Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Do you think Daddy pulled some strings?

It looks like Kim Jong-un is going to have to update his CV soon, because the Brilliant Comrade has reportedly been elected to the North Korean parliament:
Kim Jong-un was elected to the Supreme People's Assembly at the elections in March last year from district 216, South Korean media quoted a Western source familiar with the North as saying.

The election may have been kept under wraps because the North has been wary of inciting discontent by publicly promoting Kim Jong-il's son as heir during economic difficulties, analysts said.

"I have been able to confirm directly from a North Korean official that Kim Jong-un has been elected from the 216 electoral district," the unnamed Western source was quoted by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper as telling reporters.

The number 216 signifies the birthday of the current leader and is reserved for persons of special entitlement, making it likely "Kim Jong" who appears on the list of elected delegates is in fact the youngest son of Kim Jong-il, the source said.
Damned straight you'd better keep it under wraps, because I'll bet dollars to donuts that there are probably some apparatchiki in Pyongyang just itching to remove the Dear Leader's third son. Then, if necessary, maybe replace him with Franken-scion. Because if he is allowed to rise to the top, the whole country is again at the mercy of a royal heir who may not be up to the task.

Exuberant Progeny down in Macau has the right idea: staying out of Pyongyang means staying out of the line of fire.

Anyway, as KJI progresses ever forward in his march toward installing his son as leader of the land, I think it's time we adopt a nickname for KJU from another beneficiary of an intergenerational transfer of power: henceforth, I shall call him "Singleya."

Mmmm... donuts.

And Asia's hopes are dashed

I didn't get a chance to view this match, since I was in line at the at&t store to get an iPhone 4 (more on that later, but a preview is that you suckers in Korea who lapped up the 3Gs like it was the golden turds of Steve Jobs himself are going to be kicking yourselves — kicking yourselves — for not having waited just a few more months for the iP4).

And speaking of kicks:
Japan crashed out of the World Cup finals in heartbreaking fashion on Tuesday after a 5-3 penalty shootout defeat to Paraguay in the second round.

Yuichi Komano missed Japan's third spot kick and Oscar Carodozo buried the decisive penalty to give the South Americans victory after a goalless 120 minutes and deny Japan a first ever place in the quarterfinals.
Brutal. Just brutal.

And with that, all three of my favorite teams are out of the World Cup. I guess I really will start rooting for Ghana. I like their chocolate.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

LAT on the Hyundai Sonata: Chutes and ladders

David Undercoffler of the Los Angeles Times gives a review of Hyundai's flagship vehicle that mixes gushing praise with a bit of effluent. This paragraph sums it up:
To drive the 2011 Hyundai Sonata is to experience a real-world application of Chutes and Ladders. It has many, many good attributes that sends it up ladder after ladder. Yet, for some drivers, its shortcomings pull it down more chutes than it's worth.
Most of the review talks about the pluses — and they are enough for "many consumers" to put the Sonata "at the top of their lists" — but the quality, the warranty, the excellent gas mileage, the interior extras, and the styling, he says, are offset by a lack of zing for driving enthusiasts:
But if you care about the driver's experience, prepare for the other chute to drop.

First off, the engine, though rated at 200 horsepower in the sporty SE, feels like it has half that. The Sonata's 0-60 acceleration is normal for its class at about 8 seconds — and it's going to spend that entire time arguing with you. The engine is loud and unrefined and sounds more like a drunk blender than an internal combustion motor. Be thankful you went with the upgraded stereo system because you're going to want to crank the volume.

Straight lines aren't the only problem for the Sonata. Auto critics are abuzz with how Buicks no longer handle like the land yachts of yore. Unfortunately Hyundai's Sonata seems eager to take that discarded crown. The car's suspension is comfortable enough with bumps and potholes. But turn the steering wheel more than a few degrees and you're punished with unsettling lean and body roll.

To compound matters, the steering itself feels vague and distant. Nothing about this car encourages a whiff of spirited driving.
But all is not lost, he says:
If you have your heart set on the Sonata but you care about handling, wait a few months. By the end of 2010, Hyundai says it will release the Sonata 2.0T, which will feature a promising 2.0-liter, 274-horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine good for 269 pound-feet of torque, all while giving you 34 mpg on the highway.

One can only hope Hyundai gives the steering and suspension teams a cold stare before letting them get back to work.
Just for $hits and giggles, maybe I'll go bother a Hyundai dealership and check this out for myself. I'd actually like to look at this car in person a little more. Its higher-end cousin, the Genesis sedan, looked good in pictures and in person, but the 2011 Sonata seems a little weird in pictures though I liked the few I actually saw driving down the road in Honolulu.

Not that I'm in the market for a new car anytime soon. My next car in Korea will be an LPi Kia Sorento, but I'm not sure about my next car in the US. Maybe a used Lexus IS 250.

More on the vanquished of Victor Valley

A year ago I wrote perfectly good new homes in the Victorville area, the High Desert region of Southern California, that were being razed due to financial problems and a lack of creative solutions.

This story in the Los Angeles Times takes a further look at the people who had bought homes hot, arid region, where they dreamed of being able to find large but affordable homes in low-crime areas, only to see their hopes dashed:
About 300,000 people call this region home. Baked in the summer, frozen in winter, it is scoured by winds that sweep down the mountains — and yet they come, drawn by what they can't find elsewhere in Southern California: the promise of large and affordable houses in clean and safe neighborhoods. ...

Then the housing bubble burst, and the recession kicked in.

Construction stopped when a builder filed for bankruptcy in April 2008, leaving nearly 100 graded lots bare and six Craftsman-style houses ready for roofing and stuccoing that never happened. A sign advertising home sites stayed up even after the phone number was reassigned.

Foreclosures started to sweep through the community, creating a patchwork of disrepair. For Sale signs dotted the streets. Vandals targeted empty homes. Boarded-up windows and weed-choked yards detracted from well-maintained houses with tile roofs, recessed entries and stone and brick detailing.

In the last four years, according to the San Bernardino County assessor's office, 373 of the 941 single-family homes in Mission Crest — nearly 40% — have been foreclosed on. Thirty-five have gone through foreclosure more than once. Properties that once sold for nearly $400,000 are worth less than $200,000.
It's the kind of story that angers me, because in many ways it's about people who have been screwed over twice by the same people: they had to move out that way (and if they do commute to Los Angeles County, Orange County, or the cities of the Inland Empire, it's a very long drive twice a day through Cajon Pass) because real estate developers priced them out of the market down in the populated coastal areas; and then when they finally found something they could afford, miscalculations by the monied mavens sent their new investment (and its environs) into a death spiral.

"Kia to disappear by next year"

So says market analyst Douglas McIntyre.

From the Orange County Register:
An analyst with 24/7 Wall St. has marked Kia Motors as one of 10 brands that will “disappear” in the year 2011.

The South Korean automaker, whose U.S. headquarters are in Irvine, joins others on Douglas A. McIntyre’s list such as Merrill Lynch, Readers Digest, Blockbuster, Dollar Thrifty, T-Mobile and BP, which is currently trying to mop up millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf region.

But Kia Motors? Really?

In his analysis, McIntyre states: “Kia Motors Corporation is one of the two car brands of Hyundai of South Korea. It has always been a marginal brand. Its stable mate, Hyundai USA, has a reputation for high quality cars like the Sonata and Genesis. Kia sells ‘low rent’ cars and SUV nameplates like the Sorento and Rio.

“As GM and Ford have already discovered, it is expensive to maintain multiple brands and storied car names, including Pontiac, Saturn, and Mercury, are disappearing. Most Kia cars sell for $14,000 to $25,000. Hyundai has several cars in the same price range.”

He goes on to say that Hyundai will “take a page from several other global car companies and dump its weakest brand.”
Given that Kia America's HQ is in OC, this is not a claim the locals take lightly, including the OCR. But their rooting for Korea's #2 automaker aside, how likely is this prognostication to come true?

Frankly, I think the answer is "not too terribly." When some folks were wondering a few years back if Hyundai shouldn't spin Genesis off as a luxury nameplate (including me), others were pointing out that perhaps the idea was to raise Hyundai's quality enough that Kia would be the "everyday" brand and Hyundai would become the upscale make.

That role seems to fit the two sibling automakers nicely, except Kia itself seems to be rising in the public's eye. And really, is that a time to fold the tents on a nameplate? The two automakers have genuinely been separate companies, even if they are intertwined, so why change that recipe now? If anything, this provides two car Korean companies for the public to consider, which in the mind of someone purchasing a car might give a little more weight to both of them. (Am I making sense here?)

And really, how successful would Korean companies be if they just did what American companies are doing, like shutting down well-known brands to save a few bucks? It seems Korea might do better if they avoid following in the same footsteps as their Detroit counterparts.

Anyhoo, this prediction sounds a bit like the analyst doesn’t know much about Kia and Hyundai (and their relationship) beyond Hyundai now having ownership over Kia. And I dare say this is one reason why Asian companies often befuddle American businesses or otherwise fly under the radar: the analysts and others don’t get an accurate picture of them beyond the superficial things that can be gleaned from English-language reports on the top corporations in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, etc.

Now having said all that, I so want to ride in that toaster.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Daily Kor for June 28, 2010: Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooone!

My schedule hasn't lent itself to doing a daily news roundup (a situation which may continue until mid-August), but since I'm sitting in a Mickey D's for two hours waiting for someone (the plight of those in Southern California without personal transport), I thought I'd give it a go. 

The big story, of course, is Korea's loss to Uruguay in the World Cup, which even if you hadn't watched the game, you no doubt would have discerned from the wailing and gnashing of teeth. And speaking of depictions of hell, 3.5 million Uruguayans will soon discover the torment of 11,878 Netizens hating their asses with a white-hot passion, a situation that will only worsen when the chinboista fifth columnists discover that the Uruguayans are South Americans
  1. Uruguay defeats Korea Republica, 2-1, ending South Korean dreams of moving beyond Group of 16 knockout round in World Cup (MIAP, NYT, AP via LAT, Guardian, Bloomberg, Yonhap)
    • Eleven spectators of match killed after terrace collapses in Senegal (AP via WaPo)
    • ROK coach describes players as "true Koreans" (BBC)
    • President Lee praises team despite loss (Yonhap)
    • North Korean coach wants players to "toughen up" to compete against world-class teams in future World Cups (BBC)
  2. Amid tensions, Seoul and Washington announce postponement of transfer of wartime control to 2015 (Blooomberg, Yonhap, Korea Times, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily)
  3. North Korea announces rare meeting that may solidify Kim Jong-un's rise to power (MIAPWaPo, BBC, Joongang Daily)
  4. Meeting in Canada, G-8 chiefs condemn North Korea over Chonan sinking (AP via NYT, UPI)
    • Meeting on sidelines, Obama and Lee issue condemnation (AP via WaPo, BBC)
    • Pyongyang rejects talks with UN Command over Chonan sinking (AP via WaPo, Reuters)
    • AFP reports Pyongyang is open to talks but wants US to cease involvement in Chonan case (AFP)
    • CIA chief doesn't think skirmishes with North Korea will lead to wider war (AP via WaPo)
  5. US President Obama to restart FTA talks with South Korea (MIAP, AP via WaPo, Bloomberg, WSJ)
  6. President Lee and Japanese PM Kan agree to "future-oriented ties" to involve cooperation on FTA, North Korea, and economic development (Yonhap, Korea Herald)
  7. North Korean missile launch anticipated as Pyongyang issues no-sail warning (Reuters)
  8. Seoul places sixty-five firms under restructuring plan (Reuters)
  9. GM and GM-Daewoo recall 2000 vehicles in South Korea (Bloomberg, Yonhap, Joongang Daily)
  10. South Korea places first geostationary ocean-weather satellite, called Chŏllian, into orbit after launch from French Guiana (Yonhap, Korea Herald); after rocket blast, French immediately surrender
  11. Responding to complaints about the vuvuzela, an embarrassed FIFA board admits they'd meant to give World Cup hosting rights to South America (AFP)

Unfortunate headline and photo combo
of the day

It's the second one above, which is about this news item.

Mother of God, I hope they gave her a C-section. If not, she's going to need years of Kegel exercises.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pyongyang announces rare leadership election

The DPRK leadership has announced a special leadership election which Pyongyang watchers say is to consolidate the rise to power of Kim Jong-il's son, Kim Jong-un.

From the New York Times:
North Korea said Saturday that its ruling Workers’ Party would hold a rare meeting of delegates in September to elect a new party leadership, a move analysts in Seoul said was intended to help a son of the ailing North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, consolidate his power as heir.

The gathering will be the most important meeting of the party since it held a convention in 1980 to elect Mr. Kim to its Politburo, an event that signaled his rise to power under his father, Kim Il-sung.

Saturday’s announcement, carried by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, said only that the party was convening its representatives “in early September to elect its highest leading body.”
The outcome of an election in North Korea carries all the suspense of, say, any World Cup match involving North Korea.

I think what this is really about is that the politburo had planned a World Cup watching party for the quarterfinals and they had to scramble to find something else to make it about.

White House pushing FTA with Korea?

It looks like Obama will finally push for ratification of the FTA with South Korea, but it will be after the midterm elections in November.

From the New York Times:
The Obama administration announced Sunday that it would ask Congress to ratify a long-stalled free-trade agreement with South Korea after the midterm elections in November.

The decision, which risks angering labor unions and their Congressional supporters, was announced as the Group of 20 economies began a two-day summit meeting here, following a smaller meeting by the Group of 8 powers.

After the meeting with the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, Mr. Obama’s aides said they would try to resolve lingering issues by the time of the next G-20 leaders’ talks, to be held in Seoul, South Korea, in November, and present the deal to Congress shortly after the November elections.
Depending on how many seats the Republicans pick up in November, the treaty might have better luck passing after the elections anyway.

Well, that sucked.

I think I made both my teams lose... maybe I shouldn't watch them while the match is still going on, not even on time delay. The US went down in extra time against Ghana, 2-1.

For the first time ever, I saw a lot of Americans really getting excited about the World Cup, and it would have been oh-so-cool to shove it in the face of my European friends and neighbors if the US had gone all the way. Heh heh heh.

But it's Ghana's turn, again. I'm seeing some shades of Korea in 2002 (and to a lesser extent, Japan), where the hosting of the WC on Asian soil saw a very successful run by the Asian hosts: while South Africa didn't fare so well, another African team — and you can see the African solidarity in the fans and players — is rising steadily to the top.

If Japan gets knocked out, maybe I'll start rooting for Ghana.

Fun while it lasted

Well, I watched the game against Uruguay, but it was on time delay, so I don't think my jinx would come into play. By the time I saw Korea Republic tie it up, 1-1, I think Uruguay had already gotten their second goal, which propelled them into the quarterfinals.

While the ball handling was a bit sloppy at times, it was a good game to watch and the Taegûk Warriors deserve a pat on the back for getting as far as they did: the first time out of group play on foreign soil. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if some netizens start talking up the goofy ball they've been using in the South Africa World Cup, the idea being that a normal ball would have sent some of Korea's near misses into the net. The correct side of the net.

Two points about that: first, it wouldn't be just KoKos complaining about that, lest anyone talk about uniquely Korean sour grapes; and second, that while there are many countries in the WC complaining about the flighty nature of the ball, it is mostly teams and their fans after a loss.

But who am I to disparage a team or their fans for griping before they have a chance to gripe? I just want to congratulate them on a job well done and look forward to the US match.

Now, per this conversation, what will KoKo fans do vis-à-vis Japan's match. With my theory being that most South Koreans either are indifferent to Japan's success or would like to see them do well as long as they don't do as well or better than Korea, it will be interesting to see how KoKos will react if Japan actually wins against Paraguay. My guess is that KoJa is no match for the Guays.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Another Korean model in blackface and dressed up as an African

This is apparently from last fall, but I only saw it a couple days ago when I was channel surfing past the CW: "America's Next Top Model" dressed up their non-Black candidates in blackface in order to give them a biracial look.

It is this kind of thing, I argued here, that confuses Koreans, Japanese, and other Asians when it comes to the sensitive issue of cross-racial depictions, particularly because it sends very mixed messages. One could argue, as I did in the case of "Black. White.", that there are appropriate situations in which use of blackface is legitimate and transcends the particular negativity associated with it in the US where it has been grossly misused and abused in the past.

But make no mistake, even in 2009 America, this kind of "race play" may be seen as a controversial ratings grabber, even if it is done "appropriately."

Friday, June 25, 2010

Japan advances to knockout round

Congratulations to Team Japan, which beat Denmark, 3-1, to win the second spot in Group E, along with the Netherlands.

They join Korea Republic in representing Asia in the Group 16 round of play at the World Cup. They had a record of two wins and one loss in group play. But don't expect to see any Japan-Korea match any time soon; even if both teams make it to the semifinals and then keep going, they wouldn't be matched up until the final game or the match to see who comes in 3rd or 4th.

I don't know how many South Koreans may have been cheering on the Japanese. When both teams made it to the Round of 16 in 2002, when they were sometimes-uneasy cohosts, I knew a few people who wanted to see Japan do well because they wanted to see a Japan-Korean matchup, others who wanted to see Asian footballers do well, and no small number who just wanted to root for their neighbor and cohost (believe it or not, not everybody in South Korea hates Japanese people).

And when Japan got knocked out, I know of at least a few Japan-based Japanese (in addition to the Japanese who I knew in Seoul) who thought that rooting for South Korea was the natural thing to do once Japan was no longer in the running.

Sadly, such folks often get drowned out by the vocal types who, by design, speak up first with their unmitigatable animosity.

Some iPhone notes

This guy, who waited in line outside the Irvine Spectrum Apple Store since yesterday afternoon to be the first in Orange County to get an iPhone 4, isn't doing much to dispel the notion that Apple fanboys aren't overweight jobless losers who live parasitically off their parents. If OC homes had basements, I have no doubt he'd reside in his parents', using the lightsaber app to reenact scenes from the first Star Wars trilogy.

And the several health-challenged gentlemen in plaid flannel shirts aren't doing much for Apple's image either. Is it possible they've actually been waiting in line since whatever year it was that grunge clothing was popular?

The iPhone 4 launch is not going completely smoothly. There have been reports that the iPhone 4's antenna design means the device apparently doesn't make phone calls. Reporters tried to verify this with Mr First and other early patrons, but it turned out none of them had anybody they could actually call. How sad to not be able to fill a Fav 5. I guess that kind of challenge is why they're willing to go with AT&T.

Now what I'd like to know is why Mr First has two when there are loads of people waiting to just get one. Is he going to videoconference himself? Or is Apple imposing a rule, à la airlines, requiring people with fat fingers to purchase more than one device? (Seriously, at the OC Register link above there's a picture of Mr First displaying one of the devices with his giant mitts, and I swear it looks like he's holding onto an iPhone 4 commemorative stamp.)

I'm not so sure Mr First, who has been sitting outside in the hot sun since yesterday afternoon without basic comforts like running water, should be airing his underarms so brazenly. Really, they should impose a "no victorious arm waving" rule. At least he had an adequate supply of food and Jamba Juice; reports that Mr First or some other corpulent first adopter had devoured one of the smaller Apple Geniuses were dispelled when she was found cowering under the restroom sink muttering something about geek overload.

There was a bit of embarrassment for the local media when the above picture, reported to be people waiting to get their hands on an iPhone 4, turned out to just be Orange County's upscale, fashionable homeless.

Anyway, the line at OC's several Apple Stores have been getting longer as the day moves on. Above is a picture of people queuing up outside the Irvine Spectrum Apple Store this morning. The line was a bit shorter at the shop in the Great Rift Valley Plaza.

Good news, everyone!

New episodes of "Futurama" are returning to television tonight. Not on Fox, which turned into a hardcore porn channel so gradually I didn't even notice, but on Comedy Central, which, um, may already be a hardcore porn channel for all I know. (I only watch CC clips that make it to YouTube.)

But if the relatives I'm staying with have anything beyond basic cable, I'm there tonight at 10 pm.

So you see, kiddies, there is something exciting besides that other thing to wait for this June 24. And if this one has yellow discoloration, it is probably intentional.

And just in case you need some catching up to do, Captain Zapp Brannigan narrates this seven-minute video that brings you up to date in the 31st century.

FuturamaThursdays 10pm / 9c
Recap-O-Rama: 5 Seasons in 7 Minutes
Futurama New EpisodesFuturama New EpisodesUgly Americans

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Stupid International Dateline! Be more close to America!

Well, since Japan is a whopping sixteen hours ahead of California with its dumb Pacific Daylight Time, Apple fans from Hokkaido to Kyushu are already getting their grubby little hands on the iPhone.

From the Wall Street Journal:
In Tokyo's trendy Harajuku neighborhood, more than 300 people lined up amid a festive atmosphere outside a shop for Softbank Corp., the iPhone's exclusive carrier in Japan. When the clock struck 8 a.m., the store opened as confetti fell from above and a curtain covering the windows and entrance came down to reveal a sign in Japanese that read: "This changes everything."

Outside the Apple store in Tokyo's upscale Ginza neighborhood, store employees handed out water bottles, bags of soy bean chips and black parasols to several hundred waiting customers coping with the heat, which had already reached sweltering levels by early morning.

"You have new products with cars, TVs and games, but how often do you see this much passion with people getting in line days before," said Softbank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son at a ceremony marking the iPhone 4's launch. "This is not a product. This is a work of art."
Indeed, there's a very Japan-ish aesthetic to the iPhone, from the simple form masking high functionality to the cleanly cute appearance and the white thematics. It's almost Wii-like.

Anyway, I think I'd rather wait for the iPhone in Miami.

Here's a link to a BBC story on people getting the phone in London. Despite some rumblings here and there about problems, the people who have actually bought one are raving about it.

A US nuclear strike on North Korea?

That's what Nixon was considering back in 1969.

From AFP:
In 1969, North Korea shot down a US spy aircraft over the Sea of Japan (East Sea), killing the 31 personnel on board.

Despite US outrage, the new Nixon administration chose not to retaliate other than to order a continuation of flights and go ahead with naval exercises.

The documents, released after requests under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that the administration nonetheless charted out a series of options that included conventional and nuclear attacks.

In one contingency plan codenamed "Freedom Drop," the United States would use tactical nuclear weapons to destroy military command centers, airfields and naval bases in North Korea.

Civilian casualties "would range from approximately 100 to several thousand," said a classified memorandum by then-defense secretary Melvin Laird prepared for Henry Kissinger, who was Nixon's national security adviser.

There is no indication that the administration seriously considered a nuclear strike. The document stated that the United States could use one nuclear option if North Korea launched an air attack on the South.
Frankly, I don't know very much about the 1969 downing of that plane, but it has echoes of the sinking of the Chonan (or is that the other way around?). Here and there in the K-blogosphere I have read claims that the US would have reacted far more harshly than ROK President Lee Myungbak's lack of attack, but when we see the hypothetical as a real situation, that doesn't seem to be the case. At least not four decades ago.

Of course, the US was fighting a major war a few thousand miles southwest of the Korean Peninsula, which may have affected things. Oh, wait.

Student soldiers in the Korean War

As the sixtieth anniversary of the start of the Korean War approaches this Friday, Western media is turning out more and more articles on the UN soldiers and their ROK counterparts.

This includes an AP story on the "student soldiers" who volunteered to fight for the Republic of Korea:
The 15-year-old boy prayed silently beside a freshly dug grave as he and other prisoners waited to be shot by a North Korean firing squad.

Kim Man-kyu, barely taller than his M-1 rifle, had fought with other South Korean student volunteers in an 11-hour battle before being captured just weeks into the 1950-53 Korean War.

"Suddenly, a fighter jet appeared and bombed and fired machine guns at the area," recalled Kim, now a 75-year-old retired pastor. Under attack, the North Koreans abandoned the execution of the prisoners, including some American soldiers.

About 100,000 South Korean students volunteered to fight in the Korean War, which broke out 60 years ago Friday. More than 1,970 perished, according to the War Memorial of Korea, a national museum in Seoul.

Kim was one of 71 students whose story is told in a blockbuster, star-studded film, "71 - In to the Fire," which opened to huge audiences in South Korea last week. The distributor plans to release the movie in the United States and Japan too, though no dates have been set.
That's certainly a movie I shall seek out.

Meanwhile, there is this AFP article on US veterans of the so-called "Forgotten War":
Seoul has invited a total of 300 former soldiers or family members from nine of the countries which fought for the South as part of a United Nations force during the 1950-1953 conflict.

US-led troops from a total of 16 nations battled the North Koreans and their Chinese allies, while five more countries sent medical units.

The US veterans paid tribute to the dead at Seoul's national cemetery before visiting the war memorial and museum.

Joseph Darrell Brassfield, 86, from Olympia in Washington state, was a lieutenant-colonel in the 1st US Cavalry Division.

He recalled the moment when his outnumbered unit faced Chinese troops who crossed the Yalu River border to frustrate the UN advance.

"There was a firefight all night long and we took many, many casualties. On the following day we attacked, and the day after that, we attacked again. But we couldn't get through," Brassfield told AFP.

"When you get into a situation like that, when you have a duty to perform, you don't have time to be afraid. Do what you can because you know your life depends on doing the best job you can."
I have nothing but gratitude for the men and women who fought and sometimes died during that horrible time, and I wish I could more to show it than just blog about it.

The line-up

It's barely 4 pm here in OC and the usual suspects are already laying in wait at the Irvine Spectrum Apple Store for the iPhone 4.

There's a line for preorders and a line for instore sales. Kushibo will be in neither. He's here to figure out why iTunes keeps eating a few apps each time he tries (and fails) to backup his ancient iPhone 3G.


The US has beaten Algeria, 1-0, and now emerges as the winners of Group C with two draws and one win. Per an earlier conversation, that's just one draw ahead of the Korea Republic, which eked out an advancement into the knockout round with one win, one draw, and one loss.

I did not watch the game — yet! — because I was afraid after South Korea's draw against Nigeria that my jinx was still in play, so I have no comment. Except that the we wuz robbed against Slovenia. Robbed, I say!

Oh, and I approve, sorta, of iheartblueball's soccer-themed gravatar. It's an improvement over the NSFW original, which occasionally barred me from perusing The Marmot's Hole while in public. iheartblack-and-whiteballs.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Korea advances to knock-out round after 2-2 draw against Nigeria

It was quite exciting, though a bit amateurish, as I mentioned here. But South Korea has managed to edge into the Round of Sixteen with one win, one draw, and one loss. They join Argentina, to whom they lost badly, in leaving Group B. Here's ESPN's coverage of the match.

After a half dozen World Cup appearances since 1954, it is the first time for Korea Republic to advance beyond the group round except that fabled time when the World Cup was played on South Korean soil in 2002.

It was a nice lunchtime match here in Pacific Daylight Time, but it's got to be the middle of the night for fans back in South Korea.

Did anyone go out and watch? Did you stay up late or get up early? Are people going to work? Did people pull down their pants? Was it a wonderful evening of theater and picking up after yourselves?


Strange things are afoot at the Infinite Loop

Though I'm a lifelong Apple user, I won't pretend the experience is frustration-free. In fact, I'm slowly resigning myself to the idea that I won't have an iPhone 4 in my hands on June 24. Or perhaps anytime well into July.

I had been debating whether to sign up for pre-ordering and have it delivered to the place I'm staying. Though I had ended up waiting in line (completely unplanned) for the iPhone 3G in July 2008, I didn't relish the idea of going to one of Orange County's few Apple Stores for what would undoubtedly be long, long lines.

The island of Oahu, with 900 thousand people, has three stores — and just a few miles from each other. Orange County, with over 3 million people, has only four or five stores. The Orange County Register reports that the guy who got the first iPad at the Irvine Spectrum store had waiting in line since the afternoon of the previous day, and they expect something similar this time around:
Around 1,000 people are expected at the Irvine Spectrum on Thursday for the official release of the iPhone 4 when the store opens at 7 a.m.

The Irvine Spectrum is an outdoor mall where people can line up in advance. For the last major Apple release, the iPad, the first person at the Irvine Spectrum lined up at 3 p.m. the day before release. There were enough iPads available for launch that some people without pre-orders were also able to pick up the device.

More than 600,000 of Apple's newest iPhone were spoken for on the first day of pre-order availability, and new orders for the device are now slated to be shipped in mid-July. There's no telling whether people without pre-orders will be able to snatch one on Thursday. For the release of the iPad, Apple offered two lines – one for those who reserved a device and another for those who didn't.
Sorry, but I'm just not that much of a fan. If I can do without an iPhone 3Gs, I can wait a few days for my iPhone 4.

Anyhoo, the first glitch, though, was that the white iPhone 4 would not be available for pre-order. My iPhone 3G is black and I wanted a change. More importantly, I think that smudges will probably show up less on the white iPhone. And my first iPod, a white iPod Nano, had that same glassy white look, and I quite like it.

Having firmly decided I wanted the white one, I made up my mind to wait a day or so to see if it would eventually appear at the Apple Store, or find out if it would be available for in-store purchase on June 24. While I waited, seven billion people pre-ordered the black iPhone 4.

So while I waited, the "ships by" date at the Apple Store changed from June 24 to July 2, and is now resting at July 14. Geez, I thought, it's like watching the KRW sink against the US dollar.

Meanwhile, I thought I would curb some of my craving for an iPhone 4 by installing the new iOS4 (iPhone 4.0 software) on my 3G. Granted, the two-year-old phone wouldn't be able to do all the things a 3Gs or a 4 could do with the new OS, but it would upgrade a few things and make it a good backup phone, perhaps even my next Korea phone (although my 2005 LG is doing just fine).

But after several attempts to backup the iPhone 3G and then update it with the new OS, I have given up. We were told on iTunes that it could take over an hour for the whole process, but after leaving it on overnight, the backup bar had barely moved beyond a pixel or two. Something was amiss, and others were reporting problems as well.

Maybe Apple will fix that problem, but I'm trying to do a workaround in the meantime. I'm doing a new backup for my iPhone 3G on this MacBook Pro, even though its "home" computer is the iMac back in Honolulu. We'll see if that works.

But if it doesn't, I'm left with a slowish phone and no immediate prospects to get a white or even black iPhone 4, which I'd really like to get in order to quickly employ the video functions and some other things. I hate to say it, but Apple is looking sloppy — Microsoft's "getting-it-out is more important than getting-it-right" kinda sloppy. If they didn't have the white iPhones ready, they should have given a July release date. If they didn't have the iPhone software upgrade ready, they should have released it after they got it right.

I actually had an urgent need for the video camera feature, so at about 9:30 p.m. on June 28, the night before the AT&T Store release of the iPhone4 on June 29, I drove by the AT&T Store in the Los Angeles County community of Hawaiian Gardens. There was no one in line, so I thought if I got up and got over there at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m., there would be a short line.

It turns out I was right. At 5:30 or so, I was fifteenth in line, and after a couple hours waiting and chatting with the people in line, as well as an ethnography student from the Cambodian-run donut shop kitty-corner to the store who came by and took orders, I got a receipt acknowledging that I would get one from the next batch of iPhone4 units that were to come in that afternoon.

I left the store at 9:30 a.m., They came in earlier than expected: I got the call at about 11:30 a.m., and I drove back and got my iPhone4. And I did use the video function several times for something priceless I wouldn't have a chance to get later on.

A blast from the four-years-ago past:
World Cup 2006 posts

I'm risking that my jinx will sink Korea Republic, but I'm watching the Nigeria-South Korea match — and turned it on just in time to see the Taeguk Warriors tie it up 1-1. A draw will put South Korea in the next round for the first time ever outside of South Korea.

In the meantime, while glancing up from what has been amateurish play at times (seriously, AYSO champions do better than some of this), I've decided to take a somnambulistic stroll down memory lane and link to my 2006 World Cup posts (I was not blogging in 2002, so I don't have any of those).
  • June 14, 2006 — "An evening stroll," describing a walk downtown to watch South Korea defeat Togo, but without looking up at the big screens.
  • June 19, 2006 — "Somnambulistic in Seoul," about the same thing, but in relation to the 1-1 draw with France. After which the French surrendered.
Anyway, I looked up from my MacBook Pro just in time to see South Korea take the lead, 2-1. The announcers are talking as if it's over, which seems a tad premature to me.

By the way, if you haven't seen it, right here's a very handy calendar of the various matches and the scores of those already played. You can look things up by country, date, or location.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


A scoreless performance in soccer is embarrassing, but not all the uncommon. A 7-0 shutout is utterly humiliating, but that's what went down for North Korea when they faced Portugal in the World Cup.

North Korea had already lost to Brazil, but at a respectable score of 2-1. Surely the Pyongyang regime must have figured there was a good chance — a probability even — that Korea DPR would lose to the Portuguese, so the question is: Why would they choose to air it live anyway?

That's right, live:
North Korean state television aired full live coverage of the team's 7-0 World Cup loss to Portugal on Monday in what is believed to be a first for a North Korean football game taking place abroad.

Korean Central Broadcasting carried live coverage and commentary of the match in Cape Town, South Africa, ending the broadcast soon after Portugal beat North Korea 7-0. The broadcast was monitored in Pyongyang by international TV news agency APTN.

"The Portuguese won the game and now have four points," a commentator said when the match concluded. "We are ending our live broadcast now."
And that's that. Or is it? Just what is behind this... this... well, openness. The powers-that-be have admitted mismanagement of the economy and are apparently allowing markets to open again, and now this.

Think about it: the DPRK government thrives on control of information and perceived infallibility is the coin of the realm. Yet someone decided to allow the live broadcast of a match that the North Koreans would likely lose. What does this mean?

As we get reports that Kim Jong-il may be out of the loop and power is already being passed to his son, one wonders if we might actually be seeing the first glimmers of some sort of North Korean-style perestroika. Is someone up there a Gorbachev in wolf's clothing?

And that's something to consider as we ponder the more immediate results of this loss. Is the DPRK's national team in danger? Might they consider mass defections to avoid censure, imprisonment, or worse?  Might this humiliating defeat have laid bare the inefficacy of the nation's rulers, adding to the general feeling of disgruntlement toward the regime?

We shall see.

Because everyone named Lee is related, right?

above: Actor Christian Navarro and actress/model and possible Samsung heiress Lisette Lee, who looks a lot better here than in her mug shot.
The Asian Kyŏngje and other Korean media are reporting in Korean that American media are reporting that a twenty-eight-year-old woman named Lisette Lee — you may remember her as Baby Sugar Mama from the 2008 movie The Doorman — has been arrested for smuggling some 230 kilos (slightly more than 500 pounds) of marijuana from Columbus, Ohio, to Southern California. Brian has the story (see link above), although I first heard about it from occasional Marmot's Hole commenter lmno, no relation to commenter abcedefg.

From the Los Angeles Times:
And when drug-sniffing dogs identified a positive narcotics odor, agents found more than 506 pounds — or 23 bales — of marijuana stuffed inside the suitcases.

In interviews with agents, Lee claimed she was a model and recording artist, the complaint states.

She said that this was her fourth trip and that she could afford the chartered plane — which her family kept on retainer — because she was associated with several multimillion-dollar businesses, according to the complaint.

After her arrest, rumors swirled that Lee was an heir to the Samsung Electronics fortune, though the company issued a statement denying it.

Lee was charged with conspiracy and possession with the intent to distribute narcotics.

On a previous flight, also from Van Nuys to Columbus, she traveled with the same group and also carried an "excessive amount of luggage," according to the complaint.

Lee claimed that the luggage held supplies for a horse farm in Columbus, agents said.

Lee told agents she had come to visit her boyfriend, who recently had purchased a horse farm in Ohio and asked her to transport some equipment for him. She told officials she did not know his last name.
Okay, then. The Australian media at least are reporting that she is a Samsung heiress, though Samsung has denied this. Brian described her as a "woman claiming to be a Samsung heiress," though the LAT article above only refers to "rumors [that] swirled" about that.

Could it be that this is either (a) a bogus claim she made to throw investigators off the truth or (b) something that the gawking gawkers of Gawker pulled out of their arse or quoted others who pulled it out of their arse or assumed it based on something as flimsy as Lisette Lee having the same surname as Lee Kunhee, the founder of Samsung? Rumors are also suggesting she's related to Sony founder Mr Akio Morita.

Right there, I would have called b.s. on whatever she was saying or suggesting. There are some weird arranged marriages between powerful people, but the likelihood of a Samsung family member getting together with a relative of the Sony founder back in the 1970s is, well, not likely. Not impossible, mind you, but not likely. It's the kind of thing you would tell someone who doesn't know Hyundai from Honda when you're trying to impress them.

This grifter (?) reminds me of Will Smith's "Paul" character in Six Degrees of Separation.

Anyway, what's interesting is that the Asia Kyŏngje article and other links I found did not mention Samsung by name, only referring to her as a "재벌가 상속녀," or chaebŏl heiress. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

The world's consumer

The Los Angeles Times has an article discussing America's role as "the consumer of last resort" on which much of the rest of the world relies:
Many analysts see the U.S. already heading back down the free-spending path.

"Europe and Germany will pursue austerity. Asians will pursue exports. We will be the only buyer," warns Clyde Prestowitz, a former trade negotiator in the Reagan administration and author of a new book, "The Betrayal of American Prosperity."
Although the piece doesn't specifically mention South Korea, the ROK has for decades relied on American markets to sell its goods and is milking its enviable position as an low-cost or affordable provider of quality goods to keep the global recession demons at arm's length.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

North Korea allowing free markets again?

The Washington Post is reporting that North Korea is allowing private markets to open in order to avoid famine:
Bowing to reality, the North Korean government has lifted all restrictions on private markets — a last-resort option for a leadership desperate to prevent its people from starving.

In recent weeks, according to North Korea observers and defector groups with sources in the country, Kim Jong Il's government admitted its inability to solve the current food shortage and encouraged its people to rely on private markets for the purchase of goods. Though the policy reversal will not alter daily patterns — North Koreans have depended on such markets for more than 15 years — the latest order from Pyongyang abandons a key pillar of a central, planned economy.
Such a move would undermine their control, but it would also mitigate the growing anger among the peasantry and even low-level apparatchiki who lost their life savings in the disastrous currency reform and then saw their best way to get food vanish as the old currency disappeared.

A "disgrace": US goal not counted, only ties with Slovenia, 2-2

That was the wording used by the American half of the two-man announcing team following the come-from-behind tie to express his disgust at what may have been a bad call by the referee.

And when I heard that, I thought to myself that that sounded like one of those things that, had it been uttered by a Korean announcer following a disappointing call against the ROK team, the K-blogosphere would be awash in comments of what sorry sports the Koreans are in general.

But I'm sure it's just him. I have the utmost confidence that if you go online and look at the comments sections of various websites, there will be almost nothing but the nicest comments of how hard it is to officiate a match (and I should know, as I used to be an AYSO soccer ref in my youth). That is, if anybody in America even noticed Team USA was in the World Cup.

By the way, an oldie 2006 World Cup post... the rockin' Team USA logo.

Friday, June 18, 2010

South Korea throws in the towel against Argentina, loses 4-1

That's what I've gleaned from the closed captioning on the news
channel on the other end of the waiting room of the government
building I've been waiting in since this morning.

So if Korea Republic can beat Nigeria and Greece gets trounced by
Argentina, will the Taeguk Warriors advance to the next round? (I
haven't been following too closely lest my jinx kick in.) what other
scenarios see South Kprea advancing?

How is this playing out on the streets of Seoul? I'm missing all the
excitement (and I should link to 2006 World Cup posts).

This succinct email was sent from my iPhone.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tomorrow's ROK versus Argentina match

I'm still trying to figure out where to watch Thursday's match but in the Nevada desert there isn't a whole lot of enthusiasm for a World Cup match involving... well, anybody.

But ESPN does have an overview of the match. That network's been a godsend for news bits on sports involving South Korea, especially soccer, so I probably should stop derisively repeating that "you can't spell penis without ESPN" joke.

I wonder if there are any sports bars in Vegas Koreatown.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

North Korea upset: Brazil

That was easy. All I had to do was add a colon to my originally planned "upset" headline.

Anyhoo, I'm still traveling and handling some important family matters, usually without Internet access, so if the digruntled DPRK peasantry have risen up and overthrown the Pyongyang regime following North Korea's narrow 2-1 loss to Brazil, I probably won't know about it -- much less blog about it -- until next week.

in the meantime, I've been trying to reserve an iPhone 4, but Apple's site keeps saying they can't process my request (at first because I was late on a payment). Another problem is that they don't have white available. Maybe the folks at the Fashion Show Apple Store will shed some light.

Oh, and my mom has finished the copy of the Ling Sisters' book that Lisa Ling sent me -- and reiterated her disappointment (with citations even) that I was "so mean." She has always like Lisa Ling and her work... Maybe more than me!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

North Korean upset against Brazil?

That's what the Wall Street Journal is preparing us for:
A North Korea defeat of Brazil in their World Cup match Tuesday would rank as one of the greatest upsets in sports history.

And North Korea Coach Kim Jong Hon believes it's possible.

"Regarding the match results, I can be very optimistic," he said through a translator at a news conference Monday. "Our players are very qualified."

North Korea is ranked 84th on the FIFA tables, the lowest in the tournament. Brazil is ranked first.

Brazil has won five championships, North Korea none. In fact, it hasn't played in the World Cup since 1966.

Brazil has 195 goals in World Cup history. North Korea has five.

Brazil, with stars like Kaka and Lucio, is the best-known team in the world. North Korea has just a handful of athletes who play on clubs outside their own country.
Even though they threaten my home, cause troubles that spin my KRW cash into the toilet, and are just generally menacing to their own people and their neighbors, I'm rooting for North Korea to pull off one of history's "greatest upsets." It would be a nice change from just being most upsetting.

North Korea stealing South Korean broadcasts?

SBS thinks so:
A South Korean television network has accused North Korea of illegally showing matches from South Africa to its isolated populace.

North Korea’s state-run Central Television has shown replays of four World Cup games, including the opening match between South Africa and Mexico, and a Saturday match in which South Korea defeated Greece 2-0.

The replay of the South Korea-Greece game was shown on Monday evening, with occasionally favorable commentary on the skills of South Korean players.

The South Korean television network SBS said that it had acquired the sole right from the World Cup organizer, FIFA, to broadcast the games throughout the Korean Peninsula and that it was investigating whether North Korea has pirated its signals.
Give North Korea a break. They were probably scanning through South Korean cable offerings for something to pirate, they saw a whole bunch of programs like "The L-Word" and "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy," and they figured World Cup soccer was the only safe thing on.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Koreas at the World Cup

I'm doing a bit of traveling for the next week or so, so expect light posting. But there have been a few interesting reads in the media related to both Koreas and the World Cup. This first is a Los Angeles Times story by Barbara Demick on North Korea's star (who was actually raised in Japan), Jong Tae-se:
Jong Tae-se is a 26-year-old publicity hound with his own blog, where he strikes a sultry bare-chested pose. He has appeared in television commercials. He drives a silver Hummer and likes to dress like hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur. When he goes on the road, he travels with a laptop, iPod and sometimes a Nintendo DS and a Sony PlayStation Portable.

Jong is the star striker of North Korea's 2010 World Cup team. That makes him at this particular moment the most recognizable living North Korean, with the possible exception of the Dear Leader himself, Kim Jong Il.
And like Kim Jong-il, it sounds like Mr Jong enjoys a helluva lot more freedom than the rest of his "countrymen."

The second is about what happened to result in so many empty seats in the Korea Republic section at the ROK-versus-Greece match:
FIFA is investigating why around 8,000 ticket-holders failed to turn up for Sunday's match between South Korea and Greece in Port Elizabeth. There were banks of empty seats all around the ground, and commentators lamented that such a well-built stadium was not filled to capacity.

There were plenty of empty seats in the game between South Korea and Greece
A FIFA spokesman said that only 31,513 people were in the 42,486 capacity Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, even though almost 40,000 tickets had been pre-sold. "It looked like a lot of people did not show up" he said. "We are investigating. We have no clue what happened - tickets had been issued." It is understood most of the no-shows were tickets sold to companies. "We are investigating who those companies are, why those tickets were not distributed to their owners or why those owners didn't make it to the stadiums," the spokesman added. FIFA cut prices for group sale tickets to be allocated among local businesses and public service workers and paid for buses to bring fans to the ground.
I just hope it doesn't turn out that some eight thousand South Korea tourists were kidnapped. Or that they all went to South America instead.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Way to kill the World Cup buzz, Pyongyang.

North Korea is threatening to turn Seoul — yet again — into a sea of flame. This time, it is scheduled to happen if South Korea turns on the propaganda loudspeakers and starts saturating the northern side of the DMZ with sounds of K-pop.

Apparently, movie buff Kim Jong-il has seen the opening of Back To The Future many times, and he's very, very concerned.

Seeking revenge for Athens's economic woes having sent the KRW into the crapper and threatening the ROK's economic recovery, South Korea beats Greece, 2-0, in its first 2010 World Cup match

So says ESPN:
South Korea took the lead at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth with just seven minutes gone when central defender Lee Jung-Soo volleyed home Ki Sung-Yueng's free-kick.

Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung capitalised on an error by defender Avraam Papadopoulos to secure the points with the second goal after 52 minutes.

After the match, Huh, who became the first South Korean-born coach to lead his country to a World Cup finals victory, said: "The first game of any tournament is difficult, but my players really played very well, so I am very grateful.

"But we are just at the beginning now. We have more matches to play and we have to prepare for those games just as well."

Greece boss Otto Rehhagel admitted that his team had been second-best on the day.

He said: "We were unlucky in a couple of situations towards the end of the match, but it was a deserved victory for South Korea."
Next stop: Argentina on June 17.

I have nothing to add except that I was unable to watch because of (a) the late hour and (b) the utter lack of a television at this moment in my efforts to vacate Oahu.

Oh, and: Tae~ han~ min~ guk!!!

[photo above: I chose this fan to put up on my site because she spelled Korea with a k.]

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Minority report

Readers of Monster Island will recall that one out of every five children in the US is Latino.

Well, the Census Bureau, anxious to release some data to show how hard they're working (despite actually being horribly incompetently managed) has released some new stats that are along the same lines: 35 percent of all the people in the United States are minorities (i.e., non-Hispanic Whites). In California, far and away the most populous state in the country, that number is 65 percent.

From the Los Angeles Times:
Across the nation, the number of minorities continues to rise and the white population continues to decline, according to U.S. census estimates released Thursday.

Minorities now make up about 35% of the population in the United States, an increase of 5% from 2000, reflecting demographic changes seen most powerfully in the Golden State.

"More of the country is going to be like California," said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution. Minorities make up 57% of the population in California.

Last year, minorities helped the overall U.S. population grow by 2%, boosted by a surge in births and people who identified themselves as multiracial. In 2009, 5.3 million Americans classified themselves as multiracial, up 26% from 3.9 million in 2000.

The figures released Thursday come from estimates based on data collected last year. "As we get closer to the 2010 census, we're seeing a decade where the white population is aging," Frey said.

In 42 states, numbers show a loss of non-Hispanic whites under age 45. Nationally, this group declined by 8.4 million.
Seriously, we need to turn some White people Mormon or whatever that conservative branch of Catholicism is that doesn't recognize Vatican 2. 화이트피플, 화이팅!

Anyway, it's interesting to note that this is not the actual 2010 Census data, but probably numbers from the extensive American Community Survey, a very extensive rolling survey conducted by the Census Bureau that is always going on, even in the "off years" when there is no general Census.

Props to Proposition 14

Proposition 14 passed, which means that starting in 2012, California voters will have a June "primary" where they can choose their candidate for the governorship, US Senate, US House, and California Assembly irrespective of party affiliation. The top-two vote-getters will face each other in the November election, regardless of what party they're associated with. Theoretically, you could have two Democrats facing each other or two Republicans.

The New York Times has a couple interesting pieces on this: a news analysis and a discussion panel. One person from the discussion panel, Steven Greenhut, does a good job explaining this, even though he's against this "gimmick":
It’s true that Democratic primary voters tilt left and Republican primary voters tilt right and that leads to general-election choices that strike some people as too extreme. But there’s something disturbing about instituting an election reform to elect a specific type of candidate, in this case more “moderates.”
Though some supporters did talk up that this would bring in more moderates — as opposed to extreme right or extreme left candidates — I don't agree that that was necessarily the goal. Rather, it is designed to elect officials who are closer to the average voter in that district than we currently get.

To read more, click here.