Archive for January, 2011

Three To Get Ready

January 22, 2011

Is it the influence of the waning moon phase — or some other occult but powerful force– at work?   The past few days have been filled with news items that would definitely press Lunghu’s hot buttons, if he knew what and where they were.

First, hats off to the little tigers.   Lunghu is glad that somebody can take a hint:   no sooner does he post about khat-addled Somali pirates than the navies of Malaysia and Korea try to out-do each other in wresting their nations’ merchant vessels from the grasp of bumbling buccaneers.  Judging by the equipment at the pirates’ disposal, it looks as though this may have been a poorly-capitalized startup operation attempting to crack a tough, tough market.

credit: Republic of Korea Defense Ministry

Any bets on which are tougher interrogators  –Koreans or Malaysians?   Lunghu’s money is on the Koreans, since the Malaysians might take it easier on fellow Muslims … at least until sharia law is applied.

Second, a report from Europe that seems as though it could actually be a tasteless ethnic joke masquerading as a news item:

The Polish government plans to use its second Tu-154 plane to reconstruct the [April 10, 2010] crash that killed 96 people, including President Lech Kaczynski, said Miroslav Grokhovsky, deputy head of the Polish investigation commission.   The plane remains the only vehicle of this type at the disposal of the 36th Special Aviation Regiment of the Polish Air Force, which transports high-level Polish officials.  … Grokhovsky said security will be stepped up during the experiment, [and] experts will not try to reconstruct the weather conditions during the crash.

(Even Poles can’t conjure dense fog out of a clear sky.   Or vice versa.)

credit: Denis Sinyakov

A Polish commission investigating the Smolensk air crash said on Tuesday [Jan 18 2011] that Russian air traffic controllers were under pressure, made a number of errors and failed to warn the Polish pilots that they were off course.   “A good crew of a serviceable plane … just won’t perform the landing in that manner.   Even if that was what the air traffic control instructed them to do.   They must know their aircraft’s course,” said Edmund Klich, Poland’s special envoy to the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC).

The crew had been told that visibility on the ground was 800m whereas it was down to 200m.   Minutes before landing when the Polish plane was in fact “too high by 130 meters and 80 meters off course Russian air traffic controllers told the crew it was on the correct course rather than warning them to adjust their course,” a senior Polish investigator, Robert Benedict told reporters.

Lunghu’s only comment:  What part of GPS spoofing don’t you understand?

Finally, there’s Viktor Bout.

Bout made a brief court appearance [on Jan 21 2011], with his mother Raisa, daughter Liza and wife Alla there as support, to hear that his trial would begin on September 12.

At pretrial hearings the family was able to see Bout for the first time over the past few months.
“We –-his mother, our daughter and I–- all were shocked to see Viktor –he has became so thin, haggard, pale and aged,” said Alla.  “He is still being kept in a punishment cell, without daylight and a chance to communicate with anybody.   We believe that the whole procedure is aimed at breaking his morale, at forcing him to abandon the trial and to make a deal with the investigation.”

Bout’s wife, daughter and mother are staying in a rented New York apartment.   Family matters will have to wait a few more days, however.

“We are allowed [our] first meeting [since extradition] on Monday, January 24, from noon to 3 p.m.”  Alla Bout said the authorities allowed a three-hour meeting even though the standard meeting time is one hour, but added that she [will not be] allowed to take any items, even a pen, with her.

Alla Bout told the Russia Today television channel that she was afraid that U.S. officials could put her under official pressure. “Any measure can be taken, right up to arrest.”
She also expressed doubts that she would be allowed back into the United States if she left the country.  “There are rumors that they can simply refuse me entry,” she said.

Priceless.  “If I return to Russia, I’ll be barred reentry to the United States before the trial.”  Lunghu is lovin’ the script more & more with each successive episode.

Thaw … and Chaw

January 20, 2011

It’s official:  2011’s January Thaw has come and gone in just about 48 hours.   Here in the Mid-Atlantic United States we’ve had two consecutive days with temperatures in the low 40s (Farenheit), along with prolonged rainfall that gnawed away at some of our accumulated snowcover.   Not much of a thaw, but still counts.   Now that that’s over with, it’s back to winter:  another storm with 4″ of snow is on the way in from the far side of the Appalachians.

In completely unrelated news:

European researchers in the field of cognition (it used to be called ‘psychology’ before neurobiologists got involved and turned it into real science) recently announced their finding that prolonged, habitual ingestion of the herb khat reduces self-control and may lead to risky, reckless behavior.   As every American schoolchild knows, khat-chewing is the principal pasttime of (virtually) the entire adult male population of Yemen, Somalia and sizeable portions of Ethiopia.   Whether your idea of risky behavior includes kidnapping foolhardy Western tourists, rebelling against the central government, or ranging far offshore in small boats to board and seize Panamax tankers, a cudful of khat makes those long, long hours under a blazing sun with your AK-47 just that much more pleasant bearable.    But there’s a upside as well:  the social rituals of khat consumption tend to reinforce kinship and community bonds, and also provide a natural nexus for information exchange and renegotiation/affirmation of cultural norms.

Weightier matters are discussed at khat chews, and they are a major forum for the transaction of business and for religious and political debate.   Many people also chew to aid concentration on study or work, and khat is an inevitable accompaniment to all important occasions from weddings to funerals.   But at the classic chew, it is ‘lightness of blood’  –charm, amiability–  that is admired, not gravitas.

Chewing or not, ‘lightness of blood’ goes a long way in many parts of the world.   Look for it in the eyes.

original caption (I swear): "Somali trader takes khat out of bags"

Aladdin’s Cave-In

January 16, 2011

After five or six years of stalwart service, I have finally retired and replaced my trusty blue plastic Aladdin 16 oz. travel mug.   I made the decison to have it put down when I could hear sloshing sounds in the mug even though there was no liquid remaining to be seen within the depths of its inner cavity and nothing dripped out when the mug was inverted.   Since I couldn’t be too sure how long the invisible liquid had been trapped in the void between double-hull walls, and didn’t know which (or how many) bonus biological processes may have been underway therein, it was time for a new travel mug.

The Aladdin had originally been an emergency on-the-road purchase, when I carelessly left its stainless steel predecessor underneath my chair in a hotel conference room.   A nearby urban convenience store had a limited selection of travel mugs; the blue made-in-China Aladdin was only the best of a motley bunch.   Even so, it has two features that I like:  the lid seals tight using a screw-on-with-rubber-O-ring fitting rather than press-fit-with-silicone-gasket, and the spill-control feature is a simple pivoting tab (with registration detent) that covers/uncovers an oval hole in the recessed well of the lid.   Easy index-finger operation.

Perhaps because of its simplicity, like any genie, it discharged its duties faithfully  –keeping my coffee hot long enough for me to drive to work, boot up the computer, and organize tasks for the day.   I think I used a microwave to reheat its contents only once or twice before I realized that the oval aluminum ‘Aladdin’ escutcheon embedded in the side of the mug didn’t mix well with RF radiation.   The molten, bubbling black plastic was a dead giveaway.   Still, it wasn’t a fatal wound.

My new travel mug is a rubber-clad, stainless steel-and-glass, made-in-Malaysia 14 oz. Thermos brand marvel of 21st Century engineering.   In some respects, it looks more like a bloated karaoke cordless mic than a drinking vessel:   maybe the designers migrated from the world of consumer electronics into the housewares department.   Thus far I’ve only used it twice, and my knee-jerk reaction is that it works too well:   the coffee is still scalding hot half an hour or more after I’ve poured it in, and I’ve quickly learned to sip cautiously.   I haven’t yet determined whether 2 fewer fluid ounces of Yauco Selecto per day will make any great difference in my life.

White Sea Russian

January 11, 2011

Recently I dreamed another one of those Russian dreams.   Boats were involved, but no rowing.   It was springtime (How could I tell?  No ice.), and V.V. Putin was enjoying himself by zipping around a large lake or bay in his sporty, double-ended, steel-hulled, white-and-blue speedboat.   Dimi Medvedev and others were watching from the dock.   Eventually, Putin returned to the marina, moored the boat to the wharf, and went off to lunch with his entourage.

Credit: Google

When the dignitaries had left, I noticed that there were signs of a collision at the boat’s bow (or was it the stern?  It was a double-ender, after all), where the steel was crumpled and gashed.   As I watched, the boat slowly filled with water and sank on its moorings in the clear, shallow dockside water.   Nobody seemed too disturbed about it, but just got on with the business of refloating and repairing the hull.

In light of some previous occurrences, I wonder what the future might hold for the Александр Невский,  Юрий Долгорукий, or Северодвинск at СевМаш.

Credit:  kremlin.ru

Januari Töa

January 10, 2011

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark if Sweden experiences its January Thaw when the eastern United States is still locked in winter’s icy embrace.

“Warmer temperatures have caused slippery conditions on roads in some parts of Sweden, [while] roads have been flooded by melting snow and ice in other areas, primarily in Halland and västra Götaland in western and southern Sweden.”

In stark contrast, that portion of the globe once (briefly) known as New Sweden is expecting a further 6-to-10 inches of snow:  its third snowfall in five days.   It doesn’t seem likely that this area of the country will finally see its own January Thaw until at least the third week of the month  –if at all.   Lunghu doesn’t really mind the winter cold  –particularly since he’d earlier predicted that this winter would be a cold ‘un–  but he’s not happy about the frequent snow since his prediction also forecast a-not-especially-snowy 2010/2011 season.   Oh well, it’s good for the winter wheat.   Planted acreage is up nine percent and there should be a bumper crop this spring.   Business will be good for John Deere.

Higher Resolution Imagery

January 9, 2011

Although you’d never know it just by looking at him, Lunghu has been giving quite a bit of thought to the idea that he should somehow modify his writing ‘voice’ once the Year of the Tiger has rolled over into the Year of the Rabbit.   Why?   Perhaps to attempt a style of writing more attuned to the Rabbit’s energy pattern.

This is not to say that Lunghu consciously sought to emulate a Tiger writing style (whatever that might be) during the preceding year.   Certain thinkers [mo-mo ren] have asserted that the Tiger is passionate, rash, and resistant to authority.   In retrospect, it’s by no means certain that what Lunghu has written during these past twelve months can be said to resemble the expository approach –or the subject matter– one would expect from a Tiger.

 

No animal tranquilizers were used in the making of this picture.

And anyway, what exactly would Rabbit style be?   Is it at all helpful to note that the Rabbit has Yin essence, belongs to the Fire element, is associated with the ding Stem and the mao Branch?  Ding and mao connote stages of the life cycle characterized by flourishing development, completed growth, full maturity.   However, the 2011 Year of the Rabbit will be the xin-mao (literally, bitter-morning) phase of the 60-year Chinese calendar cycle.   Furthermore, the Rabbit is clever and ambitious, but so hyper-active that it rarely finishes what it starts.   Even worse, the Chinese word for rabbit is also a derogatory slang term for a certain sort of “social undesirable” much-reviled in the PRC (and elsewhere).   What does all this mean?  How, specifically, might this translate into writing style?   Difficult to say.

Could just be that Lunghu will keep on keepin’ on, doing what he knows how to do, how he knows how to do it.   Not very Rabbit-like.   More like a Horse.   Does that count as a resolution?

Your Doxy, My Doxy

January 8, 2011

Lunghu is truly saddened to learn that Igor Shevchuk, President and General Designer of aircraft manufacturer Tupolev, has died of heart failure at age 57 on January 6, 2011.  According to Itar-Tass, Shevchuk “was the Chairman of the Tupolev Board of Directors since 1998, and the Tupolev President and General Designer since 2001.

This has not been a good start to the New Year for Tupolev:  earlier this week, Rostransnadzor proposed  a temporary suspension of all Tupolev 154B flights in Russia following a fatal engine fire in Surgut (Siberia).   Three passengers were killed when fire erupted during engine startup on the main airport taxiway.  The crew shut down engines and initiated evacuation, but fire spread rapidly inside the cabin, destroying the aircraft.

Tupolev also made the wrong kind of aviation news in September 2010.   In that incident, a Tu-154M passenger flight lost all of its electrical systems at an altitude of 10,600 meters in the region of Usinsk.   The crew succeeded in making an emergency landing at an abandoned air strip near the town of Izhma.   There was no loss of life.

As chairman, president and general designer, Shevchuk must have had more on his mind than his body could bear.   Rest In Peace.

On a lighter note:

Elsewhere in the down-to-earth world of Russian aviation, everyone’s favorite multi-modal logistics specialist (that’s right –Viktor Bout) didn’t quite receive the Orthodox Christmas gift he had been hoping for.   Although Bout’s attorney had filed a court motion requesting a delay of 30 days before the first pretrial hearing in SDNY Federal Court (originally scheduled for Monday), the presiding judge granted only a two week postponement, until 16:30 EST January 21.   In Lunghu’s admittedly limited experience, 4:30 on a Friday afternoon would seem to be an extremely unusual time to find a federal judge at his or her bench, but there’s a first time for everything.

In related(?) news:

Bout’s family —his wife, Alla, daughter Liza and [mother], Raisa—  flew into New York from Moscow on Thursday to support him during the court process.
“We had to wait for more than two hours while immigration officers examined our luggage, everything we had in our bags:  notebooks, photographs, all personal belongings, my personal papers,” [Alla Bout] said.     She said immigration officers did not allow them to contact the Russian consul.

Hmmmmmmmmm.   Lunghu likes the script.   Welcome to America, Liza.

This has not been a good start to the New Year for Tupolev: earlier this week, Rostransnadzor proposed  a temporary suspension of all Tupolev 154B flights in Russia following a fatal engine fire in Surgut (Siberia).  Three passengers were killed when fire erupted during engine startup on the main airport taxiway. The crew shut down engines and initiated evacuation, but fire spread rapidly inside the cabin, destroying the aircraft.

Volume = Eleven

January 1, 2011

Every New Year’s Day, the Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea (North Korea to you and me) issues its annual New Year’s message  —North Asia’s equivalent of the U.S. President’s State of the Union address.   Since it’s otherwise a slow news day, this usually ensures press coverage –which is exactly what Kim Jong-Il has in mind.   However, the Dear Leader never bargained for Lunghu’s incisive analysis of this news coverage  –a historiography of sorts, before history is even made.   Today’s analysis examines three interpretive perspectives on North Korea’s New Year’s statement:  Asian (South Korean), European (French) and North American (United States).   Let’s compare and contrast.

Yonhap News Agency
31 paragraphs

  • 1 summary (lead) paragraph [S] (3%)
  • 13 quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK editorial [E] (42%)
  • 11 providing context/background [B] (36%)
  • 4 providing reaction/commentary [C] (13%)
  • 2 providing explanatory analysis [A] (6%)

here’s the semantic structure of the Yonhap story:

S-E-B-B-E-E-C
E-B-B-E-B-B-E-E-E-B-E-E
C-C-C-B-A-A-B-E-B-E-E-B

11 DPRK message themes cited (in order of appearance):

  • Renewed pledge for denuclearization.
  • Confrontation between north and south should be defused
  • War will bring nothing but a nuclear holocaust.” …War was averted [in 2010] because of “our persevering efforts.
  • Create an atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation.
  • End South Korea’s military exercises and alignment with “U.S. war hawks.”
  • DPRK is “consistent in its stand and will to achieve peace … and the denuclearization of the whole Korean Peninsula.
  • Development of light industry is the “major front” in improving standards of living for North Korea’s people.
  • 2012 “will greet the centenary of the birth of President Kim Il-sung. … We should launch an all-out, vigorous offensive for a breakthrough to realize the wish of the President to build a prosperous country.
  • Call for a boost in the production of “primary consumer goods and other necessities widely used in life. … light industry should turn out commodities that would be favored by people.”
  • [The September 2010 KWP party conference] demonstrated “a spirit of single-hearted unity to invariably defend the center of unity and leadership despite the passage of time.
  • DPRK military should “conduct intense combat training… as required by the tense situation;”  the North will not pardon an act of invasion “even an inch.

Analyst quoted:   Chung Seong-chang, senior analyst at the Sejong Institute

Explanatory themes:   DPRK is seeking to reduce its isolation by presenting an open-minded stance on inter-Korean dialogue [CS-C]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Agence France-Presse
26 paragraphs

  • 1 summary (lead) paragraph [S] (4%)
  • 10 quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK editorial [E] (38%)
  • 9 providing context/background [B] (35%)
  • 1 providing reaction/commentary [C] (4%)
  • 5 providing explanatory analysis [A] (19%)

here’s the semantic structure of the AFP story:

S-E-B-B-B-E-E-B
A-B-E-E-B-C-E-E-B
A-B-B-B-A-A-A-E-E

5  DPRK message themes cited (in order of appearance):

  • Confrontation between north and south should be defused …dialogue and cooperation should be promoted.
  • Active efforts should be made to create an atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation …by placing the common interests of the nation above anything else.
  • DPRK is committed to denuclearization, but South Korea’s “North-targeted war exercises and arms build-up” must stop.
  • War will bring nothing but a nuclear holocaust.
  • Focus on improving living standards in North Korea: “We should bring earlier the bright future of a thriving nation by making continuous innovations and advance, full of confidence in victory.” [Kim Jong-Il]

Analysts quoted:  Professor Yang Moo-Jin at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies/ Hong Hyun-Ik and Chung Seong-chang at the Sejong Institute.

Explanatory themes:  DPRK is seeking regional stability in order to accomplish its internal regime succession / DPRK is awaiting outcome of January’s China-US summit [YM-J];  DPRK wants to reduce tension to achieve its goal of improving DPRK living standards [CS-C]/ DPRK is expecting (i.e, demanding) renewed 6-party negotiations to result from the China-US summit [HH-I].

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Bloomberg
14 paragraphs

  • 1 summary (lead) paragraph [S] (7%)
  • 6 quoting/paraphrasing the DPRK editorial [E] (43%)
  • 6 providing context/background [B] (43%)
  • zero providing reaction/commentary [C]
  • 1 providing official reaction in the form of explanatory analysis [A=C] (7%)

here’s the semantic structure of the Bloomberg story:

S-E-E-B-B-E
A=C-E-B-E
B-B-E-B

5  DPRK message themes cited (in order of appearance):

  • The danger of war should be removed and peace safeguarded in the Korean Peninsula … war will bring nothing but a nuclear holocaust.
  • South Korea blamed for “reckless and wild behavior” by carrying out military exercises.
  • Confrontation between north and south should be defused …dialogue and cooperation should be promoted.
  • South Korea accused of sabotaging relations for publicizing its reunification plans.
  • DPRK is “consistent in its stand and will to achieve peace … and the denuclearization of the whole Korean Peninsula.

“Analyst” quoted:  unnamed ROK Unification Ministry official.

Explanatory themes: DPRK is seeking humanitarian aid by calling for dialogue and cooperation / DPRK is attempting to promote internal dissension within ROK.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lunghu’s Meta-analysis:

Yonhap’s treatment of this story provides the most nutritious protein:  thirteen paragraphs citing actual verbiage from the DPRK New Year’s message.   Their story is somewhat light on explicit explanatory analysis of what that verbiage might actually mean, but perhaps Yonhap’s core readership is capable of doing its own analysis and doesn’t need intermediary pundits to help them read between the lines.   Lunghu likes a news service that respects the intelligence of its customers.   By using a series of implicit and explicit cues to its readers, Yonhap highlights 4 themes embedded in the DPRK New Year’s message:  desire for peace (45%), bellicose militancy (18%), economic development (27%), and internal regime succession (9%).

The AFP story is less extensive than Yonhap’s and provides correspondingly smaller portions of nutritious protein.   As Frenchmen, they compensate by furnishing a particularly tasty sauce —in the form of explanatory analysis from three subject matter experts at (somewhat) prestigious institutions.   Should the reader interpret this as some sort of elitist predilection for technocratic expertise within the French Fourth Estate?   Perhaps.   But it just may mean that AFP readers are not expected to be as attuned to the nuances of novel information as Koreans might be:   such readers therefore require more explicit guidance.   AFP’s presentation and analysis highlights the same 4 themes as Yonhap:   desire for peace (50%), bellicose militancy (17%), economic development (17%), and hereditary regime succession (17%).   In addition, it provides the extra special bonus of closing its story with a quote from Kim Jung-Il.

Bloomberg’s approach to the story is All-American in a high-fat, fast food kinda way.   It’s less than half the length of Yonhap’s article, contains virtually no analysis worth of the name, and has equal proportions of news (DPRK statements) vs. background material.   Filler plus fat is neither tasty nor nutritious.   The only commentary or “analysis” provided is furnished by an unnamed spokesman at a South Korean government ministry:  this pretty clearly qualifies as “spin” rather than as objective observations of any kind.   Bloomberg’s story focuses only on the military dimensions of the DPRK statement, highlighting language about nuclear holocaust and DPRK’s attempts to blame South Korea for deterioration in relations.   Further evidence that no one should invest any money on the basis of a Bloomberg story.

If any readers of Waking the Dragon want higher-quality information about North Korea than is available through most U.S media, Lunghu recommends North Korea Economy Watch as a useful starting point.   Make it your New Year’s resolution to visit at least once!