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Virtually nothing was posted in January because I was parted from my main axe in Seattle; she needed work, and I needed time to teach and lecture and write, here and in London.  Now the sphere turns and all things return into my waiting hands: the cello, the bow, the black keyboard.  And a microphone awaits as well.  And thus this Bach, raw, an initial foray, yet representing (I can suppose, having been the vehicle) the repetition of several thousand Soli Deo Glorias:


Beijing, by Chico Harlan


Let a Green Curtain Descend…

We should be both sorrowful and proud when friends depart, they finding the world in distress and applying their immense energies and talents to its re-balancing.  The ecologists thus leave Seattle, twist about the earth on cloudy threads, leaving our human hive behind in order to join the company of northern wolves and whales among ice floes.  The professor of East Asia is thus left to his own devices on the lip of savage order in North America, to navigating urban canyons with his little BMX bike, to weaving through the fish-cutters and the nicotine babble of the sans-abri, heaving South on immense trains, finding comfort in a keyboard, in the solidity of a text under the hand, heavily, just as the snow cap sits with false confidence of ultimate mastery atop that volcano in the window.

Alerts, warnings, tectonic plates?  May as well go fishing in the Baltic, say the ecologists, preparing their mouths for languages whose vowels intimate a predisposition to underwater battles.

Zarathustra hardly needed such friendship.  In his scaling of the grand berg, Nietzsche’s hero said “O Solitude, my home!” but he should have remembered that Bach was a man, and not a “stream,” and thus contributes eternal company, rendering solitude impossible even in the company of clean brooks.  The thinking naturalist, likewise, should give alpine recourse, quarter to the urban bourgeoisie who fancies himself an ecological literate.  The urbanite can indeed send himself immediately to the mountain if need be.  Home, and the order of the planets around it, that central point, is thus rendered as an acoustic condition, a “Tonkosmos”, a gathering source! Shouldn’t a true musician be at “home” anywhere (close the eye-apertures, turn off the absorptive lens of the camera to unfurl the colored geometric map), and be able “transport” the storm of Bach in a cerebral flood, immediately to a mountaintop, momentarily?  Able to throw one’s Geist atop an abandoned prison on the taiga, for but a demi-second?  To an alleyway in Pyongyang, for the length of time it takes to counter a song of failed enslavement with a gleaming bloc of trinitary chords?  For a split second, might it be possible to throw one’s spirit to another continent, for the cello bow to flick in between the force majeure of a hatchet and an enemy of a vile and suppressed state?  Flinging one’s consciousness in this way, a kind of promiscuous and harmless globalism, might promise nothing, might smack of an amateur penchant toward that artform of the engineer of the soul, the cinema, but it must far more advanced than all this pointing and clicking, this affixing of dreck, which suffices at present for “interconnectivity.”  It fails here, fails!  But yet exists, until the extinguishing…

And thus the prolix windup concludes, the true purpose of this post being the introduction of a fully encouraging development: the appearance of a UN-affiliated group on transnational environmentalism in Northeast Asia, a group whose page is laden with fascinating papers on such things as tigers leaping across the Tumen river, and why the wind blows as it does toward Peking.

North Korea Notes

The Hu-Obama Summit has already been subjected to some of the most intense lobbying pressures known to man.  From big business to human rights groups to the defense hawks in both countries, both executives have probably had it up to their ears (or, in Hu’s case, his lengthening and positively Cheneyewque jowls) with being pushed to push his counterpart on a given issue.  This being the case, it’s unlikely that a few truly remarkably-timed stories from the Chinese-North Korean border region are going to propel the “Obama needs to go to the mat with Hu on the North Korea issue” trope any further than it has already gone.  But then again, one never knows.  In China, state control of the media insulates the Party from such problems.

Or, in the logic of the Huanqiu Shibao: Chinese troops in North Korea?  What? Hey! Check out this wild boar on the loose in the northern city of Taiyuan!

I really need to get out of here...courtesy Huanqiu Shibao

Just to recap, as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was evacuating the PRC and Hu was preparing to head to Washington, word dropped that Chinese companies were practically gobbling up Rason in the Korean northeast and, what’s more, rumors spread from unnamed officials in Seoul’s Blue House that thousands of People’s Liberation Army soldiers were entering the North Korean frontier.  Does anyone else find the timing of the release of these stories, covering events which allegedly happened in mid-December, to be just a little bit troubling?  Not that they registered too deeply given the kerfuffle over the stealth jet and all that, but it is something to note and store away: propaganda campaigns surrounding the Sino-North Korean border are alive and well.

Now, to the NK tropes:

I positively loved the comments on this Washington Post entry by Jennifer Rubin which concludes we should be tough on North Korea “because the Iranians are taking note.”  The original essay lauds John Bolton’s courage in being tough on North Korea, but an anonymous commenter takes everyone to task with refreshing clarity:

[Bolton wrongly] argues that we should be “dramatically increasing defector-led radio broadcasting from outside North Korea. The truth is Kim Jong Il’s greatest foe, and dissent movements thrive on factual information that undermine the dictators’ propaganda.”

Ah the “experts” weighing in again. The above quote reminds me of the possibly apocryphal story about Johnny Cash being requested not to play Folsom Prison Blues in one of his performances at a prison, so as not to reimnd the prisoners of being in prison. To which he replied “You think they’ve forgotten?”

I am sure the North Koreans won’t know they’re starving until we broadcast the fact.

[Bolton continues]: “It is a truism that, as we pump more information in, thereby bolstering oppostion forces, our ability to extract intelligence from a despotic regime increases.”

Like any true Stalinist regime, there are NO living opposition forces. If you want governmental change then you need to make a secret deal with a NK general or generals in the unlikely event that is possible. [H/t Joshua Stanton for the link]

Why do I get the feeling that we in the West are engaged in the same old “to the Yalu River!” debate from fall 1950?  Haven’t conditions changed?  Should we fear a country where, in the seventeenth year of his unchallenged reign and accompanied by his son-successor and sister, the dictator still needs to make very special arrangements for bottled-water factories to get (not nukes but) empty bottles?  Or fear a state whose new slogan for the day dates from 1961 and is, basically, “You think this is bad?  Try life in Changsong County, Ryanggang Province, buddy!

Go ahead, farmer, “make good use of mountain”!  If this slogan chaps your hide, imagine how it feels to read it in the Worker’s (cigarette paper, if you’ve got something to smoke) Daily in Ryanggang…

Sentences like this {“The U.S. imperialists’ pursuance of their policy of strength did not lead to the outbreak of the second Korean war because the DPRK has steadily implemented the Songun line”} make me wish Obama would continue his technique of using communist slogans in lectures to communist leaders.  I thought it was a brilliant stroke to speak to Hu Jintao in his own lingo {“…societies are more harmonious when…”}, so why not go “Songun line” on Kim Jong Il?  Or let Gates do it…God knows the Department of Defense has enough propaganda personnel to whip up a KCNA-style summary praising US policy in East Asia.  But how can you beat such bon mots as quite a different editorial urging (what else?) vigiliance against foreigners distributing gift baskets and flowers from their nuclear aircraft carriers? That is to say:

If there be imperialism not seeking aggression and plunder, it is no longer imperialism.

The imperialists pretend to be “peace champions.” But this is just a crafty and cunning art of disguise to benumb the world people’s awareness and achieve their aggressive and predatory purposes. It is their general strategic goal to destroy the world independent forces with their policy of strength, war strategy, turn the international community into a “unipolar world” dominated by them and exercise an unlimited right to domination.

The aggressive nature of the imperialists remains unchanged and it is getting more pronounced as the days go by. This is clearly proved by the disastrous wars that have taken place in the international arena since the demise of the Cold War.

The whole editorial is available here.  It makes you realize that the North Koreans are probably fuming and frustrated when Hu Jintao goes to Washington and oh-so-glad that the US is continuing intense military action in Afghanistan.

Turning to life inside North Korea, this KCNA dispatch in so many words basically says: “Co-ops are busy trying to produce shit for the fields, but only officials eat enough to produce enough shit to make it worthwhile.”  Yes, the dispatch concludes:

Co-op farms are provided with huge quantities of compost and farm implements by employees of the Cabinet, ministries and national institutions and those in various provinces, cities and counties.

In another unfortunately-titled editorial by KCNA {“Shining Path Covered by Korean Youth Movement“}, we are reminded that the Korean Youth League was formed in January 17, 1946.  As Kim Jong Il himself knows very well and discussed in inner-Party speeches, the Youth League was itself formed in response to violent anti-Party youth protests in Sinuiju in November 1945.  The amount of column inches spent in new histories such as Kim Jong Suk’s biography in describing the importance of consolidating youth, and the major commemorations this past week of the Democratic Youth League formation, indicates that the regime is still working as hard as it can to keep the youth under its protective wing, while offering them less and less material incentive.

Which generation of North Koreans will finally render the Democratic Youth League into a counter-revolutionary organization?

As I learned in the East German archives, Ri Yong Chol, the present executive of the Youth League is the same dude who was leading it in 1989!  In other words, the bureaucracy of the Youth League is getting quite gray.  Here, however, North Korea gets consistent props from the Chinese (particularly former Communist Youth League Secretary Hu Jintao) for keeping the spiritual pollution down and militarist/patriotic education high among North Korean youth.  Oh, musn’t forget!  Great job with the corveé labor, kids!  Certainly you were led to become expressive, more fulfilled human beings on account of the new — dare I say avant-garde? — poetry being produced at such a clip in the newly digital (IC all the way!) North Korea, such instant classics as “Coalfield Alive with High-pitched Drive.”

But enough with the cynicism, my dear professor.  Isn’t it time that we found a path forward, a new concept?  Perhaps an idea could be expressed constructively, given that there is no Great Firewall acting as a mental prophylactic?  Well, the Daily NK is in fact available behind the Great Firewall (much to the chagrin of the North Korean government, no doubt), and it carries this very interesting story about the possible official production of a film in North Korea in which the hero is a Christian.  Reframing, twisting, newly interpreting Kim Il Song’s past: this is the key to an approach in and towards North Korea which can yield good results, absent a regime collapse. One need only gain sanction from the Great Leader’s past attitudes and papers, and the action can become defensible.  I don’t know how many of my readers have had the pleasure of reading the 48 talismanic volumes of Kim’s Works, let alone the 1200+ page memoir With the Century (OK I still working on that one), but let me assure you that there is plenty of fodder in these sources for a more liberal approach to governance in North Korea.  Not wholesale, of course, but when the man says he likes some landlords (which is to say, he didn’t kill them when he could have, and brought them over into the sympathetic middle forces!), that’s potential ideological cover for that elusive North Korean Deng Xiaoping figure for whom the world is waiting.

Former hostage in North Korea/missionary intentional border-crosser Robert Park is speaking out.  There is a major  difference between how he was treated and the Ling/Lee duo and how he has acted after getting out of North Korea.  Perhaps this is because not only did he lack the protection of minor fame in the US, he was hardcore opposed to Kim Jong Il when he got in (unlike the women whose memoirs I am reading sedulously in Seattle), he insulted the leader, etc.  Not for the light of heart.

Finally, this is already my favorite photo of the year, and it isn’t just the flaming poop:

"Suited Businessman Turns to Rap" -- courtesy DailyNK, click image for article link

Presently burrowing into the critical aftermath of a recent performance of the Schumann Cello Concerto in Seattle, it was heartening to read the DailyNK’s concert review of the event in Seoul:

The president of the Center for Free Enterprise, a liberal think tank, Kim Chung Ho transformed himself into a rapper for the day on Saturday to criticize Kim Jong Il and his sympathizers in South Korea.

Kim delivered his message through song on an outdoor stage in front of the headquarters of Korean Exchange Bank in Myeongdong, coming together with hip hop group The Street Poets to form “Dr. Kim and the Poets” and criticize the North Korean regime in a concert entitled “The Gnome Kim Jong Il’s Birthday Parteee.”

He performed stirring renditions of “Sons Just Like their Fathers” and “More Grasshoppers than Ants”, despite occasionally stumbling over lyrics and losing track of the beat.

Lose track of the beat and stumble over the lyrics all you want, Dr. Kim.  As we say on these rainy streets, “Respect!”  And mad, mad props.  Those prepping for the main event of the epoch sling citations and drop beats, not bombs!

Augur the Year of the Tiger

Sun storm globule, rain in giant droplets/strikes Chinatown, and dolorous wandering in grey/gives way to a hail of light perceived through a thin haze of duck fat

Firecrackers pop their secco revolts / of a New Year on water’s edge / as if the drums had been riden over and across / the vast belly of the Sound, twisting thro green ferries full of white automobiles and plastic bags strained with weight

Do all fauna cry before death? Because / this feast is some sacrifice to the future / and beholdens a truce / justified, for man is so skilled at killing man — that slow undertone of a groaning and ceaseless civil war rumbles in a train tunnel below — / that when egg rolls thick with shags of meat are cut / 

and handed from one who has been fed into the hand of the hungry one /one with a blanket slung over like a bandolier/one who had been engorged in a garbage can near a pillbox of city loot / one who had crashed a window of Ming antiques / one who had shouted as a banshee named Cincinnati / one who had spat upon a gate / one who had wandered toothless into a Starbucks taste session / one who had wondered why if the Wifi and the chemtrails were linked / one who had returned from Vietnam / one who had imagined no more solace for the day than an ounce of some substance /

that, as the New Year dawned amid hobbled men and the reverb from gunpowdery joys, the rain shards broke and forever splintered upon the ability of one to wonder.       

Les festivités du Nouvel an chinois à Paris en février 2009 -- via Aujourd'hui en Chine

Liquid Architecture and Measured Resistance

Perusing the nifty KoreAm blog, and finding Eugene Kim’s posts on architecture to be worthwhile, I found some photos of a newly-designed floating stage on the Han River in Seoul.

Seoul's Floating Stage -- via My Modern Metropolis -- click pic for photo gallery

Rather than conjuring visions of the Hollywood bowl, I first thought that Seoul looked like a Yanji with a lot more money.  But then my second thought was of Tacoma, the singed kalbi center of the south Puget Sound:

My home base, docked in the Port of Tacoma, Washington, across from the Museum of Glass and the University of Washington-T; photo by Adam Cathcart

All this fluidity makes my head spin — and thus am reminded of the need for structure, for restrictions, for pulse, meter, and tonality.  And for donations to Haiti.

Thus I am glad to invite colleagues and readers from the Seattle area to see me in the cello section of next weekend’s Brahms Requiem as organized for earthquake relief by the Northwest Mahler Festival.

Fortunately I’ve been keeping up with the German Romantics: Brahms Cello Sonata op. 38 in e minor, that plaintive pre-symphonic, angst-ruh-und-sehnsuchtvoll composition was on my program two weeks back in Olympia, and the weekend has already been generously offering up slabs of Schumann, Brahms’ great mentor, and Schubert, that graceful shadow of  early 19th century Vienna:

Claudia Pendleton in Seattle, le quatier Ballard -- photo by Adam Cathcart

I’m very hopeful that within the next five months, I’ll have some news here about, and/or excerpts from, a new Brahms Sonata, the Schubert Arpeggione, and, if the Matterhorn be possible to climb, the Brahms F major sonata.

Yesterday, Mount Ranier, active volcano/Shiva the destroyer, filled the horizon at Pacific Lutheran University, prompting explosions of late Brahms -- photograph by Adam Cathcart

For today, at least, as Americans slaughter fatted calves, wild goats, snouty boars, thickened bison, and all manner of other animals on this great and inviolable day of pagan feasting, we can:

– celebrate also the return of the prodigal son from the DPRK,

– imagine North Korean kids wandering around Huchang wondering if they, like Kim Il Sung, will ever get a taste of wild and wicked Badougou across the Yalu, and

– think of Mount Paektu and wonder who is behind the latest and greatest upswing in Kim Jong Il worship.  Someone’s been imitating their father again, and this time it is the youngest son’s turn to take Hyesan as the great pivot point of personality-cult inflation.

Puget Sound Scenes

This Ain’t Dallas: NYT on Seattle Teriyaki

This is, sadly, no food blog, but the following article from the New York Times has been giving me a great deal of joy lately and I thought I’d share:

“Seattle has a thousand teriyakis,” Mrs. Ko said one afternoon. Her tone was dismissive, as if explaining the looming presence of the Space Needle to a not particularly bright child. “No Americans do the cooking. Koreans do.”

“This is Seattle food,” she said, extending her argument. “For Seattle people. This is what we eat here. Seattle people eat teriyaki. This isn’t Dallas.”

It has occurred to me that the cost of a newspaper like the New York Times can be worth it if one bumps into an article like this.  Or today’s missive from Paris in the same paper:

Mr. Simon [a club owner] has considered moving his operation to Berlin: the authorities there are less stringent and the public is more accepting, he said. The recent report on the night life economy ranked Paris well behind Berlin — as well as London, Amsterdam and Barcelona, Spain — in terms of “nocturnal attractiveness.”

For that reason, party-seekers, D.J.’s and musicians have been fleeing Paris for years.

“The migratory movement toward Berlin is absolutely colossal,” said Éric Labbé, a concert organizer and record store owner who was a co-author of the nightlife petition. With unpredictable police closings and increasingly stringent sound restrictions on music locales, Mr. Labbé said, “it’s incredibly complicated to find places to play.”

Hooray!  Confirmation that Paris, while still great, can be a little stifling and that real artists and writers and entertainers are moving to Berlin.  Let’s hope they don’t raise the rents in eastern Germany.  And, as long as we’re doing comparative cities here, come to think of it, Berlin would be so much better with teriyaki places everywhere…