was involved.

If this crash was the result of something other than a bird attack, just what is served by the authorities misleading the public? Maybe the have a good reason? Maybe they want the terrorists to believe their efforts to bring down planes are all for naught (though this deception may make them try harder to make sure the next downing is clearly terror). 

Frankly, I thought much the same thing after American Airlines flight #587 went down over Queens, killing 265 people including five on the ground. That was blamed on a co-pilot's overuse of the rudder. I don't fly planes, so I don't know how plausible that is, but I do know that there were conflict reports from witnesses as to what they saw as the plane went down. That plane, leaving ultimate target New York City, just weeks after plane service was again opened up following 9/11, just seemed too coincidental.

Ah, but the investigations are now just beginning. The WaPo story linked at the top says the engines were missing from the plane wreckage. Maybe the Canadian geese story will change. Who knows. 

I certainly don't know if I really believe any of this conspiracy stuff. But you're welcome to. I'm a very creative person, so drop me an email and I'll send you more crazy ideas to support your theory.

PT Cruiser rides off into the sunset

This news makes me sorta sad. Chrysler is discontinuing the PT Cruiser. I don't own one, but I always thought they looked kinda cool, and last September I had a chance to rent one for a week when I visited the Mainland.

It was a fun ride, and surprisingly affordable. It was aimed at young people who wanted something different but retro, I guess. It was pretty fun to drive, though a bit of a gas guzzler in the days of $4/gallon gasoline, which is why the folks at Enterprise probably offered it to me as an upgrade.

I'm always thinking of what my next car will be, not just in terms of dream car but in realistic terms of what I can afford. As a grad student whose wealth is mostly in Korean won, that's not a whole heck of a lot right now, unless I buy used. 

If I were to buy new, I might actually consider a Hyundai Elantra like the one I rented this past Christmas. It was fun to drive, comfortable and zippy, and got great gas mileage. It had loads of buttons and whistles, too. And it didn't look like I was poor. That's bonus points when you're in the 30+ age bracket, since not everyone you pass knows you're a grad student. 

I'm not sure if I would have bought a PT Cruiser, because I began to notice more than a few 50-or-over types who looked like they were trying to relive their youth. And although I have nearly the same physique I did when I was in college, I'm not so sure I want to be associated with that kind of Peter Panism. 

Anyway, I'm disappointed to see the PT Cruiser go. Who knows? Maybe this anchor of Chrysler sales will make a comeback, much like the Ford Taurus, which will return later this year as a 2010 model. It's pictured below, with Peter Horbury, Ford's chief of design in North America.

Frankly, I think it looks kinda cool. If I trusted its quality (like if it had the long reputation of a Honda or Toyota or the uber-comprehensive warranty of a Hyundai or Kia) I might consider it, though if I were in the market for that kind of vehicle, I'd be looking primarily at the Honda Accord (but the sporty Coupe model), the Toyota Camry (which I almost bought in senior year of college, but opted instead for an Acura Integra), or the Hyundai Azera (or possibly the Hyundai Sonata). 

Since I've lived in Seoul off and on since I was a teenager, I'm old enough to remember when the imported Ford Taurus was considered a luxury vehicle in Korea. That was for two reasons: back in the early 1990s Ford was considered to be more reliable than any Hyundai, Kia, Daewoo, or Ssangyong (Samsung wasn't around just yet), and the nearly 100% markup due to tariffs and other fees associated with foreign cars put it in the luxury price bracket. 

Obama keeps harping on how Koreans (and Japanese) don't buy American cars, but one major reason is that there are so few cars from Detroit that fit into the Korean lifestyle. But I think that is changing. Smaller cars (that's hella important for the Korean and Japanese markets, Detroit!) with power and prestige are what a lot of slightly upscale buyers are looking for in a foreign car. 

They want something different but recognizable as prestigious, not too big but with power. I think the Cadillac CTS commercials feature Kate Walsh from Grey's Anatomy are right on the money. I'm not in Korea at the moment, so I'm not sure if this isn't already in the works, but if General Motors if NOT selling the Cadillac CTS in Korea (and Japan) and running the Kate Walsh ads, get with it pronto.

What has been working to attract younger people to Buick and Cadillac will work with a large segment of the middle-class and middle-aged population in Korea. But make sure you don't get a verbatim L1 translation for Kate Walsh's text. "When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?" doesn't translate directly. 

Friday, January 16, 2009

b.s. generalizations

A commenter in the Marmot's Hole whine cellar reminds me of this quote by B.R. Myers, who writes for the Wall Street Journal:
South Koreans may chuckle at the personality cult, but they generally agree with Pyongyang that Koreans are a pure-blooded race whose innate goodness has made them the perennial victims of rapacious foreigners. They share the same tendency to regard Koreans as innocent children on the world stage–and to ascribe evil to foreigners alone…
Oh, I know a lot of "foreigners" in Korea would love to believe this facile little stereotype, but alas, like so many things involving generalizations, it's only true where it isn't false.

I'm sure there are many Koreans who still subscribe to the "pure-blooded Koreans" myth, but a growing number — dare I say a vast majority — either don't think it is pure anymore and/or they don't care. This is a case of using the loudest voices of a generation ago to explain general beliefs today. 

As for Koreans being "perennial victims," well I'm not sure if most Koreans would put it that way. Certainly Korea has suffered at the hands of other countries over the past century, most notably the Japanese and, arguably, the Americans and Russians who divided the country and then the Chinese who aided the North; and a lot of Koreans are scratching their heads that after trying to do all the right things since the 1997-98 economic crisis, the economy is still tanking because of events beyond their control thousands of miles away. But I'm not so sure if that makes Koreans perennial victims to a majority of people.

And ascribing evil to foreigners alone? Certainly the idea that Koreans are good and pure is a laughable idea if you sit down and talk with almost any Korean about politics and economics. Koreans are the worse thing about Korea, many will tell you. Indeed, even if a lot of Koreans wouldn't describe it that way, it's easy to see that the worst critics of Korea are Koreans themselves. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again here: One of the biggest problems with blogs like Marmot's Hole and similar sites is that they give a highly selective — and therefore distorted — picture of what Koreans think about in general and how often. Tokto/Takeshima, for example, makes up a far greater portion of Marmot's Hole posts than it does stories in Korean news media. Marmot's attention to stories regarding foreign nationals (like the Canadian who is being investigated for allegedly molesting three first-grade girls) gives a skewed impression of gross persecution of foreign nationals. 

I'm not saying that it's streets paved with gold for international residents, but the impression from Marmot's and the reality are quite different, methinks. That is, unless you've fallen so deep into cognitive distortion that your negativity begins to shape your actual experience. 

strange fruit

Can you guess what this is? This is found in Seal Beach, California, a small community in westernmost Orange County, adjacent to Long Beach and Huntington Beach, with the sprawling Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach located within it. 

The Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge is actually within the NWS. (In June 2008, the Los Angeles Times ran an interesting article on a visit to this "reclusive" spot.)

Anyway, back to the photo. You can click on this link to see where it is, but I'm not sure that will tell you what it is. It's something I'd really like to know, so I'm open to answers, even those of a speculative nature. 

I hope I get more decisive answers than with this question (I still don't know what that is).

Hawaii doesn't have snow days but we do have high wind days

A few people have come here by googling Hawaii and snow, but for some reason Google doesn't send them to this post. Anyway, yes, it really does snow in Hawaii, with some regularity, way up at the higher elevations of the Big Island (Hawaii) and Maui. And, yes, people really do snowboard up there. I've heard that the truly gutsy actually ski the snow covered rocks.

The University of Hawaii has sent out messages to all students saying that classes have been canceled tomorrow as high winds and big waves are set to hit the islands on Friday, except the Big Island. They've started evacuating parts of the Leeward side of Oahu. I'm not too terribly concerned, though, since I'm pretty sure that this is not the leeward side.

Anyway, this is the warning from the university:
Based on high wind conditions in Kauai, Oahu and Maui Counties, all UH campuses on all islands other than the Big Island of hawaii will be closed Friday, January 16.  Only essential personnel should report to work on these campuses.

Please watch the Media and UH Web sites for additional emergency information.  Stay safe!
That's so nice and friendly of them. A different alert said winds would be up to 60 mph (100 kph). Just now it occurred to me that we might be in a bit of trouble up in the lanai-style, open-air kitchens, where there are no windows separating us from the elements.

The waves can be very vicious on the North Shore of the island, and even locals like to head out there on some weekends to watch the crushing waves. A friend of mine here, a student from Japan, had no idea of the danger and didn't notice the few warnings that were out there and ended up getting thrown to the sea bottom when she first arrived here two years ago. She busted her eardrum, something she couldn't get surgically fixed here in Hawaii because she lacked insurance when it happened. She will wait until she's back in Japan where the entire operation will cost about one-tenth what it would in the United States. 

Anyway, all I'm missing is a one-hour seminar, but I'm kinda disappointed. I'll have to see how bad the winds really are here. Will it be too strong to even jog, much less drive over to Costco or do the other errands I'd hoped to? I'm sure my regular viewers will be dying to find out.

[above: idiots.]