Tuesday, August 31, 2010

At least you can hear the motorbikes on the sidewalk, a rant.

So, while stopping on the landing just a few steps above where this gentlemen is, I stopped to take the picture of the ad in this post. I was on the same side of the stairwell as this man, though close to the middle of the landing.

I started to move to my right (toward the left side of the landing as you see it here), to get a better angle for the picture, when out of the corner of my eye I saw an object moving very rapidly toward me from the top of the stairs.

It was someone on a mountain bike, x-riding his way toward the beach. I literally had to jump out of the way and I still just barely avoided being hit by this jackass.

I had my iPhone earbuds in my ears, but with no sound playing. Nevertheless, I never heard the clanking or banging of his tires as he shot down the stairs. My knee-jerk reaction was to yell "Asshole!" at him as he made the sharp turn right (and I truly was hoping for a spill, which looked like it almost happened).

Getting hit by a speeding bicycle is no picnic. At UCI bikes weren't allowed on Ring Road for years because one cyclist coasting at high speed down the hill from Physical Sciences to Humanities careened into a pedestrian, putting him into a coma from which he never recovered.

Sorry for the rant, but this pissed me off pretty badly, and it put me into one of those Hawaii-hating days. Between constant harassment by skateboarders who nearly run down pedestrians or practice their jumps in parking lots near your dorm, rampant potholes, sidewalks that suddenly feed into busy streets, drivers running down senior citizens in crosswalks, etc., I almost miss the mean streets of Seoul.


So I'm walking along and I see this ad for Scion's boxier option. The car itself is quite ubiquitous, and I took the picture of the ad because it seems to be acknowledging a certain quality that the Scion xA shares with its brethren, the Nissan Cube, the Kia Soul, and, to a lesser extent, the Honda Element or the SmartCar.

I'm talking about ugly-cute. That's the best way to describe it, though I'm wondering what word I would use (or coin) in Korean to convey the same idea, which I'm certain exists in the mainstream Korean (and Japanese) psyche.

The ad says it all: Is this appealing or appalling?

Lisette Lee, alleged Samsung heiress and drug mule, to go on trial in November

You heard about her here! Now read about her here!

* Monster Island takes no responsibility for minutes of your life you'll never get back after reading these links.

KCNA on Carter visit to Pyongyang

Things like this are a good read for what you glean about (a) what Carter might have given up in exchange for Aijalon Mahli Gomes and (b) what the DPRK regime thinks it may have gotten or will get from the visit. So here it is, straight from the mouthpiece:
Report on Jimmy Carter's Visit to DPRK

Pyongyang, August 27 (KCNA) -- Jimmy Carter, ex-president of the United States, and his party visited the DPRK from Aug. 25 to 27.

Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, met and had a talk with them.

He discussed with Carter the pending issues of mutual concern between the DPRK and the U.S.

Kim Yong Nam expressed the will of the DPRK government for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the resumption of the six-party talks.

In particular, he emphasized that it is the behest of President Kim Il Sung to denuclearize the peninsula.

Jimmy Carter made an apology to Kim Yong Nam for American Gomes' illegal entry into the DPRK and gave him the assurance that such case will never happen again on behalf of the government and the ex-president of the U.S. He asked Kim Yong Nam to convey to General Secretary Kim Jong Il a message courteously requesting him to grant special pardon to Gomes to leniently forgive him and let him go home.

After receiving a report on the request made by the U.S. government and Carter, Kim Jong Il issued an order of the chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission on granting amnesty to Gomes, an illegal entrant, pursuant to Article 103 of the Socialist Constitution of the DPRK.

Carter expressed deep thanks for this.

Earlier, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of State for Consular Affairs and his party visited Pyongyang from August 9 to 11 in connection with the case of Gomes and met officials of the Foreign Ministry and a relevant legal body of the DPRK.

The DPRK side took measures as an exception to ensure that they met Gomes three times and confirmed his condition. The U.S. side offered gratitude for these humanitarian measures.

The measure taken by the DPRK to set free the illegal entrant is a manifestation of its humanitarianism and peace-loving policy.

During the visit Carter and his party met and had an open-hearted discussion with the DPRK's foreign minister and vice foreign minister for U.S. affairs on the DPRK-U.S. relations, the resumption of the six-party talks, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and other issues of mutual concern.

They also enjoyed a performance given by the State Symphony Orchestra.

The Pyongyang visit paid by Jimmy Carter, ex-president of the U.S., provided a favorable occasion of deepening the understanding and building confidence between the two countries.
"At the behest of President Kim Ilsung"?! That's right: the Great Leader and eternal president, despite being dead for over a decade and a half, is still dictating policy.

There were two more perfunctory pieces, one reporting on an undisclosed gift (top two guesses: a $700K check or a bag of peanuts) which the KCNA says "Kim Jong-il was presented" (did they meet?), and the other one announcing Mr Carter's departure, when he was seen off by Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kyegwan.

North Korea in a twitter over South Korea blocking Twitter

Tweet this, mofos:
South Korea’s government, which for decades has controlled mail, phone and other communication with the North, extended its oversight to Uriminzokkiri’s new accounts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. That prompted the website to post a notice on Saturday criticizing Seoul for censorship, without mentioning that Pyongyang engages in much more far-reaching censorship.

“It is clear that the Lee Myung-bak administration is a group of traitors against unification, and does not want to improve inter-Korean relations or even wish for dialogue and cooperation,” Uriminzokkiri said, citing the name of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
Poor North Korea. Now it's only Facebook friend will be its mom.

The facts were these...

This started out as a private email to a couple other bloggers, but in honor of the centennial of the Korean Empire joining Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, I thought I'd make a whole post out of it.

When certain folks (especially those with a baffling disdain for Korea and Koreans despite the apparently lavish lifestyle they get from being in the country) talk about how "the facts re Japanese contributions to Korean modernization are not really debatable," I'm reminded of two great old posts at Popular Gusts (this one and this one), about the "cultivation of foreign apologists" for Imperial Japan and the misleading "facts" they employ. The posts skewer some of the more popular claims made by such folks and paint, in my opinion, a more accurate picture of that period of history.

See, if "the facts" were so undebatable, then we wouldn't see apologists for Japanese Imperial expansionism giving Japan credit for aspects of modernization (like the introduction of Western medicine and hospitals or a system of modern education) that occurred before they took over. The posts are a good read, so take the time to wade through them. (And it gives me a second chance in as many days to mention Isabella Bird.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Some Americans angry about Muslims who died at Ground Zero

This was inevitable:
NEW YORK (AFP) — Fresh from her comments condemning the building of a mosque so close to the site of the World Trade Center towers that were destroyed on September 11, 2001, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has chosen a new target in her bid to prevent sacrilege against the so-called "Ground Zero" site: Muslims who were killed in the terror attacks of 9/11.

"I think it was highly insensitive that dozens of followers of Mohammed chose to die in a place that is sacrosanctimonious to Christians and Judeos," she tweeted. "I recognize Islamics' right to die, but they should have chosen a less sensitive location. Emotions are just too raw."

She repeated her sentence about Muslims having a right to die, then turned to the camera and gave a two-second wink.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich echoed her sentiments. "It's easy to speculate that Muslims stuck up in the towers were praying to Allah after the planes hit," he said in a speech to an Atlanta gathering of Daughters of the American War On Terror. "That's the same Allah that the bin Ladenites were chanting to when they crashed the planes. Really, why should we be concerned about their feelings when they would be so brazen as to worship the same false prophet as bin Laden and Imam Ralph. Christianity, and by that I mean evangelical Protestantism, is under attack."

Writing in the New York Post, pundit Adam Goldberg openly opined that the Muslim dead might actually have been in on the massive terror attack. "We already had nineteen Muslimites killing themselves on the planes, so it's not hard to imagine a few dozen more sacrificing themselves in order for Islamic fifth columnists to claim their co-religionists were also victims of 9/11. They're just that sneaky. And when it comes to getting a slew of virgins in the afterlife, people have died for far worse reasons."

The news that Muslims had died at Ground Zero angered David Schmidt, organizer of a "No Mosque Here" demonstration. "Mohammed was a child-diddling pig!" he shouted before grabbing a baseball bat and running after a man wearing a kufi that turned out to be a Nike jogging cap.

Dalip Singh, a Manhattan resident who works three blocks from Ground Zero, was visibly annoyed when he learned that Muslims had died in the 9/11 attacks. "Why did they have to die there? Couldn't they have made it to Thomas Street to croak? Every time the Muslims make trouble with mainstream America, at least three of us Sikhs get killed. It really sucks."

The Anti-Defamation League, long a supporter of interfaith dialogue, sought to reach out to local imams about officially moving the location-of-death of the dozens of Muslims killed in the 9/11 attacks. "Perhaps we could say they were all on United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, far from the raw nerves of Ground Zero," Rabbi Simon Rheins suggested. "Think how much more peaceful it'd be for their families to imagine they met their maker in a grassy field than the asbestos-filled streets of New York."

The founder of the Institute for Islamic-American Justice, however, was angered by the outrage. "Look, this is nonsense," said Imam Mohammed Zargarpour in a cell phone interview. "If we Muslim Americans want to die in terror attacks, that's our right as citizens of the United..." he said before the call was apparently dropped. The FBI later issued a press release stating that Mr Zargarpour was being questioned over threats to air transportation.

Governor Palin made clear she would not relent on this divisive issue. "If I'm elected president in 2011, I will pass a Constitutional appendment forbidding Muslims from dying at Ground Zero, and I call on our possibly Kenya-born president to do the same." She then boarded a plane headed for Orange County, California, to investigate claims by columnist Michelle Malkin that Disneyland's "It's A Small World" ride contains several depictions of Arabs.

"A world without Kim"

While taking up a tacit challenge by Joshua Stanton of One Free Korea to find any statement(s) by former President Jimmy Carter denouncing North Korea's human rights record in a way even remotely similar to how he'd criticized South Korean President Park Chunghee's human rights record in 1979*, I ran across the Time archive from 1994 following the death of Great Leader Kim Ilsung.

It's interesting to see how things turned out vis-à-vis his son Kim Jong-il's rise to power:
Internally, Kim's passing was definitely the end of an era. Foreign diplomats inside the country reported that children were breaking out spontaneously in tears and masses of stunned, flower-laden mourners were filing through the streets. Beyond that, though, the death also signaled a likely accession to power of the spectacularly mysterious Kim Jong Il, the Great Leader's son and anointed heir.

Would he venture peace, threats, war? Would he last for years, six months, six weeks? At a press conference in Naples, Clinton said he saw no reason to panic. Though South Korean President Kim Young Sam had ordered his forces on emergency alert just in case, Clinton said he agreed with Washington's top brass that events had revealed "no evident alarming change" and that nothing ) so far warranted beefing up the 35,000 U.S. forces now stationed in the South. Asked what he thought of Kim Jong Il's prospects, however, the President admitted, "I don't know how to answer that."

Very few do. Said Arnold Kanter, a Bush Administration Under Secretary of State who conducted previous talks with Pyongyang: "What we don't know about North Korea is so vast that it makes the Kremlin of the 1950s look like an open book." The communist northern tier of a peninsula once known as the Hermit Kingdom has lived up to that name with a vengeance, enveloping its 22 million people in a bell jar of propaganda, thought control and mythology glorifying the Kims, often in public pageants that would dwarf a Cecil B. DeMille production. What factions may exist in the leadership, who controls them and what they stand for -- all are practically pure guesswork on the part of the most diligent outside intelligence analysts. What is reputed about Jong Il -- known as the Dear Leader -- is itself a mass of contradictions: terrorist and warmonger, or would-be economic reformer and peacemaker? A pampered, pouting sorehead indifferent to responsibilities, or a relatively shrewd go-getter who has mastered much statecraft?

The weight of opinion holds that this candidate for the first dynastic succession in the dwindling communist world cannot hold a candle to his father. The North Korean myths exalting Jong Il are so elaborate as to be hilarious. As with Kim Il Sung, who was said to have nearly supernatural powers and be in several places at the same time, Kim Jong Il's life is swaddled in layers of official fable worthy of a demigod. His birth was foretold by a swallow. A double rainbow appeared over sacred Mount Paektu when he was born. The mythographers have not claimed that he was suckled by a she- wolf and tutored by centaurs, but their hyperbole in other matters is nearly that far a reach. Jong Il supposedly has mastered all knowledge, and his thoughts are studied at great world universities. In fact, his only travels outside his homeland -- a cause of real concern for other governments -- have been to communist countries, plus a stint of studies on Malta.

That lack of exposure to nations outside the world according to Marx might, in the most alarmist view, cause him to gamble disastrously on the nature of his adversaries and his chances of winning a war. At the very least, analysts believe, he seems sure to try to consolidate power by not antagonizing the military.
Take Your Doter to Work Day, 1993.

It's noteworthy how, in the twilight years (months? weeks?) of the Dear Leader's wayward stewardship, we find ourselves asking much the same questions about how his son will rule.

* Just as South Korea is more critical of its purported ally Japan than it is of its outside-the-sphere neighbor China, which has arguably transgressed as badly as Japan but with virtually zero apology or admission of wrongdoing, Carter saw fit to censure a "friend" he had influence with, while foregoing such opprobrium directed at North Korea (which would no doubt piss off the regime there), with which he sees value in forming a relationship where the US might someday have influence. Not saying it's right, just that it is. 

Not Isabella Bird reincarnate

So, South Korea got a few mentions in Catherine Price's "101 Places NOT to See Before You Die," as told to PBS. Here's an excerpt:
While working on a project in Korea, Price had the opportunity to visit the DMZ. She expected it to be a "Berlin Wall-type thing" and was surprised to find "it's actually more of a sidewalk curb" with North Korea on one side and South Korea on the other with "soldiers on either side just staring at each other."

The tunnel is an organized tourist attraction — visitors are told to store their personal items in cubbies, don helmets and step onto a little train. Price says she was "lulled into complacency because it kind of seems like a Disneyland ride." But that didn't last long. "All of a sudden, with no explanation, they take you down into this narrow, claustrophobic tunnel blasted into solid rock."

Lest you mistakenly think the tunnel was designed with an invasion in mind ... think again! North Korea insists it's just a coalmine.
From what PBS reprints, it seems Ms Price is a boorish visitor who doesn't bother to read up on anything about the places she's going before she actually gets there, and she thinks that everyone else should be as amused by her resulting ignorant rants as she is. You can see the same professional malpractice at play when she does the Temple Stay in Kanghwa-do:
In theory, an overnight stay at a Korean temple sounds like the perfect activity for anyone struggling to escape the pressures of modern life. You'll meditate, you'll learn about Buddhism, you'll go vegetarian. Concerns and cares will slip away as you drift into a blissful state of conscious awareness.

Unfortunately, that's not what it's like.

I signed up for one of these sleepovers through a program called Templestay. Created in 2002 by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism — the largest Buddhist order in Korea — the Templestay program aims to allow visitors to "sample ordained lifestyle and experience the mental training and cultural experience of Korea's ancient Buddhist tradition." In other words, it's a chance to test-drive life as a monk.

The meditation center I visited, about two hours from Seoul on Ganghwa Island, seemed like the sort of place that could inspire calm. The grounds are nestled between rice paddies and a leafy forest, and the center's brightly painted temple sits several stone steps up from a gentle brook and a small pond stocked with lotus flowers and koi.

When my friend and I arrived — several hours late, thanks to trouble reading the bus schedule — the Templestay coordinator introduced herself in fluent English and led us to the room where we'd be staying. It was empty except for sleeping pads, blankets, and small pillows stuffed with plastic beads. After we'd dropped off our bags, she handed us our clothes for the weekend: two identical extra-large sets of baggy gray pants and vests, along with sun hats and blue plastic slippers. We looked like we'd stepped out of a propaganda poster for Maoist China.

I'd assumed that most temple life involved sitting still and cultivating enlightenment, but instead our first activity was community work time. Clad in our Mao suits, we followed the coordinator to the garden, where eight other Templestay guests squatted between raised rows of dirt, piles of potatoes scattered around them. They gave us hostile glances as we approached — thanks to our late arrival, they'd been forced to harvest potatoes for three hours in eighty-degree heat. I couldn't blame them for their animosity; if I'd been digging in the dirt while some assholes took the slow route to Ganghwa Island, I'd be pretty pissed off too.
I mean, did she really not know there was a tunnel at the DMZ Invasion Tunnel... and then mocked the whole tour because of her own ineptitude as a travel journalist? And is she actually knocking Buddhist monks for not living up to the navel-gazing caricature she imagined them as?

It's not like I'm coming to my dissatisfied opinion just because she dissed Korea. No, I'm equally bewildered by her smug bashing of the Blarney Stone in Ireland (kushibo may be some one-eighth Irish, hence the reddish hair of my early youth seen in my gravatar), which she instructs us is not worth visiting in part because of how unclean it would be to kiss it as so many prior visitors have. But this research-eschewing travel writer is later told, apparently after publication, by the Blarney Castle's employees that indeed, "you can actually request a special cleaning of the stone before you kiss it, if you would like." Imagine she'd done her homework, then she could have taken advantage of the eloquence an oral encounter which the stone bestows.

Ms Price's tome tops my list of 101 books you shouldn't read before you die*, while Ms Price herself is the reason why Asia should stop allowing tourists.

Brian has written on this same topic, and a lively discussion follows.

I would like to give PineForest a hat tip for the PBS piece. I most assuredly would have spotted it on my own in my regular news troll an hour or so later, but I did first notice it in his comment at The Marmot's Hole, wherever that was.

* I'm sure I'm not the first to come up with that one.

Protestors mark 100th anniversary of Imperial Japanese annexation of Taehan Empire

Needless to say, it's not a happy occasion:
"We urge Japan to comprehensively address the unfortunate history between South Korea and Japan within this year," said Yang Soon-im, a leader of the activists.

At the rally in the Seoul park, Kim Young-il, president of an association of former independence fighters and their descendants, said in a speech that Japan should apologize more sincerely for the annexation and compensate its victims.

Many older Koreans still harbour strong resentment against Japan over the colonization. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were forced to fight as front-line soldiers, work in slave-labour conditions or serve as prostitutes in brothels operated by the Japanese military.

Earlier this month, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan offered a renewed apology for the suffering caused by the colonization. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak later said that Seoul and Tokyo should never forget history but should also work together to develop a new future.
While it's true that many older Koreans harbor such resentment against Japan, that does not necessarily mean they harbor it against Japanese individuals. In fact, in my experience, many older Koreans hold far more nuanced views of the occupation than younger people precisely because they had positive experiences with Japanese individuals at that time and therefore make a distinction between Japanese people such as their neighbors or teachers and the often cruel Japanese authorities and their policies.

But looking back on that dark period is nothing if not murky. Apologists for Japan will say there has been apology after apology, though they don't always note that the "apologies" are mealy-mouthed expressions of "regret" over "unfortunate events" that are intended to evade statements of direct responsibility, while the conservative LDP leadership that has dominated Japanese politics since the war falls over itself to declare apologies that are direct, like those of socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995, to be their personal statements alone and not the position of the Japanese government. They also fail to note how excuses and rationalizations for Imperial Japan's atrocities by Japanese government officials (such as claims of modernization that actually began before annexation) end up undermining the sentiment made by even the more insipid statements of regret.

Even the issue of compensation is murky, with the Japanese government in 1965 having settled with an undemocratically installed former military leader and former Imperial Japanese Army officer (i.e., Park Chunghee) to do an end-run around the actual victims of Imperial Japan or their families. That money, in the form of grants and loans that were to be repaid (i.e., not free money), was not given to the victims directly, though it did become a significant portion of the seed money to jump start the South Korean economy.

Even if the money had been paid directly to the victims, it would have been a paltry sum, and Tokyo may have been trying to avoid direct payments precisely for that reason (this was two decades after the end of the war, when Japan was well on its way back to the top). Still, Seoul should consider working out a way to now give that money (plus interest) directly to those people or their surviving family members.

But even then, Tokyo would not be off the hook. In 1965, the Japanese government was trying to write off the claims of victims of the government or military that at the time it refused to acknowledge existed, namely the so-called "Comfort Women." It wasn't until three decades after that that the Japanese government, its hand forced by Japanese scholars who dug up the documents that would become the smoking gun, admitted its involvement. So from an ethical standpoint, how could the Japanese government's 1965 agreement cover something that the Japanese government didn't even admit until the 1990s?

Like I said, it's murky. Some may bemoan that this kind of thing comes up every year, particularly around August 15, Liberation Day, and it's unfair that it gets rehashed again and again. But guess what? When tens of thousands die, that's what happens. Best not to invade your neighbors, hunt them down, grab their property, or force them into work that gets them killed.

And some ask, "When will the apologies be enough?" Really, if that's the question on your mind, then the purported "apologies" really aren't apologies at all. It's easy to make the claim it's just lip service then, and we're back to square one.

But if you really need an answer to that question, I'd say that until one "apology" is made for each person killed or maimed or otherwise truly victimized at the hands of Imperial Japan, then there's no business asking, "Isn't that enough already?"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thanks for the heads-up, Pyongyang.

North Korea, according to Xinhua, is warning that it will use its nuclear arsenal if it is attacked by the US or South Korea:
"If Washington and Seoul try to create a conflict on the Korean Peninsula, we will respond with a holy war on the basis of our nuclear deterrent forces," said [North Korean ambassador to Cuba Kwon Sung Chol] at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the DPRK.

"Our government will strive for the denuclearization of the peninsula and the establishment of a lasting peace as the beginning of the reunification process of the two Koreas," the diplomat said.

Despite obstacles created by the United States and South Korea, reunification will be achieved with the support of peace-loving peoples, like Cubans, he said.
I don't know if it's bad journalism or just a bad speech, but none of those three paragraphs sounds like they are coming from the same person. Certainly, committing to the use of nukes in response to a conventional conflict (first paragraph) doesn't really go hand in hand with striving for denuclearization (second paragraph), while the third paragraph, no doubt meant as a local crowd-pleaser, just sounds delusional.

Anyhoo, this kind of sentiment is why I'm always happy to hear of North Korea testing another nuclear weapon. Test them all, I says! It's the only way to know they all work.

Seriously, though, with North Korea gearing up for yet another dynastic succession, there may be disgruntled generals and apparatchiki, enough that the inner circle is anticipating dissent and they want to warn Washington and Seoul off of taking advantage of that.

That's my read, anyway. Of course, Nork politicos may just like talking about their nukes.

In the only picture I could find of Ambassador Kwon, he is seen giving Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo a letter of credence. [source]

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Korean-American accused of North Korea leak to Fox News

From the Washington Post:
Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, 43, then a senior adviser for intelligence on detail to the State Department's arms control compliance bureau, was charged with disclosing national defense information in June 2009 to a national news organization, believed to be Fox News, and lying to the FBI. Kim pleaded not guilty before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

Although unnamed by the government, Fox News reporter James Rosen wrote a report posted June 11, 2009, saying that U.S. intelligence officials had warned that North Korea planned to respond to a new round of U.N. sanctions with another nuclear test. Rosen reported that the CIA warning was developed through sources inside North Korea.
Wow, if he compromised our resources inside the DPRK, what an asshole.

HABO of the day: Got B-negative blood?
Get thee to Kwangju!

Seriously, over at Brian's there is a post on someone who needs B-negative blood for a transfusion. If that's what you have, or if you know someone who does, then call them and please make a trip to Kwangju (if you're not already there):
Long-time friend of GIC is now feeling sick and need blood transfusions.

His blood type is Rh-B (Type: B, RH -) and he needs several transfusions.
If you can help out please call 011.9943.8066 or if you can speak Korean call 061-379-7963(Chonnam National University Hwasun Hospital).

You can also go the Red Cross downtown near the police station and they can do tests if you don't already know what type you are.

Kindly pass along this message to your friends/ contacts in and around Gwangju.
Any kind of help is greatly appreciated.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Gwangju International Center
And like I said at Brian's, please consider, regardless of your blood type, going to the local blood bank to give blood and/or put your data in the bone marrow registry. Roboseyo has some good links that will help you do this.

This really is one of those good-karma, what-goes-around-comes-around things: It will be there when/if you need it because you helped put it there.

Besides, they might have cookies.

Despite what the truthers claim, this is not a scam run by vampires.

US issues travel warning to idiots with messiah complexes not to go to North Korea

Enough already! Our ex-Presidents have enough to do as it is.

(More on this later.)

Oh Eunsun "probably failed" in bid to reach fourteen highest peaks over 8000 meters

That, says the BBC, is according to the Korea Alpine Federation:
Fresh doubt has been cast on the record of a Korean climber, who was hailed in April as the first woman to climb the world's 14 highest peaks.

Oh Eun-sun "probably failed" to reach the top of the world's third-highest peak, Kangchenjunga, the Korean Alpine Federation (KAF) judged on Thursday.

Top Himalayan record keeper Elizabeth Hawley is investigating the KAF ruling.

If she decides to list the 2009 ascent as "unrecognised", the record will pass to Spanish climber Edurne Pasaban.

Ms Oh climbed Annapurna, the last of her 14 mountains above 8,000m, on 27 April. Ms Pasaban completed the list by scaling Shisha Pangma just under three weeks later, on 17 May.

Ms Oh responded to the Korean Alpine Federation's verdict - issued at a meeting of seven local climbers who have scaled the 8,586m mountain - by describing it as "a unilateral opinion".
I had earlier written about Oh Eunsun and suggested that her bid was being heavily scrutinized perhaps as a kind of "Hwang effect," but now as a Korean entity calls her achievement into question (à la MBC and Dr Hwang) it is looking even more and more like Hwang 2.0.

I wonder if anybody should be following the money.

At any rate, here's a neato graphic from the BBC about the fourteen peaks I will probably never ever get to the top of.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Free at last!

The AP (via the Los Angeles Times) is reporting that Aijalon Mahli Gomes has been released and will be sent home:
Carter Center spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said late Thursday that the former president will return to the U.S. with Aijalon Gomes. She says Gomes should be in Boston by Friday afternoon. North Korea news agency KCNA says Carter has left Pyongyang.

U.S. officials have billed Carter's trip as a private humanitarian visit to try to negotiate Gomes' release. Gomes was sentenced to eight years of hard labor in a North Korean prison for entering the country illegally from China.
More on this later (I'm in class now, learning about global health disasters). In the meantime, you can take a look at previous Gomes posts to get an idea what my thoughts are.

Oh, and don't buy his book.

The New York Times has a longer article on the release, which also gets into the snub Carter experienced by not being able to sell out US interests to the DPRK meet Kim Jong-il:
Mr. Kim is grooming his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as successor, according to South Korean officials. North Korea is to convene a congress of its ruling Workers’ Party early next month, where Mr. Kim is expected to rally popular support for his succession plans.

If confirmed, this would be Mr. Kim’s sixth trip to China, his impoverished country’s largest trading partner and aid provider. His last trip was in May, when he met President Hu Jintao during a five-day visit. North Korea and China usually do not confirm a trip by Mr. Kim until it is over.

News of the possible trip by Mr. Kim led to rampant speculation in South Korea. Possible motives cited by analysts in Seoul included the North’s need for Chinese aid because of flooding and the possibility of a decline in Mr. Kim’s health, which might have forced aides to take him to China for treatment. Many intelligence officials believe Mr. Kim had a stroke in 2008. Around the time that Mr. Kim’s train crossed the border, North Korean news media reported that China would provide emergency flood relief.

With North Korea’s relations with the South and the United States at a low point, “China is the only one Kim Jong-il can go to to seek aid,” said Kim Keun-sik, an analyst at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “He badly needs aid before the party meeting to make it a national festival, as it is meant to be.”

Even so, leaving North Korea without meeting Mr. Carter would be a notable breach of diplomatic etiquette, the analyst said. “A possible political message of this is that North Korea gives its priority to China over the United States,” he said.
Despite earlier reports, it looks like JC didn't feel like waiting around for KJI to get home. While I'm happy he was not able to do too much damage in order to secure Mr Gomes's release, I'm disappointed I won't be able to post a picture of the Dear Leader with our Thirty-ninth president with the headline, "Welcome back, Carter."

In signs of escalating Apple-MS rivalry, Microsoft cribs from Google Chrome instead of Safari

"Chromifying" article right here.

I wonder if they'll release a Mac edition of IE9. I don't think I've used Internet Explorer in the past three or four years, and that was only because my version of Safari on my then-five-year-old iBook suddenly crashed and I need something to get to the Safari site and get a newer edition. As for regular use, I think I quit using it back in 2000 or 2001 (in favor of Safari and, to a lesser degree, Firefox; I keep both open when I'm running video).

It frustrates me to no end that South Korean computer users still use IE6 (or IE7?) as the go-to browser. I'm hoping the popularity of the iPhone will change that.

Carter waiting around for Kim Jong-il to come back

Apparently, our thirty-ninth president is doing the political equivalent of waiting around his smitten's porch, hoping to get a kiss goodnight after she gets home from a late night out with her friends and God knows who else.

Jimmy, you can't compete with Big Brother China, so don't even try. I hate to think what you might offer up out of desperation.

That's not a high-five. She was trying to slap your forehead.
Just be thankful rampant malnutrition has rendered 

that eighteen-year-old waif too short to reach. 

While we're at it, I just want to point out how fitting it is that someone initialed "JC" is off saving someone who himself my have a Jesus complex (well, that epithet is more fitting for the messiah-wannabe Robert Park, but Jimmy Carter didn't go and save RP, did he?).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Brian Orser and Kim Yuna split taking on a life of its own

It really is starting to sound like an unimaginatively written soap opera. Read more about the inside scoop on the comments section at The Hole.

Kim Yuna and Brian Orser in gayer times.

Holy leader switcheroos, Fatman!

So everyone has been expecting former US President Jimmy Carter to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in order to secure the release of daytripper Aijalon Mahli Gomes by paying homage to Juche  making a quid pro quo deal with the Dear Leader  giving the Coifed One a photo-op to show how world leaders grovel in front of him  appealing to his humanity.

But lo and behold, just as Mr Carter is collecting his carry-ons after touch down in Pyongyang, we get news that Kim Jong-il is not even in North Korea! He's in China! That's right: China! I'll bet you didn't see that one coming, eh?

[UPDATE 2: With his son, Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong-un, no less! If there was ever a time for a brown parade.]

No doubt, the timing of this impromptu trip is motivated by fear (or flashbacks of being overshadowed like a Hobbit). For starters, KJI is probably genuinely afeared that any jaunt across the Yalu carries with it the risk of assassination and/or coup, so best to keep it on the down-low.

Second, it's already been irrefutably established that Jimmy Carter is a stone-cold killer. Within months of meeting the former peanut farmer, Kim Il-sung (KJI's dad) was dead (cue audio of Dubya saying, "He tried to kill my Daddy!"). Same with South Korean strongman Park Chunghee.

Could be a huge coincidence, but if I were the Dear Leader, I'd get the hell out of Dodge, too. Or at least send a Doppelgänger.

Commenting at One Free Korea, James calls "death watch." And that reminded me that I forgot to add the more serious reason for the urgent trip: Maybe Kim Jong-il really may be much closer to the Pearly Gates (as if!) than we realize, and this emergency trip by L'il Kim is intended to make sure Big Brother China is on board with a continuation of a North Korean monarchy.

It's not too late to join my year-old KJI Death Pool.

Home for Christmas?

I can't imagine being stuck in a collapsed mine for four months. Godspeed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Good news for grave robbers and panda smugglers in China

They may no longer face execution in the People's Republic.

From the Los Angeles Times:
A committee of the National People's Congress this week opened discussions on eliminating the death penalty as punishment for 13 crimes, including the smuggling of silver and gold, receipt fraud, tax cheating and the theft of fossils. Grave robbery and rare-animal smuggling are also among the crimes being considered for lighter sentences.

Although Chinese law guards information about executions as state secrets, the country is widely believed to put to death thousands of people every year. Even at conservative estimates, the annual toll of Chinese executions is higher than that of the rest of the world's governments combined, Amnesty International reported this year.
Personally, I'm a harsh critic of capital punishment (and hope South Korea's moratorium is made permanent, though I don't hold out hope for that during the Lee administration), but what riles me so much about the death penalty in China is that it is so often applied to crimes in which no one was killed. Things like embezzlement and the aforementioned offenses.

If it's that bad, lock 'em up.

Q&A on the Kim Yuna-Brian Orser split

And by "QA," I mean quirky answers.

Read this interview with a member of Yuna Kim's management team and tell me Ms Choi wasn't plucked from a personnel management position at a hagwon somewhere.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is the housing gold rush finally over?

The New York Times reports that housing prices will eventually recover, but the era of housing as a profitable investment may be gone for good:
“There is no iron law that real estate must appreciate,” said Stan Humphries, chief economist for the real estate site Zillow. “All those theories advanced during the boom about why housing is special — that more people are choosing to spend more on housing, that more people are moving to the coasts, that we were running out of usable land — didn’t hold up.”

Instead, Mr. Humphries and other economists say, housing values will only keep up with inflation. A home will return the money an owner puts in each month, but will not multiply the investment.
With many South Koreans having gotten rich through luck and/or skilled real estate investment — Beverly Hillbillie-esque cholbu was how the ROK's nouveau-riche were once derided — one wonders if this applies to South Korea as well.

The ROK population is growing, with an influx of foreign nationals offsetting the lack of two-, three-, or four-child homes, but is it at a rate that goes hand in hand with supply? Certainly there is demand for better housing, as people raze or vacate old homes (in rapidly developing Korea, read that as more than fifteen years old) in favor of something bigger and flashier, and that might keep prices going up and up.

I've been hearing about housing bubbles for years, but (knock on wood) they don't seem to burst like I've seen in California or elsewhere in the US. Except Hawaii, where housing barely dipped a blip during the meltdown. Could the land-scarce Aloha State be a better analogy for the land-scarce Land of Morning Calm?

With South Korean nationals recently allowed by the ROK government to invest up to $1 million in property overseas, the investment engine that drove real estate prices up may see a bit of deceleration. Not completely, mind you.

Just some thoughts. I'm not an economist, but I play one on TV.

Wish you were here?

Sandy Beach is a nice place to curl up with a good MacBook Pro.

Another ex-president heads to Pyongyang on a rescue mission

I wonder if Mr Gomes
will name his firstborn Earl.
First it was Bill off to save Euna Lee and Laura Ling. Now it's Jimmy to gain Aijalon Mahli Gomes's release.

Good luck. Save your receipts.

And need I remind you what happened the last time Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang? We may need that Reunification Tax sooner than you think.

Mr Carter has succeeded in gaining Mr Gomes's release.

Friend Kim Jong-il

His country's on FacebookRight here.
Unless you're in South Korea.

I wonder if he's into Farmville.

North Korean influence on Apple?

No, this is not some direct connection between Apple and, say, some factory in Shinŭiju using underpaid forced labor to produce the shiny parts on iPads. Rather, it's some folks likening Apple's business practices to those of Kim Jong-il. Echoing the thoughts of Google guru Andy Rubin who likened Apple to North Korea last April, this writer goes a bit further:
Apple may be an American company, but it seems the company works exactly like the suppressive regimen of North Korea.

Things are moving from bad towards worse. According to reports Apple has applied for a patent called, 'Systems and Methods for Identifying Unauthorized Users of an Electronic Device'.

According to TG Daily, "the patent application refers extensively to the protection of sensitive data. If Apple's informed that a phone has been stolen, for example, the techniques described in the application would allow the company to retrieve all sensitive data from the phone remotely, transmit it to a storage server for safe keeping, and erase it entirely from the phone."

Another outrageous feature of the patent is Apple's ability to control the device's camera to take a picture of the user and sending it to Apple, along with the user's location -- without user's knowledge. The patents also explains how Apple can force a phone to be remotely restored to factory settings.

None of this is what majority of users want. It's what Apple wants. It also mean Apple's direct access to sensitive data on your iPhone. How would governments around the globe take this technology? Is it possible that Apple may spy through its iPhone and iPad?
I always thought a suppressive regimen would be something like "200 pushups, run twenty miles, and then 200 more pushups."

Um, anyway, this is as good a time to report that my iPhone 4 went totally whack yesterday. I pressed the earphone switch to turn on whatever was in my queue on the iPod portion of the phone (most likely "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me") and the phone went blank. After trying to start it up with the various starting-up methods (I knew it wasn't a dead battery, as it had been plugged in all day), I remembered about the force reset (pushing the top button and the home button simultaneously for about five seconds).

That turned it on again, but when I did the same thing, pushing the earphone switch to turn on the iPod part, it not only went blank again, but the phone was vibrating as if there were a phone call. Well, not exactly, as the vibration was continuous. Forced reset no longer worked.

I was at the grocery store, where I used my friend's phone to call the local Apple Store and ask, "what the hell?!" and also to make an appointment for the Genius Bar. I wanted to go right away, lest my convulsing phone run out of battery power and the geniuses not believe me.

I got there early for my appointment an hour later, and the staff were both bemused and bewildered at my perpetually vibrating phone. The one who handled my appointment assured me that I would get a replacement part (i.e., a new phone). Yay for me, but the new phone won't come for a couple days.

In the meantime, the vibration went on for about three or four more hours, until the battery died. After having it in my pocket for an hour while at the grocery store and Ala Moana Shopping Center (where the Apple Store is located), I was afraid I would develop that "phantom call syndrome" where people think that they are feeling a vibration in their rear end indicating they are receiving a phone call, a condition particularly acute when they have been away from their cell phone.

Anyway, when I recharged the thing and restarted it, it no longer convulsed. It seems okay, for now. I'm going to take that new phone, as this one is suspect. The upshot is, while I'm not happy I had this problem at all, I'm quite happy with how Apple is dealing with it.

Let's see if you can get that kind of customer service in Pyongyang.

Paul Krugman on making Bush tax cuts permanent

He's not in favor of the idea:
How can this kind of giveaway be justified at a time when politicians claim to care about budget deficits? Well, history is repeating itself. The original campaign for the Bush tax cuts relied on deception and dishonesty. In fact, my first suspicions that we were being misled into invading Iraq were based on the resemblance between the campaign for war and the campaign for tax cuts the previous year. And sure enough, that same trademark deception and dishonesty is being deployed on behalf of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

So, for example, we’re told that it’s all about helping small business; but only a tiny fraction of small-business owners would receive any tax break at all. And how many small-business owners do you know making several million a year?

Or we’re told that it’s about helping the economy recover. But it’s hard to think of a less cost-effective way to help the economy than giving money to people who already have plenty, and aren’t likely to spend a windfall.

No, this has nothing to do with sound economic policy. Instead, as I said, it’s about a dysfunctional and corrupt political culture, in which Congress won’t take action to revive the economy, pleads poverty when it comes to protecting the jobs of schoolteachers and firefighters, but declares cost no object when it comes to sparing the already wealthy even the slightest financial inconvenience.

So far, the Obama administration is standing firm against this outrage. Let’s hope that it prevails in its fight. Otherwise, it will be hard not to lose all faith in America’s future.
Man, I wish I made enough to pay $3 million in Federal taxes.

And speaking of Japanese and World War II

The Los Angeles Times has a story on the state of California issuing an apology to the ten thousand or so Italians who were forcibly uprooted during World War II:
In 1942, his mother was declared an "enemy alien," along with 600,000 other Italians and half a million Germans and Japanese who weren't U.S. citizens. More than once, men in suits searched the Maiorana house for guns, flashlights, cameras, shortwave radios — anything that could be used to signal the enemy.

Like 10,000 others up and down the California coast, the family was suddenly forced to uproot. At their new place in Salinas, they had to be home by 8 p.m. or face arrest. And when the government seized fishing boats for the war effort, Maiorana's dad, a naturalized U.S. citizen, saw his livelihood go down the drain.

"He was on the skids for the rest of his life," said Maiorana, 75, who owns a boatyard and marina on the harbor where his father's boat — as well as those of his uncles and several dozen other Italian fishermen — were confiscated.

Families like the Maioranas last week received a formal acknowledgement from California. A measure that swiftly made its way through the Legislature expresses the state's "deepest regrets" over the mistreatment of Italians and Italian Americans during World War II. Not nearly as severe or long-lasting as the internment of Japanese Americans, the wartime restrictions are still little-known throughout California, where they were the most heavily enforced.
While the treatment of Japanese residents and Japanese-Americans was arguably far worse — all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast, regardless of citizenship, were forced to move inland, mostly to internment camps where they were treated like prisoners — the number of Italian and German immigrants who suffered mistreatment like that of the Maioranas may have been greater in number.

The Maioranas' boat, in the foreground at left, was one of many
Italian-owned boats seized by the government.

In the late 1980s, the US Congress voted to offer an apology and compensation ($20,000 each through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988) for the sixty thousand surviving Japanese residents and Japanese-Americans who had been interned during the war under harsh conditions. That was a long time coming, but other groups, including ethnic Japanese from Latin America whom the US arm-twisted its allies into deporting into US custody and ethnic Italians and ethnic Germans who suffered losses were largely ignored.

The war ended sixty-five years ago this month, but the pain is still there.

I thought this was America

Before I begin, I thought I'd point out how many Japanese restaurants there are in the vicinity of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

Okay, then. The only good reason I can think of to oppose the establishment of the Cordoba House — the incendiarily nicknamed "Ground Zero Mosque" — at 45 Park Place in Manhattan is that its construction at that spot two blocks from Ground Zero means destruction of a building that is a century and a half old, one for which landmark status had been sought.

And that's it.

Frankly, as an American citizen who believes in our Constitution (yeah, I'm a Democrat who believes the right to bear arms, even if well regulated, is important), I am aghast, disappointed, and overall quite embarrassed that one of our major political parties is running their fall campaign on the unofficial platform of prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Even if that religion is an unpopular one with bigots. And I'm equally angered that a few invertebrates in the other major political party feel they need to jump on the bandwagon to save their jobs.

I haven't even listened to President Obama's speech on the matter. This is a no-brainer I pretty much came up with on my own.

About the closest I can imagine to a valid argument for opposing the institute with the mosque inside was articulated by The Marmot:
For what it’s worth, I think the Cordoba Initiative has the right to put a mosque/prayer room/madrassah/community center wherever it likes. If they feel like ignoring the majority of New Yorkers and majority of Americans who find it hurtful/in bad taste, hey, it’s a free country, so build away. No doubt East Coast liberal elites will celebrate it as proof — to themselves, anyway — of American tolerance and diversity. However, if the Cordoba Initiative wants to build bridges (“Improving Muslim—West Relations” is their motto), and I’ll take them at their word, then they should clearly see that putting an Islamic community center anywhere near Ground Zero — far from building bridges — is just pissing a lot of people off. For PR reasons alone, they should have reconsidered this project. Unfortunately, PR and sensitivity to host nation sensibilities haven’t proven to be a strong points of Islam in the West.
I'm no mizar5 with a Bathroom Reader on logical fallacies, but this sounds like some form of argumentum ad populum to me (mizar5, I'm told, spends a lot of time in the bathroom, ahem, boning up on his, um, oratory skills). That is to say, the argument that it shouldn't go up there is basically that a lot of people don't want it to be there, ignoring whether such popular sentiment is valid in the first place.

I mean, isn't the First Amendment of the Constitution there to protect unpopular speech, religion, etc.? Right? If so, take that GOP candidates for national office!

Is that a Nazi salute popping out of your raincoat
or are you just unhappy to see me?

But what of The Marmot's idea? Should the Cordoba House relocate to somewhere where they will be more welcomed... or, um, less unwelcome? Can we count on the rabid dogs be any less frothing at the mouth if the Cordoba House were to be placed somewhere else in Manhattan?

If they succeed at getting the Cordoba House moved from the island altogether, how does that affect the spiritual needs of the people who would utilize such a facility? Should they just be screwed over because their religion is unpopular with the protesting masses and the political operatives who would use them to manufacture an fake issue to win elections?

But more to the point, just what is the grounds for this opposition? The so-called Ground Zero Mosque is not only not a proponent of any form of radicalism espoused by the Islamists who felled the World Trade Center towers, it is actually a type that the Osama types oppose. Vehemently, from what I understand. The Sufism practiced by the Cordoba House is anathema to the Wahhabist radicalism that propels their hatred.

Holding the man at the center of the Cordoba House iniative, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, responsible for the egregious sins of the Islamist terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 would be like holding Quakers accountable for the Crusades or systemic child abuse by Catholic clergy.

But that doesn't matter, of course, because in the eyes of the bigoted everyman, Islam is Islam and a Mooslim is a Mooslim. All same same.

And so if your argument that the Cordoba House should plant itself elsewhere is based on the idea that it offends public sentiment, then you are arguing for the triumph of ignorance and religious bigotry. Coupled with the brazen attack on and disregard for First Amendment values, that is the real offense.

I'm reminded of a heated discussion I had with an adult when I was a teenager, when he defended the forced relocation of 110,000 ethnic Japanese — the majority of them native-born US citizens — because their presence in their West Coast communities would upset people whose families were fighting and dying in the Pacific. Even in modern times, there are people who feel Japanese tourists should not be allowed at the aforementioned USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor (though I don't know how they feel about Japanese restaurants). To me this latest drive to banish moderate Muslims from practicing their faith where they live and work simply because non-Muslims who can't tell the difference from an extremist and a moderate are all upset is little different from that.

Maybe this is the real America, where bigotry runs amok and can be wielded as a weapon to keep down those who look or sound funny. Especially if there is political gain to be had from targeting such groups.

Frankly, I am flabbergasted that so few voices in the Republican Party have spoken out against the likes of Sarah Palin in her ranting tweets about this manufactured non-issue. They are out there, though. Imam Rauf worked with the Bush Administration to help the FBI understand Islam and to act as something of an envoy to various Middle Eastern countries for the US, and former administration official Michael Gerson has stood up in support for the Cordoba House:
An inclusive rhetoric toward Islam is sometimes dismissed as mere political correctness. Having spent some time crafting such rhetoric for a president, I can attest that it is actually a matter of national interest. It is appropriate -- in my view, required -- for a president to draw a clear line between "us" and "them" in the global conflict with Muslim militants. I wish Obama would do it with more vigor. But it matters greatly where that line is drawn. The militants hope, above all else, to provoke conflict between the West and Islam -- to graft their totalitarian political manias onto a broader movement of Muslim solidarity. America hopes to draw a line that isolates the politically violent and those who tolerate political violence -- creating solidarity with Muslim opponents and victims of radicalism.

How precisely is our cause served by treating the construction of a non-radical mosque in Lower Manhattan as the functional equivalent of defiling a grave? It assumes a civilizational conflict instead of defusing it. Symbolism is indeed important in the war against terrorism. But a mosque that rejects radicalism is not a symbol of the enemy's victory; it is a prerequisite for our own.

The federal government has a response to American mosques taken over by advocates of violence. It investigates them, freezes their assets and charges their leaders. It does not urge zoning decisions that express a general discomfort with Islam itself.
And The Western Confucian alerts his readers to the writings of Republican renegade Ron Paul (a favorite of The Marmot), who makes some of the same points as I:
The justification to ban the mosque is no more rational than banning a soccer field in the same place because all the suicide bombers loved to play soccer.

Conservatives are once again, unfortunately, failing to defend private property rights, a policy we claim to cherish. In addition conservatives missed a chance to challenge the hypocrisy of the left which now claims they defend property rights of Muslims, yet rarely if ever, the property rights of American private businesses.

Defending the controversial use of property should be no more difficult than defending the 1st Amendment principle of defending controversial speech. But many conservatives and liberals do not want to diminish the hatred for Islam–the driving emotion that keeps us in the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

It is repeatedly said that 64% of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don’t want the mosque to be built. What would we do if 75% of the people insist that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City? The point being is that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society—protecting liberty.
Amen. (Can I say that?) Maybe this is America.

Monday, August 23, 2010

WaPo on the KORUS FTA being back on the agenda

The Washington Post is reporting on the resurgent fortunes of the KORUS FTA, thanks to ROK Ambassador to the US Han Duk-soo's barnstorming tour of the American Heartland to promote the free-trade agreement penned by the two countries' current leaders' predecessors:
"Wave the flag," the speaker exhorted the audience. "This is an opportunity to stimulate the U.S. economy at no cost to U.S. taxpayers."

But the man on the podium wasn't the typical business booster. He was South Korean Ambassador Han Duk-soo, who has assumed the unusual role of a foreign official promoting U.S. jobs. With the Obama administration pledging a major new push to ratify the agreement, Han has gone on the stump in cities such as Montgomery, Ala., Peoria, Ill., and Detroit to build American support for free trade and allay concerns that his country is trying to snatch U.S. manufacturing jobs.

"I'd like to see more Ford and General Motors cars in Seoul," said Han, a Harvard-educated economist and veteran Korean minister who can mix quips about the Cubs and White Sox with the arcana of tariff schedules.
Perhaps the enthusiastic crowd thought they were there to see a showing of the Marx Brothers' classic, Duck Soup. At any rate, it's not just Ambassador Han who's pushing the deal. President Obama's trade representative is also trying to proselytize on the new covenant:
Obama criticized the trade agreement as a presidential candidate but has won a commitment from South Korean President Lee Myung-bak for more concessions. Obama wants to have revisions or amendments to discuss with the Korean leader when they meet in November -- after the midterm congressional elections.

U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk, whose job more typically involves overseas negotiations, has mounted a domestic lobbying effort, visiting cities and districts hit hard by the recession to argue that "when you do trade right, America can win."

"In some cases they think I am a three-headed monster" for raising an issue some feel has undercut the U.S. middle class, Kirk said at a recent briefing.
Frankly, I think some of the negotiations are the result of whining by American companies that would rather grouse about past wrongs than innovate for the future, and I think it's an utter embarrassment that Washington is playing the "we signed an agreement but now we want to renegotiate" role that Seoul has apparently outgrown. But if that's what it takes to get this passed, then so be it. In the end, I believe this is a win-win for both sides.

Tourism plots

The Japan Times is reporting that Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo are plotting ways to "lure" (their word, not mine) some 26 million visitors to the three countries by 2015, nearly double the 13.5 million who visited in 2009.

NPR on China's economic and military rise, and how it might affect US and her allies

This was from Weekend Edition, which points out things of obvious interest to Korea watchers or Japan observers:
"The Chinese have a great track record in demanding to be treated as a great power and a mixed record in acting like one," says David Finkelstein, a former defense attache in Beijing.

The new Pentagon report, "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China," suggests China wants to establish itself as a dominant regional power before claiming a larger global role. The Chinese military, according to the Pentagon, is pursuing "anti access and area denial strategies" in its corner of the world with respect to potential rivals like Japan, South Korea and the United States. In part, this means being prepared to keep U.S. and other foreign military forces as far from Chinese waters as possible.

"One of the missions that have been given to the Chinese Navy and the Chinese air force has been to extend China's defensive perimeter out to sea, eastward," says Finkelstein, now at the Center for Naval Analyses. "So they're developing operational capabilities that can make it difficult for forces outside the region to operate with impunity inside China's coastal strategic areas."
Of course, China's recent attempts at maritime land grabs are setting up the region for more tension:
"They do intend to become very dominant in the region," says Cornell's Prasad, formerly the top China specialist at the International Monetary Fund. "They see economic, political and military issues as all intertwined in terms of trying to obtain their longer-term objectives."

International law normally recognizes a country's territorial domain only over seawaters within 12 miles of its shores, but China is claiming dominion out to 300 miles. Other Asian countries, with U.S. support, are now pushing back, as was evidenced at a meeting last month of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi. But China has not retreated, with Chinese leaders even asserting their domination of the Yellow Sea, between China and the Korean Peninsula.

"Beijing's statements about their sovereignty in the Yellow Sea as well as their sovereignty in the southern part of the China Sea reflect a new, even more expanded view [of their sovereignty claims]," says James Mulvenon of the Defense Group consultancy. He notes that the United States has repeatedly challenged China's claims, most recently in the speech given by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the ASEAN meeting in Hanoi.
All the more reason to expect (or at least not be surprised) all hell to eventually break loose if the Pax Americana were to end.

In a spectacular fireworks display east of Shanghai,
China's elite show what it will look like
when they finally blow up Japan and the United States.

Reform in North Korea?

Could the return of a market-oriented planner be a harbinger for a reform-minded Kim Jong-un? From Bloomberg:
The former North Korean premier was reinstated as first deputy director of the central committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, according to an announcement on state-run Central Broadcasting Station, Yonhap News reported Aug. 21.

Pak, 71, fell afoul of North Korea’s military and party hardliners three years ago over his efforts to push market- oriented reforms, according to the Yonhap report. His return may indicate the leadership is willing to test economic changes again, said Kim Yong Hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.

“The North may be thinking that they don’t have a choice but to use more flexible policies to fix the economy,” Kim said. “Pak may have been emphasized within the North’s party as the hands-on person to fix its problems.”
Problems like this, I would imagine.

The ruling elite has got to be seeing the writing on the wall. Some may be looking to the demise of Kim Jong-il as a chance to set the country back on the right track, positioning the Brilliant Comrade to take on the role of North Korea's Gorbachev. Surely he'd like to star as the hero in Pizza Hut commercials someday.