Friday, December 05, 2003

THIS MADE ME LAUGH. I wonder if any drunken sailors have protested John McCain's insensitive remarks?

Thursday, December 04, 2003

WRONG AGAIN? The Marmot and IA have already linked to and commented on Bruce Cumings’ article, “Wrong Again.” I thought I’d throw in my two bits.

Bruce Cumings is, for me, a admirable but maddeningly frustrating scholar. His work on the Origins of the Korean War, particularly the first volume, is meticulous, uses sources no one else had looked at before (and for the most part, still haven’t looked at), and, in my estimation, establishes the definitive baseline against which all future examinations of the how the Korean War began should be judged—especially when it comes to the Korean side of the story that is so often neglected by Western military historians. He is erudite, witty, and widely read. His prose is often forceful and while often provocative is seldom boring or banal. He has written more, and to more critical acclaim, than I can probably ever hope for. He has helped train some of the best Korea scholars of the up and coming generation. And, having had the opportunity to meet him a few times, he is a genuinely pleasant person.

And yet, when he writes for publications that are not explicitly academic or scholarly, he morphs into a polemical partisan who has seemingly cast any pretense of scholarly objectivity aside in an effort to educate (and denounce) the rest of us unenlightened cretins. He names names of those who he deems to be slaves to money flowing from Washington or Seoul. He engages in ad hominem attacks on those he doesn’t like with gleeful abandon. For example, in his book War and Television he refers to Fouad Ajami as an “Uncle Tom” (123) and Charles Kuralt as a “fatuous toady” (118). And while many of his individual critiques and criticisms have a certain logic to them, they often seem to combine to create a less than persuasive or harmonious whole.

One of the main points of the article in question appears to be that while North Korea really hasn’t had a nuclear weapons program—everything up to this point is a result of faulty intelligence manipulated by warmongering Bushies—it is now likely to get one because of Bush’s hard-line stance and unwillingness to negotiate. Yet, later on in the piece, he notes that the best estimates are that the DPRK’s uranium enrichment program, began “in 1997 or 1998, and the Clinton Administration had fully briefed Bush and Co on the matter.” So why, when everything was going swimmingly with the Agreed Framework and Clinton in the White House, did the DPRK pursue nuclear weapons? Cumings offers several possibilities:
Left unmentioned in any press articles I have come across is the usefulness of an enriched-uranium programme to the Light-Water Reactors (LWRs) that were being built to compensate the North for freezing their graphite reactors in 1994. The virtue of the LWRs from the American standpoint had been that their fuel would have to come from outside the DPRK, thus establishing a dependency that could easily be monitored; but this was precisely what the independent-minded North thought was wrong with the LWRs. As Pollack put it, 'it seems entirely plausible that Pyongyang envisioned the need for an indigenous enrichment capability' since 'the fuel requirements for a pair of thousand-megawatt [light water] reactors are substantial and open-ended.' Furthermore, to enrich uranium to a level where it is useful as LWR fuel is much easier than to refine it further, to create fissile fuel. But the Bush Administration smothered all discussion of this issue with its widely ballyhooed claims of a second nuclear bomb programme.

In other words, the uranium enrichment program was not designed to create nuclear-weapons grade fuel at all but rather to provide a domestic source of fuel for the LWR; what else should we expect from the home of Juche? The only problems I have with this interpretation are

1) If the DRPK was only thinking of energy self-sufficiency, there would be little need to keep the program secret. The 1994 Agreed Framework applied only to the plutonium plant in Yôngbyôn, so enriching uranium would not violate the letter of the agreement. The U.S. would surely insist on IAEA inspections of the uranium enrichment facilities as well but if there were genuinely for peaceful energy-generating purposes, the DPRK would have nothing to hide.

2) I have never read of the DPRK ever making this claim.

3) Experts on North Korea’s energy and economic conditions note that the LWRs, were they ever to be actually constructed, were next to useless given the obsolete, crumbling, and dilapidated nature of the North Korean electrical grid. Spending large amounts of money on home-grown uranium without upgrading the power grid makes no economic sense. Note: there are some who argue that perhaps the North Koreans aren’t fully aware of the technical challenges of hooking their grid up to nuclear power facilities. If this is actually the case, then reason #3 no longer holds.

Cumings notes further

Many experts, including former Clinton Administration officials, believe that North Korea clearly cheated by importing this technology. They do not accept the argument that the North had a clear interest in enriching uranium for the LWRs; they differ over whether it merely experimented with the imported technology, or was (and is) hell-bent on a 'nuclear enrichment programme' - in other words, if the North is trying to build a uranium bomb. If the imports from Pakistan did begin in 1997 or 1998 and were intended to be used in a bomb, the reason may have been that hardliners in Pyongyang disliked the slow pace at which Washington was implementing the commitments it had made in the 1994 Agreement (i.e. to normalise relations with the North and refrain from threatening it with nuclear weapons). Or Kim Jong Il may have chosen to play a double game, continuing to honour the Agreement while developing a clandestine weapons programme. Kim ascended to supreme power in September 1998, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the regime, and a new weapons programme would have shored up his support among the military.

So if the DPRK really did intend to use enriched uranium to make nukes, it is still all America’s fault, because of the slow pace of “Washington” (e.g. Republican-controlled Congress). I am actually somewhat sympathetic to this view. Too often in the U.S. the perception is that the U.S. kept its end of the bargain and the DPRK didn’t. In actuality, both sides prevaricated, hedged and dodged. The American team figured the DPRK didn’t have long to last (Kim Il Sung had just died, remember) and so to promise LWRs was acceptable because they would end up being finished and run by a ROK-dominated unified Korea. And Republican lawmakers did slow up fuel shipments and continually complain about the Agreed Framework. But, when confronted with American intransigence, it seems to me that the DPRK had two choices: it could play nice and try to convince the U.S. of its genuinely good intentions, or it could embark on a course that, if discovered, even the most engagement-friendly of the Clinton Administration couldn’t sanction. The DPRK, apparently, chose the latter course.

The Clinton Administration officials, however, believe that whatever the North planned to do, its enrichment technology could have been shut down if the missile deal had been completed and relations between the US and the DPRK normalised. That was essentially what they told the incoming Bush Administration. By dithering for 18 months, only to use the information in order to confront the North Koreans in October 2002, the Bush people turned a soluble problem into a major crisis, in which neither side had any room to back away. Now the North may have embarked on a nuclear weapons programme far beyond the CIA's 'one or two devices', which would be a catastrophic defeat for American diplomacy; and no one - in Washington, Pyongyang, Beijing or Moscow - really knows what Bush wants from his Korea policy.

That is why, of course, the Clinton Administration never once publicly mentioned the clandestine uranium program (remember that they must have known about it because they “fully briefed Bush and Co on the matter.”). Not announcing the program may have avoided a conflict during Clinton’s time in office but it is foolish to think that the problem would simply have gone away in the jubilation of a missile deal and Clinton was unlikely to have gone ahead and normalized relations with North Korea knowing that the DPRK had a secret uranium program.

As for the contention that “no one really knows what Bush wants from his Korea policy,” I thought that Bolton made it clear: The End of North Korea. The determination of Bush to eliminate the Kim Jong Il regime and his unwillingness to treat Kim Jong Il as if he were simply another world leader is exactly what Cumings et al have pilloried Bush for. In this case, I think they’re right: refusing to acknowledge or deal with North Korea may make the U.S. feel morally consistent but it probably won’t make the regime go away any time soon and, therefore, will do little to relieve the plight of the North Korean people.

I had intended to write more, but it is late and I’m tired. Another installment later, perhaps?


NICKLED AND DIMED TO DEATH (or at least to penury). Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Attracted by the superior coverage of Verizon's wireless network, I signed up for a new cellphone. The $60 package included unlimited night and weekend calling and 800 anytime minutes.

A few days later, a welcome letter congratulated me on my new 700-minute plan. I called customer service. It was supposed to be 800 minutes, yes?

The phone representative explained that what I signed up for was the 700-minute plan, with a 100-minute bonus. The welcome letter didn't reflect the bonus, but I would see it on my monthly statements.

All right, no problem. All I'd lost was the 25 minutes on the phone with Verizon.

Yet when the first statement arrived, Verizon had charged me 25 cents for every minute over 700.

I called the 800 number again; the representative apologetically credited me the 100 minutes. Cost to me: another 25 minutes.

When the same error cropped up on the next month's statement, my wife mentioned that she had gone through precisely the same ritual with MCI long distance a few months earlier. In fact, after reviewing our records, we discovered at least seven cases in the last few years when a service company (including at least three phone companies) overbilled us and didn't correct the mistake until we turned ourselves into human pit bulls.

All right, mistakes happen. But over and over and over again?

There is, of course, a reasonable rebuttal to this conspiracy theory:
"I can't speak for all the cell companies,'' wrote a two-year customer-service veteran at one of the big carriers, "but the idea that we would intentionally overcharge customers is just plain wrong. Any time someone calls an 800 number, the company is charged, staff has to be paid and call centers have to be maintained. Where I work, we try to find ways to prevent customers from calling in. It would not make financial sense to do things that would purposely cause customers to call in."

Less easily denied is the following:
Every few years, economists identify another mutant variation of inflation to keep them awake at night. In the 1980's, it was stagflation. Three years ago, it was deflation. And now, meet the economic specter of the new millennium: stealth inflation.

That's when phone companies and just about anybody else who sends you a bill manages to extract more money from you without actually raising their rates

Phase 1 of this program was the proliferation of miscellaneous fees - for "regulatory assessment," "handling," "restocking," and so on. According to Business Week, newly concocted fees will generate $100 million for hotels this year, $2 billion for banks, $11 billion for credit-card companies - and an average of 20 percent extra on every phone bill.

I have noticed this on my phone and cable bills but usually don't bother to take the time to inquire or contest the increase. What's a few pennies anyway? Of course if millions do what I do, those pennies can add up. Ain't the invisible hand grand?

WASHINGTON DC LOOKS READY TO BAN THE USE OF CELL PHONES WHILE DRIVING. This initially sounds like a reasonable proposal. After all, how many times have we encountered drivers dialing or chatting away on their cell phones and not paying attention to the roads? But upon further reflection, the libertarian in me doesn't like this one bit. Are the DC officials also going to criminalize eating a burger, putting on a fresh coat of lipstick, reading a map, changing the CD in the stereo, or any number of other activities that involve using one's hands while behind the wheel? Why are cell phones so especially dangerous? The details of the current proposal apparently include issuing $100 fines for violators but not adding any points to their driving record. Sounds like a another great way to enhance the revenue of the District without any corresponding increase in public safety. And, if the law passes, don't expect any reasonable interpretation of it on the part of DC's finest. Making a quick call while completely stopped at a traffic light will likely result in the same fine as dialing while driving.

The Sun of the 21st Century, the Eternal Sun, the Guardian Deity of the Planet, the Sun of Socialism, and the Ever-Victorious General.

These are just a few of many titles and phrases used to refer to North Korea's enigmatic leader, Kim Jong-Il.

The North's state-run Korean Central Broadcasting Station says a total of 1,200 titles and phrases have been created and used to refer to Kim. "Prominent leaders from 160 nation across the world have used at least 1,200 tiles to honor our Great General (Kim Jong-Il)," it said in a recent report.
Given the painting that accompanies this piece, I wonder if "Neo" is among the 1,200 titles.

UPDATE: Flying Yangban provides insight into the "true nature" of the Dear Leader/Eternal Sun/looks good in black Neo dude.

Reuters (Hans Greimel, "N.: NORTH KOREA'S EXPERIMENT FAILING," 12/03/03) reported that by dabbling with capitalism, the DPRK is creating a new class of urban poor that is worsening its hunger problem, a top U.N. official said Wednesday. About 1 million urban workers have fallen victim as once centrally controlled industries have to cut costs and jobs amid free-market pressures, said Masood Hyder, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in the DPRK.

. . .

"Those industries, those factories that are no longer capable of standing on their own feet have had to cut back, have had to redeploy staff," he said, with managers under increased pressure to match supply with demand and trim expenses. As a result, more workers are having their pay cut or hours slashed, making it harder to buy food as overall prices see a general increase, Hyder said. "A million people fall into this new category of underemployed beneficiaries, underemployed urban workers who need assistance," he said citing World Food Program estimates.

Who will these new poor blame for their woes? Their company managers? Kim Jong Il? The South Koreans? The Japanese? Americans?

The Guardian (Jonathan Watts ("HOW NORTH KOREA IS EMBRACING CAPITALISM," 12/03/03) wrote an analytic piece that read: There is a capitalist pig in Ri Dok-sun's garden. There are also two capitalist dogs and a brood of capitalist chicks. But even though Ms Ri, a 72-year-old DPRK, lives in the world's last Orwellian state, this is no animal farm. The beasts are the product of the growing free market pressure on a government that claims to be the last truly socialist country on earth. Although Ms Ri and her family live in Chonsan - a model cooperative farm - the bacon from their pig will be sold on the open market. The dog is there to guard their private property. And their chicks - kept in a box in the cosy, brightly decorated living room - are being raised for individual gain rather than the good of the collective. It is a form of private enterprise - one of the innumerable microfarms that have sprung up in gardens, and even on balconies, particularly since the late 1990s. Initially, they were just for survival, a source of food in a country that has been devastated by famine in the past decade. But increasingly, they are also a means of pursuing profit as the government ventures further into capitalist waters. Although
its military is locked in a nuclear standoff with the US, the world's last cold war holdout has cautiously pursued economic reforms that are already making an impact in the countryside and on the streets of Pyongyang. Over the past year, far more cars have appeared on the formerly deserted roads - even the occasional six-vehicle tailback. Building sites dot the city, a new culture museum is under construction and the skyline has a new feature: more than a dozen giant cranes.

... Aid workers believe the market liberalization may have worsened the situation for those stuck in run-down industrial towns where wages are said to be as low as pounds 1 a month. "We're seeing a growing disparity of income and access to food," said Rick Corsino, head of the WFP's operation in North Korea. "Some people are now having to spend all of their income on food and that's for a diet that it totally inadequate." The full social implications of the reforms are still to be seen. Several Pyongyang watchers said they were amazed at the transformation in the past year and concerned about the implications.
"The extremes of poverty and wealth are growing as market relations increasingly define the economy," said Hazel Smith of the United Nations University in Tokyo. "Now there is no socialist economy, but also no rule of law for the market. That is the basis of corruption."

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

WAL-MART VS. THE TEAMSTERS. Heard an interesting story on "To the Point" a day or two ago. Wal-Mart, the business behemoth that has single-handedly accounted for huge increases in productivity in the U.S., is moving into California. The fact that the expansion plan includes introducing Super Wal-Mart stores has threatened the viability of local supermarket chains such as Safeway and Krogers. And with good reason: Super Wal-Mart's grocery prices are anything from 15-35% cheaper than its competitors. The reason for the discrepancy? Wal-Mart's relentless pursuit of the cheapest prices from its suppliers and its consistent efforts to keep the wages and benefits of its own employees as low as possible. Contrast this lean and mean business model with the union-dominated local grocery chains and it is clear that there will be no contest between the two. The unionized grocery workers have gone on strike, in part because of concerns that their employers will cut wages in order to try to compete with Wal-Mart. Unions, spearheaded by the Teamsters, have also tried to stop the construction of Super Wal-Marts in California. "To the Point's' Warren Olney interviewed someone who writes for Barron's who made the argument that even if Super Wal-Mart brought about the loss of every grocery job in the region and even if every worker were forced to work at a Super Wal-Mart (taking a pay cut from $19 @ hour to $9 @ hour), the net savings to the people of the region (think of every family saving $10 @ week on their grocery bills, a not improbable possibility) would far outweigh the wages lost in the transition. Olney then interviewed the head of the local Teamster's union who proclambast lambaste Wal-Mart for mistreating its employees and essentially ruining the world. When he criticized Wal-Mart for selling shoddy goods, Olney noted that an extensive LA Times series on Wal-Mart points to the conclusion that Wal-Mart has used its clout to press for both low prices and reasonable quality, but it was in one ear and out the other of the Teamsters' rep. Olney then asked him whether his union members shop at Wal-Mart. The answer? "Of course." Union leadership has tried to educate their members about feeding the hand that bites you but to little or no avail. I feel for unions. They played an invaluable role in the fight for better working conditions and wages for large numbers of workers. They did so in the face of determined and often brutal and violent opposition. But this is a fight they're going to lose. And as long as Wal-Mart continues to provide reasonable quality at significantly lower prices, Wal-Mart is going to win nearly everywhere it goes.

RUSH IN RIO. While visiting relatives over Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to watch the Armchair Rocket Scientist’s (who now is, apparently "learning to fly") new acquisition: Rush’s Live in Rio. Our wives shook their heads in bemusement as we watched 60,000 Brazilians rowdily rocking to the sounds of Geddy, Neil, and Alex, the (un?)holy trinity of Canadian rock. And they knew every word of every song (even songs that don’t have words), every guitar lick, every drum beat. A fascinating phenomenon on any number of levels. How and why did so many denizens of Rio become so enchanted with a Canadian rock band who, in my estimation, have left their best years long behind them (best Rush albums: Power Windows and Moving Pictures)? The performers have become either more craggy or plump with age. And, with the notable exception of Neil Peart’s dazzling drum solos, the concert performance is usually no different from the studio tracks (but minus some of the synthesized sounds and the skilled mixing). Still, there was something infectious in the energy of the audience and their rapt enjoyment of everything from “The Spirit of Radio” and “Tom Sawyer” to the latest tunes from Vapor Trails. Globalization at its finest.

The puritan in me wants to be critical of the whole rock concert phenomenon. Millions of dollars paid for the opportunity to jostle with a massive crowd and have one’s eardrums pushed to the limit. Idolization of people who are certainly accomplished musicians (especially Peart’s drumming and Lee’s bass-playing; Leifson’s guitar has always been, in my estimation, the weakest link in the band) and occasionally spout deep thoughts in songs like “Free Will” or “Ghost of a Chance.” But what if the audience devoted the same amount of money, time, and energy to combating hunger or poverty? Wouldn’t that be better? In a perfect world, I suppose so. But in our imperfect world, I can think of a lot of worse things that people can do than spend an evening playing air guitar with thousands of other like-minded fans.

AFRICAN E-MAIL SCAM UPDATE. Some time ago, I posted on my correspondence with one "Sandra Kobe" about the possibility of acquiring riches through helping out victims of homicidal deer in Liberia (not exactly). Well, at least I'm not alone. One reader e-mails:
My brother got the same email from Sandra. We even went as far as sending an email to the bank where supposedly the money was being held. I checked my email this a.m. and actually got a response from the director. I must really be naive because I actually thought this was legit and my ship had finally docked. Oh well, nothing ventured nothing gained, right?
Right indeed.



"Respectable women in Europe and the U.S. never put on their makeup in public places. It is not only embarrassing but also they may be regarded as indecent."

Ms. Maria Kozuki "who teaches a course on international manners and protocol at various cultural centers around Japan" obviously has never driven I-95 during a rush hour crawl. (link here; scroll down to December 2)

EVEN IF THIS DIDN'T ACTUALLY HAPPEN (and there is no indication that it didn't), IT SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED!

Monday, December 01, 2003

HOLIDAY GIFTS FOR THE KIDS. The terrorist in the family will be sure to be delighted by receiving this lovely set. But before we get too caught up in righteous indignation, consider just who this figure is supposed to be fighting and killing? Who do these guys shoot at? My point is not to make a case for absolute equivalence between terrorism and American military action. Such equivalence is morally bankrupt and illogical to boot. My point is more along the lines of how the presence of such toys are perceived by different societies. We look at the Osama and WTC figures and ask "how can the Palestinians be so callous and indifferent to our suffering?" True enough. But how do Palestinians (or other denizens of the Middle East) view American action figures or games that glorify the American killing of Middle Easterners (no matter how justified and necessary such killing might be from our perspective)?

Of course, if we want, we can stay safely domestic. Is Grand Theft Auto any less repugnant than the glorification of the destruction on 9/11? Discuss among yourselves.

WELCOME TO THE INFORMATION AGE. The ROK is well-known and well-praised for being a tech-savvy place. More broadband connections per capita than any other place on earth. Cell phones, pagers and all sorts of PC paraphernalia are ubiquitous. And what is the point of all this technology? So someone can spend the time to create something like this. (thanks to Seeing Eye Blog for the link).

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