Sunday, October 31, 2010

Korean-American man suspected of killing police officer in San Diego kills self and companion

Down in San Diego, a former Coast Guardsman named Holim Lee who was wanted in connection with the slaying of San Diego police officer Christopher Wilson was found dead with a twenty-seven-year-old woman with the ironic name Lucky Xanasene. She had been shot in the head.

Lucky Xanasene
Though he'd been recognized for heroic achievements in the past, Mr Lee had also gotten caught up in criminal activities, but at least one friend said he was a "really sweet" and "a good guy" who lately had been under the influence of drugs after finding life as a civilian very difficult. Mr Lee's family, who has expressed their deep condolences to Mr Wilson's family, say meth ended up taking over Holim's life.

San Diego police officer Christopher Wilson


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Rally to Restore Sanity Honolulu

It technically hasn't begun yet, but there's not a great turnout here in Oahu. Not the hundreds of thousands (?) they got in Washington DC, but there are about a hundred or so people sitting in the shade ("today it's sunny with a chance of SANE," says this rally's FB page). I think most of them are not homeless.

For now we're just hanging out by the Korean War Memorial. Aimé Césaire will have to wait.

By the way, that's Hawaii's state capitol in the background, the only capitol uglier than that thing at Yôûido.

UPDATE:
Every haole in Honolulu is here. It started Hawaii-style (i.e., thirty minutes late) but there are now loads of people. So if you were thinking you shouldn't come 'cuz kushibo was fussing the whole thing, don't listen to me. No one should ever, ever, ever take anything I say seriously. Sphere: Related Content

Merry Christmas from Walmart! (in October)
Korean title: 10월의 크리스마스

I spotted these artificial Christmas trees while looking for Halloween costumes.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the Capitol to take part in the Take Back The Insanity rally or whatever it's called.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

South Korean and US trade officials meeting in San Francisco fail to hammer out new deal on FTA

Yeah, that deal that's already been signed (what a topsy-turvy world we're in when it's Seoul that's saying, "We signed an agreement, now stick to it," and it's Washington chanting, "Two, four, six, eight... We must renegotiate!").

Anyway, no new agreement on the agreement has yet been reached, but they're hoping for a breakthrough soon.

From Reuters:
Top U.S. and South Korean trade officials finished talks in San Francisco on Wednesday without announcing a deal on beef and auto trade issues that have blocked U.S. approval of a free trade pact.

"United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon have concluded their meeting to discuss the U.S.-Korea trade agreement," USTR spokeswoman Carol Guthrie said in a brief statement.

The two trade officials are working to resolve the beef and auto issues before President Barack Obama arrives in Seoul on November 10 for the Group of 20 nations summit meeting.

The United States and South Korea signed the pact in 2007 but it has languished in the face of strong opposition from Obama's fellow Democrats in Congress. It was negotiated during the Republican administration of George W. Bush.
While some are warning of dire consequences if the KORUS FTA does not go through, we have the narrow interests of Senator Max Baucus (a Democrat) and Detroit skewering the whole thing.

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King Jong III?

Um, that's a Roman number 3, not capital-I plus two lowercase l's.

Anyway, King Jong the Third is what we would get if the wagging tongues of Seoul and Tokyo interviewed by Don Kirk of the Christian Science Monitor are correct.

From an article entitled "Another entrant for North Korea succession: Kim's oldest son?":
The oldest son of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il appears to harbor secret ambitions of his own to succeed his father – despite the fact that his youngest half-brother has already been chosen as successor.

That's the impression Kim Jong-nam is creating here on the basis of remarks that his father would likely view as blasphemous. First there was his surprisingly frank interview with a Japanese televsion network, and then there are comments that he reportedly made to a contact in the gambling enclave of Macao, the one time Portuguese colony on the south China coast where he's been living.
Whose impression? The impression of those who refuse to admit they don't know anything and are furiously trying to cover up that fact by filling in the blanks with speculation, guesswork, and outright fabrications. The guy made it plain as rice that he doesn't want the job, which is being read as, "I want the job!"

More speculation on his "carefully rehearsed remarks":
Some analysts believe, however, that Kim Jong-nam is just waiting to see if Kim Jong-un can do the job – and has carefully left open the possibility of eventually returning to North Korea in the top position.

“He’s giving a strong signal that should the regime of Kim Jong-un collapse, then he’s the solution,” says Ha Tae-kyung, president of Open Radio North Korea, reporting by short wave for clandestine listeners in North Korea. "He knows North Koreans are disenchanted."

Kim Jong-nam’s remarks about North Korea’s impending collapse were quoted by a senior South Korean official, Lee Ki-taek, deputy chairman of the South’s national unification advisory council, in a lecture in Berlin. Mr. Lee, speaking to Koreans living in Berlin, attributed them to a source who had seen Kim in Macao last month.
Full disclosure, I may have added a twig or two to fuel this speculation. A couple weeks ago I wrote the following:
Kim Jong-nam is all right in my book. Sure, he's living high on the hog thanks to his father's kleptocracy, but he doesn't seem to want any part of the murderous regime. Frankly, I think by going on the record opposing transfer of power to himself or any of his siblings, he's inadvertently positioning himself to be a transitional leader if something goes awry.
Please note the word inadvertently. I don't think the guy wants the job. In fact, I think the Party Boy Mystery is no mystery at all: He wants to make crystal clear that he is not a threat to his little brother's rise to power, so don't kill me!

The guy just wants to go to Disneyland.

[photo sources]

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LAT on Chejudo's (actually Marado's) female divers

John Glionna of the Los Angeles Times has an article on a perennial favorite of the Western media (and South Korean tourism authorities): the haenyŏ (해녀/海女, literally sea women) of the southern island province of Chejudo and its outlying islands.

It is a familiar narrative of an almost matriarchal culture where women have enjoyed a much higher status than their mainland counterparts:
Like six generations of women before her on this treeless speck of land in the East China Sea, the young mother of two is preparing for a dangerous job no man here is allowed to perform: free-diving for minutes at a time to catch abalone and other shellfish.

Kim is learning to join the ranks of the haenyeo, or women of the sea, whose role as ocean hunter-gatherers has long given them special status in a Korean culture dominated by men. These women on a group of islands south of the South Korean mainland have turned tradition on its head.

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For decades, divers here have groomed their daughters for a life at sea. They teach them how to conserve oxygen to extend their dives and stress the importance of working in groups, like a herd of watchful seals, vigilant against shark attacks, rip currents and marauding motorboats that buzz the surface.

The diving, with its daily hazards and emphasis on teamwork, has molded the women into a cohesive group that has often gathered by the campfire with the day's catch to make decisions about village politics.
I haven't been to southern Chejudo in a few years, and I recall the women looking a bit older than Ms Kim pictured above. It would be nice to know that a younger generation is carrying on this iconic tradition (and making decent money off it).


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Robert Park explains himself

Robert Park, the guy with the messianic complex who traipsed into North Korea one day thinking that this brazen act would topple the North Korean regime, is in the news explaining himself. (But first, let me explain his self: Apparently, he figured, the DPRK propaganda ship is designed like the Death Star, such that, despite billions of dollars of munitions and layer after layer of redundant security weaponry, a single hit by some kid from the desert can bring the whole thing down.)

Do I go with a joke about phallic-shaped
mics or do I just call him a drama queen?
Writing at One Free Korea, frequent commenter and Park/Gomes cheerleader KCJ says Robert Park interview "confirms [his] analysis" that Mr Park's confession was dictated to him.

Ah, but to the rest of us, it just confirms our analysis that Robert Park (and Aijalon Mahli Gomes) shouldn't have gone in the first place.

But let's analyze Mr Park's latest brush with the media for what it might tell us:
He added that to prevent him from divulging the details of his detention, the security forces carried out humiliating sexual torture. "As a result of what happened to me in North Korea, I've thrown away any kind of personal desire. I will never, you know, be able to have a marriage or any kind of relationship."
We've already covered the "humiliating sexual torture" bit. I wasn't so certain before, but now I'm becoming more and more convinced that Robert Park is a latent homosexual (the suicidal tendencies which include going to North Korea to "sacrifice" himself in the first place, the narrative about not being ever able to be with a woman, etc.). And he has now engineered a perfect cover to hold off the church ajummas and his own parents who might have pushed him to settle down.
Park insisted that an apology he read on North Korean TV was dictated to him.
Not just his apology, but also his flowery praise of North Korea. Here's a tidbit:
Not only service personnel but all those I met in the DPRK treated me in a kind and gentlemanly manner and protected my rights.

I have never seen such kind and generous people.

People have been incredibly kind and generous here to me, very concerned for my physical health as never before in my life. I mean, my family, of course, is concerned about my physical health but people here have been constantly concerned and I'm very thankful for their love.

Another shocking fact I experienced during my stay in the DPRK is that the religious freedom is fully ensured in the DPRK, a reality different from what is claimed by the West.
Being a devout Christian, I thought such things as praying are unimaginable in the DPRK due to the suppression of religion.

I, however, gradually became aware that I was wrong.

Everybody neither regarded praying as something unusual nor disturbed it. I was provided with conditions for praying everyday as I wished.
Okay, then. How hard was the bayonet pushed into your back for you to say all that?

Back to the Chosun Ilbo piece:
Asked why he decided to enter the North illegally armed with nothing but a Bible, he said, "I hoped through my sacrifice, that people will come together and they will liberate North Korea."
Instead, he strengthened the regime's hand. Please, no more day-trippers to North Korea.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"No more negative ads."



I think I voted for the right one. (More on this story here.)

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A tale of two ministries

Read this. Then get pissed. Then go read so-and-so's blog rant about how f'ed-up xenophobic this shows Korea is.

Then take a closer look at the article and realize that it's most likely two different ministries and two different independent policies at work here. No, they're not out to get you.

(And while we're at it, we're now at the point where it's time to stop treating HIV testing like a human rights issue and recognize it for the public health issue that it is. Everyone should be tested — E2s, F4s, F5s, E6s, and ROK nationals — period. Especially in a country like South Korea where HIV treatment is guaranteed, even mandatory. But that's a post for another time.)

UPDATE:
There are some good discussions on this at The Marmot's Hole and Brian's.

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Well, that's su.r.real



Note to media producers who wish to inject some authentic "Asianness" into your music video or other pop culture product: Han•gŭl, the Korean alphabet, is indeed far easier to learn than kanji, but still looks very Oriental and is quite accessible now thanks to Hallyu, the so-called "Korean Wave."

And it's quite practical as well: You can learn how to read it in a few hours, which allows you to look up words in an online dictionary (called a dic) to ensure someone isn't yanking your chain. I recommend any Korean phrasebook or reader that employs McCune-Reischauer.

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From Erie to Iri

Well, not quite, since she ended up in Seoul, but it would have made for a great blog title if this enthusiastic teacher ended up in Iri, Chŏllabuk-to (not Iksan), instead of the capital.

An excerpt:
Four years in Canada and one linguistics degree later, I found myself living in Seoul, South Korea as an ESL kindergarten teacher, far from the shores of that provincial hometown. I had, at some point in my undergraduate linguistics career, heard the drumbeat of the overseas ESL market, and registered for a one-year intensive Korean language class. When Koreans ask me how I got here, that’s what I tell them. I say, “Yeah…I studied the language in undergrad, so I got interested in Korea, and I just ended up here…”

But what I really want to say is: “Well, I come from a pretty economically depressed region of the US, and when I finished my undergrad, I had no viable options for a job in my hometown, and few personal connections for jobs anywhere else. I was able to get a job in Seoul that paid about $23,000 a year, included free housing and round-trip airfare, provided health insurance, and only required a bachelor’s degree,” –which is more along the lines of the truth. My Korean studies did help me move to Seoul, and my linguistics background did nudge me toward language teaching, but the main draw of the Korean labor market was stable, decently remunerated employment for my 22-year old self.
There is nothing wrong with taking a job — even one a third of the way around the world — because the economy is bad where you're from. That is, after all, a major motivator for working and migrating. But if financial factors are the primary reason (or just a major one) for doing so, that doesn't provide a license for griping about the work or how difficult things are in a foreign country, looking at everything with a sense of entitlement or privilege, or doing a half-arsed job. [Conversely, it shouldn't give anyone from the country you're now living in a justification for treating you badly, either.]

So, Kristi Gandrud, you are my Anti-Kvetchpat of the Week. Keep spreading the sunshine.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pornification of Korea

What a lovely young woman. And she's a singer. Hmm... I wonder what she's going to sing about?


Oh, her parents must be proud.

And who's this guy?

Ah, how cute! He thinks the "L" stands for Ladies.

Hell. Handbasket. Korea.

Seriously, though, I guess sticking blatantly sexual profanity in your song is one way to turn your no-talent self into a celebrity.

(Oops. It seems I forgot to warn you that the above link is NSFW, but the fact is, I have no idea if this is okay where you work. Maybe your boss likes this kind of thing and you playing it on your computer will make you more popular and more likely to get that promotion. So in lieu of "NSFW," I will offer the Kushibo Warning: The prior link contains women of varying attractiveness singing that they "want to fuck you," but it's up to you to decide if that's something you are able to view at work. I ain't your mommy or your nanny.)

[HT to Brian, from whom I get nearly all my K-pop news]

UPDATE:
And speaking of work-inappropriate videos on YouTube:



You know, joke videos like this only serve to make light of what is a very real and very serious problem for some of us. Shame on you, Gochu Boyz.

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Random photos around eastern Honolulu

An iPhone, not just the iPhone4 but also the iPhone 3G and 3Gs, makes for a pretty good stand-in for a regular camera, especially in bright light. For better or worse, it has made me lazy about carrying around my Nikon when I want to do street photography (which is not necessarily pictures of actual streets).

It's also easier to hold an iPhone in such a way that it looks like you're not actually taking a picture of your subject than it is to do the same with an SLR. That is, if you're inclined toward that kind of photography where people who had the misfortune to walk near you in some "fashionable" part of Seoul unknowingly end up on the "fashion blog" you do instead of actually working on the PhD you tell everyone you practically already have.

Anyway, my pictures are more toward social comment or memorabilia, not aesthetic structure. No one's forcing you to look.

 "Stupid is Fearless." "Be Stupid." Quasi-PLO ski masks. This just begs comment, but I won't, since that's what they want.

Note not just the well-maintained VW bus, but also the "Hawaiian Kingdom" license plate (click once or twice to fully enlarge). The subtext here is Native Hawaiian nationalism and anti-colonialism. Frankly, I have no idea if this is a legally recognized license plate, but if you read up on the Akaka Bill, you might get some idea.

This is Waialae Avenue, a street I walk up and down quite often. There's something pleasant about the urban environment on this side of Honolulu that I just like. Very little trash, older well-maintained buildings, beautiful clouds and friendly people. I frequently end up at this street corner on the way to McDonald's...

... where Monopoly is back!™ Yep, I play, and I have been well-rewarded with fries, Cokes, McFlurries, and other goodies.

This is just half a block Ewa (westward) of the McDonald's. I pass this nearly every day, but I have no idea what this shop is. But it makes me want to sign a lease and open up a coffee shop full or retro Korean paraphernalia.

Note the old homes nearby. Were it in Seoul, Pusan, or just about any other metropolitan area in Korea, this would be a neighborhood in danger of being razed to make room for mid-rise apartments.

These campaign posters are for Dan Inouye (running for his ninth term in the US Senate) and Colleen Hanabusa (running to reclaim the Hawaii-1 US House seat for the Democrats). [The school right behind the posters was, I believe, the school attended by Jack Shephard's son in the flash-sideways episodes of Season 6.]

The beloved and respected Senator Inouye is considered such a shoo-in that the eighty-six-year-old, who is the longest-serving member of the US Senate since Senator Byrd of West Virginia died, has hardly been running any campaign whatsoever. So devoid of any campaign signage is this city that for a while there I didn't even realize he was up for re-election this year.

Ms Hanabusa, on the other hand, is having a tough time unseating her former opponent, Republican Congressman Charles Djou, who won the seat with a plurality because the two Democrats (one of whom was Ms Hanabusa) couldn't get their act together. It was a special election with no party primary, scheduled to fill the seat after Neil Abercrombie vacated it to run for Hawaii governor. (I shook his hand today at a campaign event that focused on educational issues; I didn't have the heart to tell the septuagenarian professor that this year I voted in California instead.)

Hawaii voters apparently don't like to vote out incumbents, which is what Mr Djou now is. That's why, even though this is a firmly blue state where Obama got nearly three-quarters of the votes in 2008, Republican candidate Djou is in a dead heat with Democratic candidate Hanabusa.

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As if we needed a reminder of who is really propping up Pyongyang

Beijing is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its troops entering the Korean War against South Korean, US, and other UN troops to keep Kim Ilsung and his regime in power, a move which all but cemented the permanent division of the Korean Peninsula.

Though the Chosun Ilbo has the story, I think China's official Xinhua news agency tells it best:
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Vice President Xi Jinping on Monday met with veterans and heroes of the Chinese People's Volunteers (CPV) to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the volunteer army entering the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to help in the war to resist U.S. aggression.

Hu is commander-in-chief of China's armed forces, while Xi has been newly appointed vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Communist Party of China.

In his address on behalf of the CPC Central Committee and the CMC, Xi said that the Chinese movement 60 years ago was "a great and just war for safeguarding peace and resisting aggression."

"It was also a great victory gained by the united combat forces of China's and the DPRK's civilians and soldiers, and a great victory in the pursuit of world peace and human progress," Xi said.

Xi said the Chinese people would never forget the great contribution and sacrifice made by the nation's founders and, in particular, the people who made history during a war that saw the weak defeating the strong.

The Chinese people will never forget the friendship -- established in battle -- with the DPRK's people and army, he said. Xi also acknowledged the former Soviet Union's government and people who provided help to the volunteer army.
I think they're confusing their pursuit of pyonghwa with a march to Pyongyang. (Bad pun, sorry.)

Beijing's leaders are, in part, couching their participation in the war as defense of the homeland (as if Syngman Rhee was going to invade China):
Chinese ground forces, under the CPV, entered the Korean Peninsula on Oct. 19, 1950, to defend their own territory and to help the Korean People's Army (KPA) against Syngman Rhee's troops and multinational forces assembled in the name of the United Nations.

The CPV launched its first battle on Oct. 25 against a battalion of Syngman Rhee's troops. In 1951, the CPC Central Committee decided to commemorate the war every year on that date.

Xi said being peace-loving is a tradition of the Chinese nation and its participation in the war 60 years ago was a historical decision made by the CPC Central Committee and the late Chairman Mao Zedong based on serious national security threats and a request from the DPRK's Korean Workers' Party and government.

The heroism and international spirit demonstrated by the CPV in the nearly three-year battle as they fought side-by-side with the DPRK army and people will forever be treasured by the Chinese people, Xi said.
That international spirit today includes zealously rounding up refugees and sending them back to their North Korean client state to be tortured, imprisoned, and/or killed.

I wonder if China still teaches its young people that South Korea and the US started the Korean War? That is, I believe, still the official line.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Breakfast for dinner

I'm at Eggs & Things, enjoying fluffy pancakes with coconut and guava syrup (that's two different syrups).

This Waikiki place is famous with Japanese tourists, and the waiter was about six Japanese sentences into getting us seated before I finally told him, "Eigo hanashimasu" (i.e., "We speak English").

The food here is great, by the way. That is, if you like breakfast. The one thing I generally missed in Seoul was a good Western breakfast, and I've spent the last four years in Honolulu making up for the prior decade or so in Seoul.

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Was the Grand Prix a grand failure?

Let's start with a positive spin on things: Nobody got killed. (That was an actual concern just yesterday.)

But there was serious rain (Korea Sprinkling!™), spin-outs that took out a race favorite, and a brouhaha over ticket sales. And I won't even begin to get into the British press's new meme that Korea's ubiquitous love motels are actually brothels.

From the Joongang Daily:
Questions have also been raised about ticket-selling practices. A report suggested that government employees were told to sell tickets, and a local taxi driver told the Korea JoongAng Daily that his daughter, who works in the area for Nonghyup, was forced to buy tickets.

Bad weather also hampered the event and caused some more concern for the Korean organizers. Rain started to fall before the race and one driver said he couldn’t even see the front of his car. The Grand Prix was delayed for more than 30 minutes and racers ran several laps behind a safety car.

Not surprisingly, the race itself was marred by a number of spin outs, including the two favorites, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and teammate Mark Webber.

In the end, Ferrari’s double world champion Fernando Alonso drank the champagne, followed by Lewis Hamilton of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and Felipe Massa, Alonso’s teammate.

It clearly wasn’t an easy race.

“It’s the worst conditions I ever drove a car in ,” said Alonso over the radio.
Worst conditions ever? South Koreans wear that as a badge of honor, sir! Some of the best "worst conditions" I've ever been in were on Seoul streets (with a fog-enveloped Interstate-5 going through the San Joaquin Valley coming in a distant second).

At least the Korean organizers aren't being blamed for the spin-out, for which Red Bull driver Mark Webber of Australian has taken responsibility. If only he'd had wings.

Ever the cautiously (and pragmatically) pessimistic optimist, I'd say that this was a good first run. And comments like this one at The Marmot's Hole only serve to encourage me:
Finally, talking to people after the race (at the track and at the train station) pretty much everybody said the same thing that the mechanics said; the weekend was far from perfect but was enjoyable nevertheless and that they look forward to returning next year. “better than I expected” seemed to be the tone of most peoples’ comments.
So, let's take a look at what we have. No one died, and there's now a chance to fix what was wrong. There's time now to fix what was wrong with the seats that were prudently closed off for safety concerns, move or alter the pit stop that the drivers warned was dangerous, fix the ticket distribution system, work on plans for better transport and accommodation, and maybe plan more contingencies for bad weather. It's like a B- on a midterm, which gives you a chance to raise it up to A-level. Maybe then the race would live up to the promise:



From what I understand, the big question mark over how much of the construction-still-being-completed facility would be available to the viewing public, as well as the looming prospect that the race would not go through at all, probably hurt plans to provide package deals and what-not, which will not be the case the next time around.

Start with making sure the used condoms are out from under the beds. We don't want to give the British press the vapours.



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Sunday, October 24, 2010

From Koran to Korean

Pardon the bad pun, but it was inspired by news today about that "Christian" pastor in Florida who'd made headlines around the world with his "Burn a Koran Day," which he later canceled.

Well, it turns out the Gainesville minister is getting a free car out of the deal. A Hyundai Accent to be precise. Brad Benson, a former center for the New York Giants who now owns a major car dealership, had offered Reverend Jones the Korean automobile if he backed down on his incendiary plans:
Car dealer Brad Benson made the offer in one of his dealership's quirky radio ads, which focus more on current events than cars. But he was surprised when a representative for Jones called to collect the 2011 Hyundai Accent, which retails for $14,200.

"They said unless I was doing false advertising, they would like to arrange to pick up the car," Benson recalled. At first he thought it was a hoax, so Benson asked Jones to send in a copy of his driver's license. He did.

Jones, of Gainesville, Fla., never burned a Quran but told The Associated Press on Thursday that the offer of a car was not the reason, saying he learned about the offer a few weeks after Sept. 11.
Now before you say "more like ill-gotten Gainesville" ('cause that's what I said), it turns out the newly enlightened parson is going to donate the car to an organization that helps abused Muslim women.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Full moon

I heard it will hit freezing in Seoul tonight, so I'll just rub it in that right now I'm standing in my shorts at Sandy Beach.

Those are clouds illuminated by the Moon.

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Anju links, Barbara Demick, Juan Williams, and a little stream of consciousness at 7 a.m.

After a nearly 48-hour blackout thanks to my weekly real-world hump of work every Thursday, I was all set to do a bunch of posts on stuff happening in North Korea this week, and then I thought, ah, I'll just point everybody to this post full of links at One Free Korea.

Although I have not yet read her book Nothing to Envy, I'm happy to hear that Barbara Demick is now a finalist for the National Book Award (that's one of the OFK links from above).

On a side note (and this has nothing at all to do with Barbara Demick per se, but it was triggered by the National Book Foundation choosing a book like hers as a finalist), one thing that I've noted lately is that North Korea serves as a convenient whipping boy for the mainstream media that wants to dispel accusations that they are too "liberal." Though there are some news media outlets that have their reporters hop a plane to Pyongyang and then talk about how things in the capital aren't as bad as we've heard, most journalists fall over themselves finding new ways to discuss how strange, scary, oppressive, eerie, or Orwellian the place is. That is, they're clearly bashing a communist government, which gives them or their media outlet cover to say they are not knee-jerk pro-leftist or anti-capitalist or whatever.

Just an observation. We could get in a whole discussion about whether or not the lame-stream MSM (mainstream media, as some conservatives like to call it so they can identify each other in an online crowd) really is liberal, but it's not hard to find a pattern where the media as a whole (or as individuals) show off that they can be tough on a supposedly liberal subject (e.g., Bill Clinton during the impeachment, Obama as out of touch, the NYT in the run-up to the Gulf War, etc.) to prove they're not really liberal mouthpieces.

This kind of thing (i.e., bashing an okay-to-bash group in order to prove you're not a rabid leftist), of course, may have backfired for NPR's Juan Williams, who may have subconsciously employed this tactic on the Bill O'Reilly Show when he honestly said he thinks what many Americans themselves think:
When I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.
Juan Williams, a prominent journalist on a network widely reviled by conservatives as the worst of liberal propaganda machines because it's taxpayer-supported, went on a show on the mouthpiece of American conservatives and basically recounted that, "Hey, I'm just like you guys."

And then he was fired. Because NPR isn't scared of being labeled liberal. They're scared of looking insensitive to minorities, especially a religious minority whom much of the country has tacitly given a green light to bashing.

As we like to say here at Monster Island, this is all kinds of stupid. I have not yet watched Juan Williams on the Bill O'Reilly Show (and I'd like to point out that Bill O'Reilly is my favorite among the Faux News talking heads, though lately I'm more likely to see him on The Daily Show than on his own program), but he should realize there would be a backlash for saying, essentially, that looking at any Muslim makes me fear they are a terrorist.

But NPR, instead of taking such rash action, could have used this star journalist of theirs and forged a national teaching moment out of it. Yeah, even this progressive (?) reporter on this supposedly leftist network himself gets sucked into this toxic prejudice about people who are different from him. One could imagine a whole dialogue where the fears of the non-Muslim population are aired and analyzed for what it is, while also addressing, say, what sometimes seem to be the lack of outrage by the Muslim community in America about terrorist activities perpetrated in the name of their faith and by members of their community (even if it is a small handful out of millions and millions of people).

So the opportunity for a great national dialogue was lost. Some have noted that the sacking of Juan Williams has echoes of this summer's firing of Shirley Sherrod. If so, if NPR reviews the tape and realizes that in the bigger picture of Mr Williams's appearance on Bill O'Reilly's program what he said was more tempered, even, and honest, maybe they can hire the guy back and then then begin that dialogue. (I especially don't like the idea of people being fired for honestly revealing their prejudices, though I can understand NPR's point of view that, well, maybe someone who harbors such thoughts — and publicly airs them — isn't really the kind of reporter that belongs in their stable.)

Let the healing begin.

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Yeongam's F1 track an accident waiting to happen?

The track in Yeongam got a green light for the Grand Prix, but now drivers are expressing concerns about the "dangerous" entry to the pit lane.

From AFP:
The pit lane entry is situated on the outside of the anti-clockwise track, with cars braking in the middle of Turn 18, a blind right-hand corner in a narrow section of the circuit.

"The only worry I have is the pit entry, which is a bit dangerous. It's a little bit scary," Button said.

"It's a corner when you're on full speed -- 250km/h on the exit -- and if someone goes in the pits, they have to lift (off the throttle) quite heavily. That's a bit of a worry, and I don't really know how we're going to get around that issue.

"It's a horrible position to be in. What can you do when there's someone right up behind you? You're not going to stay out for another lap."

German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing said the pit lane entry was "difficult" after finishing in seventh place in afternoon practice on Friday.

"The pit entry is quite on the edge because it is blind," he said.

"You cannot see if someone goes in (to the pits), and they have to go slower than someone who stays out. If you are behind someone trying to pass and he chooses to pit, it could be difficult."
Korean Grand Prix officials noted that not all drivers expressed such concern, and they added that the randomly chosen taxi drivers they picked to test-drive the track had all given it two thumbs up for safety.

UPDATE:
Though he gave a hat tip not to me but to someone who commented on this topic nine hours after I first posted about it, I'll link to The Marmot's post on the track's dangers (and other issues).

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Sociology of North Korea

Over at Asia Times Online (is there a dead-tree edition?), eminent Korean Studies scholar Aidan Foster-Carter talks about the inner workings of the Pyongyang regime that have led us to where they are now, and why they might be crumbling:
Second, I dare to hope for a happy ending. Kim Il-sung's sociological nous has kept the state he created alive longer than many (me included) had expected. But can it go on for ever?

That I doubt. A full answer would loose more hares than there's room for here. In the 21st century, refusing market reforms is a recipe for self-destruction. Abroad, North Korea's old game of militant mendicancy, despite some success from the Sino-Soviet dispute right up to the six-party talks, is past its sell-by date; other powers are fed up and won't play any more.

But just to stick to the processes already mentioned, these too are far from foolproof. The weakest link is familism. Past history, in Korea or anywhere - think of the Borgias in Italy - suggests that monarchies or other forms of family rule can be riddled by strife. Some crown princes just aren't up to the job. People plot, and before you know it the knives are out.
Much of the rest will be familiar stuff to regular Pyongyang watchers, but it's always interesting to get the good professor's take.

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The Korean in CNN International

CNN International has highlighted one of my must-read blogs, Ask A Korean:
It was originally a small, amusing project.

"I was in my third year of law school -- before the economy went to hell -- and I found people asking why Korea is this way or that," the Korean tells CNN. "I thought I could start a blog for fun."

The Korean, who prefers to remain anonymous, is the man behind "Ask a Korean!" -- a Q and A blog for people curious about North and South Korea and Korean culture.

Now an attorney who lives in the Washington, D.C. area, the Korean was inspired by "¡Ask a Mexican!," Gustavo Arellano's satirical column that's syndicated across the United States. (In the same vein, among others, there's also "Ask a Frenchman!" and "Ask a Russian.")

Since he answered his first question ("Dear Korean: Why are Korean men such awesome pool players?") in 2006, he's fielded thousands of questions from readers.

"It's almost become like a public diary. I guess the content is what makes it interesting," he said.
Perhaps if I re-introduce Ask Kushibo, I'll get on CNN. The downside of that is that it means more work.

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World's fastest Internet?

The Wall Street Journal says it's Masan:
When it comes to connecting to the Internet quickly, the best place to be isn’t Silicon Valley, or even Japan. It’s the city of Masan, South Korea, according to a report released Wednesday by Akamai Technologies Inc.

And Masan’s speeds are blazing fast. It’s the only city in the report with average connection speed above 20 megabits per second. In contrast, the fastest city in the U.S., Monterey Park, Calif., had an average speed of 6.9 Mbps.

It’s not clear why exactly Masan, a coastal city with a population of about half a million and a name that means “horse mountain,” ranks so highly. But the top 10 cities in the report were all in South Korea, which simply has a different technology environment from that in the U.S. For years the Korean government has spent billions on high-speed networks and subsidies to encourage broadband connections. And unlike in the U.S., competition between broadband services in Korea is cutthroat, driving down prices.
And I do sometimes miss that speed. Where I am, the university or coffee house connection is not so bad, but traveling on the Mainland can be a hair-pulling experience.

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Today in stupidity

  • On an upcoming visit to India, US President Barack Hussein Obama won't be visiting a famed Sikh temple because the head covering he'd be required to wear might stoke rumors he's a Muslim.

    Again, the elitist Obama is treating the American people like they're stupid, as if they can't tell the difference between Sikhs and Muslims. (Oh, by the way, I'm being sarcastic.)
  • The Republican candidate for Delaware's US Senate seat, Christine O'Donnell asked "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” After being told it was the First Amendment that bars Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, O’Donnell replied with (faux?) incredulity, "You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?"

    Clearly the First Amendment, which bars Congress from making "law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," contains the principle of "separation of church and state. But it appears she was going with the notion that the First Amendment does not contain the actual wording "separation of church and state." From various right-wing sites I've read, this is a popular notion aimed at demonstrating how liberal interpretation of the Constitution has led the country down a God-hating path. They note also that the Constitution does not contain the word "privacy" nor does it say anything about abortion.

    But if that's what she was going for, then she tripped up on her own wording. She should have asked, "Where in the Constitution are the words 'separation of church and state'?" Because the principle is right there, even if that phrasing is just shorthand for it. I guess this disconnect is why so many people think nothing of the government blocking a mosque or Muslim prayer center where a mainstream church or synagogue would be allowed.
  • Sarah Palin was warning her supporters not to get complacent, telling them by tweet not to "party like it's 1773 just yet." Assuming that that date was yet another brain fart on the part of would-be Republican candidate for the presidency in 2012, the Daily Kos guy and PBS's Gwen Ifil (a Kushibo favorite) chided her for not remembering the year the Declaration of Independence was signed. What Ms Palin meant was that the eponymous Boston Tea Party occurred in 1773. Egg... on... faces.

    The Boston Tea Party, of course, was a major historical event in which local citizens who felt powerless tried to strike a blow against the perceived elite and forge a political force by scapegoating an unpopular ethnic minority. Much like today's Tea Party. (I kid! I kid! I kid because I love... to kid!)

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dealing with North Korea as a "black swan"

Writing in the Washington Post, news analyst Fareed Zakaria asks what will happen when North Korea falls (that's his title, followed by an ellipsis for dramatic effect).

While most of the piece is a remedial review for those who haven't been paying attention, at the very end he poses some interesting questions that perhaps most people don't ask about North Korea. Of course, these are questions which people with a keen interest in the region (area specialists, foreign residents in South Korea or Japan, ROK citizens themselves, etc.) have been pondering for quite some time now:
There are big issues at stake. Does a unified Korea retain its close alliance with the United States? Does it keep the North's nuclear arsenal? Do American troops stay in the country? If the answer to all three questions is "yes," then a unified Korea will be an American ally, with American troops, and nuclear weapons -- sitting on China's border. How is Beijing likely to react to that? Would it move troops in to shore up the regime? What would South Korean and American forces do then?

When North Korea collapses, it is easy to imagine chaos on the Korean peninsula that triggers a series of reactions from Beijing and Washington that are competing and hostile. Forget genteel rows over the yuan's value -- this is what could produce serious geopolitical instability. And that's why it's crucial that the United States, China and South Korea start talking about "black swans."
Those are important questions (and I have all the right answers, by the way), and his advice is sound:
But to solve that problem, it will need to discuss with China the rules of the road when Pyongyang falls.
But frankly, the rest of the article is the same mundane repetition of the Western media's Cliff's Notes version of what's been going on lately. He even starts off with, "Previously, on Desperate Housewives, ..."

Well, no. He didn't. But he might as well have.

But perhaps I am too harsh. Not everyone who reads the WaPo has a stake in what happens on the Korean Peninsula as this Seoulite and his family and friends do (or "M" from Japan, or folks I know in US military uniform, etc.). So maybe they do in fact need a recap from time to time about the intrigue that's been going on up north (with or without the Western media's auto-reinforced interpretations) and what it might mean in the future.

And in that regard, the article is useful, and the conclusions do make sense: Talk with Beijing, have a roadmap, let's deal with this calmly. My added advice: Make Beijing not fear a Washington-allied unified Korea by, say, promising not to put US military bases in former DPRK territory.

Maybe such ideas like that would have made Mr Zakaria's anodyne op-ed a bit meatier.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Apparently, the strategy is to pay them so little that they can't afford to buy pot...

It looks like the drive to get English teachers for rural South Korean communities has made its way to Iowa, with the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa agreeing to provide students who will teach English while learning Korean. They will receive a monthly stipend of 1.5 million won (a bit under $1500 for the time being).

Roboseyo has noted how little pay this is, adding that if this is what ROK government ministries are going to do, then they shouldn't complain about "unqualified English teachers." (To be fair, the people making such complaints are often not the same ones making such policies.)

He also quoted from memory someone from The Marmot's Hole who noted that among the three hiring goals that ROK government agencies have...
  • lots of foreign English teachers.
  • trained and qualified English teachers
  • cheap English teachers
... they realistically can only choose two.

I'm not quite that pessimistic, but I can understand the cynicism. And certainly asking people who haven't yet graduated from college to work for what seems a pittance might seem like a recipe for disaster.

But wait. Is this really as bad as it seems? Methinks that some folks who have been working in Korea since the Bush administration may be blissfully unaware of just how bad things are back in the US (including, presumably, the 56th state). People are taking jobs they never would have considered before, with a lot of undergrad students happy to get a job, say, working at Starbucks.

Let's say this is twenty-five hours per week at four weeks per month. That comes to about $14/hour, with one's lodging paid for (plus language learning thrown in for free). That's thirty to fifty percent more than working at Starbucks, a job in which you would have to pay for your own housing.

Is this a bad deal then? Perhaps not. Now if I were an English teacher, I would be concerned about wage depression, if they were in fact able to effectively fill slots this way. Then again, if they're college students operating under government-university MOUs, the supply is naturally limited.

We'll have to see how this turns out.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

How many millions of overseas ROK nationals in the Korean diaspora?

The Korea Herald article about reduced emigration from Korea also addressed another topic: the millions of SoKos who live outside of South Korea. It's a rarely touched upon topic, but it's different enough from the original news item that I thought it deserved its own focus. I'm reprinting the entire section so that no data is lost:
Meanwhile, separate government data showed among 2.87 million South Korean nationals living abroad, up to 2.29 million will be eligible to vote in the parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in 2012. The number represents more than 6 percent of the nation’s 37.8 million eligible voters.

The election law was revised in February last year to grant suffrage Korean residents overseas, including some 1.22 million people with a permanent resident status in countries such as the U.S. and Japan. Under the revision, some of them cast their ballots for the first time in the parliamentary by-elections held on April 9 in 2009.

The measure could wield strong influence in the upcoming elections, especially considering the fact that some of the election results depended on a narrow margin of no more than hundreds of thousands of votes.

Up to 73 percent, or 2.1 million overseas Koreans, are living in the U.S., Japan and China, with more than 1.65 million staying temporarily for work or studying purposes, according to the National Election Commission.

The figures, however, could only be temporary as many people are hesitant to register as living aboard or report acquiring a permanent resident status or citizenship in another country, the election watchdog said.

In 2007 the top court here ruled unconstitutional the law that restricted the voting rights of overseas Koreans, prompting moves to grasp the exact number of Korean nationals living abroad and grant them suffrage. The National Assembly approved of the bill calling for such rights last year.
So that's an estimate of nearly three million ROK nationals living abroad. When I helped out with overseas voter registration in Seoul, we were given estimates of six or seven million US citizens living abroad, a number equal to an average state. Given that the US with twice the number of citizens abroad but has six times South Korea's population, that means a South Korean is nearly three times more likely than an American to live outside his/her country.

For decades, if they were to obtain another country's citizenship, they were often stripped of their ROK nationality. Imagine not being able to get citizenship in the United States, for example, lest you be forced to sell your family land back in Kyŏngsang-namdo. They could also lose many of their rights as ROK nationals if they merely obtained permanent residence status in another country (e.g., a US green card).

But lately, Seoul has been reconsidering and changing a lot of these policies, since such draconian measures encourage shadow citizenship, economically and legally hobble ROK nationals who go back and forth from South Korea to another country of residence, and dampen ethnic Korean participation in the electoral process abroad (often with undesirable effects).

For example, South Korea is trying to find a way for ROK nationals to have dual citizenship in a way that doesn't permit evasion of mandatory military service. Spouses of foreign citizens whose countries require their ROK bride or husband to get a green card (or equivalent) if they wish to visit the US no longer see their rights as ROK nationals automatically eroded.

And of course, green card-type residency for foreign nationals married to South Korean husbands and especially wives are now the norm, while paths to residency and ROK citizenship have been opened up to many others. And the thing which has been the biggest boon for me has been the ability to own real estate despite being a foreign national, which was also designed to allow former ROK citizens to keep their land if they obtain citizenship elsewhere.

All of this adds up to a situation where the large number of ROK nationals can more easily make their status officially known. The actual number could be far higher. And if there were four, five, or even six million ROK citizens living abroad, how many would vote in presidential, provincial, or local elections? Can they become a wild card? (Maybe it's all the more reason to institute a Peruvian-style automatic runoff in elections where no candidate has gotten a real majority instead of allowing them to win with a mere plurality.) Sphere: Related Content

Emigration from South Korea drops below 1000

I guess when population growth drops to barely one kid per couple, it's a good thing for there to be fewer and fewer out-going emigrants.

From the Korea Herald:
On the back of the lingering global economic downturn and comparatively brighter circumstances at home, no more than 900 South Koreans are anticipated to move out of the country by the end of this year, falling below the 1,000-mark for the first time in a decade, the Foreign Ministry said.

According to the figures released for the annual parliamentary audit and inspection, a total of 694 South Koreans have moved abroad as of September, with an average of 77 people registering overseas per month.

This is the sharpest decrease of emigrants since 2000 when up to 15,307 moved abroad. The number of emigrants has been dropping continuously sine then, with 9,509 leaving the country in 2003, 8,277 in 2005, 4,127 in 2007 and 1,153 last year, the ministry said.
I'm not sure how the audit arrived at what constitutes an emigrant, but I would submit that many ROK nationals are essentially part-time or temporary emigrants. That is, they go abroad for long periods of time to live, study, work, and even start families, with fuzzily indefinite return dates. Non-returners may not end up in those government stats. For example, South Korean citizens make up an enormous portion of foreign students in the US and Canada; how many of them never end up returning to South Korea to take up residence again?

Still, if the criteria to be considered an emigrant has remained constant over the past decade or so, it is telling that there were over fifteen thousand fitting that definition in 2000 but fewer than one thousand this year. A regularly improving standard of living may be a huge factor, but also at play, I believe, is a harsher impression about what's out there in places like the United States: higher crime, considerably less job opportunity, lack of social support services like guaranteed health insurance, loss of social capital, etc.

Meanwhile, the one thing that many South Koreans most wish to take advantage of in the US — a more open educational experience at the primary and secondary level and a better quality educational experience at some of the universities — can still be had without officially emigrating. Think of the kirŏgi families (wild goose families) where the wife goes abroad with the kids, or the college-age son or daughter who decides that, say, the University of California is a better fit than a second- or third-tier college in Korea.

Come to think of it, though, maybe we should reconsider the kirŏgi family concept.

Finally, while the reduction of emigrants may seem good for efforts to recover the birth rate, if a lower number of permanent emigrants is compensated by an increase in part-time or temporary emigrants, it may be a wash for the birth rate. Those who go abroad to study may end up delaying marriage and/or reducing the overall number of kids they have upon their return, making their numbers no better than if they had left.

We should also note that there are returning emigrants that officially number in the thousands — more than the number leaving. The Korea Times article on this same news item puts the number of returning ROK nationals at 4301 last year and 3205 as of the end of September this year. How many of these are bringing back future workers and how many of them are simply going to be cashing pension checks?

In other words, it's still a demographer's and economist's nightmare.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

AFP reports on North Korean defectors caught up in insurance fraud

Agence France-Presse has an interesting article on folks from North Korea being targeted by insurance fraudsters:
North Korean refugees struggling to adapt to a bewildering new life in South Korea are increasingly getting sucked into insurance frauds as their first taste of capitalism.

Insurance scams have for years been common in the South, and fraudsters in recent years have targeted the refugees as sometimes unwitting accomplices.

"Sometimes defectors get involved because they don't know how the insurance system works. They just have no idea what they are doing is wrong," an official at the Hanawon resettlement centre told AFP. ...

Newly arrived refugees get government financial help but often must repay big debts to the brokers who arranged their escape via China.

This makes them susceptible to taking part in frauds, which focus on bogus medical insurance claims.

After the refugee has bought a private policy or enrols in a state scheme, or both, insurance company workers typically conspire with hospital administrative staff to issue fake certificates of treatment.

When a refugee has been reimbursed by the insurance company, and sometimes by the government, he or she hands over a portion to the accomplices.

"I received about three million won (2,700 dollars) and used the money to pay debts when I came to South Korea," one woman in her late thirties told the JoongAng Daily newspaper.
The article takes pains to depict the North Korean defectors as victims of this, a view I'm sympathetic to. After all, both survival in North Korea and the process of escape and then hiding in China would necessitate living by hook or by crook for many of them, and it may be hard to turn that off that attitude and behavior. An attitude of doing what you can to survive mixed with a perception drummed into their heads by the fraudsters that the only ones who get hurt are these big, bad corporations, and you've got an easy accomplice.

Sadly, I fear that this kind of thing looms large in any post-reunification future, as the two versions of Korea clash in ways we cannot even begin to fathom now.

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Stop me if you've heard this one

Somali pirates have commandeered a South Korean ship again:
The South Korea Foreign Ministry told Yonhap News 43 crew members aboard the 241-ton trawler Keummi 305 were captured by the pirates on Oct. 9 about 10 miles off Lamu, Kenya. The crew included two South Koreans, two Chinese and 39 Kenyans, the South Korean news agency said.

A South Korean citizen living in Mombasa, Kenya, told Yonhap the pirates took the boat to Harardhere, north of Mogadishu.

Officials had not yet heard from the pirates with any demands.

"Given past instances, it would put the hostages in even more danger if the government tried to negotiate directly with the pirates," a ministry official said. "We're trying to find out more about the incident using all possible channels."
Got that? Negotiations with Taliban, okay. Negotiations with Somali pirates, not a good idea.

UPDATE:
Yonhap has more on this story.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

At the HIFF

Dole Cannery Regal Theater, home of HIFF.
I should be working, but I'm going to see Obsessions Confessions instead. It's in Japanese, but I assume there are subtitles.

UPDATE:
Quite an interesting film. Sort of Lady Vengeance meets Battle Royale.

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Och'ŏnmanmyŏng

The population of the Republic of Korea (the southern, friendly one) has officially crossed the fifty million mark. It was a baby girl born on September 13. Interestingly, the 49,999,999th ROK resident was a baby born to a Vietnamese woman from Kyŏnggi-do Province.

Still, with so many couples have just one baby or none, we are haunted by the same inverted population pyramid that has been plaguing Japan

Really, there needs to be some sort of campaign for couples to get to baby making. We can call it "ROK On!" and it should involve romantic music and daycare vouchers.

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Michelle Rhee's farewell message

Korean-American educator and chancellor of Washington DC schools Michelle Rhee has penned a valedictory letter in the Washington Post, along with the soon-to-be exiting mayor Adrian Fenty who brought her in to fix DC schools:
When the two of us began this journey together, we made a pact with each other. We pledged that we would always put children first and make decisions that would be in their best interest, even when -- especially when -- we knew it would cause consternation among adults. This pact was our true north. In many ways, it cut through the hard choices to something clear and simple: We would fight for the right of every parent to promise and give their children an excellent education. We would insist on a school system that backed up that promise. We would ensure that children received the skills and knowledge they needed to do anything they wanted in life. ...

We've made tremendous strides. On the nation's gold standard, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we've gone from being the worst-performing school district in the country to a force of 46,000 children who lead the nation in gains -- with some of the greatest advances coming from our students of color, students receiving special-education services and students formally learning the English language for the first time.

On our local exam, we've increased student achievement in all subject areas and grade levels. At the secondary levels, these gains are unparalleled anywhere in the country. More students are graduating and ready to attend college, our schools are safer and our parents are more satisfied. A greater percentage of the system's taxpayer dollars are going directly to the classroom, where they belong, instead of supporting a bloated and formerly inefficient central office. The operational issues that long plagued our schools (undelivered books, late paychecks and shoddy facilities) are quickly becoming complaints of the past.

We absolutely believe the progress can continue. Our presumptive new mayor is a native Washingtonian who cares deeply about education. We leave behind arguably the most talented and driven team that a school district administration could have. They are in the schools; they are in the central office; they are in other District agencies partnering with DCPS to modernize schools and update and support technologies. All of these people and more are getting up every morning and doing the incredibly difficult work that the cameras don't see. As leaders, we simply "blocked and tackled" so that they could get things done.
I know she didn't invent it, but I just want to point out that I like the phrase (and the concept) of having one's true north.

Anyway, I do realize that Ms Rhee has her critics, but if nothing else, I do think her situation underscores how real and meaningful change rarely comes easily or automatically, just because we elect people who say they will do things differently. Whether it's teachers' unions, corporate interests, anti-government ideologues touting free-market solutions for everything, it's easy for groups to get caught up in the politics and thus fail to effect necessary improvements, and indeed, those who make the hard choices often set themselves up for ballot box defeat (and this applies to Obamacare as much as anything).

And that's my sappy, anodyne comment of the day.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hwang Jang-yop, may he rest somewhere else.

From The Marmot's Hole comes news that noted defector Hwang Jang-yop, an architect of North Korea's Juche philosophy, has been awarded a state medal, the first-class Order of Civic Merit, and will be buried at the National Cemetery in Taejŏn, a fact with which South Korea's liberal parties are not happy.

As you can imagine from this post, I sort of agree with The Marmot on this:
While I find the Democratic Party’s attitude regarding Hwang’s passing suspicious at best, I do agree with what some DP lawmakers are saying: the man was still one of the fathers of North Korea’s Juche ideology. To me, this means anything positive he might have done in his latter life (and he was an elderly man when he left North Korea) only begins to make up for what he did prior to his defection. I’m not judging him personally — I appreciate he might have been a changed man. The National Cemetery, however, is a very special place, and I just don’t think he belongs there.
Hear! Hear! As I noted at Destination Pyongyang, Mr Hwang's continued defense of Juche underscored a lack of culpability for the murderous regime up north:
But if we are to make such people poster boys for the cause, as many did with Hwang, some serious semblance of acknowledgement and even contrition for his crimes would be in order.

That disconnect between the lack of acknowledgement and contrition on the one hand, and the prominent role he played in condemning a system he helped create on the other, was what always made me uneasy about him. And to me, that tainted his otherwise worthy (and valuable) post-defection life.
Now this may seem harsh, but I think interring Mr Hwang in the National Cemetery is akin to enshrining the Yasukuni-14 at the ostensibly peace-promoting Yasukuni Shrine, an act performed by the shrinekeepers in the late 1970s. Not exactly the same, but with some very serious parallels.

No, National Assembly, please find somewhere else for Mr Hwang's remains.

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Red State welfare?

Over at The Marmot's Hole, D.L. Barch and WeikuBoy are talking about how "blue states" such as California prop up "red states" in terms of Federal taxes. Here's what they're talking about:

[source]

This site has a list with relative dollar amounts per dollar sent to Washington. This site has total dollars sent. Here's a similar report from 2004, and a news report on this from 2005.

I have no dog in this fight, being a resident of both California (a propper-upper) and Hawaii (a welfare queen). Frankly, I can see why some states may need more money than others, so I don't have a big problem with it, but I do see the STFU disgruntlement of those in blue states when red state voters complain about taxes.

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Backlash against King Jong?

Echoing the idea I've been putting forth that the ascension of the young and inexperienced Kim Jong-un is not a done deal (despite the Western, Japanese, and even South Korean media running with that idea as if it's a given), there have been some indications of blowback against Kim Jong-il's third son assuming dynastic leadership.

One such story is found over at Ask a Korean, where The Korean has translated a Dong-A Ilbo piece on the subject:
As the North Korean regime embarked on a massive project to deify Kim Jong-Un, it is being met by jeers and ridicule from the people as it relies on absurd propaganda defying common sense. As the regime strains to package a 27-year-old man without any achievement as a "great leader," the tactic is backfiring.

On the 11th of this month, Open North Korea Radio, a radio station broadcasting toward North Korea, made public the material for lectures held late last year against Labor Party officials and members. The propaganda material, titled "Material on the Greatness of Young General Comrade Kim Jong-Un", claimed that "Comrade Young General was an expert marksman since the age of three, and this year hit a row of light bulbs and bottles 100 meters away with a semiautomatic rifle, firing at three shots per second." It also claimed that Kim fired 20 shots at a target and hit all of them within the 10-point circle. In addition, it claimed that Kim "figured out all renowned generals through the East and the West and throughout history by his teens, is proficient in all areas of military affairs including the army, navy and the air force, and only took a few days to complete the 'automatic ceremonial cannon firing program,' which not even engineers could not accomplish."
Knowledge of military history is the Chosŏn-era equivalent of the SAT, so good on him.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times (which spells the Brilliant Comrade's name incorrectly as Kim Jong Eun) reports that local farming officials are annoyed about the construction of a villa for the presumed future leader of North Korea:
The construction of Kim Jong Eun's new villa was begun in late July. Soon after, nearby farmers began complaining.

When farm officials requested that commanders assume responsibility for their soldiers' behavior, they were beaten, according to the humanitarian group's report. "Although complaints ceased after this incident, news of this mishap has spread throughout the region resulting in civilian mistrust of soldiers who are believed to be connected to the suspect leadership of Kim Jong Eun."

Analysts say it's unclear whether either Kim Jong Il or his youngest son have been told of the issue.
This is a long and possibly boring
post, so I thought I'd throw in a
picture of Kim Jong-un's mom,
Ko Yŏnghŭi, who was kinda hot.
Low-boil disgruntlement over issues affecting livelihood (like with last year's currency obliteration) can be the regime's undoing in the long run, so if this is true, it could be significant.

If it's true. All of this could be the fanfic of some psyops folks in Sariwon for all we know. But we are getting a steady supply of such news.

Meanwhile, as I reported earlier, the KCNA reports still do not support the idea that Kim Jong-un has been pushed into the limelight:
  • PRC President Hu Jintao sent greetings to Kim Jong-il, praising his father Kim Ilsung but not mentioning Kim Jong-un whatsoever. Passive-aggressive bastard!
  • Phoenix Satellite TV Holdings gave Kim Jong-il a present, but they didn't bring anything for Kim Jong-un. Ditto with Inoki Genom Joint Company of Japan. Not even a Wii (and he could use a Wii).
  • A university in Ecuador gave honorary professorships to Kim Jong-il, his father, and his mother, but Kim Jong-un will have to attend class just like everybody else.
In short, since my last report, there were only two mentions of Kim Jong-un. One was in an article about a photo shoot with commanding officers of the military, where Kim Jong-un's name was buried in the last paragraph. He wasn't even the first officer mentioned. 

The second was in a report about the big parade the other day marking the 65th anniversary of the Workers Party of Korea. Kim Jong-un was mentioned in the third paragraph, the fourth one listed, which hardly befits a presumptive heir being promoted to the people. The article was primarily about his dad.

In other words, KJU's visibility has been going down, not up, and it wasn't that high to begin with. Try squaring that with the Western media's message that Kim Jong-il is practically already wearing the crown.

Now what is interesting is that the KCNA reported on economic developments between North Korean and China, particularly the Northeast China region. There was the signing of an economic and technological cooperation memorandum that included Heilongjiang Province, as well as Kim Jong-il receiving a delegation form the Communist Party of China (without mention of Kim Jong-un, of course). These kinds of developments, as I've mentioned before, are probably where the real story lies.

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