Saturday, November 08, 2003


Friday, November 07, 2003

VOYAGER HAS LEFT THE SOLAR SYSTEM (perhaps). I remember the excitement of the Voyager approaches to Jupiter (those craters and volcanoes on Io) and Saturn. The stunning color and detail opened up worlds to us that we only dimly perceived before. Even as a star-struck kid, though, I thought the golden record was useless and a bit cheesy.

EXAMINATION HELL IS OVER (FOR NOW) IN SOUTH KOREA. The Marmot rounds up a number of links on the subject.

ENTER THE MEATRIX (IF YOU DARE). It took me a while to decide whether this was sincere or not (don't look at the URL before you view this if you don't want to know).

Reuters (Paul Eckert, "S.KOREA PLAYS DOWN NORTH'S LATEST NUCLEAR REMARKS," Seoul, 11/07/03) reported that the DPRK's envoy in Britain said Pyongyang had a nuclear deterrent ready to use, but the ROK played down the assertion Friday and said there was no sign the DPRK would walk away from international talks. The DPRK's envoy in Britain, Ri Yong Ho, told Reuters in London Thursday Pyongyang had a nuclear deterrent that was not only ready but powerful enough to deter any US attack. Asked about Ri's remarks, ROK Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun told reporters: "It's hard to see any consistency in various DPRK remarks, and it's more important to consider the overall trend than any one particular outburst." He did not elaborate on what he meant by an overall trend, but said he believed recent statements by Pyongyang were part of its negotiating posture before six-country nuclear talks on a year-old crisis over the DPRK's nuclear arms ambitions.
As I've noted before, this is not a new tactic for the ROK. Others have noted the ironic contrast with Iraq: in the case of Iraq everyone knew that Iraq had WMDs and, therefore, dismissed Iraq's protestations to the contrary. In the case of North Korea, the DPRK has made claims to possessing a nuclear capability but Seoul (and at least some in Washington) downplay the claims. I used to be fairly convinced that the DPRK had crossed the Rubicon some time in the past year or two and had determined to actually acquire nuclear weapons for reasons of security and status rather than threaten to acquire nuclear weapons as a ploy to extract more concessions. Now, I'm not so sure. It seemed to me that the U.S. invasion of Iraq offered the DPRK the perfect time to test a bomb or in some other way clearly demonstrate that it does indeed have a nuclear weapons capability (as opposed to merely possessing nuclear fuel). However, the DPRK didn't do this and still hasn't. Did the powers that be in P'yongyang look at Bush's determination to invade Iraq despite opposition from the rest of the world and conclude that demonstrating a nuclear capability might actually provoke Bush into launching another preemptive attack before P'yongyang could make more weapons? Does the DPRK still want nukes but hasn't quite worked all the technical details out yet? Or is the talk of nukes merely talk, albeit frightening talk designed to extort concessions from Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington? I suppose Jeong Se-hyun would lean more toward the last of these possibilities. I'm still not sure.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

SHAWN AT KOREA LIFE BLOG HAS DISCOVERED THE JOYS OF SEAWEED CHIPS. My only question is, "why stop there?" In addition to seaweed chips, one can also enjoy shrimp chips, Korean bugles ("Nothing significant on the smell side"), banana chips, cuttlefish flavored snack balls,(I know, the product is Japanese; I just couldn't find the Korean equivalent) onion rings, and of course kimchi flavored crackers. All good!

North Korea's proven dishonesty about its nuclear activities aside, this is one important reason why the international consortium needs to make a serious review of the stalled project and reconsider its decision on the eventual nullification of the accord. KEDO said that it would make its final announcement on the project's fate by Nov. 21. This can either be a highly strategic timetable or another unwise step to escalate animosities.

Despite the notorious unreliability of North Koreans as dialogue partners, our view is that this is not the right time for the consortium to withdraw its commitment. Thanks to China's efforts, North Korea has agreed to attend the second round of the six-party conference. The reactor project may be discussed at the talks, deciding whether it should continue or whether an alternative means of energy supply should be sought.

The consortium would do well to allow South Korea a stronger voice in the project. It is not only the largest donor that has accounted for the biggest portion of the $1.4 billion expended so far. Seoul is also faced with the immediate need to continue the construction of an industrial park north of the border, which is scheduled to begin operations as early as next year.
There have been some murmurings around town that whatever one thinks of the benefits or utility of KEDO, the timing of the decision to suspend KEDO cast some serious doubt on the sincerity of the Bush Administration's stated desire for resolving the North Korean issue through negotiation. North Korea's threat of "appropriate countermeasures" (whatever that means) if KEDO is suspended is perhaps proof that the DPRK regards keeping the process limping along as important.

UPDATE: The Marmot has a post on another Korean newspaper's reaction to the news(see the comments section for more).

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS RESTATES THE CASE FOR WAR IN IRAQ. To me, this debate is somewhat academic. Whether you supported the war or opposed it (as I did), I can't see any reasonable course now that we're in Iraq other than seeing the mess through. Backing out now, "bringing the troops home" that folks like Dennis Kucinich call for, would make things far worse.

There are fears that the growing demands of the construction industry could lead to a shortage in the desert kingdom.
Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction (thanks to Charles Paul Freund for the link)


Wednesday, November 05, 2003

BIAS INSIDE THE BELTWAY (AND OUT). Had an interesting dinner tonight with a guest speaker and several local folks. One mentioned that he has conducted an informal survey of people in the DC area and asked them whether they think it is likely that North Korea will collapse within five years. So far, his results have been very interesting. Every single Washington policy wonk has answered that they think North Korea will collapse within five years. And every single academic who focuses on Korea has answered that they think it is unlikely that North Korea will collapse within five years. I'm not sure exactly what to make of this. On the one hand I don't think that studying Korean literature or linguistics automatically makes one an astute observer of contemporary Korean politics. On the other hand, one would have to assume that years or even decades of focused study of and interaction with a certain people might lend some insights into how that people thinks and behaves, even if such insights are based on "gut instinct" rather than an overtly visible theory of international relations or political behavior. Of course those who predict the collapse of North Korea will be right . . . someday. But in the meantime, if they're not right, acting as if a North Korean collapse is imminent leads down foolish (useless light water reactors for North Korea anyone?), counterproductive, and sometimes dangerous roads.

Agence France-Presse ("SKOREA WANTS TO SUSPEND, NOT END, NKOREA POWER PROJECT: FOREIGN MINISTER," 11/05/03) reported that ROK Foreign Minister Yoon Young-Kwan said his government wants a one-year suspension, not an end, to a multi-billion dollar energy project in the DPRK. Yoon's remarks came after the US, Japan, the ROK and the European Union met inconclusively in New York this week to discuss the fate of the controversial project. "Our government's position is to temporarily suspend it for one year. That means work could resume after one year," Yoon said during a briefing here. An international consortium, called KEDO, set up to build two nuclear reactors for North Korea under a now ruptured 1994 pact on Tuesday delayed a decision on a US request to suspend the 3.72-billion-dollar project. Executive members of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO) consortium which groups the US, Japan, the ROK and the European Union instead decided to reach an agreement by November 21.
This move may make sense in the short-term diplomatic arena but I have my doubts about the long-term implications. Most now acknowledge that KEDO and the construction of light-water reactors were acceptable to the U.S. and Japan (major financial backers of the project) because they believed that North Korea wouldn't be around to see the completion of the project. So why not offer a sop to North Korea's conceit that the issue of nuclear power plants is really an energy issue and not a proliferation one? But North Korea is still here and all indications are that in the unlikely event that the light-water reactors are completed in a still existing North Korea, they will be next to useless for energy purposes (the antiquated and crumbling North Korean power grid isn't able to use most if not all the energy the reactors would generate). The other way in which KEDO was a sop to the DPRK was that it fed the conceit that North Korea is a major power in the world, and major developed powers have nuclear power plants (if not nuclear weapons). I think that many in the DPRK would be stunned if they ever found out how insignificant North Korea is in the minds of most people in the world and how few in the developed world share the North Koreans' high opinions of their leaders and themselves. So if Seoul wants to continue the charade either because it sees it as a part of continuing engagement or because it looks forward to the day when it, as the capital of a unified Korea, gets two more power plants, it would make sense to me to have Seoul foot the entire bill.

IT IS TESTING TIME IN SOUTH KOREA. Students and their parents are, understandably, anxious about the event. Some seek help from a higher power. Will the fact that this year's test is supposedly not as hard as previous years make anyone feel better?
Specialists said that due to the easiness of the exam, the competition for prestigious universities would get fierce, because it would be a little hard to distinguish the abilities of high-ranking students based on their exam scores. Therefore, their scores on essay tests and interviews for the universities may determine their success. Also, as the number of mid- and high-ranking students would sharply increase with the rise of average scores, many students will delay their choices for colleges to the last minute and some may tend to apply for less competitive ones, the specialists said.
The ROK system raises all sorts of questions, many of which transcend the specific Korean context: how much weight should tests be given in college admissions decisions? Can tests ever be truly or even reasonably objective? How well to test scores predict future success? Tough questions all. At this point, I'll have to defer to the experts.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Standard & Poor's, the credit rating agency, said on Monday the collapse of Kim Jong-il's communist regime was more likely than gradual reform in North Korea and urged South Korea to build financial reserves to cope with the cost of reunification.

John Chambers, managing director for sovereign ratings at S&P, told reporters in Seoul that state collapse in North Korea was just a matter of time and could cause a bigger shock to the South's economy than the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Now before we get all excited about the implications of how the objective business community sees things on the peninsula, it might be useful to ask "where were Standard and Poor's and the rest of the gang in the weeks and months before the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997? Did they see that coming too and downgrade their ratings accordingly? If not, is there any reason to expect that their prognostications are any more accurate this time around?

MORE GREAT ALBUM COVERS HERE (and a veritable gold mine for the things here).


Somehow I missed it last week, but the Infidel, in responding to this post, argues that “the Korea Blogerati is too stuck in the peninsula funk, when they can't see this whole, nauseatingly long mini-series, that is the Korean War (1950-2003), as just a spinoff of the Cold War that the regional powers have yet to cancel.” He goes on to argue that the real problem is not Korea but China:

The real problem here is not Pyongyang's missiles, or even the nukes. It's Washington's almost 2 centuries-old inability to let China be China, instead of the easily-manipulable free trade zone without a self-dtermined destiny.

But he doesn’t seem to really want “to let China be China” (e.g. a recognized center of world civilization and economic If not military superpower) but rather prefers that we take the Cold War to the autocrats in Beijing the same way we did to the Soviets:

Washington needs to declare war on the Communists' monopoly on power and encourage provincial devolution. With an east Asian alliance firmly anchored on Japan, Australia, and the Philippines, Washington can weather the storm until, with true peace, east Asia can settle into a more realistic political and economic pattern.

This is, if nothing else, an interesting example of thinking outside of the box. Of course this debate is nothing new. The issue of taking the Cold War to China is the very issue that caused Truman to fire MacArthur during the Korean War. Truman wanted a limited war, MacArthur, not wanting to fade away like old soldiers do, wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. The strong U.S. support for Taiwan is in part due to the guilt and recriminations of having “lost China” to the Communists in the Chinese Civil War.

Members of the “Blue Team” have kept the drumbeat going with books like The China Threat and Hegemon and the columns of Bill Gertz. Are they correct? Is China the real threat to American interests in the world? I think that the jury is still out but that it is quite likely that whatever the possible future trajectories, the “China threat” warnings may very well end up being self-fulfilling prophecies.

But even if one accepts the idea that China (particularly a communist/authoritarian China) is an implacable foe to the United States and its interests, it is hard to see how “declaring war on communist power” in China would either lead to its demise or to “provincial devolution.” An equally likely outcome of such a course is the rallying of an already intensely nationalistic people around the PRC flag. Do we really want to commit the most famous blunder of all time? I think that we are in many respects stuck with the same unpalatable alternatives when it comes to the PRC that we face with the DPRK: working with these regimes lends legitimacy to their repressive and dangerous existence; working directly to undermine them risks a devastating and costly war. I repeat, what are we supposed to do then?


PHONE SPAM? Came home from lunch today to find a message from President Bush on my answering machine. Dubya urged me to get out and vote and support the “Republican team.” Shortly thereafter the phone rang again and I answered to find another recorded message. This one was from Robert Stuber, the Republican candidate for state senate in Virginia’s 17th district. He, too, urged me to vote and of course support his effort to keep taxes low and help our schools. It boggles the mind to consider that these types of impersonal recorded messages might actually change anyone’s mind. How many people really say “I wasn’t going to vote today until the President told me how important it was” or “I was determined to vote for the Democrat until I heard this recorded message that completely changed my mind.” I suppose that tactics like these are akin to e-mail spam: the vast majority of the recipients will tune them out and delete the message, but if only one in a thousand responds, it is worth the effort since the distribution of recorded messages is essentially free.

I received a call from a real live Stuber booster a few days ago. After listening to her recitation of her candidate’s opposition to taxes and support for education and transportation, I asked her which issue was Stuber’s top priority. In other words, if money were tight (as it often is) and one couldn’t choose both holding the line on taxes and increasing spending on schools and roads, which would Stuber more strongly support. She didn’t have an answer but promised that someone would get back to me. Lo and behold, yesterday my wife got a call from the candidate himself. I was at work so she gave him my office number. He called, left a message and gave me his home phone number. I reached him later in the day. His initial reply to my query was that of the typical politician who doesn’t want to say no to anyone: given the signs of economic recovery and Governor Warner’s placing of priority on education, chances are we can have both less taxes and increased funding for schools and roads. When I pushed him on the issue, he declared that if he had to choose, he would hold the line on taxes. Fair enough. I have to say that I appreciated his candor and was more than a little impressed that he would bother to call an individual voter on the day before election day (further reflection raised the possibility that it was because he was so far behind that there wasn’t much hope in staging last-minute rallies and events. Who knows?).

Will I vote for him? All other things equal, my default position is to prefer fewer taxes for both personal mercenary and ideological reasons. However, I don’t much care for Stuber’s making the Pledge of Allegiance and his opponent’s alleged opposition to the reciting of the Pledge in schools a centerpiece of his campaign (such allegations appear to be misleading at best). I think that the Pledge is a red herring that distracts from real issues and don’t take kindly to misrepresentation of opponents’ views and records on the campaign trail. On the other hand, the incumbent Edd Houck, has also circulated campaign literature making dubious assertions about his opponent (and not-so-subtly highlighting the fact that Stuber isn’t going to appear on the cover of GQ any time soon). What to do? Well, I have a couple of hours before I go to the polls to make up my mind. Rather scary this democracy stuff.

TAPPED HAS A NICE ROUND-UP OF OP-EDS AND NEWS SHOWS. They work hard so you don't have to. Examples:
David Brooks. I'm pretending to praise Dick Gephardt while actually bashing all Democrats and totally ignoring the president's terrible record on trade. That's sort of impressive.

Nicholas Kristof. My one-room schoolhouse may not have taught me calculus, but I sure did learn to feel good about myself.

Colbert King. Things are still bad in D.C., but I'll leave Baghdad out of it for once.

Maureen Dowd. I probably should have written this column when Jayson Blair was still in the news, but I'll settle for Shattered Glass as a peg instead.

Thomas Friedman. Notwithstanding the fact that they've met several times before, if Bush, Chirac and Schroeder would just sit down and talk, they'd resolove their differences and figure out that I was right all along.

What should the alliance look like? The simple answer is "more equal". Roles and responsibilities within the alliance need to be rebalanced. For the United States to be seen as more concerned with the security of South Korea than South Koreans themselves is an unsustainable situation. With double the population of the North and a world-class economy, South Korea is fully capable of carrying more of the burden of its own defense. Doing so would bolster the pride of Koreans and help relieve pressure on a US military increasingly engaged in the "war on terrorism".
Makes sense, but given political and geo-strategic realities, is such a course feasible?

APPARENTLY THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR ARE BACK (if they were ever gone). I'm not sure what to make of this.
Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch points to a letter in the Pakistan Christian Post in which somebody claims to be "Chevalier James R. Johnson, Grand Prior of the United States"... of the Knights Templar. The letter in question challenges Osama Bin Laden to a duel, excerpt:

We have noted that you like to refer to America and Great Britain as "Crusader states," and you have referred to just about everybody you don’t like as Crusaders.

. . .

This Knight Templar calls you a craven coward and an infidel. He calls you a murderer of the innocent, and a defiler of holy places. He calls you the favorite son of Satan, for you above all men on the earth have done your best to do Satan’s bidding.
Plus ca change . . .

JUST IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING, RUMSFELD'S MOJO HAS BEEN FOUND. What? You didn't know he might have lost it?

REMEMBER "TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY?" It would have been much easier to blog like a pirate with this.

UPDATE: More on the origins of the glorious day here.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Hwang also said that after he heard that some radical South Korean students had formed a suicide squad to try to block his U.S. visit, he tried to meet and talk with them but was unable to because of the opposition of authorities.

“Why do they try to give up their precious lives to prevent a person like me from visiting the United States?" Hwang said.
It isn't clear from the all too brief article what "suicide squad" actually means. Did they plan to kill themselves in protest? (if so, what exactly was the point)? Or, did they plan to stop Hwang with violence even if it meant their own death (i.e. act as suicide bombers)? I suspect the former. Whatever the case, it sounds a bit strange to me.


That he had pity on the North Korean version of Bob Cratchit?

That he was a book burner?

That he knew that artillery shells go up before they come back down?

That he could tie shoes?

That all the peoples of the world worship him?

Well, now you know!

“...four times -- 1972, 1984, 1988, and 2000 -- the Democratic candidate couldn’t carry a single Southern state. Not one! Zero! Zilch! And two times, 1968 and 1980, only one Southern state favored the Democratic candidate.”

“Al Gore became only the third Democrat since the Civil War to lose every state in the Old Confederacy, plus two border states as well. George McGovern and Walter Mondale were the others. But they had an excuse: they were crushed in national landslides [...] Gore’s loss was different. Had he won any state in the Old Confederacy or one more border state, he would be president today. But it didn’t happen. Gore lost his home state of Tennessee, Bill Clinton’s home state of Arkansas and the Democratic bastion of West Virginia. Even Michael Dukakis -- hardly a son of the South -- didn’t manage to lose there.”
There's plenty more where that came from.

HAS THE U.S AGREED TO GIVING A PACKAGE DEAL (INCLUDING SECURITY ASSURANCES) TO NORTH KOREA? That's what the Korea Herald is quoting U.S. Ambassador Thomas Hubbard as saying.
"Washington will guarantee North Korea's safety if Pyongyang publicize clearly its intention of discarding nuclear ambitions through a written security proposal in the frame of the six-party talks," U.S. Amb. Thomas Hubbard was quoted as saying in a meeting with Rep. Kim Geun-tae, floor leader of the newly created pro-Roh Moo-hyun party.
The scuttlebutt around town here is that this is yet another case of the ROK trying to push the issue by declaring the Americans to be more willing to deal than they actually are. There also are, obviously, issues of translation and interpretation. Local DC sources also note that the same Korean report has Hubbard saying the following:
On South Korea's alleged anti-U.S. sentiment, the top U.S. diplomat expressed his understanding, by saying "I see it as opposition to policies of the Bush administration rather than to the United States itself."

He added, "Even in the United States, 45 to 50 percentage of the people are against the policies of the Bush government."
This does not, they argue, sound like what a political appointee would say about the man who appointed him (no matter how true it may be).

ARE THESE THE WORST ALBUM COVERS EVER? I can't say I've seen worse.

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