Thursday, May 31, 2012

When you wish upon the Morning Star King: Daily Korea for Thursday, May 31, 2012

The ouster of the proportional representatives from the far-left (and supposedly pro-Pyongyang) United Progressive Party is still a top news story, with the ruling party and the main opposition party (story #2) coming together to demand Kim Jaeyeon (Kim Chaeyŏn, 김재연) and Lee Seokgi (Lee Sŏkki, 이석기) be kicked out of the National Assembly before they can take their seats (they have been assigned offices in the meantime).

Am I wrong to think that a vile chinboista who would support the murderous regime in Pyongyang is kinda sorta hot, at least for a politician? She may need orthodontic work, and her ears make her look like the love child of Will Smith and Shrek — Oh, snap! She's Chinbo the Flying Elephant! — but she's cute nonetheless. Just a vile chinboista. (Truth be told, I started to think the same of Christine "I'm not a witch" O'Donnell, who otherwise is a vile Republicanista.)
  1. US Commerce Department imposes hefty duties near 71 percent on residential washing machines produced by Daewoo, with minor duties set for LG and Samsung machines (Reuters, Bloomberg, Yonhap, Korea Times)
  2. Ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition Democratic United Party take legal steps to kick out two controversial assemblymen-elect from pro-North United Progressive Party whose elections were marred by accusations of vote-rigging in primary (Joongang Daily)
  3. North Korea refers to itself as "nuclear-armed state" in newly revised constitution (Yonhap, Korea Times, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily)
    • US State Department says Washington will never accept North Korea as a nuclear state (Yonhap, Korea Times)
  4. Online commerce rises 26.5 percent from a year earlier to 279.4 trillion won (Yonhap)
  5. Iraq signs final contract with Hanwha Corporation for $7.75 project to build entire city (Reuters)
  6. South Korea leads list of top 100 universities under half a century old (Bloomberg)
    • Kushibo: My undergraduate alma mater, University of California at Irvine, came in at #4
  7. Spain trounces Korea Republic, 4-1, in friendly warm-up ahead of Euro 2012 (SI, Yonhap, Korea Times)
  8. Fox News exclusive: Did Marxist wealth redistributionist Santa Claus gave up world of toy-making to run Islamofascist theocracy in Iran? (FoxNews)


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Going commando in North Korea:
Daily Kor for Wednesday, May 30, 2012

GI Joe is there! GI Joe is not there!

The top story (#1) is this delicious piece, an example where the news itself makes news. Some story in the Japan-based journal The Diplomat started with the revelation that American commandos were parachuting into North Korea to spy on the North's secretive facilities, rendering them not so secretive:
U.S. Special Forces have been parachuting into North Korea to spy on Pyongyang’s extensive network of underground military facilities. That surprising disclosure, by a top U.S. commando officer, is a reminder of America’s continuing involvement in the “cold war” on the Korean peninsula – and of North Korea’s extensive preparations for the conflict turning hot.
Well, that's got to be having the Nork defense ministry lighting up in pants-crapping terror. It turns out that it's not true or, at least, it has been emphatically denied. Which of course the US would have to do. Even if it were true. (The Diplomat offers an explanation of sorts, while Joshua at One Free Korea takes a close look at the claims and denials.)

And truthfully, I truly hope it is true. But even if it's not, there's value in the North Koreans thinking it's true (though I suspect they've always thought something like this is going on, since they themselves send their folks to the South).
  1. Claiming key officer was misquoted, Washington denies report in Asia-Pacific affairs journal that US military commandos have been sent into North Korea to spy on underground facilities (NPRWaPo, UPIYonhap, Joongang Daily)
    • Kushibo: Well of course they'd deny it
    • AFP story on original news here
  2. US State Department says it is concerned about North Koreans' wellbeing in light of reports of drought in DPRK, but says food aid is off the table unless Pyongyang can demonstrate fair and transparent distribution (Yonhap, Korea Herald)
  3. United Nations report says family of South Korean Oh Kilnam, who fled North Korea in 1986 after defecting to the DPRK a year earlier, is being forcibly detained (Joongang Daily, Chosun Ilbo, Donga Ilbo)
  4. South Korea strongly condemns Syria over massacre of one hundred civilians, by artillery shelling and close-range shots, in village of Houla (Yonhap)
  5. Samsung quickly launching Galaxy smartphone in Europe in order to beat iPhone to the punch (AP via WaPo)
  6. Korean won rebounds from seven-month low as fears over Greece recede (Bloomberg)
    • South Korea's current account surplus shrinks from $2.97 billion in March to $1.78 billion in April (Yonhap)
  7. Korean Air denies government antitrust watchdog claims that it colluded with Miat Mongolian Air on Incheon-Ulan Bator route (WSJ, Chosun Ilbo)
  8. Seoul National University, KAIST, and POSTECH among the top ten universities in Asia in new ranking (Chosun Ilbo)
  9. Raleigh residents celebrate defeat of same-sex marriage in North Carolina with first annual Straight Pride Parade (CNN)


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

If we try real hard, then it neeeeeeeever happened.

It's ironic that this news would come on Memorial Day. And it's telling that it would come so soon after the news that Japanese officials were pushing a city in New Jersey to remove a monument to the hundreds of thousands of "Comfort Women" sex slaves (which I addressed here last week and The Marmot's Hole wrote a dedicated post on today).

안세홍_박대임-류산_흑백인화_127×200cm_2003 [source]

The news is that Nikon has decided to cancel an exhibition of the work of one Ahn Sehong, a photographer whose work includes some very touching photos of surviving* Comfort Women, including some Korean women left behind in China:
In the latest flare-up over Japan’s ongoing handling of Korean “comfort women” during World War II, Tokyo-based camera company Nikon Corp. has stirred controversy by cancelling a planned exhibit on the subject by a South Korean photographer.

The exhibit was to have been shown at the company’s Shinjuku salon from June 26 to July 9, and included photos of women who said they had been held as sexual slaves by the Japanese military in China in the 1930s and 1940s.

A spokeswoman for the photographer, Ahn Se-hong, said an official from Nikon called him last week and told him the exhibit would be cancelled, but did not give him any reason. The spokeswoman, Sadik Lee, told JRT that a Nikon official said they would like to meet Mr. Ahn in person to apologize, but he refused until he was given an explanation.

A Nikon spokesman, who declined to be named, confirmed the cancellation, and told JRT that “considering various circumstances in a comprehensive way, we have come to decide to cancel it. This is all we can say.”

The spokesman wouldn’t elaborate, but did confirm Japanese press reports of protests that Nikon received against the planned exhibit. The Asahi Shimbun reported that several complaints surfaced on the Internet, branding the exhibit a “betrayal” of Japan, and calling for protests of the exhibit.
The Wall Street Journal blog piece also ties this in with the Japanese diplomats' efforts to get the heavily kyopo (Korean American) community of Palisades Park** to remove the memorial. (Note, below, that the memorial does not mention Koreans once, even though Korean women made up the bulk of the women forced or duped into the Ianfu (Wianbu in Korean).

Though I think Japan and South Korea make far better friends than enemies, issues like this linger. But the critics of Korea (and the knee-jerk Japanophiles) who like to characterize this kind of issue as one where Korea likes feeling bad about this and constantly nitpicks at a generally contrite and (since World War II) well behaved Japan, utterly miss the point.

While they like to depict Japan as the one rational player here, this kind of action — going beyond deliberately downplaying unpleasant history and instead attempting to sanitize the historical record of some of the most egregious wrongdoing of Japan's imperial past — this concerted movement to instill collective amnesia at home and abroad goes beyond the pale.

Make not mistake: this is a pattern. We saw the same thing late last year after a simple but profound statue dedicated to the Comfort Women (pictured below) was erected across the street from the Japanese embassy to mark the 1000th weekly protest by surviving* Comfort Women at the same spot. That, too, brought official complaints from Japanese diplomats.

I shan't go any further into official Japan's shameless whitewashing of imperial Japan's shameful history. The reprehensibility of it all speaks for itself. Nikon, on the other hand, deserves to be called out for its cowardice in the face of such protests. I mean, if they thought Mr Ahn's work was worthy of an exhibit and they knew the contest of his photographs, how on Earth could they justify yanking his exhibition?

I'm truly torn. This is the kind of thing that can influence me to boycott certain products in protest. But I already have bought the Nikon D60. Back when I was undecided between the Nikon and its Canon equivalent, this would have easily sent me over to Canon (who, as far as I know, has not turned invertebrate in such a way, but who themselves may never have sought such a controversial exhibition at all).

I wish that there were some way that I and others in the anglophone K-blogopshere could individually or collectively exhibit Mr Ahn's work as a show of solidarity.

* I've started adding the word surviving to "Comfort Women" not just to reflect their advanced age but also because I've been reading lately how many women died during the actual war from disease, bombs, or bullets while "serving" in the Wianbu. It's much more than I'd realized. 

** At the risk of sounding glib in such a serious post, I find it amusing that so many Koreans have flocked to the New Jersey communities of Palisades Park and Fort Lee. But I'm easily amused.


Memorial Day lantern floating festival

I'll have a lengthier post on this after it's done, but I've already made my way to Magic Island to prepare a memorial lantern.

Last year they ran out of free lanterns before we got there (you cannot bring your own; that's just littering). There are literally hundreds of people under this tent, from Japan, Korea, Hawaii, the Mainland, and all sorts of other places, writing messages to and about their loved ones and offer prayers for peace.

This year I managed to write a little something about my dearly departed relatives, including my aunt's WWII veteran hubby who was old enough to fight at Iwo Jima as an underage volunteer and who passed away in an Alzheimer's facility exactly nine months ago.

The link above is my post from last year, and here is my post from three years ago when I thought about going but instead reprinted without attribution others' pictures of the event (sorry, others). I might have gotten a bit snarky in 2009, but it really is a wonderful experience, something I eventually got to know first hand in 2011.

It's only 5 p.m. now on the island, so if you're Googling this and you are on the fence about whether to go and it's not yet 6 p.m., just come. Park in Ala Moana Shopping Center (I'm blogging this there as we speak) and march across the AMB (Ala Moana Boulevard... not sure if that's a thing, but it should be). The lantern go in the water a bit after 7.


Daily Kor for Tuesday, May 29, 2012

President Lee has grown a pair, openly denouncing those chinboistas who romanticize the North (and make excuses for it) while condemning the South. If you want to know how I feel about the chinboistas and the damage they can cause as dupes doing Pyongyang's bidding, go here.
  1. ROK President Lee Myungbak slams pro-Pyongyang groups, urging South Koreans not to fall for North Korean propaganda (UPI, Yonhap, Korea Times, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily)
  2. South Korea's state-sponsored National Human Rights Commission publishes extensive report, based on hundreds of defectors' testimony, providing details of North Korea's brutal prisons (UPI, CNN)
  3. Associated Press reporters visit drought-stricken areas of P'yŏng-an Province as North Korea says lack of rainfall during planting season threatens food supply (AP via WaPo, Yonhap)
  4. Amidst crackdown on "illegal aliens" from North Korea, China will grant 20,000 work visas to North Koreas in three border provinces or Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang (Chosun Ilbo)
  5. Seoul Metropolitan Government to give 1 million won/child in childbirth subsidies to parents with disabilities (Yonhap)
  6. Public daycare subsidies to be expanded to part-time workers and stay-at-home parents (Joongang Daily)
  7. Nobel laureate in economics to teach at Seoul National University (Korea Times, Korea Herald)
  8. ROK Army captain indicted for obscenity-laced denouncement of President Lee (Korea Times, Korea Herald)
  9. In move to shore up support for Pyongyang regime, official North Korean hagiography amended to include story that Great Leader Kim Ilsung excreted Mt Paektusan into existence (KCNA)


Monday, May 28, 2012

Daily Kor for Monday, May 28, 2012: Memorial Day edition


On this Memorial Day (in Korea, but not yet here in the US), I'd like to highlight a bit of somewhat Korea-related news: the final voyage of the USS Iowa. The decommissioned battleship that saw action in World War II and the Korean War has set sail (figuratively) for its final destination in Los Angeles, where it will become a museum.

As anyone who has visited Pearl Harbor can attest, military vessels-turned-museum pieces are very cool. In Honolulu we have the USS Missouri (which I haven't visited yet) and the Bowfin (a WWII-era submarine which I finally got to see a year ago with a group of Japanese tourists). On Memorial Day, however, I will be returning to Magic Island for the annual lantern floating festival. I guess this is Buddha's Birthday weekend, so that is a nice tie-in.
  1. North Korean state media reiterate claim that drought conditions are imperiling rice crop (UPI, Korea Herald)
    • Rodong Shinmun urges North Koreans to use every ounce of water possible to irrigate rice paddies (Yonhap)
  2. Saudi Arabian Mining Company awards $1.5 billion aluminum refinery contract to Hyundai Engineering & Construction (Reuters)
  3. Land & Transport Ministry says construction firms with record of bribery will receive penalty points in future government contract bidding (Yonhap
  4. Visitors to Yeosu Expo during three-day Buddha's Birthday weekend break 100K-per-day visitor mark for first time on Sunday (Yonhap)
  5. Twenty-year-old South Korean student Jin Kwon-young is "highest ranking undergraduate" at Harvard University commencement ceremony (Yonhap, Korea Times, Korea Herald)
    • With no intended irony whatsoever, Jane Han of the Korea Times writes about why US colleges reject Korean applicants, concluding that "in the eyes of admissions officers, students from Korea look as if they came off an assembly line"
  6. Korea Republic wins spot in women's volleyball at upcoming London Olympics (AP via WaPo)
  7. North Korea's Real Doll factory goes into full production (Xinhua)


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Daily Kor for Sunday, May 27, 2012

Weekends were made for Michelob, not news. The Daily Kor is typically has to dig deep on the weekends, but today was especially bad: I burned through the New York Times, Reuters, and even the Washington Post (from which I usually get my AP stories) without a single usable news item. And that's why I'm venturing into minor cultural stuff I usually wouldn't touch, from a film opening at Cannes to the soap opera that is the Unified Progressive Party (UPP).
  1. South Korea's top steelmaker POSCO, which benefited from loans offered as part of 1965 Korea-Japan Normalization Treaty, will donate $8.5 million to victims of imperial Japan's forced labor (Donga Ilbo)
    • Kushibo: This is a notable development and I say kudos to POSCO for finally doing this, with my only other comment being "What took you so long?"
    • Responding to South Korean Supreme Court ruling on forced laborers, Japan says issue was conclusively dealt with in 1965 (Joongang Daily)
  2. 2012 Yeosu Expo, struggling with low turnout, hits 50K-in-one-day mark for first time on Friday (Yonhap, Korea Times)
    • Kushibo: I still spell it Yŏsu... Where is the e sound in Yeosu?
  3. Free-trade agreement with European Union yields record imports of North Sea oil (Bloomberg)
  4. South Korea urges China to give fair treatment to four activists detained in Liaoning Province near North Korea border (Donga Ilbo)
  5. Interim leader of opposition UPP, a minor party linked to pro-Pyongyang leftists, says expelling two lawmakers-elect and two other candidates linked to primary vote-rigging scandal is necessary for survival of South Korea's progressive movement (Yonhap, Korea Times)
    • Kushibo: I hope I don't get in trouble for my description
  6. North Korea warns that lack of rain in western coastal region may affect food output (UPI, Yonhap)
  7. ROK President Lee Myungbak says free-trade agreement with China can be concluded within two years (Yonhap)
    • Kushibo: Enjoy your jobs while you can
  8. Im Sangsoo's The Taste of Money, a "sex-infused expose of rampant corruption among the super-rich in today's South Korea," premieres at Cannes Film Festival (AFP)
    • Kushibo: Exhibit A that this is a slow news day
  9. Nationalist Korean teachers union tries to counter wild popularity of North Face gear with chige-shaped bookbag (Yonhap)


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Daily Kor for Saturday, May 26, 2012

Regarding story #4, would "bread-and-butter issues" sound better as "rice-and-kimchi issues"? I can't possibly be the first person to entertain that notion, can I?
  1. US Treasury report says South Korean intervention in Korean won is keeping KRW undervalued (Reuters, WSJ, Yonhap)
    • KRW at seven-month low despite intervention (WSJ)
  2. China reportedly launches five-month crackdown on "illegal immigration" from North Korea in Jilin Province's Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture (BBC, Chosun Ilbo)
    • China sentences ROK national to death for trafficking nearly 12 kilograms of methamphetamine (Korea Herald)
  3. South Korea launches "Code Adam" to more quickly deal with missing children cases (WSJ)
  4. Ruling party picks twelve "bread-and-butter issues" on which to focus during first 100 days of new session of National Assembly opening this month (Yonhap)
  5. ROK President Lee Myungbak hails opening of Ara Waterway linking Han River to Yellow Sea and making Seoul a "waterfront city" (Yonhap)
  6. Two "remorseless" men sentenced to five and ten years in prison for raping teenager after smashing into her with their car (Korea Times)
  7. ROK Defense Ministry says North Korea "is ready to test" its next nuke (CNN)
  8. South Korean shares snap two-week losing streak (Reuters)
  9. On heels of open support for same-sex marriage, US President Barack Obama proposes making Stars & Stripes gayer (Fox News)


Friday, May 25, 2012

The keyboard as a blunt instrument:
Rise of the Chinese netizen machinery
(plus Peresnorka Watch)

You may recall in February I briefly mentioned the case of Wu Ying (pictured above), a woman of humble origins in China who rose to be one of the richest females in all of China. For the crime of defaulting on $160 million in loans as her business collapsed, she was sentenced to death.

Long-time readers of Monster Island know my Catholic-influenced and logically concluded opposition to the death penalty in virtually all cases (except where a person kept alive continues to kill), but it holds doubly and triply so for those who have been sentenced to capital punishment even though their crime did not actually lead to someone's death.

Ms Wu Ying's case definitely falls into that category, just like those of virtually all the other white-collar criminals in China who've been given the death penalty. Apparently the Chinese netizenry agrees, and in that land where the closes thing to democracy is delivered through the Internet, the government was forced to sit up and take notice:
Wu Ying, once ranked as China’s sixth richest businesswoman, was sentenced to death with a two year reprieve on Monday evening; such sentences are almost always commuted to imprisonment after two years.

The Supreme Court had overturned an original death sentence in April, ordering the High Court in Zhejiang, Ms. Wu’s home province, to reconsider its judgment after a huge public outcry. The case has attracted attention as an example of how the Chinese legal system can be influenced by public sentiment.

“Public opinion played a very important role in this case,” wrote @Heyu Crisis on Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like social media platform, which had registered more than 3.7 million tweets about Wu Ying by Tuesday afternoon. “This case proves once again that the people’s will is truth,” declared another user called @Shishi bear.
Good on you, Shishi bear (no relation). So often we hear in Korea about the rabid anti-Korea bashing of the netizenry, but it's good to see people taking an interest in responsible citizenship.

+ - + - +

In the wake of North Korea's detainment of nearly thirty Chinese fishermen and their vessels, this behavior also channels criticism onto the Beijing leadership for their support of the Pyongyang regime:
Many netizens have criticized the Chinese government's handling of the incident, some even calling Beijing "impotent".

"After such a shameful incident, why doesn't our government demand an explanation from North Korea?" a Weibo user said.

Some have accused Beijing of trying to play down the matter for fear of offending Pyongyang.

"[The government] criticizes Japan, America, the Philippines and Vietnam every day, but dare not utter a word against North Korea," You Yi, a Shenzhen-based commentator, wrote on his microblog.
[I find this idea — that China is afraid to offend North Korea even though it frequently pokes the eyes of Japan, the US, etc. — to be very interesting, sort of a mirror to South Korea's left (and even the right) taking shots at Tokyo and Washington (de facto allies) while avoiding criticism of Beijing and Pyongyang (an economic partner it's trying to woo and a crazy uncle in the attic, respectively).]

The Chinese media is following suit:
hina’s leadership is hitting a rough patch with ally North Korea under its new leader Kim Jong Un, as Beijing finds itself wrong-footed in episodes including Pyongyang’s rocket launch and the murky detention of Chinese fishing boats.

The testy state of China-North Korea affairs became public this week after Chinese media flashed images of the fishing crews, some of the 28 crew members stripped to their longjohns, returning home after 13 days in North Korean custody accused of illegal fishing. The reports quoted the fishermen as saying they were beaten and starved, and the coverage unleashed furious criticism in China’s blogosphere.

“The North Koreans are like bandits and robbers,” China’s Southern Metropolis Weekly newspaper quoted one fisherman as saying Tuesday. The story, shared thousands of times on China’s Sina Weibo social media website, said the hijackers ripped down the Chinese flag on one boat and used it “like a rag.”
Of course, this isn't the first time we've seen Chinese netizens criticize their government. In late 2010, in the wake of the North Korean attack on Yŏnpyŏng-do, which killed two South Korean civilians and two ROK military personnel, there was open questioning of China's support for the DPRK.

Anger toward North Korea has always been a bit subdued, however, in part because (as I have opined) Chinese are generally ignorant about the evil excesses of the government in North Korea.

But while there is ambivalence back then, the big difference now is that the Chinese netizenry sees their own country as the victim of North Korea's brinkmanship this time around (although I'm not so sure). At One Free Korea, Joshua suggests that their anger toward their own government over a lack of firmness befitting cooked pasta means little, but the fact that they were allowed to express their dismay is itself enlightening:
No, the Chinese government isn’t about to bow to the demands of Weibo commenters, but the other side of this cause-and-effect relationship is interesting. This outrage, as temporary as it’s sure to be, has to be a consequence of a deliberate decision by the Chinese government to make a public issue of this incident. China’s attitude here really isn’t all that different from what you’d expect had the arresting authorities been South Korean — this really seems to be a reflection of China’s insistence on the filial piety of its vassal states. China’s beef isn’t that North Korea is brutal, it’s that North Korea is rebellious.
I completely agree with him that this is largely about Benevolent Big Brother China being upset with its propped-up satellite state. Back in 2008, when protesters lined the route of the Olympic Torch in both Nagano and especially Seoul, Chinese were furious that their fellow Greater Sino-world Co-Prosperity Sphere members would stoop so low as to insult their historic masters. North Korea generally reacting like a junkyard dog has kept it immune from this treatment, but the recent fishermen incident may have been a game-changer.

And we have to wonder in what other ways it is a game-changer. In light of the past behavior of Chinese fish pirates in South Korean waters, I'm of the belief that North Korea may have been acting reasonably in detaining the Chinese (and we'll probably never know), but what was up with North Korean authorities actually going through with the capture and payment plan?

To cut to the chase: Is Kim Jong-un looking for ways to change direction from his father's in an effort to spin North Korea out of China's orbit? From inviting the world to see what could easily be a failed launch, to being upfront with the North Korean people that the celebrated achievement turned out to be a total muck-up, to openly criticizing the way the country has been run (at least on the periphery), we've seen some behavior that is very uncharacteristic of a North Korean leader.

Is the Western-educated Kim Jong-un seeing his country's future with South Korea, the US, and Japan, in some sort of Peresnorka? Is there some serious palace intrigue going on behind the scenes we don't know about, with the fishing boat incident a flare-up in this unseen war? If there really were changes, what would they look like and how would we know?

I don't know the answer, but it is an interesting question. To complicate matters, my readings of the KCNA news reports have chronicled a severe underreporting of Kim Jong-un's activities, which could be a sign of who knows what.

Stay tuned.

The Chosun Ilbo has an article on "welcome signs" that China's attitude toward North Korea is changing. It offers this advice for Beijing:
If China continues to deal with the North Korean defector issue simply from the perspective of a border treaty it signed with Pyongyang in 1998 and continues to ignore the human rights of defectors, it would seriously undermine Beijing's goal of becoming a global leader. The time has come for China to consider not only relations with long-time ally North Korea, but also to think about the standards that are expected from a leading global power.
Yeah. I'm sure the Chinese will agree. Now where's the "eye rolling" emoticon? (Seriously, one of the big problems South Koreans have in dealing with China is that they are used to their biggest ally, the US, actually responding to bad press and bad impressions, at least some of the time. China, seeing itself as Benevolent Big Brother and the natural leader of a Sinocentric East Asia behind which countries like the Koreas, Japan, Vietnam, etc., will fall in line, simply doesn't give a rat's arse.)

Did Kim Jong-un (inside circle, center back) learn about the virtues of democratic rule and freedom during his years in Switzerland, or did classmates in the back left and front center teach him that choking and other forms of violence are the way to solve conflict?


Daily Kor for Friday, May 25, 2012

Group home: artist rendition of city to be constructed
by Hanwha Group in Besyama, Iraq (story #8)

Only seven more shopping months until Christmas.
  1. ROK Supreme Court orders Japanese firms Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel to compensate forced Korean laborers for suffering during colonial era (AP via WaPoJoongang Daily, YonhapKorea TimesKorea HeraldDonga Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo)
  2. ROK Unification Minister Yu Wooik (유우익) says inflammatory rhetoric from North Korea is sign of rising instability of Pyongyang regime (WSJ)
    • Seoul warns Pyongyang of "new actions" and "grave consequences" if it goes ahead with nuke test (UPI, Yonhap)
  3. GM Korea says it has no plans to shift production to Europe (Reuters)
  4. Incheon International Airport wins Airports Council International's "Best Airport Worldwide" award for seventh year in a row (Donga Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo)
  5. Lee Myungbak calls for "shared growth" and "balanced development" that favors not just individual firms but other sectors and regions in order to prevent social instability (Yonhap)
  6. Sluggish real estate market brings growth of household credit to two-and-a-half-year low (Reuters, Yonhap, Korea Times)
  7. US to sell $1.1 billion worth of Seahawk choppers and harpoon missiles to ROK military (UPIYonhap)
  8. Hanwha Group wins $7.75 billion order in Iraq to build entire city for 100K families (Joongang Daily)
  9. Riots break out in Pyongyang when rally participants mistakenly believe newly unveiled statues are made of chocolate (AP)


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Daily Kor for Wed & Thurs, May 23 & 24, 2012

I'm not sure what this is, but it sure looks ominous.

More news on nukes. Get used to seeing North Korea highlighted more and more as Kim Jong-un and Friends prepare for another nuke test and, in the absence of hard facts and solid evidence, the discussion mostly deteriorates into fat jokes and other juvenility.

Meanwhile, the news (story #6) that Korea ranks two-thirds down the list of happiest rich countries is hardly a surprise. I wrote this back in August 2011:
The ugly truth is that South Korea is full of malcontents who think someone else has always got it better and easier. It's the engine for self-improvement, nose-to-the-grindstone collectivism, and oh-so-much plastic surgery, but also the source of a semi-permanent malaise.

I call that the Kushibo Conundrum.
I'm sure some government official in some ministry somewhere is brushing it off this way: "Ignorance is bliss, and Koreans' lack of bliss means we are very, very well informed." Works for me.
  1. Satellite images show North Korea upgrading old launch site to handle bigger rockets (AP via WaPo, UPI, CNN, Bloomberg, Yonhap)
    • Pyongyang says it will expand nuke program in face of American hostility (CNN)
  2. Seoul and Washington agree to grant Korean officials more investigative authority during preliminary stages of criminal cases involving US troops in ROK, allowing prosecutors to hold them before they are formally charged (Joongang DailyKorea TimesUPIYonhap, Korea Herald)
  3. ROK President Lee Myungbak says North Korean human rights more important than nuclear issue (AFP, Yonhap, Korea Herald)
  4. South Korea carries out first ever chemical castration, on convicted serial rapist who preyed on young girls (Reuters, Korea Times, Yonhap)
  5. Samsung and Apple fail to reach deal over patent feud, head for court (LAT, Korea Times)
  6. OECD report ranks South Korea 24th happiest of 36 nations (Korea Times)
    • ROK government launches drive to make Koreans most euphoric nation by 2019
  7. Korean won (KRW) drops to five-month low on concerns Greece will leave euro (Bloomberg)
    • Korean authorities intervene to bolster KRW (WSJ)
  8. World Bank says South Korea and other East Asian economies need to boost domestic demand to offset weak US and Europe (AP via WaPo)
  9. China launches probe into North Korea's detainment of twenty-eight fishermen (Korea Herald)
    • Japanese newspaper says Chinese fishermen were beaten daily and "treated like animals" (Donga Ilbo)
    • Fishermen incident is causing Chinese netizens to question Beijing's support of Pyongyang (WaPo)
  10. Climate change deniers push House bill barring National Weather Service from tabulating hurricanes that occur before official start of hurricane season, claim Tropical Storm Alberto illegally entering Georgia (FoxNews)
Tropical Storm Alberto


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Arirang gets it ari-wrong on the Japanese rocket

Although I used to work at Arirang back in the day (and went through the grueling "public sector employee" hiring process to get there), I was not a fan of some of their policies that stemmed from their efforts to have a tightly controlled propaganda machine and message.

Thus, it's not all that surprising to me that things like this end up happening, in regards to the launch of a Korean satellite from a Japanese rocket:
It was a great opportunity to show how Japan and Korea can work together. However, the Korean media’s portrayal of the launch has annoyed some Japanese netizens. It seems that Korea’s infamous anti-Japanese sentiment has once again reared its ugly head.

A TV report from South Korea’s Arirang TV proudly states, “it is now 20 years since Korea put its first satellite into orbit, and now, Korea’s third multipurpose satellite, Arirang-3, is ready for launch. ” Their computer animated portrayal of the launch has removed the Japanese flag and “NIPPON” letters from the rocket:
This is just plain childish and petty. Arirang TV owes its viewers — and perhaps the country of Japan — an apology. I can't put it any plainer than that. If they somehow weren't responsible for the graphic, they are still responsible for putting it on the air without "fact-checking" the video.

The Japanese flag and the word "Nippon"
are missing, as is the kanji for Mitsubishi.

Still, I think Japan Probe goes a bit too far with its analysis of the issue. The expressly propaganda-oriented Arirang TV, in Japan Probe's words, morphs into "the Korean media":
It was a great opportunity to show how Japan and Korea can work together. However, the Korean media’s portrayal of the launch has annoyed some Japanese netizens. It seems that Korea’s infamous anti-Japanese sentiment has once again reared its ugly head.
Unless this graphic also showed up in other Korean news outlets (and it may have), then the phrase "the Korean media's portrayal" is distorting the issue.

I also take issue with the characterization of "Korea's infamous anti-Japanese sentiment" or its "ugly head." When Japan Probe can't be bothered to report on something like this...
Two delegations of Japanese officials visited Palisades Park, N.J., this month with a request that took local administrators by surprise: The Japanese wanted a small monument removed from a public park.

The monument, a brass plaque on a block of stone, was dedicated in 2010 to the memory of so-called comfort women, tens of thousands of women and girls, many Korean, who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

But the Japanese lobbying to remove the monument seems to have backfired — and deepened animosity between Japan and South Korea over the issue of comfort women, a longstanding irritant in their relations.
... then they probably shouldn't be lecturing Korea or Koreans on how to react in the face of Japan's six-decade-long fu¢k-up when it comes to dealing with its atrocious past.

Okay. That's another post for another time, but you get the idea: South Koreans wanting satisfaction and closure on recent historical issues (some of the victims and perpetrators of which are still alive) that many in the Japanese government would rather pretend didn't happen does not mean South Korea is the one with the "infamous" nationalist sentiment again "rearing its ugly head." That distinction goes to the history whitewashing descendants of the imperial murderers. But that's another post for another time.

The other characterization Japan Probe makes...
Like the other programs on Arirang TV, it is meant to advertise the greatness of Korea to English-speaking viewers. Having the Arirang-3 launched into space on a Japanese-looking rocket might interfere with the message of the program. ...

Having taken the trouble to copy so many other details of the rocket, it seems highly unlikely that Arirang TV simply forgot to include the Japanese markings. This was probably part of a conscious effort to make viewers think that Korea is not relying on Japanese technology.
... also misses the mark. That the Korean satellite rode into space on a Japanese rocket was repeated over and over and over again in the Korean media, including on the very Arirang program with the offending graphic. While it seems the CG department at Arirang or their outsourcing partners didn't wish to highlight the Japanese flag or country name (i.e., Nippon) the programs themselves are making no effort to hide the crucial Japanese role.

Anyway, this was very foolish on Arirang's part. Rabid right-wing Japanese netizens often go to town on imagined insults to Japan by Korean celebrities, the government, or tourists to Japan, but this is a case where their ire is apt. Do something about it, Arirang. (And I'll apologize for the bad pun in the title.)


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Daily Kor for Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I thought the above snapshot of the Korea Times, juxtaposing the picture of Bill Murray and Girls' Generation with a headline about bullying, was rather amusing. I'm easily amused.
  1. Senior diplomats from US, Japan, and South Korea urge North Korea to forgo nuclear tests (UPI, NYT, LATAP via NPR, CNNYonhap, Korea Herald)
    • South Korea's nuclear envoy calls on North Korea to "take a different path" (Yonhap)
  2. South Korea poised to stop oil imports from Iran beginning in July (Reuters, WSJ)
  3. South Korean climber Song Wonbin among four confirmed dead on Mt Everest (AP via WaPo, AFP, CNN)
  4. ROK Defense Ministry says it is trying to forge military pact with China to soften Beijing's anger over similar pact between South Korea and Japan (Yonhap)
  5. Leftist environmental group issues report saying a radiation leak at Pusan's Kori-1 reactor, the oldest in South Korea, would kill up to 900,000 people and cause 628 trillion won in damage (Yonhap, Korea Herald)
  6. Japanese scientists predict 99% likelihood Mt Paektusan will erupt by 2032 (Chosun Ilbo
  7. ROK government to set up five-year plan to better deal with bioterrorism threat (Yonhap, Korea Times)
  8. Confused Catholic cardinal calls for buoyant Buddha's Birthday in unintentionally alliterative announcement (Korea Times)
  9. Korean American artist Ahea buys abandoned French hamlet for God only knows why (AP via WaPo)
  10. Were al-Qaeda messages hidden in Sunday's solar eclipse? (FoxNews)


Monday, May 21, 2012

Is Mt Paektusan in North Korea overdue for another "super-colossal" eruption of biblical (and regime-changing) proportions?

Until just now I had forgotten that a year and a half ago, in November 2010, I had also written a short post on this topic, in response to a online Wall Street Journal piece on the same topic (I guess when you're at nearly 4200 posts and counting over seven years, you tend to lose track). 

At the time I had also made the prediction that an eruption of Paektusan (aka Baekdusan or Mt Baekdu) could spell the end of the Pyongyang regime. 

Anyway, the sh¡t-your-pants scary post starts right after the giant postage stamp. [UPDATE 2: Thomas at Cha0s Central has a piece on how North Korea's nuke tests beneath the volcano are a bad idea.]

The Chosun Ilbo is reporting that Mt Paektusan (also spelled as Baekdusan and known in China as Changbaishan), the iconic volcano that forms the apex of the North Korea-China border, is "99% likely to erupt by 2032":
Taniguchi based his inference on the historical relationship in timing between earthquakes in Japan and eruptions of Mt. Baekdu. Historical documents from Korea and China show that Mt. Baekdu erupted at least six times between the 14th and 20th centuries, Taniguchi said, and every time it followed an earthquake in Japan.
Actually, with or without the Japanese seismic connection, Paektusan is a tad overdue for a major eruption.

What I’m about to write (a condensed version of something I wrote a while ago for offline purposes) may scare the sh¡t out of you. Don’t ask me how I know. I just do.

Imagine a Korean Peninsula (including the south, hundreds of kilometers away), filled with endless days of acid rain. Leaching away life in so many forms and devastating the land. Plumes of fire bursting through the frozen land with a tremendous roar.

The water stored in the Lake of Heaven bursting out, sweeping across North Korea’s Hamgyŏng Province and beyond. Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Research say that we should expect sediment to pile up from a few meters deep to hundreds of meters.

On the day of the eruption, volcanic ash could fill the skies over Seoul. The sun will be blotted out. Ash will fall from the sky like gray snowflakes. Since the ash blocks out the sunlight, it will be as if day had turned into night.

Up north, we should expect massive casualties and untold agricultural damage. Even in the south, people will suffer terrible respiratory problems. All kinds of things will be shut down — schools, airports, government services, corporate offices — as if Korea were undergoing its own vulcan 9/11.

Like Japan with the tsunami, South Korea’s high-tech industry, like semiconductors, might face serious problems. If the eruption happens in the colder months, it could mean a devastatingly long winter. Acid rain, bitter cold, and a lack of sun may mean a year without spring. Food prices will skyrocket as domestic food production virtually shuts down.

The effects won’t be felt just in the Koreas or even their neighbors: globally, the volcanic ash and toxic gases traveling the planet for about a year could lead to a reduction in solar energy hitting the lower atmosphere, and the planet’s average temperature could drop by two degrees Celsius.

This may seem like a worst-case scenario, but it’s based on what happened in Korea a little more than a millennium ago, in 969 AD (or 990 AD). 

From ancient times, early Koreans considered Mt Paektusan to be the setting of the legend of Tan’gun, the semimythical founder of the Korean people. Mt Paektusan has long been considered a spiritual place to Koreans, but its beauty and shape are the result of volcanic activity.

The entire entity is one huge volcano. The ring of peaks that surround the caldera indicate that lava flowed not in toward the Lake of Heaven but outward. There was likely a huge volcanic edifice, but it is no longer present. Geologists believe that about a third of the peaks along the rim were blown away when the volcano erupted in the tenth century AD. Geologists now believe that the summit may have been a thousand meters higher than it is now.

A large portion of the mountaintop was blasted away or caved in (similar to Mt St Helens in Washington State, whose tremendously large top blew away in an instant). At the last stage of Paektusan’s eruption, a large explosion obliterated the main peak, and the rest collapsed into the caldera.

The area is surrounded by black pumice, which results when basaltic magma was forcibly ejected. It’s frequently found in areas of past volcanic eruptions. The layer of pumice found around Paektusan is as much as seventy-five meters thick. It drops to ten meters elsewhere in Hamgyŏng Province, only ten centimeters in the East Sea, and five centimeters near the island of Hokkaidō in Japan.

Archaeologists and geologists doing excavations at Japanese historic sites end up finding clues to volcanic eruptions in Korea, like Mt Paektusan. That’s why they’re issuing reports like the one in the Chosun Ilbo. The pattern of ash found in places like Hokkaido indicate that such particulate matter filled the skies over Japan after an eruption.

Imagine the impact of something like that today. Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano had a violent eruption in April 2010 (picture above). The ash cloud and debris blocked air routes and brought $1.4 billion of economic damage to the far away European mainland.

Human costs are also high. The 2011 eruption of Murapi volcano on Indonesia’s island of Java went down in the record books as the largest in a century. It took the lives of 389 people and left a hundred thousand homeless.

Putting Mt Paektusan in perspective, we should consider the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), which rates eruptions on a scale of one to eight, depending on eruptive magnitude.

[from Wikipedia]

Fragmental material from the Murapi and Eyjafjallajökull eruptions, called tephra, could fill a volume of one-tenth of a cubic kilometer. That puts these eruptions at magnitude 4. But the eruption of Mt Paektusan a thousand years ago ejected from 115 to 150 cubic kilometers of tephra, giving it a VEI magnitude of 7 (one of only three since the time of Christ). 

Paektusan’s eruption a millennium ago, which is rated as “super-colossal,” was one thousand to fifteen hundred times more severe than the Indonesian or Iceland eruptions. in fact, the eruption of Mt Paektusan may rank as the second most powerful eruption in the past two millennia of human history (more on that here).

I believe it was five to seven times greater than Krakatoa, perhaps the most famous historical eruption to 21st century humanity, yet most people around the world have never heard of the threat. Some in South Korea are taking it seriously, though (see herehere, here, and here). 

Mt Paektusan is not on the edge of a tectonic plate but within it. There’s a theory suggesting that the plate under Japan wasn’t sliding downward but was stuck 700 meters beneath and was blocking energy from being released. In other words, the heat under the mantle was trapped for a great deal of time and had to find an exit to break through. The theory holds that that vent was Mt Paektusan.

A hotspot such as Mt Paektusan is what results. This is believed to be a place where a plume of mantle hotter than regular mantle rises to the surface. Volcanoes located within the interior of a tectonic plate are often called hotspot volcanoes. (The entire Hawaiian Island archipelago is formed in this way, with the hotspot remaining stationary but the plate moving along, allowing a new island to form when the hotspot is under a new part of the plate.) Hotspot volcanoes often wield more eruptive power than other volcanoes, since the condensed energy in their magma chambers erupts at once.

In 1998, a Chinese geological research center announced that there are four magma chambers beneath Mt Paektusan. These four magma chambers have supplied the mountain with energy for thousands of years.

Now where it all gets funky is that the historical record indicates a fairly regular pattern of explosive activity. According to The Annals of Koryŏ History (Koryŏsa), in 946 AD, the first year of King Chŏngjong, there are lines making reference to an eruption of Mt Paektusan.
“In this year, a drumbeat from the sky ordered the Bill of Amnesty.”
— 946 AD, the first year of the reign of King Chŏngjong of Koryŏ, recorded in Koryŏsa (The Annals of Koryŏ History)
A contemporary Japanese history, The Chronicles of Kōfuku-ji Temple, also indicated an eruption from Mt Paektusan eruption in the same year:
“One night, white volcanic ash fell down from the sky like snow.”
— 946 AD, the ninth year of the reign of Emperor Suzaku of Japan, recorded in The Chronicles of Kōfuku-ji Temple.
Later, during Korea’s 600-year Chosŏn era, references to volcanic eruptions were frequently recorded:
“Ash fell down like rain in the northeastern region.”
— 1403 AD, the third year of the reign of King Taejong of Choson, recorded in T'aejong Shillok (The Annals of King T'aejong)
Time-wise, they were somewhat regular:
“The sound of gunfire could be heard from up high.”
— 1597 AD, the thirtieth year of the reign of King Sŏnjo of Chosŏn, recorded in Sŏnjo Shillok (The Annals of King Sŏnjo)
“Volcanic ash fell like rain in the Myŏngchŏn region of Hamgyŏng Province.”
— 1673 AD, the fourteenth year of the reign of King Hyŏnjong of Chosŏn, recorded in Hyŏnjong Shillok (The Annals of King Hyŏnjong)
Based on such historical records, scientists speculate that Mt Paektusan repeatedly erupted at an interval of approximately once every century or so.

Indeed, after the super-colossal eruption a little over a millennium ago, Mt Paektusan underwent several smaller eruptions about once every century. Historical records indicate that the last eruption took place in 1903, so we’re about overdue since the last eruption.

The really worrisome thing, though, is that based on the thousand-year cycle of a major eruption, those two periodic factors point to the possibility of a major eruption on Mt Paektusan in the near future, which is bolstered by the Japanese prediction of 99% likelihood by 2032.

North Korea is not exactly in a cooperative mood, however, when it comes to geological surveys meant to gauge the actual threat, even though Mt Paektusan’s geological features point to the high possibility that we could see a repeat of past disaster, but now with more people in the path of destruction.

This is some scary sh¡t we need to pay attention to. If a volcanic eruption causes the Lake of Heaven to break apart, two billion tons of water filled with pyroclastic material and other debris would gush forward. That would bring a destructive mudflow called a lahar.

Ground zero for the cataclysm would be the Lake of Heaven. Specialists predict that the two billion tons of water that fill the deep caldera would instantly gush out and flow down the sides of the mountain.

Another major problem is the layers of volcanic deposits surrounding Mt Paektusan. They are so fragile that the slightest force could cause collapse. If water from the Lake of Heaven were to sweep away these deposits, it would cause an unprecedented lahar, an avalanche of rocks and soil.

The slopes of Mt Paektusan are typically at a forty- or fifty degree angle. Scientists have calculated that water could rush down the mountainside at a hundred kilometers per hour. Villages, buildings, and farmland would all be instantly destroyed, much like what we saw in the tsunami that engulfed six prefectures along the northeastern coast of Japan.

This is not some insensitive exaggeration. It’s meant to provide perspective.

How bad things get would depend on which way the wind blows. If the winds are from the north, volcanic ash would cover the entire Korean Peninsula. Several millimeters or even centimeters would coat everything, including houses, buildings, and roads. Think annual “yellow dust” from China, on steroids, for days and days on end.

On the other hand, if the ash were to soar through the atmosphere and stay in the stratosphere, serious problems could result for the rest of the planet. The average temperature around the globe could drop by as much as two degrees Celsius within a year, which could bring about worldwide problems as food supplies decrease, fish and bird migrations are disrupted, and plant growth and agricultural production suffer. Health-wise, we’d see dramatic fluxes in bacteria and viruses.

This is not unprecedented. Laki, a volcanic system in Iceland, erupted in 1783, triggering a long cold spell throughout Europe. Because of the resulting widespread famine, commoners rose up in rebellion against royalty, leading to the French Revolution in 1789.

Indonesia’s Tambora volcano erupted in 1815. Annual average temperatures dropped by four degrees Celsius, making it the so-called “year without summer.”

Just how would Mt Paektusan’s eruption “rock the world”? Perhaps the resulting chaos would mean an end to the Pyongyang regime, which would buckle under the catastrophe and resulting human crisis. Unable to provide basic functions, much less evacuate, feed and house people in the path of destruction, the regime would simply collapse as international organizations push their way in (perhaps led by the Chinese, who be dealing with calamity on their side of the mountain). 

Trying to predict when this will happen is the top priority right now. Fortunately, there are some clues. Seventy percent of the water in the Lake of Heaven is from precipitation, while the remaining thirty percent comes from underground. The portion from underground is affected by magmatic activity and would contain magmatic substances that leave isotopic traces. Some geologists argue that if magmatic activities have intensified, the isotopic ratio of hydrogen and oxygen found in the Lake of Heaven would differ from that of normal surface water.

In fact, some believe there may have been an actual decrease in frequency of seismic and volcanic activity around Mt Paektusan over the past few years.

Chinese researchers report that seismic activity in the area peaks about every ten years. Based on this, some have theorized that there could be an eruption in North Korea in 2014 or 2015. The press openly speculated that Mt Paektusan might erupt, which has led to considerable controversy. What is certain is that Paektusan is an active volcano that could erupt at any time.

It almost seems as if volcanoes erupt just as people begin to start ignoring them. How should we welcome a newly rousing Mt Paektusan? What would South Koreans do to help the North? Would the government fall? Would Japan and China also be adversely affected? Is there something we can actually do (e.g., tap into the magma chambers by drilling into them and somehow “lance the boil”)?

Interesting questions all.