Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Three-armed baby proof that efficient keyboard usage is driving human evolution

We all knew this was going to happen sooner or later.

A baby named Jie-Jie was born at a small local hospital in China's Anhui Province, armed with, well...three arms. All of them functional to some degree.

Clearly this is a sign of human evolution and the 144-hour Creationists* need to just shut the fuck up right now. This mutated baby will grow up being able to type out his blog and sip his Starbucks... simultaneously! How genetically developed is that?! It's like when the first giraffe had a long neck or the first elephant developed a trunk long enough to scratch its private regions.

In true egalitarian, communist fashion, doctors at a medical center in Shanghai are plotting how to take one of these arms away from the infant. In all seriousness, I say let him keep them all — he's not a freak, he's the future: an ergonomic infant.

Besides, the poor kid is missing one kidney, so shouldn't the extra arm be left intact to make up for his renal deficiencies? Won't someone think of the children?

If Jie-Jie could talk, I'm sure he'd be saying:

What the hell is wrong with you people? I've got an extra arm...think of how many things I'll be able to do that others can't, from sports to cheating at poker to clerical duties to intimate activities with my wife and/or girlfriend. Leave my arm the fuck alone! Oh, and why did you give me a name that sounds like I'm a fucking panda?! Were you high or something? I should take my third arm and go Cultural Revolution on your asses!
Yes, I'm certain that's the way babies would talk if they could speak.

Doctors did in fact go and remove one of Jie-Jie's two left arms. He is in stable condition and doctors expect a full recovery. They removed the arm closes to his chest, the one which could have been used to hide contraband.

Thanks to Space Nakji's foray into discussion of gender re-assignment gone awry, someone linked to this post while searching for (and how could I make this up) ambiguous genitalia island. Just what this person was looking for, I have no idea. Dare I say I hope he/she found it?

*That's people who believe in a literal six-day creation. I myself am a hexa-eon creationist, which is pretty much the same as a theological evolutionist, and we kick ass.

Maybe a landslide isn't a good thing

I may be alone among those who support the pragmatists in Korea (who now happen to be mostly "conservatives"), but I'm not exactly hoping for a Hannara Party landslide at the polls, as has been predicted.

Frankly, I think the most important Hannara-dang (or GNP, for Grand National Party) victory would be next year — the election of a pragmatic moderate-conservative who could repair relations with the United States, find a middle ground with Japan and return to a healthy bilateral relationship with that country even if someone like Aso is in charge, and let North Korea know that South Korea isn't going to just bend over and take it.

But my fear is that a Hannara sweep today might undermine that. If it's too easy, then first and foremost, the conservative party may get lazy. Worse even, they might get cocky, and start trying to do some of the obnoxious things that rich conservatives with a sense of entitlement and a disconnect from the average Kim and Lee do when they come to power.

A few tight races that are won as squeakers — or even lost by a very narrow margin — will make them realize the importance of keeping up the heat until 2007. Eye on the prize, and all that.

Also, a sweeping defeat by the Uri Party (also known as the OOP, or Our Open Party) will make them desperate. And when a political party is desperate, they do desperate things. A pounding today will make some of the lefties think they have nothing to lose, and so they will make impassioned appeals based on emotionally charged nationalism, which tends to override people's logical analysis of what is best in the long run. (This is by no means a trait exclusive to Korean voters; I would argue that this has played out in a number of elections in the US, as well, among other places).

Also, it is important to keep up the idea that the Uri Party in the Blue House is the incumbent party. In 2007, there may come a reckoning, and we don't want that to be muddied with perceptions that a locally powerful Hannara Party is also responsible for what ails everyone.

So here's to a mixed result! [Kushibo ducks.]

Oh, crap! Landslide.

Korea launches Blackberry service

This may have been late in coming. Korea tends to go its own way in a lot of technological advancements, and things that are popular or at least somewhat common in other countries may be almost completely absent in South Korea (Apple comes to mind, though that is changing). If Korea is hoping to make lives easier for more foreign nationals — at least the ones with boku bucks — this isn't always the best way to go. Having Blackberry service availability will probably due more to attract foreign investment and foreign talent than having the World Cup games broadcast in English.

For me, however, this means very little. Having been in Korea throughout the entire Blackberry revolution, I know of the devices, but know little about the devices or what their appeal is. One close friend's brother is a marketing VP or something at Blackberry, and I had a chance to meet with him to discuss the opening and the general feel of the market here. For the sake of Blackberry, I hope they didn't take anything I said seriously.

I've always been a fan of Handspring Visors (I have an Edge which has served me well). The name "blackberry" conjures up images of our family stopping the motorhome along two-lane country highways in Oregon and picking wild berries from the plants we saw on the side of the road, until some guy runs at us shouting, "Get off my property, you assholes!" Apparently Oregonians can smell Californians from hundreds of yards away.

Keep your nose clean

Sixty-nine-year-old Daewoo founder and former chairman Kim Woo-joong [Kim Ujung] has been sentenced to ten years in prison for charges ranging from embezzlement and accounting fraud. He is also to forfeit $22 billion (ouch!) and pay a find of ten million won (not so ouch for him, though it would be ouch for me).

The court said a severe sentence was "unavoidable" since Kim was engaged in activities that contributed to Daewoo Group's bankruptcy and hurt South Korea's image abroad. The ruling also said, "It is doubtful whether Kim is truly repentant as he tries to dodge the responsibility and justify his actions."

As we all have learned, the way to avoid a harsh sentence in a Korean court is to repent, apologize and show contrition, and offer to make amends. Kim must have had a bad lawyer.

Anyway, we'll see just how long he ends up serving. I predict he'll be out by the Buddha's Birthday Amnesty in 2008. I would say that even a one- or two-year jail term, plus the forfeiture of loads of money, may be enough to deter some other CEOs from such activity in the future. Maybe.

Years ago, when I was still a teen, I was asked — well, no, it was
demanded — to tutor Kim Woo-joong's son and daughter in English in their opulent home.

The two told me that they were middle-class. What a hoot.

How to make friends and influence people

Somebody buy that book for Pyongyang. Just days after cancelling the first North-South rail link-up in half a century, Pyongyang has cancelled a press tour of the Kaesong industrial complex. Some two hundred journalists had been preparing for two months to go there.

Note to Pyongyang: these are the people who are set to make engagement look
good. Oh, well.

Photo: South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok [Yi Chongsŏk] tours a factory in the same Kaesong industrial complex. He reportedly remarked, "Well, I don't see what the big deal is about labor rights. This looks no different from what you might see in New York City or Saipan." No, he didn't really say that. But he could have. And he'd have been right. Maybe.

Pyongyang asks Seoul to relay World Cup matches to the North...

...something that the South has done in the past (very brief article here).

And of course, South Korea should agree.

Then, one day before the World Cup's key matches (i.e., those with South Korea playing anyone), Seoul should announce that "it is impossible to conduct the broadcast relay," adding that Seoul will wait for an appropriate time to come for the World Cup broadcasts after the situation in the North returns to normal. Anyone in the DPRK tuning in would see only a blank screen, except for the words, "Payback's a bitch."*

That, of course, should be Plan-B. Plan-A would be to send subliminal messages through the broadcasts, like they do at Disneyland (please someone send me a link), telling North Koreans to rise up against their leaders, not inform on their neighbors, and/or grow their hair long.

*Alternatively, "Suck my quid pro quo."

A World Bank incentive for Pyongyang?

Washington hard-liner Paul Wolfowitz, now head of the World Bank, has publicly stated that the World Bank could potentially play a role in North Korea's economy, though is not yet ready to do so.

Wolfowitz, in an enticement to Pyongyang, mentioned that the World Bank played "a very valuable role" in China when that country embarked on economic reform:
In principle, the same thing could happen with North Korea, but there's a lot that has to happen to get there.
Wolfowitz made clear what that "a lot" was to be. He said the World Bank's investor countries are likely to focus on progress in international efforts to persuade the country to abandon its nuclear programs, if they are to invest in the isolated North:
I imagine for the shareholders the resolution of the nuclear issue is probably at the heart of it. I think the other thing that's at the heart of it is whether North Korea ... were to make the kinds of decisions necessary for that kind of economic progress to take place.
Could this be a sign that Wolfowitz is willing to work with countries that are already opening the door to possibilities of increased aid, particularly South Korea? Seoul has said it is ready to provide massive amounts of aid, including electricity, if Pyongyang can reach an agreement on the nuclear program within the six-party framework.

Wolfowitz also told Japan's
Nihon Keizai newspaper that China could be a model for the reclusive Korean regime, although I wonder if that kind of thing really is an incentive for a group of people who are deathly afraid of what might happen if they don't maintain a tight grip. As I wrote in January:
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."
Maybe Wolfowitz doesn't read my blog.

By the way, in Seoul, Wolfowitz had some nice things to say about South Korea, and we all know how much people like to hear praise in this once dirt-poor, war-torn land:
A country that was once a recipient of World Bank assistance, it's increasingly now playing a role as a donor and a model for a lot of other countries about how to do development the right way. It's an incredible success story here. There's a lot to be learned from it.
Wolfowitz told President Roh Moohyun at a meeting that he is pleased with South Korea's decision to expand aid to Africa and hopes the country will work with the World Bank.

Photo: At the Blue House, Wolfowitz and President Roh check out the executive mansion's two Chosŏn-era Barcaloungers. Wolfowitz complimented Roh on his new Elvis-style hairstyle, though it it seemed ready to collapse as the meeting dragged on.

Pyongyang's partners: Beijing, Seoul, ... and London?

Time Magazine also has an article on this subject.

There's a lot of talk about the ideological divide between the two current administrations in Seoul and Washington when it comes to North Korea: Seoul seems hell-bent on unfettered relations with Pyongyang as a way to open them up, even when it involves no reciprocity or quid pro quo of any kind; Washington seems to take the tack that engagement is propping up the regime and shouldn't be done.

Some have gone so far as to suggest Beijing and Seoul are now allies when it comes to keeping North Korea going (personally, I would contend that Seoul has not aligned itself with Beijing, but rather, is competing with Beijing for influence in Pyongyang). I think that is an unfair and highly unproductive read, and I believe certain things on the horizon will show that engagement is the wave of the future.

It hasn't happened yet, but as soon as Tokyo feels the abductee issue has been satisfactorily settled, we should expect to what could become a flood of Japanese investment
into the North.

And then there is this. A London-based fund management, Anglo-Sino Capital, has secured regulartory approval to invest in the isolated North. It is said to be the first such firm to do so.

The foreign asset managment firm's Chosun Development and Investment Fund LP initially aims to raise $50 million, eventually targeting a total asset size of around $100 million, targeting areas such as a possible revival in North Korea's mining industry and financial sector.

Colin McAskill, founder and senior partner of Koryo Asia and a director of Anglo-Sino Capital, certainly believes in North Korea's potential to open up to the outside world:
I think it (North Korea) can open up ... There is enough room for everybody.
According to Reuters, McAskill has experience in dealing with North Korea since the late 1970s, such as negotiating on the country's behalf with their foreign bank creditors.

Time will tell whether this is a wise move or not. Pyongyang has to know that messing with these investors is a quick way to dry up future investment.

At the same time, the hard-liners in Washington have got to realize that opportunism alone — if not a lack of faith by Seoul (and probably Tokyo) that a hard-line policy is going to make North Korea behave — is enough to torpedo their chances of isolating North Korea to make it come to heel.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Given the green light?

On Memorial Day, of all days, comes an AP news story (via the WaPo) of a 1950 letter from then-US Ambassador to Korea John J. Muccio, written during the chaotic first days of the Korean War, informing the State Department that U.S. soldiers would shoot refugees approaching their lines.

That's in the first paragraph of the story. You have to dig a little deeper for the part that qualifies the order:
"If refugees do appear from north of US lines they will receive warning shots, and if they then persist in advancing they will be shot," wrote Ambassador John J. Muccio, in his message to Assistant Secretary of State Dean Rusk.
The letter is receiving attention in part because it apparently wasn't found in what was supposedly an exhaustive investigation from 1999 to 2001, after the AP detailed an account of the Army's killing of large numbers of Korean refugees at Nogun-ri. The Muccio letter, declassified in 1982, was dated the same day as the Nogun-ri massacred.

The Muccio letter, which seems to contradict Pentagon accounts of what happened as a bunch of panicky soldiers reacting improperly—and without orders—to a group of refugees who may have had weapons and North Korean operatives among them, is discussed in a new book by American historian Sahr Conway-Lanz, entitled "Collateral Damage." In his book, he argues that, "With this additional piece of evidence, the Pentagon report's interpretation [of Nogun-ri] becomes difficult to sustain."

The WaPo says that the letter "is the strongest indication yet that such a policy existed for all U.S. forces in Korea, and the first evidence that that policy was known to upper ranks of the U.S. government."

The Pentagon concluded that the Nogun-ri shootings, which lasted three days, were "an unfortunate tragedy"..."not a deliberate killing." It suggested panicky soldiers, acting without orders, opened fire because they feared that an approaching line of families, baggage and farm animals concealed enemy troops.

Nogun-ri has been an embarrassment for the American military and anyone who supports strong US-ROK ties. For years, during staunchly pro-American regimes, the survivors at Nogun-ri found it difficult to seek redress. Some groups say hundreds more refugees were killed in later, similar episodes.

According to the WaPo and AP:Muccio's letter indicates the actions of the 7th Cavalry were consistent with policy, adopted because of concern that North Koreans would infiltrate via refugee columns. And in subsequent months, U.S. commanders repeatedly ordered refugees shot, documents show.The Army is standing by the report that was given, but acknowledged that among the millions of documents reviewed, the Muccio letter may have been missed.

What I don't like about the story is that it appears to be only half the story. The shocking part is at the top, the details later may be missed. Those meeting on the night of July 25, 1950, including US 8th Army top staff officers, Muccio's representative Harold J. Noble, and ROK officials, decided on a policy of air-dropping leaflets telling South Korean civilians not to head south toward U.S. defense lines and of shooting them if they did approach U.S. lines despite warning shots.

It should also be noted that it is not clear what action was taken as a result of the letter. Dated the same day as Nogun-ri, it may have had nothing to do with the tragedy that happened there.

Billy, the Korean War veteran story-teller I mentioned here, told me of some of what the US military was up against in the early days. Refugees were streaming south — staying north mean some or all would die. But the refugees were blocking their saviors from heading to the fighting, to meet those who would do them harm.

Billy told me of how the tanks would fire over the columns of refugees who were blocking the roads. That would get most to move off the road, at least for a while. Eventually, he said, it would be necessary to do this again.

The refugees were moving, moving, moving, because to do otherwise meant dying. We know of the tragic story of the refugees moving across the Han River Bridge as the retreating ROK and US forces were setting to blow it up to prevent the North Koreans from moving south of the river. But the refugees wouldn't get off. At some point, the horrific decision had to be made to sacrifice those still on the bridge in order to save many more lives.

I am not trying to justify anything that happened there. I really don't know what happened. North Koreans reportedly really had infiltrated many columns of refugees, which put all of them at risk. In times of war, it's hard to know who the enemy is and who isn't, but ultimately, much or all of the blame lies with Kim Il-Sung and the North Koreans, who perpetrated the war in the first place and utilized such tactics in a way that gave the ROK and its allies nothing but Hobson's choices.

: refugees heading south

Monday, May 29, 2006

Thank you.

My primary association with the US military is here in Korea, where the country's ties with the US military relationship are a constant reminder, particularly for those of us who live and/or work in central Seoul's Yongsan-gu. One of my biological grandfathers was a career soldier, having voluntarily enlisted during World War II, but I never met him and he was almost completely out of the lives of his children, so I know little about what he did. Other relatives, uncles and cousins, have been or are in the US military, serving in places as far apart as Korea, Japan, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany, Italy, and South Dakota.

From very young I have been aware of how the US military intervention in Korea has changed the course of Korea's destiny. Books like "The Korean War" by British journalist Max Hastings (coincidentally, mentioned by The Marmot recently) elaborated on and underscored the sacrifices made by the Americans, Brits, and others. That book is a well-needed antidote to counter the Pyongyang-sympathetic tripe produced by "historians" such as Bruce Cumings.

I always thought that even if one disagreed with some of the ways in which the US military was used, Korea was one place where the post-World War II efforts of the US military bore fruit: while Korea under Rhee was no bastion of freedom, the ROK was preserved so that it could later flourish, first economically, and then democratically. Koreans of today owe their comfortable existence, at least in part, to the tens of thousands of American soldiers and others who died fighting for this land they probably had never heard of before June 25, 1950.

To them, I say "Thank you."

Memorial Day is a day on which we honor their sacrifices, but it shouldn't be the only day. I have tried to show my appreciation in other ways. I have volunteered or worked at several USFK-associated organizations as a way of doing my part. I have made no secret of my belief that a US military presence on the Korean Peninsula is crucial for maintaining peace, stability, and prosperity in the region, which is good not only for America's allies in Northeast Asia, but for American values (as well as its valued commerce).

In that sense, my "help" is something I see as putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak. Perhaps some day I will do more. A few years from now, perhaps I will be in uniform working in one of the branches of the armed forces in the medical field. It is an idea that I've toyed with, but in the back of my mind, I really wonder if I'm brave enough even to play that kind of military role in which I'm not likely to be shot at.

At any rate, I have always admired those who have served. I have nothing but respect for what Tom Brokaw calls "The Greatest Generation." I feel tremendous gratitude to those who served in Korea and elsewhere during the Cold War, holding back a threat that was real (and which we are still paying for).

Yes, there have been mistakes and missteps made by Americans and their allies, some of them serious, but I believe the world would be a much darker place without those we honor on Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Separated at birth?

I realize I'm opening myself up for potential ridicule by even suggesting I have seen "Project Runway" (and for the last time, Space Nakji, I'm straight as I-15 through the Mojave!), but it usually is on TV when I'm about to go to bed. One of my bad habits is that I need to have the TV on in order to fall asleep. What can I say? I live alone, so there's no one to talk to in bed, and I need something to drown out the voices in my head.

And were I not catching an occasional glimpse of the horribly contrived "Project Runway," how else would I have discovered that Santino Rice and Richard Reid are twins separated at birth.

Santino Rice: coordinates fashionable clothing and shoes to make an ensemble that is da bomb.

Richard Reid: coordinated with an ensemble of terrorists to fashion a shoe into a bomb

Friday, May 26, 2006

In defense of of the Pax Americana in Northeast Asia

I should put this post from last fall in my blog roll at right. It still sums up what I feel is an important but often discounted point of view. I guess one way I might change it is that I think the sheriff analogy can be supplemented with the metaphor of the US presence in this highly charged part of the world as a ground plug preventing wayward sparks.

For those of you too lazy to read it, the American presence in Northeast Asia and the American presence alone provides the security needed to maintain stability here, something that bodes well not just for American allies, but also for American values and commerce. It is worth every penny.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

In Korea, cell phone usage = depression?

The Los Angeles Times is reporting on a South Korean study presented to the American Psychiatric Association (Time Magazine also has the story) that points to a possible connection between cell phone usage and depression (plus anxiety and stress, for good measure).
The teen obsession with yakking, text messaging and ring-tone swapping on cellphones might mean more than a whopping phone bill. For the most crazed, it's a sign of unhappiness and anxiety, according to a new medical study.

A survey of 575 South Korean high school students found that the top third of users — students who used their phones more than 90 times a day — frequently did so because they were unhappy or bored. They scored significantly higher on tests measuring depression and anxiety than students who used their phones a more sedate 70 times daily.

The study, presented Tuesday at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Assn. in Toronto, was among the first to explore the emotional significance of teens' cellphone habits as the device becomes more entrenched in today's youth culture.
The LAT drives home the importance of this in the US, tellings us that two of every five American youths from ages eight to eighteen have a cellphone, and that students in grades seven through twelve spend an average of an hour a day on their cellphones — about the same time they devote to homework.

Some research has shown that students incorporate cellphones into their personal identities. For teens, cellphones were "not just objects or communications tools. They were portals for being in touch with other people — extensions of themselves."

But all is not lost. Ever hopeful that things are not as dismal as they sound, the leader author of this report, Dr. Jeehyan Ha, said heavy cellphone users involved in his study weren't clinically depressed. Rather, he said, the students probably had some serious cases of teen angst.

Well, heck.
I had that!

Dr. Ha suggested these kids may be unhappy because of a problem in their lives or anxious about their social status, and "they are trying to make themselves feel better by reaching out to others." So that could make cell phones
a good thing, right?

Both the LAT and Time asked, given that cellphone use in South Korea is higher than in the US, do the findings applied to American teens? James Katz of Rutgers University professor says yes:
A central concern for teenagers is being in touch with friends and drawing boundaries about who's in and who's out. People who are anxious and depressed are concerned about whether they are in or out and naturally often look at their cellphones to see if they've gotten answers to the text messages they sent out.
For anxious teens, one scientist commented, text messaging can also become a substitute for face-to-face communication. You want to be sure that you are not reinforcing social isolation.

Not everyone is convinced. Dr. Bruce Spring, of USC's Keck School of Medicine, said that in some cases, light or no use of a cellphone might be a more serious sign:
Teens who are really anxious and depressed won't be sending messages or making calls.
Damned if you do, damned if you don't, I guess. Time Magazine ends on this somewhat bright note:
Either extreme may be worrisome, but parents take heart: As an adaptive response, inappropriate cell use is a whole lot better than drugs or antisocial behavior—but it may deserve some attention.
Yeah, well I guess there's that, although cell phone bills can be as expensive as a drug habit.

Plunge, my friend.

I'm almost embarrassed for how long I've taken to respond to this, which by now probably most of my regular readers are already well aware of. The truth is that there is not much else I've thought of since I read that.

Like so many things in my life that are important, I wanted to take this important thing — my on-line friend's grave news — and respond appropriately by taking the time to write what is in my heart and needs to be said.

And like so many other things in my life, I always find it hard to find enough time for such important things. I'm so busy with the little things that the really important things often take a backseat. Which is, of course, backwards. Days and then weeks go by before I call that family member I've been meaning to call or send an email to that friend I've been meaning to. I can't let that happen now.

I have never met Plunge — I don't even know what his real-world name is — but I have engaged him enough through the blogosphere that I would consider him a friend. As someone mentioned on his blog, it's funny how people you've never met can touch your lives in such a way.

I do know several K-blog people personally. I am related to one or two, and I have downed a couple beers with others (Oranckay, Your Mum, Wedge, Haisan, to name a few). To varying degrees, I have e-corresponded or had phone conversations with Space Nakji, The Marmot, Brendon Carr, Lost Nomad, Curzon, and Jodi (whom I may also have "met" at the Apache Mall in Rochester, Minnesota, when she was a toddler and I was a kid).

And of course, Plunge.

Plunge and I are often (but by no means always) on the same side of many issues, but even if we weren't, I can easily see that the good in this person shines through. He's the kind of person whom, if I found myself within 200 miles of his hoome, I would go out of my way to visit.

Plunge, I wish it were kidney trouble ailing you, because I would gladly donate one — I've got two and they're both in good shape.

But barring that, you will always have my prayers.
My thoughts and prayers go out to your wife and daughter as well. These are challenging times ahead, but it seems that you couldn't be with two better people than they.

For my part,
please, please, please do not hesitate to contact me for anything you think I could help with. Promise me one thing in return: do what you can to stay strong, and humor us by listening to our advice, because everyone here loves you.

One such bit of advice is that you make your way to Rochester, Minnesota, (or to Scottsdale, Arizona, though Minnesota is the better choice) for a visit to the Mayo Clinic. Whatever is ailing you, there is almost certainly someone at that world-renowned research facility working on it, and there might be something cutting edge that is available only there.

More thoughts later. In the meantime, Godspeed and God bless.

Kyŏnggi-do could kick Seoul's ass

Best thing that ever happened for my education was my parents strategically locating the family set of encyclopedias next to the bathroom. They became the reading material of choice for the few minutes of day one was sitted on the throne. By the time I left for college, I had read the entire set, out of order and in bits and pieces.

Since then, I've always been fascinated by geography and numbers. Numbers like the Republic of Korea's 2005 population being tallied at 47.28 million, according to last November's census, an increase of 1.14 million (2.5%) from 2000. This makes South Korea the 26th most populous nation.

That means 0.73% of the world's population is in South Korea. Put another way, if the world's population were just 10,000, seventy-three of them would be South Koreans, and none of them would live on Tokto. And if ten of those seventy-three got behind the wheel, the 10,000 would fall to 9,863.

Gender parity is almost perfect, with 23.62 million men (up 2.0% from 2000) and 23.65 million women (up an encouraging 2.9% since 2000). Unfortunately, many of those women are
ajummas and halmŏnis, so don't buy your plane ticket just yet.

A trend of the past decade has continued: Seoul proper shrunk by 75,000 to 9.82 million, and Pusan decreased by 139,000 to 3.52 million. Bear in mind that these are still super-humongous megalopolises.

And what I found interesting was that Kyŏnggi-do Province took up the slack for Seoul's population drop: it increased by 1.43 million people (!) to 10.42 million, beating out Seoul for the first time since 1396.

The "capital region," including Seoul, Kyŏnggi-do, and Inch'ŏn, is around half the population of the entire country. Koreans fret over this, but it may not seem as unusual as it sounds. In California, far and away the most populous state in the US (with more people than Canada or Australia), almost one-third live Los Angeles County alone.

If Korea seems crowded, trust me that it is not an optical illusion: population density increased by ten people per square kilometer to reach 474, clearly a sign that we need to construct more square kilometers.

A sign of Korea's graying society is that the number of citizens aged 65 or older reached 4.37 million, accounting for 9.3 per cent of the total population. This is up from 7.3 percent in 2000 and a mere 4.3 percent in 1985.

Korea still remains a religiously pluralistic societ. Buddhists made up 22.8 percent of the population. Protestants were 18.3 per cent and Roman Catholics around 11 per cent.

If I can find more thorough stats, I'll try to report on the number of foreign nationals included in the population. The census-takers made efforts to include foreign citizens residing in the ROK, with English-, Japanese-, and Chinese-language census materials. I answered mine in Korean, but I did tell them there were thirteen New Zealanders living in my apartment. Everybody loves New Zealanders.

Photo: Seoul residents celebrate the new census figures with a massive rally at Sadang Station.

Two-thirds of an axis

Is this a case of life imitating art? Pyongyang is now making no bones about its relationship with Teheran. The two marked a special "friendship week" in Teheran last week, according to the North's Korean Central News Agency (not available in South Korea):
Calling the ties a special relationship, speakers at the opening ceremony said the (countries') acts and slogans of struggle to oppose global dominators and their struggle spirit aimed at safeguarding national dignity and independence are deepening the relations.
North Korea and Iran have been major foreign policy irritants for the United States as they have resisted Washington-led international pressure to give up their nuclear ambitions. There have also been indications of weapons and weapons technology transfers as Pyongyang struggles for hard currency.

I just wonder if the Islamic Republic of Iran realizes what North Korea does to people of faith.

Person on the Street: What are your opinions on the current and future state of Tokyo politics?

I believe the children are our future. So who better to ask about the future direction of Seoul-Tokyo relations than the future leaders of the nation?

What's that smell? It's Koizumi's policies.
No, wait. It's my brother's diaper.
— Im Kahi, Tobongsan-gu, Seoul

Mommy says Tokto is our land.
— Kim Kimin, Chunchon, Kangwon-do Province

I'm very concerned about the rise in power of Japan's right-wing as exemplified by the visits to Yasukuni Shrine by Prime Minister Koi... Koi... Koiz.... Oh, I can't pronounce that, I'm only three.
— Park Chuhyok, Pundang, Kyonggi-do Province

Aso is a poopee head!
— Cho Hyona, Saha-gu, Pusan

I love Koizumi. I love President Roh. I love Chuho, the boy who sits in front of me in class. I love you, Mr. Question-Asker Ajoshi.
— Lee Mison, Socho-dong, Seoul

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

At least Mussolini could get the trains to run on time

(Well, not really).

Anyway, the regime of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il seems to be having problems even with this, at least when it comes to the train scheduled for this Thursday, the trial run of the much ballyhooed railway link, which was the first railway crossing in more than half a century.

Does this mean former President Kim Daejung will be taking the bus?

From the "News that should come as no major shock to those who criticize the Roh-Chung Administration for kowtowing to Pyongyang and never demanding any quid-pro-quo reciprocity" Department, South Korea's Unification Ministry today announced that North Korea was asking for a cancellation of the trial run. Vice Unification Minister Shin Eon-sang called the development "very regrettable."

The Unification Ministry said the North's powerful military had given no guarantee of secure passage ahead of the planned runs. Park Chongsong, North Korean representative to railway talks, said "it is impossible to conduct the trial operation" as scheduled because of the failure of the two Koreas to reach a military agreement on operation of the trains.

Pak also sought to use the issue to drive a wedge between the ROK government and their US allies. In a message sent to his South Korean counterpart, he criticized "pro-U.S., ultra-right conservative forces" in the South for burning the North Korean flag and "pushing the situation in Korea to an extreme phase of confrontation and war."

"We will wait for an appropriate time to come for the trial train operation between the North and the South after a military guarantee is provided by the military authorities of both sides and the situation in the South returns to normal," Pak said.

An appropriate time = after the next check has cleared. Maybe.

Oh, and the situation in the South will never return to normal. North Korean propagandists have been harping on that for years.

South Korea wants the train connection, if for no other reason that it would be a sign that the Sunshine Policy is working. The western rail link would help in the shipment of goods in and out of the Kaesong industrial complex where South Korean companies produce goods at factories using cheap North Korean labor and land. The eastern rail link, visible from the Unification Observatory on the east coast, would help in the tourism trade for groups going on Hyundai-run tours to North Korea's Mt. Kŭmgangsan and beyond.

North Korea, probably knowing full well that more trains means more people and more people means it's that much harder to keep their country hermetically sealed, is less enthusiastic.

There's also the possibility that Pyongyang is going to try to squeeze more from Roh in order to get this rail link, and/or the technologically suspect North Koreans simply haven't been able to keep up with their end of the bargain.

Photo: The train ride at Knott's Berry Farm in Orange County, California. The theme park ride bears amazing similarities to the Kyŏng-ŭisŏn line the South is pushing the North to finally open: It's mostly for show; bandits hired by the people who operate the train wait to rob the people who get on board; passengers get on even though they know they will be robbed; and despite a bunch of track being laid, the train doesn't actually go anywhere useful.

So this is why there was no one in line to see "The DaVinci Code" (or any other movie playing yesterday)

Despite it being panned by critics, people have been flocking to see "The DaVinci Code," and yesterday I was one of them. As I am wont to do, I went to the theater several hours earlier in order to get a ticket, and caught a glimpse of Mun Geun-young filming a movie, right there at the top of the colored waterfall steps at Yongsan Station.

I did not have to wait in line at all at the Yongsan CGV, and there were plenty of seats, which seemed a bit odd, even on a Tuesday night, but that's because I didn't know about the South Korea-Senegal pre-World Cup friendly super-jumbo soccer match.

I played soccer for nine years in elementary, junior high, and high school, even becoming an AYSO referee in Orange County at one point. But I just don't get excited enough about the sport to watch every single game (or even most games) the home team plays. This is, in part, because I tend to jinx the team I favor. Instead, I take advantage of the light traffic on the city's highways that results from everyone else being at home or in a bar watching the match and screaming at the telly.

Thank goodness, Korea did not lose (it was a 1-to-1 draw), otherwise we'd have to despise Senegal for the next four years, and I'm just tired of all the hate.

By the way, "The DaVinci Code" was not all that bad, though I can see how fans of the book might be disappointed. Fans of Audrey Tautou might also be disappointed, since she's not naked even once in this film (which, I suppose, is appropriate for someone who — ¡¡¡SPOIL ALERT!!! — may be a descendant of the Holy Christ).

The book was cleverly laid out and involved the reader in how the codes and riddles were solved, in a richly textured way even a two-and-a-half-hour-long movie (no diet soda beforehand, if you're smart) simply cannot. Instead, it was a moderately interesting thriller in the same vein as "National Treasure," though with less gunfire.

If you have already read the book, the plot twists of the movie simply don't have the surprise, nor do they provide the satisfaction of laying out the details of the book in visual form. For that, you'll probably have to wait for "The Discovery Channel" to come out with its twenty-hour version.

Korean and Japanese Foreign Ministers to meet to discuss Tokto/Takeshima

Seoul and Tōkyō have agreed to hold talks on their disputed maritime border next month after a meeting of their foreign ministers on the sidelines of a conference in the Middle East.

ROK Foreign Minister Ban Kimoon and his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso, who have not met since December last year, also agreed to work to improve ties that have been frayed by the dispute over the South Korea-administered Tokto Islets, known in Japanese as Takeshima.

Here's hoping something genuine comes out of this. I have long said that it is a very bad thing for politicians and others in Japan and Korea to let political expediency and emotion over such issues derail what should be a future-oriented partnership.

[The Reuters article I linked above, interestingly, describes the islets as "sitting about the same distance from the two countries' mainlands." Maybe we should sic VANK on their butts*, since in fact the Japanese mainland is 15% further away from Tokto than is the Korean mainland. More importantly, the closest Japanese territory, Oki Island, is nearly twice as far from Tokto as the closest Korean territory, Ullŭng-do Island.]

* This is not meant as a serious comment. I think the VANK people have taken a noble mission—correcting inaccurate information about Korea for the greater good, things like "South Korea is a major country of Southeast Asia"—and politicized it in a way that can do little more than engender animosity.

And speaking of textbooks in Asia...

While Koreans and Chinese (and some others) complain about Japanese authorities authorizing textbooks that seem to whitewash Imperial Japanese atrocities and wrongdoing, it's only fair to note Japan is not the only culprit. Korean textbooks may have a few things that would make us cringe, and Chinese textbooks, I believe, still claim that South Korea and the United States were the ones responsible for starting the Korean War.

But let's turn our attention for a moment to the other corner of Asia. The Washington Post has an interesting editorial on how Saudi Arabia's progress in removing hate-mongering from its official textbooks is really no progress at all.

It's a start.

A lot of people forget this (or didn't realize it in the first place), but the North and South Towers were not the only skyscrapers to collapse in New York City on September 11, 2001.

With what seems like little fanfare, 7 World Trade Center, which was the last building to collapse as a result of the 9/11 attacks, became the first to be permanently rebuilt. The new 52-story building officially opens Tuesday, local time.

The new structure boasts state-of-the-art safety features. So far, occupancy is rather low, but developers are optimistic that will change.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sejong the Great smiles

When they're not talking about homeless people in front of high-class boutiques in Tokyo's ritzy Ginza (hat tip to my friend Yumi, who seems hell-bent on embarrassing the Japanese whenever possible), Korea's Internet users are all abuzz about King Sejong's new look with its devilish grin (hat tip to Katolik Shinja, who probably remembers I am quite interested in Korea's new bills).

Sometimes I disagree with The Marmot

During my bouts of feverish commenting on his blog, I rarely disagree with The Marmot (so much so that someone once emailed me and asked if I were The Marmot's left-wing alterego, especially since I link back to his site so often). I guess it's true that, in general, I think The Marmot is right on the money about most issues.

And I did agree with some of the points The Marmot made in this post:
It might sometimes seem that my less-than-outraged attitude toward the way Japan has confronted—or not confronted—its imperial past is driven by some dislike of Korea. Actually, I simply find Korea and China’s criticism of Japan’s past to be historically simplistic, at time politically motivated and almost always diplomatically counterproductive. At the same time, as the victims of Japanese imperialism, I can understand how Koreans and Chinese might be bitter about the whole experience, regardless of how many school, roads or railroads the Japanese may or may not have built in their overseas possessions. In other words, they at least have a right to bitch.
I think that paragraph is right on the money, both in terms of why Koreans (and I suppose Chinese) are often so pissed off at some Japanese officials, and how that sentiment can get exacerbated and manipulated as well.

And with this paragraph, too...
What really gets my goat, through, is when I hear Americans and Europeans taking Japan to task for its past. Example A: Rep. Henry Hyde warning Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro to stop visits of the Yasukuni Shrine if he’d like to address Congress...
...I found myself agreeing (and sort of said as much here). But what I take issue with is found in The Marmot's title itself, the problem of calling Japan to account in the first place, particularly for Westerners (such as Hyde).

Whether France, Britain, or even the US have failed to adequately lay out their wrongdoings from the past is indeed problematic, but it hardly does anything to bolster support for engineering collective amnesia in Japan.

Even if just about every other nation were to fall far short of the ideal, the fact remains that Imperial Japan's partner in crime, Germany, has been far, far, far better than Japan at laying out the god-awful truth so that it can be properly analyzed.

Germany, the forerunner in this regard, should be the standard, not our-shit-don't-stink Brits, French, or even Americans and Koreans (and certainly not the Chinese).

If it takes individual Americans to nudge Japan toward the German model, so be it, even if American is less than forthcoming about its skeletons (and is it really? I mean, isn't just about everyone on the right complaining about American becoming too obsessed with what it's done wrong?).

Rather than making an argument for not calling the Japanese to account, The Marmot has, in my humblest of opinions, offered grounds for the Brits, the French, the Americans, the Koreans, the Chinese, etc., to also do some collective soul-searching.

Where have I heard that one before?

Take a read at this description of Lake House, a movie starring Sandra Bullock ("Love Potion No. 9") and Keanu Reeves ("Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure") which opens June 16 in the United States:
A lonely doctor (Sandra Bullock) who once occupied an unusual lakeside home begins exchanging love letters with its newest resident, a frustrated architect (Keanu Reeves). When they discover that they’re actually living two years apart, they must try to unravel the mystery behind their extraordinary romance before it’s too late.
If this sounds familiar, it's because this movie is an America version of Jun Jihyun's Korean hit Il Mare (in Korean, Shiworae, 시월애, which does not mean "October Love," despite one Arirang presenter's gaffe):
Eunju moves out of her house "Il Mare", leaving behind a Christmas card for the eventual new owner of the house in 1999. In it she asks him/her to forward any mail of hers to her new address in the city. It is 1997 and Sunghyun, the first owner of "Il Mare" is moving in and finds in his mailbox the Christmas card from Eunju. Thinking it was a joke, Sung-hyun leaves her a letter telling her so and reminds her that it's 1997 not 1999. Eventually the two realize that they are separated by two years of time but can somehow communicate through the mailbox and begin to form a friendship through their letters.
No, Hollywood did not rip off Korean cinema. Rather, they did what Korean carmakers have doing for years: they paid the licensing fees to remake somebody else's stuff as their own. In fact, Hollywood has been doing this for years with French and other European films (and not a few television shows), and lately with Japanese, Korean, and other Asian cinema.

No golf course in Pyongtaek, please.

I think I've made it clear that I am a strong supporter of USFK's move from Yongsan to Pyongtaek, but at the same time I really do feel for those people being given no choice but to leave their family property to make room for the new base in Taech'uri [Daechu-ri] (though I have no sympathy for the chinbo "progressives" who are using the farming families to whip up support for their pro-Pyongyang cause).

When I first heard that one of the planned facilities for Pyongtaek may be a golf course, my jaw just about hit the floor. After the huge struggle ensuing to obtain the land, what will be remembered—and repeatedly evoked by the "progressives"—is that hapless farmers were kicked off their ancestral land so stuffy officers could play a few rounds of golf in the third most densely populated country in the world.

It's one thing to make room for training grounds, barracks, schools, even movie theaters and bowling alleys. After all, these are a part of normal everyday life for military and their families (the schools and recreation facilities are a part of everyday life for all families), but a golf course is an exclusivist and elitist facility that is about the worst common use of open space imaginable. Particularly in a place lacking much open space in the first place.

Not just in Korea, but all across the world, and particularly in Asia, the environmental damage and economic waste associated with building golf courses is a hot topic. Why engender many years of testy relations just for the ease of playing nine or eighteen holes? If it's really that important, work out a way to keep USFK's golf course at Camp K16 in Songnam open and make the Pyongtaek base a little smaller (or add other more needed facilities).

This should be a no-brainer to the USFK brass, since it's not like this issue has not come up before. Back when the first Yongsan move was announced for 1996 but then thwarted by rising land prices in the area speculated for the move, USFK decided to at least give up the golf course it had in central Seoul, which is now Yongsan Family Park and the site of the National Museum. All that remains inside the garrison is the driving range (which is about the most Pyongtaek really needs), to which has been added a miniature golf course.

USFK did the right thing then, and it should do the right thing now. Save everyone a whole lot of grief later on and give up the golf course idea, if in fact it is in the works.

[I would appreciate any information from my readers who are in the know about the development of such plans. And please, if you agree with me, please feel free to link to this post or pass it on to people who could do something about this.]

Now wait just a gosh darned minute here...

Mirroring the rift that has been running deep in South Korea, some pro-Seoul residents of Japan are rejecting the détente forged between Japan's South-oriented and North-oriented associations of Korean residents.

The Niigata prefectural chapter of the Korean Residents Union in Japan (the pro-Seoul Mindan) is saying it will not accept the reconciliation its head office in Tokyo had forged with Chongryon, the pro-Pyongyang Korean residents group, until North Korea resolves the abduction issue.

This is not the first time the kidnapee issue has been raised by the Niigata prefectural chapter of Mindan. In 2004, they ceased socializing with Chongryon (the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, also known in Japanese as Chōsen Sōren), citing the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents.

An official said the chapter had no intention to associate with Chongryon in the future, but would not oppose the head office's policy to reconcile with Chongryon.

Megumi Yokota, the poster child for the kidnap victims and their families, was abducted from a beach in the northern Japanese prefecture of Niigata, and Mindan officials say that makes resolving differences with Chongryon very unpalatable and difficult. Mindan officials in Niigata said their decision "was made by taking into consideration coexistence with Japanese society."

Den of thieves

Back in 1988, opponents to the removal of Korea's screen quota allegedly released non-poisonous snakes into a sparsely attended showing of "Fatal Attraction" and poisonous snakes into a showing of "Rain Man" (later works of Glenn Close, including "Air Force One" and "101 Dalmations," have fared much better in Korea; ditto with Dustin Hoffman and that Tom Cruise fellow).

Nothing like serpents to punctuate a point in a hissy fit.

With opposition to the supposedly "blasphemous" movie, "DaVinci Code" running so high, is it any wonder that some folks apparently are breaking the law to prevent people from seeing this controversial film as well?

In one place, a movie theater was forced to close on the opening night of "The Da Vinci Code" after twenty projector lenses were stolen, though it is not certain this is related to the film. Nearby protesters, some of whom were holding signs that said "Boycott Hollywood," said the theft was not connected to their demonstration.

Alas, for all of you who wanted to chalk up this possible bit of hypocrisy (stealing in order to protect the sanctity of Christ?!) as another example of "OinK" (only in Korea; a popular term on the now defunct Kexpat list, the forerunner of the K-blogosphere), this didn't happen in South Korea, but in North Dakota.

Oh, those nutty Midwesterners with their intolerance for other points of view and their blind self-righteousness. I guess when you know you are "correct," it just stands to follow that you have every right to break the law to make your point. [tongue firmly in cheek]

Park Geun-hye assaulted in Shinchon

Police are saying that Park's assailant, fifty-year-old Mr. Chi/Ji, had been convicted of past criminal charges, including assault, and had served fourteen years in prison. Yonhap is reporting that Chi has been donating 2000 won (about two bucks) to the ruling Uri Party every month since 2004, and the Uri Party has confirmed that he is a registered member of their Seoul chapter, which they said they will revoke. Yonhap also mentioned speculations on how deep the cut was, put at one to three centimeters deep. [Secondary update: my comment-for-the-week on Marmot's is here.]

The leader of the conservative Hannara Party, Korea's main opposition party, was attacked by at least two inebriated men in the Shinchon district of western Seoul this past evening as she helped campaign for Hannara Party mayoral candidate Oh Se-hoon. Her face was sliced "from ear jaw," requiring her to undergo
two hours of surgery at nearby Yonsei University Severance Hospital (where yours truly had an appendectomy five years ago).

One of the men, identified only by his surname Chi (as is typical in Korean journalism), reportedly slashed the right side of her face with a utility knife, leaving an eleven-centimeter cut (over four inches). She received over sixty stitches, and a later report says she is in stable condition (earlier reports said the cut was ten centimeters long and required just seventeen stitches).

Hospital officials said Park's life was "no way in danger," but her recovery could take weeks if not months, because the cut caused, according to Yonhap, "extensive damage to her jaw muscles."

Yonhap says that two heavily intoxicated suspects were detained by GNP officials at the scene and taken to a nearby police station, but police say a third suspect fled the scene.

Although the two men reportedly were drunk, indications are that there was some political motivation for their attack, since the uncooperative pair was shouting, "Let's save democracy. Long live the Republic of Korea," according to police. One Hannara Party member said, "The suspects said they attacked Park out of their dissatisfaction towards society." Commentary at The Marmot's Hole has largely been railing against Korea's left in general over the incident.

This kind of thing really is quite a shock. Although violence toward politicians is not unheard of in Korea (Ms. Park's father, President Park Chung-hee, and her mother Yuk Yŏngsu, were both assassinated), Seoul and Korea in general are both relatively safe places. It may be that sense of safety that lulled security details into thinking that a high-profile—and polarizing—political figure like Ms. Park could press the flesh without such an incident occurring.

How did these armed attackers get close to the leader of a major political party and a potential future president? Police say Chi approached Park as if to shake her hand, but instead took out his box cutter to attack her. His accomplice then punched her in the face.

Hannara Party members blamed the government for the lack of security, while the Blue House immediately criticized the assault on opposition leader Park as an "unpardonable incident" and called for a thorough investigation, saying election-related violence would not be tolerated.

The preening Chung Dong-young, former Unification Minister and potential ruling party candidate for president, said, "It is very shocking. I am really worried about her health."

Extreme make-over, imperial edition

Perhaps demonstrating Shelton Bumgarner's contention that the Grey Lady (that would be the NYT for non-journalist wannabes, which would be the New York Times for those of you in Rio Linda) is fascinated with the notion of Korea as an adorability-exuding vortex of cuteness, the NYT has a story about Yi Seok (that would be Yi Sŏk for my fellow McCune-Reischauer aficianados—or would that be aficianadi?—and Yi Sok for the Korea Times editors who can't find the breve key), a grandson of Emperor Kojong and a nephew of Emperor Sunjong, Korea's last sitting monarch.

If much of the melodramatic story sounds like a repeat, well, it could be because this royal's tragic rise and fall and rediscovery—with homelessness and suicide attempts mixed in—has been told a few times in the Korea-related press and elsewhere.

If you're in Chŏnju/Chonju/Jeonju, see if you can pay a visit to this apparently quite friendly royal.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Blogger from another planet

Aux comments, allez-vous!

So are they for us or against us now?

In an update to this post, Italy's new prime minister has said that the war in Iraq was a "grave error" that risked igniting conflict in the entire Middle East region. Italy, like other US ally South Korea, has a fairly large contingent in Iraq, and the new PM said Rome would stick with plans to bring home its 2,700 troops stationed there but gave no timetable for their return.

The Washington Post described it thus:
Making his first policy address as head of government, Romano Prodi formally abandoned the unequivocal support that his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, gave to U.S. policy in Iraq. Prodi appeared to indirectly criticize the United States' holding of terrorism suspects, saying such efforts must never undermine personal liberties.
I guess the point I want to make here is this. I think some people—judging by commentary in the K-blogosphere—are too quick to look at opposition to Bush's war in Iraq as anti-Americanism, when in fact it is primarily anti-war sentiment. What many supporters of the war in Iraq fail to realize in this facile analysis is that many people around the world, rightly or wrongly, perceive the war in Iraq as, at best, a bad idea to begin with or an ill-conceived plan, or at worst, elective, reckless, and destabilizing war-mongering on the part of the United States.

Blindly getting behind that war should not be considered a yardstick of reasonable pro- or anti-US sentiment. But if that's what people insist on using as a barometer, I say it is adherence to over-application of the "you're either for us or against us" principle that is going to be a source of anti-US sentiment in the future.

For a good laugh...

While searching for an answer to Melinda's question, I came upon this:
Korea, according to Prof. Kyung-Hui Lee, is one place that has hardly been touched by the divorce culture, despite its modernization. Family and responsibility are still overriding values there, and extended families are still strong. Divorce is rare enough there that "family law" mostly deals with inheritances and the perils of marrying someone with the same surname, and so that is what Prof. Lee mostly had prepared to discuss.
At best, this is outdated information or wishful thinking. At worst, it is a shameful lie.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A house in the Hamptons

The South Korean government is taking significant steps to liberalize foreign exchange trade, a move that is expected to expand opportunities for Koreans seeking to buy property abroad.

The Ministry of Finance and Economy said it would move forward the government's deadline for currency market liberalization by two years, to 2009, in an effort to control the won's rise against the dollar. From that time, ROK citizens will be allowed to invest up to US$1 million in property overseas. Right now they are restricted to buying overseas for residential purposes only.

As more people choose to invest in business property or second or third homes abroad, I suppose that might take some of the heat out of the feverish real-estate speculation that goes on in Korea, centered around overvalued places like Kangnam. Just remember: to maintain a high resale value, the kimchi refrigerator goes in the
garage, not the kitchen.

Foreign investors will also be able to obtain 10 billion won (about US$10 million) in loans, up from 1 billion won (about US$1 million).

There are a number of other significant changes, so read the entire story. I'm a medical sociologist, not an economist, so everything I've said up to now may be misguided. Except for the part about setting up the kimchi refrigerator in the garage. You'll thank me later.

Ministry of Ratcheting Up Tensions

Bad news: As movement is detected at a North Korean launch site, the Japanese media is reporting that Pyongyang may be preparing to launch a long-range ballistic missile that could reach parts of the United States (always gotta include that part).

Good news: Japan's government said it did not believe a launch was imminent.

Not-so-sure: The "parts of the United States" are areas many Americans don't actually realize are parts of America.

Photo: Requisite scary picture of goose-stepping North Korean automatons with weapons. Note that there is no indication of a missile at all in this photograph. Wasn't this news story about missiles?

Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos

As goes California, so goes the nation. And it only took twenty years.

Not content to let the marketplace push people to learn English on their own, the US Senate has voted to make English the national language of the United States of America. That's right. All this time we have had no official language, which may or may not have contributed to the US also being the fourth-largest
Spanish-speaking nation in the world.

The measure, approved 63 to 34, declares that no one has a right to federal communications or services in a language other than English except for those already guaranteed by law. It directs the government to "preserve and enhance" the role of English, without altering current laws that require some government documents and services be provided in other languages.

Opponents, however, said it could negate executive orders, regulations, civil service guidances and other multilingual ordinances not officially sanctioned by acts of Congress.

It's all part of the horse-trading and back-and-forth going on as Washington sits down and hammers out what to do about illegal immigration. The official-English bill is considered a defeat for immigration-rights advocates, but that same group won a 58-to-35 victory when the Senate killed an amendment that would have blocked eventual citizenship for future immigrants who arrive under a temporary work permit.

The bill was part of a three-pronged effort that includes hundreds of miles of border fence and capping of the annual number of guest-worker visas at 200,000.

The Washington Post had this to say about the bill:
The impact of the language amendment was unclear even after its passage. The wording negating claims to multilingual services appears straightforward. It also sets requirements that immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship know the English language and U.S. history. The amendment would require more thorough testing to demonstrate English-language proficiency and knowledge of U.S. history and elements of U.S. culture such as the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.
Being from California, I have seen how widespread multilingual services can be—not just driver licenses exams and paying taxes, but even voting. Apparently, though, little of this is expected to change.

One thing I have found interesting is the type of ways in which Korea and the United States seem to be going in opposite directions. Nothing earth-shattering, but quirky, unexpected things. For example, in the 1990s when the US government was starting to block off roads that came close to the White House to vehicular traffic, here in Seoul the roads approaching the Blue House were being opened to the public for the first time in decades. Similarly, when the school uniform craze was in full gear in the US, here in Korea schools were discarding school uniforms so that kids could "express themselves."

And now there's this: while Korea is debating whether to add a second (and non-indigenous) language as an official language (English)—and has essentially already done so in parts of the country—the US is working toward solidifying the status of the predominant language.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Archive: June 2, 1980 (on Korea's student demonstrations)

The June editions of Time Magazine also included a detailed description of the nature of the student movement in Korea, from the time of Japanese colonization to the (then) present day. 

With the over-reaction to certain events today and the way in which left-leaning (and perhaps directly North Korea-supported) student groups and the Korea Teachers Union tried to manipulate and distort issues for their nefarious ends, the student movement really started to run out of things to protest by the mid-1990s (see June Cho's description of demonstrating for the sake of demonstrating). Even today, few of the protests surround issues that come even close to the weight of things in 1919, 1960, 1980, or 1987. I gave a description of my own thoughts on the demonstrations in this comment, and I probably should hammer that into a post on its own. 

Monday, Jun. 02, 1980
Legacy of Righteous Tumult

In the Republic of Korea the events of April 1960 are popularly known as hak saeng uigo—the Righteous Student Uprising. During those turbulent days, the students of South Korea succeeded in doing what their country's politicians had failed to do: they brought down the entrenched, increasingly corrupt twelve-year-old government of President Syngman Rhee and sent the crusty old leader into exile. Today, even the official Handbook of Korea, published under the Park Chung Hee regime hails the uprising unreservedly. "The students," it declares, "had led the people into a democratic revolution."

Rhee became the victim of a Korean institution that his own fervent nationalism had helped to sanctify: student resistance to unjust authority. It was a modern notion, born after the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910. In the wake of the first World War, Korea was swept with rumors that peace would bring independence. On March 1, 1919, a group of nationalists issued a manfesto urging Koreans to rise up in self-determination. Students, one of the few groups to escape the watchful eye of the Japanese, had carried the demonstration plans across the country. As many as 2 million took to the streets. The terrified Japanese killed thousands, imprisoning thousands more for insurrection. The uprising failed, but the students had tested their power.

Ten years later a spontaneous uprising flared in Kwangju—the site of last week's strife. It began when Japanese soldiers mistreated some Korean girls, and soon spread among students across the city, most of them middle-school teenagers. The Kwangju demonstrations inspired sympathetic protests throughout the country. The disorders lasted four months, and eventually involved 54,000 students.

The 1960 rebellion against Rhee made the students heroes against a home-grown Korean government. No sooner were they wearing their laurels than they began to flaunt them. During the short-lived second republic under Prime Minister Chang Myon, 1960-61, the young people took the offensive once again. They marched on the National Assembly, invaded it and demanded harsh punishment for miscreants of the Rhee regime.

Some of them also seemed dangerously swayed by fraternal feelers from North Korea; they proposed, among other things, a bilateral conference of students of the two countries. The army, which had stood neutrally by as Rhee was toppled, suspected subversion. On May 16, 1961, a group of officers staged a bloodless, predawn coup against the hapless Chang government. Among the junta's leaders, soon to emerge at the top: Park Chung Hee.

Though he had indirectly been installed by student power. Park remained wary of its potential. On two occasions after his coup, Park reimposed martial law to quell demonstrations. Finally, in one of his emergency decrees in 1974, Park outlawed protest under pain of penalties ranging from one year's imprisonment to death. Ultimately, one of the disagreements that was to lead to Park's assassination was how much latitude the government should give to frustrated young dissidents.

Apparently, authorities in Seoul still do not know the answer to that question. On the one hand, students have long been expected to be in the forefront of the country's nationalistic struggle and revolutionary Western change. That is one reason they tend to be earnestly pro-American and devoted to U.S. political ideals. On the other hand, that quest for freedom, as the spreading protests of the past two weeks have demonstrated, can pose a threat to the country's stability. In the conflict being re-enacted today, says former U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Richard Sneider, "both the military and the students have been overreacting. The tragedy is that what the military has done potentially has increased the danger of instability."