Ruby Ramblings

The End of the Line – New Songdo City

I woke up too late today to venture out on my original plan which would have included a two hour subway ride each way. By the time I had gotten to my destination to take the pictures, I’m sure the sun would be on its way out. So I decided to take my local subway line, the Incheon line to the end. I knew the area was under heavy construction, and has been for several years, but I was not aware of the fact that it literally doesn’t really exist yet.

I was the only person to get off the last stop. There wasn’t a soul in the terminal, except for a young sleeping security guard. My shoes even squeaked on the floor it was so new, shiny, and unused. When I got to the top of the stairs of the subway terminal this is what I saw.

No sidewalk. No ubiquitous Paris Baguettes. Actually not a store, or, for that matter, a fully constructed building in site. It was a wondrous construction zone that lasts for miles. The only place I’ve been in Korea where I was the only one around. A few construction trucks flew by, and although I know I shouldn’t have been there, I couldn’t help wondering around and trying to get a few good shots. The Free Economic Zone of Incheon is going to be the world’s largest constructed community. A 10 year, estimated $40 Billion dollar project, it is a completely planned, completely wired, and eventually the hopeful center of some serious international commerce. I’ve heard that starting prices for apartments, that haven’t even been built yet, is $500,000. Even if I never come back to Korea to teach, seeing what happens to this area in ten years would be worth taking a trip.

This part of Incheon, as in literally the piles of dirt under my feet, didn’t exist a few years ago. Well, actually it existed as a landfill. Korea has been undergoing massive artificial island projects to expand. It is quite plain on the subway maps which parts of the city are artificial, and where the natural coast line is. The faint dotted lines are where future development is planned. Although Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Dubai and other places have been using this as a form of land reclamation for years, it still makes me wonder at the stability of it all, if say a major earthquake or tsunami were to hit the area. I’m also curious as to why artificial islands fall under the geographic term of reclamation, how can you REclaim something that never existed?

New Songdo city is not all that large. I managed to walk from the barely existent International Business subway stop to the Incheon University subway in probably a little over a half hour, and that was with meandering around construction zones and taking pictures. I was hoping there would be a little life around the University stop, but it was literally a subway stop poking out of a field of dirt. There was a shuttle bus to take students to the school, which I couldn’t see on the horizon and a student pointed vaguely in the distance to where it must be. I’m quite confused as to why the stop is named for the University, except that from the subway line, I guess it is the closest access point to the school. A shuttle stop and subway marker jutting up out of nothing.

In between is the Central Park subway stop. A completely planned, and what is clearly going to be quite lovely park in the middle of this constructed city. Complete with public art pieces already installed. The impression I get both from some brief research reading, and from walking around the area, is that this city is meant to be an entity in and of itself. It has plans for international schools (with tuitions of upwards of $25,000/year), tax incentives for international business, a banking industry with low interest loans (presumably to very large investors), and the makings of town that plans to exclude, and possibly outright dismiss the existence of people of lower economic class. It makes me wonder what kind of actual life or vibrancy this fabricated city is going to have. Can you plunk down a city where one never existed, move in a bunch of folks, and call it home? I guess I should ask someone from a gated community in Arizona. (jab.)

Here is a photo of a poster on a construction barrier that shows what the city is supposed to look like when it is finished. Very modern, very urban, and quite nice. Of course, this doesn’t show the trash, the cars, the exhaust, or an Ajashee clearing his throat and spitting it next to someone’s shoe.

On a whim I got off a couple stops later at Campus Town. Again, I was having faint dreams of college towns, but alas, I think it meant “campus of highrise apartments.” Again, although this area is much further along in development and people clearly live here, there was nothing in the way of restaurants, shops, or stores within close walking distance of the subway stop. Even the map inside the subway was barren except to show the location of three housing developments. It makes me wonder if with the popularity of the car, there isn’t a move toward separating residential and commercial space, which, in this city, would be an incredible shame.

A brief and interesting article.
An article on the “wired” aspect of New Songdo City.

Green Books Campaign – Wherever There’s a Fight
November 10, 2009, 4:46 pm
Filed under: Books, economics, Peace, Politics


Eco Libris, in a random act of generosity, offered 100 free books to 100 bloggers who were willing to review them. The idea is to get the word out about publishers that are environmentally friendly with their printing/paper services.

“Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website”.

My book:

Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California

Published by the Green Press Initiative and Heyday Books.

This is a very conversational, thoughtful, and engaging look at the history of various civil rights movements in California. Being a huge, and hugely diverse state, I think it serves as an example, and interesting reading for anyone just about anywhere. The first thing that struck me about the book, is that we really do need reminders that a short time ago in history, discrimination and violence were not only legal, but encouraged by majority groups.

Although this book could be used as a college level textbook, it is not at all dry, and has so many other uses for anyone interested in American rights movements, history, and globalization.

The book is largely split into chapters that follow a time period, but although each chapter ends a little later in time, they all go back in history to roughly the mid-1880s looking at the chain of events that lead to the breakthrough in rights. Chapters one through three look at early California history including immigrant rights and workers’ rights. The next set of chapters look at racial equality, the rights of women, and political dissent. Moving further in time the authors examine free press, religious freedom, GLBT rights, people with disabilities, and criminal justice.

The first chapter Staking our Claim was a horrific look at some the early practices of violence against, in particular, Chinese laborers and Mexican people. One story was of a Mexican woman whose house had been broken into. She defended herself, wounding her assailant, and was then dragged into the streets, beaten and hanged for doing so. This chapter references some of CA early women’s rights laws, such as a woman being able to keep her property after a divorce, which wasn’t so much for the concern of women, but to attract wealthy, single women to California as potential wives.

Under Color of Law looks thoroughly, but not only, at African American rights, times of indentured servatude after slavery was ended, and also Mexican anti-segregation movements, the Filipino movement to end anti-miscegenation laws, and the Native American take-over and protest at Alcatraz.

The only chapter not in the time line is the final chapter, and is the one that is probably most personal to the co-author Stan Yogi. It is entitled Behind Barbed Wire and addresses the removal and incarceration of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Stan’s dedication in the beginning of the book reads, “Stan Yogi dedicates this book to his parents…who were incarcerated during WWII and still had faith in the promise of American freedom and justice.”

Although this book is very readable in its entirety, there is no need to read each chapter followed by the other. They stand alone as well researched pieces that could be used as references to each particular issue.

Book Giveaway I would be happy to pass on this book. If you are interested in reading it, leave a comment and I will pick someone at random.

“We elected to print this title on 30% post consumer recycled paper, processed chlorine free. As a result, for this printing we have saved:

22 trees (40′ tall and 6″ diameter)
9,884 gallons of wastewater
7 million BTUs of Total Energy
600 pounds of Solid Waste
2,052 pounds of greenhouse gases”

September 15, 2009, 5:07 am
Filed under: economics, Politics

I love that musicians are finally using their music to take a stand again. I’ve never had much of a talent for writing these kinds of songs.

July 26, 2009, 2:32 pm
Filed under: economics, Korea, Peace, Politics, Travel, War | Tags:

The Demilitarized Zone tour, or DMZ as it is known, was one of the more interesting things I’ve done since being in Korea on many levels: at once a cultural event, an educational event about a hotspot for violence in the world, and an interesting look into how two countries are shaping their own history and public information.

It was also a chance to be around the type of foreigners that I’ve avoided since coming to Korea – the loud ones that think the whole bus needs to be regaled with their tales of drunkenness, sexual excursions, how various penises from around the world compare, and all the things Koreans do wrong. This in turn led us to make friends with two of the very cool type of foreigners who agreed that the other type were being way too loud and ruining our view.

Peace Bell

Peace Bell

For anyone back home who might not be aware, the DMZ is a swath of land bordered on both sides by a fence and razor wire, that divides North and South Korea. No one has been allowed onto this skinny piece of land that runs the entire width of the Korean peninsula for fifty years, and they claim it has become a haven for wildlife. Unfortunately, the most interesting parts of the tour were the parts we were not allowed to take pictures of.

First we stopped at Unification Park, where the fact that South Korea has turned this into a huge tourist venture is blatantly obvious. People from all over the world, including Koreans, come to the boarder in droves to glimpse a little of the insanity that is North Korea, and also to pay homage to the fact that eventually they may be a unified country again. They’ve gone as far as to build a theme park to keep the kiddies happy, and the start of a “bridge” that may one day join the two countries – an enormous steel structure that at the moment is truly a bridge to nowhere.

The North Korean border is family friendly!

The North Korean border is family friendly!

Our first stop after joining the larger tour was the Third Infiltration Tunnel. This was truly fascinating, and unfortunately we couldn’t take pics in the inside of the tunnel. South Korea has found four tunnels, the latest in 1990, that are assumed to built by NK to be used to tunnel in ground support for an air strike on South Korea. They believe there may be more tunnels that have yet to be found – yet another case were geologists and archaeologists may be of help – Jim and I were talking about how if they did a survey of the border with a resistivity machine, they’d find out pretty quick if there were more tunnels or not. I had a feeling that the threat of more tunnels might actually just be being used to keep people concerned.

One of the more interesting facts about the tunnels is that the North Koreans smudged them with coal and tried to claim that they were coal mines that went too far underground and “accidentally” made it over the border. Anyone who has worked in coal country doing survey knows this is utter BS. First of all, coal exists in layers (as it is formed by compression of layers of organic material over a long period of time), which is why strip mining is so popular. You need to strip off a broad swath to get the most coal; skinny tunnels would not be effective at all. The other reason is that the area is mostly granite, not a place where coal layers are likely to be found.

It is said that the North Korean government told its people that South Korea actually built the tunnels to infiltrate North Korea and ruin their society with their filthy westernized ways. One interesting thing about the video we saw before going into the tunnels is that it makes almost no mention of the American, British, or Soviet involvement with WWII and the Korean war. It shows footage of the two different factions of Koreans, calling it a “fratricidal” war – almost implying that no one else was involved.

The closest thing I could get to a tunnel shot, was an outside shot of where the recently bored new tunnel was constructed to join with the actual Infiltration tunnel so that tourists could go down into it. It is thirty meters underground and we had to wear hardhats – this is all getting very familiar.  Don’t forget your PPE! (If you don’t get it, don’t worry, it’s an inside joke.)

Entrance to the tourist tunnel

Entrance to the tourist tunnel

We moved on to the observation tower – and lucked out with having a gorgeous day with a great shot of the North Korean mountains, and a “city.” Apparently when North Korea became aware that this observation tower had been built, and tourists were coming to view this area, they promptly built a fake city to prove that North Korea is doing well and prospering. Someone comes to switch on and off the lights, but no one really lives there. You could really tell, to me it looked like one of those pre-fab midwestern towns where the Home Depot has been built, the townhouses are up, but no one has actually lived there yet. There is something so distinctive about the traces that humans leave, that I think we can really tell if no one has ever lived there even if it is made to look on the contrary. We were not allowed to take pics of this town either (or the map of the area inside the building).

You can almost see the "village", and the mountains were gorgeous.

You can almost see the "village", and the mountains were gorgeous.

At the observation tower overlooking the "villiage."

At the observation tower overlooking the "village."

The last stop was a blatant piece of overly optimistic propaganda. With the money raised from tourism, there has been an entire subway station built right at the border, complete with destination Pyeongyang, North Korea. It claims with absolute certainty that when North Korea collapses and is once again unified with South Korea, that the train line will eventually join with the Trans-Siberian, and Trans-China lines.  We were even able to use a “commemerative stamp” to stamp our tour books and prove we had been there.  Scrap-booking is apparenlty alive and well everywhere.  There were also large photos of when Bush came to the opening of this station, declaring his support for the unification of the peninsula.

Although these are nice sentiments, is South Korea really willing to take on the financial, social, and political burden of bringing a populace of brain-washed people, who have a standard of living one hundred years behind the rest of the world, who truly believe that if you touch something western your hand could fall off, up to South Korean consumerist standards? (There was even some discussion that maybe they are looking at North Korea as a possibility for really cheap labor – a job now farmed out to Burmese, Pakastani, and Nepali folks. Using North Koreans would have the advantage of the people speaking at least some form of Korean.)  There was a windowless building next to the station, that the tour guide noted that she was required to tell us was a storage unit for goods from the area.  She was implying that that is not at all what it is, and more likely, I’m assuming it is probably a weapons cache or some such.

Of course there are also North Korean refugees who just really want to see their home again before they die. All along the border there were old ladies wearing pink and praying along the fences.  To me they were a much bigger sign of hope than subway stations that go nowhere.  At the end of the day, what people are willing to do for each other is really what  matters the most.

Pyongyang Train Station

Train Station to Pyeongyang

All in all, it was a fascinating, thumbs-up day.


For anyone that cares, we used Grace Travel 02-332-8946.  48,000 won, but it does not take you to Pannumjeon – where the US and North Korean soldiers stand and stare at each other.  We’ll save that for another time.

Big Boys and Evil Literature
March 29, 2009, 6:01 pm
Filed under: Books, economics, Peace, War | Tags: , , , ,

Big Boy Big Boy Rules: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq by Steve Fainaru

I’ve been listening to the audio version in my car. Usually I avoid books that look like this because they are glorified versions of weapons technology, hero worship, and killing “the other.” This cover was slightly deceiving, and luckily, I had heard a book review on NPR before I saw the cover.

Fainaru has spent a lot of time in Iraq as a embedded journalist were he became interested in the “parallel army” that arose around the US military. When there weren’t enough US soldiers to cover missions, private contract armies arose including the now famous Blackwater, and Fainaru follows two lesser known companies (that contract to Halliburton); Crescent and Triple Canopy.

These contract armies have no rules, no official equipment, very little training, and make enormous paychecks. As opposed to many of the soldiers who make a small enough paycheck on combat pay that they are eligible for welfare benefits, the contract “soldiers” are pulling in $7,000 a month. Fainaru decides, under great controversy, to call these contract workers mercenaries. Hired guns. The problem is that ultimately, since they are contract workers, the US government is paying these bills. Enlisted soldiers stand by insulted while the “mercs” rake it in.

These mercs are the same young men who make up the US army. But they aren’t protected in the same ways. The contract mercenary that Fainaru follows throughout the beginning of the book swore that he would never get captured, and even had a death pact with his fellow mercenaries. John Cote, pronounced Co-Tay, was captured, skinned alive, and beheaded not too long after these series of interviews. He had done two tours of duty in the real US military in Iraq and Afghanistan and decided he couldn’t go back to “civilian life”. He traded his twenties, and eventually his life, for the money and adventure of working in a contract security company.

Because of the lack of rules and military control over the contract mercenaries, there is a lot of confusion over who governs them. When this question was posed to George Bush, Bush laughed and said, “That’s a great question, I’m going to have to ask Rumsfeld about that.” To which Rumsfeld replied that he didn’t know, and thought the President was responsible for that. Which means there was no one there to bring accountability when a merc went crazy and shot up a cab filled with civilians. There is no screening process, several of the mercenaries are self-proclaimed alcoholics and people who “just want to kill.” The residents of Alice’s Restaurant are welcome here.

Likewise, there is no one there when a convoy of mercenaries is driving around with no armor and no back-up support.

At the same time I’ve been reading Literature from the “Axis of Evil”: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Other Enemy Nations released by Words Without Borders.

This is a collection of stories from states considered enemies of the US government. It starts with the official Axis of Evil, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Countries that have little to nothing to do with each other, but which had been lumped into the same category by the Bush administration. The editors of this book note that they are in objection to the use of terms like Axis of Evil, and declare that they are also against the US notion of being against free trade of literature and culture with countries it doesn’t agree with. Many of the authors in this book are living in exile, being the subject of that kind of discrimination in their own countries.

The opening story, The Vice Principal in my opinion, is the best. It is an Iranian story of a boy who takes liberties with a writing assignment, and feels the wrath of a teacher who doesn’t agree with his opinion.

In the section of stories by North Korean authors, it is very apparent that there are tight restrictions on what people are allowed to write about, and I would even say that in the first story presented, A Tale of Music it appears that some of the original work was taken out and propaganda about “our dear leader” put in it’s place.

Other countries included are Syria, Libya, Sudan and Cuba. Cuba stands out, in that it is a culture that is much more open about sexuality than most of the others included. With it being the last group of stories included, the open sex and discussion of a character’s girlfriend’s period almost comes as a shock.

These two books were very interesting to read together. The mixing of US force policy and the point of view of the countries our policy is forced upon.

Passing of Orphan Mother Mrs. Haregewoin Teferra

One of the best books I read all of last year was:
There Is No Me Without You: One Woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Her Country’s Children

Heregewoin Teferra was a woman living in Ethiopia, like most people, living her own life and not too concerned with what was going on outside of her immediate friends and family. That is until her husband had a sudden heart attack, and her oldest daughter died of seemingly no cause (although years of emotional abuse from her husband probably had a lot to do with it.)

When she became a recluse and had withdrawn from her social life, a local priest came to her needing help taking care of a couple of teenage orphans. This first attempt at taking in orphans was not her most successful, but after several years, her house turned from a stopover for an orphan or two, to a major house complex, including its own medical facility and school, for dozens of abandoned children, many of them HIV positive.

Fellow blogger Real Mama recently informed me that Mrs. Teferra has passed away, leaving 59 orphans with no care.

WorldWide Orphans Foundation is taking donations and trying to find these children, again most of them HIV positive, new homes. If you choose to donate, make you sure you check the box indicating the money is for the Heregewoin orphanage.

Pictures from Melissa Greene’s wesite:
Bossy one

(Un)American (Un) Insurance
March 11, 2009, 11:44 pm
Filed under: economics, Peace | Tags: , , ,

When the US government holds a summit on an idea, you would think that the country that holds itself as the gatekeeper of free speech would allow all ideas to be on the menu. Not so with Obama’s summit on national health care, where single payer health care was declared a no-no before the invitations were even sent out. Dr. Quentin Young, MLK’s former personal physician, a public friend of Obama’s, and a proponent of single payer health was overtly un-invited.

The problems with the current state of health care in America are not really worth hashing here. Everyone has a story, most people I know are uninsured, and just as many have stories of being denied coverage for something they needed done.

The real problem with private health insurance is that the health insurance companies are not doing their jobs. We pay them, they are supposed to pay our health bills, they come up with ridiculous excuses for why they can’t pay, line their pockets, and then raise rates again. Forcing people to buy private health insurance, which is considered the “compromise” to progressive health care, will do nothing but give more money to an already greedy industry. It won’t lower rates by much, and more importantly, it won’t increase the quality of service the private companies are providing.

The arguments against single payer are weak and heavily funded. Our current existing single payer plan, medicare, only took a year to implement after it was made law. If people want private insurance, that will be their choice, but the rest of the country needs a choice too.

Really, if we removed health insurance from being the responsibility of the employer, everyone could have coverage regardless of being self-employed, un-employed, or like myself, employed by companies who are small enough to refuse to pay health insurance. Employers would have more money to keep jobs in the US. One of the main complaints major employers have about keeping factories and offices in the US is that the health insurance makes an employee much more expensive than one in another country.

It’s time for our ELECTED officials, who work for US to stop pandering to the insurance companies. Their fear of the insurance companies is a disgusting show of weakness and lack of innovation in a time when positive, drastic action is needed. If we can spend billions a year to kill people in other countries, I’m sure we could find some money for American health care.

Single Payer Action
– an action website for people interested in single payer health care. They have links to the few news reports being done on single payer since the issue has been completely blacklisted from major media.

If you feel strongly about this issue you can find your Congress people and write to them here. It has been proven that if single payer was brought to congress, the citizen support would be overwhelming – currently hovering around 60%, but congress refuses to bring it to the table – harass them :
House of Reps

Hand over the check and no one gets declawed.
February 28, 2009, 10:50 pm
Filed under: economics, Travel | Tags:

Kitten stimulus package.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds. Our new rescued cat, Bebek, ate my $1,000 per diem check meant to pay for the hotel I’m staying in while working in the Smokey Mountians in North Carolina. The good news is that the company has agreed to cut me a new check as long as I submit the pieces he didn’t ingest as proof of what happened.

I sure hope it tasted good buddy.

Thousand Dollars

Tom Geoghegan and Progressive Economics
February 13, 2009, 5:22 pm
Filed under: economics, Politics

I apologize to the folks who are used to me writing a travel blog about my various work locations and trips abroad. But these days I’m pretty stuck. I’ve been laid off, and rather than wallowing, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, written a couple of songs, am working a book on Buddhism and Peace, and been keeping in touch with what the hell is happening to the US economy.

There were as many jobs lost in the country in the month of January as there are jobs in the entire state of Maine. Almost 600,000 jobs were lost in one month. This is no small impact. This video is great, and I really like Tom’s idea that since the tax payers are bailing out all these companies, these companies should in return bail out consumers and negate a percentage of consumer debt. Why do all the rich people get to run off with the entirety of the US treasury while the people who paid in that money in the first place get nothing?

The Interview Show: Tom Geoghegan from Ben Chandler on Vimeo.

Just for the record. If you are a CRM archaeology field tech, never work for CRAI out of Lexington, KY. The owner has now replaced all temporary field techs with interns willing to work for free. Way to go in taking care of your employees during hard times.