The Fire Island Breach

An op-ed in the New York Times last week really hit home my thoughts on the post-Sandy recovery projects in the New York area especially in regards to the situation on Fire Island, a place that I hold dear.  The plan in place now pumps millions of tons of sand and places it in locations along the beaches of Fire Island.

The piece correctly argues that this project is a massively expensive waste of money, time and sand.  As the author says, “Natural reformation of the sand dunes will take longer, but nature is already repairing the island. Free of charge.” 

This is in line with my long-standing opinion that the shifting of Fire Island is not a problem that needs to be fixed, rather it’s how we build on these ever-shifting barrier beaches that needs to be fixed. 

The government however seems determined to spend millions of dollars in the effort to actively alter the environment so they can appear to be proactive.  This is unfortunate for the environment and for taxpayers.

The author of the Times piece is Robert Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University (located in the heart of Appalachia).  Their website has a lot of great information and descriptions of projects and research about shorelines on the East Coast.




Fire Island Breach

One of the things I was really keen on following during Hurricane Sandy was the status of Fire Island, one of my favorite places in the world.

After the storm had passed and proved to be historically powerful, I tried to get information about how the island had fared during the storm and whether Sandy had poked a hole through the island like what happened during a nor’easter in 1931 (Moriches) and during the hurricane of 1938 (Shinnecock).  Sure enough there were several breaches in the coasts of the area, including two on Fire Island.  One breach was by Smiths Point State Park and was filled in soon after but since the Old Inlet breach is in a designated wilderness area, it has been left open.

Picture of the Old Inlet breach – photo by the National Park Service


The Army Corps of Engineers is slated to fill in the breach but there’s a lot of evidence that the breach has been helping the Great South Bay flush itself more regularly and is becoming cleaner.  At the same time, there’s little evidence that the breach is contributing to higher water levels or greater incidence of flooding along the south shore of Long Island.

One thing that might be a great boon if the breach is left open is the return of hard-shell clams to the Great South Bay.  Clams thrive in water with high salinity and as the bay cleans itself, they will be able to thrive.  When the clam population thrives, they will filter a greater percentage of the bay’s waters.  This would benefit everyone who lives near the bay.

For more on this:


Korean Christmases

December 25, 1950.  Somewhere above the 38th parallel. One month earlier things had seemed up for UN forces fighting in the Korean peninsula.   Pyongyang had been captured and American and South Korean soldiers were almost at the border with China.  But then everything turned real terrible.  It was the worst Thanksgiving ever for a lot of those guys as an unbelievable number of Chinese volunteers charged through the cold of the rugged northern Korean hills.The Chinese came in with such energy and in such volume that in a few weeks the UN was forced to evacuate Pyongyang and most of Korea north of the 38th parallel.The only good news for the UN was the spectacular breakout of surrounded US Marines from the Chosin Resevoir which had been capped by the even more miraculous evacuation of all UN forces and thousands of Korean refugees from the city of Hungnam.Christmas for most soldiers on both sides was spent literally freezing in the cold.  Many troops on both sides suffered frostbite, hypothermia and other ill effects of the cold.  UN and South Korean troops spent their Christmas walking their way back towards the 38th parallel, even though inflicting terrible casualties on the Chinese and North Koreans it was a sudden, humiliating and cold reversal of fortune.December 25, 2010.  Somewhere below the 38th parallel.  It’s Christmas day in Gunsan.  For as Christian as this town is, there is not too much of a festive spirit to be found.  (If you want to hear some of my theories why there’s no Christmas spirit, feel free to message me.)   Recent provocations have made the divided peninsula appear to the outside world as a scary and tense place.    But the reality is that the everyday lives of people here haven’t changed and although there’s definitely a lot of worry about what’s happening by the border, there’s no real sense of panic.Immediately after getting out of a Christmas lunch with my friends, snow began falling in such a perfect gentle way.  I met up with them again later and we all headed through the snow to a nice restaurant to have a good proper sit-down meal with knives and forks.  The world outside did seem like that fantasy image of a winter wonderland.  So peaceful and far from any of those real-world worries.  The weather was really cold but the atmosphere was warm.As the cold settles in for who knows how long and the wind whips at the windows of my apartment, I try to think of the poor guys who fought in this same country in this same cold 60 years ago.  Their suffering kept this half of the country free from the rule of the Kim family.   I’ve also been thinking of my friends and family back home.

If this were 1950…

I meant to post about this before – but on the early morning of June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army came across the 38th parallel in a full scale invasion of the southern part of the Korean peninsula.   That was almost three weeks ago now.  In the subsequent three weeks, the North Koreans advanced rapidly – The Fatherland Liberation war was progressing very successfully.Four days later, they captured Seoul amid a chaotic scene.  Reprisals and executions were common.By early July,  the U.S. was deploying soldiers from occupation duty in Japan to slow down the communist advance.  The first major engagement was in Osan (today home to one of the biggest U.S. Air Force bases in Korea) but the Koreans overwhelmed the unprepared Americans.The next battle was in Daejeon.  To me, a North American living in Korea, Daejeon is best known to me for the Costco.  It’s where I buy bacon, meat, cheese, and bulgogi bake at a reasonable price.  In 1950 though, to the two armies engaged, Daejeon was the most important hub between Seoul and Busan – the next biggest city in Korea.This time the Americans were a little better prepared than they were in Osan but they were still relatively weak and unorganized.  They had to stall the North Koreans for long enough for more American and Anglo-Commonwealth troops to come in to Busan and Daegu to defend the southern tip of Korea.  The battle started on the 14th of July and went through to the 21rst with the Americans badly beaten and retreating.Gunsan was captured around the same time.  On July 13th, North Koreans fought their way past South Korean Marines to capture the city and the Air Force base.IF this were 1950, I’d be in an occupied city.

The World Cup Begins

About a month ago I posted here the official 2010 South Korean World Cup song, but in case you missed it, here it is again….

and now the version with Olympic gold medal winning figure skater Kim Yu Na (who I happen to think is a better dancer with skates on her feet)….
if you want a small idea of what life has been like the last couple of weeks, imagine these songs playing over and over and over and over and over again – if they didn’t make me so gosh darned pumped for the World Cup, I’d really hate them…Korea is a really good place to be for the World Cup.  The combining of the huge and omnipresent Korean pride, with  beer, soju, sports and the chance to be better than any other Asian country (i.e. China or Japan) creates a delightful red mix of singing, dancing and overall revelry.Even in a smaller city like Gunsan, there were several viewing areas set up in parks that were attended by tens of thousands of people.  This game started early enough that families were able to come out.   Public drinking being totally accepted here, it was sort of a nice mixture of wholesome, drunken and VERY HAPPY.Korea’s first game of the World Cup ended in a 2-0 victory over the Greeks.   The next game is against Argentina and should prove to be a much more difficult game –  a victory or draw will guarantee that South Korea advances to the next round.  People are going to flip out.  I can’t wait!

Election Day in South Korea

About four weeks ago I was brought out of a gentle slumber at 8:00am by a song being played in a loop.  For about thirty minutes, the same song over and over and over again played.  I thought maybe an obnoxious fruit salesman had rolled in –  but this was a far larger menace – local elections in South Korea.  For several weeks the streets of Gunsan and every other city big and small were inundated with mobile election command centers blasting music and crack squads of dancers who would occupy street corners and bow at passing pedestrians and vehicles.

It was sort of interesting to think who I’d vote for based on my little to no knowledge of the actual issues (the biggest issue seems to have been the future of the Saemangeum land reclamation project I’ve talked about here before).I like this Mr. Lee Seong Il – he’s the only candidate who didn’t wear a tie in his campaign pictures.  A real man of the people that tells me. I met some of the candidates at a rice wine place on the night before the election.  There was another Mr. Kim running whose campaign photos never showed him smiling – I discovered he had a mangled set of teeth.  There was a Mr. Park who wore a bright green jump suit.I don’t know who earned the seats they were seeking but they’re certainly all winners in my book.

The Troubles

I arrived in South Korea on March 23rd.  On March 26th the  corvette ROKS Cheonan was sunk in an unprovoked torpedo attack by the North Koreans.Since then, the incident has dominated the Korean media.  The immediate coverage was about the search for survivors.  There were 56 survivors and 46 unaccounted for.  As an outsider, it seemed futile to search for survivors as long as the South Koreans did.  Icy waters at night aren’t easy places to survive.  But they did search for days – hoping in vain to find sailors in an air pocket of the sunken ship.  The search and rescue lasted 8 days in which several divers died looking for survivors.The whole while, the government was extremely cautious to not blame the North Koreans, even though there were all sorts of stories of other ships in the area and of fishermen hearing machine gunning around the time of the sinking.  At one point the government said there was almost no chance the North was involved.  There was almost a state of denial based on wishful thinking that it wasn’t the North.Midway through April, they South Koreans raised the sunken ship in two pieces.  In late April there was a massive funeral for the sailors who died.  This was on every channel.I don’t speak Korean, so I don’t get a chance to talk to too many Koreans.  But I can often tell where people’s heads are at by what they’re watching on the TVs at the gym.  Most the of the time, they watch sports, game shows, or soap operas; but when the Cheonan was being raised and during the funeral, every screen was on the Cheonan.  The results of the official inquiry and the subsequent increase of tensions are just one chapter of this drama that’s been unfolding for two months. The general feeling from the Koreans I have talked to (including some of my students) is that of sadness; sadness of the sailors’ deaths and sadness at the continued division of the country.Most Koreans don’t look at the peninsula like most outsiders do.  Foreigners look at the peninsula and we see two countries.  Koreans look at it and see one country with one government in the North and one in the South.   They’re one people and they speak one language.  It’s hard to think that a very short distance from Seoul – maybe 20 miles, there is a Korea with no smoke filled PC rooms filled with 18 year olds playing Starcraft, there are no hofs serving cheap cold beer, no samgyeopsal restaurants, no Kimbap Cheonguk, no cell phone stores on every corner, no K-Pop, no girls in mini-skirts and really pointy high heels, there aren’t any guys with foppish kerchiefs or baseball stadiums filled with fans clapping thunder sticks – no, not even noraebang.  None of the things that, for me, have defined my time in Korea are present in the North.   But it’s the same country with the same people – the same Korean soul.  They’re just living totally different lives.Back to the troubles – people aren’t terribly worried.  They’re concerned but no one believes Kim Jong Il when he makes his threats – he’s made scarier ones in the past (in the 90’s, he threatened to turn Seoul in to an ocean of fire) and he’ll probably always make them.  The tensions will have to escalate a lot before there will be shooting and I don’t think and most people here don’t think it will come to that.   Both sides have too much to lose (South Korea wants to keep its economy thriving and Kim Jong Il wants to stay in power).Dae Han Min Guk….