Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine flu H1N1 pandemic "imminent"

While Minitruth the White House succumbs to the influence of the pork industry* and stops calling the swine flu by that name, the WHO (World Health Organization, not the geriatric British band) has said that the dreaded illness is on the verge of becoming a pandemic.

* Swine flu in endemic to pigs. That's why it's called swine flu. The pork industry would like to pretend that their factory farming practices have nothing to do with the easy spread of such diseases, but they're full of crap. (Hat tip to John from Taejŏn on the swine flu renaming stuff.)

좌측통행 no more?

For decades, Korean pedestrians were directed to walk on the left side of the sidewalk, road, staircase, etc., a remnant of the Japanese colonial days when everything — including automobile traffic on roadways which the victorious Allies would later change — was oriented that way.

Korea was in an odd situation where pedestrian traffic (and line #1 of the Seoul subway) was directed to go "Japanese-style" (좌측통행) while automobile traffic went "American-style." This will soon be no more, as governmental authorities are directing pedestrian traffic to also go American.

The truth is, despite the 좌측통행 "keep to the left" signs, half the pedestrians were essentially going the wrong way*. With the new regulations, there will still be half going the wrong way, except now it will be the other half.

* I'm exaggerating a bit. In places without many people, many folks would randomly go whichever way was more convenient. In particularly crowded places, the crowds (at least the ones around Seoul Station and downtown where I live) would generally pick the left side and run with it (figuratively running, that is).

[above: Rebel.]

Due diligence

The library is full of people busy studying all the stuff they should have been reading the past few months.

Another beautiful day in semi-paradise

At least the weather is getting back to normal.

On this day in 1992...

The Korean notes that this is the seventeenth anniversary of the Los Angeles riots.

White cops beat down a Black motorist.

White cops acquitted despite being videotaped.

Angry Blacks riot and target Korean stores.

I'm somewhat simplifying things, of course, but there's a point: Prior to that, the only conceivable connection between Rodney King and anything or anyone Korean was that he was driving a Hyundai Excel (supposedly at 100 mph).

Given how badly the Los Angeles area Korean-American community was blindsided, I'd say it was prudent for kyopo across America (and other Asians, as the JACL said) to be at least a little concerned about a backlash against Koreans following the Seung-hui Cho massacre, though that sentiment was roundly mocked in the K-blogs two years ago.

The L.A. riots made me both angry and depressed. I'd naïvely been thinking that Southern California was progressing toward greater and greater racial tolerance, and that notion was shattered. It had been some years since my family had left Compton and moved to a part of Orange County where Whites and Asians predominated... I'd become out of touch, even though I knew a lot about Korean-Black tension (and found myself arguing what I thought was the side of the Blacks sometimes).

The Korean and Korean-American media was shameless and shameful during those days. Media whore and self-styled Korean-American spokesperson Angela Oh (left) going on Donahue and proclaiming Koreans as victims of history just like African-Americans — completely missing the point of Black complaints — while the Korean media (i.e., in Korea) was reporting that the LAPD was abandoning Koreatown to go protect Beverly Hills, which they'd translated as a 구/區 (ku, a "ward") of Los Angeles and not a separate 시/市 (shi, a city) that would have its own police force (Hello? Beverly Hills Cop!).

And I will say one thing about the Cho massacre: It seems the people of Virginia — and almost all of the United States — did not treat the Cho massacre as "a Korean thing" at all. There's the moving forward I'd thought we had back in 1992.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

North Korea threatens to go ballistic (figuratively)

Pyongyang wants an apology for all the condemnations it got over the projectile it shot over the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and into the Pacific Ocean.

North Korea has insisted that it was a peaceful test of a rocket used to put satellites in orbit. To underscore the amicable nature of the launch, the DPRK said it if it got no apology it would be forced to take self-defense measures, "including nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests." 

A demographic milestone in California

The New York Times reports on a USC (University for Spoiled Children of Southern California) study that says "for the first time in the state’s modern history, a majority of young people in California were born here:"
A majority of these young people, the study says, are sons and daughters of baby boomers, an “echo boom” born after their parents came here to fill plentiful military and aerospace industry jobs, or to flee Rust Belt recession. About 27 percent are children of immigrants who arrived in record numbers from Latin America and Asia in the 1980s, says the study, which analyzed data from the Census Bureau.
Though I was born in California, a slight majority of my age cohort was not.

[left: Jessica Alba was born in California. Hers was the most suitable picture in my "born in California" Google image search.]

From the "And what is this supposed to be good for?" files

The AP is reporting that Korean scientists have cloned glow-in-the-dark dogs.

And whenever cloning news comes out of Seoul National University, then it must be true.

[above: That's not creepy. Alas, poor Ruppy (ruby + puppy) will never be able to get a good night's sleep. I will forgo jokes about how the photographer should have used a flash.]

OC auto sales down 37% in first quarter — except Hyundai and Kia

The Orange County Register is reporting that auto sales dropped 37% in the first quarter of 2009, hardly a surprise with the economy in the tank (California unemployment has topped 11%).

There were two exceptions to this drop: Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia jumped 12.8%, with their combined market share reaching 5%.

Looks like the ads are working.

Around the rest of the country, Hyundai did experience a 14% drop in April sales, but that still makes it one of the strongest showings. Honda was also "up" there, with only a 25% drop in sales. Sheesh.

Light blogging ahead

This is getting to be crunch time. I have a short four- or five-page paper (on health issues in Madagascar!) due on Friday, a final exam in health economics the following Monday, and then ten days later a much longer paper and a final exam in population studies. Plus I have to find a little time in there for work-related projects. 

I'll try to send random iPhone posts and provide my thoughts on this or that if there's a little time during breakfast, second breakfast, or dinner, but if you don't hear from me, it's because of the workload, not because I've succumbed to swine flu or anything. 

(Funny thing is, despite several bouts of "light blogging" this month, I'm still going to surpass the 100-post mark. Weird.)

PBS on swine flu

Amidst all the discussion about swine flu prevention in Korea (or, as Brian suggests, the lack thereof), here's a PBS piece on what the US and Mexico are doing. While there are school closings in the US where kids were infected, and mass closings of schools, churches, and businesses where people gather in Mexico, the guidance for the average person is similar to what South Koreans are being told:
Those are the typical guidelines for respiratory infections, frequent hand-washing. If you don't have access to soap and water, use an alcohol gel. Covering your cough or your sneeze, that's very important. And if you're sick, if you have a fever and you're sick, and your children are sick, don't go to work and don't go to school.
Of course, lots of Koreans go to work even when they are sick, fearing reprisal by management or ostracism from colleagues who have to take up the slack, but hopefully the government making noise about something like this will provide social cover for employers and employees to follow such advice.

PBS also reports that South Korea is not alone in banning pork products from the US and Mexico, even though there is no indication that swine flu can be spread through through them:
And several countries, including China and Russia, have issued a ban on pork products from the United States and Mexico, while U.S. government officials insist that American pork is safe for human consumption.
Of course, I don't exactly find US officials the most trustworthy on this point, given that they would basically be forced to say this whether it was true or not. "Safest in the world" and "highest safety standards," said by Obama about US beef, seems to roll off the tongue of government and industry bureaucrats whether it's true or not.

Oh, and before I forget... Needing to get people into treatment when they do have flu-like symptoms is one major reason it is foolish not to have universal health and especially stupid and short-sighted to cut off undocumented residents in your area. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Democrats to get filibuster-proof sixty?

If you've been following political news you may know that comedian, writer, and political talk show host Al Franken (above), most famous for his time with Saturday Night Live, has been declared the winner of last November's election for Minnesota's US Senate seat following a carefully handled recount. He is ahead of former Senator Norm Coleman, who was himself ahead on election night and prior to the recount, by only a few hundred votes. Coleman's appeals mean the matter won't be resolved any sooner than June, possibly later. 

In the meantime, Minnesota only has one vote in the Senate, and the Republicans seem to like it that way if it prevents Franken from offering up a vote for the Democrats. 

Anyhow, the Franken-Coleman matter will probably receive even more attention now that we've received news that one of Pennsylvania's US Senators, moderate Republican Arlen Specter, is switching parties and will run for re-election as a Democrat in 2010. His willingness to reach out across the aisle has earned him — and many of his GOP colleagues from the Northeast — derision from the right wing of his own party. 

If the courts recognize Franken's victory, then the Democrats will have sixty US Senators, a filibuster-proof majority if they all stay together on the same issue. 

There is a veritable movement to boot out these so-called RINOs ("Republicans in name only") during the primaries, as was tried in 2006 with Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, who went on to lose the general election. Threatened RINOs include Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both from Maine, who have shown a willingness to work with President Obama on some of his more moderate policies. (Even John McCain is considered to be a RINO.)

Back to the Democrats and their filibuster-proof supermajority. Frankly, I'm always a little nervous when one party has too much power. Some of the members can get fat and lazy, while others get abusive. Look at what a disaster we saw when the Republicans held the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate for most of the past eight years. 

I'm glad at least that the magic number of sixty is being reached thanks to an increase in so-called "blue dog Democrats" and turncoats such as Specter: While I don't agree with all their policies, that ideological mix and the threat to cross over with the Republicans on some issues forces the Democrats to stay mainstream. 

As a moderate Democrat — and one who will end his party affiliation if the Korus FTA does not pass and Hawaii Democrats legalize gambling in this state — I worry about the Democrats going too far to the left, employing methods of social justice that don't have a firm sociological and economic grounding. 

By the way, this party-switching is nothing new and it goes both ways. After the Democrats' disastrous defeat in the 1994 Congressional elections, Colorado US Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (an interesting figure who was not only the sole Native American in Congress for a while but also was an Olympic athlete and had spent four years studying Japanese culture in Tokyo in the 1960s) and US Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama both switched to the GOP. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Another celebrity suicide

The epidemic continues: Actress Woo Seung-yeon (U Sŭng-yŏn; 우승연) apparently hanged herself. It is believed she committed suicide following depression after failing a number of auditions.

I have nothing to say I didn't already say in the first link. Always a waste, always a tragedy.

Drug-resistant superbugs:
The other white meat

Some musings while looking into information regarding South Korea's decision to beef up (pun... ha ha!) inspections of American and Mexican pork products coming into South Korea as one part of the response to the outbreak of swine flu in the US (also discussed at Brian's). Stepped-up inspections of incoming travelers at Inchon International Airport is another measure.

My thoughts? Do we really need to dump so many antibiotics into our meat supply? How about we consume less pork (and beef) so we won't have to rely on environmentally detrimental and health-endangering factory-farmed meat?

The so-called "Three P's" of Guangzhou — people, pork, and poultry — living in such close proximity and crowded conditions have historically been a wonderful natural incubator for deadly pathogens. Now in the US we may be creating something as bad.

[above: A pig waste lagoon in Georgia. Trust me: the Skipper, the Professor, Marianne, and Gilligan would get quite ill if they swam in this lagoon. This is where waste from factory-farmed pigs is pooled until it... until it... I don't know what it's supposed to do, but a heavy rain will cause extremely unhealthy runoff into nearby rivers and other farms, which is why pathogens typically found in animal waste are turning up in fruits, vegetables, and legumes.]

A naval base in Cheju-do by 2014

Despite opposition, the South Korean government is going ahead with a planned ROK naval base on the resort island of Cheju-do (below). While I wish they would keep Cheju-do (aka Jeju or Jejudo) as pristine as possible, I can see here at Oahu that it is possible to have a balance between urban development, natural environments, tourism, and military facilities.

Oahu is one-sixth smaller than Cheju-do but with 50% more people. Geographically, thre are considerable similarities, with the interior being less accessible due to higher terrain. (Cheju-do is often billed as "Korea's Hawaii," which I used to snicker at, but having lived here for three years, I would have to say that in terms of what to see and the quality of life, Korea's southernmost province is quite similar to Oahu; not necessarily the rest of Hawaii, but Oahu.)

Anyway, this naval base is facing opposition, by the same chinbo "progressives" who oppose US bases on the Korean mainland. Such opposition is much less common in Hawaii, but it is par for the course in Okinawa and in America's own territory of Guam. In Hawaii, while most recognize that the US military is an economic boon to the state, there is a sense that the military people are different, often seen as less desirable outsiders. Indeed, the tension and even animosity is palpable sometimes, particularly in Waikiki and other places where US military personnel may go but where they are clearly seen as non-locals.

Back to the Cheju-do base. This large-scale facility, which could welcome even US aircraft carriers, will help South Korea project its own navy and air force to the pirate-infest waters of the Malacca Strait (joining our Japanese neighbors, who will be authorized to go anywhere in the world as long as its to battle pirates), allowing South Korea to pull more of its own weight in the ROK-US alliance, which I think is a good thing.

Divorce rate rises among "International marriages" in Korea

I'll be writing more on this bit of news later, where the Korea Times reports that while South Korea's overall divorce rate — which was in the stratosphere — has dropped, the divorce rate for those in so-called "international marriages" (국제결혼) continues to rise, especially for Korean men married to women from other countries.

Although I plan to delve into this in more detail later (I've got a bit of work to do over the next 48 hours), one point I'd like to make right now is that the South Korean government has, over the past few years, deliberately made it easier for foreign spouses to divorce their Korean spouse and still remain in the country.

In other words, by government design (and at the behest of NGOs and women's groups), foreign spouses are less tethered, legally speaking, to their Korean spouse than before when their ability to stay in Korea was utterly reliant on them staying married to their Korean spouse.

In the meantime, Brian has a discussion going on right now.

Sayonara, Pontiac...

... and Hummer, Saturn, and Saab.

The 83-year-old Pontiac automobile brand is going the way of Pan Am, Eastern Airlines, and some other car makes: In its bid to avoid bankruptcy, General Motors is eliminating four of its makes while cutting 21,000 jobs and 2600 dealers.

I'm not going to shed a tear over the narcissistically hazardous Hummer, but I'm sad to see Pontiac go and I'm sure my ex feels the same about Saturn. Actually, every car I've owned has been made in Japan or Korea, with the single exception of the Honda Passport I drive in Honolulu, which was made at an Isuzu plant in Indiana, USA.

But I did have occasion to drive a Pontiac as a rental while visiting my family some years back. It was a Pontiac Sunfire convertible, and it was hella fun to drive. Sure, part of that was that fact that it was a convertible, but it was a pretty responsive car. I had fun with it, and for one brief moment, it was in my top three of "cars I would consider buying if I were to move back to Orange County."

That list now is now a Lexus IS, a Toyota Prius or its Honda equivalent, or an Acura TSX, with a Hyundai Azera or Genesis coming in as an honorable mention, depending on whether I'm married and what I'm doing professionally at the time.

While I enjoy my Honda Passport, a fairly rugged small-scale SUV, it's an Oahu car that I wouldn't need on the tamer streets of Orange County. The Passport is great on Honolulu's pothole-riddled streets and its rugged beach lanes, as well as other island locations, but its gas-guzzling tendencies wouldn't play too well for the long drives I would have to make in California (there's only so far you can go on Oahu before you hit the end — it's an island).

Monday, April 27, 2009

UCI prof finds racial bias in Internet dating

A sociologist at my alma mater (UCI) has analyzed the stated preferences at Yahoo! Personals to analyze who dates whom: specifically, what races date what races. Her conclusion:
Among daters with stated racial preferences, White men are more likely to exclude Blacks as possible dates, While white women are more likely to exclude Asians.
Though her interest is more related to "full social incorporation" that may be precluded by racial exclusion, she does delve into speculation about why certain groups tend to favor one type and reject another:
Stereotypical images of masculinity and femininity shape dating choices and continue to be perpetuated in the mass media. The hyper-feminine image of Asian American women contrasts greatly with that of Asian men, who are often portrayed as asexual.
Asexual Asian men? We need more Korean tough guys on TV! Calling CBI Agent Kimball Cho!

(I could also have gone with this retort: "Contrast? The media portrays both Asian women and Asian men as hyper-feminine." But that would have been too incendiary.)

Just so we're clear, though: There's no such thing as "yellow fever" or "Asian fetish." And Asian men who say otherwise — especially if they're Korean — are just whiny. And Professor Feliciano, who is neither Asian (presumably) nor a man (again, presumably), is nothing more than an enabler. VANK probably paid her to do the study.

Of course, this study should come as quite a surprise to the K-blog commentariat, who insist it is the Koreans who are xenophobic racists when it comes to dating and marriage, not the Americans. Not post-racial Obama-voting Americans who have embraced interracial dating long ago.

No, it's the Koreans, with their 1 in 8 "international marriages" that is just an elaborate smoke screen providing cover for their deep and wide racial animosity. Insrutable bastards!

Really, the thing to do is to turn Asian men on to the virtues of African-American women, who actually make more money than White women (well, if they're from the UK), if you go in for that kind of thing. The only African-American I ever dated seriously (who was actually born in Africa, in fact) was very virtuous.

LAT on Roh's legal troubles

In case you've been having trouble keeping up with the daily barrage of developments in former South Korean president Roh Moohyun's legal troubles, John Glionna of the Los Angeles Times (on the front page, no less) sums it up for you:
The onetime human rights lawyer and judge is the third South Korean president since 1995 to face a corruption probe after leaving office. He is suspected of soliciting $6 million in bribes from a shoemaking magnate that were allegedly paid to his wife and son.

Roh, 62, has acknowledged that his wife accepted $1 million from footwear manufacturer Park Yeon-cha but denied involvement in any influence-peddling. He has characterized the $5 million his son received from Park as an investment loan.

The former president was summoned to meet with prosecutors on Thursday. Recent postings on his website suggest he is already appealing for public sympathy.

"What I have to do now is bow to the nation and apologize," wrote Roh, who served as president between 2003 and 2008. "From now on, the name Roh cannot be a symbol of the values you pursue. I'm no longer qualified to speak about democracy and justice…You should abandon me."
No worries, Mr Roh. I abandoned your mercurial ass in 2005. And I'm pretty sure that much of the rest of South Korea did so about that time, too.

Penny-wise and pound foolish

The Los Angeles Times reports that many California counties are eliminating non-emergency health services for illegal immigrants in an effort to shore up their budgets. While this may save a little bit of money in the short-run, experts believe it will lead to drastic increase demand for singificantly more expensive hospital emergency services, perhaps even leading to loss of life (and not just of the illegals).

With an estimated 2.7 million illegals among California's 37 million residents, the state is severely burdened by the presence of so many undocumented residents who can't get into the system and thus warrant Federal aid. As long as millions of illegals are going to be present in California and the lesser-49, those states should probably readjust their philosophies and try to take some of the savings and economic gain provided by this vast and cheap labor pool and apply it to some of the services they require. (I've never been a big believer in the idea that illegal aliens are a net drain.)

South Korea, for its part, handles things much like these California counties: the pay-as-you-go system allows for that. Illegals cannot get into Korea's national health insurance scheme, but standard health care is relatively cheap even when paid completely out of pocket. Unlike California, Texas, New York, and Florida, collectively home to some five million illegals, Korea's population of undocumented workers is less likely to set up house and stay for the long-term, though this, too, is changing.

I recall when I had my appendectomy and the hospital staff realized that I was a foreign citizen and decided I was a flight risk who might take off without paying the bill after receiving the surgery. They wanted me to pay the W3.5 million won up front that my surgery and hospital pay was expected to cost.

I protested, of course, and was then told of a Nigerian man who had run up W8 million in hospital bills and then fled without paying. As best as I could in my painful condition, I told them that I was not Nigerian and even if I were that person's case would have nothing to do with me: I was a legal resident of Seoul despite my foreign citizenship, I had Korean National Health Insurance, and the government was in a position to seize my property if the hospital were to take legal action against me for non-payment. In short, they had nothing to worry about.

If I weren't crouching over in pain, I would have famously stood my ground until they caved, but I was in no such condition, so I got them to agree to a W1 million "down payment," which I handled with my credit card (a Korean credit card, though that probably made no difference). The surgery and hospital stay, once insurance kicked in its share, cost only W1.5 million (and had I not stayed in the nice wing of the hospital with the single rooms, it would have been half or one-third that). [Note: If you want to see some NSFW pictures, do a Google image search for "appendix scar." Lately I've noticed that about one-third of my innocuous Google image searches yield dirty pictures of some kind. Sick fu¢ks.]

Anyway, I wonder what would have happened had I not been able to pay any money up front. As a grad student whose dollars have depleted (the horrible KRW-USD exchange rate has basically made me not touch my Korea-based savings or credit cards at all), I would be hard pressed to come up with $1000, which is what W1 million was at the time. Would they have booted me out? Would I have had to wait until I was closer to death's door, when the exact same surgery would have been more dangerous, with a higher fatality rate, and possibly even more expensive?

It's time we start treating humans humanely, regardless of what borders they've crossed and how.

(By the way, if you have a visa sponsor, which you would if you have an E1 or E2 visa, then your sponsor is legally responsible for your non-payment. While I wouldn't go around not paying for stuff, it's something you mention to whomever isn't willing to let you get something like surgery up front without paying. Call your sponsor if you have to. The importance of sponsorship is the key reason why one cannot so easily leave one's visa venue and go work for another.)

The Stars & Stripes over the USS Arizona

Something about the USS Arizona inspires me to take lots of pictures of Old Glory.

Gotcha media takes on Planned Parenthood

I'm terribly ambivalent about abortion. On the one hand, I do think it is something that should be reduced as much as possible, but on the other hand, I don't think legally banning it or criminalizing it is the way to go. Bill Clinton's views dovetailed with mine (and those of an apparent majority of Americans) when he said that abortion ought to be safe, legal, and rare. It angers me that the people who are most strongly against legalized abortion have among their ranks many people who want to eliminate conventional sex education in favor of abstinence-only programs.

It's an issue that remains very divisive, one of the biggest fault lines that crisscross American society. Some contentious is this issue, I have long been surprised how little play it gets in Korea (or neighboring Japan), where abortion rates are far higher. A lot of that nonchalance has to do with a utilitarian attitude toward sex (and sexuality) that extends to abortion and birth control, but it runs counter to what one might expect with the growingly vocal number of fundamentalist Christians we have in South Korea. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the Fundies change the landscape on this issue (or at least try) in the next few years.

But back to the US, where the media is all abuzz over the "undercover" videos made by one Lila Rose, a twenty-year-old student at UCLA. Ms Rose has been crisscrossing the country, clandestinely videotaping her encounters with workers at Planned Parenthood (an organization noted for doling out guidance and information on obtaining abortions to any female who walks in its doors), while posing as a pregnant thirteen- or fourteen-year-old, depending on the laws of the state she's when she videotapes the encounter.

She then takes the videotaped encounter and edits it to highlight the moments where the PP workers or counselors advise her to lie about the age of her boyfriend, who she tells them is about thirty-one. In other words, she catches them supposedly breaking the law, as they — as health professionals, we are to presume — are obliged to report any sexual abuse involving girls under a certain age (in Tennessee, under 15; in Indiana, under 14). 

Below is an example of one of her edited tapes:

It's another form of "gotcha" media. We see it with the politician who calls an American of Indian descent "Macaca," a racial slur, right on videotape. In Korea we've seen it with loads of mollae k'amera (or molk'a) shows, as well as incidents like the "dog poop girl." In the US, NBC's widely viewed reality TV series "To Catch a Predator" became a cultural icon, with real people really going to jail because they sought out sex with someone online who was actually an adult but whom they thought was a girl (or, in a few episodes, a boy) who was barely in their teens. 

I'm uncomfortable with all this gotcha media, particularly the contrived bits. Ultimately, the pretext of Ms Rose's videos all rests on a lie. The captions say 13-year-old as if it's true, not even in quotation marks, when in fact the "13-year-old" is twenty years old. 

That's just the beginning of the slippery slope down self-serving mendacity. The lying is significant because, since none of it's true, she can change her story as she goes along until she finally ensnares the Planned Parenthood worker or counselor. And she certainly has a reason to do that since, from the get-go, she is in there lying in order to fulfill her personal agenda.

It only starts with lying about her age. Why is she "fourteen" in Tennessee and only "thirteen" in Indiana? Because her story must change in order to entrap. She is told by a counselor (who may initially presume the boyfriend who impregnated her to also be of a young age) that who the boyfriend is is not important — but Ms Rose, the "thirteen-year-old" blurts out anyway that the person is thirty-one. Would an actual pregnant thirteen-year-old do this? This stinks of entrapment, and I would be dismayed if anyone in Planned Parenthood is fined or put on trial because of it. Meanwhile, Ms Rose would do well to release the entire unedited versions of her videotapes. 

That's not to say that Planned Parenthood shouldn't review — and publicly address — its own shortcomings vis-à-vis these sex abuse notification laws they're required to uphold. That's not Ms Rose's ultimate goal, of course, but it should be one of the outcomes. 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Japan, by the way, is also wired

The Japan Times has an interesting op-ed on whether its ninety million online citizens (a milestone it passed at the end of last year) are happier and better off being by being connected:
If not reading or shopping, most Japanese probably lose themselves in fantasy sites, video games or other escapes. Fantasizing is quite human of course, but when the fantasies are delivered pre-formed without the active work of the imagination, there is cause for concern. Young people especially need face-to-face time with real live human beings, not just with uploaded photos and lines of text. If not learned and practiced, the social skills of intuition, empathy and body language, all with their unique Japanese patterns, may start to fade away.
Sounds a bit like editorials coming out of Korea from time to time.

Hey, you Japanese (and Koreans), get off the computer and go out on a date! Your population pyramids are turned on their frickin' head!

Why China backs North Korea

Courtesy of the Japan Times, here's an op-ed of sorts by Jonathan Holslag of the EU-China Academic Forum detailing some of the economic and political entanglements that will ensure Beijing will keep on backing the regime in Pyongyang:
China is tied to its autocratic neighbor through a panoply of interests. Since the Korean War, it considers North Korea as a buffer state, and up to today, it seeks to defend the status quo. The baseline is that China still has a 1961 defense treaty with its neighbor and that any intervention by third countries will force it to either respond or lose the confidence of other traditional allies in Asia.

To some extent, it is thus history that binds them together, but more important is the existence of a harmful security dilemma. Rivalry with other powers like the United States, Japan and Russia inhibits Beijing to effectively tackle nontraditional security threats for the long haul, because pressure once again might undermine its regional influence in the short term. A worst-case scenario would be a peaceful regime change that allows Japan and the U.S. to move in. Equally troublesome would be unification with South Korea, as this would again require Japanese support, and might bring about a more self-determined Korea with economic and political ambitions that could challenge China's growing influence in Northeast Asia.
There's more to it than just that, so it's a good read. It certainly sheds light on some of the rants I've been making for the better part of this decade.

A Korean connection to waterboarding

In a discussion about how waterboarding and other forms of torture were so quickly and enthusiastically embraced by the Bush Administration, the New York Times provides a bit of Korea-related background to this controversial technique for getting the enemy to talk:
... no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said.
Ouch. Harsh words, and a good reason why people should pay attention to things written about Korea. Hint. Hint.

I myself was a little surprised to hear that the Americans thought the North Koreans and the Chinese would use waterboarding on the Americans they'd captured. If Hollywood has taught us anything about American POWs during the Korean War, it's that entire platoons would be brainwashed into believing that their NCO saved their lives, which would warrant him receiving the Medal of Honor when they all return to the US. Years after the Korean War is over, the NCO would become an intelligence officer and be used as a sleeper agent for the communists, where someone showing him the queen of diamonds in a deck of playing cards could compel him to follow their nefarious orders — all without him having any memory of it. All this would be manipulated by a politically ambitious and domineering mother who is secretly working for the communists in a plot to overthrow the US government.

Creating this type of unwitting agent, a Manchurian candidate if you will, would probably be of much greater use than anything you'd learn from waterboarding. It certainly worked on Roh Moohyun.

현장 아이폰 restaurant review

Golden Palace Seafood Restaurant on King Street in Honolulu's Chinatown probably has the best cheap dim sum on Oahu.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

King Kamehameha

I have no idea what this building is, but there's a statue of King
Kamehaha in front of it.

In terms of reverence, Kamehameha is like the Sejong Taewang of
Hawaii. Or Sejong is the Kamehameha of Korea. Either or.

USS 아리조나 메모리알

Today's agenda brought us to the USS Arizona Memorial, whose name in the Korean-language brochures sounds like "memory egg."

I'm not saying that to be glib, and in fact I took a lot of serious photos. This was my first visit with my Nikon D60, so expect to see more than just this iPhone 현장 post.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Working it in Waikiki

As I mentioned earlier, it's light blogging ahead as I entertain visitors and work on stuff. Kushibo always has stuff to do. Kushibo needs more minions to ghost-blog as kushibo so he can remain omniscent, omnipresent, omniawake, and omnivorous.

Today Kushibo1 went to Hanauma Bay with a novice swimmer, so Kushibo1 didn't get to go out and see the sea turtles. Plus the water was cold. This has been a chilly winter by Hawaii standards.

Still, I'll bet you wish you were here. And why is Kushibo blogging in the third person? Maybe TheKorean is ghost-blogging as Kushibo1.

Back to work.

Korus FTA developments

After one month's absence, Ben in Alaska has updated his Korus FTA-related blog, pointing out a little bit of "progress" and movement.

I'm still torn as to whether to call it ROK-US FTA (that's a lot of caps), US-ROK FTA (again with the caps), KORUS FTA, or Korus FTA. I've always been partial to ROK-US FTA, just because you can say "Rock us, FTA!" like the FTA is the drug-addled lead singer in some sort of superband, circa 1987. (Or, we're anxiously awaiting the passage of the FTA so that it will stimulate — or rock — our economy.)

By the way, light blogging ahead as a I have some visitors and a lot of work to do. If the sun comes out, we'll hit Hanauma Bay. If not, then it's off to Pearl Harbor.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The future is in Ala Moana

I'm sitting in the food court on the street level of Ala Moana
Shopping Center, sipping a vanilla latte about a hundred feet from the
entrance to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

CB has a one-hour-free dealie, but in true Hawaii fashion, one hour
can turn into two or three.

I hope it's at least two, because I'm presently "in class,"
participating in my online health econ course.

All the while using my iPhone to send pictures and post on my blog.

What's cool is that this puts me one step closer to my dream of
lecturing on Korean society and health issues from the veranda of my
Tuscan villa.


Happy Bicycle Day!

Well, a belated Bicycle Day.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Not the sharpest tool in the toolbox

The K-blogosphere is outraged — outraged, I say! — at the latest moralistic claptrap to come out of the Korea Times op-ed pages.

As I wrote at Brian's website, such people as Haydn complains about — man whores, essentially — really do exist. I'd like to think that people who are serious about their work far outnumber the people who came for whoring, but I don't think it comes anywhere near being the dominant personality type and to write about it in the KT is, well, mindless drivel. The KT needs to do a complete housecleaning and do away with the high school newspaper twaddle.

Upon further contemplation, though, it's really other things about this screed that bother me, including his admonishments to Koreans reading the KT not to become to Westernized (and by that he means Americanized). Yeah, I'm sure that message will really resonate with the English-speaking elite who can actually understand your codswallop.

I've lived in Korea off and on since I was a teenager, going back more than twenty years, so Mr Sennitt's complaints about Koreans "following the West" are quaint and cliché. (I once was acquainted with a Canadian who hated Korea because it was not like she imagined; in all seriousness she imagined Koreans would be running around in hanbok and living in thatched-roof houses. She chastised her students (who, I presume, didn't understand her all that well) for living in modern high-rises. "So, "D," you're complaint is that Korea's not one big folk village, eh?" "Yes. And what's wrong with that?"

Anyway, what bothers me more is when Australians like Mr Sennitt, New Zealanders, Irish, and especially the English go off about how Koreans (or Japanese) are trying to be American. Sure, the Starbucks Mr Sennitt rants about Koreans wanting to be seen with is American, but Koreans who want to hang out at Outback think it's Australian, so it's really not American that they're trying to be, but just modern stuff that they want to have. And for the most part, modern stuff is largely Western stuff. Sometimes, though, it's Japanese stuff, and increasingly it's Korean stuff, too. Get off the anti-American kick, jackass.

Oh, and while we're at it, choice words there equating homosexuality with social problems:
To make matters worse, family dysfunction, divorce, single-parent households, homosexuality, crime, drug use and other anti-social behavior are increasing in many western nations ― even Australia and Britain.
Gay people — even in Australia and the UK? Divorced people, too? Maybe they're getting divorced so they can be gay.

You know what, I have a sneakin' suspicion that this foray into high school journalism is all a ruse. The name Hayden Sennitt is just a bit too weird (particularly since it looks like it was spelled by a drunken Mancunian) and the Bible Thumper's screed is just a bit too touch-all-the-bases moralistic. And that email address — God's quasar — that's a red flag if ever there were one.

"But, Kushibo," you might protest, "his picture is there. He must be real."

Sure, that brickwall background... that could only be Korea. No, kids, the fact is that you could probably fake an identity-with-photograph quite easily by just downloading some photo on Facebook or elsewhere on the Interweb. Do you think these people had any idea I've used their visages in an attempt at humor?

So, yeah, I'm calling b.s. on this. I'm guessing someone out there is trying to take the piss out of finger-wagging Christians who have called him on his own bacchanalian debauchery while in the Land of Morning Calm on a teaching visa.

Oh, if the KT would just one day wake up and realize what a grossly unprofessional laughingstock their gazette really is.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

He of Tea Mountain

Courtesy of Korea Beat, here's a newly commissioned portrait of Tasan (다산/茶山), aka Chŏng Yagyong (정약용/丁若鏞), an important shirhak (실학/實學) philosopher of the late 18th and early 19th centuries who emphasized a practical application of neo-Confucianist state ideology, and one of Korea's first Catholic converts.

I like this picture. Very smart-looking, as in 멋있다, and I wouldn't mind having such a portrait of myself made. In fact, I think someone could make some serious coin doing Chosŏn-style portraits of folks in the modern era.

That scraggly beard, though, makes him look like he needs to mow the lawn.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Honolulu sunset

We get a lot of these colorful displays at dusk. That and rainbows.

The truth is, I never tire of them, and I doubt I need chemical stimulation to appreciate them more.

Sent from my iPhone

So long, Encarta!

I have just found out that Microsoft will pull the plug on its Encarta online encyclopedia, as of October 31, 2009. I found this out when I looked something up on Encarta itself. I had gone to Encarta because, ironically, one of the footnote citations for that same something in Wikipedia was an Encarta entry.

Without Encarta to reference, will Wikipedia's credibility take a huge hit, sort of like the collapse of faith in the loan and banking sectors last year?

Encyclopedias are great things. When I was a little kid, my parents put a set of encyclopedias on the bookshelf next to our bathroom. By the time I reached high school, I had read every single entry of the entire twenty volumes. I know everything there is to know, except stuff that happened after the Carter presidency.

When I first bought a laptop I paid some serious coin to get the entire Grollier's Encyclopedia on CD. In fact, when I got a bigger hard drive, I saved the CD contents so I could access it whenever I wanted. It was great, in those pre-Encarta and pre-Wikipedia days, before Korea had wi-fi access everywhere, to be able to get solid info on the fly. Now it seems so quaint but back then it was very high-tech. I suppose someday my iPhone with its 3G connectivity will seem oh-so outmoded as well.

Anyway, as much as I dislike Microsoft and their business model, I did like Encarta, so this makes me sad. I also like the whole saving Africans thing, too, so I guess it wouldn't be a good thing if MS disappeared. Well, if muscular dystrophy disappeared that would be good; I meant the other MS.

I hope Microsoft will save Encarta somewhere, for posterity's sake, much like they have recently done with the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. Check out the 98-year-old entry on Korea:
The east coast of Korea is steep and rock-bound, with deep water and a tidal rise and fall of 1 to 2 ft. The west coast is often low and shelving, and abounds in mud-banks, and the tidal rise and fall is from 20 to 36 ft. Korean harbours, except two or three which are closed by drift ice for some weeks in winter, are ice-free. Among them are Port Shestakov, Port Lazarev, and Won-san (Gensan), in Broughton Bay (Named after William Robert Broughton (1762-1821), an English navigator who explored these seas in 1795-1798); Fusan, Ma-san-po, at the mouth of the Nak-tong, on the south coast; Mok-po, Chin-nampo, near the mouth of the Tai-dong; and Chemulpo, near the mouth of the Han, the port of the capital and the sea terminus of the first Korean railway on the west coast.

Korea is distinctly mountainous, and has no plains deserving the name. In the north there are mountain groups with definite centres, the most notable being Paik-tu San or Pei-shan (8700 ft.) which contains the sources of the Yalu and Tumen. From these groups a lofty range runs southwards, dividing the empire into two unequal parts. On its east, between it and the coast, which it follows at a moderate distance, is a fertile strip difficult of access, and on the west it throws off so many lateral ranges and spurs, as to break up the country into a chaos of corrugated and precipitous hills and steep-sided valleys, each with a rapid perennial stream. Farther south this axial range, which includes the Diamond Mountain group, falls away towards the sea in treeless spurs and small and often infertile levels.
Yeah, Koreans were naming their bays after British explorers. Right.

Actually I did a blog entry last July about the mysterious Port Lazareff. It's funny to see all the European names for stuff in Korea, though I am used to Liancourt Rocks for Tokto/Takeshima, and in history classes I did encounter Port Hamilton for Kŏmundo (거문도). Today, I dare say, most Koreans would have no idea about these European names (and some would be downright offended).

Payback is a glitch

Okay, South Korea is approaching one of those epiphanies where it should become clear that the old, established way of doing things may no longer be reliable and it is time to take a new path — even trailblaze that path if necessary.

South Korea joined then-President George W. Bush's coalition of the willing in Iraq for two reasons: First, then-President Roh Moohyun needed to show the US that South Korea was a true partner in the alliance (especially amidst claims he was anti-American), and secondly, it was a chance for South Korea to secure valuable oil contracts in the region where its troops would be operating.

Both of these things had to be important, because Roh was running completely against the grain of his own party and even the generally pro-US opposition (now the ruling party) wasn't inclined to get too involved in Bush's ill-conceived war.

[above: Oil field in Kurdistan. Very, very messy.]

It seemed that reason #2 was paying off. In exchange for promises to provide $2.1 billion in infrastructure development in Kurdistan, South Korea's Korea National Oil Corporation and SK Energy secured nearly two billion barrels of oil.

Echos of the Madagascar deal: promises of development in exchange for security of a needed commodity.

But as with Madagascar, the deal may be going south. South to Baghdad, in fact, which is caught up in a feud over the autonomous Kurdistan region — which had been virtually free of Saddam Hussein's influence since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

It seems Baghdad doesn't like the Kurdistan leaders in Arbil making contracts to give away oil that belongs, according to the new constitution, to the whole country. And they are telling KNOC and SKE that if they want to bid on other contracts, they will have to rip up the earlier one with Arbil.

My dad used to say this to me (in relation to medical school and what-not): If it were easy, everybody would do it. Seoul should ponder this question: Why haven't other countries been making these grand deals with Madagascar or Kurdistan? The answer may lie in a distrust of China or other countries among Iraqis or Malagasies that does not exist toward Korea, but the key may be that these grand plans are inherently risky. Risky because, well, not all the people of Madagascar support the government and Kurdistan doesn't exactly have full rights to the oil they claim to be selling.

And so maybe South Korea needs to take a good, long look at the problem and find that new path I've been mentioning. Instead of a few billion dollars for Kurdistan infrastructure, how about a few billion for alternative energy R&D. This is the wave of the future. Chasing down oil contracts is so 20th century. If Korea-based researchers (and this can include the growing number of non-Korean scholars populating Korea's tech institutes) can crack open the barriers to solar energy collection and storage, water desalinization, hydrogen power, small-scale nuclear energy, etc., etc., the world will beat a path to Taejŏn.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

LAT on North Korea's second-in-command

One of the great things about being a North Korea watcher is that if you're right, everybody thinks you're brilliant, but if you're wrong, everyone's understanding. Because North Korea is about as opaque a country as you'll ever find.

Bear that in mind as you read Los Angeles Times Seoul correspondent John Glionna's piece on the brother-in-law of ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Jang Song-taek (장성택/張成澤; chang sŏngt'aek), whose daughter Jang Keum-song (장금성) committed suicide in Paris while studying there, reportedly when she refused to return to North Korea as ordered because of her unapproved love with somebody in Paris.

It starts thus:
He is an enigma from the world's most secretive state, a behind-the-scenes political operative known mostly as a trusted brother-in-law to North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il.

But Jang Song Taek has recently emerged as a decisive player in the drama of who might succeed the ailing 67-year-old Kim in a country that remains defiant in the face of international pressure to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

Looking weak following a suspected stroke in August, Kim last week publicly anointed Jang as his second in charge, analysts say, naming him to the powerful National Defense Commission.
Jang was the hardliner reportedly in charge of things after KJI had his stroke, and he supposedly "took the opportunity to crush any dissent."

The article goes on into the usual topics of neo-Confucianism focus on blood ties, which would preclude Jang from becoming leader himself but would make him the perfect trustee to guide the Dear Leader's chosen son to power.

But, as Glionna points out, not everyone agrees on what Jang's elevation to the National Defense Commission means:
Pyongyang watchers are divided about the move's significance. Some say Jang could assume power if Kim dies or is incapacitated, while others insist he would merely become the regime's caretaker, ensuring an orderly succession of power to one of Kim's three sons.
So I'm going to make a prediction or two. First, the Dear Leader's not going anywhere. Yeah, he probably had a stroke in August, but if he's up and walking around like he has, he's out of the woods. He has survived the stroke; having had a stroke makes it clear that you're at high risk for another stroke, but it's not like cancer where the same stroke might come back on you.

Frankly, I think people are too premature about that, talking about how weak he is, how emaciated, how he's got one foot in the grave. I don't think such people have a whole lot of experience with stroke survivors. The guy is walking around and talking and smiling. Kirk freakin' Douglas had a much more severe stroke at the age of eighty, and thirteen years later he's still around, at ninety-three. The picture above is from two years ago during a Reuters interview.

Diabetes is more likely to do the Dear Leader in, but he's got some of the best doctors constantly watching his care, so even that might remain under control. His father had a giant tumor on his neck and still managed to live to the age of eighty-two. If KJI lives that long, we'll still be dealing with him in 2023.

But I do think that the stroke may have made things more difficult or made him more tired, or possibly even gave him a new perspective on life, and those things might lead him to give up some or all of his power, especially if he can oversee a shift in power to his sons. His brother-in-law can help make that happen, although if KJI really is incapacitated, we know from Korean history how uncles and brothers and mothers can really screw things up for the whole country.

If he oversees a transfer of power while physically strong and cognitively aware, his chosen relative (his son or his brother-in-law) may be firmly in power for quite some time (not unlike, say, Raul Castro might be in Cuba). But if he's enervated or cognitively weakened, his chosen successor might find himself playing nothing more than the role of figurehead, while the military or the rubber stamp parliament vies for power to see who calls the shots. Though things will probably not get violent, there is a potential for bloodshed.

So there you have it: I predict KJI will be here for the long haul but he will try to get one of his sons in power with the help of his brother-in-law, who will remain loyal to KJI, especially if KJI stays strong. If not, Brother-in-law Jang may try to wrest some power for himself, but there could be a lot of intrigue in Pyongyang at that time.

Sound good? Bear in mind that I have been wrong about a lot of my boldest predictions (like Han Myŏngsuk becoming the next president). Kim Jong-il could become Kim Jong-keel tomorrow.

Blogger is going down for a scheduled outage in five minutes

Just a heads-up. Although when Blogger has gone down, you won't be able to read this heads-up.

UPDATE (6:09 p.m. Korea/Japan time):
Well, it looks like Blogger lied to me again. Nine minutes into this outage, things are still up.

Unleash the financial furies

There's an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times that Joshua of One Free Korea might enjoy for its emphasis on punishing Pyongyang by punching them in the pocketbook. It's penned by Juan Carlos Zarate, a former Bush-43 Treasury Department official and NSA deputy adviser.

Here's the gist:
It remains to be seen how far countries such as China and Russia will actually go in tightening sanctions. But the U.S. should ensure that the condemnation has meaning by taking decisive action with or without the Security Council.

We know what works: leveraging smart financial power to pressure North Korea and disrupt the regime's continued proliferation and illicit financial activity.

In September 2005, as part of a strategic pressure campaign, the Treasury Department ordered U.S. financial institutions to close correspondent accounts for a private bank in Macau -- Banco Delta Asia. This bank was facilitating money laundering, proliferation and counterfeiting on behalf of the North Korean regime.

The regulation cut the bank off from the U.S. financial system. More important, the unilateral regulation unleashed the global financial furies against North Korea. Banks in China, Asia and Europe stopped doing business with North Korea, denying it access to the international financial system. North Korean bank accounts were closed, its transnational commercial transactions were canceled, and officials' financial activities were carefully scrutinized.

This hurt Pyongyang. The North Korean regime scrambled to regain access to money and accounts around the world while trying to undo the official damage done to its reputation in the international financial community. Key state actors, including China, had no incentive to block the full effect of the market reaction. On the contrary, they did not want their banks or financial reputations caught up in the taint of North Korea's illicit financial activity.
That's more than just the gist, it's over a third of the editorial.

I tend to agree with Joshua that this kind of thing would work, and it looks like it's something where Beijing (and Moscow?) might be forced to join Washington. If this was in fact a missile launch, it would be nice to take a tough stand against Pyongyang, especially when it doesn't involve military action which could get very, very messy (that's pretty much a last resort, but it should be left on the table).

Joshua might not like one of the goals Mr Zarate has for this leverage: It seems what the US can gain by squeezing Pyongyang's ecojones is to force Pyongyang back to the six-party talks, which the OFK crowd generally finds to be a fruitless objective.

It came from Musudan-ri

PBS has another discussion between Selig Harrison and Balbina Hwang about North Korea's vow to pull out of the six-party talks (I focused on an earlier PBS discussion here). Quite an interesting exchange, though Mr Harrison seems a bit confused whether it's a missile launch or a satellite launch.

Speaking of which, how's this for a WTF moment: The AFP is reporting that South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sanghee has told the Korea National Assembly that whatever it was that North Korea launched over the East Sea/Sea of Japan last week "followed the trajectory of a satellite."

Come again?

At first I was quite incredulous at this bit of news, since I was seeing it in the People's Daily (which said South Korea "admitted" that it followed a satellite trajectory) and China Daily, two less than objective sources when it comes to South Korea or the United States.

Now I'm not just thinking out loud here; I'm genuinely asking for information here because I'm not exactly a rocket scientist. First, what is the evidence, what is the slam-dunk case that this was a test launch of a weaponized missile? And by slam dunk I don't mean "Saddam Hussein has WMDs" slam dunk; I mean actual facts and evidence.

Even before the launch, I'd been starting to wonder whether we all have jumped on a bandwagon without knowing where it's going. The way words were being thrown around and ideas were being conflated were red flags to me.

Here's an example, straight from Mr Harrison himself:
You know that on March 26th they said very explicitly that if even one word of criticism of their missile launch came out of the United Nations, they would discontinue the six-party negotiating process on nuclear weapons, which it started in 2005.
This is not true. North Korea never said they were launching a missile; they've insisted they were launching a satellite with a rocket. Everything else Mr Harrison said may be true, but it looks like North Korea is acknowledging that they were test launching a missile, an admission they did not make.

I'm having flashbacks of yellow cake and al Qaeda meetings with Saddam Hussein, from a time when a majority of Americans believed the Iraqi leader was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks.

And then there's this niggling little thought in the back of my brain: What does North Korea have to gain from firing a missile? It already has massive artillery pointed at South Korean cities and probably a plan of attack for the Japanese coast, which would put some sort of threat of mutual destruction in play, thus seriously lowering the risk of a US-led or ROK-led attack on the DPRK. Moreover, their supposed test of a nuclear device a few years ago also gives them considerable leverage in preventing an attack.

So if a missile wouldn't actually bolster their defense, what would it be good for? We are told that it enhanced the image of the Dear Leader to his people, who believe they are under siege by a hostile US-led coalition poised against them. Such a technological breakthrough, we are told, is the North Koreans' way of thumbing their nose at Washington.

More ominously, we are told that North Korea could earn some serious coin by selling its advanced missile technology to rogue states or organizations. They already are involved with missile exports, so this is not so far-fetched.

But wait a minute, wouldn't Pyongyang benefit just the same if they were able to put a satellite into orbit? They would gain considerable prestige, both domestically and internationally, but with the added benefit of not being such a pariah. And making Washington look like a belligerent fearmonger would earn the North Korean regime some respect and street cred in many parts of the world.

Moreover, look at the comparative benefits of developing satellite launch technology versus advanced missile technology. First and foremost, launching a communications satellite on the cheap for a moderately poor country is not going to earn you enemies, whereas having a missile Iran uses to flatten Tel Aviv will bring a world of hurt. Second, there's a lot of money to be made in satellite launching, especially if you get good at it and you can do it cheaply. According to How Stuff Works, a satellite launch can cost $50 to $400 million. That's a lot of coin, and it's legit coin.

So for a North Korean regime that wants to earn some hard cash, wow its citizenry, raise its stature around the world, piss off the United States, and not become a pariah, going into the satelite launching business is a no-brainer compared to making long-range missiles.


Of course, I'm assuming that the two technological spheres require similar levels of cost and expertise. Neither one is easy to accomplish, but one or the other many be much harder. Indeed, there are other questions to ask as well. For starters, is Defense Minister Lee's claim true? And if it is true, what does it mean? As in, is it possible that a missile and a satellite launch have such similar trajectories that this is inconclusive (Wikipedia says the Unha-2 satellite launcher and the Taepodong-2 ballistic missile have the same delivery system)? If this is a satellite test launch, are we accurate in calling it a missile instead of a rocket? Is a satellite launch also (like a missile test) a violation of UN sanctions?

I want answers, and I must admit that all of this is a little devil's advocate...ish. Maybe I'm being naïve, but I think I'm going to stop calling it a missile launch for now, though I'm a bit loath to call it a rocket launch. I'll just call it a launch.