Let them eat rabbit

From the BBC:

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has devised a “rabbit plan” to counter the economic war he says is being waged against his government by “imperialist forces”.

The president urged crisis-hit Venezuelans to breed rabbits and eat them as a source of animal protein.

I’m going to be bone idle and just copy and paste this entire post I wrote in January 2007.

***

According to most of the major news sources, North Korea is considering breeding giant rabbits from Germany to help feed its starving population:

A German pensioner who won a prize and worldwide fame for breeding his country’s largest rabbit — Robert, a 10.5kg (23lb) bruiser the size of a dog — has been offered an unusual opportunity to exploit his talents overseas.

Karl Szmolinsky has been given a contract by North Korea to supply giant rabbits to help to boost meat production in the reclusive Communist country, which is suffering severe food shortages.

Kim Jong Il is not the first despotic communist leader to have the idea of breeding rabbits to stave off the starvation which communism inevitably brings.  In 1932 Nikita Khrushchev found himself as deputy to Mikhail Kaganovich and effectively running Moscow.  As William Taubman explains in his book Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (page 90):

Moscow’s working class, allegedly the apple of Stalin’s eye, was going hungry in 1932, and with his legendary concern for their welfare, the great man “suggested the idea of raising rabbits for food”.  Naturally Khrushchev was all for this plan and worked zealously to carry out his instructions.  Almost every factory, plant and workshop started raising rabbits to help stock its own kitchen.

Needless to say, the idea was a flop, although I doubt Khrushchev put it to his boss quite like that.  I have also no doubt that the latest North Korean attempt is being touted in the DPRK as the brainwave of Kim Jong Il and not the 75 year old idea of his father’s mentor.

As an aside, another of Stalin’s brilliant ideas for alleviating food shortages in the Soviet Union was to introduce the Pacific giant crab to European waters, specifically the Barents Sea.  Whilst these spiky crustaceans did little to silence the rumbling of Soviet bellies, they did adapt remarkably well to Europe and they now number more than 10 million and are slowly marching their way down Norway’s coast destroying all manner of marine life in their path.  Rumours that I have relocated to Sakhalin to collaborate with their leadership in their imminent invasion of the United Kingdom are completely unfounded.

***

Also worthy of attention is the comment made by Pootergeek under the original post. No, not the appalling pun which would earn a lifetime ban on less charitable blogs, but this link to “rabbit starvation”:

Protein poisoning was first noted as a consequence of eating rabbit meat exclusively, hence the term, “rabbit starvation”.

Share

North Korea and Nuclear Proliferation

Via Mick Hartley, this piece on North Korea:

But what North Korea wants is South Korea. It has always wanted South Korea, and it has never stopped saying that it wants South Korea. Its messianic vision of reunification has always rested on its express promise of reuniting Korea under its rule. You can try to pretend that away, but North Korea won’t be content to sit behind its borders and watch its legitimacy eroded away by unfavorable comparison — made vivid by every smuggled DVD of a South Korean TV drama — to a superior model of Korean nationhood.

This is consistent with a piece I quoted before, also via Mick:

North Korea would not need intercontinental ballistic missiles to strike South Korea, whose capital sits just 35 miles from their shared border. Pyongyang has had the ability to detonate nuclear devices in Seoul via short- and medium-range ballistic missiles for years. There’s also reason to question the wisdom of nuking a proud, democratic city of 25 million people before attempting to rule it.

What an ICBM does for North Korea is establish deterrence in the event of a reunification campaign.

Kim Jong Un thinks “the nuclear weapons will prevent US from getting involved,” Sun said. “That’s why we see more and more people making the argument that the North Korea’s nuclear development is not aimed at the US, not aimed at South Korea, but aimed at reunification.”

It should hardly be surprising that North Korea seeks reunification of the peninsula. When I was working in Seoul in 2005 I talked to some South Koreans about this, and they all agreed that reunification would happen one day. The only problem is Kim wants the unified Korea to be a Communist hell-hole, the South Koreans want it to look like South Korea, and the Chinese want to be sure they don’t have a hostile or (more likely) embarrassingly rich and democratic state on its borders raising awkward questions among its own population. As the BBC says:

China is key but it is a conflicted party. On the one hand it does not want to see a nuclear-armed North Korea and it has made its view clear to Pyongyang on many occasions.

Something which always gets left out of the reporting is that a nuclear North Korea is largely a problem of China’s own making. First they supplied Pakistan with the technology and materials to build nuclear weapons:

Since the 1970s, China has been instrumental in Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs. China provided Pakistan with highly enriched uranium, ring magnets necessary for processing the uranium, and education for nuclear engineers. Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, in fact, is widely believed to be based on Chinese blueprints. Worse, in 1990 and 1992, China provided Pakistan with nuclear-capable M-11 missiles that have a range of 186 miles. China reportedly has provided the technology for Pakistan to build a missile that could strike targets within a 360-mile range.

A key figure in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme was one A.Q. Khan, known as the father of the Pakistani bomb. To cut a long story short, this chap (and/or others in the Pakistani military) then wandered around the world flogging the technology to anyone who wanted it, chiefly Iran, Libya – and North Korea:

The story of the world’s worst case of nuclear smuggling took a new twist on Thursday when documents surfaced appearing to implicate two former Pakistani generals in the sale of uranium enrichment technology to North Korea in return for millions of dollars in cash and jewels handed over in a canvas bag and cardboard boxes of fruit.

The source of the documents is AQ Khan, who confessed in 2004 to selling parts and instructions for the use of high-speed centrifuges in enriching uranium to Libya, Iran and North Korea. Extracts were published by the Washington Post, including a letter in English purportedly from a senior North Korean official to Khan in 1998 detailing payment of $3m to Pakistan’s former army chief, General Jehangir Karamat, and another half-million to Lieutenant General Zulfiqar Khan, who was involved in Pakistan’s nuclear bomb tests.

It is unlikely that the proliferation of their nuclear missile technology and capabilities into North Korea via Pakistan was the intention of the Chinese government when they set out to assist Pakistan, but here we are. With Kim Jong-Un now testing hydrogen bombs, the proliferation horse has well and truly bolted.

The most logical step, although one that would horrify most people, is for South Korea to go nuclear, enabling it to retaliate in the event of a North Korean first use. The nightmare situation for South Korea is for the North to attack and before the South can eliminate the North (using conventional means) in response the Chinese step in and ensure the regime’s survival for their own ends. Yes, we’ve been here before. If the South was nuclear-armed, they could remove the regime before the Chinese could intervene and/or dissuade the Chinese from doing so in the first place.

If South Korea goes nuclear, and we’re fast approaching the point that they have every right to, Japan will quickly follow – and possibly Taiwan. This would cause the Chinese to go apoplectic, but it would be too late and their own fault. If I were the US, I’d be putting this scenario in front of the PRC and telling them it is both very much of their own making yet still within their powers to prevent it.

Share

Commentary on North Korea

There has a been a lot of commentary over North Korea during the last few days as Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump let each other know their respective policies. Naturally, this has prompted people who know nothing about North Korea (or at least, hide their knowledge well) to score points against Trump. I was rather disappointed to see that Mick Hartley, who is usually pretty sound on North Korea, approvingly quote this garbage:

President Trump is an impulsive egotist with a lot to prove and he’s generally surrounded by yes-men. His threat of “fire and fury like the world has never seen” sounds very much like the nutball threats which the current leader of the Kim family and the North Korean state news agencies frequently make – various rage-and-threat-speak about seas of fire and other such nonsense.

This is a really bad and dangerous situation to start with. It was bad when President Obama left office. It’s gotten much worse since – through some mix of US threats and North Korean testing out the new administration. The worst possible thing is a President who is stupid, impulsively emotional and has something to prove, which is exactly what we have. (You think his litany of failures as President so doesn’t make him eager for a breakout, transformative moment?)  At the risk of stating the obvious, threats like this from a country that has the ability to kill everyone in North Korea at close to a moment’s notice can set off a highly unpredictable chain of events. What if North Korea issues more threats? Presumably Trump fails to respond with a nuclear attack and reveals his threats as empty or – truly, truly unimaginably – he launches a nuclear attack. These are not good choices to face.

The situation with North Korea would be an extreme challenge for a leader with ability and judgment. President Trump is simply too erratic, unstable and dangerous to be in charge in a situation like this.

This piece is not about North Korea at all, it’s about what the author thinks of Trump. North Korea is simply the excuse to write the words down, and adds no value whatsoever. Trump is surrounded my yes-men? Like James Mattis? And hasn’t a rather defining attribute of Trump’s presidency been that he can’t seem to get anyone around him to do what he wants? If any article you read on North Korea focuses mainly on Trump and his supposed inadequacies, it can be safely ignored.

North Korea has been an intractable problem since its formation. Many people are leaping up and down blaming America for Kim Jong-Un’s behaviour and that of his father and grandfather, but this is reflexive ignorance or anti-Americanism, especially now Trump is involved. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan, and a host of other places in which America has meddled, the problems caused by North Korea can be laid squarely at the feet of the ruling Kim Dynasty, the Soviets who created it, and the Chinese who support it. Blaming the Americans for antagonising the North Koreans is like blaming West Germany for antagonising the Soviets.

It’s not as though America hasn’t tried every approach it could. The idiots wringing their hands over Trump’s rhetoric seem to have missed that every president since Bush Snr. tried and failed to get North Korea to behave, and often acted in full partnership with the UN and China, Russia, and other partners. Every one of them failed, and Trump has inherited a problem which has arguably been made worse by his predecessors’ failures either to take it seriously or to believe the lies told by Kim Jong-Il. At the very least, Trump is trying to deal with the same shit-burger his predecessors did, only now it’s nuclear-armed. The problem is not one of Trump’s own making, and is not being made worse by language, but we can be sure half the west will fall over itself to criticise Trump and downplay the nature of the North Korean regime in order to score political points, undermining any attempt to solve the problem.

Sensible commentary has been provided, as usual, by Streetwise Professor:

North Korea represents one of the most daunting challenges imaginable. Although the North Korean military has aged and obsolete equipment, and would lose in an all out war, it could inflict massive casualties on whomever it fought. Further, it has the Sampson option: with massive conventional and chemical artillery forces in range of Seoul, before it was consumed in the inevitable retaliatory strike, North Korea could kill tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of South Koreans.

As I said, any commentary that emphasises Trump and downplays the enormous challenge North Korea represents can be safely ignored. I think there’s going to be a lot of rubbish written on this subject in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully Mick Hartley will adjust his filter and give us more stuff like this:

All of which sounds fine, but negotiations with North Korea have never worked in the past, simply because they never stick to their side of the bargain.

More importantly, it’s simply not true that Kim only wants to survive. What he really wants – what he’s working towards – is reunification of Korea, on his terms. Not to grasp that point is to fail to understand the dynamics behind Pyongyang’s aggression.

And this:

North Korea would not need intercontinental ballistic missiles to strike South Korea, whose capital sits just 35 miles from their shared border. Pyongyang has had the ability to detonate nuclear devices in Seoul via short- and medium-range ballistic missiles for years. There’s also reason to question the wisdom of nuking a proud, democratic city of 25 million people before attempting to rule it.

What an ICBM does for North Korea is establish deterrence in the event of a reunification campaign.

Kim Jong Un thinks “the nuclear weapons will prevent US from getting involved,” Sun said. “That’s why we see more and more people making the argument that the North Korea’s nuclear development is not aimed at the US, not aimed at South Korea, but aimed at reunification.”

Rather than this:

And, despite the promise of a firmer hand on the tiller in the shape of the president’s new chief of staff, General John Kelly, the crazy tweeting persists, and casual threats of war erupt from a man on a summer golfing break.

This could, in other words, all turn out much worse than even the president’s wary advisers, who know war (though far less ferocious war than this would likely be) may think. And if the war hype is all a Trump fake, it will be shown to be such. And as is usually the case with Trump fakes, others will pay the bill while he continues to golf.

Share

The Korean Ferry SInking

In the BBC’s report of the ongoing Korean ferry sinking, this line stood out (in the analysis, off to the side):

The speed with which it flipped over and sank is a major concern.

This is a well-known problem with car ferries.  In order to make them economical you need to have fairly open car decks without any watertight bulkheads dividing the decks into compartments as you would on any other type of vessel.  You want all your cars to be able to drive unhindered into what is effectively a large floating car park and then drive off the other end when the ferry reaches its destination.  The problem with this is that water sloshing about on an open deck makes a vessel extremely unstable.

Back in the late ’90s I found myself stuck at home in Pembroke with a computer but no internet (it wasn’t widespread in homes back then) and an assignment to write for my engineering degree on engineering risks.  I had very little material to base an essay on, but there was a stack of old New Scientist magazines of my sister’s lying about, and one of them (dated August 1990) had this article in (subscription required), which is introduced as follows:

The risks of ferry travel: Many car ferries are built with a fatal design flaw. If the vehicle decks flood, the ferries are likely to capsize rapidly.

The article said that an inch of water covering a car deck was enough to cause a ferry to capsize, due to the enormous momentum of the sloshing action.  An inch isn’t much when you have the sea pouring in.

This is why ferries tend to sink so quickly, with both the Herald of Free Enterprise (March 1987) and Estonia (September 1994) disasters being the two that I remember happening; the first because it involved a lot of Brits in what seemed to be a spate of home-grown disasters (the Kings Cross Fire in November 1987, Piper Alpha in July 1988, and the Marchioness in August 1989) and the second because of the harrowing accounts of the ship listing severely before disappearing into the freezing Baltic Sea.  I’ve since been on a ferry from Finland to Tallinn, and ending up in the water doesn’t bear thinking about.

The New Scientist article has stuck in my mind since, probably because I had to write an essay on it in the absence of any other source material.  I got a good mark by the way, mainly because I actually wrote a good essay, but the lecturer did remark that my basis was somewhat limited!  The other aspect of ferries mentioned in the article which contributed to their poor safety record – on some measures, ferry travel is the most dangerous in the world – was that the operators tend to get complacent.  You can imagine, doing the same, normally short, route day after day would breed complacency among the crew in terms of safety equipment inspections, evacuation drills, etc.  Also, a lot of ferries, especially in the developing world, are operating on a shoestring budget whose owners aren’t much interested in spending money on things like maintenance and inspections.  Add in poor training and experience of crew and you have, well, a recipe for disaster.

For all of these reasons, underpinned by the fatal design flaw described in New Scientist, I fear ferry disasters – like air crashes – will always be with us.

Share

A Day of Surprises

That went well.  Getting my visa took a mere 30 minutes, 20 minutes of which was queueing and the rest waiting for it to be processed.  Everything is possible in Russia provided you pay, in this case the charge being $160.  But it’s better than hanging around for several days.

I was surprised in another sense too.  Just when you have gotten used to Russian officials grunting at you from behind desks and security glass, scowling at you as you pass them your documents, and behaving as though they are carved from cold, wet, granite, the young chap in the embassy today brightly asked what football team I supported and proudly told me he’d recently seen an English film about football hooligans.  And with lots of goodbyes and good lucks, he waved me off from the counter.

That said, the above episode was only the second biggest surprise I got today, the first being the discovery of tuna porridge on the breakfast menu this morning.  It looked to be nothing more than a pot of porridge with lumps of tuna thrown in.  Needless to say, I avoided it and helped myself to the more traditional breakfast items, which were excellent.

Share

Back in Seoul

I’m writing this from a hotel room in Seoul, where I’ve found myself for a couple of days for a visa run.

I flew out of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk this morning on that well-known international airline, SAT Airways.  Our aircraft was a Boeing, albeit one from the seventies, and a tiny one at that, which got thrown all over the skies whenever it hit turbulence, and the seatbelt signs came on to warn passengers that they might at any moment be used to strap a wing back on.  But thankfully it got me here in one piece.

While we’re on the subject of Russian airlines, let me just kill one myth dead here and now: that which says that the service on Russian airlines is appallingly bad.  Truth is, it isn’t.  Having flown Aeroflot, Transaero, and now SAT Airways, I have found the service and quality of food on Russian airlines to be no worse than it usually is on Emirates, KLM, or Continental, and infinitely better than on Lufthansa, which I have vowed never to fly again.  Okay, the Germans’ planes are less likely to make an unscheduled descent into the Sea of Japan, but at least when you’re hurtling to your death you’ll find a Russian steward doling out bottles of vodka for the occasion, as opposed to some sour-faced, union-protected, harpy sneering down her nose at the passengers because after paying a long-haul price for a short-haul flight they – God forbid – expect some level of service.  Having made several trips to Germany over the last 15 years, I have noted before that their previously high standards of, well, everything have slipped considerably in recent years.  When Germans find themselves outclassed by Russians in a field of service provision, you know something has gone badly wrong.  Ground-based Russian service is, however, still appallingly bad.

Anyway, I arrived in Incheon airport and after some humming and hawing about whether to take the high-speed railway which turned out not to exist, I jumped in a taxi to take me to my hotel in the centre of Seoul.  My taxi driver, as all airport taxi drivers are wont to do, would not stop rabbitting away in poor English for the whole of the hour-long drive.  He was making a valiant effort at learning English using CDs, he told me, but most of his English was a running commentary on what his phone-based SatNav system was saying to him in Korean.  First time I went to Korea I was impressed with their phones, specifically their ability to sit on the metro and watch TV.  Now they seem to have come up with a system of typing in a phone number, of a hotel for example, and the phone turns into a SatNav which guides you there.  It seemed impressive, until the little lady doing the talking satellite navigated us right into the middle of the biggest traffic jam I’d seen since I was last in Moscow, and then its impressiveness diminished.  Soon it was taking us through narrow streets where we narrowly avoided a head-on collision with a car which had the cheek to be driving down his own side of the street, before it spat us out on a main road right where we needed to be.  Both the driver and I were impressed once more.  I’d have been more impressed if he’d bought a large-screen version so he didn’t need to keep peering at it with a Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass and ignoring road conditions such as walls and large bridges over the Han River.

When I booked the hotel, I couldn’t see whether it had internet connections in the rooms or not.  It mentioned kettles, ironing boards, and hairdryers, but no internet connection.  So I called them up, and I was told they had one in every room.  I seem to remember when I last stayed in Seoul they didn’t advertise the internet connections in the rooms, and this place seems to be no different.  Clearly internet connections in Korean hotel rooms are as standard as doors, windows, and beds.  Sure enough, this place, like my last hotel, has a 100Mbps connection which costs absolutely nothing and works as soon as you hook the cable up to your computer.  No ringing the front desk for usernames, no messing about with passwords, simply plug in and off you go.  Hotels in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk which provide internet services for $10 per hour, please take note.

Tomorrow I must go to the Russian embassy and apply for whatever visa allows me to apply for a work permit once I’ve rentered Russia.  Apparently I can go there first thing in the morning and pick up my passport in the afternoon, although I am a little nervous.  The words “Russian embassy” and “same day” belong together about as well as “Russian customs” and “same day”.

Anyway, we’ll see how I get on.  I’ve got a camera with me, so maybe I’ll take some pictures.

Share

Goodbye to Seoul

Well, my time in Seoul is almost at an end, and I should be on the half-past midnight flight back to Dubai this evening.

It has been hard work, long hours, and damned cold. It has snowed twice this week, and temperatures were down to minus 12 at one point. I haven’t spent enough time here to comment on Koreans as a people, but I will say that with the exception of a few individuals, the ones I had to work with were very hospitable, courteous, hard working, and friendly. Seoul is not a place I would recommend for a holiday, but as a place to come for a month’s work it is not at all bad. I can imagine in summer it would be quite pleasant.

My enduring memory of the trip will be the occasion when someone in the Korean engineering company had the bright idea to take their devout Muslim clients to a musical in the Sheraton hotel which featured two dozen topless women. Never have I seen a group of Kuwaitis evacuate a theatre so quickly. By comparison, this Brit, the Koreans, and the Venezuelan stayed drinking wine and chomping pork until the show had finished, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

Share

Images of Seoul

Seoul
Old and New

Meat
Don’t ask.

Who knows?
Who knows what lies within?

Insadong
Insadong street gets lively on a weekend.

Starbucks
Starbucks are everywhere in Seoul. This one is unusual in that the signage is in the local language.

Signs

River

Share

The Korean War Memorial

It was very cold on Saturday night, and when I got up the next morning everything was covered in several inches of thick white snow.

Seoul

Seoul

As planned, I went to the Korean War Memorial on Sunday, which is actually a huge museum. I was impressed to see on the corridors as you walk in the name of every South Korean serviceman killed in action, and likewise the name of every member of the UN force – the bulk of whom were either from the USA (33,642) or Great Britain (1,086). There was a facility by which you could search for a name on a nearby computer and it would direct you to the exact spot on the walls. This was necessary, there were a lot of names.

The museum was excellent and the most impressive thing of all was the wording above the thousands of names of the fallen:

Our Nation Honours Her Sons And Daughters Who Answered The Call To Defend A Country They Never Knew And A People They Never Met

And this sets the tone for the entire museum. The incredibly refreshing central message of the museum is that the South Koreans are extremely grateful – even to this day, 52 years later – to the United States, Great Britain, and other UN countries who saved them from communism and the death and misery that comes with it. In stark contrast to the leaders of France and Germany to name but two, whose politicians see fit to regularly and publicly denounce the USA who lost thousands and risked thousands more defending “A Country They Never Knew And A People They Never Met” from the evil of totalitarianism, the South Koreans make it quite clear – if their museum is representative, anyway – that the USA and its allies did the right and noble thing in throwing the forces of communism out of their country. Whether this will still be the case once the threat from the North is gone remains to be seen; but for now it is, as I said, rather refreshing.

The museum itself is full of interesting exhibits, recreations, and film footage covering not just the Korean War but the Vietnam War (in which Koreans fought with considerable success), the Gulf War, and various UN humanitarian missions in the years since. One cannot help but feel a flush of pride when you see the British flag and the listing of the units which contributed to the effort to keep South Korea free. After all, this was a war to defend a people who having been finally freed from the Japanese were struggling to find their feet from a muderous puppet of Joseph Stalin and an equally murderous Mao Zedong who were interested only in pushing a ruthless communist agenda at whatever the cost, human or otherwise. It was a war which ought to make the backers of the Soviet Union, cheerleaders of the policies of Mao, apologists of communism, and those who vilify the USA at every opportunity hang their heads in shame.

Which is probably why, amongst such people (and unfortunately many others), it is generally known as The Forgotten War. Not so in South Korea.

Share