Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Peking to Paris, Beijing 2005

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Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Forget hi-tech

When I first saw this report a few minutes ago my first thought was: "And the winner of the dumbest idea of the year is..."
I had this vision of colored balloons floating across the demilitarized zone into North Korea, and then being shattered by a barrage of gunfire. What a photo opportunity. What an opportunity for a massive misunderstanding and an "incident." And of course now that they know they are coming, where they are heading, and what they contain -- it makes things so much easier for them to be shot down before they reach their intended target.
But apparently this method has been used before, there were no reported major incidents that I could find on a quick search "korea balloons" -- but at the same time, obviously there is no way of knowing how much impact the previous efforts had.
About all I can say is, good luck!

" TOKYO (AP) - A Japanese advocacy group said Tuesday it will use balloons to scatter flyers over North Korea, offering residents a US$10,000 cash reward for information on Japanese citizens kidnapped by the regime decades ago. The Tokyo-based Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea plans to send the first batch of the balloons from near South Korea's border with the North in late March, according to the group's leader, Kazuhiro Araki. The 5-meter- (20-foot-) long balloons are fitted with simple timers and can be preset to release sacks of flyers over the Pyongyang region, Araki said. The postcard-sized flyers, which are waterproof and printed in Japanese and Korean, call for details on Japanese citizens abducted by communist agents in the 1970s and 1980s.The flyers also offer a cash reward of up to US$10,000 for information on Japanese abductees and urge residents to contact a hot line in Japan or tune in to a radio program the group transmits toward North Korea. The group is preparing to eventually scatter over 100,000 flyers over the isolated regime, Araki said. With no independent radio, television or newspapers and no public Internet access, few North Koreans know what is happening in their homeland, or outside. ``These could be picked up by anyone in North Korea. We want to reach as many people as possible,'' said Araki. ``Our aim is to get information into North Korea, then get information out.'' South Korean private groups have previously used balloons to send flyers and radios to the North. For decades, the two Koreas also used balloons to scatter propaganda leaflets on each other's territories."

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Sunday, 25 February 2007

Another cartoon controversy?

After the tragic death of nine migrant workers in a fire at an immigration detention center a few weeks ago, and the government's recently launched campaign to make foreigner's feel more welcome, Korea really needed the following. Not.

"LOS ANGELES (AP) - Korean-American community leaders said they plan to launch a protest against the publisher of a popular South Korean comic book that contains anti-Semitic images. One comic strip in the book shows a man climbing a hill and then facing a brick wall with a Star of David and ``STOP'' sign in front. ``The final obstacle to success is always a fortress called Jews,'' a translation says. Another strip shows a newspaper, magazine, TV and radio with the description: ``In a word, American public debate belongs to the Jews, and it's no exaggeration to say that U.S. media are the voice of the Jews.'' Yohngsohk Choe, co-chairman of the Korean American Patriotic Action Movement in the USA, said, ``I don't have words to describe the outrage I feel.'' The group met Fridaywith Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish advocacy group. Cooper said he would travel to Seoul on March 15 to raise concerns about the book. The book, written by South Korean university professor Lee Won-bok, is part of a series called ``Distant Countries and Neighboring Countries,'' which is intended to teach youngsters about other countries. The series has sold more than 10 million copies. Eun-Ju Park, chief executive of Seoul publisher Gimm-Young, said in an e-mail that the author sent an apology to Charles Kim, national president of the Los Angeles-based Korean-American Coalition. Park wrote that she would look into the matter more closely and correct what needs to be corrected."

I absolutely agree with the quote from Noam Chomsky reproduced in the banner of this blog, I would not have put it there otherwise. But please, this type of material does not belong in school books. Especially in cartoon books aimed at the very young and impressionable.
Korea has the reputation for swift and vociferous responses to any published material they consider impugns their character or history. I find it somewhat disturbing that a country that has demonstrated such hyper-sensitivity to being slighted, would allow the publication of this kind of material and its distribution in Korean schools.
The fact that it was translated and published in English without anyone raising a flag is bad enough, but where were the editors of the Korean version? What were they thinking?

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Saturday, 24 February 2007

HEU - Highly enriched uncertainty

The debate over whether or not North Korea has a credible Highly Enriched Uranium program continues to rage. There is little doubt that HEU has been on Pyongyang's agenda, but just like New Year resolutions and that book all journalists "threaten" to write, how far along the road to producing a bomb are they?

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States should reexamine a questionable charge that North Korea has a covert uranium enrichment program, a key American complaint against Pyongyang that could complicate the new nuclear weapons deal, experts said on Wednesday."
(Full report:

One of the experts being cited in the report is David Albright. He has been getting a lot of ink recently. It was Albright that the world's media were quoting as a reliable source regarding North Korea's softening attidude just before the lastest round of six-party talks.

But now Albright's qualifications, and consequently his reliability as an expert are being called into question.

"Not that Albright really knows. Although he's regarded as a physicist on the basis of master's degrees in physics and math from Midwestern US universities, neither he nor Wit was able to use their expertise while in Pyongyang in the run-up to the latest six-party talks that culminated in the deal for North Korea to give up its nukes, eventually, in return for a vast infusion of energy aid."
(Full report:

Conventional wisdom would dictate that when one is "uncertain" about something, you should essentially hope for the best but plan for the worst. But in the case of North Korea and now Iran, the worst is really just too awful to think about.

Based on their individual records when it comes to accuracy, I suppose it is safe to assume that Washington, Pyongyang and Tehran are all being less than honest and transparent. Each has their own agenda. It would be nice to see the media more frequently allude to this uncertainty in their reports.

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Friday, 23 February 2007

The next Twin Towers - the next headline

Every couple of days over the past few weeks I have experienced what I can only describe as a “weird” feeling while watching television. It is a creepy, hair stand up on the back of your neck sort of weird.
Let me explain. My wife and I are slowly working our way through the entire 10 seasons of the hugely successful sit-com “Friends.”
If we are not attending some function or working on other projects, the evening will eventually see us head to the sofa with some after dinner munchies, beer, and the remote control.
It has only been about 12 years since “Friends” first aired on NBC, but my oh my, how the world has changed. The scriptwriters obviously didn’t intend it, but watching Chandler boast about the power of his laptop and an internet connection speed of 28k, triggered a “get out of here” guffaw and the sort of nostalgia that a retiree has for their days in university. I am not sure, but I don’t think mobile phones made their appearance until the end of the second series, and it was a trip down memory lane to hear Rachel bemoan the loss of her walkman. How did they survive without iPods!!
But this step back into recent, but still so familiar technological history isn’t the cause of the weird feeling. What is it that makes me wish I could turn the clock back, and gives me such angst for the future? It is the all too frequent shots of the Twin Towers. In the segueways from one scene to another, as the camera pans across a New York cityscape, I find myself looking for them.
Seeing them standing there, dominating the skyline, reminds me of a time when we thought a “beeper” was cool and the world seemed like a safer place.
Of course we still see pictures of the Twin Towers all the time, but these days they are mostly the focus of a report or documentary. They have passenger jets crashing into them. Seeing them simply as a backdrop in a sit-com, the familiar silhouette, they have a comfortable, reassuring permanence about them. But like the cassette-walkman, beepers and a 28K dial-up connection, they are gone. Still familiar, but gone.
The world in those days wasn’t a safer place, I just need to read though the articles and commentaries I wrote during that period to bring me back to some sort of reality. But as bad as it was, I can’t shake off the feeling that pre-9/11 can’t compare to the present in terms of the perils we face.
The future scares me. Not because I am often left behind by the rapid advances in technology. Just when I get used to something, get confident, I suddenly find myself essentially using a bow and arrow against a light-saber. That doesn’t bother me. I am good with a bow and arrow.
I am outraged about the hatred that led to the loss of the Twin Towers, the stupidity and lies, the failed policies, and the arrogance that led to the hatred that led to the loss of the Twin Towers. I used to write about these things.
Facilitated by the advances in technology; the hatred, the stupidity, the lies, the failed policies and the arrogance overwhelm us with such speed, that one day we are taking the Twin Towers for granted, and the next they are a headline.
And I am still writing about it and wondering, where is the next headline?

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Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Do they or don't they have a HEU program?

“SEOUL, Feb 20, 2007 (AFP) - South Korea's intelligence chief was quoted as saying Tuesday that he believes North Korea has a secret uranium enrichment program, in addition to its plutonium-based nuclear weapons project. "We believe (the program) exists," Kim Man-Bok, the head of the National Intelligence Service, told a closed-door parliamentary committee, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting. Kim was answering a question on whether the North is operating a highly-enriched uranium (HEU) program, the lawmakers told Yonhap news agency on condition of anonymity.”

In 2002 the United States made the shocking announcement that North Korea was operating a clandestine highly-enriched uranium program with the obvious purpose of producing nuclear weapons. This was the final deal breaker for the 1994 Agreed Framework to dismantle Pyongyang's existing nuclear facilities.

The accuracy of that assessment has been called into question on several occasions. Last week as the parties to the six-nation talks were thrashing out a deal in Beijing -- that turned out remarkably similar to the Clinton-era Agreed Framework -- further authoritative reports began to emerge calling the U.S. claims regarding HEU into question. The full report can be found on:

Without wishing to sound like a predictable cynic, it is worth remembering that the 2002 claims regarding North Korea's HEU program were made by the same people who gave us the following:

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.
Dick Cheney August 26, 2002

We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.
Colin Powell February 5, 2003

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.
George Bush March 18, 2003

So does the North have a clandestine HEU weapon's program? The NIS's Kim Man-bok “believes” so.

What do you believe?

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Monday, 19 February 2007

Butt-police bust smokers

An article found its way to my desktop this morning that made me a little angry. Just a little. Amused and angry, or bemused and angry. I am sure you know the feeling. It concerned the initiative of a district of Seoul to get tough on litterbugs. If you have ever lived in Seoul you will know the scale of the problem. If you have never lived in Seoul, then just let me say that the term litter “bug” is totally inadequate. Try littermonsters.
The district of Gangnam, a swanky area south of the Han River, recently made a huge amount of money doling out instant fines to one particular genre of litterbug – the cigarette smoker. Toss a butt in the street and you were slapped with a 50,000 won ($45) fine. Toss a bag of garbage and the inspectors would probably search it for butts, anxious to bust another butt bandit. After sorting through three day old vegetable matter and other household crud, I can just imagine their disappointment at not finding any incriminating cigarette ends.
The writer of the article was full of praise for the initiative, and sympathized with the butt-police who frequently faced abuse from smokers, reluctant to admit culpability and hand over the fine. The writer poured scorn on the best excuse the smokers could come up with: There are no rubbish bins! Pathetic. No excuse. Evicted onto the street from non-smoking buildings, where else is the smoker going to throw the butt if there are no rubbish bins? No excuse. Just don’t smoke. No smoke, no butt, no fine. Simple. And so said an obviously self-righteous former smoker.
I agree, tossing garbage – any garbage – and that includes cigarette butts onto the street is an antisocial, nasty practice. And it is bad for the environment. But isn’t it just a tad more practical to provide rubbish bins? Is that too logical?
After all, Gangnam can afford the bins now.

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Friday, 16 February 2007

Time to enter the blogosphere

Many years ago I used to write a daily column. Six days a week I would find myself sitting. staring at a computer screen, fingers poised over the keyboard.
Some days it was easy. Columnists can usually rely on politicians or celebrities to do something outrageous or stupid. Or both. But even they take a day off sometimes. I still had to come up with my 700 words, no matter what.
It took rigid discipline. It required dedication. Alcohol, inflexible deadlines and panic played their significant roles too. More than once, as I remember, I wrote about how impossible it is to produce 700 words when absolutely NOTHING of note has happened. Well, nothing that you would care to share with the general public anyway.
My column was mine. I could write about anything. And I did. It was about the most refreshing expression of editorial freedom a journalist can experience – and still get paid. It was heaven.
But then my flirtation with broadcast television became a full fledged love affair, and she was a jealous and demanding mistress.
I am not sure when I stopped writing opinion, or publicly venting, on a regular basis. I just remember that I missed doing it. And it was time to do something about it.
So welcome to the blog. Okay, this “gig” doesn’t pay, but on the positive side, there are no deadlines.

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Tuesday, 13 February 2007

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