Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pyongyang authorities release purported confession by Palo Alto detainee

The octogenarian Korean War vet has confessed to his crimes, a good indication he'll be released soon.

We'll have to wait until he's safely out if the DPRK to see if he really did anything to provoke the authorities or if it really is a case of mistaken identity.,0,7367578.story

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

South Korea says 16th century royal seal at LACMA may have been stolen

The Los Angeles Times has the story here:
South Korean government officials want the United States to investigate the circumstances surrounding a 16th century Korean royal seal that they believe was stolen out of a shrine in Seoul before being acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Korean officials allege that the gilt bronze seal — which has been part of LACMA's collection since 2000 — is one of more than 40 such signets from the Joseon Dynasty that went missing after the end of the Korean War. The Korean government has long thought some of the missing artifacts were stolen by American soldiers and taken to the United States.

A federal law enforcement source said U.S. officials were looking into the Korean seal but would not provide details. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

In a statement, LACMA said there was "credible evidence" that its seal was "removed unlawfully from the National Shrine in Korea."
Beware, because these "stolen artifacts" stories often end up generating a lot of animosity toward the country where the possibly stolen artifacts are being kept.

France knows this all too well, but I don't feel much sympathy for them because their own soldiers took the stuff as an act of war to force open the Hermit Kingdom back in the 19th century.

At this point, I'm not going to assume guilt until I see hard evidence. There's looting and then there's rescuing, and it's entirely possible that these items were innocently obtained — even purchased — by GIs looking for a souvenir and not knowing it was something of serious value that would be missed.

At any rate, LACMA should take this seriously and look into it.


Monday, November 25, 2013

All those Merrill Newmans look alike

I reported last week on a US citizen being detained by North Korea. We have since gotten information on the identity of the latest American guest of the Pyongyang Palazzo: the North Koreans have confirmed that he is Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old veteran of the Korean War. Mr Merrill E. Newman lives in Palo Alto, California.

It immediately made me wonder if North Korea is going to use him to make the case of American war crimes during the Korean War to undermine support for the US presence. Frankly, that would be a stroke of public relations genius.

Naturally, such an argument would be Bruce Cumings-esque in its wholesale disregard of the far, far, far, far worse atrocities committed by the North Koreans (who, by the bye, started the war in the first place), but an ignorant American populace and a sensationalist Western press might not bother to put things in that kind of perspective.

And it all gets even more messed-up from there. There is some speculation in the Western press that the North Korean authorities have arrested the wrong Merrill Newman. The Merrill H. Newman they were presumably after, the platoon leader who won the Silver Star (presumably for killing loads of North Koreans by "launching a series of highly coordinated attacks which inflicted heavy casualties upon the enemy") is sitting pretty at his home in Beaverton, Oregon, with no plans whatsoever to return to the DPRK. Crater Lake, where he is seen at right, is more his speed.

The Washington Post runs with this speculation, addressing it as one of four possibilities for why the North Koreans arrested Mr Newman. One of them is (as I'd addressed in my earlier post) the possibility that he was proselytizing, as Mr Park and Mr Gomes before him had done. Now that this has come to light about the Silver Star winner, I'm guessing that the mistaken identity angle is the most likely explanation but that North Korean authorities will shift gears and try to squeeze some concessions out of any agreement for his release.

I hope Mr Newman's health is good, because he could be there fore a while (but it's a good bet that the North Koreans will actually make sure he's taken reasonably good care of.)


Putting the NK in "crank"

Some day, years or decades from now, North Korea may just implode and South Korea will be left to absorb this failed state and all its problems. Among them will be a terrible problem with methamphetamine addiction and production (see also herehere, and here).

In fact, North Korea is increasingly gaining notice as a major manufacturer of methamphetamine, known in South Korea as hiroppong. And that's why it's not all that surprising to find that US drug enforcement authorities are targeting those who would transport and sell North Korean methamphetamine in the US.

From AP, via Huffington Post:
Five foreigners were charged in the United States on Wednesday with plotting to smuggle 100 kilograms of highly potent methamphetamine that was produced in North Korea.

The men were arrested in Thailand in a sting operation in September and brought to New York on Tuesday night. All pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges on Wednesday before a judge ordered them held without bail until their next court date on Dec. 5.

Two defendants were members of a Hong Kong-based criminal organization that marketed meth produced in North Korea, U.S. authorities said. The others — two citizens of Great Britain and a resident of Thailand — agreed to store and transport the drugs, they said.

According to court papers, the suppliers sold more than 30 kilograms of North Korean meth in 2012 that was seized by authorities in Thailand and in the Philippines. The meth tested more than 99 percent pure, the papers said.

In 2013, the suppliers agreed to provide 100 kilograms to confidential sources working with the Drug Enforcement Administration who claimed there was a ready market for it New York City, the papers said. One of the defendants bragged that the organization was the only one able to get meth from North Korea after pressure by the United States prompted a government crackdown on production there.
With talk of 99% purity, global trade, stockpiling, etc., this is starting to sound like a real-life version of Breaking Bad, something noted by several of the news services.

Anyway, here is a picture of those accused:

The five arrestees in Thailand are (front row, left to right) Slovak Alexander Lnu, Filipino Allan Kelly Reyes Peralta, Briton Philip Shackels, Taiwanese Ye Tiong Tan Lim, and (second row center left) Briton Scott Stammers).

I've heard a lot of people argue whether going on individual tours to Nroth Korea is propping up the regime there, and I've heard people debate whether ethnic Koreans in Japan who send money back to relatives in North Korea are indirectly assisting the government, both arguments with merit on each side. But make no mistake: People who would do something like this are the scum of the Earth. They are not only feeding an addiction that rips people, families, and communities apart, but they are doing so in a way that profits a terrible regime. And these folks are lucky they're being handed over to the Feds, because in the US they won't get the death penalty for their crimes.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

I guess it's the puke brown that's so slimming

Meanwhile, the same Huffington Post has a piece condemning fashion magazine Elle for highlighting North Korea as an example of military chic:
What were they thinking?

Someone, somewhere in the depths of luxury magazine Elle thought it was a good idea to feature “North Korea chic” in September’s edition of the magazine (the page was subsequently replaced).

“Some iteration of the military trend stomps the runways every few seasons,” the article purred. “This time, it's edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring.” Dangerous indeed for those actually in North Korea and subject to being executed for simply watching a foreign video. Or for those beaten to death.

It didn't take long for the world to render its judgement – outrage on social media condemned Elle for its breathtaking ignorance and insensitivity.

The magazine's mea culpa quickly followed: We regret the reference to North Korea in our post on the season’s military trend, and have removed the image. We apologize to those we offended. It wrote on its website.

It’s worth pausing to consider where the outrage over “North Korea Chic” stems from.

Human rights activists become used to hearing distressing stories of cruelty and brutality against the powerless and the innocent. It is the price we pay for helping to bear witness and demand justice.

But even for the more hardened amongst us, North Korea, provides some of the worst and most gut-wrenching stories imaginable: torture, starvation of children, beatings, random killings, forced labor in brutal camps.
When most people get their news and "information" about North Korea from late-night comedians making fun of Tub Dynasty (and I'm directing this more at Jay Leno and David Letterman), it's no wonder there's a disconnect between North Korea and the horrors committed there.


Another American detained in North Korea?

This is what is being reported, and apparently it is not an ethnic Korean (like some previous occupants of the Pyongyang Palazzo). Smart money, however, is on it being someone with a religious motive.

Not that I wish to disparage those with a religious motivation, since a lot of the people doing the heavy lifting and dirty work to move North Korean refugees along the underground railroad from China to a third country (or into consulates and embassies within China) are Christian clergy and laypeople.

From Reuters, via Huffington Post:
North Korea may have detained an elderly U.S. man last month who entered the country on a tourist visa, Kyodo News Service said on Wednesday, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.

Kyodo, in a report from Beijing, said the possible detention could become another diplomatic bargaining chip for North Korea, which has held Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary, since November 2012. Bae has been sentenced by the Pyongyang regime to 15 years of hard labour.

The U.S. State Department echoed U.S. embassy officials in Beijing and Seoul who said they were aware of the reports but could not confirm them.

North Korea claims the man, who apparently is not of Korean descent, has broken the law, according to Kyodo. The man entered North Korea for sightseeing last month with a valid visa, Kyodo quoted the diplomatic source as saying.
Detaining American citizens seems to be a cottage industry in the DPRK.

North Korea has acknowledged detaining a Korean War veteran named Mr Merrill Newman, and there is speculation that they may have mistaken him for a Silver Star recipient of the same name.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

As always, thank you for your service and sacrifice.

A wounded American Marine is carried on stretcher improvised from a machine gun, Korea 1950 [source.]

Today is Veterans Day in the United States (known as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day in other parts of the world). Judging from FaceBook and Twitter feeds, it appears a lot of people do remember what this day-off is all about.

I'm thankful to all who sacrificed their youth and sometimes their lives so others — their countrymen or people in a far-off land — could live in freedom. That includes Korea, of course, as I am thankful to all the South Koreans and Americans and people of the sixteen other allied nations that fought under the United Nations command.

A column of American Marines marches down a canyon road dubbed "Nightmare Alley" during their retreat from Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, 1950 [source].

The last known veteran of World War I, Florence Green, died last year at the age of 110. Today there about 1 million US veterans of World War II, some in their mid- to late-eighties but mostly in their nineties. Veterans of the Korean War are about a half decade to a decade younger, but their numbers were always smaller than their WWII brothers and sisters. Vietnam War veterans range from folks in their late fifties to Baby Boomer retirees, while veterans of the Gulf War and subsequent conflicts are still in their forties and younger and will be around for quite sometime.

They have fascinating stories, and if you encounter one, buy them a cup of coffee and sit down and listen to some of them. In a relative's nursing home I frequently visit on the Mainland, I have met quite a few, including a woman who flew newly built aircraft from California to Hawaii (straight out of an AFKN commercial) and a recently deceased nonagenarian who served in the all-Japanese 442nd Infantry in Europe during World War II.

To them and all, thank you.

These British troops on the first stage of their trip to the front lines in England, 1939 [source]

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What can we do to get celebrities to accept North Korea as today's version of "Sun City"?

I ain't gonna play Sun City.

That was the refrain in the 1980s, when celebrity after celebrity stated they would not support South Africa's oppression in any way, shape, or form until Apartheid were dismantled.

Perhaps we need to revisit this notion, as obscure basketballer Dennis Rodman and now obscure rap artists Pacman and Peso have been heading for Pyongyang to make headlines (and perhaps a little bit of money).

From the Huffington Post:
Two Washington, D.C. rappers are readying themselves for a trip to North Korea in the hopes of becoming famous.

Rappers Pacman and Peso, whose real names are Anthony Bobb and Dontray Ennis, first made headlines back in September, when the Washington Post got hold of their plan to go to North Korea and film a music video with the help of a Kickstarter fund. Pacman and Peso had teamed up with Ramsey Aburdene, a commercial lending professional and aspiring producer. They then met Michael Bassett, a veteran once stationed in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Bassett studies the region in grad school and helps plan cultural exchange tours.

Then, the idea was hatched to go to the Hermit Kingdom, film the video, have it go viral and become superstars.

“This is my only option now,” Peso, who said he could be "doing wrong in the streets or get locked up," told the Washington Post of the North Korea trip. “If it was to work.”

Now, the plan is a reality. Their Kickstarter fund, "Pacman & Peso Make A Music Video In North Korea," has since raise more than $10,000, surpassing their goal of $6,000.

The rappers will head to North Korea in two weeks, the Washington Post reported Friday. After a $5,100 donation from hedge fund manager James Passin, they applied for passports and set a date for their guided tour.

“We’re not trying to be political heroes or anything like that,” Aburdene told the Guardian. “We understand there is terrible stuff going on in North Korea, but there is terrible stuff going on here that people aren’t straight up about.”
Terrible stuff in DC has little to do — in kind or degree — with terrible stuff in the DPRK. This is a publicity stunt, and it's disappointing that they got $10K to do it.

I am of two minds when it comes to individuals taking private tours and doing do-gooder stuff* in North Korea — I think such individuals undermine the propaganda message of self-reliance and demonization of outsiders — but celebrities (even minor ones) tend to legitimize the regime.

*If all goes well, I might end up on a medical mission of sorts working within North Korea. 


Boost your bike (and prevent it from getting boosted)

Those in Korea may find it hard to believe, but Honolulu is probably an even worse city than Seoul for bike commuters. Both cities lack safe bike lanes along major thoroughfares, but at least Seoul has those long bike routes along the rivers (although Honolulu has loads of buses that can accommodate bikes in the front, though that's not exactly bike commuting).

One problem both cities have in terms of getting people out of their cars and onto two-wheeler is the myriad of hills that make bike-riding a chore in at least one direction. This nifty little device, though, could help mitigate that. Sure, it's a cheat, but for those who ride because they want a little exercise and freedom and not a full-blown sweaty workout, this could be just the ticket.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Bloomberg going light on China?

The New York Times is reporting that Bloomberg has decided to start holding back on it's critical pieces on China, in fear of being locked out of the Chinese market.

It's another example – and there are many – of Beijing bullying other countries, organizations, individuals, etc., into playing along with their distorted reality.

One thing I thought was funny was that the folks at Bloomberg compared their efforts to stay in Beijing's good graces with various news agencies going along with Nazi Germany back in the 1930s.

Pinkberry founder guilty of assaulting homeless man in Los Angeles

I reported about this here and here, Pinkberry founder Young Lee getting arrested for senselessly beating a homeless man senseless. Well, after nearly two years, Mr Lee has been found guilty of assault with a tire iron and will likely spend a considerable amount of time in jail.

From NBC's local news bureau in Los Angeles:
A co-founder of the Pinkberry yogurt chain was found guilty Friday of beating a homeless man in Hollywood with a tire iron in an attack allegedly sparked by the transient’s sexually explicit tattoo.

Young Lee – who is no longer involved with the frozen yogurt company he helped to found – was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon after using a tire iron June 15, 2011, to attack a homeless man panhandling near the Vermont Avenue exit off the Hollywood (101) Freeway.

As Lee's sport utility vehicle approached the off-ramp, Donald K. Bolding was changing his sweatshirt, exposing a sexually explicit tattoo, according to court documents.

“Instead of driving away with his passengers as a reasonable person would have done or rolling up his window, or just ignoring the plaintiff, Lee, having taken deep offense of the tattoo, rolled down the window and began an argument with the plaintiff,” Gary Casselman, the plaintiff's attorney, wrote in court documents filed in a separate civil case.

Lee, now 49, parked his SUV on Vermont Avenue, grabbed a tire iron and continued arguing with Bolding, now with both of them on the sidewalk, court documents said.

The beating broke Bolding's arm and gave him a concussion, his attorney said.

The transient said he was bleeding when he ran into oncoming traffic in an effort to avoid being attacked further. He testified that he was ordered to get on his hands and knees to apologize as he fell against a fence.
With only one store in Honolulu, I've never actually set foot in a Pinkberry (known affectionately in SoCal as Crackberry). I have, however, entered the struggling Red Mango a few times.


Friday, November 1, 2013

A case of prolonged euphoria

By definition, all Hyundai-related things are Korea-related, even when they're a Long Island Hyundai dealership with a risqué ad...

Given their sister carmaker Kia's own history with questionable advertising, maybe Hyundai and Hyundai dealerships should be a bit more circumspect.