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Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea

In the airport in Beijing, enroute back “home” I had a stop in an airport internet lounge and, aside from a few notes of worry from friends and family,  got a glance at the headlines about North Korea’s work above.  This is about 50-60 miles from our part of Seoul.  However on arrival nothing seemed much different than usual, aside from the trees were now half-barren, and as anticipated we’d mostly missed the autumn colors.  No police or military were visible.  More notes from friends this morning tapped me on the mind to check for more information, and to find a military “crisis” state had been declared by the President here, and the won had predictably taken a swoon from 1100 a buck, back to 1170, though assuming N. Korea doesn’t lob a nuke on the city, and this calms down in a month, and other economic news doesn’t intervene, the won will likely drift back on its slow trip back to parity with the buck.  Given the clean efficient ride in from the clean efficient airport, and how well Korea is functioning now, the buck ought to be the one chasing the won.  A further bit of reading indicated the swoon had really been more attached to Irish incurred Euro willies.  A check just now indicates it already bounced back to 1140.  Interesting how one’s savings in abstract monies wobbles on abstractions, politics and war.

Recently the holders of North Korea’s currency were informed by their Great Leader that they had to trade in their old notes for new ones, at a rate dictated, naturally, by the Great One himself.  By such means did savings and “hoardings” shrivel by a factor of 10, and anyone who had saved a lot hit the maximum trade-in allowed and lost the proverbial shirt off their backs, except in N. Korea one just might not have a proverbial shirt.

The fracas of shelling above was preceded a week or so ago by word from an American nuclear scientist, who’d strangely been allowed to inspect N. Korea’s now not-so-secret new uranium processing plant, equipped with the latest in centrifuges, indicating according to our experts on such things that indeed the Kingdom was out to make new bigger better nukes.

That this was slipped out by N. Korea’s own means – inviting an American serpent into the deepest secret vortex of Kim Jong-il’s mystic powers – suggests someone is bargaining for something.  Like, maybe, food to get through the winter.  The current crisis would seem attached, as well as to underline that the dynasty’s heir-designate, Kim Jong-un, also wears a pair of big balls, or at least his military supervisors want to make it appear so.  Maybe he’s more interested, like his brother, in trips to Disneyland.

Their Great New Leader designate, Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un, probable age 26 but recently fudged to 27 in anticipation of taking over Daddy’s role in lieu of his elder brother (who was recently quoted in China as saying he didn’t think a Kim dynasty was a good thing), as claimed by Kim Jong-il’s former chef  “…speaks his native Korean, and is fluent in English and some German, Bernese German, and French. He enjoys skiing and basketball and is a fan of Michael Jordan and Jean-Claude Van Damme.”

Given his hefty looks it appears he also likes Big Macs and other junk food, and I doubt, even at his young age, he can ski much anymore.  Should he indeed take up the dynastic crown I suspect they’ll be having to shop around for the next Great Leader pretty soon though it is perhaps not likely Kim Jong-un could get his magic wand in the needed not-as-yet-known (or existent) wife’s heir-producing mechanism unless he commences with a major weight-reduction plan.

The North Korean system, like most empires and would-be empires, believes in circuses for the people as a distraction; however Kim Jong-il, his father, and most likely his son, seem to have forgotten the other half of the equation: bread.  Instead they have fed the population a constant diet of deifying propaganda which has elevated the Kim clan to celestial heights, if in fact the girth is more earth-bound.  Perhaps, pushing their luck, the latest Kim King will find himself literally devoured by his hungry peons.  It wouldn’t be the first time in history for such a denouement.

Japan, China, S Korea and N Korea and TaiwanKim Jong-il’s ecological paradise

Meantime, back on planet earth, rather than in the black-hole of mystification of N. Korea (seen above as a leader in ecologically balanced development), we experience a related warp, this one incurred by the fantastical Magical Market Economy:

In a magazine on the arts is a notice that an Andreas Gursky cibachrome photo of a Pyong Yang spectacle sold for 637,000 sterling (about a million dollars at the time) in 2008, which prompts a sense of the utter out-of-whackness of our world: a photo of this massive, and for Kim Il Jong’s subjects, very costly spectacle of artifice, sold for likely more than a good chunk of  the annual foreign exports of N. Korea’s worker’s paradise.  This misguided spectacle, used to enslave an entire nation, is then reified with an elegant photo, matching the artifice of its subject, and sold in another fraudulent space, the western “arts” market.  Gursky morally places himself on much the same level as Kim Jong-il, in effect robbing the N. Koreans of their production, no less than does Kim.  That anyone would pay such a massive amount for a photograph, whatever  it is printed on, should be telling enough, though the manipulators of the arts market are not about to say so, just as the Wall Street packagers of toxic sliced and diced and now, evidently, untraceable mortgage loans, were not about to tell the buyer’s of the dubious provenance of their purchases as they raced away with their “commission” intact.   Gursky, however much he may be an artist, is no innocent by-stander in this theft.

Murakami exhibit in Versailles

Is, in the final analysis, our consumer crazed Western Market Economy really any less wacky than the weirded-out Kingdom of  Kim Jong-il’s, with its starved citizens subsisting on a fistful of grains of rice while the princely son bloats from  too much something, and the nation’s economy is bent into a pretzel to support a military of 1,104,000 plus 8 million reservists (in a population of  25 million) and the building of  nuclear weapons?     Another nation, seized by another apparent madness, spends half its annual Federal funding on a military machine which costs 5 times more than the entire rest of the world spends each year, and which consumes half the oil which that oil besotted nation uses and fights wars to secure.  This nation’s infrastructure is crumbling owing to a political and cultural paralysis which is no less damaging socially than the mind-wash propaganda Juche system installed in the Kimdom.  And in this nation 1% of the population takes home 24-40% of the national income (depends on your source).  Two guesses what this other country is.

Even Confucianism can go wrong

[Update: “

“It could be the starting point of a new chapter in inter-Korean relations,” Choi Jin-wook, a North Korea expert at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said at the time.

Such hopes seem to be drowned out Tuesday by the thunder of artillery barrages.

“They’re in a desperate situation, and they want food immediately, not next year,” Mr. Choi said on Wednesday. “Food is the No. 1 issue.”

See this in the NY Times.]

[PS:   Today in my class at Yonsei University, facing a more or less sullen and lifeless class, I inquired why, and probing asked if it was the incident to the north?  Silence.  I inquired how many of the males had done their military service and would be called up if things worsened, and most the hands went up.  Still they wouldn’t say what was bothering them until one spoke up and said they’d had 3 weeks off since I was in India, and only a few days ago did they remember they had an assignment to bring in, and they were stunned by this.  Even though I’d carefully counseled them to use their time wisely and make something good (some did).  This student said most of them were concerned with their “real” lives, and the incident of war wasn’t of  much importance to them.  A request for hands to confirm saw most agreeing.]

One Comment

  1. How did that scientist get in? How do we know what he saw is really there? Is this another way to rationalize the U.S. military?

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