Thursday, October 03, 2002

James Kelly, the American envoy, has arrived in North Korea. No word yet whether he will be allowed to meet the DPRK's Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il (join his fan club here). Many speculate that Kelly's visit was prompted by the unexpectedly successful Kim Jong Il-Koizumi summit. Whatever the case, it is far from clear how far the Bush Adminstration is willing to deviate from its demands for North Korean promises of non-proliferation of WMD (something within the realm of possibility) and reductions and/or relocations of North Korea's conventional forces (exceedingly unlikely in my opinion).

The issue of abducted Japanese continues to dog thawing Japan-DPRK relations

The Associated Press (Natalie Obiko Pearson, "FAMILIES DEMAND JAPANESE
KIDNAPPING VICTIMS RETURN FROM NORTH KOREA," Tokyo, 10/03/02) reported that the families of Japanese kidnapped by the DPRK demanded Thursday their loved ones return to Japan - despite their videotaped claims that they are happy in the DPRK and do not want to come home. The families spoke after watching videotapes of five surviving kidnap victims and the daughter of one who the DPRK says has died.

The DPRK claims that eight of the kidnap victims are dead and that all but one of their graves had been washed away in floods.
Officials in Pyongyang said that only two of the victims had died of sickness. The others died of suicide, car crashes, gas poisoning and
drowning. Family members have dismissed the claims, saying they refuse to believe their relatives are dead. "We want Japan to kidnap our family back," said Tamotsu Chimura, whose son Yasushi has been confirmed as alive in Pyongyang. Despite the mounting public anger, Japan wants to push ahead with forging diplomatic relations.

I'm sure that both Koizumi and Kim Jong Il wish this issue would simply go away. Realpolitik dictates that the affairs of state should not be determined by the desires of a very few, no matter how tragic their plight. But Realpolitik doesn't always win out in this messy world of ours.

A Libertarian candidate for Senate in Montana has blue skin. (Link courtesy of Daily Pundit). Picture of the poor man here. Could give the Montana Green Party a run for their money. Of course he could claim that he is the merely the most recent reincarnation of the Hindu Lord Krisna.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that the Democrats can replace Torricelli with former Senator Frank Lautenberg in the New Jersey Senate race. I like Virginia Postrel's take on this: New Jersey politics as nothing more than Calvinball. . I also like the several proposals that Forrester drop out of the race to be replaced by Condi Rice, or some other Republican luminary. Let the games begin!

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Quote for the day (courtesy of Jay Nordlinger)

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you are a mile away and have their shoes.”

Flash commericals from opposing ends of the political spectrum (links courtesy of Instapundit)
Is this the future of political advertising and advocacy?

For you Urban Legends fans out there:

A UL that is actually true. On 11 September 2002, the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center towers, the numbers selected in one of the New York state lottery drawings were 9-1-1.

And one that is too good to be true: President George W. Bush proclaimed, "The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur."

I've meaning to post more on the recent reforms in the DPRK but haven't had the time. To briefly re-cap, wage and price reforms appear to be leading to dramatically higher rice prices . The announcement of the proposed creation of a Special Economic Zone in Sinuiju has attracted the attention of GE but many express doubts about the project and the proposed particpation of the shadowy Dutch/Chinese businessman Yang Bin. It is hard to know what to make of all of this. Making historical parallels is always dangerous but the combination of economic reform and the growing refugee problem both seem to echo the USSR and Eastern Europe in the late 1980's. Is the end of the DPRK in sight? Too soon to tell but I would venture that it is closer now than it was a few years ago (how's that for uselessly vague prognostication?)

Anti-American demonstrations in the ROK

Reuters and Agence France-Presse reported that the ROK government expressed regret Friday after activists
hurled several firebombs into a US military base north of Seoul. Several unidentified men threw at least nine firebombs over the wall of Camp Red Cloud at Eujongbu, north of Seoul, said ROK police. They suspected that the attackers were students protesting the deaths of two ROK teenage girls struck and killed by a US military vehicle in June. No property damage was reported, said Stephen Oertwig, a spokesman of the US military command in Seoul. "We are disappointed by this kind of violent demonstrations," Oertwig said.

Despite South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's criticism of such tactics, without a significant modification of U.S. policy toward both South and North Korea, we had better get used ot this kind of "disappointment."

Jim Kelly is slated to visit the DPRK soon.

3," 09/27/02) reported that the ROK welcomed the US decision to send a top
envoy to the DPRK next week to resume a dialogue that has been stalled for
nearly two years. "We welcome the resumption of dialogue between the North
and the United States," presidential spokeswoman Park Sun-Sook told
reporters here Friday. "We expect the two sides to resolve various pending
bilateral issues through dialogue. "We expect the dialogue will help
promote peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in the North East
Asian region." The White House announced Thursday that assistant secretary
of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs James Kelly would visit
Pyongyang from October 3-5 to resume talks stalled since President George
W. Bush took office in January 2001. Kelly will visit Seoul and Tokyo on
his way to Pyongyang and on his return from the North Korea capital,
officials said here. "The government will again convey our wish to see an
early improvement in North Korea-US ties, through consultation with Mr.
Kelly," a government official said. "On his way home, Mr Kelly will visit
Korea and Japan to brief on the outcome of his meetings with the North
Koreans." Kelly's visit will mark the first prolonged, high-level dialogue
between DPRK leader Kim Jong-Il and the Bush administration. The decision
to send Kelly follows a visit to Pyongyang last week by Japanese Prime
Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who urged Bush to reopen a negotiating track.
ROK President Kim Dae-Jung has also pushed for Washington's reengagement
with the DPRK as essential to his "Sunshine Policy."
European leaders have also pressured the US to reengage with the DPRK in a
political declaration adopted early this week at a meeting with Asian
leaders in Copenhagen. The White House said in a statement that Kelly's
brief was to "explain US policy and seek progress on a range of issues of
long-standing concern to the United States and the international community."

Whether this means a significant shift in U.S.-DPRK relations remains to be seen

Not only are North Korean athletes participating in the Asian Games, so are North Korean cheerleaders! (NYTimes free registration required)

At event after event in these regional Olympic-style games, bused in along with the weight lifters, the soccer team or table-tennis players, there have been scores of what appear to be carefully selected official cheerleaders for the North, as well a the hired fans from the South.

Wearing all-white outfits, with white caps, and clapping, chanting, blowing their horns and even smiling in seemingly perfect synchronization, these citizens of the tightly controlled Communist state rank among the most orderly fans in sports.

Interaction between North and South Koreans at the games has been restricted. But sometimes curiosity trumps caution:

At a softball game between Japan and North Korea on Monday, access to the white-clad cheerleaders, who sat 10-rows deep along the third-base line, was strictly limited. When a North Korean woman was overheard to express surprise over a South Korean fan's dyed red hair, wondering aloud if it was a wig, there was a rare chance for spontaneous interaction.

"Most women dye their hair here," shouted a South Korean photographer. "Really?" came the response, in wonderment. The South Korean began to explain that many men dye their hair here, too. An amazed look hung on the cheerleader's face. For a moment, she was too befuddled to respond, and it is just as well, because a grim-faced male member of her delegation appeared out of nowhere, apparently to tell her that fraternizing was forbidden.

The DPRK has offered a more detailed explanation (NYTimes, free registration required) as to the circumstances surround the deaths of eight Japanese nationals in North Korea. This apparently isn't satisfying the families of those who have died and presents Prime Minister Koizumi with a dilemma:

The controversy has presented the Japanese government with a difficult choice: whether to favor increasingly impassioned popular sentiments about the abductees, or pursue his country's rapprochement with North Korea, with which it has never had diplomatic relations.

I suspect that the desire for better relations with the DPRK will win out in the end, unless more damaging information about how the abductees died emerges.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Donned the K Street uniform (looks something like this minus the shades) and attended two Korea-related events today. One was hosted by the ever-active Korea Economic Institute. The other was a more low-key affair at the Korean Cultural Service. A few general conclusions
--One could easily spend all day drifting from event to event, being fed, and, occasionally, enlightened. Some people appear to make a living doing just that.
--South Korea (aka the Republic of Korea) has done a remarkable job of recovering from the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. While problems still loom, particularly the challenge posed by an ailing U.S. economy, the future looks better than it has for some time.
--North Korea (aka the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) has embarked on a course of reform from which there may be no turning back. Whether Kim Jong Il and company can effect change swiftly enough to avoid a complete implosion remains to be seen.

Just went for a nice run. Started in Historic Foggy Bottom, ran down Virginia Avenue to the Washington Monument , through the Mall to the steps of the Capitol Building, and back through the Mall, past the Washington Monument again to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Hard to beat a route like that!

Of course this is only a fraction of the entire course of the Marine Corps Marathon which in theory I'm supposed to run in less than a month. I'm still as slow as mud so the question is whether I have the stamina to run at my snail's pace for four hours or more.

A nice comment on partisan epistemology from James Lileks

This is a bipartisan delusion. Let's play partisan ping-pong:

Liberals are socialists.
Conservatives want to ruin the earth and poison the water.
Liberals are baby-killers.
Conservatives only care about rich CEO fatcats.
Liberals hate America.
Conservatives think the free market smiles on slavery.
Liberals believe all criminals should go free.
Conservatives want to put all black people in jail.
Liberals are godless atheists.
Conservatives want to make everyone handle snakes for Jeebus.

I'm not trotting out the Shades of Gray line of which the morally irresolute are fond; there are issues that require moral rigor, a willingness to say yes and no and right and wrong. But while those issues often cohere along party lines, the people who hold these various positions are often on different sides of political spectrum. And if you think that's codswaddle, then you'e never talked to an anti-death penality Republican or a pro-life Democrat. Push comes to shove, people retreat to the comforting bunkers of their party, but outside of an election or a great sweeping national issue, push just usually comes to push. Cliches are fun for screeds, but man does not live or govern or coexist by screed alone.

I hope this is as obvious to you as it seems to me.

It seems obvious to me but also seems lost to many.

When universes collide: I freely confess that I have been an avid fan of both Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings. However, upon uncovering this little gem I can do nothing but hang my head in shame. Unbelievable! (Requires Quicktime; download it for free here)

Arguments for the mathematically challenged: on the drive in to work this morning, I heard Financial Times columnist Amity Shales make the argument that tariffs hurt workers as much as help them. While I generally support free trade, I couldn¡¦t help but notice that Ms. Shales engaged in some interesting use of numbers to support her position. To support her contention that tariffs hurt the poor more than the rich, she mentioned that a think tank has estimated that the average poor worker loses one week¡¦s salary per year because of tariff-induced higher prices on goods as compared to the wealthy who lose ¡§less than one percent.¡¨ Now I am the first to confess that math is not my strong suit but even I can see that "one week's salary" = 1/52 = 1.92%. Compare that to an undefined "less than one percent" and the chasm between the impact of tariffs on the rich and the poor doesn't seem quite so yawning. Few things bother me more than when people use flawed or misleading arguments to support positions I also support.

The torch sputters out. After being unable to fend off growing allegations of "ethical violations," New Jersey Senator Bob Torricelli announced that he is dropping out of the race for his own senate seat. The idealistic part of me wants to chalk this one up to the system tolerating only so much blatant flaunting of the rules. After all, lesser lights including former State Department official Ken Quinones and David Chang, the Korean businessman who funneled the cash to Torricelli, have already been prosecuted. For a while it appeared that Torricelli would be able to escape with only a slap on the wrist from the senate.
Of course the question now is, "what next"? I listened to the press conference held by the Republican candidate Doug Forrester on C-SPAN radio last night and have to confess that I find Forrester's claim that "The laws of the state of New Jersey do not contain a 'we think we're going to lose so we get to pick someone new' clause" to be rather compelling. At the same time, I feel somewhat uneasy about the prospect of denying the people of New Jersey, most of who are Democrats, the opportunity to vote for a candidate of their party. Opinion polls before yesterday seemed to indicate that a vote for Forrester was, in many cases, simply a vote against Torricelli.
This leads me to a more fundamental question: is there any ideological foundation for the position of either the Republicans or the Democrats in this case? In other words, if the positions were reversed, would any Republicans still claim that "rule of law" should trump the right of the people of New Jersey to have a choice in November? Would Democrats still proclaim that technicalities should not stand in the way of the people's right to a choice? Or would they suddenly discover the importance of the 51-day deadline? I think one could make a weak case for Republicans/Conservatives demonstrating a proclivity for supporting and upholding the process (e.g. rule of law¡ while Democrats/Liberals often seem more interested in outcomes. However, I¦m afraid that motivational bias is much stronger than any such tendencies in this case.
I would love to be proven wrong. Hence, I propose to award the first ever "It Makes a Difference to the Sheep Independence and Integrity Award" to any public figure, pundit, or blogger who, on the basis of principle, publicly supports the position of the party they generally oppose. I'm not holding my breath.

Update: Stefan Sharkansky maintains that he would "say the same thing if the party labels were switched around.".

Update: blogger guru extraordinaire Glenn Reynolds has a nice round-up of opinions that support the Republican side of this issue. I still have to wonder whether Andrew Sullivan and company would adopt the same position with the same degree of energy if the tables were turned and it was a Republican who dropped out of the race at the last minute.

Monday, September 30, 2002

One of the latest hoax pictures to make its way around the internet is of President Bush holding a book upside down in a classroom
Even if one thought Bush capable of such idiocy, would his handlers let this happen? says "false"

All quiet on the North Korean front. The Korean Central News Agency reports that Kim Jong Il is a respected man in Belize.

The government and people of Belize and I have deep respect for Kim Jong Il, said Colvill N. Young, governor general of Belize, when receiving credentials from Pak Tong Chun, new DPRK Ambassador to Belize, on September 18.

How does a nation whose economy has ground to an almost complete halt manage to pay to send and support an ambassador in Belize?


This is my first official foray into the blogosphere. While the first few days of posting will be an entirely experimental and eclectic mix of items, I hope to eventually settle down into a pattern of posting on events of the day with frequent ramblings on two tangents I am currently involved in and/or fascinated with:

Korean history and contemporary Korean affairs (my job)

Urban Legends and other rumors, myths and stories.


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