Rumors of War

8 06 2009

Apparently, it’s not enough for the nutjobs in this country to be causing trouble. We also have to do something about a few nutjobs in other countries, too. Did we desecrate a shrine, or something?

The “Dear Leader” of North Korea has been stamping his feet and holding his breath until he turns blue and generally throwing a massive temper tantrum because he hasn’t been getting much attention lately. To call this behavior childish is actually an insult to petulant children. Unfortunately, this particular brat is possibly just enough of an attention whore to be willing to kill several hundred thousand people if he doesn’t get his way.

A little history may be in order, here.

In 1953, after losing roughly a quarter million troops during the Korean War, the Great Leader (Kim Il Sung, still considered the President of North Korea despite being dead)  agreed upon a truce with the UN and South Korea. Note that this was not a peace treaty or any other instrument to end the war. The Norks refused to admit defeat, and the Chinese and Soviet governments were backing them up at the time, so the war is technically still going on- it’s just been on hiatus for the past half century or so. A so-called demilitarized zone (DMZ) was set up between North and South Korea, which rapidly became the world’s largest minefield as both sides fortified their side of the imaginary line.

South Korea worked very hard in the ensuing five decades and has emerged as a global economic and industrial powerhouse. The average citizen in South Korea is as free as his American allies, and often has better stuff. North Korea also worked very hard during this time, but mostly at preventing any of the population (except the ruling elite) from having contact with the rest of the world. The Norks also spent a lot of time and energy building up Kim Il Sung as a literal demigod, with fanciful tales of omens and portents and miracles. The economic pyramid in North Korea comes to a very sharp point, with the rulers and the military top brass (essentially interchangeable entities) living lives of utter extravagance while the bulk of the population basically starves to death.

The end result of North Korea’s adventure in Self-reliance (a philosophy they call Juche) is a nation that is heavily but poorly armed and completely dependent upon outside aid to keep their country from total collapse. Add in a ruler who spends enormous resources convincing the population that he is a deity made flesh, and the situation becomes even more ridiculous.

Under ordinary circumstances, the rest of the world would simply laugh at the idiots and let them run their country into the ground. Unfortunately, there is still (technically) a state of war between North Korea and the United Nations. The whackjobs running the country up North might possibly be aware of the fact that they would be viciously beaten if they started shooting again, so they’ve been cozying up to their big cousin China, in hopes that this will prevent any negative repercussions for their manifold stupidities. Just to make sure everyone got the idea that they weren’t to be trifled with, the Norks assembled several thousand artillery pieces and aimed them at Seoul- just about thirty miles south of the DMZ. If the balloon ever goes up on the Korean peninsula, the Norks have made it clear that Seoul will be destroyed- no matter what happens to the North.

As long as China is willing to put up with their antics, North Korea is generally immune from the consequences of their actions. The problem with that plan shows up when China realizes that their retarded cousin Nork is causing trouble for China’s business of conquering the rest of the planet economically. China would be extremely displeased if the Norks started a shooting war in China’s back yard, not just because of the inevitable increase in American military presence, but also because war is bad for business. Worse still (from China’s point of view), the destruction of North Korea would result in millions of North Korean refugees pouring across the border into China. China has therefore been publicly telling cousin Nork to STFU when adults are talking.

Sadly, it doesn’t appear that cousin Nork is listening. After their latest botched nuclear test, North Korea started lobbing missiles all over the place. This upset the South enough that they have signed on to a US effort to prevent North Korea from exporting missile and nuclear technology. The Dear Leader (Kim Jong Il- son of the late Kim Il Sung) or his designated mouthpiece immediately announced that North Korea would no longer abide by the Armistice ending active combat in the Korean War. The Norks have further stated that any action taken against North Korea would be considered an act of war.

Bear in mind the military realities of North Korea’s situation.  North Korea cannot conquer the South. In addition to a couple of brigades of US troops, the Norks would be facing several million South Korean soldiers fighting for their homes and families. South Korean soldiers are very tough, and they’re equipped with lots and lots of very good weapons and weapons platforms. The Norks have more troops, but they’re using old Soviet equipment. Military forces so equipped tend to fare very poorly against US-equipped militaries- despite numerical superiority. Their only hole cards are big cousin China and the fact that the Norks are literally holding a gun to the heads of the twenty million people in Seoul.

Since China is the big player in the game, an ideal solution to the problem would be for China to take care of the Dear Leader. China may very well be looking into this option, but we’d only find out after the fact. It is probably in China’s best interests to take action against North Korea, but they really like having cousin Nork as a buffer between the rabid capitalists in South Korea and China. The rest of the world doesn’t have a great deal of leverage in changing China’s policy in Korea- with one exception: Japan.

Everybody on the Pacific Rim has suffered heavily from Japanese military adventures. China has suffered more than most. Absolutely nobody wants to see a militarily-resurgent Rising Sun (including Japan). If cousin Nork can’t behave, and China is unable or unwilling to make him behave, Japan will have to build up their military out of sheer self defense. Japan could certainly afford to field an extremely powerful offensive military, completely changing the power balance in Asia. Among other things, Japan would almost certainly be willing to host a US missile defense system. This alone would be a major threat to Chinese national security, putting China’s strategic nuclear deterrent at risk.

One would hope that the US and Japan might use the threat of a Japanese military build-up to help sway China into taking action against cousin Nork. It isn’t much of a lever, but we aren’t trying to move the world- we’re just trying to move cousin Nork from his current position as “tolerable but retarded relative” to “active menace”. China really is the biggest player in Asia, and it would be in America’s best interest to take note of this fact. With China on board, the charlie-foxtrot on the Korean peninsula might be ended peacefully (more or less). If China refuses to rein in cousin Nork, it seems increasingly likely that the situation could spiral out of control. The resulting conflict would be bad news for everybody- including China.

Current status: Concerned

Current music: Minstrel in the Gallery by Jethro Tull

Odds and Ends

26 05 2009


Barefoot Bum brings up an interesting argument regarding capital punishment. Please go to his site and read it. I rarely agree with him on many issues, but he always makes me think.


From the articles I’ve read, and conversations with people reportedly knowledgeable on the subject, it looks like the World’s Biggest Ego has been attention-whoring again. For those of you not sure what I’m talking about, North Korea has supposedly tested a small nuclear device in an underground test. This was followed by launching several short-range missiles at nothing in particular. Baby is throwing a tantrum, and the usual suspects are making the usual statements. South Korea is understandably upset-especially the citizens of Seoul (all of whom live within artillery range of their northern neighbor with the monumentally unstable Leader), and demanding action. Japan is well within missile range of North Korea and- as the only country to have suffered nuclear bombardment- is also understandably miffed. The US is annoyed, has called for sanctions (again), and reiterated our pledge of defense for Japan and South Korea. China says they are peeved with the Norks and their Dear Leader, but refuses to allow anyone to do anything about it. Et cetera ad nauseum.

There are a couple of related problems in dealing with North Korea. Problem one: North Korea is blatantly holding the citizens of Seoul hostage against any retaliation for its actions. If the balloon goes up in Korea, tens of thousands of artillery shells will cascade across Seoul, killing hundreds of thousands- even without nukes. The North Korean government has made no secret of the fact that any shooting war on the Korean peninsula will result in the destruction of Seoul- regardless of the outcome for the North. Not exactly Mutually-Assured Destruction, but definitely mad.

Problem two: If the Norks keep acting up in this manner, Japan will be forced to start re-arming. They have the money and the technology to field a serious military force, and nobody on the Pacific Rim wants that (especially the countries victimized by Nippon’s last military adventures). Hopefully, the US government can quietly pass the word to our Chinese friends that the continuation of North Korea’s antics will result in a resurgent Rising Sun. If anyone can rein in the Dear Leader without military force, it would be China. Let’s hope they get onboard with this.


The Irish Kid (President O’Bama) has signed new fuel-efficiency standards into law. It’s been a while since the last time standards were created, so it was probably due. There shouldn’t be a need to reduce safety while increasing fuel efficiency.

I’m hoping the surviving automakers in this country take a cue from their European rivals and start producing high-efficiency diesel engines, but I won’t hold my breath. The most likely result (IMO) would be the demise of at least one of the so-called “Big Three” automakers- merely because they’ve shown a remarkable inability to innovate.


A few credit-security tips for the five or six people reading this rag. Tip #1- when you stay at a hotel and the place uses those swipe cards in lieu of keys, make damned sure the cards get erased when you turn them in. Most of the larger hotels encrypt their cards and erase ’em immediately, but you can’t be sure of that. If unencrypted and un-erased, all sorts of interesting personal information can be easily extracted by anyone with the technical savvy of your average twelve-year-old. Important stuff like your credit card number, name, address, date of birth ,etc. Tell the clerk to delete the card when you check out and watch them do it. Every time.

Tip #2- check your statements religiously. For the non-religious among you, check them at least monthly. My wife spotted a strange charge on our card recently. It turns out to be from a hotel/resort in Hong Kong. Since I have never been to Hong Kong in my life, we were reasonably certain this was a fraudulent charge. I immediately called the credit card company and let their fraud people know about it, cancelled that account number, and ordered a new credit card. It could have been a mistake from a fat-fingered clerk punching in the numbers, but better safe than sorry.


Safety people get a lot of grief, and a lot of that is well-deserved. If the safety rules make it impossible to get anything done, the safety professional has not done his or her job properly. Read some of the “nanny state” headlines coming out of the UK for some good examples of over-zealous safety people in action.

As a safety professional, I know that I cannot protect the workers or the general public. I am not Superman (although we’ve never been seen together, and the resemblance is uncanny). The role of the safety professional is to help make sure his clients (workers and/or general public) have enough information to make the right decisions when managing risks. That’s the key term: managing risk. It is almost impossible to eliminate risk, but managing risks is easy. If you drive a car, you do this automatically (pun intended), and often unconsciously. Managing risks means reducing the probability of an “accident” or reducing the possible severity of an accident when they occur. It does not mean trying to bubble-wrap or whiffle-ize anything hazardous. Managing risk means making the right decisions to minimize the probability of injury or damage. That puts the responsibility for safety squarely where it belongs- on the individual.

Current status: Busy

Current music: Shakin’ the Tree by Peter Gabriel