Thursday, December 9, 2010


We have become accustomed to North Korea watchers reaching conclusions based on cryptic official statements, who is sitting next to whom at the latest government meeting, grainy satellite photos etc.

Here's a new source (at least for me): Middle school bathroom graffiti
The lyrics of a children’s song satirizing Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Eun have been found in a classroom and the restroom at Osandeok Senior Middle School.”

The children’s song is a well-known one in South Korea called “Three Bears.”

The re-written lyrics of the song, NKIS claims, are as follows: “Three bears in a house, pocketing everything; grandpa bear, papa bear and baby bear. Grandpa Bear is fat, Papa Bear is fat, too, and Baby Bear is a doofus.”

Even though when singing the song the Kim family members are not named, a short glance reveals the song’s satirical nature, leading the authorities to reportedly treat it as a reactionary element and investigate its origin.

Make of this what you will.

UPDATE: here is another example of P'yôngyangology but done much more carefully and with a cautious warning in the conclusion:
I suggest we use this example both as an etude in the anecdote-based Pyongyangology, and as a warning of how easy it can be to derive far-reaching conclusions from questionable evidence. Do we need culture-specific expertise? Obviously, we do. Otherwise, we risk basing policy decisions on a hoax.

Kim Jong Un in Europe? Perhaps not.

Friday, December 3, 2010


He's quite good at that.

I doubt this collection of photos is comprehensive. But it does include one of my favorites which I noted earlier here.

UPDATE: the website needs to add this one: found (at least for now) here.


ROK leaders have adopted an increasingly bellicose stance toward North Korean attacks and provocations:
South Korea would carry out immediate airstrikes on North Korea in the event of further aggression from its neighbour, the man appointed Seoul's new defence minister said Friday.

The military would 'soundly strike back to ensure that the enemy could no longer provoke us', Kim Kwan Jin said at his confirmation hearing in parliament, adding that such strikes would 'definitely' include airstrikes.
I agree with many who have become frustrated if not fed up with the DPRK and its confidence that it can provoke with impunity. This is particularly the case when lives are lost.

And yet I can't help but think that it would be better to not just strike back "soundly" but also strike back smartly (if that's a word). Are we so narrow-minded that the only conceivable retaliation to a military strike is a military strike? Rather than giving the military-first regime what it wants/needs, why not hit it where it really hurts?

The two areas that the DPRK has appeared to react most angrily and stridently about (and in ways that appear to be out of proportion to the apparent harm done) are when the outside world imposes banking sanctions which makes it difficult for the regime to get cash (think Banco Delta Asia; a huge fuss was made by P'yôngyang over what was really not that much money) or when outsiders engage in propaganda warfare. So why not promise (and then deliver) on a full-scale propaganda barrage (loudspeakers, balloons, radio broadcasts, DVDs) that will follow any DPRK hostile act? Bradley Martin thinks this is a great idea.
A stepped-up campaign of providing accurate news about their own country and the rest of the world to a people who are no longer hermetically sealed off from such news could over time threaten the regime’s domestic control.

Think of some recent North Korean policy decisions and how easy it would be to dissect them in unbiased fashion and show the leaders up for the self-seeking incompetents that they are.
Members of the North Korean public would hardly be able to get enough news and analysis regarding, for example, the ongoing effort by the authorities to cut off the legs of the spontaneously developed market economy, which is many people’s only means of avoiding starvation following the failure of the state-run economy.
Such propaganda attacks would have the added benefit of potentially dividing North Korean society rather than uniting it as bombing would almost surely do.

Why not give this a try? What am I missing here?

UPDATE: Great minds think alike part II: Tom Conyer calls for "new thinking" on North Korea. Among this new thinking is this:
"Thinking asymmetrically, the South needs to attack the North in the two areas where it is most vulnerable - international finance and the truth about its rulers. South Korea, Japan and the U.S. should further shut down North Korea’s overseas assets and financial channels. Even food aid needs to be placed entirely on China’s doorstep. The South should release at sea propaganda balloon barrages aimed at Pyongyang."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Posted without comment

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I have noted some aspects of the 2010 Shanghai Expo in the past (here and here). Now that it is over, Frank Lavin has some thoughts and observations. A few snippets include this astounding claim:
With over 73 million attendees, the Shanghai Expo holds the distinction of being not just the largest World’s Fair in history but the largest event in human history, the largest gathering of people in history for any reason.
I suppose this depends in part on what one labels an "event." One could argue that watching the NFL season or the World Cup is an "event" which probably had significantly larger numbers of participants.

There's also this:
For more affluent societies, World’s Fairs might hold less of an appeal. But if you were a Shanghai bus driver, the Expo might be the sum of your exposure to the world. Ever. Indeed, more Chinese attended the World’s Fair this year than actually visited the world. These figures were even more pronounced at the USA Pavilion which hosted over 7 million visitors, over 10 times the number of Chinese who will visit the US this year. Each one of those pavilion visits constitutes a conversation of sort, in which the United States has a few minutes to engage the visitor and explain a little about our country. With over 73 million fairgoers each attending about a dozen pavilions during their visit, this makes for about 900 million total conversations. Simply put, the Shanghai Expo will do more to shape Chinese view of the world than any other mechanism.
Here I think Lavin is on firmer ground.

Friday, October 29, 2010


North and South Korea exchange shots across the DMZ.
North Korean troops fired shots Friday in the direction of a South Korean military unit across the heavily armed border, prompting return fire, a South Korean military official said.

The clash took place along the demilitarized zone that separates the countries, in remote Gangwon province, northeast of Seoul. No injuries were immediately reported.
One is tempted to dismiss this as simply the latest in a decades-old strong of incidents that never seem to lead to anything more serious.

Of course that is probably what people thought of the cross border encounters and incursions of 1949-50 as well.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Interesting musings on the various places in which Korean pop culture exports have done well here. Some snippets:
Korean TV programmes have been hugely popular in Iran since the 2003 historical drama Dae Jang Geum (or Jewel in the Palace) became a massive hit with audiences there: ‘When it was broadcast in Iran over 50,000 websites in Persian (Farsi) became devoted to the show.’
According to one writer-reporter I contacted this week: ‘Korea is big in Bhutan dressing up like some Korean pop stars, watching Korean movies...and Korean fashion is big!’
But then there's this head-scratcher:
Professor Jung-Bong Choi of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, summed it up best for me when he suggested that essentially Korean cultural exports are a borderless alternative to US their US counterparts.

‘I define hallyu not as a Korean phenomenon…the ownership of hallyu is not to Korea. It’s the public’s…who have this desire to consume some of the product that’s distinct from the US product or Hollywood product whether that’s drama or whatever—something that is consistent and congruent with their emotions. So I see the power as coming more from the…people’s desire and yearning to see their own stories, to envision their own future through the lens of Korean media and music and whatnot. It’s identity politics.’
That Korean pop culture may be seen and consumed as an alternative to American pop culture (despite the at least superficial similarities in genre, style etc.) works for me. But to label it "borderless" and "not as a Korean phenomenon" flies in the face of how the hallyu has been understood in the ROK itself (not to mention the fact that I suppose some folks in the world might "see their own stories" and "envision their own future" through the lens of American cultural products too; does that make American pop culture borderlesss too?)


A rash of recalls from Japanese automakers of late: Nissan recalls 2.1 million cars; Honda nearly half a million; Toyota, whose recent travails have been well documented, announces another 1.5 million unit recall.

I suppose the consumer should feel gratified that such attention is being paid to auto safety. But whatever happened to the vaunted Japanese quality (or I am mistaking a few anecdotes for a trend)?


Here. Makes sense to me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


This has nothing to do with the usual stuff on this blog.

Mickey Kaus calls for a better new slogan for Chevy than the official "Chevy Runs Deep." Some candidates:

1. Chevy: You Already Bought It!

2. Chevy: Lean Forward

3. Chevy: The next chapter! After 11.

4. Chevy: Like A Rock. Only Cheaper.

5. Chevy: We Killed Saturn. Don't Mess With Us, OK?

Can we do better?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


A recent example of typical American reporting on North Korea here.
I visited Russia when it was still the Soviet Union. I went to a circus and saw an "Uncle Sam" character chase Russian children around the big top aiming a scaled-down model of a missile at them.

I've been to Cuba, and been whispered to by dissidents about the repressive regime. But if I'm simply applying the weirdness filter, then nothing I've seen anywhere I've ever been - I mean nothing - compares to what I saw in and around Kim Il Sung square last week.
"The weirdness filter": Somehow I have missed the development of this useful and objective tool of analysis.

Some interesting video footage though.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


How is this possible when the mother of Kim Jong Il, the third member of the triumvirate of revolutionary generals, died in 1949? If you can't get the real thing, wax will do.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


To denizens of Seoul, this thing that towers above one end of then-Seoul mayor's Lee Myung-bak's Ch'ônggye Stream restoration project is old news. But this past summer was the first time I had seen the thing with my own eyes. As I walked around it I wondered what on earth this had to do with the stream that was old and then new again, with Seoul, or with Korea.

The caption beneath it offered some help:

Hmmmm.... Once I was aware of the Oldenberg connection, I couldn't help but think of this. I wonder if the now wizened old Swede laughed all the way to the bank or if he took/takes this stuff seriously.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Article here.
Korea has seen “unusual” weather, such as heat wave, record rainfall and early frost, in September.

The first frost of the season was spotted on Mt. Seorak in the country's east on Friday, 11 days earlier than last year and amid a series of abnormal weather conditions this month, according to local forecasts.
In an earlier era, this might be taken as a sign of dynastic decline, even a loss of the Mandate of Heaven (hmmm.... I wonder if these weather anomalies have been observed north of the 38th parallel too?). At least there has been no sign of dragons, (pace Tim Brook's excellent new book, The Troubled Empire).... yet.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


While in Korea a week or so ago, I was able to see exhibits on the Great Han Empire Period (1897-1910) at both the National Palace Museum of Korea and at the Kyujanggak.

Of course you can't have an Empire without an Emperor, in this case the Kwangmu (Gwangmu) Emperor, more often known as Kojong. Technically, calling him (as the English-language Wikipedia page does) "Emperor Gojong" is inaccurate as Kojong was his royal title (or reign period) while he was king. He was elevated to Imperial status as the Kwangmu Emperor (광무제) in 1897.

Whatever the case, he is an interesting and complicated historical figure. I like this portrait of him (apologies for the glare coming off the glass) but don't feel as if I really have a sense of what kind of man and/or leader he was. On the one hand, many so-called progressives and reformers put great stock in his ostensible desire for reform and modernization (some Westerners agreed). On the other, there is much in his behavior that displays a cautious if not reactionary streak (suppression of the Independence Club comes to mind).

Good Confucian historiography requires that the moral failings of the last monarchs of a realm are directly responsible for that realm's fall (due to the loss of the Mandate of Heaven). Hence, Kojong/Kwangmu (and his son the hapless Emperor Sunjong) should be blamed for the fall of Korea into Japanese hands. I don't think things are/were quite that simple. I'm not sure whether the most dynamic and righteous leader could have found a path out of colonization.


Apparently part of an ongoing series.

As I have noted previously (here and here), there have been some who have disputed the findings of the "official" report that blames the sinking of the ROK naval vessel on a North Korean torpedo. Well, it turns out that, in South Korea at least, such skepticism is widespread:
Only three out of 10 South Koreans trust the findings of an international inquiry into the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan that blamed a North Korean torpedo attack.

According to a survey conducted by Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, 32.5 percent of respondents were more or less convinced, saying they "completely trust" (6.4 percent) or "tend to trust" (26.1 percent) the findings of the inquiry.

But 35.7 percent of respondents were not convinced, with 10.7 percent saying they "completely distrust" and 25 percent they "tend to distrust" the findings. The remainder said they did not know.
I think I am on safe ground when I opine that this survey tells us more about how most South Koreans view the Lee Myung Bak government (and perhaps governments in general) than it tells about most South Koreans' knowledge of underwater physics, naval weaponry etc.

Still, quite interesting.


taken to a whole new level in China.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Greeting me upon my arrival at Inch’ôn/Incheon International Airport a couple of weeks ago were some huge posters featuring a suave and debonair Pierce Brosnan seeking to lure me to one Paradise Casino. His image, flanked by several attractive women, was part of a similar ad that was on the cover of the latest edition of the Seoul Tourist Map (English edition; apologies for the blurry photo).

Several questions arise:

1) How much Photoshop? I suspect that Mr. Brosnan didn't need to pose with the ladies but rather had his image electronically added to the scene. I wonder whether he even needed to pose holding the Ace of Spades or is this photoshopping magic too?

2) Is Pierce aware that his image is being used in this way? I suspect, given the internationally-oriented nature of the ads, he would have to be. Of course Western celebs in Asian ads is hardly new.

3) Is this ad effective? I don't suppose that many actually believe that if they venture to the Paradise Casino they might find Mr. Brosnan (or Mr. Bond for that matter) at the Blackjack table. So what, then, is the payoff? Brand/name awareness? If so, aren't their cheaper ways to accomplish this?

Monday, September 6, 2010


Keep trying, yes. But, 960 times?
Sounds as if we are in need of updating the old proverb "칠전팔기(七顚八起)"

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


in Asia (according to the Legatum Institute). It is interesting to note which nations are on (and not on) this list. I wonder if South Korea would be happy with its ranking?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Kim Jong Il's trademark attire is instantly recognizable. Some see it as sending a signal that Kim is not overly concerned with luxury or appearance. The leader of the people cares more about the people than about looking good.

Some, most notably Brian Myers (here and more recently in his new book), takes it a step further by arguing that Kim's trademark suit is an exercise in gender-bending, making Kim both the Fatherly and Motherly leader of his people.

What, then, are we to make of the allegation that there is more luxury and comfort to Kim's duds than meets the eye?
"In the early 1990s, I was ordered to buy fabric for the dear leader and went to France to buy 60 yards of high-quality, cashmere and silk fabric produced by Scabal of London," he said. "I paid US$300 per yard, which came to $18,000."

About four yards of fabric are needed to make a suit, so the price of the cloth alone for Kim's suit amounted to $1,200."
One should, of course, take this story with several grains of salt--anonymous defector, Chosun Ilbo etc. etc. Still, if true, this puts a somewhat different spin on things, not to mention making those concerned with fashion cringe just a bit: what a waste of fabric!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Two words one wouldn't expect to find in the same sentence. You be the judge:

Monday, August 9, 2010


in and around North Korea.
--Still no word on the South Korean fishing boat said to have been seized by the DPRK.
--The DPRK fired at least 100 artillery shells into waters near the ROK-DPRK border.
--DPRK media has reported on floods that have devastated homes and farms.

Friday, August 6, 2010


for Bruce Cumings' new book from a (perhaps) unlikely source: Tyler Cowen (more here).

I haven't read the book yet and will, therefore, reserve final judgment (for whatever that's worth). I will say that, based on the reviews--both positive and negative--it doesn't sound as if Cumings is arguing anything terribly new here. He is just pointing out a number of rather uncomfortable truths about the War, the U.S. involvement in Korea etc. etc.

UPDATE: Review of Cumings book by Andrew Salmon here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I remember in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 discussing Afghanistan with a learned Washington DC colleague. She expressed her frustration with all the pundits, talking heads and supposed experts on tv who kept repeating the mantra that Afghanistan has never been conquered. She said that she starting counting the times Afghanistan has been conquered and ran out of fingers and toes long before she got to the present-day.

Along those lines, here's an article that declares it is time to "bury the graveyard."
One of those myths, for example, is that Afghanistan is inherently unconquerable thanks to the fierceness of its inhabitants and the formidable nature of its terrain. But this isn't at all borne out by the history. "Until 1840 Afghanistan was better known as a 'highway of conquest' rather than the 'graveyard of empires,'" Barfield points out. "For 2,500 years it was always part of somebody's empire, beginning with the Persian Empire in the fifth century B.C."
Of this hardly means that the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan will succeed. But I find it interesting how certain pithy memes become so embedded in our collective consciousness that no facts can dislodge them.

Monday, August 2, 2010


according to this undoubtedly 100% accurate website, I write like H.P Lovecraft. Can't say I saw that one coming. After all, the Qing Empire and Cthulhu, share so much in common.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Niall Ferguson thinks he has a couple to share: First is the notion that change, especially decline and collapse can come on suddenly:
Yet what if history is not cyclical and slow-moving but arhythmic, at times almost stationary, but also capable of accelerating suddenly, like a sports car? What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly, like a thief in the night?
Does this fit the case(s) of East Asia? I suppose one could make the argument that the collapse of the Ming was relatively rapid. Ken Swope makes a good case for the argument that the Ming remained a formidable and impressive military power at the end of the 16th century. But should the resultant slide to ruin which took 44 years to reach its end be regarded as "sudden"? Most would argue that the decline of the Qing was at least a multi-decade process. Chosôn Korea? Again, it depends in when one determines signs of decline began.

Lesson #2: the threat of debt:
What are the implications for the US today? The most obvious point is that imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises: sharp imbalances between revenues and expenditures, and the mounting cost of servicing a mountain of public debt.

Think of Spain in the 17th century: already by 1543 nearly two-thirds of ordinary revenue was going on interest on the juros, the loans by which the Habsburg monarchy financed itself.

Or think of France in the 18th century: between 1751 and 1788, the eve of Revolution, interest and amortisation payments rose from just over a quarter of tax revenue to 62 per cent.

Finally, consider Britain in the 20th century. Its real problems came after 1945, when a substantial proportion of its now immense debt burden was in foreign hands. Of the pound stg. 21 billion national debt at the end of the war, about pound stg. 3.4bn was owed to foreign creditors, equivalent to about a third of gross domestic product.

Alarm bells should therefore be ringing very loudly indeed in Washington, as the US contemplates a deficit for 2010 of more than $US1.47 trillion ($1.64 trillion), about 10 per cent of GDP, for the second year running. Since 2001, in the space of just 10 years, the federal debt in public hands has doubled as a share of GDP from 32 per cent to a projected 66 per cent next year. According to the Congressional Budget Office's latest projections, the debt could rise above 90 per cent of GDP by 2020 and reach 146 per cent by 2030 and 344 per cent by 2050.

These sums may sound fantastic. But what is even more terrifying is to consider what ongoing deficit finance could mean for the burden of interest payments as a share of federal revenues.
Did debt bring down Asian regimes? It is apparent that the late Ming, late Qing and late Chosôn all had serious fiscal problems (I don't have a good sense of whether this was the case in Tokugawa Japan). But was debt the disease or merely a symptom of an underlying malaise?

Whatever the case, it is difficult to not look at the U.S.'s present fiscal straits with some alarm (presuming one wishes to see the U.S. remain in existence).

Monday, July 19, 2010


You may have seen many of these photos already, but worth a look: the always fascinating "Big Picture" feature at has a nice collection of Korean War photos.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Just stumbled across a passage from the late-Qing/early Republican thinker Liang Qichao in which Liang seeks to describe what he sees as the "new" imperialism of the West (and Japan):
“’Some use trade to destroy the nation,’ he charged. ‘Some use debts. Some use military training. Some use consultants. Some use (rail)road-building. Some take advantage of factionalism. Some use the excuse of quelling domestic disturbances. Some use the excuse of assisting revolution’”
(Liang Qichao, Mie guo xin fa lun ; 灭国新法论. Cited in Gwen Raymond Guo, “China’s Korea? Chinese views of nation and region.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Toronto, 2003, 25).

Aside from the last case of "assisting revolution," every other practice on Liang's list of the acts of the "new" imperialists can be seen in the Qing Empire's own relations with Korea in the last half of the 19th century. Would have been nice to use this in my book.


or plausible ones at least:
But then there are some shows that go completely beyond the pale of enjoyability, until they become nothing more than overwritten collections of tropes impossible to watch without groaning.

I think the worst offender here is the History Channel and all their programs on the so-called "World War II".

Let's start with the bad guys. Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check. Secret police, check. Determination to brutally kill everyone who doesn't look like them, check. Leader with a tiny villain mustache and a tendency to go into apopleptic rage when he doesn't get his way, check. All this from a country that was ordinary, believable, and dare I say it sometimes even sympathetic in previous seasons.

I wouldn't even mind the lack of originality if they weren't so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we're supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren't that evil. And that's not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese.

Read the rest here.

HT Instapundit.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


China's migrant population is 211 million. That's 2/3 of the entire U.S. population.
The migrant population has an average monthly income of around 1,900 yuan and most of them are engaged in high-risk industries, the report shows. They can not fully enjoy social security and public services.
The social and economic implications of this are astounding!


So says the Obama administration.
Obama administration officials say they will closely monitor North Korean activity for signs of a return to international terrorism. But they say they consider the sinking of the South Korean warship the Cheonan to have been a military-against-military operation and not an act of terrorism
.I agree. One doesn't have to condone the sinking of the ship to conclude that a military attack even if covertly done is not quite the same as "terrorism." The DPRK regime has done any number of objectionable things of late, but the last act that clearly falls within a conventional definition of terrorism was the 1987 KAL bombing (an event that always gives one an excuse to invoke the story of Kim Hyôn-hûi, the North Korean "Jane Bond" who is thought to have carried out the attack (photo below).

Anyway, to call the sinking of the Cheonan "terrorism" robs the latter of any real meaning above and beyond the idea of "doing something bad that we don't like."

Friday, June 25, 2010

6.25; 육이오; 六二五

No matter what you call it, 6.25 (as in June 25th) marks the anniversary of the full-scale beginning of a terrible, devastating war.

The Korean peninsular has been fortunate that--border raids, bombings and naval clashes notwithstanding--it has experienced nearly six decades of peace following the Korean War. We can only hope that this trend continues in the future.

Some interesting (color) pictures of the Korean War here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


The title of this award-winning journalism? Kim Jong-il inspects radish at army camp.

UPDATE: Of course this could all be part of a DPRK domestic disinformation campaign aimed at Kim Jong-il himself.

Radishes and eggs: I'm getting hungry.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Bryan Clark, a 58-year-old logistics company manager from Portsmouth, England.
Over the last four years, the 58-year-old Clark has travelled around the globe to watch North Korea play their World Cup qualifiers — even taking in games in Pyongyang during a organised tour.

"I was present when the Chollimas qualified for the World Cup following their draw with Saudi Arabia in Riyadh," said Clark, who is British.

"I was the only North Korean fan in the ground and was surrounded by 65,000 Saudi supporters as I waved my DPRK flag and cheered."
I wonder what Mr, Clark thought of today's lopsided match with Portugal?

UPDATE: Mr. Clark has got to be better than the Chinese "volunteers," allegedly imported to cheer for the DPRK. At least he comes by his support for the DPRK honestly.

UPDATE II: It turns out that the North Koreans aren't the only ones who hire foreigners to make appearances.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Intrigued by the "baby riots" of 1888 (anti-foreign demonstrations in Seoul motivated by rumors that foreigners were stealing and eating Korean babies), I have had an abiding interest in cannibalism and especially stories, rumors, urban legends about such.

Therefore, I couldn't help but be intrigued when the following version of the "Nigerian e-mail hoax" crossed my in-box:

my name is Mr James i am a black American based in Nigeria i have been a cannibal gent for the past 4 years i transport blacks from Africa to every country with assurance i have so many people who are tired of life so all i have to do is just for me to advise them to be cannibalized and they always agree all so all you have to do is just for you to send there money for visa which is very little and all you jut have to do is just wait and receive them with honor

"receive them with honor"???? Wow.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


One, written by Christopher Hitchens, argues that if any regime deserves the appellation "evil, it is North Korea.
So this is the way we live now: conditioned by the awareness that no North Korean provocation, however egregious, can be confronted, lest it furnish the occasion or pretext for something truly barbarous and insane.
The other, written by a previously-unknown-to-me Stephen Gowans, argues that the real culprit is to be found south of the 38th parallel.
Lee is a North Korea-phobe who prefers a confrontational stance toward his neighbor to the north to the policy of peaceful coexistence and growing cooperation favored by his recent predecessors (and by Pyongyang, as well. It’s worth mentioning that North Korea supports a policy of peace and cooperation. South Korea, under its hawkish president, does not.) Fabricating a case against the North serves Lee in a number of ways. If voters in the South can be persuaded that the North is indeed a menace – and it looks like this is exactly what is happening – Lee’s hawkish policies will be embraced as the right ones for present circumstances. This will prove immeasurably helpful in upcoming mayoral and gubernatorial elections in June.

As noted previously, I don't put much stock in conspiracy theories. I would also have a hard time reconciling the images below (urging the North Korean people to become "human bombs" and threatening to "eliminate America from the earth") as any more consistent with a "policy of peace and cooperation" than are Lee Myung-bak's recent declarations.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Bill Powell asks an interesting and important question:
Do you think it's clear to Kim & co. just how many South Korean soldiers, airmen and sailors he can kill without triggering the war that no one wants? He got 46 this time; had the ship's entire crew of 104 been killed, would the reaction from Seoul and its friends be any different? (Hint: No.)

So what's the answer? If not 46 or 104, is it 460? Or 4,600 perhaps? What's the red line that Kim Jong Il cannot cross without eliciting something more than yet another round of economic sanctions from the U.N. and an inter-Korean trade embargo that doesn't really put an embargo on inter-Korean trade? I bet he doesn't have a clue. And that's what's scary.

I suspect that, if past performance is any indication, the DPRK leadership knows full well that provocations, even those that result in significant numbers of deaths--1968 Blue House raid, Pueblo incident, ax murders, Rangoon bombing, bombing of KAL 858, numerous clashes along the NLL, shooting of a tourist at Geumgang etc. etc.--will not result in a significant military escalation on the part of the ROK (or the U.S., Japan etc.). The real question is less what the DPRK will do and more whether the ROK has finally had enough and will escalate.

Monday, May 24, 2010


For those who can't enough of conspiracy theories, I give you this: "Who Sank the South Korean Warship Cheonan? A New Stage in the US-Korean War and US-China Relations"

Anyone who has paid any attention to the various 9/11 conspiracy theories will, I trust, see the similarities and parallels here (a good start on refuting the 9/11 madness can be found here).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


A brief and not terribly informative piece on the North Korean pavilion at the Shanghai Expo here.
Inside, visitors crowd one another to pose in front of a 15-foot tall model of the Pyongyang monument, Juche Tower. Juche is the ideological principle developed by DPRK founding father, Kim Il-Sung. There's also a miniature bridge over a reproduction of Taedong River, a Korean-style pavilion, and several TV monitors showing footage from the Korean War, national parade excerpts, ordinary life, athletic events, and scientific achievements.
Associated video here. Note how the poor DPRK citizen tasked with stamping the "passports" of expo visitors doesn't want to be caught on camera.

Official website of the DPRK pavilion here.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Thanks to Tyler Cowen

China alone loses between 100 million and 200 million tons of coal each year to mine fires, as much as 20 percent of their annual production, according to the International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation, based in Enschede, Netherlands. The Institute estimates that carbon dioxide emissions from these fires are as high as 1.1 billion metric tons, more than the total carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles in the United States. Second to China is India, where 10 million tons of coal burns annually in mine fires, contributing a further 51 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Friday, May 7, 2010


of train travel?

Looks pretty cool to me.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


A fascinating article in the Atlantic Monthly by NYT reporter, photographer, and sometimes China-watcher Howard French.

There is plenty worth reading and considering, but one of the things that jumped out at me is how the PRC and the Chinese people are, in many ways, behaving just as we might expect imperialists to behave, complete with calls for settlers:
“Chongqing is well experienced in agricultural mass production, while in Africa there is plenty of land but food production is unsatisfactory…Chongqing’s labour exports have just started, but they will take off once we convince the farmers to become landlords abroad”--Li Ruogu, head of China’s Export-Import Bank in the South China Morning Post:

and condescension toward the natives:
“’If you gave this land to Chinese people to work it, this place would be rich overnight,’ said one Chinese woman immigrant, a middle-aged trader in southern Congo: ‘They’re too lazy, these Africans’”

Given the main argument of my recent book, I am not terribly surprised to find the Chinese acting like imperialists. I should hasten to make what should be the obvious point that China is far from unique or exceptional in this regard.

Of course, from the perspective of Africa, whether the imperialists are Chinese or Western doesn't really matter all that much. A Congolese lawyer sums it up nicely:
“’The problem is not who is the latest buyer of our commodities,’ he replied. ‘The problem is to determine what is Africa’s place in the future of the global economy, and up to now, we have seen very little that is new. China is taking the place of the West: they take our raw materials and they sell finished goods to the world…What Africans are getting in exchange, whether it is roads or schools or finished goods, doesn’t really matter. We remain under the same old schema: our cobalt goes off to China in the form of dusty ore and returns here in the form of expensive batteries”

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Photo essay on areas in China where Mao is still revered.

Below is a brewery in Nanjie, a village that re-collectivized when the rest of China was moving to the market and which makes a living largely from tourists (mostly Chinese) who come to see the quaint place where the Chairman still reigns supreme. Another collection of photos in Nanjie can be seen here.

While the poster in this "Mao Hotel" clearly declares that Mao is/was but a man and not a god, one can't help but wonder whether we're seeing the first stages of a Guandi (or Guan Yu)-like deification here.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Those who have been watching the sinking of the ROK naval vessel Cheonan and its aftermath suspected this was coming, but now official government organs are concluding that the ship was likely sunk by a North Korean torpedo. The political pressure for some kind of response is likely to be fairly strong.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


At dinner following one of the days of the aforementioned conference, the discussion somehow turned to the practice of embalming and displaying the remains of rulers in the 20th century. Though there are certainly older precedents (Buddhist monks etc.) of keeping and acknowledging relics or remains of the departed, the practice of preserving and displaying the entire bodies of political leaders appears to have begun with Lenin. Others, Stalin (for a time at least), Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and, of course, the Eternal President of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung, have followed suit (Kim's mausoleum even appears on North Korean currency).

I didn't know (or had forgotten) that Ferdinand Marcos had similar designs. Now, he's back in the news. Plus ca change...


I am in the Vancouver Airport awaiting a return flight from what has been a very interesting and stimulating conference on (East) Asian international relations (1400-1800). I may relay some of my thoughts/conclusions about the conference a bit later.

But for now, a delightful parting anecdote:

The taxi driver who took me to the airport has lived in Vancouver for a couple of decades but is originally from India (Punjab) and still speaks with a thick Punjabi accent. What did we talk about on the drive to the airport? The Utah Jazz, with heavy emphasis on Stockton and Malone and how close they came to a championship against the Chicago Bulls in the late 1990s. He clearly has taken the defeat harder than I have.

What a fascinating, interconnected, globalized world we live in!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


In case anyone was wondering, the mammoth North Korea-produced statue in Senegal is now complete:
Senegal on Saturday unveiled a colossal statue during a lavish ceremony amid reports of criticism over the monument's construction at a time when the western African nation is struggling financially.

The 164-foot structure -- about a foot taller than the Statue of Liberty -- shows the figures of a man, a woman and a child, arms outstretched, facing the Atlantic Ocean.

President Abdoulaye Wade says the statue, which he designed, is a monument to Africa's renaissance. Critics say the opulent copper structure is merely the product of the president's own self-indulgent vision and poor governance.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


A little congratulations for my august institution of learning:

In three weeks, the Shanghai Expo 2010 will open. One interesting aspect of the USA Pavilion there:
“I am particularly proud that Chinese and foreign guests will be greeted by 160 Mandarin-speaking American college students working as ‘Pavilion Student Ambassadors.’ Drawn from across the United States, from schools small and large, they will add a friendly human touch to America's representation at the Expo.”
Based on my quick perusal of this interactive map, it appears that BYU will send the single-largest contingent of U.S. college students (with USC in second).

Well done!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


"Japanese textbooks reinflame Dokdo feud"
In a 15-minute meeting, Yu expressed “deep disappointment,” saying Japan’s approval of the school textbooks could put a serious strain on Korea-Japan relations, according to Jang Won-sam, chief of the Northeast Asian bureau at the Foreign Ministry.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Kim Jong Il "has chronic kidney failure."

How do we know this?
"(The pale colour of) his nails"

and also this:
"At his most recent public appearance on the occasion of a public rally in (the northeastern city of) Hamhung on March 7, he was slamming down his right palm on his unmoving left palm."
All right then.

Monday, March 15, 2010


An interesting collection of Kim Jong Il sightings here.

Like his father (though probably not nearly as often as his father), Kim Jong Il has been known to visit the North Korean people as they work and study to offer pithy words of wisdom and encouragement and to improve their lives by his mere presence. Fascinating stuff. A few observations:

It usually looks cold!

Many of the venues are decidedly low-tech (who knew that North Korea is still producing vinalon?)

North Korean grocery stores don't display prices of their products?

North Korean computer users apparently don't need to use keyboards

The Potemkin Village aspect has to be obvious to everyone. And yet appears to be irresistible.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Is what the Ven. Pôpjông (Beop Jeong) has done.

I found this statement of Pôpjông's to be quite moving, a fitting ending to a well-lived life:
“You will absolutely not kill any precious trees for any great cremation ceremony, and don’t waste money on new cloth for new burial clothes. There’s leftover firewood that I already gathered at my mountain hut. Cremate me there by the rocks where I used to meditate. Scatter my ashes on the ground where the azaleas graciously bloomed each spring. That will be my final recompense.”


Sunday, March 7, 2010


is a homeless man in Ningbo? It doesn't take much to see the Zoolander parallels here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Long-time observers of Seoul will agree that then-Seoul-Mayor Lee Myung-bak's Ch'ônggaech'ôn restoration project transformed the neighborhood. Here's a picture I took last year of the "restored" stream in all its sedate and somewhat sterile glory.

What existed in the four decades before the "restoration" was an elevated highway and miles of concrete that had essentially eliminated the original stream entirely.

I recently stumbled across some interesting pictures of what came before. Here's the highway construction in 1967:

and here's what the stream and its environs looked like in the years immediately before the construction:

It is plain that "restoration," other than in the very narrow sense of once again having water flow through this part of Seoul, is perhaps not quite the right term. Favorites of modernist historians such as "re-invention" or "re-construction" are perhaps more apt.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Japan rice-crop art (link here; I came across it here).


First giving in to the seductions of British confectionery. Now this!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Some have noted (and criticized) the barely veiled expressions of enmity and dominance that takes place between U.S./ROK and DPRK soldiers at the "Joint Security Area" at Panmunjom.

Alas (or fortunately), the DMZ has nothing on the India-Pakistan border


in North Korea. So says Gordon Flake. Or does he? When the Korea Times article gets down to specifics, they are actually a bit scanty. First, Flake notes that the pace of change is slower than other places such as China.
"North Korea as a society, of course, they are changing. But the relative pace of change there is slower than the pace of change in all other nations." This is a stark contrast to what has happened in China over the same time period, he said.
He then observes that the much ballyhooed North Korean interest in English is exaggerated:
He said the alleged shift of North Koreans' foreign language preferences from Chinese and Russian to English represented only a narrow segment of society ― mainly the elite in Pyongyang.
And that's pretty much it. I suspect that Gordon would agree with me that this is a case of the headline seeking press exaggerating or twisting one's intended meaning almost beyond recognition.

Friday, February 19, 2010


"weaken Japan's claim to Dokdo," reads the Chosun Ilbo headline.
Measuring 115 cm by 123 cm, one map was produced by the Japanese Army in 1877 and depicts the country's sovereign territory in detail, but does not contain Dokdo. In 1889, Japanese surveyors created the country's first-ever map on a 200,000:1 scale compiled from all of the maps that had been produced until that time, but even that makes no reference to Dokdo, Hosaka said.

Of course as anyone who has watched this ongoing dispute can attest, pro-Takeshima forces can point to their own array of maps to back their claims as well (an example from 1846 is below)

This is not the place to determine which side is "correct." But I do wonder whether either side has ever articulated a standard by which maps can be used and evaluated to adjudicate such a claim. Does it take a simple 51% majority of maps for one side to carry the day? A super-majority (60%? 75%)? An overwhelming preponderance (90%)? Does it matter what kind of maps are used, or who produced them? Or are maps just an apparently objective and scientific source that in reality cannot ever lead us to a definitive conclusion?

Thursday, February 18, 2010


For those who pine for the days in which knowledge of the political workings of the Soviet enemy was often gleaned from grainy photographs of the politburo, I give you Kim Kyông-hûi.

Sister of Kim Jong Il and wife of Chang Sang-t'aek, Kim Kyông-hûi would appear to be in a potential position of power. This is something that folks that watch North Korea have known for some time. So why the sudden interest? Enter the grainy photo.

followed by breathless commentary from the media.
Kim Jong-Il's only sister appears to be wielding more power in North Korea after making a comeback to the frontline of the regime last year, South Korea said Wednesday.

Kim Kyong-Hui, 64, was newly added to a diagram of the North's power structure released by the South's unification ministry after returning to the public spotlight for the first time in nearly six years.

The annually updated diagram, which offers a glimpse into changes in the North's elite power system, showed her heading an organ which oversees light industries under the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

"Since her comeback, the sister has frequently accompanied Kim Jong-Il in his field inspections," ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-Joo told AFP.

For Kim's (alleged) residence, see here.

For some more (and better informed) commentary (and another grainy photo), see here.

As for me, all of this puts me in the mood for some late Cold War music, Sting's "Russians" perhaps? Or I could always go for the soundtrack to Chess.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Note the following news stories:

S Korea to send hand sanitizers to DPRK to help prevent flu spread
SEOUL, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- South Korea will send hand sanitizers worth one billion won (867,000 U.S. dollars) to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) by around Feb. 20 to help fight spread of A/H1N1 virus there, the government said Tuesday.
One can argue whether H1N1 is the most pressing health and development issue in North Korea but it is hard to argue that the announcement would appear to be a sign of benign intentions on Seoul's part.

Behind door #2:
Anti-Pyongyang flyers sent from South as North marks Kim's birthday
In South Korea, some 100 defectors from the North released huge balloons carrying anti- Pyongyang leaflets and small radios near the heavily fortified North-South frontier.

The protesters, shouting "Down with dictator Kim Jong-Il," attached $1 bills to the flyers in a bid to encourage North Koreans to pick them up despite the risk of punishment.
To be sure, the actions of individuals in an open and pluralistic society such as the ROK cannot and should not be taken as indicative of the "official" position of the ROK government, but it isn't hard to see how many in the DPRK might think otherwise.

One wonders whether either gesture will actually have an impact.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


“A colleague once defined an academic discipline as a group of scholars who had agreed not to ask certain embarrassing questions about key assumptions.

–Mark Nathan Cohen, Health and the Rise of Civilization, 1989, cited in Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories, 229.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I have recently had the opportunity to read B.R. Myers’ book The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters. I was scheduled to comment on the book at an event hosted by the Wilson Center but, alas, “snowmageddon” intervened and the event was canceled.

This was disappointing because I was eagerly anticipated discussing what is clearly a very important and sure to be influential book. I highly recommend that anyone with interest in North Korea—scholarly, policy-related, or more general curiosity—read it.

I don't know if time and energy will permit a full-fledged discussion on this blog of all the fascinating facets of the book and ats provocative arguments, but I do want to raise and discuss one issue in the book:

Myers contends that the DPRK regime does not attribute divine powers or characteristics to its leaders, either Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il. Specifically:

“No matter what some American Christian Groups might claim, divine powers have never been attributed to either of the two Kims” (Myers, Cleanest Race, 13).

It goes without saying that this claim flies in the face of what is conventional wisdom in at least the United States if not elsewhere. However, upon further reflection and a little but of poking around, I find that I am somewhat convinced by Myers’ contention. There are a few caveats, however.

First, Myers notes later in the book that DPRK propaganda does at times engage in deification of the Kims but that it is always careful to place such words in the mouths of fawning foreigners not North Korean officials or citizens. This seems to me to be both meaningful and a bit misleading. The distinction between foreigners’ claims and “official” North Korean claims may indeed be real and significant but it may also simply be a way for the DPRK to have plausible deniability about whether it actually supports the claims. If Myers could point to some examples in which fawning foreigners were actually corrected by their North Korean interlocutors (“nodding sympathetically, Mr. Kim told the Spanish guest that while it may indeed seem like Kim Il Sung is a God, we must remember that he is merely a man?....) it would bolster his argument about the significance of the distinction.

Second, it isn’t always clear what is meant by “divine powers.” What kinds of powers or abilities place their possessor in the category of the “divine”? One can certainly find many what appear to be official claims of remarkable if not supernatural abilities of the Kims. A few examples:

--Scott Snyder’s recollection of a 1991 conversation with North Korean officials: “The Great Leader hasn’t made any mistakes yet” (Snyder, Negotiating on the Edge, 38).

--A memo to teachers on educating for and about Kim Jong-il: “In other words, it is proper to regard the eyes of Kim Jong-il as an indicator of right and wrong” (Martin, Fatherly Leader, 209; citing Choe In Su).
-The fact that Kim Jong Il has allegedly published 700 volumes while his father published 1300! (Martin, Fatherly Leader, 352).

--An “anecdote” about Kim Il Sung demonstrated that, with merely a glance, he is able to guess precisely how many persimmons are in a tree

--The fact that Kim Jong Il can detect when a musical instrument is out of tune, even when professional musicians are unaware of the fact (Choe In Su, Kim Jong Il: The People’s Leader, 106-110).

--The fact that Kim Jong Il is a remarkable golfer
The course record is pretty otherworldly too. During his maiden round at North Korea's only golf facility over 10 years ago, "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il opened with a hole in one, and required just 18 further strokes to finish the Par 72 course. He only missed the ultimate score card by taking two at the Par Five 18th

Now perhaps these aren’t specific and precise invocations of “divine” powers but it isn't always clear where the realm of the remarkable human ends and the supernatural and the divine begins.

More generally, the DPRK media (the KCNA for example) is replete with cases of natural phenomena corresponding with auspicious dates and anniversaries connected to the Kims. Examples:
--in 1997
Mysterious phenomena
Pyongyang, July 14 (KCNA) -- Mysterious phenomena occurred in succession across Korea with the approach of third death anniversary of the great leader President Kim Il Sung. The dark sky suddenly grew as bright as Xaylivhwolam-ri, Kumchon county, north Hwanghae Province, and three clusters of red cloud made their way toward Pyongyang around 9:57 p.m. On July 3. two minutes later, clouds in the shape of a swift horse racing with wings appeared and drifted toward Pyongyang three times. The cloud was followed by lots of reddened clouds from 11:15 at night. Around 8:10 p.m. July 4 when the rain, which started falling in the morning, stopped and a twin rainbow crossed over the Statue of the President in Jangyon county, south Hwanghae Province. Close to 10:40 at night darkness went away and a strikingly bright star glittered in the sky above the Statue. There was thunder and lightning in the fine sky above Haeju city and other areas in south Hwanghae Province, between zero hour and two hours forty minutes on July 8. in Wonsan city, kangwon Province, the sun shone and a twin rainbow crossed over the President's Statue for twelve minutes after a three-minute-long shower from the fine sky. When the inaugural ceremony of the immortality tower near the Kumsusan Memorial Palace was held on the morning of July 7, scores of swallows flew round the immortality tower till the end of the ceremony. That same morning a wagtail sat and cried on the immortality tower in Ichon county, Kangwon Province. A swallow flew about the portrait of the President three times in the meeting room of the Kwaksan county town management office in north Phyongan Province and wept in sorrow between 7 and 7:30 on the morning of July 6. An owl sat on the newly-erected immortality tower in Woljong-ri, Panmun county, Kaesong municipality, and looked at a picture of the president for ten minutes on the morning of July 7. Nine flowers came into bloom on a 12-year-old pear tree in the yard of Kim Kye Bok's house on the Ryongmun Cooperative Farm in Ryongrim county, Jagang Province, from July 1 to 5. Two eight-year-old pear trees had nineteen flowers in full bloom in other places of the county. Thirteen pear trees near the office of the mechanization workteam of the Hwadae county sericulture farm in north Hamgyong Province had some 80 flowers in full bloom between July 4 and 5.

Again in 1997

Wonders of nature
Pyongyang, July 12 (KCNA) -- Korea has seen many wonders everywhere on the threshold of the third death anniversary of President Kim Il Sung. They were rapidly spread as memorial legends about a great man produced by the heaven. A dark cloud was heavily hanging in the sky above Mt. Paektu in dusk about eight hours p.m. On July 3. all of a sudden, a flash lightning zigzaged, closely followed by claps of thunder as if it were breaking the mountain. Then a torrential rain fell heavily on the surface of the water on Lake Chon, the first of its kind since the observation of Mt. Paektu. Black and red waterfalls came down from each cliff of the craters and tinged the water surface. A big column of water rose 20 odd metres high in the center of the Lake, sending up clouds of spray. Such a phenomenon repeated several times while it was raining as much as 200 milimetres till about 20:00 on July 4. According to the members of the Mt. Paektu general exploration team, it is reminiscent of the time when muddy waterfalls came down and columns of water rose following the death of the President on July 8, three years ago. Double rainbows appeared one after another in the sky above Mt. Paektu. They also rose around the statue of the President on Mt. Tonghung in Hamhung. Three white herons flew in the sky above the Statue of the President among children which was placed in front of the Kaesong schoolchildren's palace. They circulated the Statue, chirping sad and disappeared. Then, it was drizzling before pouring for ten minutes. It is mysterious that the heavy rain fell only around the Statue. The witnesses say that even the sky, land and birds honored the memory of the great man produced by the heaven.

In 2006

Double solar halo over Mt. Paektu;
Officials and other working people were very pleased to say that the double solar halo that appeared in the sky over the holy land of the Korean revolution in the run-up to the April auspicious jubilee reflects the warm congratulations the servicepersons and people are offering to Kim Jong Il.

This is not necessarily an indication of the divine nature of the Kims but rather a more general indication that the Kim family has received and continues to enjoy the Mandate of Heaven. But, given that some of the amazing natural phenomena occur on the death anniversary of Kim Il Sung, this is clearly not merely an indication of Heavenly support for the DPRK’s present ruler.

Moreover, “Eternal President of the DPRK,” (the Constitutionally-defined title of Kim Il Sung) certainly seems to imply immortality if not divinity.

Having note all of this, however, I still find myself acknowledging and largely accepting Myers’ larger point: the vast majority of the DPRK-produced literature about the Kims emphasizes far more their human characteristics, and indeed their ostensibly pure Korean characteristics than their astonishing supernatural abilities. The Kims-as-supermen/gods trope is more a function of lazy and credulous outsiders gravitating toward the most sensational aspects of North Korea rather than its more pedestrian reality.

Thoughts? I’d love to be made aware of actual examples of DPRK propaganda that indicate otherwise.


For reasons unknown, a life-size cardboard cutout of George Washington has taken up residence in our Department's mail and copy room. I'm not sure where he came from or why he is there (his presence would probably make more sense in my previous place of employment). I do know that his presence there has startled me more than once, especially in cases in which I entered the darkened room after hours, turned on the lights and discovered that I wasn't alone.

Apparently, the father of our country has been seduced by confections from the tyrannical mother country.

I wonder if George has ever tried a Choco Pie?

Thursday, February 11, 2010


According to this article:
North Korean craftsmen have completed a giant bronze monument named "African Renaissance" on a hill near Dakar International Airport in Senegal.
At 50 m in height, the monstrosity is taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York and represents a heroic couple apparently about to launch their child into the sky.

I suppose one can't really blame P'yôngyang for exploiting a North Korean comparative advantage in monument building. Nor can one really be surprised at how the DPRK was remunerated for its pains:
The cost of construction was reported at US$25 million, but experts estimate it would have been nearer $70 million. The Senegalese president told the WSJ that he had "no budget for the African Renaissance, so instead offered a prime chunk of state-owned land in exchange, which North Korea has since resold at a large profit."

Monday, February 8, 2010


Apparently having solved every other pressing social and economic problem in sight, the powers that be have gone after the pernicious social ill of wearing pajamas in public.
The South China Morning Post reports that the city's Qiba neigborhood "has mobilized neighborhood committee officials and volunteers since July to talk people out of the habit of wearing pajamas in public."

The article also consults Chinese sociologist Zhang Jiehai, who says pajama-wearing in public began "as a matter of practicality because people lived in cramped conditions with no clear line between public space and private place."
Will this campaign work? I await reports of the results with bated breath.