Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sephia pictures from a dark place

The Washington Post has an article highlighting the first Instagram pictures sent from North Korea. They are being sent by Jean Lee, the Associated Press bureau chief in Pyongyang, a Monster Island favorite.

The picture in this post is supposedly the very first one ever to come out of the reclusive country, which only came about after North Korea decided to allow foreigners in North Korea to have 3G access.

Will this taste of social media change anything? Does it ever?


Dennis Rodman bringing Nonggu Diplomacy to Pyongyang

Yep, you read that right. Dennis "The Worm" Rodman is going to join the Harlem Globetrotters on a trip to North Korea for some reality show, where they're going to try to pry open the country and run a basketball camp.

From Voice of America:
Former U.S. basketball superstar Dennis Rodman has traveled to North Korea to help film a television show and engage in an unlikely cultural exchange in the Stalinist country.

Rodman and several members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team also plan to hold a series of basketball camps for North Korean children during the weeklong visit.

After landing in Pyongyang on Tuesday, the eccentric Rodman said he was just looking forward to "having some fun" in the notoriously closed state.

"It's my first time [to visit North Korea]. I think it's most of these guys' first time. So hopefully everything will be okay, and I hope the kids have a good time for the game," Rodman told reporters.

The U.S.-based Vice media group, which is leading the group, billed the trip as a "basketball diplomacy" mission. It said in a press release the visit will include activities aimed at encouraging "openness and better relations with the outside world."

Vice said the mission may also include a "top-level scrimmage" to be attended by Kim Jong Un, the young North Korean leader who took power following the death of his father in 2011. The event could not be confirmed.
I agree we need a little more peresnorka, but if the North Koreans weren't already afraid of Black people, Dennis Rodman isn't exactly the best ambassador.

But maybe I underestimate the guy and his ability to keep it together. If you're worried that the former bad boy of the NBA can't behave in a conservative and isolated land known for its racial homogeneity, I remind you that he did live in Newport Beach.

Snark aside, re-read that last link and try not being a tad concerned that Rodman's idea of "having some fun" might not jive with octogenarian North Korean nomenklatura's idea of "having some fun." They might kidnap him just on principle!

Anyway, although I support "Plan B" type efforts to limit North Korea's financial transactions until they end their nuclear program and stop abusing their people or attacking the South, I do agree that cultural exchanges are an effective way to erode mutual distrust and animosity, which can lead to compromise and good will in the future. Kushibo is an optimistic pessimist.

ROK Drop also featured this story. I expect One Free Korea will be unable to resist as well. So far, The Marmot's Hole hasn't covered it, because The Marmot is too busy focusing on the weirdly cute Bae Doona.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Failed Obama administration efforts to reach out to new Kim Jong-un in 2012?

I guess we could have a caption contest.

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Obama administration twice tried, in secret, to reach out to the fledgling government of Kim Jong-un last year, in the wake of the death of the young North Korean leader's father, Kim Jong-il.

In both cases, rather than getting Pyongyang to moderate its policies, especially its anti-American stance and its nuclear and missile development, Washington ended up with egg on its face as North Korea went ahead with missile and nuclear tests.

An excerpt from the LAT:
A White House official made two secret visits to North Korea last year in an unsuccessful effort to improve relations after new ruler Kim Jong Un assumed power, according to former U.S. officials familiar with the trips.

The brief visits in April and August were aimed at encouraging the new leadership to moderate its foreign policy after the death of Kim's father, longtime autocrat Kim Jong Il, in December 2011.

The ruling elite apparently spurned the outreach effort, however. This month, after a surge of fierce anti-U.S. rhetoric, the government in Pyongyang defied international warnings and conducted its third and most powerful underground nuclear test.

The former U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the back-channel trips have not been formally disclosed, said the first visit was an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Pyongyang not to launch a long-range rocket.

North Korea carried out the launch April 12. The missile flew only a few minutes before it exploded and crashed into the sea. A subsequent test of another long-range rocket in December was successful.

The April trip was led by Joseph DeTrani, a North Korea expert who then headed the National Counter Proliferation Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which coordinates U.S. intelligence agencies, the former U.S. officials said. It was unclear who led the August trip.

They said Sydney Seiler, who is in charge of Korea policy at the National Security Council, went on both trips. Seiler, a veteran CIA analyst, speaks fluent Korean. He could not be reached for comment.

The White House, State Department and CIA have refused to confirm or deny the 2012 trips, which occurred during the U.S. presidential election season.
Frankly, I think part of the problem right there is that this kind of thing will work only if it involves stroking the new North Korean leader's ego. You'd have to send at least a former President like Bill Clinton or Secretary of State, or possibly former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, in order to get them to consider any kind of significant change in stance (and even then you can't trust much of what they promise).


Random Korean reference on "The Office" (Part 둘)

In a recent episode of the US version of The Office, Pam is applying for a job in Philadelphia and her prospective new boss is the Philadelphia version of Michael Scott. In his effort to sound very cool, he makes a bunch of lame references to Gangnam Style when he passes his sole Asian employee.

And on a different note, I apologize for not keeping up with things for the last few weeks, but I have a very frontloaded semester this spring, and it has been keeping me busy. Besides, The Marmots Hole and ROK Drop keep beating me to most of the things I want to write about anyway.

I guess if I quit watching The Office (and New Girl, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Parks & Recreation, Community, etc.) then maybe I'd have more time to write posts.

(And yeah, Random Korean references on The Office is a thing.)


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Choe Sanghun of the New York Times has an article on the rising number of suicides among the elderly, a byproduct of rapid industrialization that has eroded family values that had (until recently) negated the need for a proper pension and social security system for most people.

An excerpt:
The woman’s death is part of one of South Korea’s grimmest statistics: the number of people 65 and older committing suicide, which has nearly quadrupled in recent years, making the country’s rate of such deaths among the highest in the developed world. The epidemic is the counterpoint to the nation’s runaway economic success, which has worn away at the Confucian social contract that formed the bedrock of Korean culture for centuries.

That contract was built on the premise that parents would do almost anything to care for their children — in recent times, depleting their life savings to pay for a good education — and then would end their lives in their children’s care. No Social Security system was needed. Nursing homes were rare.

But as South Korea’s hard-charging younger generations joined an exodus from farms to cities in recent decades, or simply found themselves working harder in the hypercompetitive environment that helped drive the nation’s economic miracle, their parents were often left behind. Many elderly people now live out their final years poor, in rural areas with the melancholy feel of ghost towns.

Such social shifts are not uncommon in the industrialized world. But the sudden change has proved especially wrenching in South Korea, where parents view their sacrifices as the equivalent of a pension plan and where those who are suffering are falling victim to changes they themselves helped unleash as they rebuilt the economy from the devastation of the Korean War.

“The family was always an extended self,” said Park Ji-young, a professor of social welfare at Sangji University in Wonju. “Children were everything they had for their future — for health care, financial support and a comfortable life in old age. Their children’s success was their success.”
As I've written many times before, the most egregious characteristic of suicide in South Korea is how it is widely acceptable as a noble exit, and is rapidly becoming "normative" and even seen as an act of bravery. It's already true among many of South Korea's overwhelmed students, and it may become the same among the elderly at the top of South Korea's inverted population pyramid.


Best friends for... Does it really have to be forever?


The New York Times has an interesting article on how a changing China and a recalcitrant North Korea have made for a strained relationship as of late, not just among Beijing politicos but from the Chinese hoi polloi.

This apparently growing view that China has outgrown its Cold War-era BFF is underscored by things like North Korea's nuclear test during the Chinese New Year festivities.

An excerpt:
At home and abroad, China has long been regarded as North Korea’s best friend, but at home that sense of fraternity appears to be souring as ordinary people express anxiety about possible fallout from the test last Tuesday. The fact that North Korea detonated the device on a special Chinese holiday did not sit well, either.

Among Chinese officials, the mood toward the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has also darkened. The Chinese government is reported by analysts to be wrestling with what to do about a man who, in power for a little more than a year, thumbed his nose at China by ignoring its appeals not to conduct the country’s third nuclear test, and who shows no gratitude for China’s largess as the main supplier of oil and food.

“The public does not want China to be the only friend of an evil regime, and we’re not even recognized by North Korea as a friend,” said Jin Qiangyi, director of the Center for North and South Korea Studies at Yanbian University in Yanji City. “For the first time the Chinese government has felt the pressure of public opinion not to be too friendly with North Korea.”
But will this translate into anything? I'd like to remind everyone that Chinese people don't actually vote for their leaders, who can still do pretty much whatever they want. The question is when will those leaders themselves start to see the danger of North Korea's brinkmanship?

I've recently written on why Pyongyang's nuclear tests are a threat even to Chinese security, and Beijing is trying to get North Korea to reform, but North Korea is run by some obstinate people who may not have yet been convinced that preserving their regime requires changing its ways.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Hold on a minute... I think we've lost count

I couldn't even tell you how many nukes North Korea has so far detonated. Starting with the second or third, I've adopted not just a ho-hum attitude, but blatant encouragement...
Why should we care at all if North Korea keeps shooting off missiles and blowing up its nuclear arsenal deep in its own tunnels? We should be applauding this, because it means that they are using up all of their weapons in a bid to get our attention.
... and mockery:
North Korea's preparing for a third nuclear test, supposedly. And I say let 'em! Then taunt them that we thought that was just a bunch of TNT detonated in a mine shaft, so they'll detonate another one to prove us wrong. Lather, rinse, repeat, and eventually all their nukes will be gone. I should be president.
The nukes are also a bid to get our attention as well as our food aid (and this is what we should do with tyrant temper tantrums aimed at getting our attention).

 But PBS's Newshour has me wondering if the tests may pose more danger than I've surmised. Qoting James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:
What we don't know is the size of the device. We don't know the material from which the devise was made. In fact, we don't even know definitively that this was larger than the previous two tests. It probably was. But it would take some time for the seismologists to estimate the yield accurately. ...

I think the test today marks a quantitative change. And it demonstrates that Pyongyang is moving along its arc of developing nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States. It already has ballistic missiles that can threaten the region. And if it can fit a nuclear warhead onto those, then it can directly threaten some of its neighbors. But it doesn't mark a fundamentally new departure. North Korea has already tested two nuclear weapons. It's tested plenty of missiles. Today marks an intensification of the threat, rather than a fundamental change in the nature of the threat.
If North Korea really can miniaturize a nuke, it might be time to recycle this old post about what would happen if a nuke were detonated in central Seoul, i.e., my house.
In fact, it seems (according to The Marmot's Hole) that some conservatives are doing just that, and they're also wondering whether or not South Korea should rethink its agreement with Washington not to develop nukes. South Korean development of nukes would not occur in a vacuum; it would quite possibly lead to Japan also getting them (not that Tokyo feels threatened by Seoul, but they don't want to be the last one in the neighborhood without them and they might feel a bit vulnerable under the US nuclear umbrella if their umbrella partner South Korea doesn't feel confident either).

Where it gets messy is that if Japan started getting nukes, then other countries like China would feel a need to ratchet up their military capabilities. Perhaps North Korea and Russia, too. Taiwan might feel the need in response to China. Before we know it, we have much the same powder keg as we would if they United States had left the region altogether (which would be a mistake we'd pay for dearly down the road), and everybody would be holding matches.

The only value I can see in South Korea pursuing nukes would be as a very serious incentive to get Beijing to rein in Pyongyang. But I'm not so sure they can anymore. (One would hope Beijing would finally pull the plug on their support of Pyongyang and initiate The Kushibo Plan, but I'm not holding my breath.)


"e-Papers, please": Most Americans live in a Fourth Amendment-free zone (yes, really)

One thing I find particularly loathsome about the political polarization of America these days is the gross hypocrisy that results when one side that would normally oppose something will support it because it is their side imposing it, but then turn around and scream bloody murder about it if the other side does the same.

So when I read about the 100-mile "Constitution-free zone" at a right-wing website, I first assumed it was yet another one of those things where what really happened was being exaggerated, distorted, or simply lied about, as about ninety-five percent of them are, in order to agitate the believe-it-before-they-even-see-it masses.

But no such luck this time. As usual, I looked into this egregious claim before concluding it was yet another bogus effort to whip up readers into a frothing Obama-bashing frenzy, but I discovered that, apparently, the Obama administration's Department of Homeland Security really was suggesting that authorities be able to search electronic devices of people even without suspicion up to 100 miles from entry into the country, which it is very loosely calling "the border." That covers two in three people in the United States, including yours truly in Hawaii.

Rather than an Obama-bashing right-wing website (which is what you'll mostly get in a search for "100 mile zone department of homeland security"), I decided to put a bit of trust in this from Wired:
The Department of Homeland Security’s civil rights watchdog has concluded that travelers along the nation’s borders may have their electronics seized and the contents of those devices examined for any reason whatsoever — all in the name of national security.

The DHS, which secures the nation’s border, in 2009 announced that it would conduct a “Civil Liberties Impact Assessment” of its suspicionless search-and-seizure policy pertaining to electronic devices “within 120 days.” More than three years later, the DHS office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties published a two-page executive summary of its findings.

“We also conclude that imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits,” the executive summary said. [bold-faced emphasis mine]

The memo highlights the friction between today’s reality that electronic devices have become virtual extensions of ourselves housing everything from e-mail to instant-message chats to photos and our papers and effects — juxtaposed against the government’s stated quest for national security.

The President George W. Bush administration first announced the suspicionless, electronics search rules in 2008. The President Barack Obama administration followed up with virtually the same rules a year later. Between 2008 and 2010, 6,500 persons had their electronic devices searched along the U.S. border, according to DHS data.
Got that? Denying their ability to search without reasonable suspicion harms their operations without providing any real benefit to our own civil rights or civil liberties. (Says who?!)

Wired goes on to explain that "according to legal precedent, the Fourth Amendment... does not apply along the border." Fine, except that the DHS has declared that "the border" stretches 100 miles inland from where the country actually begins (or ends, depending on viewpoint). Hence the American Civil Liberties Union graphic up above.

Got that? It's inconvenient for authorities to respect the Fourth Amendment rights along the border, and the border stretches a hundred miles inland, engulfing cities that are home to around 200 million people.

Just so we're clear, the Fourth Amendment (that's the privacy one, for those of you who had senioritis in high school Civics class), reads as follows:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
That a person's iPhone, camera, computer, etc., is part of their "papers and effects" is far clearer than what a "well-regulated militia" is.

Now, I'm a believer that there is a real threat from terrorists both foreign and domestic and that we need to take that threat seriously, but I don't believe we need to give the government carte blanche to violate our civil rights in order to meet the threat. That represents two things: a deplorable and dangerous lack of creativity and effectiveness, and an immense potential for abuse.

What also bothers me about this (and this goes back to my earlier comment about hypocrisy) is that people are getting up in arms about this now when it has been an issue since the Bush administration. Kudos to the ACLU, which has been riled up about it under two different presidents (the above link is from October 2008), as they should be.

But the likes of WND are only getting on board now because it is a stick with which to try to beat down Obama; most of them likely voted for George W. Bush twice. (Not to mention that the ACLU is an organization that is constantly in the sights of the right, even when the ACLU defends folks like Rush Limbaugh.)

And on the other side, I expect (and I'll be so happy if I'm wrong) that those on the left who would normally be up in arms about this are going to be a bit quieter and more measured because they don't want to criticize Obama too harshly. (A little like we've seen with the drone program.)

Where are the moral compasses in our country today? God help us if I'm the only one in the middle or the left making a stink out of this.

Someone needs to take this through the courts so that DHS's fiat can be declared unconstitutional.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Monkey see, monkey do pictures

If you're offended by some of the depictions of "natives" in Korean media (and sometimes you should be), bear in mind that Korean advertising, Korean television, Korean music, and various other forms of Korean media and entertainment have for decades been mimicking what was easily available from the US and elsewhere, and modeling Korean media thus.

Which is why issues like blackface (also here and here), joking about Nazis, or depicting Africans as primitives carrying spears get very confusing.

A very recent Exhibit A:
But even more upsetting are the shots taken in Namibia, in which a black man is a prop. A black model was also shot in the African country, but when the magazine used the man as a prop, they used a white model, for contrast. Photographing Emily DiDonato against the country's stunning sands wasn't enough. A half-naked native makes the shot seem more exotic — even though Namibia is a country with a capital city where there are shopping malls and people, you know, who wear Western clothes. Also: People are not props.

Africa has long been portrayed as a place of uncivilized, primitive people, despite the fact that it is a very diverse continent with an epic diaspora and considered the birthplace of civilization. From Morocco to Côte d'Ivoire to Ethiopia to Egypt and Nigeria, no one African country is like another. But these shots tap into the West's past obsession/fetishization with so-called savages, jungle comics and the like. Again: In a visit to seven continents, this image is what Sports Illustrated is using to represent the continent of Africa. A model holding a fucking spear.

Questions: Who is this man? Was he cast? Was he paid? Does he know his ass is in glossy print, all over the United States right now?
Not that that excuses anything on the Korean side (just so we're clear). You've been warned.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Seoul food in the White House

I remember from my youth that home sale prices in Orange County would drop in value if kimchi were stored inside the house. That's why most kyopo homes had a special "kimchi fridge" out in the garage.

The lingering pungency of kimchi may be an issue in the 2016 presidential election, since it seems First Lady Michelle Obama has tweeted that they not only serve and eat kimchi in the People's House, but they actually make it there:
Last week, we picked Napa cabbage in the garden. Now, we're using it to make kimchi in the kitchen. Make it at home:
The attached picture even includes a simple recipe:

Who knew that FLOTUS was doing kimjang (the act of preparing kimchi for winter)?! Little does she know, but she just successfully pandered to the Korean American constituency big time. South Koreans are reportedly quite thrilled about this (and probably consider this alone to justify Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize). [Note: Barack Obama's love of kimchi has already been documented.]

Anyway, if reading right-wing news sites has taught me anything, it's that this stinks of conspiracy: by flooding the White House with the stench of pickled vegetables, the Obamas are ensuring that no one will want the job of president in 2016, and the next term will be theirs! The kimchi is part of an elaborate ploy to become president-for-life.


새해 복 많이 받으세요! (Happy New Year, lunar edition)

Apologies for the slow updates, but grad school and family issues have been keeping me busy lately.

In short, lots of Korean ads at Superbowl: good.

In short, North Korea detonating yet another nuclear device: good. (We want them to deplete their supply, doncha know.)

In short, the "Day After Tomorrow" deep freeze engulfing the Peninsula: bad.

The transition from Lee Myungbak to Park Geunhye: let's wait and see.

My friend "U" send me this picture of herself all dressed up for Sŏllal (Lunar New Year):

I think she's trying to solicit sebaetton (세뱃돈) from someone. Hope it's not me.

Anyway, it's off to bed for me. I am going to head for an early morning trip to Diamond Head and possibly watch the "first sunrise" of the new year.

Year 4346, baby! Woo hoo!


Monday, February 4, 2013

And on the other end of the age spectrum...

... here's 81-year-old former US Senator Alan Simpson (he of Simpson-Bowles) trying to dance Gangnam Style:

I probably can't do any better, and I don't have a bum knee.

Um, anyway, this was all because Senator Simpson (he of Simpson-Bowles) cited "getting on YouTube so you can see Gangnam Style" as one of those time-wasters that otherwise Internet-savvy people do (along with "Instagramming your breakfast" and "tweeting your first-world problems").

What he'd like you to do is start paying attention to the massive amount of debt the country has, warning that "these old coots will clean out the Treasury before you get there." So he has started an on-line initiative called "The Can Kicks Back" that educates younger people on why debt matters and what can be done about it (though it gets a little scare-tacticy).

(The fact that we've been kicking the can down the road on the debt issue is why they have a can in their organization name and as their mascot.)

Anyhoo, a big ten-gallon Wyoming hat is off to Senator Simpson for getting young people to pay attention in a not-terribly-uncool way.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

I guess the "Gangnam Style" phenomenon can't be all bad if it gives us things like this

In Hawaii right now it's still Groundhog Day, February 2.

And in honor of "2.2," the second day of the second month, I give you two toddlers dancing to "Gangnam Style" as they ring in that runaway hit's second year.

Full disclosure: That's pretty much how I dance to "Gangnam Style."

My favorite part is between 0:45 and 1:05, but it's fun to watch the entire thing.


Friday, February 1, 2013

The Apple-Samsung juggernaut

If there was any question that there was a duopoly in the cell phone game, it's gone. A recent study shows that Apple and Samsung accounted for 95% of all the mobile phone industry's profit in the last months of 2012.

From the Los Angeles Times:
Apple alone claimed 70% of the cellphone industry's total worldwide profit of $16 billion, while Samsung had 25%, according to a report released late Thursday night by Counterpoint Technology Market Research.

In third place was Nokia with 2%. That left the remaining 3% to be split by about 300 companies.

"Apple has essentially created the smartphone sector as we see it today and its combination of beautiful, easy-to-use products coupled with a rich content and application environment has enabled it to attract outsize profits," Couterpoint Research said in its report. "Only Samsung has come close to replicating this success."

The two leaders' shares of the profit pool are up from sharply from 2011, when Apple had 51% of industry earnings, followed by Samsung with 15% and Nokia with 12%, Counterpoint said.

In 2010, Apple had 43% while Nokia had 20% and Samsung had 16%.
Given that Samsung is a major components supplier for Apple's smartphones, that arguably makes the South Korean tech behemoth the predominant player. Sure, Apple's still the largest second largest company in the world, but with lackluster sales (or rather, less than super stellar amazing), some are arguing that the gild is off the lily at Apple.

Perhaps Apple should focus more on innovation in Cupertino than in the courtroom. They just lost another bid against Samsung, but one has to wonder if all the litigation isn't a drag on the company's creativity.