Saturday, January 31, 2004

yes, but I think it's a wise move

Noh Mu Hyon's been mulling over moving the capital down south. I happen to think it's a great idea because, as things stand, Seoul's not in a pretty place should war break out. Might sound silly, especially if you're convinced that Seoul won't be heavily shelled and/or war will never break out, but I think a southward move can buy the leadership some time in the event of a crisis. What I don't completely understand is why Noh isn't thinking of simply naming a city-- like, say, Pusan-- the new capital. It sounds like he's planning to build this puppy from the ground up. If so, then I can see why the opposition is complaining.

True: just because the national capital moves, this doesn't mean the city's financial and cultural center will shift away from Seoul. Plenty of countries and American states have small capitals overshadowed by more famous cities: Albany/NYC, Tallahassee/Miami, Sacramento/LA, Bern/Geneva, Bonn/Munich, etc. all come to mind.

This from a JoongAng Ilbo article on the subject:

Opposition parties reacted angrily yesterday to a comment by President Roh Moo-hyun that the transfer of the national government out of Seoul would herald an important change in the country's leadership.

In Thursday's event held at Daejeon Government Complex Mr. Roh said, "Moving the administrative capital means a change of the ruling forces." He then added, "If you browse through history books, new leadership moved capitals so that they could take root in a new land, away from the turf of the old leadership."

As late as Jan. 14, Mr. Roh has downplayed the significance of his plan to relocate the capital to an undecided city in the Chungcheong provinces. Aware of public resistance to moving government agencies and the National Assembly out of Seoul, he had stressed that the new administrative capital would be a theme-city with a population of around 500,000.

The changed nuance of Mr. Roh's wording added to the controversy stirred by the venue of the event. His detractors called the event, in which the president unveiled his blueprint of lessening the concentration of business and politics in Seoul and diversifying it to others regions, as a get-out-the-vote function.

If nothing else, I think it's right to keep the leaders out of immediate danger. They don't all have access to Dr. Evil-style spacecraft, after all. But building this from the ground up...?


all it needed was a freakin' reboot?

Who designed Spirit's software? Bill Gates?

This from a Post article about the two NASA Mars landers, Spirit and Opportunity:

On Friday, NASA erased 1,700 files from Spirit's flash memory, making it more manageable for the rover's random-access memory. Engineers then rebooted Spirit.

"I am pleased to report it appears to be working just fine," said Glenn Reeves, chief engineer for the rover's flight software. He said NASA by Sunday should be able to declare Spirit "fully recovered."

Gimme a break.



Amritas makes the case for phonics as opposed to whole-language learning. I'm a product of phonics, as are many in my age group. Whole-language makes sense for certain languages like Chinese, where you don't have much choice but to use something like a whole-language approach, but it makes little sense when you're dealing with languages that have alphabets or syllabaries.

The problem with whole-language is analogous to the problem with memorizing Chinese characters: if you encounter a totally unfamiliar word (or Chinese character), you're screwed. Especially at the beginning levels of learning, where a student is encountering nothing but unfamiliar words, this approach makes very little sense. For Chinese language (and, by extension, Chinese culture), rote learning is a virtue-- a utilitarian virtue. This isn't necessarily the case in "alphabet cultures."

Phonics all the way. HOO-AH!

[NB: This is a long but fascinating article. Highly recommended. BTW, Miyake says that even Chinese characters are phonetically accessible. I can see his point, I suppose, but I also know I've encountered characters that have completely stumped me, and those had to be memorized, no ifs, ands, or buts.]


paying homage to a cultural goiter

Oh, for God's sake, Kirk. There really was no reason to post this. What were you thinking?

Man, I used to think you and your blog were cool. Now I'm gonna have to drop your ass from the blogroll. Or shoot myself. It didn't have to end this way, dude.


Friday, January 30, 2004

religious pluralism on Tacitus

Tacitus saith (paragraph breaks added to give you a breather):

Earnest grad student John Kearney suggests that the English naming of the Muslim god as "Allah" rather than "God" helps [perpetuate] the notion that this god is different from the God of Jews and Christians. That notion is, in his view, false. But are there objective truth claims to be made on such matters? Is the sameness or difference of a deity a provable assertion (in this life, anyway)?

As a Christian, I'm not inclined to view the Islamic god as the same God that I worship -- too many behavioral differences. This tends to raise hackles, both among Muslims with a vested theological interest in promulgating a contrary notion, and among the politically correct for whom denial of any religious claim (excepting, usually, those of orthodox Christianity) is synonymous with bigotry.

But this makes no sense. Nonassent to unsupportable assertion is, at worst, impolitic, but this is not the same thing as a moral wrong. And besides, I'm willing to apply the principle in the other direction: why should a Jew (or a Muslim, for that matter), view the Christian God as the same deity as his object of worship? Trinitarian, no real divine temporal law, a sacrificial messiah -- not exactly a close match.

If those of other faiths want to deny the reality or identity of my God, well, it's on them, and that's why they're of other faiths. I would hope that the intellectual forebearance would be extended to me as well. Just because ecumenical concurrence is polite doesn't make it true.

If you were following the discussion in previous posts here and on Ryan's blog, then you've heard something like this before: exclusivism doesn't have to lead to violence (Tacitus uses the phrase "intellectual forbearance" in this regard). But with Tacitus as with others who've argued this, the glossed-over factor in this discussion is secularism. This, not "enlightened exclusivism," is in my view what keeps people of different religious traditions from killing and/or subjugating each other.

I don't think it's legitimate to talk about religious beliefs as if they have some sort of a priori reality and are somehow abstracted from their social context. The secularism of the American nomos is what provides an "ambient tolerance" and fosters an egalitarian pluralism not possible in most other places in the world. To ignore secularism's role in religious tolerance is to miss the crucial reason why exclusivists aren't more openly at each other's throats.

As for the specific issues Tacitus raises here (one God or many?)... much depends on your angle of approach. If you approach the question theologically, you'll find people who'll argue that all the Abrahamic faiths are referring to the same God. But others, equally theologically, will argue that's not true. Some Christians, for example, insist on perpetuating the falsehood that Muslims worship a "moon god." And Tacitus' argument that the various monotheisms have mutually foreign conceptualizations isn't new. Maybe Mavrodes's reading of Hick is right and we're looking at a spiritual marketplace that is, effectively, polytheism.

Others will approach the question from a more mystical or philosophical angle, and plenty of other angles besides. A walk through the comments section of this Tacitus post shows a pretty representative cross-section of various views.



Coke addict

I admit that Coca Cola is one of the greatest of my innumerable weaknesses-- Lindt blue-label chocolate truffles being perhaps at the top of that list-- and it doesn't help that Korea's latest batch of Coke cans (in Korea, they're smallish boogers at 250ml, so I usually buy two) features a sexily-drawn female warrior from a computer game called "Lineage II"-- a game whose soundtrack I hear nightly in this PC-bahng and others.

The girl on the can is quite obviously a slim Western blonde, dressed in what appears to be a tunic-cum-miniskirt and figure-accentuating corset. Her head sports World War I Flying Ace/Tatooine Podracer goggles (they're propped atop her crown, not covering her eyes), and she's got a sword or two strapped to her back. Plus, she's fondling a gigantic war hammer.

My kind of woman.

So of course, being a cartoonist myself, I stare and admire the lady's lines, and the lechery appreciation for the female form that produced them. Blondie stares back with an expression that says either, "I'm going to smash your nads with this war hammer if you come any closer," or "I'm hungry for your crotch salami but can express my carnal desires only by castrating you and eating your head."




fantasy literature and performance art

I thought about taking up Carpemundi's call to do some comparative work on the Lord of the Rings series versus Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, but I'm all essay'ed out right now. The seeds of an essay are sprouting, though, so maybe we'll see some mutant shoots in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, I'll report something else I saw on the subway today: performance art!

It was amazing, if a bit subdued by nutty American standards-- certainly nothing on the scale of the dude who set up a toilet on a street corner in the Georgetown portion of DC, then pulled down his pants and sat there a while (if you saw the movie "Jackass," then you've seen the next logical step to this performance piece).

A bunch of garishly-dressed college students poured into the Line 1 train, half of them carrying digital cameras, half of them carrying clothes and hangers. The students with clothes began to hang them up by hooking the hangers through the swinging grips normally held by passengers. While this was happening, the students with cameras began taking pictures, mostly of the students with clothes, but also of us passengers. Soon this turned into a parody of fashion shoots, with some students posing by the hung clothing (remember: people are hanged, clothes are hung, and some of us gents are well-hung). When the doors opened, everything was quickly taken down and the students rushed out, at which point two of them unfurled a huge banner and flashed it to us inside the train. If I'm not mistaken, it was an ad for a college fashion exhibition (...dae hak p'ae-shyeon jeonshi-hwae...?).

OK, so maybe it wasn't performance art as you snotty purists would reckon it. But it was still a pretty cool event on an otherwise dull subway ride.


the battle of wills

I've been tutoring my Korean buddy's sister, Mrs. Oh,* in English. She's been taking the TOEFL over and over (!!!) in an effort to improve her scores, and I was recruited to help her with her essay-writing technique. It's been pleasant, but today we hit our first significant conceptual impasse, and as is true in so many such cases, it's very much a matter of culture.

Toward the end of our hour, I told Mrs. Oh that her written English is great (which is true; and her spoken English is quite good, too), and that the main problem seemed to be time-budgeting. Mrs. Oh's general strategy, whether practicing for TOEFL essays or performing on the actual test, is to just sit down and write the essay. She almost always ends up not having enough time to finish, and so she rushes through the essay's final phases.

The technique I'm recommending to her is pretty much the one recommended to most Americans who've been in similar testing situations (think: AP tests in high school, or any number of blue-book exams in college): start with an outline. When you've got a skeletal framework for the main ideas of your essay, it's a lot easier to flesh them out and connect them logically.

Mrs. Oh's been taking the computerized TOEFL. She's allowed to have some scratch paper for brainstorming/scribbling, but apparently she never uses it-- a habit I'd like to change in her. When I suggested the outlining technique during our previous lesson, she seemed very receptive. But today, when I told her I'd be emailing her some essay topics at random throughout the week for her to practice outlining drills, she balked.

"But our teachers have told us that there are only 70 essay topics out of over 180 that are most likely to appear on the test!" she claimed. "I think I should be studying only for those!"

Being the blunt asshole that I am, and not being too interested in this style of learning, I told her flatly, "Ah, that's basically a memorizing technique. I'm trying to teach you a skill that's relevant to the test. If you learn this well, then it won't matter which topic appears in front of you come test time."

We went around and around on this subject for about ten minutes. She got up from the table and came back with a booklet to show me what she was talking about. It was one of those hastily-cobbled, faded-ink Korean publications hated by foreign teachers everywhere, presenting a very formulaic approach to the TOEFL-- and sure enough, it dealt with specific essay topics and rated them according to their frequency of appearance on TOEFLs past: three asterisks meant "very frequent," two asterisks meant "somewhat frequent," one asterisk meant "rare," and zero asterisks meant something like, "this question has never appeared on the exams"-- in other words, "Don't bother studying for this question. It'll never come up."

But as we flipped through the booklet, Mrs. Oh did a double-take, because every single essay question, we realized, was being dealt with via the outline technique-- the very approach I was telling Mrs. Oh to take! There it was, in black and white: the essay topic first, then some suggested ways to break the topic down in outline form. A-HAAAA!! BUSTED, YO!

I'm not sure whether Mrs. Oh got the point, but I'm going to plow ahead with the emailed exercises, anyway. She's a very pleasant woman in general (if a bit tightly-wound), and I don't really blame her for hesitating in the face of a new and perhaps alien method: I've vented plenty while learning Korean. But in my opinion, she needs to be divorced from the conviction that handling the 70 most frequent essays is the best method for approaching an essay test: it's one's technique that matters, not the specific content of each essay.

Mrs. Oh took the TOEFL this past Wednesday and will be taking it again in about a month. We'll see whether my outlining drills have any effect in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, we'll chalk today up as a slight dimming of the glow of our pedagogical honeymoon.


*Actually, she's Mrs. Kang, just like my buddy's last name (Kang Jang-woong), because Korean women usually retain their family names when they get married. But she insists that I call her Mrs. Oh, which is her husband's surname, because she feels this would be more of an American thing to do. I didn't want to get into the whole, "Most Americans would prefer to respect the Korean way of doing this" business, so now she's Mrs. Oh.


your fat moment for today

...brought to you courtesy a Korean girl who couldn't have been more than 8 or 9, yet was blimpier than any Korean child I've ever seen. I saw her on the subway today. And I was transfixed. I was just like the Koreans who stare at foreigners. As in, Jesus Lord Shiva Beating the Fanged Hordes to Death with Thy Mighty Lingam, what the hell IS that?? And I thought to myself, "This pulsating blob is the future of this country."

I'm pretty tubba-licious myself, so let me put this in perspective. Back in the mid-90s, it was very rare to see fat Koreans of either sex-- but even in those days, it was obvious that girls were getting fatter, faster, than boys. In general, boys may have to take better care of themselves because they know they've got required military service down the line, and it only adds to the misery to go through boot camp lugging more extra weight than just your backpack and weapons. This hasn't stopped some pre-teen boys from ballooning up, true, but my point is that the fat phenomenon was merely a distant adipose-ripple on the cultural skin-horizon about ten years ago. The ripple has advanced since then, and what initially appeared to be no big deal has turned out to be a veritable tsunami of double chins, exploding buttocks, elephantine thighs, and the kind of massive, fleshy underarms once featured so prominently on "Ally McBeal." Fat folks are everywhere now.


Enter the PC-bahng culture, the return of the video game craze, cell phone text messaging, fast food, junk food, and other artifacts of a prosperous South Korean technological powerhouse, and the net result is more sedentary Koreans (said he while he typed away). I'd say the total Korean biomass is no longer increasing at a linear rate: we're creeping into the geometric, and may soon face logarithmic increases if we're not careful. The people aren't just more numerous; they're bigger. And they're fuckin' hungry.

South Korea's sociocultural acceleration sometimes appears to be a steroid-freak version of America's own, and it's easy to imagine that, in a couple decades, South Korea will find itself with an old, obese populace that is kept alive by constantly improving medical technology. The American situation is scary and getting scarier; South Korea is not really that far behind.

Behind. Heh. Sometimes I just walk into my own puns.

Perhaps what we're seeing, in this awful blossoming of byoo-tox, is some perverse South Korean affirmation of the marxist eschaton as embodied in that Ultimate Incarnation of All Korean Fatties, Dear Leader Kim Jong Il-- Antipode Without Corresponding Antipode, Glorious Ass Crack Baby, Fat-Father to us all. With Fatty Kim as the Korean Omega Point (if I may steal a concept from Teilhard de Chardin), I think we can expect an ever-expanding future for the southern half of the peninsula. The only question is whether Kim's seductive fat meme proves to be the undoing of South Korea (as the populace inexorably morphs into humanoid spam and lies-- gasping, bloated, helpless-- before the rampaging People's Army), or whether South Koreans rise up and eat the entire North Korean populace in a paroxysm of unbridled rapacity-- the ultimate expression of consumer capitalism. Given the Korean love of bone and gristle in so many of their meat dishes, starving North Koreans strike me as the next logical menu item, far superior to the limited delights of boshin-t'ang.

My own philosophical stance, as you might have guessed, leans against "fat acceptance"-- not for aesthetic reasons (this blog has played host to far too many complaints about the prevalent flat-assedness [and -chestedness] of the female populace... I have no problems with curves), but for good old health reasons. And yes, this applies as much to my own blubberous mortal coil as it does to the female populace.

And you know what? I think I'd better stop here, otherwise I might convince myself that I need to do more than hit the gym every couple days. Yes... it's-- it's better not to think about that.


your dose of Japanglish

I don't think the group Cibo Matto has quite the alt-popularity in Japan that it has in the States, but their lyrics are a fun source of Japanglish.

Here's "Know Your Chicken," one of my favorites (keep in mind, the lead singer's a woman):

16 years ago, one day,
I was walking down the street
I was cruising in Brooklyn
You know what I mean?
Something was cooking,
but wasn't yet a chicken.

There was a man,
Selling chicks in a box.
He said, "2 for 1, but 3 for 2."
I said, "That's not bad,
Here's money for you."
One was magenta,
The other was blue.

I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken

One day, the blue one went away.
The other grew up fuckin' well.
She was noisy every night.
I had always chicken-bite.

Then I met a lover
One night, she made me dinner.
Licking finger, I wondered
Where she got the chicken.
Then I met a lover.
One night, she made me dinner.
Licking finger, I wondered
where she got the chicken.

I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken

Spare the rod and spoil the chick
Before you go and shit a brick.
Spare the rod and spoil the chick
Before you go and shit a brick
Spare the rod and spoil the chick
Before you go and shit a brick
Spare the rod and spoil the chick
Before you go and shit a brick

I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken

She went to college to study anatomy
I followed her father's butchery
We got 2 babies. Is it cool?
One was magenta, the other was blue.

I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken
I know my chicken
You got to know your chicken...

You know what happens to people who don't know their chicken? They get yelled at in Japanglish. Here are the lyrics to "Birthday Cake," which has to be heard to be believed:

Shut up and eat!
Too bad, no bon appetit!
Shut up and eat!
You know my love is sweet!

Yes, I'm cooking for my son and his wife
It's his 30th birthday
Pour berries into my bowl
Add milk of two months ago
"It's moldy mom, isn't it?"
I don't give a flying fuck though

Shut up and eat!
Too bad, no bon appetit!
Shut up and eat!
You know my love is sweet!
Shut up and eat!
Too bad, no bon appetit!
Shut up and eat!
You know my love is sweet!

It's food nouveau
It's food nouveau
It's the shape of love
Beat it! Beat it up!
Beat it! Beat it up!

Extra sugar, extra salt
Extra oil and MSG
Extra sugar, extra salt
Extra oil and MSG

Shut up and eat!
Too bad, no bon appetit!
Shut up and eat!
You know my love is sweet!
Shut up and eat!
Too bad, no bon appetit!
Shut up and eat!
You know my love is sweet!

You were born in the 60's
We made a war with the Vietnamese
We loved LSD, we died easily
Can we just say c'est la vie?
So what! Say what! For your own sake
Do you have a headache or heartbreak?
Are you made or broken by the birthday cake?
You may be slow on the uptake
I pour pot in the birthday cake
So what! Say what! For my own sake
Watch out yo! Here I come yo!
I'm gonna change to a rattlesnake
Turn up the TV! Do you agree?
Yeah, I'm talking turkey Take it from me
I'm gonna show my love for my dove
"But it's moldy, mom, isn't it?"

Extra sugar, extra salt
Extra oil and MSG
Extra sugar, extra salt
Extra oil and MSG

Shut up and eat!
Too bad, no bon appetit!
Shut up and eat!
You know my love is sweet!
Shut up and eat!
Too bad, no bon appetit!
Shut up and eat!
You know my love is very sweet!

You have to imagine this song being shouted except for the "you know my love is sweet" parts. And you have to imagine the lead singer's voice-- girlish and high-pitched. For you American folks who know little about Asian pop female singers, imagine you're being harangued by a particularly nasty eleven-year-old girl. That's what most such music sounds like.

I love Cibo Matto, but not enough to own one of their CDs. That's why I have a brother like Sean, whose musical tastes range all over: he owns all the CDs. If it weren't for Sean, I'd know nothing about Cibo Matto, Pizzicato Five (at least one song featured in the first "Charlie's Angels" movie), Bjork, Dirk McGirt (formerly Big Baby Jesus, formerly Ol' Dirty Bastard, or "ODB"), etc. Little Bro keeps me from being completely ignorant of what's going on in culture.



John Kerry, whose campaign seemed to be at a loss for ideas, steps gingerly over the fallen and sputtering Howard Dean and capitalizes on his online fundraising gimmick. I give the man credit for this. Maybe he's been reading The 48 Laws of Power.

NB: The article says, "Kerry and Dean are the only two Democrats skipping public financing. Dean raised a Democratic record $41 million last year, nearly double Kerry's total." Meanwhile, Bush seems to have raised millions just by leaning over and farting. It's amazing and not a little scary.


Martians R Us

If our Mars landers aren't entirely sterile when they make planetfall... are we, perhaps, leaving life on Mars?

UPDATE, January 31: BravoRomeoDelta replies in my comments section. Check it out.


Europe under a single sky

(Scotsman, via Drudge)

Europe’s long-awaited "single sky" plans were approved this afternoon, promising lower air fares, fewer delays and improved airline safety.

A deal between Euro MPs and governments paves the way for streamlining air traffic management – effectively removing national "borders" in the sky.

Liberal Democrat MEP Marieke Sanders, who steered the legislation through the European Parliament, said: "This will lead to major improvements in safety, and should cut airline delays and aircraft emissions significantly.

"This is only the beginning of a long process towards improved air traffic management in Europe," [lacuna]

Europe's airport operators also welcomed the air traffic management reforms.

Philippe Hamon, Director General of Airports Council International Europe, representing 450 airports in 45 European countries, said: "With the goal of achieving a unified European airspace in 2005, the Single European Sky programme allows for a much needed reorganisation of Europe's air traffic control system. This initiative will ultimately benefit the air passenger by improving safety, reducing flight times and delays, as well as decreasing fuel consumption."

The accord ends the current patchwork of air traffic control sectors in Europe and co-ordinates air traffic control services and operation standards.

That includes closer cooperation between national military air sectors to limit the costly and time-consuming detours civilian planes often have to make to meet varying national requirements on no-fly zones.



Thursday, January 29, 2004

Spring Offensive?

It's all over the news and blogosphere-- the so-called "Spring Offensive" to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Or is it Pakistan? We're not entirely sure, are we.

And because this plan is all over the news and blogosphere, I suspect Osama's hiding out in London. Probably here.

[NB: As an example of where things stand in Korea, I should tell you I'm at a PC-bahng that won't allow me to see the place I linked to in that last sentence. Strangely enough, were I at the Korea University Magic Station PC-bahng, this would be visible. And-- ah, yes-- a side note: KU's rates have gone up, from W1000/hr to W1200/hr. That sucks. It's now about $1.05/hr instead of $0.80/hr.]


one Iraqi's reply

Via Satan's Anus:

AN IRAQI BLOGGER WRITES AN OPEN LETTER TO HOWARD DEAN: He's responding to Dean's claim that Iraqis' standard of living is "a whole lot worse now" than before the war, and his response is quite tart. It's a must-read.

Ali's post says in part:

What did Mr. Dean meant by this statement? I didn’t want to write about it from the beginning despite what I felt and the questions asked by some of the readers. I said, “this is an American affair and I might offend some of my American friends through expressing my opinion”. But the statement was too irritating and insulting and as I said before there’s no such thing as an internal affair anywhere in the world, not to mention the USA, the country in which the tiniest change in policy might well have a great impact elsewhere in the world. Anything that happens in America concerns everyone on this planet, and moreover as an Iraqi who his whole country’s future relies considerably on how the things go on in America I have additional reasons to care about such things.

To summarize my response I was not surprised, but it added to my confusion about the justification of the position of some Americans regarding this issue.

To have such approach from some Arabs and Muslims, it’s more than expected, still nauseating though. To have such an approach from some European countries is also (natural). But to come from Americans? Well, this is just more than I can understand.

I’d like to (debate with) Mr. Dean and his supporters on few points.

I’m not going to comment about the rightness of the statement with more than saying that only a (blind) man would believe it and only a man blinded by his ambitions would dare to say it, but when you say such words, don’t you mean in other words that the sacrifices made by the American soldiers are all in vain? And that these soldiers are not doing a service to the world, nor to Iraqis and not to America. In fact you are saying that since they didn’t do the world, America or us a favour then they’re only doing a favour to GWB and his administration.

Don’t you agree that by saying those words you accuse the American soldiers of one of two charges each of which is worse than the other;

You are saying that, either they are stupid enough to sacrifice their lives for the sake of GWB political future, or they are evil people who love fighting and killing and they are doing this only for money, in other words they’re no more than mercenaries. Saying that you only disagree with the way this issue is handled will also not change the fact that you are only harming your men and women on the battlefield.

By statements like these you deny any honourable motives for the great job your people are doing here. How in your opinion will this affect the morality of your soldiers? Feeling that their people back at home don’t support them and that they’re abandoned to fight alone in the battlefield.

And all of this for what? For staying in the white house for 4 or 8 years? Is it worth it?

And this is not directed only to Mr. Dean, it’s for all the Americans who support such allegations without being aware of their consequences.

Obviously, this doesn't settle any big-picture questions, but this is an opinion straight out of Iraq. The thing I wish Ali had done, though, is offer some specifics on how life is better. For me, I'm honestly curious. Different aspects of the media and blogosphere spin the subject in very, very different ways, so on top of chastising Dean, I'd like to know something of how Ali's own life has improved.



A comment I happened to catch off BrainySmurf's blog, written by a Brian R. Ruckle:

I just read on a Knoxville, TN area blog that the rumors are Rudy Giuliani is being considered a favorite Bush choice as a replacement for Cheney. Hopefully, Giuliani's ambitions are still in New York.

Anyone want to follow this up?

I, too, tend to view Cheney as a liability, but my original feeling was that Bush should pick Condi Rice as his running mate, pretty much daring the enlightened left to vote against a black woman. Yes, it's playing the race card (something Republicans would generally claim their side doesn't do), but oh, what an effective play it would be. The fact that Bush and Condi are close friends would also help. And Condi's at least as competent as Undisclosed Dick.


your choice this coming November

Andrew Sullivan, speaking from the conservative (???) end of the spectrum, puts it this way:

But in the larger choice in this war there really isn't a choice. It's self-defense or winging it. When the consequences of winging it could be a biological/chemical/nuclear catastrophe in one of our cities, I'm not sure we have any real option but Bush.

Unless Cobb is right and there turns out to be a Kerry-Edwards ticket, linking hawkishness with fiscal responsibility, your choices this November will boil down to

A. Do I value defense/national security more?
B. Do I value the economy more?

If Dean steals Joe's Jomentum and waddles to the front of the flock, these choices will be quite stark. I don't trust Dean to do dick for defense, though I have a weird feeling he'd be fantastic for the economy.

As others (like my Dad) have pointed out, issues A and B are, of course, closely interrelated. I understand that. My point, though, is that because these are probably the two most important issues confronting our country right now, people's votes will ultimately reflect which issue, A or B, they feel is more important.

For those of us assigning A and B more or less equal weight, it's another reason to consider writing in Daffy Duck.

UPDATE: Cobb's wrong, it looks like. Edwards won't run on a Kerry-Edwards ticket. He might, however, run on an Edwards-Kerry ticket.


the coolness of my blogroll

I like my blogroll because I think I pick good people to inhabit it. These people often save me the work of coming up with my own new ideas, which allows me to actualize my enormous potential for laziness.

Case in point: Ryan Overbey's blog has been a great source for one of my favorite topics, religious pluralism. Here's another post of his on the subject.

And here's what I ended up writing in the comments section to that post:

Nate's talking about something similar to what I'm driving at: less focus on philosophy, more focus on experience and orthopraxis-- "groundless" pluralism, mutual inclusivism, what have you. This idea's actually been around for a while; one early form of it can be found in the mid-1980s writings of Paul Knitter, who stresses a "confessional" approach to questions of religious diversity.

Common ground doesn't necessarily have to be found in the philo/theo arena, though we can't discount the possibility that commonalities may be discovered or established (e.g. the possible parallels some Christians and Buddhists see between Christian kenosis/self-emptying and Buddhist sunyata).

One of the things that your blog is helping me think through is the question of the criteria for failure of philosophical models of pluralism. "These models fail because..." Different critics of pluralist models cite different reasons for why the models fail. Sometimes those critiques have merit and sometimes they don't. My own feeling is that, if pluralists envision a goal similar to what you describe with your Trojan Horse image, i.e., the spreading of an irenic meme, then how well or poorly a model performs can be judged in terms of whether it seems to be doing the Trojan Horse's job.

Viewed in this way, it seems obvious to me that philosophical models fail on an extremely practical level: they're not available to most of the practicing religious public, who generally don't and won't concern themselves with abstruse questions of philosophy. The praxis-oriented approach recommends itself here.

Still fleshing this out, but there you go. Hats off to Nate for a very interesting post.


Ryan also passes along the good news that literary theory is dead. Uh... long live literary theory?

And over at Tacitus, the question is: should we be celebrating the list of French officials supposedly in collusion with the Baathist regime? Caution may be called for.

Annika's moved.

Joe Katzman, whom I normally consider one of the sanest voices at Winds of Change, is very, very, very pissed off about this whole "understanding terrorist motives" thing. I'm not sure why this has become such a big problem: so long as one acknowledges the difference between understanding and condoning (a difference glossed over in the French saying "Qui comprend tout pardonne tout"-- he who understands all forgives all), what's the big deal?

Cobb thinks it comes down to a Kerry-Edwards ticket. And he wonders where Spalding Gray is. Apparently the guy's still missing. Yikes.

The Marmot reveals to us why the Cleveland Indians "suck."

Kevin at IA offers us his take on the noble Korean anti-spam war and a decidedly dissheveled James Brown.

The Yangban posts on, among other things, the Christian connection in NK/China.

Kirk posts on Tokdo.

Meanwhile, Kensho Godchaser talks about his love of languages.

Glenn offers even more perspective on the new role that porn plays in his online life. I hate to disappoint the morality police, but I wish Glenn luck with this project and hope he ends up raking in the dough. Gotta give him credit for something I'd never in a million years have the brass balls to do. And even if I did end up running a porn site, I sure as hell wouldn't announce it on this blog!

The Maximum Leader's blog is once again host to some lively guest blogging. I have a question for Smallholder, who runs his own farm: What the hell are people thinking when they feed cow brains and cow blood to their cows? What was the original reason people started forcing cows to become cannibals?

The Air Marshal provides some Oscar thoughts, perhaps the most important of which is the very first sentence he writes.

The ML himself posts on family matters, naval power, and whether Rev. Stanger was being a "scoundrel" by appealing to the suffering of children. I posted Stanger's quote because I, too, found it rather provocative. In truth, Jesus probably didn't suffer as much as other people who've been cruelly tortured and killed, but why get into a useless pissing contest about quantifying individual suffering (I address that question to Stanger)?

And that, folks, is why I like my blogroll. Keep those ideas a-comin'.







That's Catholic thinker Bernard Lonergan's cognitional schema in a nutshell. These four major cognitive operations are arranged in what he viewed as a logical sequence, but not necessarily a chronological sequence. This is especially true when you "layer" cognitive operations onto each other to produce meta-operations, such as "experience your experiencing," or "understand your experiencing."

The operations produce imperatives, which parallel the operations themselves:

Be attentive.

Be intelligent.

Be reasonable.

Be responsible.

As an afterthought, years after he'd formulated this schema, Lonergan added a fifth imperative: Be in love.

These operations and imperatives fit into what Lonergan called "transcendental method," i.e., his term for what "method," at its most abstract, means.

Method, according to Lonergan in Method in Theology, is:

A normative pattern of recurrent and related operations yielding cumulative and progressive results.

Your thoughts?



If this doesn't please the Maximum Leader, I don't know what will.

Break out those nightsticks.


Korea news

No sympathy here: SK complains about unfair trade barriers.

In weird counterpoint, here's a Korea Times business editorial that asks Koreans to calm their fears regarding a "colonization" of the stock market. Eh? Koreans are infamous for erecting their own massive trade barriers and they're worried about market colonization? Since Kirk is reporting that the Korean economy might not be improving as fast as previous optimistic numbers made it seem, I feel safe in assuming that "colonization," in this case, means "transmogrification into a colon."

They're checking folks here for bird flu.

Korea's got an unemployment problem, and the government's using tax benefits as incentives for hiring. Tax credits go to companies, not individual employees, in case you were wondering.

Someone in this PC-bahng ate something very stinky.

Not just in America anymore! Behold the Korean PIMP WIFE!

Korean private consumption "remains in the doldrums."

Bird flu affects metal birds.

The Marmot's post on a related subject notwithstanding, another showcase of NK cuisine gets... good reviews. The book's title sounds more like a cunnilingus manual, but maybe that's just me.

Here's the JoongAng Ilbo's take on the same cunnilingus manual. It's a short piece, but it contains so much: NK perfidy, UN cluelessness, and wretched irony.

Here's a flick I'd like to see, even though I know I won't understand 90% of the dialogue. Previews show some "Saving Private Ryan"-style camera work, not that I mind. And as an aside, I'll say that I'm glad Korean cinema is becoming a force to be reckoned with. Now if only the politicians could scrounge up similar levels of self-confidence...

This made me laugh: "North Might Exploit US Elections." It says in part:

Two defense researchers have predicted that North Korea might risk sudden actions to create an artificial crisis on the Korean Peninsula around the time of the U.S. presidential election at the end of this year.

In a thesis entitled, "2004 Security Environment Prospects and Important Defense Developments," published in the latest edition of "Weekly Defense Forum," Choi Kang and Cha Du-hyeon of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses wrote that the possibility still exists that North Korea, in an effort to change its situation, might [take] sudden actions and risk a crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

The two researchers listed missile tests and missile displays, high explosive tests, and naval provocations as possible sudden actions North Korea might take, and stressed that the government must prepare responses to such actions.

The response from the Koreablogger community will be (and rightly so) yawns. If the American public is affected in any way, it'll be in swinging hawkish on defense issues, which might support Bush during the elections, which ultimately works against North Korea. But since when did logic matter to NK?

Anyway, the whole "in an effort to change its situation" is bogus: what the North wants is the maintenance of the status quo, the current Mexican standoff. The situation can't slide too far (or too quickly) in any particular direction, because that will almost surely spell the end of the regime.

And this is why baseball is the national pastime in Korea, not TKD.

Foreign Minister Bang Ki-moon sets himself up to be accused by NK of being an American toady. "Complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantling." Amen.

China flushes out the old team and ushers in a new team for the upcoming 6-party talks.

If you're Korean military and KIA while overseas, take heart: your family can receive up to 220 million won!

The Marmot posts a (cough) heartwarming picture.


Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Ave Rathbone!

The Rathbone Press leaps onto the Koreablog blogroll. I've heard very good things about this blog-- go thou and read.


where the money's at?

Glenn discovers the heady rush that comes with running a porn site: imagine 5000 hits a day instead of his usual 300. I'll be curious to see what, uh, comes of all this.


bureaucratic bullshit

Yes... maybe I should blog about what's been pissing me off for almost two weeks.

My family FedExed seven large boxes to me, containing my computer, some extra clothes, quite a few books, some Lipton tea, and some sundries to give the relatives as gifts. All of this was supposed to arrive well before Lunar New Year's.

Instead, all my stuff has been stuck in the Inchon International Airport FedEx Customs holding area because the idiots feel I should pay a tax-- on my own possessions. Why? Because of the sheer volume of items involved.

But, goddammit, nothing is for resale. Just about everything is used, and a lot of it is old, such as the Mac CPU, which dates to 1999 (positively ancient in computer terms). I've been working with family and relatives toward some kind of solution to this mess, but the office is adamant: I have to pay W134,000 in tax.

Tomorrow morning, I give up and pay the fucking tax. It sucks, but there doesn't seem to be any way around it. Many thanks to family and friends who've tried to help.

I'm reminded of what Mark Salzman wrote about his time in China in his fabulous book Iron and Silk: the Chinese bureaucrats loved to play a particular game with foreigners called Let's Make a Regulation. I think something like that is happening here.


Reassure me by buying my book or some of my nasty CafePress products. See the sidebar for links.

UPDATE: Nothing cheers me up quite like an exploding sperm whale.


Cintra on "The Passion"

One of my faves at Salon, the sexy and super-talented Cintra Wilson, interviews her friend, the Rev. Mark Stanger, who saw a screening of "The Passion" hosted by Mel Gibson himself.

This is Salon "premium content," so I won't be linking to it, but I suggest you go read the article. One thing to note is that Stanger's views represent, more or less, mainstream biblical scholarship (Stanger himself is mainstream Episcopalian), while Gibson's views are more in line with those of the frothing Christian conservatives and their inbred version of "scholarship." Some choice passages:

Cintra Wilson: This film is being touted as the most factual representation of the crucifixion possible; Mel Gibson has called it the most authentic and biblically accurate film about Jesus' death.

Mark Stanger: It's absolutely not.

CW: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each give different views of the crucifixion.

MS: Mel Gibson in his remarks after the film took a potshot at contemporary biblical scholarship -- he called scholars "revisionists" who think the gospel writers had agendas. They absolutely did have agendas. It's hard to know if [the film is] historically accurate, because Gospel writers were not trying to do an eyewitness report -- they were producing theological, practical documents of faith to answer questions that were appearing in their communities a half-generation and a generation after the death of Jesus. So it was as if the gospel writers themselves were movie makers. They were trying to interpret things in a way that their people could understand it. They're works of art, theological works, not eyewitness reports. But even a CNN eyewitness report has an agenda.

CW: So, Mel Gibson seems to be arguing that the gospels are factual documents.

MS: Exactly. And that all of the references to the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, were proof of fulfillment of prophe[c]y, whereas it's most likely that in order to make sense of the events surrounding Jesus' death, the gospel writers searched the Hebrew scriptures to find things.

Folks, like it or not, this is where legitimate biblical scholarship currently stands. Very few Bible scholars, except those from extremely partisan camps, take seriously the idea that the New Testament scriptural accounts somehow represent an actual "fulfillment of prophecy." What you're seeing in the scriptures is hindsight reinterpretation and symbolic narrative. Any shithead can stand up after the fact and say, "See? It happened just as predicted!"

But try explaining that to a fundamentalist.

CW: So, after the crucifixion, writers of the New Testament were looking back at the Old Testament and finding connective threads to make sense of what they were writing?

MS: Yes, exactly, the way anybody looks into their own faith tradition to make sense of traumatic events in their own life. Also, some of these [New Testament authors and their communities] were already being persecuted themselves for their beliefs. So, the way to make sense of that is to show Jesus as a model of patience under suffering. One of the ways [Gibson] tries to produce an air of authenticity in the film is to have the principals speaking Aramaic, the dialect of Hebrew that Jesus would have spoken, and the Roman soldiers and Pilate speaking Latin.

But very chillingly, in the interview after the showing, Mel Gibson said the reason that he had [his cast] speaking those original languages -- and I didn't misinterpret him, because he told a long story to illustrate it -- he said, "If I was doing a film about very fierce, horrible, nasty Vikings coming to invade a town, and had them on their ship with their awful weapons, and they came pouring off the ship ready to slaughter -- to have them speak English wouldn't be menacing enough."


Go read the rest, folks. Mel, you're wacked. And God help me, I'll still be watching your films.

One last snippet from the good Reverend:

I think a 5-year-old who has to get cancer surgery and radiation and chemotherapy suffers more than Jesus suffered; I think that a kid in the Gaza Strip who steps on a land mine and loses two limbs suffers more; I think a battered wife with no resources suffers more; I think people without medical care dying of AIDS in Africa suffer more than Jesus did that day. I mean, I don't want to take away from that, but this preoccupation with the intensity of the suffering, I think, has no theological or spiritual value.

Recent stuff related to this subject:

1. "The Passion" and religious pluralism.
2. A further pluralism wrinkle.

UPDATE: Check out the Salon letters to the editor in response to Cintra's article (again, no links to "premium" content).


buttocks once again make the news

Thanks to the almighty Exploding Cell Phone. (via Drudge)


qu'est-ce qui se passe en France?

On se pose des questions...

Earlier, I noted that Chirac doesn't favor a Taiwan referendum. Now it turns out France wants an end to the 14-year EU ban of arms sales to China. Gee. Connection?

But France's effort, coming as the country received the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, with a lavish ceremony, was derided by some officials, who argue that China's human rights abuses remain too glaring to overlook. "A desire to curry favor with the Chinese president during his state visit to France is no excuse for rethinking a long-standing European policy rooted in principle," Graham Watson, head of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, said in a statement.

In fact, France stands to benefit handsomely if it succeeds in ending the arms embargo. China, the world's fastest-growing major economy, has one of the largest defense budgets in the world and is spending heavily to modernize its armed forces.

Because of the Western arms embargoes, the country has been largely restricted to buying Russian military hardware in recent years. But Beijing has a long list of items it would like to buy from Europe, particularly French Mirage fighter jets and German stealth submarines.

The European Union foreign ministers agreed Monday to reconsider the ban and referred the issue to a panel of experts. But there was no indication that there would be substantive progress before the next summit meeting at the end of March as France would like.

The Netherlands, for one, has a standing parliamentary resolution that keeps the ban in place until there is clear evidence that human rights in China have improved.

Even Germany, which in December joined France in calling in principle for an end to the embargo, indicated Monday that the time was not yet ripe. "The German government does not feel ready now to lift the ban," the Reuters news agency quoted Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, as saying.

There is some concern that lifting the embargo now would add a destabilizing note to Beijing's relations with Taiwan, already strained by a plan put forth by Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, to hold a national referendum in March on whether to demand that China remove missiles facing the island and renounce the use of force.

China maintains that Taiwan is a province under its sovereignty and that the island's political separation from the mainland is a historical anomaly left over from the country's 1949 civil war. Beijing demands fealty to that position by all countries with which it maintains relations. President Jacques Chirac dutifully repeated his country's commitment within hours of Mr. Hu's arrival in Paris on Monday.

"France is attached to the principle of there being one China," Mr. Chirac said when Mr. Hu raised the issue at the start of a four-day state visit, according to the French president's spokeswoman.

Je n'ai rien contre le peuple français, mais je commence à vraiment haïr le gouvernement français.

I for one don't want to subscribe to the Den Beste argument that France is, for all intents and purposes, the enemy. But shit like this makes you wonder what the fuck the French government is up to, and what propagande they feed the public. It looks like more of the same Gaullist politics-- la France doit servir de contrepoids contre les Etats-Unis.

Que des conneries...



All people who fear me
know not to come near--
I'll chop off your dingle
and feed it to deer!

My pants, oh, they're bulging
I'm pitching a tent
the hormones are raging:
have you fucked an Ent?

I'm mean and I'm nasty
I'm dark and I'm cruel
I'm Sauron the badass
so BOW TO ME, fool!

It's Orc groins for breakfast
and elf ass for lunch
then Warg dicks for dinner--
all tied in a bunch!

The oliphaunts cower
I give them a grin
then slip on a condom
of fiiiiine hobbit skin.

I vomit out darkness
and urinate bile--
I mete out destruction
and shit death in piles

The world is my oyster
it's my bearded clam
it's all mine to conquer

In honor of Peter Jackson and his team, who've garnered 11 (count 'em) Oscar nominations.


Tuesday, January 27, 2004

in honor of our Golden Shower-- uh, GLOBE participants

Some porn-style alternative titles for the winning movies. Yes, I'm thinking these up on my own, though I'm sure some or most of the titles have been thought up already. Filthy minds think alike.

1. Mystic Blowjob
2. Lord of the Cock Rings
3. Bold Mountin'
4. Whorehouse of Sand and Fog
5. Master and Command Me: The Far Side of the Strap-on
6. Whiskerbiscuit
7. Balling The Last Samurai
8. Drill Bill
9. Lost in Fellation
10. Leaky Friday: When Scabs Run
11. Nad Santa
12. Big, Well-hung Fish

AND A BONUS LINGUISTIC NOTE! Courtesy of the Merriam Webster site:

Fart is derived from Middle English ferten, farten; akin to Old High German ferzan to break wind, Old Norse freta, Greek perdesthai, Sanskrit pardate he breaks wind.


the unhelpfulness that is Blogger

So I'm trying to figure out a way to get my permalinks to behave. Taking the KimcheeGI's advice, I sent Blogger an email to this effect.

This is their reply:

Subj: Re: [#31535] problem with permalinks
Date: 1/26/2004 3:22:58 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: "Blogger Support" []
To: "Kevin Kim" []
Sent from the Internet (Details)

Please see our Knowledge Base article for further details about


Hey, thanks, Kimmy!

Here's what you get when you go to that link (NB: I've changed the brackets from angled to straight to make the HTML visible):


How do I create permanent links to my posts?


Permalinks are "permanent links" to blog posts; they're one aspect of blogs that differentiate them from other forms of web content. Some good discussion of their history is over at

Permalinks are created in two steps. First, a unique identifier is applied to each post using an anchor tag, like this:
[a name="[$BlogItemNumber$]"] [/a]

(This should go somewhere in your post body. If you include it in the itemtitles section, your post will only get numbered if you specify a title.)

Second, you need to display the permalink for each post. This is usually done in the footer and near the author name:
[a href="[$BlogItemPermalinkURL$]" title="permanent link"]#[/a]

These tags are already present in Blogger's default templates, but could be useful if you're rolling your own.

So... uh... for those of us who're clueless... does the above contain the answer to my question about misbehaving permalinks? At first glance, the answer seems to be no. The final sentence, for example, tells me that Blogger already does what I want it to do. But obviously Blogger doesn't do what I want it to do, dammit.

I don't think Kimmy really took the time to click through the permalinks in my "Sacred and Profane" section to see what I was talking about in my email to Blogger. If I'm wrong, and the above contains the answer to all my problems, please feel free to clue me in, because right now I'm not getting it.


le parcours-- un véritable assortiment de blogs aujourd'hui!

Kevin at IA squats over and dumps on Korean image-consciousness.

The Marmot wonders: South Korea to build nuclear subs?

SEB: Canadians live in igloos. And other stereotypes. Convenient segue: while Mike deals with Canadian misconceptions about America here, Steven Den Beste writes a long (what else?) rebuttal to a liberal New Zealander here, in an attempt to disabuse her of her illusions about America. He admits he's probably failed in this.

Oranckay on good dictionaries. I could use something like what he's recommending. Will have to look into it.

The Infidel on dirty birds here, on Not America's Mission here, and on Seoul's leadership here. Oh, yeah-- the question of US intelligence failures here.

The Yangban on the trouble with goat sacrifices these days.

Jeff tackles the harsh reality facing novice lawyers (read the comments, too).

Kirk at the Sheep picks up the Satan's Anus question re: Dems who insist on calling the Iraq project "unilateral" or the coalition "fraudulent" (cf. Kerry's recent remarks). As he says:

I have wondered similar things about how many of the Dems talk about Bush's "unilateral war on Iraq" and the like. I have often wished that an Asashi Simbun or Chosun Ilbo (or their equivalents) reporter were to ask Dean or Kerry et al something along the lines of the following:

Japan and South Korea have both responded to Bush's call and have committed troops to Iraq. Both nations have been close allies to the U.S. for five decades. Both boast first-world economies and manufacture many of the consumer goods Americans use every day. Both have democratically elected governments. What, then, is "illegitimate" or "unilateral" about their participation in Iraq?
This is, I think, a legitimate question regardless of whether one thinks the war in Iraq was a good idea or not. Kerry and Dean et al seem to feel that Japan and Korea matter not a whit in the world. If this is the case, Japanese and Korean reporters should call them on it.

Mingi needs Phillip Morris, and finds pro-Bush people in the most unexpected places.

Peking Duck points to a cool and insight-laden interview he did.

Brit Liberal MP Jenny Tonge (I keep wanting to write "Tongue") has been getting a drubbing from outraged folks offended by her remarks indicating empathy with suicide bombers. Joe Katzman picks up on this at Winds of Change as he addresses people who responded to his thoughts on the subject.

Without delving too deeply into this, I'll humbly suggest that people need to keep their outrage in check for when it really counts. What Miss Tonge said was:

I guess if I was in their [i.e., the suicide bombers'] situation, with my children and grandchildren, and I saw no hope for the future at all, I might just think about it myself.

I think this is being overplayed. Face it, folks, if you were starving, oppressed, angry, and desperate, you'd probably act like a starving, oppressed, angry person. I don't think Miss Tonge's remarks should be taken for anything more than the hypothetical speculation they seem to be. One commenter, Ross Judson, echoes my feelings here:

Joe, you don't seem to be able to draw a distinction between the words "understand" and "condone". I can objectively understand the factors that lead to an action I do not agree with. For each of those factors, I can decide whether I believe it to be justification, or not.

My point is, people go crazy. I think that's what's happened here...Palestinian culture has lost some (or much) capacity for rational thought. I trust that we have not, though.

If you just want to kill'em all and be done with it, then I guess attempting to understand (not condone) their viewpoint makes no sense. Otherwise, you need to understand the factors (even the unreasonable or downright crazy ones) and deal with them one by one.

Do you claim to have a greater sympathy for victims of terrorism than I do? Is there a moral high ground reachable only by excluding rational debate of cause and effect?

I grant Joe Katzman's larger point about moral relativism: we can't pretend to be neutral on this subject, and I don't pretend to, either. But understanding where a terrorist is coming from and being sympathetic to him/her are two very different things. The attempt to understand is permissible, in my opinion. I'm in no way sympathetic. I doubt Ross Judson is, either.

von at Tacitus makes some predictions. Trickster chews on the WMD question (are they or aren't they?). Anticipatory Retaliation provides a more comprehensive look at the WMD question here.

Cobb posts a hilarious fictional dialogue between a customer and a retail store worker.

I always suspected, but now I know it's true: Dan Darling is sick, sick, sick.

Dr. Keith Burgess-Jackson also recommends the book that John Eckard is reading. John tells me he leans a little leftward on the spectrum... KBJ seems pretty hard-right. Scary confluence? I'm gonna have to pick up a copy of Pinker if both the lefties and the righties are telling me it's good. How's the weather in Sendai, John?

John Moore on Canada.

Satan's Anus on the glorious malignancy that is the blogosphere.

Andrew Sullivan lambastes Dick Cheney-- the one Lou Reed sang about in "Last Great American Whale." On a lighter note, Sullivan finds himself in the ideological company of cultural giants like Clint Eastwood.

Den Beste never fails to be shocked by the European nanny-state mentality.

Amritas: the most frequently-used English word is...?

Atrios refuses to give specifics in his reply to Andrew Sullivan's "challenge." That's disappointing, as is his pussyfooting.

CalPundit surveys the WMD issue by asking whether there were any experts who publicly doubted the existence of WMDs before the war.

Via Drudge: D'oh! Did the Dean campaign stiff a deli for nearly $1000? Granted, this isn't exactly earth-shattering news; I'm sure someone in the campaign'll pay the deli folks once they pay attention to the problem. Meantime, it's kinda' funny.

Ooooooh, yes: LET THE GAMES BEGIN! I've been waiting for this for a long, long time. (via Drudge)

Note to self: given how clueless I normally am about these things, I need to be extra-careful about the newest Internet worm.

Libya's not all that happy about losing its WMDs.

Go, Kofi!

Opportunity's pics are revealing geological clues.

This ought to make the Air Marshal very happy indeed.

Take THIS, Atkins Diet! High carbs, low fat!

If you've been following the Taiwan referendum flap (China's been rumbling against it, and so have some Americans), you now have more to entertain you: Chirac pronounces himself against the Taiwan referendum, too. Those Taiwanese never get a break, do they. I feel a special debt to the Taiwanese, not only because my favorite prof at CUA is a specialist in Taiwanese Pure Land Buddhism, and not only because my Dad spent part of his active Air Force stint in Taiwan in the 1960s, and not only because one of my mother's closest friends is from Taiwan-- but because the Taiwanese were the ones who manufactured my lovely 1999-era Macintosh G4 with 450MHz processor. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. You're all going to hell, anyway.

Allah links to Muslim sage advice on oral and anal. Good luck not getting fluids in your mouth. What the hell kind of religion dodges the ancient "spit or swallow?" question??

Damn, it's snowy where I live.

A picture of the oldest t'aegeukgi (South Korean flag) is discovered. Too bad the article doesn't actually SHOW THE PICTURE.

T'aegeuk is the Korean pronunciation of the characters t'ai-chi, or "Great Ultimate" as it's commonly translated. The t'aegeuk is generally a red-and-blue yin/yang symbol in Korea; in China, the symbol often includes little spots like "fish eyes" to show that yin erupts out of yang and vice versa.

Please don't say "ying and yang," or I'll be forced to shoot you. And by the way, in Korea it's "eum" and "yang." The ladies do produce a kind of "eummmmm" reaction in me, so I think that's appropriate.


the Tao of birdies

(a post for my brother David)

Smart birds.

Deadly birds.

The bird whisperer.


please spread the word

One of the most annoying claims I've heard is that the US has a shamefully high infant mortality rate. This is often cited as evidence of the shoddy state of American health care. Larger argument aside, the claim itself bugs the shit out of me because it just doesn't seem to add up.

Cobb has just written a post that gives my suspicions some weight: it's how you play with the stats. Go read & tell others to do so as well. This is one meme that could use some distribution.


Monday, January 26, 2004

it came from beyond my ass

They say elevators smell different to midgets. I wonder what would befall a midget if everyone in a crowded Korean elevator simultaneously passed long, stinky kimchi farts.

Something like this may be in store for Saddam when he's returned to his people to face "Iraqi Fear Factor."

"Fear Factor," the one in the States, often showcases stunts in which contestants find their heads crammed into clear plastic boxes. "Iraqi Fear Factor," which would feature Saddam in the pilot episode, should be divided into three parts, just like regular "Fear Factor." The second event is usually the gross-out event, and that's where we could challenge Saddam with a Survive the Fart Box-type game: about twenty gassy people fart into plastic tubes that lead into the Fart Box, where Saddam's head is crammed. If Saddam ends up with some Hershey Squirts in his beard, well... that's "Iraqi Fear Factor" for ya'. After everyone's blown their ass-trumpet and Saddam's head is barely visible inside the box, along comes a smiling Joe Rogan with a lighted match. Will Saddam survive?

Saddam wouldn't be playing for $50,000, of course: he'd be playing to save his own ass. With that kind of motivation, he might actually prove a worthy a contestant.

Iraqis will want to see blood, though, so the other two stunts would have to be a bit tougher than what American contestants go through. The first stunt might be something like Walk Through Hot Coals, then Walk Through Broken Glass. I could dig that.

Or maybe Saddam should have to spend 20 minutes in a chum-filled shark tank. Yeah, that'd work.

In fact, let's stick with the shark tank idea and rig the contest so that, even if Saddam gets severely mauled by the shark, he still wins the contest. This wouldn't be too different from how Saddam ran his elections: always victorious!

Patch Saddam up after the shark eats his crotch, whisk him off to the Fart Box, then get him ready for the third contest. In the normal "Fear Factor," this tends to be either something in the grab-the-flag genre or something along the lines of a target-shooting game. In this case I'd suggest using Saddam as the target while Kurds on zipwires fly overhead and take potshots at him with actual rifles. Will Saddam survive?

If Saddam manages to get through the shark tank, the Fart Box, and the angry Kurds, then he gets to live! Which of course means he'll be a returning contestant on the next "Iraqi Fear Factor"! Congratulations, Saddam!


in other news

People are peppering John Kerry's campaign with superficial comments, so I thought I'd pile on with a substance-free observation of my own.

From some angles, Kerry looks like the actor Jason Miller, who played the younger priest (the one who throws himself down the stairs) in the first "Exorcist." I don't know what this means yet, but it can't be good, especially since Jason Miller is dead.


Drudge bites Dean, and the return of... THE QUESTION

The new attention-grabbing Dean meme has got Matt Drudge's attention, because he's linked to the article in red cyber-ink. It says in part:

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean said Sunday that the standard of living for Iraqis is a "whole lot worse" since Saddam Hussein's removal from power in last year's American-led invasion.

"You can say that it's great that Saddam is gone and I'm sure that a lot of Iraqis feel it is great that Saddam is gone," said the former Vermont governor, an unflinching critic of the war against Iraq. "But a lot of them gave their lives. And their living standard is a whole lot worse now than it was before."

Dean is claiming that Iraqis are not better off. His reasons, as given in the article, are vague (no, actually they're nonexistent), so I tend to view this more as blowhard rhetoric than as a substantive jab at current policy. Let him come forward with a raft of facts and figures, and I'll be more likely to listen to him. I do give him points for posing this question out loud, though. If anything, I think it actually supports Donald Rumsfeld, who in his leaked memo asked for "metrics" to determine our progress in the war on terror. Until solid metrics are developed, people on either side of the issue can claim whatever they want.

Dean's claim may attract attention because we're all sensitive to this topic. The rightness or wrongness of our project in Iraq is very much a function of how well we, in the long term, implement our nation-building plans.

I wrote an essay last year, on July 20, called "The Question We're Not Supposed to Ask." There's a link to it on my sidebar (in the "Sacred and Profane" section), but the link doesn't seem to be working on this PC (fucking Blogger), so allow me to reprint it here.


Are they better off?

The answer from most warbloggers, conservatives, and others who supported Gulf War 2 is an unqualified YES.

The question, of course, refers to the state of the Iraqi people. Under Saddam, they suffered horribly, and as days go by, we hear more and more reports of mass graves, of bulletholes in dirt-filled skulls. The Saddam government was, itself, one huge WMD. We found THAT one and eliminated it.

You should know, though, that I personally was against the war, but not for pacifist reasons. Europe pissed me off before and during GW2, just as it pissed off the pro-war crowd (I use the term "pro-war" cautiously, to indicate supporters of THIS military action, not of war in general). I'm glad Saddam is gone. I agree and accept that Saddam's govt had links to al Qaeda (we've got documentation now, plenty) and the dreaded French. I agree we've made mistakes in the past by not pursuing Saddam beyond our stated objectives in 1991. I don't think the current uranium flap is much more than a flap.

But one of my main worries going into this war was the question of unintended consequences. Many conservative bloggers & pundits were and are convinced that this is a cowardly question to ask. After all, isn't freedom worth the risk? Don't the Iraqi people deserve a taste of what we enjoy? In the same breath, such people mention "national self-interest" as one of our reasons for going to war. I think self-interest is a perfectly valid reason to go to war; it doesn't need to be decorated with specious moral arguments that arise only on certain occasions.

But "self-interest" is precisely what motivated me to think about unintended consequences. The Iraq that seems to be forming in front of us is bearing all the hallmarks of deplorable theocracy. Islamic law is to be written into/reflected in the permanent constitution, eventually, and many of the once-oppressed Shiites are becoming more vociferous about where they want Iraq to go.

One of the first religious acts performed by the Shiites after Saddam's fall was a pilgrimage that involved men beating themselves bloody with swords. This, to me, does not bode well. It's right in line with the unintended consequences I've been considering. Without a massive injection of Western secularism, I don't see how, in the short or long term, our experiment in Iraq is going to work in our favor.

In a sense, it's too late to complain. We're in it now. But whether we, as a people, have the stamina, attention span, and money to pull off what really needs to be done is doubtful. And whether, in ten years' time, the Iraqi people will still be unequivocally "better off" strikes me as, at best, an open question. How do you measure happiness? How do you measure security? By what standards?

For me, the jury is still out, and will be for a long time. In the meantime, I do agree with the conservatives who've complained about the gloom-and-doom nature of worldwide journalistic coverage, which has often taken a Chomsky-ish turn. That's why I read around, and I expect you, Dear Reader, to do the same. Meantime, I think we need to watch the behavior of those we liberated and ponder carefully whether they are worthy of the freedom they now have. Sounds cruel, sounds cold, but that's keeping our own interests at heart.

As always, feel free to write in [, "hairy chasms" in the subject line]. Or leave a comment.



Mingi's Jibber Jabber hops onto the blogroll. Go check it out. Here's a cool slice in the meantime:

South Korean soaps have tested my limits . . . couples not banging ass before tying the knot? Did Jane Austen write these celibate shows? If soaps had sequels, these couples would be seeing marriage counselors because either a) the husband is discovered to be needle-dicked and/or b) the wife was finally devirginized and goes rampant looking for tootsie rolls of different flavors.

The soaps in general suggest premarital sex doesn't exist in this country where the sex industry thrives like nowhere else. South Korean society today doesn't forbid premarital sex. Sure, sex isn't talked about because people think it's improper even to mutter the deadly word in public, but most people have sex in this country and South Koreans should face the truth like the grown-up horn dogs they are, instead of acting like a bunch of clammed-up nuns. After all, the sheer number of rooms in the thousands of love motels in and around Seoul should be an indication of the number of heterosexual sausages that are discreetly tucked into pleasuredom, while laying under the hourly blankets of love motels whose crusty invisible stains I wouldn't want to think about.

South Korean soaps should aim to better depict South Korean life. Then again, if South Korean TV stations did that, it'd be like watching a marathon of horror flicks.


Super-size Me!

It's the title of a documentary film directed by and starring Morgan Spurlock, who decided to chronicle the effects of eating nothing but fast food with a camera crew and team of doctors by his side.

The results weren't pretty.

Spurlock, a tall New Yorker of usually cast-iron constitution, made himself the guinea pig in this dogged investigation into the effects of fast food on the body. He ate only at McDonald's for a month - three meals, every day - and took a camera crew along to record it. If a server offered to super-size his order, he was obliged to accept - and to ingest everything, gherkins and all.

Neither Spurlock, 33, nor the three doctors who agreed to monitor his health during the experiment were prepared for the degree of ruin it would wreak on his body. Within days, he was vomiting up his burgers and battling with headaches and depression. And his sex drive vanished.

When Spurlock had finished, his liver, overwhelmed by saturated fats, had virtually turned to pate. "The liver test was the most shocking thing," said Dr Daryl Isaacs, who joined the team to watch over him. "It became very, very abnormal."

Spurlock put on nearly 12kg over the period and his cholesterol level leapt from a respectable 165 to 230. He told the New York Post: "I got desperately ill. My face was splotchy and I had this huge gut, which I've never had in my life ... It was amazing - and really frightening." And his girlfriend, a vegan chef? "She was completely disgusted by me," he said.


Lessons learned, eh?

Keith Burgess-Jackson also offers some wisdom on eating well and exercising in his post reprinting an American Cancer Society letter on the preventability of cancer:

The overwhelming majority of the world's cancer control professionals agree that prevention and early detection will save more lives from cancer than any other tool available.

Studies show that about 60 percent of the cancer deaths that will occur in 2004--more than 300,000--will be related to preventable behaviors like poor nutrition, physical inactivity, obesity and smoking.

Something to think about. Mind and body are not-two... my gut is a good clue that something's out of whack.


all is straw

Forget North Korea. Forget religious pluralism.

I just watched the "Aliens vs. Predator" movie trailer. It reveals nothing, looks absolutely corny, but I'm stoked. Fuck "Spiderman 2."

Whoever wins...

...we lose.



The Great North Korean Famine, by Andrew Natsios (Part V)

The final post on this book!

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Chapter 8, "The International Aid Effort," chronicles what was going on in international circles as North Korea plunged into crisis. In the early 90s, as Kim Il Sung's health was failing and Kim Jong Il was taking over more and more administrative duties, the reports came in that all was not well in the Stalinist paradise: a shortage in funding from Russia in 1991 would lead, Kim Jong Il was told, to food shortages and damage to the public distribution system. Party officials requested permission to appeal to the WFP for aid.

Natsios's chapter deals with the response to this appeal. He observes that people sent in to evaluate the North Korean crisis, like Sue Lautze of USAID and Lola Nathanail of Save the Children UK, ended up with radically different perceptions and judgements of the situation. Of the two, Lautze and Nathanail, Natsios believes Lautze's observations were more accurate and more skeptical of the brave front NK was putting on the famine.

The public distribution system (PDS), which Nathanail uncritically hailed as equitable, was in fact part of the more sinister effort to triage parts of the country (cf. previous posts re: the deliberate isolation of the Northeastern provinces, which have been historically less loyal to the central governing power). Western aid was an unwitting abettor in the inequitable distribution of food aid.

Page 182:

Donor governments, the news media, and the public inaccurately assume that food aid commitments are somehow equivalent to their delivery. But the time lag between commitments and deliveries has plagued famine relief since its modern inception. Although the US government usually delivers on its promises, some donor governments make commitments they do not keep. Others deliberately double count their pledges, thus making them look more generous than they are; this happened regularly during the southern African drought in 1992. Sometimes paperwork and scheduling problems delay the delivery of food aid until six or eight months after it is pledged: the European Union has a particular problem with this, because it depends on member-states to ship the food. US food aid for North Korea would have been pledged from the Food for Peace budget within USAID, but it was purchased and shipped from the US grain markets by the USDA, a process that takes two to three months. Thus, when the White House increased its food pledges in the spring and again in the summer of 1997, hungry North Koreans did not start eating the next day or week. For the purposes of this study, the food aid delivery date to North Korean ports is a more useful standard than the date of the pledge when judging the effects of food aid. But even then the food aid had to be shipped to the receiving cities, which could take weeks given the feeble condition of the North Korean transportation system.

Politics played a role during the entire food aid process, including some hesitation by South Korea to deliver food aid too early: a delay of several months was requested, at one point in 1996-- very likely an attempt by the SK government to induce a premature collapse of the NK government. A sharp rise in NK citizen death rates was one of the effects of all this politicking.

Natsios ends this chapter by comparing Herbert Hoover's Soviet relief efforts in the early 1920s, which featured consolidated leadership and massive resources, with the comparatively fumbling efforts of smaller aid groups to coordinate with governments and each other in an effort to help North Korea. "In short," Natsios writes, "the North Korean effort lacked Hoover's unity of command. No early, single source of huge resources existed with which to negotiate an agreement with Pyongyang. The many semi-autonomous NGOs, the Red Cross movement, and three UN agencies were unable to negotiate with the central authorities from a position of strength."

Chapter 9's poignant title is, "A Great Famine?"

In exploring the question of who the famine's victims were, Natsios notes that, while all of NK was suffering, not everyone suffered equally. Some factors exacerbating the famine included the pre-famine erosion of public health facilities, the severe winters, the cholera epidemics, and perhaps most disturbing, the systematic attempt to use the famine to eliminate those sectors of the population perceived to be disloyal (or not loyal enough). The three-part division of the population by levels of loyalty, a schema laid out by Kim Il Sung in 1958, went something like this:

25% "loyal" class
55% "wavering" class
20% "hostile" class

Natsios cannot draw a conclusive connection, but he notes that a case can be made for "punitive rationing" during the famine based on UN data that showed

32% no malnutrition
62% moderate malnutrition
16% acute malnutrition

[NB: the above isn't a typo. Don't ask me how those numbers are supposed to add up; I'm not a statistician. Perhaps Natsios relied on several UN sources and means to provide only a general reflection of the malnutrition's distribution.]

The ratios look eerily similar to the 1958 class divisions.

I'll remark at this point the bitter irony of introducing class divisions in what is supposed to be a classless society.

The chapter covers some ways of calculating the raw number of starvation deaths and concludes with some assurance that about 2.5 million people, or approximately 10% of NK's population at the time, died of famine in the space of 2-3 years. Again, this chapter didn't discuss how much the military was affected by all this.

Chapter 10, "Political and Security Consequences," does some exploration and extrapolation.

The famine-induced breakdown of the PDS, coupled with the rise of corruption at lower and lower echelons of the society, led to the formation of thriving "farmer's markets." Natsios sees a positive outcome here, in that the people had been forced to shirk communist ideology in favor of a very pragmatic (albeit down-and-dirty) form of capitalism.

Natsios also stresses the role of international aid and porous borders with China in providing suffering North Koreans with an idea of what life is like outside their country. He feels that, as the citizens' resentment of their plight continues to build, it is only a matter of time before the regime loses its grip on power.

Page 230:

The notion that the old order can be fully restored and the historical clock turned back is specious. The scars of the famine are too deep, the embitterment of the population too widespread, and the changes in the economy too profound for the old order to be restored.

I wish I could share Natsios's optimism: the beast still clings to life.

Kim Jong Il doesn't have his father's aura of authority, so many experts aside from Natsios have speculated on how firm a rein he has on his government and military. Natsios contends Kim is nervous, and cites a December 1996 speech in which Kim betrayed "a certain unease" about how loyal the military was.

And on p. 232, we finally get some extended comments about the military! the early 1990s, nearly 40 percent of the sixteen- to twenty-four-year-old population of the country was in the military-- 6 percent of North Korea's total population. Under more prosperous circumstances, this number of people under arms would provide a strong base of popular support for the military and a high level of political mobilization in the society. Under famine conditions, however, the reverse is often true. A large proportion of troops saw relatives die, as it would have been logistically and practically impossible to ensure that all military families were fed, and it is likely that many held the regime at fault. In other words, the regime has a large number of young men with weapons, and although they are in a highly controlled and disciplined organizational structure, many are quite likely unhappy about deaths in their families.

And later on the same page:

But the regime faced another, entirely different, military problem. The famine may have undermined military morale in a way that could be threatening to the state, but it also devastated the combat readiness of the once formidable North Korean military. According to the WFP nutritional survey done in 1998, 75 percent of children under age nine who had been measured were suffering from malnutrition and stunting caused by prolonged malnutrition [sic]. Given that serious food shortages were reported as early as 1988, the current generation of recruits into the North Korean military are remarkably smaller than were their counterparts in the 1970s. Reports from food refugees on the border mention that before new recruits are inducted, they have to go through a fattening-up period to improve their health and physical condition and make them combat-worthy. Several of the refugees I interviewed said that the military was full of soldiers who survived by begging for food from civilians. In areas where discipline broke down, soldiers stole food from civilians at gunpoint. In rural areas military units occasionally organized raids of farming areas. Thus in some areas the once-revered People's Army became a predatory symbol of a utopian-state-turned-nightmare. None of this could have helped military morale.

If Natsios's extrapolation from interviews and other tantalizing forms of evidence is valid, then he's presenting us a picture of a military that is hungry-- and maybe starving, though this is still far from clear, especially as relates to the question of how well-fed the troops at the DMZ are. In any case, Natsios finds it not implausible that a disgruntled military might well be the source for a major coup.

The chapter ends by recapping that nearly 3/4 of NK children are stunted. The US policy toward NK of a "soft landing," i.e., a slow, careful conversion of NK government and society to something approaching, say, Chinese-style market reform, doesn't seem to have provided the people of NK with a soft landing at all. Natsios finds the country's current ruin to be every bit as devastating as the damage wrought by the Korean War. In retrospect, Natsios claims, donor countries should perhaps have concentrated their aid efforts in the Northeastern provinces, where a history of "less loyalty to the center" might have been the entrée for serious reform as unhappy citizens interacted with aid workers.

Natsios's final chapter (11), "What's to be Done?", reiterates Natsios's belief that donor governments could have done much more, but that the fundamental responsibility for the devastation of the NK famine lies clearly on the shoulders of the NK government. Natsios contends that what NK needs most is economic reform-- a change to something more market-friendly. Ideology here is the major stumbling block.

I agree that NK needs such reform, but feel it makes little sense without an accompanying political and societal reform, neither of which can be accomplished quickly or easily. As I've contended, I don't see the citizens of SK and NK as "one people" at present, though it's possible they may become one people again-- with or without unification.

Natsios openly wonders whether the NK government is, finally, at the end of its rope. He wonders whether we might not be seeing some major revolts in the next few years as the desperate conditions prompt people to try desperate measures.

The chapter's final paragraph:

Some Western policymakers opposed the aid program because they feared it would be used to help the massive North Korean military that threatened South Korea and the US troops stationed there during the 1990s. The fact is, however, that the famine relief effort in no way exacerbated the threat; rather, in some important ways it helped to reduce it. The entire effort, seriously flawed though it may have been, sent a startling message to the mid-level party cadres and field officers who were also victimized by the famine and who lost friends and family members to it. The people whom they had long been taught to view as their enemies were feeding them, while their government was not. If a coup d'état should eventually end the regime and a military government come to power, it is likely that the relief effort will have played some role. Moreover, it will have sent a striking message to the new leadership of the country: their so-called enemies may not have been as threatening or as malevolent as they had been taught all their lives. This is not a bad message to be sending under such unstable and unpredictable circumstances. Generosity and decency on occasion can have attractive geostrategic consequences.

I found Natsios's book fascinating and compelling. The fact that he was not merely on site, interviewing hundreds and hundreds of refugees and working with organizations like the Buddhist one he mentions early in the book (KBSM, Korean Buddhist Sharing Movement), but was also involved in high-level planning and oversight lends credence to his insights. His previous experience with famine and his reliance on others with comparable experience (journalist Jasper Becker is cited many times throughout the book) doesn't hurt his case, either.

I didn't find Natsios's book to be conclusive on the question of NK's fighting capability, but it may be asking too much of this book to provide that kind of information. The overall picture I get is of a hungry, but still capable, military. If Natsios is correct about the potential for resentment, however, perhaps the question of fighting capability has a few wrinkles.

I'm afraid I disagree with Natsios about food aid, and what I'm about to say may sound cruel. Although I was against the war in Iraq, I was struck by the paradoxical attitude taken by people before and after the war: the same people who, pre-war, spent their time arguing that sanctions were both cruel and ineffective ended up arguing that the US military's quick push to Baghdad was possible because the people had been broken by twelve years of sanctions.

To me, this means that sanctions were effective in Iraq, though perhaps not quite the way they were intended. The charge that "sanctions are ineffective" relates to the question of a regime's hold on power. I agree that it's unlikely that sanctions alone can dislodge a determined and powerful regime, especially if it has the means to keep its people under its thumb no matter how severe a crisis becomes. But the charge that "sanctions are ineffective" is false if analyzed from a military perspective, and Iraq demonstrated this nicely.

For this reason, if we are to keep the military option on the table with North Korea (and I strongly believe we should), it is important to press our advantage through continued non-aid, or minimal aid at best. Natsios provides compelling reasons for why this is a bad idea; I'm especially impressed by his testimony that aid workers provided many North Koreans with a glimpse of the outside world-- spreading a meme that could potentially blossom into resentment, and thence into action against the NK government. And to be honest, I cringe in guilt when Natsios rails against the ethical indefensibility of starving a people to unseat a government. This is undeniably a cruel route to take, but I see the unseating of the NK government as the proper prelude to the comprehensive feeding and rehabilitation of its people.

But as with other horrible, radical solutions to long crises, the question is time. Prolonging a crisis is undesirable. In World War 2, as many argue, the dropping of atomic bombs probably shortened the length of the conflict and saved lives. I submit that our current willy-nilly diplomacy, slightly firmer under Bush (but not much), isn't helping matters in NK. North Korea's game is focused entirely upon the goal of prolonging its existence-- i.e., gaining time for itself. Any concessions we make simply feed into this because the current Mexican standoff is tailor-made to preserve the status quo. Kim Jong Il has great interest in keeping things as they are, because he's not looking beyond the question of his own survival.

So what are our options? I'd rather not opt for war, but think we should reserve this as a possibility-- and let NK know this. Anything that keeps the country nervous and sweating is good. I'm not convinced we can simply roll over the NK military, however, even if it is in a shabby state. People predicting that Seoul won't be lost in the initial conflict are probably overoptimistic: many will die, on both sides, and not just in Seoul. A diplomatic solution would be desirable, but so long as NK dodges the issue of verifiability and laces its rhetoric with threats and seeming-irrationality, I see little hope on that front.

We do have control over aid, as one of the largest (if not the largest) aid contributors, and we should think of our options in terms of what we can control. Verifiability is out, effectively speaking. Market reforms are unlikely. Free North Korea's advocacy of something like a Berlin Airlift is a noble pipe dream at best. So I'm led to believe that, whether we go to war or not, the best way to accelerate events is through the withholding of aid-- not just food, but fuel and other goods.

This will meet with international resistance. Most of the outcry will be along the lines of Natsios's ethical objections, to which I'm sympathetic. But it will also force countries like South Korea and China to seriously reevaluate where they stand. Perhaps both will decide the time has come to shoulder the burden and feed their hungry neighbor. The price the US might pay for this is steep: all three countries (China, SK, NK) might view the US with deep resentment, resulting in a rapid loss of diplomatic capital in the region (then again, things aren't that pleasant right now). But this might not happen: both South Korea and China have huge vested economic interests in America; it would be more than a shame to lose half the Pacific Rim as a trading partner.

Perhaps the result of a squeeze will be war: Kim diverts a restive military by focusing their rage on South Korea. But the move to war will signal the end for NK. Whether Kim is killed or escapes, his government-- his country as he knows it-- will cease to exist. NK will lose an all-out war, and it's possible that, in the aftermath, great efforts will be made to reunify the peninsula. China won't be pleased if the peninsula reunites under Seoul. Then again, a unified Korea might feel itself to be an equal (or at least comparable) partner to countries like China and the US, and might actually prove to be a friendly trading partner with China. The mingling of South and North Koreans might dilute SK's capitalist culture and make Chinese "market communism" seem more palatable (or comprehensible). A new, syncretic Korea might be born before our eyes.

Who knows? We're not on the other side of this issue yet, and from this end I can't tell what's going to happen.

Neither can you.