Sunday, September 11, 2005

The meeting of Kims

A man poked his head out the door, his face so big and flat I expected it to be two-dimensional, that when he turned his head it would be as thin as a pizza plate.

I need to go back to Utah, a drying out period, getting healthy, hiking and communing with the land, meeting Utes in canyons and caves, native Americans living off the grid, or going to these places from the reservations, from their shitholes to the sublime. They would go into the canyons where no one else knew the way. They received assistance from the Mormon families, and the odd multi-wived family Billy was staying with. Same in Idaho. Galt knows them, they meet, off the path conferences, a bit on the Ghost Dance, that revival, need to find that, the belief that the indians could recover their land, that there would be a powerful spirit who would revive and unite the Indian nations so they could take back what is theirs. An odd alliance indeed, tribes and Mormons and LA cops and ex-military. Maybe even have Billy attend one of these meetings, the longhouse, steam ceremonies, peyote? No, some cynicism from the leaders, a recognition that the stories were a tool, they were used to inspire the young or the gullible. Much like religion or nationalism in the US, what’s the difference between god and the Great Spirit? Is Democracy a guiding light or the best of bad options. How do you use an idea to inspire people? The key is the marketing, the benefits associated with the ritual, if it is the promise of a reward in the afterlife, you have the ultimate product, the ultimate call to action. Unverifiable. The rest is packaging. Get a “Chief” to acknowledge this, to talk like a Madison Ave. exec, an ad-man, maybe someone trained in an eastern school who actually worked in the industry for awhile. He benefited from affirmative action, a scholarship dedicated to native americans at Yale and now he was using that training to subvert the system. An Ivy League education and the funding from casino proceeds combine to create a scenario where the white man is contributing to his own demise. Demise is too strong a word. They just want what’s theirs.
Go with Galt and meet the Utes (and plains, north plains, black hills, chief Joseph? Nez Pierce?) Billy met in Utah. The alliance of native american tribes runs deep. Mormons, tribes, military, ex-cops, city-dwellers disaffected with the status quo, drug laws are impacting life, impacting america. The answer, the one common theme is a desire to separate, white man’s burden, manifest destiny was a hoax. Just because the continent is one land mass doesn’t mean you need one government. Look at Europe. Cultural differences demand separation, distinction. Two is not too many and the mindset of the east is not the same as the west. Divided we thrive.

So, yeah, need to go back and write all that stuff, then the Korea/Japan stuff, then return to Seattle. There will be another person covering SEA and ANZ. While gone Martin will be undergoing his trial, Scoop will get involved. The problem with the Florida idiots is they are totally unconnected, powerless. They made a big mistake in going after Marty. He has Scoop. He’s black. He’s a working member of society. The disaffected middle class is powerful, they are smart, were once rich or at least comfortable. This is so damn topical, I need to get it out. Need to check out the first half and see if there is too much stayathome dad stuff or if that is what makes it believable.

Video games. Not sure what that has to do with anything. Reality versus all the stuff we see. Missile Defense, Missile Command, Missile Silos, the guys stuck in the silos, and the ridiculous amounts of money spent on Strategic Defense Initiative, SDI, Star Wars, and all that in comparison to the amount of money needed for general public services. Selling SDI to others is the counter-argument. Sell it to Taiwan, to Japan, Canada is essential…if we can’t get our neighbors to contribute then how can we sell it abroad, the cynicism of this is extreme. Political instability could be seen as a driving factor to the purchase of such technology. Problems with North Korea are therefore seen as a good thing because they motivate Japan to buy. Poor relations with China are a good thing because they help motivate Taiwan to buy. Six way talks are frowned upon because they offer up the potential for discussion for a resolution that might alleviate this fear and temper the urge to buy. Free discussion inserts the possibility of concepts/ideas/thoughts re above to be entered into. More Korea discussion.

I think I already wrote about the guy with the pizza-plate face already, the guy who opens the door. PR Kim and John and I (maybe PR Kim’s ‘friend’/political contact, maybe him later). We went to a building down an alley, it was non-descript, mailboxes and nameplates in the small foyer, telling what went on there, what businesses operated within (or facsimiles) and what floor they were on. We headed up the stairs to the third floor and walked down a long hallway lined with windows on one side and doors on the other, at the end of which we found the number we were looking for. A man with a large, round, flat face opened the door, peeked out, and looked us up and down one by one. He said something in Korean to PR Kim who said something back and then the man with the pizza plate face opened the door wide, checking behind us and then he walked into the hallway we had just exited and stuck his moon face out the nearest window, turning one way and then the other like a satellite dish trying to pick up a signal.
The office we entered was littered with papers on desks arranged haphazardly, maps and indecipherable posters, large sheets of paper with Korean handwritten messages hung from the walls. In the far corner a sort of conference room, walled in glass, held two other Korean gentlemen. Pizza plate face led us back to them and everyone stood, greeting one another with handshakes and short suspicious bows, eyes peering ahead, sneaking peaks under raised eyebrows. They offered us seats and we sat three across on either side of a long metal table. It was shabby. The whole place could be described in that one word – shabby. Desks were shabby. Floors, doors, even the glass of the conference room was really a cheap plastic- very shabby. The air was shabby with stale cigarette smoke. As if on cue, the three men simultaneously pulled out three packs of cigarettes, offered us some and started smoking. Quickly the room (make the connection between the longhouse indian smoking ceremony and this). Quickly the plastic glass room was filled with shabby air as we flicked our ashes in shabby ash trays and tentatively talked about our shabby little plan. PR Kim did most all the talking. John seemed to understand parts of the conversation and occasionally the leader, for there was clearly one leader, a handsome man with crewcut hair and a military demeanor, this man would attempt to put a point into broken English. I remained entirely lost during the first hour of the meeting. At one point, pizza plate face brought in six warm cokes that must have been stored in a shabby warm closet somewhere. My mouth was dry from smoking, my lungs and throat felt coated in lint. Even a warm coke was welcome.
After that they turned to me and asked me question that PR Kim translated. More bits of English entered the conversation as the three on the other side tried to get a handle on the whole story, my story about Jake and Max and what was happening with Martin in the courts. What was happening in america. I explained as best I could, I talked about Jake, perhaps in terms that exaggerated his connections, at least I thought they were exaggerations, they might have been understatements. The men would stop and confer amongst themselves after Kim clarified what I’d said. The looks on their faces, the tone in their voices and their general body language led me to believe the meeting was going well. They were believing me. Another hour passed. The leader finally put out his last cigarette and stood, pushing his shabby metal chair back across the shabby linoleum floor with a loud scraping sound. He faced us, erect and proper, ramrod straight as if he were going to issue orders and for all purposes he did, declaring, “We are done for today.”
And with that we all shook hands and bowed some more, slightly less awkward and suspicious than upon our entrance, although the performance was otherwise the mirror image of that entrance. The leader and PR Kim shared a hushed conversation as the rest of us filed out the door of that shabby little conference room into the shabby main office. A serious-looking middle-aged woman had entered and seemed to be attempting to make it less shabby. Pizza plate face ushered us through the office, out the door and then walked with us down the stairs into the street/alleyway where he said goodbye to us bowing and waving and unless I was mistaken cracking a small smile that looked lost in the expanse of his spacious face.
The three of us walked in silence to the main road where Kim hailed us a cab, instructed the cab driver and in a short while we arrived at the restaurant. There was little conversation in the cab, as if we were afraid the cab driver was a spy.
The usual appeared before us at the restaurant, the table quickly cluttered with bowls, bottles and glasses. PR Kim explained things to us.
“They are interested,” he began.
John and I nodded and waited for further elaboration, which came after a minute filled with expectation. “Their head guy, General Kim, had (check military stuff, Rhee, old guard, stufff, maybe his father/grandfather had been with Syngman Rhee, disillusionment…) He has connections with someone in Parliament. He knows there is a great deal of dissent, tumult, public outrage. There are, not necessarily ‘extremist’ groups, but there are factions that want to see a change. They want to see the US military presence in Korea reduced, if not removed.
We nodded some more. “They see what you are talking about as a way to help bring that about.”
Not exactly our objective, I thought, but a reasonable expectation. I certainly didn’t expect them to do anything for us out of the kindness of their hearts.
“They want some time to talk with Representative Kim and then they will get back to us, back to me.”
I looked at John and then at Kim. “How long? Did they give an indication of when they would get back to you?”
“Hmm…is this a good sign?”
“We do not know. I can’t be sure. I think they may want some time. They may check into you, they may ask around about your friend Jake. If they do anything it could be very risky to them. They don’t know you, they only know you through me, and I only have any reputation with them because of the work I’ve done with the Kim administration, which isn’t promising, Kim isn’t exactly in this camp.
“Well, Kim, I hope this isn’t going to put you in an awkward position. I mean you know what’s happening to my friend Marty, I would hate to think anything you are doing here would get you into similar trouble.”
“Oh, no, do not worry,” said Kim, “I know exactly what I’m doing and the risks involved. At the very least I will lose my job with Edelman.” And he looked at John.
“My lips are sealed, afterall, we’re in the same boat” said John. “If Richard finds out he won’t find out from me.”
“Nor me,” I added.
With that we settled down to dinner and drinks. Over the course of the meal Kim, John and I pondered possibilities. It wasn’t exactly a strategy session, or some sort of coup preparation, but it had earmarks of such in a fanciful way (?). What would happen, John asked, if Rep. Kim really was interested. If he could form some sort of coalition that would support, that would provide diplomatic cover for a Western State government? We all agreed that this was embryonic, that it is hard to speculate on such things. John went off on one of his hysterical historical analogies. “It’s like Jefferson in Paris,” he said. The American colonies were nothing, he argued. They couldn’t have foreseen what they could become. Talking with the French was a crapshoot. They, the French, had their own objectives, obviously any disturbance, any trouble they could cause the British would have been seen as a good thing in their eyes, but who were these guys they were talking to – Jefferson, Adams, Franklin – roustabouts, raggamuffins and revolutionaries. Not quite the stuff of the Court of Versailles.”
John just shrugged and went on.
“Think about it. What does it get us if a faction of the Korean government starts lobbying for a reduction in US forces in Korea? And what if, what if there is a group of western state governments that simultaneously start supporting a real move towards separation, some autonomy? Can a grassroots movement, can popular support, a real uprising, demonstrations in the street, truly drive something so large? With or without Korean support?”
We each looked around the table and the absent looks on our faces amounted to a joint shrug.
“The question is, what would North Korea do?” said Kim. “A move like that would fundamentally alter the balance of power in the region.” The Americans are like a wrench in the works (this is a paraphrase, he struggled with a phrase and John suggested ‘wrench in the works’ – Kim nodded, “Yes, exactly a wrench in the works. If they pull out the engine may start running again, but there’s no telling where that engine would go.”
“It opens the door for China,” said John.
“It may or it might not. Japan has it’s own objectives,” Kim added.
“Uncertainty in North Asia would certainly stress the US military,” said John.
“But 25 or 30 thousand troops could be deployed elsewhere,” I said.
“To Iraq or Afghanistan,” said Kim.
“Or Iran,” said John.
“Or California,” I said.
That shut them up.
“How legit are these guys, Kim?” I asked.
“How legit are you?” he asked back.
“Point well taken. I need to get in touch with Jake.” We talked more, John rambled…something about the XYZ affair. Japan’s need for oil in the lead-up to WWII. Kim talked about the older generation’s feelings about Japan, how they were forced to learn Japanese, how their culture had been threatened, how the communist North had terrorized them, how the Americans were still viewed as liberators. John talked about the prevailing attitudes of the younger generation, how feelings about America weren’t so clear. They liked American stuff, but they resent the troops and the prevailing superiority complex, the militarism. The troops in Korea bring money, but it comes at a price.
The evening wound down.
“I’m not sure how long I’ll have to stay,” I said to John. “If we’re supposed to wait until they get back to us, I’m in limbo.”
“Well, you’re welcome to stay with me as long as you have to,” John offered.
“That’s generous, John. I’m just worried, I mean, look what’s happening in California.”
“Yes,” he said thoughtfully and looked at Kim, who merely nodded confidently, as if to say he was in, regardless of the risks. He knew what he was doing.
“We’ll just take it as it comes,” John said.

I was at John’s place for more than a week before we finally heard from our friends. During that time, Jake and I were exchanging emails at a furious pace. He’d reply at hours I’d never expect – 3:00 am, 4:00 am pacific time. It started to occur to me that he may not be in the US anymore. He never ever intimated his location.
I walked the streets during the days of waiting, not exactly seeing the sights, so much as walking and walking past sites that might have been sights. Every woman looked like Soo, every child reminded me of Nate. It was a painful time, the old uncertainties remained, and yet I had this new fear that we were entering a different realm, the stakes were being raised and the game was getting more serious, I felt I was spinning around on the cusp of a whirpool, treading water and struggling to resist the pull of the vortex. Whether our actions were causing it or not, events were spinning out of control. I desperately needed more from Jake.
Martin’s trial was getting more and more play in the press. He was a serious cause celebre. Musicians, actors and athletes all rallied to his side. His lawyer, FLB, knew how to work the media. There was a pitched legal battle. The State of California wanted him tried in the Ninth Circuit, this was a long shot, an impossibility really, but he was in an SF holding facility and removing him promised to trigger riots. Already there was a constant vigil outside the jail on 8th Street. Volunteers organized phone trees, thousands were on call to surround the building at a moment’s notice. There was always at least one celebrity on site, this assured at least a small crowd no matter the hour. There were concerts and speeches. The local police turned a blind eye. They didn’t want to turn him over to the feds any more than the protestors wanted him turned over. The press was livid, truly inspired op eds and letters to the editor outlined potential nightmare scenarios, removal to Gitmo or some other dark site abroad. Fears of Martin being swept away in the dark of night were constantly trumpeted keeping the crowds coming day after day. The international press was eating it up, they were even more inflammatory, more critical, more hyperbolic. No one trusted this administration, and now that there was someone respectable swept up in the web of terror, people began to see it could happen to anyone.
The federal case had nothing. They had rumors of me, and the possibility of Martin’s involvement with my rumor. The had an ATM record and a phone call, but making that into a case requiring Martin to be imprisoned as a military combatant was a huge stretch. Scoop was very vocal in Sacramento. He turned this into a states’ rights issue. The divisions were being drawn.

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