Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day 3 - Pyeongtaek

You've already seen the kim chee dining videos from Saturday's trip to the mountains surrounding Pyeongtaek, but not to the trip beforehand. In the morning of April 18, Global Network and GPPAC had its respective business meetings, but in the afternoon, the Pyeongtaek Peace Center had a special trip planned for us. We went to the Morin gate of what is officially known as the Songtan Air Base, but which the U.S. Air Force has re-named Osan Air Force Base. Locals are demonstrating against the expansion of runways at the base, and the placement of batteries of PAC-3 missiles.

Two conference attendees I didn't get the chance to meet until Saturday were Viktoria and Vadim from Vladivostok (no, I couldn't make that kind of alliterative stuff up). Activists in Russia's Far East have been very aware of Pacific Rim struggles on both the military and on environmental issues, and it's always fun to meet folks from there. Viktoria is on the left in this shot, Vadim is on the right, and immediately to Vadim's left is Marte Hellema of GPPAC - between Viktoria and Marte is a woman I never met, named Mari perhaps?

After the protest, Kang Sang-Won led us on a guided tour of the base perimeter, where we left the bus and took a series of small vans so we could navigate the one-lane fishing roads. We saw the small villages that had been removed to make room for airfields, and the batteries of PAC-3 missiles that had been moved in to prepare for the potential North Korean assaults that obsess the minds of military planners. The continuous expansion plans at the base make it obvious the work that locals confront.

Since I had to leave Sunday, I couldn't participate in the trip to Mugeon-ri, where farmers have been displaced from rice fields because of the U.S. efforts to expand the Mugeon-ri Military Training Fields in order to test the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Bruce Gagnon has pictures and information about his trip here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Korea, Day 2 - The Conference

Friday, April 17 was exhausting - trying to stuff dozens of presentations on arms technology, regional military base issues, and arms-control policies into a single eight-hour day. Kudos to our Korean hosts for keeping people on a strict schedule. Foundation money allowed for a full perfect-bound proceedings book in English, Korean, and Japanese, as well as simultaneous translation in all three languages. For a full list of speakers and topics, take a look at the Global Network web site. I'm not going to reference all my videos, check my library on YouTube if you're obsessive.

We began with welcomes from Dave Webb of Global Network and Marte Hellema from GPPAC (Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict). Then Bruce Gagnon of GN gave the general conference keynote:

Obviously, I didn't film my own talk, nor could I snare worthwhile videos of fellow panelists Dave Webb or Cheong Wooksik, though I snuck a few moments of Mary Beth Sullivan (who spent most of the conference under the weather, unfortunately). Lindis Percy grabbed a photo of our opening panel, inserted here.

Oh, and speaking of Lindis Percy, not only was she at her usual best decribing US bases in the UK, YouTube below, but the British government had the audacity to arrest her yet again as soon as she returned from Korea. Some people never learn. Morning region-specific talks included ones from J. Narayana Rao, Agneta Norberg, Tim Rinne, Hannah Middleton, Anna Polo (who had some outstanding videos of the Obama Prague trip, available at the Global Network site), Koji Sugihara, Katy Rose (YouTube below), and Kang Sung-Won (camera full).

I also wanted to post Katy Rose from AFSC, giving her observations on missile tech problems in Hawaii:

Afternoon speeches were dedicated to the problems of the Pacific Rim. Presentations included ones from Atsushi Fujioka, Kazuhiko Tamaki, and the wonderful Corazon Valdez-Fabros of the No-Bases Coalition in the Philippines. The main conference concluded with a fascinating speech on the sociology of the security state, from Francis Daehoon Lee of People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy in South Korea:

We packed into a small bar Friday evening to give out awards for peace work, and to hear talks by Suh Sung, a former political prisoner in the Park Chung-Hee regime; and Dennis Redmond and Park Sung Yong, who gave details of next year's World March for Peace. Later, awards were given to J. Narayana Rao, Astsushi Fujiyoka, and the VERY deserving Sung-Hee Choi, who put this whole conference together.

And then it was on to the singing. The Korean organizers riffed on a popular political tune; Tim Rinne gave animated renditions of "Nebraskaland" and "Stickin' to the Union"; Jiho Park played guitar and sang; and Agneta Norberg twisted Frank Sinatra's "Makin' Whoopee" into "Makin' Missiles" (below). No, I didn't film her raunchy soprano Swedish pregnancy numbers.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jane Harman, AIPAC, and the NSA

In a mere 48 hours, the case of Rep. Jane Harman and the National Security Agency has gotten so convoluted, it's almost impossible to tell who the good guys are, if any. Do the leaked NSA transcripts revealed in Congressional Quarterly and The New York Times indicate that she was a shill for the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee? Do the existence of the transcripts indicate the NSA is regularly monitoring all members of Congress? Can we believe the Harper's story that the Bush administration used the existence of the transcripts to blackmail Harman into supporting FISA bypass - and into bullying The New York Times in an attempt to prevent the paper from revealing the bypass efforts in the first place?

Here's some things we can say with certainty: Harman, who represents Venice, California in the LA area, is a very creepy gung-ho-Israel and gung-ho-national-security person, a female equivalent of Sen. Joe Lieberman. Even if Obama urged Congress to play nice with Joltin' Joe, people like Harman and Lieberman have no business being in the Democratic Party. Harman's willingness to get in bed with AIPAC and take away our civil liberties shows us that she is only getting the infamous "chickens coming home to roost" treatment.

AIPAC's efforts to bribe her into pushing the Justice Department to go easy on the lobbying organization, by offering to give her the chair of the Intelligence Committee, only shows how smarmy the organization is on a regular basis. And her willingness to go to bat for two low-life criminals Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, shows how easily she can be swayed by a good Zionist lobby.

And yet, and yet... She's absolutely right that the NSA had little business monitoring her calls to begin with, and that no one should have leaked NSA transcripts, inside or outside of the agency. Yet there is a sense of poetic justice to all of this. Harman wanted to keep the public from knowing about the NSA bypass. Apparently, she may have pushed for this in order to keep those transcripts silent. When NPR got hold of Harman Tuesday afternoon, to call her on-air responses "sputtering obfuscation" would be too kind.

Well, Rep. Harman, no honor among thieves, criminals, and authoritarian whores. The NSA is a criminal global monitoring agency, and AIPAC is a criminal gang of thugs pushing the hard-right Israel line. Play with thugs, and you shouldn't be surprised to be taken out into the back alley for a whupping.

Korea Conference Day 1 - Demilitarized Zone

Regular followers of this blog are no doubt thinking, "What's up with this? Loring goes to a conference and all we get is lousy kim chee videos and a JPEG of a front-page. Where's the detailed coverage? And what's with this crazy J.G. Ballard and Black Lips stuff?" Well, organizing all my videos and photos is a massive task, particularly with the laptop still under repair. And giving a data dump on the entire conference without a few short subjects to break it up would have been a bit stiff. Anyway...

We took a bus to the DMZ Thursday morning, guided by photographer and author Lee Si-Woo. It was a sunny, cool spring day, with a fairly good view across the Han River at the Ohdusan Unification Observatory. It was also the day North Korea expelled IAEA nuclear inspectors from North Korea, which may have helped explain the news media presence.

Lee has spent time in jail for refusing to give up photos that the South Korean government deemed a national-security violation, a case he eventually won. He also has fought to win the right to sail small boats up the Han and Imjin rivers, directly into the border zone. He explained about the model villages the North Korean government maintains directly across the river, a favorite gawking spot for the many tourists. We were surprised to discover that the more public observation spots on the southern side of the DMZ have been taking on a Disney quality in recent years, with plenty of tourist attractions. The "bridge to nowhere" where prisoners were exchanged even had waist-size dolls of North and South Korean soldiers (I'm posing at a soldier-doll with Todd Ensign, director of Citizen Soldier).

We were allowed to take our group inside the Civilian Control Line, where few tourists or even South Korean residents get to visit. A restaurant in the village within the CCL made everyone a meal prepared almost solely from food grown within the DMZ, including homemade tofu. Delicious.

After lunch, we visited a close-in observatory where we could see a maquiladora created by South Korean companies within North Korean territory, a fairly large North Korean city, and the competing massive flags of North and South Korea on either side of a UN observation post.

On the way back to Seoul, we stopped at a village where several residents have become amputees due to US land mines, and talked to one double-leg-amputee victim who is getting international help to bring suit for compensation. The US use of land mines around the DMZ is more dense than any other US use of mines by a factor of ten, and is much denser than the North Korean mine fields.

The day ended with a song and exercise session back at Seoul International Women's Plaza, led by Sung-Yong Park, Yumi Kikuchi, and Dopehead Zo.

Black Lips at the Black Sheep

The Ramones are not dead. Neither are The Standells, or even ? and the Mysterians. They live on in the clean-cut Atlanta bash-n-mash antics of The Black Lips, who played Monday night at The Black Sheep in Colorado Springs. Perfectly executed, four-part-harmony stupid garage rock is non-stop fun. Line of the night from Cole Alexander, during banter with a loud audience member: "Look, we're from the South, we have centuries of experience in moral bravado, which is something you ADD-addled mountain people will never understand." Rock on.

Monday, April 20, 2009

RIP J. G. Ballard

Sunday morning April 19, right around the time I was flying over Sakhalin, J. G. Ballard stopped breathing. The 78-year-old author had suffered from a long illness of undisclosed nature. Most folks are aware of his two books that were turned into movies, Empire of the Sun and Crash. But Ballard also wrote far more important and disturbing works, including The Drowned World and The Atrocity Exhibition (which RESearch reprinted in the late 1980s as a medical illustration coffee-table edition of astonishing horror). The latter includes two personal favorite short stories, "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan" and "The Assassination of JFK as a Downhill Motor Race" (also re-imagined as a video here).

Ballard used to be called a science fiction writer, before he started writing erudite and respectable novels in his latter years. But what he always was, was an unforgettable and irreplacable master of speculative fiction. What a body of work. Maybe, like Roberto Bolano, he will leave us several post-humous surprises so that the two deceased authors have a downhill race for the title of Tupac Shakur of literature.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Best Kim Chee in Pyeongtaek

Too tired to blog much now. Here is the front page of Hankyore newspaper in Seoul, with conference speakers at DMZ. Below is a video of some of us sampling the finest kim chee to be found in Pyeongtaek. Will have videos and observations of the conference and South Korea later on.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Grandpa Neil has a Song for You

Some curmudgeons one just can't compete with. Neil Young's new album is full of songs about hybrid cars and revenue streams and hedge funds, but the title cut, "Fork in the Road", is one of his funniest ever. Go watch the video about blogging in the dark and repossessing your flat-panel TV and "bailout coming but it's not for me" and "support the troops in the fuckin war whose idea was that?" etc, etc. Video is here.

"In my day, we had cinnamon girls and gold rushes and spliffs as big as your arm. Not like this 21st century shit." Long may you run, old man.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Technical Difficulties, Censored Blog Items, and Apocalypse Now

I would have plenty to tell you this week about blog censorship and the power of corporations, except that the motherboard on my brand new Toshiba Satellite melted down, and the service warranty requires a three-week turnaround for repair. Suffice it to say for now that I was one of two bloggers (the other a full-time editor) whose posts for a media outlet were removed for critiquing the business plan of a company (no, not Toshiba, though they're not on my faves list). Later, I'll provide details and thrilling tales of editorial cowardice and things that go bump in the night. Right now, I'm just cranky over the Spartans getting creamed in the Final Four championships, laptops that don't play well with others, and media companies that fail to follow basic journalistic ethics. Stay tuned, understand if you don't see many posts, and do not adjust your set.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Space Symposium in a Snowy Week

I'm not posting much this week, as I am covering the National Space Symposium at the Broadmoor, when I can make it through the weird weather. Major speeches from the heads of Space Command, National Reconnaissance Office, Strategic Command, Cyber Command. This is the realm of war, national security, and civilian space that everyone should be paying attention to, and very few do. I'll have some business stories from the conference through Reed et. al., and you can see some clips at YouTube - follow "National Space Symposium."