Saturday, April 27, 2013

Samsung nearly double Apple sales

From Forbes:
It’s looking ominous in the smartphone market with South Korea’s Samsung Electronics and LG both increasing market share in the first quarter of 2013, according to UK-based researchers Juniper. Taking Juniper’s research alongside data from IDC it looks as though Samsung now has almost double Apple‘s market share in smartphones.

Juniper Research estimates a 30% year over year increase in smartphone shipments with the first quarter 2013 total reaching almost 200 million.
The report does concede that the iPhone 5 is still the single best-selling model of smartphone. But according to the report, Samsung's overall growth in market share is a bad sign for Apple, which must come up with something very cool next year in order to maintain its reputation as a master of innovation:
Juniper Research points out that “Apple need to innovate, with the next product release being critical in maintaining their position as innovation leaders. Apple will also need to ensure that they are attractive to emerging markets to retain their title as global brand leaders.”
The Galaxy S4 is now being released, and there won't be an iPhone 5s or iPhone 6 until late summer at the earliest.


North Korea says Korean-American tourist Kenneth Bae will go on trial

The plight of Kenneth Bae (referred to by North Korean media as Pae Junho) has gotten little play in the American media, but more attention might be paid to his situation now that he is going on trial, at a time of heightened tensions.

From Reuters:
North Korea said on Saturday a Korean-American tourist, who has been held in prison by the reclusive state since late last year, will face trial for "committing crimes" against the North, a move that could further stoke tensions with the United States.

Kenneth Bae, 44, was in a group of five tourists who visited the northeastern city of Rajin on a five-day trip last November and has been held by police since then.

KCNA, the North's official news agency, said Bae entered the North on November 3.

"In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it," the KCNA report said, using the North's official title of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"His crimes were proved by evidence," it said, adding he would soon be taken to the Supreme Court "to face judgment".

Former U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson delivered a letter regarding Bae to officials during a trip to North Korea in January, although he was unable to meet Bae.
Given North Korea's track record, it's reasonable to expect Pyongyang to milk concessions or a high-profile visit out of this, with such a visit perhaps being used to either squeeze concessions or provide a face-saving way out of the manufactured crisis that the DPRK has created.


North Korea takes over the world

So say The Onion.

The problem with satirical news reports about North Korea is that they have to compete with actual news reports coming out of North Korea.

For more stranger-than-satire reality, check out this Tumblr feed (HT to someone).


Picture of the Day: Lee in Dallas

No, not that Lee in Dallas. Former South Korean Lee Myungbak, at left, speaks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi before the dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library on Thursday, April 25, 2013, in Dallas.

Given South Korea's prominent role as a supporting nation during the Iraq War — though they saw little action in the relatively peaceful Kurdish portion of Iraq, South Korea had the third largest military contingent in Iraq after the US and the UK — it's hardly a surprise that the South Korean president, himself a strong proponent of the ROK-US alliance, would be invited. (Lee's predecessor, left-leaning Roh Moohyun, took a major hit with his base by sending troops to participate in this unpopular war.)

I'll ask the obvious question: What is up with Lee Myungbak's neck?

Here's my other favorite photo: Dick Cheney as a tough cowboy.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Angry little animated cartoon

When your strip has the word angry in it, don't be surprised when photographers and journalists keep asking you to make this face whenever you pose for a picture.

The Los Angeles Times (to whom I'm linking, even though they are rat bastards for charging money for their site even though I link on ads) is reporting that Korean-American cartoonist Lela Lee's online comic strip "Angry Little Girls" is going to be turned into a television show this summer:
It's "South Park" with Asian attitude — a primal scream, a blast of defiance.

"It's not easy being a girl, stuck with mean parents, a dumb boyfriend and annoying friends," Lee says, by way of introducing her main character. "I love the freedom of being able to say just what you need to say."

The comic-strip heroine acts out where her creator never had the nerve. Lee tells of being raised by ultra-strict parents, the youngest of four daughters in a Korean American household who were constantly pushed to achieve and "be somebody."

"I had lots of humiliating experiences and never had the guts to speak my mind," she says, hugging her forearms as she speaks, her eyes locked onto her listener's.

Now in her late 30s, Lee is making up for lost time: Like Kim, she never seems at a loss for words, talking at a rapid clip, her dark hair bouncing on her shoulders.
I might be bothered to watch this, at least once or twice to see if I like it. I've seen the strip a few times, and it seems funny, but when they say "it's 'South Park' with Asian attitude," I'm reminded of an admonition by Lisa Simpson that "anything that's the something of something isn't the anything of anything." (I won't even touch the idea of there being an "Asian attitude," other than "ha ha, look at all the fat White people.")

That's three-quarters of the Asians I've
dated and about half of the Caucasians. 

This one, too. 

They visit Yasukuni because of the war criminals

Blogging about South Korea and Northeast Asia can be repetitive sometimes. North Korea's annual saber-rattling and Japanese right-wingers' visits to Yasukuni Shrine are two such cyclical events that would allow me to cut-and-paste articles from years past and present them as brand-new posts (as I did with the artwork below, originally from this post).

So bear with me as I try to strike out on new ground on the Yasukuni Shrine issue, as it erupts afresh with the outrageous views of current Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe, and I point out something that is obvious to anybody who has looked into this issue carefully, but which might be lost upon the general public who only hears about this topic once a year in passing...

Here's the thing that that is important to note about the visits to Yasukuni Shrine: The right-wing politicos don't visit the Yasukuni Shrine despite the enshrinement of the Class-A war criminals; they visit the shrine because of the Class-A war criminals.

You see, in their narrative, the Pacific War was just and those war criminals are not truly war criminals, since their trials and convictions were illegitimate actions of cruel Allied victors who used inhumane actions to force an inhumane surrender (and stripping Japan of its legitimate territories like Korea). They were enshrined — in secret — to underscore that very point, which runs counter to the peace-loving narrative adopted by the Imperial Family after the war (this is why the Emperor no longer visits Yasukuni Shrine). It was a political move that usurped the religious shrine — note that one of the Yasukuni-14 was enshrined even though he did not die in war; he was enshrined because he was a convicted war criminal. Those who did enshrined the Yasukuni-14 destroyed it as a symbol of peace in order to make it a focal point of their political narrative.

And theirs (the right-wingers') is emphatically not a view shared by all Japanese, maybe not even most Japanese. The opposing Hiroshima view (though it is sometimes harnessed by the right wing because it feeds into their view of Japan as a victim of the Allies) decries the militarists's expansionism and atrocities, as well as the destruction it brought to Japanese citizens at home and abroad.

There are few ways to resolve this issue, and every year that goes by that it doesn't get resolved is a year where economic opportunity and political good will are eroded, while simultaneously nudging the region toward greater military tension.

In my opinion, the best way to resolve it is for Japan to establish a national shrine or memorial to war dead that bypasses Yasukuni Shrine and the concomitant controversy since the 1970s. Then Yasukuni Shrine will be left for individuals to pay respects to their individual family members who are enshrined there (whose numbers go far beyond the right-wingers) and for right wingers who want to make a point about their ahistorical beliefs in Imperial Japan's squeaky clean record in the half century ending in 1945.

There are many Japanese who support such a solution. They don't like Yasukuni and its current narrative derailing good relations with neighbors, and they don't like the narrative itself, and they don't like their own dead relatives' being used as pawns in political maneuvering.


Hyundai introduces flying car to deal with congested cities

At this internal contest for Hyundai engineers, it looks like they produced a lot of really cool stuff, some of which might end up being brought to market by them in a few years, I guess.

Really, though, things could get a little hairy if loads of drivers are maneuvering their Hyundai aerocars (arrow cars?) between all the high-rises in a place like Seoul. I'm imagining a scene like in the opening of Back To The Future 2, where Doc Brown is on a very high highway.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Korea Beat returns to

Korea Beat, one of my favorite K-blogs, has completed its move away from Asian Correspondent back to its original home at, so go pay them a visit and maybe help Nathan return to his glory days when he had a lively commentariat accompanying his well translated articles (from news sources that were chosen for how they typified Korean news media rather than

That was a run-on sentence.

Now if only we can get Brian (no longer in) Chŏllanam-do to return to blogging, tonight we're gonna party like it's twenty-zero-nine.

From Brian's site, people in Chŏllanam-do partying like its 1939. 

[To see other favorite K-blogs, search the column on the right for "Our Daily Breadth" or "Blog roll of blogs that list me in their blog roll (plus a few other blogs I like or check out)."]


Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff expects North Korea to be perpetually provocative instead of cyclically provocative

According to the Los Angeles Times, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is in Beijing explaining that we should expect there to be a constant threat of provocation by North Korea under Kim Jong-un.

If this is true, it raises the chance of there being an accidental miscalculation which leads to a wider shooting war. It also gives right-wing Japanese leadership more wind in their sails as they try to dismantle that country's pacifist constitution in favor of something that allows them to project their military might.


Americans who say George W Bush's presidency was a success rise from 29% in 2009 to 42% now

I realize that many people tend to look at things more favorably over time, but I'm trying to think on what measure people could possibly think that Bush43's presidency was a success. 

He started an unnecessary war that turned into a disastrous quagmire and caused the other necessary war to turn into a disaster as well. He oversaw the near collapse of the economy, although he does deserve credit for doing the right stuff in the end to save it. He put the country on a fiscal trajectory that went from budget surpluses to record-breaking deficits. 

I could go on, but you get the picture. I guess there's a reason Americans are so divided on this. Right now eight in ten Republicans say his presidency was a success, while nine in ten Democrats say it was a failure. Independents are divided, with 43% saying he was a success, pretty close to the national average. Urbanites say failure while suburbanites and people in rural areas are mixed. Elderly voters are much more likely to say he was a success, while younger people say he was a failure by large margins. Call that a Colbert bump.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Taekwondo instructor tries to kill Obama?

This is only peripherally related to Korea — taekwondo being the signature martial art associated with Korea — but the guy the FBI is now focusing on as a suspect in sending highly poisonous ricin to President Barack Obama and a Republican US Senator from Mississippi runs a taekwondo tojang.

I guess another connection could be that "ricin" sounds like "rice," which is a major staple of the Korean diet.

Forty-one-year-old James Everette Dutschke is also facing child molestation charges, but that is no real connection to Korea.

UPDATE (April 28, 2013):
In a pretty lame story, the Los Angeles Times referred to the guy as "a karate instructor" (HT to Wangkon). While it's disappointing that writers Matthew Teague and Shashank Bengali see Korean and Japanese stuff as same-same, maybe we should just let the Japanese have this one.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The World Bank's Dr Kim wants to end extreme poverty by 2030

Korean-American public health expert Dr Jim Yong Kim, who once called for dismantlement of the very organization he now heads, has announced a plan to end extreme poverty around the world in less than two decades.

I'll trim this post later, but for now, the transcript of the PBS Newshour piece is found after the jump. (Click on title above to read more.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

To be fair, when it comes to North Korea, it's hard to tell the satire from the serious

The Huffington Post is reporting that a Chinese newspaper mistook a bit of satire by The Atlantic's Andy Borowitz for a true story, when they reported that North Korea had decided to delay their missile launch because of a glitch with Windows 8.

From HuffPo:
A Chinese media outlet reportedly re-broadcast a satirical article by The New Yorker's Andy Borowitz that said North Korea has postponed a possible missile test because of a Windows 8 glitch.

According to the South China Morning Post, the 21 Century Business Herald posted the fake news on its Sina Weibo micro-blogging page and included a comical quote from "a source close to the North Korean regime" that jokingly claimed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was so angry over the Windows 8 issue that he was considering declaring war on Microsoft.

The Herald, which is based in the Chinese province of Guangdong, has a readership of more than 750,000 people. But it seems to have realized its mistake. As the National Journal's Brian Fung points out, the Herald's micro-blogging post seems to have been deleted.
Look, if the entire South Korean economy can be taken down thanks to Active-X, I don't see how the above story is really so far outside the realm of possibility that Chinese journalists are laughingstocks for believing it. Especially since it's not their native language (insert rant about Westerners getting Chinese characters [e.g., 纹身五百元], the meaning of which they have no actual clue, on their bodies).

Heck, as one HuffPo commenter noted, the Chinese know North Korea better than most, and maybe Kim Jong-un really does want to declare war on Microsoft.

And would that really be a sign of insanity?


You're the Jung that I want

The British tabloid The Sun has published several pictures of what they say are a young Kim Jong-un back in his exclusive Swiss boarding school, including one they claim to be KJU playing the lead character in the musical Grease.

It really is hard, however, to tell for sure if these pictures (especially KJU as one of the T-Birds) really are the man who is now leader of North Korea. In the end, The Sun's entire story may rest on a case of "all Asians look alike."

Even then, the future leader had a red halo around him.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sucks to be Yoo (part 2)

 Korean-American attorney John Yoo, also known as "America's Torturer" for his legal defense of the practice when he worked for the Bush43 administration, is no longer welcome in Russia, pat of a tit-for-tat between Moscow and Washington after the US government decided to try something that went beyond mere diplomatic scolding on Russian human rights abuse.

From AP, via HuffPo:
Russia on Saturday banned 18 Americans from entering the country in response to Washington imposing sanctions on 18 Russians for alleged human rights violations.

The list released by the Foreign Ministry includes John Yoo, a former U.S. Justice Department official who wrote legal memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques; David Addington, the chief of staff for former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney; and two former commanders of the Guantanamo Bay detention center: retired Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller and Adm. Jeffrey Harbeson.

The move came a day after the U.S. announced its sanctions under the Magnitsky Law, named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested in 2008 for tax evasion after accusing Russian police officials of stealing $230 million in tax rebates. He died in prison the next year, allegedly after being beaten and denied medical treatment.
So the system works: If you support an atrocious activity, a decade later you'll be banned from a crime-ridden corrupt country you probably wouldn't to visit anyway.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Republicans reach out to Asian American voters with new hires

Korean-American voters, similar to Cuban-American voters, had long been a reliable Republican voting bloc, largely owing to strong anti-Communist sentiment that resulted from South Korea's proximity to North Korea.

That has changed in recent elections, especially because of perceptions that the GOP politicians and their base are largely made up of racist White people who think there are too many immigrants in the United States, so I'm curious to see how well this works out. If the GOP can actually change some of its policies so that this perception disappears, that could work. But if they just expect people to change their perceptions, I think they're doomed to fail.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Republicans reach out to Asian American voters with new hires

As the 168 members of the Republican National Committee head to Los Angeles for their spring meeting - a visit meant to illustrate the party's commitment to broadening its reach even in the bluest of states - Chairman Reince Priebus announced two new hires who will focus on stepping up the party's efforts to engage voters in Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

The full story can be viewed at:,0,2056986.story?track=latiphoneapp

Get the Los Angeles Times iPhone app from iTunes:

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

North Korea warns foreigners to leave South Korea

The rhetoric coming out of North Korea is so off the rails this time, I'm starting to wonder if one faction in North Korea isn't actually trying to set up another faction for humiliation and later reprobation.

From the Los Angeles Times:

North Korea warns foreigners to leave South Korea

SEOUL -- North Korea's state-run Asia Pacific Peace Committee warned foreigners in South Korea Tuesday to set up evacuation plans.

The full story can be viewed at:,0,2190275.story?track=latiphoneapp

US spelling bee whiz kids must now must take vocabulary tests

I thought that this is interesting, and part of me wonders if the change isn't because there's a feeling that there are too many kids of ethnicities where rote memorization is perceived to be the norm back in the homeland. If you get my drift.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Spelling bee whiz kids must now must take vocabulary tests

To bee, or not to bee, has now become a tougher question to answer -- even for whiz kid spellers.

The full story can be viewed at:,0,3384939.story?track=latiphoneapp

Monday, April 8, 2013

North Korea dominates "Meet The Press"

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

North Korea's brinkmanship was front and center on NBC's Meet The Press this Sunday, with Republican US Senator Lindsay Graham praising President Obama's handling of the crisis and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who has been point man for several administrations for dealing with Pyongyang, providing perspective on what's going on and what can be done about it.  

Quoting Senator Graham (transcript here):
I think what bothers me the most is that the tolerance in South Korea for this kind of provocation is greatly-- is-- you know, they’re-- they’re not going to put up with this anymore. If there were a South Korean naval vessel sunk this year, anytime soon, or a shelling of North-- South Korean Island by North Korea, I think the new president of South Korea would be compelled to act. I think the North Koreans are overplaying their hands. And this administration has acted responsibly. I’m glad we’re not doing the ballistic missile test. I’m glad we had the B-2s in the theater where they could see them. I’m glad we’re telling our allies South Korea and Japan, we literally have your back. And the North Koreans need to understand if they attack an American interest or an ally of this country, they’re going to pay a heavy price.
Quoting Governor Richardson:
I think Kim Jong-un is playing to three audiences, and this is why he’s doing these provocative acts. And by the way, Andrea was with me on one of the eight trips I did. First, he’s playing to the North Korean generals. They run the show, the military. He’s playing to the Korean workers party, the leadership there. Secondly, he’s playing to his own people. He got burned by that missile test that failed, and he feels he has the buttress his domestic standing. And I think the third thing that he’s doing is he’s testing the new South Korean president. Every years-- every five years or so when a new South Korean president comes in, North Korea does a provocative act so the issue is what do we do about it. I think what we’ve done in terms of the military posture, the stealth activity makes sense but I think eventually there’s going to have to be some diplomacy and the six-party talks I don’t think are working. I think China has to be the key. We have to really get them to lean on North Korea. But I think a new diplomatic track is needed. Some out of the box diplomacy involving the U.N., the World Bank, some special envoys outside of government, because I think we need to get to this new young leader who I don’t think is calling the show but nonetheless because it’s a (Unintelligible), because he is nominally in charge, is probably the key player there.
I'm not sure how that jives with "Plan B," but an effective mix of carrot and stick could work, as long as you remember the stick and have the guts to use it at the risk of pissing off Beijing, Pyongyang's benefactor.


China tries to pull North Korea back from the brinkmanship

Watching his back: Kim Jong-un is unnerved by his generals'
demonstration of how they can crush uppity dictators with their bare hands.

I've said it over and over again (as have others): North Korea as it exists today would not and could not exist without the approval of the Chinese leadership. As I've outlined here and elsewhere, Beijing wants North Korea as a buffer state against a democratic and US-aligned South Korea. It cares little about the horror that goes on within DPRK borders, in part because it finds some of those horrors justified even within its own.

But sometimes a maverick North Korea can go too far even by Chinese standards. North Korean belligerent rhetoric and posturing, insofar as it could lead to a miscalculation and a shooting war, is worrisome to China. Perhaps of greater concern is the prospect of North Korea's nuclear-tipped saber-rattling prompting South Korea and especially Japan to forgo the American nuclear umbrella for their own.

From the Los Angeles Times:
In a sign of China’s exasperation with its rogue ally, North Korea, newly installed Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday condemned nations that throw the “world into chaos.”

Without mentioning North Korea by name, Xi told delegates at an international forum in Boao, southern Hainan province: “No one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains.’’

Xi advised turning “our global village into a big stage for common development, rather than an arena where gladiators fight each other."

The warning came as South Korean intelligence warned of an imminent missile launch from North Korea’s East Coast. North Korea has moved an intermediate-range missile into position for what is most likely a routine test but could possibly target U.S. interests in Guam. The South Korean newspaper Joongang Daily also quoted unidentified South Korean government sources as saying the North might be preparing another nuclear test. ...

The United States is looking to Beijing to take a more proactive role in pulling an increasingly shrill Pyongyang back from the brink. After a similar crisis in 2003, Beijing hosted six-nation talks over denuclearization that, at least temporarily, restored calm to the region.

In a rare break with its Communist ally, China sided with the United States in imposing U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea after a nuclear test in February.

“This is the first foreign policy test for Xi Jinping," said Lee Chung-min, dean of international studies at Seoul’s Yonsei University. “I think the Chinese leadership is realizing that the North Koreans are more of a liability than an asset and that if they don’t control North Korea there will be consequences." ...

“China has not been very clear on what it is doing about the North Korea situation, which makes me hope there are some backdoor negotiations going on,’’ said Zhan Jiang, a professor at Beijing’s Foreign Studies University.
As critical as I am of China's handling of their client state, Xi's predecessor deserves credit (as I've written here and here) for trying to ease North Korea toward economic reform, which hopefully will one day see North Korea trying to get ahead with economic achievements rather than military rhetoric.


SNL spoofs KJU (and opposition to same-sex marriage)

With North Korea's brinkmanship and belligerent rhetoric the top story of the past week or so, it's no surprise that Saturday Night Live would decide to make fun of the Young General. In this past week's cold open, Kim Jong-un speaks to his politburo and the nation, joining most Democrats and some Republicans in endorsing same-sex marriage, among other things.

It was a fairly funny piece, though you'd think they'd try a little bit harder for some authenticity. Instead, Bobby Moynihan (who plays KJU) seemed to be speaking in a mixture of Japanese and gibberish. Okay, so it would be hard for a non-Korean speaker to do a bit several minutes long solely in Japanese, and his nonsense syllables didn't sound like "ching chong" or anything like that, but why did he have to use Japanese? Moynihan keeps starting his sentences with Watashi-wa ("I ...")

By the way, there have been some brilliant bits in past SNL seasons where they attempted an entire segment in Japanese, earning extra kudos points for the effort. Things like the original original inspiration for The Office...

... and this 1994 (the golden age of SNL) Mike Meyers skit of a Japanese game show:

That, my friends, is called trying. And it's not as if there aren't a kajillion Korean speakers in the Tri-State area from which you could get some useful training to at least get your Kim Jong-un character to say Chŏ-nŭn... before the voiceover drowns out the rest.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

AP's Jean Lee visits Kaesong

With the inter-Korean industrial park at Kaesŏng, just inside North Korea, at ground zero in the war of words between Seoul and Pyongyang, the Associated Press bureau chief for Pyongyang decided to pay a visit and describe just what this limbo land is all about.
An excerpt, via the Orange County Register:
Kaesong seems like a slice of South Korea transplanted in North Korea, especially when driving in from Pyongyang.

From downtown Kaesong, the road to the factory park on the outskirts of town runs past rice paddies and simple cottages with tiled roofs. Oxen trudge along the sides pulling carts and a man cycles by with a dead pig strapped to back of his bicycle. A woman sitting by the side of the road has her head in her hands, a small cooler of drinks for sale next to her.

Enter the military-guarded gate to the vast, sparsely populated factory park and you'll find a Hyundai Oilbank gasoline station, two convenience stores with plastic picnic tables outside and a branch of the South Korea's Woori Bank. There are blue road signs in English and Korean, and lane dividers and bike lanes on the road. None of those things exist in the rest of North Korea.

The complex has stoplights, unlike downtown Kaesong, but not much traffic besides the Hyundai buses that shuttle North Koreans workers to and from work, and the Kia, Hyundai and Ssangyong cars driven by the South Korean managers.
She tours one of the factories:
The propaganda on the walls here is about health and safety: "Beware of fires!" ''Wash your hands carefully!" There's a ping pong table with balls emblazoned with the word "peace" — sometimes the competition is fierce.

The interaction between the North and South Koreans is collegial and cordial, but Chun and Hong say socializing is kept to a minimum. The South Koreans dine separately from the North Koreans, eating food brought from the South and stored in their own refrigerator.

The question of how North Korean workers are paid is a thorny one, with many believing that the government takes a large cut of the salaries. Hong said he pays the employees directly.

The average Kaesong worker makes more than $110 a month, said Pak, the North Korean official. Trainees make less, but an "incentive-based" system allows workers to earn as much as $150 a month, he said.

"With overtime, they can earn bonuses," Pak said, speaking to AP in September in a conference room with portraits of Kim Jong Il and North Korean founder Kim Il Sung hanging behind him. Discussion of bonuses and incentives has been associated with directive from leader Kim Jong Un, son of Kim Jong Il and grandson of Kim Il Sung.

At clothing maker ShinWon's three gleaming, futuristic buildings, the toilets are South Korean and the sewing machines are Japanese. Even the pantry is stocked with South Korean snacks.

Workers are dressed in blue bonnets and in uniforms with "ShinWon" stitched in English on the spot where they'd normally wear a loyalty pin bearing their leaders' portraits.
Frankly, the Twilight Zone-esque quality that I imagine Kaesŏng to hold is one big reason I'd like to visit this place. Articles like this only add to that, but I'll wait until this all blows over just the same, thanks.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Hackers take over North Korea's Twitter and Flickr accounts?

Supposedly, the "hacktivist" folks at Anonymous decided they need to do a hack job on a whackjob, so they took over the official social media accounts run by Pyongyang and posted something a tad embarrassing, like the artwork above.

From the Los Angeles Times:
A group of hackers claimed it broke into North Korea’s Twitter and Flickr social media sites Thursday.

North Korea’s Twitter account, which normally posts articles and bellicose rhetoric from the regime in Pyongyang, included tweets reading “hacked” or “Tango down.”

The government’s Flickr account included a picture of leader Kim Jong Un with a snout and pig ears and a Mickey Mouse image on his torso. The post included text reading "threatening world peace with ICBMs and Nuclear weapons/wasting money while his people starve to death."

The government’s accounts reportedly stopped sending typical content.

The suspected postings from the hackers included the statement “We are Anonymous.” Anonymous is the name of a hacking group. A statement allegedly from the hackers reportedly said they had acquired member information from some 15,000 accounts on the government’s and other websites.
At right is another image that the group claiming to be Anonymous claims to have posted on North Korea's Flickr account. (The Washington Post tries to debunk these claims.)

While this is somewhat amusing, I'm more interested in the 15,000 accounts that they claim to have broken into. While I normally don't support identity theft, I wonder what kind of palace intrigue and other political havoc could be wreaked on the regime with carefully orchestrated posts and tweets. Maybe we should connect Anonymous with a select team of Koreanophonic writers.


Thursday, April 4, 2013


  HuffPo has a handy dandy description of who controls what up north. 

A Look At Who Pulls The Political Strings In The Hermit Kingdom

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

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Barrier-breaking Korean-American diver found after going missing

In 1948, the war against Japan was still fresh in people's minds. In 1952, the Korean War was raging. But it was during the 1948 Olympics in London and then the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki that Sammy Lee, a Korean-American born in Fresno, California, to immigrants running a "chop suey restaurant," won the US some gold medals for diving.

Mr Lee was the first Asian-American to win a gold medal for the United States, and the Korean community is so proud of him that there is a plaza named for him in Los Angeles's Koreatown.

Mr Lee, now 92 years old, is in the news today because the nonagenarian had been missing for a while.  He left his Huntington Beach home in the morning and ended up some thirty miles away in Pico Rivera, after side bars in Studio City, almost fifty miles away from his Orange County home.

Police don't give many details, but this sounds a lot like my own uncle after his Alzheimer's Disease started to take over. On the other hand, he may have just wanted to get out of the house, not realizing it would make the news.


North Korea pressures South by halting entry to Kaesong industrial zone

Well, it would only really be a problem if they had South Korean workers inside the Kaesong industrial zone and wouldn't let them leave, a tactic they've used in the past that is nothing short of hostage-taking.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

North Korea elevates reformer to prime ministership

Anybody familiar with North Korea knows that at the same time they try to reach out, or at least pretend to reach out, they also lambasting you in their media. North Korea watching is an exercise in sifting through contradictions.

And it appears we may be witnessing another one of those contradictions. As North Korea ratchets up tensions on the Korean Peninsula, they're quietly promoting to the (largely symbolic) premiership somebody who might actually be the person who could turn Kim Jong-Il and into North Korea's Gorbachev or Deng Xiaoping. 

Of course, this might turn out to mean absolutely nothing in terms of North Korea's potential for reform, and instead might just be a sign that Kim Jong-un's faction is solidifying his control over the country.

From the Los Angeles Times:

North Korea, in break from bluster, elevates reformer

SEOUL - SEOUL — North Korea's parliament on Monday approved the appointment of a new premier seen by outside experts as an economic reformer, a rare sign of moderation from the country after days of bellicose statements.

The appointment in Pyongyang came one day after top party officials adopted a declaration making nuclear arms and a stronger economy the nation's top priorities.

The U.S., meanwhile, announced it had sent F-22 stealth fighter jets to participate in annual U.S.-South Korean war games that North Korea calls preparation for an invasion. The new South Korean president, who has a policy meant to reengage Pyongyang with talks and aid, told her top military leaders Monday to set aside political considerations and respond strongly should North Korea attack.

The reemergence of Pak Pong Ju as premier at an annual spring parliamentary session is seen by analysts as a clear signal that leader Kim Jong Un is moving to back up recent statements vowing to focus on strengthened economic development. The U.N. says two-thirds of the country's 24 million people face regular food shortages.

Pak served as the North's premier from 2003 to 2007, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry. He was fired because of a proposal for an incentive-based, hourly wage system deemed too similar to U.S.-style capitalism, Japan's Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported in 2007. Pak replaces Choe Yong Rim, who is 82.

"Pak Pong Ju is the face of economic reform, such as it exists — reform with North Korean characteristics as they say," said John Delury, a professor and North Korea analyst at Seoul's Yonsei University.

Pak's appointment could be a message to the outside world that North Korea wants to calm tension and focus more on economic revitalization, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea analyst at Seoul's Dongguk University.

Pyongyang has reacted with anger to the U.S.-South Korean military drills and to a new round of U.N. and U.S. sanctions that followed its Feb. 12 underground nuclear test, the country's third. Analysts see a full-scale North Korean attack as unlikely and say the threats are more likely efforts to provoke softer policies toward Pyongyang from a new government in Seoul, to win diplomatic talks with Washington and to solidify the young North Korean leader's military credentials at home.

On Sunday, Kim and top party officials adopted a declaration calling nuclear weapons "the nation's life," an important component of its defense, and an asset that wouldn't be traded even for "billions of dollars." Pyongyang cites the U.S. military presence in South Korea as a main reason behind its drive to build missiles and atomic weapons.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said the U.S. sent two F-22s to participate in the annual U.S.-South Korean military drills. Little said this is the fourth time F-22s have been deployed to South Korea. He said their participation in the exercises is meant to show U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea and to the region.

The full story can be viewed at:,0,4827887.story?track=latiphoneapp

Monday, April 1, 2013

US sends "stealth" bombers to Korean Peninsula

Kim Jong-un plays dress-up.

It looks like we've avoided an Easter attack (slated as a possibility by one analyst on PBS's Newshour), but Pyongyang is ramping up the rhetoric, even declaring a state of war (which already existed, but with an armistice).

Meanwhile, South Korea has vowed to respond to any North Korean attack on ROK territory (unlike what happened when Yŏnpyŏng-do Island was attacked in November 2010). Although few people believe North Korea would actually attack a population center because it would be regime suicide, some analysts worry that a miscalculation from one side or the other could lead to an actual shooting war (see PBS link above).

Amidst all this, the US military is sending F-22 stealth jets to Osan Air Base in central South Korea.

From Reuters:
The advanced, radar-evading F-22 Raptors were deployed to Osan Air Base, the main U.S. Air Force base in South Korea, from Japan to support ongoing bilateral exercises, the U.S. military command in South Korea said in a statement that urged North Korea to restrain itself.

"(North Korea) will achieve nothing by threats or provocations, which will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia," the statement said.
If the goal is to make a belligerent North Korean nervous, maybe you should use fighter jets they can see.


Pope prays for peace in Koreas in Easter Sunday message

Well, it's got to be a big news story on the Korean Peninsula if they're paying attention to it over in Europe.

From Reuters:
Pope Francis, appearing before more than 250,000 people for his first Easter Sunday address, called for world peace, respect for the environment and a diplomatic solution to the crisis on the Korean peninsula. ...

"Peace in Asia, above all on the Korean peninsula: may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow," he said, speaking in Italian.

North Korea said on Saturday it was entering a "state of war" with South Korea. Tensions have been high since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered a third nuclear weapons test in February, breaching U.N. sanctions and ignoring warnings from North Korea's sole major ally, China, not to do so.
If you want to do something really cool, Papa Francisco, book an economy class seat to Beijing and then make your way to Pyongyang on Air Koryo and have a face-to-face with the Young General about how to go about bringing love to North Korea and the Peninsula.

It's so crazy it just might work.