Saturday, January 10, 2004

SEPARATED AT BIRTH? Glenn Reynolds notes an astonishing similarity between Jon Belushi and Wesley Clark.

WELFARE AS WE KNOW IT? I was shopping at Food Lion the other day (not by choice, Food Lion just happens to be the closet grocery store to our home) and was in line behind a girl who was probably in her early 20's. She was purchasing some groceries that included a few staples--butter, milk, bread--and a few items--soda, chips, ice cream--that may or may not have been intended for use in a party. Why my deduction about the party? Because she was talking to someone on a sleek, tiny cell-phone about said get-together and whether she should pick up a video to bring to it etc. I was a somewhat jarred when I saw her pay for the food with food stamps. This elicited two very different responses from me. One was of the "so what?" type. After all, do I really wish to consign anyone who receives welfare benefits from the government to permanent non-partying status as long as they receive said benefits? Should welfare recipients never be allowed to by chips or Coca Cola? I don't really think that they should be continually working three jobs or getting education or training without any break do I? No, I suppose I don't. But the second reaction to this scene was centered more on the cell phone than on the junk food video fest to come. In short, we have not had a cell phone until a few months ago. And then it was only because the prospect of both my wife and I commuting up and down I-95 with no way of communicating in the event of emergency that finally prodded us to get the cheapest phones available using pre-paid minutes that we only use in case of emergency. And here was this girl chatting away on one of those newfangled phones that take pictures, play video games, and probably balances your checkbook to boot. And she was able to buy it with my money. Of course I may have misread the whole situation. She may have been using the food stamps to buy food not for herself but for a shut-in widow, something she has selflessly done for the last five years. She may have borrowed the cellphone. But I couldn't help but feel some resentment at the whole scene.

Am I being petty and judgmental? Probably. Should recipients of welfare be allowed to receive benefits only if they demonstrate monastic frugality and asceticism, not to mention a proper attitude of gratitude? Probably not. Am I a recipient of government aid (student loans, mortgage tax deduction)? Yes. But do I, nevertheless, have any right to righteous indignation? Your comments are most appreciated.

"WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO DO THAT?" My nine-year-old daughter was looking through my bookshelves the other day when she came across Pox Americana, a very interesting book on smallpox in colonial America written by my former colleague Elizabeth Fenn. After leafing through the book and gazing with rapt fascination at some of the rather gruesome depictions of the disease, my daughter proceeded to pepper me with questions about smallpox. How does one get the disease? Is it fatal? Why does it do that to people? And on and on. I reassured her that smallpox is one of the few diseases that have been entirely eradicated from the earth, a triumph of modern medicine, public health, and international cooperation. "And yet . . ." I had to note that it was still possible that smallpox could return because various nations have kept and developed the virus and someone might get a hold of it at release it into the world. That's when she asked me the question that is the title of this post:
"Why would anyone want to do that?"
Why indeed? Why is it that when one nation or group develops a weapon that others feel compelled to develop their own versions of that same type of weapon? I am confident that we humans will be perfectly capable of killing each other in all sorts of ways without having to resort to smallpox, VX, sarin, or landmines. Why does the U.S. keep stockpiles of chemical and biological agents? Wouldn't be morally superior (and probably just as effective) to clearly state that those who use CBW against the U.S. or its allies will be subject to swift and effective retaliation using America's impressive arsenal of conventional weapons? Is there really any need to respond to smallpox with smallpox? Sarin with Sarin? I ask this question primarily from a moral standpoint but I think there is a strong tactical component to it as well.

QUIBBLES OVER ROCKS. The Dokdo/Takeshima controversy appears to be heating up again. This time postage stamps are central to the dispute. The Marmot has the goods. I remember several conversations with South Korean college students in the early 90's when literally the second question I was asked (after the obligatory, "what are you doing in Korea?") was "what do you think of Dokdo?" At that point, it was the fact that Microsoft's Encarta Map listed the small spit of rock as Takeshima instead of Dokdo that had angered many South Koreans (the 2003 version of Encarta skirts the controversy by opting for neither Dokdo nor Takeshima but rather "Liancourt Rocks (disputed)"; these disputed rocks are in the middle of the, according to Encarta, "Sea of Japan (East Sea)). I usually escaped the controversy by repeating a few lines of what was then a popular song in South Korea:
America has Hawaii
Japan has Tsushima
Dokdo is our land ["uri dang"]
Of course this song blithely glides over the fact that Hawaii was a colonial possession and Tsushima was at least semi-independent for quite some time before being fully integrated into Japan proper. But who was I to quibble when matters of great national import and pride were at stake.

DRONING ON AT THE AHA. The annual meeting of the American Historical association is being held in Washington DC this week-end. Despite its proximity, I am not attending because 1) I'm too busy getting ready for classes that start next week; 2) The AHA seldom has many Asia-related panels; and 3) Academic conferences are usually pretty boring affairs. An eye-witness to this year's festivities bears out #3 as follows:
Some 600 historians listened to the talk. McPherson read his remarks, but succeeded in striking a lively stage personality, to the relief, no doubt, of the audience. The same could not be said for many other speakers during the day, who seemed never to have considered the welfare of the audience as they droned on and on in a monotone voice, apparently determined not to make any concession to their listeners' comfort. That most audience members apparently managed to remain attentive is probably true, but what must these professors' undergraduates think when confronted with such performances in the classroom? One can only imagine that they cannot be terribly impressed.
I couldn't agree more. Our job as academics is, ostensibly, to communicate to other people. I would add that we should be able and willing to communicate to both specialists and interested non-specialists. And yet virtually every academic conference I have attended has been populated by far more presenters who clearly have given little if any thought to actually presenting their findings and arguments (as opposed to merely reading them) than good communicators. It is scary and more than a bit embarrassing.

The Associated Press ("N. KOREA HINTS IT WON'T RENOUNCE WEAPONS," Seoul, 01/09/04) reported that the DPRK said Friday that it would be foolish for the US to expect it to follow the example of "some Middle East countries," an apparent reference to Libya's decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction. The DPRK has been under international pressure to give up its nuclear weapons programs. But the communist regime is digging in with its hardline rhetoric, heralding tough negotiations. On Friday, a DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesman hinted that the recent decisions by Libya and Iran to allow intrusive inspections of their suspected weapons programs would not affect its strategy. "The US is hyping recent developments in some Middle East countries, the cases orchestrated by itself," the spokesman said, without citing Libya and Iran by name. "It is seized with hallucination that the same would happen on the Korean Peninsula and some countries echo this 'hope' and 'expect' some change." In comments carried by the DPRK's official KCNA news agency, he said the DPRK "has never been influenced by others and this will not happen in the future." "To expect any 'change' from the DPRK stand is as foolish as expecting a shower from clear sky," the spokesman said.

Now, contrast the above DPRK statements with a recent statement made by the ROK Ministry of Unification:
Joongang Ilbo (Arirang TV, "UNIFICATION MINISTRY: U.S. DETECTS CHANGE IN N KOREA'S ATTITUDE ON NUCLEAR ISSUE", 01/09/04 reported that Seoul's top official for inter-Korean affairs said that Pyeongyang's latest offer to freeze its nuclear program is a sure sign that DPRK is willing to engage in talks to end the drawn out nuclear standoff. In a weekly press briefing Thursday, Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun also said that Washington may have felt a change in stance by Pyeongyang that it is prepared to return to the dialogue table for detailed negotiations. He explained the reason why the Bush administration welcomed DPRK's proposal was because Washington has sensed a shift in Pyeongyang's attitude. As for cross-border exchanges, Minister Jeong said Seoul will try to keep the ball rolling and further stimulate inter-Korean projects this year.
Will the real North Korea please stand up? Probably not.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

ARE PRIVATE DELEGATIONS REALLY PRIVATE? Fred Kaplan makes an interesting observation concerning how the North Koreans may view the latest private delegation that is slated to visit Yongbyon.
However, private delegations sometimes hold a special status in the eyes of North Koreans, and this one seems very intriguing. It may be that the North Koreans view these private groups—especially when they involve former high-level Western officials—as de facto official emissaries that pretend to be "private" for face-saving purposes. (It may be difficult for North Koreans, brought up in a totalitarian system, to discern a genuine distinction between private and public—and perhaps impossible for them to conceive that an ex-official might travel to a hostile country for some truly independent purpose.)
Remember that the 1994 Agreed Framework was essentially negotiated by Jimmy Carter who traveled to North Korea as a private citizen. My discussions with folks around town who have had direct experience with talking with North Korean officials over the years leads me to conclude that the DPRK's awareness of the complexity of the American political process and of the concept that various actors in the U.S. polity are essentially independent is shallow at best. There is, then, a real possibility that the DPRK will see its reception and treatment of visiting delegations like the one that will visit Yongbyon as a good-faith effort to reach a negotiated settlement while the Bush administration will downplay or ignore the efforts of these private groups because they are merely private groups.

at a meeting in Seoul between Chinese, South Korean and Japanese officials on the North Korean crisis, one of the most senior Chinese diplomats dealing with the issue declared China did not believe North Korea had a highly enriched uranium program, according to U.S. officials who have been informed about the meeting by the Japanese.

At the meeting, the Chinese official, Fu Ying, and her Japanese counterpart, Mitoji Yabunaka, were discussing a possible freeze of North Korea's nuclear programs when Yabunaka noted it would be necessary to freeze both Yongbyon and the highly enriched uranium program.

Fu responded that North Korea has denied having an enrichment program, and that China also did not believe that it had one. She added that the U.S. government briefing provided to China had not been sufficient to convince China that North Korea had such a program.
So, we move closer and closer to going back to square one. After Iraq and its apparent lack of WMDs (I saw on the news last night that the latest consensus appears to be that Iraq had pieces of paper describing what its WMD program might look like if were ever developed), it is entirely reasonable to be more the a bit skeptical concerning U.S. intelligence claims of WMD programs in other countries. Will the Bush team show their hand and clearly demonstrate to the world that they do have strong evidence supporting its claims that the DPRK has an HEU program? Or does it lack such evidence but is too committed to a hawkish approach to North Korea to admit it?

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER? THOUGHTS ON THE QING EMPIRE AND CHOSON KOREA. Some time ago, Flying Yangban posted some interesting observations concerning relations between China and Korea in the late 19th century. These observations elicited some interesting comments and earned some notice from the Marmot and probably elsewhere.

Since this was the topic of my Ph.D. dissertation and I presently in what is hoped to be the final stages of literally writing a book (“the” book?) about the subject, I thought I’d throw in my two bits on this topic.

Ever since the establishment of the Chosôn Dynasty (1392-1910), Chosôn Korea and the ruling power in China adhered to a system of relations that was known as a “serving the great” (sadae in Korean or shida in modern Mandarin Chinese). This system was based on two main principles.

First was the mutual acceptance of a hierarchical relationship in which China (or more properly, the Ming and Qing Empires) was clearly superior. This relationship was usually articulated in Confucian familial terms (father to son or elder brother to younger brother) and was expressed by annual Korean tribute missions to China, the occasional visit of a Chinese envoy to Korea (usually to grant investiture to a new Korean king), and the Korean willingness to adopt the Chinese imperial calendar (at least in its correspondence with China). When in Beijing, Korean envoys would present tribute to the Son of Heaven, receive gifts in return and make a bundle trading on the side. When Chinese envoys visited Korea, they would be met by the Korean king at the “Welcoming Imperial Grace Gate” (Yongûnmun) where the king would prostrate himself on the ground while the envoy read the message from the Chinese emperor.

The second principle was distance and non-interference. Aside from the above-mentioned ritual expressions of inequality and hierarchy, the Chinese and Koreans kept each other at arms length. Other forms of interaction—trade, travel, even letter writing—were severely restricted if not prohibited outright. Neither the Ming nor the Qing directly interfered in Korean domestic affairs. The only exception to this rule was in times of emergency, such as when Hideyoshi invaded Korea in the 1590s. At that time, Korea’s Ming suzerain sent troops to help protect its vassal and heavily meddled in affairs of the court. But once the crisis was over, the Chinese armies went home and things returned to normal.

This system worked very well for both sides but was rather confusing to Westerners who couldn’t make sense of declarations such as that made by the Qing Zongli yamen that “It is known by all nations of the world that Korea is a dependent state of China. It is also known by all that she is an autonomous country.” Westerners, with their Westphalian assumptions about nation-states and sovereignty consistently insisted that this state of affairs was unacceptable: Korea had to either be a Chinese dependency or it had to be independent; it couldn’t be both (never mind that it had been both for the last four centuries).

The last three decades of the 19th century saw considerable debate and contention over this issue. The Qing Empire made things even more confusing by continuing to insist on traditional nomenclature and rituals while at the same time embarking a new course of imperialistic intervention in Korea, thus abandoning the principle of non-interference. The Qing Empire sent gunboats to Korean ports; sent troops to occupy Seoul (from 1882 to 1885); negotiated on Korea’s behalf the first treaties between the Chosôn Kingdom and the U.S., Britain, and France; signed its own treaties with Chosôn Korea that guaranteed extraterritoriality for Qing subjects in Korea, the right to establish and administer Chinese concessions in Korean treaty ports, control over Korean tariffs, and a host of other imperialistic prerogatives. Qing officials such as Chen Shutang and Yuan Shikai meddled in Korean domestic politics and finances. Qing officials also set up and managed Korea’s first overland telegraph lines and maritime customs service.

In short, the Qing Empire imposed on Chosôn Korea the same type of “informal empire” that it so resented being imposed on Qing China itself by the West. The PRC’s present-day claims to exceptionalism in the area of imperialism are, therefore, a bit suspect to say the least.

I have about 399 more pages of things to say but this will do for now.

DON'T BET ON IT. PoliBlog takes me to task for my observation on handicapping the presidential race:
I would generally agree with this analysis with the caveat that anyone who assumes they can accurately handicap the big race in November needs to get a crash course in the dangers of assuming anything. If Bush the elder could lose the election when he had 90+ percentage approval ratings in January, Bush the younger certainly shouldn't feel secure with his 51% in January.

The reply?
In regards to Bush I v. Bush II: Poppy's approval rating in January of 1992 was 46% the high 80s were in early 1991. Bush the Elder did have a 50% rating in December, but the trend going into the election was downward, unlike Bush the Younger. Plus, the economy was in a downward trend as well. Hence, the Elder and the Younger entered their re-election bids in rather significantly different circumstances. I could site other examples, but I will leave it at that.
This is, of course, absolutely correct and I, therefore, stand corrected. It is a good thing I don't bet on elections, or horse races, or sports contests or . . .

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

The answer, I'm afraid, is the factor that dare not speak its name. It's the factor that no one talks about. The pollsters don't ask it, the media don't report it, the voters don't discuss it.

I, however, will blare out its name so that at last people can address the issue and perhaps adopt strategies to overcome it.

It's the "Stupid factor," the S factor: Some people -- sometimes through no fault of their own -- are just not very bright.

It's not merely that some people are insufficiently intelligent to grasp the nuances of foreign policy, of constitutional law, of macroeconomics or of the variegated interplay of humans and the environment. These aren't the people I'm referring to. The people I'm referring to cannot understand the phenomenon of cause and effect. They're perplexed by issues comprising more than two sides. They don't have the wherewithal to expand the sources of their information. And above all -- far above all -- they don't think.
Let's assume for a moment that Mr. Starkman is correct in his assertion. Furthermore, just for the sake of argument, let's assume that Mr. Starkman's unspoken assertion that those who don't support Bush aren't stupid is also valid. How does he propose to win these stupid folks over to the cause of correctness and justice? The direct frontal assault--"You're stupid, so you should listen to me--doesn't seem likely to change many minds of the mentally challenged. Starkman's "modest suggestions" don't seem much more feasible:
an intelligence test to earn the right to vote; a three-significantly-stupid-behaviors-and-you're-out law; fines for politicians who pander to the lowest common denominator and deportation of media representatives who perpetuate such actions.

Upon re-reading this piece, I wonder whether this isn't merely a feeble attempt at satire a la Swift's "Modest Proposal." I can only hope so. Then again, I'm probably too stupid to figure it out.

Monday, January 05, 2004

The Associated Press (Soo-Jong Lee, "N. KOREA URGES PEACEFUL NUKE RESOLUTION," Seoul, 12/31/03) reported that the DPRK issued a New Year's message reiterating a willingness to resolve a nuclear standoff, but warning that would react with strength to what it called a US hard-line policy. The message was issued in the form of a joint editorial by the country's three major newspapers representing its communist party, military and youth militia force. "Consistent is our principled stand to seek a negotiated peaceful solution to the nuclear issue between (the DPRK) and the US," said the editorial carried on the country's foreign news outlet, KCNA.
This all sounds well and good, but here's the rub:
"But we will always react with the toughest policy to the US hard-line policy of totally denying and threatening the dignified idea and system of our style," it said.
Does "system of our own style" mean anything more than a DPRK ruled by the Kim Dynasty? To some, it probably does--Chuch'e, anti-Japanese sentiment, concerns about the seductive and corrupting fruits of capitalism--but would Kim Jong Il willingly step down if it meant safeguarding these other elements of "our own style" for the foreseeable future? Not a chance!

Agence France-Presse ("KIM JONG-IL ENDING A YEAR IN THE DARK," Tokyo, 12/29/03) reported that Radiopress, a Tokyo news agency which monitors North Korean affairs, has reported that official media in the DPRK had carried 86 items related to Kim's public activities from January 1 to December 25. The number was down from 117 for the same period last year. For 49 days in February, March and April, Kim was absent from official media at the height of the US-led war on Iraq. It was his longest absence from media exposure since he became head of the Workers Party in 1997. Although the number of reports on his public appearances decreased, his military-related activities rose by 24 to 56, accounting for 65 percent of the total, underlining his so-called "military-first" politics, Radiopress said. On December 24, the Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim inspected army units "almost every day and took good care of servicemen's life," leaving him and his soldiers in "perfect harmony."
What does all of this mean? Absolutely nothing!

CHECK OUT THE "TOAST-O-METER" on the Democratic Presidential hopefuls. I would generally agree with this analysis with the caveat that anyone who assumes they can accurately handicap the big race in November needs to get a crash course in the dangers of assuming anything. If Bush the elder could lose the election when he had 90+ percentage approval ratings in January, Bush the younger certainly shouldn't feel secure with his 51% in January.

BONUS PRIZES! Next time you walk past the "stuffed animal game machine" at your local Piggly Wiggly, stop and make sure there's not a seven-year-old boy inside.

The other big December surprise is another daring, hush-hush-secret holiday morale-building head-of-state visit, this one by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who secretly travels to Washington, D.C., where he holds a reception for occupying North Korean troops. The Department of Homeland Security, asked how Kim was able to enter the country undetected, speculates that ``he must have removed his shoes.''

UPDATE: and then there's this from November:
In other political news, Democratic front-runner Howard Dean creates a stir when he says he wants to be the candidate of ''guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.'' After harsh criticism from his 2,037 opponents, Dean clarifies his position, explaining that he meant ''guys using their pickup trucks to take Confederate flags to the dump to burn them because Confederate flags are bad.'' This prompts his opponents to charge that burning flags could be environmentally harmful. In the end, the only thing everybody can agree on is that there should be some kind of expensive program for senior citizens who have Confederate flags.

MEET THE SPAM KING Hint: you probably won't like him.

HOWARD DEAN FINDS RELIGION (but can't seem to find the difference between the Old and New Testament).
"If you know much about the Bible -- which I do -- to see and be in the place where Christ was and understand the intimate history of what was going on 2000 years ago is an exceptional experience," he said.

Asked to name his favorite book in the New Testament, Dean cited Job -- which is in the Old Testament -- because "it's such an allegory." More than an hour later, he came back to correct himself, telling reporters he had misspoken.

BCS BOWL SYSTEM: "dirty as sin" Why?
To start with, nearly half of the NCAA football schools, 53 of the 117 Division I-A members, were locked out of receiving a Sugar Bowl invite because they aren't members of the racket called the Bowl Championship Series.
And then, there's this:
The BCS revenue from the 2002-03 season was $114 million -- and more than $109 million of that went solely to the BCS colleges.
The solution?
A Division I-A playoff is an absolutely viable solution. It works perfectly well for the other three divisions of college football, the NCAA's Division I-AA, Division II and Division III, which have operated playoff systems for years without ruining their academic integrity. They play the first round at the end of November, and the championship before Christmas. Many of those schools have better grad rates than the major football universities. I haven't noticed that a playoff has hurt Colgate.

Actually the real solution is to return to the days of no athletic scholarships in which a university's team was actually representative of the student population rather than representative of the best athletic talent that the university can exploit. But that isn't a realistic solution. So, bring on a playoff!

ROK MINISTRY OF UNIFICATION: "We need France and Germany to help us solve the North Korean Nuclear Crisis." OK, Minister Yoon didn't exactly say that, but just what did he mean when he made the following observation?
the nation's diplomacy should put more emphasis on countries other than the four major powers around the Korean peninsula--the United States, China, Japan and Russia, adding that it is time for South Korea to pursue what he called "global diplomacy" as the world's 12th-largest economy.
Which countries did he have in mind? Iceland? Laos?

NEW MUSIC. Am listening to a CD, Searchlight, recorded by a former student of mine, known on the disc as woongsae. Have only listened to the first couple of tracks so far but it has a nice David Byrne feel to it. He has had some interesting experiences trying to make it in the South Korean music scene (journal here). Links to buy the disc don't seem to be up yet. Might be worth checking back in a few days/weeks.

HIATUS OVER. It has been a blissful vacation. Away from work. Away from the world (for the most part). Even when I thought to get on the computer and see what is going on in the world, I had to compete with the wife and kids; not surprisingly, I usually lost. Not that I cared all that much. There was always football to watch, hours of Lord of the Rings DVDs to peruse, books to read, basketball to play, and a nasty bout of the flu to fight.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?