Welcome in from the Road.

I'm sorry I waxed so poetic at the end of that previous entry. I'll try to keep the politics out of my writing from here on. Don't worry, the road gets whimsical soon--on Friday, you get to see a picture of me at a baseball game with a plastic bag on my head.

This is a welcome notice. Some of you haven't read my personal blog in a long time, or only read it sporadically. Some of you didn't know I *HAD* a personal blog until just now. Some of you read it religiously, or have just done the smart and lazy thing and added it to your RSS reader or personal Google page.

To all of you, hi. I ask only that you read what I write here with patience, and know that I don't write here so that I can talk about things, I expressly write here the things I often do not want to discuss.

A couple of things to remember:
1) I'm probably not writing about you.

2) sometimes I write fiction, prose, or poetry here that is completely unrelated to my life.

3) A lot of my writing here is just IT, digital rights, or engineering commentary. It'll be boring. Sorry. It interests me, so I expound on it sometimes. In general, the technology and politics posts are about the only ones I'll be happy to discuss with you in person, or via e-mail.

As to the rest, I appreciate it if my reader has the good sense to let sleeping dogs lie.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Seodaemun Prison

What I am about to write about is graphic and unpleasant. I believe, however, that old platitude that unless we study history, we are condemned to repeat it. Thus I'm going to talk about the less pleasant parts of Korean history now.

When I tore myself away from my experience with Jang Gi, it was to visit Seodaemun Prison. First built in the 1908, it was designed to house political prisoners who opposed Japanese Occupational rule. After the occupation ended, it was used as a prison for the provisional military dictatorship that ruled Korea until the 1980s, when it was finally shut down. A few years ago it was reopened as a history lesson for the Korean people and for foreign visitors.

The Japanese, and the Koreans who worked for them, designed Sodaemon with an eye towards shattering the human spirit. The cells are small and overcrowding seemed to be encouraged. Overcrowding meant that so many men were jammed into a cell that they had to sleep in shifts. It seemed intentionally operated such that many Koreans would die of malnutrition, or sleep deprivation. There were a series of solitary confinement cells which no light would enter, which appear to be approximately 4 feet high, ensuring that any prisoner would be stooped for their entire stay in solitary.

When I visited Seodaemun, I took one picture inside before being told that inside the buildings and exhibits, no photography was allowed. Once I'd seen the other exhibits, I understood immediately why. The Koreans took great pains to rebuild exhibits that convey the anguish inflicted upon the prisoners who were tortured as political dissidents and terrorists in Seodaemun. Th4 exhibits include life-size replica scenes of torture--wax figures of prisoners spread prostrate before Japanese guards with torture implements.

There were areas of the prison specifically constructed as torture chambers. These included places where prisoners could be hung upside down and water poured on their faces, or where their heads could be forced underwater. It also included rooms designed specifically for the sexual torture of prisoners, and small rooms alongside the torture chambers where 'confessions' were to be taken, presumably located in close proximity so that the screams of braver prisoners would weaken the resolve of the ones being encouraged to confess. Other rooms contained tables that allowed the guards to completely secure a prisoners hands, so that a long thin knife similar to a flat head screwdriver could be inserted under the fingernails of the prisoner--one nail at a time.

The one picture I took in the 'museum' portion, was this one. What you see there is a prisoner transfer mask. The Japanese knew that some of the people kept in Sodaemon would be political dissidents who were popular with the people, and that their outrage would be difficult to contain if they found out that their heroes were being abducted, beaten, and executed. But Korea is a small country, with many citizens, building a secret prison would be impossible, so other methods of secrecy were employed. These masks were one, allowing a prisoner to be arrested in secret and transfered from a police wagon into the prison anonymously.

Since the Japanese had no Habeus Corpus provision for Korean dissidents, prisoners could be captured and held without trial or official charges, then interrogated and forced into a confession that would ensure their arrest. Alternatively they could be abducted and charges simply manufactured after they were imprisoned.

Like most of Korea, Seodaemun is built into a hillside, this means that the back wall of the prison is flush--on the outside--with the hill for about one and a half stories. This allowed the Japanese to carve a secret tunnel into that hillside, so that when prisoners died in confinement, or were secretly executed, they could be transported under the cover of night to a nearby public grave and buried without anyone finding out. Since in some cases the prisoners had been held without any charges against them, the records concerning that person's abduction could be quietly expunged and no-one (save the person's grieving family and friends) would be the wiser.

Heroes of Korea's bitter resistance against Japanese rule died in Seodaemun. One young woman who helped organize one of the "Korea day" demonstrations died of malnutrition there, but according to legend, not before leading a 3,000 strong riot from within the prison grounds, in spite of all that was done to her to break her spirit. She's considered a national hero now by the Korean people. Other men who lived to see Korea freed from Japanese rule were broken forever, inside. Men described entering in their twenties, healthy and fit, and leaving a few short years later with back problems, eye trouble, permanent hearing loss, and a host of physical maladies brought on by the living conditions and torture they endured.

If you feel I have intentionally chosen my words so that they remind you of current events, pat yourself on the back. As Americans, we are quick to think of ourselves as the aggrieved parties. We strove to break the yoke of high taxes and unfair laws imposed by the British. We helped destroy greedy and evil regimes by being on the "right" side of two World Wars. In the second, we were attacked unjustly and without warning. By hook and by crook, fair means and foul, We saved the world from the frightful shadow of communism. We are taught to think of ourselves as the good guys in all our history classes save for the ones run by cynical men with hooded eyes, and they rarely last more than a year or two before being sent away.

Rarely do our school teachers talk about the hundreds of thousands of American Indians we slaughtered as we expanded westward. Mentions of our disastrous attempts to meddle in political affairs in the middle east are never mentioned. In case you think I'm being hyperbolic, do a little hunting and you'll discover those attempts include funding and manufacturing the revolt against a moderate political force in Iran, supplying weapons to the Taliban in their war against Russia, and even providing training and weaponry to Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, ironically as an attempt to fix the things that had turned sour after our attempts to control it politically went awry.

It seems to me that we do not study our flaws openly as a nation, nor do we strive to learn from our mistakes. Our founding fathers were angry with the way innocent men were being treated in English courts, and they tried their best to write a foundation for law that would protect citizens from a government that would inevitably attempt to be unjust. I believe those men would be appalled if they saw how willing we are now to turn a blind eye to our current choices.

I drew spidery lines between America's war on terror and Japan's use of Seodaemun. Let's go back over those with a sharpie. Water torture has been used against political prisoners in countries we have invaded--and even justified by our government officials. Sexual tortures and humiliations we'd never permit at home have come to light as common in our overseas prisons. Habeas Corpus, a cornerstone of any good system of criminal law, was suspended for the political prisoners kept in Guantanamo bay for seven years before being corrected in our nation's highest court--longer than the entire length of American involvement in World War 2. We did not need secret passageways and anonymizing masks because we built whole secret prisons at undisclosed locations, and tried people and authorized warrants in secret, clandestine courts, where no press could report on who was convicted, or with what crimes they were charged.

And we, as Americans, did not with one voice cry out for the criminal trial of those in power, men who have torn and twisted a government that was designed to be fair and just into something vile, something evil, something that begged for reform.

Other men have been quietly brushed aside. Men like Ron Paul, who suggested that our enemies in the Middle East are the result of our own poor choices and actions spanning 60 years of history were discredited and ignored. When Habeas Corpus was restored to prisoners at Gitmo, no major news organization (I'm looking at you, Fox News and CNN) had the balls to spin the news in a celebratory manner ("US courts get their heads out of the executive branch's ass after 6 years!" would have looked good on the ticker if you ask me).

We've expected fair and impartial press and we're left with cowards and sycophants. There's been rioting in the streets every day in Iran for the past two weeks, but CNN and Foxnews are only just now picking it up because they've been forced to because the online news sources were eating their lunch.

I'm proud to hear that young American techs are creating a grassroots network of twitter proxies and digital underground railroads for information in and out of Iran. It's the first thing I've heard which really gives me hope that perhaps America's young men and women are not all as complacent and ignorant as I sometimes suspect them to be.

And no matter how much I want to, I can't stop seeing a pair of innocent eyes behind that bamboo mask, every time I look at the image I posted above.

If you fear terrorists, I understand. I'm writing this entry aboard an airplane on my way to a country where men have been abducted and murdered for espousing the tenets of my religion, where rioters threaten the livelihood of entertainers if they encourage free speech with which the vocal minority of fundamentalists disagree. Hell, I'm going to a country where a rarely enforced law says that if a woman bares her shoulders in public she can be tried for charges of pornography. I do feel a measure of tension--yes, even a measure of fear--at the thought that I am entering a place so foreign to me, and with so little preparation and knowledge of local custom and law.

But there is another kind of injustice that I fear more than the wickedness of passionate men who practice the murder of innocents in the streets, and that is the wickedness of dispassionate men who practice the murder of innocents behind locked doors.

Those men I fear far more.

We are not Korea, in the parable of Seodaemun. In our fear, we have abandoned our passion for freedom to the whims of wicked and evil men. We are not Korea, we are the terrible might of Imperial Japan.

It is my great hope that within my lifetime I will see a generation of Americans who will, through their own hard work and sacrifices, usher in a better braver government than that which we currently have.

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." - Thomas Jefferson.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Picasa now Alailable in Porblem edition.

So, Picasa is broken. More specifically, Picasa for Linux is broken, but since I use linux almost exclusively on my personal computers, and the only thing I brought with me to Asia on this trip was a Asus EEE running Easy Peasy, Linux is all I have to work with.

It does a fair job managing files, but there are bugs strewn throughout its upload manager. Trying to get it to upload things is turning into a real pain in the ass. I need to use it to upload things because the built in uploader in Blogger has apparently decided that Hong Kong is just too far away and uploading things is hard work, so now it refuses to accept any images.

Thankfully, due to flaws in the Youtube upload system (that make it simply impossible to directly upload on Linux), I had already discovered Firefox Universal Uploader. It's a badass little program that runs as a firefox extension in its own tab.

While not completely bug free, it's the best solution I can find for handling uploads to these kinds of sites, and it does a fantastic job interfacing with Picasa's web albums, much better than Picasa itself.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Back on the Road.

Well, tomorrow I leave for Asia, so I figured I'd repost the link for those of you that lost it.

The Road.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009