Friday, February 06, 2004

COOL INTERACTIVE ELECTION MAP HERE. Can Kerry win without winning a single state in the South? No problem. Hours of enjoyment for those obsessed with politics.

Pyongyang, February 5 (KCNA) -- A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea today gave the following answer to the question put by KCNA as regards the U.S. ridiculous smear campaign against the DPRK. These days the United States is busy holding a Congressional hearing from "north Korean defectors," spreading a sheer lie that north Korea tested a chemical weapon on prisoners, the spokesman said, and went on:

The U.S. let loose a string of balderdash against the DPRK over "the issue of drug", "the issue of counterfeit money" and "the issue of north Korean defectors". Not content with this, it is spreading a lie about the "test of chemical weapons on prisoners".

This shows what a base anti-DPRK smear campaign the Bush group is engaged in.

The U.S. seems to have no more material for conducting such a campaign.

It is a trite method of the present U.S. administration to use those defectors for inventing lies and justifying a war of aggression under that pretext. This was clearly evidenced by the U.S. war of aggression against Iraq.

We do not feel any need to argue about this cheap U.S. propaganda, but we can hardly overlook an ulterior aim sought by it.

Now the Bush administration finds itself in a tight corner as it provoked a war against Iraq after deceiving Americans and the world. The Bush group, dismayed at the election campaign turning unfavorable for it, is working hard to get rid of the difficult situation by leading the situation on the Korean peninsula to an extreme pitch of tension under the pretext of the nuclear issue.

Its dirty smear campaign is aimed to invent plausible pretexts for starting another Korean war, raising a hue and cry over the "human rights issue" in addition to the "issue of weapons of mass destruction," and thus not to repeat its setbacks in Iraq.

We are watching every movement of the Bush administration with vigilance.

Some media acting tools for the U.S. smear campaign for cheap publicity are well advised to come to themselves, though belatedly.
That last line is probably aimed at the BBC for committing the crime of interviewing defectors from North Korea.

More interesting to me is a line hidden nearly in the middle of the piece:
The Bush group, dismayed at the election campaign turning unfavorable for it . . .
Do you think there is any chance that the DPRK will give any significant concessions at the approaching six-party talks when it knows that the hard-line Bush administration may be gone by next year? I didn't think so. Time may be on North Korea's side. On the other hand, if Bush wins again all bets are off.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

IRREDENTIST DREAMS. Check out this map of Korea in the year 2040 (link courtesy of the Marmot). Such sentiment percolates among a good number of Koreans today. See for example, the essay written (I presume) by a UC-Berkeley student on "The Big Country" (not the eighties band of the same name). A section:
But there is another historical view of Korean history that flies into the face of the present paradigm--minjoksagwan, or nationalist history. Not only does it disclaim everything the present paradigm claims, but paints an incredibly GRAND view of history--Korea was a mighty and powerful continental power, with its territory stretching from Lake Baykal in southern Siberia to the Yangzi river, its inhabitants being powerful warriors called Dong-yi, founders of the so-called Sinic Civilization, the dominant military AND cultural power in East Asia. I can use all the fancy metaphors I want, but the past history of Korea can be summed up in a few short words: IT WAS A BIG COUNTRY. A BIG COUNTRY: a nation ruled by sons of heaven and emperors instead of kings and vassals, rulers rather than the ruled, builders of civilization rather than receivers and transmitters, mighty warriors instead of meek farmers. This is the kind of historical tradition that can instill pride in a people,

The view of Korea as a small country and a big country are diametrically opposed and diverging. But wherever its origins may be and whatever formation process it had, the consequences in the case of prevalence of one view over another will be drastically different. If the former view prevails, then the people will be pretty much satisfied with what they have now: a middle-of-the-road, run-of-the-mill, semi-democratic/capitalistic NIC; Its greatest hope being to surpass Japan someday. If the later view wins out, then they will stop at nothing to make Korea what it once was, A BIG COUNTRY.

As big as Koguryo may have been at its height? Or a big as the "Purham culture sphere" was thought to have extended: from Paektusan across Asia to Bulgaria? The sky's the limit.

THE OTHER (SANE, HEALTHY) WHITE MEAT. Pork prices in Japan surge 40% due to mad cow and avian flu fears.

"DON'T MISUNDERSTAND THE FIRING OF SOUTH KOREAN FOREIGN MINISTER." So says Brent Choi (see here). Choi, who is a reporter for Joongang Ilbo, has some harsh words for the American media:
Forgive me for my rude remarks but as a reporter in Seoul - familiar as I am with all kinds of weird foreign articles on Korea - I have never seen anything so completely misinterpreted than the lately featured articles of NYT, WSJ and LAT. The Foreign Minister in Korea got sacked and that as far as those articles got it right. As for what to make of it, the incident should be closely viewed through the socio-cultural prism of Korea's own bureaucratic society.
So what is the real story?
Now let's see what really happened back in the Foreign Ministry. It started with Cho Hyun-dong, a director in the North American Affairs bureau under Yoon making an extremely offensive remark against the incumbent president Roh. "Once President Roh and his Our Open Party fail in the April General Election the president could revert back to just taking care of two ministries (Ministry of the Science and Technology and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries)." President Roh enraged at such remarks (and more) went to confirm the rumor and in the process, the media caught on. The president expected Yoon to reprimand the official in question but he did no such thing thus, leading the Blue House to take the matter into its own hand and discharge Yoon instead. The president and the National Security Council deemed it a necessity as a way to uphold the general discipline in the officialdom. The fact that the official who made a personal misstatement also happened to be in charge of U.S.-South Korea relations had nothing to do with actual relations of the two nations.

This interpretation of events, if valid, raises some interesting issues.

First, obviously, is the fact that reporters for our august media institutions failed to get the story right and assumed far more significance to the story's ROK-US relations angle than was justified by the facts. This would not surprise me. I am constantly amazed at how the media pushes a particular angle of a story that conforms to preconceived views and/or preconceived notions of what the audience is interested in rather than actually listen to sources and follow the facts as best they can. How many times have we seen journalists ask political candidates and pundits reporting on a local legislative race ask "what does this election result say about national issue x or y?" Then, when the local candidate or pundit replies that the election wasn't about national issue x or y but rather about local issues and personalities, the journalist blithely ignores it and closes the story with a conclusion about said national issue. I have sometimes heard criticism of Koreans to the effect that they assume that every political story and development is about them (probably even more true in North Korea than in South Korea). This is at best a sweeping over-generalization. However, it is important to recognize that these dynamics work both ways.

Second, I find it interesting that President Roh would fire his foreign minister for not punishing a subordinate who said some clearly intemperate anti-Roh comments. Is this any way to run an administration? Does Roh really want to hear the truth and get the best possible information with which to make decisions of national import or does he want to be surrounded by obsequious sycophants?

Third, firing the foreign minister for failing to defend the honor of the leader is nothing new. Foreign Minister Kim Yun-sik was sacked at least in part because he was present when Qing Resident Yuan Shikai spoke ill of King Kojong. Because Kim failed to contradict Yuan, he was dismissed and banished to the countryside for several years. Plus ca change . . .

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

TOP TEN MODERN DELUSIONS courtesy of Francis Wheen.
1) God is on our side [that's modern?--ed]
2) The Market is rational
3) There is no such thing as "reality"
4) We musn't be "judgmental"
There's more. (thanks to Butterflies and Wheels for the link)

MOAMMAR QADAFFI FOR NOBEL PEACE PRIZE? Amatai Etzioni makes the case.
Deproliferating a country without killing anyone, without firing a shot. Qaddafi should be nominated for a Noble Peace Price; he has done much more for global safety than many others who have received the prize in the past. (Those who will say that his motives were impure should consider the motives of others who have received the prize, including Yasser Arafat.)

We have an odd tendency of showering billions of dollars on countries that threaten us while doing next to nothing for countries who disarm voluntary. Lybia should be awash in appreciation, and not just in fine words. Such recognition would encourage other countries to follow its lead, and it may even encourage Libya to take the next step: improving its dismal human rights record.
I don't know if I'd go so far as to give Qadaffi the Nobel Prize but I do agree that good behavior should be generously rewarded, something that I don't see much under this administration.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Audrey McAvoy, Associated Press (AP), 28 January 2004

Japan's lower house passed a bill Thursday to make it easier to impose economic sanctions on North Korea, a step aimed at pressuring Pyongyang to hand over relatives of Japanese abducted decades ago. Backed by both the ruling and main opposition parties, the legislation passed easily with a majority of lawmakers standing in show of support. There was no official tally of the vote. The bill does not mention North Korea, but lawmakers say it is aimed at the reclusive state.
But Koizumi is quick to stress that there are no plans to actually impose sanctions on North Korea any time soon. Sounds like good cop, bad cop to me.

WALLOWING IN CREDIT CARD DEBT: So says Florence Lowe-Lee of the Korea Economic Institute. Some troubling figures:
Statistics show that credit card use has risen nearly 90% a year since 1998, and the average Korean now owns at least four credit cards.
The total amount of credit card transactions jumped from $53 billion in 1998 to $519 billion in 2002. The household savings rate declined sharply from 23% of disposable annual income in 1998 to less than 10% in 2002, while household debt nearly doubled during the same period. At the same time, the number of delinquent cardholders began to rise?1.6 out of every 10 Koreans have bad credit. Total outstanding credit card debt increased from $11.0 billion at the end of 1999 to $57.5 billion at the end of the third quarter 2003.
It is estimated that more than 4 million consumers will become delinquent early this year. [that's nearly 10% of the ROK's entire population--ed.]

Of course the U.S. isn't all that far behind (can you say home equity line of credit?) but whatever the case, this does not bode well for the future of either nation's economy.

After a five-month tug-of-war with the United States, North Korea has finally agreed starting Feb. 25 in Beijing to rejoin six-party talks on its nuclear weapons threat, North Korean broadcasts said yesterday.

The North's agreement to attend the second round of the nuclear talks with South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia follows a flurry of diplomatic contacts among the countries after their first gathering in Beijing in August.
Will they accomplish anything? Here's what "experts" say:
Experts here said the resumption of the talks indicate meaningful progress in international efforts to resolve the 15-month nuclear dispute but the outcome would depend on the North's willingness to allow international inspection of its nuclear weapons programs and to dismantle them.


Another expert was cautious on the prospect for the talks, saying the outcome hinges on North Korea's attitude.

"For the United States, the bottom line is that North Korea agrees to allow relevant countries to verify its uranium-based nuclear weapons program and freeze its plutonium-based nuclear facilities," said Prof. Kim Sung-han of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.

The ongoing dispute erupted when U.S. officials said the North admitted in October 2002to having a new nuclear program using highly enriched uranium. But the North recently denied this.

"The talks will go smoothly if Pyongyang is ready to reveal the uranium program, but if it continues deny it, the talks will be ruptured," Kim said.
And then there's this useful nugget of information:
DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.

Describing their campaign as a voter revolution, civic groups comprising 273 nationwide organizations yesterday launched their People's Coalition for the 2004 General Elections.
They vowed to oust all scandal-ridden politicians.

"We can expect nothing from the political community's efforts to clean itself," said the coalition in a statement at a news conference held at the Press Center in central Seoul.

"Once again, we declare our bid to stage a no-vote campaign and establish another revolution."
It seems to have worked last time around in 2000:
Hundreds of civic groups mustered their forces to form a citizens' coalition. They drafted a blacklist, campaigned to oust candidates they considered unqualified and eventually helped defeat about 70 percent of those tarred with that brush.
But there's a catch:
But the legality of the campaign is expected to hamper their bids, analysts said, as the current election law bans civic groups from lodging rejection campaigns.
But wait, there's a catch to the catch:
"Announcing names of politicians who displease them at a news conference or posting their views on Internet sites would be tolerable within the legal boundary," said an official with the state-run National Election Commission, who wished not to be identified.

"But outside activities, such as collecting signatures from voters or suspending banners calling for ousting certain candidates, violate the law."
ROK campaign laws seem as arcane as McCain-Feingold (or worse).

In an internal memorandum distributed on Wednesday, the department declared "Courier New 12" - the font and size decreed for US diplomatic documents for years - to be obsolete and unacceptable after February 1.

"In response to many requests and with a view to making our written work easier to read, we are moving to a new standard font: 'Times New Roman 14'," said the memorandum.
I wonder what font the DPRK uses?


Budaechigae posts a section of an account of the 1968 North Korean commando raid on the Blue House Read the whole thing of course; here's a snippet to whet your appetite:
Another factor was deception. The north Koreans believed (and correctly so) that US Soldiers would be easier fooled by the uniforms and would think they were just another ROKA unit training around the US Area.

They crossed undetected through the American sector as planned, and hit the fateful when they encountered two south korean lumberjacks. The Woo brothers became suspicious after talking to the group of 31 "South Korean" soldiers. The commandos made the mistake of bragging about being revolutionaries, and also releasing the brothers, upon the condition they wouldn't tell any one and would return to the commando's location. The Woo brothers went directly to the Paju police and reported the incident.

Several bloggers have linked to or commented on this story about North Koreans conducting experiments on re-education camp subjects in gas chambers. Andrew Sullivan may have been one of the first to link to it but others have noted it here, here, and of course here. The story is filled with horrifying accounts of depraved brutality:
Now, it is claimed, it is also where thousands die each year and where prison guards stamp on the necks of babies born to prisoners to kill them.

Over the past year harrowing first-hand testimonies from North Korean defectors have detailed execution and torture, and now chilling evidence has emerged that the walls of Camp 22 hide an even more evil secret: gas chambers where horrific chemical experiments are conducted on human beings.

Witnesses have described watching entire families being put in glass chambers and gassed. They are left to an agonising death while scientists take notes. The allegations offer the most shocking glimpse so far of Kim Jong-il's North Korean regime.
The Marmot notes that at least one of the documents used for the story appears to be fake. If so, it raises the question, "why tell untrue stories about a place that clearly has so much that is actually documented? For a good accessible example of an account of a North Korean concentration camp, see The Aquariums of Pyongyang. There's more than enough evil to write about without having to make it up.

Goldbrick in Seoul follows up on the "countries I've visited" map with one of the U.S. His map is here. Mine should appear below:

create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide

I apparently don't like corners.

Goldbrick in Seoul also notes a case of SOFA revision but it isn't what you might expect.

The Marmot notes that there are plans to erect a monument to Russian soldiers killed in Chemulpo (Inch'on/Incheon) during the Russo-Japanese War.
The Inch'eon city government, citing historical reasons, initially refused, but was later told be Seoul to be cooperative. In the end, they offered 5 p'yeong of land down by the waterfront to build the monument. One Inch'eon city official said that while he understood the opposition from civic groups and, yes, the Russo-Japanese War was painful piece of history for Koreans, from the dimension of mutual cooperation with Russia, Korea could benefit from building the monument. Besides (and more to the point, I gather), the government had already agreed with the Russian Embassy to do it, he said.
Inch'on already boasts a reconstructed set of steps along the boundary between the Japanese and Chinese concessions of the old treaty port. Why did it choose to remember a time and space when foreigners had extra-territorial privileges in Korea? Because Chinese from across the Yellow Sea paid big bucks for the project (and included a statue of Confucius to boot). It sounds to me as if the same phenomenon is taking place here: some Russians want to give Inch'on money for a monument that no one will pay attention to. Why not take the money? Of course in this day and age in which history wars race across the internet at light speed, nothing is as simple as it seems.

Oranckay links to pictures of the South Korean punk scene.

There's plenty more in the Korea-related blogosphere but that should keep you busy for a while.

Monday, February 02, 2004

WHY DOESN'T WES CLARK BLINK? Wonkette has some ideas. Snippet:
He's hypnotizing us.
· He "has no soul."
· He's brave! "[W]hen facing down terrorists, [he] will not blink." (This would be the Clark campaign's spin.)

SUPERBOWL HALF-TIME SCANDAL. You've all seen or heard about it. Robert Tagorda sums up my opinion rather nicely.
We're only several hours removed from the nipple tease and I'm already infuriated. The planned controversy distracts from the real scandal: Why was a washed-up singer headlining the Halftime Show in the first place? And why was she performing hits from 1989?
Why indeed!

UPDATE: KGB askes a very important question.

THE PERFECT SCORE? Number 2 Pencil doesn't like it. I don't think I'll add it to my Netflix queue any time soon.

DECK OF "DANGEROUS BLOGGERS" TO BE FOUND HERE. The creator of this clearly has certain political leanings, but Dave Barry?

FOOTBALL: THE NEW RELIGION? I made the off-hand comment in one of my classes that scholar of the distant future might look back at 20th and 21st century America and assume that a football-based religion was in operation (look at what people did on their Sunday's, how many gathered to worship at designated shrines, how many more worshipped via tv, how many adopted football symbols in what they wore, what they drove, even what they were buried in).

Now some argue that I wasn't so far from the truth:
The 38th Super Bowl is over and the Carolina Panthers should have followed Justin Timberlake's lead and settled for one extra point. As hard as it might be for someone who marked the occasion by punching a hole in his drywall to admit it, winning is actually a small part of the Super Bowl. The event has moved beyond status as a mere American secular holiday and firmly into pagan festival mode. It is both flexible and finite, able to fit into many lives on many different levels.


So the pagan festival rolls on with its libations, ritual battles, and damsels in distress. It is somehow fitting that a country so young has raided the classics for it own unique expression of a winter festival, an Up Helly Aa celebration without the burning Viking ship.

Like it or not, American civilization is reflected in the Super Bowl, everything always bigger and louder and better than the year before. It is a bizarre, pointless promise that we buy every year because the hope and optimism that is infused in American culture demands it.
Who knew?

UPDATE ON "IMMINENT THREAT" I posted earlier a link to a collection of speeches and references compiled by the Center for American Progress which makes the case that Bush and company did indeed declare Iraq to be an "imminent threat" to the U.S. Turns out that the eagle eyes at Spinsanity has caught the Center in at least one blatant distortion.
A new myth is making its way through the media: that White House press secretary Scott McClellan said "This is about an imminent threat" about the Iraq war during a press briefing last February. This tall tale, first created by the liberal Center for American Progress, has been repeated several times by journalists who failed to check their facts.

As we showed last week, McClellan was actually talking about Iraq potentially posing an "imminent threat" to Turkey if a war started, which would justify invoking the NATO charter and allowing alliance members to help defend Turkey. But analysts at the Center for American Progress inaccurately claimed in their January 29 e-mail newsletter that McClellan made that statement as a reason why "NATO should go along with the Administration's Iraq war." (CAP has yet to correct the record.)
One distortion does not necessarily destroy CAP's entire case, but it does make me a bit more skeptical. Was this just the result of shoddy fact-checking or an arrogant disregard for the audience?

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