Korea, Uncategorized

Korea – Like Two Brothers Separated at Birth

As of January 18, 2018, North Koreans and South Koreans will be marching under one banner, together, in the 2018 Olympics.  I was asked if I was surprised.  “No”, I said.  It seemed to me to be entirely likely, for, you see, it seems to me that the Korean problem is a family problem.

Korea (1947), front, 50 chon.
Korea (1947), back, 50 chon. 1 Korean won is divisible into 100 chon.

For five hundred years preceding the 20th century, Korea was one nation, united and independent.  Amid the rampant colonialization movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, Korea moved towards a policy of isolationism.  For a time, it refused to even trade with western nations, endeavoring to preserve its inherited culture.

But the advancing industrialization of nations left Korea increasingly behind. In the late 1800s Korea shifted to a policy called “eastern ethics, western technology”, to preserve its culture while modernizing.  But this policy was resisted by many Koreans, and political unrest ensued.  The Emporer sought outside aid from both Japan and from China, which consequently increased their influence within Korea.  And then, upon Japan’s defeat of China at the close of the century, Japanese influence began to dominate Korea. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea.  By the time of the beginning of WW2, the Korean peninsula was considered a part of the Japanese empire.


Korea (1947), front, 20 chon.
Korea (1947), back, 20 chon. 1 Korean won is divisible into 100 chon.

The Japanese occupation began badly, and grew worse with time.  Japan sought to make the Korean territory into an efficient food supplier for a growing Japanese empire.  While building and modernizing Korean infrastructure, they were also destroying them as a people.

In the initial decade following the 1910 annexation, tens of thousands of Koreans were arrested for political reasons; and many were executed. Koreans call this decade “amhukki”, ‘the dark period’. In 1919, a peaceful independence protest was held.  The “March 1st Movement” as it became known, was inspired by the publication of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points following WW1. Two million people marched in fifteen hundred demonstrations. Thousands were massacred by the alarmed Japanese, and many more thousands wounded, and tens of thousands arrested. In the 1930s, the Japanese urged Koreans to adopt Japanese names. By 1938, children were prohibited from speaking Korean, and all school classes were taught in Japanese. During WW2, Korean men were drafted into the armed services, and Korean women were drafted as “comfort slaves” for Japanese soldiers. Koreans were even urged to adopt the religion of Japan, Shintosim, but without much success. The flourishing of Christianity during this period, appears to be, in part, a rebellion against Japan.

Korea, (1947), front, 15 chon.

As WW2 drew to a close, and Japan’s defeat anticipated, hopes of independence revived among Koreans.  The UN plan was for a brief trusteeship of the Korean territory, administrated by the victorious “Allies”, leading to full independence in five years or less.  Looking at a map the night before Japan’s surrender, two young army staffers proposed the 38th latitude as the arbitrary line of demarcation between a Soviet occupation and an American occupation. It was a hasty and convenient selection, although it “made no sense economically or geographically”.

Many Koreans wanted independence immediately; but others, most notably the Korean Communist Party, supported the idea of trusteeship.  The Korean Communist Party was founded in the second decade of, and in resistance to, the Japanese occupation.  Many were exiled to China, where, allying with a growing Chinese Communist Party, they performed many guerrilla operations against the Japanese during occupation.  The Soviet Union, having rapidly occupied the northern peninsula at the close of the war, began to rely extensively upon returning communist exiles, and emigres from the large Korean population in the USSR.  By the close of 1945, the North Korea Bureau of the Communist Party of Korea was established and led by Kim Il-sung.   Over the next five years, as the relationship between the major powers deteriorated, and the Cold War set in, the negotiations for unified Korean independence stalled.  In 1946, Winston Churchill gave his “Iron Curtain” speech, and in 1949, USSR detonated its first atomic bomb.  The Korean brothers were separated.

Korea, (1947), front, 10 won. The won became the currency of North Korea on December 6, 1947.

“The South hit first”, says the North; “The North hit first”, says the South.  Whatever the truth, in 1950 the Koreans began to fight.

The Soviet Union had been arming the North for several years. The UN was preoccupied with the security of Japan, and considered a non-communist Korea on its border to be important to that security. China, having just concluded the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, had border issues too; and was uncomfortable with a non-communist “allied” presence on its Korean border. It was a war which was never “declared”; out of this conflict the term “police action” entered the international lexicon; and it became known as the Korean War.

The North, with Soviet arms, rapidly overran the South, until just a small corner of the peninsula remained unoccupied. Then US backed UN forces entered the fray; and the South overran the North almost to the Chinese border. Then China sent troops across the northern border, and pushed back to south of the 38th; and then the South pushed back again.  The war front moved up and down the peninsula, Seoul changing hands four times, until it ended. The Korean War began and ended with pretty much the same boundary, the 38th parallel.  The brothers’ hope for united independence was gone; and the world had five million less people.

Korea, (1947), front, 5 won. The won became the currency of North Korea on December 6, 1947.

The next generation grew up separated, northerners from southerners, and with the memory of war.  The North, substantially sponsored by the Soviet Union, grew and prospered. The South, largely on its own in the world, languished and became impoverished. Both bore the memory of the recent war between them.  And then the subsequent generation came alone, and the brother’s fortunes began to switch, dramatically.



Korea, (1947), front, 1 won. The won became the currency of North Korea on December 6, 1947.
Korea, (1947), back, 1 won. Illustration of a farmer and a worker.

South Korea , seeing the surging economic success of what was becoming known as “Japan Inc.”, began to emulate its neighbor’s activities.  In the next decades, they too began to realize economic success and burgeoning prosperity.  For this generation, the Korean war was little more than a history lesson in school. For them, the North was distant, and a little like a crazy brother across the border that occasionally popped off bombs, but had little effect on their growing prosperity.

Coincident with the South’s rising prosperity, the North began to decline.  The North’s chief sponsor, the Soviet Union, having grown increasingly bankrupt, finally dissolved at the end of 1989. With their dissolution, the primary sponsor of North Korea was gone. The North found itself essentially alone in the world.  With renewed determination, and new leadership, the North’s new generation renewed its focus on military development, the one thing it felt it could really excel in.

The present generation knows South Korea as one of the most prosperous and modern societies in the world, and North Korea as one of the very few nations with nuclear bombs.  And now what?


It is a curious thing to me, an American, and, I am guessing here, to many others too, that South Koreans appear far less concerned about North Korea than we do.  See this recent article.

I can’t help but think that this is a family affair; a family affair looking for a family solution.  The Koreans, who wanted to be left alone in the 19th century, and were torn apart in the 20th century, have little hope of being left alone now.  But, what if they could be, just for a little while, truly alone together, to work it out?

In my mind’s eye I see myriads of people; and amid a cacophony of conversations, I zoom in on one, and then another, and then another, all similar but completely unique…  “your father is from where? Really! Then that means we’re cousins!  ….. The story I heard about our family is…. and I heard that grandfather went to….. and what happened after that….., and …. how’s your mother?”


Uncategorized, Venezuela

Venezuela – Look Alikes, Hyperinflation and Unconcerned Birds

October 29, 2013 100 Bolivares banknote, front, Venezuela
December 7, 2017 100 Thousand Bolivares banknote, front, Venezuela

The banknote on the left was issued in late 2013. The banknote on the right was issued in late 2017.  The denominations, bolivares, are the same.


The front and back images are the same.  The left banknote is more beige in color and the right banknote is more yellow in color.

Both banknotes have the numeral 100 displayed prominently.  The banknote on the right, however, adds the word “mil”, thousand, after the word “cien”, hundred.  The banknote on the left is 100 Bolivares.  The banknote on the right is 100,000 Bolivares.

At the time of issuance of the 100 bolivares banknote in 2013, it was equivalent to approximately 10 US dollars.  So that means that, at that time, 100,000 bolivares would buy pretty much the same thing as would 10,000 US dollars.

At the time of issuance of the 100,000 bolivares banknote in 2017, it was equivalent to about 1 US dollar.

That means that, in December 2017, it takes ten times 100,000 bolivares, or 1 million bolivares, to buy what could be bought for 100 bolivares just 4 years ago, in 2013.  Another way of saying this that the value of the bolivares has been divided by 10,000; or, yet another way of saying this, is that, the price of things to buy in Venezuela have gone up by a factor of 10,000, in 4 years.  Life today is ten thousand times more expensive then it was 4 years ago.  And, think of this, Venezuela has the largest known oil reserves in the world.  Why then, is it not among the richest nations of the world?


detail from back of 100 bolivares banknote, Venezuela (2013)

Said a man of old: “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”  This is natural Law.  Hyperinflation occurs when men make a mess of things.

image from internet

The birds illustrated on the back of our banknotes are Cardenalitos.  They are native to Venezuela in Parque Nacional El Avila and found also in verly limited surrounding areas.







Poland, Uncategorized

Poland’s Copernicus – The Revolutionary of Revolutions

Nicolaus Copernicus wrote a book and called it “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.” The Heavenly Spheres were the five known planets of his age. The word “planet” came from the ancient Greek word for “wanderer”, because these five planets appeared to wander about against the fixed background of the starry night. These wandering movements had for millennium puzzled and intrigued the minds of people. Copernicus added our Earth to the classification of planets and argued that it moved through the heavens like the other five wanders, and that they all traveled around the Sun.

Galileo was born 21 years after Copernicus died, and built upon the work of Nicolaus.


detail from front of 1000 zloty banknote, Poland, Nikolai Kopernik

Copernicus wrote the book when he was around 40 years old. But because he anticipated that his ideas would be controversial, he delayed publication until just before his passing about 30 years later.

He didn’t seek to be controversial but merely sought a more elegant explanation for the truth of the observed universe. He sought Beauty. He built upon the ideas of predecessors, many of them out of the mainstream of contemporary thought.

His book is considered now to mark the beginning of the Scientific Revolution which has completely transformed our understanding of the world.


detail showing the insight of Copernicus: Revolutions of Planets around Sun, back side of 1000 zloty banknote, Poland

The Sun at center surrounded by 6 circles for the orbits of the 6 planets. (Copernicus assumed orbits were circular as did his predecessors. Later, the true ellipse shape of orbits was uncovered.)

Our Earth is shown in the third orbit at its 4 prime astronomical locations, Spring equinox, Summer solstice, Autumn equinox and Winter Solstice.


detail from back of 1000 zloty banknote, Poland, showing positions of Mercury and Venus

The two nearest planets, Mercury and Venus.

Mercury occupies the innermost orbit.

Venus occupies the second orbit from the Sun.

Our Earth occupies the third orbit from the Sun. It’s four prime orbital positions are illustrated on our banknote.


detail from back of 1000 zloty banknote, Poland, showing position of Mars


Mars occupies the fourth orbit from the Sun.

Two of the four prime orbital positions of Earth are shown in the third orbit in this detail.



detail from back of 1000 zloty banknote, Poland, showing orbits of Jupiter and Saturn

Jupiter occupies the fifth orbit from the Sun.

Saturn occupies the sixth orbit from the Sun.


Poland, 1000 zloty banknote, back
Poland, 1000 zloty banknote, front

Nicolai, you’re awesome.



















Romania, Uncategorized

Romania – Marked by the Sun for the New Millenium

The 2000 Lei banknote was designated by Romania to be redesigned in honor of the approaching year 2000, the dawn of the new millennium.  The theme selected was astronomical in view of the happy circumstance of a total eclipse traversing the country in 1999.

Solar systems as depicted on front of 2000 lei banknote, Romania

Our solar system is depicted on the front of Romania’s 2000 Lei banknote.

One can count 8 planets in this artist’s rendition of the solar system.  It was a bold move.

In 1930, Pluto was discovered and considered the solar system’s ninth planet.  In 1992, it was first suggested that this ninth “planet”, Pluto, might be reclassified, no longer as a planet, but, as a dwarf planet.  This suggestion was met with great debate and outcry.

In 1998 our artist prepared this 8 planet mural of our solar system for Romania’s eternal commemoration of the solar eclipse to sweep the country at the dawn of the new millennium.

In 2005, an object 25% more massive than Pluto was discovered orbiting our sun in the Kuiper belt, and Pluto’s fate was sealed.  Both Pluto, and the newly discovered Eris, were classified as “dwarf planets”, and the term “planet” redefined to exclude these smaller bodies.  Therefore, as of 2006, at the beginning of the new millennium, our solar system is considered to consist of just 8 planets.

But Romania depicted it thus in the old millennium!  Rather forward thinking of Romania, don’t you think?

The other side of the banknote features a silhouette map of Romania together with the trail of the sun’s shadow across the country.

detail from Romania 2000 lei banknote.

The colors blue and yellow and red are the colors of the national flag, and color the map of Romania depicted on the banknote.

As the earth rotates eastward towards the sun, our moon, speeding also eastward overhead, but at approximately twice the speed of the land below, moves briefly into that region where it blocks the sun’s rays to the earth.  The track of the shadow cast by the moon, as it eclipses the sun, moves eastward across our earth.  On this day in 1999, it is shown passing through Romania, commencing in the western extremity of the country, and passing through its southeastern regions.

It is a magnificent reminder of the immense movements of this world we inhabit.


detail showing track of total solar eclipse in western Romania

The northernmost and southernmost extent of totality ar indicated by the outside pair of lines.  The middle line indicates the center of the shadow track where totality lasts the longest, approximately 2 minutes and 23 seconds.  The adjacent two lines on either side of the centerline indicate where totality lasts 2 minutes.  The next pair of lines indicate 1 minute 30 seconds of shadow, and the next pair of lines indicate 1 minute of shadow.

Major western Romanian cities in the path of totality are shown on the map.


Major central and southeastern Romanian cities in the path of totality are shown in this portion of the map of Romania.

Bucuresti is the capital of Romania, and one of the great cities of Europe.  The history of Bucharest dates from at least the 15th century, and was the one time home of Vlad III, or Vlad the Impaler, or otherwise known as Vlad Dracula; yes, you read that correctly, Dracula.  His name had its origin in the name given to his father, Vlad Dracul, or, Vlad the Dragon, upon becoming a member of the order of the dragon, or dracul.  Dracula is the genitive form of dracul, and means essentially, son of the dragon.  Vlad appears to have been born in 1429 after his father settled in Transylvania, a historic region in central Romania.  The order of the dragon was dedicated to fighting the Ottoman advance into Europe.

A similar map with additional detail, provided by NASA, is included below.

NASA map showing details of solar eclipse across Romania in 1999
































Uncategorized, Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe – The Signpost of the Balancing Rocks


detail from front of banknote (2006), Zimbabwe, showing balancing rocks

This stacked configuration of rocks is a common trail marker for hikers in North America, and, I’d guess, the rest of the world.  Two stones stacked might be a coincidence.  But three stones stacked, or more, isn’t considered natural.  Such stacking is an evidence of intent, and therefore, a signal, or signpost.  And so, such hand stacked stones are commonly used for trail markers in the wilderness.

But these rocks in Zimbabwe are massive. They weigh tons.  For a sense of scale, note in the image, the treetops surrounding the stones.

What giants stacked such stones?

And what sign did they wish to leave for us?  What trail did they intend to mark?

They are signposts of the constructing powers nature.  These stones congealed from molten lavas, as plutonic granites, within massive volcanic flows, just beneath the surface of the earth.  As subsequent ages of erosion by wind and water lowered the surface of the land, and scoured the soils between the stones, these giants of the past were left, revealed.

The travel brochures tell us that the stones symbolize a need for balance between development and ecological preservation.  That’s nice sentiment, and I am sure it is true.  But it’s a sentiment that feels somehow imposed, rather than derived; and more contrived to sell postcards rather than to communicate a wisdom learned.

detail from front of 100 Trillion Dollar banknote (2006) Zimbabwe

Especially considering this simple 3 stone signpost of nature appears beside the number One Hundred Trillion on a Zimbabwe banknote.  “Trillion” is a word that was almost never heard a decade ago.  It was used for measurements in science but almost never for money.  A trillion is a thousand, thousand, thousand, thousand.  It’s a number that we really cannot imagine.  A thousand, thousand, thousand, thousand dollar bills, stacked on top of each other, would reach over 60 miles high.  That number on a banknote indicates something seriously out of balance.

In the 1990s, president Robert Mugabe used monetary policy to rebalance the country’s culture after the serious racial imbalance of the past.  The adjustments created serious imbalances in other ways. and the national economy was impoverished.   The relation between a day’s labor, and the money received, became entirely out of balance. An imbalance of money was printed to offset the other imbalances; and the self-perpetuating cycle of hyperinflation took off, until the dollar was meaningless.  This 100 trillion dollar banknote, in just a short time, became equal to zero.

Imagine placing 100 trillion dollars on one side of a balance scale and nothing on the other side, and the scale showing a perfect balance.

But those three stacked stones remain, balanced, an eternal signpost.

Syria, Syria, Uncategorized

Syria – The Elba Tablets

Syria, series 2010, 50 pond banknote, front, featuring the Al-Assad National Public Library in Damascus

The Syrian national library in Damascus is a treasure chest of world history.

Damascus is one of the ancient great cities of the world, and considered the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.  A 10th century geographer, Al-Maqaddasi, said Damascus ranked among the four earthly paradise.

Mark Twain, upon his visit to the city in 1867, remarked, “To Damascus, years are only moments, decades are only flitting trifles of time. She measures time not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise and prosper and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality.”  A burgeoning art movement had been developing in Damascus since the 1980s or so until the present civil wars era.  Artists from around the word as well as Syria exhibited regularly in the proliferating galleries throughout the city, as the arts were sponsored by, although also censored to some extent, by the state.

Ebla tablets, back side of Syria 50 pound banknote 2010 series

Known as the Elba tablets, these clay scripts include over 1500 complete tablets and 4500 fragments, written in both Sumerian and an ancient, as yet not assuredly identified, language.  They date from 2500 BC until the destruction of the city of Elba in 2250 BC.

They were discovered in 1975, in situ, on collapsed shelves, just as they were left 4000 years ago.  The palace library containing the tablets was destroyed and burned.  The fire baked the tablets in place, helping to preserve them.

detail of the Elba tablets

They provide the first known references to Lebanon and the Canaanites.  “Damaski” is noted in the tablets, which many understand to be referencing the city Damascus.  The tablets are held today in Syrian museums in Damascus, Aleppo and Idlib.






statue of Hafez Al-Assad, detail from front of 2010 series, 50 pounds, Syria banknote

Hafez Al-Assad (1930-2000), father of current president Bashar Al-Assad, was president of Syria from 1971 until his death in 2000.