Saturday, May 30, 2009


Ron Paul on North Korea's Nuclear Weapons

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


The Plight of South Korean Presidents

The closest parallel to the Roh Moo-hyun presidency in American politics would probably be Jimmy Carter.

Both men were decidedly left-of-center, combining the appeal that their party had at the time of their election with a reputation for personal honesty and integrity: Much as Carter told a nation scarred by Watergate that he’d never lie to them, Roh promised a nation whose electoral system was renowned for its corruption that he’d practice “clean politics.”

Also, like Carter, Roh’s ineffectual presidency was probably the low point of his career in the public service. After being drummed out of office in 1980, Carter devoted himself to diplomacy and humanitarian work, while Roh’s earlier defense of the victims of Korea’s authoritarian politics is what catapulted him to prestige in the first place.

Both men were ineffective as president, but at least they were ineffective on a grand scale: Carter, after presiding over double-digit inflation levels and Iran-Contra, was defeated in a 1980 election that thereafter realigned the American South toward Republicans. Roh’s tremendously unpopular tenure, in which youth unemployment soared, resulted in the collapse of the Uri (Our) Party, from which left-of-center politics in Korea have yet to recover.

Though the right-leaning GNP had an approval rating in the mid-30s in December, the main opposition Democratic Party’s was hovering around 10.

Roh’s suicide is unprecedented for leaders of either country, however. The one trend it does follow is the disastrous end that seems to await all of South Korea’s heads of state:

Syngman Rhee: After allegations of election rigging, the Republic of Korea’s first president was driven from office in 1960, barely escaping protestors who’d converged on the Blue House. Rhee died in exile in 1965, but at least it was in Hawaii.
Park Chung-hee: Ruled from 1962-79, during the economy grew but labor conditions were atrocious and freedoms of speech/press trampled. Eventually shot and killed by his own intelligence chief.
Chun Doo-hwan: Call him Park-lite, as he served in a similar capitalist dictatorship, though he did institute the nation’s democratic reforms of the late-80s. Later convicted of corruption and for mutiny in connection for his seizure of power in 1980, Chun’s original death sentence was commuted by Kim Young-sam.
Roh Tae-woo: Charged along with Chun for corruption; originally sentenced to 22 years in prison but pardoned in 1998 by Kim Dae-jung.

Jimmy Carter has not been disgraced the way Roh was after his presidency, but had he faced an investigation of the intensity that Roh did, who knows? Of course, in America we don't put former presidents on trial.

No matter how much we ought to.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Parenthood Will be a Scream

What is the trigger, the prompt that separates a baby’s cry from baby’s scream? Over the years I’ve had many opportunities to contemplate the transition, as I’ve been in many situations – church services, public transportation, the homes of relatives – where there were potential case studies available.

It generally starts with a cry, as a child of 3 years old or younger begins making a high-pitched sound indicating his/her dissatisfaction. It’s at this point that I might have begun observance of the change into Full-Screaming Mode (FSM), but I and generally all other adult males who aren’t the baby’s parent of the male persuasion are far too busy attempting to distract ourselves until the crying stops.

There is more than one means of doing so, but the preferred method is typically some sort of reading material, preferably newspapers.

Those of the opposite gender, even those who aren’t the child’s parent of the female persuasion, try to help him or her, usually through soft-toned inquiries such as “What’s wrong?” or “What’s the matter?” that the child is usually months or even years from comprehending. It’s at this point that I should add that, in defense of myself and the other males, our actions do every bit as much to stop the onset of FSM as the females’, which is to say nothing at all.

Before the child is able to talk, it would appear that everyone, maternal instinct/experience or none, is only guessing as to his or her problem during mere crying mode. Either they guess wrong, or they simply lack the adequate time to sufficiently address the child’s grievances, but FSM is inevitable.

Soon, despite the females’ efforts, the child has its hands clenched at is side and its eyelids clamped shut so as to concentrate on dredging up the most insufferable noise possible, and his or her mouth is spread wide open to provide that noise with the greatest range achievable. It’s a marvel of biology that a person this small can make a cacophony of this intensity without tiring within 30 seconds, but the child can keep it up for as long as it takes.

In the meantime, the females nearby scramble, attempting to find the remedy for whatever ails the child’s disposition, while the males who aren’t the parent cover the ear nearest the child and focus ever more intently on their newspapers (what will they do when all newspapers go bankrupt? Focus ever more intently on their Kindles?).

And what about the male who is the child’s parent? All along he hasn’t had a clear role in this situation; before FSM set in he was own ring back from the circle of ladies who were attempting to assuage the child. He would be perfectly happy to spring into action at any moment and do something decisive and fatherly, but is for the moment unsure of what help he could offer. Still, he feels the need to be there in case somebody thought of something vital that he could do.

Once the transition to FSM is complete, he grimaces and looks away, usually somewhere off in the distance, which is where he’d prefer to be, quietly contemplating how he arrived at this juncture in life. He doesn’t necessarily look at the other males in the room, but the confusion and ineffectuality etched onto his face speaks to all of us, warning each one who hasn’t yet had offspring not to do so until we have accomplished everything else in life that we want to do.

If possible, his face seems to say, don’t have children until you’ve got enough money to provide the baby with its own nanny, if not separate quarters.

At that moment, it’s a warning we each take to heart. Still, we marry sooner than we expect to, thinking there will be at least a few years alone with the wife. Married life, we think, will be something similar to our single states of existence but more rewarding, and probably a lot more sanitary.

All too early there’s a baby upon us, and within a few short years we’re that parent of the male persuasion staring hopelessly at distant landscapes while our offspring attempts to deprive everyone in the vicinity of their capacity to hear.

As I have failed to enrich myself to the point where I can afford full-time care for the child I’m about to have, now is the time to explore other options. One thing I can do is devote myself to his upbringing, not only so that I might get to know him better, but also understand and thoroughly document what causes crying to transition into full-screaming.

Then, one day, fewer fathers everywhere need start hopelessly at distant terrain, wishing they could be elsewhere, because I will have mapped the correct course of action!

I suspect the first step of this course involves ear plugs.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Former President Roh Dies

The sad history of South Korea's elected leadership continues. Here's the story from the New York Times.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Driving The Point Home

Of all the things I was happy to get away from when I came to Korea nearly four years ago, “driving” would probably rank ahead of “people taller than myself” and behind “America’s descent in to socialism” (Glenn Beck says it’s happening, so it must be true).

As Korea is smaller than all but a quarter of the U.S. states and yet has a population roughly equivalent to California and Pennsylvania put together, its metropolitan areas tend to be rather compressed, with many places reachable on foot.

This, coupled with the nation’s extensive public transportation system, made driving unnecessary for the first few years. This was welcome because driving, at least in Tennessee, is not so much one significant inconvenience as a collection of lesser annoyances stacked upon one another.

These irritants include:

• The need for two-four hour commutes into other cities to buy things because no city in Tennessee has everything a person could want.
• Traffic jams which turn these two-four hour commutes into excursions that are twice as long.
• Stop signs, where one is expected to halt progress, regardless of whether there’s someone coming from a conflicting direction, and where many people believe that “stop, and then go” is a three-step process that lingers on the “and then” part.
• Gas prices, which tend to swallow the bulk of one’s entry level salary, even in nations which haven’t gone fully socialist yet.

After many years of living blissfully free of these annoyances, those things which have deprived many a man of conveniences happened to me: I got married, and my wife got pregnant. Soon, she began calling on me to handle more of the driving when we were together, making our life partnership more equal. Then, equal quickly turned into my holding a majority share when the growth of her stomach was no longer conducive to steering.

If you want to know what driving is like in this country, here are four important things to remember:

• Two-four commutes are still necessary at times, because although Seoul has just about everything a person could want (I mean, aside from breathable air), not everyone gets to live there. Furthermore, these commutes are somewhat complicated by the fact that our car as no cruise control.
Perhaps because most driving is done over a short distance where there are stoplights every 300 meters or so left manufacturers with the impression that such a product would not be necessary. In fact, while driving between Seoul and another city, I asked my wife where I could find the button used to set the car’s speed so that I didn’t have to work the brakes or accelerator; I imagine that her reaction was akin to what one would do if asked where the car’s wings and booster rocket were.
• Traffic jams also occur here. In fact, you could say they only occur here, because the kind of traffic congestion that can take place in a country smaller than Tennessee but 8.5 times as populous will forever change your conception of the term.
They are a nightly occurrence in Seoul, and those that occur around national holidays make two-hour delays feel like a hobby.
Imagine it being July 3, and you want to go from Nashville to Chattanooga for the holiday. Picture yourself waking up in Nashville that morning, beginning your trip shortly thereafter, and arriving just in time for bed.
That’s driving in Korea.
• There are no stop signs in most public roads in Korea. As there are many, many alleyways that people use for commuting about town, a sign of some incandescent color instructing them when to halt would seem ideal. Instead, they rely on a kind of honor system, which can be summarized as, “If I just pull out, I trust that the other drivers are honorable enough to brake.”
• The amount of money required to fill a tank of gas in American fills may 3/8ths in Korea. This is because, sad to say, while America is on the way to socialism, the rest of the world is already there (I’m pretty sure Glenn Beck said that at one point).

The plus side of driving in Korea is that it’s almost like boot camp for those who would travel via automobile. When my parents came to visit, one of the first things they noticed is that conditions are always packed, and yet few people seem to mind.

If I ever return to America, I suspect that I’ll never complain about difficult parking or navigating through tight spaces ever again, now that I’ve survived all that Korea could throw at me.

Furthermore, having endured much more severe experiences of gas prices and traffic congestion, I’ll probably find America’s instances of both much more manageable. Ultimately, this will make it all worthwhile, and by “it” I mean all the socialism.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


The Tools of the Cameragods

(Note: Here's a pic of my wife under the Korean cherry blossoms this spring. I can't judge it's quality authoritatively; all I know is that she not only didn't ask me to delete it, she actually used it for her Facebook profile. This indicates that's probably as good a photograph as I can take.)

When my Canon Powershot stopped working less than a month before my wedding/honeymoon, I was at first relieved to find that camera technology has so advanced that I could buy an upgraded version of the same model for about $200 less.

Once that relief passed, however, I became somewhat unhappy with the notion that my new, more mega-pixilated model would probably have even more features that I would never learn how to use.

It’s been eight years since I, working for my university newspaper, was handed a black box of advanced machinery and asked to make visual journalism take place for the purpose of complimenting my written work. Thankfully, I have since overcome the feeling I had at that time, which was that of being a high school remedial math student asked to take the helm of a space shuttle.

Back then, it was easy for me to imagine the moment of import, when I was about to get a shot of our university president doing something decisive and front-page worthy, only to push a button that made all the batteries fall out and the camera disintegrate. Not only would I owe the student newspaper the equivalent of all my cafeteria money until I finished a doctorate, but I’d forever lose the president as a contact.

These days, I’m confident that nothing I push will damage the camera or my reputation, but I suspect I’m only fulfilling about one-fourth of my Powershot’s value. There must be a way to make my photos less blurry, less dark, sharper, etc. but I don’t know the precise setting/angle to use. Therefore, I’m not fit to move on to the more expensive, more advanced units wielded by the Cameragods.

These are the people who shame me through their thorough knowledge and utilization of more advanced equipment than I may ever be able to afford. What’s more, I will probably never be able to avoid my embarrassing encounters with them as long as I a) work for newspapers and b) travel.

Virtually all publications, whether daily, monthly, or web log, employ the use of photographs. Likewise, practically all places in which travel often occurs attract those who want to record their memories in the slickest, best-lit method possible. Those of us with cameras of less than a $500 price tag and a weight that could not club an adult moose unconscious are often in these situations, hoping to use ours as well, but usually end wishing we could do so while wearing a disguise such as a ski mask.

That’s because once we start using ours, the Cameragods start asking us questions, apparently for our own amusement.

“So how many megapixels do you got?” they’ll ask us.

“Uh, eight,” we’ll respond.

“Hmm, that’s cute. What kind of aperture does it have?”

“(Pause) The … normal kind,” we’ll answer. Not wishing to dwell on our own inadequacy, we seek to change the subject, hopefully learning something in the process. A good place to start would apparently be the massive lens this Cameragod is using, apparently because he wants to be able to get a clear picture of Saturn.

‘What kind of lens is that?” we’ll ask.

“This is my ultra-ultra wide. It’s 16 mm, but I also brought along my 20 mm.”

“Oh,” we’ll say, with no small trace of awe in our voices. “If 16 mm is ultra-ultra wide, then 20 must be really ultra-ultra wide!”

“Hey Nick!” this Cameragod will say, turning to one of his fellow photography deities. “You gotta hear what this guy just said!”

Attempting to avoid further embarrassment we slink away to take our own photos and just be left alone. The problem is that the self-consciousness doesn’t end when the conversations with the Cameragods do. They, with their lenses that threaten to gouge out unsuspecting eyes, are instantly recognized by all potential photo subjects as knowledgeable artists in the field who, you never know, might get them in a magazine somewhere.

Said subjects clear out of the way for those of us with cameras of less than $500 in value, though, as we just look like weirdoes who want to take badly lit pics of strangers for our personal use in some poorly lit room.

Therefore, my photography subjects while living abroad tend not to make publications, and their subjects are generally limited to those of landscapes and of my wife, which she often attempts to convince me to delete later. Every so often I talk to her about upgrading my camera’s specifics, maybe getting a lens that would allow me to see, say, Mars.

“Later you can,” she always says. Perhaps by “later” she means when we have enough money saved. Perhaps “later” means after I have mastered the intricacies of the Powershot.

Perhaps “later” is code for “We both know you’ll never be photography deity material.” Either way, I suspect the Powershot will keep me company for some time to come; at least until it breaks, and I can buy a 10-megapixel model for less than $300.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Arguing With Idiots

One thing about writing in the Korean media that's different from all my previous exposure is that you can pretty well count on a reply to what you publish. In response to my review of Tom Friedman's latest opus, I received the following from one David Blum, with the charming subject of "Are you a complete moron?"

To Rob York,

Okay, so you don't like Tom Friedman. I don't either. But instead of harping on his admittedly annoying writing style, address his arguments. They're poor, and easily refuted (save for the stuff on global warming), but if you have a problem with green alarmism, address with the facts and logic, not rhetorical slights.

And the bit about the trees cut down for his book was truly the ultimate in hack.

For some reason some Korean barely literate in English gave your sorry ass a column. Make arguments, or stop. If you have a problem with my comments, email me and I will tell you exactly where you can meet me.

David Blum
Cheong-ju, South Korea

Responses such as these are truly discouraging, but not for the reasons our good Mr. Blum would probably like them to be. In one sense, you can measure your stature as a writer based on who your critics are and how they critique you. Friedman, loathe as I am to admit it, is doing pretty well for himself based on the fact that he's got someone like Matt Taibbi writing masterful pieces dedicated to shredding his work.

Ayn Rand probably didn't appreciate it at the time, but she inspired one of Whittaker Chambers' best reviews when she wrote Atlas Shrugged.

Me? The only ones who deign to criticize me can't do so without employing schoolyard insults and threats of physical confrontation.

Now, I could've explained my reasons for writing the review the way I did. For one thing, it's a bad idea to argue with someone whose ideas are plainly illogical. Friedman's ideas are, as he says, easily countered, so why waste time doing that when it's a much more salient point to ask, as I do, why Friedman should be allowed to write this book (or any other) at all?

All thinking people should make it a rule not to argue with idiots, lest someone see us and fail to tell us apart. Unfortunately, in trying to explain that rule to poor Mr. Blum, I'd in effect be breaking it.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


Tom Friedman

Wanna see him get torn a new one? Click here.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Educational Standards: Korean vs. American

My son will be born in late-June 2009. In retrospect, the best time for I and his mother to have started saving for his college fund was probably in June 2006.

Since we didn’t, it’s going to be of critical importance that he receives the best primary and secondary education he can get. Receiving the best possible education will increase his chances for scholarships, thus minimizing the amount of debt he’ll take on as a college student. Keeping his amount of debt at a minimum would then prevent him from needing federal student loans, thus absolving him of responsibility for any future government bailouts.

These are all common desires for parents, but my son’s situation is unique in that he will have two very distinct educational systems to choose from. Should I and my family elect to return to the United States, he can receive public education there; if we decide to stay here in Korea, he can receive the same kind of schooling his mother did.

So, let’s compare the advantages and disadvantages of the two.

Educational Advantages of Korean Public Schools

Schooling is taken very seriously in Korea, as students are required to study a variety of subjects, including two foreign languages. When classes end in the afternoon, the students supplement their knowledge at hagwon, or private institutes, sometimes studying past 10 p.m.

Educational Advantages of American Public Schools

Americans generally consider attending classes after 10 p.m. to be insane, and their public school system reflects this view.

Educational Disadvantages of Korean Public Schools

Job placement in Korea depends heavily upon which university accepts the student. Which university accepts the student depends largely on how well said student does on the college entrance exam. How well the student does on the college entrance exam depends greatly on whether he/she can immaculately remember esoteric, trivial facts about the subjects he/she has studied, even if said facts have no practical value.

Educational Disadvantages of American Public Schools

Job placement in American depends heavily upon which university accepts the student. Which university accepts the student depends largely on high school grades and the subjects studied. How well the student does in high school subjects depends greatly on his/her ability to concentrate while his/her classmates are throwing pre-chewed pieces of bubble gum at him/her while their teacher threatens to make the entire student body write “I will be quiet in the classroom” 500 times.

The Keys to Success in Korean Public Schools

1. Self-discipline.
2. A long memory.
3. Caffeine.

The Keys to Success in American Public Schools

1. Have a dad who went to Yale.

Of course, since my son will be half-Korean and half-Caucasian, he’ll be in an unusual position no matter which school system he attends. As we all remember, there is much more to primary and secondary education than just the subjects one studies.

In fact, high school often determines whether one grows into a charismatic leader of men or the guy whose voice cracks every time he has to ask the office secretary for help in working the fax machine.

When it comes to socialization, both Korean and American schools have their advantages and their backdraws.

The Social Advantages of Korean Public Schools

If my son takes after me, he’s likely to be seen by his classmates as that really tall kid who speaks English pretty well. This should therefore reduce the amount of hours he must spend in hagwon studying the language, and his size should limit the amount of wedgies he receives.

The Social Advantages of American Public Schools

His friends won’t all be attending hagwon until 10 p.m. at night, so he might get to see them once in awhile.

The Social Disadvantages of Korean Public Schools

For the foreigners who come to Korea to teach English to high school students, one of the great work-related struggles is getting those children to say anything. Then again, none of us would probably have much to say if our lives revolved around studying for a college entrance exam.

The Social Disadvantages of American Public Schools

If word about my son’s ethnicity gets out, he may have to endure a lot of jokes about rice and Jackie Chan. Furthermore, the ability to speak multiple languages (or even proper English) will be, if anything, a disadvantage, and being taller than average won’t prevent wedgies.

No matter which of these systems we choose to enroll him in, it’s clear that my son will have a lot of work to do, as will we in preparing him. But, by looking at the criteria discussed here, the route we should take becomes clear:


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