Saturday, July 31, 2010

Angelina Jolie reads this blog (maybe)

Geez, I've spent like the last hour or so trying to track down the comment I made a few weeks or months ago — most likely here at Monster Island, at One Free Korea, or at ROK Drop — saying that despite such high-profile cases as the catch-and-release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee or Robert Park, what the North Korean refugees and the North Koreans still in the DPRK need is a celebrity to take up their cause, à la Darfur, New Orleans, Tibet, etc. If someone remembers where I put that, please let me know.

I mention this because it seems Ms Jolie may be interested in assuming that mantle. In a swing through Seoul to publicize her latest film, an action thriller entitled Salt, she spoke out on behalf of North Koreans. From the Los Angeles Times:
Angelina Jolie says she's worried about the people of North Korea, particularly the persecution defectors face when repatriated to the reclusive state.

Jolie was in Seoul on Wednesday to promote her latest action thriller, "Salt," which opens with a scene that takes place in a North Korean prison.

Jolie, who serves as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said she got a tutorial on the plight of North Korean defectors from Seoul-based officials from the U.N. refugee agency.

"They spoke a lot about the concerns about people being persecuted when they are sent back to North Korea," she said. "I'm very concerned about the people."
Say what you will about Hollywood celebrities taking up pet causes, but Ms Jolie seems to know her stuff, or at least tries to (I'm hoping she's more intelligent than this when it comes to Korean stuff). And it's probably no accident that the movie starts with Ms Jolie's character being beaten and brutalized by DPRK soldiers. (I just saw the film today.)

In fact, in addition to the odd coincidence of sexy deep-cover spy Anna Chapman being arrested and deported just days before Salt was released, I think the opening of the film will remind some of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

Anyway, the movie itself is a fun ride. I look forward to a sequel with Chiwetel Ejiofor, which can be called Salt & Pepper or Salt II. Sphere: Related Content

It's good to be the Kims

above: The makers of the movie Inception probably had to buy a few Hyundai Genesis models, which was good for Hyundai's bottom line. 

T'is a fine time to be invested in one of South Korea's automakers. Hyundai has just announced that its second-quarter profits soared 71 percent to $1.2 billion, while Kia posted a profit of $471 million for the same period, a 61 percent increase over the previous year.

Meanwhile, Samsung boasted an increase of 83 percent, for $3.61 million. This new record comes on the heels of a new record last quarter as well.

But it's not all sunshine and lollipops. Unlike its fellow chaebol, LG is not living large, with its electronics division earning a profit of only $722.4 million (only!), which is a 33 percent drop over the previous year.

Economists attribute these successes to people buying lots of stuff.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

China's biggest problem is China

In light of the appalling news that China sent back to North Korea an octogenarian South Korean POW who had escaped the DPRK and made contact with ROK activists, Joshua of One Free Korea has penned a post that goes very directly to the heart of why so many of us who who are involved with or closely follow North Korean issues, South Korean politics, or wider East Asian goings-on fear, loathe, or otherwise deeply distrust Beijing and its policies.

You may have read my own China Rant (the meat of which starts about a third of the way through), my feverish defense of the Pax Americana, or other posts with a similar theme (such as the scary reality of Beijing whipping up PRC citizens against South Koreans for political aims), but I was so impressed with the elegant simplicity of Mr Stanton's short essay that I wanted to reprint the second paragraph in its entirety:
In the end, all of our differences with China over Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, Korea, and everything else come down to its contempt for the rights of individual human beings. If China recognized that the condition of humanity carries with it certain basic rights and liberties, it would be a threat to no one, it would have peacefully reunified with Taiwan decades ago, it wouldn’t be plagued with ethnic and labor unrest today, and wary Asian nations wouldn’t be looking for alternative structures to check its thuggish conduct, its hegemonic predations, and most recently, its aggression through its North Korean proxy. That is why Pacific nations need a military alliance, patterned after NATO during the Cold War, to contain China for next 20 years until demographics, economics, religion, and politics catch up with its anachronistic statism. There already is a new Cold War in Asia — it’s just that some would rather not admit it. But I suspect that historians will record that it was presaged by the ugly nationalism of the 2008 Olympics, and “officially” began with the Cheonan Incident.
Sometime in the just ended decade, when I was in grad school at Yonsei, one of my professors bemoaned how utterly clueless young South Koreans were on average (he cited academically gathered statistics) about Beijing's policies even while they praised China-Korean ties, and how they tended to support policies that would undermine the US-ROK relationship (and the Seoul-Tokyo relationship) in favor of joining Benevolent Big Brother China in the historical embrace of Chinese hegemony.

[source]
In 2008, my anger at the Chinese students attacking South Koreans and resident foreigners in my 'hood because they dared speak out against Chinese policies, abated only because I realized that the infamous incident made a lot of South Koreans stand up and take notice. I only hope the Ch'ŏnan incident will have the same result.

I'm encouraged that someone like Joshua, who seems generally distrustful of Seoul's attitude toward and reliance on Washington, feels that a "NEATO" (i.e., something like a Northeast Asia Treaty Alliance modeled after NATO) is needed. I don't, however, share his optimism that such an alliance or even the current form of the Pax Americana might be needed for only twenty years. I look back at China twenty years ago, and I don't see that a whole heck has changed politically, even if the economy has grown in leaps and bounds. Likewise, I see Russia regressing (hence their own support for Pyongyang vis-à-vis the Ch'ŏnan sinking), and that also makes me uneasy.

In other words, expect to be a stabilizing force in this region for a long, long time (but also be aware that the cost is worth it, and far cheaper in blood and treasure than the alternative).

I like China as a culture and a country and I have many friends from that land (no small number of whom feel exactly as I do). My beef is with Beijing policies, which I see turning some of my own Chinese friends into patriot-bots at times. Very scary to see such adamance and arrogance coupled with such ignorance, especially in people who are otherwise very knowledgeable and thoughtful when it comes to their own field of study.

And don't get me wrong about the United States. I am an American citizen and I am proud of many of the things my country has done or continues to do, but I am not living in some fantasy world where I feel it can do no wrong or that it should not be criticized. I think we have botched the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I frankly don't think we should have been in the former at all, particularly as it prevented us from properly finishing the latter. America's enmeshment between government and corporate America is also something that can make me deeply anxious, both in terms of domestic and international policies. Nevertheless, I think in the aggregate it is clearly a force for good, one that its allies can rely on to help them achieve good as well, and, moreover, a place where we the people still have ability to change what we see wrong with it without fear of imprisonment, torture, or worse, while the people in allied countries ultimately have the power to ask us to leave.

Not so, I fear, with China.

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(UPDATED) Once more, with feeling.

UPDATE:
Whoops! It looks like the Me Lee mentioned below is not the Mr Lee who founded Anti-English Spectrum (see my post and the Popular Gust post that set the record straight). 

ORIGINAL POST:

The Marmot reports that Anti-English Spectrum's xenophobically incendiary founder has scored another interview, this time from a minor Internet news outlet, and he really lets loose on some racist views:
But Lee, who looked around the clubs, noticed the foreigners’ intonation, way of speaking and level of vocabulary was strange. When he talked with them, most of them were from underdeveloped former British colonies in Africa and Southwest Asia, or running away after committing crimes in their own countries, or social misfits who were not properly educated. Lee says they told him to his face that “Korean Pussy is Best!” “Best” was a sarcastic way of saying “easy.” Seeing this, Lee said he founded the group to inform people about native English speaking teachers and the seriousness of the English flunkyism raging in our society.
Switch this around and make Lee a gringo railing on darker folks in his midst in order to warn us about illegal and/or unqualified Mexicans, and I'd have a serious problem with this guy (and sadly, that's an awful lot of gringos in OC).

Hmm... what to do... what to do? Oh, maybe get this guy's organization listed as a hate group. What a wonderful idea.

I did find this part interesting...
Because the media isn’t reporting how dangerous Itaewon is, there’s lots of Korean women loitering about Itaewon on a Friday or Saturday night looking to hook up with foreign dudes. Government bodies and civic groups pushing multiculturalism and foreign tourism were blowing off the danger as racist rumor mongering, while journalists — by necessity socially critical — take a sympathetic view of foreigners and deny that any of the nonsense is going on.
... because it underscores the idea that not only is Lee not necessarily representative of the young ajŏshi, but even he believes that his xenophobic views stand contrary to government policy. The Feds are concerned about racism-mongering, they don't particularly mind Korean women hooking up with non-Korean men, etc.

I should add one other thing, and that is that this is not the first time I've heard such thoughts as those in Mr Lee's interview. Particularly in relation to the Nigerians and the Southeast Asians, I have a Gen X English coworker and a Baby Boomer American acquaintance who would frequently say the same things, if not worse.  Of course, that doesn't make what Mr Lee said okay; they were often quite racist themselves.

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WangKon936 also sent me an NYT article on taquerias in Korea

Which should be called Taquoreas.

The NYT article's photographer should be warned he will be arrested for taking down-shirt pictures as soon as he lands at Incheon International.

UPDATE:
And a partial HT goes to cmm, who is more m than cm ever will be.

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Trolls

Being only a moderately popular blogger (I divide blogs according to whether they get hundreds of hits per year, per month, per week, per day, per hour, and per minute, and I'm on the low end of the high side), I don't attract that many trolls, which frees me to write thoughtful posts, give well-considered responses to regular readers' comments, and be a troll on other people's blogs. (That is, when I'm not stuck in the middle of a lot of ducks-in-a-row-getting, like I have been since June and will be until October, hence the lack of a Daily Kor and other regular posting.)

Nevertheless, I thought this graphic, sent by WangKon936 of The Marmot's Hole fame (that's what we call a hat tip, WangK), was amusing enough to post. He got it from this site, which boasts other mildly amusing graphs. I like graphs.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Folks in South Korea upset over iPhone 4 delay

Hold on to that iPhone 3Gs
for a little while longer, Cholsu.
In June I reported that South Korea would be in the early second wave of countries receiving the iPhone 4, sometime in July. After Apple had problems making white iPhone 4 models and meeting demand for black models, they came up with a release date at the very end of July, and I reported over a week ago that South Korea had been dropped from the list.

Well, it turns out that, according to the Wall Street Journal's Evan Ramstad, some folks in Korea aren't too happy about that, including the iPhone's carrier, KT, and the ROK government whom Steve Jobs blamed for the delay:
While Apple Inc.'s iPhone 4 weathers a public-relations storm over reception issues in the U.S., it is facing a different tempest in South Korea: People are upset the country was dropped from a list of markets that are to get the phone this week.

The news came during the press conference Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs held July 16 to discuss problems with the new phone's antenna.

Mr. Jobs said that, while the new iPhone was dropping calls at a marginally greater rate than its predecessor, Apple would push ahead with plans for a rollout on July 30 in 17 of 18 new markets—omitting South Korea. "It's going to take us a little longer to get government approval there," he explained.

The news appeared to surprise the phone carrier that sells the iPhone in South Korea, KT Corp., which has been using the device to gain ground on market-leading SK Telecom Co. Since the introduction of the iPhone 3GS last November, KT has sold more than 800,000 of the phones in a market where about 20 million cellphones are purchased yearly.

And Mr. Jobs's explanation upset South Korean government officials, who have strived over the past year to repeal nontariff trade barriers that kept out foreign mobile-phone brands. The main communications regulator said last week that neither Apple nor KT had yet submitted the iPhone 4 for approval here.
Well, that sure paints an entirely different picture. Now it's entirely possible that had Apple submitted the iPhone 4 for approval as soon as it could, the company might still not have gotten approval in time for a July 30 release. But if it's true that neither Apple nor KT has even bothered to submit the iPhone 4, I think it's unfair to blame the later release on the government for not yet approving it.

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A World Cup of our own?

Back in the 1990s, the efforts by Japan and South Korea to host the 2002 World Cup became so feverish that FIFA took the unprecedented step of having both of them co-host the games. FIFA head Blatter lost control of the situation, and each side then tried to outdo the other with bigger and better stadiums.

The result is a legacy of nice (but largely underused) facilities that are making for a second round of feverish efforts to host the World Cup, this time in 2022. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan wined and dined the FIFA folks who came by last week, and now we get news that South Korea's bid is also doing well:
The head of FIFA's inspection team has lauded South Korea's "well-structured" bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Harold Mayne-Nicholls, chief of the five-man delegation, was speaking at the end of a three-day visit to the Asian nation, the second such inspection among the nine bidders for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The team arrived from Japan on Thursday and land in Australia on Monday.

As well as Seoul, the team toured Daegu, Ulsan, Goyang and Incheon and also found time for dinner with president Lee Myung-Bak on Friday evening.

"Despite the short amount of time that we stayed, we could check all we needed - training sites, hotels, convention centres, stadiums, airports, new technology," said Chilean federation president Mayne-Nicholls. "We had a chance to learn a lot about the history and future of Korea and the challenges for the future, the people who have helped and the president Lee Myung-Bak, who gave all his support for the 2022 World Cup and treated us in a very friendly way.

"But mostly we learned that your well-structured bidding campaign is based on the message we all need - peace for everyone."
Wait a minute... "Peace for everyone"? Didn't that message lose us the 2014 Winter Olympics? You know, to that summer resort in Russia?

Um, anyhoo, I'd kinda like to see another joint hosting. It will be cheaper, for starters, but without about the same amount of prestige, and I'm always happy to see Seoul and Tokyo forced to get along (and they tend to, despite Yasukuni visits and reaction to Yasukuni visits, and all that other nastiness).

Barring that, of course, I'd prefer to see Korea hosting the games over Japan, especially if we're somehow looking at a unified Korea by then (it would be a huge boost to national unity at a time I imagine might be difficult for everyone). The only advantage to Japan winning the games is that I could routinely use the following picture and its caption whenever the 2022 games is mentioned.

Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!
And yes, I will be blogging in 2022. I've been to the future and seen my own posts.

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Pyongyangon

I like this cartoon, but I can't figure out what exactly the English teacher is doing.

Monsieur Peray's cartoons are often a bit opaque or convoluted, so I'm guessing she represents the English teacher who is bored out of her mind while being forced to deskwarm.

That's my final answer.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Let the (war) games begin!

I'm not happy that Washington backed off holding part of its joint military exercises with Seoul in the Yellow Sea, to the west of South Korea. A large portion of that body of water is under ROK jurisdiction, and this backing off seems a bit too much like a concession to Beijing. Indeed, it almost seems like we're conceding hegemony over the Yellow Sea to China at a time when we should be stepping up defenses there.

But Pyongyang is not happy that the exercises are still going on in the East Sea (Sea of Japan), on the other side of the peninsula (and away from China's watchful eye). Instead of focusing on our side's apparent kowtowing to China, maybe I should try to see the glass as half full, as in we are still conducting a very large exercise with considerable technology that has to have the DPRK (and the PRC) at least a tad nervous. From the NYT:
On Sunday, in a show of their combined military power, a fleet of U.S. and South Korean naval ships and submarines sailed into waters off the east coast of South Korea, led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, one of the biggest ships in the U.S. Navy. Japan, a historical rival of the two Koreas but an ally of South Korea and the United States in their confrontation with North Korea, dispatched military observers in the four-day exercise.

The drills mobilized 20 ships, 8,000 troops from both allies and an unusually large number of warplanes: more than 200 aircraft, including the F-22 Raptor fighter, which joins an exercise in South Korea for the first time.
And then, of course, we have the tightening of financial screws on North Korea, so it's not as if we're doing nothing. Still, that idea that China can diplomatically pressure us not to conduct military exercises in the very body of water where our side lost four dozen people by a clear military provocation is niggling at the back of my mind. Dang Chinese are a bunch of nigglers!

I think we should plan (and announce ahead of time) new exercises to be held off the west coast. Barring that idea, a nice joint military exercise involving the US, the ROK, and Japan will be a nice next step. Pyongyang needs to feel consequences for what it did, and Beijing needs to feel consequences for letting it go unpunished.

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So will they fill City Hall Plaza in the middle of the night for this?

Apparently Korea Republic is in the quarter finals for U-20 women's soccer.

The match is at 6:30 p.m., German time, the wee hours of the morning on the Peninsula.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Was Father Flynn guilty?" at The Sonagi Consortium

The Sonagi Consortium is dormant, not extinct. I've written about the movie Doubt entitled, "Was Father Flynn guilty?"

Follow 
THIS LINK for my post.

Follow 
THIS LINK to write for The Sonagi Consortium.


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AES = hate group. Now run with that.

Oh, dear God. The head of Anti-English Spectrum is getting airtime on SBS, allowed to, ahem, air his views. Any thinking person getting a whiff of that air will (hopefully) know the score, but just as there are plenty of folks who believe that, say, Arizona's new anti-illegal immigrant law is not racist in its intent, will not promote racial profiling, and will not have an adverse effects on Hispanics in that state (including those who are legally residing there), I don't have a lot of confidence that people in Korea who are not associated with the target group will get that.

That they are still called upon by national media outlets is a failure on the part of their opponents — including organized entities — to do much beyond griping on blogs or feels-good publicity stunts. Which is why anyone in Korea who does get the get needs to visit the local office of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea [directions are there; please take that link seriously] and file a complaint against Anti-English Spectrum about their hate speech.

Simply put, if the NHRCK determines them to be a hate group, that stain on their credibility seriously erodes their ability to further conduct interviews such as this. I said as much a year ago:
Clearly [AES founder Lee Eun-ung] has enough influence that he's a go-to guy for lazy journalists at the KT and CSI, and insofar as he is apparently running a hate group, that should be put to a stop.

Among the stuff that he acknowledges on his site, what would constitute a hate crime or hate speech? How about in his television appearances or quotes in the printed media?

It's time to make a case against AES to a group like the National Human Rights Commission. Taint them like Acorn, preferably by hoisting him on his own petard.
Getting them labeled as a hate group is one of the things, instead of phony threats made to ATEK leaders, that ATEK should be focusing on. Not getting AES's free speech curtailed so that AES look like victims.

But if they won't do it, then you, local citizen living in South Korea who may or may not even be a native-speaking English teacher, should run with it. Then report back to me. We'll have our dogdam press conference.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Anti-FTA Democrats write nasty letter to Obama

Members of Congress from President Obama's own party will meet with the POTUS to air their concerns about his plans to push for passage of the "job-killing FTA" at a time when the economy is weak.

From Reuters:
"At a time when our economy is struggling to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, it is unthinkable to consider moving forward with another job-killing FTA," the 110 members of the U.S. House of Representatives said in a letter to Obama.

The letter underscores the battle Obama faces within his own party unless he persuades South Korea to make substantial changes to the agreement it negotiated three years ago with the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Obama has said he wants to resolve outstanding concerns with the pact by November so he can submit it to Congress by early next year, a move welcomed by House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer.

U.S. trade official have identified two main issues blocking the pact: South Korea's restrictions on imports of U.S. beefs, and auto trade provisions of the pact that critics say favor South Korean automakers too much.
I'm beginning to think many of the Democrats are just giving knee-jerk opposition to the FTA without knowing what's in it or what the prospective benefits (billions of dollars more in American goods sold in South Korea) and challenges are (keeping pace with the competition). That they insist a lack of free trade right now is a reason to oppose a free-trade agreement just doesn't hold water, and they are still roasting those old chestnuts about barriers from nearly two decades ago as if they are still in place.

It's pretty clear that Obama will have to rely on the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats to get this passed, as President Clinton did with NAFTA (not that I want to compare the merits and demerits of the KORUS FTA with NAFTA, as I think the relative disparities between the US and Mexico make NAFTA an entirely different animal). The rest of the Democrats are too beholden to labor unions which see FTAs as eroding their immediate power instead of providing more jobs in the long run.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Spiders, man!

Guam has a thing about creepy-crawly creatures making landfall and invading the island. They're already obsessed with brown tree snakes, so naturally they were concerned about spiders from South Korea:
Guam officials Friday afternoon ordered a commercial ship from South Korea to leave port after thousands of spiders poured out of cargo intended for a construction site where a facility is to be built to house crews that will one day build new U.S. military bases on the island.

The spiders were discovered Wednesday evening, shortly after the ship arrived, officials said. It left the port soon after but moored off the island as officials investigated.

By Friday afternoon, it remained unclear what species the spiders were and whether or not they were venomous or posed any danger to the island. No injuries or bites had been reported, officials said.

The about-face of the M.V. Altavia was issued after the Guam Department of Agriculture ruled the spiders an “invasive species” too numerous to destroy or contain, according to Joseph Torres, the department’s director.
Given the nature of the cargo, one almost wonders if this wasn't sabotage of some kind. I could see a whole bunch of groups — from fifth-column chinboistas who don't want to see their boogie man leave to, well, you name it — who would want to slow up the building of military facilities on Guam designed to take up the slack from Okinawa.

Give me enough time, and I can come up with a conspiracy theory on just about anything.

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Is Japan exploiting foreign workers
(and should South Korea take notice)?

The myriad similarities between Japan and South Korea when it comes to post-war social and economic development should cause Seoul officials to sit up and take notice from time to time.

Like now, when the Japanese trainee program that bear such a strong resemblance to its South Korean cousin is being criticized as exploitative.

From the New York Times:
Six young Chinese women arrived in this historic city three summers ago, among the tens of thousands of apprentices brought to Japan each year on the promise of job training, good pay and a chance at a better life back home.

Instead, the women say, they were subjected to 16-hour workdays assembling cellphones at below the minimum wage, with little training of any sort, all under the auspices of a government-approved “foreign trainee” program that critics call industrial Japan’s dirty secret.

“My head hurt, my throat stung,” said Zhang Yuwei, 23, who operated a machine that printed cellphone keypads, battling fumes that she said made the air so noxious that managers would tell Japanese employees to avoid her work area.

Ms. Zhang says she was let go last month after her employer found that she and five compatriots had complained to a social worker about their work conditions. A Japanese lawyer is now helping the group sue their former employer, seeking back pay and damages totaling $207,000.

Critics say foreign trainees have become an exploited source of cheap labor in a country with one of the world’s most rapidly aging populations and lowest birthrates. All but closed to immigration, Japan faces an acute labor shortage, especially for jobs at the country’s hardscrabble farms or small family-run factories.

“The mistreatment of trainees appears to be widespread,” said Shoichi Ibusuki, a human rights lawyer based in Tokyo.
This sounds so uncannily like the ROK's own trainee program it's not even funny. South Korean shares with Japan a need for cheap labor in the face of a graying, even shrinking population. But while South Korea has shown a willingness to allow some non-natives a chance to permanently settle where Japan has not, both have a real problem with the exploitation of foreign labor sources.

Perhaps the two countries can put their heads together to develop an enforceable system that is fair, non-exploitative, provides a livable wage, and treats foreign workers with dignity, but still provides manufacturers with skilled labor that allows them to keep jobs in country. Or am I fantasizing here?

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mayumi Kim Hyŏnhŭi to tackle abductee issue in Japan

From the BBC:
A former North Korean spy who blew up a South Korean airliner two decades ago killing 115 people has been allowed into Japan.

Kim Hyon-hui will meet the families of Japanese people abducted by North Korea to train its agents.

For the visit to take place Japan has waived immigration rules and police are not expected to question her past use of a fake Japanese passport.

There has been criticism in Japan of the decision to allow Ms Kim's visit.
Criticism? Do ya think? This woman — if her story is true — used the kidnapped Japanese to learn Japanese so that she could pose as a Japanese traveler and kill over a hundred people. This latest twist in the saga of this killer who should be behind bars for mass murder just makes things stranger and stranger.

Would the parents of the abductees, particularly Yokota Megumi, even want to meet her? What does she even offer, something that doesn't smell like a publicity stunt of some kind (and yes, this person has written a book)? It seems some in Japan share my skepticism:
The police are also expected not to question her about her use of a fake Japanese passport during the bombing

However, critics say any information she may have is likely to be decades out of date, and the trip has been branded a stunt to gloss over the government's lack of progress on the abduction issue.
Blech. Her case underscores one of the failings of the South Korean judicial system, whereby the flimsiest of mitigating circumstances is used as a pretext for letting someone off easy or off the hook altogether. In this case, instead of the all-too-familiar "I was drunk" excuse, hers was "I was beautiful."

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

new E2 visa regulations

Stafford has done a nice job of sifting through the new E2 visa regulations that are such a hot topic lately.

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Erosion of loyalty

So you live in a country characterized by deprivation, where workers steal what isn't nailed down if they can get away with it — and sometimes what is — in order to obtain food to survive, and if you're an official in this benighted land, you will be executed for that:
"Railway workers suffering from the food shortage stole copper and aluminum parts from locomotive trains that were in store for wartime and sold them as scrap metal. As a result, about 100 locomotives were scrapped," it claimed. "This was revealed in an inspection by the National Defense Commission in 2008." Kim Yong-sam was then taken to the State Security Department and executed in March the following year, it added.
I'm not sure the Pyongyang elite understand the ramifications of such actions. Let's assume for a moment that at least some of the apparatchiki have been appointed at least in part for their skill set. Executing them willy-nilly for things over which they have minimal control reduces the skill set needed to keep things running, at least what passes for running up north. (And I could say something similar for the tendency in South Korea for government ministers to resign when something bad happens down the food chain.)

Okay, so the DPRK elite may not really care that we down south are going to have a hard time finding political appointees without a whole lot of blood on their hands who know how things work when/if the northern regime eventually collapses, but surely they must care that they are eroding the potential for continued loyalty when Kim Jong-il eventually kicks the bucket.

It is a brown parade in the making, methinks, especially when a critical mass of nomenklatura realize they'd rather not spend another few decades at the whim of a hereditary figurehead without limits on his political power, where saying or doing the wrong thing — or even the right thing at the wrong time — can lead to their own demise.

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Federal appeals court allows ethnic Korean from China to stay in US

The New York Times tells the story of Jinyu Kang, a woman who feared torture if she returned to China, because she had been helping North Korean refugees in the PRC:
Saying that government lawyers let their zeal for victory in a deportation case outweigh their responsibility to be fair, a federal appeals court last week ordered the United States to provide a haven for a woman facing the likelihood of torture in China.

The woman, Jinyu Kang, an ethnic Korean citizen of China who now lives in New York, had fled a Chinese arrest warrant for giving food and shelter to Korean refugees. Others named in the same warrant and caught by the Chinese police had described beatings, suffocation, electric shocks, sleep deprivation and other forms of torture to get them to disclose details about the human rights group to which they all belonged.

“It is disappointing, even shocking, that the government fails to acknowledge that the evidence is not only strongly in Kang’s favor, but, indeed, compels the conclusion that she will likely be tortured,” said the decision, issued by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which covers Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the United States Virgin Islands.

The decision details “the horrific experiences” suffered by members of the group, and cites testimony that Ms. Kang’s son, who is still in China, was also tortured by the police during interrogation about his mother’s whereabouts. (Ms. Kang declined to talk about the case with a reporter through her lawyer, Man C. Yam.)
When I hear of stories like this, it makes me wonder what is behind the thinking or apparent cruelty of the bureaucrats or lawyers involved. Do they simply not believe Ms Kang? Do they not realize the seriousness of her plight? Do they wish to avoid having the US turn into a safe haven for more such people? Do they simply not care about the people whose lives they are so adversely affecting (ditto here)? The article presents other bewildering examples that will have you scratching your head.

At any rate, good on the Court of Appeals for figuring this out. I hope the government lets it go.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Well, that might get their attention...

Claudia Rosett of Forbes doesn't care much for North Korea:
North Korea masquerades as a sovereign state, with its United Nations membership, diplomatic perquisites and outsized presence on the radar of threats to the free world. But its workings more closely resemble a racketeering and murderous fiefdom, a huge slave enclave where 23 million people live in thrall to Kim and his grotesque personality cult.

The Amnesty International report joins the enormous stack of damning books, testimony, articles and other reports that have come out during the 16 years since Kim Jong Il inherited rule of North Korea's totalitarian state from his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994. The world has heard in ample, extensive, credible and horrifying detail, repeatedly, about the stunted, hungry children; the North Korean gulag; the famine which, as a direct result of catastrophically cruel and self-serving state policy, led to the deaths of an estimated 1 million or more North Koreans.
And her solution is to kick them out of the United Nations:
An excellent start would be to give Kim the official illegitimacy he deserves by kicking North Korea out of the United Nations. Clearly that is an idea so far outside the bounds of today's global etiquette that among the 192 members of today's U.N., it's not even on the table.

But it should be. There is no rule that says North Korea must have a seat, and there are some very basic U.N. rules that indicate it shouldn't. Just 20 years ago neither North nor South Korea was a member of the U.N. It was only in 1991 that both were admitted, on the same day, Sept. 17. In receiving this prize of a place at the erstwhile parliament of nations, North Korea's totalitarian regime piggy-backed on the economic progress and political liberalization of South Korea-- which was at that stage evolving quickly from an impoverished dictatorship into a thriving democracy.
Indeed, if the goal of offering both Koreas UN membership at the same time was to coax the DPRK into improving, the idea has failed. But that's not really why they both entered at the same time. It was actually a reflection of the delicate balance between the Seoul and Pyongyang governments and their recognition abroad: The impractical One-Korea Policy practiced by so many countries could only be scrapped through the adoption of an evenly applied Two-Korea Policy, hence the two countries entering the UN at the same time in the same manner, to show that neither Korea was higher or more representative than the other.

But Ms Rosett makes a valid point: the Pyongyang regime has shown that it cannot follow the rules and therefore doesn't deserve to play. The drawback to this innovative solution, however, is that it severs ties that may be needed down the road, when/if the regime were to collapse or be in its death throes.

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About as bad as Haeundae


While living in Korea, I always griped that Korea's most famous beaches were way more crowded than what we have in SoCal. I've realized lately this misimpression was a result of not having gone to a SoCal beach lately. It's like this for miles in either direction. I would go into the water, but then I'd have to co tend with the stingrays.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Still cleaning up in Taean

John Glionna of the Los Angeles Times takes a look at T'aean County in South Ch'ungch'ŏng Province, site of the worst oil spill in South Korean history, and suggests it provides a cautionary tale for communities along the Gulf of Mexico who are trying to rebuild after the massive BP oil leak:
The collision dumped 11,000 tons of crude oil — a third of the amount in the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and a mere fraction of what the broken BP rig has spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.

The spill spread tar across 120 miles of pristine tourist beaches and fouled a national maritime park, coating seabirds, defiling the local sea catch and ruining 1,000 saltwater farms cultivating oysters, abalone and seaweed.

Seven thousand miles from the Gulf of Mexico's shores, this tiny town 90 miles southwest of Seoul provides a possible scenario for fishermen and others along the coasts of states such as Alabama and Louisiana who are wondering what the future holds.

Two and a half years after the accident, Taean is a ghost town. Tourism has dropped 86% and has just begun to bounce back. As scientists predict the ecosystem will take at least 20 years to heal, livelihoods that took generations to develop have been cut short. Today, only 30% of the area's nearly 5,000 fishermen are back at work. Many others are scrambling for government loans to see them through the crisis.

Even though BP has already promised a $20-billion compensation package for the gulf, grim-faced Taean residents offer some solemn advice: Take nothing for granted.
Along the same theme, PBS's "Newshour" had a piece on the challenges facing the rehabilitation efforts in Louisiana and other Gulf states, with a heavy focus on the aftermath up in Alaska following the Exxon Valdez spill.

At any rate, the severity, regularity, and seeming inevitability of such accidents really makes me wonder why we take it for granted that oil-based fuel is such a necessity and make so little effort to effect a change in that status quo.

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Steve Jobs is going to buy me a bumper, and something about what if Apple were Korean

The big news conference on Friday at 10 a.m. PDT (2 a.m. on Saturday, Korea time) held a few important bits of information. First, the white iPhone 4 will be available on July 30, which means I may consider plotting how to return my black iPhone 4 by July 29 (the thirtieth day since I bought it and the last day to return it) and then get the white one I had wanted in the first place the following day.

It was also announced that Steve Jobs owes me twenty-nine bucks, for the black/gray bumper I bought so that I could lay the iPhone 4 on a flat surface without worrying about the thirty-times-stronger-than-plastic surface getting scratched, and also so that I wouldn't accidentally drop all my calls when I'm on the Interstate or hiking toward Kaena Point or toward Makapu'u to see the whales.

It was a mea culpa of sorts, but the unwashed masses thought Steve Jobs wasn't contrite enough, especially when he insinuated that people were picking on and nitpicking at Apple now that it was on top. And what was interesting was the way he said it:
Maybe it's human nature — when you're doing well, people want to tear you down. I see it happening with Google, people trying to tear them down. And I don't understand it. What would you prefer? That we were a Korean company, [or] that we were here in America leading the world with these products? Maybe it's just that people want to get eyeballs on their sites. We've been around for 34 years... haven't we earned the credibility and the trust of the press?
The Korea reference aside, that kind of tu quoque argument you're-picking-on-us-unfairly talk sounds very much like something coming from the PR wing of an overly sensitive Korean entity after a round of bad press in the blogs.

There are a few other things I could say about that, including that there is a lot of Korean product built into these things, but yeah, Steve Jobs has a point that you don't see as much scrutiny about Samsung or LG phones, though there are far fewer Samsung and LG fanboys which draw the ire of everyone else enough to have their beloved products taken down a peg.

Anyhoo, the other bit of news is that I was wrong about this post. Steve Jobs removed South Korea from the list of countries that would receive the iPhone 4 in July, "cuz it's going to take us a little longer to get government approval there," Mr Jobs said.

The entire conference can be viewed in high-resolution Quicktime here.

UPDATE:
People in South Korea are not happy about the iPhone 4 delay, not just because Korea was taken off the list, but also because the reason sounds insulting and bogus.

UPDATE 2 (September 5, 2010):
Korea Telecom (KT) has just announced an iPhone 4 release date of Friday, September 10. We're going to hold them to that.

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WHO versus Amnesty International on North Korean health

First we had the Amnesty International report on the "shambles" North Korean health care is in. And now we have the World Health Organization (WHO) expressing reservations about their methodology:
The World Health Organization found itself Friday in the strange position of defending North Korea's health care system from an Amnesty International report, three months after WHO's director described medicine in the totalitarian state as the envy of the developing world.

WHO spokesman Paul Garwood insisted he wasn't criticizing Amnesty's work, but the public relations flap illustrated an essential quandary for aid groups in unfree states: how to help innocent people without playing into the hands of their leaders.

Amnesty's report on Thursday described North Korea's health care system in shambles, with doctors sometimes performing amputations without anesthesia and working by candlelight in hospitals lacking essential medicine, heat and power. It also raised questions about whether coverage is universal as it - and WHO - claimed, noting most interviewees said they or a family member had given doctors cigarettes, alcohol or money to receive medical care. And those without any of these reported that they could get no health assistance at all.

Garwood said Thursday's report by Amnesty was mainly anecdotal, with stories dating back to 2001, and not up to the U.N. agency's scientific approach to evaluating health care.
To be frank, I had some of the same qualms about the AI report when I read the news articles about it: Interviewing defectors to paint a picture of what is going on inside the DPRK is inherently biased, as the attitudes, geographic location, and living conditions back in North Korea of the people being interviewed are typically, by definition, on the fringe.

Still, the WHO spokesman's words evoke memories of the glowing praise WHO chief Margaret Chan dolloped on NorkHealth last May. Dr Garwood himself seemed well aware of the inherent problems posed by Dr Chan's buoyancy:
The issue is sensitive for WHO because its director-general, Margaret Chan, praised the communist country after a visit in April and described its health care as the "envy" of most developing nations. ...

Some groups may fear being expelled from the country if they are openly critical of Pyongyang, which is highly sensitive to outside criticism. Still, Chan's comments were uncommonly ebullient.

Garwood and WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib insisted that Amnesty's report was complementary to their boss' observations, and sought to downplay Chan's praise for North Korea. Instead, they focused on the challenges she outlined for North Korea, from poor infrastructure and equipment to malnutrition and an inadequate supply of medicines.

But whereas Chan had noted that North Korea "has no lack of doctors and nurses," Amnesty said some people had to walk two hours to get to a hospital for surgery. Chan cited the government's "notable public health achievements," while Amnesty said health care remained at a low level or was "progressively getting worse."

Asked Friday what countries were envious of North Korea's health, Chaib said she couldn't name any. But she highlighted the importance of maintaining the health body's presence in the country, where officials do their best to save lives despite "persisting challenges."
I've worked for bosses who had no clue at all, in the unenviable position of having to explain or defend their words or actions. My heart goes out to the WHO spokespeople when it comes to questions about their boss.

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Angry Norks

You'll be forgiven if you think the poster above may be an advert for the latest North Korean game to come out on the iPhone, a combination of "Battleship" and "Angry Birds" (Do not download this app! It is a time killer! You will be sucked into another dimension where the word procrastination itself is too meager to describe how adversely your life and responsibilities will be affected! I curse my young nephew for introducing it to me!)

But it's not. It's apparently an admission by the North that not only did they sink the Ch'ŏnan, but they're damn proud of it, too. Purportedly by way of a propaganda poster.

You may have already read about it at One Free Korea, but the New York Times is now on it as well:
A propaganda poster recently smuggled out of North Korea depicts the North Korean military smashing an enemy warship in half, a scene evocative of the sinking of a South Korean warship earlier this year.

Although the poster did not identify the ship in the poster as the Cheonan, the South Korean corvette sunk in March, it raised suspicions that North Korea might have begun bragging about the sinking for domestic propaganda purposes, said Radio Free Asia, which released a photograph of the poster this week.

With a caption that says “If they attack, we will smash them in a single blow,” the poster shows the red fist of a North Korean sailor splitting an enemy ship. The Cheonan was split in two and sunk in waters near the disputed western sea border between the two Koreas. Forty-six sailors were killed.
Actually, this is the North Korean version of "Angry Birds":


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Kim Jong-un a Gorbachev for North Korea?

As we continue to mark the beginning of the end of the Kim Jong-il regime, I have held out the hope and possibility (Nappŭn Nomenklatura, Peresnorka, and Jong 2:16 — making too-clever-by-half titles is half the fun of blogging) that the Brilliant Comrade or one of his taewon'gun-like handlers could be a North Korean Gorbachev for our times.

Well, either North Korean expert Professor Han-shik Park [right] of the University of Georgia (whom I once met at Yonsei University) is cribbing from this site, or he has also arrived at the (easy) conclusion that such a thing may be possible.

From The Hankyoreh:
“Kim Jong-un could become a figure like China’s Deng Xiaoping.”

These words reflected the sentiment of Park Han-shik, professor of the University of Georgia, during a visit to South Korea that followed a trip to North Korea from July 3 to 8. Park predicts that like Deng, the architect of China’s reform and openness policy, Kim Jong-un, third son and reported successor of Kim Jong-il, could be someone to lead changes in North Korea.

During an interview with the Hankyoreh at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul’s Sogong neighborhood, Park said that Kim Jong-un is expected to assume a major party role at the Party Representatives’ Assembly.


“He seems likely to emphasize building ‘economic power,’” Park said. “North Korea’s domestic policy of late seems to be rather tilted toward economic development.”

Park also reported going to the electronic library at Kim Il Sung University and seeing a handwritten message from Kim Jong-il reading, “Set foot on my land and see the world.” Park said that he sensed North Korea’s interest in the outside world and its determination to engage in interchange.

Regarding speculation in South Korea, the United States and Japan about Kim Jong-il’s ill health and the possibility of a sudden upheaval in North Korea, Park called this “purely the imaginings of the outside world.”

“Based on what I observed, North Koreans are not frightened about political stability and power succession issues,” Park said. “Instead, there is a lot of interest in cultivating the economy.”
Okay, so he said KJU could be DPRK's Deng instead of its Goryeobachev (get it? get it? Goryeo-bachev... marking the only time you will ever see me sing the praises of Revised Romanization), but it's still the same idea. And sure, Professor Park seems a tad on the naïvely Pollyannaish side when it comes to the motives of the DPRK regime, but I think the writing is on the wall for both Pyongyang and Pyongyang watchers: something has got to give.

There's further circumstantial evidence supporting this theory. In the only authenticated portrait of an adult Kim Jong-un ever released [below] he just looks so sad, like his heart aches with the awesome responsibility that will soon be his to improve the plight of the people whom the powers-that-be have tasked him with shepherding. He has a sandwich; perhaps he longs to give them a sandwich.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

(UPDATED) North Korea's un-health care

Back in the 1990s, I recall a "60 Minutes" piece on Cuba's successful AIDS facilities, which essentially amounted to gilded cages where the inmates there received quality, state-of-the-art care but which they could never leave. Though there was definitely a communistic sense of do-it-our-way-or-else, there also seemed a genuine effort to help those afflicted with AIDS or otherwise infected with HIV to lead "healthy" lives.

I mention that because this one way of doing it stands in sharp contrast with the way its done in one of Havana's few remaining allies, North Korea. Amnesty International has released a scathing report on the state of medicine in the DPRK that lays bare circumstances you wouldn't wish even on a Pyongyang apologist [PDF version of report here].

From the Los Angeles Times:
North Korea's healthcare system is unable to provide sterilized needles, clean water, food and medicine, and patients are forced to undergo agonizing surgery without anesthesia, Amnesty International reported Thursday.

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The human rights group, citing World Health Organization statistics, found that North Korea spent under $1 per capita on healthcare, the lowest in the world. The global average was $716 per capita.

The collapse of the healthcare system compounds the misery of a population that is chronically malnourished and suffering from digestive problems caused by eating weeds, tree bark, roots, corn husks, cobs and other "substitute" foods.

The poor diet also weakens the immune system, making people susceptible to diseases such as tuberculosis, which afflicts at least 5% of the population, according to the report. Meanwhile, about 45% of children under the age of 5 suffer stunted growth because of malnutrition.

"In view of the enormity of the food crisis in North Korea, health issues cannot be separated from the food insecurity that has gripped the country for almost two decades," the report stated. "The people of North Korea suffer significant deprivation in their enjoyment of the right to adequate healthcare, in large part due to failed or counterproductive government policies."
For those who (like me) express their disappointment or disdain for the UN's inability to effect positive political change in the various totalitarian regimes that still dot our planet, it's worth noting that the WHO and many other such agencies are the bread-and-butter of social and public policy, without which a great deal of good around the world would simply not be done.

I'm glad that they're paying attention to North Korea, which has so many social, medical, and educational problems brewing below the surface that it's almost unimaginable. This is a toxic waste dump of bad policy that is so egregious, it's no wonder that many people to the south, east, and west of the country have chosen to cordon off the place and then ignore it.

But in my own public health studies, I'm constantly made aware of the nature of the problems there — and the stark reality that there are too few groups and individuals willing or able to do anything about them. When/If the Pyongyang regime collapses, we will need boots on the ground to do a helluva lot of things to fix things up there, and I'm not always confident that there will be the understanding of the problem or the will to muster the resources to do something about it. I just hope by then I'll be in a position to be bring something to the table.

UPDATE:
A second read of Joshua's take on this at One Free Korea prompts me to remark that I'm glad that this WHO report came out to deflate the saccharine take on North Korea's health care system by the WHO director herself, Margaret Chan.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Guess?

I think we already know.

By the way, the Chosun Ilbo article that prompted this non sequitur of a post carries the headline "Baek Ji-young Hits Double Jackpot."

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English robots deployed in the classroom — Oh, the humanity!

AP and the New York Times have been reporting on the deployment of robots in South Korea, both the military kind and the pedagogical kind:
Over the years, this country has imported thousands of Americans, Canadians, South Africans and others to supplement local teachers of English. But the program has strained the government’s budget, and it is increasingly difficult to get native English speakers to live on islands and other remote areas.

Enter Engkey, a teacher with exacting standards and a silken voice. She is just a little penguin-shaped robot, but both symbolically and practically, she stands for progress, achievement and national pride. What she does not stand for, however, is bad pronunciation.

“Not good this time!” Engkey admonished a sixth grader as he stooped awkwardly over her. “You need to focus more on your accent. Let’s try again.”

Engkey, a contraction of English jockey (as in disc jockey), is the great hope of Choi Mun-taek, a team leader at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology’s Center for Intelligent Robotics. “In three to five years, Engkey will mature enough to replace native speakers,” he said.
Oh, dear God. I know I sound like a ranting John Connor's mom when I go on like this, but I've seen the future and it isn't pretty.

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South Korea: "We will accept no negotiations on the signed FTA... unless it helps get it passed."

Well, they didn't really say it like that, but I thought I'd use quotation marks the way they're used by the Korean media and Metropolitician of Korean Media Watch: not what they actually said but what I imagine they said or I wish they had said.

From Reuters:
South Korea is ready to consider "creative" solutions to open its market to more U.S. beef and auto imports to help win U.S. approval of a bilateral free trade agreement, South Korea's ambassador to the United States said on Wednesday.

Ambassador Han Duk-soo also said he was confident the two countries would resolve the troublesome issues by a November deadline set last month by U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

"Just rest assured we will finish in accordance with the timeline set by President Obama and President Lee," Han said at an event with members of Congress and industry officials to push for approval of the deal.

South Korea is prepared to plunge headlong into the talks with the United States to come up with "creative and mutually acceptable solutions," Han said.
Nothing like a little hamburger fat to grease the wheels of economic diplomacy. I'm encouraged that both Seoul and Washington seem determined to get this passed, since I believe that whatever comes out the other end of the trade representatives' meat grinder will be not only be better than the status quo now, but will also be a better position from which to work through whatever problems occur in the future.

Nevertheless, as I stated here, I have not been happy about the Obama administrations idea of trying to renegotiate a signed agreement for the purpose of politicking, and I'm not too terribly pleased that Seoul has, with the ambassador's comments above, essentially acquiesced to this position.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

When locals get involved with interracial marriage

From NPR:
She and Sritharan are a striking couple — the contrast between his dark skin and her pale complexion is dramatic. The couple says the difference doesn't go unnoticed.

"I pick up on little, like, glances that linger a little longer than they should," Sritharan says. "Go to the grocery store — there's still a lot of weird looks and things like that. But, I guess ultimately, you just have to learn to roll with it, because you're not going to escape it."
One of the best terms to use to describe this kind of thing is racial transparency, as in being such that your race basically goes unnoticed, particularly because one is of the majority or what is considered (but usually in hushed tones) the "normal" group.

However, this comfortable (but unearned) circumstance can be stripped away, particularly when one does one of two things: (1) moves to a place where one's own phenotype does not enjoy racial transparency, or (2) stays in the same place but starts dating or marries someone who does not enjoy racial transparency. It is, indeed, the source of staring or even pointing, which many people in the majority (e.g., Whites in America or Canada, KoKos and JaJas in Korea or Japan, etc.) are ill-equipped to notice. Ask many, and they don't even know it exists in their own country. "We don't do that."

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Korea Postcard Project

Stafford and Hwarangi inspired me with a great idea (well, I think it's a great idea): Post (on your blog, but The Sonagi Consortium is available if you don't have one) a photo of anything in Korea or Korea-related that you think is postcard-worthy. If Korea did postcards. Which it should. And maybe will. If we do this right.

Here's my first contribution (and no, they don't have to be night shots).

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KCNA report on Aijalon Mahli Gomes's suicide attempt

Here it is, straight from the KCNA (朝鮮語):
American Prisoner Attempts Suicide

Pyongyang, July 9 (KCNA) — American Gomes serving a prison term in the DPRK recently attempted to take his own life, according to information available from a relevant organ.

Driven by his strong guilty conscience, disappointment and despair at the U.S. government that has not taken any measure for his freedom, he attempted to commit suicide. He is now given first-aid treatment at a hospital.

The Swedish embassy here representing the U.S. interests acquainted itself with the condition of the patient at the hospital.
Hmm... He feels despair that the US government hasn't taken any measure for his freedom? That sounds like Pyongyang extending an invitation to Washington if ever there was one. Read between the lines, American Clinton: Let's make a deal!

Maybe there's reason for the "glimmer of hope" after all. I leave you now to giggle to yourselves about "a relevant organ."

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Sign of the times

I'm in a bubble tea shop in OC that is straight out of Seoul, though interestingly they had not heard boba-infused tea referred to as "bubble tea."

I thought that was a Seoul term, but I may have picked it up in Honolulu or Vancouver.

Anyhoo, I thought the bilingual sign was interesting, but what they really needed was a "Please, no alcohol-soaked, loud-talking, soccer-loving ajoshis still high as a kite after watching the World Cup" sign.

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Boston Globe refers to "a glimmer of hope" in Aijalon Mahli Gomes case

Hmm... the guy has been sentenced to eight years in a North Korean prison, threatened that could go longer because of the warlike belligerence of the US, and he has reportedly committed suicide, but his hometown newspaper, the Boston Globe, sees "a glimmer of hope."

Actually what they're talking about is the same thing I mentioned earlier, that Pyongyang does not want the death of this guy on their watch, so like with Evan Hunziker, they may be keen to release him very soon.

From the BG (or should we say BoGlo):
The contrast between the speedy resolution of the case involving the Russian spies and Gomes’s plight in North Korea reflects the dramatic difference between the improving US-Russian relationship and the worsening tensions between the isolated North Korean regime and the rest of the world.

Now, however, one North Korea expert says there may be a glimmer of hope for Gomes in what he sees as recent signals from North Korea and the United States that they want to move beyond the high-stakes confrontation over the March sinking of a South Korean naval vessel that killed 46 sailors.

Sung-Yoon Lee, an adjunct professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, said yesterday that North Korea had responded with restraint to a UN statement on Friday that condemned the sinking but stopped short of blaming the North directly.

“I am usually not an optimist with North Korea, but it may be a positive sign in the sense that North Korea is indicating it really wants to release him for the right price, whatever that may be,’’ Lee said.
Ah, note the wording: "For the right price." Anyone who thinks that the hijinks of Robert Park and Aijalon Mahli Gomes (or Laura Ling, Euna Lee, and Mitch Koss) don't come with a price tag in terms of real financial cost or political capital is kidding themselves.

And even if Mr Park or Mr Gomes says, "Don't rescue me," really  how can Washington do anything else, particularly now that we get news of Mr Gomes's suicide attempt. Unless that is a ruse... Hmm...

Anyway, I am not making light of Mr Gomes's plight, even if he got into it all on his own. When he eventually gets back, he must be watched carefully by medical and mental health professionals and those he loves. We do not want another tragedy like that of Evan Hunziker.

UPDATE:
Here is the English-language edition of the KCNA report about the suicide attempt. The Chosŏnŏ report is here.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Another half-assed eclipse


Another solar eclipse is coming. That's a good time to pull out the picture that I took of last year's partial eclipse that struck terror in the hearts of people across Asia, including Seoul, where I took this picture above.

I protected my eyes and my digital SLR's photocells by taking a white plastic bag and folding it several times and covering the lens so that just enough light would get through to see the outline of the moon over the sun (I had to experiment with the number of folds several times, a process that nearly blinded me).

And below is NASA's picture of the same event. Sure, it's crisper and the colors are probably truer, but mine was hella cheaper, I'll tell you what.



And this is Pacman.

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So this cold is not my imagination

In Southern California, ever since I was a kid, we've typically had unusual late spring and early summer weather that would seem most atypical for Southern California: chilly temperatures owing to cloud cover from the ocean. There's no humidity and the clouds never release any rain. They sometimes, but by no means always, burn off by early afternoon, but when they don't, the chill lasts all day long and into the night. [photo source]

If they leave, the clouds almost always return sometime in the night, but even before then, the evening can be a little windy and even downright cold. Each of the past three summers, I've gone to a Major League Baseball game in Los Angeles, Anaheim (Orange County), or San Diego, and even with a hoodie, I felt uncomfortably cold by the seventh inning.

It is called June Gloom (as well as May Gray), and it starts in April or May and usually lasts until the very beginning of July (the Fourth of July is the day we declare independence from this tyrannical weather). When friends or relatives drop in from back east, they joke that they should demand a refund. It's too cold to go to the beach, or at least get in the water (although even on a hot day, the water off California is pretty danged chilly, which would explain the popularity of sunbathing).

[above: A graph of percent of possible sunshine each month (source)]

I was starting to wonder if it was all my imagination. I don't mind the cold winters of Seoul; in fact, I find them invigorating. But there's heat everywhere. By contrast, when it gets "cold" in Hawaii or California — prolonged temperatures in the 50s or lower — I feel it differently because there's no respite from it, particularly in Hawaii where buildings usually do not even have a heating system.

And the other day, I looked on my iPhone and the temperature in Barrow, Alaska, America's northernmost community, was only five degrees (Celsius) colder than Orange County.

But the Los Angeles Times assures me that it is not my imagination: Los Angeles (LAX, at least) is experiencing record cold high temperatures. And it seems it's been going on for a while. We actually saw snow on the upper reaches of the northern slope of the San Gabriel Mountains (Mt San Antonio, aka Mt Baldy, I think) from a stretch of Interstate 15 called the Mojave Freeway on the trip up to Las Vegas, and even Mt Charleston in Clark County, Nevada, still had some snow... an extreme rarity in June.

Ah, but it will eventually warm up, and then the scorching heat of summer will, in typical skewed-calendar fashion, last until October. Unfortunately, we don't have a nifty little name for that, like "June Gloom." Might I suggest Septemburn and Octoburn?

UPDATE: 
The sun did come out long enough for protestors activists really bored barflies to moon the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner down in Laguna Hills.

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Washington's Swedish proxies in Pyongyang visit Aijalon Mahli Gomes

After news reports from North Korea's KCNA of a suicide attempt by Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a US citizen being held in the DPRK for following in the footsteps of fellow evangelist and friend Robert Park by traipsing into North Korea with a message of piece and that Kim Jong-il should get the hell out of Dodge, Washington decided it might be a good idea to check up on this guy.

And since we don't have an embassy or consulate in North Korea, we sent our representatives, the Swedes... er, the North Koreans sent the Swedes:
The United States on Friday disclosed that a diplomat from Sweden, representing U.S. interests in North Korea, was asked to visit a U.S. citizen jailed in North Korea, who reportedly tried to commit suicide.

U.S. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner told journalists at a briefing that the Swedish diplomat was requested by the North Korean regime to visit detained Aijalon Mahli Gomes.

“Today, on July 9th, at the request of the DPRK, Swedish diplomats in Pyongyang visited Mr. Gomes in their capacity as the U.S. protecting power in North Korea,” Toner said.

Asked to comment on the condition of Gomes and his whereabouts, Toner declined citing privacy considerations.

Toner said the United States is concerned about Gomes' welfare and reiterated call for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds, saying, “We reiterate our urge for the North Korean Government to release Mr. Gomes on humanitarian grounds.”
It's a good sign that Pyongyang not only allowed the visit, but they requested it. In fact, I think it's a sign that they're preparing to slough him off. Dead men may tell no tales, but they also make lousy bargaining chips. (Except for Korean War MIAs and KIAs, but I don't mean that in a derisive or mean-spirited way, even though it's clear that Pyongyang cynically uses the search for their remains as a ploy to extract hard currency from Washington.)

Over at ROK Drop, frequent commenter Chicken Head wonders why we've heard so little about Mr Gomes vis-à-vis others, like Mr Park or Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who have ended up in the North Korea:
I’m curious… Why the complete media blackout compared to Ling/Lee?

Aijalon Mahli Gomes went to North Korea with more open, honest and pure intentions… yet the MSM is as quiet as a nun’s fart.

It would almost seem that a track record of elitist-leftist support is more important than intentions based on silly concepts like freedom or human rights.
A fair question. While I'm not so certain we can automatically assume the "honest and pure intentions" of Mr Gomes (certainly his mentor seems to have a Messiah complex of sorts, and it's not at all implausible that either or both would seek book deals after their ordeal is over), I think it's reasonable to assume that Laura Ling's sister's political and media connections played a very big role in publicizing her plight and getting something done. She makes that point herself in the book they co-wrote.

But I don't think that's all there is to it. For starters, there isn't really a "complete media blackout," as Chicken Head describes it. I've written two stories in as many days about him because he has been in the media (the second is here). The media tends to report what comes down the pipeline, and a big part of the answer to that question is that Mr Gomes's people have not been as effective (and perhaps haven't been trying to be as effective) at publicizing Aijalon's case as Laura Ling's family had been.

Even in that particular case, if it had been just Euna Lee that was imprisoned, not Laura Ling, there may have been considerably less publicity, even though Ms Lee works for the same "elitist-leftist" news outlet.

Another factor is that Mr Gomes is not a first of any significant kind. He is not the first American in a long time to be imprisoned in the north, as were Evan Hunziker in 1996 and the Lee-Ling team in 2009. Nor is he the first American to voluntarily walk into North Korea to demand human rights from the DPRK; that would be Robert Park.

So his story is important enough to report on when new news comes down the wire, but not important enough to follow on a daily basis, à la the BP oil spill, where no news is also news. If you want to change this, you must convince his family or his church or some other related group to do news-making events.

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