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The picture to the left is the poster from a South Korean film in which a North Korean coup forces South Korea to launch on air-strike on Nork missile sites. It’s not very good (it’s the Top Gun of Korea), but it’s the closet pop-culture reference I could think of to the argument I make below.
My concern is that the more nuclear missiles North Korea has, the more they threaten South Korea’s existence. To date, North Korea’s missile and nukes have generally been understood as a tool for regime security – to prevent an American ‘regime change’ attack – or as a gangsterish way for NK to shake-down SK, Japan, and the US. As Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton both noted, the Norks are great at selling and re-selling their nuclear program for aid.
But, if NK gets dozens, or even hundreds, of nuclear warheads and missiles, then the nuke program is no longer about regime security or blackmail. It would then represent an existential threat to SK as a state and society. This is why I am such a strong supporter of THAAD. NK is moving from being a frightening rogue state obsessed with survival, to a major threat to the constitutional order and physical survival of the ROK (and Japan). To be sure, the USSR and USA were that to each other in the Cold War, but both developed technologies (SLBMs mostly) that allowed them to survive (or ‘ride out’ in nuclear parlance) even a massive first strike and still retaliate. By contrast, neither NK nor SK have this ‘assured second strike.’ (SK might because of the American alliance, but that’s not entirely clear.)
Further, both NK and SK are very vulnerable to a first strike, so the incentives to move first are high. NK cannot hide its nuclear weapons. They are vulnerable and a obvious temptation for an allied preemptive strikes, creating a ‘use-them-or-lose-them’ dilemma for Pyongyang. And this dilemma tightens as they build more and more. The more nukes NK builds, the greater the allied temptation to destroy them before they could be used, and, in turn, the more NK’s incentives to use them first rise. It’s a nasty spiral of paranoia.
SK too is vulnerable as a small, highly centralized state with a highly concentrated population defenseless against missile attack. It would not take many nuclear strikes to destabilize the Republic (unlike the US or USSR in the Cold War). As NK nukes move from a few for security, to many as a state- and society-breaking threat to SK (and even Japan), the incentives to preemptively destroy them first will grow also. This is a classic nuclear security dilemma, straight out of the Cold War in the 1950s.
The best way out of this would be nuclear restraint on the NK part (a pipe-dream, that), and/or robust missile defense on the SK side. THAAD is really, really important to slow the security dilemma paranoia that accompanies arms build-ups, especially nuclear ones. The Chinese ought to think about that before they come out so strongly against THAAD. If South Korea is entirely ‘naked’ or ‘roof-less’ against missile attack when NK has 100+ nuclear missiles, what does Beijing think will happen? That Seoul will just sit back and do nothing because of trade with China? I doubt it. No SK president could tolerate such a stark, asymmetric threat to the ROK’s very existence just to keep the Chinese mollified. That would border on dereliction of duty.
These ideas were first flesh out at The Diplomat here.
As North Korea continues to develop both nuclear weapons and the missile technology to carry them, the pressure on South Korea to take preemptive military action will gradually rise. At some point, North Korea may have so many missiles and warheads, that South Korea considers that capability to be an existential threat to Southern security. This is the greatest long-term risk to security and stability in Korea, arguably more destabilizing than a North Korean collapse. If North Korea does not arrest its nuclear and missile programs at a reasonably small, defensively-minded deterrent, then Southern elites will increasingly see those weapons as threats to Southern survival, not just tools of defense or gangsterish blackmail.
During the Cold War, the extraordinary speed and power of nuclear missiles created a bizarre and frightening ‘balance of terror.’ Both the Americans and Soviets had these weapons, but they were enormously vulnerable to a first strike. Under the logic ‘use them or lose them,’ there were enormous incentives to launch first: if A did not get its missiles out of the silos quickly enough, they might be destroyed by B’s first strike. One superpower could then hold the other’s cities hostage to nuclear annihilation and demand concessions. This countervalue, ‘city busting’ temptation was eventually alleviated by ‘assured second strike’ technologies, particularly submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). SLBMs ensured the survivability of nuclear forces; hard-to-find submarines could ride out an enemy first strike and still retaliate. So the military value of launching first declined dramatically. By the 1970s, both the US and the USSR had achieved enough survivability through various ‘hardening’ efforts that nuclear bipolarity was relatively stable despite the huge number of weapons in the arms race.
The Korean nuclear race does not have this stability and is unlikely to ever achieve it. Nuclear Korea today is more like the cold war of the 1950s, when nuclear weapons were new and destabilizing, than in the 1970s when they had been strategically integrated, and bipolarity was mature. Specifically, North Korea will never been able to harden its locations well enough to achieve assured second strike. North Korea is too small to pursue the geographic dispersion strategies the Soviets tried, and too poor to build a reliable SLBM force or effective air defense. Further US satellite coverage makes very hard for the North to conceal anything of great importance. North Korea’s nuclear weapons will always be highly vulnerable. So North Korea will always face the ‘use it or lose it’ logic that incentives a first strike.
On the Southern side, its small size and extreme demographic concentration in a few large cities makes the Republic of Korea an easy target for a nuclear strike. More than half of South Korea’s population lives in greater Seoul alone (more than 20 million people), and Seoul’s suburbs begin just thirty miles from the demilitarized zone. This again raises the temptation value of a Northern strike. Both the Soviet Union and the United States were so large, that only a massive first strike would have led to national collapse. In South Korea by contrast, nuking only about five large cities would likely be enough to push South Korea toward national-constitutional breakdown. Given its extreme urbanization and centralization, South Korea is extremely vulnerable to a WMD and/or decapitation strike.
While large-scale North Korean offensive action is highly unlikely – Pyongyang’s elites most likely just want to survive to enjoy their gangster high life – nuclear weapons do offer a conceivable route to Northern military victory for the first time in decades: a first-strike mix of counterforce detonations to throw the Southern military into disarray; limited counter-value city strikes to spur social and constitutional break-down in the South; followed by an invasion and occupation before the US military could arrive in force; and a standing threat to nuke Japan or the United States as well should they intervene. Again, this is unlikely, and I still strongly believe an allied victory is likely even if the North were to use nuclear weapons. But the more nukes the North builds, the more this threat, and the ‘use it or lose it’ first strike incentives, grow.
It is for this reason that the US has pushed South Korea so hard on missile defense. Not only would missile defense save lives, but it would dramatically improve Southern national-constitutional survivability. (Decentralization would also help enormously, and I have argued for that repeatedly in conferences in Korea, but it is unlikely.) A missile shield would lessen the military-offensive value of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, so reducing both first-strike temptations in Pyongyang and preemptive air-strike pressure in Seoul. Unfortunately South Korea is not hardened meaningfully to ride-out Northern nuclear strikes. Missile defense in South Korea has become politicized as a US plot to dominate South Korean foreign policy (yes, really) and provoke China. (Although opinion may, at last, be changing on this.) Air drills are routinely ignored. And no one I know in South Korea knows where their shelters are or what to do in case of nuclear strike.
Ideally North Korea would de-nuclearize. And we should always keep talking to North Korea. Pyongyang is so dangerous that freezing it out is a bad idea. Talking does not mean we must be taken advantage of by the North’s regular bargaining gimmicks. But we must admit that North Korea seems unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons. The program goes back decades, to the 1960s. Rumor has it that Pyongyang devoted more than 5% of GDP in the last two decades to developing these weapons. The program continued through the 1990s, even as more than a million North Koreans starved to death in a famine resulting from post-Cold War economic breakdown. The North has repeatedly lied and flim-flammed to outsiders like the ROK government and the IAEA to keep its programs alive clandestinely. Recently Kim Jong Un has referred to nuclear weapons as the “nation’s life.”
We could even go a step further and admit that a few Northern nuclear missiles are tolerable. If we put ourselves in Pyongyang’s shoes, a limited nuclear deterrent makes sense. Conventionally, North Korea is falling further and further behind. No matter how big the North Korean army gets quantitatively, it is an increasingly weak shield against high-tech opponents. US regime change in the Middle East has clearly incentivized despots everywhere in the world to consider the ultimate security which nuclear weapons provide. The North Koreans have openly said that nuclear weapons ensure their post-9/11 regime security. As distasteful as it may be to us, there is a logic to that. A small, defensive-minded deterrent – say five to ten warhead-tipped missiles that could threaten limited retaliation against Southern cities – would be an objectively rational hedge against offensive action by the US or South Korea. Indeed, this is almost certainly what Pyongyang says to Beijing to defend its program to its unhappy patron.
But this is the absolute limit of responsible Northern nuclear deployment and probably where the DPRK is right now. Further nuclear and missile development would exceed even the most expansive definition of North Korean security and takes us into the realm of nuclear blackmail, highly dangerous proliferation, and an offensive first-strike capability. Pyongyang does not need, for example, the ICBM it is supposedly working on.
In this context, my greatest fear for Korean security in the next two decades is North Korean nuclearization continuing apace, generating dozens, perhaps hundreds of missile and warheads, coupled to rising South Korean paranoia and pressure to preemptively strike. There is no possible national security rationale for Pyongyang to keep deploying beyond what it has now, and if they do, expect South Korean planners to increasingly consider preemptive airstrikes. North Korea with five or ten missiles (some of which would fail or be destroyed in combat) is terrible humanitarian threat, but not an existential one to South Korea (and Japan). South Korea could ride out, perhaps, five urban strikes, and Japan even more.
But a North Korea with dozens of nuclear missiles, possibly one hundred, some of them on submarines, would constitute a state- and society-breaking, constitutional threat to South Korea and Japan in case of conflict. That in turn will incentivize pre-emptive airstrikes. This spiral of paranoia between North Korea nuclearization, and pressure on Seoul (or even Tokyo) to preemptively defang North Korea before it can threaten state-destruction, is entirely predictable – and the reason why everyone, even China and Russia, wants North Korea to stop building. Let’s hope they listen (but they won’t).
Ever since I left Seoul I have been thinking more and more about myself and my photography. I saw John Steele’s great post about his turning point with photography and it really gave me a lot to think about. I have gone over what I do and and how I do it more than at any other point in my photographic life. Was there a turning point for me? Are my best photos behind me?
These past few months have worn me out. A year ago, I had what I called the perfect job for a photographer. I worked at a university with some amazing photographers and I had the time to get out and take some photos whenever I wanted. However, just a few months ago the same person who hired me basically laughed me out of his office when I went to check my schedule for this term. So I that got me thinking a lot about if I am at a crossroads in life right now.
The biggest choice that I think that anyone has with life and with photography is do you continue down the road that you have always gone but ultimately leads nowhere or do you keep changing paths until you find one that suits you or that is profitable? For the longest time, I chose the comfortable path. For 5 years I worked at the same school, took the same photos of the same places. It was really comfortable knowing that nothing would change. I knew where to go and what to do.
Sadly, nothing lasts forever and doing the same thing wasn’t doing it for me. That is the same way that I feel about my photography. For years, I had a recipe for HDR photos that I thought were really good. I would set up, shoot and not really even have to think about the settings. Maybe a bit about the composition but more or less I just knew that I was going to get something out of the shoot. For most, that is great.
For me, I started wanting more. I started seeing other people pop up and make some serious waves and yet no matter how many of my photos I posted, they only made ripples. It was really starting to get to me. I was got so annoyed when I saw people getting getting great shots with a ton of comments. I knew that this wasn’t healthy and the whole thing was meaningless but it still burned me inside.
My Turning Point
The biggest thing that I realized was that I had to change myself in order to change the outcome of my efforts. I have been doing the same things over and over again. Taking the same photos over and over again. So I started learning new techniques. I started depending on HDR less and less and actually using the camera and the myriad of photo techniques to get the desired look that I wanted.
It is the same in life. I got lazy and I realized that the people that I look up to are the ones are pushing themselves everyday. Sure, they may seem relaxed but they are also hitting the gym, studying, maintain schedules and just being positive. I have grown into a complainer while the people that I was complaining about were out there putting in some serious effort to get their name out. It’s easier to gripe about how crappy things are than to change them. It is a lot harder to see how great things are and that with a little effort each day I can do something better.
So for now I am focussing on being that person and that photographer that I want to be. This means learning and studying each day and even meditating. I always thought that meditation was for hippies or something to only do when you are really stressed but it is helping to give me a clearer idea of what I want. I have even done this while waiting for a right light out shooting. Just taking a few minutes to clear my head and focus on the scene in front of me really helped make a better photo.
So in the end, I just want to say that hopefully there will be a new path for me in the coming days. I have a new blog style with a clearer focus on the photos and I am really happy with it. Thank you all for the great support and I hope this post wasn’t too sappy. I hope that it gave you something to think about on some level.
In The Worst Motorcycle in Laos: Rough Travels in Asia, author Chris Tharp recounts his misadventures in countries across the region he’s called home for the last ten years. He takes us to the back-alley restaurants of Vietnam on a quest to eat cobra; to the neon streets of Japan, where he goes on tour with a jazz band, gets lost in the depraved depths of a comic book shop, and nearly causes a riot at a punk rock bar; to far Western China, where he narrowly misses a terrorist attack and endures a harrowing drive on the world’s highest highway. Whether he’s losing his lunch on the boat ride to the disputed Dokdo islets, surviving a bus wreck on a Korean highway, eating chicken embryos in the Philippines, or riding a dilapidated motorbike through the dirt tracks of Laos, Tharp delivers his tales with a mixture of honesty, wit, and humor that will inspire readers to strap on a backpack and hit the road.
But don’t just take my word for it. Hear what some other folks have to say:
“In The Worst Motorcycle in Laos,Tharp takes us on a wild ride from the neon streets of Tokyo to the dirt tracks of Indochina. The essays are insightful, humorous, and
unflinching. A great read for the active and armchair traveler alike.”
- Michael Breen, author of The Koreans
“Tharp’s done it again. He’s got a knack for finding himself in, shall we say, interesting places and situations: from fake flowers and monks to persistent touts,
these are the stories few can experience for themselves. Make no mistake, Tharp makes life happen on his own terms.”
– Chris Backe, travel blogger at One WeirdGlobe (www.oneweirdglobe.com)
“The Worst Motorcycle in Laos is a thoughtful rampage through the backwaters of Asia. Tharp writes about his travels with a refreshing, humble honesty, unafraid of
exploring the gritty and the grimy, the seedy and the sublime. Witty, poignant and at times even disturbing, this is a great read for both the seasoned journeyer and those
content to enjoy from the comfort of home.”
– Brandon W. Jones, author of All Woman and Springtime
“Illness, whether his stomach, or his motorcycle, forces Tharp to destinations he hadn’t planned. Going off the beaten path leads to revelations that aren’t just culinary ones, but philosophical quandaries that push toilet seats as well as his conscience. In that sense, the dynamic of Tharp’s journey isn’t so much that of Asia as it is the landscape of humanity. At the same time, his mix of visceral pain, self-deprecating humor, and unique cultural idiosyncrasies pervade throughout the travelogs and make for some damn good conversation.” – Peter Tieryas, Entropy Magazine
“Tharp’s writing is sharp witted… casual and inviting, I feel like I’m along for the ride. After finishing the book I felt like I always do after reading a good travel book, ready to hit the road.” – Laura Bronner, travel blogger at An American Abroad
Ever thought about how to learn Korean and wondered if there was an easy way to get started quickly?
We designed the Korean Kickstarter with just that in mind.
The Korean Kickstarter is a one-page 80/20 tool to kick-start your Korean sentence building. In Korean, by altering the endings you attach to your verbs, you can easily make subtle distinctions in the meanings of your sentences. Learning different endings is a quick way to advance your Korean. You can use this as just one part of your overall plan for how to learn Korean in 90 days!
To get started, we just need to memorize a few common verbs:
To do this more easily, we can use some simple methods for memorizing Korean vocabulary or make funny visual associations using some similar-sounding English words.
For example, how about picturing a man eating a “mug” for “먹다.” Yum yum! Draw it on paper to really lock in the visual. Now that’s a tough picture to get out of your head!
With these basic building blocks, we can start to expand our knowledge quickly and put them to use! While many Korean students may be stuck at the stage of memorizing vocabulary for weeks or even months, unable to communicate in Korean, we can start expressing any idea quickly by memorizing a few verb conjugations.
For example, we can use the verb 자다 (to sleep) to express ourselves using four basic sentences. You’ll find the verb root (자) in each of them:
자야 하요 – I must sleep
자고 싶어요 – I want to sleep
잘거예요 – I will sleep
잘 수 없어요 – I can’t sleep
Now, let’s compare these four sentences to the following which use the verb 가다 (to go):
가야 하요 – I must go
가고 싶어요 – I want to go
갈거예요 – I will go
갈 수 없어요 – I can’t go
The verb root (가) is found in the same place as the sentences using 자다 (to sleep).
By memorizing these few conjugations, we can plug in different verbs as we learn them and express ourselves using simple sentences.
See the chart below:
All you need to do is memorize these few verb conjugations, and you get access to many many more sentences as you add new verbs to your vocabulary! It helps open up the language and express any idea very quickly.
This document helps you get started using a few basic verbs and conjugations. As you progress with your Korean, you can learn the rules for these conjugations, but even before then you can begin to see patterns. In many cases, the –다 ending of the verb has just been dropped and the new ending applied. These are the magic bullets that will help you get started as early as possible expressing more complex ideas. Use this as a kick-start in your Korean language learning journey and adjust on the fly.
There you have it — a simple method for how to learn Korean quickly!
What’s your favorite hack for learning languages?
Learn to read Korean and be having simple conversations, taking taxis and ordering in Korean within a week with our FREE Hangeul Hacks series: http://www.90DayKorean.com/learn
The days are split up in a variety of sections with panel discussions and '이야기방's, or story rooms, where I imagine people will be sharing their 이야기s.
Obviously, this would be more of interest to people with a little more advanced Korean skills... would anyone be interested in checking it out? It is 7000 won for people who go alone, but you can get two tickets for ten thousand if you come with a friend.
Saturday has panel discussions titled "Marriage and Family: What do we want and what can we do?" and "Festival Politics Points at Issue and Strategy" from 10:30 to 12:00 and a panel discussion at 1:00 pm titled "Sexual Minority Factionalism in the Past, Present, and Future". Also at 1:00 pm are two talks: "The Two Faces of Protestantism Seen in the Plaza" and "That Feminist is Quite Queer".
On Sunday at 10:30, there are talks titled "Discussion on Preventing Sexual Minority Suicide" and "Ding-dong, what should we do from here?". From 1pm to 3pm, you can participate in talks titled "Sexual Minority Activism and Solidarity" and "A Frank Talk Between LGBT Individuals and Parents of Sexual Minorities".
Recently my language partner left to get a job. So I decided to leave my language exchange at Culcom in favor of an actual instructed Korean course at GNUCR near Gangnam-gu Office Station (Line 7). I’m pretty excited about the location, because its so close to me. I didn’t find out about this course until recently so I missed the deadline, but they kindly let me register late. I’ll start the course this evening. I am pretty excited. I hope I’ll learn more Korean. The course is 10 weeks and costs 300,000 Won ($300.00). They use the Active Korean book series, but this can be purchased at the school.
Reasons for leaving Culcom: The language exchange at Culcom was good, but unfortunately staying there 4 hours (2 hours for Korean with my partner and 2 hours for English speaking with another group) was just too much for me. Especially after teaching all day. It also didn’t help that I live quite far from Culcom, so I wasn’t getting home until 11:30 on school nights. I was so tired by the time I’d get home that I’d forget all the Korean I had learned! ㅋㅋ I believe that with my learning style I will benefit more from a structured class. I think it would be best for me to attend language exchanges on the weekends when I have time. So if conversational learning is more your style then definitely check out Culcom in Jongno 3-ga. I’ve also heard good things about the Culcom in Sinchon too.
Bangkok can fuck right off! I hope the military junta obliterates this overflowing shithole…
… At least that was my first impression of the capital city.
First Impressions are lasting
It took us ages and ages to reach Bangkok. Kyeonghwa and I jumped on a crowded ferry early in the morning from Ko Pha Ngan and trundled across the Gulf of Thailand for three hours, waited another two hours for a bus to arrive, then rode that bastard for another seven and a half glorious hours.
We eventually arrived in a dark Bangkok twelve hours later just off from the infamous Khaosan Road. As we and the other passengers went about sorting our bags as they were dumped from the bus, the charlatans came out of the woodwork and began the customary tourists swindling:
“Hey you, were you going?… That hotel is so expensive, I know cheaper one… Today is Buddha’s birthday, everything closed… Do you want a suit?… Tuk-tuk $1!”
We were approached by two of the dodgiest bastards in Thailand: one with a massive scar across his left eye and more than a few teeth missing, the other, well to be fair, he only looked dodgy next to his short-sighted friend.
One-eye asked me where we were going, and I, having had my British distrust of strangers thoroughly eroded by the affable island inhabitants of the Andaman and Gulf coasts, naively decided to hear their offers. He said our hotel was 20 minutes and 700 Baht (US $21) away; an absolutely absurd price!
After summarily dismissing with those wankers, we walked around the corner and found a couple of tuk-tuk drivers. We spoke with one fellow who said he knew where our hotel was, could get there in 10 minutes, and would scoot us there for 200 Baht ($6 US)… Much better. We hopped in his rickety motor, put our backpacks under our legs and clung to our rucksacks.
Kyeonghwa was sat to my right, fiddling about in her rucksack looking for her phone as I stared out the opposite side. After two weeks of lounging about on tropical islands, it was weird to be back in a city.
Like a moth to flame, I was enraptured by the lights, noise and hustle of the metropolis as it zoomed past. This was great; we’d started all the way down in Kuala Lumpur, come up through Malaysia, sauntered across Thailand’s southern islands, and here I was, whizzing through the streets of Bangkok on a tuk-tuk with my awesome girlfriend. I was smirking. My life, I thought, is great.
Annoyingly, just as my smugness was nearing its peak, Kyeonghwa tore me from my sweet hubris with a shrill scream. She’d been screaming a lot lately, what with Southeast Asia’s vast array of cockroaches, snakes, geckos, and spiders (oh, and because my bedroom prowess, of course). I looked down towards the floor expecting there to be a six-legged monstrosity scuttling about her feet but there wasn’t. She screamed again, this time more desperate.
Maybe it was the adrenaline, but the next few moments passed in slowmotion. I looked up and saw two guys on a motorbike cruising by the side of the vehicle. The back seat passenger held on to Kyeonghwa’s rucksack while she, holding onto the straps, was in danger of being pulled out the side.
As my brain was still figuring out what to do, the driver looked back and saw that his partner had more of the bag than Kyeonghwa and revved up. With cars surrounding the tuk-tuk, she wouldn’t last long were she to fall out.
With this realisation I grabbed her hard around the shoulders and pulled her towards me. In the motion, Kyeonghwa let go of her bag and the cunts on the bike sped off, weaving through the traffic ahead. She looked off towards the thieves, then back to me. All she said was, “My passport!”
All Possessions Are Fleeting
It wasn’t the fact that Kyeonghwa’s stuff was gone (we were insured and luckily there wasn’t that much money in the bag anyway, though the sentimental value was through the roof). What was infinitely worse, however, was the fact that we would now have to piss around in embassies, police stations, and immigration (and I wouldn’t wish Bangkok immigration on my worst enemies!).
Kyeonghwa took the whole thing quite well. When we eventually reached a hotel (it turned out the taxi driver didn’t know where he was going, and so I had him stop at whatever the next one turned out it be, which was a full four fucking stars over our budget!) her practical nature quickly took over as she calmly cancelled her credit cards, contacted her travel insurance providers, figured out where the Korean embassy, Bangkok immigration centre, and nearest police station were.
For me, it stirred up a whole host of irritating emotions. It was the lack of respect shown to someone I love dearly, and the utterly helplessness I felt afterwards. I had banged on and on about how great travelling is from the very first moment we’d met, and I’d gotten her in that situation. It had taken me the best part of two years to convince her to backpack around Southeast Asia with me, and now, a fortnight into the trip, everything was fucked. And my stupid, but never-the-less primal male-ego had been damaged: I had failed to protect my woman.
A Clichéd Ending
I’ll admit that the city’s infinite Theravada buddhist charm, the boats up and down the river, the street-food, the people, the cheesy floating markets, and our awesome hostel did win us over a little bit.
We were unlucky to have first impression we did, and that it could have happened in any city. And so I take back what I said about at the start. The situation in Thailand looks mightily shitty, and who knows what is going to happen. No doubt the rampant inequality that has dogged the kingdom for years was the root cause of the crime. I’ve no idea what is going to happen to Thailand under the military junta, but I very much doubt it can be good.
What happened to us was just a flavour of the buffet of bullshit the residents of Bangkok must now be living through. I wish them all the best.
A note from the Editor-in-Chimp: This post was originally posted here on Asia Pundits, for which I am also the Deputy Editor. So support your Monkeyboy and check Asia Pundits out, yeah?