Monday, October 31, 2011

Updates to post with old-timey photographs

In the middle of trying to squeeze major, major work and school projects through the pipeline, but I did take a few moments to add photographs to this post from 2009 about foreigners in Korea "behaving badly" — a hundred years ago.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Echoes of Lee Hanyŏl?

When I heard about Occupy Wall Street protester Scott Olsen, who was severely injured in Oakland, California, after being hit by a fragment from a tear gas grenade (or something else as bad), I couldn't help but make the connection with Lee Hanyŏl (이한열), the Yonsei University student who died twenty-four years ago after being struck in the head with shrapnel from a tear gas grenade that detonated over his head.

Mr Lee's death became a catalyst for wider protests that drew in everyday citizens outside the protest-prone universities. Although Mr Olsen is thankfully on the mend, one wonders how things might have changed had this injury been fatal.

Of course, having an inadvertent (near-)martyr is one of the few similarities between US11 and ROK87. For starters, what the students and other citizens were fighting for in 1987 was much clearer than what the OWS crowd is after, which is what exactly? In 1987, the goal was well defined: to get direct elections that had been promised in the wake of Park Chunghee's death, and many of the people were willing to pay with their freedom and possibly their lives.

By contrast, in the United States we already have the open elections South Koreans were fighting for. The problem is that Americans have allowed their democracy to erode. They stay home instead of voting, and they fail to push for effective reforms that would curtail the ability of moneyed interests to control their electoral process and thus the pursestrings.

And I suspect that many of the "occupiers" wilt in the face of a tear gas cloud. Well, so do people in Korea, but the latter, at least back in the 1980s and 1990s, walked into the situation expecting to be gassed, and possibly even craving it. You were no one if you'd never inhaled the burning waft.

If you've never been teargassed, let me tell you it's not a pleasant experience. Sting gas would be a more appropriate name for the stuff, because it does just that, and it gets into your facial orifices, from your nostrils to your eye sockets, and it stays there. It debilitates you, making you unable to run away and sometimes blinds you so you can't even walk very far. Nasty, nasty stuff.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Insert joke about Mongolian navy here

There's a scene in one of the Planet of the Apes movies where the tough apes halt at the edge of the river as they pursue the humans because, well, they're afraid of water. I've always associated that scene with the Mongol invaders who took over nearly all of Korea — and most of Asia and a good chunk of Europe — on horseback but who stopped at the narrow sliver of water that separates Kanghwa-do Island from the Korean mainland, beyond which strait Korea's royal family was hiding in exile.

Yeah, the Mongols and water didn't mix so well. Yet there they were in 1274 and again in 1281, trying to cross the Korea and Tsushima Straits, in order to take over Japan. Their resounding defeat became a nation-defining moment for the Japanese, giving rise to the concept of kamikaze, gods of the wind, who supposedly came in and provided divine intervention that spared the archipelago from the horsemen of the steppe. (Some have suggested shoddy workmanship on the Korea-made boats — possibly deliberate — may have had as much to do with the Mongols' defeat.)

Anyway, it was a few days ago that the Japan Times had news that, amazingly, the largely intact wreckage of one of the Mongols' vessels was found a meter below the seabed off Nagasaki:
The wreck of a ship believed to have been part of the ill-fated attempts by Kublai Khan, the Mongol ruler of China in the 13th century, to invade Japan has been found lying relatively intact under the seabed off Nagasaki Prefecture, a team of Japanese researchers said Monday.

It is the first wreck linked to the invasion attempts to have been discovered in Japan with much of the hull still intact, including a 12-meter section of the keel and rows of planks 10 cm thick and 15 to 25 cm wide attached to the keel, according to University of the Ryukyus professor Yoshifumi Ikeda and his team.

Discovered about 1 meter under the seabed in waters 20 to 25 meters deep off Takashima Island in Matsuura, Nagasaki, the wreck of the vessel, believed to have been over 20 meters long, is expected to provide archeologists with crucial information on the Mongol attacks in 1274 and 1281, which until now have been known mostly from documents and drawings.

"I believe we will be able to understand more about shipbuilding skills at the time as well as the actual situation of exchanges in East Asia," Ikeda told reporters in Nagasaki. He added that the wreck likely remained relatively well preserved because it was buried under the sand.

Both sides of the keel were painted whitish gray. The planking was held in place by nails. Bricks, ink stones and weaponry used by the Yuan Dynasty were found in the ship's bottom.
Now that's something I'd pay to see in a museum. Very cool. One wonders what else is sunk below the mud. Maybe off the coast of Yŏsu they can use the same technology to find a kobuksŏn, the so-called "Turtle Ship" that helped Admiral Yi Sunshin defeat the Japanese when they invaded Korea about three centuries later.  


Busy but...

As you may have noticed, I've been a tad busy so I can't keep up with my usual five-posts-per-day rate of production. Just thought I'd let my loyal readers (and people who loathe me so much that they obsessively scour my blog for things they can mock me for or use against me) know that family, work, and school are what's keeping me away from the CREATE POST window and not some lack of interest.

In the meantime, I leave you with a favorite post of mine you might have missed, along with a request for possible guest bloggers and The Sonagi Consortium bloggers.


Hear no evil dictators being deposed, see no evil dictators being deposed (redux)

Welp, if you're a North Korean laborer in Libya longing for some home-cooked Hamhŭng naengmyŏn, you're just s.o.l. for the time being.

Last April, when the Arab Spring was just starting to kick up some sand, we had reports that Pyongyang was in no mood to have workers returning to the Workers' Paradise bearing news that one by one the dictators of the Arab world were falling like dominos as the people in those countries rose up against them. Even though some of them were getting injured in the air attacks.

And now, with the death of Colonel Moammar Kadafi, we see that this policy is continuing:
North Korea has banned its own citizens working in Libya from returning home, apparently out of fear that they will reveal the extent — and final outcomes — of the revolutions that have shaken the Arab world.

Pyongyang had a close working relationship with the regime of Moammar Gaddafi before the popular uprising that unseated him. That revolution was completed with Gaddafi's death at the hands of insurgents last week - leaving Kim Jong-Il as one of a dwindling band of old-fashioned dictators on the planet.

An estimated 200 North Korean nationals are in Libya and previously worked as doctors, nurses and construction workers, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. They had been dispatched to the country in order to earn the hard currency that Pyongyang requires to fund its missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

Yonhap reported that the North Korean nationals have been left in limbo, joining their compatriots who are stuck in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries with orders not to return home.

North Korean media has so far failed to report that Gaddafi is dead and the government has made no moves to officially recognise Libya's National Transitional Council as the legitimate governing authority of the country.

The decision to ban its own nationals from returning indicates just how concerned the North Korean regime is of the news leaking out to its subjugated people.

An editorial in The Korea Herald stated that the one per cent of North Koreans who are aware of the Arab Spring uprisings will be top-level party and administration officials, as well as the trusted few who are permitted to travel to China on business.

"Pyongyang’s silence about the fall of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and the bloody death of Gaddafi reveals Kim Jong-il’s awareness of the vulnerability of his regime in the process of a third-generation dynastic succession of power," the paper said.
And the DPRK nomenklatura are right to think this. With the Great Currency Obliteration of 2009, they have sown the seeds of resentment and may have lodged in almost every North Korean's head the notion that the regime is not on their side. 

This blanket ban on returning to North Korea comes as no surprise to me. I wrote a few days ago that the North Korean workers in Libya are "persona non grata" back home as far as the regime is concerned. Of course, it could be worse: the regime might have welcomed them home only to send them to reeducation camps or worse. Maybe Seoul should be looking into helping these folks stuck in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria gain asylum and eventual residency in South Korea.

Right now "s.o.l." means Sitting it Out in Libya.


Chinese leadership remembers it's communist, cracks down on dissent and singing contests

If you've been reading posts like this, this, this, or this on my blog over the past few years, then news of China cracking down on inconvenient opinions should come as no surprise:
Whether spooked by popular uprisings worldwide, a coming leadership transition at home or their own citizens’ increasingly provocative tastes, Communist leaders are proposing new limits on media and Internet freedoms that include some of the most restrictive measures in years.

The most striking instance occurred Tuesday, when the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television ordered 34 major satellite television stations to limit themselves to no more than two 90-minute entertainment shows each per week, and collectively 10 nationwide. They are also being ordered to broadcast two hours of state-approved news every evening and to disregard audience ratings in their programming decisions. The ministry said the measures, to go into effect on Jan. 1, were aimed at rooting out “excessive entertainment and vulgar tendencies.”
So China's rediscovering its communist inner self. Of course, those of us who have been paying attention are not at all surprised. It's those in the US — mostly Obama bashers — who unblushingly say that the government is less onerous in China than in America and thus a better place to do business that may be surprised.

Interestingly, it is folks like me — contrarians who like to pick things apart — who are on their $hitlist:
The restrictions arrived as party leaders signaled new curbs on China’s short-message, Twitter-like microblogs, an Internet sensation that has mushroomed in less than two years into a major — and difficult to control — source of whistle-blowing. Microbloggers, some of whom have attracted millions of followers, have been exposing scandals and official malfeasance, including an attempted cover-up of a recent high-speed rail accident, with astonishing speed and popularity.

On Wednesday, the Communist Party’s Central Committee called in a report on its annual meeting for an “Internet management system” that would strictly regulate social network and instant-message systems, and punish those who spread “harmful information.” The focus of the meeting, held this month, was on culture and ideology.

Analysts and employees inside the private companies that manage the microblogs say party officials are pressing for increasingly strict and swift censorship of unapproved opinions.
And how are they going to solve this dilemma? It appears they're going to take a page out of the South Korean handbook:
Perhaps most telling, the authorities are discussing requiring microbloggers to register accounts with their real names and identification numbers instead of the anonymous handles now in wide use.

Although China’s most famous bloggers tend to use their own names, requiring everyone to do so would make online whistle-blowing and criticism of officialdom — two public services not easily duplicated elsewhere — considerably riskier.
Of course, there's a big difference between the PRC and the ROK: I can say just about whatever the heck I want to in South Korea, short of praising North Korea's leadership (like that is going to happen), and I face little fear of being harassed, fined, imprisoned, deported, or inconvenienced in any real way. Sure, the laws are not 100% transparent, but the parameters are reasonably clear and Grand Canyon-wide.

Sigh. This is not a good thing. China needs whistleblowers for the misdeeds of local and national politicos and corporations. It is going in a dangerous new direction at breakneck speed, where the more rich and/or more powerful are running the show to the detriment of the hoi polloi. Um, didn't they have a revolution against that kind of thing?

And when those moneyed interests put pollution into the air and water that end up coming toward South Korea, it's something we have an interest in as well.


Is it all over for the Grand Prix in Korea?

After a great deal of handwringing about safety, accommodations, and track preparations (and here and here) and safety, F1 racing's Grand Prix finally came to Korea — way down south, away from all the people — about a year ago. And while there were plenty of glitches, promoters were confident that things would go more smoothly next time when they weren't in such a hurry.

But if The Telegraph is correct, there may not be too many "next times":
Korea’s future is looking decidedly dicey. The promoter of the Yeongam event, Won-Hwa Park, said earlier this month that he wanted to seek a cut in the estimated £35 million hosting fee because of the huge losses the event is facing. According to local media, the total cost for the race this year was £52 million, with income from tickets estimated to be only £16 million.

Korea’s current deal, which runs until 2016, includes a 10 per cent escalator for hosting rights over its duration.

“There are lots of things in life you can’t afford, and you don’t have to have them,” Ecclestone said. “And it took us long enough to negotiate with them in the first place.”

Of the local lack of support, the 80 year-old added: “It was strange. They didn’t really get behind it. That was a disappointment because it was a big enough effort to get it on in the first place.”
It would have been nice to know about the governing body's fickleness before all that money was poured into the project.

To be fair, it's not just Yŏng•am complaining about the high hosting fee. And it may take a little time for support to grow, as it is a nascent "sport" in Korea. There certainly are lessons to be learned about publicizing such a new event in a place without much of a tradition of car racing.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

When Marky met Stevie

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Apple's recently deceased guru, Steve Jobs, had expressed admiration for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg:
In interviews with his biographer Walter Isaacson, Jobs said he respected Zuckerberg for not selling out and for dominating social networking.

"You know we talk about social networks in the plural but I don't see anybody other than Facebook out there. It's just Facebook. They're dominating this," he told Isaacson. "I admire Mark Zuckerberg. I only know him a little bit, but I admire him for not selling out. For wanting to make a company. I admire that a lot."

The admiration was mutual. When Jobs died Oct. 5 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, Zuckerberg paid tribute on his Facebook profile: "Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you."

Zuckerberg is frequently mentioned as a possible heir apparent to Jobs.

Jobs said he felt an obligation to counsel other entrepreneurs since Silicon Valley gave him so much. Yet he did not dole out praise easily. He told Isaacson that Microsoft and Google "just don't get it."

In his official biography out Monday, Jobs assailed Microsoft's Bill Gates as "unimaginative," saying Gates never invented anything.

He saved his real venom for Google and vowed to destroy its mobile phone business, Android. Jobs had served as a mentor to Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and had welcomed Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt to the Apple board. Google went on to launch Android, which is the main competitive threat to the iPhone.
Yikes. I can't say I've been immune to wishing destruction on my enemies (and occasionally plotting but rarely doing — rarely), but it sounds like Mr Jobs was someone whose bad side you'd want to steer clear of. As for the idea of Mr Zuckerberg as an "heir apparent" (whatever that means), all I can say is, God help us!

My beef with Facebook is that Mark Zuckerberg simply does not know the meaning of privacy. He seems to see secrecy as evil in and of itself and he does not understand that if we share something with one person that doesn't mean we want to share it with everyone else. In fact, he has made it clear he thinks people don't need to keep things from others, yet most of us in society realize (and I'm a tad bit older than Mr Zuckerberg, so maybe this is coming from experience) life is, necessarily, compartmentalized.

But maybe I don't want my thirteen-year-old niece to head to the comment her Facebook account says I left at the Los Angeles Times or New York Times and read my adult views on, say, marijuana legalization or my nuanced opinions on the rights of sex offenders, m'kay? But Facebook has insinuated itself so much into our online lives (which seep offline as well) that we end up commenting with our Facebook profiles when we didn't intend to.

Truth be told, Apple lately has also started pushing the envelope with privacy in a way that concerns me, but at least with iOS on my iPhone it's situations where I'm getting something in trade (an easier time finding something nearby or location-specific information, etc.). I'll keep my iPhone — for now — but at this point I keep a barebones Facebook profile only for commenting on sites that essentially require them, or for people whom I lost track of in the 1990s or earlier to get in touch with me (after which, I communicate with them by email, phone, or Skype).

It's kinda funny, though, to think about how this whole issue stands in marked contrast with Korea. When you're expected to hand over your Republic of Korea identification card number for just about any Korean-language online service, perhaps we get inured to that fundamental stripping away of our protective privacy shell. It no longer bothers us because, well, we're just so used to it... and nothing bad has happened — so far.

Back in America, however, where much of the problem with, say, illegal immigration or the threat of terrorism could be solved or mitigated with a national ID card, we scream bloody murder about government overreach and control. Yet at the same time, so many of us willingly hand over personal data to Facebook and so many other services.

Well, except for those who are off the grid. But it's getting harder and harder to be off the grid. The grid has a way of finding you.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Put them all together they spell Mofo

I used to be a huge fan of The Simpsons, but somewhere around the tenth year or so it really lost its way. After several years wandering in the wilderness, it has returned from the abyss, though it still has not reached the lofty heights of satire and wit of its heyday in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, The Simpsons Movie was well done (I half suspect they were saving their best material for the film) and it still occasionally makes me laugh out loud or remark on its cleverness. I don't watch it as religiously as I once did, but I still try to catch it.

Yeah, yeah. Kushibo needs to stop explaining what he watches and why (PBS's Newshour: your best bet for comprehensive and objective news coverage in America). Anyway, my point (and yes, I do have one), is that in the season opener, "The Falcon and the D'Ohman," The Simpsons had their guest flashbacking (it's a word now!) to when he was forced to write musicals praising the Dear Leader.

The flashback includes the opening of the musical, which starts with a young and vibrant Kim Jong-il (not sure how back the flashback flashes) getting off a bus in Pyongyang on his way to the palace, where a bystander tells him he's too benevolent to be the leader (said bystander is now making eel wallets for export in an undisclosed camp in North Hamgyŏng Province).

But Dear Leader-to-be proves he is by no means too benevolent, as he presents a chorus to sing his praises, as it were. To the theme of "M-O-T-H-E-R (A Word That Means the World To Me)," here are the lyrics:

"K" is for Korea, just the north part.
"I" is for the Internet he bans.
"M" is for the millions that are missing.
"J" is for a human-tasting jam.
"O" is for "Oh, boy, we love our Leader!"
"N" is for the best Korea, North!
"G" is for "Gee whiz, we love our Leader!"

And the cringe-worthy but cleverly satirical lyrics cut off right there, segueing into a bit about whether Mrs Krabappel should be dating Principal Skinner or Ned Flanders ("Twilight" for Gen-Xers, I guess).

If I got a bit creative, I could finish it with, "I" is for the idiots who fund him, and "L" is for lost family we mourn. Okay, so that is a bit of a downer ending, but in my defense, it is North Korea.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

The view from Pyongyang

With the death of Libya's deposed strongman Moammar Kadafi, perhaps this is as good a time as any to revisit what we've learned. Or rather, what the Pyongyang regime has learned. We've talked about this before, the lessons Pyongyang can glean from Libya.

In the recent past, I have said that the DPRK leadership has learned two things. From the Jasmine Revolution: Control information technology like your life depends on it, because it really does. From Libya's recent concessions with the West: Never, never, never, never give up (your nukes).

But now that Kadafi has been chased into a hole just like Saddam Hussein and then shot, let's address a third lesson.

I have suggested, and still do, that one of the things for Kim Jong-il to learn is that maybe it's better to take a deal:
I have long advocated that the powers-that-be in Seoul, Washington, Tokyo, and perhaps Beijing have on the table the same type of deal for North Korea's ruling elite, should disgruntlement with the regime ever erupt into a full-blown challenge to its authority.

As hard as it might be to stomach, it might make for a far smoother demise of the DPRK if Kim Jong-il, his family, his inner circle, etc., are just simply allowed to leave. If they are allowed to make an orderly play for the exits, it might mean less bloodshed (including attempts to attack the South or Japan in a desperate last-ditch attempt to rally the North Korean people), and it might also mean a quicker departure and thus a speedier end to the regime.
This is an important lesson for the Kim Dynasty because when things start to head downward, they do so at an accelerated 9.8 meters-per-second-per-second. The Norks are already trying their darndest to keep information out, particularly information about the Jasmine Revolution. North Koreans who are forcibly repatriated or voluntarily return are persona non grata with the regime, while average citizens are restricted from traveling even to neighboring counties lest they spread gossip or dissent.

But dictators across the Arab world also thought they had things under control, including Colonel Kadafi, and now he's dead. The same thing is plausible in North Korea, given the right circumstances. And if it comes down to that, take the deal, Mr Kim. Because they will hunt you down, they will find you, and you (and possibly your family) will end up dead.

The Mongolian steppe's looking pretty good right now, eh?


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

PBS Newshour on President Lee's and President Obama's chummy visit to Detroit

I've long said that PBS's Newshour is probably the single best source of news in the United States, and when it came to ROK President Lee Myungbak's visit to Washington DC and Michigan, they have not let me down. If you want to get a useful, objective, and meaningful overview of Lee's trip to the US and what it all means, this is where you'll find it.

The eight-minute piece covers all the bases, from the recently ratified free-trade agreement to the challenges the two close allies face with North Korea. (After you listen to them discuss North Korea, go read this inspiring piece I wrote on what we can do about North Korea.)

As an added bonus, the Korea-US trade relationship is also discussed in the opening of this piece on the politics of job creation in the US.

Oh, I forgot to editorialize a bit on the way the PBS reporter grossly mispronounces "Cheonan." Anyone who reads this blog knows that I'm an advocate for the McCune-Reischauer system of Romanization that was made official in preparation for the 1988 Seoul Olympics but which was replaced by the current "Revised" Romanization (a throwback to a failed older system) in preparation for the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup. You can get a taste for some of my reasons in this lengthy comment.

Though many don't care for writing breves over the o and u to get ŏ and ŭ, the eo and eu that have replaced them are far worse options (explained in more detail here). Reading "Cheonan," the reporter (just past the 2:30 mark) as chee-OH-nahn. Did you catch that? She looked at eo and thought it was ee-oh, not uh or the o in son or computer. Instead of 천안 (or even 초난), we got 치난.

Romanization fail. She seems to get it better a little later when she pronounces the vowels in Yŏnpyŏng-do as just one syllable. She's still off, but I'd say she's closer, and I'm guessing she was reading "Yonpyong" instead of "Yeonpyeong" (I don't pretend to think McCune-Reischauer will, with or without breves, make people magically pronounce the 어 and 으 perfectly correctly every time, but it will be far closer than eo and eu).

I really need to get going on my uber post on the superiority of McCune-Reischauer, especially if they really decide to scrap Revised Romanization (Brian doesn't agree with me).


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Doori Chung speaks with the WaPo

The Washington Post highlights 1.5-generation Korean-American Doori Chung, the designer of the dress worn by First Lady Michelle Obama to the state dinner to honor visiting South Korean President Lee Myungbak.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Penny unwise

The Los Angeles Times has an opinion piece on a proposal — yet again — to eliminate the penny, which has come to be a boondoggle:
A dollar bill, as we all know too well, is a fleeting thing. Not just because it leaves our hands so much more easily than it returns but because, as it changes hands, it wears out within about three years, and often sooner. A coin's life span, by contrast, averages 30 years. That's why several members of Congress are suggesting phasing out the dollar bill entirely and replacing it with a coin. The production savings could add up to $5.5 billion over those three decades, proponents say.

Coins are bulkier, but at least vending machines wouldn't spit them back out at us for having untidy corners or a crease here or there.

But if Congress wants to save money on money, there's no reason to stop at the dollar bill. The U.S. Treasury has been nickel-and-dimed for years on the production of nickels and, well, pennies, both of which cost more to produce than they're worth. The cost of a penny is volatile because it depends on the metals market — pennies are made of copper-plated zinc — but figures for 2010 put the price of producing 1 cent at close to 2 cents, meaning that the government loses a cent for every one it makes. With 7 billion pennies manufactured per year, that's almost $70 million lost annually.
I really like posts about money. And the penny is something I've long wondered about, including yesterday when Target handed me $9.94 in cash and coin for a shirt I returned.

It makes sense to retire the penny (the LAT article notes that this is done at US military bases such as Yongsan Garrison, where I'm completely happy with the situation), but I think the nickel is still valuable enough to keep it going. If anything, making the dime the smallest denomination of money might cause a creeping-up of perceived cheapness. What costs a dollar now — a hundred pennies — would be only ten dimes, maybe even with no second decimal place, and that psychological change might make some retailers offer things that are now $1 for an increased price of $1.2 or $1.3. This will have a push effect from below, causing prices in general to creep upward.

Mark my words, it will be a future installment on the Freakanomics podcast.

And if the nickel is that expensive to make, let's make them out of whatever we're making the pennies that will no longer be around. We'll call them "zincs" and we can grind them up and make tea when we feel a cold coming on.

As for dollar coins as a solution, we have tried that and it's been kinda sorta a failure. Sure, the Susan B. Anthony dollars looked remarkably similar to quarters (darn you, GW and your girlish locks!), but the Sacajawea dollars were cool-looking, distinctive, and practical. Yet you hardly see them around. Maybe if there were no paper-based Washingtons at all, it would be different (but it would probably lead to increased demand for $2 bills).


Friday, October 14, 2011

Free trade at last! Free trade at last! Thank God Almighty, free trade at last!

Well, not so fast.

The Christian Science Monitor notes the very thing I was about to bring up, that ratification of the FTA by the US Congress is only half of the battle that remained. Now we must get the ROK National Assembly to do the same thing. And as they note, even though everybody's favorite leftist president, the surprisingly pragmatic Roh Moohyun, was in favor of the FTA, many in his party are poised to fight against it:
Estimates of the benefits vary widely, but some analysts in Seoul predict Korean exports to the US will go up 5 or 6 percent and two-way trade might increase by $10 billion – though Korea would still have a highly favorable balance.

The fear of a sharp increase in US farm exports, however, was expected to give Korea’s opposition Democratic Party ammunition for protests even though the party supported it while their late leader, Roh Moo-hyun, was president.

The most sensitive issue is the elimination of tariffs on imports of beef and pork. No one forgets the months of rioting in central Seoul in the summer and early fall of 2008 after Lee agreed, at a meeting at Camp David with George W. Bush, to accept American beef imports, banned for the previous five years amid fears of “Mad Cow” disease.

The tariff on beef, now 40 percent, will be lifted by 2026 and the tariff on pork, 25 percent will be eased until it’s lifted in five years.

Nonetheless, the dominant atmosphere in Washington and Seoul was upbeat after all the debate and haggling since the FTA was signed by negotiators from both countries five years ago.
Expect the chinboistas, as usual, to try to whip up anti-Lee and anti-US sentiment in order to torpedo the FTA and cause as much pain and damage to the administration as possible.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

US ratifies FTA with Korea

Happened today, expected to be signed immediately by President Obama, in time for President Lee Myungbak's visit. Part of a trend of FTAs penned by Republican presidents and then eventually signed by Democratic presidents.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must pore over The Marmot's Hole to find quotes from all the naysayers who said this wouldn't happen.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Orange County Crime Story of the Day:
Death of a cellmate

You may recall this story from this past September, about the Korean-American actor who played  henchman Random Task (a nod to Oddjob) in the Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery movie getting life in prison for a brutal kidnap and rape that occurred two decades ago.

Well, it appears that Mr Jospeph Hyungmin is a suspect in the murder of his own cellmate:
The dead inmate was a parole violator serving a new two-year sentence from San Luis Obispo County for failing to register as a sex offender. He was found dead in the cell he shared with Son before 6 p.m. Monday.

The death was being treated as a homicide, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton said. [HT to White Rice]
I have no idea what sex offense had landed the fifty-year-old cellmate in prison in the first place, but, like rape, execution is not the sentence that was handed out and it is not something we should glibly label as just deserts.

Some might find it ironic, but in my own steadfast opposition to capital punishment, perhaps the only scenario I can think of where execution might be justified is when a lifer such as Mr Son must be stopped from murdering inmates, guards, or visitors to the prison he/she is locked up in.


Occupy Wall Street versus Tea Party

I'm not sure what to make about the headless Occupy Wall Street movement, but I do find it interesting that various Tea Party followers are none too happy about the OWS movement being compared to the Tea Party movement.

The Occupy Wall Street folks are totally different from the Tea Partiers. For starters, the Occupy Wall Street people are a bunch of anarchists, while the Tea Party followers just want to get rid of government.

Or so the joke goes.

According to the above linked article, the Tea Party folks are citing the "safe and clean" Tea Party rallies to contrast with the "lawbreaking troublemakers" in the OWS movement.

I'm not sure how much that holds water, though, when the Tea Party's inspiration itself was an act of breaking and entering, followed by destruction of property. With more than just a tinge of racial scapegoating (they tried to blame it on the Indians).

But I do see a key difference: While both OWS and TP think that things have gone to hell and they're not going to take it anymore, the former may see government action and regulation as the solution to the woes caused by fat cats on Wall Street who largely don't produce anything but get fat on the efforts of others, while the latter thinks that government action and regulation is the bane of the nation's woes which have been caused by fat cats in Washington who don't produce anything but get fat on the efforts of others.

I've used fat too many times in that paragraph.

Why I chose this picture: Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, it depicts being headless, and like the Tea Party, it hearkens back to the 18th century. 


Koreanization hits US advertising?

This "not for women" advertisement for a new Dr Pepper product would be a blatant example of what we call gendered advertising:
Looking for a drink worthy of a man's man? Don't cue that Dos Equis commercial just yet -- the maker of Dr Pepper is rolling out Dr Pepper Ten, a 10-calorie soda with an ad campaign that asserts that the soft drink is "not for women." ...

This isn't the first time food products have blatantly targeted men -- Pocky biscuits, popular in Japan, have a Men's Pocky edition (in blue packaging) as well.

Other diet soft drinks -- such as Coke Zero and Pepsi Max -- have been marketed toward a male audience as well, but perhaps not as aggressively as Dr Pepper Ten, according to the Associated Press. One ad involves wrestling snakes, shooting lasers and engaging in other such 'macho' activities.

"A Facebook page for the drink contains an application that allows it to exclude women from viewing content, which includes games and videos aimed at being 'manly,'" the story explains. "For instance, there's a shooting gallery where you shoot things like high heels and lipstick, for example."

It's not made clear why appealing to men includes using deadly weapons to destroy symbols associated with women.
I wonder what The Grand Narrative would have to say, since he says a lot about this phenomenon in Korean marketing.


Loose change for October 12, 2011

 Economic and business news 
  • The director of the acclaimed and wildly popular Korean War pic Taegǔkki Hwinallimyŏ (Brotherhood) is finishing up a $24 million Korean-Chinese co-production on World War II that will be shown at Cannes in May. I guess Kang Jekyu couldn't work with the Chinese on making another Korean War film: while they might have agreed on the ending, they wouldn't have agreed on the beginning.
 North Korea news and stuff 
  • They hate us, they really hate us: North Korea is threatening to launch "direct fire" over anti-Pyongyang leaflets being sent northward. Having lived in Seoul off and on since I was a teenager, I got used to North Korean bluster, but after the murderous attack on Yŏnpyŏng-do late last year, I'd take it a bit more seriously. Trying to draw attention away from President Lee's visit to the US as the KORUS FTA is signed would be just the kind of thing they'd pull. 
  • South Korea is going to allow 120 firms to restart building five factories in North Korea's Kaesong Industrial Park, just north of the DMZ. This is seen as a sign of easing tensions, but you'll be forgiven if you start thinking, in light of the previous news item, "Whiskey tango foxtrot?!" I know Joshua at One Free Korea does.
  • Writing in the Washington Post, Victor Cha (whose name sounds like the kind of tea they would drink in a Korean-language version of 1984) talks about how denuclearization of North Korea can be achieved, with incentives for good behavior and serious consequences for bad. It is definitely worth a read but I, on the other hand, am not so optimistic, believing we are fooling ourselves into thinking we can effectively shape North Korean policy as long as China is in control and is only interested in keeping North Korea as a buffer zone. But I would love to be proven wrong on that one.
  • Japanese doctors have arrived in North Korea to examine those who were affected by the atomic bombings at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Those who have read this post may recall why there were North Koreans (formerly just Koreans from the northern part of Korea) in blast zone in the first place.
 Other Korea-related stuff 
 Americana and miscellany 
  • The Washington Post notes that ROK President Lee Myungbak will be visiting while the Obama administration's nominee for US Ambassador is being held up. Sung Kim would replace Kathleen Stevens, who remains in Seoul in the meantime. Perhaps Senator Kyl of Arizona thinks that it's not a good idea to have a Korean-born Korean-American representing US interests in Korea? Asking, not saying, but it's not as if kyopo loyalty or the lack thereof has never been raised on the Interwebs before. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


더러운 피 외국놈 wrote (at Scribblings of the Metropolitician):
teaching English in Korea--a country that hated them for being white.
Ahem: teaching English in Korea--a country that hired them for being white.

There. Fixed that for ya.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Google honors "Hangul Day"

Everyone is familiar with the Google doodles, the clever and sometimes elaborate ways that Google changes their standard and simple logo to honor some event or the anniversary of this or that person's birth. (They're tough to make. My one, possibly slightly NSFW attempt is here.)

Well today is October 9, Han•gŭl Day, where in Korea the invention of the Korean "alphabet" is honored on the anniversary of its promulgation in 1443. Koreans are immensely proud of this achievement, which was part of a forward-thinking plan by King Sejong the Great to dramatically expand literacy (Chinese characters were essentially the only means of reading and writing prior to this) and thus allow the spread of knowledge among the masses on all sorts of matters from farming to statecraft to government regulations. If I remember correctly, this day used to be a national holiday, but I might be mixing it up with Arbor Day. (Wikipedia has a nice write-up on Hangul.)

Anyway, this year Google again paid homage to King Sejong the Great with a Hangul-themed Google doodle:

This one is all in Korean. It says 구글, which is the Hangulization of Google, roughly kugŭl. It's kind of nice how the last syllable ends up corresponding with the exact same final element in Han•gŭl, which refers to letters and writing systems. (The han part refers to the Korean people, 한/韓.)

You can see how the Google doodle has evolved over time. In 2005, the second o in Google was replaced by the ㅎ character, not for sound (ㅎ symbolizes h) but only for the similarity in appearance. They could have used the i•ŭng character (ㅇ, which represents -ng or serves as a soundless placeholder), but it wouldn't have been very obvious what they're doing.

In the 2008 Google doodle, the lowercase g is replaced by 글, which applies meaning while neatly replacing the gl with nearly the same pronunciation.

In the 2009 Google doodle, they took to stripping away any actual meaning and just used a mishmash of Hangul characters that roughly mimicked the appearance of the original Google letters. Were you to pronounce this, it would be t-j-m-p-yong-n-t, probably a swear word in some country.

In the 2010 Google doodle, the lowercase g is replaced by han (한), both for meaning and for its kinda sorta squiggly similarity. The lowercase g sees a lot of action this way.

Anyway, all this is kinda cool, but it's mostly just seen by people in Korea or those who use the search engine. Everyone else gets a regular Google, I believe.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Obama a disaster for civil liberties?

In a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley writes that "the election of Barack Obama may stand as one of the single most devastating events in our history for civil liberties":
However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the "just following orders" defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.

But perhaps the biggest blow to civil liberties is what he has done to the movement itself. It has quieted to a whisper, muted by the power of Obama's personality and his symbolic importance as the first black president as well as the liberal who replaced Bush. Indeed, only a few days after he took office, the Nobel committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize without his having a single accomplishment to his credit beyond being elected. Many Democrats were, and remain, enraptured.

It's almost a classic case of the Stockholm syndrome, in which a hostage bonds with his captor despite the obvious threat to his existence. Even though many Democrats admit in private that they are shocked by Obama's position on civil liberties, they are incapable of opposing him. Some insist that they are simply motivated by realism: A Republican would be worse.
Hmm... I didn't vote for Obama (but will do so in 2012 if any but maybe two of the current crop of Republican candidates gets the nomination), but I can see this is a case of selective memory. Let's see, he ended Don't Ask, Don't Tell, effectively ended the executive branch's defense of the Defense of Marriage Act's proscription of same-sex marriage. Indeed, I see some expansion of civil liberties in the Obama universe.

Y'know, the guy's not Superman. He can't do everything and still have political capital to win the other battles. The guy passed a major health care reform bill that, though imperfect and in need of tweaking whether it works well or not, everyone knew would bring out the opposition in full force at midterm elections. If a Republican is elected, we can say bye-bye to the Affordable Care Act and sit back while the Republicans do the same thing to fix the gaping head wound that is our healthcare "system" after they defeated Hillarycare in 1993-94: absolutely nothing.

So, yeah, maybe the civil libertarians will get more of what they want in a second term, but probably not all of it. Wait until the two wars have wound down and see what can be revisited. Like it or not, that's the way it works.

In the meantime, don't even pretend, as Ralph Nader did, that there is no difference between the Dems and the new crop of Republicans* that have taken root since the new millennium. The Iraq War to vanquish al Qaeda (remember that justification?!) — rabidly opposed by the man Ralph Nader helped defeat, Al Gore — is Exhibit A of that.

* The Republican Party has lurched so far to the right you can't see them because of the curvature of the Earth. I want back the fiscally conservative but socially responsible and pragmatist GOP of old. Bring back Nixonian Republicanism so that I don't have to fear for the country's future survivability when/if the Democrats lose!


Saturday, October 8, 2011

UPDATED: First pi, now pizza pie

Wow. I guess I should add pizza to my list of things Korea invented.

(With the Dokdo posters in the background, it's clear someone knows how to poke fun at some of the Korea-as-irrational-nationalists meme.)

(HT to you know who you are.)

It turns out that the Grand Narrative has a post on this, which is an interesting read even if I don't necessarily agree with his opening paragraph:
To put it mildly, Koreans don’t often use satire and irony in their popular culture. And when non-Koreans do? Hell, that can even get them deported.
For starters, it seems there are a number of films that employ a great deal of satire and irony (from The Host to The President's Last Bang, though I may be defining irony different from him. My own attempts at satire and irony have been called out by my critics, so I could just be a loon. To be honest, for the longest time I thought irony is what we do after we finish the washee.

As for the Babopalooza deportation* issue, I think the case can be made that they got kicked out not for making fun of Korea (which identifiable people do all the time on blogs) but for violating the restrictive terms of their visa, just as thousands of people have gotten nabbed, fined, deported, or otherwise punished for. I mean, the same law back in the late 1990s prevented me from going to grad school while working full time until I finally managed to get the right visa (when new visas offered more opportunities for me). No one at my grad school was "making money" from attending grad school (it was the opposite!) but Immigration still came in to enforce the law. The folks at Immigration do take these things seriously, as many can attest, and saying that they were persecuted for their content is like, well, saying that whatever bad thing happened to you happened because you're a foreigner (meme #81).

In other words, this isn't [insert humorless authoritarian regime here].

But be careful, because in the opening of the above fauxcumentary [insert humorless authoritarian regime here] was poked fun of as well. They and their obsession with what is claimed by Koreans to be from Korea. Really, someone did a great job mining some Internet memes here.

Japan Focus takes an interesting and scholarly look at the Mr Pizza viral ad and what it all means, including how Japanese interpreted it. The Marmot's Hole has a post about that post, which had focused on an earlier Marmot's Hole post.

* No one was actually deported, according to the above Busanhaps link:
First, no one was fired or deported due to the police investigation. However, several participants who were due to start new teaching jobs the following March, found that their schools were unable to process their visa applications due to the investigation, and therefore the schools had to withdraw the job offers. Unable to start a new job, some of these people had no choice but to leave the country when their old visas expired (I believe there were three such cases). Strangely, those of us who were renewing or extending contracts and visas at our current schools had no problem, and could stay in Korea. Of the people who were forced to leave, all eventually returned to Korea after a few months when the investigation was completed, and found just as good, or better jobs.
I'd say, "put that in your pipe and smoke it," but Lord knows what problems smoking anything other than tobacco would bring in Korea.


Samsung offers a tribute to Steve Jobs

Despite the lawsuits that have developed into full-blown rancor lately, Samsung took time to offer a brief bit of condolence to Steve Jobs, the founder of Samsung's biggest rival and biggest client.

From the Los Angeles Times:
In Samsung's brief statement, which was widely reported Thursday, company CEO Choi Gee-sung said, "Steve Jobs introduced numerous revolutionary changes to the information technology industry and was a great entrepreneur. His innovative spirit and remarkable accomplishments will forever be remembered by people around the world."

For months, Apple and Samsung have been in an international patent battle: Suits and countersuits have been filed across Europe and in the U.S., Japan and Australia.

On Wednesday, before the news of Jobs' death, Samsung said it planned to file paperwork with courts in France and Italy to request a preliminary sales ban on Apple's iPhone 4S in those countries.

On Tuesday, Apple rejected an offer from Samsung to end its patent suits in Australia -- a step that could have possibly moved the two companies toward reconciliation in other countries as well.
I hope these two frenemies can get their act together. Maybe this can be the olive branch they need.

In the end, I don't see this ongoing lawsuit crap ending well for either of them. It's not good for Apple sales (in addition to Steve Jobs's increasingly deteriorating health since he stepped down as CEO, I believe the legal entanglements may have forced Apple to hold back a bit on its recent iPhone release) and therefore it's not good for the major supplier of Apple's innards.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a number of others in Korea offering kind words in honor of Mr Jobs.


Scenes from A(la Moana) Mall
(Or: 10월의 크리스마스)

So I spent much of the day yesterday at Ala Moana Shopping Center, Honolulu's premier mall and a mecca for tourists (Japanese and Korean in particular). Armed with my iPhone 4, I like taking pictures of the mundane stuff all around me, though some of it seems downright iconic at times.

Our first stop was Sears, where "M" was shopping for a golfing-related gift for her mother. While Sears's selection of cutesy golf stuff was extremely limited (i.e., nothing), they were already going full force with Christmas paraphernalia. Mind you, it's October — the beginning of October, not even Columbus Day — and this is what's on display. I guess they really want to corner the market early on being the "Christmas Shop."

I actually did go into the Apple Store to see if they knew what time on October 7 they would start pre-orders for the iPhone 4S (I'm not getting one, but "M" wants to upgrade from her two-year-old iPhone 3Gs). I have to admit, I was also curious to see how the Apple Store might be honoring Steve Jobs. As I expected, there was a picture with people laying leis around it.

I'm guessing the Ala Moana powers-that-be, who don't even like you plugging in your laptop in the food court because it distracts from the aesthetic appeal of Panda Express and some burger shop behind you, may have been telling the Apple Store folks to keep the outdoor memorial low key and as neat as possible. Actually, the above setup was originally on the ground, but by the time we did our respective shopping and came back this way, someone had thought to put a bench out for the picture. By the way, we weren't the only ones taking pictures of this.

And then there's this. I wear a small or medium at Old Navy, but I couldn't help but notice this XXL shirt. Please note what is written just below the plus-sized size.

Oh, and kudos to Old Navy for not making everything in China.


Friday, October 7, 2011

"How to Make the Most of Your Life in Korea... or Anywhere" at The Sonagi Consortium

I'm a little late on this, but newly added Sonagi Consortium blogger itissaid addresses ways to keep a healthy attitude when living in Korea (or any country), along with a tinge of criticism of those who end up being kvetchpats. 

Follow THIS LINK for the post by itissaid.

Follow THIS LINK if you'd like to be a contributor for The Sonagi Consortium (even just an occasional one).


Mac book prose

The front page of Apple's website the day after Steve Jobs's death

Following his death, there has been an outpouring of kind words for Steve Jobs, an alternatingly kind and iron-fisted visionary credited with bringing us the personal computer and changing the way we do so many things in our daily lives (and the way we think), even if we don't use Macs, iPhones, iPods, or other Apple products directly. There is clearly a huge amount of interest and good will surrounding the man.

But some of that goes too far. Courtesy of Elizabeth Woyke at Forbes, we get word that one publisher has frantically upped the publication date of their book so they can ride this wave of interest following Mr Jobs's untimely demise:
Called I, Steve: Steve Jobs In His Own Words, it was originally set to publish in March 2012. When Jobs resigned as Chief Executive of Apple, the publisher, Agate Publishing, moved publication up to November 15, 2011. Now Illinois-based Agate is working to get the book to stores by the end of next week or the following week, which would be several weeks to a month earlier than the already-amended publication date.

“We’re doing everything we can to rush the book,” said Agate President Doug Seibold in an interview. I, Steve’s 160 pages are complete. The next steps lie in the hands of the book’s printer and distributor: laminating the book’s cover, which features a color photo of Jobs, binding the book, shipping it to warehouses and, finally, delivering it to stores.

Seibold says the rush is a response to increased interest in the book. He estimates that orders from online retailers like, traditional booksellers and wholesalers more than doubled in the past 24 hours as news of Jobs’ passing became public.
Maybe I'm a bit old school or just don't have the drive to make gobs and gobs of dough, but I can’t help but think that this rush to make money off the man’s death is a wee bit tacky.

But that’s me. I guess some people just think different.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

KORUS FTA passes first hurdle

A congressional committee in the US overwhelmingly approved (we're talking 31 to 5) the free trade agreement with South Korea, paving the way for full approval, perhaps sometime next week.

With the Republicans promising to later support job retraining for those who lose work due to the impact of the FTAs, this is one of the few issues where the White House, the Republicans, and Congressional Democrats are in general agreement.


Steve Jobs dies

Steve Jobs, the arbiter elegantiae of all that is cool in the digital world, has passed away at the young age of fifty-six.

I've bought more stuff (dollar-wise) from that guy than anyone else, including Mr Honda and Mr Chung.

Requiescat in pace, Mr Jobs.

This succinct email was sent from my iPhone.

Here is a post from August discussing how Mr Jobs's health problems forced his resignation.

Anyway, the wrong celebrity died from pancreatic cancer.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

These are not the Android killers you're looking for.

Bear with me; there's a Korea connection to these two news items to ponder.

First, Apple finally came out with its latest iteration of the iPhone. But instead of the iPhone 5 that was supposed to be teardrop-shaped and wafer thin, run 4G, work as a near-field communications device that could pay for your latte, and fellate you after a hard day at work, they merely got a monstrous speed boost, a far better camera and optics, and a very cool voice-activated assistant named Siri that will help you navigate the phone and find things out (using the Internet) while you're driving.

But since it looks exactly like the iPhone 4, released in June 2010, Apple fanboys and Android users pretending to be Apple fanboys have flooded any and all Mac-related sites and posts with nasty comments about what a disappointment this was. In short, they were disappointed.

And then there's the Occupy Wall Street movement. By design, it has no leader, no list of demands, and no ideology, but they're mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore. Meanwhile, in another key development, the Obama administration is extremely close to having the free-trade agreement with South Korea ratified.

So here's what I'm wondering. About the first story, just why didn't Apple come up with a wholly different iPhone 5? Sure, the iPhone 4S follows the pattern set with the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3Gs, but those were a year apart, not a year and three months (think of smart years as being like dog years).

Is it possible that Samsung's and Apple's increasingly nasty legal brouhaha forced Apple to wait on a new phone design and greater capabilities? Did Apple hold back this time around because of fears that Samsung cold take Apple to court if they came out with a new design? Is Apple waiting for resolution of their issues with Samsung (and perhaps a few others) before they come out in full force with a new design and major new features? Are their problems with Samsung forcing them to find a new supplier of some of their components, resulting in a slowdown in the New Products Pipeline?

And then, what about the KORUS free-trade agreement? Obama is going to get Democratic votes for the FTA primarily because he acknowledged that some Americans will lose their jobs even if there is a net gain, and they need job training. For now, the FTA's ratification seems a done deal, also because the less palatable FTAs with Colombia and Panama will be considered separately.

But is it possible that the gathering crowd of malcontents on Wall Street will turn against the Obama White House when the president starts pushing for passage of the FTA? I wonder if this will hold things up, enough that the FTA won't be ratified by the time ROK President Lee Myungbak comes for a visit.