Monday, May 31, 2010

iPhoreigner [revised]

[above: Caption this picture. I thought of a few, but they're all kinda offensive.]

Apparently KT has been listening to all the complaints from foreign nationals who had difficulty connecting to the Borg getting an iPhone in Korea. According to the Korea Times (the other KT), Korea Telecom will rewrite the iPhone contracts to make it easier for some of those who are not ROK nationals or holders of something resembling permanent residency to get them:
KT, the country's second-largest mobile-phone carrier after SK Telecom, announced a set of measures Sunday to make its handsets more affordable and accessible to non-Korean users.

The company's revised service plans for foreigners include lowered visa barriers for registering phones and larger flexibility in phone installment and monthly payment plans. KT will also increase its number of multi-lingual stores in Seoul, where questions can be fielded in English, Chinese, Japanese and other languages.

"The idea is to allow foreign nationals to subscribe to our telecommunications services on the same conditions as Koreans," said Jin Byung-gwon, a KT spokesman.

"The specialized stores for foreigners will be first established in districts such as Itaewon and Gwanghwamun and areas around colleges, such as Kyung Hee University, which are known for their large number of foreign residents. The stores will be introduced in other metropolitan cities and also in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, which has a large foreign community."

Previously, foreign nationals with F-2, F-4 or F-5 visas, which are issued to those with Korean "blood" heritage, or people married to a Korean national or granted permanent residential status, were able to sign the conventional two-year contracts for iPhones and other mobile phones.

Foreign residents with other types of visas could only get the phones on one-year contracts and also had to buy the handsets upfront and not in monthly installments, which was a strain on their wallets.
Basically, the plans that allowed for the iPhone to be paid for over a period of two years in a way that made it extremely cheap up front were not available to those without citizenship or something resembling permanent residency. KT has now fixed that so that some contract visa workers (e.g., those on certain kinds of E-series visas but not E2 visa holders yet) and student visa holders can enjoy those same benefits.

And now that some of the formerly vanquished have emerged victorious in their fight against The (Korean) Man™, I'm sure they'll take up the mantle for those foreign nationals in, say, the United States who have the exact same problem. Right? Right?!

[crickets chirping]

I dropped the ball a bit on this one (see first and third comments below) and have tried to fix it by adding the highlighted portions and taking out the strikethru portions.

The failure to find a way to allow E2 visa holders — among the most vocal in the international community — to take advantage of the subsidies allowed by the two-year contracts puts us right back at square one.

NYT on beefing up ROK's naval defenses, with US help

From the "bring 'em home" crowd, we often hear that South Korea is now such a rich country that its defense should be left to itself (as if South Korea is unlike the rest of the world, where strong military alliances are not the stuff of effective deterrence). South Koreans' mandatory military service of about two years and the sizable chunk of GDP spent on defense are pooh-poohed in order to make this point.

But the sinking of the Chonan has bared for all to see that South Korea is still vulnerable to an enemy willing to nip at its heels or whatever body part it sees as vulnerable, and that means that more help from the US may be needed.

That's the message of this article in the New York Times, which suggests that South Korea's vulnerability to these North Korean attacks may not be due to an unwillingness to expend labor and capital to keep the military strong, but instead occurred despite actions intended to maintain a formidable military:
Surprised by how easily a South Korean warship was sunk by what an international investigation concluded was a North Korean torpedo fired from a midget submarine, senior American officials say they are planning a long-term program to plug major gaps in the South’s naval defenses.

They said the sinking revealed that years of spending and training had still left the country vulnerable to surprise attack.

The discovery of the weaknesses in South Korea caught officials in both countries off guard. As South Korea has rocketed into the ranks of the world’s top economies, it has invested billions of dollars to bolster its defenses and to help refine one of the oldest war plans in the Pentagon’s library: a joint strategy with the United States to repel and defeat a North Korean invasion.

But the shallow waters where the attack occurred are patrolled only by South Korea’s navy, and South Korean officials confirmed in interviews that the sinking of the warship, the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors, revealed a gap that the American military must help address.

The United States — pledged to defend its ally but stretched thin by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — would be drawn into any conflict. But it has been able to reduce its forces on the Korean Peninsula by relying on South Korea’s increased military spending. Senior Pentagon officials stress that firepower sent to the region by warplanes and warships would more than compensate for the drop in American troop levels there in the event of war.

But the attack was evidence, the officials say, of how North Korea has compensated for the fact that it is so bankrupt that it can no longer train its troops or buy the technology needed to fight a conventional war. So it has instead invested heavily in stealthy, hard-to-detect technologies that can inflict significant damage, even if it could not win a sustained conflict.
I am a firm believer in the Pax Americana, convinced that the US's unique role in Northeast Asia remains a necessary element for the peace, prosperity, and democratic values that have taken hold in this region. So when "bring 'em home" advocates talk about South Korea as a defense freeloader, I point out the statistics and I also suggest that rather than pulling US forces out of Korea, the better choice would be to have South Korea play a better role assisting the US military in places such as pirate-infested waters or Afghanistan and other hot spots. But right now I'm beginning to wonder myself if even that is a tad premature.

China remains neutral on North Korea at Beijing-Seoul-Tokyo meeting in Cheju

You can watch BBC video about it, or you can read the article here: China has decided to remain neutral between its belligerent client state (i.e., North Korea) and the major trading partner of China whom that client attacked (i.e., South Korea). More:
China has held back from censuring North Korea at a summit in South Korea dominated by the issue of a sunken warship.

South Korea has accused North Korea of torpedoing the Cheonan, which sank on 26 March with the loss of 46 lives.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the priority was to reduce tensions and avoid a clash over the incident.

But he did not mention North Korea by name or show support for possible UN sanctions against Pyongyang.
Surprising to almost no one, really. And it bears repeating: Barring an implosion of the Pyongyang regime caused by the people in the DPRK themselves, nothing can be done about North Korea as long as the Chinese are propping them up. (And sadly, it Beijing ever really did try to come down hard on him, Dear Leader Kim Jong-il can always turn to Russia — who said the Cold War was over?)

[above: Images like this do not scare Kim Jong-il. Especially when they stand in order of height like they're in kindergarten.]

Byodo-in Temple near Kaneohe

Inspired by the comments at this "Lost"-related post at Ask a Korean, I've decided to post a picture I took of Byodo-in Temple, which is a re-creation of a famous temple of the same name (but with mācrōn dīātrīcāls) in Kyōto-ken, Japan. It was used as the backdrop for the wedding of Jin and Sun, the two primary Korean characters on the program.

It begs the question, like the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu which served as the location for M*A*S*H, does this look anything like something you'd see in Korea? And if not, is it really that big a deal? I can't even begin to count how many times I've seen places in Seoul or Kyŏnggi-do stand in for the US or Canada.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

And speaking of dishonesty...

I just got done watching The Informant!, a film starring Matt Damon that chronicles a case that his character, biochemist-turned-VP Mark Whitacre, made for the FBI that agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) was engaged in massive price-fixing in the 1990s.

The movie itself is an entertaining jaunt, but at the same time is kinda scary when you think about how widespread corporate malfeasance may be. But anyway, what I found interesting was that two major Korean foodstuff manufacturers were mentioned a couple times in the movie, Miwon and Cheil.

From the Kurt Eichenwald book on which the movie was based:
Besides the Japanese, there were other foreigners involved— executives with European subsidiaries of Ajinomoto, as well as officers of two Korean companies, Miwon and Cheil Jedang Ltd. Over time, Herndon figured, he would get comfortable with the names.
It's a case of hundreds of millions of dollars of price-fixing that, frankly, I don't recall involving Korean firms (or Japanese ones, for that matter), even though I remember reading about the ADM case in American media:
Tensions were rising among the lysine producers, even before the Tokyo meeting began. Several of the companies were dissatisfied with the results from Irvine. The Korean companies—Miwon and Cheil— both believed that they were being cheated in the volume allocation. Executives from Cheil were so angry that they refused to come to Tokyo. The tussle between ADM and Ajinomoto had been only partly resolved, and both were wary of the other’s honesty. Only Kyowa Hakko had not voiced a direct objection to the allocation.
Anybody recall this case, and recall the Korean companies' involvement? All of the players, it seems, are doing just fine despite the case.

The price-fixing was over lysine, an essential amino acid that was being used as a food additive. What's interesting (to me, at least) is that Matt Damon's character made several references to Michael Crichton books such as Rising Sun, while the movie Jurassic Park, also written by Mr Chrichton but not mentioned in The Informant, highlighted the genetically modified dinosaurs' inability to produce lysine as a failsafe that would prevent them from surviving long if they ever made it off the island.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Is Oh Eunsun a victim of Dr Hwang and Korea's reverse halo effect?

It's nearly half a decade in the past, but I guess the Hwang Factor™ is still around: major accomplishments by Koreans are sometimes still regarded with a just-below-the-surface suspicion that there may be shortcuts or subterfuge involved.

This apparently is tainting what should be a celebrated accomplishment by Oh Eunsun, the South Korean who became the first woman to scale all fourteen of the world's peaks over 8000 meters.

From the Los Angeles Times:
In late April, the 44-year-old former government worker became the first woman to scale the planet's 14 highest peaks — all of them over 26,000 feet and located in the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges — narrowly beating three European women for the record.

Though hailed as a hero in South Korea, Oh says she has learned a bitter lesson about her endurance sport: Along with capricious storms and thin air, jealousy and resentment often await at the highest Himalayan altitudes.

Oh's record has provoked an avalanche of criticism. Her use of oxygen tanks and her reliance on Sherpa guides break unwritten rules of the sport, some say. Others dispute that Oh even reached the peak of Kanchenjunga on the border between India and Nepal, the world's third-highest summit, suggesting her victory photograph was taken somewhere below the top.

Oh, they say, is a cheater.
This is not a new story (I myself mentioned it several times), but the LAT's John Glionna addressed it a few days ago (with little play in the K-blogs), and he also drew that connection with Hwang Woosuk:
The controversy, many say, raises questions about fair play on both sides. Are Europeans so protective of their traditional success in alpine sports that they would attack an unlikely champion from Asia? Or is Oh the product of a hyper-competitive South Korean culture marked by such scandals as cheating on college entrance exams and the 2006 case of scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who faked groundbreaking stem cell research?

"It's heartbreaking," Oh says of criticism from some female climbers whose exploits inspired her. "But I'm also human. How could I not be angry?"
It sucks to be tagged in a negative way because of your compatriots. Sadly, it's something many of Ms Oh's fellow Koreans routinely do with people of other nationalities.

But at the same time, do these handful of prominent cases warrant such a broad-stroke impression? Cheating on college entrance exams is not unique to Korea, nor is academic dishonesty. Korea sometimes seems to be coated with whatever the opposite of Teflon would be. I wonder, for example, how much worse the fallout would be for Korea Inc in general if Toyota were a Korean company. One could easily argue that the rest of Japan Inc is insulated from Toyota's woes in a way Korean companies wouldn't be were the same problem to befall Hyundai or Kia.

UPDATE (June 2, 2010):
Inspired by a comment at this post at ROK Drop, I'm adding a little something in response to allegations that Ms Oh broke "unwritten rules" against using a sherpa or an oxygen tank, an elaboration of one of my own comments.

Yes, those apparently were "unwritten rules of the sport." And unwritten rules have a funny way of being brought to the light of day when it's most convenient, like for an opponent trying to discredit your victory. I note that this protest comes after the accusations that she was just shy of one of the summits apparently didn't stick.

The sherpa guide "unwritten rule" rings hollow to me, given that the first two people credited with reaching the top of Mt Everest were Sir Edmund Hillary and his sherpa guide Tenzin Norgay [see here]. That same link notes that "every climber carries an oxygen tank because of the lack of oxygen."

Unless the sherpa carried her and her oxygen tank up the frickin' mountain, gimme a break. Ultimately, as the LAT article points out, some Europeans apparently aren't ready for Asian alpinists to make a mark in "their" sport.

And we have a winner...

In a follow-up to this post, someone in Manorville, New York, was the 200,000th hit just a few moments ago. He/she did not appear to be a regular, but someone who stumbled onto Monster Island during a Google search. That search led them to this post on McLovin (of Superbad fame) and the City & County of Honolulu's own Mayor Mufi Hanneman.

Since Google no longer shows which picture people were looking for, it's either the fake driver license carried by "McLovin" or the photo of the very tall Mayor Mufi. Since the latter is considering running for governor, it could be him.

If Mr/Ms Manorville doesn't step up to claim his/her coffee, the runner-up is the 199,999th hit, someone in Land-o-Lakes, Florida, who just simply dropped in (much more likely to be a regular).

I guess I could get a pool going on when the 300,000th hit will come.

Ultrasound and abortion:
America and Korea and their opposite cases

Exhibit #437 that the US and South Korea are (often) each other's Bizarro World. In the New York Times today we have an article on how ultrasound is being used in a weapon in the battle for abortion:
The technician told Laura she was at 11 weeks. “Do you want to see your ultrasound?” she asked. “I’d rather not,” Laura answered promptly.

Laura, who asked that her last name not be used, had come to the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic in Birmingham with her mind set on having an abortion. And she felt that seeing the image of her bean-size fetus would only unleash her already hormonal emotions, without changing her mind.

“It just would have added to the pain of what is already a difficult decision,” she said later.

Over the last decade, ultrasound has quietly become a new front in the grinding state-by-state battle over abortion. With backing from anti-abortion groups, which argue that sonograms can help persuade women to preserve pregnancies, 20 states have enacted laws that encourage or require the use of ultrasound.

Alabama is one of three states, along with Louisiana and Mississippi, that require abortion providers to conduct an ultrasound and offer women a chance to peer inside the womb.

Late last month, Oklahoma went a step further. Overriding a veto by Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, the Republican-controlled Legislature enacted a law mandating that women be presented with an ultrasound image and with a detailed oral description of the embryo or fetus.
Contrast that with South Korea, where abuse of the ultrasound procedure and other sex-determining technologies were seen as causing a higher abortion rate (and in a country where such rampant pregnancy termination is nominally illegal, allowing it to be used as a key tool in reducing the fertility rate). Abortions were  not uncommon when would-be parents who learn of their fetus's sex might be more apt to abort the pregnancy if it's not the sex they wanted. This was usually son-preferring families aborting female fetuses, which led to a disproportionate gender ratio.

Of course, ultrasounds are an important part of maintaining the health of the mother and the fetus, so the solution was to outlaw the reporting of the fetus's sex to the prospective parents (and for the life of me, I'm having trouble finding a link... even if I include "Korea" in the search parameters, I end up with stories about China or India). [Edit: Oh, here's one from the WHO!]

Like many laws on the books in Korea, however, the enforcement of this legislation was lax. Doctors and parents got around it by thinly veiled statements intended to reveal the information indirectly: "Oh, looks like you're going to be decorating your baby room in blue," "Ah, your kid will make a fine soccer player some day," or even, "I think your in-laws will be very pleased." Silence from the doctor was also a form of code.

Of course, growing opportunities for women, as well as their expanding value in a society where marriage-age females are scarcer and scarcer, have meant that there are fewer and fewer families who would abort a child simply over its sex, but they're still out there. Such sex-determinant abortions may in fact have been only a small portion of overall pregnancies and even overall abortions, but they were enough to cause a gender imbalance that South Korean society will be paying for for sometime.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Monster Island takes 200,000 hits
(sometime in the next 18 hours)

This is a bit of a milestone, hitting the 200K mark. Sitemeter says we're at 199,757, and I've been averaging about 500 per day the past few days (usually it's around 400), so it might happen while I'm asleep (I'm actually about to go to bed... the blog's on Korea time, but my circadian rhythm is definitely in the Aloha State).

It was only eight-and-a-half months ago that I reached the 100K mark. The actual number of hits is more than that, since I didn't start the Sitemeter readings until November 2005, some eight months after I'd started blogging, but I figure the thousands I'd missed in those early months would be about equal to all the times I've visited my own blog, so now we're at 200,000 visits besides me.

I'm especially proud that I've gotten to this second shimman without relying on boob pics, or the 독도누드s I've promised but not yet delivered.

Just like last time, I'm promising a free coffee to whomever the 200,000th visitor is, unless it's someone looking for semi-nude pictures of Megan Fox while at work in the San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools office or some such thing, like last time.

Good night!

And here's our winner.

Not a good year for car brands named after planets

First Saturn, and now possibly Mercury: Ford execs will decide later this year whether to, ahem, scratch Mercury off their list.

I'll bet 럭키金星 is now glad they never followed Samsung into the made automobile-manufacturing biz.

Why dream of a high-rise apartment?

A better view and no yard work. Duh.

Of course, there are other reasons, too.

This is also being discussed at The Marmot's Hole (with cool pictures of Shire-like high-rises with an emphasis on plant life) and Gusts of Popular Feeling.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Yellow Sea...

The moral equivalency rantings of one Peter Atkins over at the One Free Korea FAQ, where he suggests that Americans have no right to decry North Korea's gulag system when we have so many of our own in jail and then he later alerts us — without any intentional irony — to a list of Chinese criticisms of American human rights abuses,  has prompted me to post a couple of things on Beijing in the New York Times lately.

First, there's this gem that reminds us that China is not a country that shares our touchy-feely democratic values and free speech. In Tibet, for example, they are cracking down on photocopier stores in a bid to squelch dangerous speech:
The authorities have identified a new threat to political stability in the restive region of Tibet: photocopiers. Fearful that Tibetans might mass-copy incendiary material, public security officials intend to more tightly control printing and photocopying shops, according to reports from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

A regulation now in the works will require the operators of printing and photocopying shops to obtain a new permit from the government, the Lhasa Evening News reported this month. They will also be required to take down identifying information about their clients and the specific documents printed or copied, the newspaper said.

A public security official in Lhasa, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the regulation “is being implemented right now,” but on a preliminary basis. The official hung up the phone without providing further details.

Tibetan activists said the new controls were part of a broader effort to constrain Tibetan intellectuals after a March 2008 uprising that led to scores of deaths.
To be fair, South Korea has had rules in place aimed at doing the same thing with pro-North propaganda, though the obvious difference is that China is an occupying force in Tibet while South Korea was a victim of North Korean aggression.

The second story deals with the delicate issue of eminent domain, which is a touchy subject even in the US and South Korea. In glorious-to-be-rich China, it is alleged that extralegal methods are commonplace when it comes to the well-connected wealthy trying to get peasants and commoners off land they've decided they want to develop. This NYT video (embedding not allowed, sorry) addresses that issue, depicting angry residents who are about to lose their homes and their livelihoods.

Though this eventually ended in the New York Times, it's chilling that the journalists who were there were pushed to stop reporting on it. For cases such as these, the authorities rely on such tactics to prevent the public from getting wind of wrongdoing.

I'd like to think that China is getting better in this regard, but when the rulers have no direct accountability to the people, it's a situation fraught with the potential for abuse.


North Korea norks things up even more

I'm going to coin a term here: norking, as in ratcheting up tensions in an already fraught situation (there's a secondary meaning of norking something up, where nork up replaces f/muck up, as in "norking up the economy").

For example, Pyongyang is norking things up yet again by suspending the military hotline between North and South Korea.

From the New York Times:
North Korea said Thursday that it was cutting off a naval hot line that was intended to prevent clashes near its disputed sea border with South Korea. Meanwhile, while the South conducted a large naval drill in a show of force.

Cutting the link, established in 2004 after deadly skirmishes in 1999 and 2002, raises the chances of an armed clash in the tense waters off the western coast of the Korean Peninsula — something the North has said could happen any time, particularly now that the South has officially accused it of sinking one of its warships in March.

We will immediately deliver a physical strike at anyone intruding across our maritime demarcation line,” the North’s state-run news agency KCNA quoted a senior military official as saying, referring to the North’s self-proclaimed sea border, which juts deeply into South Korean waters.
Word is that a disappointed Kim Jong-il himself had the hotline cut when he picked it up one day and found out it wasn't that other kind of hotline.

Ah, but I shouldn't be cracking bad jokes here, as this is potentially very serious. That hotline (which was upgraded recently: see the second-to-last story here) was there for a reason, and the Yellow Sea just got a lot more dangerous at a time when things were already very tense. More than that, Pyongyang is saying that they are going to enforce their line in the sea, not South Korea's, which means (a) they will deliberately cross the NLL, inviting attack by South Korean ships, and (b) they may try to attack South Korean vessels that are in waters South Korea routinely patrols.

The NLL dispute, of course, is a bit of a red herring on their part, as the sinking of the Chonan off Paengnyŏngdo Island was in waters both sides recognize as controlled by the ROK, not the DPRK.

Decades from now, an apocryphal legend will emerge of how the Yellow Sea got its name: sailors on all sides pissing their pants. Okay, enough with the bad jokes already. I must have some bad pun Tourette's, or maybe lame humor is my way of coping.

Stop destroying my home, people!

I'm still reeling from the vivid scene in 2012 where we see Honolulu in flames as the extinct Diamond Head erupts anew and spills lava all over the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf I frequent. (And I live about a mile or so inland from where this scene was "filmed.")

Seeing your own 'hood get destroyed on the big screen can be a very unsettling experience, so you can understand my uneasiness with all the war talk of late that involves North Korea. This site, talking about "how North Korean artillery could level Seoul in two hours," shows the effects of a small nuclear detonation right in my neighborhood. My apartment is located right in that little crater of destruction. So's the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf I most frequent in Seoul.

Thank you very much. I hope my tenants aren't reading this. [HT to Joshua at OFK]

Thursday, May 27, 2010

And just how hard would it have been to run this by a few native English speakers?

Courtesy of Yuna (not that Yuna) writing at The Marmot's Hole, we get word that henceforth makkŏlli shall be known as drunken rice. Might I suggest adding the suffix -tard to that, which would be pure perfection.

Severance pays?

Pyongyang will soon find out. North Korea famously announced it was severing times with South Korea, and we have here the KCNA report:
A spokesman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea Tuesday issued the following statement:

Traitor Lee Myung Bak of south Korea on Monday made public a "statement to the people" over the case of the sinking of a warship of its puppet army, in which he viciously slandered the DPRK again. He formally announced a ban on the passage of DPRK's ships through waters of the south side, "stop to trade and exchange between the south and the north", the exercise of "the right to self-defense" and the reference of the case to the UNSC, daring vociferate about "responsibility" and "apology".

Then the chiefs of the puppet ministries of defense, foreign affairs and trade and unification called a joint press conference at which they ballyhooed about follow-up measures.
This is little short of formally declaring that they would not rule out a war by standing in confrontation with the DPRK to the last.

It is traitor Lee Myung Bak and his puppet conservative group that should be responsible for the said case [Kushibo notes: They've been reading Sig Harrison!], apologize for it and face a punishment as it is a tragic product of their despicable sycophantic and treacherous moves and reckless actions for escalating confrontation with fellow countrymen.

As far as the "results of investigation" announced by the puppet group are concerned, their conspiratorial nature is brought into bolder relief as the days go by to be ridiculed by the world, as they are peppered with contradictions and doubts.

Now that traitor Lee Myung Bak is taking the lead in shifting the blame for the case on to the DPRK and formally challenging it with reckless provocations despite the above-said hard reality, the DPRK is compelled to opt for taking resolute punitive measures as it had already declared internally and externally.

The DPRK had already solemnly declared that it would regard the puppet group's anti-DPRK smear campaign over the sinking of the warship as a declaration of a war against the DPRK and mete out a merciless and strong punishment if the group dare defile its dignity.

The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, accordingly, formally declares that from now on it will put into force the resolute measures to totally freeze the inter-Korean relations, totally abrogate the agreement on non-aggression between the north and the south and completely halt the inter-Korean cooperation.

In this connection, the following measures will be taken at the first phase:

1. All relations with the puppet authorities will be severed.

2. There will be neither dialogue nor contact between the authorities during Lee Myung Bak's tenure of office.

3. The work of the Panmunjom Red Cross liaison representatives will be completely suspended.

4. All communication links between the north and the south will be cut off.

5. The Consultative Office for North-South Economic Cooperation in the Kaesong Industrial Zone will be frozen and dismantled and all the personnel concerned of the south side will be expelled without delay.

6. We will start all-out counterattack against the puppet group's "psychological warfare against the north."

7. The passage of south Korean ships and airliners through the territorial waters and air of our side will be totally banned.

8. All the issues arising in the inter-Korean relations will be handled under a wartime law.

There is no need to show any mercy or patience for such confrontation maniacs, sycophants and traitors and wicked warmongers as the Lee Myung Bak group.

The Lee group's call for "resolute measure" is as a foolish and ridiculous suicidal act as jumping into fire with faggots on its back.

The group is making a last-ditch effort in league with outsiders but will get nothing but its self-destruction.

The army and the people of the DPRK and all other Koreans will never pardon the group of traitors as it is finally bringing the dark clouds of war to hang over the Korean Peninsula, wantonly violating the historic June 15 joint declaration and the October 4 declaration and bringing the inter-Korean relations to a total collapse.
Frankly, I had only heard about this announcement from Western and South Korean news sources, but when I read it straight from a North Korean site, the typical bluster is just so over-the-top that it tends to make me not give it any credence. I was about to write a post on how North Korea's announcement means that Sunshine Policy is officially dead, but now I'm not so sure.

A good read from Metropolitician

I sometimes get on Metropolitician's case for being a drama queen with something of a chip on his shoulder, but he has some very good insights that make his site worth a look every now and then (which, coincidentally, is how often he updates it).

This post in particular is one I would like to direct you all to. It's a very good reminder that we all could use a mental check every so often to ensure we're learning before speaking, and that we may not know as much as we think we do:
Oftentimes, these conversations reek with cultural condescension and outright ethnocentric arrogance. Does some noob fresh off the plane and here less than three months really think that such revelations have never occurred to Korean reformers, government officials, or specialists in education, such as teachers or principals, or to the students themselves? Take, for example, our own screwed up education system in the United States. In the final analysis, the major source of disparities between school districts and individual schools has to do with the division of resources from property taxes. Why don't we just "fix" these things and get on with it? What the hell is America's problem? The solution is "obvious," right? ...

In the end, it's quite arrogant to assume, as a foreigner and a newbie, that after 2 weeks of thinking about the subject, all social problems would be solved if people just thought like you. It's also arrogant to keep stubborn and unwavering opinions without having done much thinking about the subject, nor any background reading, anything. You just sit there at the bar with your beer and have the answer.

Isn't that what we often get on Koreans' case for?
It's something I have said and would say again, but when he does it, no one would accuse him of apologism. (Actually, I encounter Europeans, Japanese, Taiwanese, and Koreans engaging in the same such behavior I see so many anglophones doing back in Korea, which is all the more reason I see the message as very universally apt.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A couple of digs on the North Korea issue

First, for those who are fond of bashing Korea by saying the rest of the world doesn't care about what happens here, the sad reality is that global finance and economic concerns are quite vulnerable to political tension and other problems on the Korean Peninsula.

Second, now that North Korea has announced it is cutting all ties with South Korea in response to South Korea announcing it was cutting almost all ties with North Korea, we can now watch as the regime in Pyongyang crumbles and becomes dust in the winds of history. Because if there's one theme I picked up on during the past half decade of religiously following K-blogs, it's that Seoul was providing the lifeline without which Pyongyang couldn't continue to exist.

Me, I always thought it was Beijing that was providing the clear-and-sufficient aid to Pyongyang to keep it propped up indefinitely, but that was written off as apologism. So I am excited about the prospect of buying an affordable summer home in Hwanghae-do Province in the next couple years.

Selig Harrison peddles his wariness on PBS's "Newshour" (and Balbina Hwang slaps him down, ever so politely)

My iPod listenings during my daily five-km jog consist of NPR's 7 a.m. newscast, the New York Times Front Page podcast, and then the various segments from PBS's "Newshour," in order of interest. The latter, I've often said, is one of the best programs in America for getting a full-spectrum, objective look at important domestic and international issues.

Yesterday, "Newshour" addressed President Lee's announcement that South Korea will shut down all trade with North Korea (except Kaesŏng), with a discussion between guests Selig Harrison on the left and Balbina Hwang on planet Earth (preceded by this news story).

They started off with Mr Harrison, the contempt for whom by the likes of people like Joshua Stanton I can clearly understand. Mr Harrison is almost Bruce Cumings-like in his ability to downplay the North's transgressions while highlighting to the point of distortion every conceivable and imagined transgression by the South.

Indeed, when it comes to North Korea, both are so far to the left you can't see them because of the curvature of the Earth. I dare say I half suspect that Mr Harrison is on the take from the chinboistas, if he is not an actual fifth columnist himself (and if we're ever both in Seoul at the same time, sue me for defamation, mutherfu¢ker!). [Edit: my, that wasn't very professional of me.]

He started out by essentially blaming South Korea for North Korea's murder of nearly four dozen sailors. In response to host Judy Woodruff's question about whether President Lee's response was appropriate:
No, I don't think so. I think that the problem is that South Korea abrogated agreements that were made -- an agreement that was made between North Korea and South Korea in June 2000, when the former president, Kim Dae-jung, went and had a summit with Kim Jong Il, and they made an agreement that the two countries would coexist and that South Korea's -- what North Korea considered South Korea's past objective of trying to bring about the collapse and the absorption of North Korea by the South would end with a new period that has been called the sunshine policy of Kim Dae-jung.

Now, what happened was when -- when became Lee Myung-Bak became the president, he repudiated this agreement. ... came into office and repudiated what had been done by his two predecessors, which had created the peaceful situation, where there was no military tension at all for eight years.
Fortunately, Ms Hwang called him out on this, including a mention of the deadly 2002 incident in the Yellow Sea that occurred two years after the 2000 Kim-Kim summit:
First of all, it is not true that there was absolutely no military provocations in the eight years of the sunshine policy. It's actually 10 years. In 2002, there was a very distressing naval incident in which I believe 12 South Korean sailors were killed and maimed.
Okay, back to the abrogation. During my jog I kept thinking "proportionate response, proportionate response": Even if everything Mr Harrison said about President Lee reneging on Sunshine Policy is valid, does that justify or invite such a brazen act of murder?

Such denial and distortions are not new for Mr Harrison, who seems to have swallowed hook, line, and sinker of the idea that South Korea's conservatives are forcing Kim Jong-il behave badly. "Context," he tells us, must be understood in order to grasp the meaning of this murder:
What I am saying is, you have to look at this in the context of what has been going on before. It's not -- this is not something that just came out of the blue. This is the climax of two years of a completely different policy on the part of South Korea, which has really spooked North Korea.
Ms Hwang goes on to set the record straight, calling President Lee's announcement "absolutely the correct response" (a notable point since vocal North Korea opponents like Joshua Stanton were not too terribly impressed by President Lee's announcement). She also reminded viewers that the conservative president did not actually repudiate Sunshine Policy and has been "very careful about not doing so."

Moreover, she also underscored that "it's very clear who has instigated this" — in the face of Mr Harrison's suggestion that North Korea might not actually be behind the attack —  calling it "a surprise attack" and "a violation of the armistice agreement."

She also made an intriguing point about why President Lee might not have called out Kim Jong-il by name as being responsible:
What is very interesting about President Lee Myung-Bak's statement here is that he is actually giving the North Koreans a face-saving way out, actually providing a way to de-escalate.

What he didn't do was declare that this was the personal responsibility of the dear leader, Kim Jong Il. What he said was, the North Korean regime should find those responsible and punish them. That actually allows the regime then to scapegoat or to actually pinpoint exactly who was responsible and does provide a way out.
Mr Harrison insisted again on obfuscating Pyongyang's responsibility for this murderous attack:
I don't think that this can be solved through North-South diplomacy, except in one important area, which is the negotiations on the sea boundary in the Yellow Sea, which is disputed, and which was involved in the episode that you referred to before and is involved in this episode.

And, you know, the U.N. ordained a certain boundary between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea after the Korean [War], which North Korea never accepted. So, you need diplomacy on the sea boundary between North and South Korea. You need the return to the six-party talks, where this whole issue could be brought up, but where denuclearization should also be brought up.
The dispute over the Northern Limit Line (NLL, that disputed maritime border), was only peripherally involved in the sinking of the Chonan, since it was sunk in waters off an island both Pyongyang and Seoul recognize as South Korea's, what would be undisputed waters (Ms Hwang makes that point as well).

At any rate, with nearly four dozen killed, we are beyond merely "bringing it up" as one of several topics to discuss yet again, although Ms Hwang and Mr Harrison both agree that this should be handled diplomatically.

I often recommend "Newshour" for the way it deftly presents the two main sides of an issue, giving a fair listen to both, but one must be prepared to hear some galling stuff from the side you don't agree with. Like when Mr Harrison shines the shadow of doubt on the Chonan investigation's conclusions:
SELIG HARRISON: Secretary Clinton used the word precarious. It is dangerous, because I don't know whether North Korea did this. I wouldn't be surprised if they did it, because of — I think that they...

JUDY WOODRUFF: You don't know whether North Korea...

SELIG HARRISON: I don't feel that we have had this evidence laid out, that it hasn't been — it is, after all, evidence that a South Korean investigation produced.

BALBINA HWANG: It — no, it was actually an international effort.

SELIG HARRISON: They brought in international people, but this wasn't conducted by an international — and I'm not saying that they didn't do it.

All right, indeed. Unless you are going to make a "Gulf of Tonkin" or "Remember the Maine" sort of claim, stop it with the insidious "we don't know if they really did it" insinuations.

In the end, I wish Ms Woodruff had gone with Ms Hwang first so that her airtime wouldn't be wasted mopping up after Mr Harrison's mess.

There's a bit more to the interview, so even though I ended up including more of it in this fisking than I'd intended (and I really didn't mean to do a fisking), go give it a listen.

Cats explain "Lost"

Now can we get these cats to explain North Korea? The Hugo cat can play Kim Jong-il. Jin can play President Lee. [HT to LAT]

North Korea pulls the equivalent of,
"You can't fire me because I quit!"

That is to say, North Korea has responded to South Korea's severing of all trade with the DPRK (except for a pared-down Kaesŏng) by severing all ties with South Korea right back.

From AP (via the San Jose Mercury News):
North Korea says it will sever all ties and communication with Seoul as punishment for what it calls a "smear campaign" over the sinking of a South Korean warship.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency quoted the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea as saying late Tuesday that Pyongyang would also expel all South Koreans working at a joint industrial park in the border town of Kaesong.
This is apparently a follow-up to the KCNA news from the day before.

And why shouldn't North Korea take this course of action? Pyongyang knows that Beijing is still in their corner, even when they commit acts of war and kill dozens of people.

And does this reaction mean we don't need to give two weeks notice on closing down Kaesŏng? Come to think of it, let's get those potential hostages out of their pronto!

The story is also being carried by BBC, Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, and of course Yonhap.

More stick, less carrot (Or, Kushibo speaks out on The Sunshine Policy)

Back in April 2009, before the Chonan sinking and before the Great Currency Obliteration of 2009, Joshua Stanton of One Free Korea responded to a query of mine on his website FAQ, about his prescriptions for ending the brutality in North Korea, with a question of his own:
Let’s make this a two-way street: on what basis do you believe that unforced “engagement,” aid, and concessions can alter the behavior or character of North Korea? What do you propose? What history suggests that it might work?
The short answer, of course, is that that's I've never believed in "Sunshine Policy" quite like that. But it did force me to write down my own views on the subject, including the need for "stick" to go along with the "carrot." Below is a slightly edited copy of my response, including links to posts I had not yet written:

I honestly don’t know. Frankly, if everybody could believe in what you’re saying and get on board with it (everybody to include Russia and China, and the UN), then I really do think that could work.

To me what to do about North Korea is an extremely perplexing issue, and I see hypocrisy and indifference on all sides — not just in each country involved, but among the various political blocs in each country. Democrats, for example, should be all over the human rights abuses, while Republicans should be taking advantage of the refugee resettlement laws that Bush-43 pushed, in order to precipitate an East German-style drain of people on the DPRK. But neither side really wants to touch this.

And in South Korea you have the left trying to engage North Korea ("carrot") without any sanctions ("stick"), even when there is no reciprocity or if the DPRK does something bad. In Japan you have a left that maybe thinks the DPRK isn’t really as bad as it’s being propagandized as being, and the right is using the DPRK as an excuse to frighten the public into allowing them to boost up their military. And of course, the far left in Korea (and maybe Japan?) includes a lot of individuals who are on the DPRK payroll or who have swallowed the Kool-Aid of those on the DPRK payroll.

I don’t think then-President Kim Daejung was wrong to engage the North. I think where it went awry is that President Roh gave up any pretense of using stick and Chung Dong-young and others became virtual mouthpieces for the North.

If there are to be things like Kŭmgangsan Resort and Kaesŏng Industrial Complex, you have to be prepared at a moment’s notice to pull the plug on them. Otherwise you’re held hostage to the North. I think such ventures do have their place, but they can’t allow the South’s policy to be held hostage.

So, yeah, I don’t know what the answer is. It’s easy for me to say, "Engage but be ready with that stick," but it’s an entirely different thing to apply it to the actual situation. The North doesn’t lend itself well to being rewarded for good and being punished for bad.

I do believe, though, that engagement is important for showing a human face of the enemy. No matter how much the North tries to demonize the South or the Americans, the food aid and now the daily presence of South Koreans in North Korea — even a hermetically sealed part — engagement erodes that demonization. It may seem laughable today, but prior to democratization in South Korea, kids in the ROK learned that the North Koreans had horns and would kill them just as soon as look at them. The North had learned as bad or worse, but that type of propaganda no longer is capable of packing the same punch. It’s a joke now, even in the North.

I don’t know if engagement will have a desired effect. I think it’s possible that if there were a sufficient shake-up in the ruling apparatus (e.g., the sudden death of the Dear Leader) that certain factions might now be more confident than before that they can work with the South and the US. And when/if the South ever does take administrative control over a collapsed North, the reduced level of demonization will make it easier.

I don’t know if there is a model where this has worked before, but Eastern Europeans were exposed to Western media and ended up wanting that, and the Russians were willing to give it up. Certainly there is much less media influence in North Korea than there was in Eastern Europe, but it may still be valid.

But the truth is, I don’t know. For me the model is kill with kindness, don’t be a doormat, and be ready to smack ‘em down if they get out of line. How’s that for a North Korean policy?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

KCNA: South Korea's Chonan report "will lead to a dirge of the traitorous clique"

You gotta love lines like that. The KCNA report in its entirety:
The south Korean puppet authorities finally issued the "results of investigation" in which they groundlessly linked the case of the sinking of a warship with the DPRK despite the accusations and protest at home and abroad. This is an intolerable provocation against the DPRK and an undisguised declaration of a war against it. Rodong Sinmun Sunday says this in a signed commentary.

The commentary goes on: It is also an intentional and premeditated plot to push the inter-Korean relations to total collapse and ignite a war of aggression against the DPRK in collusion with their U.S. and Japanese masters under the pretext of the ship case.

The ship case was an unprecedented charade crafted by the group of traitors keen on escalating confrontation.

The "investigation into the case" was nothing but a red herring as it was aimed to zealously spread a rumor about the "north's involvement in the case" and thus fan up atmosphere for extreme animosity toward fellow countrymen and confrontation with them among south Koreans of different circles and, at the same time, openly unleash a war of aggression against the DPRK in collusion with foreign forces under the pretext of what it called "security crisis".

A saying goes a club is fit for a mad dog. The army and people of the DPRK will never pardon the group of traitors getting hell-bent on confrontation and war, dare taking issue with fellow countrymen.

We do not know empty talk.

The reckless racket of the puppet forces will lead to a dirge of the traitorous clique.
I did not know about the saying that "a club is fit for a mad dog." The only Korean saying I could think of off the top of my head involving dogs is, "개 똥도 약에 쓰려면 없다," which is a quite useful saying. I know that whenever mŏn halmŏni griped about all the calling cards left by the three dogs at our house, that was exactly what I would say to her in response.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Seoul comes down as hard as it can with non-military sanctions

It sounds like someone is listening to me (and GI Korea... mostly GI Korea): South Korea is stopping all trade with North Korea and as an added bonus, closing its shipping lanes to North Korean vessels.

From the Washington Post:
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Monday that his country is stopping all trade and most investment with North Korea and closing its sea lanes to North Korean ships after the nation's deadly attack on a South Korean warship.

Lee also called for a change in the North's Stalinist regime.

The tough measures, announced in an address to his nation, were bound to ratchet up pressure on the isolated Pyongyang government and add a new flash point in U.S. relations with China.

"Fellow citizens, we have always tolerated North Korea's brutality, time and again. We did so because we have always had a genuine longing for peace on the Korean Peninsula," he said. "But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts."

Lee then said that "no North Korean ship will be allowed to make passage through any of the shipping lanes in the waters under our control" and that "any inter-Korean trade or other cooperative activity is meaningless."
Wow. No pussyfooting around by President Lee. Cutting off trade itself is a huge move, but cutting off access to South Korea's sea lanes (allowed according to the Inter-Korean Agreement on Maritime Transportation) is also a very big deal, especially if Japan follows suit (which it might). I'd have to look into that a bit more, but I believe that basically confines North Korea's boats on the east coast to half of a pond, as the Korea Strait pinches off the southern exit of the East Sea/Sea of Japan.

If Russia does not follow suit, it becomes a very expensive and time-consuming journey north and then around Hokkaido and then south around the rest of Japan and southern South Korea to get to the west coast.

Good on you, President Lee. Those dozens of sailors did not die in vain.

And godspeed to all of us. This is not an end but a beginning.

UPDATE (May 26, 2010): 
Here is the English-language version of President Lee's full speech. Courtesy of tiger fancini at Dave's ESL.

Blue Hawaii sends a Republican to Washington

This is a rarity, but it comes not from a shift rightward among Aloha State voters in President Obama's hometown, but from the two Democratic contenders in the contest to replace Congressman Neil Abercrombie in urban Oahu's District 1, neither of whom was able to set aside their own ambitions to field a unified party candidate. I guess that's what primaries are for, and there wasn't one.

It was a mail-only ballot. Mr Charles Djou won a whopping 39.4 percent against the 58.4 percent combined total of his two Democratic opponents. Nevertheless, the GOP painted this Korea-like plurality victory as a positive indicator for the Republican Revolution. To be fair to that characterization, though, he is the first GOPer in two decades to represent Hawaii in the nation's capital.

Mr Abercrombie stepped down so he can run for governor in November. He hopes to replace GOP Governor Linda Lingle (who would be a Blue Dog Democrat in most any other state), who has completed her two terms.

Mr Djou will hold onto the District 1 seat at least until January 5, but if he wants to stick around longer, he will have to win again in November, when the seat would normally have been up for re-election anyway. His Democratic opponents this time, Ms Colleen Hanabusa and Mr Ed Case, likely won't repeat the same problem all over again in November because there will be a party primary in September.

I did not vote in the election even though I live in District 1, which covers the "city" part of Oahu (District 2 is the more rural and suburban part of Oahu, plus all the other islands). I can make a case for voter registration in Orange County or Honolulu, but I'm interested in the Golden State's upcoming vote on marijuana legalization, so I've held onto my voter registration back in California for now.

I did meet Mr Djou once, and he was kind of a condescending jerk (but hey, I can relate). He is a major opponent of Honolulu's efforts to get a railway system in this linear-arranged city, while I've been part of groups trying to assure that the now-approved rail system starts with the university district (where the University of Hawaii and Chaminade University are) in order to serve those in greatest need and to guarantee the expensive project has high ridership from the get-go (à la Salt Lake City). He's from a ritzy neighborhood that doesn't concern itself with the needs of the economically beleaguered middle class or students, so why should he support the greater good? Maybe I can join LiNK and get the new Congressman to push for some stronger positions against Pyongyang.

Lost no more

Tonight is the series finalé of my beloved "Lost." And rather than watch it the following day on Hulu, I think I may track down someone with a television that actually gets shows as they're broadcast (my digital TV decoder box died on me, cheap piece of crap!), because I know a whole bunch of people who will probably be calling me up to talk about it, some from time zones where they will have seen the ending before it even starts in this freak state.

Why couldn't we be like Guam and have placed ourselves on the other side of the International Dateline? Of course, it would be December 8, 1941, that would be living in infamy, but that's not my problem.

Disjointed thoughts on compensation

ROK Drop has a post on the possibility of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama providing more compensation to victims of Imperial Japan's aggression in the first half of the twentieth century, which inspired me to jot down a few things that pop into my head whenever this issue comes up.

Hatoyama may be a nutjob in some aspects, but at least he gets (and so do many Japanese) that sixty years of "yeah, but..." declarations of "regrettable" and "unfortunate" are not real apologies and Japan's image and pocketbook are adversely affected by the weaselly way conservative governments have handled these highly sensitive issues.

Frankly, the Japanese should consider themselves lucky that most Americans have not caught on to what the Australians, South Koreans, and Chinese already know about conservative Japanese narratives about World War II (like this and this and this), including those espoused by some in the governments of folks like Junichiro Koizumi, who liked to visit a shrine that officially states that the US forced Japan into World War II and that the Japanese takeover of Korea was legal and justified (and hints that the loss of Korea may be illegitimate).

In 1965, Japan agreed to provide not compensation, but $800 million worth of grants and soft loans, the latter of which had to be paid back. A great deal is made of this money, with some crediting Japan for providing the seed money for Korea becoming the economic powerhouse that it is today.

The argument made seems to utterly ignore the blood, sweat, and tears that South Koreans themselves poured into their economy (as well as the shrewd economic planning of Park Chunghee, who used the money from Japan for the purposes of bettering the national economic outlook instead of individual compensation). Indeed, some deride the crucial component of South Koreans' contribution as "enslavement" itself.

So we have money that was explicitly not compensation and reparations, and a large chunk of it not even being given but merely lent. On top of that, let's consider just how much it was. According to an inflation calculator, $800 million in 1965 was about $5.5 billion in 2010. By contrast, the IMF bailout (which was traded for ROK economic sovereignty, according to some) was at least ten times higher, $55 billion in 1998 dollars. That, too, was money that had to be given back (and it was, early).

The equivalent of $5.5 billion today was a lot of money to Korea back then. It was only a decade earlier that much of the country had been flattened by the Korean War (and isn't it odd that, despite what is seen by many as an irrationally knee-jerk anti-Japanese sentiment, that Japan is so infrequently implicated in the division of the country, even though without Imperial Japan's occupation of Korea, the division would never have occurred?), and that money was needed and worth something.

But lots of countries get aid. The Philippines has received massive amounts of aid from, say, the US, and it is still a bit of a basket case. Ditto with Africa, much of Latin America, and even large parts of Asia. I mean, it's very easy to make the argument that aid itself is not a necessary-and-sufficient factor in economic development. Japan giving the ROK government $800 million in grants and soft loans was by no means Japan guaranteeing a prosperous South Korea. That was done by the Park administration and the KoKos themselves.

So I'm wondering if Japan deserves such a hearty pat on the back as some seem to be giving it.

At any rate, I think a good case can be made (and more than 70 percent of South Koreans agree) that the ROK government which used that $800 million package wisely does nevertheless owe compensation for the victims of Imperial Japan for whom that money was intended. That would be the forced laborers and soldiers for starters; the "comfort women" were not mentioned in 1965 nor were they even acknowledged by Japan until the 1990s, so that's a separate issue that Japan needs to take direct responsibility for. And quickly, as these women are not going to be around forever.

And while we're at it, how about a direct apology from the heads-of-state that is not eroded by the "but, but..." of Japanese domestic politics? Japan is a great country that has, for the most part, been an excellent neighbor in the post-war era. But the backpedaling on and watering-down of expressions of regrettableness, the unwillingness to give up Imperial-era territorial claims, the refusal to compensate victims who weren't even acknowledged until relatively recently, etc., undermine that positive image and contribution. Excuse the crass analogy, but it's like smearing sh¡t on the walls of a well-built house.

[Edit: While this post taks to task right-wing Japanese in power, I am keenly aware that there are other Japanese viewpoints regarding Imperial Japan's past. I wrote about Yasukuni and Hiroshima as "bookends of the contemporary Japanese mindset."]

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Breakfast at Tamina's

You'd think that in the second decade of the twenty-first century you would no longer have swarthy ethnic groups or non-Whites complaining of having pasty actors of Northern European descent playing people from their culture because Hollywood would have long ago abandoned such a practice.

But nope, looks like the upcoming Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is getting some bad press on this score:
So when Disney studios announced plans for a live-action adaptation of Prince, Dar held out hope it would be a "serious story that would dispel a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions." Then came the bad news regarding "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (the movie which arrives in theaters on Friday). None of its principle cast members are of Iranian, Middle Eastern or Muslim descent. And playing Dastan, the hero and titular heir to the Persian throne in the $200-million tent-pole film, is none other than Hancock Park's own Swedish-Jewish-American prince, Jake Gyllenhaal.

"My first reaction was, 'Really?!'" said Dar. "It's insulting that people of color — especially Middle Easterners or South Asians — are not allowed to portray ourselves in these roles. That's a big problem a lot of people in the community are having with this film."
As a US citizen who gets annoyed when Americans in Korean films and television are portrayed as caricatures by people with thick Russian accents or Canadians, I can see where these folks are coming from. But this is actually done quite a lot — Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese portraying Native Alaskans, for example, or an Englishman of Asian Indian descent playing an Iraqi on "Lost" — without insult or injury except to ethnic pride.

To me the ultimate standard is whether or not the non-authentic casting is employed to mock said ethnic groups, à la Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's (see here). If that line is crossed, then it's a different story.

And this is what the KCNA has to say about the Chonan announcement

As if any of this is a surprise:
A spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) issued a statement on Friday assailing the south Korean puppet forces for releasing extremely provocative "results of the investigation" into the sinking of a warship of the south Korean puppet navy in a bid to hurl mud at the north.

The statement noted that the publication of the above-said "results of the investigation" is another extremely ridiculous charade staged by the puppet group in a bid to hurt the dignity of the DPRK, steadily tighten the "sanctions" against it, harm and suffocate it in conspiracy with its U.S. and Japanese masters, much upset by the might of the Republic advancing by leaps and bounds toward a thriving nation.
I think it's quite notable that they included Japan in this list of South Korea's masters. Looks like they're partying like it's 1949 up there. Seriously, that's a bit of a rarity, and it may indicate that Pyongyang is nervous about Tokyo potentially joining any action against Pyongyang.

The drumbeat goes on:
The Lee Myung Bak group, while working with bloodshot eyes to escalate confrontation with fellow countrymen, drew the conclusion from the day the case occurred that the warship was "sunken by the north" and has since conducted intensive investigation on its basis to hatch a plot, the statement said, and went on:

In the course of nearly two month-long investigation the puppet group fabricated what it called "circumstantial evidence" with conjecture, supposition and random guess. It just produced fragments and pieces of aluminum whose origin remains unknown as "evidence," becoming the target of derision.
Right there... right there is where you have the chinboista fifth-column canned response. Right there. Oh, and I love the part about Lee Myungbak's bloodshot eyes. As if those things are wide enough for anybody to recognize any color inside them.
Greatly irony is that it deliberately linked the case with the north, talking about the results of the analysis of composition of the unidentified "evidence" without any marking and its size and type.

This is nothing but a shameful deed of those keen on escalating the confrontation with the north.

The Lee group's assertion that the above-said case is linked with the north is the last-ditch effort of those who face destruction as it is a premeditated and deliberate plot to tide over a serious crisis created due to the total failure of its domestic and foreign policies and smoothly stage the "elections to the local self-governing bodies" in a bid to maintain the fascist rule and bring the inter-Korean relations to a collapse.
That sounds eerily like what the North is trying to do. Project much?
The puppet forces are now kicking up such fuss as creating atmosphere reminiscent of a wartime situation in south Korea, blustering they would not "rule out a war" and crying out for "counter-measures", urgently evacuating the personnel, equipment and materials of the south side from the areas of the north side and issuing top secret order for taking steps for personal safety and making preparations for withdrawal.

This racket reminding one of an eve of a war goes to prove that the group's recent publication of the "results of investigation" was not a mere clarification of the sinking of the warship but a carefully calculated provocation to seek a pretext for igniting a war of aggression against the north together with outside forces.

The puppet group has created such grave situation on the Korean Peninsula that a war may break out right now.

Pursuant to the statement issued by a spokesman for the National Defence Commission, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea solemnly declares as follows, speaking for the DPRK government authorities:

Firstly, from now on the DPRK will regard the present situation as the phase of a war and decisively handle all matters arising in the inter-Korean relations to cope with it.

Secondly, in case the puppet group opts for "counter-action" and "retaliation" under the pretext of the sinking of the warship, the DPRK will strongly react to them with such merciless punishment as the total freeze of the inter-Korean relations, the complete abrogation of the north-south agreement on non-aggression and a total halt to the inter-Korean cooperation undertakings.

The DPRK will never pardon anyone hurting its supreme dignity and doing harm to it, warned the statement.
So if we take this at face value, then North Korea geared-up for an expected attack by the South.

It would seem then, that if the North was really behind this for the purposes of ratcheting up inter-Korean tensions in order to distract the DPRK citizenry from all the economic problems swirling around them, they have successfully snatched this opportunity back from the South, which had demonstrated its refusal to play along by painstakingly analyzing the situation instead of immediately reacting.

Apologies for that run-on sentence. I've been reading too many KCNA reports.