Thursday, September 02, 2004

"Everything you wanted to know about blogging but were afraid to ask "

is the title of an interesting and useful post at a new-to-me blog, Simon World. Full disclosure: Simon promises more links in his extensive "Asia by Blog" series if one trackbacks to his site. So now I guess I guess I have to figure out what a trackback is.


It must be in the air. Days after I post about a series of book reviews in the Atlantic Monthly, I get an unsolicited review of another book, Comrades and Strangers: Behind the Closed Doors of North Korea, written by Michael Harrold. According to a former graduate student, it ain't pretty:
I am on page 300 and considering breaking my rule of always finishing a book. Even under the somewhat elastic standards of travel diaries, the book is quite bad.
Well, not having read the book myself, I suppose I should reserve judgment. On the other hand, given all the other books that I should be reading (and reviewing) I probably won't get to Comrades and Strangers any time soon. Are there any North Korea-related books out there that people have read and actually liked?

URANIUM ENRICHMENT PROGRAM DISCOVERED South Korea! Details are still a bit sketchy, particularly concerning the knowledge and culpability of the current ROK administration and its immediate predecessor. But suffice it to say that whatever the case, this does not bode well for multilateral attempts to keep North Korea inside the non-proliferation box, slow Iran's drive for nuclear weapons etc. etc. In short, this could be big-time, scary stuff.


So writes this Korea Herald story. A snippet:
A survey by Hanawon, a training establishment for North Korean defectors affiliated with the Ministry of Unification, said about 40 percent of defectors are unemployed.

The survey, which targeted 206 North Korean refugees now in the South, said 40.8 percent were jobless and only about 15 percent had stable work. Of the rest, 27.5 percent had temporary jobs, 11.6 percent part-time work and just over 5 percent were involved in small business ventures.

Some 78 percent of defectors earned less than one million won per month and 14.5 percent made no money and depended entirely on governmental support.

One troubling statistic was that more North Korean defectors are turning to crime because they cannot adapt to South Korean society and earn a proper living.

This doesn't suprprise me (not least because Richard Grinker wrote about this years ago). But it does illustrate the stark reality that for all the rhetoric about the shared history, blood, and culture of uri nara, uri minjok, actually getting along in a unified Korea will present some serious and significant challenges.


If you are at all interested in the South Korean economy (or in contemporary Korean affairs more generally), you really should be looking at this every month. Some highlights of this edition:

China's share of trade with both the ROK and the U.S. continues to grow:
Even though trade between the United States and Korea increased in the first six months of 2004, China is grabbing an increasing share of trade from each country. China overtook the United States as Korea’s number one trading partner in the first half of 2004, accounting for $36.99 billion or 16 percent of two-way
trade, compared to the $34.22 billion or 14.8 percent of twoway trade with the United States. China’s share of U.S. trade has also grown. In January–June, China’s share of U.S. trade increased to 9.4 percent from 8.3 percent during the same period in 2003, with U.S. exports up 36.7 percent and imports rising 28.8 percent.

But all is not well with Korean investors in China

Many Korean businesses invested in China in expectation of high returns, but the record shows that they often could not even collect the amount they had invested.

And the U.S. continues to worry about "nagging issues"
In January, USTR elevated Korea to the Priority Watch List (PWL) as a result of its Special 301 “out of cycle review” of Korea’s intellectual property rights protection, largely because of piracy of online music and U.S. motion pictures. U.S. companies also continue to complain about Korea’s regulatory environment, labor market rigidity, and the lack of transparency in the Korean government’s rule-making and standards application.

Of course there is absolutely no piracy on online music and movies in the U.S., right? Of course not!

And, there's this summary of recent North Korean harsh rhetoric and actions:
Speculation about the motives for North Korea’s latest outburst centers on two possibilities: North Korea may be trying to increase the price they would expect China to pay to persuade it to attend the next round of six-party talks, or North Korea may have decided to wait for the results of the U.S. election before deciding what approach to take in the ongoing diplomatic efforts to persuade it to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. In other actions, North Korea recalled its Ambassador to Vietnam to protest the Vietnamese role in facilitating the return to South Korea of 460 refugees who had fled North Korea. North Korea also cancelled inter-Korean economic talks.

As always, read the whole thing.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


I am becoming increasingly convinced that for a majority of Americans (a majority of earthlings?) reasoned dialogue is becoming ever more rare. Rather, we preach to our respective choirs and demonize the other side. Still, there are occasional causes for hope that perhaps I am, if not entirely wrong, at least a bit too pessimistic. Here's one. Thank you "young liberal idealist" whoever and wherever you are!


Check out what Heineken is up to now. Mao must be spinning in his grave.


Tyler Cowen of Mariginal Revolution reports on the efforts of a Malaysian woman to break a world record:
A Malaysian woman is trying to reclaim the world record for the longest stay in a room full of scorpions, news reports said Sunday.
Nur Malena Hassan, 27, moved Saturday into a locked glass box where she plans to live for 36 consecutive days with more than 6,000 of the poisonous arachnids in a shopping mall, the Malay-language Mingguan Malaysia newspaper reported.

"And why is she doing it? In her own words, "I want to show that Malaysians are capable of world-class efforts."
Hence, the title of this post.

Monday, August 30, 2004


So whispers Morpheus to two rather famous NYC protestors.

UPDATE: What do protestors do when they're hungry? The answer is obvious.


An interesting piece in September's Atlantic Monthly that reviews some recent works on North Korea and makes a provocative case for Kim Jong Il as ajumma. The author is one Brian Myers, who wrote a book titled Han Sorya and North Korean Literature: The Failure of Socialist Realism in DPRK. He now teaches North Korean studies at Korea University.

Myers takes Bruce Cumings behind the woodshed for his recent North Korea: Another Country

But now we have a new book, in which Cumings likens North Korea to Thomas More's Utopia, and this time the wrongheadedness seems downright willful; it's as if he were so tired of being made to look silly by forces beyond his control that he decided to do the job himself. At one point in North Korea: Another Country (2004) we are even informed that the regime's gulags aren't as bad as they're made out to be, because Kim Jong Il is thoughtful enough to lock up whole families at a time. The mixture of naivete and callousness will remind readers of the Moscow travelogues of the 1930s...

Myers then turns his scalpel on Bradley Martin's Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, a book Myers concludes is "an excellent book, well researched and lucidly written," but this after the devastating opening:
The question of where Europe ends and Asia begins has troubled many people over the years, but here's a rule of thumb: if someone can pose as an expert on the country in question without knowledge of the relevant language, it's part of Asia . . . [this work] belongs squarely in the "a puzzled look crossed the faces of my guide and interpreter" tradition of monoglot scholarship.
I can't speak to Martin's work per se but the general sentiment is all too true.

Then, it is on to Selig Harrison's Korean Endgame. Myers has some praise and more criticism for Harrison. In my mind, one of the most telling criticisms is the following:
When he gets his next update on the hawk-dove struggle from officials in Pyongyang, a city where most foreigners count themselves lucky to learn their tour guide's name, he should perhaps keep in mind that North Korea has always viewed the existence of similar factions in Washington as the manifestation of a ludicrous disunity. No one under Kim Jong Il would describe his government in such terms to a Yankee visitor unless the goal were to extract more concessions from the outside world."

Finally, the apparently-omniscient-on-all-things-North-Korean Myers devotes a paragraph to Michael Breen's Kim Jong Il: North Korea's Dear Leader, (a book which might win the award for most garish cover) which Myers likes because it discusses the Dear Leader's "hedonistic streak as wide as the DMZ" but somewhat dismisses because, apparently, enjoying wine and women is preferable to "sharing a tent with a mountain goat and a well-thumbed Koran."

All of this is backdrop to Myers' real agenda: arguing that North Korea's system is based not on Confucian "Fatherly love" but rather paternal or even motherly love.
Anyone who has seen a crowd of Korean mothers waiting outside an examination hall will have no difficulty recognizing Kim's drab parka and drooping shoulders, or the long-suffering face under the pillow swept perm: this is a mother who has no time to think of herself.
And this is an image that I don't think I wanted in my head. Still, the idea is thought-provoking, and Myers has mother-son KWP propaganda poems to support his contentions. One of his key (and troubling) conclusions:
Whereas Father Stalin set out to instill revolutionary consciousness into the masses (to make them grow up, in other words), North Korea's Mother Regime appeals to the emotions of a systematically infantilized people.
Buy a copy of The Atlantic and read the whole thing. Then, we'll talk.


Reuters ("SOUTH KOREA PLAYS DOWN TALK OF NORTH SUMMIT", 2004-08-27) reported that a DPRK-ROK summit could provide a breakthrough in the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, the ROK's prime minister was quoted as saying on Friday, but the government made clear no such meeting was planned for now. There has been no indication that ROK President Roh Moo-hyun is set to meet DPRK leader Kim Jong-il any time soon, although diplomats say there has been speculation about such a summit, possibly in the Russian Far East.
This is inexplicable to me. North Korea's best chance, perhaps its only chance is to get the ROK firmly on its side and then work from there, trying to peel China and then Japan from making common cause with the U.S. And yet, Kim Jong Il apparently will not even entertain the notion of making a reciprocal visit to Seoul. Short-sighted!


Donga Ilbo ("NORTH KOREA TO REDUCE SCALE OF FOREIGN NGOS ", 2004-08-30) reported that the ITAR-Tass Russian News Agency reported Saturday that the DPRK will reduce the number and scale of foreign NGOs by the end of 2004, which are actively working in Pyongyang as their headquarters. According to the report, the DPRK's Foreign Office is selecting the NGOs to expel from the country, and relatively small-scale NGOs will be the first target of the reduction. It was alleged that the DPRK made such a decision because members of some NGOs are engaged in works other than humanitarian aid.
Perhaps they mean NGOs like this or this. I hope not.


So says the United Nations Environment Program.
"Increasing population growth and the existing mountain terrain along with the occurrence of natural disaster have exerted pressure on the existing natural resources and environment," the report said.

"The conflict between socio-economic progress and a path of truly sustainable development is likely to be further aggravated unless emerging issues can be settled in time."
While much of North Korea is forested, deforestation has progressed in past decades from timber production, increased consumption of firewood and wild fires, the report said.

"The degradation of forest resources in DPR Korea has emerged as the most urgent priority," the report said.
A growing population and scarce arable land had also pushed agricultural production into the hills, taking its toll on the forests, it said.

North Korea has relatively rich water resources, but faces increasing challenges in the supply and quality of water from pollution and large quantities of water used for power generation, the report said.

Growing air pollution was largely from the country's reliance on coal for power and heating and underscored the need for efficiency and better technology, it said.

Hmm ... I wonder if these folks will protest these new findings.


Yonhap ("NORTH KOREA CALLS ON U.S. TO ABANDON NUKES FIRST: N.K. MAGAZINE ", 2004-08-30) reported that giving the US tit-for-tat, the DPRK has called on Washington to first abandon its nuclear weapons in a complete and thorough manner. In its August edition, the DPRK's monthly magazine Kumsugangsan dismissed as "preposterous" the US's logic that only the US can possess nuclear weapons and questioned the US monopoly on such weapons.
You know, they might have something there.

Sunday, August 29, 2004


Newsweek says it, so it must be so. (Thanks to University Diaries for the link).

George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
With a campus next door to the World Bank and down the street from the White House, GW is a poli-sci major's dream. Professors often consult for the government, which gives their classroom perspective a practical edge. The school also encourages internships at government agencies, think tanks and advocacy organizations. And for a study break, students can check out CNN's political-affairs show "Crossfire," which is telecast live from the campus. Another plus: the fixed-tuition plan, which keeps rates flat until graduation. You don't need to be a policy wonk to appreciate that.


track and field competition one night last week, my six-year-old son asked my why most of the runners in the sprint competitions were black.

Any suggestions for an appropriate answer?

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