Archive for April, 2011

Three Kingdoms

April 30, 2011

Korea —in one form or another— has been conducting diplomatic relations with other nations for well over two millennia.   So certain protocols have accumulated over the years centuries that are still present today.   One of the most visible of such practices involves the choice of backdrop behind the now-obligatory photo-op that accompanies the official reception of delegations from abroad.   In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s always a subtle message in the landscape scene that looms over the shoulders of the sober dignitaries who shake hands with Korean ministers, vice ministers, or the President himself.   So that you, too, can enjoy the fun, Lunghu will decode some of the subtext accompanying recent diplomatic encounters in the Republic of Korea.   Remember, people in the foreground are less significant than the folding screens in the background of the photos below.

source: Yonhap

Japanese and Korean environmental ministers meet in Busan.  In Asian culture, cranes (which mate for life) are a symbol of fidelity and longevity.  Furthermore, preservation of breeding grounds for migratory fowl has been  the foundation of the environmental movement in Korea.  This scenic backdrop asserts the intimacy, duration, constancy and pacific nature of bilateral relations with Japan on environmental matters.  This backdrop will not be used during discussions concerning historical precedents that justify(?) possession of Dok-do.

source: Yonhap

source: Yonhap

The presidents of Iraq and Korea meet at Cheong Wa Dae (the president’s official residence).  The respective energy ministers conclude a trade agreement in their presence.   The backdrop you see is almost invariably in evidence when receiving delegations from Africa, South America, and the Middle East.   Although the details may be difficult to make out in these particular shots, the folding-screen landscape depicts the reception of foreign envoys bearing tribute to the Chosun Emperor in times gone by.   In other photographs of this screen (at other receptions), it is possible to discern the figures of these ancient diplomats as they prostrate themselves, kowtowing before the Emperor.   This backdrop signals that the visiting (modern) delegation are considered cultural inferiors to/by their Korean hosts.

source: Yonhap

Korea’s foreign minister meets China’s chief nuclear envoy in the Seoul Foreign Ministry.  The landscape backdrop shows a peaceful woodland scene: in the foreground a rushing highland stream (favorable chi), in the middle distance a hillside covered with bamboo, flowering plum trees and tall pines (the three friends of winter), and in the background a high, sheer, rugged mountain chain that keeps the Chinese out of the Korean Peninsula (and thus preserves peace).  Bamboo = resiliency & integrity.  Plum = purity, perseverance & longevity.  Pine = nobility, longevity & venerability.  Together, the three friends of winter signify resistance to the elements and the ability to withstand hardship.  Get the message, comrade?  Judging by his expression, he does.

If only similar subtlety were present in the diplomatic practices of the US State Department … but American culture has a long way to go before it can match this kind of allusion —another 1800 years or so, at least.  Lunghu ain’t counting on it.

Baby … steps

April 27, 2011

What a country!  In United States, CIA watches Kremlin.  In Soviet Russia, Kremlin watches you.  (Well, the mere fact that Lunghu might be slightly paranoid isn’t necessarily conclusive evidence that “they” aren’t out to get him.)  Case in point:

A few weeks ago, Lunghu blogged about the US embassy in Bishkek and the way its outreach program made use of cowboy “culture” and Hollywood film to emphasize the key historical role of horses in both Kyrgyzstan and the United States.   In passing, Lunghu briefly suggested that perhaps the Iranian and Russian embassies didn’t have too much to offer the Kyrgyz in terms of cinematic fare, and that their ability to use “soft” cultural power was consequently more limited.

Somebody somewhere either saw that as a challenge … or as a business opportunity.

Russia’s giant Mosfilm, one of the largest and oldest film studios in Europe, has teamed up with Google to launch a channel on YouTube, where Mosfilm will be showcasing its feature films free of charge.  The channel already has 50 films available in HD on its virtual “shelves” and is planning to add five new films each week.  By the end of the year there will be up to 200 films from Mosfilm’s golden collection of several thousand, accompanied by subtitles.

Mosfilm traces its history back to the early days of the Soviet Union and cinema in the 1920s when film production was nationalized into the Goskino company.  It acquired its current name in 1935 and still proudly uses the famous Soviet sculpture “Worker and Peasant Woman” as its symbol.

Mosfilm logos, old & new

Now, if only broadband internet was widely available in Kyrgyzstan …

Of course, Russia already has a instantly-recognizable 21st C. brand presence in the global marketplace of ideas:  Comrade Bear.

Now that Easter obligations have been attended to, Prime Minister Putin has freed up his schedule to visit some of Russia’s neighbors to the West.  Since it might not yet be entirely safe to land a Tupolev aircraft in Poland, Putin has been visiting Denmark and Sweden instead.  Here his well-known sense of ironic humor was fully on display:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin continued on Wednesday to criticize NATO military operations in Libya, saying that he was “dumbfounded” over how easily decisions are made to use force against countries.  … Apparently referring to reports about NATO planes bombing civilians in Libya, Putin remarked “this happens despite human rights and humanitarian concerns which the civilized world is believed to advocate.”  
“Don’t you think that there is a serious contrast between words and practice of international relations?” he said, adding that this “imbalance” should be eliminated.

In an unexpected departure from the standards of fair and balanced journalism for which the Kingdom of Sweden is world-renowned, Swedish reporters neglected to solicit the views of President Saakashvili on this subject.

Cross-Check

April 18, 2011

If Russia’s experiment in democracy and presidential politics has not yet experienced the curious phenomenon of fanatical “birthers,” perhaps it’s now time to corrrect this oversight.  Lunghu makes this suggestion because disturbing news from Moscow calls into question the true origins of Comrade Bear.  Last Friday …

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who until very recently was unable to skate, participated in an informal game of ice-hockey between young players from … the cities of Chelyabinsk and Penza.  The game was held in Moscow’s Luzhniki sports complex … [where] these sides will face off in the final of the Golden Puck Russian junior hockey tournament on Saturday [16 April].

Unable to skate!?!!  Where was he actually born — somewhere like Hawaii??   How can the Russian people be certain that he’s really an authentic citizen?   For all Lunghu and anyone else knows, the entire Putin persona could be a fictional creation of the insidious FSB propaganda machine.  Those United Russia zealots who accuse Dimitri Medvedev of being a pawn of the Anglo-Saxon enemy have been well and truly duped!!   Their hero isn’t even Russian!

Even more “evidence”:  photos of Putin wearing a Reebok helmet, CCM pads, a Bauer uniform and wielding a Bauer hockey stick.  Some of his opponents are sportin’ Easton sticks, for cryin’ out loud.  Is this Russia or Canada??!!

By the way:  Lunghu doesn’t know whether Chelyabinsk or Penza won the junior championship final, but when adult teams from the respective cities are named Traktor Chelyabinsk and Dizel Penza, you know those kids can play tough.

Life Means Life

April 17, 2011

Who needs a dictionary when Yonah Metzger is out and about?  There’s no longer any need to seek the definition of chutzpah: his photo definitely graces that particular page.

Yo, Yonah –no means no!   And Mr. Metzger would do well to remember Henry Tudor’s offhand remark about the Archbishop of Canterbury:  money-laundering indictments can be unsealed at just about any time (Monday through Friday).

Here’s hoping Yonah’s in the belly of the big steel whale some time soon.

Frankly Speaking

April 13, 2011

For a 13th century all-around do-gooder and archetypal environmentalist, St. Francis of Assisi has certainly been in recent news much more than one would expect.  This past Saturday, the Catholic Church held a reopening ceremony of St. Francis’ burial crypt in Assisi’s basilica inferiore, following a two-month refurbishment which removed caked-on candle soot that had darkened the original pink stones.  After all, the spring tourist season is just beginning.

credit: Stefano Medici

 

And although St. Francis was known in his lifetime to have been a friend to all God’s creatures and had special fondness for birds, wolves and donkeys, it’s nonetheless disconcerting to hear his name invoked by Comrade Bear.   On Wednesday,

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said … that he and President Dmitry Medvedev do not exclude the possibility of joining the presidential race in 2012.

However, Putin expressed irritation about constant media attention to the topic:

“But the election is nearly a year away,  and this fuss about the elections is not conducive to the normal organization of work. If we all issue some wrong signals, then half of the presidential staff and more than half the government will stop working in anticipation of some changes.”
“In the meantime, everyone must sit at his desk day in and day out and should keep toiling on his plot every day with devotion and diligence worthy of St. Francis of Assisi,” [Putin] said.

Perhaps the Prime Minister had in mind this story about man’s ancient nemesis, Comrade Wolf:

In the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals.”  Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf.  Soon, fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, though the saint pressed on. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis.

“Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil,” said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you… But Brother Wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.” Then Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger,” the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly, and in return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks.  In this manner Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis, to show the townspeople that they would not be harmed, blessed the wolf.  Francis even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again.

There’s a lesson in that tale for all of us.

Bishkek or Bust!

April 10, 2011

While most of Lunghu’s readers were out there working to make the world safe for democracy (American-style), a small, dedicated cadre of civil servants was doing its part to spread the joyous message of homespun American folk culture in the far-off nation of Kyrgyzstan.   In case you missed it –and you definitely did– the US embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic yesterday sponsored a rodeo exhibition

…at the field of the Equestrian School (204a Elebesov Str., Bishkek).  … A rodeo is an important part of Western culture in the U.S. and features many different types of exciting events [such as] barrel racing, calf roping and even several games for children, like sheep riding!  There will be both American and Kyrgyz folk music.

Lunghu is guessing that one thing you don’t have to teach a Kyrgyz boy is how to ride a sheep.  Nome sane?

hearts & minds: the audience is smiling.

A quick scan of the Bishkek Embassy’s Facebook page reveals that the US cultural outreach program also includes screening a series of Hollywood Westerns:  some of the titles on offer include “Unforgiven,” “The Wild Bunch,” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”  Yeah, nothing like emphasizing themes of vengance, vigilantism and corrupt officialdom to build bonds of trust with the Kyrgyz people.

On the other hand, to be fair, the Western film genre is definitely a cultural minefield for US diplomats.  (Or is it a double-edged sword?  Lunghu can never remember which metaphor works better.)  What other choices are out there?  “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon?”  Historically insensitive –on at least two continents.  “High Noon?”  Commie pacifist propaganda  –at least so said [right wing] critics at the time of its first release.  “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?”  Glorifies the violation of property rights –and offends certain moral sensibilities.  “The Magnificent Seven?”  Treads on the blurry line preserving Akiro Kurosawa’s intellectual property rights, and comes perhaps a little too close to inciting rebellion.  “McCabe and Mrs. Miller?” Warren Beatty runs a whorehouse –’nuff said.  They’re not showing “Deadwood” either.  How about “Blazing Saddles?”  Well, maybe not.

N is for Nostalgia

All in all, it looks like the State Dept. folks in Bishkek are doing a fair job of the cultural imperialism that best sustains the international interests of the United States.  After all, what films will they be showing at the Iranian embassy across town?  Or at the Russian embassy?  Thought so.  Ozer Kiziltan‘s “Takva” would be a good choice for the Turkish diplomatic corps in Bishkek, though.

In contrast, up to the north in Kazakhstan there’s a real opportunity for South Korean halyu diplomacy.  Lunghu strongly recommends that the embassy in Astana immediately begin organizing a Kim Jee-woon film festival, leading off with “The Good The Bad The Weird.”   Now that’s a film  –an “Eastern” action flick–  with all kinds of cultural resonance for Kazakhs!

Green with Navy

April 9, 2011

It’s almost 50 days and counting until Lunghu’s bet on Moammar Gadhafi can finish in the money –or not.  If this were a call option or futures contract instead of an unenforceable private wager, Lunghu would be sitting on some sizeable unrealized paper profits right about now. That’s because last week the Pentagon’s portfolio manager on the Libya account told a US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that NATO’s airwar campaign appears stalemated:

[AFRICOM commander Army Gen. Carter Ham] said the operation was largely a stalemate now and was more likely to remain that way now that America has transferred control to NATO.
He said NATO has done an effective job in an increasingly complex combat situation. But he noted that, in a new tactic, Gadhafi’s forces are making airstrikes more difficult by staging military forces and vehicles near civilian areas such as schools and mosques.

Of course, the senators just had to ask the $64 billion question:  what about sending in US ground troops to break the stalemate and oust Gadhafi?  The general was amply prepared with the obvious answer:

“I suspect there might be some consideration of that. My personal view at this point would be that that’s probably not the ideal circumstance, for the regional reaction that having American boots on the ground would entail.”

The AP story followed Gen. Ham’s quote with the observation that

President Obama has said repeatedly there will be no U.S. troops on the ground in Libya, although there are reports of small CIA teams in the country.

And on that note …

The [USS Providence] fast-attack submarine is returning to Naval Submarine Base New London on Friday after participating in U.S.-led strikes against military forces in Libya [during a six-month deployment].  The vessel carrying 127 officers and enlisted crew also visited ports in Spain, Turkey and Gibraltar.

Welcome home, boys!  A little more elbowroom on the westbound passage, huh?  Lunghu will only add that those extra-wide hatches on the foredeck sure come in handy when discharging ‘cargo’ at 0300 hrs in the Gulf of Sidra.

G is for Gomorrah

April 8, 2011

For quite some time, the Italian news agency ANSA has been reporting about the activities of Italian organized crime groups in the European waste industry.   They’ve also devoted considerable attention to the Italian state’s prolonged assault on ‘ndrangheta and camorra clans in the Campania and Calabria regions.   So it’s no surprise that this week ANSA published a story about Italy’s seizure of assets worth €13 millione from Messers. Cipriano Chianese and Franco Caccaro.

What is surprising is the inclusion of a key quote from Legambiente, a European NGO, which characterized environmental crime in Italy as …

“a perverse link-up between white collar crime, Freemason businesses and criminal groups [that] manage illegal waste trafficking.”

Although Lunghu considers the terms ‘white collar crime’ and ‘freemason businesses’ to be synonymous and thus redundant, what’s striking here is that such a quote would actually be published in a major media outlet.   This is something that you’ll never see printed in the United States, where the same cast of characters (but not the same individuals) is engaged in precisely this kind of criminal alliance … in several industries.   Lunghu leaves it to the reader’s imagination to suggest reasons why [North] American law enforcement (or media, for that matter) doesn’t seem to be devoting resources to this phenomenon.

In related developments:

Lunghu was idly glancing at the Gothic font masthead of the Montreal Gazette the other day, and then noticed that they’ve chosen the capital letter ‘G’ as their online thumbnail browser icon.   What might that mean to informed readers?   Lunghu decided to subject the graphic to a bit of creative deconstruction.  Take a look at the results:

Note the cross-section view of a hod at far right.

 

Yo Momma

April 3, 2011

Lunghu has never been quite sure whether or not Russia has traditionally followed the practice of April Fools Day on the first of the month, but he wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that Comrade Bear himself has recently adopted this aspect of Western European culture.   How else would one explain Putin’s latest prank PR stunt; test-driving a Russian gas/electric hybrid auto (the Ё-мобиль) on Friday from Novo-Ogaryovo to Dimi Medvedev’s house?

We have a meeting of the Security Council scheduled today.  I want to go in your Yo-Mobile to Dmitry Anatolyevich (Medvedev) and show it to him,” the premier said.  “I hope your Yo-mobile will not fall apart on the way,” Putin remarked to ONEXIM-Group head Mikhail Prokhorov, initiator of the car development project.

Credit: Alexei Nikolsky

The car, whose name is a play on a Russian swear word, uses both gasoline and natural gas as fuel.  It has a rotary engine and uses ultra capacitators rather than lithium-ion batteries to power its electric engine.  The Yo-mobile is a project of Yo-Auto, a joint venture between truck maker Yarovit and Onexim group.   “Lithium-ion batteries are a mistake, a dead-end,” said the car’s developer, Andrei Biryukov.   The capacitators store energy they receive directly from the engine and do not require recharging from a power network.

 

Andrei Biryukov & Vladimir Putin --- Credit: Alexei Nikolsky

The prime minister noted that Prokhorov’s project was a good example of new technology solutions.  “How did you name it?  Yo-Mobile?” Putin smiled.  “The name, of course, is unclear.  Where did you get it from?  But maybe it’s not bad –in any case it attracts attention,” he said.

Lunghu eagerly awaits the opportunity to hear and view the hiphop music video that will inevitably promote this vehicle in the USA.   Until then, take a look at this video of Comrade Bear behind the wheel.   Enjoy!