Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kim Jong-il rides to hell in a Lincoln

More on this later (serious family issues on the Mainland right now) but I think it may be highly significant that we are being allowed to see so much of the Dear Leader's funeral, as well as the fact that his hearse was a 1976 (?) Lincoln.

This succinct email was sent from my iPhone.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Monster Island

Expect a return to regular blogging after the holidays (my dad has been in the hospital, too, but he's okay now).

And this nativity scene was not staged. I swear I found it that way.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Dear Dead Leader

Holy crap! It's a Christmakkuh miracle! I turn on my phone after a six-hour flight to California, and my inbox is flooded with news reports and private emails informing me that Kim Jong-il is dead, and why haven't I written anything about it.

I'll write more on this when I get settled, but I'm guessing in the next days or weeks we will find out if Kim Jong-ŭn really is (or is not) The Kim Who Wasn't There™.

(from here and here)

Wow. Where to begin. I guess if you want the latest news, you can go to the Los Angeles Times or perhaps The Marmot's Hole. Everyone is asking what will happen next. The answer is, beyond Kim Jong-il receiving some sort of unending torture in an inner circle of Hell, no one really knows.

Right now, everyone is looking at Kim Jong-ŭn. And Kim Jong-ŭn is crapping his pants. He's not even thirty and he's supposedly been tapped to lead the country. Right.

If you don't already know how I feel, read this and follow the links that tell you all about The Kim Who Wasn't There. Although The Marmot's Hole is reporting that Kim Jong-ŭn was "named... as his father’s successor," I'll believe it when I see it.

Before I go any further, let me tell you of two posts I was working on but was waiting until vacation (which began today) to write. Bear in mind, they are going to make me sound very, very nutty. The first was going to be a follow-up to my original "The Kim Who Wasn't There" post, basically a similar analysis of how much the KCNA (North Korea's central news agency) actually mentions Kim Jong-ŭn, which is not much. I was timing the analysis for the week around the first anniversary of him being named co-chair of whatever committee it is that he's pretending to run.

The second was a bit more out of left field. I was actually sitting down to analyze how much Kim Jong-il travels to give guidance and how much that keeps him away from Pyongyang. I was doing this in order to suggest that — get ready for this — Kim Jong-il might be a mere figurehead himself. Wow, wouldn't that ever be a trip (literally and figuratively)?

Some, of course, might think that really it was one of the KJI doppelgänger doing all the guidance, but I was starting to wonder if KJI really had all the power we have supposed he did. After all, the guy apparently nearly died from a stroke two or three years ago, and then went through a long recovery. Just who the hell was his Edith Wilson, if he had one at all? Maybe, just maybe, the ruling generals or nappŭn nomenklatura (see how I did that?) sorta got together and formed a junta or an oligarchy or something.

And where would that leave supposed designated heir Kim Jong-ŭn? Maybe they really do need a figurehead. Maybe they need a uniting force and a source of legitimacy. Maybe they have decided that Kim Jong-il's only son who is not crazy or possibly gay but is a team player must be the figurehead.

And if that's true, then my speculation that Kim Jong-ŭn would end up wielding no real power is still true. Not that he (or his supporting faction) wouldn't try. But just what can a figurehead do? I have wondered aloud if Kim Jong-un could possibly be North Korea's Gorbachev. Maybe the English-speaking, Swiss-educated KJU might just have some ideas of his own about opening up the country, and even his nominal power might be just enough to nudge the regime in that direction.

It all comes down to China.
But ultimately, whether or not Kim Jong-un will be in power as a figurehead, a leader with real power, or none at all, will depend on China. In the past, I and others have spoken about the ominous prospect of China working to turn North Korea into Inner Cháoxiān Autonomous Prefecture. China has a great deal of control over the DPRK and it does not want to relinquish it. It certainly does not want the Koreans to unify and have a US military presence at its backdoor.

And so China has been doing whatever it can to prop up the North Korean government. They started doing this during the Korean War and they've been doing it since. But lately they themselves have found the Pyongyang regime belligerent and unwieldy, even an embarrassment to Beijing. And don't think for a minute that China wouldn't give their blessing to even a transfer of power to a figurehead unless they had assurances that the post-KJI North Korea would be better behaved.

And here is where I'm actually kinda sorta glad that China is holding the reins (at least for the time being), because China has been prodding North Korea to follow a path similar to Deng-era China, and to integrate North Korea (economically at least) with China's northeastern provinces (i.e., a process I call the Manchurianization of North Korea).

North Korea has been opening in ways thought unimaginable just a few years ago. North Korea has brought in cell phone service, eventually becoming the world's fastest growing mobile market (more posts here and here). News reports said recently that they topped 1 million (in a country of about 22 million).

There are also things like Western-style coffee shops, television commercials for beer, and other trappings of the West as seen through Chinese eyes. In other words, China has lately been trying very hard to re-make North Korea in its own image.

And just what does all that mean? China does not allow a whole lot of dissent. Two decades after Tianamen Square, China is still authoritarian. And if North Korea follows a Dengesque path, you should expect North Korea to also be authoritarian as long as China is. Unless...

What if North Korea goes off China's game plan?
The only thing that could change the trajectory of North Korea being pulled toward Deng-era reforms that would bring it closer and closer to China would be unification. The question now is whether that can happen or not. The generals and the politicos in North Korea have no interest in giving up their own power and possibly risking arrest, imprisonment, and even execution which might result if North Korea allowed itself to be absorbed by a democratic South Korea. (I think there's a way to convince them while keeping that in mind, but that's another post for another time.)

But what if there is an uprising? What if Kim Jong-un just isn't cutting it as a figurehead or a real leader? What if the people have caught a whiff of the jasmine revolution and think now is as good a time as any to make a real change? Don't forget that in 2009 the regime dealt a body blow to almost everyone in the country — including many who had once felt quite loyal — with the Great Currency Obliteration. That has been, I believe, a real game changer in people's attitudes toward the regime, a moment where they suddenly realized, "These people aren't on my side."

Kim Jong-il died at a time when there are already food shortages, and the bitter winter will only make it worse. This is a precarious time to be changing leadership. Beijing itself may not be able to control what results. The biggest thing they have going their way, however, is that much of the population lives in rural pockets that are kept from communicating with each other. If there is a North Korean Spring, à la the Arab world, it will only be because of some very diligent people risking their lives to bring the message to the masses wherever they are.

So, in conclusion, with 3.5 hours of sleep and having just come off six hours of flying, these are my thoughts. I still think Kim Jong-un's faction does not have his power solidified, and I think there's a good chance he will either be squeezed out or allowed to be merely a figurehead. China will continue to push for reforms that make North Korea more like Deng-era China, but a popular uprising could easily thwart their plans to integrate the DPRK more with the Northeastern Provinces.

What would a North Korean spring look like? How would China react? Could we get China to back off a bit by (a) agreeing to keep their port facilities at Rajin and (b) promising that the US military will not be stationed in any territory that had been the Democratic People's Republic of Korea?

So much to think about. And I'll probably rewrite a lot of this in the morning.

Before I start, I'd like to add a few links to other blogs, who are as interested in this story as I. Make no mistake: this is the biggest story of the year and, depending on how things go, possibly the decade. So here are links from the biggies that cover North Korea regularly: One Free Korea, and Daily NK (which is like a news service, so just go there and see all the KJI-related articles).

I will forgive Asiapundit brazenly linking to themselves, just because that's something I would do, too, so go to this link and read the Marmot's Hole-worthy post they put up (frankly, others doing that meant I didn't have to, and I could thus concentrate on my theses about what might happen in the future — hint: the answer is likely to involve continued Manchurianization). Roboseyo has some thoughts. If you know of any others I've missed, please feel free to provide them in the comments.

And soon we'll start hearing from the experts on North Korea, as well as the pundits who liken themselves as experts on North Korea. And then we'll have a new round of blog posts on people talking about how North Korea expert Selig Harrison is nucking futs (and possibly on the take?).

Now for a couple things I forgot to mention in my bleary-eyed post from last night.

First, a huge dollop of honesty: I may not know what the fudge I'm talking about. Nobody does. And five, ten years from now, a lot of us will consider ourselves lucky if no one was keeping score.

Some honest punditry.
But here's where I get a little more honest: I was completely wrong about what would happen with North Korea back when the elder Kim died, and if only I'd been blogging in the mid-1990s, you'd know that.

See, I've been a news junkie ever since late elementary school, when I delivered newspapers. And that plus our own connection to Korea meant my young self would follow news on North Korea long before Kim Il-sung kicked the bucket in 1994.

And I was confident back then that Kim Il-sung — who at that point had ruled the country for four decades — was the only thing in the way of unification. So my late teen self actually bet someone fifty dollars (where was my late teen self getting that kinda money? ) that within five years of the Great Leader's Death, the two Koreas would be unified.

How's that prediction working out for you, late teen kushibo? (Good thing the person I bet kinda forgot; for a teen, that was Romney betting money.)

And so this is just me being honest. I was optimistic and perhaps naïve, but the thing is we all were. But there were so many things we didn't account for, such as Kim Jong-il's own ruthlessness (seriously, the guy looked like some sort of fat Korean Bill Gates, and who could imagine Bill Gates being evil?), and China's own willingness to support evil in order to maintain a satellite state (we thought they got that out of their system in 1950).

So now maybe we're overcompensating. We think North Korea's "leadership" doesn't have the capacity to move beyond dynastic dictatorship, and we worry that North Korea's people can't do anything but cower in fear. And we now understand that China will do whatever it can to ensure that North Korea doesn't become part of the string of pearls the United States intends to use as a choker.

But are we overcompensating too much? (By definition, any overcompensation is too much.) Is North Korea something that even Beijing cannot tame enough to use for their purposes?

A bulimic state cannot stand?
And that leads me to the other thing I forgot to mention last night: the purges. Right now on Capitol Hill in the US, we've got the leaders of Freddie and Fannie up there talking about charges that they'd misled the public. Now imagine that they were in fear that they would be taken out back and shot, and their families rounded up. That's what happened with the guy who was the scapegoat for the botched currency reform.

And that's just one example. You move way up the ladder, having been noticed for your competence but patiently and obsequiously playing the sycophant, and then you risk losing it all on a whim to a bullet through the skull when you piss off the wrong person.

"I can't work under these conditions!" is what you want to scream, but that's a guaranteed trip to the salt mines. So maybe you just wait, bide your time, until the old man's son is dead, and then we'll retake the asylum and set things right. Right? Right?

Notice a resemblance?
I mean, we don't want to have to wait until the son of the old man's son is also dead, do we? Junior the First, if he really was in charge, was only interested in selling off the country and buying coke. Sure, he kept all of us in Pyongyang living large, but we were always living in fear of the boom coming down. Maybe if we get rid of his son, we can actually move toward being a normal country where we are still the elite. Right?

They've just got to be thinking that way up there. I mean, Junior Junior has no real knowledge of how to run a country. He's weak, and possibly as whimsical as his dad, and that's a recipe for disaster, right? Best to off the kid — or put him in a figurehead role — and move on. But will the powerful Kim Jongsuk (his aunt) allow for that? Maybe we need to wait for her to croak.

So what I'm getting at is that the generals and the top bureaucrats have a deeply personal incentive to not stick with the status quo. And that could upend whatever plans China has (or maybe bolster them, depending on China's plans and how they feel about Round 3 of a Kim Dynasty).

Okay, I'm starting to blab again. So many thoughts in my brain right now, and I need some breakfast.

(And say what you will, but the flood of tears for the Dear Leader that will be seen on video clip after video clip, some of them from deep human emotion and some of them crocodile, were exactly what happened when the Great Leader seventeen years ago. Do not be alarmed, do not be shocked, do not adjust your set.)


Friday, December 16, 2011

RE-UPDATED: Shots fired at Chinese consulate in Los Angeles

You just know this place is filled with lead paint.

AFP is reporting that the person arrested was not Korean but, in fact, a Chinese-born activist:
A Chinese-born activist has been booked for attempted murder over a shooting at China's consulate in Los Angeles after a human rights protest there, police said Friday.

Jeff Baoliang Zhang, a 67-year-old originally from Shanghai, turned himself in to police a few hours after Thursday's shooting, which left a number of bullet holes in the front of the diplomatic building.

"A lone gunman fired several shots at the local Chinese consulate after participating in a protest at the location earlier in the day," the Los Angeles Police Department said in a statement.

"Acting independently from the other protesters, he opened fire on the consulate building and then drove away in his car."

The LAPD said it appeared the suspect was acting alone.
So the possibility I mentioned turned out not to be the case. And for that, I'm glad. It would be very, very, very bad if South Koreans or Korean-Americans are avenging someone's death by attacking or trying to kill random people who have nothing to do with the murder.

Don't get me wrong, the ROK Coast Guard and the ROK Navy need to use adequate force to patrol and protect South Korean waters and South Korean people, but shooting up the consulate has nothing to do with that. We must take the high road, and I'm glad we can still do that.

UPDATE 1: is reporting that the person who turned himself in is "a 65-year-old Chinese man with grey or white hair." Frankly, I don't know if they wrote Chinese because they know his specific ethnicity or if they are assuming so because the police description was of an "Asian" man and there have been ongoing protests involving mostly Chinese people. Having been in journalism for a while, I'm skeptical: we hope it would be the former but it is, more often than not, something like the latter.

I'm not saying I'm right, that it is a Korean angered by the Coast Guardsman's murder; I think it is equally possible that it's a Falun Gong protester or even a random drive-by. But the timing with the recent Korean-Chinese tension makes it quite a coincidence. Frankly, though, despite having written this post, I'm hoping it's not a kyopo or KoKo.

Though I haven't seen the person identified yet, reports are saying a white-haired Asian in his 50s or 60s is being sought was arrested after turning himself in (for earlier pre-arrest reports, see here, herehere, and here). He had apparently been protesting in front of the building before shooting at a consulate security guard named Cipriano Gutierrez. Nine shots were reportedly fired.

Given the escalation of tension* between Beijing and Seoul over the murder of a ROK Coast Guardsman by Chinese fish pirates, including something being fired at the ROK embassy in Beijing and someone trying to ram the PRC embassy in Seoul with his car, one can't help but wonder if this is related to all that.

Seriously, if this is the case, this is getting out of hand. China has behaved badly when it comes to this whole issue of Chinese boats behaving violently when they're caught illegally fishing in ROK waters or the South Korean EEZ, but none of that warrants shooting at the consulate. The folks at the PRC consulate in L.A. have nothing to do with any of this.

* Tensions include a Chinese protester peeing on a flag, though I'm not convinced that wasn't just a coincidence that the flag happened to be where he was peeing. I mean, in Seoul there are flags everywhere, and that's exactly where Chinese pee. Ha ha! I keed! I keed! I keed because I love... to keed!

South Koreans protesting in front of Chinese embassy in Seoul.
Their signs read, "Forget Dorothy... Surrender Toto!"
There, no one can accuse me of not providing
equal time on the whole national mockery thing. 


Crunky chocolate bar, a Japanese original?

Over at ROK Drop and Japan Probe there is a discussion on the supposed propensity for Koreans to copy Japanese products.

I've written on this in the past, but the upshot is this:
  • This has been a chronic problem in Korea that still lingers (but to a much smaller degree than before). In the past most of the copied products were not sold in Korea at all, so represented no real loss to the Japanese (or other countries') business, but now, even though it's a much smaller problem, the potential losses may be more acute. 
  • Many of the examples provided, however, have actually been legitimately licensed copies, owing to a number of commercial partnerships across the Tsushima Strait (Otsuka Pharmaceuticals in particular has its fingers in many pots in Korea).
  • In many respects, some Japanese companies are no better. Witness the case of Nara Dreamland or the Crunky chocolate bar. In fact, for the longest time I thought it was a Korean company that had done the Nestle Crunch knockoff, but it was a Japanese one (Lotte Japan, that is, though one could argue it's as much a Korean company as Japanese). 
I snapped the picture of the Crunky bar just a few weeks ago in the Ala Moana branch of the Nijiya Supermarket, which has some killer Hiroshimayaki.

Anyway, this would be a more interesting topic if it hadn't come to be dominated by Korea bashers (much the same as what happened with my post on the Corea and Korea spellings).


Thursday, December 15, 2011


Pyongyang is going to capitalist hell in a hand basket. They've apparently opened their first (?) Western-style coffee shop, which means decadence is just around the corner.

From the Korea Herald:
North Korea has introduced a Western coffee shop in Pyongyang, a source said Tuesday, the latest case of embracing foreign cuisine in a country grappling with chronic food shortages.

The North has been struggling to keep outside influences from seeping into the isolated country out of fear that they could eventually pose a threat to leader Kim Jong-il’s autocratic rule.

The North has routinely called on its 24 million people to guard against Western influences, describing them as part of psychological warfare designed to topple the communist regime.

The government, however, has set up Western-style restaurants in partnership with foreign companies and an international relief agency since 2005, according to the source.

In October, a coffee shop opened inside a national museum near Kim Il-sung Square through an investment by Helmut Sachers Kaffee, an Austrian coffee producer and bakery supplier.

The Austrian company has trained North Korean staff to make coffee and bread, said the source.

A cup of coffee costs 2 euro, a price that is out of reach for ordinary North Koreans who make an average of 3,000 North Korean won a month. The North Korean won was traded at 134 won to one euro in November according to an official exchange rate, though the euro is believed to be much stronger in markets like the U.S dollar.
I blame the Chinese. And by "blame them" I mean thank them for turning into crony capitalists themselves who want all the trappings of the West, and then letting them slowly but surely permeate into the DPRK.

Sure, the North Korean hoi polloi won't be able to afford an espresso or — gasp! — a cafe americano (do you think they'd serve that?), but the elite will be able to. And those same elite (who now have 1 million cell phones) will demand more and more of the Western conveniences and comforts enjoyed by Chinese in Beijing. Or rather, they'll tolerate less and less inconvenience. And Kim Jong-il will stand there on the dais and dismiss their cries by saying, "Let them eat scones."

Seriously, this is the death knell of the regime, though not necessarily the republic itself.


They should have done this years ago

To mark the 1000th weekly protest in front of the Japanese (which, by my calculations, would mean they started in 1992, which sounds about right), supporters of the former Comfort Women (위안부, 慰安婦) have erected a simple statue to be a constant reminder to the Japanese government officials of this horrific thing that the victims cannot forget and which the Japanese right-wing would like to ignore or even deny. (The BBC also has the story.)

The statue is very simple. It depicts a young Korean girl in traditional Korean clothing, an everyday hanbok. She is dressed as these women might have been around seven decades ago when they were kidnapped, forced, duped, or otherwise coerced into work that turned out to be sex slavery on the front lines of the Pacific War.

She is depicted as a few years younger than many of them were when they were taken. For some, she is about the same age.

Frankly, this is brilliant. A simple statue that is a patient, ever-present, never-forgetting reminder. The surviving Comfort Women are in their eighties and nineties, and the Japanese government's strategy has been to just wait for them to die so the problem will go away.

Of course, the issue is not a simple one. There are questions as to whether the normalization treaty — which none of the women signed, of course — dismissed these women's legal claims. There's also questions as to whether the South Korean government of the Park Chunghee era, which took the bulk of loans and grants Japan offered and invested it in the development of the nation, owes them money as well.

There's also the question of whether any official thing that happened before the 1990s can be taken as compensation for the former Comfort Women, given that up to that point Tokyo had been vehemently denying any official involvement in the mobilization of these sex slaves.

But ultimately, the statue is not about that. Because even with a generous compensation package and a heart-felt expression of absolute apology (one that is not followed by right-wingers going "but but but"), this horrific action must be remembered. Forget lawyers and government accountants and political wranglers; it simply should not be allowed to die along with its victims.


In case you're free in Orange County tonight...

... why don't you join the annual Undie Run at Chapman University.

It should be a real treat tonight, with temperatures dipping into the low 40s (about 5°C).

Of course, in Hawaii we have the same thing. It's called the beach. And we have it every day. 뿌야!

Yeah, it's all kind of goofy, but it shore beats the other news coming out of Orange County.

(And frankly, I didn't realize there were still so many White people in Orange County... really hot White people. Note to self: must look into working at Chapman University after graduation.)


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

There's no need to be afraid at Christmastime

It's that time of year, when good cheer, egg nog, and ubiquitous baked goods warm your cockles, or something like that.

It's the time of year when, for no good reason other than my own curiosity, I check to see if there is snow on Manua Kea. And indeed, today there is:

Someday I will see and touch snow in the tropical Aloha State. And possibly go snowboarding or even skiing for a few yards. It's like the Holy Grail to me.

It's also that time of year when various Protestant groups in South Korea put up "Christmas trees" close to the border with North Korea, at a place called Aegibong (애기봉전망대), to remind them that there is peace, love, and religion outside of the Juche faith of self-reliance on the Dear Leader.

This is last year's "tree," which actually contains no real tree.

What SoKos see as thumbing their nose at Kim Jong-il, the NoKos see as giving the finger. Pyongyang has warned of "an unpredictable situation" if the techno tannenbaum remains.

Well, I hate to break this to you, honey, but thanks to y'alls, we're always in an unpredictable situation. Call us when your crazy is mo' crazy. The only war on Christmas I foresee is the one that's happening in the imagination of conservatives.

Well, no. Scratch that. Just be normal for a change. Like your friends and benefactors the Chinese. Oh, wait. No. Scratch that, too. (An epic rant on that is coming, just be patient.)

Peace on Earth, good will to all men.


Monday, December 12, 2011

It's all a bad Dream Hub

In an update to this story, it appears that the Korean media has discovered the outrageoutrage! — that many in America are feeling over what they are convinced is a deliberate attempt to mock the United States by way of a building that its architects insist depicts clouds but which those critics are certain is a nod to the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.

But the planners are not budging, according to AFP:
A South Korean developer said on Monday it would not alter the design of a twin-tower project despite complaints in the United States that it mimics the explosions at New York’s World Trade Center in 2001.

The towers, one with 54 floors and the other with 60, are designed by Dutch architects MVRDV and will be built at the entrance to Seoul’s redeveloped Yongsan business district by 2016.

The towers will be connected midway up by a cloud-shaped bridging section that will house amenities including sky lounges, a swimming pool and restaurants.

But families of victims of the 9/11 attacks see a marked resemblance between the project known as

The Cloud and the clouds of debris that billowed from the World Trade Center after hijacked airliners ploughed into the towers.

“Allegations that it (the design) was inspired by the 9/11 attacks are groundless,” said White Paik, spokesman for the Yongsan Development Corp.

“There will be no revision or change in our project,” he told AFP, adding that construction would begin in January 2013 as scheduled.
You go, girl. (The Wall Street Journal, however, is reporting that they're saying nothing is written in stone.)

And while we're at it, I want to point out the interesting name White Paik, given that paek/paik means white, and that that person is defending a building called cloud.


An SNL Christmas

I guess it's that time of year again, when the wildly hit-or-miss Saturday Night Live tries to knock a Christmas song or skit out of the park, sometimes with success and others just a swing-and-a-miss.

This year's offering, which features Katy Perry, is probably a triple:

My all-time favorites from "recent" memory, though, are the following. First is Christmastime for the Jews:

Followed by the annoyingly catchy Santa's My Boyfriend:

I'll leave it to you to go find the Schweddy Balls skit.

It just occurred to me that this is becoming an annual tradition. Well, at least the one with Katy Perry, Matt Damon (just saw him in The Adjustment Bureau two days ago, which wasn't half bad), and Val Kilmer is new.

Another annual tradition? Checking for snow in Hawaii.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Let's do the HABO again...

Michael Milne, whom I wrote about here, is still in need of money for his liver transplant. Here is an update from December 8:
Both Mick and Randall have come out of surgery, and the doctors have said that everything went well. Randall will recover in the hospital for about a week, and Mick will be in ICU isolation for two weeks, and then recovery in the hospital for another two weeks or so.

Thank you again, to everyone for all of your support! Your donations of time, money and prayers have made a difference!

We are elated that things have gone well, and we are still making the effort to raise the money needed to pay for all of the medical bills.

Please pass on the news, and the necessity for more donations. We have reached the 15 million mark - which is amazing - thank you so much!!

We still need more in order to reach the quoted 40 - 50 million won out of pocket expenses. Mick will not be able to work for the time he is recovering, please help him and his family out!
The account information is at both links above, and there's now a PayPal account (

In contrast to the situation with Matt Robinson, to whom I got money to right away, I've only just now been able to get my own donation out to Michael Milne (this being the end of the semester I have almost no cash available here in the US and the person who manages my money in Korea was unable to do this until just this week), and I'm hoping my fellow procrastinators might do the same.

On a not-completely-but-mostly-unrelated note, I want to share a nice story about Delta Airlines. "M," whom I've mentioned here and there at this blog, had to fly to Japan yesterday because her aunt suffering from endometrial cancer had taken a turn for the worse. "M" already had a ticket to fly out to Osaka next Thursday, but she decided to forgo finals and be by her aunt. Even before we could change the flight to the  following day (this past Friday), she got news that her aunt had already passed. Needless to say, "M" was distraught, and I called Delta Airlines while she packed.

I explained the situation and the kind woman at Delta told me there was a seat available the following day but it would be $268 to change her departure. That was better than what the discount ticket agent had told her, that she could cancel the entire ticket for a $300 fee, after which she would buy another ticket (which was surprisingly cheap on We told the Delta agent that the $268 fee was acceptable and we waited for her to process it.

While we waited we were on hold, but the agent eventually came back. She asked for "M's" aunt's name and hospital, which I provided. More waiting, but when she came back she said she found a way that the entire change could be done for a fee of just $13.

Very cool of Delta Airlines to do that. It helped make a difficult situation a little bit less so, and that agent (and the airline) deserves some kudos and our thanks for that.


Japanese Korea

This is from the ancient globe in the lobby of the local library.

Note that Seoul is the only place name not rendered in Nihon•go.

I think this pre-WWII globe is there for decorative and historical reasons and not because of massive budget shortfalls that prevent them from buying a new one.


Pumpkman Fever

As of yesterday, the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers* have been eaten.

Oh, wait, I take that back. I have some cranberry sauce in the fridge I'm planning to use in my oatmeal.

* Actually this is the last of the spawn of the leftovers. We had turkey that lasted for weeks, which was turned into soup, regular turkey as a main dish, turkey sandwiches, turkey á la king, and eventually a delicious turkey quiche. But to make the quiche, we had to buy a quart of half-and-half and pie shells, and the leftover H&H and the pie shells were used to make the pumpkin pie you see here (with Libby's that was on sale). The last of the turkey was in fact eaten the day before yesterday (in a delicious turkey rice soup). 


Look up, in the sky! It's a growth! It's a plane! It's a superbly botched architectural design!

Skycrapers are modern-day Rorschach tests. Hugely expensive Rorschach tests. Take the above picture. Some, as I did, see two high-rises enshrouded in a "cloud." Others might see genital warts (not having had them, I don't know what they look like, so I'll take that commenter at his word). Some might see an "H."

Apparently others see an image that evokes the 9/11 attacks that brought down the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in 2001. And that has them pissed off.

This site, from which I get mailings ever since I bought an anti-Obama bumper sticker as a gag gift three years ago, tries to explain that it is in fact supposed to represent clouds but from lower angles people understandably might imagine the 9/11 attacks.

It was, however, the comments section that prompted me to write this up, as it quickly devolved (comments on this site often devolve, almost as if it's a means to disprove evolution) into attacks on South Korea. With this design the ROK was showing it isn't really an ally, we should boycott South Korean goods until they cancel plans for this building, etc.:
And these are our supposed friends? These are the people we saved from invaders back in the early fifties, at great cost in American lives and money? How many billions do the get from us in foreign aid each year? Mayby Ron Paul is right – pull our troops and money out of there until they correct insults like this.
Using American military or economic pressure was a common theme:
Sounds to me like skorea’s become a liberal state. Wouldn’t be surprised to hear obama gave them the idea. Cut off trade untill they get rid of the cloud.
In fact, Obama Derangement Syndrome reared its ugly head a few times:
what sick demented mind would even hand in a design like that. wouldn’t happen if we had a strong leader in the oval office who had ALL our interests at heart . you’d probably need an mri to find it eh.
Sigh. I tried to be the voice of reason, but some still said it doesn't matter that it is supposed to be clouds:
Regardless of the intent, the outcome ‘is what it is’. The designers need to see what millions around the world will see, then scrap the idea and come up with something else.

If they’re so insensitive as to move forward with this design when everyone else is saying it’s too reminiscent of 9/11/01, then you have to look at it as if it’s their intent.
I'm a bit troubled by this idea, that even though the original intent is pretty clear, that doesn't matter if a whole bunch of other people wrongly assume it's something else and can't be appeased except by said object's destruction. If that's the case, are we going to see mass euthanization of all the Hitler cats?

Yikes, would that ever be an overreaction. (Not to mention argumentum ad hitlerum et absurdum.)

And for that reason, I don't think those two skyscrapers will be scrapped simply because it offends the sensibilities of people who don't get it. I mean, after all, in downtown Seoul, at the head of Ch'ŏngyech'ŏn Stream, we have a gigantic sculpture that makes people think of a giant swirl of excremental soft serve (see here and the last and third-from-last photos here; if you start from the bottom and you've scrolled up to the Marmotress dry-humping a hipster haetae, you've gone too far).

I mean, if we don't get rid of that, why would we get rid of anything?

[UPDATE: Here's a past post, Der Führry, on cats who look like Hitler.]

Similarly, I don't think anyone's calling for the massive Yongsan redevelopment project along the Han River to be discarded, even though it's pretty clear (to those inclined to see it) that those buildings are giving us the finger. In fact, maybe they're giving the US the finger. Pull out or troops now!

Seriously, the brouhaha over this structure sounds like those "It hurts our pride" Korean nationalists who saw the Japanese kanji for Japan in the rooftops of just about every building constructed during the Colonial Period and demanded their destruction. I mean, come on, 日 (the ni in Nihon) is so common and basic a shape that you would see it everywhere if you're looking for it.

Is it the same now with basic rectangular buildings with anything coming out of them? That could represent a plane attacking it or the resulting explosion? I mean, that this is 9/11 is a bit of a stretch in that the two explosions from the planes hitting and then the collapse were toward the top.

Moreover, the two explosions nor their smoke and debris fields did not really join as one, as depicted in the Korean building design. The smoke coming from them was also way toward the top, so that they looked like chimney stacks. And when the buildings collapsed, the cloud of debris was also toward the top. This architecture mock-up has the pixelated clouds mid-rise.

I don't know. I can see why people would imagine 9/11, but after knowing what the building is supposed to be, I think people can let it go. After 9/11, Fox pulled, I believe, two episodes of The Simpsons, one where the Back Street Boys thwart an attack on a New York City skyscraper (which sorta makes sense, given the sensitivities of the day), and another which simply depicted Homer Simpson visiting the two towers to retrieve his car (kinda inexplicably overreaching). Though the move was meant to be "permanent," they quietly brought back both later on.

This outcry over the towers in Seoul seems to be about as silly as the latter.

But in the interest of finding common ground, would it help things if the towers were colored, say, green or dark gray while the "clouds" remain white?

The New York Daily News says the architects have apologized for the design. But after reading that paper's take, I realized some of the respondents are hopeless emotional to the point of being irrational:
Jim Riches, a retired FDNY deputy chief whose son was killed on 9/11, said he didn’t believe the architects.

“I think it’s a total lie and they have no respect for the people who died that day,” he said. “They’re crossing a line.

“It looks just like the towers imploding,” he said. “I think they’re trying to sensationalize it. It’s a cheap way to get publicity.”
They're acting like, I don't know, South Korea made an eleven-year comedy series out of an American national tragedy or something. I may have to whip out some satire I used the last time that happened.

Don't get me wrong. 9/11 was a terrific tragedy for our country, and even more unimaginably so for those who lost friends and family on that date. I've never even been to New York City and yet I feel a sharp tinge of anger and regret when I see the NYC skyline without those towers, and I'm ecstatic that Osama bin Laden can do no more harm. I would be ready to take down (figuratively) anyone who was actually mocking the tragedy or taking advantage of it.

But see, what's happened is that it's not the South Koreans who have done any of that, at least not with this tower design, but instead it's those who evoked 9/11 to get us into Iraq or to turn against our fellow Americans who are of the Muslim faith (or just Arab or Arab-looking).

The Los Angeles Times is now carrying this story as well, but it looks like the commenters there are much more mellow and accepting about the whole thing. Could it be because they're farther from New York City, or maybe because they're closer to South Korea?


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Doug Bandow gets it completely wrong on the US military commitment in South Korea

Over at Forbes, Doug Bandow, regurgitated the Korea-defend-yourself rant. A snippet:
However, Seoul has precious few responsibilities in return. ROK forces never have been stationed in America. There were never plans for the South to assist the U.S. if the latter was attacked by the Soviet Union. No South Korean ships patrolled the sea lanes and no South Korean aircraft guarded the sky.

In the early days there was little the ROK, an impoverished dictatorship, could do. Seoul could not protect itself, let alone anyone else. But then, Washington should not have maintained the fraud that the security tie was mutual.

The South since has joined the first tier of nations. It obviously can do more, much more. Nevertheless, the treaty remains a one-way relationship. The ROK occasionally has contributed to Washington’s foolish wars of choice, such as Vietnam and Afghanistan, in order to keep American defense subsidies flowing. But this is no bargain for the U.S., which is expected to protect Seoul from all comers.
As you can guess from my past posts, this article had me throwing things at my computer monitor. The nicest I can put it is that this article is so fraught with inaccuracies and lack of understanding, Forbes should be embarrassed for allowing it to be printed.

The assumptions that underpin Mr Bandow's ignorant rant — that South Korea does nothing for its defense, pays nothing for its defense, and does nothing to help — are all grossly inaccurate. I would excuse him for writing as if it's still 2005, but he gets even that wrong (he's also wrong about the Cold War being over, at least in Northeast Asia).

Even during the leftist Roh Moohyun administration, South Korea has consistently spent about 2.5 percent or more of its GDP on its military. That's not as much as the US, of course, but considerably higher than most of its allies.

This is almost all geared toward defense against North Korean attack, but increasingly more is spent on helping the US patrol against international piracy (as does neighboring Japan that also enjoys US defense commitments), as well as the US-led operations in Afghanistan and in Iraq, where South Korea had the third largest contingent of military personnel after the US and the UK.

More importantly, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans fought alongside their American counterparts during the Vietnam War. At any given time there were 50,000 ROK troops there, and the number of dead is officially over 5000. That's from a country one-sixth the population of the US. It is irrelevant that Mr Bandow thinks these wars were "foolish," and that does nothing to diminish South Korean sacrifices.

Today, every South Korean male is required to serve in the military or do some appropriate government service. The typical commitment is over two years, in the prime of their youth. Again, this is geared almost entirely toward defense against North Korea, and it represents tremendous costs to the ROK government, its economy, and even its demographics (as it leads to delayed marriage and thus lower overall fertility in a country that is disastrously below population replacement levels).

So Mr Bandow is wrong on all those counts. Moreover, he utterly misses the point of the value of the US military presence in Northeast Asia. The deterrent presented by the US military in Korea, Japan, and Guam has kept the region free of major conflict for nearly six decades. Contrast that with the previous six decades, which saw four major wars fought on or over Korea.

Deterrence costs pennies to the dollars compared to what would likely result if the US vacated (and which the US would almost certainly get sucked into anyway). Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and other countries in the region may not always see eye to eye with Washington, but the Pax Americana has helped foster democracy and open markets that both are highly beneficial to the United States.

And that discussion doesn't even get into the inherent reliance that South Korea has on the United States because it agreed not to develop nukes that would better insure its territorial security.

Not to mention the whole idea of allied deterrence is that North Korea might think it can get away with an invasion of South Korea if it punches really, really hard in the beginning (what they did in 1950), but they would be highly unlikely to do it if they knew South Korea's powerful ally would come to bear on them. Critics call it a "tripwire," but any thinking person would just realize it makes good sense.

Next time Forbes should leave the Northeast Asia analysis to Northeast Asia analysts and not ideological pundits paid by the pixel.

Note: Robert at The Marmot's Hole put something up on this before I had a chance.


Friday, December 9, 2011

UPDATED: Seoul Ministry of Education to phase out native English speakers by 2014

And replace them with robots. Or Korean non-native English teachers. Same-same. (I kid! I kid! I kid because I love... to kid!)

Needless to say, this is getting a lot of coverage in the K-blogosphere.

If this goes through (and don't expect for a minute it's a done deal), it might mean the end of cushy MOE jobs in the schools, but it might also mean a concurrent rise in demand at the hagwon level, as students (and their parents) look for a crutch (i.e., native teachers) now that that security blanket has been ripped away from them.

And of course, there's always employment in the provinces.

The Marmot's Hole has a long discussion going on about this. Brian in Chŏllanamdo has a lengthy post that has links to other posts, though I think he puts too much blame on the Korean side of things and seems to lay none of this at the feet of the native English-speaking teachers who (from my experience in talking with some about this) often lack drive or interest or ability to work with their higher-ups to make their presence more effective, or even saw any responsibility to do so (e.g., "I get paid to teach and I teach, end of story," "I don't speak Korean so why should I go to teachers' meetings?").

I addressed some of that in my "epic rant" on English teachers from 2009.

Asiapundits also has a good article worth reading (he uses the word "sacked" to refer to someone not getting their year-long contract renewed for another year). I left his comment there.
I certainly would agree that the administrators and schools deserve much of the blame, but the crop of teachers was a mix of highly qualified and motivated along with get-it-done-and-go-home or worse. A crapshoot, really, and that meant it would be difficult to impossible to consistently rely on the teacher supply to effect a better system.

They need to start over, get good input from teachers who actually care and who are willing to look introspectively at their side of the equation, get the same from KoKo teachers and administrators who will do the same, and rebuild. The demand, and hopefully the money, will be back.

By the way, that "little geniuses" photo you posted... the person who took it, presumably that 6th-grade child's teacher, has done some very serious privacy violations by sticking up a picture of the poor girl's work with her name attached. In fact, in some way this goes to what I'm saying: a Korean teacher could easily be reprimanded and possibly fired for such a breach, which they are trained to know not to do, but the foreign hires are on the fringes and (a) are not trained in such issues and (b) sometimes seem to lack common sense about them.

Seriously, what teacher would think it's okay to put up in a Flickr feed a child's test paper for the purpose of mockery, complete with her name?!
The latter part refers to the picture below, which I took the trouble to redact.


Just a friendly reminder...

The "scandal" involving 방송인 A양 (a celebrity being euphemized as "Ms A") and her apparently grade-A arsehole of a jilted ex-boyfriend has been grabbing headlines. Just about any guy (or girl) who tries to trash the reputation of an ex by releasing sex tapes or nude photos deserves a smack down of the first order.

There may be exceptions made for a particularly egregious ex who has done something so horrific that it transcends all ethical considerations, but I honestly can't think of anything that bad right now. And that certainly isn't the case with the Taiwanese-American ex of this Ms A, who is hell-bent on destroying her in the public arena, so it's a moot point.

Anyway, I have no interest in finding out the identity of this woman nor searching for the video in question. But I did think it would be a good opportunity to rerun my own public service announcement on the sex tapes and dirty pics of ourselves we know and don't know about.

* Be warned: The two discussions at the above Marmot's Hole links include a lot of people talking about their porn-watching preferences. I guess if you're reading this post at all, that probably won't bother you too much, but if you're one of those people prone to yelling "TMI!" a lot, odium alert. 


Thursday, December 8, 2011

M*A*S*H actor Harry Morgan dies at 96

It's a sin of sorts to like M*A*S*H, but I willfully ignore the blunders of the first season or two (when they actually referred to Korea as being in Southeast Asia, as the show was an allegory for the Vietnam War) because this program, one of the most popular television series of all time, made the Forgotten War not so forgotten.

Anyway, Harry Morgan, who played many roles in his life (including an iconic run on Dragnet) but is best known as Colonel Potter, died this morning, just a few years and change shy of his own centennial.

From the Los Angeles Times:
But to many fans he was first and foremost Col. Sherman T. Potter, commander of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit in Korea. With a wry smile, flat voice and sharp humor, Mr. Morgan played Colonel Potter from 1975 to 1983, when “M*A*S*H” went off the air. He replaced McLean Stevenson , who had quit the series, moving into the role on the strength of his performance as a crazed major general in an early episode.

In an interview for the Archive of American Television, Mr. Morgan said of his “M*A*S*H” character: “He was firm. He was a good officer and he had a good sense of humor. I think it’s the best part I ever had.”

Colonel Potter’s office had several personal touches. The picture on his desk was of Mr. Morgan’s wife, Eileen Detchon. To relax, the colonel liked to paint and look after his horse, Sophie — a sort of inside joke, since the real Harry Morgan raised quarter horses on a ranch in Santa Rosa. Sophie, to whom Colonel Potter says goodbye in the final episode, was Mr. Morgan’s own horse.

In 1980 his Colonel Potter earned him an Emmy Award as best supporting actor in a comedy series. During the shooting of the final episode, he was asked about his feelings. “Sadness and an aching heart,” he replied.
When I was a kid, M*A*S*H reruns were on every afternoon, usually in order but it didn't always matter. Each episode stood on its own, but there was an on-going storyline of sorts. It was a bit odd that a war-themed series would have a laugh track, but it seemed to be used much less in later seasons, when the episodes often tackled much more serious issues than before.

I saw David Ogden Stiers (Dr Charles Winchester) perform in a play once, which impressed me a great deal — in part because he could seriously spit — but by far my favorite character was Hawkeye Pierce who just seemed to be evolving in an interesting way.

Still, all the characters, whether the originals or their replacements, brought something to the table on that show, which ran for eleven years, over three times longer than the actual Korean War. Of course, the actual Korean War was on 24/7 and didn't go into reruns for six months of the year. Although a lot of the action did seem like a repeat.

And on the subject of M*A*S*H, read up on a connection between that show and CSI.

Requiescat in pace, Mr Morgan.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

South Koreans crazy about Steve Jobs uniform

So says the Los Angeles Times:
This holiday season, South Korean youths are snapping up a new fashion statement -– the Levi’s 501 jeans made famous by the late Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs.

In this wired nation, where 99% of people under 40 regularly use the Internet, many trends are cyber-induced, and in recent years, young consumers have rejected the products and image of homegrown Samsung in favor of the iconic Jobs.

The blue jeans were, of course, only part of the uniform: There were the over-sized glasses, black mock turtleneck and New Balance sneakers. They were Jobs’ uniform of choice when he introduced his newest, hottest lines of technology, such as the iPad or the iPhone.

South Koreans buy tons of Apple products, but, style-wise, the jeans are the new hip thing.

A poll taken by Shinsegae, a major department store here, found that the Jobs-inspired 501 look was one of the hottest sellers this year.
Actually, and I don't know if I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I used to dress almost exactly like Steve Jobs, though not for camaraderie or anything, and certainly not every day (Kushibo can rock a suit). I just liked 501s and black or dark gray mock turtlenecks. After Steve Jobs made it his thing, I kinda sorta had to back off a bit. Nowadays I look like someone from Lost or Hawaii Five-0. But not the Hurley guy.

I don't know where I was going with that.

Anyway, I find it interesting that in a country where Apple had come to be seen as a rival to the fortunes of the country's own great electronics icon, that Steve Jobs would be seen as such a hero worthy of emulation. I guess that's a sign of changing allegiances and, perhaps, a sense that the old order of chaebol supremacy (with the concomitant tendency to follow Western technological trends and the perceived lack of creativity) has seen its day.

Yup. Quite a pronouncement to make from a pair of pants. Next week: I'll explain Kim Jong-il and his purple-flared ski jacket. 


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

South Korea's prison robots in the LAT

I'm beginning to feel a bit like Aaron Altman, a main character in Broadcast News (a 1987 film about its titular topic; yeah, I'm dating myself, but hey, no one else will — rim shot! ... actually I was a teenager in 1987).

You see, late last month, I highlighted South Korean plans to employ robots in South Korean prisons (in South Korea, prison and schools — same-same). Fast-forward a week later and — bam! — there it is in the Los Angeles Times.

T'is not the first time I've noticed this pattern. I could be full of self-importance, though, but in this case, I think I'm one of the very few in the K-blogosphere who wrote about this.

Back to Altman. He was a news producer, writer, and sometime on-air talking head, but he was upstaged by a pretty-boy former sportscaster who, basically, didn't know much of anything but the network needed him to sound intelligent in front of the camera. With the help of microphones and telephones, etc., etc. (this was 1987, pre-Wikipedia), Aaron Altman basically talked the talking head through a breaking news story.

Sitting in his living room watching the fruits of his labor emerge from the telly, he says to himself, "I say it here, it comes out there."

Okay, okay. You had to be there. And no, I'm not likening John Glionna to a pretty-boy talking head who doesn't know anything (to the contrary, I imagine he's very intelligent and quite homely). But I do feel I'm feeding him ideas. Not that there's anything wrong about that, since he does go and do his homework (though I think mine has more of the snark the story is screaming for).


Monday, December 5, 2011

KAIST successfully developing "bendy" memory

This according to Engadget:
Flexible displays aren't much good unless there's flexible memory alongside. It's been attempted before, but bending memory pushes the individual transistors so close that they begin to interfere with one another -- causing degradation and shortening the device lifespan to just a single day. The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has solved the problem by pairing transistors with memristors, which are immune to such annoyances.
There are just two things I want, computer-wise. First, a monitor projected from my eye. And second, a computer I can roll up or fold up and take anywhere I want to go.

Yes, in the year 3011, it's called an EyePhone.

Come to think of it, I might not need both. Anyway, the meme has long been that countries like Korea and Japan follow rather than lead when it comes to new technology, but this is definitely an example of bucking that trend (if the trend is even valid).


Freakanomics on suicide

It was originally broadcast in late August, but I only just now got around to listening to the Freakanomics podcast on why people commit suicide, "The Suicide Paradox." The transcript can be found here.

Just about anyone reading my blog knows that South Korea has a terrible problem with suicide being in the stratosphere. They also know that this is an issue I take very seriously, as I consider us to be in the middle of a veritable epidemic, largely thanks to suicide being normative.

Interestingly, though, the Freakonomics podcast did not mention South Korea at all. Instead, when they wanted to highlight a high-suicide country, they chose Hungary, which had had the highest suicide rates in the world.

But the podcast is worth a listen even for insight into how suicide plays out in South Korea, for there are many parallels in terms of acceptance, the notion that committing suicide is brave or even noble, and the existence of the Werther Effect (i.e., suicide contagion, copycat suicides), which I feel helps to make suicide seem so normal in South Korea.

For other good posts on suicide, see Cory in Korea and the series by The Korean.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

I (Gary Hart) Herman Cain

Well, it's official, despite my pleas to the contrary (see here and here), former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain's presidential campaign is now sleeping with the fishes.

It looks like Herman Cain has been Gary Harted. Remember Gary Hart? He was the promising presidential candidate with even promisinger hair whose political aspirations were torn asunder after the press got hold of a racy (by 1980s Reagan-era standards) picture of him with Donna Rice (a then nobody who now heads an anti-porn organization) on a boat called, appropriately, Monkey Business.

Frankly, I see her point. With People
covers like this, who needs porn?

Like Mr Cain, Mr Hart sort of taunted the media to come after him. Well, Mr Cain actually just said there were no true allegations against him, but then Ms Ginger White (who appears to be neither) came along and mentioned her alleged thirteen-year affair. Bill Clinton was able to survive that, and I'd hoped Cain would have been, too, but his campaign is now suspended and it looks like he's out.

There is no such thing as too many
pictures of Donna Rice circa 1987.