Thursday, April 4, 2013

Korea Notes

North Korea's Kim Jong Un continues to generate dangerous propaganda which yesterday moved up the danger needle. Most Americans are not aware but for the last several years the two Koreas have been cooperating in the creation and operation of the Kaesong Industrial Zone, a special place in North Korean territory, just over the DMZ, in which some 50,000 workers from the North have jobs in factories operated by companies from the South.

'Best Jobs In North Korea' Pay $62 A Month; Now They're Diplomatic Pawnsby Mark Memmott  April 03, 201312:
This NPR report from yesterday tells the details.
At an industrial park where they build appliances and other products for companies from South Korea, 55,000 North Koreans typically earn about $62 each a month, a North Korea expert tells NPR. 
And they've got some of the best jobs in one of the world's poorest nations, Aidan Foster-Carter from Leeds University said on All Things Considered this week. Per capita income in the North is estimated to be as little as $1,000 a year. Not only is the pay at the Kaesong Industrial Complex better than elsewhere (other estimatesput it as high as $100 a month), but the workers are "reasonably well-looked after," Foster-Carter said. 
Now those jobs and what's done at the Kaesong complex are in the international spotlight. On Wednesday, North Korean authorities blocked trucks and workers coming from the South to the complex about six miles inside North Korea. 
As NPR's Louisa Lim told Morning Edition, North Korea's regime is skilled at "this sort of cycle of threats" — particularly at times, such as now, when the U.S. and South Korea are holding joint military exercises. 
So, along with threats to fire missiles as the South and the U.S., leader Kim Jong Un and his generals have also shown their displeasure by cutting one of the last ties between North and South — the access given to companies from the South to workers at the Kaesong complex. 
Experts hope the move is just the latest in decades of rhetoric from the North and that South Korean companies will have access to Kaesong again soon.
Meanwhile, here's more about the complex: 
— The project was launched in 2003 in the hope it would both provide much-needed income for those in the North and build better relations with the South. Work began there the next year, according to Foster-Carter. Now, reports the BBC, there are 123 companies from the South with operations in the complex.
— Along with small appliances, the companies with operations in the complex make clothing, textiles, car parts and semiconductors. About $470 million worth of goods were produced there last year, the BBC says.
— Everything made there is exported to the South.
— The South Korean government has not only given companies incentives to put operations at Kaesong, it has also made available "political risk insurance" to cover any losses if North-South relations sour further.
— About 800 South Koreans are at the complex most workdays.
— A "Mr. Kim ... [who] asked that his full name not be used," is a manager for a South Korean sportswear company that employs about 950 North Koreans at the complex. "The skill and labor intensity of workers at Kaesong is far better than we could get in China or Vietnam," he tells The Wall Street Journal. "They're disciplined, hard workers and of course language is no problem."
Closing off this place happened before in 2009. It was reopened a few weeks later.
A commentator at one newsgroup to which I subscribe summarized North Korea's behavior as
North Korea blusters, then talks, then gets aid. It's a ritual for them.
Now we have a new, young leader, I see speculation that he has something to
prove with the old guard.
That acurately summarizes the last several decades of diplomatic a nutshell.  And everyone hopes this time will not be different. But with a third generation tyrant in charge there is no way to know what crazy moves he may make. The whole world watches as a second-generation tyrant in Syria clearly has no compunction about presiding over a bloody civil war. And the fates of others in the former Yugoslavia, North Africa and the Middle East are not reassuring. Traveling, reading and studying in Europe or America seem to have done nothing to ameliorate the effects of a fundamental moral depravity. There is no reason to imagine that Kim Jong Un is importantly different.

One disturbing development could be cyber-tinkering from young renegades who seem not to know or care that no matter how flat they think the Web has made the world, Asia remains very different from the West. If Western adventures in Vietnam and Afghanistan have demonstrated no other realities, those two recent examples should end the argument. (Colonial adventures on the part of Britain, France and Holland, and the protracted Russian quagmire in Afghanistan also failed to penetrate hard Western heads as well. The old grim joke is that wars are God's way of teaching Americans geography.)

My Army assignment when I was drafted in 1965 was as a Medical Corpsman in Korea. I enjoyed my time there so much that I took advantage of an extended tour (from 13 to 16 months) in return for an early release. I was assigned to a small medical detachment near Taejon all of 1966 and half of 1967 and spent all my off-duty time with Koreans, teaching English conversation to a group of high school students and as well as a small group of doctors and nurses anticipating working in America. Korea became for me an adopted country. And I had the impression while I was there that without the US presence the South might even have attacked the North.

Much has changed since then, but I have no reason to believe that Koreans on either side of the DMZ think in terms of two countries as we do in the West. That reality was underscored for me by something that happened when I received my permanent assignment to Camp Ames. Upon my arrival I was sent to the 21st Evac Hospital near Inchon for on-the-job training as an X-Ray tech, much of which was done by a couple of Korean civilian x-ray technicians employed there. When my orders came I didn't know where Taejon was and a Mr. Cho, one of them, took a piece of paper and said "Here, I'll show you."
He sketched an outline map and said, "This is Korea."
" And this," he continued as he drew a line through it, "is DMZ."

Immediately I realized that until that moment when I heard the word Korea I had been thinking of what is properly called the Republic of Korea (ROK), not what we call North Korea, which most Americans regard as a different country, properly called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). They share the same language, culture, customs, names and several thousand years of history as one people.  There is no way that one or two generations of separation will change those fundamental realities in any meaningful way. We need look no further than a divided Germany -- indeed the aftermath of our own Civil War -- to grasp that simple truth.  At my old blog I made a note that in 2005 that sentiment was still alive. 
A poll by the Munhwa Ilbo and KSOI revealed that the South Korean public was strongly opposed to unilateral U.S. military action against North Korea. How opposed, you might ask? When asked what the South Korean government should do if the U.S. bombed the North without Seoul’s approval, only 31.2 percent said the South should stand with the U.S., while 47.6 percent said Seoul should take the North’s side. Even among conservative Grand National Party supporters, only 38.6 percent responded that Seoul should take the U.S. side, while 41.1 percent said Seoul should stand with Pyongyang. Support for the North was higher in all regional, age and class groups.
This is consistent with a survey given on February 13, when 56 percent of respondents said the solution to the nuclear issue was for the “U.S. to guarantee North Korea’s system (regime).” 74 percent said “North Korea needed to be persuaded” to give up its nukes, while only 23 percent said North Korea needed to be pressured.

I have learned not to make predictions. So when I read about political posturing and military maneuvers I take it all with several grains of salt until something substantive takes place. And despite Wikileaks, Truth Out, and the Anonymous group of hackers I still believe there are adults in charge who know more than they are telling.  Some measure of secrecy has always been vital to our national security.
(Every time I hear another reference to what may or may not have happened in Benghazi I roll my eyes and wonder if the people who keep up that theme have any idea what they are demanding. Do they really want an even more revealing level of transparency on the part of the State Department, the CIA or the military? Would they have everybody running around naked, caring nothing for anything they say or do? But I digress.)

Here are links to my old blog regarding a hostage crisis that happened in 2007 when some Korean Christian missionaries to Afghanistan were taken hostage by the Taliban.
Korean Hostages of the Taliban in Afghanistan (Added links)
Korean Hostages of the Taliban -- Day 27
Korean Hostages Update
Pray for the Korean Hostages

I heard an NPR feature Monday (no, it wasn't an April Fools Day joke) about recent research that a group of investigators is doing on word analysis.

Mining Books To Map Emotions Through A Century
Were people happier in the 1950s than they are today? Or were they more frustrated, repressed and sad? 
To find out, you'd have to compare the emotions of one generation to another. British anthropologists think they may have found the answer — embedded in literature. 
Several years ago, more or less on a lark, a group of researchers from England used a computer program to analyze the emotional content of books from every year of the 20th century — close to a billion words in millions of books. 
This effort began simply with lists of "emotion" words: 146 different words that connote anger; 92 words for fear; 224 for joy; 115 for sadness; 30 for disgust; and 41 words for surprise. All were from standardized word lists used in linguistic research. 
The original idea was to have the computer program track the use of these words over time. The researchers wanted to see if certain words, at certain moments, became more popular. 
[...]  "Generally speaking, the usage of these commonly known emotion words has been in decline over the 20th century," Bentley says. We used words that expressed our emotions less in the year 2000 than we did 100 years earlier — words about sadness and joy and anger and disgust and surprise. 
In fact, there is only one exception that Bentley and his colleagues found: fear. "The fear-related words start to increase just before the 1980s," he says. 
So what does this tell us? Should we trust it? Could it be that our own sense of ourselves, and how emotionally open we are, is somehow wrong? Bentley says he has no explanation. "We were just so surprised at this result that we just wanted to publish it to show people," he says. "It's such a fascinating thing; I'm excited just to hear other people's interpretations of this data."
Not to put too fine a point on it, this strikes me as both accurate and credible. I have seen the growth of fear, culturally speaking,  all my life. I can recall as a child being vaguely aware of a Communist conspiracy. I didn't know what it meant. I was only six or seven years old. But I remember one of my aunts who lived in a duplex at the time asking her husband, my uncle, if he thought their next-door neighbor who was from Russia was one of them. She was a born worrier. She worried about everything, enough that nobody had to worry on their own. But fortunately  Uncle Ralph was more even-tempered and he blew it off and said she was just a sweet, harmless old lady and there was nothing to worry about. But I never forgot the fear to which my aunt alluded. When you're a child it's unsettling when you see an adult worrying about something.

And just yesterday I came across all the evidence I need that a large and growing number of Americans, whether or not they admit it, are in the grips of fear.
How else to explain this?

666 Pennsylvania Avenue
By Ed Kilgore, April 03, 2013
Since we’ve been talking off and on about the boundary-line that separates regular conservatives from the extremist fringe, and also because one of my regular topics is the intersection of politics and religion, check out this finding from a new PPP survey on subscription to conspiracy theories: 
13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, including 22% of Romney voters 
This is a national poll, mind you, not a straw poll at some conservative evangelical clambake. Its margin-of-error is 2.8%. Extrapolated to the national electorate, it suggests that over 13 million Americans believe the President of the United States is a demonic supernatural being sent into the world to set up an infernal kingdom until it’s all washed away by the End of Days. 
Now I understand all the limitations of this kind of polling. The Anti-Christ question is sprinkled in with all sorts of crazy questions about this or that odd theory (my favorite is: Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world and gaining political power to manipulate our societies, or not? 4% of respondents are down with the “V hypothesis,” though the number rises to 11% among those self-identifying as “very conservative.”). Many Romney voters would be inclined to agree with anything negative said about Obama. 
Still, the Anti-Christ? 
Perhaps the second most-alarming result of the survey is that even after the recent heavy publicity about the lies surrounding the Iraq War, 36% of 2012 Romney voters (nearly half of those expressing an opinion) persist in thinking that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. There’s zero evidence of that, of course, but it’s hard to prove negatives to people who want to believe otherwise. 
The PPP survey was conducted from March 27th through March 30, so it’s possible some respondents were influenced at least subliminally by those episodes of the TV miniseries The Bible that depicted Satan as looking more than a little like Barack Obama (and certainly a lot more than Ol’ Scratch resembled Mitt Romney). But any way you slice it, when progressives suggest on occasion that conservatives talk about Obama as though he were the Anti-Christ, it’s not all hyperbole 
UPDATE: On Twitter, TNR’s Nate Cohn reminds me to note that 19% of 2012 Romney voters are unsure whether Obama is the Anti-Christ (guess they are still reading the Book of Revelation and looking for signs). Only 59% are willing to say he’s not.

Nineteen percent unsure? Unsure?
Add that to the hysteria about Second Amendment rights and the flaming mythology about government plans to take away all the guns, buy up all the ammo and round up people in concentration camps and that can only be explained by a serious case of fear. 
Psychiatrists call it paranoia.

If we who imagine ourselves to be free and enlightened -- with access to the Web and the latest news -- who eat freedom for breakfast and have the strongest military machine in the history of mankind, find ourselves in the grips of that level of fear, how much more terrified must the population of North Korea be than we?

Let's hope the policy of strategic patience continues to be effective and that China finds a way to keep their boy in check.

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