Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Month: November 2012

Face(book) the Music

This is a bit late, I guess, but I have at last made a Facebook page for Pop Goes Korea. There’s not much there now, but I hope to use the page to talk about the book more and Korean pop culture-related subjects.

Grid and Bear It

Korean indie-pop group Love X Stereo is back with a new EP, Off the Grid. And, much like their first EP Buzzin’, this one features three hook-laden and very danceable tunes.

The songs on this EP are a bit longer than before, with two topping 6 minutes and the other nearly 5 minutes. I guess that moves the bad a bit away from pure pop to something grander, more involved and layered. Or maybe they just wanted to have the space to have fun and rock out. Anyhow, I like it.

Here’s the first track, “Soul City (Seoul City)” (which happens to be the song I like the most):

But feel free to buy either album over at iTunes’ Love X Stereo link — they’re cheap and good fun.

Korean Science Growing Up, Going Abroad

It’s pretty cool to see Korea pledging $51 million to development in Africa, with a concentration on infrastructure, IT, and science. The announcement — $51 million in aid over the next two years — came just after the Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation Ministerial Conference in Seoul last month. While North Korea, cool cell phones and pop music make the bulk of Korea’s international headlines, it is great to see how science is making such strides.

Korea’s universities have been steadily moving up the world university rankings for some time now. And while they are not exactly vying with the Standford or MIT, they are definitely much better than they were a decade ago. It is also no coincidence that the top-ranking schools are overwhelmingly Korea’s science schools — POHANG at No. 50 and KAIST is No. 68 (Seoul National University was No. 59, but much of that score came from its science programs).

Korea has long put an emphasis on the importance of science. You can get a very good overview of its science policy from Park Chung Hee to the present in this Brookings paper. I quite liked this graph:

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy sketches an amazing high tech future for Korea. Based on a 2009 survey of 3,000 IT industry experts and researchers, they listed such futuristic technologies as home medical checks for common diseases, mobile phones that only need to be recharged once annually, home appliances that respond to brain waves, automatic temperature adjustments for in-door climate control, super high-definition televisions, universal language translators, and efficient solar cells providing most electrical energy. While all this may be remarkable, similarly astounding technologies were predicted in Korean government reports twenty years ago.

Back in 2004, I wrote about the push then-President Roh Moo-hyun was giving science for the AAAS’s Science magazine: “Suddenly, Science Moves to the Top of Government’s Agenda” (I wrote it out because Science has a really stiff paywall). And while there is definitely something of a hamster wheel about the constant re-invention of grandiose science dreams, there is also a driving ambition which is so important to moving forward. It is the sort of vision that I fear way too much of the West has forgotten.

POTUS 2012

No one has asked my thoughts on the 2012 US presidential race. And no one has paid me to consult or write about the US presidential race. Nonetheless, I will offer a couple of opinions on what is going on.

  • Barack Obama will win with results very close to Nate Silver’s predictions.
  • Yes, Obama has a pretty mediocre record and the US economy is still pretty weak. In a normal election cycle, he should have been quite beatable.
  • However, one of the biggest reasons he has such a mediocre record has been the historic levels of obstructionism by the Republicans.
  • The strongest candidate the GOP could have offered would have been a conservative who is intellectually honest and competent. But if today’s Republicans were intellectually honest and competent, they would have cooperated with the Obama administration over the past four years, and the United States would be in much better economic shape today. Which would have made Obama much less beatable.
  • This was a deliberate and calculated strategy by the GOP — that party discipline and intransigence was a winning electoral strategy. 2010 seemed to prove that right. Fortunately, in the long run it appears to have been a losing strategy.

And one more big, depressing point:
  • Until the Republican party becomes convinced that their strategy of the past four years (and, really, since Newt Gingrich ran the House 20 years ago) is a losing one, nothing is going to change in US politics.

One of Obama’s biggest failings as president has been his inability to lobby, cajole, and politic Congress effectively. He is way too passive before both his party and the opposition. Four years ago I totally supported Obama’s candidacy. But in retrospect I think the United States would have done better with Hillary Clinton as president (as painful as it is for me at admit that).

Oh, and one last closing thought about politics that I have learned over the past four years, from living in Asia and Europe and following US politics:

  • Any and all nations’ internal politics look just as moronic and painful as the United States’ if looked at with the same level of detail.

The Physics of History

I just chanced across the website of Kim Young Suh, a physicist who has been teaching at the University of Maryland for some time. Kim was born in Korea in the 1930s, under the Japanese colonial government. As part of his website, he was quite a long and fascinating section on the music of Korea and Asia when he was growing up. It’s really fascinating, with hundreds of links to singers and music from Shanghai, Korea, and around the region, from the pop standards of the day to his classical favorites. It also talks a lot about Japanese propaganda songs and life in that period before independence. Just great stuff. You could spend hours listening to all his links.

Asian Indie – It’s a Big Place

As much as I love Korea’s indie music scene, it is always good to be reminded just how much other great music is being made all over Asia. And I don’t just mean Japan and China. Southeast Asia seems to be flourishing culturally these days, thanks in part to its continued economic growth.

If you are interested in Southeast Asia’s rock music, there is a great blog called Sea Indie (SEA Indie?), which features music from Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, etc. Along with news and reviews, Sea Indie puts out Soundcloud compilations, year-end best-ofs and other good packages for finding the best music of the region. For example, here is their article about the best songs of 2011. Did you know Indonesia had a great folk-rock band called Bangkutaman? Well they do, and the band is quite good.

Here is Sea Indie’s first compilation, featuring rock from Indonesia:

You can download their Filipino collection here and their Malaysian compilation here. But I quite like this regional collection.

The website kind of gets at one of my points in POP GOES KOREA — that Korea’s great musical accomplishments aren’t just because Korea is so special, but they are in part a sign of how the world is changing thanks to the continued effects of globalization. Korea did it first in Asia, but young people around the region are traveling more and growing more wealthy, and as they do, they want to participate in modern pop culture. Sometimes that will be very mainstream culture, but other times it will be more indie and ground-up. And that is a very good thing.

Oh, it is worth noting that this is not just a new thing either. Here is a fun blog post at Tofu Magazine with plenty of music links featuring some great Hong Kong and Singapore rock-pop from the 1960s. I quite liked this album by Teddy Robin & the Playboys:

Here is their version of “A Little Bit of Me, A Little Bit of You“.

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