Thursday, January 31, 2013

Colbert on North Korea: "We loathe you but we're just not in loathe with you."

In reference to North Korea's recent scathing remarks against the United States, Stephen Colbert (he of "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central) addressed the issues of whether or not the US and the DPRK can still be frenemies:

The clip can be found here.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"North Korea should blow up the US"

No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition. But everyone's been warned about the North Korean Immolation.

For sniggles, I read Pyongyang's response to the UN resolution that Nork ally China actually supported. If it pisses off the DPRK this much, then maybe it's really working.

Here it is, in all its shrill glory:
DPRK People Angered by U.N. Resolution

Pyongyang, January 26 (KCNA) -- The UNSC "resolution" against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, adopted on the initiative of the United States, has lashed the local people into fury.

Such slogan as "Death to the U.S. imperialists, sworn enemy of the Korean people" can be heard everywhere in the country.

Many young people are volunteering for military services, out of their will to annihilate the enemies while other people visit military posts with aid materials.

O Yong Ho, an officer of the Korean People's Army, told KCNA:

"We will counter the U.S. high-handedness and arbitrariness with real action to show the mettle of the Koreans.

The DPRK should promptly stage a nuclear test and continue to launch long-range missiles. If the U.S. persists in its provocative moves, the DPRK should blow up the U.S. mainland through a sacred war for justice.

This is the mindset of all the people in the DPRK as well as the fixed will of the servicepersons."

Kim Tok Jong, an old man living in Moranbong District, Pyongyang, said:
"A nation's sovereignty is more precious than one's life.

Why can't the DPRK only have satellites and launch long-range missiles, though other countries are allowed to do so? I can hardly repress my wrath at such brigandish demand.

I have lived for nearly 70 years. The past years clearly shows that words do not go on the U.S. and only force is needed to settle accounts with it.

If a war breaks out, I will take arms in my hand to fight against the U.S. scoundrels.

I will also do my utmost to wipe out the group of evils running amuck to trample down the nation's right to existence and development."
I'm quite impressed not just with old man Kim's selfless patriotism, but also his use of the word brigandism. That's a 600-level vocabulary item on the SAT.


Kim Jong-un(der the knife)


The Washington Post is reporting on North Korean official anger over rumors in China that Young General Kim Jong-un had had plastic surgery to make himself look more like his grandfather, Great Leader Kim Ilsung.

An excerpt:
North Korea’s official news agency has taken the unusual step of publicly rebuking a rumor about young leader Kim Jong Eun, and has chastised China, its sponsor and only real ally, in the process. The vitriolic report insists that the 30-year-old Kim absolutely, positively did not receive plastic surgery to look more like his deceased grandfather, Kim Il Sung. Such rumors have been around for years, but just as rumors. So why condemn them now, at the risk of just lending them greater legitimacy?

Since taking control of the country, Kim Jong Eun has aggressively cultivated an image in his grandfather’s likeness. Kim Il Sung, considered North Korea’s national founder, is practically deified. His son and heir, Kim Jong Il, rarely appeared in public and never fully inherited his father’s cult of personality. Now, Kim Jong Eun seems to be doing everything he can to draw comparisons between himself and his beloved grandfather, which could help him considerably in consolidating and maintaining power.

The long-running rumors, that Kim Jong Eun’s resemblance to Kim Il Sung is more than just genetic, got a big boost from a mainland Chinese station called Shenzhen TV. The network, based in the country’s more liberal southeast, cited a “diplomatic source” who said he or she had traveled to Pyongyang recently, where a North Korean official had confirmed the rumor.
The WaPo goes on to point out the obvious: we have no particular reason to believe this anonymous official quoting another anonymous official. (North Korea's KCNA denounced the story with typical DPRK official shrillness that obscurely mentions the terrible rumor — "suspicion of operation" — that constituted South Korean and Chinese "rats making nonsensical remarks moving around ditch.")

ROK Drop also tackled the rumors, with commenters expressing skepticism. It was there that I first pointed out that this sounds like much ado about nothing. Typically, this sounds like the m.o. of the Chinese press, which is to distract the populace from excesses, abuses, and failures of the Chinese Communist Party.

Simply put, Kim Jong-un looks a bit like his grandfather, but mostly because, well, he gets a quarter of his DNA from his grandfather (more if Kim Ilsung was boning Kim Jong-il’s mistress or wife; see cartoon above). It is natural and to be expected, and KJU doesn’t look unusually more like his grandfather than one would expect.

What really brings it home, though, is the haircut and perhaps the girth, neither of which requires plastic surgery. (Can you imagine, for a moment, the horror of being Kim Jong-un's plastic surgeon? One wrong move and it's you who loses their life.)

Chinese netizens, please focus less on the foibles of North Korea's supreme commander and pay more attention to your own leaders’ corruption. Acting like trailer trash reading the National Enquirer at the Piggly Wiggly is not very becoming.


Soylent Korean?

Excuse the glib (and terribly insensitive) title, but when it comes to North Korea, I sometimes have to mock in order to deal with the horror of it all.

We are (again) getting reports out of North Korea that the situation up north is so dire that some parents have reportedly been eating their young. Or at least one dad.

From The Independent:
Reports from inside the secretive famine-hit pariah state, North Korea, claim a man has been executed after murdering his two children for food.

The grim suggestion that North Koreans are turning to cannibalism were reported by the Asia Press, and published in the Sunday Times.

They claim a 'hidden famine' in the farming provinces of North and South Hwanghae has killed 10,000 people, and there are fears that cannibalism is spreading throughout the country.

The reports come as sanctions are tightened against the backdrop of angry rhetoric over missile testing.

In one particularly disturbing report, a man was said to have dug up his grandchild's corpse. Other lurid reports included the suggestion that some men boiled their children before eating them.

Asia Press is a specialist news agency based in Osaka, Japan, which claims to have recruited a network of "citizen journalists" inside North Korea. The reports are considered credible.

Interviews have led Asia Press to conclude that more than 10,000 people have probably died in North and South Hwanghae provinces, south of Pyongyang, the capital.

North Korea has not confirmed or denied any reports of the deaths.
I've long been publicly skeptical of any reporting coming out of North Korea, not just the official North Korean version of stuff but also the citizen journalism that utilizes rogue informants and information, often by groups with an agenda (usually against the North, of course). The more outrageous or shocking the information, the more valuable it is, and people who have just escaped are often cued (inadvertently or deliberately) to provide the right type of news.

No, this guy's father isn't the one who ate his kids.

That's not to say that there is no cannibalism in North Korea. In fact, we've heard such reports before, when North Korea fell into terrible famine in the 1990s. Given that we may be seeing the ripples of the Great Currency Obliteration of 2009, it would not surprise me that there are many thousands of people who are starving and that some of them took such extreme measures. (Amidst such widespread deprivation as happened before, if it is again happening now, it would be surprising were there not any cannibalism.)

At the same time, though, we have to ask what this all means. Here we have a case where a man was publicly executed for murdering and then eating his children. What can we conclude from that? Is it responsible to draw broader conclusions based on that news story? Last year, in Florida, a naked man bit off and started eating another man's face, but would we have found it prudent to infer nation-level information based on that incident? Would we have imagined this was the beginning of an epidemic of bizarre drug-induced behavior, the beginnings of an imminent zombie apocalypse, or worse? (Well, I guess some people really did jump to such conclusions.)

In a nation of 25 million people, odds alone would mean there are many thousands of deviants, and maybe this guy is just one (the regime and their minions aren't the only homicidal people). This could be just that, or it could be much more, an indication that the nation is in the grips of crippling famine. If so, what does this mean? I've speculated that in a post-KJI world, we may have reached a tipping point where people do a calculus where they realize they are now more likely to die if they do nothing than if they do something. To an outside observer, it seems parts of North Korea have long since passed that point, yet the people do not rise up (much). Maybe allowing consumption of marijuana has really sapped the drive to do something, or maybe they are just too gripped with fear to act. I don't know, and nobody else really does.

In the end, this is just another sideshow news story on North Korea. And to be honest, this pisses me off. North Korea gets the attention of the global media only when something outrageous of weird happens, like a missile launch or a man eating his children, yet we ignore the day to day human misery that goes on there.

Not that there's much we can do about it anyway.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Election got you down? Move to the small government state of Somalia!

Editor's Note: The following post is paid Google Blogger content. Kushibo and associates are not responsible for nor endorse the content of the following message.
Dear Americans...

Disgruntled over election loss? Move to sunny seaside Somalia!

This beach could be anywhere... but it's Mogadishu! Nice, huh? 

Dear Americans who are angry at Obama the Socialist becoming president for second time. We feel your pain and we have read your blogs and Fox News reports that you want to secede from the United States. Some of you can't wait and have vowed to leave America if "Obummer" "wins" the "election" a "second" "time."

For you disgruntled by electoral dysfunction, we have just the perfect idea: Come to Somalia! When they lose elections, Democrats threaten to move to Canada or France or Britain, but where can a Republican go if they want to avoid crippling universal health care? The answer is: Come to Somalia!

We have small government, really small government. So small, you can hardly see it working. You will rely on your own self-reliance, isn't that wonderful?

Somalia is a dry climate located along a gulf, so it's just like Texas, but without all the drunk driving.

These are the only modern buildings still standing. 

The benefits are many. Here are our bullet points:
  • Emigrating to Somalia is just like retiring to Baja California, but with no Mexicans! 
  • Beachfront land is a steal. (For avoiding confusion, please note that this is just an expression and you won't actually have to steal the land from anyone, usually.) 
  • We hate Kenyans even more than you do! 
  • Our civil war is killing far fewer people than your civil war if your home state really does secede (disclaimer: comparison based on past US civil war). Bonus: Our civil war is raging in the north
  • Instead of government intrusion, you can use your own guns to enforce your own rules at home and in your business. It will be just like you remember back home in Alabama when you're watching police dramas on television. 
  • No taxes for new residents, until the taxman can safely make his way to your town, and who knows when that will be. 
  • The United Nations basically leaves us alone, just like you want them to do with the US. 
  • Unlike in the United States, you don't have to worry about sharia law creeping in, because it's already here! Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know, am I right? 
  • After you and all your friends come, Somalia will have the highest proportion of Ayn Rand book clubs per capita of any nation. In the world! 
  • Our beaches are now shark-free ever since our butchers stopped dumping offal directly into the ocean. 
Somali women are hot! Because sharia law requires them to be
completely covered even when temperatures reach 110°F or more. 
  • We have pirates! And if there's one thing we learned from Disney movies on DVD, it's that Americans love pirates. Except your government which is just trying to stifle small business owners who are pirates. 
  • There are thousands of deeply religious Christians, so devout they will die for their faith (and many of them do!). 
  • You may be able to house swap with Somali refugees living in Minnesota. 
  • The Mogadishu boardwalk is looking better than most seaside communities in the US after they've been hit by a hurricane. 
  • You will become American-Africans, and then you can claim minority status when you eventually get sick of the vexations of extremely limited government and return to your states that still haven't managed to secede.
This list is endless, as we keep pulling reasons out of our backsides.

This advertisement was paid for by the Federal Republic of Somalia Economic Development Commission.

Michelle Malkin: Psy does not speak for me

Apparently Michelle Malkin believe that other people will think that she, an Asian-American, is automatically represented by the likes of Chinese actor and martial arts guy Jackie Chan and South Korean rapper Psy, because they're also Asian. I guess when you're a token representative of your race/ethnicity to a subculture made up of a bunch of people of the dominant racial group, that's a big risk.

Anyway, she wants to make it clear that Jackie Chan and Psy don't speak for her, though she herself presumes to speak for other Asian-Americans who, despite being loyal Americans, may have forebears or other relatives whose encounters with the United States weren't 100.0% wholly positive:
"Yankees" — especially those whose parents came to the United States from all parts of Asia seeking freedom from tyranny — should shun these exploitative peas in an anti-American pod. They don't speak for me.
I defer to right-wing pundits to let us know when seemingly innocuous acts are actually anti-American (like this). So what's the "exploitative" scoop on Jackie Chan? Well, he's a believer in the idea that Chinese shouldn't air their dirty laundry:
Last week, The Washington Post spotlighted a recent interview Chan did with Chinese TV in which he accused America of being "the most corrupt country in the world." The Hong Kong-born Chan also admitted proudly that he is a propagandist for the Communist Chinese government. He openly advised his fellow countrymen to speak with forked tongues when addressing foreign press: "We know our country has many problems. We (can) talk about it when the door is closed. To outsiders, (we should say) "our country is the best."

Translation: Rampant sex-selection abortions? Shhh. Jailing political dissidents? La, la, la, can't hear you! Systemic religious persecution? State-sanctioned censorship? Continued brutality against Tiananmen Square protesters and Tibetans? Nothing to see here, move along, and down with America!

Turns out that behind the jovial cinematic persona, Chan is an unrepentant champion of authoritarian rule. Despite making a living as an entertainer and "humanitarian," Chan suffers a severe allergic reaction to freedom of speech and freedom of thought. In a separate interview last month with China's Southern People Weekly, he complained that Hong Kong had become a city of too many protests. "There should be regulations on what can and cannot be protested," Chan declared.

Earlier in 2009, Chan echoed Chinese Communist leaders in asserting that Chinese people "need to be controlled" because "if we are not being controlled, we'll just do what we want." God forbid!
Funny, though, that Ms Malkin is all up in arms over Mr Chan's "severe allergic reaction to freedom of speech and freedom of thought" when she doesn't afford the same courtesy to Psy, who a decade ago was one of the millions of people who were pissed off about the death of two middle school students at the hands of a negligently operated US military convoy, followed by then-President Roh Moohyun being arm-twisted into sending ROK troops to what was widely seen as a terribly executed and unjustifiable war in Iraq:
Will American consumers allow themselves to be punched in the gut by this trash-talking action star? If the embrace of Chan's new pal PSY is any indication, the answer is yes. The Korean "Gangnam Style" performer once urged listeners to "kill those (expletive deleted) Yankees ... kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers."

Called out on the hate lyrics, he issued a hasty apology before performing for the president and his family last month. Instead of rejection, PSY continues to be courted by the American entertainment industry. He'll be working with Justin Bieber's producer and will make an appearance in a high-profile ad for pistachios during the Super Bowl.
Anti-American Psy getting a pistachio commercial?! That's just nuts. (And by the way, one reason for "anti-American" sentiment is mimicry.)

Seriously, though, the contention that Psy is anti-American and not just opposed to American soldiers running over thirteen-year-olds is a little shaky. But I guess Ms Malkin had to write about something today. And if you're lacking material, it's convenient to dig into the "Trust me, I'm one of the good Asians" grab bag.

Ah, I shouldn't bash Michelle Malkin, but it really is so much fun. The truth is, I actually agree with her that it's a bit shady that Jackie Chan is shilling for the Chinese government (and here's how I feel about the Chinese government). I do understand the common Asian philosophy of keeping domestic problems domestic and obscuring from outside view. (I have great skepticism of the Chinese Communist Party's intent at trying to keep domestic issues from hitting the international media, which is an abuse of this cultural behavior.)

The same thing is still quite common among South Koreans, many of whom paint a rosy or exaggeratedly hyperbolic picture of stuff in the ROK while amongst themselves engaging in "Korea-bashing" so nasty that you'd think they were English teachers.

Ms Malkin, I'm guessing, is a bit ignorant of that cultural aspect, and that's compounded by her apparent belief that the Chinese should do things the American way because it's the right way.


Will we see capital punishment carried out in South Korea again?

At ROK Drop, GI Korea mentioned a recent news story about a 25-year-old man who was convicted of brutally murdering his ex-girlfriend and her sister in Ulsan in 2012. The family cheered when the killer was handed down a death sentence.

The ROK Drop post posed the question: Will this sentence ever be carried out? Regular reader Leon LaPorte (probably not the Leon LaPorte) asked for odds, while John from Taejŏn (a regular commenter here as well) offered the following observation:
The Korea without courts is still doing more than its share of executions to make up for the lack of executions in the Korea with courts.
True that. And relevant to any discussion of a probability of the Ulsan murderer or any other person being executed in the Republic of Korea in the foreseeable future.

And what are those odds? Close to zero, but not zero.

Before we get started, you may want to read about my own ten-point opposition to the death penalty ("Sympathy for Mr Vengeful"), in South Korea or any other civilized country. Note, however, that my disapproval of the death penalty does not cloud my judgement on whether or not it will be practiced in the ROK again.

As in the US, where lately Korea's right (particularly the religious right) has been getting a lot of its political cues, demand for continued use of the death penalty is a red-meat issue designed to whip up support, with the added occasional benefit of eclipsing a need to discuss reform of an unfair judicial system. Remember when folks like Bill Clinton had to state their support for capital punishment to prove they weren't "soft on crime," a label frequently used to smear "liberals"?

Though this is not a South Korean advertisement, it is from Amnesty International, which led a strong push to end the practice in South Korea and was arguably instrumental in changing attitudes in the ROK by tying the practice to dictatorships like the one South Korea was making a point of trying to shed.

In South Korea, there had been a move away from support of the death penalty, largely because South Koreans often look at post-war Europe as a civilized model and the practice was seen as the unseemly residue of past military regimes. Under Roman Catholic Kim Daejung (who escaped a death sentence himself) from 1998 to 2003 and leftist Roh Moohyun from 2003 to 2008, capital punishment was all but banned with little or no discussion (or fanfare).

[sources here and here]
Under Lee Myungbak from 2008 to 2013, there have been whispers and occasional shouts that at least some of the death sentences still being handed out should be enforced, that the Kim DJ moratorium should end. President-elect Park Geunhye, who takes office February 25, may feel a need to give in to that momentum, or even harness it herself. That makes the odds above zero, though it's not clear how much.

But President Park should be keenly aware how unseemly it will look if the daughter of the dictator who so abused the death penalty — who actually stands as a symbol of its abuse in South Korea — were to be the one who brings it back. Ms Park has tried to distance herself from her father's excesses while tying herself to the positive aspects of her legacy, and she surely must realize that capital punishment easily falls into the former.

To many South Koreans, the notion of the death penalty as it was practiced in South Korea in the past evokes images of Nazis like in the photo below...

... or the more recent images of Chinese citizens being tried and convicted and then hauled off to be shot in the head:

And that brings it back closer to zero from wherever it was. Still, a particularly egregious case could change the calculus, such that no one will really care if the dictator's daughter is the one now sending people to their death (if they seem to deserve it).

Tying this all back in with John from Taejŏn's point, I would hope people in support of the death penalty might consider point #6 at the aforementioned "Sympathy for Mr Vengeful" post.



Saturday, January 26, 2013

Washington Post on Park GH's rise to power.

In the run-up to Park Geunhye moving into the Blue House on February 25, we can expect a lot more stories like this one from Chico Harlan of the Washington Post. 

He talks about how President-elect Park went from first daughter to first woman president in four decades.

Here I  excerpted the introduction:

SEOUL — The first major tragedy in Park Geun-hye's life was a shooting that took place at the National Theater in downtown Seoul nearly 40 years ago. She didn't even witness it. She was studying in Grenoble, France, at the foot of the Alps, when she got a worried call from the South Korean Embassy. The official didn't give any specifics.

"The person only said that something had happened to my mother," Park wrote in her 2007 memoir, "and that I needed to return home."

The details that Park would soon learn redirected her life suddenly and irreversibly, ending her hopes of becoming a professor, flinging her for the first time into the public spotlight, and setting her on a course that would lead to the nation's top office, the presidency, a job into which she'll be sworn next month.

This succinct email was sent from my iPhone (possibly with the help of Siri voice recognition, so please excuse any weird typos). 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Please Take Away My Right to a Gun"

I've been told by those who oppose firearm restrictions that if we don't count suicides, gun violence in America is not so high.

As a future public health practitioner, how could I ignore suicide? Moreover, how could I ignore the fact that a gun is an attractive and effective tool for those whose ephemeral urge to end things can easily become permanent? 

This writer in the NYT who suffers from periodic bouts of serious depression outlines the point beautifully:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 38,364 Americans lost that fight in 2010 and committed suicide; 19,392 used a gun. No one ever attempted to break down my door in the early morning again, but I had an episode when my depression did come back in full force in the early winter of 2009... If I had purchased that gun and it had been in my possession, I'm not sure I would have been able to resist and would be here typing these words.

This succinct email was sent from my iPad. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

All those pot-smoking teachers have picked the wrong Korea

Although 4/15 is a national holiday in North Korea (Perpetual Forever Leader of Eternality Kim Ilsung's birthday), you'll have to forgive the locals if they don't start celebrating until 4/20.

As NK News reports, although the DPRK is coming down hard on drug use such as methamphetamine that is the scourge of many in East Asia and rural and suburban America, it seems that marijuana is not included in the list of illicit drugs. Not only that, the authors say, it is actually tolerated:
You might be surprised by what we’re about to say: the most tight-lipped, conservative and controlling country in the world is also a weed-smoker’s paradise. Despite the North Korean government’s deadly serious stance on the use and distribution of hard drugs like crystal meth (which has its own inauspicious legacy in the North), marijuana is reportedly neither classified illegal or in any way policed. The herb of the bohemian and free is not even considered a drug. As a result, it’s the discerning North Korean gentleman’s roll-up of choice, suggesting that for weed smokers at least, North Korea might just be paradise after all.

NK NEWS receives regular reports from visitors returning from North Korea, who tell us of marijuana plants growing freely along the roadsides, from northern port town Chongjin, right down to the streets of Pyongyang, where it is smoked freely and its sweet scent often catches your nostrils unannounced.

There is no taboo around pot smoking in the country – many North Koreans know the drug exists and have smoked it. In North Korea, the drug goes by the name of ip tambae or “leaf tobacco.” It is reported to be especially popular amongst young soldiers in the North Korean military – rather than getting hooked on tar & nicotine like their contemporaries in the West, they fraternize without fear of repercussion by lighting up king-sized doobies during down time on the military beat.
This actually is probably not very surprising to people who lived in Korea for very long, who've heard the stories of old halmŏni and harabŏji (i.e., grandmas and grandpas) growing and smoking up in the mountainsides back in the day.

Supposedly it wasn't until the Park Chunghee regime that South Korea, under pressure from the United States, started to crack down on the stuff. Now opposition to marijuana smoking is about where it used to be in the 1970s in the United States, and that's one reason why foreigners can see themselves getting lots of jail time and/or deportation if they're caught smoking or distributing the stuff (especially the latter).

But before you decide that it will be cheaper to move to North Korea than Oregon, note that things that Koreans on either side of the DMZ like to do in private are not always shared with visitors. My guess is that the North Koreans would kick you out of the country in a hurry, but you never know if they might first decide to give you few weeks' stay at the Pyongyang Palazzo.

(And just in case your brain is a bit weed-addled, I want my pothead friends and readers to understand that Pyongyang Palazzo means prison, which by all accounts is not a very nice place in North Korea.)

If the NK News story is correct, it would explain a lot of things. In particular, it would explain why so many North Koreans are in such dire straits and living such dismal lives, but they don't rise up to do anything about it.

That is probably part of the plan.


Are White people...

I think I was trying to find out if White people were more likely to have heart disease then Asians, but it seems clear from other people's Google searches that White people need to step up their marketing game.

Maybe this is just a Honolulu thing.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

State Department unhappy with visit to North Korea by former governor and Google chairman.

Whenever an American gets detained in North Korea, I like to joke that it's time for former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to pack his bags. As it turns out, Governor Richardson is the one to send when the detainees AREN'T somewhat famous, like Laura Ling.

This visit is even more newsworthy because the governor is bringing along the head of Google, and tongues are wagging about what that means. To hardliners, it could mean concessions by Google, which would undermine the sanctions against Pyongyang. To doves, the head of Google could be enticing Kim Jong-Un to join the rest of the world.

Right now I'm favoring the carrot theory, but we shall see. I would like to see KJU incentivized to make real economic reform, but I don't want to see a loosening of the (flimsy) noose the Obama administration has put in place in the banking sector.

This succinct email was sent from my iPad.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Baby, or not baby.

That is the question. 

After reporting that North Korea's First Lady may be carrying the First Baby, the South Korean press is now suggesting that the lack if the baby bump seen in December may be an indicator that she has given birth. 

Yet there has been a lack of news on any storkage. This could be for a number if reasons, from the child being a daughter and not a son, to the child being in very poor health, to the First Lady not having been pregnant in the first place but just wearing a hanbok.

Bear in mind this is the same media corps that couldn't spell the Young General's name correctly IN KOREAN because they'd misread ENGLISH-language reports on the guy. 

This succinct email was sent from my iPhone (possibly with the help of Siri voice recognition, so please excuse any weird typos). 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's greetings from the new leader

Is it just me, or does it look like seven guys under the podium are pointing firearms with silencers at the Young General?

Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, rarely spoke in public. Apparently he had a real squeaky voice that belied his ladies' man exterior, much like David Beckham. As the world rang in 2013, Kim Jong-un himself gave a speech on what he hoped would be in store for North Korea in the coming year, and although analysts like Marcus Noland said it was pretty much the same old same old ("this speech could have been any of the last dozen"), it is noteworthy that it was publicly given.

From the Los Angeles Times:
In an unusual televised address for the new year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called to defuse tensions with South Korea and boost the economy of his impoverished nation.

“An important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and achieving its reunification is to remove confrontations between the north and the south,” Kim declared.

Almost anything emerging from the isolated North Korean regime is bound to be parsed by analysts seeking clues to its next steps, but it is striking that Kim gave such a speech at all.

His father, Kim Jong Il, rarely spoke in public and signaled his annual plans through state newspaper editorials; the younger Kim has cultivated a more accessible style since taking power, showing up in public with his young wife and repeatedly addressing the North Korean people on television. Such gestures seem reminiscent of his grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung, who routinely spoke on the new year.

Despite the call to make peace, some experts were skeptical that it signaled any dramatic shift by North Korea. The regime prizes its military might, Kim emphasized later in his speech, delivered just a few weeks after North Korea launched a rocket to loft a satellite into space.
Even if it's rehashed rhetoric, I think this bears watching. This is a guy who may have enough charisma to eventually carry his own weight, once he decides what it is he wants to do. And the fact that he was educated (partly, at least) in the West where he may have been exposed to criticism of his father's and grandfather's regime, along with a positive view of freer markets, more open communications, and looser state controls.

And if that's true, that bodes well for eventual change, once he feels more secure in his situation (which I still maintain is precarious, if he's not a mere figurehead altogether). Always the pessimistic optimist, I can see KJI moving away from the Sŏn'gun ("Military First") policy toward one that makes the military comfortable but not the country's predominant force and preeminent institution.

Maybe. Who the heck knows?

There are some notable things in these speeches, reruns though they are. First, the North Korean people are being told to expect economic stabilization and improvement of "the people's living standards." This third monarch of the New Koryŏ kingdom — and his handlers — must be aware that such rhetoric has to eventually be met with reality, lest support for the regime erode to dangerous levels. Yes, they seem to be planning Chinese-style reforms, but they may be pushing themselves pass the point of no return on that score.

At the same time, I think it's also interesting that reunification is still being hawked as an eventual political goal. If North Korea does successfully reform, that could make it seem more and more like a stand-alone country despite its unification rhetoric (think: Taiwan), which would make a melding of the two Koreas less likely, not more.


"Gangnam Style" survives into 2013

Back in Korea, my apartment is close to Seoul Station, and I miss walking out in the bitter cold to Poshin'gak Pavilion (downtown, a couple miles away) and listening to the bell being rung thirty-three times. Yeah, it's loud and smoky because of the traditional fireworks, but it's kinda sorta spiritual at the same time.

Instead, this year I headed again to Waikiki, where I got a buttful of sand sitting on the beach waiting for the off-shore fireworks display, after which I and some school friends headed for Denny's, something of a tradition (though "M," who started it, was in Japan herself).

And now that it's 2013, which in leet spells Joie, which is French for joy, which indicates... ah, I'm going nowhere with this. Um, anyhoo, it appears that the one-hit wonder that is Psy in America is still keepin' keepin' on. Here's "Gangnam Style" promoting Betty White's program (she herself knows a thing or two about keepin' keepin' on).

Anyway, Happy New Year and all that, now get back to work.