Monday, October 2, 2017

Not so scary under Korean skies: the things that happen while the world yells.

as published just now at John Menadue's blog

DENNIS ARGALL. Not so scary under Korean skies

Australia has had yet another high level former US defence official breeze in, this time to warn that we might be attacked by the DPRK. Whether there is or is not a concerted plan to all this, the visits of the grave and famous and warnings about improbable threat serve a purpose of keeping us from wandering away from Uncle Sam’s skirt in these strange times. It is useful to step away from speculation and look at some things actually happening, taking the last few days as a slice of life. 
On 1 October the US Secretary of State, visiting Beijing, told journalists “…the United States is in direct contact with North Korea and is looking into whether Kim Jong Un is open to talks.” [Washington Post]
I think it’s a perilous business to tell journalists you may have a fish biting. On the same day a DPRK spokesman “called on the United States…to halt what it claimed to be a hostile policy toward Pyongyang, threatening to turn America into a “sea of flames.” [Yonhap, Seoul]. On 28 September Choe Son-hui, director general of the North American department at the DPRK Foreign Ministry, at talks in Moscow, “stressed that it is necessary for the U.S. to stop its hostile policy toward the DPRK in order to defuse tension and ensure peace and security in the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asian region.” [KCNA]
If Secretary of State Tillerson claims he’s winning something in this contest, he won’t.           [I wrote that yesterday before Trump told his Secretary of State via Twitter not to waste his time.]
On 28 September on ROK Armed Forces Day, ROK President Moon awarded a “the highest unit-level award given by the ROK government … to all the Sailors of CNFK [US Combined Naval Forces Korea] for “outstanding contribution to the defense of the Republic of Korea” [Stars and Stripes]. Since the Korean War ROK forces have remained under US control in wartime. In his speech on the same occasion President Moon called again for transfer of ‘OPCON’ from the US to the ROK: “It’s only when we regain wartime operational control of our military that North Korea will fear us more and the South Korean public will trust the military more. The goal of this administration is to accelerate the transfer of wartime operational control,” [Hankyoreh]
Then President Moon and Mrs Moon went to have lunch with ordinary seamen on an ROK naval vessel, the Yonhap photo showing happy laughter.
On 1 October, the ROK monthly trade figures showed a year-on-year increase in exports of 35%. In September “outbound shipments came to US$55.1 billion for the month, up from $40.8 billion tallied a year earlier…Imports also rose 21.7 percent on-year to $41.4 billion.” Petrochemical exports in the wake of hurricane damage to the US oil industry were a significant component.
Another round of discussions on the US ROK Free Trade Agreement will take place in Washington on 4 October.
Also on 1 October the Korea Resources Corporation published an estimate of the value of DPRK mineral resources at approximately USD2.8 trillion, fourteen times those of the ROK. Modest joint ROK-DPRK minerals projects have been suspended for some time. Sanctions exist, prospects remain.
Again on 1 October in response to the decision of the ROK government to extend electrical vehicle subsidies to Tesla cars previously excluded because they take more than ten hours to charge, Tesla announced plans to extend its network of charging stations in South Korea.
Also on the same day, President Moon released a video wishing everyone well for travel home over the Chuseok (Harvest Moon) holiday break… and separately congratulated DPRK figure skaters on their qualification for the Winter Olympics in the ROK next year.
Meanwhile in the wake of the trilateral summit between heads of state of the US, ROK and Japan in New York (at the Korean Lotte hotel, not a Trump hotel), “[t]he Blue House and White House have reportedly shared concerns that “distorted” reports from the Japanese press could “cause fissures” in trilateral coordination.”
This report does not implicate Prime Minister Abe in the shaping of the news items attracting concern, but anxious Prime Minister Abe has been using articulation of tension and criticism of the ROK as well as the DPRK and China (plus a USD18 billion education and aged care package, to be paid for by a GST increase of 2% in 2019) in support of his campaign for re-election on 22 October.
On 27 September, at an event to mark the tenth anniversary, on 4 October, of the meeting in 2007 between then ROK President Roh Moo-hyun and the DPRK President Kim Jong-il, President Moon said: “Many of the matters agreed upon in the Oct. 4 summit statement can be implemented even now. I hope that both North and South Korea will declare that the Oct. 4 summit statement remains valid,” He once again called for the restoration of military talks, humanitarian cooperation and the reunions of the families divided by the Korean War. Restoring military talks was particularly urgent, Moon said, “to relax inter-Korean tensions.” [Hankyoreh]
In his address to the UN General Assembly in New York on 21 September, President Moon quoted former US President Ronald Reagan: “Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
This ROK Government demonstrates a flexibility and skill in dealing with all sides in the current difficult situation. Many domestic supporters were alarmed by President Moon’s siding with President Trump on issues relating to the DPRK, but had Moon been strident rather than flexible, troubles would abound domestically and perhaps more dramatically in the trade relationship with the US. Nothing would have been gained strategically by antagonism, just as nothing is gained by being joined at the hip with a major power.
Dennis Argall, a former Australian Ambassador to China, has been an observer of North Asian affairs since 1970

Sunday, September 17, 2017

meditations on art and cultural bridges

With a little help from Kaurismaki.

[1] dialectics (with a little Italian lesson in subtitles)

[2] If Finns and Russians can have so much fun, Finland being the last country to swiftly repulse a Russian invasion, indeed the last country to repel swiftly a superpower invasion... why can't we have such as this below between Australia and Indonesia or Vietnam, or China and Japan? Some background on the Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Army Choir here.

And for those who fear Arabs as a class of people, meet Yasmine Hamdan.

and if you have time enjoy the movie in which that scene takes place, near the end

Jim Jarmusch made the film, surely America's answer to Finland's Kaurismaki

— Everyone speaks slowly, so the Spanish subtitles are an excellent language lesson

With Tilda Swinton and John Hurt, not really your average vampire movie,
but a voyage into the jadedness of world-wandering people who live a very very long time...


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Writers' group - inspiration: Robotics

At the small writers group I have been attending recently, one is asked to bring prepared work of some kind, then later in the afternoon set a challenge to write something on the spot. Last week (no time to attend this week) the challenge was to take a classic story and render it into present day. I am at a loss to know where my work book with my effort is, a rendition of the last moments of Richard III into a bikie gang world.

But my friend Juan, mischievous and 83 at the same time, which is a significant inspiration, ignored the request and produced on the spot a charming futuristic story, which he has kindly typed up for me to paste here:

Interviewing a Robot

Juan Carlos Alvarez

As junior journalist at the local newspaper, after interviewing Superman I was sent to interview a Robot. Yes, a Robot, what a thrill!
I tried to organise an interview for the next day shortly before lunch expecting to be provided with a succulent repast but I was told by the Chief Editor not to worry about it as Robots don’t have our kind of lunch but recharge at any of the special power point facilities available at the factory
Armed with a voice recorder, pen and note pad visited the Robot Factory to interview Gordon, the Chief of Robot Advanced Production System (CRAPS).
Introducing myself I asked “Can I call you Gordon? “Of course my fellow human”, he responded”.
First question was “Do you use Norton, or McAfee?” “What do you mean by that?” he replied.
“Well” I said “I guess Robots must need to use antivirus protection?”
He looked surprised but recovered to explain that it was compulsory for Robots to use Virus protection. “Like vaccination to young humans and FluVacs essential  to the elderly” adding “Compulsory for robots, as transferring infected data between robots could reach epidemic proportions causing great loses in the Robot’s population”.
He recalled some Robots refusing virus protection, but authorities regulated making RBR (Robot Battery Recharging) more expensive by cutting subsidies to those robots not inoculated with the virus protection recommended by the Robot Dealers Association.  
Gordon added “When it hurt the pockets everyone complied and now everyone is happy, especially humans now feeling safer in the company of an inoculated robot” .“No worthwhile robot would like to be mistaken for SR (Spam Robots) as it would be an awful stigma, and unfair to a robot like me that never practiced unprotected file-sharing. You have no idea to see the look on a robot’s face when asked if they "like to chat with hot Russian babes." It is very hurtful”. Next question was “In emergencies could a robot recharge my mobile phone?".
Big mistake as this question upset Gordon really pushing his buttons, tersely replying “Robots don’t like fuelling Game of Thrones habits!"
Something that was bothering me at this moment of political correctness was if for privacy reasons, female Robots make female robots or was not it a gender exercise. To which Gordon replied that there was in place very strict regulations requiring that only females could work on producing female robots and males only male robots. Gordon continued by saying that robots, like many humans could do silly things to others and the Manufacturing Company must observe caution and not to be open to litigation. I told him he looked well and young, adding “Was it because you had any upgrades recently?"  Gordon looking deep into my eyes said “Many humans reaching certain age tend to rely in cosmetic surgery” “Some aging robots may have to resort to upgrades” He continued by saying “Sorry Mate, I’m a robot but still take pride in my physical appearance. So what if I've gotten upgrades? Isn't everyone's right to look and feel the way they want? Earlier model generations would have loved to be able to upgrade the way I can. I swap components to keep up with modern technology. Robots can do better than humans, able to upgrade our systems when a new technology arrives. "
I asked if they need knee or hip replacements but …he looked away without responding, so I tried another question. “Do school children ever ask for help with Maths?” “My friend” Gordon said, “Contrary to deeply seeded stereotypes held by society, robots are not just talking calculators, filling diverse arrays of professional roles, even myself indulging from time to time writing binary poetry in my spare time, so the answer is NO” “They need to learn like some of the old humans did, with the famous Tables.  But, if we want to do it we can, provided we have enough RAM for it, but we will be wasting our CPU capacity."
As my final question I said “Gordon, if I was going to shake hands in the rain with a robot, will I get electrocuted?
Gordon replied “What can I say? “Everyone knows not to get in a bathtub with a robot. You will die! Never shake hands with a robot in the rain. You will get electrocuted if you are not using rubber boots”.
“Another note of caution: If you fall in love with a Female Robot, never attempt to have a shower together and just in case, use special rubber protection otherwise it could be a short circuit leading to severe burning of some sensitive parts. "
“What about robots kissing each other? This was my next question, but apparently Gordon was anticipating it  by saying “Only if using rubber boots and special insertions on their mouth to prevent electric shock as female robots use different voltage than male robots.
I was hesitant at my next question when asked about Robots having a sexual relationship. This was a very tricky question for Gordon but without hesitation he described the difference in having different charging points, Orificial and Erectile charging points . He was very open and descriptive continuing with the fact that it was technically possible to exchange charging points to reverse the gender, and it was quite possible for two robots of the same gender to fall in love.
In actual fact they were at the moment waiting for the decision of the High Court to allow for a Postal Vote for same sex relations between Robots.
So my next question was to the possibility of Robots having children. Gordon looked to me and a bit distressed he said that because of the different voltage they would only be able to have a hybrid child and this could be a problem, to which I replied, “What is the problem with hybrid children? What about the horse and the donkey, they produce a mule!"
Gordon looked at me with inquisitive eyes saying “And the mules are infertile and this could cause a problem in the future” “Our first concern is to protect the children” “The scientists are still investigating”
At this stage I was flabbergasted at the incredible technology and not having any other question in mind I thanked and said goodbye to Gordon to leave the factory very quickly as a precaution as there in his office, his secretary, a nice looking female robot was looking at me with intense interest and I didn’t have with me my rubber boots.
We hope someday scientists discover how to bridge the gap in robot/human relations, but until then we need to keep things dry and for close relations with a robot always use rubber boots.

Juan Carlos Alvarez © 2017

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

on dreams and sleep

The Conversation runs a series for 'Curious Kids'. Today an answer to a question about dreams.

I thought the answer was a bit limited, in focusing on the history of psychological interpretation of dreams. So I ventured into the physiology:

Dennis Argall

logged in via Google
I think it’s important to connect dreaming with the state of our whole body. While we sleep, it is normal for the sugar level in our blood stream to decline. Towards morning this process reaches a point where the body responds by lifting adrenalin llevels. Adrenalin, more scientific name epinephrine, is what gives us a charge to run away from something or chase madly after something when challenged when we are awake. It has broad roles like that in body systems and as we sleep and sugar levels fall adrenalin’s rise wakes us… But along the way it churns up other things, bladder alerts, appetite alerts and brain alerts which can mean dreams of better or worse kind. We may dream at other times, unaware. The dreams remembered are those just before waking.
I think there are a couple of things that flow from this. First is the need to maintain healthy levels of protein, sugar and caffeine (chocolate, tea, coffee, cola) without big spikes. And to treat sleep with respect, allowing it to happen and not getting too caught up in dramatic phone or tablet games in bed.
A recent news story suggested that billions of dollars would be saved in the US if schools began later…in the case of the US meaning not 8am but a bit later, because adolescents need to sleep in a bit and there would be better school results and fewer teenage car accidents if that were respected. Which suggests to me also that adolescent sugar-adrenalin cycles are different. Perhaps most young people sustain blood sugar levels better. Perhaps parents should just envy the capacity to sleep in! But perhaps also adjust bedtimes to get enough sleep altogether. Because…
During the day we yank minerals out of muscle and bone to do all kinds of work, including brain work. When we sleep those resources have to be put back. These processes are called catabolic and anabolic. Modern society with its levels of stress put people into problems because they may not get their resources restored in sleep. Crash. And nightmares.
So my thought is that we need to think very broadly about the importance of sleep, not as a dead zone but critical to life. I had sleep and nightmare problems for decades but eventually did a sleep test and found that my nightmares were not caused primarily by brain ruckus but because my breathing was stopping (sleep apnea) and the adrenalin rush to keep me alive, as we normally have gently in the morning, was violent in the middle of the night. Good habits of sleep when younger may have avoided that nonsense.

Korea, hysteria, self-examination

It was pleasing to read this morning that the leader of the opposition Labor Party here in Australia, who, according to polls, should be elected prime minister, will be visiting Seoul and Tokyo, not hanging on Trump's words as Prime Minister Turnbull does at the moment.

From The Guardian

V Putin has also spoken sensibly on Korea.

An article at The Conversation this morning talked about what 'sniffer aircraft' can tell us about the DPRK's nuclear explosion the other day.

I offered these thoughts:

Maureen Todhunter, a writer at John Menadue's blog offered wisdom on finding ways forward to sanity:

...Exposing ourselves to others’ ways of seeing life and its crises, and revealing our own ways to others, may seriously challenge most of us. But I think it’s an important step in developing empathy, capacity and will for collective remedial action. This is action that rejects war and cultivates peace, that nurtures the irritations of resistance and civil disobedience into pearls of civic-minded behaviour caring for all people and planet. Importantly then, a 21st century update on Marx: imaginations of the world, unite!
An exciting place for learning, thinking and imagining collectively is the IPAN (Independent and Peaceful Australia Network) National Conference 2017 in Melbourne on 8, 9 & 10 September 2017. Its theme: War, Peace & Independence: Keep Australia out of US Wars. register for the conference
Maureen Todhunter is an academic copy editor and member of Just Peace Qld
In reply I drew on the comment I'd made at The Conversation, adding a note at the end about past difficulties in endeavouring to walk down the middle between the left and the right.

The weekly scribbles

My writers group sets homework. This feels irritating at times but does drive the brain down interesting unexpected holes. Here I past 500 word-ish pieces from the last two weeks. I seek to get down to 400 words which is an easy paced three minutes reading, beyond which listeners have difficulty, but it's hard when ideas flow.

The first item here then is an attempt to be inside the mind of a person with some dementia, the black hole many of us are to be sucked into, but out from which we don't get news. This is perhaps the beginning of a longer story to be written.

The second item, below, is about moments in life, arguing that there are no momentous moments which do not alter space.

The assignment: to create a character using name of school friend and name of place where the school was; story to include “if he can find her in enemy territory”.
I’m not good at boys’ own adventures. My work is introspective. This comes solely from my mind. Third person didn’t work, I have tried second person.

The difficulty is remembering your name. Cover that with an air of disdain. Unfriendly; but don’t let them think you’re demented.

They asked about your early life but that was private, not for strangers. You look back to childhood and remember no names, too many schools.

But there was a girl back in Queensland, in the place where we sat on a kindergarten bench in blue shirts and shorts – and short skirt – and bare legs and feet and wrote on slates with slate pencils at a shared desk. How did that end, was it just that you left? You remember mood and warmth. And she seems the only person back there now. She seems to be Greek, her skin olive. Was her name Mary... Mary Borough. No, that was where we were. Would she still be there?

After that time, way back, the years after that, later in schools, one, two, at least three of them, there seem mainly a sense of bitterness and distances from people.

Is ‘remembering’ what you’re to do now? Is that what life was anyway?

“Where are my shoes? Did I take those tablets? Am I hungry? I want my kitchen.” Hang on cobber, you’re talking to yourself, and watch it, they’ll see you laughing...

Had you thought of being a spy? Maybe you hadn’t. But this tunnel of existence is a bit spy-like: hidden in enemy territory, tongue locked from saying who you are.
Yesterday they asked you who the prime minister was. You smiled sardonically. If they didn’t know who the bastard was they had no hope. Why should you tell them?

Yesterday they said to each other that you were ‘disinhibited’. They needn’t feel threatened: scrawny scratching shrink and miserable nurse. On the other hand that person who takes you to the shower and is just a tiny bit indecent with you...

OK! Retreat to remembered sensation. Keep your news to yourself. 

News, news! Hello, here comes an afternoon edition... The Dutch art student. Also with exceptional skin but she was fair. Funny to think how she and you ran out of words then and in this enemy territory they say you have no words now. You might not have a lot of time ahead; this is not a territory for having time ahead. Instead, better, now in this tiny news moment conjure up time past, exceptional-skin past, moments-innocent past. You were both so innocent, but so much intense feeling from such tiny moments. Can you resume conversations you didn’t know how to have so long ago... if you can find her now in this enemy territory. 


"Write about your moods and emotions from a memory of a moment of your life." But I did something a little different. This is a personal reminiscence, of many moments. As with the previous short essay, this is written in a form to be spoken, read aloud. Which requires cadence and rhythm, and turns and angles to keep the audience alive.

I went away last time thinking of momentous moments, times when sudden events shifted space.

Such as picking up brain MRI scans for my wife in 2000, opening the envelope straight away and seeing the impossible, the size of a peach, in a frontal lobe. Bigger than any other moment in life. Whereas I thought I’d had an equal relationship, suddenly the biology sneered at us.

I drove out of the carpark next moment, to head home. I realised I was in a strange state when I saw a woman looking at me with an expression of horror as I went by. I can still see her face now.

Or ... when long ago I put a friend on a plane in Rome after a couple of days wandering the city, he going on to his first overseas posting in Nigeria... then to get a call from Mac in the High Commission in London asking did he get on the plane, did he get the plane... because it landed a kilometre too early at Lagos. The call was the moment, the plane departure was just... plane.

Intense conversations, so many kinds, pressures in head, all moments remembered or hidden: with close people and people you really need to convince... shifting your world in some way. Later remembering mainly moments of being stupid.

The milliseconds that last a very long time when you crash a car.

The strange sensation of knowing that you are about to be dead when you roll sideways through 600 degrees on a tractor. Then to watch it continue downhill, while lying on the ground after it throws you safely away into the largest and driest scotch thistle in eastern Australia. I can still hear it roar with anger at me. And feel my own anger and annoyance at my stupidity, plus shame: a childish expectation of getting into trouble.

I suspect that the biggest, most-remembered moments that alter our worlds are the negatives. The ones ‘for the good’ more often creep up... unless you have serendipitous eye-locking wonder-moments. More often we guard against nice surprises.


That's a three-letter paragraph wanting not to be just four letters.

In between the sex and the other jolts, so many interminable moments, long drawn out phases of physical, spiritual, mental, or emotional homelessness. We may wish they were over in a moment. With what drug do we try to shorten them?

In physics, moment is what swinging objects have, weights heading for hitting something. There is no comprehended time-moment that does not connect with space; that does not hit.

Captain Oates dramatically, gangrenously, septically and with dysentery said to hapless Captain Scott of the Antarctic that he was just going outside for a moment.

We say: “I won’t be a moment” and that’s a lot more honest than “I’ll just be a moment” when you walk out the door. Through how many moments have we wished we could just walk out, alter the planet, alter life, start afresh. 

What moments, in the physics sense, hold us back? We cling to pendulums. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Aaron Sorkin on writing

Just one minute, no, almost two minutes of your time...

or one hour in conversation with David Brookes about character and much more