Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pinkberry founder in court over assault

What a precious little nabitai

In a follow-up to this story from mid-January, Pinkberry founder Young Lee has pleaded not guilty to charges that he'd attacked a homeless man who'd approached his car, using a tire iron.

From the Los Angeles Times:
Pinkberry co-founder Young Lee pleaded not guilty Monday to felony assault for allegedly beating a homeless man with a tire iron over a sexually explicit tattoo.

Lee, who remains free on $60,000 bail, was granted a one-time dispensation by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Upinder Kalra allowing him to travel to South Korea.

In return, he consented to automatic extradition should he fail to return to court March 5, the date of his next scheduled hearing.

Lee has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon in connection with a June 2011 assault on a transient on a 101 Freeway off-ramp.
The LAT story gives a bit more detail about the crime:
Lee was stopped at a light when he was approached by a man seeking money, Los Angeles police said. Words were exchanged, and Lee and another man in the car chased the homeless man and assaulted him with a tire iron.

The source said detectives believe Lee was angered when the transient revealed the tattoo and that prompted him to get out of his car, chase him down and beat the man.

Philip Kent Cohen, the attorney for Lee, told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month the transient "made explicit threats as if he had a weapon, which he may have had."

According to the Los Angeles Police Department, Lee was driving a rented Range Rover on the 101 Freeway in June 2011, with an acquaintance in the passenger seat. When he got off the freeway at Vermont Avenue in East Hollywood, he spotted a transient who had been asking passing drivers for money.

The man was changing into a sweatshirt, revealing a sexually explicit tattoo, and Lee seemed to have viewed the tattoo as a suggestion of disrespect, a police official said. Lee rolled down his window and apparently got into an argument with the man, then parked on Vermont and left his car to confront the man.

Lee demanded that the man kneel and apologize, and the man consented, officials said. But Lee attacked him anyway, chasing him down, kicking him and "beating him down" with a tire iron, LAPD officials said.
Okay, we still want to know what the tattoo was. But if the LAPD's story is correct, even a really offensive tattoo doesn't deserve that kind of response, I dare say even if it's clearly fighting words.

Anyhoo, Mr Lee's handlers did a nice job on making him look like he couldn't possibly harm anything that wasn't on screen during World of Warcraft. In fact, they may have gone a bit overboard: if Mr Lee dresses like that in real life, it'd make me wonder if he's ever actually seen a pinkberry in his life.


The Los Angeles Dodgers of Dokdo

Southern Californians, as of late, have been subjected to a near daily soap opera surrounding the divorce of the McCourts, the uber-rich couple that own the L.A. Dodgers, and the resulting forced sale of the iconic baseball franchise.

I love me the Dodgers — though I'm first and foremost an Angels fan — but I haven't really followed the McCourt saga. Where it got interesting for me, however, was when it was announced yesterday that one of the handful of suitors for the boys in blue is a well-known Korean company:
A consortium led by South Korean retailer E-Land is among the short-listed bidders vying to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, Yonhap news reported on Monday.

The Dodgers said late last week that a preliminary round of bidding had been completed and all parties would be notified of the results.

The E-Land consortium is one of the short-listed bidders for the Dodgers, Yonhap reported, quoting an unnamed industry official. [Reuters]
With legendary has-been Park Chanho having put Dodger Stadium on the Korean tourist map, there is already an affinity toward the Los Angeles club. One wonders, though, what kinds of tie-ins with Korean stuff we might see if E-Land takes over the Dodgers.

They could sell kimchi dogs,
 although that name would
 probably lead to considerable
 misunderstanding. [source]
We should expect thunderstix, a Korean invention already popular down the 5-Freeway in Orange County. Maybe Kimchi Night, where all ticket holders are given a panchan-sized portion of the pungent stuff (though this brings the danger that it might be thrown at the players if the spectators suddenly have a bout of Shakespearean scorn).

Maybe hot dogs with kyŏja. Or the best idea ever at a baseball stadium: 2000-won beer.

[UPDATE: No, comely cheerleaders and bat girls would make 2000-won beer the second best idea ever.]

We might even see a nightly parade of K-pop stars throwing out the first pitch with their stick-like girlie arms. And maybe some of the female stars might try it, too.

Perhaps the first North-South summit involving the Prodigious Progeny can be held while he and the leader of South Korea take in a Dodger game (though that sounds eerily close to the climactic scene of Shiri, and Kim Jong-un is better known for liking that other b-ball... maybe Lotte can buy the Lakers).

But my bold prediction is a name change. Just as Arte Moreno decided that the name "Anaheim" didn't have enough cache as a team moniker and so he decided to change the name of the Orange County home team to "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" [obligatory spitting on the ground in disgust] to raise awareness of the Angels franchise, maybe E-Land will decide that the Tokto issue needs its profile raised, and we shall see what's up there in the title.

Stranger things have happened.

Apparently E-Land's bid has the backing of former Dodgers president and owner Peter O'Malley (who knew there were so many Irish Angelenos?), and vice-versa:
Peter O'Malley's bid to buy back the Dodgers is supported by financing from the South Korean conglomerate E-Land, two people familiar with the Dodgers' sale process said Monday.

If the O'Malley bid is successful, E-Land Chairman Song Soo Park would become a major investor in the Dodgers, one of the people said.

The ownership group also would have investors from Los Angeles. O'Malley has had discussions with Tony Ressler, a minority owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and co-founder of Los Angeles-based Ares Capital, according to a person familiar with the talks.

Foreign investment is not necessarily an obstacle to MLB ownership; the Seattle Mariners' ownership group includes a significant Japanese presence. In November, O'Malley told The Times that he wanted to lead an investment group in which he would return as the Dodgers' chief executive. ...

Under O'Malley, the Dodgers were pioneers in international baseball, particularly in Asia. In 1994, three years before O'Malley sold the team to News Corp., Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park became the first Korean player to appear in a major league game. ...

E-Land has expanded its business interests from fashion into such areas as hotels and resorts, restaurants and construction, according to the company website.

According to the E-Land website, the company opened its first U.S. retail store in 2007 at a mall in Stamford, Conn., under the brand name "Who A.U." The slogan for the brand: "California Dream."
This really would be a California dream. Although a lot of people would be asking of E-Land, "Who are you?"


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Things kushibo learned today...

Taking a page from Ask A Korean, here are some things kushibo learned today (actually yesterday, since it's now 12:09 a.m.):
  • Hulu gets its name from two Chinese homonyms, one supposedly meaning gourd and holder of precious things (葫蘆), and the other supposedly meaning interactive recording (互錄). I say "supposedly" because this may very well be like how the Chinese word for crisis is the same as the word for opportunity (Crisitunity!).
  • Back in the 1990s, Lisa Loeb informed my aesthetic ideal of nerdy-looking White girls. 
  • The former Surratt boarding house in Washington DC, where the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln took place, is now a Chinese restaurant. (I found this out after looking up The Conspirator, which I saw the night before.)
  • There's a century-old restaurant not far from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles where, until last week, a decent cup of coffee cost 9¢. It's now half a dollar with tax. (The French dip sandwich was also invented there.)
  • Some neighborhoods in Los Angeles, like Echo Park, look a lot like the jam-packed neighborhoods of Seoul. 

Millions of moviegoers would approve

If you're a regular visitor to Monster Island, you're no doubt familiar with North Korea's unexpected cell phone market.

Indeed, back in December 2008, I first blogged about North Korea's plans to implement a 3G network (that one includes a list of North Korean emoticons). I then reported in November 2010 that North Korean youth had led to a quadrupling of cell phone subscriptions in the DPRK (which autocorrect wants to change to dork), and again in April 2011 that their 18,750% growth over the past three years made them the fastest growing mobile market in the world.

At the time, I expressed my pleasure that the Norks were allowing such openness, perhaps the sign of positive pressure from China, which hopes to see North Korea follow Deng-esque reform:
Anyway, I'm thinking Orascom's North Korean adventure is a good thing. 300K subscriptions means there is one cell phone for every eighty people, and that number is growing. Simply put, the more subscribers there are, the harder it is for the authorities to monitor communications.
Well, unfortunately, there may be folks in Pyongyang who also visit Monster Island, and they may have taken note of what I'd written in the very next paragraph:
And while most or nearly all the current subscribers are regime loyalists, if events go sour in such a way that it turns people against the dynasty or the party or whatever (as they have done for much of the peasantry), then — boom! — you've got an instant means of communication for the opposition. Indeed, the Egypt-based Orascom may very well be paving the way for North Korea's own version of a popular uprising somewhere down the Jasmine Revolutionary road.
Certainly I'm not the only one who has suggested such things, though I was one of the first. And this week we get news that indeed the North Korean government may be sitting up and taking notice at the potential threat of all those cell phones: the regime has announced a ban on cell phones:
North Korea has warned that any of its citizens caught trying to defect to China or using mobile phones during the 100-day mourning period for Kim Jong-il will be branded as "war criminals" and punished accordingly.
Granted, this is just for a three-month period and be completely lifted in the spring, but it could be an ominous sign of things to come. This certainly isn't a first when it comes to draconian measures against mobile devices: In May 2011, we also got word that the regime was cracking down on unauthorized phones smuggled in from China.

Though I'm no fan of Selig Harrison, I share his view that the seemingly monolithic regime in Pyongyang is actually caught up in some serious factionalism, the kind you'd see in any Korean palace drama on the telly. And I'm holding out that the Michael Jordan-loving Kim Jong-un, who have long believed is just a figurehead, may somehow find a way to transcend the fears of the different cliques in the government and drag his country into the 21st century, or at least the 20th century (circa 1990s). And if cell phone usage returns, I can hold onto that hope.

If not, prepare for things to get ugly before they get any better.

"Arrest him!" [source]


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Korea and Japan as brothers?

Real life has been kicking my arse lately, so I haven't been able to keep up with things I enjoy, like blogging, moviegoing, or visits to the beach.

One movie I've been keen to see is My Way, by the same director who brought us Taegukki (aka Brotherhood). That film was about two brothers who end up drafted in the Korean War and sent to the front lines. It is a grueling account of how families were thrown into turmoil during that fratricidal conflict.

My Way, which takes place in World War II, is not about biological brothers, but instead focuses on two "countrymen," one from Japan and the other from Korea, then part of Imperial Japan. Like director Kang Jekyu, I feel Korea and Japan could be and should be closer allies than they are, but historic issues get in the way.

The kernel of the movie, which I am hoping to see when/if it makes its way to Honolulu (I missed it in California this past vacation), is the story of a few Korean soldiers in German uniform who were captured at Normandy. They'd been Japanese Imperial soldiers, captured by the Russians who forced them to fight, then captured by the Germans who did the same. Finally, they were captured by the Americans who didn't know what nationality they were (a long American tradition involving Koreans).

I'd first read about it here, when that site was linked to The Marmot's Hole in a post I cannot find (maybe this one?), and I remember thinking to myself, "Gee, they really ought to make a movie about this story."

Fastforward some three years later, and that's what we've got. But instead of making the Japanese into the villains, it seems Mr Kang has decided to take a different look at the war: From the Wall Street Journal:
It builds on the brotherhood theme that made his last movie, the 2004 epic on the Korean War called “Taegukgi,” one of the biggest hits in Korean cinema history. “Taegukgi” was about two brothers who fought on opposite sides of the Korean War. In “My Way,” the Korean soldier’s odyssey from Japan to the Soviet Union to Germany to France is matched by a Japanese man who was the Korean’s rival in long-distance running. Instead of blood ties, they are bound by shared experience and historic ties that loom larger for them the farther they get from home.
Mr Kang expands further on what he hopes to accomplish with the film, vis-à-vis Korea-Japan relations, at least at the social level:
I think Japan is the closest country to Korea. When the movie “Shiri” was released in Japan, it met with a favorable response from Japanese audiences, so I felt more familiar and close to Japan. But I feel sorry that Korea and Japan have a different perspective on some issues such as comfort women, Dokdo Island and the portrayal of Korea in Japanese textbooks. I thought if such situations keep going, the two countries will remain as far apart as ever. So I’ve wanted South Korea and Japan to have some opportunities to get closer and understand each other, and hoped to contribute it by making a movie. While my movies so far have talked about inter-Korean issues, I wanted to provide opportunities for Asian countries to understand each other more.
Hear! Hear! In a region of long memories and short tempers, it's hard to build bridges and start anew, but it's never going to happen if no one tries.


Friday, January 27, 2012

A man who might be more hated than Apolo Ohno?

If that were even possible (I'm just kidding... the Apolo Ohno thing is a rivalry, and there was a strong "We wuz robbed!" vibe during the 2002 Olympics, but hate is an awfully strong word).

Anyway, it seems one of South Korea's former short-track stars has decided the best way to get into the Olympics is to bypass the uber-talented group of skaters on the Korea Republic team by joining another country. Yeah, passport and all.

Ahn Hyunsoo has decided to obtain Russian citizenship in the hopes of bringing the gold to the host nation's team during the 2014 Winter Olympiad at Sochi.

Yeah, that Sochi, the one that beat out South Korea's Pyongchang for hosting rights, four years after Vancouver had barely beaten out South Korea. Yeah, that Sochi, the summer resort that's uncomfortably close to some very angry separatists who occasionally resort to terrorism.

With that still fresh in SoKos' minds (all grievances since 1592 are fresh in SoKos' minds, except those committed by China and North Korea — I kid! I kid!), imagine how popular Mr Ahn will be if he beats out South Korean skaters who are still South Koreans, and brings home gold for the Russians.

Expect Apolo Ohno to smirk. More than usual.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Meet El Presidente

The Los Angeles Times mentions a discussion Mitt Romney has had with a TV anchor for Univision, the Spanish-language television network that is ripping our social fabric to shreds is the largest Spanish-langauge network in los Estados Unidos.

Apparently the suggestion was made that because his father was born in Mexico, that might make Mitt Romney the first Mexican-American to win the White House.
George Romney -- auto company president, Michigan governor and 1968 Republican presidential aspirant -- was, in fact, born in Mexico, where his parents lived in a Mormon community.

Jorge Ramos, a Univision TV anchor, asked if that could allow his son to claim that he’s of Mexican American descent and possibly become the first Hispanic president.

Romney, who doesn’t speak Spanish, indicated that he’d be very pleased if that idea got spread around ahead of Tuesday’s primary in Florida. About one-tenth of the Republican vote is expected to be cast by Latinos, mainly Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans and a smattering of immigrants from Central and South America.

“I would love to be able to convince people of that, particularly in a Florida primary,” Romney said, with a chuckle, during the interview in Miami, a Cuban American stronghold.

“But I think that might be disingenuous on my part,” he added.
If all this were true, that would make him part of the Juan Percent. [rim shot]

Others might say he's definitely a Mexican't, and a bit of a Felipe-flopper.

I'm here all week!

(The title is from a Duran Duran song, circa the Pleistocene Era)


SoKo in the SOTU

With the passage of the Korea-US free trade agreement (aka KORUS FTA) being one of President Obama's key accomplishments in 2011, a year marked by contentious relations with an obstructionist Congress, it's no wonder he decided to highlight it in Tuesday night's State of the Union address:
My message is simple. It’s time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America. Send me these tax reforms, and I’ll sign them right away.

We’re also making it easier for American businesses to sell products all over the world. Two years ago, I set a goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years. With the bipartisan trade agreements I signed into law, we are on track to meet that goal – ahead of schedule. Soon, there will be millions of new customers for American goods in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. Soon, there will be new cars on the streets of Seoul imported from Detroit, and Toledo, and Chicago.

I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products.
Putting Fords, Chryslers, and Chevys on Korean roads is a frequent theme of Obama's speeches, although everyone should realize by now that General Motors, in the form of GM Daewoo, is the third largest automobile company in South Korea, and it now comes with a Chevrolet nameplate.

But the very next thing in the address is a warning to unfair trading "partners":
And I will not stand by when our competitors don’t play by the rules. We’ve brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration – and it’s made a difference. Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires. But we need to do more. It’s not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated. It’s not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they’re heavily subsidized.

Tonight, I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trade practices in countries like China. There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders. And this Congress should make sure that no foreign company has an advantage over American manufacturing when it comes to accessing finance or new markets like Russia. Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you – America will always win.
When so much of the rhetoric about the KORUS FTA revolved around supposedly unfair advantages that Korean car companies had over their American counterparts, I'm not too happy about the juxtaposition of trade with Korea and trade with China.

But that's me. I suspect that the same people who aren't sure which Korea is the good one might also think Korea is a city in China.

Indirectly, there were other mentions of Korea, particularly in reference to military affairs:
The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe. Our oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever. Our ties to the Americas are deeper. Our iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history. We’ve made it clear that America is a Pacific power, and a new beginning in Burma has lit a new hope. From the coalitions we’ve built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease; from the blows we’ve dealt to our enemies; to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back.

Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world, all of whom are eager to work with us. That’s not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin; from Cape Town to Rio; where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years. Yes, the world is changing; no, we can’t control every event. But America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs – and as long as I’m President, I intend to keep it that way.
I'll admit I've only read parts of the speech so far, but I plan to listen to it sometime in the next couple days. It seems to have been well received, even if much of it is unrealistic given the vehement opposition he faces in the House of Representatives.

I didn't vote for Obama, but I do like the guy a lot more than I do any of the GOP candidates left in the race, and I think Obama deserves more credit than he gets. We are in a much better place than we would be otherwise, he's gotten some very important things done, and I think he has the vision, the smarts, the people, and the drive to keep moving us forward.

Tea Partiers mockingly call him "The One," but he is, right now, the one I want.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How do you like them Apples?

On my desk, literally within arm's length, I have six Apple products. There's a nearly three-and-a-half-year old MacBook Pro, a 2.5-year-old iMac, a two-year-old iPod Shuffle, a one-and-a-half-year-old iPhone 4, an iPad 2 that I won last month from the Orange County Register, and the navy-colored leather Smart Cover that I got for Christmas for the iPad 2.

What do these things have in common? All of them say, "Designed by Apple in California; Assembled in China," on the back.

Don't think I'm the only one who has noticed this. In fact, it's probably a sore point with a lot of people who are tired of going to Target, Walmart, the Apple Store, etc., and not only failing to see "Made in USA" on anything, but also seeing "Made in China" every frickin' where.

And it was apparently a sore point with President Obama, who, according to the New York Times, took Mr Jobs to task for failing to churn more American jobs out of Apple's success. Mr Jobs's answer was revealing:
Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.

Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

The president’s question touched upon a central conviction at Apple. It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.
Despite that ominous description, it's not a complete disaster. The NYT says that over two-thirds of the people whom Apple employs (43,000 of 63,000) are in the United States. But the US is still missing out on a lot of manufacturing jobs at a time when the manufacturing base seems to be eroding.

And it's not just China that benefits. One reason I thought this story was relevant to this Korea-oriented blog is that Korean companies — Samsung in particular — are major beneficiaries of Jobs's global supply chain.

And why he chose this approach is itself revealing, since it's not just about cheap labor:
For over two years, the company had been working on a project — code-named Purple 2 — that presented the same questions at every turn: how do you completely reimagine the cellphone? And how do you design it at the highest quality — with an unscratchable screen, for instance — while also ensuring that millions can be manufactured quickly and inexpensively enough to earn a significant profit?

The answers, almost every time, were found outside the United States. Though components differ between versions, all iPhones contain hundreds of parts, an estimated 90 percent of which are manufactured abroad. Advanced semiconductors have come from Germany and Taiwan, memory from Korea and Japan, display panels and circuitry from Korea and Taiwan, chipsets from Europe and rare metals from Africa and Asia. And all of it is put together in China.

In its early days, Apple usually didn’t look beyond its own backyard for manufacturing solutions. A few years after Apple began building the Macintosh in 1983, for instance, Mr. Jobs bragged that it was “a machine that is made in America.” In 1990, while Mr. Jobs was running NeXT, which was eventually bought by Apple, the executive told a reporter that “I’m as proud of the factory as I am of the computer.” As late as 2002, top Apple executives occasionally drove two hours northeast of their headquarters to visit the company’s iMac plant in Elk Grove, Calif.

But by 2004, Apple had largely turned to foreign manufacturing. Guiding that decision was Apple’s operations expert, Timothy D. Cook, who replaced Mr. Jobs as chief executive last August, six weeks before Mr. Jobs’s death. Most other American electronics companies had already gone abroad, and Apple, which at the time was struggling, felt it had to grasp every advantage.

In part, Asia was attractive because the semiskilled workers there were cheaper. But that wasn’t driving Apple. For technology companies, the cost of labor is minimal compared with the expense of buying parts and managing supply chains that bring together components and services from hundreds of companies.

For Mr. Cook, the focus on Asia “came down to two things,” said one former high-ranking Apple executive. Factories in Asia “can scale up and down faster” and “Asian supply chains have surpassed what’s in the U.S.” The result is that “we can’t compete at this point,” the executive said.
An efficient supply chain is key. I was talking with a Hyundai Motors executive recently who was talking up his company's recent success at selling high-quality cars at low prices. It wasn't cheaper labor, he insisted, but an efficient supply chain and transportation network that is effectively controlled and managed by the company itself, instead of being a loose connection of subcontractors.

Theirs, too, is a global phenomenon, and maybe it's time we recognize that this is the future and try to look at the bright side: perhaps it's not a problem that, say, those 63,000 jobs are not all American jobs, but rather there is an upside that the 20,000 that are not American allow for the existence of the 43,000 that are.


The Marmot's Pinhole:
a view of Inchon Bridge

If you haven't checked out The Marmot's other blog, the one with pictures of all the buildings, both old and new, go do so.

In addition to a new take on old structures, the Marmot likes snapping pictures of Korea's more modern constructions, like Songdo New City in or the freshly iconic Inch'ŏn Bridge that cuts across the bay connecting the northern port city with its highly acclaimed air terminal.

Is it just me or did Samsung, which built the bridge, deliberately set things up so that pictures from this vantage point would inevitably have a giant 'S' in them?


Korean hip-hop going global, says dying magazine

Newsweek (can you get any more 1980s than that?) has an article on Korean hip-hop going global (which also reminds me of the 1980s):
East Asia’s music industry is being astutely tailored for a global audience in the digital age. “There is no line between Korean, Japanese, or international music since YouTube,” explains 2NE1’s lead rapper, CL. “It’s just the whole world through the Internet.”

K-pop groups have certainly found success abroad: bands like Girls’ Generation and TVXQ draw impressive crowds at shows in New York and L.A. Now K-hop is getting in on the act: Internet exposure helped boy band Big Bang win the World Wide Act award at the MTV Europe Music Awards last June, and MTV Iggy just crowned 2NE1 the Best New Band in the World.

While some critics still question whether K-hop will ever make waves on mainstream U.S. radio, Korean-American producers such as Teddy Park (of 2NE1) and Jae Chong (of Aziatix) are hoping that the genre will be the true crossover hit, with its ties to hip-hop, soul, and electronica. Park grew up in New Jersey and California on a diet of Queen and the Wu-Tang Clan. The 33-year-old, who has overseen 2NE1’s career from its inception, always wondered why the world music scene was missing a big global Asian act.
Um, well, for starters, non-Asian women have tended (note that this is a generalization with many, many exceptions) to not see Asian men as heartthrobs. But that is changing, as Asian media giants get to choose who to put up on stage instead of having to rely on Hollywood to put up someone sexier than Hiro from Heroes.

I have no pithy point to make about all this. This post is a five-minute hit piece while I eat a quickie dinner and get back to the academic salt mines. But I will say, to all you naysaying hatahs who said that Hallyu would never make it out of the backyard: Boo yah, bitches!

Frankly, I have no idea if that made any sense. I hate hip-hop. Korean, American, or otherwise. I just find the whole thing about Korean soft power increasing because of a sudden love of Korean movies, dramas, and lately music and dancing, a very interesting phenomenon.

I have no idea who these people are. Nor do I care.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

No beef with Canadians

The big news today may be that Canada will resume exports of under-thirty-month beef to South Korea, something that was stopped in 2003 after a Mad Cow Disease-afflicted bovine from Canada was discovered in the US. Japan also halted such imports, meaning the US and Canada lost two of their top three export markets.

But with Canadian beef returning to Korean supermarkets and restaurants, don't expect major demonstrations and candlelight vigils like we saw in 2008. There will be some handwringing and minor demonstrations, as there were when the FTA with Chile and later with the EU were passed.

That's because, while there will be anger among Hanu Beef producers (there's no frickin' w in 한우!) about further competition from abroad (Australia, the US, and now Canada), the chinboistas do not have much of political value to gain from going after Canada or Canadians. To understand what I'm talking about, read this post from three years ago.

Yup. And that's why no one on the pro-Pyongyang left is really making an attempt to take the murder of a college co-ed by her university lecturer ex-boyfriend from Canada and paint a bigger picture about Canadians in general.

Three things these Canadian cows headed for Korea have in common with Canadian English teachers also headed for Korea: (1) they'll be treated like cattle,  (2) their living arrangements will be about the same size, and (3) they'll have the same number of roommates. 


Friday, January 20, 2012

As long as Hwang Woosuk was not involved, I'll try it

Medipost, a South Korean medical company, is boasting the world's first approved medicine using stem cells

From AFP:
South Korea's government drug agency cleared the way Thursday for commercial sales of what it called the world's first approved medicine using stem cells collected from other people.

Cartistem, developed by Seoul-based Medipost, will help regenerate knee cartilage using stem cells developed from newborns' umbilical cord blood, the Korea Food and Drug Administration said.

"Cartistem is... the world's first approved allogeneic (taken from different individuals of the same species) stem cell drug, that can offer new opportunity for treatment of patients with degenerative arthritis," the administration said in a statement.
Having suffered a knee injury following a traffic accident in high school, I'd love to try this and see if it works.

The possibility of using stem cells to regenerate things that have degenerated is extremely promising. The brains of those suffering from Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, the spinal chord of those who have been paralyzed, various organs, etc., etc.

This is all the more promising if it can sidestep the ethical and political dilemma of using stem cells obtained from aborted fetuses.

It's a brave new world.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How is this man still alive?

I was one of the first to cast doubts on what kind of grip on power — if any — Kim Jong-un would have in North Korea once his father kicked the bucket. In the past I have referred to him as The Kim Who Wasn't There, suggesting that whatever coronation the Western media (including South Korea and Japan) were bestowing on him was premature: his power was inchoate and his ascension was cosmetic if not wholly imaginary.

In the wake of his father's death, his sudden rise and ubiquity in North Korean media smells to me like a scramble to put him in place for the sake of continuity, a quickie act of convenience for everyone involved, but I would bet dollars to malasadas that whatever faction is supporting him has a tenuous hold at best. The Incas may well have been talking about the Kim Dynasty when they had their calendar ending in 2012.

Um, anyway, the reason for this post, other than to sum up the current evolution of my Nork Dynasty Denial, is that Kim Jongun's hyŏng Kim Jongnam seems to agree with me.

From the Christian Science Monitor, which is not Christian, not science, nor any kind of lizard:
Kim’s oldest brother, Kim Jong-Nam, living in the gambling enclave of Macao on the southeastern coast of China, hinted at the lack of confidence behind the campaign to glorify the new leader, according to a Japanese newspaper.

Rejected by his father as a successor more than 10 years ago, Kim Jong-nam reportedly talked about the buildup of his brother while expressing misgivings. Mr. Kim reportedly told the Tokyo Shimbun in an e-mail that he expected “the existing ruling elite to follow in the footsteps of my father while keeping the young successor as a symbolic figure."

It was “difficult,” he was quoted as saying in a burst of frankness that he has displayed in earlier encounters with the Japanese media, “to accept a third-generation succession under normal reasoning."

Kim Jong-nam was quoted in a newly published book by Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi as having been still more critical. In the book, entitled "My father Kim Jong-Il and Me," he said, "North Korea is very unstable" and "the power of the military has become too strong." Jong-nam, communicating in Korean by e-mail and in interviews with Mr. Gomi last year, is quoted as saying, "If the succession ends in failure, the military will wield the real power for sure."

That perspective from a close but clearly disillusioned relative jibes with the views of foreign analysts who wonder how long Kim Jong-un can last – or whether he can possibly take charge of his own destiny and that of his people.
Funny how "the views of foreign analysts" are only now catching up with what I'd been saying on this blog back in 2010 (and yeah, I know that some of them were reading it, too).

Anyway, Kim Jongnam must have cojones the size of beach balls, because he seems unable to resist poking the Pyongyang power elite in the eye. I hope the guy stays out of trouble, because I see a role for him in the future as either (a) an adviser to his little brother who may really want to change things in the DPRK or (b) a pragmatic figure who can step in and be a bridge from the past to the future if things start getting unstable. Call me a perpetual optimist.


Looks like Wikipedia picked the wrong day to quit providing free information

Today, of all days, why did Wikipedia have to go black? I have about three or four days of research to cram into the next six hours.

Yeah, yeah, freedom of the Internet, woo hoo! and all that. But I need my quickie resources and questionable factoids now!


UPDATED: Beaten black and blue by the Pinkberry founder

Yeah, I've had a bit of fun in the past with the name "pinkberry" and that of its Korea-based rival "Red Mango." But this is serious, if it sounds the way the LAPD is making it sound.

It seems that Young Lee (I know three people with that name), one of the co-founders of the addictive Crackberry Pinkberry yogurt chain along with fellow kyopo entrepreneur Shelly Hwang, has been arrested for "beating down" a homeless man who'd approached him in his car asking for money. According to the LAPD, Lee and a passenger in his car attacked the homeless man with a tire iron. Yikes.

The incident occurred over half a year ago but Mr Lee was arrested only this past weekend when he was at LAX:
The incident took place in June 2011 on an off-ramp of the Hollywood Freeway at Vermont Avenue, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Young Lee was stopped at a light when he was approached by a transient seeking money, police said.

Words were exchanged, and Lee and another man in the car chased the homeless man and "beat him down" with the tire iron, police Capt. Paul Vernon said.

"This case is emblematic of how the homeless are among the most vulnerable in our society." said Vernon, commanding officer of the Central Detective Division.The extent of the homeless man's injuries hasn't been disclosed.

Detectives spent several months probing the case against Lee, who was in South Korea for part of that time.

Lee, 47, was taken into custody at Los Angeles International Airport on Monday night by the LAX Fugitive Task Force, which includes LAPD officers and FBI agents. He was booked at the LAPD's Pacific Division station, according to online Sheriff's Department booking records. Bail was set at $60,000 but the records do not indicate whether Lee was released.
Nobody deserves to be beaten down with a tire iron, and it seems to me a big chunk of the story is missing. Was Mr Lee intoxicated? Does he have arrests for other acts of violence or is this a one-off? (It seems out of character for a yogurt-monger but maybe not for a former kickboxer.)

On the other hand, despite the LAPD's statement that homeless are "among the most vulnerable," some of them can also be among the most aggressive. Here in Honolulu and back in Orange County, the homeless are a widely passive and non-menacing lot, but I've had my property or person threatened by homeless individuals in Los Angeles and San Francisco (e.g., most commonly, being told that if I give a nearby homeless person the money he's asking, he'll be sure to watch my rental car and be sure it remains safe, but if I don't pay and he doesn't watch it, who knows what terrible things might happen to it). And back in Seoul we've had occasional incidents of mentally ill homeless people killing subway commuters by pushing them into oncoming trains.

I don't mean this as a rant on the homeless, but the "most vulnerable" label is only half the story and I wonder if, as happened to me, the homeless man who approached Mr Lee's car did something threatening. Maybe, maybe not. I'm a bit incredulous that Mr Lee snapped for no good reason and a homeless man just happened to be there to receive his wrath.

Normally I wouldn't go this far with something that is pure speculation and ponderation, and I'm loath to "blame the victim," who might very well be nothing but a victim in this case, but when the LAPD offers an individual case as "emblematic" of something, that suggests they wish to make it a symbol and a cause célèbre, and I'd like to know if that's warranted.

Lee's publicized arrest is coming on the heels of a veritable serial killer recently being on the loose in neighboring Orange County, a murderer who'd been targeting homeless people and violently stabbing them to death. So far four people living on the street have lost their lives, and although a suspect has been caught, the situation has brought attention to their plight and vulnerability. The beating death of Kelly Thomas by police in the northern OC community of Fullerton last summer (and the subsequent cover-up) has also shone a light on the situation.

The Los Angeles Times is finally coming out with a bit more of the story, although it doesn't absolve Mr Lee of his violent reaction. He claims words were exchanged with the homeless man who was sporting a sexually offensive tattoo:
A founder of the Pinkberry yogurt chain allegedly beat up a homeless man with a tire iron because he found the transient's sexually explicit tattoo offensive, according to L.A. prosecutors. ...

Words were exchanged, and Lee and another man in the car chased the homeless man and "beat him down" with the tire iron, police Capt. Paul Vernon said.

According to a statement by the district attorney's office, Lee felt disrespected by the tattoo. Officials did not provide a detailed description of the tattoo.
Well, now I'm really curious. There is such a thing as "fighting words," and I wonder if there was any element to that in this mystery marking.

The LAT has its third story today about the assault. Through his attorney, Mr Lee is saying that he felt "threatened" and "at risk." And it looks like Mr Lee's attorney is echoing some of the comments I made above:
"It's inappropriate for the LAPD and D.A. to make their arguments in the press," said Lee's criminal defense attorney, Philip Kent Cohen. "As the evidence comes out, the reality will be much different than has been presented."

Cohen said there were a total of six people in Lee's car. The victim "made explicit threats as if he had a weapon," Cohen said.

"All of the people in the car felt at risk and felt threatened," Cohen said. "All of this will be flushed out in court."

Cohen said that his client has cooperated with LAPD detectives from the beginning. The lawyer said Lee contacted investigators as soon as he found out that they had visited his Malibu home and issued a warrant for his arrest.
This is looking less clearcut than first presented by the LAPD. The Los Angeles Times was a bit sloppy and premature in how they presented this, even if it turns out that Mr Lee was completely in the wrong, which I now have doubts about.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Huntsman has left the building

My favorite GOP candidate for president, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, has decided to call it quits.

I am terribly disappointed by this. Governor Huntsman was by far my favorite, even if I don't agree with all his views. First of all, he did actually attempt health care reform, which is a far cry from the rest of the field, who just whine about Obamacare without acknowledging that their party has done nothing real to deal with this issue after killing Hillarycare back in the mid-1990s. (Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is an exception to this, of course, but in order to appeal to the far right, he's running on a platform of killing the same Obamacare that is modeled after his own Romneycare.)

Governor Huntsman also has shown not only that he can work with the other side (he was President Obama's ambassador to China) but also that he sees tremendous value in doing so. His quick response to Mitt Romney's absurd criticism of Huntsman for working with Obama was laudatory and downright inspiring: Romney's attitude of party over country is precisely what is wrong with this country (he says as much at about 1:20 or 1:30 in the above video).

In case you missed what I'm talking about, here's a post-debate piece from just before the New Hampshire primary:
Huntsman: “I was criticized last night by Governor Romney for putting my country first … He criticized me while he was out raising money for serving my country in China. Yes, under a Democrat. Like my two sons are doing in the United States Navy. They're not asking what political affiliation the president is. I want to be very clear with the people here in New Hampshire and this country: I will always put my country first.”

Here was Romney’s response: “I think we serve our country first by standing for people who believe in conservative principles and doing everything in our power to promote an agenda that does not include President Obama's agenda.”

Huntsman’s invocation of his two sons serving in the military is an essential reminder of a bedrock American tradition: our servicemen and women do not make their service contingent on the political persuasion of the president. That’s because they are patriots first, not partisans. Huntsman deserved the applause he received for that line.

Romney’s response seems to me at least as remarkable: “I think we serve our country first by standing for people who believe in conservative principles …” That is the opposite of John McCain’s 2008 campaign slogan, “Country First.” Romney’s answer is “Party First,” “Ideology First.”
But the right wing that has a chokehold on the Republican Party today has been fed so much red meat that they see that as weak, socialist, and un-American, among other things.

Like I said, I don't agree with everything Huntsman stands for, but neither do I feel the same about Obama. But with the exit of Huntsman, we're down to few or no candidates who I would feel comfortable with as president for the next four to eight years. In fact, the most disappointing thing about this is that Huntsman turned around and endorsed Romney, whose flip-flopping and running away from the best part of his record in order to pander to the right makes him a lousy choice for president.

The only good I can see from that move is the possibility that he might be picked as a running mate for Romney, but with the Religious Right being so concerned about Romney's Mormonism, I don't see Mitt doubling down on what is a major source of concern among many conservative voters.

This is terribly disappointing. He was by far my favorite, in part because (a) he actually attempted health care reform in his state and (b) he saw the value in going across the aisle to make things work.

Right now, if I were to have to choose someone to vote for, I guess I'd pick Newt Gingrich, mainly because he has shown, during the Clinton years, that he is able to hammer out important deals with the Democrats that get the country back on track. Pragmatism and country before ideology, at least on the budget deficit and the national debt (not so much on health care).

Frankly, though, Huntsman was the last truly electable candidate running. Mitt Romney faces an uphill battle with his own party because of his past support for universal health care, his Mormonism, and lately his history of laying off people. Gingrich faces an uphill battle with non-conservatives due to his abrasiveness and his history of infidelity (hypocritical infidelity, no less). Ron Paul has some great ideas but is a simplistic kook on others. Though he demonstrates flexibility over ideology, Rick Santorum holds tight to homophobic views that are at odds with independent and Democratic voters, while his own record of political advantage-making will likely come back to haunt him in the general election.

Well, there's still Gary Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico who was wildly popular with Republicans and Democrats with viable positions on a number of issues. Inexplicably and inexcusably, Governor Johnson has been excluded from all the Republican debates, as if he is not a serious candidate and as if he is not even running. In all seriousness, this is an absolute travesty of our democratic system. Perhaps he wasn't invited because he stands for drug legalization and believes same-sex marriage should be allowed, but is this all that different from Ron Paul?

If you find yourself flirting with some of Ron Paul's more sensible ideas but you're turned off by his wackiness on others, go check out Gary Johnson. With Huntsman gone, he's my next favorite candidate.


Monday, January 16, 2012

A tale of rescue underscores the sordid situation surrounding refugees hiding in China

In the Los Angeles Times, Seoul correspondent John Glionna tells the story of Krys Lee, a Korean-American writer and daughter of a sometimes abusive pastor, who has sacrificed her money and risked her safety to rescue one Mr Kim, a troubled refugee from North Korea who Ms Lee describes as having been held captive in China by a Korean missionary who had different plans (involving returning to North Korea to proselytize) for Mr Kim.

The story underscores the conflicts between and within the various groups along the underground railroad ferrying people out of North Korea and hiding them in China until they can make it to a foreign diplomatic mission or another country. In many cases, missionaries and religious groups are risking their lives to rescue North Koreans, but there are indeed some bad apples among them.


Mitt the Ripper

Being one of those people who was appalled by the Citizens United decision long before Obama told me I should be, I absolutely love the way Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart have been edumacating the viewing public on what a threat to our democracy it is when we have unfettered cash pouring into our electoral process.

It's bonus points when they make hilarious things like this:

"If corporations are people, then Mitt Romney is a serial killer." Gotta love it.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Kids react (the way Kushibo does) to K-pop

So while I'm waiting to be picked up at Honolulu's Hawaiian Air Terminal the other day, I'm checking out this video, suggested by a Yonsei alumna friend on her Facebook page, about the plight of one Russell Green, an adoptee who wasn't fully adopted and now faces deportation...

... and that's when YouTube suggested I also check out "Kids React to K-Pop," because forced deportation of a Korea-born adoptee is naturally associated with American kids making funny faces at the silliness that is K-pop.

I guess they'd have the same keywords: kids, Korean, US, freaked out.

Anyway, I was intrigued by the K-pop video just because the kids' attitude is pretty much my own when it comes to the monster that K-pop has become.

Don't get me wrong: I'm thrilled that Korea is developing so much soft power with its pop culture offerings lately, primarily in the form of movies, music, and dramas, but I'm just not into pop music at all. I love Korean movies and have a whole bunch in my Netflix queue. Though I don't watch as many Korean television programs as I used to (my ex-fiancée and I used to do that as one of our things, but since we broke up it just wasn't fun anymore and I got out of the habit), I am happy that hulu has gone hallyu.

But I never got into the whole music scene, of any country. There are too many made-for-TV pop idols whose major claim to fame is that they wear hot pants and dance around looking cutesy and act aegyotistical. I'd rather find age- and behavior-appropriate women in real life, so I have about as much interest in The Wonder Girls as I do Miley Cyrus. Sure, if I have a chance to meet with them and chat them up or more, I will, but it's just not something I spend a lot of time on.

Anyway, it seems that K-pop has become a thing in the US, with people even reacting to the reaction. About five years ago, the Korea-bashing naysayers were questioning whether K-pop or hallyu could make a dent outside of Korea, but now we've seen it wash over the rest of East Asia, including Japan, and now it seems to be getting a serious foothold in the United States and Europe. I never had the confidence that this would happen, but I certainly wasn't pooh-poohing the idea, either.

Frankly, as long as it doesn't attract horny folks to Korea who think that teaching in a secondary school would be like a smorgasbord, I'm all for this expansion of South Korean soft power. Heck, I someday see the potential for the love of Girls' Generation, along with the NBA, to bring together Kim Jong-un and some current or future American POTUS or Secretary of State.

And finally, remember Russell Green. There's something fundamentally wrong when his video has barely a thousand hits and the "Kids React to K-pop" video gets a million or so.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Death to US Imperialist Wolves and Happy Hanukkah

30 Rock is back. And while its season premiere, occurring in January to accommodate Tina Fey's pregnancy, was not the most gut-wrenchingly hilarious episode ever, it did have some laugh-out-loud moments that had me frightening the cat.

But why am I talking about it here, on this blog dedicated to ROK-related news, Korean cultural issues, and gripes about what kinetic balls of narcissism my nephews and nieces are? There is indeed a Korean connection: You may recall last spring that the season finale had comedienne Margaret Cho, a favorite among the gay for her gender ambiguity, playing Kim Jong-il.

When we left things off, the Dear Leader had just kidnapped the wife of Jack Donaghy (played by Words With Friends aficionado Alec Baldwin). Well, it seems that Margaret Cho has lost what could have been a  lucrative gig when the Dear Leader joined the Great Gulag and Re-Education Camp in the sky ground.

I feel ya, Margaret Cho (in the figurative, empathetic sense only). Kim Jong-il's death has cost me several hundred dollars as well, in the form of a weaker South Korean currency. This was the natural result of fears of political instability on the Korean Peninsula, worries about rogue nukes going a missin', a sudden dearth of jokes on late night television, and the permanent shelving of plans for a sequel to Team America: World Police.

(Indeed, the KRW is a very sensitive currency, which tends to fall precipitously whenever there is bad news in South Korea, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Africa, South Central Los Angeles, or either of the Dakotas. I've already sold short in anticipation of whatever will happen during the South Carolina primary. And no, I'm not exaggerating. We have recently seen the Korean won plunge on a daily basis due to the Euro-zone not getting its act together, the Moody Blues' credit downgrade of the United States, and either Nicolas Sarkozy or Silvio Berlusconi getting an erection lasting for more than four hours. Joe Biden sneezing would cost me at least fifty bucks right now.)

Um, anyway, in lieu of Kim Jong-il, the writers brought in Kim Jong-un, a man-child whose name is apparently even harder to pronounce than his father's. I have not yet finished watching the episode, however, so all I can do is say, "Hmm, this would be a good time to mention any one of my posts on famous non-Koreans wearing hanbok" (the latter is a lot funnier if you're as drunk as I was when I wrote it).

I finally watched the entire episode and, as I suspected, the brief mention of the Ling-and-Lee-esque detainment of Jack Donaghy's wife in North Korea did not go beyond the above sight gag. I'm guessing they plan to make her "rescue" a bigger focus later, and thus will drag this out a bit while Rachel McAdams Elizabeth Banks (who plays Mrs Donaghy) finishes up a few projects.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hyundai Elantra chosen as North American Car of the Year

Given that Hyundai won this just a few years ago with its luxury Genesis offering, maybe this is becoming a thing.

From CNN:
Detroit automakers got shut out of honors at their hometown's auto show Monday as the Hyundai Elantra and the Range Rover Evoque won North American car and truck of the year awards.

The win by Hyundai is the second time it captures car of the year honors at the show in four years. Its luxury Genesis won the award in 2009.

It also marked another sign of the growing competitive threat that the Korean automaker poses to Detroit. Hyundai Motor's two brands, Hyundai and Kia, captured nearly 9% of the U.S. market in 2011, nearly double the share it had five years ago.

"Sporty yet sensible. Luxurious, yet affordable. Spunky, but safe," said Jayne O'Donnell of USA Today, one of the judges. "The Elantra is a series of paradoxes and every one is another argument for the latest impressive entry in the Hyundai lineup."
A car must be all new or substantially changed in order to be eligible, and the 2012 model is a major reworking from the 2011 and earlier models, which were also respectable (I had a 2009 Elantra as a rental and quite enjoyed its zippiness and roominess).

The gist of the Elantra's selection is that it is a pretty nice car in terms of safety, reliability, affordability, and sportiness, but which feels like a much more expensive car.

For a small car it doesn't seem like a small car. My aunt, who is in the market for one to replace her dilapidated Honda minivan now that she doesn't have to drive a whole mess of kids around, remarked that you could fit a couple bodies in the trunk.

(HT to my mom, who loves her Hyundai SUV, even if it isn't exactly easy on the MPGs)


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kim Jong-un caption contest #2012-01

The Great Successor is proving to be quite camera-friendly. He's everywhere and doing everything, apparently taking his cues from the Dukakis '88 playbook.

And all this is just begging to be turned into caption contests, for which I'd say we're well overdue.

I'll start:
"I'm not kidding around, you guys. I'm stuck!"


And coming in at #42

South Korea made the New York Times list of "The Forty-five Places To Go in 2012." Not a single place, but the entire country, or at least the golf courses:
South Korea is redefining just how luxurious golf resorts can be. A slew of new private clubs — the kind with six-digit membership fees, designs by celebrity architects and clubhouses that look like modern art museums — have opened recently in the country.

The most prestigious is Haesley Nine Bridges, just outside Seoul, with a clubhouse covered by a huge, sinuous web of wooden beams (it also features one of Jeff Koons’s giant balloon toy sculptures).

Then there’s the Ananti Club, also a commuter’s distance from Seoul: 486 acres containing three courses nestled in the Yumyŏngsan forest, with a clubhouse, designed by the architect Ken Min, built almost entirely underground. And the futuristic Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea, which opened last year in the financial center of Songdo, has a huge, undulating clubhouse designed by the California architect Mehrdad Yazdani.

In 2015, South Korea will be the host of the Presidents Cup for the first time; apparently there are some tournament-worthy courses to go with all those fancy new clubhouses.
Go and read about the other forty-four, which include the Florence's art scene, luxury accommodations in Antarctica, and the nation of Panama, flush with investors, retirees, and visitors in the wake of the same wave of free-trade frenzy that brought us the KORUS FTA.