Saturday, October 29, 2005

Spelling "petty" with a capital MS

This probably won't lead to a bunch of Koreans rushing to buy Macintoshes, but this can't make Microsoft's image in the ROK any bettter.

In a nutshell, Microsfot says that if the ROK government's antitrust investigation (via the Korean Fair Trade Commission) into Microsoft could lead to Windows being withdrawn from the country, or at the very least delays in introducing new versions of the operating system.

It's not as if Korea is the only country investigating the same antritrust claims (regarding MS's inclusion of streaming media and instant messenger technology into Windows), but the government is going on with the antitrust investigation even though Microsoft settled with the plaintiffs (to the tune of $761 million in cash and services). The Korean Fair Trade Commission said earlier this month that the settlement (with RealNetworks) wouldn't have any effect on its investigation into Microsoft.

Microsoft had assumed that the payment to RealNetworks would end its woes. When it found it did not, it got petty with Seoul. Microsfot is saying that the Korean commission could require the company to remove code or redesign Windows uniquely for the Korean market.

But history would indicate that vindictiveness may be what's really behind MS's threat. When MS tried to buy out Hangul-gwa-Computer's HWP (Hangul Word Processor), at the time considered such a feat of complete Koreanography that it was even placed in millennium time capsules and called a national treasure, a lot of people protested the deal (which Hangul-gwa-Computer thought they had to do because so many Koreans were copying the software without paying) and it fell through.

Microsoft did not turn tail and run. It came back to destroy HWP by offering MS Office (HWP's primary rival) at such low prices that it could be offered on every computer cheaply, and thus replace HWP as the word processor and spread sheets of choice. A legitimate copy of MS Office can be purchased for a mere fraction of its price in other countries.

So what would it mean if MS closes Windows (I couldn't resist)? Maybe a homegrown OS system would rise up. Maybe Macintosh machines would become more popular. Maybe Linux or one of those systems (if they're available in Korean) would gain popularity. Or maybe Koreans addicted to familiarity would just use the English-language (or Japanese-language) versions of Windows' latest OS offerings.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Roh says "cut it out" to Koizumi's Yasukuni visits

Koizumi leaves the Yasukuni Shrine grounds after his recent visit.

Kyodo News Agency reports that, according to the Hankook Ilbo, Roh Moohyun has decided he will not hold a summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi unless the Japanese leader apologizes for his visit to Tokyo's war-related Yasukuni Shrine and pledges not to do so again. Quoting a "senior South Korean official":
(We will) not hold a summit (with Japan) while Prime Minister Koizumi is in office unless the Japanese government take measures to assuage uncomfortable feelings of neighboring countries like (South) Korea and China.

Japanese leaders should realize they should pay the price if they conduct irresponsible behavior.
Koizumi said he will step down in September 2006, when his tenure as president of Japan's dominant Liberal Democratic Party expires, but that is an awfully long time for two should-be allies to not be on direct speaking terms. The two are supposed to meet in December.

Japanese citizens protest Koizumi's recent visit.

To be fair, though, it's not just South Koreans and their neighbors complaining about this; many Japanese have also criticized Koizumi for his October 17 visit, including some in his own cabinet. Yoshitaka Murata, state minister in charge of disaster management, said this at his semiannual press conference last week:

I've been telling him [Koizumi] he'd better not visit Yasukuni Shrine. So now I regret he did.
Construction and Transport Minister Kazuo Kitagawa of coalition partner New Komeito was also blunt:

It was very regrettable. I fear it's had a negative impact not only on the important relationship with China and South Korea, but that it could also hinder stabilization and development in the whole of East Asia.
I have more thoughts on the Yasukuni issue, but I will save them until I get them in publishable form. Suffice it to say for now that the Japanese do need and deserve (as any country would) a place where their leaders can honor their war dead, but Yasukuni Shrine is no longer a suitable place for such visits.

In the meantime, here's a link to what Japanese "people on the street" are thinking. And by the way, I think the Korean guy at the bottom is himself spouting an inaccurate nationalistic view (there have been apologies and introspection, even if they are not shared by the right-wing or they are undermined by Japanese nationalists); Japanese historical amnesia doesn't justify Korean historical amnesia.

President Roh reportedly will meet with Koizumi after all, at the upcoming APEC forum in Pusan. This is probably a wise move. While I agree that Koizumi should stop these visits, there are other much more important reasons why Seoul and Tokyo should be moving toward each other, not away.

To comment or reply to this post, please email me.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

On blogging

It has occurred to me that the blogosphere is very much like other parts of space that surround the Earth: it's mostly vacuous and only very, very, very rarely will you see something of value floating around.

After a recent epiphany, I'm debating whether I will continue this exercise in interactive blogging.

To comment or reply to this post, please email me.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

God told me to tell you all that Bush misunderstood him

What if God was one of us... er... the US president's advisers?

According to an upcoming BBC report, "Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs," to air on October 10, 17, and 24, Bush separately told Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Palestine's then foreign minister Nabil Shaath that God told him to invade Iraq, invade Afghanistan, and to create a Palestinian state.

Shaath, now the Palestinian information minister, said this:
President Bush said to all of us: "I'm driven with a mission from God.

"God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.'

"And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq...' And I did.

"And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.' And by God I'm gonna do it."
There was no immediate from the White House or from God.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Pyongyang says "bumper crop" means no need for foreign aid

North Korea has, according to the New York Times, declared 2005 to be "The Year of Agriculture." A bumper crop, Pyongyang is saying. And that's why Pyongyang citizens and other DPRKers are being sent out to the fields to help in the harvest (that may sound silly, but ROK students used to do this to show solidarity with the farmers, even into the 1990s; now they spend vacation times traveling or studying English, Chinese, and Japanese at the local hagwon).

But the NYT also suggest that the whole thing may be a show for juornalists:
...the trundling tractors, hard-working peasants, and marching soldiers with harvest baskets on their backs could also have been staged to impress two busloads of journalists who sped along a highway, heading toward South Korea. Separated by a six-foot-high fence and blanket restrictions against interviews with farmers, the visitors had no way of getting a closer view of food supplies in this secretive society.
North Korean officials now say that their overall crop is up ten percent over last year's yield. The NYT puts it this way:
With memories fading of the famine that killed as much as 10 percent of North Korea's population of 22 million in the 1990s, according to estimates by international organizations, officials now cite this year's bumper rice and corn crops to justify new restrictions on foreign aid and foreign aid workers.
That statement just blew me away: "Memories fading" of the famine?! Excuse me, but when millions die, people don't just forget. There is a seething angry at someone (even if it is not the mishandlers--I don't want to say rulers anymore--in Pyongyang) over the deaths of so many loved ones, and that may make things difficult for someone later on (e.g., a new regime in Pyongyang, a South Korea taking over the North, etc.)

Anyway, by the end of this year, the UN-run World Food Program that provides 90% of the food aid is "under orders from North Korea" to shift from direct food to development aid. Plus, all foreign personnel from the twelve private aid groups operating from Pyongyang are to leave the country.

According to the NYT, North Korean officials say they want private aid projects to continue, but they want resident foreigners to leave, returning occasionally to monitor the work. Under such conditions, most are predicted to just leave.

Now the World Food Program, whose largest supporter is the US, must repackage its aid without calling it "development aid." Washington will tolerate "humanitarian aid" for North Korea, but not "development."

Along with the US, Japan and South Korea round out the three primary donors (ironic, isn't it, since these are the three most often reviled in the North Korean press?). These three are still in talks over what will happen on December 31.

Even with a 10% increase, North Korea still falls nearly a million tons short. This is still as serious problem:
...7 percent of North Koreans are starving, and 37 percent are chronically malnourished. According to United Nations statistics, 40 percent of the children suffer from stunted growth, and 20 percent are underweight. The average 7-year-old boy is 7 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than his South Korean counterpart.
Some observers are citing two main factors for Pyongyang's actions. One is that they don't want to create a dependency culture (North Korea certainly does like to control its patrons). Dr. Steve Linton (I believe he's the brother of Yonsei University's Dr. Linton) of the Eugene Bell Foundation, which aids forty-four North Korean hospitals and tuberculosis centers, supports this in the NYT article:
I have never seen any evidence that North Korea wanted to become a permanent ward of the international community.
He also makes a revealing point in saying that the foreign aid groups pay a price by agreeing to only have non-Korean speakers in Pyongyang:
I would much rather send in Korean-speaking delegations than have someone living in Pyongyang who makes trips to the countryside with an official interpreter.
Dr. Linton also mentions "the absolute boom" in private aid from South Korea. The South Koreans, the NYT quotes him, will have a much greater and more fundamental impact on North Korea "than foreigners who run around in S.U.V.'s and do not speak the language."

The other factor is the overt tying of humanitarian aid to human rights. If this latter one is true, it creates the conundrum where trying to save lives on one end (focusing on improving the horrific human rights conditions in the North) may mean a loss of lives on the other (when people starve because aid providers have been booted out).

Maybe, however, this will bring North Korea closer to that critical mass where enough people realize that they might as well rise up and risk being killed because not rising up means certain starvation for their families. The sad thing is, though, that so many might die before that is reached.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Kim Jong-il "may name successor"

First Jay Leno announces the future Tonight Show reign of Conan O'Brien, and now this shows that North Korea's monarch is following the (current) king of Late Night.

Itar-Tass reported on Tuesday that North Korea could announce this month an eventual successor to leader Kim Jong-il:
An announcement about the appointment of a successor could be made as early as this month, timed for the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the [North Korean Labour Party].
The source added that the successor would be one of Kim Jong-il's sons, all of whom had "roughly equal chances," an indication that North Korea truly is the world's only communist dynasty.

The 63-year-old Kim Jong-il has three known sons, Jong-nam, Jong-chol and Jong-un, from two women.

The eldest, 34-year-old playboy Jong-nam, is considered too much of a bumbler to be a leader, after being deported from Japan in 2001 on suspicion of trying to enter the country using a forged Dominican Republic passport so that he could visit Tokyo Disneyland. South Korean intelligence suggests Jong-nam fell out of favor over the incident and has been the target of two assassination attempts.

According to the Reuters article, the youngest of the three, Swiss-educated Jong-un, is believed to be Kim's current choice to succeed him, but he may be too young now for Kim to name him as his successor.

With none of the three sons great choices, Pyongyang may be in for some turmoil as Kim Jong-il grooms any of them to be a successor. The Dear Leader may not have the same undying loyalty that his father did when he chose to make his son the future head of the country. Will the military or the government's support staff stand idly by if they feel that the country is being placed in the hands of an incompetent or worse?

Kang Chol-hwan, author of "Aquariums of Pyongyang," to speak at Seoul Club this Sunday, October 9

Democrats Abroad Korea (DAK) and Republicans Abroad Korea (RAK) are working on non-partisan areas where their concerns as American citizens living in Korea might overlap. Toward that end, on Sunday evening, October 9, the two groups are hosting a reception and presentation with Mr. Kang Chol-hwan, the author of "The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag."

"The Aquariums of Pyongyang is one of the most terrifying memoirs I have ever read. As the first such account to emerge from North Korea, it is destined to become a classic." -- Iris Chang, author of "The Rape of Nanking"

WHO: this is open to anyone interested in attending. Feel free to forward this to anyone who might be interested.

WHAT: presentation, talk, and Q&A with Mr. Kang

WHERE: Seoul Club (a map can be found
Dongguk University Station (line #3) is closest, and then it's about a ten- or fifteen-minute walk in the direction of Namsan.

WHEN: Sunday, October 9,
Reception at 6:00 p.m.
Presentation at 7:00 p.m.

COST: 36,000 won (food will be served)

To reserve a spot, email Gene Gerth (of DAK). Gene can collect your money later or you
can pay on-line. The sooner the better.

On-line payment can be made directly to: John Y. Lee (of RAK)
Korea Foreign Exchange Bank account #221-18-18476-2
After paying on-line, email a copy of your deposit slip to event coordinator Andy Jackson (of RAK) at or fax it during business hours at 031-400-7020, in order to confirm your payment.

Do NOT contact Seoul Club directly!

Mr. Kang made international headlines when President George W. Bush praised his book and held a private, 40-minute meeting with him to discuss the horrific human rights situation in North Korea. Regardless of where one stands on Bush's political policies toward North Korea, concern about the immense suffering at the hands of the Pyongyang regime is something that Democrats and Republicans alike both share, and it's certainly something that has the president's attention.

Kang was raised in relative privilege in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. Then in 1977, at the age of nine, he was imprisoned with his entire family in the Yodok prison camp after his grandfather was purged by the Kim Il-sung regime. He and his family endured beatings, malnutrition and other mistreatment for ten years before finally being released.

After escaping North Korea Kang co-authored The Aquariums of Pyongyang, a memoir of his experiences before, during and immediately after his imprisonment.

Kang is the first survivor of a North Korean concentration camp to escape the "hermit kingdom" and tell his story to the world. In his book, Kang revealed the human suffering in his camp, with its forced labor, frequent public executions and near-starvation rations that Kang supplemented with rats and bugs. He eventually escaped to South Korea via China to give testimony to the hardships and atrocities that constitute the lives of up to two hundred thousand people said to be still detained in the gulags today. Part horror story, part historical document, part memoir, part political tract, and this story of one young man's personal suffering finally gives eyewitness proof to a neglected and ongoing chapter of modern history.

Monday, October 3, 2005

Do you know Chusok? 추석 아시죠?

This is related to a conversation from Space Nakji's site, in which Anglophones not of 100% Korean ethnicity and Korean birth ponder why so many Korean-Koreans think so many "foreigners" don't know squat about even basic Korean things or participate in the most basic of Korean cultural experiences. In essence, the "Do you know Chusok?" line of questioning.

I'm going to come slightly to the defense of some Korean-Koreans who end up making these inane statements by stating that in some cases, it is a matter of a verbatim translation (known in the trade as an L1 transfer, as in a direct transfer from the L1, or 'first language').

As the lead-up to an important question about scheduling, one person I know asked me a few weeks ago, in English, "Do you know Chusok?"

"Of course I know Chusok," I answered. "I've lived here how many years? I even teach my American students about it!"

It was a pretty inane question coming from someone who not only knew that I had lived here a very long time, had celebrated Chusok, and even had mentioned to her that my birthday was around Chusok.

But then I asked her, for shits and giggles, to tell me what she had meant to say in Korean.

She was a little confused about what I wanted her to say, but I explained briefly, and so she began, "추석 아시죠?..."

So, "Do you know Chusok," should have been... would have been (if coming from a native English speaker), "You know the Chusok holiday coming up, well, I was wondering if you would be able to..."

In other words, completely different from how I interpreted it. We native English speakers do this all the time: "You know the McDonald's up the street? There was a shooting there because someone wanted an Egg McMuffin after 10:30 and they wouldn't sell him one."

When I start to say, "You know the McDonald's up the street?" the person listening knows that that rhetorical question is just a starter for more pertinent information. The person doesn't jump down my throat and say, "Do you think I'm an idiot? I've lived in this neighborhood for twenty-five years! Of course I know the McDonald's up the street! I go there all the time! You and I went there last week and had an Egg McMuffin, even! Do you think I'm senile?! Well, do you?!"

The more degrees away from native-speaking ability, the less this rhetorical starter can seem like a rhetorical starter. With a pause after the starter, bolstered by unfortunate non-native word choice, the rhetorical starter can easily seem like the showcase sentence.

Do you know Chusok?

Saturday, October 1, 2005

AFP: Roh hints of ending US control over ROK forces in time of war

The AFP reports that "President Roo Moohyun has given a strong indication that he plans to end the United States' right to control South Korea's armed forces in case of war, a source of lingering resentment here."

These comments were made the remarks at a ceremony to celebrate the armed forces' 57th anniversary.
The recently announced military reform programme reflects our determination to achieve independence in defense capability. When completed, this reform will transform our armed forces into advanced, crack units... It will be reborn as independent armed forces that fit its name and reality as well, especially by exercising our own wartime operational control.
US control over ROK military forces in the event of war, which goes back to a controversial 1950 accord, is a sore point for nationalists who see it as an infringement on South Korea's sovereignty. The issue has also been fuel for Pyongyang's decades-old claims that the ROK government and military are US puppets, and many have cited the control issue as evidence of American culpability in the Kwangju massacre of 1980.

This comes amid a context in which South Korea last month unveiled a military reform plan which includes a 26 percent cut in troops to 500,000 by 2020 but a drastic increase in fire power.

So what does this all mean? I'll leave it to everyone to argue whether this is a foolish act of nationalism by Roh, a step toward making the the ROK-US alliance stronger by putting the ROK forces on a more equal and mature footing while allowing for a possible reduction of US ground forces (who are also increasing fire power) in Korea, removal of another major gripe by anti-USFK politicians (along with foreign forces in the capital, a highly sensitive issue), and/or just another symptom of Roh's bout with foot-in-mouth disease.

Roh again said the alliance is stronger than ever, as shown in the two sides' joint efforts to resolve the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and he added that, "The alliance will keep developing toward a comprehensive, dynamic and mutually beneficial one in the future."

On the other hand, AFP says a senior defense ministry official said there were no immediate plans to discuss wartime control with the US side: "This issue of wartime operational control should be adressed very carefully in consideration of the security situation and the two countries have not yet started talking about this issue."

What is going on in who's head?