Monday, November 30, 2009

I know a lot of Americans are biology-challenged but...

... was the handwritten label necessary?

ZenKimchi has left a new comment on your post "I know a lot of Americans are biology-challenged b...":

I go to check my Google Reader and Kushibo gives me a little head.
Posted by ZenKimchi to Monster Island (actually a peninsula)* at Tuesday, December 01, 2009 8:55:00 AM

kushibo has left a new comment on your post "I know a lot of Americans are biology-challenged b...":

ZenKimchi wrote:
I go to check my Google Reader and Kushibo gives me a little head.

little head? That's a lot of head. That a couple pounds' worth of head.

Anyway, if anybody else wants some of this, it's five bucks a head.

Actually, $4.87. 

Posted by kushibo to 
Monster Island (actually a peninsula)* at Tuesday, December 01, 2009 10:13:00 AM

kushibo has left a new comment on your post "I know a lot of Americans are biology-challenged b...":

arvinsign wrote:
LOL..maybe the seller was a former ichthyologist :)

Yes, because the Safeway butchers are former marine biology majors at UH or HPU.

Anyway, I wonder if "ick" comes from ichthyology. 

Posted by kushibo to 
Monster Island (actually a peninsula)* at Tuesday, December 01, 2009 10:21:00 AM

reijene has left a new comment on your post "I know a lot of Americans are biology-challenged b...":


(and still rolling)
Posted by reijene to Monster Island (actually a peninsula)* at Tuesday, December 01, 2009 6:44:00 PM

"Gaga for the gayagum" at The Sonagi Consortium

Adeel is gaga over the kayagŭm, which is a much more alliterative thing to say if you spell it gayageum or gayagum. A Wonder Girls song on this traditional stringed instrument is what got him hooked.

Follow THIS LINK for the post by Adeel.

Follow THIS LINK to write for The Sonagi Consortium.

Daily Kor for November 30, 2009: A case of the Mondays

Mondays suck. You have to go to work. There's no good excuse to drink until Wednesday (if that's your preferred method of anesthetizing yourself enough to dull the painful reminder that you hate your job) at the earliest. And if you're someone who has been panicked about a possible second free fall in the global economy (or just the peninsular economy), then you've probably been dreading what bad news lies ahead as we analyze the fallout from the Dubai debt moratorium crisis.

But first, you have to actually get to work. And with trains running at only 60% capacity, that's 66.7% more headache getting to work (0.6 and 1.667 are inversely proportional, in case you're wondering what orifice I pulled that out of).

President Lee is mad about the trains, but he's got bigger fish to fry. And he needs to figure out where he's going to meet the Dear Leader during their North-South summit. He says he's prepared to meet Kim Jong-il "anywhere," even if he has to take the bus.
  1. Seoul downplays expectations for next week's Washington-Pyongyang talks (AP via WaPo, Yonhap, AFPKorea Herald, Chosun Ilbo)
  2. South Korean government vows to be vigilant over impact of Dubai debt moratorium (CNBC Asia, ReutersYonhap, Korea Herald); KOTRA says Dubai fallout unlikely to trigger global crisis (Yonhap); effect on South Korean markets "limited" (Yonhap, BloombergKorea Herald)
  3. Rail workers' strike disrupts passenger train service, causing reduction to 60% capacity, President Lee concerned (Yonhap, UPI, AFPKorea Times, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily)
  4. Ministry of Gender Equality to be expanded to emphasize importance of women and childcare-oriented policies, will take over jurisdiction of some areas currently under Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Family Affairs (Yonhap, Korea Herald, Korea Times)
  5. ROK President Lee Myungbak flexible on venue of upcoming North-South summit, saying he cold hold it "anywhere" (Joongang Daily)
  6. Seoul to send doctoral-level researchers and lawyers to diplomatic missions abroad to help them cope with global issues (Yonhap, Korea Herald)
  7. Japan launches fifth spy satellite, aimed at gathering intelligence on North Korea (AP via WaPo, Chosun Ilbo)
  8. South Korean fishing boat sinks off Uruguay; all 38 Korean, Vietnamese, and Indonesian crew members are safe (AP via WaPo)
  9. President Lee asks ruling part to back revisions to Sejong City plans (Yonhap); President plans to visit countryside to monitor public opinions (Yonhap, Korea Herald)
  10. South Korea says it will send back North Korean soldier who drifted into ROK waters off the west coast (Yonhap, AFP)
  11. At International Maritime Organization meeting in London, North Korea tells the UN agency that "certain" countries are threatening its freedom of navigation (Yonhap)
  12. Lotte Department Store announces recall of Big Horse™ brand cookies (Yonhap)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Take your daughter son to work Worker's Party day

Apparently North Korea's Dear Leader is serious about making his youngest son his heir. I guess that's why he's called an heir-apparent [rim shot]. Thanks. I'm here all week.

Um, anyway, the evidence comes by way of a North Korean "internal document" which itself comes by way of Japan's Mainichi Shimbun newspaper. It says that Kim Jong-il took Kim Jong-un on a "field guidance" trip that is intended to prepare him to take over the reins of power in Pyongyang.

From AFP:
The Mainichi Shimbun said it had obtained an official North Korean "internal document" which described a visit by the father and son to a provincial agricultural university earlier this year.

The literature described itself as "the first official document regarding General Comrade Kim Jong-Un", the daily said. Information on the Kim family is tightly controlled by North Korea's official media.

Kim Jong-Il and his late father, North Korea's founder Kim Il-Sung, used "field guidance" trips to military units, factories, farms and other places to demonstrate their absolute leadership in the communist state.

The document, dated April 26, said that Kim Jong-Il visited Wonsan University of Agriculture in the eastern port city of Wonsan, telling activists there that he had brought Kim Jong-Un, the newspaper reported.
I wonder if the 26-year-old Cherished Leader spent the whole time on the twisted photo op thinking to himself, "Oh, God! Forty years of this?!" If so, unification may be closer than we think.


From whatever time the previous post was until now, that's how long I waited in line. It's worth it, though.

Lots of tourists in this place, both foreign and domestic. And that bodes well for Hawaii's wind-sucking economy.

The young woman above is a satisfied Matsumoto's customer.

In line for some Hawaiian-style 핕빙수

No trip to the North Shore is complete without a visit to Matsumoto's for a shave ice.

And sorry there are no pictures of bikini-clad beachgoers at Waimea Bay, but the lifeguards were busting some Chosun Ilbo shutterpervs, so I decided to put the camera away.

I thought about doing the metro technique of holding my camera at waist level and then snapping people unawares, but I didn't want to risk it. :)

dim sum for $1.89 a plate

When Seoul pulls that off, it's a global city.

NYT on Korea's multiethnic "miniature baby boom"

I should first explain that it's the baby boom that's miniature, not the babies. Normal sized babies, these be.

Anyway, it's the latest report of the one of the newer memes about Korea. An excerpt:
Just a few years ago, the number of pregnant women in this city had declined so much that the sparsely equipped two-room maternity ward at Yeonggwang General Hospital was close to shutting down. But these days it is busy again.

More surprising than the fact of this miniature baby-boom is its composition: children of mixed ethnic backgrounds, the offspring of Korean fathers and mothers from China, Vietnam and other parts of Asia. These families have suddenly become so numerous that the nurses say they have had to learn how to say “push” in four languages.

It is a similar story across South Korea, where hundreds of thousands of foreign women have been immigrating in recent years, often in marriages arranged by brokers. They have been making up for a shortage of eligible Korean women, particularly in underdeveloped rural areas like this one in the nation’s southwest.

Now, these unions are bearing large numbers of mixed children, confronting this proudly homogeneous nation with the difficult challenge of smoothly absorbing them.

South Korea is generally more open to ethnic diversity than other Asian nations with relatively small minority populations, like neighboring Japan. Nevertheless, it is far from welcoming to these children, who are widely known here pejoratively as Kosians, a compound of Korean and Asian.
I'd like to see a little more evidence that Kosian is typically used pejoratively or that it's even commonly used (the "English" term, that is) among native Korean speakers. Frankly, I'm not sure what the Korean equivalent would be, and right now the people I would ask are all asleep or hungover.

Daily Kor for November 29, 2009: Quick and dirty Yonhap edition

I woke up late and I'm headed to Chinatown (for dim sum) and North Shore today, so this is the quick-and-dirty edition of the Daily Kor (which is a play on Daily Kos — I'm not sure if anyone gets that). Besides, it's Saturday in America and Sunday in Korea, which is about as close to a sure bet of their being no big news as there could be. Enjoy the day off! (If anything significant happens, I may include an update later today, otherwise truly newsworthy stuff from today will be tacked on to tomorrow's edition. Mahalo for your understanding.)

  1. South Korean weightlifter Chang Miran, a gold medalist at 2008 Beijing Olympics, claims fourth straight world championship title (Yonhap)
  2. President Lee orders stern attack against striking public workers (Yonhap)
  3. Opposition parties intensify efforts against revisions to Sejong City (Yonhap)
  4. North Korea says it's time for South Korea to take steps to improve chilled ties (Yonhap)
  5. Study finds tryptophan reduces ability to think of jokes (Yonhap)

48 hours (and 34 minutes)

This may be of interest to no one but me, but I wanted to give some kudos to Apple and FedEx. Sure, I'm not too happy that my two-month-old MacBook Pro is occasionally making sounds like that of a revving engine — after already having the hard drive replaced for a mysterious clicking sound — but I am thoroughly pleased at the quick turnaround time for my most recent Apple purchase, a blue iPod Shuffle to be used for jogging as the battery on the 3.5-year-old iPod Nano I have has begun to slowly die*.

So I bought the $59 device online. I'm only listening to news programs when I jog — NPR, NYT, PBS — so the 2GB "500 songs" version is fine. It's a really tiny device that clips on your clothes; there's a life-size photograph of it to the left of this paragraph.

Anyway, I chose to buy it online, since you can then get the free engraving. I sometimes lose things (my iPhone went missing for three weeks) and so I thought it prudent to have my email address and phone number on the tiny device.

I placed the order late on the 20th, a Friday. By 2 p.m. the following Sunday, the 22nd, I received an email that it was being shipped. Odd, I thought, that they would be shipping things on a Sunday, but then I saw that it was Monday morning (the 23rd) in Suzhou, China, from where it was being shipped. I got a FedEx tracking number.

I had been warned that I could receive the device as late as the 30th, so I was dismayed to see that instead of shipping things out to Honolulu directly (as the ROK post office does with things it ships to Hawaii), my packaged seemed to be taking the route of Magellan to get to the Sandwich Islands (that's us in Hawaii, by the way, just in case you work for the Wall Street Journal). First it was headed for Shanghai, then Anchorage, then Oakland. I was worried that if it kept up that trajectory, it would end up in Memphis, their hubbest of hubs, and then be sent on a special plane for all FedEx packages headed for Hawaii.

But no, they hung a right at the Bay Bridge and headed for the Aloha State. They pulled an all-nighter, apparently, getting my stuff to their Honolulu sorting facility (near the airport, I think) by 8:31. By 10:50 a.m., it was on the truck. FedEx delivery to our dorm is usually in the afternoon, and lo and behold, my package was signed for by the dorm office staff at 2:33 p.m.

I was hoping for a just-under 48-hour travel time for this to be a cool story, but it was 48 hours and 34 minutes. I'll still accept this as a neat situation deserving kudos. Globalization has its critics, but if it gets me my personalized iPod Shuffle in short order so I can hear news about those globalization critics while jogging through the green valleys up mauka-side Honolulu. Below is the FedEx site's updated list of my iPod Shuffle's travels.

One of the criticisms of globalization, of course, is that producers of goods and services (especially large-scale producers) are so hooked on competing in the cut-throat global marketplace that they cut corners in order to bring out the end product. Let's call that Microsoft-ization, to go along with the much ballyhooed McDonaldization, where things are produced so uniformly so as to make them cheaper and cheaper to reproduce.

And I would hate for any cost-cutting measures to, say, the downing of a FedEx cargo plane over the Pacific, with my iPod Shuffle on board. That was, after all, the subject of the Robert Zemeckis documentary Cast Away, with Tom Hanks re-creating the role of the brave Chuck Noland (Why didn't they call it Chucked Away? Missed opportunity for a little light humor, I'd say).

Mind you, this wish is not a selfish one, for I'm confident that Apple and/or FedEx would have insured I somehow got another iPod Shuffle (maybe even two! Score!). Rather, it is for the sake of whatever Chuck would have survived the crash and ended up finding my iPod Shuffle. After hearing "Please connect to iTunes to add music" over and over and over again for the next four years, he surely would have gone madder than the Wilson ball would make him. And I'd really hate to inflict that on anyone.

Plus, the now crazed Chuck (newly rescued) would know my email address and my phone number.

* I wish to preserve the iPod Nano (and its battery) for swimming, since I went to the expense of getting an H2Audio underwater casing for it, and since the shapes on those danged things keeps changing, I would need to get a whole new casing! Them puppies ain't cheap.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"And now for something controversial" at The Sonagi Consortium

A somewhat unorthodox look at ATEK-versus-AES and what it all means.

Follow THIS LINK for the post by Adeel.

"In Defense of Telling Someone When They Have a Booger Hanging Out of Their Nose" at The Sonagi Consortium

Do people know they're bald if Korean children don't tell them?

Follow THIS LINK for the post by White Rice.

English teachers have AIDS... because everyone has AIDS.

This made me chuckle.

I hate to say where I got it from. Not like I hang around there or anything. He did apparently finally admit he's not in Korea. And to his credit, he did address the AES-AIDS issue in an amusing way, sticking up this humorously satirical clip from Team America: World Police, which was one of the funniest movies I saw that year, whatever year that was.

Yeah, the guy is loathsome, but I'm going through a period of magnanimity and forbearance. I be lovin' everyone, except this one guy, who shall be hurtin', but that's another story for another time.

Daily Kor for November 28, 2009: It's all about Lee

It's the perfect storm of no news: It's a weekend in Seoul, when apparently nothing happens, judging by the reporters' work ethic, and it's Black Friday in the United States, when everyone is essentially on holiday and, now that Thanksgiving is over but Christmas is coming up, everyone goes shopping. It is traditionally considered the biggest shopping day of the year, and it's when many companies supposedly start turning a profit, hence the name. I drove some friends to Ala Moana Shopping Center, which was a madhouse. The walkways, the parking lots, and even the trash bins were full.

But enough about me; today it's all about Lee. Lee's going to Pyongyang, Lee apologizes for the state dumping $5 billion into a capital move that ain't happening, Lee this, Lee that.

Oh, and Dubai — that bastion of finance that is supposedly going to supplant Hong Kong and Singapore, and overshadow Shanghai, Tokyo, and of course Seoul, has declared a debt moratorium. Of course, per usual, when someone else fu¢ks up, it's South Korea whose stock market and currency fall.
  1. ROK President Lee Myungbak says he will go to North Korea to meet Kim Jong-il in effort to resolve nuclear crisis and deal with other issues (links here)
  2. Korean man who insulted Indian professor on bus becomes first person convicted of using hate speech in Korea, fined 1 million won (links here)
  3. Dubai credit crisis causes jitters in South Korea, with KOSPI plummeting 4.69 percent (AP via WaPo, People's Daily, WSJ, Bloomberg, Korea Times)
  4. President Lee sees growth in 2010 at about 5 percent (Bloomberg, Reuters via CNBC, Yonhap); Moody's predicts 6 percent growth (Joongang Daily)
  5. President Lee offers public apology for costly reversal of capital administrative plan for Sejong City (Yonhap, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily, Korea Herald)
  6. President Lee says plan to dispatch hundreds of civilian aid workers and security troops is part of Seoul's international obligation in return for past receipt of "enormous help from the international community" (Yonhap)
  7. Eager iPhone customers line up at midnight to get new device (Yonhap); pre-orders surpass 50,000 units (Korea Herald)
  8. Citing "the incident," Secret Service vow tighter screening of guests at annual Thanksgiving turkey pardoning ceremony (NYT)

Mountain to go to Mohammed

After months of hemming and hawing about how he would not go to North Korea and meet with Dear Leader Kim Jong-il for a "meaningless summit," South Korean President Lee Myungbak announced on Friday, local time, that he indeed will go to Pyongyang to meet KJI in an effort to resolve the nuclear crisis. Including the AP (below), the story is carried by AFP and of course Yonhap.

From AP via WaPo:
South Korea's president announced Friday he is willing to meet North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il in order to resolve the nuclear stand off on the divided peninsula and tackle other thorny issues.

President Lee Myung-bak in a live television address late Friday suggested an inter-Korean summit could be held to try to improve relations, which have been strained since the conservative politician took office last year.

"I have no political reason to hold a summit (with Kim), but I can meet him at anytime if it will help convince North Korea to give up its nuclear programs and resolve humanitarian issues," Lee said, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

North Korea's Kim has held summits with the South twice: the first in 2000 with then-President Kim Dae-jung and the other in 2007 with then-President Roh Moo-hyun.

"I think it does not have to be held within the territory of South Korea if such a summit will help resolve such issues," said Lee. "Because the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is such an important issue, I plan to meet (Kim) at anytime and anywhere, as long as our objective of such a summit will be achieved."

North Korea pulled out of six-party nuclear disarmament talks in April. The negotiations involve the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

North and South Korea fought the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving them still technically at war.
The only other South Korean leaders to hold a summit with either the Dear Leader or his father were leftist or left-leaning, but Lee is a right-wing conservative whose party has always loathed not just the North Korean leadership but also those who sought to embrace them. I wonder, then, if we will see a smile on his face, à la Roh Moohyun, Kim Daejung, or even Jimmy Carter, or will we see a somber look, à la Bill Clinton. When it comes to summits, Lee is a smiler, that's for sure, so he probably can't help but crack a smile. But still, it's Kim Jong-il... I'd want to deck the guy, and I'm not a violent person.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Defector Boxer Girl will kick your arse

Reuters has a piece today on Choi Hyunmi [최현미], a defector from North Korea who is a WBA featherweight champion for women's boxing.

I've never been one for boxing, and women's boxing has no more appeal than the sausaged variety, but I've always found the sport interesting from the perspective of how South Koreans rode it to some level of international fame back when Miracle on the Han was still in its not-yet-miraculous stages. Apparently some see in the nineteen-year-old Ms Choi a chance to bring back those heady days:
Possessing the power and speed to overwhelm an opponent and a ruthless streak in the ring, Choi is known as the "Defector Boxer Girl" in South Korea, where she is a new hope for a declining sport in the country that was known for producing scrappy and fearless fighters who steadily climbed the world rankings.

"I don't mind that nickname, but I want to be known for my boxing more than the fact that I defected from North Korea."

With a compelling story that includes a high-risk escape from North Korea, Choi's tough, girlish and endearing character has helped make her a budding media sensation in South Korea.

The 170 cms (5 ft, 7 inches) tall Choi grew up in what would qualify for an affluent family in impoverished North Korea. Being taller than her peers she was attracted to sports and dabbled in boxing.

"I bought her a wonderful accordion to keep her out of trouble but she gave it up for boxing," said her father Choi Young-choon, who used to work for a trading company in North Korea that exported minerals such as zinc and copper.

His business took him to China and it was during one of those trips that he defected. He bribed border guards to allow his wife, daughter and son to cross into China too and join him in the escape to the South, local media said.

The family made its way to Vietnam and came to the South in 2004 with more than 400 other defectors in what was the single largest group of North Koreans to arrive in the country.
We constantly hear stories of North Korean defectors having difficulties adapting to the hustle and bustle of South Korean life, and especially the prejudice many face, so it's nice to read about someone from the North who is being looked up to as a positive figure.

1 million won fine for neanderthaling

BBC News is reporting that Mr Park, the infamous ajŏshi who yelled "Arab! Arab!" and other obnoxious things at Sungkonghoe University professor and Indian national Bonogit Hussain [above] and his female companion, has been fined one million won.

Reuters, the Korea TimesJoongang Daily, Donga Ilbo, are also carrying the story.

This is being billed as the first conviction in the country involving racist remarks against a foreign national, and the 31-year-old Mr Park could have faced a two million won fine and one year in prison. I'd say he got off easy.

That's right, one million smackeroos for being an a-hole. About this case, I can understand and respect, say, The Marmot's take that it might not be a good idea for South Korea to bring back the language police:
Anyway, good luck with your case, Mr. Hussein — I don’t think “any behavior and language looking down on foreigners” should be illegal, mind you, but people can’t be harassing other people on a public bus, either. Would be keen to know more about the charges being pressed, though. Would also be keen to know what the police have to say, so I hope the KT stays on the story.
But on the other hand, I like the idea that the authorities have come down firmly against people in the "vocal fringe," at least in ethnic matters:
Since I'm also a strong believer in the idea that the vocal fringe is able to run roughshod over a more moderate majority that is afraid of being the sole voice speaking up against something they disagree with, I think it also emboldens those who see the behavior of a Mr Park to speak up and say something on behalf of people like the good professor, some dark-skinned 3D worker, or an English teacher just out enjoying the weekend with his girlfriend.
Indeed, Mr Park's words and behavior may no longer be seen as okay or normative.

Of course, there is a fine line between words that are protected speech and actions that create a public nuisance or hazard. My hat's off to those who will have to figure that one out.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Macadamia nut stuffing

Only in Hawaii.

Daily Kor for November 27, 2009

Normally you would find some snarky analysis here, but I'm off with some friends to Wailana Coffee House for some Thanksgiving grub, thank you very much.
From all of us at Monster Island (actually a peninsula, though currently headquartered on an island), here's wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving. May you be so blessed with things to be thankful for, that your food gets cold just listing them all.
  1. Truth and Reconciliation Commission officially finds that at least 4900 civilians were killed by South Korean military and police in opening months of Korean War (links here)
  2. Promising marriage in order to obtain sex no longer illegal thanks to Constitutional Court decision (links here)
  3. South Korea's two major umbrella labor groups threaten joint strike over efforts to weaken unions (AFP)
  4. Railway workers strike disrupts freight service (Yonhap, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily)
  5. Conservative group says it will release list of pro-North Korean activists early next year (Yonhap)
  6. South and North Korea to send joint survey teams to China and Vietnam to find international model for Kaesŏng industrial park (Yonhap, Korea Times, Joongang Daily)
  7. Seoul considering non-cash payments for tour programs in effort to raise transactional transparency (Yonhap)
  8. Defense Ministry says Afghanistan troop deployment to be under 400 (Yonhap)
  9. Baby girl in Kimhae tests positive for H1N1 flu twice (Yonhap, Korea Times)
  10. Bank of Korea sets inflation targets of between 2.0 and 4.0 percent for 2010 to 2012 period (Reuters, Korea Herald)
  11. South Korea's current account surplus stands at $4.94 billion in October, the ninth month of surplus in a row (WSJ, Yonhap)
  12. Hyundai-Kia aims to sell 1 million units in China next year (Reuters via CNBC, CNBC Asia)
  13. South Korea launches dispute at WTO over US measures to raise prices on imported steel (Reuters via NYT
  14. Morgan Stanley says Korean profits beat forecasts (Bloomberg)
  15. New official biography of Kim Ilsung credits Dear Leader with inventing whack-a-mole (Reuters)

[above: After American industrial spies stole the idea, the k at the end of whack was removed to distance the game from its North Korean paradise roots.]

Oh, dear God.

Why does the Bangkok-based syndicated cartoonist who shows up in the Korea Times have to take everything serious and treat it like it's a joke?

I'm not talking about slaying others' sacred cows, which one could argue is the job of cartoonists (assuming there's a point to it). Rather, I mean, in reference to the cartoon below, I imagine that the cartoonist thinks that violence against women is bad, but he seems to be making a big joke out of it. Really, what's wrong with you? It's something I would expect from the Middleboro Junior High School Weekly Guardian.

Café Americain

The commentary at this post by Wangkon at The Marmot's Hole reminds me of something I've long thought: the irrational, knee-jerk hatred some Americans feel toward France and the French is eerily parallel to the irrational, knee-jerk hatred some Koreans feel toward America and Americans.

I happen to like France, and maybe that clouded my judgement a bit, but none of the stereotypes we often hear about France or the French played out when I was there. My two friends from Texas felt the same. I've been to France only once, and I stayed for about three or four days, but I was not treated rudely by anyone. People were very nice, and I had a lovely time. I see more dog poop on the street in my daily jog through my part of (upscale) Honolulu than I did the entire time I was in Paris. (And I'd like to post a picture from my trip to France, but my camera was stolen while I was in London.)

Really, I think that France-bashers in America are thankless prigs who do not understand their own history, much less the value of someone not playing yes-man to your adventurism, or their right to do so.

Last year, at a gas station near the eastern entrance to Zion National Park, I was in line to pay for my petrol when I overheard the discussion between the customer ahead of me and the clerk who owned the place. The customer asked how the owner liked running the gas station with all the tourists from all over the place coming in (a positive or neutral thing, judging by the tone), and the owner replied that it was great, she liked meeting people from all over — except the French, who she would refuse to serve if they walked into her store.

In hindsight, I probably should have told the owner a thing or two, but I didn't. I considered momentarily adopting a faux French accent (not that I look at all French) and telling her all about Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier Lafayette, not to mention the Statue of Liberty, and then asking her, excuzez-moi, if she's an "Americain" or an "Americain't." Alas, I was in a hurry, and my aunt was with me and she has no patience for that kind of thing.

Happy Thanksgiving. Say a word of gratitude for some dead French soldiers if giving thanks for being in the US is on your list.

Merci. Je tiens à vous exprimer ma gratitude. Je vous remercie de tout cœur.

[above: He and his men risked their lives to help America become independent. And now his people are treated like English teachers.]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Lying to get sex no longer illegal in South Korea

Reuters is announcing that it is no longer against the law to promise to marry a woman as a means of getting her into bed. This law stemmed from a time when a woman's value was largely tied up in her chastity: If she appeared not to be virginal, she might have difficulty marrying a man from a good family. Her virginity was valuable, so a man who promised marriage in order to obtain it — sex between engaged persons was not rare, though other forms of premarital sex were far less common — was seen as a thief.

Yes, people really did go to jail — some of them recently — for this crime. But no more, a reflection of more liberal sexual mores and a greater sense of personal privacy on matters of love and sex. From Reuters:
South Korea's Constitutional Court struck down on Thursday a half-century-old criminal code provision that made it illegal to promise to marry a woman in return for sex.

The court said the code violated women's constitutional right to sexual freedom and the state must refrain from interfering in such personal matters.

The plaintiffs, two men who brought the appeal against criminal convictions, argued that premarital sex should be a personal and moral issue and not subject to prosecution.

The criminal code provides for up to two years in jail or 5 million won ($4,300) in fines for "anyone who engages in illicit intercourse with womenfolk who does not otherwise habitually engage in lewd conduct with the pretence of marrying her."
I suppose this could be useful information for some people. Not necessarily me. I don't think I've ever lied about something like that in order to get a woman into bed. I might have exaggerated the value of my portfolio, but that's it. Anyway, this same court has been a little inconsistent, especially regarding another law on sex between consenting adults that many people also see as archaic or even demeaning to women:
The same court upheld a provision in the criminal code last year that made extramarital sex illegal, saying it was not excessive punishment because the society still viewed such conduct as improper.
Ironically, the ban on extramarital sex was intended to protect women by insuring that their husband's don't philander, but in fact it is often cheating wives that run afoul of this law. At any rate, beware of cougars.

At least 4900 civilians executed by ROK military and police in opening months of Korean War

This is one of those nasty parts of history that we don't like to talk about. One of those things that's difficult to admit. It's alluded to in films like Brotherhood of War (태극기 휘날리며), but for years it was something that, like the Cheju Massacre of 1948, people just didn't talk about.

Yes, it was bad, but what the North did was much worse. That rationalization was the best people could come up with. It is this foundation of secrecy, denial, and even distortion on which revisionist writers like Bruce Cumings have been able to build their own empire of ideological factoids.

And it is stuff that is finally being brought to the light of day, though with an ideological taint. The nefarious excesses of Rhee's regime join the collaborations of the Japanese occupation to make one big festering sore. And as Choe Sang-hun of the New York Times writes, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission aims to heal that wound by starting with the ripping off of band-aids:
The commission, set up in 2005 with a parliamentary mandate, has investigated and confirmed similar civilians massacres by the wartime South Korean authorities, who summarily executed thousands of leftist prison inmates or machine-gunned villagers during their mountain operations to exterminate communist guerrillas, dumping their bodies in the sea or mass graves.

But its announcement on Thursday marked the first time a state investigative agency confirmed the nature and scale of what is known as "the National Guidance League Incident" _ one of the most horrific and controversial episodes of the 1950-53 war.

In the months before the war, the anti-communist and authoritarian regime of President Syngman Rhee forced an estimated 300,000 South Koreans to join the league, supposedly set up to re-educate people who had disavowed communism.

When the war broke out in June 1950 with the invasion from the North, the South Korean military and police hurried to round up unsuspecting league members and many of them vanished. Discussion of their fate had been taboo during the decades of postwar military rule.
Indeed, it is a tragedy. How many of these thousands of people were truly supportive of the DPRK? How many were just doing what they had to in the crazy days following liberation and national division just to survive? Maybe some of them were indeed fifth columnists, but summary execution makes you know better than the enemy. [UPDATE: The Associated Press is also carrying the story, via WaPo.]

Daily Kor for November 26, 2009: Won't somebody please think of the children?!

It's a day when the government has sought to do things that will protect children. First, we have news that maximum sentences for child molesters and various violent criminals will be raised to thirty years. This is to prevent outrageous cases like that of the guy who raped and then destroyed the internal organs of a young girl known only as Nayŏng; he was a repeat offender who kept getting ridiculously low sentences, in part because he kept claiming to be drunk at the time.

The second thing for the children is having them start school a year earlier. This will protect them, I guess, because they won't be running around the streets or watching reruns of CSI on OCN.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-il totally dissed the head of the Russian parliament by not meeting him when he went all the way to Pyongyang. The two countries are next door to each other, but have you seen Russia? That's really far. KJI did have time to meet the Chinese defense minister. The picture from that story — which doesn't include the defense minister himself — is below.

[above: In this undated photo recently released by the Korea Central News Agency, Dear Leader Kim Jong-il cracks up reporters with his "blind man who thinks salad bar is a restroom" routine.]
  1. DPRK leader Kim Jong-il meets with Chinese defense minister, says North Korean friendship with China is "unbreakable" (Reuters, AFP); Russian parliamentary speaker returns to Moscow without meeting Dear Leader (Yonhap)
  2. Maximum sentence for those convicted of sex offenses against children or violent crime raised to thirty years (Yonhap, Korea Times, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily)
  3. Age at entering primary school may be reduced to five (Korea Times, Korea Herald)
  4. Government to combat shrinking birthrate with campaign against abortion while encouraging skilled immigration (Yonhap)
  5. With twenty-two new fatalities reported in past week, South Korean H1N1 "swine flu" deaths pass the 100 mark (AFP, Yonhap, Korea Times); flu spread reportedly may have peaked in late October (Korea Herald)
  6. ROK government airlifts seven tons of supplies to storm-hit Cambodia (Yonhap, Korea Times, Korea Herald)
  7. Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launches effort to draw comprehensive genome map of various diseases in effort to determine how they affect Koreans (Yonhap)
  8. 2010-2012 Visit Korea campaign kicks off in Shanghai (Korea Times, Yonhap)
  9. Korean Communications Commission cuts daily limit on text messages from 1000 to 500 in effort to fight spam (AFP)
  10. Rail workers go on strike; KORAIL vows all trains will operate according to schedule (Korea Times, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily)
  11. Dear Leader Kim Jong-il calls on workers to upgrade their technical skills for IT age to improve people's standard of living (Xinhua, Yonhap)
  12. North Korea calls for implementation of international aid commitments (Yonhap)
  13. Corporate tax rate to fall to around 20% next year (Korea Times)
  14. South Korean manufacturers' confidence drops for second straight month (Bloomberg)
  15. South Korea and Australia to hold third round of free-trade talks (Yonhap)
  16. Six South Korean Internet service providers earned 2 billion won from June to November selling pirated copies of movies (Yonhap)
  17. Smaller and cheaper "female-only cabs" to debut in December (Korea Times)
  18. LG Household buys 90% stake in TheFaceShop (Reuters via Forbes, Joongang Daily)
  19. Consumers ecstatic as iPhone finally comes to island nation of Lilliput (Wired)

A peek at the underground railroad

John Glionna of the Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on some of the people who run the "underground railroad" that ferries North Korean defectors out of China and onto freedom, the safe houses they use, and the border crossings the attempt. An excerpt:
He thought about the defectors under his care: For months, they had lived under the constant threat of being caught by Chinese officials and returned to North Korea. Now in Hanoi, the activists' goal was to find the right embassy -- one away from a busy street and out of the steely gaze of Vietnamese secret police -- and then shepherd the defectors inside.

Once within the embassy compound, the refugees could request sanctuary, taking another step toward freedom in South Korea.

The plan was all set. Then Kim and other activists learned about the capture of the five. The three activists -- Kim, another South Korean and an American missionary -- gathered to discuss their options. Should they press forward with the nine remaining defectors, or was the embassy gambit now too risky?

"We were all so tormented," Kim recalled. "At the same time we had to be reasonable. We had nine lives under our custody, people for whom we had assumed total responsibility."

The activists finally posed their dilemma to the defectors themselves. "We told them, 'This is our plan,' " Kim said. " 'Do you want to go forward? It's all up to you.' "
I have great admiration for the people willing to risk their own lives and freedom to help the refugees. And for all the Christian-bashing that goes on these days (some of it deserved), it's worth noting how many of the people involved in the efforts to get North Koreans to freedom are Christian missionaries or clergy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Vienna to Pyongyang by train" at The Sonagi Consortium

A journey into North Korea through Russia, relatively unobstructed.

Follow THIS LINK for the post by Adeel.

Daily Kor for November 25, 2009: And down will come baby

Too many drugs, not enough babies. Babies are hard to make; they require considerable infrastructure and from planning stages to delivery they take at least nine months. With a nineteen-month decline, it won't be until the latter half of next year before we see a turn around in the baby manufacturing sector, if then.

Perhaps "No of Newborns" is being misunderstood as a campaign against having babies. Did anyone think of that?!

Meanwhile, the state-sponsored Korea-Africa Forum is drawing to a close, with Seoul making some rather lofty promises to African nations that were represented. Like the failed Madagascar deal, this seems to represent a strong effort to engage governments there in order to secure some of the food, mineral, and energy resources of that continent. Students from Africa with whom I've talked generally have a favorable attitude toward Korea — thus far, at least — especially when compared to the Chinese, who are also making inroads. Let's just hope that South Koreans dealing with Africa can remember that the ROK was also once a starving basket case that needed sincere help, not opportunistic backstabbers. Let's hope.
  1. Volume of illegal drugs smuggled into South Korea increases fourfold from a year earlier (Yonhap, Korea Times)
  2. Number of newborns declines for nineteenth straight month (Korea Times)
  3. At end of Korea-Africa Forum, Foreign Ministry announces plans to invite 5000 trainees from Afirca by 2012 (Korea Times)
  4. South Korea returns to being a net creditor after a year in the red (Reuters)
  5. ROK government to offer one thousand doses of flu vaccine for North Korean workers in Kaesŏng Industrial Complex (Chosun Ilbo)
  6. Amnesty International chief urges South Korea to abide by international standards in policing protests (Yonhap, Korea Times)
  7. Civil servants, including unionized workers, to be banned by law from collectively opposing government policies (Korea Herald)
  8. Government proposes bill to ban ROK nationals deported from a foreign country from re-entering that country (Korea Times); denies criticism bill is aimed at curtailing missionary activities (Joongang Daily)
  9. Kia launches Cadenza luxury sedan, called K7 locally, with aim of capturing 40% of South Korea's mid-size luxury market (BusinessWeek, Korea Herald
  10. ROK Trade Minister Kim Jonghoon says American business interests will be damaged if South Korean free-trade agreement with European Union is ratified before FTA with US (Korea Times, Joongang Daily)
  11. ROK President Lee Myungbak to give televised address that will include controversial Four Rivers restoration project and Sejong City (Yonhap, Joongang Daily)
  12. South Korea ranks ninth in global export volume in first nine months of 2009 (Yonhap)
  13. Newly appointed chief of KBS tries to assuage criticism by pledging "politically neutral" management (Yonhap)
  14. Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology seeks certification from US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for South Korea-made APR-1400 nuclear reactor in hope of boosting overseas sales (Yonhap)
  15. State-run Korea Development Bank backs out of role as main arranger for sale of Daewoo Engineering & Construction (Xinhua)
  16. State-run Korea Gas Corporation and to study development of coal-bed methane gas resources in Mongolia (Bloomberg)
  17. OECD report: South Korean army "still gayest military in the world" (AFP)

The meaning of Pusan West (Or, Kimchi westerns and the direction of Korean cinema)

Last week I posted about the first-ever Pusan West, the Pusan International Film Festival's (PIFF) attempt to go overseas, held in Orange County at Chapman University's Dodge College of Film & Media Arts. Now that it's over, the Los Angeles Times has a follow-up piece focusing on the direction Korean cinema is heading beyond the peninsula. An excerpt:
The Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon admires the oeuvre of Quentin Tarantino and readily acknowledges that "Kill Bill" influenced Kim's own recent film, the stylishly sanguine "A Bittersweet Life." Kim also cites Brian De Palma's gangster classic "Scarface" in shaping his film's frenzied final shoot-out.

But like many contemporary Korean directors who came of age while ingesting Hollywood genre films, Kim strives to maintain a degree of independence from the L.A. dream factory. Although Hollywood has courted him since the breakout success of “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” his 2008 convention-tweaking "kimchi Western" set in 1930s Manchuria, the director shows a certain cautiousness toward the way the U.S. film industry does business.

"Hollywood films seem to solve every problem with money. That's why Hollywood is looking to international filmmakers for creativity," Kim said through an interpreter during an interview over the weekend at Chapman University’s inaugural Pusan West festival of Korean film.

"Korean people like to see their own stories," Kim continued. "But specifically I think Korean films are as good as Hollywood films, as well-made and commercially [viable]."
Indeed, they increasingly are. But I know I'm not the first to say that Hollywood should not necessarily be the entity that Chungmuro should be benchmarking, nor should it be success in America. Americans, for one, generally do not like to see movies with subtitles — not even good movies with subtitles. Sad, but true. Moreover, despite all the glitz and explosions, etc., a lot of what Hollywood produces is mindless claptrap. Is that really something to aspire to?

Okay, I'll grant that saying "Hollywood" may be shorthand for what the directors see as good products of Hollywood — of which there is a lot — but I guess I'm just warning that Hollywood-level box-office success should not be the sole or even primary measure of a job well done.

President Palin in 2013?

I don't know if people back in South Korea can get a feel for how effectively the Palin publicity campaign has been rolling through American life these past few weeks, but even if firmly blue-state Hawaii — birthplace of our president — it's not hard to see signs of Sarah everywhere (and by everywhere, I mean online, in bookstores, on TV, etc.).

In that vein, Matthew Dowd of the Washington Post has an article on what could happen in 2012 to bring about a Sarah Palin inauguration on January 20, 2013:
Who the Republican candidate is, and his or her qualifications and abilities, will matter only if Obama's approval rating is between 47 and 51 percent going into the fall of 2012. Interestingly, in the latest Gallup poll Obama's approval rating was at a precarious 49 percent.

Second, America is still (unfortunately) politically divided and polarized, and Palin benefits from this dynamic. While Democrats love Obama, Republicans look on him with real disfavor. The gap between Obama's approval rating among Democrats and among Republicans is nearly 70 percentage points -- a higher partisan divide than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush experienced. Obama's agenda and actions this year, and some mistakes, have solidified this divide.

Polls show that Palin's favorability numbers are a mirror image of those of Obama. She is respected and loved by the Republican base, while Democrats despise her. Granted, independent voters have significant reservations about her capability to be president, and this would be a hurdle in the general election. But to win the Republican nomination, Palin needs only to get enough support from the base to win early key states. Already, in nearly every poll today, she has a level of support that makes her a viable primary candidate. Just look at the crowds and the buzz her book tour is drawing.
He then goes on to inform former Governor Palin what she could do to enhance her candidacy. Not her ability to govern, mind you, but her stature so that she can be elected. (I, too, have offered Governor Palin advice — as if she would actually listen to me — but it was of a more substantive kind.)

Frankly, I'd prefer to think about who might be the next president in South Korea, which also has a presidential election in 2012. President Lee is barred from re-election, so it might open the way for Park Geunhye to finally get her party's political faction's nod. That's a far less depressing thought to me than a Palin presidency, since the former beauty queen has shown herself to be about flash over substance and she doesn't really seem to have an intellectual grasp on very important issues.

Obama is, to me, doing a fine job, though not perfect. I think once the health care debate is over and all the anxiety-causing question marks are removed, people will look more clearly at the result and Obama's ratings will go up. Assuming we don't all die of swine flu before then.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Six degrees of Gary Cole

Every now and then, Brian Deutsch (aka Brian in Chŏllanam-do, aka Jeollanam-do) mentions that Koreans he meets often say he looks like actor Kevin Bacon (Mmmm... bacon).

Kevin Bacon's a good-looking guy. Kushibo will forever associate him with Footloose, that 1980s film about a rebellious teenager who challenges authority. No, not that one; you're thinking of Judd Nelson*. Yeah, that one.

Anyway, the problem with this is that everybody with lightish hair looks like Kevin Bacon to most Koreans (and Japanese, and Chinese, and Taiwanese, etc.).

Um, anyway, I've made no secret of my opinion that Brian (above) looks more like actor Gary Cole (below), that guy who has that face that you recognize even if you can't put your finger on his name or even where you know him from. Kinda like that guy from lost who plays Ben.

Anyway, just to help you along, Gary Cole is famous for his roles as Vice President Bob Russell on West Wing, Mike Brady in The Brady Bunch Movie, the bad guy pot-dealing kingpin Ted Jones in Pineapple Express, and annoying boss Bill Lumbergh in the cult classic Office Space.

Now I'm not saying Brian looks old, 'cuz he doesn't. In fact, Gary Cole is old enough to be Brian's dad. I'm just saying he looks like him; that is to say, that's the celebrity he most looks like. People peg me as Harry Potter if they have to peg me as someone. The Marmot looks like John Billingsley, Oranckay looks like that guy in that thing, and Metropolitician looks like Fred Berry.

And truth to be told, Gary Cole's not a bad-looking guy (said in the most heterosexual way possible). Here he is in Office Space:

Okay, the glasses look a little too retro to be cool, but he must have at least some attractive qualities, because that's Jennifer Anniston's leg he's holding. And not the Jennifer Anniston who got dumped by Brad, but the 1999 Jennifer Anniston who was still hot and being pursued by Ross. Well, actually, it's the leg of the character played by Jennifer Anniston, so it might even be her leg, but it doesn't matter because Bill Lumbergh is the man! And Brian looks like the man who plays that man.

[Just so we're clear: Brian is better looking than either Gary Cole or Kevin Bacon. And I say that in the most heterosexual way. And I mean this whole thing in good fun, but I'm sure Brian knows that.]

This point has no post whatsoever. As you were.

* And you're the only one to do so since Suddenly Susan.

Plastics without petrol?

CNN is reporting that a South Korean team consisting of scientists from KAIST and LG Chem have developed a way to make polymers used in everyday plastics using a bioengineering process involving E. coli that negates the need for expensive and messy fossil fuel-based chemicals:
It is believed that the technique may now allow for the production of environmentally-friendly plastic that is biodegradable and low in toxicity.

The research focused on Polylactic Acid (PLA), a bio-based polymer which holds the key to producing plastics through natural and renewable resources. Polymers are molecules found in everyday life in the form of plastics and rubbers.

"The polyesters and other polymers we use everyday are mostly derived from fossil oils made through the refinery or chemical process," Professor Sang Yup Lee, who lead the research, said in a press statement.

"The idea of producing polymers from renewable biomass has attracted much attention due to the increasing concerns of environmental problems and the limited nature of fossil resources. PLA is considered a good alternative to petroleum-based plastics, as it is both biodegradable and has a low toxicity to humans."

Until now PLA has been produced in a two-step fermentation and chemical process of polymerization, which is both complex and expensive. The team used a metabolically engineered strain of E. coli and developed a one-stage process.
Mass production of plastic out of E. coli? Well, that's not a disaster movie plot waiting to happen.

Seriously, though, the CNN story makes it sound like this is a major step or some kind of breakthrough, but it's hard to tell. My understanding is that polylactic acid has been used to make plastics through corn or sugarcane, so that part would not be new. It seems the E. coli manufacturing process is the breakthrough, but the article doesn't really emphasize that novel aspect particularly well.

Groundbreaking advance or not, this kind of innovation is the kind of thing that helps propel the South Korean economy forward, not to mention anybody else who can take advantage of being able to make biodegradable plastics without petroleum. And wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to rely on that stuff so much?