Johnny The Greek is a stand-up comic, one of the original Ha-Ha Holers, and hardcore comedy enthusiast. We have a good talk about his background, Greek heritage and family. We talk about music, movies and comedy. We talk a lot about stand up and the right kind of attitude to have if you’re going to take to the mic.Johnny also shares a Moment of Triumph and Memory of Regret. If you enjoy the show, tell a friend about it, and please leave a review on iTunes or whatever app you listen to podcasts on. I’d really appreciate it!
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Around 2007, a friend introduced me to this “new technique” called High Dynamic Range photography or HDR for short. He had just gotten into it and was making some truly epic images.one of my first few HDR images
We sat on the banks of the Taehwa River in Ulsan South Korea, looking at what is now my current home. He showed me how to bracket the images and then edit them with this program called “photomatix” and from then on I was hooked.
HDR also increased in popularity soon after. Propelling photographers like Trey Ratcliff to stardom. His free HDR guide was hugely popular and so was the rest of his Stuck in Customs site. His HDR images even hang in the Smithsonian. With the rise in popularity also came legions of haters.So why do so many people hate this style of photography?In The Beginning…
Not all people were as good as Trey and so not all HDR images were well… good. When photo sharing sites like Flickr were in their hayday, a lot of people were exposed to very bad photography and it was easy to pick out the HDR shots. Just look at mine below. NASTY!one of the worst images that I have made with HDR
With any trendy style of photography, from faded instagram photos to all the way back to selective colour shots of your cousin’s wedding, people go nuts for new trends. With the emergence of photo-sharing sites back then we were witness to a lot of HDR experiments. It was the trend.I was hoping HDR would have saved a failed shot
From murky skies to images that looked like unicorn vomit, HDR shooters changed the way we look at photography (or made us wish we didn’t look, in some cases). This also also opened up a world of toxic articles and comments.Toxicity
After shooting for so long I have pretty much seen it all. There’s the film shooter who believes that shooting expired rolls of film documenting homeless people makes him a superior photographer. The studio photographer who masks out every blemish and wrinkle from his model but comments about a landscape photographer’s work as being “over-processed” and unrealistic. Childish insults are often thrown at people’s hard work and passion.it doesn’t have all be clown vomit
Articles from popular websites like this one casting shade on photographic styles that they don’t like. Note the part about HDR where the author states “When I look at most HDR photos, I sometimes wish that HDR was never invented in the first place. HDR is a great technology, but people overuse and over-abuse it too often. Sadly, most HDR photographs appear plain ugly, with photographers trying to pull something special from a failed photo” . That particular article was written in 2014 and those snobbish ideas still are around today. The sad part is that too many photographers carry that air of superiority. A bad photo is a bad photo, but as soon as you mention HDR, people start sticking their noses up in the air.A common opinion from 2014 still lingering around in 2019. Source: Photography Life https://photographylife.com/top-photography-sins-and-mistakes-to-avoid
The problem is that nobody is really seeking to teach or to help. They are simply either writing the articles for clicks or (even worse) simply doing it to put another photographer down. This is something that I am keenly sensitive with as I have faced it a lot with my own career. There are just too many snotty holier-than-thou photographers out there for my liking.Challenging scenes can be handled with skillful HDR editing
The point being is that you can hate people’s work. That is fine. There are many terrible photographers out there. However, you don’t have to be a jerk and unless you are an award-winning photographer (the local photo club annual MVP award doesn’t count). Even if you are Trey Ratcliff or and Elia Locardi, then you are in a better position to be a better guide or teacher without being a jerk.
The thing is that we are all capable taking terrible photos. Even our best photos will not resonate with everyone. The people hating on HDR or any other form of photography? They are just your average photographer, in most cases. Nothing more. So keep that in mind. We are all no better than the next photographer.Give It Up
This toxic drivel is nothing new. When I was university, photoshop was a taboo word. It was just starting to emerge and this was long before digital photography became affordable to the public. My professor’s went on and on about the meaning of what they called “real photography” and how a photoshopped image was not to be called a “photograph” but an “image” because it was edited in a computer program. That was close to 20 years ago and I hear the same arguments about HDR photography.
There are those subtle insults as well. I am sure that you have seen them where the commenter is giving a compliment where they say “you can’t even tell that this is HDR!” Which is meant as a compliment but is in reality a subtle put down because it implies that using HDR is a negative thing.You can still have a bit of fun. Don’t anyone tell you how to make your images.
Basically, I feel that we should all just give up on the finger pointing and move on. Sure, you can snicker about the latest hyper-saturated monstrosity that a colleague has shared, quietly at home but just keep in mind that there is somebody rolling their eyes at you everytime you talk about your love of film photography and black and white street signs.
The final thing is that you have to realize that hating on HDR or those who like it, is nothing new. It is not clever or funny any more than your Dad calling you a hippie when you don’t put your hair up in a man-bun. It’s that outdated cringe worthy put-down that deserves to be laid to rest.
The bottomline here is that we need to just focus on our own photography and forget what everyone else is doing. If you don’t like someone’s photo, don’t comment. Nobody is going to hire you because you called out that guy one time on a random post on petapixel’s facebook page.
With the recent advancements in photo editing and programs such as Aurora HDR 2019, I think that the says of the murk grungy HDR are long gone. So should the insults.
That original essay explored why the US will have to make concessions to North Korea if it wants a nuclear deal. The North Koreans aren’t stupid, and CVID is tantamount to unilateral disarmament for nothing. So if we really want them to give up at least some of the nukes and missiles – they won’t give up all – then we have to give them something of commensurate value. That seems pretty obvious at this point, no matter how much official Washington won’t even discuss counter-concessions.
I see two things we can give them: a) a boatload of money, or b) the retrenchment of US strategic assets from South Korea. Or we can give them nothing and try to adapt to a nuclear North Korea. I would rank these choices as: buy them (bad); live with nuclear missilized NK, ie, accept the new status quo (worse); swap them for a tangible US regional strategic assets like bases or airwings (worst).
So this essay argues why buying out as much of their program as we can is better than nothing or giving up local assets. The last is a particularly terrible idea, because once we leave, we’ll never come back. That’s what happened after the US left the Philippines in the 1980s. Even if we said we could flow back into Korea easily, the actual removal of US hard, tangible assets, like the bases in the pic above, would basically be decoupling/abandonment in all but name. It would dramatically soften the alliance.
So, for as ugly as it sounds to pay them off like its blackmail – and the Kims are nothing if not gangsters – that strikes me as better than the two alternatives.
The full essay follows the jump:
In this space in the last few weeks, I have discussed what, if any, concessions the United States might make to North Korea to achieve at least some denuclearization of that country. Since US President Donald Trump began engaging North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un in negotiations early last year, US offers have been consistently one-sided.
The US has repeatedly demanded the North’s complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament (CVID) – an extraordinary demand tantamount to unilateral disarmament. In exchange, the US has offered vague future benefits – security guarantees, aid promises, modernization assistance, a peace treaty, diplomatic normalization, and so on. This swap is lop-sided in that it expects a huge upfront concession from the North – CVID – in exchange for nothing immediately tangible. Worse, the history of US behavior toward rogue states akin to North Korea – particularly toward Libya and Iran – suggests that the US will not keep its promises. The North will not take this trade, interpreting it as CVID for nothing. It would be great if we could get this, of course, but it will not happen.
Given the political resistance in Washington to ‘negotiating with terrorists’ and ‘appeasement,’ the US has produced no better offer over time. Nor has Trump used the presidential bully pulpit to sell a painful, and therefor serious, concession to North Korea to a hesitant Congress and public. The path of least resistance has been to simply repeat US CVID-for-nothing demands again and again. And so we have. But as the North will not accept such an obviously unbalanced deal, the talks stagnate and nothing changes. Although to be fair, North Korea’s offers have been similarly one-sided in its favor.
Instead, if the US really wants a deal with North Korea, its strikes me that it has two options: offer the North money – a lot – in a cash-for-nukes deal akin to the much-derided Iran deal, or give away US strategic assets in the region – such as troops or aircraft – in a ‘counterforce’ swap. If we cannot stomach either of these, then we just have to adapt to the new Korean status quo of a nuclear missilized North. I would rank our options thusly: 1) buy the weapons (bad), 2) adapt/learn to live with the new status quo (worse), 3) trade away tangible US regional strategic assets (worst).
All these options are poor of course, which is precisely why the North built these weapons, and why Washington’s default response is to pound the table and keep demanding CVID for nothing. But this is fantasy. The Kims are not stupid. Throwing money at Pyongyang has obvious downsides: it is a direct subsidy; the Kim court will absorb it all as funding for its gangster lifestyle; it will launder other, ill-gotten monies. But surrendering actual physical US assets in the region – soldier, hardware, bases – is even worse, and worse than adapting.
Conceding strategic assets is tantamount to the partial abandonment of South Korea and, perhaps, Japan, or the ‘de-coupling’ of the alliances. It has long been assumed that this was a major goal of the North’s nukes, as well as a central reason Beijing never tried harder to stop them. China would also benefit from a US retrenchment from the region. Gambling for that, apparently, is worth the risk in Beijing of an unpredictable ‘frenemy’ like North Korea nuclearizing.
Money is an easier concession, because it is easily replaceable (the South Korean, Japanese, and the US economies are wealthy); it is not political weighted; it does not require complicated logistical or physical structures. It can simply be given to the North while everything else about the US position in East Asia stays the same. This is why it was an appealing choice for the Iran deal too. The politics are a lot easier.
Strategic concessions though have far greater externalities. US assets in region represent the US commitment to East Asian security in a direct, tangible way, giving weight and obviousness to otherwise rhetorical US commitments. And removing them is far more costly than simply packing some units onto a plane and ‘sending the boys back home.’ Trump in his ignorance often talks is if it were that easy, and therefore easy to reverse.
It is not. Anything the US has in East Asia which is substantial enough to swap for North Korea nukes is also large and complex enough to have required years or decades of customization to install. The legacy costs here are huge. US bases in Korea, and Japan, represent elaborate, long-refined compromises between the hosts and the US. Local communities have to be placated and helped in their adjustment to US assets. Land must be bought or rented. Environmental and zoning codes must be followed. Elaborate security must be installed. Complicated legal arrangements – such as the Status of Forces Agreement or Special Measures Agreement – must be struck. Arranging for the use of ground or airspace for exercising is often deeply complicated.
The list goes on, but an illustrative example is the US move to Camp Humphreys in South Korea. Just coming to fruition now, this project has been talked about and underway for decades. Similarly, the US withdrawal from the Clark and Subic bases in the Philippines in the 1980s demonstrates just how hard it is to reverse a withdrawal once completed, as well withdrawal’s possible future costs. Were the US still deeply based in the Philippines, China would likely not be so aggressive in the neighboring South China Sea.
In short, once the US leaves South Korea or Japan, it will not come back. Local interests will re-assert themselves over any bases or facilities surrendered. Local communities will move on. Alliance proponents will have lost an immediate example of US commitment, while opponents will enjoy changed ‘facts on the ground.’
To my mind, these costs – irreversible, strategic, tangible – outweigh adjusting to nuclear deterrence with North Korea.Robert E Kelly
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
HoDdeok (꿀호떡) is a popular street food in Korea that’s cheap and tasty. It’s filled with nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon, wrapped in a dough ball and flattened on the pan.
Traditional HoDdeok can be messy and time consuming to make, so we made a quick and easy hoddeok recipe using sliced bread that you can make in five minutes.Ingredients
- Sliced bread
- Brown sugar
- Nuts (can be peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds…)
- Oil or butter for frying
You will also need a cup that is about the size of your bread. A cookie cutter isn’t ideal because we want to press two pieces together. The cutter will tend to cut the bread without fusing them together.Help support us. Scroll down for more content. Directions
- Combine the sugar, nuts and cinnamon and mix.
- Place two pieces of bread down. Press down the middle of one slice to make a pocket.
- Fill the ‘pocket’ with a spoon full of the mixture.
- Cover with the other slice of bread.
- Press down with the cup and either tear the excess bread or cut away.
- In a frying pan, heat and add oil or butter.
- Add pieces and flatten with a press, spatula or cup (something flat you can press with)
- Cook until golden-brown, flip and repeat
You can serve straight off the pan or drizzle honey or syrup to make them even sweeter.
Sure, it’s not the ‘authentic’ way of making HoDdeok sweet Korean pancakes, but it is a lot easier, quicker and perfect for a rainy day when you want something sweet and quick to make.
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President Moon tends to get much into movies. One of his top policies is to move away from nuclear power dependency for solar and wind energy. Moon deactivated a few nuke power plants earlier than planned, and scrapped plans to build more. Moon's expensive No Nuclear policy was formed after he watched Pandora which was about Chernobyl type nuclear disaster movie. Better buy Pfizer or Roche stocks now as Moon might force every Korean to take antiparasitic pills everyday after watching the Palme d'Or movie.
This is a local re-print of an essay I published at The National Interest a few weeks ago.
The basic idea is that a unified Korea, even one unified under Southern leadership, has much stronger incentives to keep the North’s nukes than most people seem to think.
Generally, everyone seems to think that a UROK (united Republic of Korea) will give up its weapons to the American or, maybe, the Chinese. Or maybe destroy them. But keeping them would be a great way to keep a UROK out of the looming great power contention in northeast Asia between the US, China, Japan, and Russia.
If you are tiny Korea – the shrimp among whales – you want to stay out of the way when these big boys fight. That will be tough given Korea’s geography right in the middle, but nukes would be a really great way nonetheless to insist.
Also, nukes are a great way to defend sovereignty generally against all interlopers, even if there is no regional hot war. Even after France became friends with Germany after WWII, it still built nukes to make sure Germany never invaded it again. A UROK would almost certainly think the same way about its neighbors given their history kicking Korea around and manipulating it.
I am not sure. A UROK still allied to the US would come under a lot of pressure to denuclearize. But the probability of retention is way higher than most people think.
The full essay is after the break.
One of the many hopes raised by the recent détente efforts of South Korean President Moon Jae In and US President Donald Trump is the political confederation if not eventual unification of the two Koreas.
While full-blown unification is a pro forma goal of both Korean polities, many lesser steps and stages have been considered over the years. Frequently a confederation of some kind is mooted. This covering institution would follow China’s ostensible approach to Hong Kong and Taiwan – one country, two systems. In a ‘Greater Koryo Confederation,’ the North and South would retain their own internal political system but try to approach international affairs jointly as well as share resources. Over time, integration would increase, eventually leading to unity as suspicions between the two sides faded away.
This is very much the thinking of the South Korean left, from which Moon has come. The South Korean right still holds to the ‘Germany model’ – North Korea collapses of its own dysfunctions and/or external pressure and is simply absorbed into a greater Republic of Korea (South).
But either model now faces a new wrinkle – the future disposition of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. It should be pretty clear at this point that North Korea will not give up many of its nuclear weapons or missiles. They may give up some, in exchange for large American counter-concessions, but complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament (CVID) is a fantasy. North Korea is a nuclear weapons state whether we want to accept that or not.
Hence if unification, or some softer confederal solution occurs, what would happen to North Korea’s nuclear weapons? In the West at least, there seems to be a vague, albeit widespread, sense that a unified Korea would not need such weapons, and that they would be destroyed or surrendered – variously to China, America, or some other third party. I hear this all the time on the conference circuit here in South Korea.
This is likely if the South Korean right gets its way. The South Korean right likes the US alliance, worries about China (Chinese naval encroachments in the Yellow Sea are a major issue for the South Korean navy now), and wants better relations with Japan. In its favored scenario, North Korea implodes and is absorbed, much like East Germany, and the larger, but otherwise unchanged Republic of Korea (South), stays where it is geopolitically, just as the enlarged, post-unification Federal Republic of Germany (West) did.
For the left here though, regional geopolitics is a much more mixed bag. North Korea is not, in this perspective, an enemy or opponent, but a fellow Korean state which has lost its way. The answer to inter-Korean tension is therefore not war-threats, sanctions, and confrontation, but brotherly outreach and assistance. On Japan, the opposite is true; the South Korean left is unremittingly hostile for historical and nationalist reasons. That Japan is a liberal democracy and North Korea an orwellian monarchy are passing regime type concerns which do not cut to real, historical-cultural issues driving the South Korean left’s alignment choices.
The left here is also much more skeptical of the US-Korea alliance. The last two left-liberal presidents before Moon openly tangled with the US over North Korea in ways their conservative predecessors never had. Today the left here largely blames the sanctions regime – demanded by the Americans – for halting inter-Korean détente. Anti-Americanism on the South Korean left has been an occasionally political force. Finally, the Southern left is far more comfortable with China than the right. Where the South Korean right would align with the US, and somewhat with Japan, in the looming Sino-US competition in Asia, the left would not. It would likely seek a neutralist position.
Earlier this year, I argued that South Koreans care less about denuclearization than the US for these reasons: “Given that the South Korean left does not see North Korea as an enemy, but harbors deep animosity for Japan and American intervention in South Korea life, a nuclearized, unified Korea would be an ideal foundation from which to pursue a neutralist, non-aligned, post-unification foreign policy.”
An old Korean proverb has it that Korea is a ‘shrimp among whales.’ For a small state surrounded by larger ones – China, Japan, Russia, and the US – possibly stumbling their way into a major confrontation, holding onto nukes is actually not a bad idea. Like Switzerland – marooned for centuries in the middle of raging great power conflicts – a unified Korea might well choose a heavily armed neutralism. Such a non-aligned or finlandization strategy would help avoid a repeat of Korea’s late 19th century fate. Then, this small state in the middle of much larger competitive ones got was manipulated by them in a ‘great game.’ Korea was sucked into this regional competition even though it did not want to be. It eventually lost its sovereignty to imperial Japan and was next riven by the Cold War.
Nuclear weapons, coupled with today’s powerful, capable, Korean militaries, would permanently vouchsafe this unhappy possibility – much as France sought nuclear weapons in part to assure that Germany would never invade it again. Once Korean unification is achieved, why align with the various regional whales as they crash into each other, possibly sparking a major regional conflict? Korea’s geography would, as before, make it difficult to avoid getting sucked into a four-party conflict – China, the US, Russia, Japan – but nuclear weapons would make easier. The temptation to keep them – as tool to push back on Korea’s difficult political geography – will be high.Robert E Kelly
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
So I have been a little preachy in these last few posts, so I thought that I would get back to basics and just talk about one of the best times of the year here in South Korea and one that few travels really know about. I am talking about Buddha’s Birthday.
I was shocked that when I started posting my images, that there were a lot of people that were living in Korea that had limited knowledge about the event. With so many temples around Korea, I was a little put back by the messages that I received. I think many people just thought that the lanterns and elaborate decorations were limited to Jogyesa Temple in Seoul. Fortunately, they are not and many of the temples outside of Seoul have far better events and celebrations.TongdosaAt the entrance to Tongdosa
This year is a particularly sad year for this temple as one man’s impatience and road rage lead to 1 death, another person in critical condition and 11 people injured. It is very sad new as this day is supposed to be that of celebration and happiness.Walking up to Tongdosa
Tongdosa is always a place of quiet thought and long walks. Due to its size, tourists are generally spread out and never get too crowded with the exception of the main temple complex and in front of the museum.
In recent years, they have increased the number of lanterns along the path to the temple as well as added themed lanterns in the stream and path in front of the temple. This makes it slightly different from other temples as many focus more on the amount of personal lanterns as each of them contain a donation.Testing out my lensball that I rarely useBeomosaThis section of Beomosa always draws my eye.
Beomosa is always a great place to spend the evening. This year my wife and I spent the evening wandering around the grounds. Sadly, it was a little too cool in the night for my wife and I was a little too focussed on my work to notice. However, once I paused long enough to notice the world around me, we went straight back to the car and warmed up.You don’t often see what lanterns and these alway look so elegant to me.
Beomosa is a temple that I go to pretty much every year. It is calm as peaceful before the big day and you can really get a sense of calm when you are there.Over the temple grounds at Beomosa
The temple is also slowly being surrounded by nice cafes, so if you do go, you will find a place to sit within walking distance from the temple. However, I tend to usually go down to Route Coffee, my old haunt from when I taught at the university just down the road from there.One of my favourite walks at Beomosa BulguksaThe sunsets at Bulguksa temple in Gyeongju
This year I was pleasantly surprised with my time at Bulguksa. Upon entering the grounds and my hazy creative brain as well, I was great by none other than a group of some of Busan’s finest photographers.As the festival starts
These guys are members of the Busan Lightstalkers group who happened to be returning from an epic camping trip and decided to stop in at the temple on their way home. They caught me mid-creative fog which was mildly hilarious as I am sure that there is now photographic evidence of their odd state that I go into.Blue hour at Bulguksa is amazing
At any rate, the temple was amazing. Not the millions of lanterns that Samgwangsa has, but just a wonderful assortment of lanterns and decorations in a UNESCO recognized temple.Under the lanterns
The evening ended with a lantern parade around the temple. By this time my batter had died in my camera and sadly I did not think to bring a backup. Typically, I have 2 fresh batteries in my bag and like an idiot I had left them either in the charger or next to it.shot and edited entirely on an iPhone using Flixel’s Blendeo app
Thankfully, I had my phone and I snapped a few long exposures using Flixel’s Blendeo app. This made for a nice effect with the flow of the lanterns in the parade.Haedong YeonggunsaThe standard Haedong Yeonggunsa shot
I have been wanting to go to Haedong Yeonggunsa for a while now. I really wanted to get a drone shot of the temple from the water. I felt that this would be the perfect time to do so. The lanterns add so much to the colour and contrast in the image.Just before the lights went out
Sadly, this visit was cut short due to the fact that the temple closed up early as they do, before the big day. Haedong Yeonggunsa also has a particular advantage when it comes to actually closing as it is one of only a few temples that has bridge leading to a single door.Haedong Yeonggunsa Buddha’s Birthday 2019
Most temples as you can see are quite open meaning that they usually have a larger main gate for vehicle traffic and whatnot but that usually doesn’t stop too many people from wandering in. Here, the bridge leads to a single entry point which was locked by the time I finished shooting outside.Overlooking Haedong Yeonggunsa
The also gave a huge warning by turning off all the lights momentarily. The photographers around me were none too happy about that. For me, it just happens and you have to deal with it. After all, the event is for Buddha and his worshippers, not for photographers and tourists.Temple pagoda with shrine to drivers
I hope that you enjoyed these images. This is really my favourite time of the year in Korea and one that I fondly remember from when I first got started into photography. If you have and questions about the locations or editing process either drop me a line here or send me an email.
Also if you are coming to Korea and would like me to show you some of these places, let me know. If you get in contact, I can make arrangements and take you around as I am slowly starting to do more photo tour here in Korea.
This is a re-post of an essay I wrote for The National Interest a week ago.
Basically my argument is that even if you are a hawk on China and see it as an emerging competitor or even threat to the US, the clash of civilizations framework is a weak analytical model by which to understand Sino-US tension.
The big problem is that Huntington builds his civilizations everywhere else in the world around religion, but in East Asia he can’t, because that would make China and Japan – who are intense competitors – allies in a Confucian civilization. Making Japan and China allies would be ridiculous, so Huntington can’t use Confucianism as a civilization, even thought that so obviously fits his model for East Asia. Hence, Huntington falls back on national labels, identifying separate ‘Sinic’ and ‘Nipponic’ civilizations. This ad hoc prop-up of the theory undercuts Huntington’s whole point of arguing that national distinctions are giving way to civilizational ones and that therefore we should think of future conflicts as between civilizations, not nation-states. Well, apparently East Asia didn’t make that shift; conflict here is still nationalized. So
There are other issues I bring up as well, but that’s the main problem. Please read the essay after the jump…
Kiron Skinner, the Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department, ignited a controversy last week when she analogized Sino-US competition to a clash of civilizations. There has been a good deal of pushback from international relations academics (here, here). Many noted that Samuel Huntington’s famous thesis (article, book) has not actually been born out much. There have not in fact been wars since his writing that have been as epochal as the ‘civilizational’ label would suggest. And Skinner’s particular comment that China will be America’s first “great power competitor that is not Caucasian” sparked a lot of extra controversy that ‘civilization’ was being use as rhetorical cover for the Trump administration’s persistent flirtation with white nationalism.
But one problem in all this not yet pointed out is how poorly Huntington’s model actually fits the dynamics of conflict in East Asia. The argument got its greatest boost from the post-9/11 war on terrorism. There, religious conservatives – on both sides ironically – saw the conflict as much as a millennial clash between Islam and Christianity, as between the US and rather small, if radical, terrorist networks. Huntington’s book was even re-issued with a cover depicting a collision between Islam and the US. But in East Asia, the thesis really struggles.
The central variable defining Huntington’s civilizations is religion. This is why the argument feels so intuitive for the war on terror, where religion is a powerful, obvious undercurrent. But in East Asia, religious conflict was never as sharp as in the West, Middle East, and South Asia. Nor did religion define polities in East Asia as sharply. Confucianism and Buddhism were obviously socially influential, but they generated nothing like the wars of the Reformation or the jihads of early Islam.
So while much of the world is coded by Huntington via religion, he struggles to use that in East Asia. Instead, he falls back on nationality mostly – coding China, the Koreas, and Vietnam as ‘Sinic’ and Japan as ‘Nipponic.’ He also suggested a Buddhist civilization in southeast Asia, as well as Mongolia and Sri Lanka.
All this is analytically pretty messy, however interesting. First, the most obvious benchmark for Huntington to use in East Asia, since he focuses on the world’s major religions elsewhere, is Confucianism. Whether coded as a social philosophy or religion, there is little doubt that Confucius’ writings had a huge impact on China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. But if Huntington had done the obvious and tagged a Confucian civilization including these four players, he would have made the laughably inaccurate argument that those states are natural, i.e., cultural/religious/civilizational, allies.
In reality of course, there is a lot of traditional national interest-style conflict – the kind Huntington says has been replaced by civilizational bloc-building – in the Confucian space. China and Japan are obvious competitors, and the East China Sea is a serious potential hot-spot now. The Koreas are still very far apart ideologically, and neither feels much affective affinity for China or Japan. And China and Vietnam also sliding toward competition in the South China Sea.
So Huntington is stuck; his model does not work in northeast Asia. So to save it, he carves out Japan as a separate civilization defined by nationality, not religion, with little explanation. He then lumps the Koreas and Vietnam under a Chinese-nationality defined ‘Sinic’ civilization, which, in my teaching experience, Korean and Vietnamese readers find either typical American ignorance or vaguely offensive.
The Buddhist civilization of southeast Asia struggles analytically too. Do Mongolia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka have enough in common to bin together? Why isn’t South Korea, where Buddhism was long influential and still very much alive, put into this civilization? Do these states communicate or cooperate with each other in any way that much reasonably defined as ‘buddhistic’? The answer is almost certainly that Huntington did not know or really care that much – likely as he did not know what to do with non-Arab Africa, so he just labels it all one ‘African’ civilization and moves on.
The thesis was really designed to explain the collisions in southeastern Europe (the Balkan wars of the 1990s) and the Middle East between Muslim-majority states and their neighbors, and this is where it continues to be most persuasive when taught. In east Asia though, it falls down pretty quickly. The units of analysis (civilizations) are not constructed in that region around the variable (religion) which Huntington uses elsewhere, and the conflicts of the region have little to do with religion, because organized religion was not as influential in East Asia’s political past as it was elsewhere.
So if this is to be the Trump model for US foreign policy – and it certainly seems to be the administration’s preferred mode to address Islam – it will lead to bizarre predictions and behaviors. The ‘Confucians,’ Buddhists, and East Asian ‘non-Caucasians’ are not going to ally against the United States. China, for all its ‘Sinic’ cultural difference from the West is also, obviously, deeply influenced by Western political thought – most obviously Marxism-Leninism, and, today, capitalism.
We may well fall into a cold war with China; prospects for a benign, or at least transactional, Sino-US relationship are narrowing. But there is no need to over-read that competition as an epochal civilizational clash and thereby make it worse and more intractable. That kind of thinking applied to 9/11 lead to wild overreaction, as we read salafist-jihadist networks as a far greater threat than they were. If we do that with China, which really is very powerful, our competition with it will be that much sharper and irresolvable.Robert E Kelly
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
Skin on Sundays is a project created by Jessica Lakritz. Jessica makes physiopoetry, where she combines her own poetry with the physical canvas of the human body. We talk about her art, her life, the flat earth, anger management, herpes and how lucky we are for dogs. We discuss the excessive amount of dick pics Jessica receives in her DMs, and the environment women endure online. She also reads a poem from her book, Seasons of Yourself.Jessica shares a very sincere and personal Memory of Regret, and I share a very light and kinda yucky one. You can see and learn more about Skin on Sundays at the website, skinonsundays.com and Instagram.com/skinonsundays/ If you enjoy the show, please recommend it to a friend, leave a review on iTunes or whatever app you listen to podcasts on – and remember I love ya.
Most of us thinking about laser vision correction surgery are worried about safety and success rate.
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So where does the safety start?
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Fifteen years. It’s a long time. Fifteen years ago, I was fired from a telephone survey job I had held onto out of laziness and fear of jumping into my eventual journalism career, despite having graduated the year before with an English degree, with experience under my belt and knowing that sitting in a drab, windowless, soulless call center in four-and-eight-hour shifts was no way to spend my early 20s. The following month I would work at a neighborhood park, sweating buckets as I pulled weeds and laid mulch until I finally stopped listening to the voice in my head saying no one would possibly hire me to be a reporter and applied, and became, a reporter. What a difference 15 years makes.
Fifteen years is also the collective amount of time my girlfriend and I lived and worked in and around Busan, South Korea. For the final two of my six years, I was the foreign editor for Busan’s English-language newspaper, Dynamic Busan. Jen taught English for the entirety of her nine years. We left that life behind on March 4th. After traveling through Vietnam, Britain and Iceland, we touched down at Newark Liberty International Airport on April 5th.
Growing up in New Jersey, I never thought much about some of the Garden State’s curiouser curiosities such as jughandles, pork roll and its infamous law banning people from pumping their own gas. But, Jen–born in Indiana and a resident of the suburbs outside of St. Louis, Missouri, since she was nine–certainly did. Likewise, I am finding Missouri’s double-lane turns, booze in the convenience stores, tenderloin sandwiches and “midwestern goodbyes” that can stretch beyond an hour things that I did not experience until the first time I visited her family home. Despite both of us having lived and traveled through Canada, South Korea, Japan, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Guatemala, Italy, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, France, Britain, Switzerland and Iceland, we’re both still surprised by things the others took for granted their entire lives.Although, neither of us were surprised by the “photo zone” in the Korean spa in Edison, NJ.
America is a big place. There is a lot neither of us has experienced in our own home country. That’s about to change when, on May 15, we set off from Jen’s family home in St. Charles, MO, for parts known and unknown, to see friends, family and places we’ve only seen on television, in magazines, on the internet and in our imaginations. To Indiana, Ohio, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas and then, finally, back to Missouri.
We’re going on an American journey. We hope you’ll join us.
An ongoing list of posted and upcoming entries:
* Two Plumbers Brewery & Arcade (St. Charles, MO)
* Hermann, MO, wine country (Hermann, MO)
* Beer Sauce (St. Peters, MO)
* the Iron Fork food festival and competition at the City Museum (St. Louis, MO)
JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.
It was Earth Day a little while ago and while I am no environmentalist, I do have a strong background in the outdoors which basically means that I used to spend a lot of time outside. I was an avid hiker to the point where one of my degrees is in Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism. This love for the outdoors is also why I got into landscape photography.
However, a recent Facebook post by Sean Bagshaw of Outdoor Exposure Photography where he shared a post from David Cobb that talks about the complicated subject of sharing locations got me thinking about this issue. While I love the idea of finding a new place to shoot after seeing what happened to a very beautiful spot in Gyeongju, I have second thoughts.
In his post, David grapples with the idea about sharing locations and the damage that we inflict on these natural spots. He mentioned about “feeling guilty for not sharing [the locations]” and that is something that I feel too. I often felt that by sharing my locations, that I was doing the photographic community a favour. That being said, I now feel part of the problem.
In an article by the New York Times, they explain in detail some of the issues of geotagging pictures. It’s not just flowers and grass that is in danger but wildlife as well. Poachers are using the geotagged images to locate Rhinos and kill them.DaereungwonOctober 2017 – Got Kicked off the grass this time
If you are wondering how all of this ties into a park in Gyeongju, South Korea then you have to take a look at the above image. The trees and the surrounding royal tombs are now the main attraction of the Daereungwon Park. This is a beautiful and unique place is the final resting place for the Kings and Queens of the Silla Dynasty. Of the 23 burial mounds, the tree between these two mounds is the most popular to instagrammers.Fall 2018
It used to be a secret location that you could only get to at certain times of the year. They had staff to kick you out, if you were caught on the grass. Now, it is THE spot for instagram shots. In recent years, line ups have been forming during the spring and fall particularly on the weekends.
These are royal tombs are of particular importance to the nation. What was once manicured grass is now brown, dead and dusty along the ever-widening path to the Selfie Spot” as I will call it. The dusty path and the obvious impact does not stop people from lining up to take their picture in front of the trees.May 2019 – The affected area (dead grass) has expanded quite a bit in just a few months.
Now, before you start casting shade on instagramers, I have seen lots of photographers here as well. Actually during sunset, it is the photographers that outnumber the couples. So many came during the blossom season that some chose to bring a ladder to shoot overtop of the crowds.
I also think that the numerous shots of the lone tree are what brought so many people here. This is/was a go-to spot for many photographers coming to Gyeongju. However, the growing crowds brought in by the popularity of the surrounding cafes are causing a massive impact.To Share or Not To Share
So the big question big question is if it is still ok to share your location or not. I have often felt that photographers who did not share the locations of their photos were protecting their images in some selfish way. I felt that it was just petty. However, thinking about this again, I can see that it maybe better to NOT to share the location for reasons of simply protecting the site, not necessarily the image.Spring 2019
While it is good for SEO to hashtag the location and add the location/GPS data to the image before you upload, when you look at the popularity of some sites, you can easily see the impact that it has on the environment.
In just a few short years, the trees in Daereungwon went from a location only local photographers knew about to an “it place” for instagram shots. Now, this place is not too hard to find but for other areas, you can only image the level of impact large amounts of photographers can have.
Expanding this out to protected lands and eco-sensitive areas, you can see that this is becoming a serious issue. These areas have been protected for years and can’t handle the hordes of influencers coming into take pictures and hold bottles of essential oils up to their faces or middle-aged semi-pro photographers humping in more gear than an Everest expedition to use a single lens to get the same shot as everyone else.What Can You Do?
A pet peeve of mine are articles that simply point out the bad things people do and then leave it at that. It’s easy to complain about people but more difficult to figure out a possible solution. It’s like the guy that tells you that your photo sucks but then has a difficult time explaining how you could make it better. I don’t want to be that guy.
The best thing in my mind is to stay on the path and stick to the designated areas. Much of the wear and tear in places like this comes from people venturing off the designated paths to get their shots or worse lining up for them. Parks officials and staff are trained to monitor and handle wear and tear in these areas and that is why they build boardwalks and paths to keep the damage to a central location. However, they can’t always monitor areas in remote parts of National Parks. So please practice Leave No Trace photography in these cases.
If you feel that you are not getting close enough, I am pretty sure there is a lens out there than can help. Either rent one or buy one, it is that simple. Just don’t start romping through places that you know you shouldn’t just to get a shot for instagram.
Education, I feel is the next step. As we all seem to be online and a part of photography clubs and groups, start telling fellow photographers to be careful in sensitive areas. If you run workshops or classes, don’t take people to these spot or do so in a way that doesn’t harm the natural landscape.
You could even go so far as to start publicly shaming them on Instagram as one guy does in the states but I feel that is going a bit too far. The account PUBLICLANDSHATEYOU is an extreme example of a person fed up with the destruction caused by photographers trampling the natural landscape to get shots. He particularly targets influencers on his account but nobody is safe, not even drone users.
The bottom line here is that we need to protect the areas that we love to photograph. Sometimes, it means not actually photographing them at all. I am not going to tell you that I have never gone to a location that I have seen on instagram because I wanted to get the shot. However, what I am going to be more careful about is geotagging the areas that I feel are ecologically sensitive.
Sometimes we just have to appreciate the images that we see and that is it. While I do think that we all can benefit from sharing and exchanging locations, tips and tricks, we should also help to protect the places that we go as well.
Danny KesslerYoungsan University My Videos - With Korean subtitleshttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCn7-2T6qtGlNmWpGA_maDeQ My BooksTravel: A Korean's Guide to America Angels with Attitude: The Socially Intelligent Woman's Guide To Personal Safety My Websites:
Dennis Feeheley - Travelin Man Safety Tips BeFM
This is a re-post of an essay I wrote a few weeks ago for the Lowy Institute. I am also happy to say that I was translated into Japanese, here.
So everyone knows that South Korea and Japan are having another spat – this time over compensation of Korean forced labor during the Imperial period. Korean courts have opened the door for lawsuits, while Japan continues to insist that all such claims were resolved at the time of normalization treaty. Korean officials I’ve talked with tell me that there is nothing the government can do. This is coming from the courts. I find that highly unlikely given the extreme presidentialization of the South Korean constitutional order and regular POTROK flouting of checks-and-balances.
But my concern here is that the South Korean push on Japan on yet another issue will not lead to pushback. Trump doesn’t care about this stuff. He’s racist, dislikes allies, and gets most animated when telling them to pay more. SK conservatives, who have traditionally slowed the march to a precipice with Japan, are out of power. And Abe is burned out on this issue (‘Korea fatigue’).
So if the South Korean left genuinely wants a breach with Japan, and a slide into a cold war over Dokdo/Takeshima, Sea of Japan/East Sea, comfort women, labor reparations, and so on, then they’ll get it this time. This is very worrisome, but also a ‘useful’ social science natural experiment moment: we will learn just how far the South Korean left is willing to go on Japan, because the traditional brakes are not there this time.
The full essay follows the jump…
Relations between South Korea and Japan are spiraling downward – again. This is a depressingly regular event. Every few years, these neighbors slide into a serious spat, driven usually by disputes over historical interpretation – the record of Japan’s colonialism in Korea from 1910 to 1945 – or territory – Dokdo to Korea, Takeshima to Japan, and the Liancourt Rocks to the rest of us. It often gets pretty nasty pretty fast, as this one is becoming too.
The commentary on this topic has been enormous (start here). Western analysts particularly tend to be flummoxed that South Korea exerts so much effort on this question, despite living flush against three dictatorships (North Korea, China, and Russia). Much international relations theory – balance of threat realism and democratic peace theory particularly – suggest that these two states should cooperate far more. But the South Koreans are simply not interested: anti-Japanism is a core nationalist narrative here. Japan has increasingly responded in kind.
There is no need to go over all these details again (my own thinking is here). This time the fight is over wartime compensation for Korean forced labor in wartime Japan (here is the movie version which pretty well captures the South Korean national attitude on this issue). The Korean side is now threatening to even expropriate Japanese corporate assets in South Korea to pay these claims.
The morality of this South Korean claim is arguable, but suffice to say that Japan will not accept these claims. It is threatening to respond, starting with tariffs on Korean products and restricting market access, and likely threatening to block any later South Korean accession to the CPTPP.
My concern here however is the lack of the usual brakes on these spirals, specifically the American administration and South Korean conservatives.
Trump Won’t Bother
The primary brake on these disputes has traditionally been the Americans. Indeed, the Americans have often been the informal umpire of this dispute, particularly for the South Korean side. South Koreans and Korean-Americans have made a concerted effort to ‘win’ American opinion to their cause on Japan by erecting comfort women statues in the United States, lobbying to change the name of the Sea of Japan to the East Sea in US textbooks and maps, and bringing the issue up directly in bilateral talks with the Americans. Many South Koreans over the years here have told me that the US should push Japan much harder on these questions.
The Japanese initially sought to ignore this, but the South Korean effort has been successful enough, that Japan now routinely protest these changes.
The American government’s position is officially neutrality, but increasingly that is difficult. The US has been forced to intervene repeatedly. President Barack Obama explicitly met with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to bridge a split three years ago. US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asked current South Korean President Moon Jae-In this year on his visit to Washington to avoid breach with Japan.
But with Donald Trump now in the presidency, it is unclear if he is willing to do the same. Trump is famously disdainful of US allies. His primary interest in Japan has been trade tariffs, car imports, and getting nominated for a Nobel Prize. His primary interest in South Korea has been demanding increased payment for US security guarantees. He has been burned in dealing Korea to date over the Northern nuclear program. Trump is also a racist. It is unlikely that he cares much if America’s Asian allies tear each other.
South Korea’s Conservatives are Out of Power
The other traditional constraint on deterioration is the presence of conservatives and national security hawks in South Korea’s government. The South Korean right has long shared a basic hawkish alignment preference for the US and Japan, in opposition to North Korea, the Soviet Union in the past, and China today.
In a curious reversal of traditional left-right political patterns, the South Korean right is the ‘internationalist’ bloc, while the South Korean left is the nationalist one. It is the South Korean left, for example, which has emphasized the common ‘Koreanness’ between North and South Korea and has sought various breakthroughs with Pyongyang over the decades. Conversely, it is the South Korean right which has emphasized an international ideological alignment of South Korea with other liberal, democratic and anti-communist states, most obviously the US and Japan.
It must also be said that many South Korean conservatives are descended from the founder fathers of South Korea, many of whom were collaborators with the Japanese empire. This remains a thorny issue of nationalist contention in South Korea.
Whatever the background issues, the point is that the South Korean right has often tried to maintain a basic working relationship with Japan and avoid an open breach over divisive, highly politicized historical issues. Former President Park, for example, sought to put to rest the comfort women dispute with a deal several years ago.
The South Korean left rejects this outreach and emphasizes, often with great militancy, Japan’s need to apologize continuously. The current leftist president has abandoned Park’s comfort women deal and has made no effort to head off the emerging legal battle of reparatory confiscations of Japanese corporate assets. The South Korean right has been left carping on the sidelines.
Thomas Friedman has long argued that US ties allow centrists in the Middle East to defeat their maximalists by insisting that Washington ties their hands. I believe the same is the case in South Korea and Japan. Maximalists on both sides – often NGOs and ‘citizens groups’ – would drive the relationship to the brink, but US pressure, often behind the scenes, acted as a critical brake. Centrist elites who lacked the courage to directly challenge maximalists could blame their restraint on the Americans.
This no longer operates and is particularly relevant for South Korea, as the forced labor compensation issue here is driving the current downswing. If this drive in South Korea picks up national momentum, the Moon government may not be able to stop it. Indeed, the Moon government may not want to, and Trump likely does not care enough to bother to intervene. We could be racing toward a real cliff here.
Japanese colleagues and friends have long asked me if the South Koreans actually want a breach, a genuinely competitive or cold war-like relationship with Japan. I have always thought that was not the case, and I still believe a majority of South Koreans want a better relationship – but they fear saying this publicly given intense nationalist emotions on this question. We may now found out just how far South Korea is willing to go. Its president is publicly aggressive on Japanese historical issues; a new historical issue – wartime labor – has just arisen and is sliding quickly into the standard nationalist framing of relations with Japan; the Japanese prime minister is a conservative exhausted with the Korea question; and the Trump administration is checked out on this issue. Yikes.Robert E Kelly
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
Jung Yoon Choi ( @standupjy ) is a stand-up comic, journalist, and sexual health educator based out of Seoul. We talk about the stand-up comedy scene that is just getting started in Korea. We talk about depression, being scared of the devil, the importance of sex education in Korea, being open about sexual abuse, lying and more!Jung Yoon doesn’t pull any punches, and things do get pretty heavy in this episode. Please pay attention to the content warning at the very start of the episode. If you enjoy the show, please recommend it to a friend, leave a review on iTunes or whatever app you listen to podcasts on – and remember I love ya.nrr-55.JPG70.49 KB
Hanoi Fallout (3): Moon Jae-In is Now Leading Détente with N Korea – and He Needs Clearer Domestic Political Support for It
This is a local re-post of an article I wrote for The National Interest a few weeks ago.
Basically, Moon Jae-In is now in charge of détente with North Korea. Trump is too checked out, too lazy, and too ill-informed to run this thing properly. Trump blew Hanoi because he got outwitted by his own staff (Bolton), because Trump doesn’t know anything about the issues, so he didn’t know how to push back on Bolton, or even realize he was being manipulated by him. So it’s up to Moon now.
But Moon lacks a national coalition in South Korea to push through a major change in relations with North Korea. South Korean conservatives are sliding into paranoid delusions that Moon is being manipulated by the North. The Liberty Korea Party is totally cut out of this process and furious. The big three newspapers in South Korea are all center-right, and all are skittish if not hostile to Moon’s initiatives.
Moon is running this from his left-liberal base, but it’s not big enough. He won with only 41% of the vote. If he does not get at least some conservative buy-in on a new relationship with North Korea, the right will destroy ‘Moonshine’ when it next re-takes the POTROK, just as it destroyed ‘Sunshine’ in 2008.
The full essay follows the jump:
One of the great ironies of the inter-Korean détente process of the last twenty-six months is the Americanization of it. South Korean President Moon Jae-In has met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un four times already. Moon has spent decades of his political life preparing for this effort. And the issues are most critical, of course, for the people who live on the Korean peninsula. Yet much of the debate has been dominated by US President Donald Trump’s erratic outreach to Kim.
This is both unfortunate and predictable. Unfortunate because it sidelines South Koreans from the most important policy issue facing their country. And predictable because of Trump’s capacious personality. Trump has a well-established tendency to make policy issues into personal psycho-dramas in which we are all spectators. As South Korea’s primary security partner, US engagement was always required, but under a more traditional president, the South Koreans likely would have led this more clearly. As it is, under Trump, the South Korean news services are often reduced to translating his tweets on the evening news and hosting panel discussions to divine them.
Moon has taken some criticism for this. There is a clear hankering on both left and right here to take control of this process. South Koreans are slowly grasping Trump’s mixed motives and poor knowledge of the actual issues of denuclearization here; there was much laughter when it was revealed that Trump strong-armed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe into nominating him for a Nobel Peace Prize for his Korean efforts.
Moon’s time has now come. The Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim this month collapsed. No one is quite sure what to make of it. There is much confusion, with hardliners on both sides jockeying with doves. North Korea gave that unique press conference to push back on Trump’s interpretation of Hanoi, while US National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seem to be sparing over how toughly to proceed.
This is an ideal chance for Moon to step up and reconcile all parties with a major initiative. But Moon faces growing challenges at home. His approval rating his slipped significantly, from over 80%, when he pushed back on Trump’s 2017 war threats, to around 45% now. Much of this is due to the economy. South Korean unemployment has recently spiked. But an element is also Moon’s continuing vagaries on North Korea coupled to grandiose rhetoric.
Moon has promised a revolution in inter-Korean affairs. The hype here has been enormous. I have seen books for Moon’s speeches about ‘a new era of peace’ available for purchase at gas stations even. Yet Moon has been disturbing short on specifics. This was understandable a year ago when détente was just beginning during the Olympics. But now, it is becoming harder and harder to determine what exactly Moon’s goals are and his strategy to get there. This would be less troublesome were it not for the soaring rhetoric, leading even to another bout of unification hype.
In practice, Moon’s primary initiatives seem to be re-opening inter-Korean economic projects – namely, tourism at Mt. Diamond and the inter-Korean export processing zone at Kaesong in North Korea – and rolling back international sanctions on the North. Both of these efforts are controversial. The site closures stem from issues still unresolved – a South Korean tourist was shot at Mt. Diamond, while the North habitually threatened Kaesong with arbitrary demands. No apology or acceptance of responsibility of the former event was ever given, nor is it clear that North Korean behavior on Kaesong will be any different than before.
The effort to rollback sanctions is even more debatable, given that they represent the collective will of the international community to punish North Korea for openly violating UN Security Council resolutions against its nuclear and missile programs. The South Korean left has long looked at global sanctions against the North as an ignorable foreign intrusion into Korean affairs. Moon’s constant pushing on the sanctions regime has riled allies and provoked domestic opposition.
And there is Moon’s real achilles’ heel. Moon has done little to groom and build domestic consensus inside South Korea for his outreach. South Korea is highly presidentialized. Moon has taken advantage of that to push his détente effort with little outreach to other stakeholders in South Korea. The legislature has complained that Moon has not shared information with them, and the conservative opposition party has been so cut out that the South Korean right now spawning conspiracy theories that Moon is a tool of Pyongyang. Moon has also insisted that his agreements with North Korea do not require formal legislative approval.
Proponents will argue that Moon has a unique window to push through change and should not dither, and that South Korean presidents routinely govern in this monarchic manner. The latter is indeed the case, but Moon is promising a revolution in politics which his similarly haughty predecessors did not. Dramatically changing relations with North Korea – to the point of renewed talk of unification – is not the same as ramming through yet another infrastructure white elephant. Moon’s initiatives – if successful – cut to the core of South Korean sovereignty. This is the reason for the very sharp response from South Korean conservatives.
Moon may indeed be right about his detente – but South Korea is a democracy. For political change of this scale, Moon needs public support and at least some buy-in from the right, which is now digging in its heels. Without it, Moon, who campaigned as a democrat opening closed South Korean politics, will be damned as yet another unaccountable president. And when the unsolicited, ignored conservatives returns to power, they will undue all of Moon’s effort. Moon can lead where Trump has failed, but he needs to rally a national consensus – reaching beyond just his coalition – to sustain an outreach of this magnitude.Robert E Kelly
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University