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Archive for December, 2005

New Year’s Eve

Posted by Brian on December 31, 2005

I’ll be hosting a New Year’s Eve cocktail party at my place tonight… here’s the menu:

  • Cheese and meat platter (cheddar, swiss, brie, and camembert; ham and salami)
  • Assorted crackers (triscuits, ritz, some others)
  • Mini-pretzels
  • Cocktails, cocktails, and cocktails
  • And for dessert, Jello Shots using grape jello and Creme De Cassis

Happy New Years to everyone!

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Dr. Hwang in 10 years…

Posted by Brian on December 30, 2005

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

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MSNBC: NK cuts off U.N. food, ignites famine fears

Posted by Brian on December 30, 2005

It looks like North Korea is up to its patented “middle finger” approach to domestic governing and international diplomacy:

The New Year seldom brings much to celebrate in North Korea — where food and energy shortages regularly accompany a long, bitter winter. This time around the outlook is even more uncertain, as Pyongyang’s Stalinist government moves to reassert control over the food supply, a move some experts fear will lead the isolated country into another famine.

With the end of 2005, the U.N.’s World Food Program is slated to shut down its decade-long food distribution effort in North Korea after Pyongyang told the organization that the aid was no longer needed. The program was the biggest multinational humanitarian program in the country and was instrumental in pulling North Korea out of a famine that killed up to 2.5 million people in the mid-1990s and drove many to flee the country.

At the same time, the government announced it would revert to central control of all grain distribution, shutting down market-based experiments in grain sales that started in 2002. Then the military reportedly seized grain earmarked as incentives for growers, while promising increased rations across the board.

Needless to say, Korea experts don’t think too highly of Kim Jong-il’s latest gambit. Marcus Nolan comments:

“After implementing incentives for growers … the state has basically gone in and reneged. They may be setting themselves up for another humanitarian crisis.”


“If you give the food through the WFP, it is more likely to reach vulnerable people. If you give the food to the North Korean government, it will distribute according to its own preferences, which are basically political.”

Clark Sorenson comments:

“From my point of view, what the international community needs to do is avoid supporting the public distribution system, because it just reinforces the power of (Kim Jong Il’s) Korean Workers Party and the political elite.”

The MSNBC article also features an internet poll asking the following question: Do you think countries should send food aid to North Korea if Pyongyang does not allow outside monitoring of its distribution? As of now, with 4,700 votes in, 77% of respondents, including your humble blogger, voted no. Go and throw in your own two cents.


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Reuters: Books about South Korean Scientist Flop

Posted by Brian on December 30, 2005

Not only have the wheels fallen off the Dr. Hwang wagon, they are now careening through the air taking out random pedestrians. From Reuters:

South Korean publishers rushed to put books on celebrated scientist Hwang Woo-suk on store shelves only to find him embroiled in a scandal and their products becoming one of the biggest flops of the holiday season.

Hwang was once called the pride of South Korea for bringing the country to the forefront of stem cell and cloning research. Publishers aiming to cash in on his fame put out 16 books on him — 10 of which were children’s books.

Most of the books made their way to store shelves in the past year. In past days, however, those same books were headed back to publishers because demand dried up when charges surfaced that Hwang’s team fabricated data.

“We started taking children’s books on Hwang off the shelves just before Christmas,” said Kim Yea-won, a clerk at major book seller Kyobo. “Nobody wants them now.”


One curious aspect of these books – though probably unsurprising to long-time Korea-watchers –  is the hagiographic spin the authors put on the man, the myth, Dr. Hwang. Consider this passage:

“After Hwang announced his achievement through ‘Science’ magazine, people from all over the world invited him to speak. When they sent him a first-class seat, he politely refused saying he would ride economy class so he could bring more of his junior researchers with him to see the world instead.”

No word on whether or not Dr. Hwang returned to Korea by hoofing it across the Pacific, but that might have been planned for the sequel.

The list of people disappointed by Dr. Hwang continues to grow longer and longer. Now, it’s the children, who finally had someeone to look up to who wasn’t an athlete, prima-donna entertainer, or gun-toting wannabe-gangster rapper. From the Korea Times:

Until last year, Shin Chul, an eight-year-old elementary student, wanted to be a diplomat when he grew up.

However, this year, he changed his mind _ to be a scientist like Hwang Woo-suk so that he could heal many patients suffering from incurable diseases and paralysis.

The little boy, however, thought he had to readjust the direction of his dream after the fact-finding panel of Seoul National University (SNU) recently announced the results of its first probe that cloning scientist Hwang woo-suk fabricated data for his 2005 paper on tailor-made stem cells in the U.S. journal Science in May.

Shocked by the news, the elementary student still cannot believe that Hwang, whom he once considered as a hero and his lifetime role model, lied to the public, including many young children.

“Even my mother bought me several cartoon biography book about Prof. Hwang. After reading them, I made up my mind to be a great scientist. But what can I do now, if he actually lied?’’ Shin told The Korea Times.

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L.A. Times: NK “Slave Labor” in the Czech Republic

Posted by Brian on December 29, 2005

Via the Chosun Ilbo, Barbara Demick of the L.A. Times writes on the plight of North Korean women toiling away in the Czech Republic:

The schoolhouse is now a factory producing uniforms. Almost all the workers are North Korean, and the women initially looked delighted to see visitors. It gets lonely working out here, thousands of miles from home. They crowded around to chat.

“I’m not so happy here. There is nobody who speaks my language. I’m so far from home,” volunteered a tentative young woman in a T-shirt and sweatpants who said she was from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

But as she spoke, an older woman with stern posture and an expressionless face — a North Korean security official — passed by in the corridor. The young women scattered wordlessly and disappeared into another room, closing and bolting the door behind them.

Hundreds of young North Korean women are working in garment and leather factories like this one, easing a labor shortage in small Czech towns. Their presence in this recent member of the European Union is something of a throwback to before the Velvet Revolution of 1989, when Prague, like Pyongyang, was a partner in the Communist bloc.

The North Korean government keeps most of the earnings, apparently one of the few legal sources of hard currency for an isolated and impoverished government believed to be living off counterfeiting, drug trafficking and weapons sales. Experts estimate that there are 10,000 to 15,000 North Koreans working abroad in behalf of their government in jobs ranging from nursing to construction work. In addition to the Czech Republic, North Korea has sent workers to Russia, Libya, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia and Angola, defectors say.

Almost the entire monthly salary of each of the women here, about $260, the Czech minimum wage, is deposited directly into an account controlled by the North Korean government, which gives the workers only a fraction of the money.

To the extent that they are allowed outside, they go only in groups. Often they are accompanied by a guard from the North Korean Embassy who is referred to as their “interpreter.” They live under strict surveillance in dormitories with photographs of North Korea’s late founder Kim Il Sung and current leader Kim Jong Il gracing the walls. Their only entertainment is propaganda films and newspapers sent from North Korea, and occasional exercise in the yard outside.

“This is 21st century slave labor,” said Kim Tae San, a former official of the North Korean Embassy in Prague. He helped set up the factories in 1998 and served as president of one of the shoe factories until he defected to South Korea in 2002.

North Korea proves once again that those who do business with it only end up sullying their own reputation. The Czech Republic should be ashamed for letting the Kim regime export its abominable practices to Czech land.

Posted in Korean Issues | 2 Comments »

New Features

Posted by Brian on December 28, 2005

On the sidebar are two new categories: Cathartidae’s Bookshelf and Cathartidae’s Jukebox. The former will list the last three books I’ve read, while the latter will indicate CD’s I’ve been listening to recently.

I hope such listings will help my readers get a better understanding of my personal interests.

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The Onion: NK nukes self in desperate plea for attention

Posted by Brian on December 28, 2005

If only it really were true:

PYONGYANG—Frustrated that its megalomaniacal outbursts no longer inspire fear and panic in the international community, the nation of North Korea detonated all six of its nuclear warheads early Thursday morning, killing 32 million in what international observers are calling “a pathetic bid for attention.”

“This is very typical and melodramatic,” South Korean President Roo Moo-hyun said yesterday. “North Korea has been ‘acting out’ for years—decorating its country with provocative posters, never leaving its borders, and getting aggressive with those closest to it. It has been this way ever since it was grounded from the national stage.” UN officials are advising nations who feel self-destructive to speak to allies or counselors.

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Why is 1TYM so angry?

Posted by Brian on December 28, 2005

So I’m at the gym doing my daily routine: an hour on the treadmill while I watch the TV in front of me. I usually watch CSI, but today it was Korean MTV and its assortment of ridiculous videos (with the sound turned down, of course).

After watching three straight videos of girly boys beating up other girly boys for the love of a woman, a 1TYM video came on. For those not cool enough to know, 1TYM is part of the YG Family (that is, Young Gangster Family Entertainment), a bargain-bin version of the Wu-Tang and their extended clan (they even have a member who goes by the moniker of Master Wu).

Anyway, their video (didn’t catch the song title) blew me away for its inspired ability to cram nearly every single American gangster rap cliche into one 3 minute video. There were guns everywhere… shotguns, pistols, automatic weapons. There were bouncing cars, angry looks, bandanas tied up to cover faces (getting ready to pull a drive-by, I suppose), and one member of the group had HATE tattooed on his knuckles. Needless to say, they looked like clowns (it was even more amusing because there was a pleasant “Merry Christmas” graphic incongruously placed on the upper right of the screen).

So I’m watching this, and two things come to mind. First, why are these guys so angry? Did their moms cut their Saebae pocket money allowance? And second, how on earth could any sane person watch such a video and not come to the conclusion that they are the biggest bunch of wannabe poseurs to ever pick up a mic? What group of Korean consumers buys into this kind of shit?

And at the risk of sounding like an old fart, I think the YG Family deserves to be criticized for introducing this sort of gun-toting gangsta posturing to the Korean music scene. Besides being blatantly silly, its an entirely unnecessary aspect of American hip-hop that didn’t need to be imported.

Posted in Korean Issues, Music | 8 Comments »