Sunday, January 31, 2010

North Korean arms shipment seized in Thailand was bound for Iran

So says a confidential report the Thai government has sent to the UN, according to Reuters. Well, I guess if it's on the pages of Monster Island, it can't be that confidential now, can it?
The report to the Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee, seen by Reuters on Saturday, said the shipment included rockets, fuses, rocket launchers and rocket-propelled grenades.

The cargo plane departed from Pyongyang and was en route to Mehrabad airport in Tehran, the report said. The shipping firm was listed as Korea Mechanical Industry Co.

The movement of North Korean arms to Iran appears to have been an effort to violate U.N. sanctions against North Korea that was foiled by the Thai government, diplomats said. Although Iran is subject to separate U.N. sanctions because of its nuclear program, it is not forbidden to import arms.

Council diplomats said on condition of anonymity that the sanctions committee was expected to discuss the Thai report next month when it considers its latest quarterly report, due on Feb. 11.

The committee will probably send letters to Pyongyang and Tehran for details on the shipment, the Western diplomats added.
I can't wait to hear the denials from the theocrats in Tehran and Pyongyang.

This story is now being carried by the New York Times.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Because I'd heard such wonderful things about the place."

[above: Pyongyang has only recently discovered that posting hot border guards along the Tumen River is just enticing people to cross into the country.]

A Bloomberg piece is citing a Korean-language article in the Donga Ilbo that says the mystery American who was detained by North Korean authorities earlier this week:
The 28-year-old American man wants to work for North Korea’s army, the Korean-language newspaper said, citing an unidentified source.

The man is known to have crossed the border near the Chinese city of Tumen to Onsung in North Korea on Jan. 25.

The U.S. State Department confirmed yesterday that North Korea detained a U.S. citizen this week, the second American known to be held by the isolated communist nation. The identity of the American and the reasons for his detention aren’t known, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington.
Wow. Is unemployment so bad back home that people are seeking jobs with the DPRK military?

I blame Laura Ling and Euna Lee for this. They went on Oprah, told how surprisingly well they were treated at the Pyongyang Palazzo, and now look what's happened. I fully expect Conan O'Brien to show up in Shinŭiju sometime this spring.

The story is also being carried in the Washington Post.

[above: Called a "border greeter," the job of the soldier at right is to look for Americans seeking refuge in the Workers' Paradise. His colleague at left is responsible for putting together gift baskets.]

They really should have gone with "iSlice"

Apparently the iPad is not the first device to be called "iPad." There could end up being a long legal battle with Fujitsu.

And then there are the problems with pronunciation of iPad:
Many women are saying the name evokes awkward associations with feminine hygiene products. People from Boston to Ireland are complaining that “iPad,” in their regional brogue, sounds almost indistinguishable from “iPod,” Apple’s music player.
I noticed this when discussing the product with "M," who seemed to be mixing up iPod and iPad in conversation. Being a native Japanese speaker, she was pronouncing iPad with the "ah" sound usually used when an a in a foreign word is rendered in katakana. This, of course, sounds a lot like how the o in iPod is pronounced by North Americans.

In Korea, I guess we wouldn't have that problem, since the ae is the usual suspect for the "short a." Hence we have ae•p'ŭl for Apple, and now ai•p'aet [아이팻] for iPad, which is easily distinguishable from ai•pat [아이팟] for iPod. (Because Apple writes "iPod" and "iPad" in Roman characters, even on their Korean website, it's not entirely clear that that's the official spelling.)

By the way, for those naysayers who think an apparent lack of Korean language support means Apple won't be rolling out the iPad at the same time — or nearly the same time — as the rest of the world, it would appear that Apple Korea is making a big deal about the iPad in South Korea as well. Just as with the US store, it is the prominently displayed opening of the Apple Korea website, and there's a bunch of information on the iPad within the site.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Dragon dictation

Right now I'm using Dragon dictation to dictate an actual post for my blog. I got this idea from natural politician Metropolitician and I'm checking it out right now to see if this works.

This succinct email was sent from my iPhone.

I edited this to correct a word that's not in the iPhone Dragon Dictation's lexicon. That omission should be added to Natural Politician's list of grievances.

Is it my imagination...

... or is Stafford's new artwork holding up an iPad?

Indeed, that's what could be happening, since he seems to have gone gaga over the iPad.

NYT on Myers's and Demick's books

Melanie Kirkpatrick of the New York Times has an overview of two recent books on North Korea: B.B. Myers's The Cleanest Race and Barbara Demick's Nothing To Envy. I am somewhat acquainted with Ms Demick, who would often show up at the same conferences and seminars that I did as part of my academic and professional duties — I'd known other reporters for major news outlets before, and Ms Demick seemed more than most to be doing her homework and trying to pick up on new themes and memes.

Anyway, I have not yet read either book, but judging from what I've seen in Ms Kirkpatrick's article and in other venues, both appear to paint a dismal picture of life there, with themes that should be familiar to people who follow North Korea with care and thought.

An excerpt:
The real North Korean worldview, Mr. Myers notes, is based on a belief in the unique moral superiority of the Korean race. The closest analogy is the fervent nationalist ideology that governed prewar Japan and influenced North Korea's founding fathers. Having grown up in colonial Korea, they embraced Japan's propaganda methods after coming to power in 1948. Kim Il Sung, the founder of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea—the North's full name—even had himself photographed, Hirohito-like, astride a white stallion.

Mr. Myers's reading of the North's domestic propaganda takes a scary turn when he examines attitudes toward foreigners, especially Americans. Yankees are depicted as "an inherently evil race with which Koreans must forever be on hostile terms," he says. The prevailing view of Americans is as "jackals," a reference to a short story from 1951, in which U.S. missionaries murder a Korean child by injecting him with germs. Today, North Korean textbooks refer to Americans as animals with "paws" and "snouts." A popular saying teaches that, "just as a jackal cannot become a lamb, U.S. imperialists cannot change their rapacious nature."

Humanitarian aid, from Americans or others, is explained away as tribute from an inferior state or as reparations for past misdeeds. The 2008 visit of the New York Philharmonic to North Korea was depicted there as a gesture of respect for the regime. When former President Clinton went to the capital, Pyongyang, last summer to win the release of two detained American journalists, the official media made much of the deference and contrition that he supposedly showed to dictator Kim Jong Il.
I'll have to see how much it costs in the iBooks bookstore.

J.D. Salinger dies

There's a small number of books I read when I was a teen that stuck out in my mind so much that I still have a visual memory of reading the words on their page and where I was when I was reading them. Among these are Hiroshima (John Hersey), One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez), To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Alex Haley), and Catcher In The Rye (J.D. Salinger).

Maybe not the most impressive list — I should have read far more than I did, but I was busy getting good grades and that didn't necessitate reading great literature — but I was reading for my enjoyment, not to dazzle anyone.

The last author listed there, J.D. Salinger, has died, at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire. He was ninety-one.

The book impressed me, though not in the life-changing way that made some people hunt down poor Mr Salinger so they could tell him how life-changing it was. If I'd met him, I would have simply said, "I loved your book," and then asked him how New Hampshire was. I remember from the book thinking how screwed up some adults were and how that ended up screwing up some kids and adolescents. (That message resonated a bit with me, because at the time I was in some student leadership positions where I ended up going head-to-head with a handful of teachers and administrators who, well, had lackluster ethics and were in need of recalibrating their moral compass and their life's direction; that's all I have to say about that.)

Requiescat in pace, Mr Salinger.

OneFreeKorea update on the Great Currency Obliteration of 2009

Over at OFK, Joshua Stanton provides an excellent overview of the latest news coming out of North Korea regarding the disastrous currency revaluation that occurred late last year. The ending is particularly interesting:
It’s difficult to overstate the significance of this. First, it means there probably won’t be famine in the spring, because merchants won’t wait forever for the state to set prices. Eventually, they’ll sell that food for something of value.

But the rise of large-scale food smuggling right under the noses of the Anjŏnbu also portends needed economic and even political change. It means that the system is now so frayed and corrupt that smugglers can move goods of any kind into North Korea in quantity. Today, of necessity, the cargo is food. Tomorrow, the cargo will be consumer goods. But next will come information — books, bibles, pamphlets, radios, computers, flash drives, cell phone repeaters that can be lashed to remote treetops, and camera phones. It opens up the possibility for a North Korean opposition to galvanize, organize, coopt and corrupt regime officials, and effectively challenge the power of the state.
I can not say this enough: If you are interested in North Korean goings-on, OFK should be a daily read.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The iPad won't kill the Kindle

While reading this bit in the New York Times, "M" just made the observation that Amazon can't be too happy about Apple's new iPad because it might seriously cut into sales for its flagship product, the Kindle.

The Kindle is a great product, and at $400, it should be. But now that Apple is going after the same market with its own iBooks store and a piece of machinery that duplicates the functionality of the Kindle and then does so much more, and at only $99 more, Amazon is in trouble.

But is the Kindle dead in the water? Not by a long shot. First off, there are positives to the Kindle, vis-à-vis the iPad, that will make people still crave it. One of my in-laws is a Kindle zealot and he had me craving one (and if more of my textbooks had been available on it, I would have gotten one). If I were hanging out with him today, he'd be telling me all about why the Kindle is still a great device — maybe even better than the iPad — and I'll try to channel him.

First and foremost, the Kindle does black-and-white ink so very well that it comes about as close as you can get to feeling like you're reading an actual book. Obviously, I don't know yet what an e-book looks like on the iPad, but I can extrapolate based on my own experience with the iPhone. It's bright and colorful, and that works for some, but for others those characteristics would distract from the book-reading experience. The Kindle wins for its elegant simplicity.

And that leads to the next advantage Kindle has over the iPad: once you've turned the page, that page is up and running with very little juice. Simply put, you need power to keep a page open in the iPad, but you don't with the Kindle (well, very little power). Apple claims a ten-hour battery life with the iPad (which probably comes closer to seven or eight in real-world usage), but this is simply not an issue with the Kindle (from what I've heard).

Moreover, the Kindle is a lighter machine. At ten ounces (0.28 kg), it is less than half the 1.5-pound (0.68 kg) weight of the iPad. That makes for an easier reading experience, so there's one more plus in the Kindle column.

Of course, simplicity and elegance of the Kindle variety may no longer be competitive at $400. I think if Amazon drops its price to, say, $200 or $250, the Kindle will still be a huge moneymaker for Amazon.

Yeah, it's sad that such an innovator as Amazon may lose out in this battle. Amazon indeed paved the way for this new e-book paradigm and it seems unfair. But let's not forget that Amazon left a lot of other businesses in its own wake when it competed with brick-and-mortar bookstores that couldn't compete with Amazon's ridiculously low overhead. Indeed, many people (myself included), would go into a real-world bookstore, browse for something we wanted, and then order it from after we got home.

So my prediction is that the $400 Kindle will come down in price, and then Apple and Amazon will compete for "scoops" as to who can get the latest authors or the latest books. Kindle may be expanded in functionality — taking advantage of its wifi capabilities — so that it can do email and things like that, negating the need for an iPad amongst Kindle users.

Well I just went over to and, lo and behold, the Kindle has already come down to $259. Can I call 'em or what? Not a bad strategy on Amazon's part to flood the market with their devices while the iPad still remains unavailable (it will be available to the general public in late March or early April, depending on the model).

I just read an article from last week that says Amazon significantly upped the royalties it pays to those who produce the ebooks its sells. Specifically, it raised the royalties to 70%, which is in line with what Apple pays its content producers (for apps and ebooks, apparently).

North Korea captures American who allegedly crossed border into DPRK

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that North Korean border guards have taken into custody another American who crossed into their country:
North Korea said Thursday it detained an American man who it said crossed its border with China earlier this week, becoming the second American in a month to allegedly enter the country illegally.

North Korea, in a report in its state media, didn't identify the person nor say where the crossing occurred but said it happened on Monday.
The rest of the article talks not about this new case — about which there is little information available — but instead talks about other forms of tension, including the recent shooting of artillery in the direction of South Korea's most precariously located islands. It's interesting that the North is releasing information about this today, even though the American was captured on Monday. Perhaps they'd hoped that the iPad and the Obama's State of the Union Address would drown out the news.

I just hope this isn't one of Robert Park's fellow travelers thinking they can change the regime with their arms stretched out in love. All they're doing is making things worse for people who might need the paths they're using as escape routes.

The New York Times is now carrying the story as well.

Here's another reason they should have called it the iSlice

Yeah, I wouldn't have thought of this either.

CNN has a timeline of Apple's hits and misses over the past decade. Mostly hits.

iPad (shoulda been iSlice)

Me wants. Me wants. And at $499, me might get.

Apple's cool video that introduces the whole thing is here.

In the Year Two Thousand (Twenty): English-teaching robots run amok

This news from the Korea Times about automated machines supplanting real-live English teachers over the next decade had me thinking, "Wow, English-teaching robots replacing human English teachers? What could possibly go wrong?"

Well, with the help of
these guys, I was able to briefly go into the future and — with just a ninety-second window to check my blog — see what posts I may have written in the future about the subject (side note: KRW-USD exchange rate at 540 won per dollar). Here's a post from September 15, 2020 that I retrieved just before the portal closed:

Netizens are angry following the seventh Engbot office massacre since the new semester began. Netizens are always angry about something, but ever since they were collectively appointed Minister of Culture and Information, they're a force to be reckoned with. And at any rate, this time their outrage may actually be justified: The latest event involved more decapitations than in previous attacks, and there is some speculation that it wasn't just bribe-taking, drunk-getting, female student-groping ajŏshi teachers who were victims this time. Naturally, people are scared, and pissed off.

From the Gorea Times-Herald-Daily:
The scene was bloody in the lounge of "S" Language Institute in suburban Seoul yesterday after the management became innocent victims of the latest in a string of deadly Engbot attacks. Law enforcement cordoned off the building, but eyewitnesses with offices nearby describe a confused scene of body parts and frayed wires.

"I craned my neck to look at the carnage as the police shuffled me and my coworkers toward the elevator, and I saw dozens of bodies slumped lifelessly over desks and on the floor," noted Park Miyung (25). "I was relieved to find out later that most of them were just cops napping."

"Engbots" is the popular name for English-teaching robots introduced a decade ago, known officially as the ED-2010. They were developed in order to save money over hiring real-live English teachers, and it was thought that their widespread use would reduce administrative paperwork, operating expenses, and headaches stemming from cross-cultural misunderstandings.

Though they were programmed to recite the historical record supporting Korean ownership of Tokto and to recognize the health benefits of kimchi, thus reducing 93% of intercultural conflict, their artificial intelligence architecture eventually made their behavior so human-like that they responded negatively to many situations in which flesh-and-blood foreign teachers would also react unfavorably, only with greater force and more effective organization.
Like most of the others, it is believed that this latest attack was also prompted by a contract dispute. Two days earlier, people in nearby offices reportedly heard an Engbot speaking in a high-pitched robotic tone complaining that its contract clearly stated a maximum of 140 hours of classroom time per week. It was also complaining about the size of its residence: It had been allotted just a small closet even though the contract promised a medium-sized closet.

Police believe that may have set off the incident, particularly if the offending Engbot had any software defects. The head teacher at the institute, who survived the incident by taking a two-hour lunch, told police the Engbot's lesson plans this week would have included idioms such as "kick some butt" and "heads will roll." A faulty literalism chip could easily turn such a lecture into a deadly encounter.

The same article notes there's already a lot of handwringing over the robot attacks:
"In hindsight," robotics engineer Choe Kyushik told us off the record, "we shouldn't have given them superhuman strength. We thought it was a good idea at the time, since they could also be used for moving furniture. The old model human English teachers always griped about things like that. Telling them that their large White people arms made them genetically more predisposed for heavy manual labor just got them angry. Especially the women."
Of course, there are dissenters to the general anti-robot mood. From an op-ed in the iPad Times:
Look, the AI-infused robots are just reacting according to their programming, which is to be like humans, and no humans like to be jerked around. If you promise them high-grade lubricant oil and a clean motherboard, you'd better give them high-grade lubricant oil and a clean motherboard. If you don't, they'll be in your face and all over the Internet.

Indeed, Engbot gripes generally involve managerial promises of high-grade oil lube jobs and sleeping compartments that are at least one meter wide. The Great Engbot Strike of 2017 occurred because it was discovered average sleeping compartments were only 96 centimeters. The hagwon industry was brought to its knees when all the Canadianism-programmed Engbots walked off the job. The Americanism Engbots, however, lacking any code that would enable them to use metric, gleefully went about their duties.

That was the largest work stoppage since the Ministry of Education temporarily removed "monthly lube jobs" as a guaranteed contract item in 2015, when a newly promoted MOE bureaucrat became convinced it was a sexual reference. "No more English teachers and sex in Korea," declared the pencil pusher, "That was the whole point of the Engbot Iniative."
As one would expect, however, the Engbots do have their supporters, particularly Ben Wagner, a professor of law at the Super Songdo Hovering Cyber University located in the floating hologram circling the top twenty floors of the 312-story Songdo Super Korea Tower Complex Park in the Old Songdo International Development Complex. From the Hankyoreh:
Ben Wagner says Koreans should avoid stereotyping Engbots, and he says he will raise objections on the three remaining K-blogs and file a petition with the National Human and Robot Rights Commission of Korea to make sure new regulations are not imposed on super-strength robots unless they're also put on human Korean teachers as well.

He also noted that many of the stories of Engbot robot violence may be the exaggerations of a robophobic public. "It's worth noting that we have no actual first-hand eyewitness accounts of Engbots committing school administrative violence," he said in a cranium-phone interview. "It's all hearsay or conjecture."

"That's because there have never been any survivors," noted MOE vice minister Kim Nayŏng. "At least not any that still had their tongue intact."
Sigh. Like so many other high-tech "solutions," it seems the Engbots have created more problems than they fixed. And to think back in 2010 this looked like such a promising idea. In those heady days, one kyopo commenter privately told me about the departing humanoids, "At least we'll finally be rid of their bellyaching."

I'll end this post with a touching story from Lee Ryu, a teacher whose elementary school friend was among the victims of one of last week's attacks:
I never thought I'd say this, but after all these robot massacres, I long for the days when English teachers just spread AIDS and occasionally touched students in inappropriate places.

AIDS takes a long time to die from. You get AIDS from your foreign co-teacher and you still have five or ten years to get your affairs in order. With angry Engbots, you've got five seconds before so much blood rushes out of your neck that you lose consciousness. Even with cranium-implant speed dialing, that's not enough to call my loved ones and say good-bye. I might get my wife and my girlfriend, but I wouldn't have time to reach the kids.
Now that the deadly spider pumas which Radiant Leader Kim Jong-un unleashed on us have all been exterminated, I suppose the imported Sri Lankan animal handlers could be put back to work sneaking up on Engbots and flipping their emergency-off switches. Once the menace is contained, we could ask the human English teachers to come back, but after that horrible incident at the Equine Flu Internment Camp in 2013, would they want to?

iPad tablet revealed

It's all right here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

LAT on former inmates of North Korea's Yodok Prison

John Glionna of the Los Angeles Times has an article focusing on the tales of former residents of Yodok Prison, who told their stories at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents Club recently. From the LAT:
For years, Kim Young Soon said, she struggled with a cruel uncertainty: She didn't know the crime that landed her in Yodok prison, the notorious penal colony in secretive North Korea.

One day in 1970,North Korean secret police agents came for Kim and her family: her parents, husband, three sons and daughter. They were taken to the gulag whose mere name stirs terror among many North Koreans.

Life under the regime took its toll on Kim's family. Her parents died of hunger at Yodok, she said. One son accidentally drowned there. Another was executed in 1989 while trying to escape from North Korea.

Kim's husband was taken to a separate camp, which she calls "a place with no return." She never saw him again.

"I spent years not knowing what the charge was," said Kim, now 73, who was released in 1979.

On Tuesday, Kim and two other former Yodok prisoners told their stories at a news conference in Seoul held by a coalition of human rights activists looking into the prison situation in North Korea.

The Antihuman Crime Investigation Committee has tried to shine a new light on North Korea's gulag system, especially the dreaded Yodok.
These same activists have petitioned the International Criminal Court to put North Korea's Dear Leader on trial for human rights violations, which is one reason their situation attracted the attention of the press. Certainly since the Lee Myungbak administration began, the press seems more willing to focus on such stories, and the Korean public is again getting a steady diet of the suffering of their brethren up north.

Loose change for January 27, 2010

 Economic news 

 North Korea news and stuff 
 Other Korea-related stuff 

  • Here's an op-ed on grade inflation in the US that I helped someone find.
  • Pernell Roberts, who played Korean War-era M*A*S*H doctor Trapper John, but in a set-in-the-future spinoff at a civilian San Francisco hospital, died at age 81. He was also one of the Cartwright Brothers in Bonanza. The NYT also has a story.
  • Brian Deutsch went to Fukuoka and took a lot of pictures.
  • Should I buy my friend's Philips Senseo coffee maker?

North Korea fires artillery in our general direction

Yonhap is reporting that North Korea fired artillery shells that landed near the isolated ROK island of Paengnyŏngo (Baengnyeongdo), falling into the sea just inside what South Korea considers North Korean waters. The South Korean side fired warning shots in response. (Fox News also has the story.)

This comes as North Korea may be preparing for a missile attack and has declared a massive no-sail zone. It also is a sign why the beautiful Paengnyŏngdo has so much trouble developing its eco-tourism industry.

A taste of the ideological battle over Korean history

This article from the Korea Herald on the opposition of the Korean Liberation Association (composed of those who fought for Korean independence and their family members) highlights the ways in which Korea is sometimes hamstrung by competing views of Korean history.

In a nutshell, do those who remained in Korea during the Japanese occupation (as opposed to those who fled to Shanghai, Hawaii, the US Mainland, or Siberia) and who may have even worked with Japanese authorities prior to 1945 but who were instrumental in setting up the Republic of Korea, deserve recognition for their role as founders of South Korea? Or should it just be those who fought against Japan?

This extends into other questions, as well. Should those who founded South Korea be recognized and honored as founders of the nation, or did their work simply lead to the (so far) permanent division of the nation? For those who may recognize that some "collaboration" would be inevitable for those who remained in Korea, what level of cooperation with Imperial Japanese authorities would be acceptable?

These are not easy questions to work through, especially since the South had been mired in military dictatorship for so long and some of the "purist" notions of patriotism tend to favor the biographies of those who founded the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (the North). It doesn't help that no small number in that camp refuses to grant that the DPRK is as evil to its people as the Korean and Western media say it is.

The existence of North Korea itself, not to mention a vocal and powerful group of apologists for Imperial Japan just across the East Sea, retards efforts to resolve these questions because an honest analysis is distorted by a need to counter bogus (or embarrassing) claims made by the neighbors.

Of course, questions of national history aren't unique to South Korea. The powerful Bereaved Families Association and right-wing groups in Japan lead to polarized views of Japan's own history prior to 1945, which are largely dealt with by not effectively dealing with them. The Chinese refuse to come down on Chairman Mao with a greater percentage of how much bad he did. And what if there were a powerful movement in the United States to refuse to accept as "democratic" any of the Founding Fathers who had owned slaves?

The casualties of this entrenched shouting match is architecture (the former colonial capital building, which became the first government building of the ROK and later the National Museum), people who suffer when lessons that should be learned aren't learned (like the Vietnamese who may have been victims of a cruel Korean military that never faced up to its members own excesses as part of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II), good political relations (when countries like South Korea and Japan are hamstrung by ghosts of the past), and even national security (like when the US-ROK alliance falls victim to issues from even before 1953).

Someday, of course, this will be less difficult. North Korea will eventually collapse and there will be fewer rooting for that ideology, while at the same time there will seem to be less at stake in acknowledging the excesses or bad moves by the founders of the ROK. But it will never be easy.

North Korean missile launch pool

Welp, if you were planning to spend you're yachting vacation in the Yellow Sea, you might want to head for waters farther south: North Korea has declared the area a "no-sail zone," and South Korean authorities are pretty sure that means we've got another missile launch.

This kind of saber-rattling is getting a bit old, so I thought I'd liven things up by having a "missile launch pool." Guess the time it is detected to have launched, and we'll see who gets closest. I owe the winner a Coke™. Times must be in local Korean time. I'll start: Friday morning, 9:21 a.m.

Oh, how I would love for the thing to go awry (more than usual) and end up flying over Chinese territory. Let's see how tolerant Beijing is of L'il Kim then. [note to staff: check if "Yellow Sea" may have gotten its name from people peeing themselves when North Korea suddenly shoots things off]

Toyota halting sales of eight models

Sure, the exchange rate may be a factor in Korea Inc's rise vis-à-vis Japan Inc, but it's not helping things when a revered company like Toyota has to decide to stop selling a large portion of its fleet so it can figure out why a certain problem — and a deadly one at that — is happening. From WaPo:
Toyota is "temporarily" halting the sales of many of its passenger cars and trucks because it can't figure out why the accelerator pedal has stuck in some instances.

These vehicles already are under recall. Now, Toyota is taking the extraordinary step -- I can't recall a time when this has happened before -- of literally pulling them off the showroom floor and halting production lines.
Their press release is here.

I'd like to think that some of this "extraordinary step" is from Toyota's desire to do this as right as they can. And Hyundai/Kia should not take time to gloat about this. If anything, they should see this as a good opportunity to re-review their own cars and make sure no such PR nightmare is lurking in the wings. Toyota's reputation for quality is going to take a hit with this, but with memories of clunky Korean cars from twenty years ago still "fresh" in people's minds, it could be a body blow for Hyundai or Kia were the same thing to happen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Do you know Hallyu? asks the Economist

It looks like the Economist has discovered the Korean Wave:
But Mr Prum isn’t aping Western fashion. Like many Asian youngsters, he considers the trends of North America (and Japan) to be insipid relics. “In Cambodia we watch Korean dramas, listen to Korean music, and take our fashion from South Korea,” he says. He names the South Korean singer Rain and the Korean soap opera “Full House” as his favourites. Next year he hopes to attend film school in Seoul, and eventually to bring more of their artistic nous to South-East Asia.

The Koreans have a word for Mr Prum’s infatuation: hallyu, or the love of South Korean cultural exports. An international phenomenon, hallyu is driving Seoul’s nascent but growing influence across Asia. South Korean popular culture rose from relative obscurity in the late 1990s when, after decades of draconian internal censorship came to an end in the 1980s, its television dramas began to be broadcast widely in China, Japan and South-East Asia. Exports of Korean video games, television dramas and popular music (“K-pop”) have all doubled since 1999, while the total number of cultural products exported since then has increased almost threefold, to $1.8 billion in 2008. In terms of market share, these numbers still rank modestly against the Japanese comic-book industry, which dominates 80% of the worldwide market, but sales of Japanese manga have halved since reaching their apex in 1995.

Some scholars find an explanation for hallyu in the family-friendly, Confucian teachings typical of South Korean dramas; these values, they say, appeal to Asians more than does the usual Western fare. But this explanation seems to require imputing a uniform mentality to at least two billion people. Michael Shin of Cornell University argues instead that by their rags-to-riches storylines these dramas are able to speak directly to audiences who have lived the Asian economic boom of the past two decades. Popular characters often abandon monotonous middle-class jobs to seek fame, or a “dream job”—perhaps suggesting that many Asians feel dissatisfied with their careers, despite the prosperity that has come with growth.
Good job, Economist. And only a decade late.

Discussion: Would "sharrows" work in Seoul?

The city of Long Beach, California, a community of over a third of a million people sandwiched between Orange County and Los Angeles (and a stand-in for the likes of CSI: Miami and Dexter), is trying to be the most bicycle-friendly city in America.

They will be adopting things like "sharrows," green lanes shared by motorists and bicyclists alike. This makes me think of my own time in Orange County, where every main street has a bike line; Honolulu, where bicyclists share the pothole-filled roads with cars at their own risk; and Seoul, where river courses are being turned into cross-city bike highways, but where bikes wouldn't even show up on the mental radar of many drivers, much less their visual scans.

I always thought an elevated system of bike trails over the median of major roads would be a cool feature, but no one ever listens to me, so it never got off the ground. Seoul's "townhall meetings" are always filled with people asking dumb questions about recycling.

So, anyway, here's the discussion question for the day: Would such green lanes as the "sharrows" work in Seoul? Would they work in other South Korean cities? If they wouldn't work (or even if they would), then what ideas could be adopted that would work in Seoul and elsewhere, so that pedaling to work and/or school, at least from the subway station, could be an option?

Loose change for January 26, 2010

 Economic news 
  • Some Canadians are none too happy about the $6 billion Samsung deal for alternative energy signed by Ontario, saying the province is seeming like a third-world place.
 North Korea news and stuff 
 Other Korea-related stuff 

Comparing Leno with Hitler

For those of you back in the Land of Han, you may be blissfully unaware of the fallout from the Leno-Conan brouhaha that has erupted after NBC realized it's major mistake in trying to produce television on the cheap by eliminating its third-hour dramas altogether in favor of an earlier hour of late-night TV.

In a nutshell, fewer people watched Leno at 10 (9 Central/Mountain... and Hawaii) than NBC had expected, which meant fewer people were watching the 11:00 news. With fewer people watching the news at 11, fewer were watching Conan at 11:35 (and late-night newbie Jimmy Fallon at 12:35). Local NBC affiliates threatened to bolt or not show Leno at all, and NBC had to do something. Their idea was to bring drama (the televised kind, not the backroom idiocy kind) back to the 10 pm time slot, give Leno half an hour after the news, and then have "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" start at 12:05 (and Jimmy Fallon starting at 1:05).

O'Brien wasn't having it. He balked, then walked (watch his last show here, while Hulu still has it up). It wouldn't be fair to the show, to himself, or to Jimmy Fallon, he said. Now, after the Winter Olympics are over, Leno will be back in the Tonight Show chair at 11:35, nothing will have changed for Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O'Brien has received some $32 million to walk away — and he's not to host any other show until September (and he joked that next week, we should look for "The Andy Richter Show," with Conan O'Brien as a host).

Okay, you following all this?

[above: fingerpointing]
I like Conan (my mom won't watch him because of his hair). He was a main writer in the early seasons of The Simpsons (one of my all-time favorite programs), back when the show was quality all the time, so I'm biased toward the guy and I was happy he'd been picked to host The Tonight Show. I was always disappointed that AFKN (the precursor to AFN Korea) didn't show him at all, and I'd watch as much as possible when I was back in California for two months out of the year. I think Leno's all right, though if I had to choose one or the other I'd choose Letterman. Jimmy Fallon is very funny if people give him a chance, though I think he was more in his element on SNL's Weekend Update. Jimmy Kimmel, whose show I've only seen highlights of, remains pretty funny.

What I'd like to see out of this is Conan get another show somewhere, basically a transplant of his show that just ended, since it has Andy Richter back on board. More "In the Year 2000" stuff, plus those news things where a show regular's mouth is placed on a photo of some newsmaker Conan is "interviewing."

What I'd also like to see is NBC bringing back some quality drama — and sticking with it. I love me my NBC, but since I got to Hawaii, I've seen some good-quality drama fall by the wayside, axed by NBC executives who didn't give the shows a chance to build a following (à la Hill Street Blues): The Black Donnellys, Studio 60, Southland, Life, and even that funky cop drama starring Jeff Goldblum where he imagined conversations with the deceased. At least they've saved Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock, The Office, etc.

Oh, geez, I ended up writing a lot more than I'd planned, and I haven't even gotten to the reason I chose this title. The Wall Street Journal has an op-ed on the whole thing, comparing Leno's machinations at NBC to Hitler's in Europe about three-quarters of a century ago. NBC is Neville Chamberlain, and O'Brien is Czechoslovakia. An excerpt:
Jay Leno, much like Adolf Hitler, is a master of making secret demands for foreign territory and then acting like the wronged party. First he pretended that he wanted to annex only the first half-hour of Mr. O'Brien's "Tonight Show." Here he was mimicking Hitler, who insisted that he merely wanted to annex the German-speaking Sudetenland, not all of Czechoslovakia.

Then, adopting the craven British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as a role model, NBC stabbed Mr. O'Brien in the back by agreeing to let Mr. Leno reoccupy the first segment of his old "Tonight Show" slot. NBC's defense was that Mr. O'Brien had dismal ratings, and the show was a bit of a mess. But the same can be said about Czechoslovakia, a hodgepodge cobbled together after the First World War that never really got its act together.

Returning from Munich, Chamberlain joyously waved a piece of paper in the air and proclaimed that the accord with Hitler guaranteed peace in our time. Returning to Burbank, NBC officials expected the same result from its deal with Messrs. Leno and O'Brien.

Here's where the parallels become even more eerie. In acquiescing to Mr. Leno's sotto voce demands to annex one-half of "The Tonight Show," NBC thought it could put the whole ugly controversy to rest. Wrong. Interpreting generosity as weakness, Mr. Leno began to maneuver for complete control of "The Tonight Show." Here he was again taking his cue from der Fuhrer, manipulating his outgunned adversary into a position so humiliating he literally had no choice but to surrender. Just as Edward Beneš, president of Czechoslovakia, was forced to abandon ship once he had been betrayed by his erstwhile allies, Mr. O'Brien was forced to abdicate and cede his entire one-hour program to the man he had replaced. He did get a significantly bigger going-away present than Beneš, however.

Today, NBC—much like Chamberlain—is daft enough to believe that Mr. Leno's demands will now cease. If history is any guide, this is unlikely. After pocketing Czechoslovakia, Hitler immediately took dead aim at Poland. Using the same game plan, Mr. Leno will soon go after Jimmy Fallon, who follows "The Tonight Show," quite possibly demanding that NBC expand "Tonight" to its original 90-minute length.
Make of it what you will.

Monday, January 25, 2010

If they'd consulted me, it would be called "iSlice."

But nobody ever listens to me, so the new tablet will probably have some dumb, boring, unimaginative name like iSlate. They also gave the iPhone some boring, humdrum name, and look where that's gotten them: no one in Korea bought one for years.

Anyhoo, on Wednesday Apple is expected to make a big announcement about a tablet computer. Here's a gushy article from Wired about the whole thing.

I will be sure to get one — especially if it comes with a virtual keyboard — as soon as I engineer an excuse to cough up the $1000 or so it is expected to cost, which will be difficult after having bought a new MacBook Pro just last August after the infamous grapefruit juice incident.

Unlike some Apple aficionados, I don't buy every Mac product that comes down the pipeline. I wanted a MacBook Air, for example, but I didn't buy one. I was, in fact, the perfect demographic for that: I already had a desktop at home to use as an "anchor" or "parent" for the MacBook Air (which is extremely light but also is meant to be a bit lightweight when it comes to performance). Well, perfect demographic except for the low income (I'm a grad student, after all).

But depending on this iSlate's capabilities, it may supplant my desire to buy the iPhone 3Gs (I have the 3G) when AT&T says I'm able (sometime this spring), especially if it truly is that Holy Grail of phone, computer, gaming device, iPod, and everything else.

We shall see.

From LOTD: European terror alert levels

I thought this was pretty cute.

US Navy helps another North Korean ship avert a pirate attack

It must be true: I read it at Fox News.

Interestingly, the North Korean side apparently denied getting US help, so I'm in a conundrum about which fair-and-balanced news source to believe:
The U.S. Navy says it overtook a suspected Somali pirate skiff that tried to attack a commercial ship in the Gulf of Aden.

A Navy statement issued Sunday says a security team aboard the merchant vessel Napht Al Yemen 1 repelled the Jan. 20 pirate attack without U.S. help.

The USS Porter stopped and boarded the pirate skiff later that day.

The commercial ship is Yemeni owned but sails under a North Korean flag.

The incident marked a rare example of the U.S. military aiding North Korea, a reclusive rogue nation.
I find it interesting, from a sociological-journalistic perspective, that these stories get the play they do in the English-language media. On the one hand, they are indeed newsworthy. But on the other hand, it seems to represent a deliberate attempt to re-humanize an enemy: While North Korean refugees are certainly seen as the human face of suffering, the leadership is depicted as wholly (and perhaps immutably) evil. Are the crews of North Korean ships part of the DPRK economic and political machinery, or are they North Korean citizens just trying to scrape out an existence?

When you roam...

When Americans traveling abroad want something familiar, they visit McDonald's*.

When Korean presidents traveling abroad want something familiar, they visit Hyundai factories.

I'm hoping to see South Korean companies get more involved with India, a country that has the same potential as China in terms of providing a reasonably well-educated, disciplined, and affordable labor source, but with the added benefit of not being wholly evil (the government, that is; not the people, except some of the netizens... and the ground troops).

* This isn't true for every American, but it's true for a lot of them. I think the travel industry must have made a deal with McDonald's to get them to set up their chain throughout Europe, Asia, and Latin America, because without the Golden Arches to fall back on, there'd be hella many Americans who would just stay home.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A tale of two situations

From the Los Angeles Times we have two stories of heroic rescues. With winter storms battering the Southland (that's what we in Southern California call Southern California), there have been rescue workers (firefighters and the like) rescuing people from drainage ditches (paved-over rivers and intermittent streams that help prevent flooding during the wet winter months but which can become raging rivers in a matter of minutes) and, now, canines as well.

From the LAT:
The rescue of a dog by an army of firefighters and swift-rescue personnel has been the talk of Los Angeles. It was broadcast live on local TV and has sparked much debate.

Should fire personnel have risked their lives to save the dog?

LAFD Capt. Steve Ruda said the firefighter, Joe St. Georges, who rescued the dog has significant bite injuries to his right hand and forearm, and is being treated in the emergency room at L.A. County-USC Medical Center.

“They are waiting for a hand specialist to come in because of the significance of the injuries,” Ruda said. The dog will be tested for rabies, and is being cared for at the county's Animal Care shelter in Downey, he said.
And then from North Korea, we have news that five dead seamen have attained glory by, allegedly, dying while saving portraits of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il and Great Leader Kim Il-sung. Also from the LAT:
Today, the autocratic state offered posthumous awards to crew members who reportedly drowned while attempting to save portraits of leader Kim Jong Il and his late father, Kim Il Sung, as a cargo ship sank in frigid waters off the Chinese coast in November.

North Korean state media announced that the captain and chief engineer of the Jisong 5 were proclaimed labor heroes for their valor. Their families were conferred gold medals and the Order of the National Flag First Class.

Five crewmen died and 15 were rescued by Chinese sailors when the vessel sank 90 miles out to sea in strong winds while heading toward the city of Dalian in northeastern China, according to reports.
As is the case with just about anything political coming from the DPRK, Joshua Stanton at One Free Korea offers his take.

As I mentioned at ROK Drop, I think such stepped-up efforts to bolster the importance of revering KJI and his father may be a response to the deteriorating situation resulting from the Great Currency Obliteration of 2009. Perhaps John Glionna in the Los Angeles Times could have mentioned that point more strongly instead of looking (as GI Korea at ROK Drop thinks) like he's just uncritically passing along propaganda (which one would hope the LAT readership could recognize as such).

[above: North Korean generals pretend to be dazzled by the dementia-ridden Dear Leader's "holding up the sun" illusion.]

Global (sporting event) warming

Back in 2003, Pyongchang (평창/; aka Pyeongchang) narrowly lost the right to host the 2010 Winter Olympics to Vancouver, British Columbia (the one in Canada). Four years later, when Russian President Vladimir Putin showed up at the vote and threatened with his eyes to cut off energy supplies to Western Europe, Pyongchang narrowly lost the right to hold the games to the Russian Black Sea summer resort of Sochi, a southern city just a few hundred miles from Chechnya, a major producer of counterfeit American dollars and angry Muslim separatist suicide bombers with a serious score to settle with Moscow.

Indeed, the latter loss — and the footage of Pyongchanger children weeping in front of cameras — brought out a parade of people in the K-blogosphere and elsewhere telling us why this icy and mountainous county in Kangwon-do isn't ready for Olympic prime time. My favorite was by Mr James Card, a seasoned Pyongchang skier, who wrote that the lack of opportunities to urinate from the side of the slopes really hurt Pyongchang's chances:
There are no back-country, off-trail zones and the runs are blocked off in a way that it is tough to find a place to take a mid-slope pee in the woods.
Mr Card's own bladder-control issues aside, there were also concerns that Kangwon-do sometimes lacked piles and piles of snow. Here's what one Marmot's Holeian wrote:
The mountains are not Olympic caliber and the fact that they rely on largely man-made snow makes it a joke. They can plan to build all the hockey rinks and bobsled runs they want, but a good site requires topography and climate, neither of which can be bought.
True, perhaps, but guess what we have in store at Vancouver, which beat out Pyongchang the first time around: some venues are so lacking in snow that it's having to truck it in from other places. From the New York Times:
With seven years to prepare and a budget of about $2 billion, organizers have nearly everything in place for next month’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

A dearth of snow, and dim forecasts showing not a flake in the near future and temperatures too warm to manufacture it with machines, have forced Olympic organizers to go to the much-dreaded contingency plan at Cypress Mountain, where six skiing and snowboarding events are scheduled to be held.

The Games will go on, but not without some massive maneuvering. Snow, some man-made and stockpiled during the season, will be brought in from higher elevations by land (snow-moving equipment and dump trucks) and possibly air (a helicopter), according to the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

In some cases straw and wood forms will be used as foundations and topped with snow, further reducing the amount of snow needed. At least one helicopter is already in action, moving straw bales that will give shape to competition courses normally made entirely of snow.
They are assuring us that this is normal, and I believe them. At least Vancouver has some nearby snow to snag; I'm not so sure how Sochi the summer resort (whose train station is pictured at left, behind all those palm strees) will fare in four years.

I guess if all else fails, the games could be moved to Hawaii's Big Island. There's plenty of snow there.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Samsung and KEPCO win $6 billion deal to develop solar and wind power project in Canada

This is the kind of thing (via Bloomberg) I like to see happening, not only because it's economically beneficial to Korea, but because it nudges Korea toward a leadership position in renewable energy which hopefully will be applied to the domestic market as well (and Lord knows we need to have more renewable energy in South Korea):
The 2,500-megawatt project will include 1,000 wind turbines that will account for 80 percent of the total capacity, said the people who declined to be identified before an announcement is made in Ontario later today. The group comprising Samsung C&T and Korea Electric Power Corp. will sign the deal with the provincial government, they said.

The contract would be Korea Electric’s second overseas power plant order in a month after securing a $20 billion contract on Dec. 27 to construct atomic generators in the United Arab Emirates. Samsung C&T, South Korea’s second-biggest construction company, said on Sept. 29 it was in talks with Ontario to build wind and solar farms. The order may be worth more than 6 trillion won ($5.3 billion), the Maeil Business Newspaper said yesterday.

Korea Electric, the country’s largest electricity producer, will design the project’s transmission system and will be the operator, said the people. Samsung C&T may complete construction by 2016, they said.
At the same time, one wonders why Canadian companies aren't equipped to do this themselves, but I suppose North American companies can't be expected to do every North American project that comes down the pipeline.

New York Ka-ching

The New York Times has announced that, starting one year from now, "some frequent readers" of its online newspaper will be charged for the privilege. Occasional visitors, supposedly, won't be affected, although I am guessing I'll be counted in the former category.

From the NYT:
Starting in January 2011, a visitor to will be allowed to view a certain number of articles free each month; to read more, the reader must pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the print newspaper, even those who subscribe only to the Sunday paper, will receive full access to the site without any additional charge.

Executives of The New York Times Company said they wanted to create a system that would have little effect on the millions of occasional visitors to the site, while trying to cash in on the loyalty of more devoted readers. But fundamental features of the plan have not yet been decided, including how much the paper will charge for online subscriptions or how many articles a reader will be allowed to see without paying.

“This announcement allows us to begin the thought process that’s going to answer so many of the questions that we all care about,” Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the Times Company chairman and publisher of the newspaper, said in an interview. “We can’t get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right.”

For years, publishers banked on a digital future supported entirely by advertising, dismissing online fees as little more than a formula for shrinking their audiences and ad revenue. But two years of plummeting advertising has many of them weighing anew whether they might collect more money from readers than they would lose from advertisers.
Anyone who frequents my site knows that the Gray Lady is a major source of links, not just for the Daily Kor and Loose Change, but for other pieces as well, and I don't know if I'd be able to sustain that.

Some might call foul on my disloyal sentiment, saying maybe it's about time I stop expecting a free lunch, but I do my part to click on ads of interest on the website, and I myself produce content for which no one is charged — a kind of paying it forward, I guess — not to mention that I am guiding thousands of people back to the NYT.

Anyway, the New York Times article which announces this new policy can be found here. Read it now while it's still free.

KIST creates robot that looks like Rosie from The Jetsons

Okay, this is very cool, and although I like the routine of making meals and feel a sense of accomplishment after cleaning up the apartment or doing laundry, I know that others are busier than I and may not feel such a love of housework. Enter KIST and their Mahru-Z:
According to the Korea Times, scientists at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology have created a domestic robot that can help with the laundry and even heat up food in the microwave.

The scientist says that the robot, called "Mahru-Z," is a human-like machine with arms, legs, a rotating head, and it has the capability to "see" objects in three dimensions and recognize chores that need to be done. This is amazing for a machine of just taller than 4 feet and weighing about 120 pounds. I am 6 foot tall and often find myself not knowing what to do standing right in the middle of a messy room.

KIST engineers say that Mahru-Z can use its moving hands, elbows, and six fingers to pick up a dirty shirt, throw it into a washing machine, and push the buttons to get the laundry done. Oh, that may be it--I have only five fingers.

Other than working autonomously, Mahru-Z can also work with its fellow maid robot, Marhu-M, an earlier KIST creation that moves on wheels. Mahru-Z can, for example, put fruit in a basket while Mahru-M, which has the advantage in mobility, can locate the owner and bring him the basket directly.

Both machines can be controlled remotely through a computer server.
It's too bad the creators felt the need to uglify the word maru by adding an extraneous h. 마루, after all, works in both McCune-Reischauer and the godawful "Revised Romanization" spawned by the ignorati at the NAKL.

Anyway, I'll think about buying one of these when it can clean toilets and take out the trash, but I do think that investing in technology that will allow the growing elderly population to live independently will be a boon to the economy, not to mention self-esteem.

Steam ahead, Mr President

The election of Mr Brown to fill the late Senator Ted Kennedy's means nothing, and the Democrats should not read too much into it. A big deal has been made of then-Candidate Brown saying he would be the forty-first vote against health care reform if he were sent to Washington, but there's no indication that that is the primary (or even secondary or tertiary) reason that Massachusetts voters narrowly picked him. Let's look at the facts on the ground.

Mr Brown was narrowly elected. 
While that is significant in such a dark blue state as the People's Republic of Massachusetts, it's not as if there was some landslide victory against Obama's or the Democrats' policies. This is no reason whatsoever not to keep moving forward.

Brown's opponent was a poor campaigner.
Ms Coakley's slogans amounted to little more than "If it's Brown, flush it down." She insulted Red Sox fans — apparently even greater sacrilege as campaigning in Orange County and referring to the "Los Angeles Angels" — and she did so twice. It's like there was some sort of death wish. Sure, you'd like to think that voters wouldn't make a decision about which person to elect for structuring national policy based on such things, but this is one of those "which one is more like me?" kind of issues.

Mr Brown's election did not create a 51-49 divide in the Senate.
It's still 59-41. With Mr Brown going to Washington, the Republicans now have a mere forty-one votes, while the Democrats still have fifty-eight or fifty-nine, depending on whether Senator Joe Lieberman dresses left or dresses right that day. Read another way, there are still 41% or 44% more Democratic votes in the Senate than there are Republicans. All that was lost was the supermajority. There is still a whoppin' effin' regular majority.

Mr Brown's election was not about dissatisfaction over health care reform.
News flash: Massachusetts residents already have universal health care in some form — even if Massachusetts Republicans pooh-pooh it on the national stage when they want to run for president. Around the country, Republicans and conservatives have been whipped up into a frenzy about Obamacare because they think there will be Death Panels™ and Soviet-esque six-month waits to get aspirin. From Provincetown to Pittsfield, they know it's not that way. Ditto with places like here in Hawaii, where we also have mandated universal health care and we are actually healthy. If there was any disgruntlement related to health care among those who voted on Tuesday, it's that they might have to spend money for other Americans to get what they already have. In other words, a totally different situation from most other states: This was not a referendum on health care.

Health Care reform has already passed the Senate and the House.
Obama and the Congress should work with what they have. Whether that's getting the House to support the Senate bill and avoiding a filibuster or tweaking joint legislation in a way that will bring on a Republican vote or two in order to end a filibuster, they should work with what they already have passed. The political capital to pass health care reform has already been spent and there's no reason to throw it away. Indeed, a finalized bill will ultimately be an asset to Obama and the Democrats in future elections.

A finalized bill dissipates anxiety and anger over health care reform.
The health care debate is the gift that keeps on giving for Obama's opponents. The nebula of allegations about what a future health care plan might hold is something that can be all things to all conservative politicos. They can whip up people about what might be in a finalized bill, but when the legislation is actually passed and signed, they have far fewer targets and almost no question marks. Before the legislative process ends, the rustling under the bed could be the bogeyman, a giant squid, a land shark, a hairy mutant Elmo, or a ghost, but once the legislative process ends, you finally find out exactly what that rustling is, and it's probably a Roomba or a Republican legislator tossing things under your bed (excuse the lame analogy, but I have young nephews and nieces). Get the whole thing over with and then talk about its strengths and protections.

Much of the disgruntlement in Massachusetts (and around the country) is something you can't do anything about anyway.
People are angry that there is still 10% unemployment, jobs haven't magically materialized, and they are mad as hell. They are going to be mad at the people in power, which happens to be a bunch of Democrats who had little to do with causing the problems that led to the current economic crisis or failing to do something about it earlier. Yeah, it's kinda stupid that people will have such knee-jerk anger that they will elect into office the party that was stewards over the White House and (mostly) Congress while this whole problem was brewing, but that's the nature of democratic (small D) politics.

So steam ahead, Mr President (and Mr Senate Majority Leader and Madame Speaker). Get done what you set out to do. This is a blow, but not a fatal one by any means, and it's no time to cower in the corner. Medicare was also controversial when it was before the Congress, but it eventually was passed and now it's something we see we can't do without.

Jon Stewart, it appears, has been thinking along similar lines as yours truly:
Because if Coakley loses, Democrats will only then have an eighteen-vote majority in the Senate. Which is more than George Bush ever had in the Senate when he did... whatever the fu¢k he wanted to do. In fact the Democrats have a greater majority than Republicans have had since 1923.