Tigers & You-Freightees

January 31, 2017

Just a few indicators that we’re now into the month of the Tiger during the Year of the Fowl:

Korean tigers return to Baekdu-daegan mountain range

The [South] Korea Forest Service announced that it has transported a pair of male Korean tigers named Duman and Geumgang to the tiger forest at the Baekdu-daegan National Arboretum in Seobyeok, North Gyeongsang Province. The Forest Service has set up a system of barriers around the forest to allow visitors to observe the tigers in safety.

“Mt. Baekdu tigers are a protected species designated as Level 1 endangered wild fauna,” said Park Jong-ho, director of the Forest Service’s forest usage bureau.


Bobcat escapes from National Zoo in Washington

A female bobcat, believed to be about 7 years old, was found to be missing Monday morning from its enclosure at the National Zoo when it didn’t show up for breakfast.

“We know that she is absolutely capable of surviving, even thriving, in this area,” said Brandie Smith, the zoo’s associate director of animal care. “If she doesn’t return, she would likely survive on a diet of birds, small rodents, house cats or small dogs that are left alone outside,” Smith added.


Man Mauled by Tiger, Killed at Eastern China Resort

A man named Zhang who climbed a fence at Dongqian Lake Resort in Zhejiang province to avoid paying the entry fee was attacked and killed by tigers when he into ventured into their enclosure.  The attack occurred on Saturday [New Year’s Day] at the Tiger Hill enclosure in Ningbo Youngor Zoo.  One tiger was shot dead by local police, and three others nearby were dispersed using firecrackers.


Precautionary measures in the Fire Fowl Year

Russia grounds Proton-M rocket for 3½ months

Russia’s workhorse Proton-M rockets will be out of service for three and a half months because of engine problems.  Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said some employees at the Voronezh factory had been involved in faking documentation linked to the rocket and would be “harshly punished.”  The director of the factory resigned last week after Russian officials concluded that the crash of a Progress [space] cargo ship in December was the result of a malfunction by engines built at the plant.


Fowl Bawl

January 29, 2017

My previous post introduced some of the salient feng-shui characteristics of the Year of the Fowl and mentioned a few top-of-the-mind/out-of-the hat forecasts offered by self-styled feng-shui specialists who regularly opine on such matters.  Now it’s amateur hour, time for my own outlandish predictions on what may lie ahead in the Year of the Yin Fire Fowl.

Last time I focused the bulk of my remarks on the various misfortunes likely to be caused by clashes between the annual Celestial Stem and this year’s Earthly Branch.  However, friction between various members of the Earthly Branches also causes upheaval every year.  2017 will pose special problems for two particular animals in the Chinese zodiac, the Rabbit and the Fowl itself.  This is because the Rabbit is in direct clash with (Fowl) year, and the Fowl is said to be in “self-penalty” during its 12-month service as the year’s Earthly Branch.

Tai Sui, the Grand Duke of Heaven (arbiter of celestial justice), is partly responsible for this situation. During the Year of the Fowl, he takes up residence in the Fowl’s sector of the Heavens: the West.  Thus he’s keeping a very close eye on any and all transgressive or non-harmonious developments that may occur there.  The Fowl will be held responsible and called to account.  At the same time, from his celestial throne, Tai Sui is gazing directly across the Heavens toward the East, where the Rabbit resides.  A similar dynamic is at work in the East: merely by facing the Grand Duke, the Rabbit is looking for trouble and is likely to find plenty of it.

So what might be the likely ramifications here on earth during 2017?  Old-school feng-shui seers tend to emphasize the fate of particular well-known celebrities who were born in prior Fowl or Rabbit years, but I prefer to cast a wider net by looking at entire groups in jeopardy rather than just a few individuals.  So, first and foremost, organizations that use a Fowl or a Rabbit as their emblem can expect the unexpected in 2017.  Ordinarily we might first think of business entities or sports teams as the principal vectors of risk, and they’re certainly in the mix this year.  However, while it’s always good to think big, in 2017 it’s better to think even bigger:  not just major corporations, but entire nations under Tai Sui’s scrutiny.  Which ones?  For starters, two perennial woe-magnets  –France and Israel.

France is the obvious case, since their national emblem is the Rooster, which appears on the logo of their Olympic national teams and –in a different form– for the national rugby team as well.


The pending French presidential election of 2017 has already exacerbated tremendous social tensions in the country, so establishment (i.e., maçonique) candidates from the traditional parties of the left and right have been facing a disenchanted and hostile electorate that doesn’t much care for the far-right/nationalist/populist alternative either.  For the right-wing Republicains, things just recently went from terrible to worse: their candidate, former Prime Minister François Fillon, has (allegedly) been carrying his wife as a no-show employee on the parliamentary payroll and may have to withdraw from the campaign. (As a matter of egalité, French law doesn’t permit officials to hire their mistresses either.)  His principal virtue as a candidate has been that he isn’t Marine Le Pen, but that probably won’t be enough.  The only good news for French citoyens is that the election will occur in late April and early May during the Snake (yin Fire) month. But first they have to survive the Rabbit month … in March.

As long as we’re speaking of the Rabbit, let’s consider the topic of the second nation in jeopardy this year: Israel.  Why is the Rabbit an unacknowledged emblem of Israel?  Admittedly, this feng-shui association may seem applicable only in the English language (mother tongue of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) … but you can’t spell the word Rabbit without “Rabbi.”  Bah-dum-bump! [rimshot sound effect]


But seriously, folks: every year is a bad year for Bibi-land.  Netanyahu is being questioned yet again in a corruption scandal –is this for the third time? Fourth?  Likud thinks they have Donald Trump in their pocket and have an inside track to Putin, but they’ve completely alienated the rest of the world and are now more of a pariah apartheid state than ever.  The Israeli economy relies heavily on outside investment and laundered money from organized criminal activities around the world, so even partial consumer boycotts of Israeli products in global markets are beginning to sting.  And in a yin Fire year we shouldn’t expect much soothing rain on the Galilee Plain –or anywhere else in Palestine.

Here’s what the usual feng-shui suspects are predicting for the Rabbit this year:

  • The animal sign Rabbit clashes with the year of Yin Fire Rooster. Clash means confrontation with others. [Meh \_^^_/: same old, same old.]
  • The Rooster is in clash against the Rabbit.  This is yin Metal cutting into yin Wood, which is manifested as stabbing with a knife [if you catch my drift], risky surgical operations, or injuries to the backbone and neck.
  • It is a traveling year for the Rabbit, who should avoid going to the West (the Tai Sui) direction, which will increase the intensity of the clash for Rabbit.
  • Rabbits must control themseves and be calm or their work will bring them distress.
  • Both Rooster and Rabbit are “Peach Blossom” animals, so their clash can manifest as serious sex scandals. [for an Onion-esque perspective, see here]
  • Rabbits should avoid risky sports such as auto racing, piloting aircraft, scubadiving, or parachuting. [So attacking Iran is definitely out this year.]
  • In March 2017 the yin Water Rabbit month is in total clash against the yin Fire Fowl year, with Flying Star 5 in the South sector.  In this direct clash between Fire and Water, we can expect fire disasters and explosions, heart attacks and strokes.

Apart from France and Israel, there are other nations which are also likely to experience difficulty because their national emblems are rabbit-like or fowl-like.  Here are a few:

  • Australia: the kangaroo … looks like a rabbit to a drunken Aussie.
  • Malta: the Pharoah hound, Kelb tal-Fenek, means “Rabbit dog” in Maltese.
  • Monaco: one of its three national animals is the European rabbit.
  • Wales: its official emblem is the dragon, but it’s known for the March hare … and Welsh rabbit.
  • Denmark: swan
  • Finland: swan
  • Israel: the hoopoe
  • Japan: pheasant
  • Lithuania: stork
  • Mauritius: the dodo, an extinct fowl.  Not a good choice for 2017.
  • Iraq & Pakistan: chukar partridge
  • New Zealand: kiwi

Profit Prophecies

A bit closer to home, the Fowl’s self-penalty can be expected to cause bottom-line problems for major corporations that use a Fowl image as part of their logo … or operate in the poultry business. For example:


seeing more red in 2017.

… seeing more red in 2017.


the Colonel's military rank emblem is also a bird

the Colonel’s military rank emblem is also a bird


 a French word meaning "lost"

a French word meaning “lost”




will the brand still be cool in 2017?

will the brand still be cool in 2017?


paper sales in a Fire year may be "stationary."

paper sales in a Fire year may be “stationary.”


Here are just a few rabbits to round out the threat picture for 2017:


the original "Peach Blossom" brand.

the original “Peach Blossom” brand.


Volkswagen can't outrun trouble this year, either.

Volkswagen can’t outrun trouble this year, either.







… will the skein run out for Rainbow Hare?


... things may not be smooth as silk in 2017.

… things may not be smooth as silk in 2017.


... profits may be more of a red hare-ing.

… profits may be more of a red hare-ing.

Fowl Play

January 24, 2017

Winter Solstice –> subsequent full moon –> subsequent new moon = Lunar New Year.  January 28 2017 marks the beginning of the Year of the Fowl (elsewhere known as the Year of the Rooster or Year of the Chicken).  In the unceasing alternation of yin and yang, the Year of the Yang Fire Monkey will give way to the Year of the Yin Fire Fowl.  Because Yin Fire has feminine characteristics, it is not appropriate to refer to this year’s particular poultry specimen as a rooster … perhaps not even as a capon.  Thus my choice of the gender-neutral term Fowl.



I’ve decided not to use the word “Hen” because of the dismissively pejorative sense in which it is often used by a certain category of person.  Furthermore, the word Fowl is more broadly inclusive, permitting us to evoke such related species as quail, pheasants, turkeys, ducks, cormorants, geese, cranes, storks, and swans.  Thus we move our minds and imaginative vision beyond the familiar domestic barnyard into the great outdoors, with its woodlands, prairies, tundra, marshes, streams, ponds and lakes.  Under the vast sweep of the endless sky, flocking fowl of all descriptions fly from place to place in search of forage and their ancestral nesting grounds.  Most will never end their days in a bubbling bath of mushroom wine sauce.

But let’s take it from the top: first the Celestial Stem, then the Earthly Branch.  This year’s stem is Ding [ 丁 ] (meaning “an individual”).  Ding is governed by the yin Fire element and is therefore associated with the South direction.  Yin Fire is the weaker form of fire, manifested in small light sources such as candlelight, starlight, torches, stoves and sparks. The association with fire gives Ding a visual affinity with colors such as red, orange, pink and purple. It is the fourth in the sequence of ten Celestial Stems, and is thus almost halfway through the celestial cycle.  For feng-shui soothsayers it is the yin Fire element that constitutes Ding‘s most influential attribute.  According to your neighborhood Daoist seer, interaction between the year’s Celestial Stem element and its Earthly Branch element is what causes the manifold terrestrial phenomena that we see unfold before our eyes as the year progresses.

Which brings us to this year’s Earthly Branch, You [ 酉 ] (meaning “ripe” or “complete”).  In the animal zodiac it corresponds to the Fowl.  The Fowl is a yin Metal element associated with the West direction.  Yin Metal represents the lesser, weaker form of metal, so it is associated with small metal objects: small knives, scissors, garden implements, farming tools or pins and needles … or items made of soft metals like gold, silver, copper or lead (coins, jewelry, plumbing or bullets, for example).

The Fowl (yin Metal) is also one of four “Peach Blossom” animals in the Chinese zodiac associated with heightened sexuality. The other three are Rabbit (yin Wood), Horse (yang Fire), and Rat (yang Water).  Two yin animals, two yang animals: understand?  You may also have noticed that only four out of the five elements are represented among the “Peach Blossom” animals.  That’s because you gotta have yin-yang balance for the heavenly cycle to continue its eternal rotation.  An Earth element presence among the Peach Blossoms, whether yin (Cow or Sheep) or yang (Dragon or Dog), would be like a third wheel on the bicycle built for two.

What does all this mean for 2017?  Well, the Celestial Stem above controls the Earthly Branch below, and thus we have yin Fire above the yin Metal Fowl.  In the Five Elements destructive cycle of relationships, Fire has a controlling/ destructive influence on Metal (fire melts metal).  This is definitely a negative portent for 2017:  the strong of this world will continue to bully and exploit the weak.  It’s scant consolation that the strong will be somewhat weaker this year than in 2016 now that yin Fire has succeeded yang Fire.  That’s because the weak will also be weaker this year: yin Metal Fowl has replaced yang Metal Monkey, a stronger Metal element who was better able to resist yang Fire.

The combination of Fire and Metal in 2017 has prompted some feng shui soothsayers to warn of fire-related disasters initiated by sparks or flame –such as brush fires, lightning strikes, power failures, electrical accidents, explosions or perhaps a towering inferno in a very prominent steel-frame building.  Because Ding yin Fire is associated with the South direction, these possible misfortunes are said to be more likely to occur in southern regions of the globe, southern portions of a nation, or southern areas of a large city.  Houston, do we have a problem?  SDNY?  Perhaps we’ll see.

But wait, there’s more.  The avian presence of a Metal Fowl in the Earthly Branch implies that airborne soft metal (aluminum?) objects are at risk of fire as well.  In this context, rocket and missile launches may not go well.  Some prognosticators go so far as advising travelers to avoid airlines with a red logo (the color of Ding Fire), a bird in their logo (Lufthansa?) or the word “East” in the airline name.  This last proviso seems to rooted in the fact that East is the direction of the Rabbit, who is directly “in clash” with the Fowl this year.  Thus East is “offending the year.”

Jan 25th update: this could really cut down on your travel options, since cursory research indicates that at least 50 air carriers have a bird of some kind in their logo.  Several prominent airlines that don’t use a bird image instead have predominantly red logos:

  • Air Canada (a maple leaf)
  • Avianca
  • Dragonair (a red dragon)
  • Emirates (Arabic script in red)
  • Iberia (a stylized Spanish flag of red & gold)
  • Malaysian Airlines (’nuff said)
  • Quantas (a kangaroo on a red background)
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Swissair (the Swiss flag)
  • Virgin Atlantic


I’m going to briefly riff off this last point to make a prediction of my own.  In Korean, as in Chinese, the word for East is ‘Dong‘ (pronounced ‘doong’).  Daedong (Great East) Industrial Company, Ltd. is a manufacturer of farm machinery based in Daegu, South Korea.  Their tractors are red (or maybe orange).  Daegu is a political stronghold of Korea’s beleaguered Saenuri party, whose leader is recently-impeached President Park Geun-hye … born in the Year of the Rabbit … in Daegu.  I’m thinking this combination won’t be good for soon-to-be-ex-President Park in 2017, and it won’t be good for Daedong Industrial Company, Ltd either.  The Rabbit month (March) will be when Korea’s Constitutional Court is likely to rule on the validity of Park’s impeachment.

Of course, there’s another Daedong in Korea, too.  It’s the Taedong River in North Korea, which runs right through the capital Pyongyang.  Since I haven’t looked at the Four Pillars feng-shui birth chart of Kim Jong-un, that’s all I’m gonna say.

Economic Portents

The interaction of Fire and Metal can also be expected to have an influence on human economic activity throughout the world.  Since Fire element controls the Metal element, Metal industries like banking, engineering, computers, automobiles and precious metals might be expected to do poorly during 2017.

On the other hand, Fire industries should prosper: electrical power, entertainment, fashion, beauty, film, and broadcasting may do quite well. The influence of the Peach Blossom Fowl should also assist entrepreneurs in sex and pornography businesses, bars, nightclubs and matchmaking/dating services.  The combination of yin Fire sparks and Peach Blossom should make things hot-hot-hot.

Less obviously, the unseen interaction of Water and Fire may provide an opportunity for investors in Water industries.  This is because Water conquers (quenches) Fire, so Water will benefit from its dominant position during a (weak) Fire year.  Water industries are all about flow: transport, communications, water purification/treatment, shipping, and logistics.

Can investing really be this easy?  Perhaps not.  The lunar calendar divides the twelve months of the year among the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, starting with the tiger in the first month (February, to you Gregorians).  Each of the twelve animals has harmonious relations with some –but not all– of the others.  Animals located 90⁰, 180⁰, and 270⁰ degrees away from each other are in conflict.  The animal directly across the zodiac (180⁰ away) is most severely “in clash” but the two at right angles are also in disfavor.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s the animals that clash with the Earthly Branch that matter most each year.

In the Year of the Fowl, these animals are the Rat (90⁰), Rabbit (180⁰), and Horse (270⁰).  Each of these animals corresponds to a calendar month: March [Rabbit], June [Horse], December [Rat].  The Fowl itself corresponds to September, when it will be in “Self-Penalty.”  These four months supposedly constitute investment “danger zones” when clashes between the Earthly Branch yearly animal and the monthly animals may cause disruption to Fire element price-support optimism.

In my opinion, June doesn’t look too bad, because it’s a yang Fire month with a yang Fire Horse: even if the Fowl and Horse don’t get along, double yang Fire month should support the yin Fire year.  However, December is a completely different story, where you have a yang Water month with a yang Water Rat.  This double yang Water month is quite likely to thoroughly quench the weak and waning yin Fire of 2017.  Investors should probably try to cash out by Halloween in order to avoid a truly frightful holiday season.  The Year of the Double Yang Earth Dog will right around the corner.



Cold Comfort

January 11, 2017

As we approach the Year of the Rooster, here are two questions that nobody in South Korea is asking (publicly, at least):

  1. What did the National Intelligence Service know about Choi Soon-sil, and when did they know it?
  2. Which Japanese corporations contributed funds to Choi’s K-Sports and Mir Foundations (or her other businesses) in exchange for South Korea’s acquiescence in the December 2015 comfort women agreement?


At the moment, the first question is still too dangerous to ask.  There’s a presidential election coming up, and none of the potential aspirants for office wants to rouse that particular tiger from his den. Right now NIS seems to be layin’ low in domestic affairs and emphasizing its regional threat assessment responsibilities.  Between PRC reaction to THAAD deployment and DPRK’s missile program, they should be plenty busy.

Asking the second question doesn’t carry quite the same risks, but it seems no one has thought to ask it.  Most people in South Korea consider the agreement to be a shamefully inadequate “resolution” of Japan’s wartime human trafficking crimes, and yet nobody has wondered why Park Geun-hye would have consented to such unequal terms.  Is Choi Soon-sil the key to this mystery?

ROK prosecutors are currently focusing their efforts (and rightly so) on the Korean corporations which were extorted by/bribed Choi.  However, should we not also consider the possibility that Choi was shaking down foreign companies as well?  Investigators are undoubtedly looking very closely at bank records and financial transactions linked to Choi and her coterie.  They’ve been to Germany: how about taking a peek across the East Sea?



No Par King

November 7, 2016

For almost two weeks I have been trying to decide how Waking the Dragon might make a meaningful contribution to the public discourse (such as it is) that has been accompanying South Korea’s M-ir Foundation/ Choi Soon-sil scandal.  Each lurid detail of Park/Saenuri corruption that has slithered into public view has been followed by another aspect of the case that is even more appallingly sordid or pathetic.  The worst stereotypes of Korean oligarchic “democracy” have been revealed to be considerable understatements of the awful truth.  Scant wonder that Koreans in their tens of thousands are marching in the streets to demand Park Geun-hye’s immediate resignation.  What could I possibly add to this picture?

Well, I found something: the classic WTD shadow-world perspective that permits the all-seeing eye to form order out of chaos and make sense out of what at first seems incomprehensible.  And the recurrent plotlines of numerous Joseon-dynasty historical dramas provide an important clue to what’s going on in 21st century Seoul.  In short, what you have here is a good old-fashioned succession crisis –updated for the post-modern age.

Back in the day of divine mandate-of-heaven monarchy, orderly succession to the throne and dynastic continuity was what ensured the survival of the Confucian polity and its people.  Earthly affairs were (supposed to be) closely calibrated to the predictable motions of the celestial sphere, and any abrupt deviation from prescribed ritual behavior had the potential to disrupt the harmony between heaven and earth: famine, earthquake, flooding or epidemic disease might thereupon ensue.  Just as one star after another rises in its turn from the eastern horizon at dusk, so too a crown prince must replace the king when his time has come.


This worldview implied two crucial questions for Joseon yangban aristocrats in the royal secretariat and council of ministers:  (1) when has the time come? … and (2) who is the proper crown prince?  Among the just causes for early dismissal: a Joseon king too sick to govern, too infatuated with his concubines to sire an heir with his appointed queen, or too drunk to preside at court rituals.  Rather than wait around for such a king to die of natural causes, (depending on his deficiencies) he would be forced into abdication and retirement, sent into exile, or outright assassinated.  A suitable prince of the royal house would then be installed as king, and celestial harmony would thus be restored.  So who determined which prince would be most suitable?  The most powerful yangban ministerial faction, of course.

In modern-day Korea the danger to the nation is more intense than usual because stars and planets have figuratively aligned to produce a triple succession crisis:

  • the scheduled conclusion of Park Geun-hye‘s presidency in 2017
  • the 2016 U.S. presidential “succession crisis”
  • the chaebol succession crises

Let’s take these one at a time.  First, the 2017 ROK presidential election.  Until the Choi scandal snowballed into a political avalanche in late October, conventional wisdom held that the governing Saenuri Party would be able to retain the presidency by recruiting as its candidate someone seen by Koreans as “above politics” –UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whose term expires in December of this year.  Although Ban has no political organization of his own in Korea, earlier this summer several regional Saenuri chieftains signaled willingness to line up behind Ban when the time comes.  Most of these guys are counted among the “anti-Park” wing of the Saenuri Party because they were aligned with former president Lee Myung-bak in the 2007 campaign.  Those who are –or used to be– in the “pro-Park” Saenuri faction were heard to do a lot of grumbling back in July and August when Ban’s name began floating around Chungcheongbuk-do in earnest.  Perhaps they favored a lesser light from Gyongsongnam-do instead.  Whatever.  The key factor here is that Korean patronage-politics-as-usual is about to undergo another round of musical chairs, and trillions of won are at stake.  Members of the ruling party are halfway through a mad scramble to cut each others’ throats and stab each other in the back in order to ensure that they’re not left on the zero side of a zero-sum outcome.  There’s plenty of fodder for scandal in everyday Korean politics, and everyone is trying his best to ensure that someone else ends up in the spotlight.  A lame duck president is ideal for the purpose, because s/he is more newsworthy than a mere mayor or assemblyman, and can therefore monopolize negative media attention.

Second, the good ole USA.  As founder and ultimate guarantor of the South Korean regime for nigh on seventy years, the United States and its policies toward the ROK are crucially important for maintaining economic stability and political continuity in the Land of Morning Calm. So it matters what the U.S. President thinks of Korea and how s/he attends to its security and domestic interests.  The Korean military-industrial complex is very, very nervous about Donald Trump‘s stated intention to withdraw American troops from Korea.  The greater the likelihood of a possible President Trump, the greater the anxiety and panic among South Korean movers and shakers.  Possibilistic thinking can easily outweigh probabilistic analysis when worst-case scenarios intrude on a sleepless night at 3AM.

Third, chaebol succession crises.  As a legacy of Japanese colonial development policies and state capitalism investment programs in the Park Chung-hee era, Korea’s economy today is dominated by massive family-owned multinational conglomerates (i.e., chaebol).  Samsung. Hyundai. Hanwha. LG.  SK. Lotte. Hanjin. Doosan. etc.  Collectively, they account for more than 80% of Korea’s GDP.  Each chaebol is owned, controlled or managed by a single family dynasty, usually that of the group’s founder.  Although some chaebol are publicly traded entities, many employ arcane corporate structures composed of interlocking subsidiaries and holding companies that ensure actual control of business operations remains firmly in the grasp of the founding clan.  Sons, daughters, in-laws, nephews and nieces have been appointed as executives of individual business units, but despite expensive Ivy League educations, many have had difficulty coping with changing conditions in the global economy.  Hanjin Shipping goes bust.  Samsung Electronics’ phones explode.  Kim Jung-un takes Hyundai to the Kaesong cleaners.  And so on.  Worst of all, those complex business structures (initially devised to avoid taxes) now make it difficult for company founders to transfer stock ownership to the next generation without incurring a massive tax burden.  Regulatory corners will have to be cut, government officials will have to avert their eyes and look elsewhere, dissident shareholders (if any) will have to be muzzled.  When the fate of the entire Korean economy is at stake, the rules of the game seem less important than who ends up the winner.

These three succession crises converge in the Choi Soon-sil scandal.  Chaebol executives have been shoveling money into Choi’s eager hands since Park took office (and probably beforehand as well).  But times are tough and soon it will be time for change: next year there will be a new president in the Blue House and a new set of bagmen with their hands out.  Now’s the time for chaebol to begin negotiations with Park’s successor, whoever that may be.  Whoever they choose.

Finally, I promised you a shadow-world perspective and it’s time to deliver.  The turning point in the Choi Soon-sil scandal …

occurred on October 24, when a [reporter from] cable TV network JTBC discovered a Galaxy Tab belonging to Choi Soon-sil in a [Seoul] office that she abandoned. The tablet was the Pandora’s Box –it had Park’s presidential speeches with Choi’s markups, presidential briefs for cabinet meetings, appointment information for presidential aides, chat messages with presidential aides, the president’s vacation schedule, draft designs for commemorative stamps featuring the president, and much, much more.  The tablet was simply left behind in Choi’s office with no encryption, and the files were available for anyone to open.  And just in case Choi Soon-sil denied ownership of the tablet, its image gallery contained her selfie.

Although Ask A Korean! characterized this unencrypted Samsung tablet as a blunder “worthy of ‘World’s Dumbest Criminals'”, I’m gonna offer a different hypothesis accounting for its convenient presence in Choi’s abandoned office.  Consider the possibility that it was planted there by the Korean NIS.

First, what’s the possibility that NIS was totally, blissfully unaware of Choi’s activities?  Zero, absolutely zero.  As a completely politicized intelligence agency, NIS and its operatives would have pulled out all the stops to monitor absolutely everything that Choi was doing, as a matter of national and presidential security.  Which means that all of Choi’s computers, cellphones, automobiles and residences in Korea were totally pwned by NIS surveillance. 100%.  Anything less would be dereliction of duty.

Second, what “proof” do we have that Choi actually owned the jackpot Galaxy Tab?  Almost zero: that selfie photo could have been scraped from any of Choi’s devices and loaded onto the tablet by anybody with access.  And so could all those documents. See above.

Third, I’d be interested to learn why JTBC went to that particular office in the first place: dogged investigative reporting or a tip from someone suggesting that it might be worth a look?  No need to ask how they got inside — a few thousand won to the caretaker would do the trick.

Last, what about the motive?  We can be pretty sure about NIS capability, but what about intent?  Why would NIS nudge President Park under the bus after working so hard to elect her in 2013?  I’m just guessing here, but perhaps it’s because they’ve finally learned that she’s not the man her father was.  And that these desperately dangerous times call for someone who’s actually a leader, rather than a mere symbol (and now a caricature) of authoritarian rule.




Fame of the Human Name

October 25, 2016

Apparently there’s at least one place in the United States where New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still popular:  Portland (Maine).  But maybe that’s because Maine’s own governor Paul LePage is widely regarded as someone firmly ensconced in an alternate universe somewhere between Loony Tunes and Wackoville.  Some might say he’s not alone:

A man dressed as a pine tree was arrested Monday afternoon in downtown Portland and charged with obstructing a public way.  Asher A. Woodworth, 30, of Portland, who was standing in traffic at High and Congress streets, was arrested after refusing police orders to leave the congested intersection.  Woodworth was taken to the Cumberland County Jail, where bail was set at $60 cash.  Obstructing a public way is a Class E (classy?) misdemeanor.

A friend of [Woodworth] said he was trying to study the city’s traffic patterns.


It’s pretty clear that the volume of road traffic in Portland ain’t quite what you’d see on the George Washington Bridge, but perhaps it’s the quality rather than the quantity that’s so worthy of research.  Or maybe it’s the location (location, location): Congress and High.

According to Portland police, “[Woodworth’s] motivation was to see how people would react to what he called his ‘performance’ and how he might impact ‘people’s natural choreography.’ ”

Sounds like this guy could be a student of André Lepecki and Jacques Rancière.  However, each of them would hasten to assure you that there’s nothing ‘natural’ about social choreography.


Bearing the Cross

October 19, 2016

Last week a minor news item prompted me to indulge (briefly) in a bit of structured reflection that surpassed mere musing.  And I suspect that this was precisely the result intended by the particular newsmaker in question.

Pope Francis on Wednesday reminded Catholics of the importance of putting up with annoying people as a spiritual work of mercy. “Show patience with troublesome people,” the pope said during a general audience at the Vatican.

“Troublesome people exist.  Be patient with them.  This [forbearance] may seem unimportant … but it contains a sentiment of deep charity. These are gestures of mercy, and what is done to one man is also done to Jesus,” Francis added.


I had been previously unaware that there are also six additional “spiritual works of mercy” expected of the faithful in their daily lives.  Musta never got the memo:

  • counsel the doubtful
  • instruct the ignorant
  • admonish sinners
  • forgive offenses willingly
  • comfort the afflicted
  • pray for the living and the dead

Here at Waking the Dragon we think we do a pretty good job with the first three items on this list: counseling, instructing and admonishing (although not necessarily in that order).  But when it comes to dealing with annoyances, Pope Francis and I probably have different ideas about who might actually qualify as a “troublesome person.”  He might be thinking of the daily throngs of tourists who crowd into the Vatican, hoping to bask in the reflected glory of the papal presence or yearning for a literal touch of the divine.  For me, troublesome people are the tireless complainers we often encounter in life, those who view the minor irritations of daily existence as unsupportable burdens that they alone are forced to shoulder.  Contrary to what Donald Trump would have you believe, they’re not mostly women.

That’s where the structured reflection comes in.  Many years ago, during a conversation with my insurance agent (I wasn’t the one complaining), I’d had a flash of insight.  In retrospect, maybe it’s blindingly obvious, but at the time it was new to me.  A complaint –or even a rant– often isn’t just an expression of irritation at particular circumstances or life experiences.  Instead, it is an indirect admission that the speaker feels a lack of personal agency or social power, and that this powerlessness is emotionally painful.  [Pause for Reader’s own reflection on this point.]

In many cases, the complaint is also a coded message communicating the anguished cry, “Nobody Loves Me!”.  It is a plea for love, endlessly ignored.  This, above all else, is the consummate tragedy of human existence.  In cases such as these, it’s clear that Spiritual Work of Mercy #1 (patience with troublesome people) isn’t enough.  Spiritual Work of Mercy #6 (comfort the afflicted) is definitely called for, and Spiritual Work of Mercy #7 (prayer for the living) might be an additional option chosen by those who believe in its actual efficacy.

So, here’s some career counsel for corporate employees in customer service departments everywhere:  at the very least, exhibit genuine patience with troublesome people … and truly comfort the afflicted.

Wait, There’s More

But my recent reflection on the topic of “troublesome people” also took note of a more pernicious specimen of humanity than the Category I victim of circumstance.  This is, of course, the other principal type of complainer: the supremely entitled person whose sense of self-importance becomes affronted when his whims are not immediately granted the precedence and top priority he feels they clearly require.  This guy (usually but not always a man) may employ bluster, “loud-talking” and intimidation at the time of the original “offense,” but also later reenacts his outrage and indignation in front of a third-party audience that he expects will validate his claims.  Indeed, from his point of view, they self-evidently should agree.

It’s much more difficult to have patience with the Category II complainer –and thus perhaps that much more meritorious in the eyes of heaven.  Let’s hope so anyway.  But mere patience won’t always be enough: it may be necessary to add some Spiritual Work of Mercy #3 (instruction of the ignorant) to the mix by gently pointing out that there are other things in this world beyond his personal priorities.  If that doesn’t work, I recommend a light cudgeling with a four-foot length of straight-grain 2×2 Douglas Fir.  Arms, legs and back only –no head shots!  Nothing to break any bones, just a few bruises to make a lasting impression.


Sorry, that was my inner mobster speaking out of turn.  Francis wouldn’t approve.  Forgive me Papa Francesco, I have digressed.  Here’s what I should have said, the whole point of this post: violence deployed in anger is a lazy expedient that gets rapid –but ephemeral– results.  The only reliable methods for effecting durable change in the world are tiny gestures, incrementally accumulated through tedious repetition.  Minor acts of kindness and mercy, one person at a time.  Start with yourself, and go from there.  You can thank me later.

Positively Forthright

October 13, 2016

Hooda thunkit?  Little Bobby Zimmerman as Nobel Lit Laureate?  Musta been some fine Owlsley blotter floating in Stockholm’s water supply.

I didn’t even bother to try predicting this year’s winner, much less spend any time rooting for the oddsmakers’ nominal favorite Haruki Murakami.  It has been abundantly clear this year that my few predictive “endorsements” have been far wide of the mark.  Donald Trump is still running for president of the United States.  Danilo Turk is headed home to Slovenia, and is not the world’s choice for Secretary-General of the United Nations.  Instead, Antonio Guterres will be dealing with even-greater numbers of refugees for years to come.  Would this be a good time to say that the Chicago Cubs look unbeatable this year?  Probably not.

So instead of prediction, I’m going to indulge in what might be termed prognostication’s little sister: fervent hope.  For once, readers of Waking the Dragon will find me rooting in favor of a possible FBI sting operation.  Here are the dots I may be straining credulity to connect:

  • September 22 2016: Millionaire real estate developers in Northern New Jersey formally ended their support for a November ballot initiative asking voters to approve casino gambling in the Meadowlands and Jersey City.  Polling data purportedly showed widespread public opposition to expansion of New Jersey’s gambling industry.

Jeff Gural, who owns the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, and Paul Fireman, who is the chairman of Fireman Capital Partners and developer of Jersey City’s Liberty National Golf Course  —two locations where the proposed casinos might be built—  cited a Rutgers-Eagleton poll that showed 58 percent of voters disapprove of the referendum, while 35 percent approve.”

  • September 28 2016: Steve Fulop, mayor of Bergen-by-the-Bay (Jersey City) announced that he would not run for governor in 2017 and urged fellow Democrats to unite behind Phil Murphy, a financier and former ambassador to Germany making his first run for office.

“Fulop told reporters outside city hall in Jersey City that he had seen speculation on the Internet that his reasons for not running included the Bridgegate case as well as his health, other legal issues, or his wife. ‘I’ve read on the Internet all sorts of theories, none of which are true,’ he said. ‘Rather, when I look at the [political] landscape today, understanding how the [New Jersey Democratic] party is fractured and my core beliefs on that, I ultimately don’t see any winners in [what would be] a very, very bloody primary,’ he said.”

  • October 7 2016: New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney announced that he too would no longer seek the nomination of the Democratic Party in the 2017 gubernatorial election.  Sweeney (also an Ironworkers Union official) had been a sponsor of the casino referendum initiative, “arguing that the new casinos would initially create thousands of new construction jobs and would also eventually allow New Jersey to recapture some of the gambling revenue that had been lost when new casinos opened in neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania.”

What and So What

Here’s the way it works: in New Jersey you can run the same script over and over again … and get the same results, because the illusion of impunity is so pervasive.  So, two nice Jewish boys tired of being shaken down by insatiably ravenous New Jersey politicians pay a visit to Rabbi Fishman, who graciously agrees to help.  Jeff, Paul, and Uncle Sam all ante into the pot to create an operating fund for a casino referendum initiative.  Some of the money inevitably must be spent on renting politicians whose influence is required to get the initiative on the statewide ballot.  Negotiations with those politicians must be duly recorded with miniaturized video/audio devices that Abscam operatives of the 1970s would have regarded with alternating envy and incredulity.  A gloating team of AUSAs at Centre Street and the Rodino Courthouse doggedly check off the boxes on their checklist of evidentiary elements to be included in the eventual (massive) indictment.

Timing is everything.  Including the timing of the tiny strategic leak that seeps out of the investigation to let the marks know that they’ve once again been had.  Because now it’s time to recruit cooperating witnesses, and the last one grasping at the gunwale of DOJ’s lifeboat will be left to swim with the fishes.  Gural-Fireman-Fishman: let’s call it Jerusa-scam.


Duty-Free Tour

September 29, 2016

America’s first line of defense: the homeless urban Dumpster-diver … and Egyptian tourists.

Lee Parker and Ivan White were out buying beer after watching Sunday football games on television. Parker, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, wanted to celebrate his team’s 2-0 start to the NFL season.  He thought he was just extra lucky when he spotted a backpack on top of a garbage can, steps away from the Elizabeth train station.  “It was a nice one,” he said.

Parker is a 50-year-old lifetime resident of Elizabeth who spends his days not knowing where he’ll sleep at night, and as he emptied the contents of the 30-pound backpack, he knew something wasn’t right.  “It seemed odd,” Parker said. “At first I thought they were decorated candles, but no decorated candles have wires.  When we figured out what it was, Ivan made me aware of what’s been going on in different places,” Parker said. “So right there I knew that this was one of those incidents not to take lightly at all.”

Next stop, Elizabeth Po-leece Department.

Previously …

Surveillance video in New York City showed Ahmad Khan Rahami rolling a suitcase down a Manhattan street, then abandoning it on the sidewalk where an unexploded device was later found.  A few minutes later, two men passed by the luggage and appeared to admire it, police said. They then removed a pressure cooker from the suitcase, left it on the sidewalk and walked away with their new roller-bag. “They were more interested in the bag, not what they were taking out,” NYPD counterterrorism chief Jim Watters said, adding that they were “very, very lucky” the bomb didn’t explode.


Maybe not quite so lucky after all:

The two men have been identified as Egyptian tourists who have since returned home to Egypt. U.S. investigators have notified Egyptian authorities they want to question the men [as witnesses rather than suspects].  “They’re not in any jeopardy of being arrested,” Watters said last week, “We have no reason to believe they’re connected.”

Yeaaaaah, I have every confidence that NYPD is being totally forthcoming in this matter.  By the time the Egyptian police are done with these poor guys, they’ll be cursing that suitcase as an infernal lure of Satan, fiendishly disguised as a heaven-sent gift from Allah.  On the bright side, at least they’re not Saudis.  But then again, neither was Mohamed Atta.

Worst case scenario:  In Cairo, they run the video … in reverse.  It shows the two men place a pressure cooker device into the suitcase, close it, and push it against a wall.  Then they slowly back away, gesturing and admiring their handiwork.  Cut!  We’ve seen enough: guilty as charged.  Off with their heads!  Pharaonic justice, al-Sissi style.

Life as a homeless guy in Jersey suddenly looks a whole lot better.  Can I get an “Amen?”


Switchman Sleepin’

August 16, 2016

Way back in September of last year I made the seemingly rash prediction that “Donald Trump won’t be around at the end” of the 2016 presidential campaign.  Eleven months later, here on August 16th, it looks as though I might be right on track … to be completely wrong.  But wait, there’s more!  Two-and-a-half more months of plot twists and narrative turns still remaining in the cliffhanger screenplay, that is.  Thus it is that hope, which springs eternal in the longshot gambler’s breast, still holds forth the possibility of a scenario rarely seen in the annals of American politics: the reverse bait-and-switch.

The [function] of the bait-and-switch is to encourage [acceptance] of substituted goods, making consumers satisfied with the available stock offered, as an alternative to the disappointment or inconvenience of acquiring no goods at all.  The bait-and-switch ploy exploits the consumer’s perception of partial recovery of the sunk costs expended trying to obtain the bait.


In customary commercial practice, bait-and-switch operates by advertising an extremely desirable product, available for purchase at an extremely desirable price.  But when the customer becomes ravenously eager to buy, the product is suddenly “out of stock” or otherwise unavailable.  Instead, something “just as good” is offered in its place –of lower quality, higher price, or both.

The reverse bait-and-switch is an inventive wrinkle on the tried-and-true classic formula.  Both versions are undoubtedly inscribed in the 18th c. playbook of the usual suspects, but the reverse variant is deemed effective only when rarely used.  It is best employed only during highly unusual circumstances in conditions of scarcity.  Reverse bait-and-switch holds out an extremely undesirable and unacceptable product as the only product available:  the seller waits until the consumer has become adamant, almost violently irate, in her refusal to purchase the patently inferior product … and then suddenly offers an alternative (“this just in!”).  Low quality, overpriced, something the customer probably wouldn’t consider buying in everyday market conditions  –but marginally more acceptable than the woefully inadequate alternative.



By now it should be clear where I’m going with this, but to spell it out for the semi-literate, here’s what we might well see in the coming weeks:

  • Republican Party bigwigs/honchos/muckety-mucks will find a way (компромат) to force the Donald to renounce his hard-won GOP nomination and abandon his presidential campaign.
  • Huguenot hireling Paul Manafort will discover he has not been dealt the strong hand (main à fort) that he had thought, and that he’s trying to draw to an inside straight from a stacked deck.
  • A (comparatively) bland and innocuous substitute more-or-less untainted by Trump (Mike Pence, or someone else?) will step (or be thrust) into the breach.
  • Disaffected Republicans will be rallied around their new savior and champion, while disgruntled Trump partisans will grumble “anyone but Hillary” and (mostly) go along with the new program.  After all, they’re followers, not independent thinkers. Just about any fuhrer will do.
  • The Clinton campaign will be completely blindsided by this development, and having geared up to play a “No Trump” bid all the way to November, will flounder in its attempts to respond to the radically altered political environment.  It’s all about the OODA loop.
  • Best of all, I’ll have been proven correct in my offhand 2015 prediction: “Trump won’t be around at the end“.

Stay tuned: I’m guessing that the Koch-Murdoch timetable for action is probably around September 9th.  Nine/Nine, or nein-nein for you Deutsch sprechers.