Sunday, August 31, 2003

Heppy Birfday.

As a self-appointed spokesman for your many readers, allow me to wish you, Big H, a very Happy Birthday. I hope you have a good day relaxing with family and writing new scatalogical poetry. Happy Birthday ye who has outlived Jesus.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

North Korea (a post for my brother David)

My little brother David wrote to complain that I'm writing too much about North Korea.


ABC News announces that NK is now denying the possibility of further talks:

North Korea angrily dismissed the possibility of further negotiations over its nuclear program on Saturday, one day after the end of landmark six-nation talks where the isolated regime indicated it might be willing to reach a compromise.

"This round of talks was nothing more than empty talks," an unidentified North Korean delegation spokesman told reporters at the airport, reading from a statement as the envoys were leaving Beijing.

"We no longer have interest, or expectations either, for this kind of talks," he said. "We are left with no option."

For the jittery: you have to realize that NK does this shit all the time. The idea is: you'll never know what we're really thinking. NK's position is served by confusion and hesitancy on our part, coupled with the massive threat of an attack against the South. They may reverse their position next week.

Perhaps the best analogy for this whole silly situation is the Mexican standoff. Survival, for NK, means no one pulls the trigger. Heightened tension, which NK must maintain (and, if possible, increase during talks like these), keeps people from pulling away from the standoff and simplifying the dynamic. The situation maintains an equilibrium, albeit a very tense one. Skirmishes, whether they be shots across the DMZ or naval incursions, never erupt into full-scale clashes involving masses of troops, but their frequency is a sign of the tension level.

If survival is NK's goal, and that goal is to be realized through perpetuation of the standoff, then "winning" during negotiations amounts to whatever keeps the status quo; any gains made-- concessions from the US or SK or Japan, for example-- are icing on the cake.

Viewed this way, the US strategy in response needs to involve, in my opinion, some risky behavior on our part-- actions and words that tweak the standoff's stability. US equanimity is in fact a liability in this conflict; NK is counting on us to be our usual boring selves. Bolton's pronouncements must have been deeply discomfiting, along the lines of Uday's and Qusay's belated recognition that the Bush administration is "serious" this time.

Whether or not time is a crucial factor in the near future depends on how the US and its allies (we'll include SK as an "ally" for the moment) view and act on the prospect of appeasing NK. For time to work against NK, we need to be doing all we can to restrict aid, fuel, etc., and this means leaning heavily on China, NK's greatest benefactor-- and South Korea, NK's not-so-occasional sugar daddy. When we promise and then give aid, we simply prolong the problem.

Pulling our troops out of the South might actually provide the distance, physical and emotional, required for a better, clearer dialogue with South Korea, which must come to see the error of its appeasing ways (I sound like a KCNA broadcast, don't I). The South needs to be shaken out of its doe-eyed, incestuous, "one people" attraction for NK, a regime which, if anything, has grown more monstrous over the decades. But as a Korean friend of mine recently affirmed, "We forget quickly," which is what gives us a Hyundai scandal. Appeasement hasn't worked. There's no reason to expect it to work in the future.

Some people have speculated about the usefulness of regime change in Korea. I don't see how a people so indoctrinated in the Kimist ideology can suddenly snap out of their collective delusion in a short amount of time under the seal of a new, non-Kimist (but probably still Stalinist) leadership. Keep in mind that any sudden power vacuum, as was speculated back in 1994 when the Great Leader closed his eyes one final time and entered Sheol, would be filled quickly, and probably by somebody nasty. If Kim the Younger is as paranoid as some claim, then there must be powers in the castle vying for the throne. Regime change or not, the basic situation doesn't-- won't-- change. Well... actually, it might, but we can't place all our bets on that possibility.

The ABC article confirms my suspicions:

In Tokyo, Japan's Defense Agency unveiled plans to seek $1.2 billion for U.S.-designed systems to defend against ballistic missiles. The request is part of a major defense initiative spawned by concern over North Korea's long-range missiles.

The agency's annual budget proposal calls for buying two U.S.-developed weapons systems one sea-based and one land-based to provide a double shield against missiles with a range of up to 600 miles. Delivery could start as early as 2006.

The next step, once a defense deal is reached, will be to add the offensive component. This won't be easy; from what I hear, the Japanese in general are divided on the issue of remilitarization (please write in with details, if you're in the know). But the conservative hawks in Japan are marshalling their arguments, and NK is, maybe inadvertently, sealing its own fate by helping to recreate an offense-capable Japanese military. If the peninsular situation continues to worsen, the hawks won't encounter much opposition to a proposal to remilitarize.

This Yonhap News brief makes South Korea sound clueless:

SEOUL, Aug. 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's government and political parties expressed positive views Saturday of the six-nation negotiations on North Korea's nuclear arms program, despite the absence of a joint statement on efforts to resolve the issue.

National Security Advisor Ra Jong-il said he was optimistic about the future of the dialogue.

Luckily, the US may be taking steps in the right direction by continuing to talk with China:

Beijing, Saturday, August 30, 2003: Describing the just-concluded six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons programme as "beneficial" China and US have decided to pursue dialogue to find a peaceful solution to Korean nuclear issue.

After the end of three-day talks in Beijing, Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing and US Secretary of State Colin Powell said "the two sides shared the view that the talks were beneficial, agreeing that the process should continue to promote a peaceful resolution to the Korean nuclear issue through dialogue," China Daily reported.

But beware: China's preening.

Meanwhile, China's official media today highlighted the country's new role as a mediator to settle regional disputes and security threats.

How much substance will accompany the style is yet to be seen. Keep your colon polyps crossed.

The Korea Herald's analysis of the 6-way talks contains this observation:

But some experts said the talks dashed hopes for a breakthrough by failing to even set a date for their next meeting and produce any joint statement due to the rift between the United States and North Korea on how to resolve their nuclear standoff.

If ABC News' article is to be believed, then there's further reason for hopes to be dashed (or muted).

The Chosun Ilbo has this analysis:

Any expectations about a dramatic breakthrough would have been unreasonable, of course, and part of the purpose was to make introductions and exchange name cards. Even still, you have to call the talks a disappointment. There was no change in the North's game of "threat and blackmail" in the face of the international community as it plays its nuclear card again.

On the first day the North seemed to make some slightly appeasing gestures. Then on the second day it let it be known that it might declare itself nuclear and test the weapons, too. This is the same old self-injuring blackmail when it threatens to threaten that it could test The Bomb, right in the middle of a gathering called to find a peaceful resolution to the problem. It was a reminder of the fact that if future six-way talks are going to be successful, there has to be fundamental changes in the North's attitude.

Korea, the United States and Japan, as well as China and Russia, have to come up with a framework for diplomatic cooperation if they are going to encourage that kind of change in the North's approach. Only when there is progress in its attitude will we get to the guarantees and economic aid it wants.

Agreed: expecting a breakthrough would have been foolish. Applauded: calling a spade a spade and terming NK's rhetoric "threat and blackmail" and "self-injuring." Awkward: "threatens to threaten." Indeed: there have to be fundamental changes in the North's attitude.

The point about diplomatic cooperation is important, and the result of that cooperation cannot be further appeasement. Appeasement must become just as unthinkable an option as war on the peninsula currently is. At the risk of alienating human rights workers and others who decry the human suffering already rampant in NK, I think it will be necessary to clamp down even harder on aid. The US should lean heavily on China and SK, perhaps with Japan at its side, whispering that it's thinking about rearming tomorrow. Russia also needs to be persuaded further over to the US side. Concessions to all these interlocutors are conscionable; concessions to NK are not.

But I completely disagree with the Chosun's final paragraph:

There needs to be some changes in the format as well if these talks are going to get anywhere close to real discussion about the North's nuclear program. Most importantly, there needs to be more room for the United States and the North to connect within the six-way format, since it is the United States that holds the keys to solving the ultimate issue. Raising the level of the representatives might help. It's hard to expect much when from the start there were doubts about the ability of the heads of the U.S. and Northern delegations to speak for their countries.

This very unfairly (but unsurprisingly) places the onus on the US, in defiance of the commonsense reality that China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan are all physically near North Korea and therefore need to be worried about what it can do. NK's fanatical focus on the US allows these countries to absolve themselves of responsibility for their own security. That's not acceptable. The South Korean tendency, however, has been to parrot that it's all up to the US. This legitimizes the North's rhetoric and doesn't exactly cause warm fuzzies in my belly toward SK. The unbending rhetoric from Washington needs to be that all future talks-- all-- will be multilateral, preferably involving this very 6-way group in every case.

I've had occasion to think that SK is turning into a second France. People are beginning to ask the "are they really an ally?" question; labor unions are going nuts with power; health care is questionable; there's a lingering (and very strong) collaborationist/victim mentality, and huge piles of cultural arrogance (think kimchi, not wine and cheese). I don't like where this train of thought is leading me, so maybe I'll stop here.

PERSONAL NOTE: No blogging tomorrow. I'll be at temple, then visiting relatives to celebrate 34 years (in Western age) of buttock-flapping, toe-sucking, thong-sniffing, nose-picking, sheep-humping, navel-digging, larva-eating, corpse-licking, tongue-flicking existence.

Friday, August 29, 2003

the Kim Jong Il "blog"

Other people have been pointing this out.

I haven't had a chance to look at it.

Until now.

Many of the PC-bahng I frequent have filters that screen out porn and potentially subversive sites that mention stuff about North Korea. Luckily, I'm not in one now, so I finally got a good look at Kim Jong Il's, uh, blog.

Better than Frank J. Holy shit, this is funny, funny stuff. Visit it often.

a letter!

A very interesting meditation on hate arrived today.

[email follows]

A few thoughts prompted by the article about hate and faith.

I feel that there must be more than one emotion encompassed by what we call
"hate." I know one emotion that I shall call "broad hatred," for lack of a better
term. This is what I feel towards groups such as the Taliban, the Kmer Rouge,
and similar regimes. The groups to which I feel broad hatred engage in
activities which are horrific, extreme, and destructive on such a scale that I
cannot help a visceral anguish and certainty that this, at least, is evil. This
feeling encompasses a desire to destroy the said groups either by killing the
core people who espouse the philosophies by which they act, or by destroying the
influence of the philosophies themselves. Note that this does not mean that I
feel it would be wise, or appropriate for any government to necessarily take
action on this basis, I am merely describing a personal perspective on the

Broad hatred colours your view towards the recipient and is, for me, driven by a
combination of horror, fear, and sympathetic identity with the victims. It is
also, for all of the emotion involved, a cold thing easily subject to the
rational mind.

Another form of hatred with which I am familiar I shall refer to as "specific
hatred." If one were to generalize "love" as a general outpouring of positive
emotion, arising from a sense of kinship or identity, or an intense feeling of
bonding driven by strong emotional, physical, and intellectual attraction, then
specific hatred would be the opposite of love. It is very personal, it derives
in part from fear, just as broad hatred, and it is fundamentally irrational.
Specific hatred is hot and not easily subject to reason. It is the feeling a
person feels towards someone who murdered a loved one. My mother spoke to me
once of a friend whose husband was in prison for life. A former construction
worker with no criminal background, he threw away his career, his freedom, and
everything he cared about and commited a crime to get himself thrown into prison
so he could kill a man who murdered his daughter. Specific hatred. I don't think
most people know this emotion, nor can it easily apply to a large group. In
order for a large group (say Muslim extremists) to be the target of specific
hatred, either a sufficiently large segment of that group would have to do
immediate, personal harm to you, or you would have to be able to objectify
the group beyond the scope of a sane mind. Specific hatred is inherently
destructive to all parties involved.

Applying this to some world situations- I feel broad hatred towards the North
Korean government, towards some extremist Islamic groups, and towards many of
the small tribal groups in Africa involved in bloody and terrible little wars. I
think that the pacification and removal of these forces by religious, social,
economic, political and perhaps military pressures should be a common goal of
the majority of the human race. Within reason, guided by reason, and with a fine
eye towards protecting the greatest number of people from harm.

I do not hate Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or Mr. Kim in any personal sense-
but I recognize them as evil. They must be opposed and should neither be
placated nor supported in any way. Similarly the Nazis.

From a religious perspective, I believe that it is dangerous to hate, and
dwelling on the reasons for hatred is ultimately self-destructive. This does not
equate in any way with forgiveness nor with forgetting. I will never forget the
actions of the Nazis (or Germans as a whole) during WWII. I will never forgive.
I believe that all pressures available should be applied over time to ultimately
destroy the beliefs that allowed such acts to seem rational or supportable to
any group of people, and such action has been taken over the past 60 years. I do
not hate the Germans, however, either as a group or in specific, and recognize
that they are a people and a culture of long history and value. It is quite
alright to feel justified anger towards God , or anybody else. It is acceptable
to defend yourself and your people. It is acceptable to do harm in order to
prevent greater harm. It is not acceptable to get revenge once a person or group
is no longer capable of commiting harm. It is permitted for a Jew to set aside
any mitzvah to protect human life. To the spiritualist in me, the ultimate goal
in life is to travel a path that causes no harm, supports no harm, and creates

-Edwin Thomas

*** *** ***

I might apply Edwin's term "specific hatred" to my feelings toward Kim Jong Il. This is may be an ethnic thing (my being half-Korean & all), but I don't know. Whenever I make my claim that South and North are no longer one people, I do so in the bitter knowledge that the Kim family to the North is largely, if not entirely, responsible for this sorry state of affairs.

It gets complex, the whole hatred business. If we stick with the Kim case for a second: Kim is fetishized, part of a state-sanctioned cosmology of Kimism that blankets the North. A hate that focuses on him almost inevitably radiates outward to the NK society in his thrall, because they're all part of the same narrative weave, like it or not. It becomes extremely difficult to separate the brainwashed NK citizen, a cog in the greater NK machine, from the machine itself, currently embodied in Kim Jong Il. Maybe it's a combination of broad and specific hatred I feel toward Kim. I don't know. More cogitation needed.

Hatred needs sustenance, though, and that again implies the bugbear of attachment-- tanha over time. I can reify my hatred, objectify it, make it something I can latch on to, and thereby perpetuate it (with occasional updates as needed). Edwin's right that hate is dangerous. A dangerous mindset can lead to dangerous action.

le parcours

A Post article about the 34-minute London blackout yields one interesting tidbit: London's power comes from a French-owned company! To wit:

A spokesman for French-owned firm EDF Energy, which supplies the British capital, said it appeared to be a problem with a cable feed from the national grid in the Wimbledon area in south London.

Israel is prepared to bomb Iran if need be.

Moving over to Korea...

Check out Kevin at IA's "Korean Politics in Pictures" and the much scarier "Robot Girls Gone Wild."

The Chosun Ilbo has interesting (and unintentionally humorous) commentary on the Robot Girls incident Kevin talks about.

The Marmot comments on NK's latest attempt at scrotum-waving.

According to an ABC News article, NK waved its balls around, only to whisk them away suddenly and threaten not to show them a second time unless the US stopped showing hostility to its balls. More as this develops.

Quick digression:

Something morbidly fascinating, horrifying and depressing all at once: WTC-related transcript excerpts of Port Authority communications. There's nearly 2000 pages of transcript. I hate to say it, but if the government's hard up for cash (and if they can jump the legal hurdles from concerned families), this is a shoo-in as a bestseller.

Dammit, there can be only ONE Poet Laureate in the Mike World Order! Will no one rid me of this meddlesome hack?

Back to the meaty meaticles:

A Post article on NK's nuke test bluster. Highlights:

The isolated country has a history of alarmist rhetoric, sometimes followed by confrontation, sometimes by conciliation.

Despite the announcement, diplomats agreed early today to resume talks within two months, according to the China News Service, a semi-official news agency in Beijing.

The apparent agreement on more meetings constitutes a small but important step in precarious negotiations aimed at persuading the Stalinist state to abandon its nuclear weapons program in return for diplomatic and economic openings to its neighbors and the United States.

We did mention histrionics and fainting spells and seizures, right? I agree with the other Koreabloggers that the agreement to meet again isn't necessarily a ringing triumph.

As far as the NK regime is concerned, a "win" is anything that maintains the status quo and/or adds concessions to it. A loss is anything that calls NK's bluff. NK knows that, if it goes to war, it loses. If its government collapses, it also loses.

The U.S. official who had read the diplomatic cable reported that the Chinese delegates who had worked hard to coax the United States and North Korea to the table were visibly upset, while the Japanese, South Koreans and Russians were taken aback.

Du calme, du calme... this is all pro forma.

The effort to deny the uranium-enrichment program, which U.S. officials say North Korea has already admitted to and U.S. intelligence has confirmed, suggests that Kim's government would be unwilling to permit the intrusive inspections the Bush administration wants. Intensive verification measures are considered essential to test the veracity of North Korea's claims.

The very ballsiness about which I wrote previously. Oh, how they lie.

North Korea has defied international pressure since October, when Kim's government admitted having a secret uranium-enrichment project along with a suspended program to make weapons from plutonium. Pyongyang soon evicted foreign inspectors, withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, activated a reprocessing plant for spent fuel rods and restarted the shuttered nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.

I wish the papers wouldn't be misleading. That first sentence should read, "...defied international pressure since 1953."

The talks were held in the Diaoyutai State Guest House, an isolated collection of villas and gardens in western Beijing. The six parties were arrayed around a hexagonal table, and the Chinese put the U.S. delegation, led by Kelly, next to its North Korean counterpart, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il.

Is it my imagination, or does "Diaoyutai" sound like a guy with a stuffy nose shouting "NOW YOU DIE!"?

Kim and Kelly ended four months of official high-level silence between the two nations on Wednesday when they huddled for roughly 35 minutes in an informal meeting following a day of six-party talks. A U.S. official said it was during those talks that Kim told the American that North Korea intended to stage a nuclear test.

Roughly 35 minutes... the London power outage lasted 34 minutes... connection?

A Chicago Tribune article about NK's mixed messages. Highlights:

By raising the specter of a nuclear test, which Washington has long warned would escalate the diplomatic conflict with North Korea to a critical level, Pyongyang's delegation in Beijing sought again to stoke tensions over its nuclear weapons program, either to gain negotiating advantage or to position itself for a more dangerous confrontation, analysts said.

The more things change...

The U.S. sought to portray North Korea's latest threat to conduct a nuclear test as part of a predictable pattern of negotiating brinkmanship. Throughout this week's talks, the Bush administration has tried to keep the spotlight off Pyongyang by saying very little about what is happening around the hexagonal conference table at a Chinese guesthouse.

Kim Jong Il: I'm insane, I tell you! Insane! Look! Look at my balls! (jiggles balls madly)

Bush to Putin: Heh.

Putin: Puny little things, aren't they.

Bush: Huh? I was laughing at his "Dear Leader" lapel pin. He's wearing a picture of himself!

Putin: I hear he's also got Kim Jong Il butt-floss.

Bush: Well, he ain't wearin' any butt-floss now, is he. Jesus, he's shaking his balls at us! Ha! Puny little things, aren't they.

Putin: Sigh...

From a article:

A pact to meet again was about the best anyone had predicted out of the six-country conference, which convened Wednesday and brought together the United States, the two Koreas, Japan, China and Russia. "No one expected this first round of talks would produce agreement on all issues," said Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck, the head of South Korea's delegation.

I think quite a few newspaper pundits would beg to differ... if you can find them out in the open. The Koreabloggers (I won't include myself in this; mine is only, uh, "borrowed" cynicism) knew this all along.

All the governments represented in Beijing had expressed varying degrees of opposition to the North's nuclear programs. China, a longtime political ally of North Korea, has also said repeatedly that it wants a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

Its delegation leader, Wang, said American officials pledged they weren't trying to do in North Korea what they did in Iraq.

"The U.S. said that the U.S. had no intention to threaten North Korea, no intention to invade North Korea, no intention to work for regime change in North Korea," Wang said.

(fingers crossed)

From the Chosun Ilbo:

A White House spokeswoman, Claire Buchan, responded to the warning, saying that North Korea had a history of making "inflammatory comments" and such comments will further isolate it from the outside world. President George W. Bush will not step back from his original promise to not tolerate North Korea's nuclear development programs, she said.

Oh, how NK would loooooove a Clintonian Democrat in the White House-- one who's got a way with fancy diplo-speak and the ability to look the other way.

You'll learn so much about Korean society just from reading this story. Enjoy.

almighty Drudge's Korea link

This article is quite interesting. I was all set to leave when I saw this.

Some highlights:

BEIJING - North Korea told a six-nation conference that it has nuclear weapons and has plans to test one, a U.S. official said Thursday. However, other participants said delegates agreed on the need for a second round of talks.

Any wishful thinkers (like Silent Running) still want to whimper that NK might be bluffing about nukes? Willing to take that chance?

The remarks by North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il set a negative tone at the conference and raised questions about the success of the negotiations, which were scheduled to conclude Friday morning.

Kim at one point accused delegates from Russia and Japan of lying at the instruction of the United States when they tried to point out positive aspects of the American presentation, according to a U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Well, we did expect some Scarlett O'Hara-style fainting spells and other sundry histrionics, yes? If the NK delegates faint, make like you're gonna catch them, then suddenly turn away and let them thud. Bastards.

The North Korean said his country was maintaining its position because the United States clearly had no intention of abandoning its hostile policy toward North Korea, the official said.

The statements, coming on the second day of a three-day conference, startled the delegates and left the Chinese representative visibly angry, the official said.

Nevertheless, the diplomats agreed on the need to hold more such talks and probably will, a South Korean official said.

Oh. Joy. Another theater production that'll cost several million bucks to send delegates out of their way for more fainting spells and seizures. Wake up, the rest of you! NK needs stronger therapy than time-outs and group hugs.

The current round of talks are scheduled to end Friday after three days. The United States, North and South Korea (news - web sites), Russia, Japan and China are trying to balance U.S. demands for an end to North Korea's nuclear program and the communist nation's insistence on a nonaggression treaty with Washington and humanitarian aid.

"There is a consensus that the process of six-party talks should continue and is useful," said Wie Sung-rak, director-general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's North American Affairs Bureau. Like other delegates from the talks, he chose his words carefully to avoid suggesting a formal agreement had been made.

Asked to verify a Russian media report that all six would meet again within two months, he said: "It's possible, but you have to wait until tomorrow morning."

Is the suspense killing you as much as it's killing me?

Pyongyang had long demanded one-on-one talks with the United States, but dropped its objections to the multilateral arrangement after Beijing agreed to host it.

Many believe North Korea wanted such direct talks to increase its standing in East Asia and to convey its demands directly to the United States. Washington, though, wanted the opposite and said the situation affected the entire region and should be dealt with multilaterally.

Washington was and remains correct on this point.

In a separate meeting after Thursday's talks adjourned, Japan urged North Korea to let the children of five Japanese citizens kidnapped and spirited to North Korea years ago join their parents, who were permitted last year to return to their homeland.

North Korea, however, reiterated its assertion that Japan had broken a promise by not returning the five abductees to Pyongyang, according to a statement by the Japanese government.

The kidnapping of Japanese citizens during the 1970s and 1980s by North Korea — to train its spies to assume false identities — has stalled efforts by the two countries to set up diplomatic relations and halted Japan's food aid to impoverished North Korea.

If the North Korean leadership had any honor in the East Asian or Western sense, they'd have locked themselves in a small concrete room and shot each other by now, leaving orders for their generals to submit to the authority of the South Korean Army. I doubt the Japanese diplomats, despite whatever outrage they may be expressing at NK's intransigence, are truly surprised. Koizumi's "ground-breaking" trip to NK should have been seen for what it was, a simple zig in a long pattern of deliberate NK zigzagging. This latest hissy fit is more of the same.

Japan cut off its aid? Well, yes, of course: after all, NK practices juch'ae ideology-- self-reliance! So... why is any aid being given? I think NK could use a real taste of what it means to be self-reliant. I also think that the US should sneak John Bolton in there with a frothing message: "Any nuclear test, any missile firing, any intercepted shipment of arms or drugs, will be viewed as an act of war." Language the assholes understand.

I'm not doing well with my kong-an, am I.

Hate: The Answer?

Winds of Change is proving to be a mighty thought-provoking blog. A recent post got me thinking. I want you to go to the post and read BOTH the links it suggests. If you want, you can read something I wrote as well: A Buddhist Critique of Islam, then another post re: Right and Wrong, then go sit down under a tree, or by a river, or somewhere you can remain undisturbed... and just think for a good half-hour or so.

It may be obvious, if you've been following this blog, that my mood swings a lot, and some of my near-and-dear convictions are right now being tugged in many directions. Some of this I can date to some rather spirited emails between me and my closest friends just before-- and then during and after-- Gulf War 2. Some of this comes from even before that time. I find myself questioning previously unquestioned assumptions, realizing that, in many cases, I simply don't know where I stand on a whole host of issues, yet have visceral reactions in very definite directions. Some of the problem stems from the fact that, for all my irreverence, I take religion very seriously-- yes, even when I joke about baked French people, or post an "evil thought" about Islam and where I think it's going-- and see so many current problems through a religious perspective.

I've said in a jokingly smug tone that I'm a nondualist. That's fairly true. I'm a Christian by practice (though I've done my share of Zen Buddhist meditation), probably a philosophical Taoist in terms of my metaphysics, and maybe Christian-Buddhist in my ethics. There are very, very few truths I consider important enough to die for, and most of them are the kind which you, dear reader, might find mundane or overly specific (relating, as they do, to family and friends in almost all cases; ultimate reality, despite its loftiness, doesn't really need my defense of it, so I'm not inclined to defend certain so-called "core" religious propositions). But issues like the Korea problem and the Islam problem require responses, which means that my nondualism can't express itself as a vague "maybe" all the time, even if I'm being sincere when I say it. "Maybe" and "I don't know" aren't acceptable responses when someone has broken into your house with the intent to harm your family, nor are they appropriate when you're hanging off a cliff by an exposed root, with the tiger in front of you, another tiger circling beneath you, and two mice gnawing the root you're holding on to.

Is hate the answer? That's my kong-an for this evening. When a Son master gives you a kong-an to study, and you have to visit him periodically to discuss where your meditation has led you, it's very rare for the master to accept silence as your "answer" to the kong-an. Silence is very "been there, done that" to many Son masters. The "right" answer is what leaps out of the confluence of events and phenomena that make up this moment. Who can say what that answer is?

But the point is, you have to answer. Muddled vagueness doesn't fly in the son-won. No wishy-washiness allowed. Does this mean you must, always and forever, adopt a fixed, rigid mind? No. You know better than that if you read the abovementioned links! Instead, your mind must be like what Christian theologian Howard Thurman called it: LEAPING.

[NB: Do not confuse him with Uma's famous Buddhist father, Robert! Howard was Martin Luther King's mentor!]

This "leaping" mind is extremely hard to achieve if you don't know exactly where you are and in what direction to leap. My Christian past says, "You leap in confidence, you leap in faith. Look if you want, but the looking isn't so important." My Zen training (patchy as it is) suggests, "Leap smartly. Mindfully. Heartfully. And leap NOW."

Leaping NOW requires clear mind. Clear mind requires settling and centering. I'm neither settled nor centered right now, especially on these issues. Blogging this intensely, every day, I think I'm losing perspective even as I'm gaining a broader knowledge of the issues (hat tip to all the bloggers I've read, on the blogroll and not). Maybe it's time to stop and breathe.

Anyway, I have my kong-an for the night. Gotta sleep now.

Is hate the answer?


Thursday, August 28, 2003

NK to US: "Oh, baby, let me do you in four stages!"

From Kyodo News: NK proposes a "4-stage approach to settling nuke issue."

Highlights from the article:

Under North Korea's approach that also requires the United States to take reciprocal steps in each stage, Pyongyang would declare an intent to abandon its nuclear weapons program after the U.S. resumes suspended oil supply shipments to the North.

In other words, NK can talk, but the US must act-- and this must be true from Step One.

In the second stage, North Korea would accept inspection of its nuclear facilities after a nonaggression pact with the U.S. is signed.

In other words, NK can talk, but the US must act-- and this must be true from Step One.

North Korea, in the third stage, would settle issues related to its missile development after its relations with the U.S. and Japan are normalized.

"Settle issues"?

In other words, NK can talk, but the US must act-- and this must be true from Step One.

In the final stage, North Korea would abandon its nuclear weapons program when light-water reactors that are under construction to provide it electricity are completed under a 1994 nuclear agreement between the U.S. and the North.

In other words: here's the lube. You know where to smear it. Now BEND OVER, BITCH.

What's the big indicator of NK untrustworthiness?

North Korean's chief delegate, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il, made the proposals in a keynote speech Wednesday, the first day of the three-day talks, while denying the North has a program to enrich uranium for nuclear arms, the JoongAng Ilbo said in its Internet edition.

Denying the enrichment program is ballsy bullshit. If the North can lie with a smile on its face, what reason is there to listen to the rest of its spiel?

In other 6-way talks news:

The US and NK won't be holding formal bilateral talks.

In that same ABC News article, we read:

Japan also brought up the nuclear arms issue in its bilateral meeting with North Korea on Thursday afternoon.

Read between the lines: Japanese conservative hawks are gaining fodder from these talks to push for rearmament. Can't say I blame them.

Meanwhile, the two Koreas are planning to boost cross-border trade. This ought to make appeasement easier.

The Marmot mentions that more talks are likely in October.

le parcours

Arnold does indeed have views! I'm not happy with his opposition to gay marriage. I wonder whether he'd consider civil unions to be the same thing. What, exactly, are "domestic partnerships," how are they different from marriage and civil unions, and what legal rights do such partnerships have? It's such a simple question: can gay people who show the same loving, long-term commitment as a hetero couple enjoy the same rights and benefits? If not, why not? This boggles my mind. To the extent that marriage is a religious issue (which is debatable, especially if two atheists get married outside of a religious context-- say, in a courthouse), is this something for the secular world-- the state-- to rule on? To the extent that, in American society, married couples enjoy certain benefits that result from their commited partnership (at least on paper), is there a legitimate reason for the law NOT to be extended to cover a new type of legally recognized marriage (instead of declaring a priori that marriage is always and forever between a man and a woman, as if the concept of marriage were engraved in the cosmos)?

Heaven forfend! They're booting God out!

Guns don't kill people... but they sure make killing seven people in a short time a lot easier when you're pissed off about being fired!

Frank J does a hilarious riff on some politics- and gun-related hate mail he received.

Harrison Ford doesn't like US foreign policy.

France shows its true colors as it mulls scrapping Christmas.

We're mulling the UN troop option. I'm not sure how I feel about this, but I think that, if we're to let the UN get deeply involved, it should be in this area, rather than in something like economic & infrastructural rehabilitation. Why? Because you can't trust France. Or Western Europe in general.

The 6-way talks' first-day round-up can be found chez Kevin and the Marmot.

The Marmot also links to an article on Japanese women's attitudes toward blowjobs.

The Vulture caws about the unseemly conduct of Koreans at Korean-hosted international sporting events like the current Taegu Universiade. Let me state for the record that I agree with him: Koreans aren't very good sportsmen.

A fascinating post from the Peking Duck (who's actually in Singapore) about the true nature of the Communist Party in China.

Found on Winds of Change: a post on "Tolerant and Intolerant Islam." Follow the link at the bottom of the article for another article re: the compatibility of Islam and libertarianism.

Evil thought: Why not hold the Kaaba shrine (and, oh, the city of Medina) hostage by threatening it (them) with nuclear destruction? "Another US soldier killed in Iraq, and your holiest sites get it!" That's thinking symbolically, just like al-Qaeda did when they chose the WTC. As Carlin says, "I leave symbols for the symbol-minded." If that's the language they speak, then maybe you gotta speak their language.

Two articles from The Guardian place blame squarely on American shoulders for any current and potential difficulties re: the NK nuclear crisis. The first article is a short summary of first-day proceedings. Key sentence from this article:

But participants and observers expressed little hope of progress because the Bush administration is divided over how to deal with a North Korea, whose leader, Kim Jong-il, appears to have drawn the lesson from Iraq that his only hope of survival is nuclear deterrence.

Question: if NK has been shafting us about the nuke issue since Clinton's 1994 deal (or before), is this really a matter of Kim's having "drawn the lesson from Iraq"? No, I think Kim's been thinking along these lines for a long while.

From the second article, we read the following:

The decibel factor is still worrying: North Korea has, by its standards, talked in relatively mild terms about the US recently. But only last month it called US undersecretary of state John Bolton "human scum" and a "bloodsucker" after Mr Bolton had called the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il a "tyrannical dictator". Bizarrely, the state department has chosen to reaffirm Mr Bolton's language on the eve of the talks. Mr Kim is indeed a tyrant, but it is hard to see what purpose is served by giving more ammunition to Pyongyang's polemics.

In both Guardian articles, the onus appears to be on the US to make the breakthroughs, take the lead. This affirms the idea that the Koreas are mere victims in a larger, menacing process of Western manipulation and control. I don't think I like the Guardian.

Maybe Kevin at IA is right to argue (as he has repeatedly) for the use of economic sanctions against NK. NK might view these as "an act of war," but it's possible this is just saber-rattling. Sanctions might actually produce some real results.

From an LA Times article (you have to register, I think, to access the link, but it's free):

China's history with North Korea is tangled, and relations are changing fast. Chinese leaders once saw North Korea as an immensely pliant fellow Communist state, one that was indebted to Beijing not only for food and fuel but for the fact that China suffered at least a million casualties fighting for the North during the Korean War in the early 1950s.

But even the Chinese now seem to view North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Il, as an erratic rogue state that is no longer a puppet but instead a drain on China, especially with an economy so dysfunctional that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are trying desperately to slip across the border into China. And in a final straw, some Chinese businesspeople and government officials who have visited the North report that there have been systematic actions by officials in some places to remove memorials in honor of the Chinese who died fighting for the country.

Given all this, the Chinese want North Korea to make a deal, one that ensures it gets rid of its nuclear weapons and that perhaps yields some aid to help recharge its ailing economy. That helps to explain why China has taken a much more forceful diplomatic role in the matter than it had in the past.

How hard, exactly, is China leaning on North Korea? There's already been a lot of focus on the informal talk between the US and NK on the first day... I'd like to know more about the other two-way talks that have to be going on behind the scenes. Japan, for example, may want to yap about missing and kidnapped Japanese, but just behind that item, there's the huge issue of Japanese rearmament, which is becoming more and more likely as Japanese conservative hawks get louder. Japan's delegates might not be blustering directly to NK delegates about this, but I bet they're letting it slip in conversation with other countries' reps.

The Korean Herald's take on yesterday's talks can be found here.

Yes! Stand up and applaud Cardinal Kim! This from the Chosun Ilbo:

The top Catholic representative in Korea, Cardinal Stephano Kim, critized the government's sunshine policy on Wednesday, saying it had brought about no changes in North Korea's posture or system. Instead, he said, under the guise of national cooperation, it has caused a rift in South Korea society, with people dividing themselves into pro- and anti-North Korea camps.

Kim also expressed disappointment with President Roh Moo-hyun's performance, saying that his high expectations for Roh had been betrayed. In an interview with a new conservative Internet newspaper,, Kim said that the nation should seriously review whether any true reconciliation or cooperation had been effected due to the sunshine policy. He also voiced clear opposition to demands some are making for "reunification regardless of the system."

South Korea should stop the exchanges and other meetings between the two sides from being used by the North as venues for its propaganda and strengthening its position, Kim said.

Kim also criticized the Roh government for the way it has dealt with the banned student group Hanchongryun. He said it was a huge mistake for some students to infiltrate a U.S. Army firing range, and that the government should not be complacent when dealing with them, but should draw a clear line.

I wonder what Rome thinks of this. The cowardice-and-appeasement bullshit may be thick in the European Catholic hierarchy, but Kim's vision strikes me as clear and bullshit-free. Kim will, of course, be attacked by fellow South Koreans as a mouthpiece for the US... which is precisely the kind of rhetoric the North regularly slings across the DMZ.

I somehow doubt the Catholic bishops in China can speak this freely and critically. And... are there any such bishops in NK?

The JoongAng Ilbo also has an article about Cardinal Kim.

DongA Ilbo on the same subject here.

The Infidel comments at length:

Validation: Never in my short pundit career would I have dreamed (or hoped), that a Catholic official would validate my opinions about the "Sunshine" policy and unification in general. But South Korean Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan talks about a "public consensus on reunification resting on principles of liberal democracy" and "trust". I have consistently believed unification was a fascist policy, because it is foisted on a majority of uncommitted citizens by a powerful, vocal minority of policy-makers more concerned about short-term greed than the general welfare. I have also argued before, that the only way to proceed with unification is through a referendum conducted jointly in both Koreas, but only after the DPRK is granted sovereignty. Finally, all this must proceed under the auspices of some international or regional organization, like the United Nations or ASEAN. I know Cardinal Stephen is not saying this, but its so nice to see a public official buck the unification bandwagon. And, its nice to see a South Korean use the term, liberal democracy. Now, if only the politicians could say, and practice, that!

I think reunification is possible and maybe even desirable, but it does indeed have to happen uncompromisingly according to liberal democratic principles. The last thing Korea needs is to try the mutant socialist-democratic fusion that's causing such problems in Europe (cf. French heat wave deaths, non-stop strikes, etc.). In Korea, the result of such a fusion would be even more internal strife-- a peninsula sitting like an indecisively shat turd, halfway in the sea, halfway flopped on China's doormat, stinkin' the place up and no good to anybody.

And the South Korean doubters are right to doubt: the obstacles in the way of reunification are legion. Not least among them: the two Koreas are no longer, in my opinion, one people. They haven't been for years. The North's Stalinism-cum-cult of personality has done much to wipe the North's cultural memory clean, and all that cultural memory needs to be restored (we won't go into the South's own attempts at chasing after Western cultural tropes). Along with this, you've got the obvious economic and technological differences. Then there's the devilish question of deep brainwashing: it will take many generations to rid the Northern populace of the Kimist metanarrative. Like isolated soldiers convinced the war is still going on, millions of North Koreans currently alive will remain in the thrall of the Stalinist dream; these folks will have to die out before true change can occur.

But I think that a unified Korea is better than a divided one. I hesitate to agree with the Infidel about a UN role in Korean reunification, and think the Koreas need to manage this on their own. The resultant dividends from a justified feeling of empowerment will be salutary, in the long term. Other benefits of reunification: more open real estate for investment-minded South Koreans (and foreigners) to play with, fewer (maybe NO) defectors running to China, and a better strategic position for the US with a friendly (we hope) democracy in place. And hey-- whatever nukes the North currently has can be re-aimed at China if US-Korea relations remain friendly enough. Heh.

Meantime, I'm adding the Infidel to my blogroll (w/thanks to the Marmot).

In other news...

The Korean truckers' strike is winding down, finally. Someone realized the economy has to, uh, move forward. Please, SK, don't become like France.

Comrade Queef is not well liked by his citizens.

A Chosun Ilbo editorial has this to say about the truckers' strike:

How is it that a pro-labor government that promised to "straighten the imbalance of power in labor-business relations" now singles out the KCTU by name? The confederation and the truckers' organization Hwamul Yeondae showed they care not the least for the economy as they for the second time in three months stopped the country's freight trucks, causing a national distribution crisis. The government must realize at this point that its earlier hopes for goodwill from irresponsible, selfish and shortsighted unions as well as any ideas it had about working with them on the economy were far removed from reality.

Keep in mind: the Korean media swing conservative; Noh is what Americans might call a Clinton liberal (though I'm becoming convinced Noh doesn't possess a tenth of Clinton's legalistic adroitness), so the above commentary perhaps isn't surprising.

Yes! Some pissed-off South Koreans are suing the NK reporters who lashed out at anti-NK demonstrators during the Universiade. I have no damn clue what the English title of the article means. Another item for

ON A PERSONAL NOTE: Feeling much better today. No fever, dizziness, headache, bodyache, or nausea. A different problem cropped up, though: the power went off around 3:30 in the morning (I know because I was still awake). Fans stopped whirring; fridge stopped chugging. The power outage is confined to our house-- some problem with the outdated wiring, according to the adjumma who lives upstairs. The wiring couldn't withstand last night's heavy rain. So I'm outta the place while repairs are being done. Here's hoping I'll have power when I get back.

Well, this is Day 2 of the three-day, six-way Beijing talks. Perhaps there'll be something meatier to report later on this evening. Take care.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

a word I must work into conversation

From my daily A Word A Day email, I give you the following:

dasypygal (da-si-PYE-gul) adjective

Having hairy buttocks.

[From Greek dasy- (hairy, dense) + pyge (buttocks).]

a big day

I was flat on my back all day today, having been taken down by fever, all-over bodyache, pounding headache, nausea, and dizziness. My k'eun adjoshi had left me, a while ago, a box containing small bottles of some sort of Korean mystery medicine, and I decided to OD on that, chugging down two bottles around noon and drinking some cold water. It's around 5PM now, and I'm well enough to walk around, but still not sure about my stomach. I ate a single slice of bread, and that's been it today.

Today's a big day because it's the start of the six-way talks. They've been going on while I've been flat on my back and staring blankly at the ceiling, so the time has come to survey the blogs & papers and see what the folks are saying.

First up: Kevin at IA remains pessimistic that anything substantive will result from these talks. I agree. Unless we come on strong and surprise NK with some radical demands, it's doubtful we'll be seeing anything different from negotiations past. Kevin's entry does say something sinister, though:

The 2004 presidential election will definitely play a large part in how this drama unfolds. The red lines drawn by the administration, and their response to NK crossing those lines, have likely been moved back significantly. As the article mentions, Bush has enough on his plate, and the last thing he needs is a Korean catastrophe to plunge his numbers further. Assuming Bush wins the election though...

There's a reason I'm leaving Korea in October 2004.


Whoops-- and Kevin beats me to the news sources: "No one budged an inch."

Sounds about right.

The Marmot points to a Nicholas Eberstadt article in the Washington Post.

The Vulture, meantime, has an interesting meditation on dog-eating, and concludes that it's a bad thing:

But anyway... back to the point... I used to think it was fine for Koreans to eat dog meat, as long as the dogs were killed humanely. But I've since come to believe that dogs, to a degree that no other animal can even come close to matching, actually like humans. Due to thousands of year of domestication and living side-by-side with people, it's in their nature to protect, serve, and comfort mankind. They truly are man's best friend, and I feel killing and eating them is, well, wrong.

Brian has eaten dog stew before. Like me, he finds the meat is OK, but the broth is nasty.

John Pomfret of the Washington Post sees the China-NK relationship as a crucial determinant for what happens during the talks. Here-- chew over this paragraph from the article:

Some Chinese academics have started arguing that North Korea's disappearance would actually not be harmful to China's long-term interests. In one unpublished paper, a specialist on Chinese security, Shi Yinhong, wrote that China could benefit in the long term from North Korea's collapse. South Korea, which would take over, would naturally gravitate toward Beijing and away from Japan and the United States, he wrote. U.S. troops would leave the peninsula and China's influence over northeast Asia would rise.

The Post's Peter Baker takes note of Russia's apparent turn away from NK as well.

On Much the same as what Kevin at IA pointed out: nobody's budging.

That seems to be about it for now. More news as it happens.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

whoops-- this just in

Couldn't leave quite yet. One of my little brothers has written in with a question:


Dharma Mr. Buddah? Or the other way around?

Profound glory in glistening furr, wet from the urine fight.

And I answer:

this whole universe
finds itself contained in the
scrotum of my mind


why immigration is also a defense issue

A sinister story out of Canada.

And that's all for this evening, folks.

a possible Big Hominid sighting!?

This excerpt from an article should be on my masthead:

The shape appears again. This time, you'd swear there was a black, pointy head, sunken eyes, brown, tough skin outlined with tufts of hair. You'd swear it's Bigfoot.

Looked behind you lately? I might be right there in all my hirsute, hulking glory, scratching my pits.

Or attempting to scratch yours.

brainysmurf on learning Chinese

Good FAQ (send in questions, people) for people interested in learning Chinese to be found here, at the residence of the modestly self-named Brainy Smurf.

some top-notch Koreablogging

Visit the Marmot for his latest fisking of a Korea Herald article in which the author attempts (once again) to pass blame off to anyone but South Korea.

Meaty Marmot quote:

Look, South Koreans are "detached and powerless" because they have consistently failed to take on an "issue that directly impinges on their fate," i.e. the North's nuclear weapons program. I mean, Jesus, sometimes it seems like the Western press deals with this issue more than the Korean press. And look at the meaningless shit the politicians up in Seoul have been concerning themselves with - party reform, secret video tapes, judicial uprisings, everything BUT the nuclear crisis. Heck, Seoul seems more concerned with inter-Korean sports events and protecting Hyundai's corrupt business deals with the North than it is with ending the North's nuclear program. The South Koreans passed off responsibility for this problem onto the Americans, so I don't want to hear bitching and moaning about "powerlessness" and "detachment," OK?

In a different Marmot post: China has given some advice (cough) to NK. The Marmot remarks:

To be frank, I'm not sure how serious China is being here - I think this report is more for foreign consumption, i.e. oh, look how helpful China is being, rather than any indication of how China will behave during the six-party talks. As I've said before many a time, China could have put an end to this problem a long, long time ago, and the fact that it didn't says to me that Beijing sees this as an opportunity to win influence / political points vis-a-vis the United States - a very dangerous game to play indeed. Talk is cheap; when I see China actually do something other than protect the North Koreans in the UN, then I'll start believing that the Chinese really want to start playing a productive role on the peninsula.

Meanwhile, Kevin at IA gleefully flays Bill O'Reilly and Fox in a short post (do we really need to say much about this case? O'Reilly's suit was frivolous!).

Kevin again brings out the war hammer and goes to town on South Korean preachiness toward North Korea re: the use of violence in conflict resolution.

What set Kevin off was this, from the Chosun Ilbo (re: the recent NK-SK Universiade fracas, in which NK journalists attacked SK protestors of the NK government):

The violence North Korean journalists inflicted against local anti-Kim Jong Il protesters on Sunday was a violation of the law. If the journalists were unhappy with the demonstration, they should have objected to the Universiade's organizing committee, rather than engaging in a fistfight. Raising fists may be admired in North Korea, but such action is not tolerated in South Korea and in the international community.

Kevin had this to say in response:

Not tolerated in South Korea? "Raising fists" is the standard method of negotiation in South Korea. Violence is a widely used, broadly accepted part of conflict resolution in Korean culture. Unions use violence as a negotiating tool without fear of punishment. Forceful occupations, blockades, sit-ins, public disruptions, and violent rallies are the acceptable standard in South Korean protest culture, and the government does next to nothing to punish that behavior or attempt to change the culture.

What's more, South Korean journalists are no angels:

Reporters routinely use physical force to block politicians and (more commonly) entertainers if they refuse to answer questions.

I'm quite sure that Chosun Ilbo journalists regularly use the same tactics to get quotes from their targets. The same Chosun Ilbo journalists that are preaching about South Korea "not tolerating" the physical force used by North Korean reporters to register their displeasure with protesters.

The use of physical force and violence as means of opposition reaches into all corners of Korean society and all the way to the top. A few years ago an Australian company used video footage of a massive brawl in the Korean parliament to advertise dress shirts, and Koreans were outraged at the accurate depiction of their elected children representatives.

What really caught my eye in Kevin's post, though, was something I myself have contended privately in emails with my friends: the vaunted "Westernization" of countries that have undergone "nation-building" is more surface phenomenon than anything else. Kevin puts it this way, in language that repeats almost exactly something I'd said:

In short, there is absolutely no respect for the rule of law in South Korea. Respect only exists for the force of law, and the government perpetuates the vicious cycle of violent protests and civil disorder by recognizing and accepting violent protests as legitimate means to an end. Violent protests, blockades, and illegal occupations are always simply broken-up, but arrests are rare, and convictions with meaningful punishment are unheard of.

This very point, "rule of law," is a quintessentially Western notion, I think, very much rooted in Greek and hebraic culture. Logos is extremely important to Western society. It's an example of a "core value," if you will, that I don't think has really taken root in any non-Western "nation-built" countries except perhaps in name only. This is one of the major reasons why I can't view the Iraq project with complete confidence, even as I root for its success. The kind of reorientation we're seeking in Iraq simply may not be possible without literally decades of unrelenting effort to change millions of minds. I don't think my doubts make me a doomsayer; I simply think it's important to keep a realistic view of what we're undertaking any time we engage in nation-building.

Toward the end of his post, Kevin gawks at this passage from the Chosun Ilbo article:

A new "rule" for inter-Korean contact must be devised. That rule must focus on helping North Koreans understand the diversity of free and open societies and tolerate external criticism.

Kevin scoffs:

Jesus H, this is the topping on the hypocrite cake. Am I actually listening to the South Koreans lecture North Koreans about the value of the diversity of free and open societies? This, in a country which values diversity so much that a TV anchor who expressed an opinion critical of violent anti-American protests was promptly fired because viewers demanded it. The diversity of a free and open society is so valued in Korea that the reaction to jokes by Jay Leno was to flood NBC with complaints and file a lawsuit claiming Korea's national pride had been damaged.

Sure, diversity is long as the you've got pure Korean blood. Korea is free and open as long as you're on the right side of the all-powerful "public sentiment." External criticism is tolerated about as much as external invaders. Before you go teaching your northern brothers about diversity and tolerance, how about taking a crash course in it yourself.

My apologies to both Kevin and the Marmot for quoting so MUCH from their blogs, but I'm a lazy bastard at heart and these were simply too good to pass up. I'll restrain myself in the future.

an envy-motivated request

Other bloggers have FAQs detailing their personal info, dammit. I haven't included one. Though I'm fond of writing imaginary interviews (check out Mark Leyner's books; he does them far better), I'd prefer to answer real questions from actual readers. But my brain is empty-- what does one ask a bulky, menacing Hominid? Having no clue, I scratch my pits, sniff my fingers for courage, then turn to the readership.

So ask me anything, no matter how pedestrian or wild you think your question might be. Nothing to fear: I won't be mentioning who wrote which questions. And if your question is too outlandish even for me, then I probably won't put it in the finalized FAQ (misnomer if ever there was one).

Send a question list that's as long or as short as you please. And yes, feel free to include whiny requests like,

Q: When are you going to change your blog's B&W color scheme to something interesting?
(A: I'm an aesthetic minimalist, so I kinda like it this way.)


Q: When will you include a comments option that allows me to append a comment directly to one of your posts?
A: Probably never. Steven Den Beste gets away with this, and I think he's on to something. But if enough want it... I'll think about it.


Q: When are we gonna see some pictures & graphics & stuff?
A: This is being worked on. I'm thinking about a comic strip. And a logo, which I'll design, since I cartoon.

So ask away. Send questions to my email address:

Remember to type "HAIRY CHASMS" into the email's subject line, or Satan will trash your email.

Thanks in advance.

a Buddhism question

I checked my Hotmail inbox and saw I'd been rewarded with the following, a short-but-profound question:


If the nature of things is void, how can we attach to anything?

Best regards,

I was in the middle of an overlong, pedantic response to this when it struck me: your question is the same as that of the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism, Hui-neng (btw, folks, it's pronounced "hway nung," rhyming with "spray dung," not "hooey neng" or "hwee neng").

You may know the legend: the Fifth Patriarch, Hung-jen, was searching for a successor. Hui-neng was an illiterate worker at the monastery who heard a recitation of a poem written by the prime candidate for succession, Shen-hsiu. Shen-hsiu had written:

Our body is the Bodhi Tree,
And our mind is a bright mirror.
At all times diligently wipe them,
So that they will be free from dust.

Hui-neng thought to himself, "My balls are bigger than this asshole's," and he dictated the following:

The Tree of Perfect Wisdom is originally no tree.
Nor has the bright mirror any frame.
Buddha-nature is forever clear and pure.
Where is there any dust?

[NB: I'm joking, of course. We have no idea whether Hui-neng ever referred to the size of his balls. But Hui-neng became the next Patriarch. Perhaps, as a good Zennist, he would have said his balls were "not-big, not-small." You'll have noticed that Yoda also claims, "Size has no meaning. It matters not."]

Translations of Shen-hsiu's verse and Hui-neng's counter-verse vary widely. Here's another version of Hui-neng's response:

Fundamentally no wisdom-tree exists,
Nor the stand of a mirror bright.
Since all is empty from the beginning,
Where can the dust alight?

You can see the strong resemblance to your question, Zsolt.

On what can the dust collect if there's nothing there from the first?
If the nature of things is void, how can we attach to anything?

So my answer to your question would be: "Yes, exactly." Your question expresses the wisdom you seek. As the saying goes, The question is the answer.

Here's an interesting piece about Hui-neng: Hui-neng: Patriarch of Zen Buddhism.

Let me comment on Hui-neng a bit, though. I tend to think that his response isn't necessarily all that enlightened. After all, his poem makes the best sense only when viewed in relationship with Shen-hsiu's verse. We can (ironically) congratulate Hui-neng on his mirror-mind, the natural directness of his response, but he stood on the guy's shoulders.

Thirty blows to both of them!

le parcours des blogs

I spoke too soon. Robert and Kevin DID post some gems.

The Marmot, blogging from the comfort of his new burrow at, writes about the recent SK-NK Universiade fracas here. In reference to staging anti-North protests, the Marmot writes:

OK, now normally, I'd say that international sports events are not the time to pull shit like this, especially near the sporting venues. Sports are about sports, not politics. However, this is not a normal time - frankly, this Universiade has been highly politicized from the very beginning, and most of those politics have been of the "We Are One" / "These games will help bring peace to the peninsula" extreme bullshit kind. Being that's the case, I say, fight on my brothers!

And the Marmot's fangs plunge deep into North Korea's neck:

PS: Note to the North Koreans, who are now demanding an apology and that the protestors be punished: bite me - this is a free country, no thanks to you, and if you don't like hearing free citizens voicing their opinion, then perhaps its best that you get your asses on the next flight back to Pyongyang, where you can go back to orchestrating anti-American demonstrations to your hearts' content.

Koreabloggers, I'm discovering, have long been sick & tired of the whole Korean "demand an apology" game. I'm beginning to join their ranks on this. It's part of a larger victim-culture. Chief Wiggles recently got pissed at an Iraqi arms dealer who was complaining about all that the US was doing wrong:

All day long we entertain sources bringing forth the worst possible news of the trouble running in the streets of this country. We hear story after story of weapons dealers in their neighborhoods, counterfeiting operations around the corner, stockpiles of weapons in people's bedrooms, anti-coalition meetings going on, people trying to build up armies against us, attacks on our soldiers, criminal acts going on just down the street, illegal smuggling from neighboring countries, extortion rings, people wanting permits to arm themselves, stolen property being sold, aircraft being hidden, looters, rapists, and on and on.

That is what I listen to all day long. One guy came in under the guise of having a friend who heard on the radio we were giving rewards for weapons being turned in. He was actually an arms dealer trying to find out if he could sell the weapons to us, discouraged to find out we were not in the arms business and not willing to work with arms dealers. He went on and on all about how we were making so many mistakes in dealing with the problems at hand. He was saying the U.S. was not doing this right and not doing that right, saying we weren't taking care of all their problems.

Well, I had heard enough, upset by his lack of personal responsibility for some of the problems we are facing here. He is an arms dealer selling arms to people trying to kill us, finding fault with the way we are handling the problems. So I let him have it, asking him why he wasn't doing something to eradicate Iraq of some of the ills permeating their society. Why didn't he and others do their part, why don't they go do something, as patriotic Iraqi citizens to rid the country of some of these problems?

I told him we aren't here to be out front leading the way while the citizens sit in their homes waiting for new jobs or money to drop in their laps, but assisting from behind the lead of the Iraqi people. This is their country and their responsibility to deal with the problems at hand, with our assistance.

He actually took it well, acknowledging his role in contributing to the problem and how he should do something positive to perpetuate goodness and hope.

I was content with his answer, as he asked me if I could help him get his job back where he used to work, wondering if I would write a letter to his ex-boss.

I think a lot of the Koreablogs are screaming the same thing at Korea. How many Koreans are reading and internalizing this message, though...

Like the "Star Wars" Emperor, the Eric Hoffer-quoting Kevin can fire bluish-purple lightning from his fingertips. In this edition, his Incestuous Amps strike no less than the Chinese government, which Kevin sees as covering its ass by being openly stern (cough) with North Korea only a couple days before the big talks. Rather sudden, this sternness. Kevin writes:

The fact that party sources are feeding this to western media 2 days before the talks start is a pretty clear signal that they're attempting to deflect any (American) criticism of indifference. They obviously want it well-known that they're on the right side of the table and are working hard to give themselves a "well, we did our best" response when the talks are stuck in neutral.

There has been similar speculation that the US is taking much the same approach. It makes sense for us, if we're truly not taking the military option off the table. Colin Powell must not be allowed to offer the "informal written guarantee" of nonaggression!!

There are lingering questions about how stern China will be when push comes to shove. Kevin again:

And how far are the Chinese willing to go to "ensure" that denuclearization? Participation in a blockade? Completely isolating the Norks? What level of assurance will they be comfortable with once the denuclearization process begins? Will they force the door completely open or be convinced with a few cameras and 4-5 IAEA insepctors wandering around blindfolded?

I'd normally say, "Hey, China! Put it in writing!" But this is Asia. Putting something in writing doesn't mean shit.

Come to think of it, maybe it doesn't matter if we give NK an informal written guarantee. It'll be the same grade of toilet paper as whatever other documents issue from the talks.

Kevin's conclusion about the articles he reviews:

These 2 articles are a concerted PR effort by the Chinese government, and I'd bet they're aimed at both North Korea and the United States. A warning for the former and a plea for a pat on the head from the latter. Until we start seeing concrete action instead of quotes from Commies...this isn't significant in the overall scheme of things.

It's depressing, but I agree. I don't think we can expect much to come out of these talks. NK might provide some hysterical drama, but it'll add up to little more than the usual brinksmanship.

By the way, do you spell it "brinksmanship" or "brinkmanship"? "Toward" or "towards"?

Ah. According to Webster, "toward" and "towards" amount to the same thing.

Hmmm. Same for "brinksmanship" and "brinkmanship."

If you think they're bombing the Iraq-Turkey pipeline too much, wait'll the bombers hear about this!

ArnoldWatch: More meditations on Arnold's look. I think he needs to lose that damn hair dye. That's channeling Reagan a little too closely.

America's home-grown Taliban! Killing children to exorcize demons! Yaaaaay! In this case, the demon was autism, but we won't talk about that.

France's pile of corpses...

7,000-year-old clay crotch discovered in Germany! You think I'm kidding, don't you.

At Winds of Change, the following disturbing paragraph:

Has Germany made Europeans the new cash cow for Islamofascists? The German government is refusing to comment on reports it paid in excess of $5 million to secure the release of 14 Europeans being held hostage in the Sahara. The Germans say a multinational force is being organized to hunt down the kidnappers, but if the force is only now being organized, any money that changed hands will be long gone even if the kidnappers are captured or killed.

MLK had a dream. So does Earl.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Fukuoka 2: reflections

It was another weekend visa-renewal flight for the Hominid.

I did this earlier in the year as well. It was exhilarating, that first time, being in a place where I didn't know the language at all. I speak no Japanese (aside from a few lame phrases), and can't read a lick of the Japanese syllabaries (though I can make out some of the "travel" kanji). Quite unlike traveling in Western Europe, where I have recourse to my French (fluent), German (basic), and Spanish (also basic) knowledge, I was at a complete loss in Japan.

That rocked.

Fukuoka 1 involved a stay at the Tokyo Daiichi Fukuoka Hotel, located about four subway stops from the airport (which, luckily, is the terminus for Fukuoka's red line, making travel decisions absurdly easy: both tracks go in the same direction!). Lessons learned from Fukuoka 1:

1. Don't book a hotel while you're outside Japan, ESPECIALLY not online. This is just stupid. I paid around $85 for my room at the Daiichi. When I got downstairs at the international terminal, I saw a tourism office advertising hotel rates around $50-60. Grrrr.

2. When in your nice, modern hotel with heated toilet seat (these are slowly but surely gaining prominence in some parts of Seoul), DO NOT GET CURIOUS ABOUT THE BIDET FUNCTION.

In case you don't know, the bidet ("bee-DAY" [Fr.] or "bih-DAY" [Amer.]) is generally associated with French salles de bain (washrooms, not "bathrooms," exactly, since the French traditionally separate the toilet from the room with the bath & sink). In France, a bidet generally looks a bit like a low-set toilet, or a stubby sink. You squat over the bidet, lower your naked ass onto the porcelain rim, and turn on the water (there're often knobs for hot & cold water). A gentle stream of water, not unlike what might come out of a drinking fountain, will jump out and lick your ass crack. You then scrub away with available soap, wash your hands thoroughly, dry yourself off, and VOILA-- you're all set for that rimjob from Sylvie. Some bidets, instead of squirting water gently into your ass crack, will feature a normal faucet, leaving you to do the ole Scoop & Scrub.

But at the Daiichi...

Trust me on this: you don't want to get NEAR a Japanese hi-tech toilet's bidet function.

I had just finished crapping and wiping, but was still curious about the three colorful, innocent-looking buttons on a console jutting out from the toilet bowl, within arm's reach. I decided to try the bidet function (it was written in English and Japanese). So I hit "BIDET."

I heard a whir.

Something was obviously happening.

I heard the sound of water spraying.

And that, my friend, is when a laser-thin beam of water struck my asshole dead-center and almost caused me to take a second shit in sheer fright. I could actually feel the unwiped chunks of crap being sand-blasted away. When I say "laser-thin," I mean it felt like this fucker was firing a needle into my colon. If my buttocks weren't so large and unwieldy, they'd have snapped shut to block the attack. As it was, though, I let out a yell and turned the bidet function off. My anus was screaming, "No more! Oh, God! I'll talk! I'll tell you whatever you wanna hear! Just don't fuckin' do that again!"

Out of sheer monkey curiosity, I decided to turn the bidet function on while I was standing, so I could see what that whirring was all about. Turns out that, nestled inside the toilet bowl in the rearward part of the porcelain curve, there's a plastic box hiding three extendable plastic arms about 4 inches in length and maybe a half-inch wide. When you hit the "BIDET" button, one arm extends (hence the whirring) and begins firing not one, but three well-aimed streams of water very forcefully upwards. One beam is perfectly angled to bulls-eye your anus. I hit the other two buttons; they ended up doing exactly the same thing. I didn't see any difference.

3. Don't be afraid of the subway ticket machine. So long as the machine's screen has a "push for English" button by it, you're fine.

When I got to the Daiichi hotel, it was nearly 8PM and rainy. So I stayed inside the whole night with nothing but a couple books for company. Had an exorbitant dinner at the hotel's restaurant; they were doing an East/West buffet. In the morning, they did an East/West breakfast buffet; the eggs were fine, but the sausage was laughable.

That was a few months ago. Fukuoka 1.

This time around, for Fukuoka 2, I deliberately skipped out on reserving a hotel room. I wanted the cheap rates. When I got to the terminal's lower floor, though, I discovered that all the major hotels were completely booked. I was given a list of about 20 cheaper hotels and told to call them myself by using the pay phone.

One thing I know from traveling a lot: subways and pay phones are yin and yang. Subways the world over operate on the same basic principles and are easy to navigate-- this was proved time and again in places like DC, NYC, Paris, Munich, Basel (OK, that was a trolley), and Seoul. Fukuoka turned out to be no different once I saw that lovely "push for English" button. But pay phones are the opposite: each country (hell, each city) has its own idiosyncracies. Luckily, the Fukuoka Airport pay phones also had "English" buttons and used purchasable phone cards. It took a bit to figure out the key-in sequence (before you even dial your number, you have to press a button determining the "speed of your connection," and you have to remember to press "start" after you dial your number), but I was calling down my list of small hotels in ten minutes.

Nada. No hotels with available rooms.


So I lumbered back over to the tourism office and spoke in broken English (yes, *I* spoke in broken English) with the female attendants, wondering aloud if there was any lodging left in Fukuoka. "Small rooms are OK, too," I said. Their eyes lit up.


Two things were fortunate: (1) I know enough about Japanese phonology to figure out English (Japanglish) when I hear it, and (2) I'd read ex-Zen monk David Chadwick's book Thank You and OK!, which talked at some length about "capsule rooms" in its opening chapter.

So when the one attendant squealed "Kapsuro!", my heart leaped. Ever since reading Chadwick, I'd been curious what it would be like to sleep in one.

I was given two phone numbers and got lucky. The "Well Be Fukuoka" had plenty of kapsuro. The tourism office ladies gave me a map and through mutual exchange of Japanglish (and some Korean; I discovered the Japanese word for "traffic light" is shing-go, which, thanks to Chinese, is almost the same as the Korean shin-ho), we figured out how I should get to Well Be.

Turned out to be absurdly close. Three stops on the subway, get off at Gion Station, and walk barely 5-7 minutes.

I should mention that it's been pissing buckets of rain in Korea the past few days, but in Fukuoka this time around, the evening and night were clear (and damn hot), quite unlike my previous Fukuoka trip. As a result, I got to see more of the city as I walked along. It was a strange feeling, and I've created a neologism to describe it: metatravoltic.

Remember John "Hash Bar" Travolta's little exchange with Samuel "We Should Have Shotguns" Jackson at the beginning of "Pulp Fiction," when they're talking about Travolta's trip to Amsterdam? Travolta's classic remark, which resonates with American college-age backpackers in Europe, was, "It's the little differences. A lotta the same shit we got here, they got there, but there they're a little different." [I clipped that from an online version of the screenplay, so it might not match the actual movie dialogue.]

If you live in America and go to another country (even to Korea, so long as you stick to what's modern), you can have a "travoltic" experience, like what Vincent Vega describes. But if you're an expat who's lived in a given country for a period of time, and then you go visit another nearby country, you get that once-removed, different-but-same feeling that I think the term metatravoltic expresses quite nicely.

Walking along the streets of Fukuoka, I was struck by how similar many things were to what I see every day in Korea: the tiny, edible cars; the proliferating 7-Eleven-style convenience stores; the redheaded and blond East Asians; the vending machines with their mystery drinks; the general lack of curvy female ass (gotta get used to the Asian steppes; it takes time, if you're into shapeliness, before the Korean gluteal flatlands look yummy). But some things were different: I could see at a glance that the Japanese are less prudish (at least in public) than Koreans when it comes to sexy mags, posters, etc. I also saw some truly creative-- and expansive-- Satan-themed graffiti. I almost never see all-out graffiti in Korea (aside from inchoate scribblings; there's little actual unsanctioned street art on the walls of Seoul; DC would put Seoul to shame, though my favorite place for graffiti has to be Zurich, especially by the Hauptbahnhof). And of course, in Japan, you drive on the left. Those were some of the differences I noted.

The Well Be turned out to be a multifunction building offering a sauna, kapsuro, and a TV lounge in which to sleep (maybe I'm too conditioned by stories about DC homeless shelters, but I wasn't about to spend my light on a La-Z-Boy recliner with thirty similarly reclining strangers). The building staff spoke no English; we got along just fine with pantomime. I laid out 3990 yen (around $34), declined the offer for a sauna (it was already too hot & humid outside, and I've always despised heat and humidity), and went straight to Capsule Room 116.

To reach the capsule, one staffer and I had to take the elevator down to the B1 level. We got out; the place was very quiet, obviously devoted just to sleeping (and, according to Chadwick's book, whacking off to the TV). I was led through a door into a darkened hallway. It was right out of that Star Trek episode from the old series, "The Space Seed," the one in which the Enterprise crew find Khan in hibernation aboard his drifting vessel. Remember the hibernacula? Remember how you had a side-view of the sleepers?

A kapsuro is almost the same thing, almost the same size (maybe slightly larger in volume), with the rooms stacked so that you get a view of someone's head or feet, not the length of their body. The short hallway I was in probably housed close to thirty people. It was 8:15PM, and there weren't that many occupied kapsuro. Number 116 was on the bottom, at the near end of the row where I was standing. The door was barely 2.5 by 2.5 feet; there was room inside only for the bed, a pillow, and a blanket, which I didn't use. There was no door to lock; instead, there was a "blind" you pulled down to "shut" your kapsuro. Obviously not for the security-minded.

The kapsuro reminded me of my childhood days, of being a tiny Hominid splashing in a then-huge bathtub. The kapsuro's interior was molded fiberglass, just like a bathtub, right down to the sickly yellowish color. But I was ecstatic: I was actually going to sleep in a capsule room!

So imagine a fiberglass rectangular parallelepiped roughly 3' x 3' x 7' (yes, the interior's slightly wider than the entrance hole). There was barely room for me to sit upright. There was a TV hanging from a molded niche in the ceiling (I never figured out how to turn it on), a small shelf on which to place your knickknacks, a tiny vent in the back blowing air, and a clock/radio set into the molded wall.

Basically a bed (kind of), and a few cubic feet of air, all for $34.

Luckily, the clock had an alarm function, and since I was dead tired, even at that early evening hour, that was all I cared about. I set the alarm for 5:30AM; I had a 9:15AM flight out. I read a tiny bit, began drowsing, and went to sleep around 9PM. When I got up, I packed my stuff, crawled out (you leave your shoes in the locker bank next to the lobby, by the way; I was barefoot on the carpeted floor inside the building), found a restroom (very clean and normal; no ass-attacking technotoilets) and a bank of sinks, with mirrors, hair dryers, neat stacks of towels, and various men's hair products grouped on plastic trays. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, wet and then blow-dried my hair... then looked down at one of the plastic trays holding the men's hair products and saw what appeared to be either a brand name or some attempt at profundity:

Mandom: Human and Freedom.

Sounds like a candidate for to me.

Left the Well Be around 6:15AM, found cheap breakfast at a convenience store (a very nice, greasy, fried meat/potato combination, whose name I don't recall, plus chocolate milk), and headed off to the airport.

Found myself back in Seoul around 12:30, and made my way to the temple. You know the rest, if you've been reading the blogs chronologically.

Ah, I almost forgot: my walk to the Well Be included a quick flyby of a Buddhist temple (there were tons in that area): according to the English on my photocopied Tourism Office map, it was called "Mangyo-ji." When I saw the temple's name in kanji (Sino-Japanese, like Korean hanja), I saw it was "Manhaeng-sa," or "Ten Thousand Practices Temple." I'm so glad I'm learning hanja. It's MUCH more useful than Korean for getting around, and it's helpful as an aid to learning Korean for us etymologically-minded folks.

So now it's about 4 o'clock in the AM, and I've just finished this damn post. I'm cross-eyed with fatigue and need to get home, so I'll proof this puppy and post it. Might have to proof it again later.


Oh, yeah-- lessons learned on this trip to Fukuoka: get the greasy meat/potato thing next time I'm there.

Mmmmm... greasy meat/potato thing.