Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Thousands of dollars to alter one's appearance

Can you imagine millions of people within a country spending thousands of dollars to "fix" what they see as a flaw in their appearance if they aren't naturally endowed with the "ideal," enduring extreme discomfort, a temporarily awkward appearance, and even painful surgery, in what is now seen as such a commonplace procedure that is essentially no longer remarkable?

In the US, it is braces. In South Korea, it is eyelid surgery.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Obama meets Korean "dreamers"

The Huffington Post has an article that highlights the story of two Korea-born "Dreamers" (i.e., undocumented residents — some would say "illegal aliens" — who would benefit from passage of the so-called Dream Act but who in the meantime are getting a break from President Obama's decision to hold off on deporting young people who came to the US with their families when they were children).

They are Kevin Lee and Angie Kim, who both had a chance to meet President Obama at a White House event highlighting the plight of these "real lives" caught up in the immigration debate in Washington. The group included a number of people originally from Latin America, but these are not the sole members of the undocumented.

Angie Kim's story:
Angie Kim received deferred action in April after coming to the U.S. from South Korea when she was 9 so her family could be closer to her U.S.-citizen grandparents. She's 29 years old now, and has been living in the country undocumented for two decades. Her family's effort to get legal residency was halted when her grandmother died; she had been sponsoring for her son, Angie's father, to get a green card and the process went away when she was no longer there to do so.

Their legal status has been a considerable strain on Kim's family, and she knows her parents struggle with feeling powerless and somewhat guilty to have put their family in such a situation.

It's been hard for her, too. The current college student said hasn't been able to get work she knows she could do well, because she is undocumented and until April wasn't certified to work legally.

"You're so limited in so many ways, almost every way," she said. "You can't get a proper job, regardless of your talent and your experience and your skills because of that one piece of paper. It stops you, it holds you back from doing anything else. You feel very helpless at the same time; it's really not in your control."

When she talked to Obama and Biden, she asked them to remember that the debate isn't about numbers, it's about people.

"I mentioned one thing to [Obama] and I said I wanted him to remember that this is not about policy. People are not policy," she said. "You're dealing with human lives, and you can't narrow down and define people by laws or policies or regulations. It doesn't do justice, I don't think."
Kevin Lee's story:
About a year ago, Kevin Hyun Kyu Lee, a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant, was on his way to his graduation from UCLA when his mother called with good news. The Obama administration had just announced that Dreamers -- young people who came to the U.S. as children -- would be able to apply for deferred action from deportation. He barely believed it, but turned on the TV when he got to his friend's house to prepare for the ceremony and saw Obama announcing the new policy on television. His friend was also undocumented, and one of the few people Lee had told about his status.

"We started jumping up and down, because he was saying that not only would we not get deported, but we would be able to get temporary relief," he said. "That was an amazingly memorable moment."

On Tuesday, Lee's birthday, he got to thank the president in person. Lee came to the U.S. from South Korea with his parents when he was 9 years old. He knew he was undocumented, but didn't talk about it much until a year ago, when he finally "came out" as undocumented. He's now an advocate for immigration reform and a community organizer for the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles -- he can legally work now that he has deferred action -- and encourages others to be open about their status as well so they can fight to stay.

"It sounds easy to come out and tell your story, but what it really takes from them is coming out of the shadows," he said. "It takes a lot of courage. I would just like to thank all of those people before me who were able to share their stories, because those people were my inspiration. I hope in the future maybe some other shy or timid Dreamer who is in the shadows would hear my story or somebody else's story and come out and share and be more active."
I know a lot of people think that it sends the wrong message to "legalize" those who are in the country illegally, and still others are worried about the cost, but I agree with those who say that these young people were brought to the US through no choice and it is has long bee their home, so legitimizing their presence is the right thing to do.

Moreover, sending them "back home" to a place with which they're unfamiliar is like throwing out all the money and resources expended for their education, at a time when the US needs educated, functioning adults. This is true for all Dreamers, since the act provides major incentives to stay in school and keep one's nose clean.

... Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day in Korea-moku


I had a chance to run into these guys while catching some breakfast at the McDonald's on Keeaumoku Street, across from several Korean restaurants, markets, and shops in a district fondly referred to as "Korea-moku." If you ever want to encounter Korean folks in a largely Korean neighborhood, head for the McD's.

It was a gathering of about a dozen members of the local Korean War Veterans Association (KWVA). As best I could tell, they were veterans of the ROK military but now mostly US citizens here in Hawaii. The Aloha State, going back to its territorial days, has long had a close connection with Korea, welcoming the first Korean immigrants to the US over a hundred years ago, being home to the fledgling independence movement during the dark days of colonial rule by Imperial Japan, and serving as a place of exile for South Korea's first president, Syngman Rhee.

Anyway, as I often try to do with war vets, particularly Korean War veterans, I went up to them (as they were leaving) and thanked them for their service. Having lived over a third of my life in Seoul, I told them, I'm especially grateful.

But to all on this Memorial Day weekend, thanks to all those who served and sacrificed, and especially to those who didn't make it, requeiscant in pace.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Echoes of the Songsu-daegyo Bridge disaster

I was living in Seoul in October 1994 when a section of Sŏngsu-daegyo Bridge (성수대교), one of a dozen or so "grand" bridges that cross the Han River, broke loose and collapsed into the chilly waters below. While there were a number of fatalities, there were also quite a few people who survived (wearing seat belts helped).

One such story was that of a group of police officers who were on their way back from having received commendation medals for dedication to duty or some such. When they ended up in the water, they immediately went about rescuing other drivers and passengers who'd ended up in the water with them.

The collapse of Sŏngsu-daegyo was part of that one-two punch — including the collapse of Sampoong Department Store the following June — that forced a rethinking of Korea's rapid construction projects and a systemic lack of oversight for those that were already completed. For weeks, the newspapers carried reports of how many bridges and buildings were considered unstable or in dire need of repair, and the government went about remedying that in a major undertaking. Too little, too late, for those who died in those two disasters, but things were markedly improved for everyone else.

I was reminded of that situation when I heard today about the sudden collapse of a section of Interstate-5 in Washington State, which caused several drivers to plunge into the icy waters of the Skagit River. Thankfully no one was killed, but I was struck at how blasé the reporting was.

In Korea, this led to a national dialogue about how the Han River Miracle had been sped up to the point of being a curse, but there did not seem to be the same outcry in the United States.

The Skagit River bridge collapse is not the first such incident in recent memory. Thirteen people were killed in 2007 when a bridge on Interstate-35 crossing the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed.

At the time, reports came out about how much infrastructure was in disrepair and in need of mending, retrofitting, or wholesale replacement:
More than 26%, or one in four, of the nation’s bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. While some progress has been made in recent years to reduce the number of deficient and obsolete bridges in rural areas, the number in urban areas is rising. A $17 billion annual investment is needed to substantially improve current bridge conditions. Currently, only $10.5 billion is spent annually on the construction and maintenance of bridges.
But it was as if all the discussion dissipated into the ether when the next news cycle came around. The difference between the USA and the ROK is even starker when one considers that such "shovel-ready" projects were on the agenda as part of President Barack Obama's stimulus package so roundly derided and ridiculed by his Republican opponents.

If today's bridge collapse is a second wake-up call, I wonder if we'll again hit the snooze button.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Korean electioneering in Honolulu

I won't say these folks are living in the past, but I'm not exactly sure if they're living in the present.

I spotted this truck at the Keeaumoku supermarket, where I've seen a daily parade of people running for the local Korean residents association or some such thing (in Korean it is 한인회).

This part of town called Keeaumoku Street, near where many tourists come to shop, is full of Korean restaurants and shops, earning it the nickname "Korea Moku."

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Kyopo crime story of the day: OC kyopo arrested for murder of army vet housemate

Lucero "Lucy" Gonzalez holds up a photo of her sister, Maribel Ramos, as the family and authorities searched for the missing Army vet after her disappearance earlier this month. [source]

Authorities in Orange County have arrested Kwang Choi Joy (don't ask me how he got that name) for the killing of Cal State Fullerton student Maribel Ramos, allegedly after an argument over Ms Ramos deciding to kick out Mr Joy for failure to pay rent.

From OC Weekly:
Kwang "K.C." Joy, who is currently being held in lieu of $1 million bail, is due to be arraigned Tuesday for the murder of the 54-year-old's roommate of one and a half years, Maribel Manriquez Ramos.

Questioned by police and the media in the days after the 36-year-old U.S. Army veteran and Cal State Fullerton criminology student went missing, Joy had described Ramos as his best friend and the only family he had.

Joy had said he last saw Ramos outside their Orange apartment on May 2. Her family reported her missing the following day. The woman's body was found May 16 near Santiago Canyon and Jackson Ranch roads in Modjeska Canyon.

After the county coroner confirmed the identification of the body, Joy was taken to the Orange Police Department, questioned and arrested.
Ms Maribel's body was found dumped in Modjeska Canyon, one of the rugged mountain areas found in the less populated areas of OC jutting the mountains.

Mr Joy was apparently not a nice guy, or maybe a nice guy who didn't always take his meds: he used to live in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he threatened to kill his sister who still lives there early this year. He may have skipped bail and and possibly has been using aliases (he's sometimes described as Cho and other times as Choi and he uses "K.C." sometimes, and I'm not sure how one gets Joy from any Korean last name, unless he went Choe [for 최], took that to its common misspelling of Choi, and then decided that should be Joy).

For those of us who seek tenants or seek roommates and housemates, this kind of thing is always fraught with some level of peril. How do you sift through the reams of people contacting you on Craigslist to determine who is going to pay their rent on time, clean up the bathroom and the kitchen and keep their room tidy, and not murder you.

Requiescat in pace, Maribel Manriquez Ramos.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The FTA has been berry berry good to me

US Under Secretary for International Trade Francisco Sánchez is in Korea praising the ROK-US Free Trade Agreement.

From the Wall Street Journal:
Just over one year on from the implementation of the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement, American companies see plenty of opportunities for export growth in South Korea, U.S. Under Secretary for International Trade Francisco Sánchez said.

In Seoul as part of a trade mission with U.S. companies and for meetings with South Korean government officials, Mr. Sanchez said the benefits of the FTA are being seen but it would take a few more years for the full impact to come through.

“There’s been nearly a 50% increase in U.S. auto sales here (since the FTA started in March 2012), orange juice is up 160%. I could name probably another four or five sectors that are doing well,” he said in an interview.

“But I think over the long haul is when we can really do a true measure, over 3 to 5 years.”

U.S. exports to South Korea of items covered by the FTA rose 4.1% in the first 12 months after the deal took effect on March 15, but critics have pointed to a widening U.S. trade deficit with South Korea. Some industry groups, including auto makers, have complained about other barriers to full implementation of the agreement.

Mr. Sanchez said there was a mutual understanding with Seoul to work to resolve non-tariff barriers such as burdensome regulations.
More than the trade deficit itself, I'd like to know how much trade has increased. While parity is a nice benchmark, if both sides are selling hella more stuff, I'm happy.

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Imperial Japan's sex slaves were "necessary"

Behind Mr Hashimoto is Ruff the WWII-era Comfort Station mascot, reminding soldiers that "doggie style" is the most efficient way to keep the line moving because there are others waiting.

Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Japan's second largest city, has caused quite a stir over remarks that the sex slaves (euphemistically called "Comfort Women") who were kidnapped, coerced or otherwise duped into sex slavery on the front lines of Japan's war of aggression in Asia and the Pacific, were necessary to maintain order and provide comfort to Imperial soldiers at the time.

From the BBC:
A prominent Japanese politician has described as "necessary" the system by which women were forced to become prostitutes for World War II troops.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said on Monday that the "comfort women" gave Japanese soldiers a chance "to rest".

On Tuesday, Japanese ministers tried to distance themselves from his remarks.

Some 200,000 women in territories occupied by Japan during WWII are estimated to have been forced to become sex slaves for troops.

Many of the women came from China and South Korea, but also from the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan.

Japan's treatment of its wartime role has been a frequent source of tension with its neighbours, and South Korea expressed "deep disappointment" at Mr Hashimoto's words.

"There is a worldwide recognition... that the issue of comfort women amounts to a war-time rape committed by Japan during its past imperial period in a serious breach of human rights," a South Korean foreign ministry spokesman told news agency AFP.
Well, at least he's admitting that the sex slaves exist and were mobilized by Imperial Japan. Some right-wing politicians would simply deny they existed or call them whores who willingly took the work (because it's every fourteen-year-old's dream to leave home, live in squalid conditions near the front lines, and be forced to get fucked by dozens of men a day with a battle raging not far away).

A great many of the women died there on those front-line outposts, from disease, beatings, the strain of repeated rape, war itself, and perhaps even suicide. You say "necessary evil," Mr Hashimoto; I say that if you think that was "necessary," then you are the one who is evil.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why so many people in countries victimized by Imperial Japan prior to 1945 have trouble taking Japan's "apologies" seriously. When politicians on the right visit shrines that are designed to honor the architects of a war that slaughtered some 25 million civilians outside Japan, because they are think those men were unfairly branded war criminals, it's like every expression of "regret" comes with their fingers crossed. The only regret, it seems, is having lost the war.

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SNL parodies Asian-style ghost movies



I always thought "Oldboy" would be the most likely Korean film that Saturday Night Live would parody, but it looks like strange, freaky, scary-if-you-grew-up-there-but-not-if-you're-from-the-US-(probably) ghosts are the first to make it to SNL.

The goof on Disney Channel family shows has a woman falling in love with a Korean man...

... and then him killing her to cover the affair (I think they're mixing up South and North Korea)...

... and then her returning to her kids as a "Korean water ghost," spelled mool-gwishin [물귀신] (though I would spell it as mul-gwishin), and which I think is sort of a Japanese-Korean hybrid.

The moral of the story is don't fall in love with Korean men because they will try to drown you in the Han River. (And you thought English teachers were poorly depicted in the media.)

Funny, when I googled "물귀신," it sent me to pictures of the sirens.



In case you're wondering, a Korean water ghost would probably look a bit more like this:


... or this:


UPDATE:
I'd missed that RokDrop mentioned this when retweeting this tweet from Asian Correspondent.

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North Korea Defense Minister Kim Kyok Sik Replaced With Jang Jong Nam

I will deal with this article in more detail later, but for now I wanted to point out the news that the hard-line defense minister has been replaced by someone who is younger and essentially unknown.

Well, unknown to us, at least. I'm sure the North Koreans know who he is. The question is, as usual, what does it all mean? And trust me, a lack of solid information will not stop anybody from speculating up the wazoo. In journalism, I guess it's very uncool – and maybe even a little scary – to admit that you don't know something, so it's better to pretend that you're a pundit on North Korea.

Oh, heck, I will do the same now: this new defense minister represents Kim Jong-un's attempts to move away from the hard-line rhetoric that is preventing North Korea from having friendlier relations with its neighbors.

He has decided that his legacy is to become the Gorbachev or Deng Xiaoping of North Korea and go down in the history books as not being a big di¢k like his father and his grandfather. The problem is biding his time while he slowly gets rid of the dinosaurs that are preventing change.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/north-korea-defense-minister-kim-kyok-sik-replaced-with-jang-jong-nam_n_3265369. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Titanic II: This time it's personnel.

A mining tycoon from Australia is commissioning a Chinese shipbuilder to construct a replica of the Titanic (that ship made famous in the Leo diCaprio movie of the same name) that will be called... wait for it... Titanic II.

And they're looking to hire a captain — hence the news article and my too-clever-by-half title — who will get down on the ship instead of going down with the ship (seriously, that's in the article).

A Chinese manufacturer of knock-off goods, reconstructing a doomed ship... what could possibly go wrong?

... Sphere: Related Content

AP: North Korean nuclear weapons is a matter of when, not if

I'll have to go into this in more detail later, but I just wanted to highlight an article in the Associated Press that ramps up the fear about Nork nukes. The gist of it is that the nuclear tests we've seen point into a clear path of bigger and bigger weapons and it's only a matter of time before they can be made to sit on a missile that is capable of hitting its intended target and not a school of ahi in the West Pacific.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

HABO: Help out 3-year-old Hannah Warren of Seoul get a new trachea

UPDATE (July 10, 2013):
The news today reported that Hannah died following lung complications after a second surgery. I wrote about it here.

ORIGINAL POST (May 10, 2013):
Last week I wrote about Hannah Warren, the three-year-old daughter of an English teacher from Newfoundland and his wife. She has lived her entire life in a Seoul hospital.

It turns out there is an online fundraising site to help them pay for expenses for the miracle operation whereby they made a new trachea out of little Hannah's stem sells. It's raising money until May 31, 2013. (The site also includes pictures of her doting parents.)

So Kushibo says HABO, as in "help a brother out." Or HASO, as the case may be.

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Screw you, jackass

The original title was set to be "Fu¢k you, aßßhole," but the use of profanity within a headline itself seems so unseemly.

Back when The Stupogants™ (i.e., Laura Ling, Euna Lee, and Mitch Koss) ran afoul of the North Korean authorities in 2009 — leading to the detainment, conviction, and incarceration for Ms Ling and Ms Lee — I got a bit of flack for my criticism of those three for what they did and how they did it. At places like One Free Korea, it was merely ideological and based on interpretations of the facts, but in other places it got more personal, including accusations of plagiarism.

With apparent Christian missionary Kenneth Bae being the latest guest at the Pyongyang Palazzo, it's natural that some are drawing parallels between Mr Bae and the case of Ms Ling and Lee (and Mr Koss), or even that of Messianic crusader Robert Park and his buddy Aijalon Gomes. I myself did so in a recently post.

But what gets in my craw today is this comment by Marmot's Hole dweller DLBarch in response to the news (carried also by me yesterday) that Kim Jong-un's new BFF Dennis Rodman has asked KJU to do him a solid and pardon Mr Bae:
I am never in favor of standing by while any American — even the Kenneth Bae’s of the country — are incarcerated on trumped up charges by an odious, repugnant regime like North Korea, so I do think the U.S. needs to do what it can, within reason, to seek Bae’s release.

But, but…it is fascinating to compare how the MH commentariat has treated the Kenneth Bae incident with how it treated Laura Ling and Euna Lee not too long ago. The full-throated vituperation and, yes, barely disguised misogyny that surrounded the Ling and Lee drama is nowhere to be found in the latest Bae hostage taking.

Given Bae’s voluntarily — and repeatedly — entered North Korea whereas Ling and Lee got misled into inadvertently crossing the North Korea-China border, this difference of popular reaction to the two incidents is striking. Bae seems to be getting a huge pass, while Ling and Lee were thoroughly excoriated in the most personal of attacks.

Pretty damning.

DLB
Okay, so maybe I shouldn't take regard as direct criticism of my views since I do not comment at The Marmot's Hole anymore (no, not in any way, shape, or form for many years now), but since I was early on the preeminent critic of The Stupogants™ (enough that Laura Ling's famous sister, Lisa Ling, contacted me directly about my criticisms) and there was an entire post at The Marmot's Hole about my views on the matter, I'm taking DLB's bogus comments personal, at least as they relate to me.

While I agree with DLB's first paragraph, to describe my "full-throated vituperation" as "barely disguised misogyny" is preposterous, and demonstrably false for a number of reasons. Let's go over them, shall we?
  • Do a word string search for "Mitch Koss" at my site and you'll see me referring to him repeatedly in my criticisms of The Stupogants. My full-throated vituperation of Ling and Lee extends to him as well, and that was early on. It has nothing to do with them being women; the closest I got to a gendered comment was mocking Koss — who managed to escape while Ling and Lee ended up captured — for his lack of chivalry in saving his own ass.
  • The criticism of The Stupogants is valid and has nothing to do with their gender. They were there for personal gain (fame from getting the scoop of all scoops) and their journalistic negligence — they were carrying tapes of the escaped refugees they'd interviewed! — may well have cost lives and caused the North Korean authorities to plug up an important escape route. (Likewise, Robert Park's crazy walkabout into North Korea was about increasing his own fame.)
  • Unlike The Stupogants or Mr Park, Mr Bae has been risking his freedom for something that offers no financial aggrandizement or opportunity for fame. In fact, if his life-endangering "mission" is offering hope and escape to individuals in the North (or providing a slow-dose poison pill to the regime), his motives are the diametric opposite of those of The Stupogants. Consequently, any "striking" difference in levels of criticism would be about something other than gender. 
  • My "attacks" on Lee and Ling (or Koss) were no more "personal" than to admonish others not to buy their books, because they shouldn't profit from their foolishness and arrogance that endangered some extremely vulnerable people in China and North Korea. They sought publicity afterwards, and that opens them up for scrutiny and, if warranted, criticism.   
  • Whether or not Bae "gets a huge pass" will depend a lot on what information comes out when he's released. If it turns out that he knowingly did careless things that could bring considerable harm on those he encountered — as was the case with Koss, Lee, and Ling — I will be first in line to pillory him for that. The Stupogants were depicted as innocents who just got lost, when the reality turned out to be quite different; if I was so full-throated in my vituperation, it's because I recognized that early on and I was at first the lone voice in saying so.
  • Oh, and Ms Ling and Ms Lee did not "inadvertently cross the North Korea-China border" (which is a river, by the way). They knowingly and deliberately crossed in order to have a great hook for their program. 
So in conclusion, one can make the case that I am inconsistent in whom I criticize or that my thought processes can be a tad inscrutable at times (though I would submit there is a clear, but complex, pattern), but if someone throws some bogus charge at me like plagiarism or "damning" misogynistic criticism, and you've got hell to pay, aßßhole.

KSB

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dennis Rodman asks KJU to free Kenneth Bae

Dennis Rodman hugs Kim Jong-un, while trying to avoid his solid.

Dennis Rodman, Kim Jong-un's new BFF, is appealing to the North Korean leader to free Korean-American Kenneth Bae from prison.

I'm guessing Mr. Rodman doesn't realize how this works: High-profile types are supposed to visit North Korea while they're trying to free the latest American resident of the Pyongyang Palazzo, not before.

UPDATE:
The Korean of Ask A Korean is in a Washington Post blog post offering up the best colloquial translation for "do me a solid" to discern how Kim Jong-un might read this tweet: 내 얼굴을 봐서 케네스 배를 석방해달라.

Given that The Young General attended the English-language Gümligen "International School" in Switzerland for a number of years and has a love of basketball culture and a passing interesting in hip-hop, I'm guessing he doesn't need a translation of "do me a solid."

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

South Korea now a paragon of pro-Americanism?

Two countries for old men. 

Pro-American sentiment might be the highest in South Korea of all places, reports the Washington Post.

That might come as a surprise to people who went through the dismal days in 2002 when the South Korean sentiment toward United States was possibly at its lowest ever, owing mostly to the deaths of two middle school girls who were run over by the US Army tank and a lot of pent-up aggression in the run-up to the Iraq war that boiled over during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. All this was stoked by pro-Pyongyang leftists called chinboistas who were exacerbating it wherever they could.

But times change, as the article describes, and there's a lot more focus on the danger that North Korea poses — and the relative failure of the so-called Sunshine Policy — while at the same time Washington started to treat Seoul much more like a partner than a patron.

At heart, South Koreans are generally pro-American. The younger generation obviously cannot remember firsthand how responsible United States is for saving South Korea during and after the Korean War, but North Korea is certainly making them realize that the United States alliance with South Korea is still important today.

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Detained American in North Korea was there as a clandestine missionary

That is what the North Korea News is reporting:
An NK News investigation shows that Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American currently being detained by the North Korean government, is a trained missionary who was using his China-based tour company as a platform to bring missionaries into North Korea. The news comes following a statement released Sunday by the Korea Central News Agency which said that Bae had "disguised his identity" upon entering North Korea.

The NK News investigation shows that Bae was initially sent to China by the evangelical missionary organization “Youth With a Mission” (YWAM) in 2006. The organization is designed to help equip missionaries with the skills needed to convert people into Christians.
Those who recall my skewering of The Stupogants™Laura Ling and Euna Lee (and Mitch Koss), or Messiah Complex-afflicted Robert Park and his buddy Aijalon Gomes may be surprised that I'm far less critical and much more sympathetic to the plight of Kenneth Bae, who was recently sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor.

I've met a number of North Korean refugees and those who quietly are trying to fish them out, and they are nothing like the publicity whores (I'm trying to think of a nicer way to say that) that have ventured into North Korea to further their own careers (e.g. The Stupogants) or their own suicidal delusions of salvadorism (e.g., Robert Park and possibly his buddy Aijalon Gomes).

Rather, it is the missionaries who quietly enter the DPRK who are bringing the message of hope and possible regime change. They are the ones who — if their message takes hold and their underground railroad stays in place — may pose a real threat to the regime by changing the calculus of support and fear. Those who have a means to escape or are attuned to a higher being with a grander purpose may become impervious to the terror tactics employed by the power machine.

And that is messy work. It takes people with a willingness to risk their lives and safety on a daily basis to go in and out, again and again, until the regime has fallen or has changed beyond recognition. Kenneth Bae is a casualty of this, and it is my fervent hope that what he loses is little more than his freedom temporarily.

I pray also that he doesn't reveal — directly or inadvertently — the identities and whereabouts of people who might be harmed by the regime for having worked with him or even merely come in contact with him. That was one of my biggest criticisms of The Stupogants: Not only had they caused the North to plug up an important escape route, but they had the videotapes of their refugee interviewees on their person when they were caught!

At this point I hope and pray Kenneth Bae is released soon and without harm to him or anyone touched by him, and that we don't expend significant political or actual capital in order to secure his freedom.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Paul Krugman on the need to end the now discredited move toward fiscalausterity

I only occasionally deal directly with economic topics, not because I don't know anything about economics but because economic issues are not usually among the interesting things that come out of Korea.

But in this global world, there is a lot of pressure on Korea to act like established Western nations too, so if they start adopting a good policy or a disastrous one, the same thing might eventually start to happen in Korea as well. During the economic crisis of 1997 and 1998, for example, there was a lot of pressure on Korea by the so-called "developed economies" to start privatizing everything from utilities to rail networks, which might have undermined the country's ability to provide cheap transportation for the masses, one of the things I love about Korea.

And from what I'm reading from the likes of Paul Krugman, It would not be good at all for Korea to follow the path of austerity, which he blames for prolonging and worsening Europe's economic crisis and even the United States' economic woes. The crux of his argument is that support for austerity is based on faulty data and reasoning, and it is an idea promoted by conservatives who don't see the value in government programs in the first place.

Here's an excerpt from his article in the New York Times:
And there’s a reason for that association: U.S. conservatives have long followed a strategy of “starving the beast,” slashing taxes so as to deprive the government of the revenue it needs to pay for popular programs.

The funny thing is that right now these same hard-line conservatives declare that we must not run deficits in times of economic crisis. Why? Because, they say, politicians won’t do the right thing and pay down the debt in good times. And who are these irresponsible politicians they’re talking about? Why, themselves.

To me, it sounds like a fiscal version of the classic definition of chutzpah — namely, killing your parents, then demanding sympathy because you’re an orphan. Here we have conservatives telling us that we must tighten our belts despite mass unemployment, because otherwise future conservatives will keep running deficits once times improve.

Put this way, of course, it sounds silly. But it isn’t; it’s tragic. The disastrous turn toward austerity has destroyed millions of jobs and ruined many lives. And it’s time for a U-turn.
Take heed. Austerity may be killing us, metaphorically and (in some cases) even literally.

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Political calculus keeps Cuba on the terrorism sponsors list

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting discussion on whether or not Cuba should remain on the US government's list of state sponsors of terrorism. It's interesting from a Korea-centric perspective because the same arguments for or against it can — and should —be applied to North Korea as well.

The Bush administration took North Korea off that list as a concession, and Obama has not seen fit to put them back on despite things like the bombing of your Nintendo [stupid Siri!] Yŏnpyŏng-do Island and the sinking of the Ch'ŏnan. People like Joshua Stanton at One Free Korea say that such acts inspire fear in the South Korean people and therefore should be considered terrorism, while others point out that they are military provocations that don't fit a more precise definition of "terrorism" per se.

Four people, including two civilians, were killed when North Korea launched bombs against Yŏnpyŏng-do,  an island in the Yellow Sea, one of the isolated "Five Islands of the West Sea" that sit close to the North Korean mainland. 

I myself am on the fence about this. I think that moving them to the terrorism sponsor list again should only be done for something very serious, and perhaps those past military acts were serious enough, but I think we ought to wait until a time when such a move is part of a strategic overall plan to punish them for something they've done recently. In other words, the moment has passed for that, and we should use the threat of putting them back on the list as a way of getting them to behave right now.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bae sentenced to 15 years of hard labor

In a follow-up to an earlier post, a Korean-American tour operator who was arrested in North Korea for trying to depose the state has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. From BBC:
North Korea says it has sentenced a US citizen to 15 years of hard labour.

The announcement, from state news agency KCNA, said Pae Jun-ho, known in the US as Kenneth Bae, was tried on 30 April.

He was held last year after entering North Korea as a tourist. Pyongyang said he was accused of anti-government crimes.

The move comes amid high tensions between North Korea and the US, after Pyongyang's third nuclear test.

North Korean media said last week that Mr Pae had admitted charges of crimes against North Korea, including attempting to overthrow the government.

"The Supreme Court sentenced him to 15 years of compulsory labour for this crime," KCNA said.

Mr Pae, 44, was arrested in November as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason, a special economic zone near North Korea's border with China.

He is believed to be a tour operator of Korean descent. The Associated Press news agency also reports that he is described by friends as a devout Christian.

On the face of it, North Korea's decision to sentence a US citizen to 15 years' hard labour seems to be a direct challenge to Washington: another twist in the cycle of actions and rhetoric that have helped keep relations so tense over the past two months.

But Mr Pae is not the first American citizen to be arrested or tried in North Korea. Over the past few years, Pyongyang has detained two American journalists, a businessman, an English teacher and an activist.

Some were tried and sentenced to hard labour like Mr Pae. But all were released following negotiations - some of which involved unofficial visits by high-profile Americans like former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

So, while it may seem like another irritant to relations with Washington, the announcement of Mr Pae's conviction might actually be an attempt to draw US negotiators - even unofficial ones - to Pyongyang.

That would give North Korea a domestic propaganda victory, and it might also pave the way for more broader, more official, talks on the wider issues.

At the moment, North Korea is being offered talks on American terms - which include a commitment to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme. This is one way the regime can get a high-profile visitor to Pyongyang without any conditions at all.

South Korean activists say Mr Pae may have been arrested for taking photos of starving children in North Korea.

"We call on the DPRK [North Korea] to release Kenneth Bae immediately on humanitarian grounds," US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said on Monday.

Diplomats from Sweden, which represents the US in North Korea in the absence of diplomatic ties, had been providing counsel to Mr Pae, reports said. The US State Department was working with the Swedish embassy to confirm the report of the sentencing, AP reported.
It's a sure bet that he probably will not serve anywhere near that kind of sentence, and it's only a matter of figuring out what kind of concessions are made so that he might be released.

A concession can be an actual offer of food aid or even money, or just a visit by high-profile American politico, such as former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson or former Pres. Bill Clinton or former Pres. Jimmy Carter. They have all gone in the past to fish out other American citizens of ended up in North Korean custody, but I suppose somebody like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might also do.

Heck, somebody from the NBA might also suffice.

The timing — coinciding with all this tension that's occurred — is no coincidence. He was held for quite a while and then put on trial at just the right time. Perhaps this upping of the ante was intended to get a high-profile visit so that Pyongyang could save face and defuse the tension at the same time. We'll have to see.

So for now I'm not too terribly worried about Mr Bae. He's going to spend a little time at the Pyongyang Palazzo, but he will probably be home in time for the Fourth of July.

Please note that I have not yet referred to him as a Stupogant, because I'm not yet certain that his entry into North Korea and subsequent arrest really were based on something foolish.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Two-year-old girl from Seoul gets brand-new windpipe made from her own stem cells

UPDATE 2:
The news today reported that Hannah died following lung complications after a second surgery. I wrote about it here.

UPDATE 1:
As I wrote in this post, there is an online site (Give Forward) to donate funds for Hannah's medical care.

ORIGINAL POST:
This AP story of a little girl whose stem cells were used to create a brand-new trachea would be an inspiring and amazing topic for a post in and of itself.

But it takes on even more significance for this blog because not only is the little girl from Seoul, but her father is an English teacher from Canada, specifically from Newfoundland. I'm guessing some of my regular readers might actually know who this person is.

Here's an excerpt from the AP story (via Huffington Post):
A 2-year-old girl born without a windpipe now has a new one grown from her own stem cells, the youngest patient in the world to benefit from the experimental treatment.

Hannah Warren has been unable to breathe, eat, drink or swallow on her own since she was born in South Korea in 2010. Until the operation at a central Illinois hospital, she had spent her entire life in a hospital in Seoul. Doctors there told her parents there was no hope and they expected her to die.

The stem cells came from Hannah's bone marrow, extracted with a special needle inserted into her hip bone. They were seeded in a lab onto a plastic scaffold, where it took less than a week for them to multiply and create a new windpipe.

About the size of a 3-inch tube of penne pasta, it was implanted April 9 in a nine-hour procedure.

Early signs indicate the windpipe is working, Hannah's doctors announced Tuesday, although she is still on a ventilator. They believe she will eventually be able to live at home and lead a normal life.

"We feel like she's reborn," said Hannah's father, Darryl Warren.

"They hope that she can do everything that a normal child can do but it's going to take time. This is a brand new road that all of us are on," he said in a telephone interview. "This is her only chance but she's got a fantastic one and an unbelievable one."

Warren choked up and his wife, Lee Young-mi, was teary-eyed at a hospital news conference Tuesday. Hannah did not attend because she is still recovering from the surgery. She developed an infection after the operation but now is acting like a healthy 2-year-old, her doctors said.
Kudos to the Catholic hospital that made this expensive operation affordable, as well as the amazing Italian doctor who also helped make it a possibility.

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