Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Scientist who cloned Dolly says Hwang is a baaaaaaah~d man

Sorry about the title. I'm always a sucker for a bad pun.

Anyway, the Korea Times reports that University of Edinburgh Professor Ian Wilmut, the man who cloned Dolly the sheep and one of beleaguered cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk's "last staunch supporters," has said that Hwang does not deserve a second chance.
I do not think that he should lead a team again because of the lies that he has told.
He also added that there is promise for cloning in Korea, saying, "there are other people in the university and I hope that Korea will continue to have an interest in this technology."

According to the KT, Wilmut "admitted that Hwang and his crew have done advanced work but would not confirm Hwang’s reiterated claim that his team retains the world’s top cloning technology in gently squeezing genetic materials from human eggs."

Video artist Nam June Paik dies at age 74

I will likely shrink this later, but for now, here is the AP story (by way of CNN) on the death of Korea-born video artist Nam June Paik. If you have spent any time in Seoul, you would likely have seen some of his work.

MIAMI, Florida (AP) -- Nam June Paik, the avant-garde artist credited with inventing video art in the 1960s by combining multiple TV screens with sculpture, music and live performers, has died. He was 74.

The Korean-born Paik, who also coined the term "Electronic Super Highway" years before the information superhighway was invented, died Sunday night of natural causes at his Miami apartment, according to his Web site.

Song Tae-ho, head of a South Korean cultural foundation working on a project to build a museum for the artist, said he learned of Paik's death from Paik's nephew, Ken Paik Hakuta, in New York.

Paik's work gained international praise from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, among others, and much of it is on display at the Nam June Paik Museum in Kyonggi, South Korea.

"He really led the development of a new art form, bringing the moving image into the modern art world," said John Hanhardt, senior curator of film and media arts at the Guggenheim.

Hanhardt called Paik a true friend and a prophet.

"He foresaw that video would be an artist's medium, that it would be in museums," he said. "It's a heroic achievement."

In a 1974 report commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation, Paik wrote of a telecommunications network of the future he called the "Electronic Super Highway," predicting it "will become our springboard for new and surprising human endeavors." Two decades later, when "information superhighway" had become the phrase of the moment, he commented, "Bill Clinton stole my idea."

He also was often credited with coining the phrase, "The future is now."

Trained in music, aesthetics and philosophy, he was a member of the 1960s art movement Fluxus, which was in part inspired by composer John Cage's use of everyday sounds in his music. Another Fluxus adherent was the young Yoko Ono.

Paik made his artistic debut in Wiesbaden, West Germany, in 1963 with a solo art exhibition titled "Exposition of Music-Electronic Television." He scattered 12 television sets throughout the exhibit space and used them to create unexpected effects in the images being received. Later exhibits included the use of magnets to manipulate or alter the image on TV sets and create patterns of light.

He moved to New York in 1964 and started working with classical cellist Charlotte Moorman to combine video, music and performance.

In "TV Cello" they stacked television sets that formed the shape of a cello. When she drew the bow across the television sets, there were images of her playing, video collages of other cellists and live images of the performance.

In one highly publicized incident, Moorman was arrested in 1967 in New York for going topless in performing Paik's "Opera Sextronique." Said one headline: "Cops Top a Topless 'Happening.' " In a 1969 performance titled "TV Bra for Living Sculpture," she wore a bra with tiny TV screens over her breasts.

Another of Paik's pieces, "TV Buddha," is a statue of a sitting Buddha facing its own image on a closed-circuit television screen, while "Positive Egg," has a video camera aimed at a white egg on a black cloth. In a series of larger and larger monitors, the image is magnified until the actual egg becomes an abstract shape on the screen.

Paik also incorporated television sets into a series of robots. The early robots were constructed largely of bits and pieces of wire and metal; later ones were built from vintage radio and television sets.

Famous worldwide, Paik never forgot his native Korea. In 1986, public television showed Paik's "Bye Bye Kipling," a mix of taped and live events, mostly from Paik's native Seoul; Tokyo; and New York. Two years later, Paik erected a media tower, called "The more the better," from 1,003 monitors for the Olympic Games at Seoul.

Paik was left partially paralyzed by a stroke in 1996.

Funeral services will be held this week in New York, Hakuta told South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

How could I have missed this?

While looking for some information supporting or refuting the notion that Korean tourists are still the second-biggest spenders when traveling abroad (after Japanese tourists), I ran across this:
However, a female South Korean television reporter was beaten unconscious by a group of four or five people as she covered the violence near Paris, according to her French cameraman.
Frankly, I don't remember this happening. I have a very eclectic way of gathering my Korea-related news, and occasionally key things can fall through the cracks, while at other times I am the only one who notices something key (like the halving of the screen quota).

Anyway, I do wonder how I could have missed this. Did this happen when I was in Japan? Did it happen during a particularly bad set of deadlines when I had no time to read the e-papers? Anybody able to give me a rundown on what exactly went down?

I dug around a little more and discovered that it was a KBS-TV reporter:
A female reporter for the South Korean television station KBS TV was beaten unconscious over the weekend, Agence France-Presse reported. She was taken to a hospital after being set upon by a gang in the northern suburb of Aubervilliers late Saturday and was to be released Sunday.

"We were assaulted by a group of four or five people aged 25 to 30 who demanded money," the cameraman said. "Two were really aggressive. I was carrying the camera at the time, and they hit me in the face, stunning me for two or three minutes."

The Korean reporter then threw herself forward, yelling and trying to protect the camera, he said.

"One of the two kicked her brutally and she was taken to hospital unconscious," the cameraman said.
This is going to sound like I'm trying to be "cutesy," but those cameras really can be expensive. Where I first started doing television-related work, I was told by several people that the over-the-shoulder Sony Betacam they were using cost about 80 million won (then about US$100,000). Nowadays, it's possible to capture "television-quality" video with a mini-DV (known in Korean as "6 밀리"), the better ones costing up to $5000, I think. I have a Sony TRV-900, the cheapest "TV-ready" camera you can get, and it cost around $2400 in 2001. Had I purchased it in Korea, it would have been 50% more.

Anyway, I can understand her professional instinct to "protect the camera" at all costs, though at some point both the French and Korean KBS employees should have been more concerned for their own personal safety. Ah, Korean TV, where the shot is a greater concern than getting shot. I have stories to tell, but I won't (they're probably only interesting to me anyway).

Anyway, I still don't know who this is or how/why I missed it in the press.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Dangers of 빨리! 빨리! (part 1)

The quality of this "photo" is low, because it's actually a frame stolen from my camcorder.

Korean road signs—despite the recent change to the atrocious NAKL Romanization system with its eo and its oversimplification of slightly complex Korean consonants—are usually pretty well written. But occasionally you end up with a sign that obviously needed proofreading. Yeah, I'm making assumptions here and supposing that the people who put in the paperwork for this sign were in a 빨리 빨리 (Quickly! Quickly!Now! Now! We need it yesterday!) mode.

There's really nothing funny here. It's not like the apocryphal, "We play for MacArthur's erection" banner that was put up in Tokyo in the early 1950s. But I'm guessing that if this sign-making company or the government agency that ordered it was anything like thousands of other corporations across Korea, the person in charge of making up the sign was picked because he/she was the one with the highest TOEIC score. Even though he/she is woefully out of their league.

Happy Tan'gi 4339!

새해 복 많이 받에세요!

Happy Lunar New Year, everyone! Yeah, Sŏllal (설날) is here. It seems like "Western" New Year was just a few weeks ago.

I did nothing special. I will probably eat ddŏkkuk (rice cake soup) later today. Do some bows (sebae), ask why they don't give me any money (sebaetton).

May it's the Japanese influence in me, but every year I have a strong urge to use the new year as a time to thoroughly clean my apartment. Sure, this is done in Korea as well, but I feel it almost as a ritual. Of course it will take me probably the entire month of February to really get it done, as you will plainly see...

The above picture is not my apartment; it's one of the rooms in the house next door to my parents in upper-middle class Orange County, which was taken over by half a dozen crank addicts when the boyfriend of the wayward granddaughter of our darling old neighbor turned the garage into a meth lab.

I include this photo (from my camcorder, hence the poor quality) only to offer a comparison with my "breakfast nook" (below), which has suffered from neglect since I used the room as a staging area for clearing out another room. Really, could you tell the difference between the two? God forbid I ever am reported missing by some relative I had not spoken with for a while, because the police would come in here and automatically suspect foul play (not that they would care).

If you're a fan of "Friends" like I am and you've seen every episode, you will know that the secret shame of the usually immaculate Monica is her "Monica's closet": a secret small room filled floor to ceiling and wall to wall with junk that she needs to organize in some way. Below is my "Kushibo's closet."

I'm a person who likes to be neat and clean, but that's not always the way it works. For five years I had lived in a big old house, just me and my Halmŏni, and because of its size and number of rooms, I never had to take the time to reduce the amount of junk I own. When the landlady's evil daughter forced her mother to sell the charming, nearly seventy-year-old home so that it could be knocked down and made into a cookie-cutter villa, my Halmŏni and I were forced to move into the small apartment I managed to buy in the same neighborhood she had lived in since she escaped the North in 1947.

But the amount of space available was about one-third that of the old house, and despite my best efforts, I still couldn't pare down my stuff in time for the move so that everything would fit nicely into this small place. I need to work on this—sell some of it, give some of it to the Salvation Army, throw some of it away, put some of it in storage—so that I can actually have the little computer room I want and need.

So now you know how I'll spend my new year. I have an added incentive, besides Tan'gi year 4339 being upon us: I am likely going to the States to continue my doctoral studies this fall, and I have to rent out this place so I can afford San Francisco, Orange County, or Honolulu: a fully furnished apartment with a washer/dryer can maybe get me a million won a month, but a fully furnished apartment with all my junk might get me half that.

Anyway, happy new year. Eat your ddŏkkuk, get a year older, and demand respect from your juniors.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

South Korean court rules against US producers of Agent Orange

The Seoul High Court has ordered two U.S. manufacturers of the defoliant Agent Orange, Dow Chemical and Monsanto Company, to pay $62 million in medical compensation to South Korean veterans of the Vietnam War and their families.
It is acknowledged ... the defendants failed to ensure safety as the defoliants manufactured by the defendants had higher levels of dioxins than standard.
Many people aren't aware of this, but ROK soldiers made up the largest foreign contingent of U.S. allies fighting in Vietnam, contributing some 320,000 troops. Officially, 5,077 South Korean soldiers were killed and 10,962 were wounded.

As the MS-NBC article notes, South Koreans, Vietnamese, and many U.S. veterans blame a variety of illnesses on exposure to Agent Orange, including miscarriages, birth defects, cancers, and nervous disorders. Officially, Agent Orange made up 55% of the 19 million gallons of herbicide dropped on Vietnam between 1962 and 1971 to destroy jungle cover for communist troops.

Norimitsu Onishi on the Dear Leader's trip to China

Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times reporter and suspected (by his critics) stealth Japan-bashing zainichi, has an article on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's recent tour of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Onishi likened the trip to Chinese leader and retired Ninja turtle Deng Xiaoping's 1992 "southern tour," after which he "gave his nation...the nod for a full-throttled drive toward capitalism." The article provides a reasonable overview of past attempts by Pyongyang to reform. For "Where's Waldo?" type fun, try to find the hidden anti-Japanese message skillfully hidden in his words (I'm being sarcastic).

Screen quota to be reduced?

I'm going to have more on this as news comes in, but South Korea's Finance Ministry said today that it will reduce the screen quota, removing a key element of friction with the United States ahead of expected free trade talks.

Under the current system, local theaters are mandated to screen South Korean movies for 146 days a year to protect the local film industry. (It should be noted that the screen quota is not just about protection against "Hollywood," but also films from France, the rest of Europe, Hong Kong, and more recently, Japan.)

When there was first talk about removing the quota, Korean filmmakers and performers voiced strong opposition. Some read the writing on the wall and knew that the way to survive, without a captive audience, would be by improving the quality of movies. It appears that many of them have succeeded. Among a lot of people, there is a consensus that the screen quota is no longer needed.

The screen quota is to be cut by half, to a total of 73 days, beginning July 1. According to the article, "authorities expressed confidence that South Korean movies can withstand more competition from Hollywood, pointing out that the market share for domestic films has grown to nearly 60 percent last year from 50 percent in 2001." The updated article (which gives a good overview of the issue), says Washington welcomed the move.

To help movie producers cope with the reduction in the screen quota, the government announced plans to set up a fund worth 400 billion won (about US$400 million), but Korean filmmakers are reportedly calling the countermeasure "flawed and unsatisfactory."

Under the plan, the government will extend direct financial support worth 200 billion won and raise another 200 billion won by using the 5 percent fee it charges for each movie ticket sold.

One of my criticisms of the screen quota was that it mostly assisted big-budget films, not the artsy-fartsy films that can easily be overwhelmed by the competition. Answering that, the proposed fund will be used to help local filmmakers produce more art-house films, independent movies and documentaries. The fund will also be used to increase the number of theaters specializing in such non-mainstream films to 100 from the current dozen.

Culture Minister Chung Dong-chea notes that it was a 150 billion won fund from the Kim Daejung administration that helped the Korean film industry make the strides that we see today.

Haisan, a person who I had met long ago but didn't know then that he was Haisan, wrote an interesting piece at the Blog Formerly Known as Marmot's Hole addressing myths of the screen quota. A good read that makes me confident I've been (mostly) feeling the right way on this issue. Just one thing I want to emphasize: the "resurgence" in Korean media is not due to the screen quota, but a change in business (quality and marketing) due to the threat of the screen quota disappearing.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Los Angeles Times on improving strained Washington-Seoul ties

I should have fisked this last week, but the Los Angeles Times has an interesting overview of the strained relationship between Seoul and Washington ahead of this week's visit by ROK representatives to meet with US Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice in the US capital.

"Peaceful democracies" a myth?

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Mark Helprin of the Claremont Institute takes aim at President Bush's common claim that "democracies are peaceful countries." An interesting read about how "democracies" can be a threat to their neighbors as much as authoritarian governments, although I would say the point about the value of democracies is being missed: they allow the citizens within them to live the way they deem fit (within certain parameters, of course). But then again, it might not be so much that Helprin himself misses the point as that he doesn't address that point because it's not part of Bush's "self-evident truth."

Anger is vinegar

I've updated this post from June with a long overdue follow-up and an editorial that is lengthier than the original post itself (Kushibo is not known for brevity).

Incidentally, in the comments section following the Gord post on which mine is based, someone links to my Corea-versus-Korea post. To this day, that now-famous post (it's linked in Wikipedia and places that use Wikipedia materials) still gets dozens of hits each week originating from Gord's comments section. In fact, on some days it makes up 20 to 25% of my blog's total hits.

And one last thing about this picture: what really bugs me about it is that the "Korea" figure is stepping on Kyushu, which is one of my two favorite places in Japan. Think of the tsunami that would cause in Pusan!

Korea news briefs (January 21, 2006)

Koizumi wants to make everything all better
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizum says Japan will push ahead with wide-ranging government changes and try to improve its relations with China and South Korea.

Welcome to the 21st century!
South Korea is going to accelerate its move toward adopting the Linux computer operating system to replace Microsoft Windows in the public sector--not Windows XP but Windows 98. Six government agencies held a meeting to craft measures in response to Microsoft's recent decision to stop issuing security patches for Windows 98 starting in July.

Korea teams up with Japan and China
South Korea's Haansoft Inc. (makers of the widely used Hangul Word Processor, or HWP) says it will set up a three-way joint venture this year with major Chinese and Japanese Linux OS vendors to develop more advanced Linux-based programs and step up their presence in the open-source software market.

Seoul and Washington jointly call for Pyongyang to return to talks
The United States and South Korea call for North Korea to return to talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons drive as China makes a new push to break the impasse over the three-year-old crisis.

US official calls for Macau to deal with North Korea issue
Daniel Glaser, the deputy assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, calls for Macau to clamp down on money laundering after a bank in the autonomous Chinese territory was accused of acting as a front for North Korean funds.

South Korea widens probe into Hwang fiasco
South Korean prosecutors who earlier searched disgraced stem cell scientist Dr. Hwang Woo-suk's home say they were barring more of his collaborators from leaving the country and raiding homes. Meanwhile,
Seoul National University says it is moving to punish Hwang and six other professors over faked research.

Community standards

Jodi recently wrote that she has over 1000 hits a day (quite healthy if she does say so herself), and she did so not long after I mentioned that I had 100. Naturally, since the world does revolve around me, and therefore everything that happens in the world happens because it is somehow related to me, I can't help but assume that she's just rubbing my nose in it.

Asia Pages gets such high numbers because "Asia" pages gets listed when people google Asian mail-order brides or porn. I get googled when people are looking for obscure Japanese fabric or they've misspelled an even more obscure Japanese martial art.

One would think that with my witty banter and laser-like insight I could get tens of thousands of hits a day, but it's only an intellectual few that appreciate my pithy proclamations. What I need is a "
girl Friday" kind of thing [UPDATE after Lost Nomad closed down: like this], but without being so overtly pandering to the number of hits that my ruse is too obvious.

I mean, if I really am going to include gratuitous pictures of sexy women, it's got to look non-gratuitous (like
here—I thought the woman with dark hair was kinda cute).

And that means I guess I could get away with showing things like these pictures below, because, by golly, they're in the
Chosun Ilbo of all places.

These women, professional nude models, were part of a staged "nude yoghurt fight" designed to advertise a new product for a domestic dairy. The Seoul appellate court ruled Friday that their "performance" was "obscene" because it had no artistic merit and... Ah, who the hell cares?! It's bare butts and pixelated nipples!

Okay, here's my serious take on this (what would
Kushibo-e Kibun be without a serious take?): Isn't it ironic that the nude models (one of them named Park) and the dairy (abbreviated S... Saeil? Sasteur? Senmark? Sonsei? Oh, what could it be?) can be fined for an obscene display, but a mainstream newspaper can post pictures of said obscene display and it's all okay? What's the difference between the closed "performance" and the open-to-the-public newspaper? Maybe Bush knows the answer.

Anyway, lest anyone think I've thrown my standards out the window, no, I am not shirking my social responsibility (children might be reading this blog—won't someone think of the children?!) by claiming "community standards" with whatever I post here from now on. I just have a
new standard: If it can show up in the Chosun Ilbo, that bastion of conservative Korean political values, it's fair game at Kushibo-e Kibun. And you're all feeling my kibun now.

This is wonderful! I don't even have to include a "not safe for work" warning because—hey!—it's in the
Chosun Ilbo! Your boss comes by and says, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! What the foxtrot are you looking at?!" but you can turn to him or her and say, "Pictures from the Chosun Ilbo, sir or ma'am."

If your same- or different-gendered co-worker comes by and says that she or he is offended that you have these pictures up for all who crane their necks to view your monitor to see, then you can tell her or him to go sue the
Chosun Ilbo. If the spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, or animated Real Doll gets offended, you can just say, "Honey, I'm reading commentary about the Chosun Ilbo."

Community standards, baby! How can you
not love this?

Um, Mom, if you're reading this... er, um... I'm trying to make a bold statement about how so-called "community standards" is a totally bogus cop-out which excuses people to post trash like this.

Okay, everyone, my mom's gone now. Just wait and watch those
sitemeter.com numbers at the bottom just shoot through the roof.

Oh, crap, I forgot the most important thing, the
google bait: nude Koreans in Asia doing nude and naked performance, splattered in milky products of some kind. That's right, they're nude Koreans. Or maybe nude Japanese. Maybe these nude Koreans or nude Japanese (naked sexy Asians of some kind) want to have sex with you. Check out their Korean asses and non-uncensored nipples!

in Kushibo's best Mr. Burns voice] Ex~cellent!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Ashcroft, Korea, Boeing, and Israel

On the first anniversary of Bush's second inauguration, what better time to talk about the post-White House activities of a Bush all-star, former Attorney General John Ashcroft. After leaving Washington--well, not really leaving Washington, but just the White House--public servant Ashcroft has become a serve-yourself lobbyist.

The Chicago Tribune, by way of the Bay Area's
Contra Costa Times, reports that in less than three months since registering as a lobbyist, "Ashcroft has banked at least $269,000 from just four clients and appears to be developing a practice centered on firms that want to capitalize on a government demand for homeland security technology that boomed under sometimes controversial policies he promoted while in office."

Three clients of Ashcroft's lobbying firm want his help in selling data or software with homeland security applications, according to government filings.

A fourth, Israel Aircraft Industries International, is competing with Chicago's Boeing Co. to sell the government of South Korea a billion-dollar airborne early warning system.

While Ashcroft's lobbying is within government rules for former officials, it is nonetheless a departure from the practice of attorneys general for at least the last thirty years.

While others have counseled corporate clients or perhaps even lobbied in a specific case as part of law firm business, Ashcroft is the first in recent memory to open a lobbying firm.
Mr. Ashcroft, who loves quoting the Bible and claims to be guided by it, seems to be unfamiliar with 1 Timothy 6:10, which reminds us that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

Anyhoo, I stumbled across this while doing a follow-up on this December post. I think Marmot might have mentioned it, too, though I can't find it now. Boeing is a major job-provider on the West Coast of the United States, and it has been hurting from lost contracts and Bush administration plans to stop making the C-17 work horse.

[photo: In an earlier time, Ashcroft dreams of meeting naked Amazon women in silver paint, a fantasy which he is able to afford now that he's a big-time lobbyist doling out American influence to the highest bidder.]

Okay, so Ashcroft is not actually breaking any laws, but it's disgusting that influence is so easily bought and sold in what is supposed to be a democracy, especially when it is hurting American companies. If they were losing contracts on merit, that would be one thing, but that's not what it seems here.

An interesting thing is that Ashcroft's company collected $220,000 from Oracle Corp., which won Justice Department approval of a multi-billion acquisition less than a month after hiring Ashcroft in October. As attorney general, Ashcroft sued Oracle in 2004 to try to block an earlier acquisition by the company.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Show me the money.

UPDATE (May 2007):
The Bank of Korea has finally approved new bills of a larger denomination, 50,000 won and 100,000 won, to be precise (link to Korean-language Yonhap article), to be released in early 2009. Read the comments section below for ideas about who should be on the bills (my vote is for Shin Saimdang). This is the first new note since 1973.

Back in 1973, the new 10,000-won bill was worth an awful lot. Since then, according to the English-language article, consumer prices have increased twelve-fold, while personal income has increased 110-fold. In other words, a 10,000-won bill was quite sufficient.

Worries about making bribery and corruption easier were the main reasons not to increase the size of the denominations, but the cost of supyo checks has been the deciding factor here: no longer will banks or consumers have to go through the labor-intensive cost of dealing with all those checks. The Bank of Korea said the new bank notes will save about 280 billion won annually (just under $300 million).

Meanwhile, the Bank of Korea is pooh-poohing plans to lop off a few zeroes from the currency (e.g., making 1000 won just 1 won). I think they should keep the zeroes, if for no other reason that (a) it provides good numbers practice for both learners of Korean and learners of English and (b) it's as close as some of us will ever get to being millionaires.

Back to who should be on the bill, my suggestion is that Saimdang be on the fifty, not the hundred. Why? Parents of school-age children will be tempted to bribe their child's teachers with money depicting Shin, who is seen as a symbol of proper education. Just like people taking the college entrance exam were stealing the S off of Hyundai Sonatas, for good luck, some parents may guess there's some beneficial power in giving someone a Shin bill instead of, say, one with Emperor Kojong, Queen Myŏngsŏng, or Tan'gun. So let's save those other people for the hundred.

And in this way, perhaps we can cut education-related bribery in half. You'll all thank me later.

ORIGINAL POST (January 2006):
The Bank of Korea has
issued the prototype for the new counterfeit-resistant 1000-won bills, following close on the heels of the new 5000-won bill introduced last year. The BoK wants to have these ready to go by the first half of this year.

The main features are still on the new bill, including prominent Confucian scholar Yi Hwang. It also still says "1000" (wouldn't it be ever-so-cool if they could get each installed with a tiny chip that would instead display that day's dollar-to-won exchange rate: 978.3 today, 972.1 the following day, etc.?).

The new background has a traditional Korean wall-hanging and flowers... flowers that look to me like, er, um, cherry blossoms
[first photo below]. I'm not kidding, I did a double-take on that. Maybe it's supposed to be a mugunghwa (Rose of Sharon, a common garden hibiscus), Korea's national flower [second photo below]. Both of them are represented as five-pointed flowers, I think, but the flowers on leaf-less branches depicted on the 1000-won bill seems more sakura/pŏkkot-like than mugunghwa-like. Also, the flowers in the drawing remind me of hwatu (go-stop) cards.

It's entirely possible that the drawing is supposed to be of a non-specific flower in general or of some third variety I haven't thought of, but if it really is a cherry blossom, then kudos to whomever made this decision for not fearing the uber-jingoists who decry the millions (?) of Koreans who flock to parks each April to view the cherry blossoms (벚꽃) during their ephemeral bloom and who occasionally chop down the cherry blossom trees (벚나무) to make their crazed point.

The reverse of the note follows after a Choson-era painting depicting the Tosan Lecture Hall in Andong, made famous by Yi Hwang's teachings. The more compact note will also be fifteen millimeters narrower and eight millimeters shorter in length, while using color-changing ink, latent images and silver lines to counter forgery attempts. Gone are the two Korean syllables in the serial number, replaced by Roman characters. Gone also is the dominant pinkness that characterized the previous bill (the 1000-won, 5000-won, and 10,000-won were mainly pink, orange, and green, respectively). The new blue/aqua color reminds me of a cool day at the beach.

Finally, with Dr. Hwang Woo-suk now disgraced, the Bank of Korea says it is planning to remove the word "specimen" on each bill, which had been inserted as a subtle nod to the celebrity veterinarian's biological research.

said the flowers in question might be pear/plum blossoms, known in Korean as maehwa. Upon further inspection, I think that's what they were. The card below on the left is a maehwa (pear blossom), representing February in the hwat'u cards (hanafuda in Japanese). This is the one I thought resembled the flowers on the 1000-won bill. The card on the right is the pŏkkot (cherry blossom), representing March. I always get these two flowers confused in the hwat'u system, so I may be wrong that the new money is possibly featuring a cherry blossom.

Below is a picture of actual maehwa. You be the judge.

The five chugigi

The highlight of a recent conversation with a friend who lives in Nonhyŏn-dong: the five chugigi (노무현의 5가지 죽이기), or, the five things President Roh Moohyun wants to destroy. None of this is new (apparently Roh has mentioned this many times to many people), but it is interesting how this has become often-mentioned talking points among Korea's conservatives. Anyway, look at who Roh sees as his enemies in this class/cultural warfare:

1) 三星 죽이기 (Samsung Group conglomerate)

2) 江南 죽이기 (the Kangnam area with its filthy rich)

3) 서울大 죽이기 (Seoul National University, with its intellectual elites and graduates who dominate Korea's political and economic spheres)

4) 東亞日報 죽이기 (the Dong-a Ilbo, though it's probably the Korean edition he hates)

5) 基督敎 죽이기 (kidokkyo, or Christianity, especially Protestants)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Elvis has left the villa

It started a few days ago when the South Korean media reported on speculations that the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il had left his haven in the North for China. Was he going to Beijing? Who would he meet? What was the purpose of the trip?

The Chinese were tight-lipped. After all, a lot of people would like to see the Dear Leader become the Dead Leader, so his itinerary would naturally be kept on the QT by the PRC. Kim Jong-il reportedly fears flying, so he takes a special armored train wherever he goes, especially on trips into China.

It was on a return to China in 2004 that an explosion occurred in North Korea's Ryongchon area, along the train tracks from Beijing to Pyongyang, just hours after the Dear Leader had passed that way. Some think it may have been an assassination attempt; more than 160 people were killed and $350 million in damage occurred.

If the right people were to find out Kim Jong-il's travel plans, he could become a tempting (and somewhat easy) target. Just taking out the bridge over the Amnok/Yalu River between Dandong and Shinuiju while the Dear Leader is still in China might be enough to cause his government to be thrown into turmoil.

There was speculation that he was not in Beijing, but way down south, about as far away from North Korea you can get and still be in a major Chinese city. Japan's Nippon TV reported that a figure was seen getting out of and later into a limo at Guangzhou's prestigious White Swan Hotel, near the historic British and French quarters of the city. More speculation for inquiring minds.

[photo: When all guests were suddenly forced on Thursday to vacate Guangzhou's White Swan Hotel, insiders knew it could only mean either a massive outbreak of food poisoning or a visit by North Korean strongman Kim Jong-il.]

I have visited that part of Guangzhou a couple times and have even dined at a restaurant inside the White Swan, looking out at the waterfront of the Pearl River. I ordered something from the menu I couldn't read, and they brought me a wonderful chicken dish in a sauce I can still taste. Aye, this hotel is indeed fit for someone with the fine gastronomical tastes of Kim Jong-il.

(By the way, this part of Guangzhou, once a British and French concession, is actually a very interesting place if you ever get a chance to visit. A beautiful mixture of Chinese-European architecture from the 19th century that will make you think the Opium Wars were all worth it. There are romantic overnight ferries lazily plying the Pearl River between Hong Kong and Guangzhou or Macau and Guangzhou—that's right, it's a literal slow boat to China—plus faster boats if you want to spend the extra money. The boats let you off not far from Shamian Island, where the hotel and the historic quarters are located. The live animal market, ground zero for past and future pandemics, is also a must-see.)

[photo: Much of the White Swan Hotel's appeal to North Korea's ruler is that its interior's foliage provides plenty of cover for for despots wearing green Mao suits, just in case someone tries to get him.]

Anyway, the whole world was playing a high-stakes geopolitical game of "Where's Waldo?" The
New York Times reports:
Rarely, though, do the authorities go to the extent of clearing out an entire five-star hotel without explanation ahead of time. So when the authorities in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou ordered all guests to leave the luxury White Swan Hotel on Thursday and threw up a tight security cordon around the building, it was clear that no ordinary dignitary was coming for the weekend.
But even if they could demonstrate KJI really was there, the question still remained why he might be visiting Guangzhou and nearby Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong. Sure, these are all close to Macau, which is where North Korea's counterfeit superbills and drug profits are laundered, but could that be the reason? Many speculated that Kim Jong-il was down in the Hong Kong-influenced southern province of Guangdong to get an eyeful and earful of the progress China has made with economic reforms.

To be honest, I'm not so sure Guangzhou is the place to bring someone whom you're trying to convince to begin major reforms. Frankly, the septuagenarians who replaced the octogenarians who used to rule China have mostly lost control of the place. Someone like Kim Jong-il and his cronies are not going to look at free-wheeling Guangzhou and go, "Yeah, let's try that."

[photo: Tourists like Goff, Stace, and baby Sarah of Daly City, California, were forced to leave the White Swan Hotel at a moment's notice to make room for Dear Leader Kim Jong-il.]

So while the world wondered where the wandering Wunderkind Waldo-esque Leader had gone, Kushibo's sources in the former canton of Canton tell me the Coifed One is actually in China's Wild, Wild South to record a record album. That's right: the son of the Great Leader has long been a big fan of Canto-pop. He's spent the last eight years amassing a major collection of LPs, CDs, videos, and abducted C-pop stars whom he goads into having sex by promising their freedom.

He's been practicing his tones and nasal sounds for many hours in his spare time, enough that he thinks he can pull off a convincing rendition of sappy lovelorn lyrics that Hong Kongers and Vietnamese can dance to.

And that was the purpose of clearing out the White Swan Hotel, to allow the Great Leader full access to their state-of-the-art karaoke bar so that Mr. Kim could belt out a few tunes without being embarrassed. Why the White Swan? Reportedly, Grand Field Marshal Kim feels very "Canto-inspired" when he is there in the heart of Guangdong. Also, the venue carries sentimental value for him, since this is where he shot dead eight very distant relatives of high-level defector Hang Jang-yop, who had been lured there with promises of an affordable lobster buffet (their bodies were dumped into the Pearl River and devoured by Cantonese mud sharks, mutated offspring of freshwater catfish and carp that went through rapid evolution thanks to the copious amounts of chromium Chinese factories pump into that country's rivers and streams. UPDATE from 9/2008: chromium and melamine).

My sources, at no small risk to their safety, have managed to snag from a Guangzhou studio the tentative cover for the album [at left]. Kim Jong-il [at center] is joined by General Kang "the Swallow" Kyonu and Colonel Cho "Nine Fingers" Pilsu, two experts on torture and interrogation who also play a mean saxophone and keyboard, respectively. The album cover will not bear Kim's name, since US Commerce Department restrictions would mean that a direct tie to Pyongyang would prevent sales in Chinatowns across the United States. The Dear Leader assumes his fans will simply know who he is. Marshal Kim is toying with the idea of using the name of one of his on-stage personas, Fat-n-Shady.

For now, the album is to be titled "Reuters." Apparently Reuters writes a lot of articles about Kim, and he wants to show some respect. Word.

Of course, it may turn out that this bit of information, like so much scuttlebutt on this enigmatic leader, is a load of horse-pucky. All I can say is, whatever he is doing in Guangzhou, may he catch bird flu and die, taking as many of his handlers out with him.

Young O. Kim dies

I will have more on this later, but for now I'll just reprint the entire obituary of this great leader for the Korean- and Japanese-American communities, as well as for the Asian-American community in general.

Young O. Kim, 86; World War II and Korean War Hero, Uniter of L.A. Asian Communities
By Myrna Oliver, Times Staff Writer

Retired Army Col. Young O. Kim, one of the most celebrated heroes of World War II and the Korean War, who later became Los Angeles' elder statesman and link among Korean, Japanese and other Asian American communities, has died. He was 86.

Kim died Thursday of cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Kim was a major co-founder of Los Angeles' Japanese American National Museum, Korean American Museum, Korean Health Education Information and Research Center, Korean American Coalition, Korean Youth and Culture Center, and Center for the Pacific Asian Family.

He also led efforts to build the Go for Broke monument in Little Tokyo, completed in 1999, which honors the primarily Japanese American members of World War II's combined 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The monument and a related Educational Foundation that Kim chaired were named for the book "Go for Broke," which chronicled the combined units' exploits in Italy and France.

"He's a bridge-builder. He's part of an elite group that has a scope beyond his or her own ethnic community," Stewart Kwoh, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, told The Times in 1987, when Kim was honored by the Japanese American National Museum board.

"Especially for someone of his generation, that's fairly unique," Kwoh said. "His efforts have served ethnic communities beyond the Korean and Japanese American communities. He's vitally concerned about other Asian groups as well."

Born in Los Angeles in 1919 to immigrant Koreans, Kim grew up on Bunker Hill, where his parents ran a grocery store at Temple and Figueroa streets. He worked in the store as a boy in the 1920s and '30s, an era when Asian groups were not on good terms with one another, particularly Koreans and Japanese because of Japan's occupation of Korea.

Yet Kim, who saw himself foremost as an American, overcame those ethnic prejudices.

"I welcome the new immigrants of all countries," Kim told The Times in 1987. "By having that attitude, I think I'm faithful and true to the American dream…. I'm proud of my ethnic roots. I've always been proud of my ethnic roots.

"But at the same time, I feel I'm basically American. I fought for America…. I also fought for the Korean people."

When World War II broke out, Kim was drafted and assigned to the Army's 100th Infantry Battalion — one of only two Koreans in the outfit.

He said the assignment occurred because his superiors at officer candidate school in Ft. Benning, Ga., "didn't know the difference between Korean, Japanese and Chinese."

When he reported to duty at Camp Shelby in Mississippi as a newly minted second lieutenant, his battalion commander offered him a transfer, saying: "The men here are all Japanese, and Koreans and Japanese don't get along."

"But we're not Japanese and Korean," Kim replied. "We're all Americans. And we're all fighting for the same thing."

At Camp Shelby, he talked with Japanese American officers from Hawaii about changing many Americans' negative view of Asians.

"We realized we had to do well in combat. Only by doing well in combat would we be in a position to try to effect some of these changes," Kim told The Times in 1987.

The units did better than well.

"In hindsight, we were wildly successful," Kim told The Times. "I'm talking about as a combat unit, and in effecting the changes that we wanted to nationally."

Kim became the only Korean American to earn the Distinguished Service Cross during World War II.

On June 26, 1944, in Italy, Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark awarded Kim the prestigious medal because of his efforts in obtaining intelligence that helped the Allies break through at Anzio Beach and eventually capture Rome.

As United Press reported when Clark pinned the medal on him, Kim "went behind German lines at Cisterna … captured two Germans and brought them back past several enemy outposts to obtain information needed by the Allied command."

He was accompanied on the daring daylight mission by Japanese American soldier Irving Akahoshi.

Some of Kim's wartime exploits were illustrated in the 1997 documentary about the 100th/442nd and interned Japanese Americans, "Beyond Barbed Wire," in which he is "the Korean lieutenant."

Wounded several times, Kim earned so many medals in his two wars that he lost count.

The 20 or so decorations he stored in a box in his garage included two Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, a French Croix de la Guerre and an Italian Cross of Valor.

Last February, France presented Kim with its highest award, Officer of the National Order of the Legion of Honor, for his efforts to liberate French towns toward the end of World War II.

When Kim returned to Los Angeles on April 9, 1945, The Times headlined the story "Korean Hero of Italy Home."

During the Korean War, Kim became the first Asian American to command a regular U.S. combat battalion, and led his unit in pushing enemy forces back from the 38th parallel. Their efforts helped create a strategic buffer between North and South Korea.

In October, South Korea authorized awarding Kim its highest military honor, the Taeguk Order of Military Merit.

After Korea, Kim spent another 20 years in the Army, posted in the United States, Europe and South Korea, until 1972, when he retired to Los Angeles. He earned a degree in history from Cal State Dominguez Hills and worked for a time as chief executive of Fine Particle Technology in San Diego.

Married and divorced twice, Kim is survived by three stepsons, Jerry and Tom Surh and Corey Covert; a sister, Willa; and two brothers, Jack and Henry.

Funeral services are scheduled Monday at Santa Monica United Methodist Church, 1008 11th St. Kim will be buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

Instead of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Go for Broke Educational Foundation or the Center for Pacific Asian Families.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Paraskevidekatriaphobia is for losers

Today is Friday, the Thirteenth. [Kushibo starts wailing in a spooky voice] Woooo oooooooh!

Some of you may have had something major planned today and decided to cancel it. If that's you, then get a grip on reality, ya' milksop. Get out of bed and stop blaming bad fortune on supersitions. Today is no luckier or unluckier for you than yesterday or tomorrow.

This is a public service message brought to you by MADD and this station.

Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday, the Thirteenth (different from triskaidekaphobia, which is just fear of the number thirteen, whatever day of the week it is) is fairly prevalent in the United States, I guess.

Fear of the number thirteen in general is widespread enough that it is avoided where practical. I remember visiting the Mayo Clinic (family worked there) as a kid and seeing that the elevator numbers went from the 12th floor to the 14th floor; no listing of 13. How stupid, I thought! Why force people working on the 13th floor to walk up or down a flight of stairs just because of some superstition about having elevators stop there?!

In my hometown of Orange County, California, fear of the number 13 is so prevalent, that most buildings don't have a thirteenth floor. Most stop at two stories, eleven floors shy of the dreaded 13th floor.

This may also be due to a fear of earthquakes, but how often do those happen? If it weren't for an occasional quake every now and then, most OCers would have nothing to talk about. Being in a tremor while 150 feet above the ground would enhance the story. Wimps!

In Korea and some other East Asian countries, the fear is not of the number thirteen, but the number four. This is because in Korean (and Japanese), the pronunciation of the Chinese character for four (四) is the same as that for death (死, I think).

That's why, in many buildings, especially high rises, the fourth floor is not designated as such in the elevator; rather, the elevator buttons are labeled as 1, 2, 3, F, 5, 6, 7, etc. (This is true in my apartment building as well). The 'F,' of course, is from the number four. Many students would disagree that the letter F is really any less unlucky (I wore a Flip-brand T-shirt with a big letter F on it during my American students' exam, and more than one commented on it bringing bad luck).

Apparently, though, the number 4 is not unlucky when included in building or apartment numbers, so the same F floor might be in Building 401동 and will likely have a 401호, 402호, 403호, etc. I guess the superstition only extends to elevators; no doubt it was concocted by Asian Luddites who also thought cameras will steal their soul.

I personally think this, too, is hogwash, though for real estate value purposes, I wouldn't want them to change the F to a 4. I live on the 5th floor, and from time to time I can hear what is going on in the apartment below. I can attest that someone there is occasionally getting lucky.

Remember when green tea just came as green tea?

I'm sitting at Starbuck's trying to get some work done, but the procrastination gene that runs dominant in my brood has taken over yet again. I've spent half the morning installing Firefox on my 4.5-year-old Mac because Safari has permanently crapped out. I have been using Microsoft Explorer, which is like an octogenarian driving through Leisure World in a 1982 Oldsmobile: it's going mind-numbingly slow when it's not crashing.

One of the staff members (excuse me—baristas, reputedly named for the Barism separatists of Bilbao who liked to drink a macchiato venti before attacking the federales) came up and gave me a sample of green tea latte. Some may find it terribly weird, but I have never tried this latest rendition of the bitter but therapeutic nectar of unfermented dried tea leaves.

I am old school when it comes to green tea. I love the stuff, but it is meant to be a bitter brew, sipped on a cold day (I will drink iced green tea in the summer, however, my one concession to green tea's recent faddishness). In matters like these, I am a purist.

Green tea is not meant, in my opinion (which is usually right), to be adulterated with sugar, milk, cream, or anything other than water. On my list of green tea heresy are green tea ice cream, green tea powder over pastries, green tea crackers, and of course, green tea latte.

My father, usually dinosauric in his preferences, absolutely loves green tea ice cream. So much so that when we were in Italia a little over a year ago (where I saw the top of the Pope's head), he made me ask each and every gelato vendor we saw—from Roma, Viterbo, pretty much everywhere in Lazio, Napoli, Pisa, Firenze, and Venezia—if they had green tea ice cream, er, gelato.

Mind you, I don't actually speak Italian, but for one month, I did a very good job of faking it, thanks to three hours of reading a "Speak Italian in Just Three Hours" guide and my trusty Lonely Planet Italian Phrasebook. Not able to find the phrase "green tea" in my phrasebook or dictionary, I just told the gelateria managers: "We're from America and we've come all the way to your gastronomically rapturous country so that we could consume foods we can easily find in a supermarket back home. Do you have any ice cream with the flavor [pause, then switch to English] green tea?"

Incidentally, this was also the way I ordered butter for my mother, who could not get over the fact that Italians did not always eat the yellowish emulsion of salt and butterfat with the copious amounts of bread they consume. Eventually, I just truncated my request to, "We're from America. Do you have any butter?"

Prior to today, I have in fact tried green tea ice cream. My father, a generous sort with food who doesn't mind sharing things that have touched other people's mouths, had offered me a taste of his, which I managed to sample before he himself took a bite (my mother's a nurse and she has made me fearful of sharing food even with myself). I wasn't a big fan. I tried a green tea shake, but it was only marginally better.

So about a half hour ago, I sipped my first green tea latte. And while I didn't spit it out as the Baptist Lord supposedly does with lukewarm Christians, all I can say is "meh" (a Simpsonian utterance akin to 별로).

You'd think my affinity for coffee in all its lacteous varieties would have prepared me for a love of green tea latte, but for some reason it doesn't work that way. To me, coffee's bitterness is a distraction from its aroma and taste, but with green tea, the bitterness is an enhancement to the purifying, salutary experience. It shouldn't be masked with sucrose and dairy products. Also, I shouldn't have to pop another lactase pill just to drink green tea.

I should also add that the surface of an open cup of green tea latte looks like a layer of pond scum. The kind of pond scum you might find if someone hadn't chlorinate the swimming pool properly [if someone would recommend a good digital camera to buy, I'd take a picture of this to show you what I mean].

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Pragmatists beat out Nationalists

Beginning this fall semester, English education for elementary students is to be expanded, from just 3rd to 6th graders to all students. The Korea Times reports that the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development announced this as part of a plan to strengthen early English education as part of overall human resources development.

And that means the pragmatists have again won out over the nationalists. The echo chamber known as the Korea-related blogosphere seems stuck in the N-Gear (i.e., relying on the facile analysis that all things in Korea are dictated and guided by blind nationalism), but despite the noise the jingoists like to make (making noise is what they do, after all), cooler and wiser heads typically prevail.

This is another such case. In the early to mid-1990s, Korea was caught up in the argument of whether expanding English education into the elementary school system would erode Korean children's sense of Koreanness. The argument was not whether English education would be more effective if it began in third grade rather than seventh grade (中1); instead, many feared that teaching kids English at an earlier age would erode their Korean language abilities and thus their sense of Koreanness.

The pragmatists (i.e., those who felt that Korea would have a leg up, a la Singapore or Hong Kong, if its students were conversant at what is the world's unofficial language, the Lingua Franca, as it were) eventually won out. The teenagers who enter universities this coming March will be the first crop of students to have been exposed to English in school at the age of eight or nine.

But the pragmatists' plan was never to stop there. The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders were just test cases, and they eventually wanted to expand English education to the youngest of elementary students. The nationalists have squawked that this would be even worse, but the pragmatists have won out.

[photo: English speakers standing around talking. Beginning in fall of this year, Korean first and second graders will be able to join these conversations.]

To be fair, there is substantial anecdotal evidence that the nationalists may be partly right. Hand in hand with the advent of text messaging, many Korean youths seem to have lost the ability to spell correctly in Korean, quite a feat for a language with a phonetic alphabet and mostly straightforward rules of spelling. English (along with some Japanese and a few other foreign languages) has infiltrated Korean slang to such a degree that many young people don't know which words are standard and which are casual expressions.

The Ministry is to earmark about 51 trillion won for the skills improvement project over the next five years, including money for recruitment of English speakers as assistant teachers in all middle schools nationwide by 2010 in an effort to enhance English conversation and English teaching skills.

I'm sure that some in the blogosphere will look at the 51 trillion won figure and say that, judging by the English skills of the average Korean, this will be like flushing money down the toilet. Better if they use North Korean superbills to pay for this.

For those who have been in Korea only a year or so, the snapshot of Korea they see now might seem as if it is one where Koreans can't speak English worth a damn. But for those who have been here longer, it is obvious that the number of young Koreans who have lived in Korea all their lives and can actually converse in Korea has increased significantly. This is due to a number of factors, including the massive increase in English-language programming, the expansion of English-teaching institutes, and the Internet, among other things, not just elementary school education.

The Korea Times also reports that the Ministry plans to oblige primary and secondary schools in free economic zones (Inchon, Pusan, Chinhae and Kwangyang) and an international city (Cheju and later, I think, Songdo) to conduct math and science classes in English under the so-called "English Immersion Program," starting from 2008 on a trial basis. Furthermore, students living in Pusan adjacent to Japan may be required to take Japanese, while students living in Inchon near China may learn Chinese. (Personally, I think Japanese would be practical for people in Seoul and Inchon as well.)

There are a few other changes, as well. The current school year system will be scrapped in favor of one where schools begin the academic year in September rather than in March by 2010 to coordinate with foreign educational institutions. Also, the the 6-3-3-4 system (six years for elementary school, three each for middle and high school, and four years for university) may be changed to a a 5-3-4-4 school system.

Of course, the pragmatists still had to include a nod to nationalistic ambitions. Quoting Deputy Education Minister Kim Young-shik:

By 2010, we will help ten local universities join the world’s top 200 universities and national competitiveness rank within the top-ten in international competitiveness.
That may not be such a bad thing. As we all know, patriotic drives to rise in the rankings have long been the engine of Korean achievement.

[photos below: more English speakers talking]

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Hwang's 2004 study also "falsified"

Marmot will probably have the run-down on this later, but I want to get it out while I'm still in front of my computer: Seoul National University nine-person council has declared that the data in embattled cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk's 2004 study was also forged.

In the 2004 paper, which first brought Dr. Hwang international acclaim, Hwang claimed to have cloned a human embryo and extracted stem cells from it.

There's one ray of hope for Hwang: the panel also said Hwang's alleged stem-cell technology lacked practicality but that Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog, has been proven to be genuine. Snoopy, however, is still a cartoon.

Meanwhile, Kimbob links an article showing that Dr. Schatten's and Dr. Hwang's respective teams are seeking patents for this "failed" cloning technology. I find it interesting that these "discredited" scientists seem to think that there is value in their "failed" work. It did make me wonder if there really isn't something going that hasn't yet come to light.

This is not over yet.

The Korean monisphere

On and above the surface of our planet, we've got a stratosphere, mesosphere, troposphere, biosphere, chemosphere, aerosphere, exosphere, thermosphere, hydrosphere, and an ionosphere.

I submit that there is also a monisphere, and it is especially concentrated above the Republic of Korea.

While so many people spend their time in salaried positions or in freelance work trying to make enough won to pay the rent, buy alcohol, or purchase the latest all-in-one cell phone-PDA-MP3 player-portable TV-Breathalyzer, there are some people who, with little or no work on their own part, have access to an insane amount of money that is just out of the reach of most Korean citizens (and international residents).

Evidence can be seen down here on the Earth's surface, in places like Shinsegae Department Store in Myŏngdong, where this past weekend I saw a television for sale that costs more than I paid for my apartment.

Granted my apartment is twenty-five years old, not a big financial draw in Korea where so many people eschew anything that's not new, new, new. Granted, also, that the television, an 80-inch-diagonal monstrosity, is almost as big as my apartment.

But how on God's green Earth did a television get to be more expensive than a place to live? I'm not talking about wimpy little chŏnsei [전세] deposit money; I'm talking about the actual purchase price of my place. Only people with plentiful access to the monisphere could even imagine paying that much for a TV, yet Shinsegae has it right out there on display, expecting someone(s) to buy it.

I don't have a picture to post yet, but I'll get one of the 80-inch Samsung PAVV PB device being sold for 150,000,000 won [一億五千萬元]. It does have a nice, crisp picture (you can see all the skin imperfections the actors and actresses were probably hoping to conceal), but given the choice, I'd rather have a roof over my head.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Koizumi blames Beijing and Seoul for bad relations

Norimitsu Onishi of The New York Times, reports that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi "squarely blamed China and South Korea today for worsening relations with Japan, accusing them of interference in Japan's domestic matters":
In a nationally broadcast news conference marking the start of the new year, Mr. Koizumi defended his annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, the memorial to Japan's war dead, although the visits have frozen Japan's diplomatic relations with its neighbors. The leaders of China and South Korea have refused to meet Mr. Koizumi in protest over the visits to the shrine, which also honors top-ranked war criminals and is considered a symbol of Japanese militarism throughout Asia.

"I can't understand why foreign governments would intervene in a spiritual matter and try to turn it into a diplomatic problem," Mr. Koizumi said, adding that he visited the shrine to pray for peace.

"I've never once closed the door to negotiations with China and South Korea," he added.
For a number of reasons, it's naïve at best (and deceptively calculating at worst) to suggest that paying homage at a place that enshrines the architects and the executors of policies that led to the countless deaths of Chinese and Koreans is NOT within the diplomatic sphere of those countries. Ditto with government-approved textbooks that in the past may have downplayed those actions.

South Korean foreign minister, Ban Ki Moon, responded by saying that Japan's leaders needed a "better understanding of history" and should earn the "trust and respect of other countries."

Although I don't put much stock in surveys like this as anything more than a barometer of volatile feelings last week, the NYT piece talks about deteriorating attitudes toward Chinese and Koreans:
According to a Japanese government survey released at the end of last year, only 32.4 percent of Japanese said they had "friendly feelings" toward China. The figure, down 5.2 percentage points from the previous year, was a record low.

Japanese public opinion also grew less favorable toward South Korea, with 51.1 percent expressing positive sentiments, down 5.6 percentage points from the previous year. Japan's positive feelings toward Korea had increased annually in the previous four years, reflecting improving bilateral ties that took a turn for the worse last year over Yasukuni and other issues.
I don't agree that Yasukuni Shrine visits are as cut-and-dry as Koizumi would have us believe. And certainly in Japan there are many that agree with me. I will finish this post with some questions about Yasukuni I had asked in another forum, and which I had planned to include as a prelude to a post on the shrine, which I visited during my most recent visit to Tōkyō, last fall.
Since the Yasukuni-14 did not die during war (a couple died of natural causes), how is it that they were justified in being enshrined there? Is anybody who fought in war to be enshrined there, even if they died [later, after the war] from lung cancer, getting hit by a bus, or just old age?

Are all executed “war criminals” enshrined there, or is it just these fourteen? Is Hong, a Korean executed after the war for his role in Japanese POW camps, also enshrined there?

If it is natural that these fourteen were to be enshrined there, why did they wait over three decades to enshrine them there? It would seem that their post-war, non-wartime deaths did not necessitate their enshrinement. Was this a deliberate political act, not a religious one?
There's a little more to read at the original comment, but I'd prefer people provide their answers here on this blog.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Anti-Japanese sentiment affects car sales in Korea

In what is clearly a further sign of just how much Koreans loathe Japan with every fiber of their being, Lexus has overtaken BMW as the most widely purchased automobile import in Korea.

To the untrained observer, the surge in popularity of Toyota's luxury line might seem like many Korean consumers actually favor Japanese goods, but socio-cultural experts and old Korean hands can attest that the increase in sales masks a cleverly hidden and subtle form of duplicity on the part of the average Korean.

The fact is, they seek to buy Japanese cars so that they can drive them out in Seoul traffic and park them in Seoul parking lots where it is virtually guaranteed they will be scratched up. This passive aggressive form of animosity and enmity can also be seen in moviegoers who buy tickets to Japanese movies just so they can fall asleep during them, or club-goers who deliberately dance badly to J-pop (or sing really sucky karaoke).

It is reported that even those whose expensive Lexus somehow fail to be scratched up by other cars, motorcycles, and trucks edging by secretly harbor fantasies about cutting off their little pinkies while inside the vehicle and getting blood all over the high-grade leather interior.

The future of Japan-Korea relations indeed looks grim.

[photo: A somewhat older model IS 300. You, too, can do your patriotic part against Japan in President Roh Moohyun's "diplomatic war" by purchasing this overpriced monstrosity and having your infant child or drunken co-workers throw up all over the backseat.]

Korean automakers hit five-million mark

Apparently it's easier to clone cars than people. AP reports that worldwide vehicle sales for South Korea's five automakers (Hyundai, Kia, GM Daewoo, Ssangyong, and Renault Samsung) rose to 5.22 million vehicles last year.

This is a 15.6 percent increase over the 4.52 million in 2004 (both figures include sales of vehicles manufactured at overseas plants).

This is on the strength of increasing exports (which rose 19.1 percent to 4.09 million vehicles) and somewhat strong growth of domestic sales (which rose a modest 4.3 percent to 1.13 million, the first year-on-year gain in three years).

The domestic recovery comes after consumer buying went down sharply after rollbacks in Korea's formerly free-wheeling credit industry. Experts expect strong numbers this year, too.

[photo: Though young women at auto shows, like these four in South Africa, no doubt helped boost sales of Korean vehicles worldwide, they don't actually come with the car.]

Hyundai sales were up 11 percent to 2.53 million vehicles. Kia, now a Hyundai affiliate, was up 13.9 percent to 1.27 vehicles. GM Daewoo, the South Korean unit of General Motors, was up a whopping 28.6 percent to rival Kia with sales of 1.16 million vehicles.

Small-fries Ssangyong and Samsung had numbers so low they don't warrant space on my blog. Follow the link for their numbers.

Happy New Unification Minister!

President Roh Moohyun announced on Monday that 48-year-old Lee Jong-seok [at left], a top official at the National Security Council that oversees South Korea's foreign and security policies, will succeed Chung Dong-young as unification minister.

Chung, a preening, self-promoting former TV news anchor whose smug look when he talks about North Korea makes even pacifists want to choke him, has quit in order to shore up the ruling Uri Party's plummeting popularity ahead of elections in May and prepare for his own run for the presidency at the end of next year [Kushibo shudders].

The AP report describes Lee as "a respected expert on the North" who is "considered an architect of Roh's policy on the communist neighbor." He is "reform-minded" and supports engagement with North Korea, but "critics accuse him of being pro-Pyongyang." That's putting it diplomatically.

Via the Chongwadae (Blue House) website, senior presidential secretary for personnel affairs Kim Wan-key had this to say about Lee:
Lee is an expert on North Korea.... He has played an important role in embodying the government's philosophy in foreign and security affairs.
Yeah, that's what makes me nervous. Which part of the government's "philosophy" is he responsible for? Reducing the number of North Koreans who can make it to South Korea? Declaring a "diplomatic war" on Tokyo to pander for support from jingoists with no sense of what's in South Korea's interests? Allowing relations with Washington to deteriorate?

Last week Marmot had mentioned Lee as a possible successor to Comrade Chung. What he wrote about Lee embodies what is wrong with so many of Roh's choices, but he also offers some positive thoughts:
Actually, seeing Lee become Unification Minister might not be as disastrous as it would initially seem. Lots of negative things could be said about Lee, the supposed head of the Cheong Wa Dae Taliban faction, but the former Sejong Institute scholar is a legitimate North Korea expert. In his current position as deputy NSC chief, he's handicapped by the fact that the only thing he really knows about is North Korea. As Unification Minister, the narrow nature of his area of expertise could be less of a problem.
I don't know if that really makes me feel better, but at least it offers some hope.

We don't need another ideologue [coincidentally, pronounced a lot like idiot log]; the Roh administration has had too many people that are so far to the left you can't see them because of the curvature of the Earth.

What we need is a pragmatist who sees and is willing to address how North Korea itself creates problems for South Korean security, Seoul's own "Sunshine Policy," and healthy ROK-US relations.