Friday, December 20, 2002

MIRTH AMID THE MADNESS: I've been grading papers and exams for the past several hours (hence the blogging; I take a break every so often to clear my head). Students are supposed to affix a statement to the effect that the work they submit is their own. Most use standard boilerplate. But one student had the following to declare:
This essay is wholly my own work and I received no outside aid from another human being, only from online articles and the textbook. I claim it like a parent claiming a juvenile delinquent, wholeheartedly but hoping no one will associate it with me
How can you not like that?

THE REAL REASON FOR ROH'S VICTORY was relayed to me by the Korean proprietress of the dry cleaners I use: the character for "king" (Korean: wangja) can be seen on Roh's face. Therefore, his ascension to highest office was foreordained. It isn't entirely clear as to exactly where this stamp of future greatness can be seen, it seems that perhaps the lines on his forehead make up the horizontal lines and his nose makes the vertical? She hastened to add that she can't see it and doesn't believe it but added that many of her friends believe otherwise.

ITS ALWAYS ABOUT U.S.: Tom Engelhardt argues that the U.S. is largely responsible for Roh Moo-hyun's victory, though this is obviously not what the Bush Administration intended. He sees this as part of a larger trend:
After all, this is the second unwelcome administration the Bushites have inadvertently managed to elect. Gerhardt Schroeder's Social Democratic Party squeaked by in Germany on a vehemently anti-Iraq war policy. My hopeful question is: Can the Bush administration single-handedly turn back what seemed to be a global electoral right-wing tide? Or put another way, there is hope out there beyond our shores

Relations with the U.S. and the rising tide of anti-American sentiment certainly played a role in Roh's victory (and it may have done so in Germany as well, though I know far less about the German case) but it was far from the only issue in the election. But right-wing proponents of America's superpower status and presence in the world and left-wing critics of the same share one thing in common: its always about us. Which is true enough . . . except when it isn't . . . which is most of the time.

80'S CHILD ABUSE: There's no other word for it (link courtesy of

TRENT LOTT IS OUTTA HERE! At least he has announced that he will step down from his Senate Majority Leader post. Good riddance!

Still too early to tell, but Bill Frist (R-Tenn) appears to be the front-runner to take Lott's leadership slot. Who is Bill Frist? Until this week, I had no idea. The WaPo has this (among other things) to say about him:
Known for a cool demeanor that masks his intense work habits, Frist can get by on four hours of sleep a night, a holdover from his days as a heart-lung transplant surgeon. The Senate's only doctor, he comforted tense officials at a meeting in the Capitol basement after an anthrax-laced letter panicked Capitol Hill. His Senate Web site became a clearinghouse for information about anthrax symptoms and treatment.

Several Republicans said Frist would be a huge help in selling an expected Bush admininstration health care initiative to Congress and the public. Some Senate aides said Frist would help the party portray a more moderate image if he succeeded Lott.

Aides said his goals include adding a prescription drug benefit for Medicare and making health care more affordable and available to low-income people. He promotes childhood vaccinations and wants to encourage the development of new vaccines. Much of Frist's agenda concerns prevention and treatment of AIDS, and he travels to Africa once or twice a year at his own expense to perform operations as a medical missionary.

INTERESTING DESCRIPTION OF NORTH KOREA: Stepehen Endicott, co-author of a book on the alleged U.S. use of bacteriological weapons in the Korean War, recently made a trip to North Korea. His impressions were sent out via CanKor (definitely worth subscribing to if you are interesting in different perspectives on Korean events and affairs). Excerpts (and comments) follow:
Before taking our leave, the Canadian film director thanked our hosts most warmly, declaring that of all the foreign visits he had made, this group had been the most helpful and congenial in assisting him to achieve his objectives. Mr. Pak responded by saying that he hoped the film, by its balance and good judgment, would be suitable for showing in both the northern and southern parts of Korea.

Ah, the fabled North Korean hospitality! No hassles with traffic, always accompanied by friendly and useful guides, and the guarantee that you will be put on the nightly news as the latest pilgrim come to pay homage to the Great Leader, the Dear Leader, and Juche.

We had heard much about food shortages and hunger in North Korea and were keenly alert to see such signs. Our crew interviewed about thirty people face-to-face for the film and we saw thousands of others on the city streets at close hand, in the countryside, children going to school and in after-school activities: without exception the people we saw looked sturdy and healthy, not emaciated in any way. The hard years, we learned, were 1996-1998 after three successive crop failures, a time when people were down to having 100 grams of cereal grain per day. "It was unimaginable," said one of our young friends. Now the basic grain ration is up to 350 grams daily, getting closer to normal requirements of 500 grams as North Korea reconstructs its economy.

To be sure, the famine crisis is probably not nearly as great as it was in the "hard years," but I'm reminded of the Saturday Night Live parody of the Clinton-Bush Presidential debate in which Clinton praises Arkansas for edging ahead of Mississippi in reducing the number of cases of rickets.

After being leveled by the American bombing in 1950-1951 the city has been reconstructed in a manner reminiscent of the great urban centres of Europe - Paris, Budapest - wide tree-lined boulevards, many parks, seven bridges over the Taedong, grand-scale public monuments including an Arc de Triomphe; stadiums that can seat up to 100,000 people; large, striking public buildings in both traditional and modern architectural styles surrounding Kim Il Sung Square. We saw wedding parties posing for pictures at several of these locations. There is a Moscow-style subway with stations having grand cathedral ceilings and art work, there are electric trolley buses and street cars which are somewhat crippled at the moment owing to shortages of electricity. People seem to do a lot of walking. Nevertheless Pyongyang is a beautiful city and will undoubtedly attract and welcome large numbers of tourists when American hostility subsides and the
economy revives again.

Once American hostility declines, you too can walk the wide and beautiful streets of P'yongyang!

One member of our group thought it monstrous that a starving country builds monuments (not to mention nuclear weapons). Others did not share this opinion. For one thing, we learned that the government suspended its grand-scale building projects when the hard times came in the mid-nineties - a point dramatically illustrated by the unfinished skeleton of a building towering above all others in the centre of town. Apart from that, in addition to spending resources on housing available to everyone at nominal rents, free education up to and including university (there are 300,000 university students), health care paid for by the state, paid holidays for workers and other social benefits that were explained to us at a meeting with a member of the Academy of Social Sciences, Professor Li Gi Gong, there was the argument that a people needs some grand public buildings, arches, vistas, cultural palaces and galleries, theatres, sports stadiums to remind them of their strength as a people and a nation, and places to give them the opportunity to develop and display their cultural achievements. To replace and rebuild their capital city from the ashes of the Korean War was to bolster the people's self-confidence and to create a vision for a better future. It was an argument that I certainly found to be reasonable.

Some of this is reminiscent of descriptions of and arguments about Castro's Cuba. And while it is undeniable that both Cuba and the DPRK do try to provide housing, education and health care for its citizens, it is also undeniable that there are far more Cubans and North Koreans who attempt to leave their homes than outsiders who attempt to get in. If the people of North Korea and Cuba were genuinely allowed to vote with their feet, I suspect that many, many more would demonstrate their true feelings about the trade-off between free university education and living under totalitarian rule.

As for nuclear weapons, to my knowledge, the North Korean government has never said that it has them, only that it has the right to have them so long as other nations keep them.

True enough. Moreover, I agree that on a moral level, it makes little moral sense for nuclear weapons states (particularly the U.S., the only state to have actually used them) to point fingers at would-be proliferators.

The United States did not keep its promises: the generating plants are five years behind schedule (the first one was supposed to start operating in 2003 but only its foundation had been laid by 2002) and it did not withdraw its nuclear weapons from the area. (When in Beijing we met a senior member of a Western embassy and asked if the United States still had nuclear weapons in South Korea as the North Koreans claimed. Speaking off the record his answer was unequivocal that the US continues to have nuclear weapons in South Korea.

The first part of this is undeniably true. The latter part is news to me. Given that the US still has plenty of ICBM's, submarine-launched missiles, as well as high-tech planes that could deliver nukes to the battlefield, it isn't at all clear to me what tactical advantage would be maintained by keeping a clandestine nuclear presence in South Korea. How does a French diplomat (my guess) know whether the U.S. keeps nukes in Korea or not anyway?

Finally, the pièce de résistance:
In recent times there have been many harsh words said about the Democratic
People's Republic of Korea by newspaper columnists who follow Washington's line in international affairs. Their words, it seems to me, are largely based on ignorance or prejudice. Even from a very short visit there I think it can be safely said that North Korea is a country more sinned against than sinning.

While I have frequently harped on the fact that we outsiders really know very little about North Korea, at the very least, there is plenty of sin to go around. Bombing civilian airliners, killing the cabinets of enemy states, exporting drugs, counterfeit money, and missiles, subjecting your population to ceaseless indoctrination, sending entire families to gulags because of the alleged statement of one family member, these are not things one does merely because one is "more sinned against than sinning." But, that's just my ill-informed opinion!

CHALLENGES FOR ROH MOO-HYUN: (according to the NYT; free registration required):
Mr. Roh's challenge now is to reconcile the dual yearnings of South Korea's sophisticated and increasingly affluent younger generations for more autonomy from the United States and reduced tensions with North Korea with continued reliance on American security.

"The challenge will be between accommodating popular aspirations and meeting the demands of the Bush administration," said Scott Snyder, Korea representative of the Asia Foundation. "The new president is going to face critical decisions in three areas: redefining the relationship with the U.S., managing relations with North Korea and reorienting Korea's relations in the regional context."

Thursday, December 19, 2002

BAH HUMBUG, NOT! Should you feel inclined to sympathize with Scrooge this Christmas, beware the wrath of James Lilieks. Read the whole thing of course, but I quite particularly chuckled at his re-writing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and this:
While others are humming carols, trimming trees and picking out gifts for the people they love, Mr. and Mrs. Williams have taken all their Christmas gift money this year -- $1,200 -- and spent it on the attack ad.

"I think the billboard is stark, it's angry, it's red. Black letters on red, the Christmas colours," she said when asked to describe the sign.

Red and green are Christmas colors. Black and red are the colors of a goth who had an accident slicing a bagel.


Mrs. Williams said she and her husband have been grumbling to themselves about "Christmas hell" for several years. A few seasons ago they started to boycott the whole gift-giving, carol-singing, egg-nogging thing and began to send out the anti-Christmas cards, along with a note informing family that instead of giving them gifts they were making donations to charity.

It says a great deal about these people that they think informing people that they’re giving donations to charity in lieu of gifts is an anti-Christmas act.

IT IS OFFICIAL: Roh Moo-hyun will be the next president of the ROK The AP wire report says that "With about 99 percent of the votes counted, Roh had 48.9 percent and Lee 46.6 percent." This shows how good I am at predicting political developments in Korea. How this election fits into past patterns is an interesting subject that must, alas, wait until I am done grading final exams.


THIS IS A FEW DAYS OLD but too good to pass up. John Poindexter (of Iran-Contra infamy), the new head of the government's creepy Total Information Awareness project has had his personal information splashed across the web by internet "pranksters."
The head of the government's Total Information Awareness project, which aims to root out potential terrorists by aggregating credit-card, travel, medical, school and other records of everyone in the United States, has himself become a target of personal data profiling.

Online pranksters, taking their lead from a San Francisco journalist, are publishing John Poindexter's home phone number, photos of his house and other personal information to protest the TIA program.

I don't think this will deter the Homeland security types for which 1984 appears to be a desired dream rather than a call of warning.

MICROSOFT RELEASES ITS NEW SAURON TABLET PC. The sad thing is that the truth isn't all that different.
One Ring will protect a user against viruses or pirated software at the hardware level. It will do this by freezing any non-Microsoft code and alerting the authorities as to the "potential piracy," requiring customers to re-purchase software they already own just to prove they haven't stolen it.

A web report featured on Slashdot indicates that the only way to disable the Sauron's web-cam has something to do with tossing a registry key into Mount Doom. The author of that report has already been arrested for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and is currently being held without bond.
Be afraid, be very afraid!

SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IS TOO CLOSE TO CALL. But all exit polls have Roh Moo-hyun enjoying a slight lead. If this holds up, my prediction of an Lee Hoi-chang victory will be proven false. Probably won't be the last time I get things wrong.

A couple of notes:
--the American press reports, all of which seem to be following the lead of the AP wire story, refer to ROh as the "Pro-government candidate." I'm note sure what this is supposed to mean. Yes, Roh comes from the same party as President Kim Dae Jung. But Lee's Grand National Party has a huge presence in the National Assembly. Does this make Lee "anti-government"?
--If the exit polls are correct, it seems to me that anti-Americanism, or at least a desire to fundamentally restructure SOFA, was the issue that put Roh over the top. When push comes to shove, more Koreans seem to have thought that this issue was important than those who worry about a nuclear-armed North Korea. Take this to its logical conclusion and we may very well see a nuclear armed and not so well inclined toward the United States Korea in the future. The U.S. had best tread lightly!

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

INTERESTING ANALYSIS OF NORTH KOREA from the folks at MoveOnPeace The wider range of voices that are heard on this thorny subject, the better!

THE TROOPS CAN ALL GO HOME NOW: Sean Penn has spoken
He confirmed that Iraq is completely clear of weapons of mass destruction and the United Nations must adopt a positive stance towards Iraq.

Who needs 12,000 pages of documents when the star of Shanghai Surprise can clear everything up?

ON THE EVE OF THE ROK PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION : one in five voters said they had yet to make up their minds, making the race still too close to call. This according to an AP report. I still predict that Yi Hoi-chang will eke out a victory but who knows?

The Agence France-Presse ("TWO KOREAS AGREE ON FAMILY REUNIONS IN FEBRUARY," 12/17/02) reported that the ROK and the DPRK agreed to arrange more reunions of families media reports said. The accord was reached at inter-Korean rapprochement talks at Mount Kumgang resort taking place amid rising tension over the DPRK's mothballed nuclear program. Negotiators agreed to allow 200 people -- 100 each from the DPRK and the ROK-- to meet long-lost relatives at Mount Kumgang around the lunar New Year holiday which falls on February 1, according to ROK pooled media reports from Kumgang Tuesday. But the two sides had yet to agree on when and how to set up a permanent family reunion center in the DPRK's mountain resort, one of the items on the talks agenda, the reports said. Two separate teams of ROK negotiators had been in Mount Kumgang since Sunday to discuss progress on arranging reunions of families split by the 1950-53 Korean War and on cross-border road and rail links. Troops from both Koreas have cleared landmines from the heavily-fortified border over the past three months to prepare two transportation corridors for the rail and road links. But a looming nuclear standoff has weighed heavily on the inter-Korean talks.
There is something almost surreal about this: amid the bellicose rhetoric, tensions, talk of nuclear arms and war, the two Koreas continue on their course of gradual engagement and interaction.

BOLDLY FOLLOWING THE U.S. LEAD: South Korean banks and consumers plunge headlong into unprecedented levels of consumer debt.
Banks have also flooded the country with credit cards, prompting a consumer spending binge and a rise in delinquency rates that worries government officials. But for the banks, scale is everything, even if loss rates rise along the way: each of the remaining eight commercial banks with nationwide operations, down from 26 before the 1997-98 crisis, wants to be one of the four or five that analysts say will be left standing in three years.

The 1997-98 crisis also claimed as casualties many of the country's chaebols — sprawling industrial conglomerates like Hyundai and Daewoo that dominated the economy for decades. The soundest parts of those groups, like Hyundai Motor, are now thriving independently, while their weaker former siblings struggle through bankruptcy. But their breakup has obliged the banks to wean themselves away from their former habit of lending almost exclusively to companies.

They have done so with a vengeance: consumers account for nearly half the $405 billion in lending the banks will do this year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

THE VOICE ON THE LATEST BIN LADEN TAPE HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED (and it aint Osama). Link courtesy of the ever-enjoyable Instapundit

EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE KOREAN SAN-SIN (MOUNTAIN GOD) AND MORE! I doubt he remembers but years ago David Mason was kind enough to send me a copy of his dissertation on the subject of the san-sin . I found the dissertation (complete with full color photos) to be a very interesting read. Now he has a very nice book and an interesting and informative web-site. Once I get around to establishing a link page, this will surely be on it!

JAPAN BROUGHT ON BOARD? (NYT; free registration required)
The United States won a commitment from Japan today to continue taking a hard line toward North Korea that would bar any bargaining or talk of economic incentives until the government in Pyongyang agreed to shut its nuclear weapons program.

Taking a break from their meeting at the State Department with Japan's senior Defense and Foreign Ministry officials, both Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz repeated the administration's policy of last week, that it was up to North Korea to ease tensions in the region.

A few months ago the DPRK seemed poised on the brink of a huge diplomatic breakthrough with Japan, a move which had the potential of splitting the U.S.-Japan-ROK alliance wide open over the issue of how to deal with North Korea. Now all that is nothing more than a might-have-been. Is this what Kim Jong Il and company really want?

UPDATE: The North Koreans can't be happy about this either.

Monday, December 16, 2002


NO GORE IN 2004. Al made it official, announcing he won't run for president. I heard on Washington Journal this morning that some of the reasons Gore decided not to run again include the media's response to his recent book tour (reminding him how nasty the media can be) and the fact that he enjoys his current life in which he makes a lot of money (giving speeches at $100,000 a pop) and gets to talk policy wonk talk about global warming and the like with experts.

My general reaction is to congratulate him for his good sense and to wish him well. Still, I can't resist one dig: This is the man who campaigned as a fighter for the common person against evil corporate interests. His mouth didn't open during the campaign without decrying the fact that most of the Bush tax cut would go to "the top 1% of Americans." OK, Mr. Gore: giving speeches at $100,000 a piece surely puts you in that top 1%. Will you give back that extra money the Bush tax cut gives you? Surely the government needs this money for defense, welfare, the common man, and "the children," right? Keeping it would mean that you aren't all that different from the wealthy corporate interests you so fervently criticized.

UPDATE: One reader takes issue with my criticism of Honest Al
But permit me to quibble with your snarky comments
on Al Gore -- a hundred grand per speech is indeed
the phat bucks to guys like us. It probably gets
eco-Al into the top 10% of Americans. But it puts
him nowhere near the folks raking in the biggest
windfall from Shruby's giveaway. The top 1% -- and
really, we're talking about the top 0.1% -- are rich
beyond our (& Al's) imaginations. The Bush clan
doesn't even really qualify, tho they're close enuff
to know the reality. Gore & Clinton & Cheney & etc
exist about 2 or 3 classes below the Super-rich ---
they work for them, as servants in the political and
corporate-board level, getting paid high wages for
making sure that their sponsors keep their inherited
megabucks and gather in ever more to leave to the
next dynastic generation...

"The only way to prevent a catastrophic crisis of a war on the Korean Peninsula is to conclude a nonaggression treaty between North Korea and the U.S. at an early date," the country's official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said in a report calling the Korean Peninsula "on the verge of war."

A bit tautological (peace is the only way to avoid war) isn't it?

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