Monday, April 30, 2012

Rodney King riots plus 20

April 29 (which is today in Hawaii and California, but yesterday in Korea) marks the twentieth anniversary of one of the worst outbreaks of domestic violence in modern American history.

Three years ago, I wrote about as thorough a post as I care to about this terrible event, so just go there. It also addresses Cho Seunghui and the Korean-American (and South Korean) reactions to that mass killing:
White cops beat down a Black motorist.

White cops acquitted despite being videotaped.

Angry Blacks riot and target Korean stores.

I'm somewhat simplifying things, of course, but there's a point: Prior to that, the only conceivable connection between Rodney King and anything or anyone Korean was that he was driving a Hyundai Excel (supposedly at 100 mph).

Given how badly the Los Angeles area Korean-American community was blindsided, I'd say it was prudent for kyopo across America (and other Asians, as the JACL said) to be at least a little concerned about a backlash against Koreans following the Seung-hui Cho massacre, though that sentiment was roundly mocked in the K-blogs two years ago.
Some other bloggers also have posts about twentieth anniversary, including the always thought-provoking The Korean. His includes a link to a KoreAm piece on oral histories of "4.29" (culturally and linguistically Koreanized as sa•igu) and a map of "destroyed and looted" businesses (which, methinks, should be two separates maps). 

One of the KoreAm links includes a statement by Angela Oh, whom I'd skewered in that three-year-old link. And while what happened to the Korean-American businesses was a tragedy and a wake-up call (on many different levels), a year or so after the fact they were saying that forty percent of the businesses that were destroyed were Korean-owned businesses, which made up thirty-seven percent of all businesses. 

That represents, statistically, near parity when it comes to destruction of Korean-owned businesses versus businesses owned by others, which calls into question how severe the "targeting" of Korean businesses actually was. (Yeah, yeah, that kind of statement is not going to win me any points with anyone.)

In other words, the angry crowd that was hell-bent on venting their anger and rage was rather indiscriminate in its self-infliction. (And since many of the accounts say that outsiders in various neighborhoods were doing the damage, how would they know which businesses outside of Koreatown were owned by Koreans and which were not?)

Elsewhere in the K-blogosphere, ROK Drop also has an anniversary post that also addresses that damage to the Korean-American community and the role the Latasha Harlins shooting death (at the hands of store owner Soonja Du) played in fueling anger between Blacks and Koreans. [UPDATE: The Marmot's Hole has a short post on 4.29 that actually links to this one.]

The Los Angeles Times has an excellent video interview of staff photographer Kirk McKoy, who was at ground zero (the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues) during the riots. The LAT also has an op-ed on the epic failure of the LAPD to protect and serve as the violence started and spread. 

The LAT also has a list of the dozens of dead from the three+ days of rioting, along with a description of what happened. These details belie the claim made by self-appointed Korean-American community leader Angela Oh in the KoreAm piece that "it was very specific to Koreans... Not to Chinese, not to Latinos, not to African Americans... It was just really clear that it was specifically toward Koreans," since the deaths include loads of Hispanics and people like 25-year-old Thanh Lam:
Lam was leaving his family's market in Compton, which had been looted and burned the night before. The traffic signal at Willowbrook Avenue and Alondra Boulevard had turned yellow, and Lam slowed to a stop.

A car bumped him from the rear and pulled up in the next lane. At least two gunmen leaned out with handguns and began firing. One bullet shattered the truck's window; a volley of shots ripped into the cab. Four bullets hit Lam, and within minutes he was dead.
The one Korean-American death was the tragic shooting of Edward Song Lee:
Edward Song Lee, an 18-year-old Asian man, was shot and killed Thursday, April 30, 1992, in Koreatown. Lee, a Korean American, was attempting to protect shops near 3rd Street and Hobart Boulevard when he was apparently shot by fellow Korean Americans who mistook him for a looter.
In fact, Edward Lee was the only Asian person killed in Koreatown. The others were White or Hispanic, people like thirty-year-old Patrick Bettan:
Bettan, a security guard at a Koreatown mini-mall in the 2700 block of West Olympic Boulevard, was accidentally shot by a co-worker during a looting incident.
Don't get me wrong, even though I believe careless gun handling contributed to these people's deaths, Mr Lee and Mr Bettan and the others were exceedingly brave for being where they are and their deaths ultimately fall upon the heads of those who had come to do damage and harm.

The 1993 South Korean film Western Avenue, starring Kang Suyŏn (강수연), later depicted the riots from the South Korean version of the Korean-American point of view.

As a California native with one foot in the Korean-American community and a few toes still in Compton, I still find the whole thing just so depressing. The warning signs were there long before, but people ignored them. All sides have some serious soul-searching to do, but instead we still get a lot of finger-pointing. 


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Korean tacos get T.G.I.F'ed

Remember back in the day, when the phrase "Korean taco" was a naughty euphemism for the land down under?

That was back before the Kogi Taco Truck graced the Big Orange, before the words "Korean" and "fusion" were ever uttered in the same sentence, other than references to Pyongyang's nuclear program.

But with success comes imitative flattery, and eventually things that are hip and cool (and delicious) go mainstream.

For the Korean taco, that day has arrived: T.G.I. Friday's has announced that Korean steak tacos are being added to their fare of flare:
Whether looking for fresh, seasonal dishes, like the Strawberry Fields Salad or Caribbean Spiced Rum Ribs, or to indulge in dishes that follow current flavor trends, like the Korean Steak Tacos or Salted Carmel Cake, T.G.I. Friday's® guests now have 17 more reasons to come in to Friday's and celebrate. The 17 new dishes and mouthwatering menu favorites add value and variety for Friday's guests, including new vegetarian options and more shareable appetizers.
Frankly, I'm shocked. First, I had no idea that T.G.I. Friday's still exists outside of South Korea and Guam (I guess their business model is that if they just stick around long enough, 1990s nostalgia will eventually be all the rage). Second, Korean food really seems to be going mainstream on the Mainland.

Ahh, I don't know why I'm bashing them. In fact, back in Seoul I've long enjoyed going out to the various "family restaurants" with friends and family: T.G.I.F.'s, Outback, Bennigan's, etc. I haven't been to Hooter's, but I did hit the Hard Rock once or twice and even the thankfully defunct Planet Hollywood. Heck, I actually remember when Coco's was the one and only option available (now that is 1990s nostalgia).

So does this mean that Korean food has "arrived" in America? Here in Hawaii, "Korean ribs," "bulgogi" (or some variation of the spelling), etc., are household terms, but the Aloha State is the crossroads of the Pacific, so that doesn't count (the Hallyu trend here predates the Hallyu trend from Korea).

If I end up in a T.G.I.F's anytime soon (my mom likes to go there for the lunch specials when I'm on the Mainland and since she's paying, I'm not complaining), I might try one of the Korean appetizers, but I think I'll stick with chasing around Kogi's naranja truck (naranja means orange, for you Spanish-impaired readers, a nod to the O in OC).

Writing for, Elisa Ung gives a tentative thumbs up to TGIF'd Korean tacos, I think:
The tacos were served nestled in foil, in a wire rack. The chunks of steak were tender; the dominant taste was soy sauce, but it was fairly mild. The meat also had a faintly sweet undertone, and bore some tinges of caramelization.

And that was basically the good news. Everything was wrapped in taut, sandpaper-like corn tortillas. I didn't taste ginger – though that may have been drowned out by the liberal globs of sriracha – and I saw no cilantro or basil, but my tacos were topped with a lettuce mix that included plenty of arugula.

Arugula! On a Korean taco! I could hear grandmothers from many different cultures howling as I ate.

I later tweeted Roy Choi, the acclaimed chef behind the Kogi truck. Was he going to try the T.G.I. Friday's tacos? "Wasn't planning on it," he tweeted back.

Does this dish show that Korean food is so common it now has the honor of being watered down into mediocre fare acceptable to the masses? That's nothing to celebrate. But the general prospect of more people discovering flavors? I'll raise a real bulgogi taco to that.
Yup. For you food purists who think Korean tacos shouldn't be served anywhere except from a truck, this is the price you pay for trying to popularize something you love, enough that it pops up in a neighborhood eatery so you don't have to drive twenty miles to get it: eventually someone tries to make it accessible to the hoi polloi in ways you might not approve. But isn't that phenomenon where Korean tacos come from in the first place?


Saturday, April 28, 2012

On student loans and public health responsibilities (alternate title: It's things like this that make it impossible for me to vote Republican)

Republicans and Democrats both supposedly agree that it would be a bad idea for interest rates on student loans to suddenly double from the three-percent range to 6.8 percent. But it is the Republicans' plans for how to pay for this that has me scratching my head and wondering what planet they live on:
The Obama administration today threatened to veto the GOP-proposed House version of a student loan bill because it would repeal a fund for preventive health services.

“This is a politically-motivated proposal and not the serious response that the problem facing America’s college students deserves,” the White House said in a statement. “If the president is presented with H.R. 4628, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.”

The $5.9 billion bill, which the House is debating today, would prevent interest rates on student loans from doubling July 1. To pay for it, however, the GOP version would cut the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a program created as part of the president’s health care reform act.

“Women, in particular, will benefit from this Prevention Fund, which would provide for hundreds of thousands of screenings for breast and cervical cancer,” according to the White House.

The veto threat comes after the president spent the week publicly campaigning for Congress to extend a 2007 law that cut student loan rates to 3.4 percent. If Congress does not act, interest rates will double to 6.8 percent this summer.
Seriously, this is wrong on so many levels. First of all, after the trillion-dollar-plus war in Iraq, when did the GOP get so picky about a mere $5.9 billion, hardly a drop in the bucket.

Second, how can it possibly help them in the upcoming election if they're trying to look sinister and out of touch. I mean, really, cutting preventive care? Can you get any more evil?

Third, by cutting a component of Obamacare that helps keep health care costs down and provides maximum benefit not just in terms of expenditures but also in quality of life, you're highlighting the positive elements of this plan that so many Americans are on the fence about precisely because they don't know about stuff like this.

At the same time, you're showing that you are more interested in helping oil companies (the subsidies for whom President Obama would want to eliminate in order to pay for the cheap student loan rates). Forcing the American people to choose between affordable college or preventing breast cancer is about the stupidest thing they can do.

It also makes your crusade against Obamacare look wrongheaded, foolish, and petty.

Do I need to go on?

Anyway, to switch gears, the one thing I would like to say is that to truly reform the whole college cost thing, we may actually need a reduction of student loans in favor of grants, scholarships, and other pay packages (divvied out on the basis of need and/or merit at the neighborhood level).

Student loans drive up the cost of education (even after adjusting for inflation, college costs are three times what they were three decades ago). Universities charge what the market will bear, and it bears more because students (and their parents) are getting free money now that they will have to pay off in some distant future. Of course they'll take the money and pay the tuition that has shot up 10% from the previous year, itself a rise of 8 percent from the year before that, etc., etc.

If it were up to me, I'd create national service universities, or at least national service scholarships, where the students work twenty hours a week (or more) running the university in various capacities in order to cover tuition. Perhaps room and board could be part of that or on a separate track, but offered at a reasonable cost. Alternatively, contracts that put them in teaching jobs or other socially beneficial work after graduation could be a means of paying for college.

Universities would have incentives to keep costs down, since they can't rely on atrocious tuition increases each year, and they could earn money to pay for professor salaries, buildings, overhead, etc., through government or private grants for research and the selling of services (provided by students) or use of facilities.

This is not terribly unlike what happens in some other countries (including Korea, in some universities), and it would put an end to the absurd notion of having fresh college grads in their early twenties saddled with $100,000 of debt (or more) that prevents them from buying a home or doing other economically productive activities, while forcing themselves to lock into a money-paying job early on rather than exploring other opportunities that might benefit themselves or society at large.

Certainly for some, a college education paid for with student loans is a far better choice than not going to college at all. But they would benefit even further if they were able to go to college and get out on the other end debt free.

Yeah, I'm a dreamer.


Pyongyang puts the Ikea in "North Korea missiles"

Remember last year, when their Chinese benefactors sent the North Koreans on a Capital Mystery Tour of the United States so they could learn how a market-driven economy operates? Well, recent news suggests they were especially taken by their trips to a certain Sweden-based do-it-yourself furniture chain.

Thè ëlëtrønícs iŋ Ikea, 
like thìs big sçréèn TV, àre åll fåké. 
You see, it seems that some experts believe that the parade of ICBM missiles and weaponry we've seen at post-missile launch parade in Pyongyang are fake. Like the electronic props you see when you walk through an Ikea showroom.

Now, let's not get ahead of ourselves and start depicting North Korea as a paper tiger. There is, after all, a whole host of artillery that could do an incredible amount of damage if it were to rain down wrath onto Seoul (my home) and its northern suburbs of P'aju, Ilsan, Munsan, etc (which themselves have over a million residents). And let's not forget that our friends in China seem to be surreptitiously helping them out with their missile ventures. (Would a fake Ikea store in China contain real electronics? Ooh, wrap your head around that one!)

Nevertheless, this accusation of missilery fakery has been fodder for late-night comics, including this bit on Conan O'Brien (HT to DA):

That was funny. The Korean used in the Conan bit was amusing, translating “Camera-1” as “카메라 하나” (sort of like "one camera"). And the North Koreans would never refer to themselves as 북한 (Puk'an, the South Korean word for North Korea) and their language as 한국어 (Han•gugǒ, also the South Korean word). North Koreans would say Chŏson and Chosŏnŏ or Chosŏnmal.

Nevertheless that semi-earnest effort on their part just makes it even funnier.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Slow jams and mad cows

Apologies for going something like 72 hours now without posting anything new. Two reasons for that: first, I wanted to keep Oreo-milk baby on top for as long as possible, and second, I've been crazy busy the last three days combing the Interwebs for videos like this one of President Barack Hussein Obama "slow-jammin' the news" (and writing a criminology paper):

The POTUS with the mostest pulls it off. Frankly, when BHO starts to venture into anything like this, my cringing reflex gets ready to send my limbs flying, being as I am straight outta Compton and he's not. I wonder when/if/how Mitt Romney would handle a slow jam of the news on Jimmy Fallon's traveling show. He'd probably keep changing the lyrics, or make them up as he went along.

Anyway, this post is free of any Korea-related content, so I'll just add this gratuitous link to news of another cow in the US, this one from California's dairy belt, testing positive for Mad Cow Disease. One wonders if the candlelight vigilantes back in Seoul will take notice.

If they do, they should pay attention to things like this:
Of the millions of cows slaughtered each year, the government tests only 40,000 for the disease, said Michael Hansen, a scientist at Consumers Union. “So we really don’t know if this is an isolated unusual event, or whether there are more cases in U.S. beef,” he said. “Our monitoring program is just too small.”
Got that? This is due to a Bush43-era policy that the Obama administration has not yet fully reversed: a deliberately spotty check of the meat supply under the theory that a random "polling" (my word, not theirs) of animals in the food chain will detect big problems while remaining a cheap form of inspection.

So what that means is that, if only 1 in 100 animals are checked (that's about what the rate has become since the Bush administration cut inspections 90%), then we can expect that this one case of BSE is not a sole case but one of around a hundred. So where the effin' fudge are the other 99 (or 79 or 119)?!

It should come as no surprise that corporate Korea, which recently reopened the Korean market to American beef, went into squeamish mode:
In South Korea, the country’s No. 2 and No. 3 supermarket chains said they have “temporarily” halted sales of U.S. beef, the Associated Press reported.
Those two would be Home Plus and LotteMart. I guess we'll have to wait and see if E-Mart will do the same. Given that a huge part of the justification for lifting the ban on American beef was that no cases of BSE had been discovered since 2003, this is hardly an unreasonable reaction. (The ban, by the way, was imposed not just on then #3 importer South Korea, but also #1 importer Mexico and #2 importer Japan, as well as dozens of other countries, I think.)

I realize mine is an unpopular opinion in the K-blogosphere, but I think that the anti-beef protesters were on to something with their qualms about American beef (even if the movement was hijacked by the chinboistas and started to get hysterical). From pink slime to unnatural feed to antibiotics to tainted meat to Mad Cow to Lord knows what else, American beef just really carries a lot more risk than most people realize. We factory-farm our beef and we do wholly unnatural things to it, like turning cattle into cannibals, that causes Mad Cow Disease outbreaks in the first place:
The European BSE epidemic is believed to have started when cattle ate feed containing brain and nerve tissues from animals with BSE. Feed supplemented with meat and bones from specific animals is now banned.

The chance of human infection is further lessened by a ban on cattle brain and spinal cord as food for humans and the prohibition of butchering practices that might inadvertently contaminate beef with nerve tissue.

How the California cow got the disease remains unknown. Government officials expressed confidence that contaminated food was not the source, saying the animal had atypical L-type BSE, a rare variant not generally associated with an animal consuming infected feed.

However, a BSE expert said that consumption of infected material is the only known way that cattle get the disease under natural conditons.
Seriously, why would anyone think that feeding cow to cows is a good idea? And look at how much we don't know, like what causes these other types of BSE. I'm afraid we might be in for a shock somewhere down the road thanks to some of these practices.

Over at ROK Drop (I'm all about cross-pollination of linkages), there is a discussion brewing on this very same thing. Rather than turning my own comments #5 and #8 into a whole new post, I thought I'd just direct you there.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

South Korean immigrant in New York City killed for iPhone

I am a believer in the purpose of the Second Amendment — that part of the Constitution that says something about a well regulated militia and the right to bear arms — but I can see why so many of my Korean and Japanese friends here in the United States are quite perplexed about the proliferation of guns and the frequency of their use. It really does seem like it's run amuck.

About a week ago, not far from where I live, they had to lock down an elementary school and some housing complexes because a suicidal guy with a gun had been walking up and down the street (and then couldn't be found). A few months back, at an intersection I go through frequently and where I'd been just half an hour earlier, a gunman went up to a car waiting for the traffic light at about 12:30 a.m. and shot the two people in the car — random strangers — killing one and severely injuring the other. This led to a police chase on Interstate H1 that ended in his capture (I think).

Sure, Korea and Japan have murders occurring as well, but would someone like One Goh or Cho Seunghui be able to get so many weapons and shoot at so many people? It does see as if we fail to enforce the laws we do have on the books (how could Cho, who had mental issues, get guns through mail order?) and we have too many loopholes to begin with (unregistered sales at gun shows without background checks, for example).

I really have no defense when something like this happens. This guy, Kwangbum Yang (양광범), had immigrated to the United States and had a job working at the Metropolitan Museum as a cook, while he aspired to rise up the ranks of the culinary arts to be a great chef.

And now he's dead. Shot by someone who took his iPhone and then jumped in a waiting minivan. Would it have even occurred to Mr Lee that he should be packing because others are packing? Really, is this any way to live?

Requiescat in pace, Mr Yang.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Two round things with something creamy inside (possibly NSFW)

The ad below was supposedly made by Cheil Communications for Dong-suh Foods (the distributor for some Nabisco products in Korea). Adweek says it's a refreshingly non-puritanical ad that wouldn't fly in the USA.

The thing is, I'm not so sure it has flown in the ROK either. Sure, we've seen actual ad campaigns like the full backside nude butts in the pre-Yuna Kim "be white" advertising campaign for Smoothie King (am I the only one who remembers that?), and breasts and nipples in the context of breastfeeding are not so taboo in South Korea, but this just smells like a fake in the way the hot-and-cold Kia advertising campaign did in 2011.

Anyone in Korea right now seen the Oreo-breast-baby ad?


And NONE of them are Korean...

Clockwise, from bottom:
Mitt Romney, Mrs Romney,
Rick Santorum, the American
electorate, Ron Paul.
If I were to write a serious version of the hit 1990s NBC comedy Third Rock From the Sun, the character of Dick Solomon, the intelligent alien leader who is hopelessly clueless about normal life on Earth, would seem a lot like Mitt Romney.

Outwardly he seems like a normal human being, but if you talk with him just a little bit you can see he's not one of us: his awkward use of descriptive sentences when he doesn't know common words is an indicator that he's a visitor to the world of the common man and isn't familiar with the familiar, while he boasts of engaging in things that most people would find kinda sorta appalling.

Like transporting your dog in a small kennel strapped to the top of the car and insisting that Mitt's mutt loved it. Or expressing glee about firing people. Or bragging of how many personal vehicles one has. You've no doubt heard this list.

The dog thing really seemed cringeworthy (that word does not trigger the spellcheck!) to a lot of people, making them wonder if he's kinda sorta lacking compassion for humans or canines.

The story has legs. Months later, people are still talking about it, and that has prompted the Romney campaign to react by making President Obama seem like an even worse offender in the eyes of people who bought Marley & Me on DVD.

And what could that be? President Barack Hussein Obama, the guy with the funny name whose father was from a strange country and who grew up in a different strange country and attended a madrassa, has eaten dog:
The Romney campaign signaled Tuesday night that they are not about to cede any ground when it comes to a candidate’s odd past with man’s best friend.

And the Obama campaign shot back, with a spokesman suggesting the Romney team was attacking a child, since the Obama act in question took place when he was a kid.

The Daily Caller noted that in President Obama’s best-selling memoir, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” the president recalls being fed dog meat as a young boy in Indonesia with his stepfather, Lolo Soetoro.

“With Lolo, I learned how to eat small green chill peppers raw with dinner (plenty of rice), and, away from the dinner table, I was introduced to dog meat (tough), snake meat (tougher), and roasted grasshopper (crunchy),” the president wrote. “Like many Indonesians, Lolo followed a brand of Islam that could make room for the remnants of more ancient animist and Hindu faiths. He explained that a man took on the powers of whatever he ate: One day soon, he promised, he would bring home a piece of tiger meat for us to share.”

After his mother married Soetoro, Obama lived in Indonesia from 1967 until 1971, from roughly the age of 6 through 10.

The discovery that the president had eaten dog meat prompted wise-cracks on twitter (hashtag — #ObamaDogRecipes) and this tweet from Romney strategist Eric Fehrstrom, who re-tweeted Axelrod’s original message with a different take on the picture of the president and Bo.

“@EricFehrn: In hindsight, a chilling photo,” he wrote.

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt tweeted in response: “@BenLaBolt What’s the next attack @EricFerhn and the RNC will surface on a 6-10 year old?”

Democrats and supporters of the president’s forcefully took to twitter Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to challenge the notion that Obama as a boy eating food given to him by his stepfather could be compared to actions Romney took as an adult. Republicans pushed back, saying that the dog-eating tale underlines how any discussion of dogs at a time of massive unemployment, with troops in harm’s way, is silly.
I have to agree with the Democratic operatives that there is something ridiculous about comparing Romney's own deliberate acts as an adult to those of a kid being fed something over which he had no control. I mean, one was thirty-seven and the other was seven.


This reminds me of George W. Bush's felony drunk driving conviction, which he tried to brush off as a "youthful indiscretion" even though he was older than I was. That's right: our actions as an adult tell us a lot more about our impulses, drives, flaws, and convictions much more than what was thrust upon us as children.

Anyway, I wonder if Obama's elementary school eating experiences will gain any traction. Already some are suggesting that it is proof he's not a real American:
I don't know ANY natural born American boy who would ever eat Spot, even if coerced by his mooslim stepfather. Thanks for the further proof that Barry ain't really an American. Eatin' dogs ain't an American value. Hell, he acts like he's proud he did it! Where's the regret?
That's an argument that would hardly hold up in court (right here is a natural born American from Long Island who loves himself some dog meat — as an adult) but it might hold sway in the ballot box. But I think those who already loathe President B. Hussein Obama are the only ones really expressing outrage at a kid being "introduced to dog meat" in another country. Heck, I might go back to Korea and eat some dog meat on principle! (While wearing my hoodie, if that's still a thing.)

Anyway, if this story does take off, the association of some East Asian country with canine cuisine might shift from Korea to Indonesia. Here's hoping.

This one's a keeper.

Over at the Marmot's Hole (I'm all about K-blog cross-pollination), there's a discussion on the recent discovery of a Mad Cow case in America, which includes mention of Obama's youthful canophagic proclivities, including this video:


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jim Yong Kim elected President of World Bank

I first mentioned Dr Kim of Dartmouth University in this post, when the Obama administration first nominated the M.D. doctor to head the world's premier development agency. Unlike past nominations, Dr Kim's was unusual in that (a) he is not an economist by training and (b) he had some notable opposition.

The Economist, which supported the finance minister from Nigeria for the position (insert joke about 419 scam here), had an interesting post-election rundown on Dr Kim's rise to this very important position:
Jim Yong Kim, currently head of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, will take over from Robert Zoellick in July. But the contest has raised awkward questions both about the bank and Mr Kim himself which will not be laid to rest so smoothly.

The contest was unprecedented from the start, not least in that it was a contest. For the first time, America’s favourite was challenged by two serious contenders, both from emerging markets. They were Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the finance minister of Nigeria, and José Antonia Ocampo of Colombia, who pulled out late in the day. A group of American professors and development experts, led by William Easterly of New York University and Lant Pritchett of Harvard’s Kennedy School, criticised Mr Kim for having too narrow a field of expertise to run the world’s premier development institution. (The Economist also supported Mrs Okonjo-Iweala.) Members of the administration and Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University who was himself nominated for the World Bank job, supported Mr Kim vigorously.
Frankly, I'm not too terribly concerned about Dr Kim's "narrow field of expertise." The World Bank is full of economists and analysts who can do the number crunching on the finance side if Dr Kim is not up to the task. What I like about Dr Kim is what he brings to the table. The grand projects of the IMF, the World Bank, and various other developmental agencies and NGOs often fail to consider the human side of the equation, either as an asset and an engine or as a casualty. The premise-on-faith seems to be that a rising tide will lift all boats, when they don't consider that so many millions are tethered to the lowest point of the seabed.

Dr Kim has a grand vision, as we can see in the health projects he's worked on, but I expect that his background might make him see that the big picture is made up of a whole heckuva lot of little pictures. Maybe it's the public health person in me that imagines Dr Kim will see the pixel-view of the developing world in the same way that (I hope) I do.

The Economist saw things in similar terms:
Michael Woolcock, a World Bank staffer, suggests that two rather different models of development have been pitted against one another in the contest for president. On the one hand is what he calls Big Development, whose aim is the transformation of entire countries through investments in national education, justice and public health. Governments are essential to Big Development because they are responsible for the overall policy. And the World Bank is pre-eminently a Big Development institution. On the other hand is Small Development. “Inspired less by transformational visions of entire countries,” Mr Woolcock argues, “and more by the immediate plight of particular demographic groups (AIDS orphans, child soldiers, 'the poor') living in particular geographic places (disaster zones, refugee camps, urban slums), Small Development advocates focus not on building systems in the medium run but on compensating for the failure of systems in the short run. ‘Development’ thus becomes an exercise in advocacy, in accurate targeting, in identifying particular ‘tools’ that ‘work’”.

In this scheme of things Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, the former finance minister, represented Big Development; Dr Kim, a public-health advocate, Small. Dr Kim was almost certainly picked because of his passport. But if his background is any guide, his tenure as chief is likely to shift the bank more towards Small Development. Whether that is a good thing on balance remains to be seen.
Despite my support for having a health-oriented person in the driver's seat at the World Bank, I think Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala might also have done a fine job if she were able to bring the same anti-corruption and pro-transparency experience from Nigeria and make it work on the international stage.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Amazing Race Baiters


Okay, I'm mixing up my reality show titles, but there's a method to my mad pun.

In my super-mega-uber-popular post highlighting the attributes of Christina Cha of Survivor: One World, I offered up the possibility that the unwarranted animosity and vitriol being thrust on Christina was rooted in racism somehow:
... there are a bunch of people there who have a horrible hate-on for her and I cannot figure out why. We the audience have seen absolutely no reason whatsoever for them to despise her with the passion they do, but they have been vicious.

What gives? She has has been friendly, she pulls her own weight around the camp, she hasn't backstabbed anyone, and she seems likable. So what gives with all that animosity?

Since it seemed to stem from that one Republican fellow who thinks he's a woman, I started to develop a theory. Colton is a gay person in Alabama and in the GOP who spews bigotry and intolerance toward others (e.g., "ghetto trash"). I mean, really? Irony much?

And since he seems to be the fountainhead of the river of vitriol reserved for Christina, I have to wonder if that, too, does not stem from, to put it bluntly, animosity toward Asians, or Koreans in particular. (Maybe he didn't get a job at the Kia factory.)
Well, we're starting to see how right that speculation was. When fellow Asian-American Jonas Otsuji was ousted, it was revealed in a tweet by none other than Jeff Probst himself that the castaway engineering the removal of Jonas had actually said this (it was bleeped):
#survivor big words from tarzan and there's the quote of the day - 'cant look at that asian face anymore."
Seriously, what effin' century are you living in, man? And lest you think otherwise, this guy Tarzan is not some uneducated type: he's a plastic surgeon for criminy sake!

Jonas was apparently unaware of the remarks that Tarzan had made:
I was not aware of that. (Laughs) I think that's a little -- to say "Asian face," that's a little unnecessary. Yeah. And then the fact that he completely called out Christina like, "I don't like you." That's a little shocking, yeah. Wow. (Laughs)
Prior to that, he had defended Colton against the charge I'd made:
No, he's obviously not a racist, because if you're a racist, you single out a certain group of people. Colton hated every single person out there and he wasn't afraid to say it, so you can't say that he hates blacks or Asians. He hates everybody. (Laughs) At least that's the show that he puts on. I don't think that he really does.
But would he have seen things differently if he'd known about his other tribemate's little slur? Or, if he saw something like this:

Seems Colton is doing a Miley Cyrus imitation, with psycho special ed teacher from hell Alicia cracking up over it. Geez, do these people not realize they're on national television?

Seriously, doing "chink eye" in 2012? How emotionally stunted in fourth grade can you be?

The clip can be found with commentary at Angry Asian Man. [UPDATE on May 17, 2012, after Christina Cha came in fourth this season: I've decided to include the actual video clip of the above scene just below here; it includes Alicia following suit and also doing the "chink eye" bit. Apparently, Christina Cha is afraid of ghostly spirits, something that is engrained in Korean culture.]

Really, the thing that bothers me about this is that I fear it reflects a current that flows just below the surface, where average, everyday Americans have a hate-on for those around them stemming solely from that other person's race or ethnicity, not just targeted toward Asians but whatever group (including non-Whites against Whites).

Sure, that would be nothing new, and outwardly at least our society frowns upon it, but is this any way to live?



The Kim's Speech

I guess Toastmasters has been paying off. 

New North Korean leader makes first public speech

thumbnailPYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) - North Korea's new leader addressed his nation and the world for the first time Sunday, vowing before cheering troops and bouquet-waving citizens to place top priority on his impoverished nation's military, which promptly unveiled a new long-range missile. The speech was a highlight of two weeks of celebrations marking the centenary of the birth of his grandfather, nat...

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This succinct email was sent from my iPhone. 

Peresnorka watch: Are conditions right for Perestroika and Glasnost in North Korea?

By now everyone knows about the North Korean Unha-3's failure to launch. This was followed by a wholly unexpected full disclosure, just four hours later, to the North Korean people.

Joshua at One Free Korea suggests (update 4) that they had no choice but to get frank with the people, owing to what he calls the World Cup theory of information in a global era:
The interesting thing here is that the North Koreans have admitted that the launch failed, which is new for North Korea. In 1998, for example, another North Korean missile test failed, but the North Koreans claimed that that its rocket lifted a satellite into orbit to play “immortal revolutionary hymns” to Kim Il Sung. I suppose some will call this concession a sign of some new North Korean perestroika or Pyongyang Spring; we’ve seen a false dawns predicted for even less. On the other hand, this is a regime that has recently cracked down on border-crossing — punishments now are much more severe than they were just two years ago — and which still goes to great lengths to deceive foreign media.

The more likely explanation is the same one that applies to North Korea’s decision to televise the World Cup live, only to have everyone with access to the broadcast see the North Korean team trounced. In North Korea, the groupthink probably favors boldness and punishes caution, conflating it with the denial of its own innate superiority. So North Korea gambled big that all of this hype would be a huge boost to its regime’s new figurehead on the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth, and it lost big. And unlike 1998, when the regime knew that the truth couldn’t get in, the regime is no longer capable of suppressing big news — and it is North Korea’s own regime that made this big news.
Although intriguing, I don't think the World Cup theory is an adequate explanation for the (relatively) immediate disclosure of failure. Setting aside the obvious non-parallels — even North Koreans play sports and they know that soccer tournaments always come with winners and losers such that a failure would be a likely outcome, unlike the heavily hyped satellite launch — there are other reasons to question that theory as the primary reason for full disclosure.

First, they continue to lie to the North Korean people about a number of things related to the regime, things that, à la the World Cup theory, would eventually be discovered by many to be false, so why be immediately honest about this? Unlike the World Cup outcome, it's not as if it's easy to provide evidence of a high-altitude fizzling of a satellite that would have been impossible to see even if it had succeeded. Ultimately, naysayers consuming outside media may have little more credibility or influence on the non-defecting hoi polloi than, say, a British or Russian media source touting the Obama birther stuff would have on a general American audience.

When it blew to bits, it was dozens of horizontal and vertical kilometers away from what was a sparsely populated area, so I doubt it was observable to ordinary North Koreans with their own eyes (think Challenger disaster and the high-tech stuff in 1986 that was needed to videotape or photograph that). Moreover, any explosion that would somehow be observed could easily be explained as going from stage 1 to stage 2 or some such. Again, no pressing need for the full disclosure.

Second, by shifting gears and not lying about this particular thing, it suggests the regime cares about what the people think about the regime itself. Perhaps care as in worry, and that is an increasingly real thing for the regime. But what it is they are hoping to prevent or to effect by the disclosure, I'm not sure, but one can speculate.

Anyway, if it's not the World Cup theory at work, it seems a possibility at least that some sort of perestroika or glasnost is going on up there. For those of you who are too young to recall a time when there'd never been a President Bush, perestroika was a buzzword from Russian that meant "restructuring" but came to be used as a synonym for openness (that was actually supposed to be glasnost), but that word seems to have been largely forgotten. Leonid Brezhnev proposed perestroika to reform the Soviet Union in 1979, and Mikhail Gorbachev ran with it, applying it to the economy and social institutions. He added glasnost as a policy in 1985.

Within four years, the tight grip Moscow had on Eastern Europe was loosened enough that communism collapsed almost everywhere, including the USSR. Notably, however, Deng Xiapoing's own forms of restructuring and openness were more measured and controlled, surviving internal strife and international condemnation in the spring of 1989, and the regime is still with us nearly a quarter century later. North Korea, if it is adopting any form of perestroika or glasnost, is probably trying to do so on its own terms, modeled closely on the Chinese.

But back to the particular event in question: The disclosure of failure of what was supposed to have been a glorious accomplishment for the North Korean people is, in and of it self, by no means a sign that perestroika or glasnost fever has gripped the regime. One event does not a trend make, and we'd have to see more of this kind of thing before we can start giving the DPRK kudos for taking a brighter path. Televising Western movies or broadcasting Team North Korea's abysmal showing at the World Cup in South Africa may be points on the curve as well (Peresnorka!).

Nevertheless, the conditions for perestroika, based on our n=1 analysis of the past, seem to be in place: a regime that once tightly controlled all media but now is aware that it is undermined by outside news sources (think East Germans watching Dallas and Radio Free Europe, whose positive impressions of the West eventually spread osmotically to the Soviet Union), a brand new leader with a background that indicates a proclivity to regard the West positively (Kim Jong-un was educated in Switzerland), and increasingly deteriorating economic conditions that are starting to adversely affect even the elite. (And on a related note, I dare say that there may be peretroika-minded people in the regime who set the widely disseminated launch event up for a fail.)

It is my hope of hopes, but I don't think it's exactly unrealistic. (And it's not the first time I or anyone else have wondered if Kim Jong-un is North Korea's Gorbachev or North Korea's Deng Xiapoing.)

For naysayers like Joshua, I'll end this post with a few questions: First, if glasnost or perestroika were to occur right now or in the future, what do you think it would look like (a different question from what it should look like)? Second, if glasnost and perestroika were occurring right now or in the near future, might it not be in part because of the very Plan B that you have been pushing and that US President Obama seems to be implementing in some way?

Moreover, if it actually were occurring, would you be able to recognize it as such and even be willing to acknowledge it? The murderous Pyongyang regime has been so epically horrible and cruel to its people, and that makes it hard to imagine any change, but does the past make future change so unlikely that we can just ignore the possibility (while remaining very cautious)?

I forgot to add a preemptive rebuttal to those who would say that Kim et al would be crazy to allow glasnost or perestroika, lest they be booted out of office or worse, as in the case of Kim Ilsung's buddy Nicolai Ceausescu. But let's take a look at post-Deng China and post-Gorbachev Russia. In the former, the communists are still very much in power and the people live relatively much more freely, while some form of capitalism has brought a great deal of prosperity to the elite (and to many of the people) that didn't exist before.

Meanwhile, in Russia, there is also considerably more freedom, and the country has essentially been run since 1999 by Vladimir Putin, a former lieutenant colonel of the KGB. And while his predecessor Boris Yeltsin was not part of "the organs" like Putin, he was a former member of the Communist Party as well.

Indeed, if Pyongyang went the path of Moscow or Beijing, it's hard to imagine a scenario where someone would rise to power who wasn't part of the nappŭn nomenklatura, even if they were reform-minded.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

North Korean government admits satellite launch failure on national television

Frankly, I was floored when I read this in the Washington Post:
North Korea, long better at making myths than making rockets, on Friday tried for the third time to blast a satellite into orbit. The mission failed after about 90 seconds, U.S. officials say, with pieces of the device dropping into the sea.

But this time, unlike after previous failures, North Korea didn’t manufacture a tale about a technological triumph and a satellite spinning around the globe. Roughly four hours after the Unha-3 rocket fell apart, Pyongyang’s state-run news agency released a brief statement saying that the “earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit.” A news anchorwoman then read the statement on domestic television.

“Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure,” the broadcaster told viewers.

The North’s admission marked a surprising reversal of the usual national narrative, which portrays a self-reliant country that thwarts larger imperialist powers with its military and technological might. It also threatened to turn a celebratory week into a humiliating one: Pyongyang’s leaders had planned the rocket launch as a showcase for the 100th birthday party of late leader Kim Il Sung.
Holy carp! Just what the heck is going on up there? Seriously, this seems like it could be a game-changer. During those four hours, someone high up made the conscious decision to forgo the perpetual hagiography and myth building and just say, "Look, we mucked up royally."

Why they are doing this is anybody's guess, but my hope of hopes is that we may actually be seeing a change in the regime, where a Western-educated kid is now in power and sees how screwed up things are and wants to see a change. Maybe the "North Korea's Gorvachev and/or Deng" moniker will be appropriate after all.

Wow. Just wow.

In another post inspired by this one, I explored whether this admission to the people a sign that North Korea is ready for perestroika and glasnost.


Has North Korea jumped the shark?

Tongues are awaggin' about how royally the Pyongyang regime has screwed up with the recent failed launch of a satellite, alleged by South Koreans, the Japanese, and the Americans to actually be a missile test. With the device blowing apart about a minute after take-off, it means fizzled plans and careers as much as it means a fizzled device.

The whole launch thing has led me to liken North Korea to a television show, but I think I'm going to take that analogy even further: Has North Korea jumped the shark?

The DPRK may well be in its final stages. If television teaches us anything (and it does), it's that a show has jumped the shark when they cast some unknown kid in a central role. We can already see with the regime admitting to the people that it fu¢ked up that things have really turned a corner.

Failure to Launch is a movie
and a TV program.
So how does it end? Is North Korea a giant snow globe in the hands of an autistic kid? Does Kim Jong-il wake up next to Suzanne Pleshette (they're both dead, but I'm guessing they reside in different parts of the afterlife) and talk about a weird dream he had a cabin in the mountains? Does Kim Jong-un huddle together with the octogenarian and nonagenarian generals and sing an old war song as they shuffle out the door and head to Mongolia?


Just as before, here are some of the possibilities for which I'll try to make an over-under for this gentlemen's bet (again, also open to ladies and English teachers):
  • North Korea adopts Deng-era Chinese economic reforms, which brings "socialism with Korean characteristics" and transforms the DPRK into a version of Guangdong. Meaning if you are not one of the elite then you are royally fu¢ked, though the government will stop trying to kill you if you splatter soup on your Kim Ilsung badge. 
  • Reformers somehow manage a coup, à la the Arab Spring, but without Islamists taking all the seats in the resulting election.
  • North Korea starts to implode, but in its death throes it decides to unleash everything on Seoul, Ilsan, and P'aju, in a fit of "if I can't have you then no one can" brought on by too many Korean television dramas.
  • Calmly and coolly, the North Korean elite (with or without Kim Jong-un and his family's support) decide to enter into an official federation with South Korea. The two Koreas drop claims that Koreans are the Jews, Irish, or Italians of Asia, and instead decide to go with Czechoslovakians. 
  • Kim Jong-un has a nasty accident while giving on-the-spot advice to machine operators at a chicken butchering plant. Prodigal son Kim Jong-nam is brought in from Macau to serve as a uniter not just between factions but between North Korea and the world community. Unfortunately, he loses North Hamgyŏng Province in a high-stakes pai gow match. 
  • Kim Jong-un makes steps down and allows free and open elections, makes nice with US officials who allow him to go into exile in Ohio (which has the exact same weather as North Korea), where he opens up a Hamhung-style noodle shop called "KJU's DPRK in Cincinnati." 
  • Nothing changes. The "Young General Show" runs, like The Simpsons, for another twenty-five years with no end in sight. 
Offer up your own, but give odds. Any of the above could happen (General Santa Anna ended up in Kansas City), so feel free to latch on to some variation of any of those. 


Friday, April 13, 2012

The Shawshank Contraption (redux):
Reuters on South Korean prison robots

Jealous that the Associated Press gets to pretend they're the KCNA, Reuters has decided to pretend they're Arirang. They're reporting on the Great South Korean Prison Robot Test with a video that looks like it was put together by the Media Club at my high school.

Monster Island readers are already familiar with the prison robots (see here and then here), so they know the robots' capabilities and skill set: they can detect suicides and violence, for example, but not spelling errors...

Emerjency? Really?! Were there no pot-smoking English teachers in the foreigners' wing of the prison to run that by before you sent it off to the CG animators? (Oh, wait... maybe they did run it by pot-smoking English teachers.)

Man, that's just plain embarrassing. This is Reuters, dude. That means it will be seen by at least a dozen or so British people.

Anyway, I just noticed that Reuters's music at the start of each video segment sounds a lot like the Onion's. 


Is North Korea an episode of "Mythbusters"?

I'd been avoiding writing about the launch, or writing about the writing about the launch, but when it seemed imminent, I was all set to do a post on the over-under for what might happen. This might include such possibilities as...
  • It flies a perfect trajectory between South Korea and China, landing as predicted in waters off the Philippines. 
  • It heads over the territory of South Korea or Japan and is shot down.
  • It heads over the territory of South Korea or Japan and the president says "next time, we'll shoot it down."
  • It hits an airplane on the way up or the way down. 
  • It hits a flock of birds on the way up or the way down.
  • It fizzles shortly after leaving the launchpad.
  • It fizzles shortly after leaving the launchpad and crashes into the Western propaganda stooges below.
  • It crashes into Tokyo, pissing off the Japanese government, resulting in pressure to convert Self-Defense Forces into full-blown military.
  • Guided by karma, it goes off course and heads for Hawaii, punishment for the callous remark I made about the Western propaganda stooges. 
  • It crash-lands in South Korea, and netizens claim it was all made up by the Lee Myungbak administration.
  • It crashes into the undersea caldera of some volcano off the coast of Japan, awakening Godzilla or some similar creature, resulting in pressure to convert Self-Defense Forces into full-blown military.
These would have been gentlemen's bets, of course (though they would be open to ladies and English teachers). 

Well, I took too long to set all that up, and now it turns out the they've launched it. And according to US officials monitoring the event, it fizzled shortly after leaving the launchpad. Okay, who had "fizzled"? Congratulations! You win an internship with Captain Obvious. 

Anyway, as we saw report after report (it was covered prodigiously on NBC, ABC, and CNN, not to mention AP) of the set up and the "satellite" and we heard from the engineers talking about what it's supposed to do, and we had all those cameras recording every minute and minutiae, I couldn't help but thinking: This is an episode of Mythbusters

If you haven't seen the show, I'll describe it succinctly: It's about two nerds and their crew of nerds who like to shoot things in the air and blow stuff up. Really, the entire Pyongyang regime is Mythbusters

And what they've proven in this episode is that North Korea is most definitely not ready for prime time, at least when it comes to rockets and missiles. 

Sure, they'll say it was a success, and no doubt all the workers at People's Photoshop Manipulation Facility #4 and Workers Artist Rendition Production Facility #2 and #7 will be hard at work producing the pictures of North Korea from space that the satellite was supposed to be beaming down to a beaming Kim Jong-un. But the inner circle and the elite will know the truth, and this is a terrible disappointment. Heads will roll (literally).

And that's a good thing (except for any punitive executions). Because I imagine that among the factions (and even within various groups), there is real soul-searching about what direction to go in, and now they realize they can't keep putting all their eggs into the scare-the-sh¡t-out-of-the-neighbors-to-wrest-concessions-from-them basket. On the other hand, China's offering to teach us how to convert the economy in such a way that the privileged end up filthy rich, so maybe we try that direction for a while. 

Oh, God. That sounded more depressing than I'd first intended, but it is a better choice than the status quo. 

Kim Jong-un, old buddy, take notice of what happened. This failure to reach orbit is an opportunity, not a setback. Let's talk; you know how to reach me. 


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is "Korean rage" a real thing?

In the wake of the mass shooting at Korean-run Oikos University in Oakland, by a South Korean immigrant, child psychiatrist Winston Chung writes in the San Francisco Chronicle about the prospect of hwabyŏng (화병/火病).

It includes a scholarly description of the psychological ailment, courtesy of the World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review:
Hwabyung, which means anger (fire) disease, is a culture-related anger syndrome in Korea. The symptoms include a subjective feeling of anger with anger-related bodily and behavioral symptoms. The symptoms seem to symbolize the nature of fire (anger) and its suppression and/or release. According to the patients' explanation, reactive anger, resulting from being a victim of an unfair situation, must be suppressed so as not to jeopardize harmonious family or social relationships. However, if the unfair situations continue, the suppressed anger "accumulates and becomes dense”, and finally causes a disease. Defense mechanisms related to hwabyung were found to be suppression, inhibition, withdrawal, somatization, and oral consumption. The concept of hwabyung seems to have been shaped by Korean people's socio-cultural experiences throughout history. Such historical experiences have developed a unique, collective emotional reaction called ‘haan’, which is a chronic suppressed anger resulting not only from the tragic collective national history, but also from a traumatic personal life. Accordingly, hwabyung shares many components with haan and seems to be a pathologic form of haan. Additionally, hwabyung and haan are commonly related to other Korean cultural heritages including shamanism, traditional medicine, the culture of the relationship (“jeong”) and collectivism, and the traditional philosophy of the ‘han’ in Korea. Finally, a suggestion was made regarding the conceptualization of an “anger disorder” based on the studies of this anger syndrome.
There's a chicken-versus-egg thing going on there: How much do hwabyŏng, chŏng, and han exist in their own right, and how much do people see themselves fitting universal difficulties into these cultural narratives of psychological distress and behavior?

Anyway, Winston Chung sort of fits the case that the killer One Goh was afflicted with this, though I'd be loath to give cover to what was garden-variety mental illness that should have been treated long before.

And like I suggested before, the last-chance saloon that is the United States for many immigrants from dog-eat-dog South Korea may attract a slightly disproportionate number of South Korean misfits, including some who suffer from undiagnosed mental illness.

Wow. I've said that twice now and so far the Netizens haven't attacked.


Sorry, Mr Kim. We've decided to go with the dead guy.

I've been meaning to write a post highlighting this story from NPR which asks if North Korea is changing or resisting change, but that will have to wait, because the big story is Kim Jong-un's job promotion.

Although I still hold out that there is considerable factionalism in the Pyongyang regime and that some of those coteries (Koteries?) are none too happy that a wholly inexperienced kid of twenty-nine has become the new Nepot Despot, there are clear signs that, outwardly at least, KJU's hold on power is solidifying.

What KJU lacks in congeniality he makes up for in congealment of power.

Of course, it helps when your political patrons behind the scenes are executing your would-be rivals right and left. Still, just as the Great Currency Obliteration of 2009 likely turned entire classes of people against the regime that they no longer saw as on their side, the killing of so many of the elite may give opponents a sense that they must kill or be killed. Or something like that. Since I don't know which faction is more likely to allow openness and reform, I'm not sure for whom to root.

Anyway, Kim Jong-un's position appears to have strengthened with his new title:
Kim Jong Un was named first secretary of the ruling Workers' Party, a new post, while his late father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, was given the posthumous title of "eternal general secretary" at a special Workers' Party conference, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

Kim Jong Un's formal ascension, nearly four months after the death of his father, comes during a week of events leading up to celebrations Sunday marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, late President Kim Il Sung.

The centennial is a major milestone in the nation Kim Il Sung founded in 1948, and the streets were awash with new posters, banners and the national flag. Outside the city's war museum and the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium, women in traditional Korean dress gathered in clusters, practicing for this week's events.
Still, I think it's notable that he still has not been granted all the trappings of power that his father or grandfather had. I mean, he should have been named General Secretary, instead of giving his father that significant title in the form of an "eternal" position (Kim Ilsung is eternal president).

That's not just a blow to the ego, it's also a precarious situation. What does the First Secretary do that a General Secretary does (or does not)? Just as he was made a mere vice chairman of the Central Military Commission before his father's death, this is a half measure (or three-quarters) that may reflect a lack of solid backing.

(I think the point I'm making is even starker if you look through the KCNA website: all over the place, Kim Jong-il is the ch'ong pisŏ [총비서], as in ultimate secretary, whereas Kim Jong-un is merely che-il pisŏ [제1비서], as in the first secretary after the chief secretary, sort of like first runner-up in a beauty contest.)

Sure, he was made Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army a couple weeks after his daddy died, but it's not entirely clear how much power that affords him either.

Baby steps for the baby general.

Anyway, with the hope that the Western-educated Kim Jong-un might actually be a Gorbachev or a Deng Xiaoping in wolf's clothing, maybe a shoring up of support could be the best thing for North Korea in the long run. (I still think one could make a convincing case that Kim Jong-il himself may have been a mere figurehead.)