• Our Man in Seoul: Ever So Inconvenienced by North Korea

    April 10, 2013 // 7 Comments »

    Add another to the State Department’s social media fail pile: America’s ambassador in Seoul blogs about how his vacation was disrupted by those naughty nats in North Korea.

    U.S. ambassador to Korea Sung Kim has wowed us via social media before, with his just-behind-the-meme video of his embassy interns dancing Gangnam Style. His latest stumble into social media details on his official Embassy blog his spring break trip with his daughters, all of which was just bothered by the constant threat of World War III.

    To start, that North Korean stuff cut into Kim’s vacay time:

    My daughters recently had off from school for spring break, and I planned to take a week off for a nice family vacation. But as is often the case here on the Peninsula, my break was interrupted by important developments and urgent issues, so my week off turned into just one day.


    Then things turned rough.

    However, starting early that Saturday morning, as new threats started coming from North Korea, I got busy with work. I had many calls and emails with Washington policymakers, senior South Korean officials, and U.S. Forces Korea. My BlackBerry was very busy.

    Several of these calls happened when we were at Busan Aquarium. Since it was a beautiful weekend morning, the aquarium was packed with happy (and loud) visitors, and it was very difficult to find a quiet place to talk. At one point, I had to send my daughters to the aquarium gift shop and then find a somewhat secluded stairwell to take part in what I hoped would be a 10-minute conference call. Unfortunately, the call lasted 40 minutes.

    What I did see of the aquarium was really terrific.


    Whew, looks like the ambassador just made it out alive, averting tragedy on the world’s most heavily armed border by sending his kids to the gift shop. Then, it was back to important work keeping peace:

    Despite all the phone calls and having to work through my vacation, I had a very nice time. We all wanted to stay longer, but the kids had to go back to school, and I was excited to participate in a very special ceremony with Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kyou-hyun the next day.

    If you have seen the U.S. Embassy recently, you would have noticed our giant banner marking this very special year in U.S.-Korea relations. This is our hwan gap, as we are celebrating “60 Years of Partnership and Shared Prosperity.” 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the Armistice, the Mutual Defense Treaty, and the founding of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea.


    That same armistice was recently disavowed by North Korea but whatever, right?

    That the U.S. embassy decided to feature on its social media the ambassador’s idiotic spring break trip in the midst of a major crisis on the Korean peninsula leaves one stunned. Is this some complex meta-diplo move to tweak the North Koreans? Is it just typically clumsy timing?

    Or is it that the U.S. ambassador is not much more than a bit player in world events anyway so no one even bothers about what image he is presenting to the world?

    Yep. Gangnam style!!!!!!



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    Posted in Embassy/State

    State Department Makes Gangnam Parody on Your Dime

    November 15, 2012 // 8 Comments »

    So there you were this morning, wondering what the State Department was doing with your tax money. They were making a “Gangnam Style” parody video!


    Have a look at this clip from a continuing series of “social media” produced by the American Embassy in Seoul:



    Now, in the words of Psy, let’s “break it down”:

    – State’s weird attempt at humanizing America abroad comes off instead as a lame attempt at creating a cult of personality around its ambassador. Truly, do Korean people care about his clothing (as featured in the video, hung in a messy closet)? Was the last “question” praising the embassy’s wonderful social media really a question that needed featuring here? And honestly, did US government employees on US government time really need to be forced to dance Gangnam style while the ambassador stood by watching like some playground pedophile?


    — What is the point? I get “social media” as a concept but I am unsure what the national policy goal here is, and there damn well better be one since taxpayer money is paying for this garbage. Are Koreans supposed to see the cartoon caricature of the Ambassador and “like” America? Are they supposed to see the Gangnam dancers and feel America is “with it”? Are we “groovy” yet?


    — Is this simply a silly shot at linking Psy’s 15 minutes of fame to the U.S.’ hope for another 15 minutes of fame?


    — Is the U.S. the only hip and cool country representing in South Korea? Because I checked the web sites of countries like the UK, Japan and China for Korea, and none of them feature silly poo stuff like this. I also checked the South Korean government’s web site in the U.S., and there are no YouTube videos of the South Korean ambassador lip syncing to Beyonce. Is America just that far ahead of the public diplomacy curve?


    — Why is State trapped in this loop of idolatry? The ambassador is the lead guy in these videos because he is the ambassador, and thus his entire staff is devoted to sucking up to him. If real communication was the goal, perhaps they could have found almost anyone else in the embassy with a teeny dollop more of charisma? Maybe someone who didn’t look deeply embarrassed alternating with deeply bored throughout the entire project?


    Anyway, hopefully State will show videos like this to Congress at the next budget hearings to help justify their requests for more money. I am sure Congress will be impressed.





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    Posted in Embassy/State

    Daily Kos: Fear the Noise of Democracy

    February 2, 2012 // Comments Off

    The Daily Kos runs an article today comparing shamefully the tactics used in Korea to stifle bloggers that offend the government there with tactics used by the US State Department to accomplish the same goals.

    South Korea brought the recent charges under its National Security Law – which bans “acts that benefit the enemy” but fails to specify what those acts are. Apparently, tweeting satirical images, as a blogger there recently did, counts as “acts that benefit the enemy.”

    “This is not a national security case; it’s a sad case of the South Korean authorities complete failure to understand sarcasm,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director of the human rights group Amnesty International. Of course, this week, the State Department proved it was equally unable to understand sarcasm, ordering me to remove the State Department Seal from a satirical blog I posted.

    The article concludes by scolding Mrs. Clinton’s Department of State:


    Stifling speech is the stuff of dictatorships, not democracies. If the U.S. is to be a leader in democracy, the State Department should take the lead and encourage free speech, even critical speech.

    Our government, like the one in Korea, fears the noise of democracy and instead prefers the silence of compliance.

    Read the entire piece on the Daily Kos.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Embassy/State