Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A tale of two situations

From the New York Times and the Korea Times we get opposite sides of the same coin: Is it safe to get vaccines (and other forms of medical treatment) during pregnancy?

The NYT this week includes an essay from several medical professionals admonishing women to get vaccinated for the flu:
Pregnant women are deluged with advice about things to avoid: caffeine, paint, soft cheese, sushi. Even when evidence of possible harm is weak or purely theoretical, the overriding caveat is, “Don’t take it, don’t use it, don’t do it.”

In a few contexts, the admonition is warranted; in most, it is merely inconvenient and anxiety provoking. But in the case of pandemic influenza, it may be deadly. With the second wave of swine flu at hand, and up to 50 percent of the public at risk, the usual mode of thinking about pregnancy and medications threatens to make a worrisome situation worse.

The dangers of this mentality became frighteningly apparent this summer, when a study in The Lancet reported strikingly high rates of death and of complications like pneumonia in pregnant women with H1N1 influenza. Pregnancy meant a fourfold risk of hospitalization, sometimes with a tragic outcome; all the pregnant women who died had been relatively healthy to begin with.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have since put pregnant women at the top of the priority list for the vaccine, and have recommended that pregnant women start antiviral medications as soon as possible after exposure to the virus and after the onset of flu symptoms.

But if experience is any indication, even these forceful recommendations may not be enough to overcome reluctance among pregnant women and those who care for them. Even though the seasonal flu vaccine is recommended for pregnant women in particular, in one study only 15 percent received the vaccine — a rate far lower than any adult group for whom it is recommended.
Meanwhile, in South Korea we have news that as many as one-tenth of all pregnant women choose abortion because of medication they were taking before they discovered they were pregnant:
Many pregnant women make the hasty decision to have an abortion because of medication they were taking when they became pregnant.

The practice is often based on unfounded fears that the medicine could lead to fetal deformities, says Dr. Kim Tae-yoon, head of the gynecological department of Miz Medi Hospital.

"Though doctors assure them that most of the drugs are okay and recommend them to keep the baby, they just ask for the procedure," he said.

Kim's remarks came in response to the Korea Food and Drug Administration's report that about 96,000 women, 10 percent of pregnant women, were having abortions for drug-related reasons each year.

These women say they were unaware of their pregnancy when they were medicated and want to err on the side of caution by having the procedure.

Most had taken weight-loss pills, painkillers, antibiotics, cough drops and anti-histamines.

Rep. Shim Jae-chul of the governing Grand National Party, however, claimed that 70 percent of the drugs they were taking were actually irrelevant to the health of a fetus and that the abortions were unnecessary. Most did not affect the central nervous and endocrine systems, or cardio-related areas, Shim claimed.
While it's perhaps unfair to compare these two different phenomena gleaned from two articles about two entirely different subjects, one could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that the American women described in the article were going against medical advice for selfless reasons and the Korean women doing so for mostly selfish reasons. Many South Koreans speak of the difficulties of those who have birth defects, deformities, etc., but it is typically not in the context of how to help them, but rather why they shouldn't be brought to term.

Indeed, I can't help but suspect that many of these women are using the medication they were taking as an excuse not to go through with their unplanned pregnancy.

Indeed, the KT article goes on to talk about the severity of South Korea's abortion statistics:
Abortions are a serious social issue, with the number of procedures reaching 339,818 in 2005. Professor Kim Hae-jung of Korea University said that one out of every five fetuses conceived in Korea is aborted. This rate is nine times that of the United States and 2.5 times that of Japan.

But Kim assumed that the actual number, if those seeking the procedure illegally were included, would be much higher than the reported one.

"This actual number would make Korea the No. 1 abortion country in the world," he said.
Not the kind of thing South Koreans want to be tops in. Frankly, I think it's appalling, even though I'm pro-choice. I'm somewhat Clintonian in my outlook on abortion: It should be safe, legal, and rare.

Don't buy an iPhone

Korea Telecom has announced their pricing plans for the "new" iPhone and other smart phones, though they haven't yet worked out the subsidies with Apple, so they don't know how much the iPhone will cost the consumer to take it home.

Korean companies are coming out with competing "smart phones," including the one held up by the girl on top, and the two held up by the other girls on the bottom. They do some neat things, I'm pretty sure.

But I'm here to tell you, don't buy an iPhone. Probably. I'll tell you why in detail later (and it has nothing to do with promoting Korean products or falling for the three women in the above photos). It involves figuring out whether the things that make it so neato if you have one here in the States will be available if you're in South Korea. Like finding the closest Starbucks through Google Maps, or using the AroundMe application to find the closest bank, or being able to use the thing as an impromptu GPS device.

You're a fool if you pre-order. Go to the Apple Store in the COEX mall and play with the danged thing and see if it has what you want it to. I'll try to explain in the next few days when I do a rundown of the different features, to give you a chance to check if those things are available in Korea and in a language you feel comfortable with.

I love my Mac and I love my iPhone, but it's not for snobbish reason. I love my Mac not because it makes me looks smart, but because it allows me to compensate for my deficiencies, like not having the patience to wade through arcane computer set-ups. I love my iPhone not because it makes me look cool (I'm either so cool I don't need that an iPhone would be redundant, or I'm so hopelessly uncool an iPhone would make no difference), but because it does funky little things I enjoy and it allows me to check my email and look things up on the Interweb whenever I feel like it. It makes arguing stuff so much more efficient when you can, in real time, go to Wikipedia and see who really is right about whether Nixon's dad grew citrons or lemons up there in Yorba Linda.

At the same time I love the things that Steve Jobs throws our way, I am no proselytizer for all things Apple. I will dispassionately tell people who eye my MacBook Pro that, no, they should buy a PC instead. Especially when they know nobody personally who can walk them through the switchover process. I'll tell people the same about the iPhone, especially if they are the type who really won't likely take advantage of all the neat things you can do with your unlimited data plan. Just 'cuz it works for me, doesn't mean it works for you.

Caveat emPhone.

Dozens in Samoan islands killed by tsunami

In an update to this post, while Hawaii was spared a tsunami, the Samoan islands were not. At least thirty-nine people died in American Samoa and the death toll is expected to rise:
Cars and people were swept out to sea by the fast-churning water as survivors fled to high ground, where they remained huddled hours later. Signs of devastation were everywhere, with a giant boat getting washed ashore and coming to rest on the edge of a highway and floodwaters swallowing up cars and homes.

American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono said at least 50 were injured, in addition to the deaths.

Hampered by power and communications outages, officials struggled to assess the casualties and damage. But the death toll seemed sure to rise, with dead bodies already piling up at a hospital in Samoa.

The quake, with a magnitude between 8.0 and 8.3, struck around dawn about 20 miles below the ocean floor, 120 miles (190 kilometers) from American Samoa, a U.S. territory that is home to 65,000 people.
Among the dead were at least two South Koreans, possibly more:
"According to our embassy in New Zealand, two South Koreans were dead and one went missing due to the tsunami generated by the strong earthquake," [a ROK Foreign Ministry official] said. "We are trying to find out whether there were more victims."

The victims include a 62-year-old fisherman, Lee In-saeng, and a woman in her 40s only identified by her family name Shin, the official said, adding Shin's seven-year-old daughter is missing.

"There are 234 South Korean residents in American Samoa, mostly involved in deep-sea fishery, but no South Korean resides in Samoa," he said.
Tragic. I had hoped other places would be as lucky as we were. When I heard that the tsunami watch was downgraded to a tsunami advisory, I had no idea that something like this had happened. Requiescant in pace.

"English" names cause Korean speakers to shut themselves off from the outside world

Shut-ins, they're called. People who can't take being bombarded with all the "English" surrounding them on the streets of Seoul so they just stay home. The Chosun Ilbo has an article on them, complaining about how Korean names for food shoppes (innovatively named Chongno this and Chongno that) have been supplanted by Tous les Jours, Cold Stone Creamery, A Twosome Place, Red Mango, and other names that make little sense to those who haven't studied English since the twelfth grade (assuming they were even paying attention then).

Roh Moohyun was a man of the people who recognized that the very old and the very young couldn't figure this out, and so he ordered that no official government information be available only in a form other than Han•gŭl (the Korean alphabet). This included the giant B, G, Y, and R on the sides of Seoul's new buses, standing for blue, green, yellow, and red. For the elderly who also happen to be colorblind, this apparently would throw them into a panic or cause them to get on the wrong bus.

Anyway, the CSI feels your pain:
Coffee has become an essential part of the daily lives of Koreans. Each Korean drank 288 cups of coffee in 2008, based on the amount of coffee beans that were imported that year. But elderly Koreans, who cannot speak English, as well as some younger Koreans who are not yet au fait with the coffee jargon, say ordering the beverage is strange and difficult.

"Coffee is imported, so we cannot do anything about the names," says one man in his 60s. "But why are the sizes classified as 'short' or 'tall' in English?" he said. "I'm a university graduate and have lived without any problems until now. I never imagined I'd end up getting nervous ordering coffee."
Hmm... the collapse of the Hawaii state economy has emptied the coffers at the university where I study, and thus the third year of the graduate assistantship I was promised when I came here has dried up, forcing me to officially take a leave of absence from school because I can't afford tuition and leaving me, except for some at-home projects from Korea, essentially jobless and living off my savings. If not being able to figure out small, medium, large, and extra large at Starbucks is your biggest worry, then STFU (sorry, Matt, I'll try to stop saying that).

Okay, okay. As one who has written that signs in Koreatown and Little Saigon should be accessible to people who only speak the dominant language (which is English if you're in Orange County, for the time being at least), I can sympathize with this up to a point:
An office worker in his 30s said, "When I order coffee, I wonder whether I'm in Korea or America, hearing all the words that are used mixing English and Korean." One Internet portal even posted advice on how to avoid humiliation in coffee shops. "Just ask for 'original' coffee if the shop worker keeps using strange words," one advice reads. At Starbucks in Korea, milk is the only item written in Korean on a menu listing around 50 different drinks.
Oh, boo hoo! If this is what you're complaining about then... Oh, right. I promised to be more sympathetic. Sorry.

The truth is, even native English speakers in America have trouble figuring everything out once they step into your typical coffee house. I know that sometimes I set foot in a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and try to order my regular and can't always find it, even though I know it's there, somewhere, on the ever-shifting menu. And really, Korean governments from decades ago have decided that the road to South Korea's future runs right through Englishtown, so come on, what are you complaining about? It's not like you're unprepared. Enjoy the thrill of international travel while staying close to home and your precious kimchi.

Some people do take this seriously, though:
Stress levels began rising in the mid-1990s when so-called "family" restaurant chains began to pop up in Korea. T.G.I. Friday's, Bennigans, Outback Steakhouse and other restaurants featured menus in English, or words created by mixing Korean and English.
Um... I was living in Seoul at that time, and I'm pretty sure that stress levels began to rise when the economy collapsed. I think that's when people took a look around and noticed all the foreign-sounding family restaurants and said, "Holy sh¡t! I've got to blame someone for this mess, and you guys are easy targets."

So they all started going to Lotteria again, and they bought tickets to Shiri instead of that movie about the boat... the one with the girl... where all those people died. You know the one I'm talking about. It has the annoying Celine Dion song. Oh, right. They're all annoying.

And as usual, the conservative CSI takes the Mrs Lovejoy approach, screaming, "Won't somebody please think of the children?!":
The problem gets worse when it comes to children's snacks. According to a study by a newspaper last year, 54.6 percent of 449 different snacks in production had names that included foreign words. Only 31.2 percent of the snacks had purely Korean names.
Pardon me for making lemonade out of lemons, but wouldn't the preponderance of Roman characters on their fish puffs cause little kids to become accustomed to seeing those strange letters and thus make them less intimidated by them when they encounter them in school? Or it that familiarity breeds contempt?

Anyway, what do kids know?
But children and teens who are loyal customers of the snacks do not look favorably upon the foreign names. Eight students at Doseong Elementary School in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province sent a letter in 2007 to the heads of confectioners asking them to use Korean names. The petition drew support from around 1,000 people after it was posted on an Internet portal.
Guess whose sŏnsaengnim is part of the chinboista teachers union. Can you guess? Can you guess?
At about the same time, a survey of third- and fourth-graders in elementary school showed that 79 percent favored Korean names for snacks, saying they sounded more familiar and made it easier to determine what kind of snack it is.
Unless they're writing "fattening," "rots your teeth," "excessive consumption now will cause heart problems later in life," "would be considered animal abuse if fed to your pet," etc., in Korean, then I am skeptical that such labeling does actually make it easier to determine what kind of snack it is.

[above: From the Korean writing on the package, I know that this product contains 짱 and 구. And probably several chemicals that will give you toxic poop.]

And it's not a save-our-language story unless the nationalist angle is brought into the picture:
Korean language experts say we may end up thinking that it is only natural for products to have foreign names. This perception becomes ingrained as we become adults and create stereotypes that favor foreign words and developing disdain for our own words.
Forcing people to use "our own words" while simultaneously feeding them a narrative that causes them to feel that their own language and culture is under relentless assault because 0.5% of the national lexicon is not originally "our own words" is a sure-fire way to get them to feel disdain.

Look, Korean culture is dynamic (a gross understatement, seriously), and the constant injection of foreign words into localspeak is part of that. And this preference for freshness and novelty is also reflected in the often clever and innovative way in which new Korean words are also developed, not just in the proliferation of borrowed (and then often mutilated) words. It's just the way "dynamic" Korea works, and it's time to go with the flow, unnamed Korean language experts and anonymous thirty-something office worker.

News links for September 30, 2009

  1. USFK commander says that Kim Jong-il appears healthy and firmly "in charge" of North Korea (Bloomberg)
  2. Economies of South Korea and China showing signs of "overheating" (Bloomberg)
  3. North Korean tension leads to Russia pulling out of plan for gas pipeline to meet South Korean energy needs (Joongang Daily)
  4. Vice Minister of Unification says Kŭmgangsan tours not linked to nuclear disarmament issue (Korea Times)
  5. Chinese leader Wen Jiabao to sign trade accords in North Korea (Wall Street Journal)
  6. Moammar Gadaffi to quit politics, star in biopic about Edward James Olmos

WSJ on Ambassador Kathleen Stevens and US-ROK ties

The US edition of the Wall Street Journal has an interesting overview of the trend toward "tightening" of ties betwen South Korea and the United States. The story accompanies an extensive interview with US Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stevens.

Ambassador Stevens is fairly popular in South Korea, in part because she has extensive experience in the country, going back to her days in the Peace Corps, during which she learned Korean.

The interview covers a lot of ground, including North Korean nukes, US ties with South Korea, the visa waiver program, the free-trade agreement, etc. Here's what she said about reunification:
For the United States in particular, as such a close ally of South Korea, we have to be really clear at all times that this is a peninsula that belongs to the Korean people. The future of this peninsula should be in the hands of the Korean people. We do agree with our allies in South Korea that the reunification of Korea peacefully, under democratic principles and principles that allow respect for human rights and opportunity for everyone, is the way to go. That's kind of an obvious thing to say but it's important to say it.

Beyond that, I'm interested in Koreans' thoughts about the future of this place because the U.S. has a supporting role to play and we also have very important interests here. That is a conversation we can have at all kinds of levels. If you look at the joint vision statement of the two presidents, they kind of said it there. We want to be clear as Americans that we do believe reunification, as I described it, is what we want.

In terms of development and everything else, I look at as someone who's been here and seen South Korea over a long time. There's 20-odd million people north of the DMZ [the demilitarized zone, the inter-Korean border] who have, I have to think, the same aspirations and talents and humanity that people south of the DMZ have. I've seen what's happened in this country as we all have over the last 30, 40, 50 years. People call it a miracle, but it wasn't a miracle. It was because of the extraordinary talent and hard work of the South Korean people, and good policies and good leadership. To me, it gives me reason to be hopeful that people in the North will have those opportunities too. And if they have those opportunities, they can make the most of them.
She also chimes in on her popularity, and why many South Koreans may feel almost a kinship with her:
I've been obviously pleased but also overwhelmed at times by the interest in me here. One reason for that is the American ambassador is always a person of interest here. But what South Korean people have told me is the fact that the United States chose as ambassador somebody who speaks Korean -- badly, but they don't say badly -- is taken as a compliment to South Korea. And I did try to really use Korean as much as I possibly could when I got here, even when it was cringe-inducing to me. I tried to do some things on a light side, but also in policy when I could use clear terms.

And it's the power of the media, especially on television, because people do recognize me and they come up and speak Korean to me. And they say, "We're glad you're here because you understand us." Well, I may not understand as much as they think I do. And they say, "We really want to have a better relationship between the United States and Korea." Well, that's what I'm here to do, just as every ambassador is here to do, but I think maybe it's a little bit easier for me to be perceived that way.

And they pull out pictures from the 1970s and there's an appreciation, while it's far more than I deserve, that I was here when things were tough and that we've had a shared experience.
It's a popular thing to bash governments, including (especially?) the Seoul government, but for anyone who has been here in the 1990s or earlier, the world of difference between then and now is striking. It is the defining characteristic of South Korea. It's one thing that makes me hopeful and upbeat about South Korea in general, because I can see that with almost everything there is, Korea is headed in the right direction. Not everything, mind you, but in enough areas that I feel that, were I to stay away from Seoul until, say, the middle of the next decade, I'd be pleasantly surprised. Maybe pleasantly overwhelmed.

Well, I guess I won't be going to the beach today.

A tsunami generated by the earthquake devastated American Samoa and other islands, killing dozens of people, including two South Koreans.


The tsunami watch was downgraded to a tsunami advisory at 10:23 a.m. local time (5:23 a.m. Korea). It will be in effect until 7 p.m.

I wake up this morning and they're telling us that Hawaii is under a tsunami watch thanks to an undersea earthquake near Samoa that measure 7.9 on the Richter scale. It is not known for sure if a tsunami was generated. A more serious tsunami warning was issued for New Zealand.

The earthquake occurred at 7:48 a.m. on Tuesday, Hawaii time, which would be 2:48 a.m. on Wednesday, Korea time. The watch was declared seventeen minutes later, at 8:05 a.m. If a tsunami were to reach the Hawaiian Islands, about 4200 kilometers (2600 miles) away, they're saying the earliest expected arrival time would be 1:11 p.m. local time (8:11 a.m. Korea time).

The earthquake struck at a depth of 20.5 miles. For those wishing to Google it, the earthquake 110 miles east-northeast of Hihifo, Tonga; 125 miles south-southwest of Apia, Samoa; 435 miles north-northeast of Nukualofa, Tonga; and 1670 miles north-northeast of Auckland, New Zealand.

New Zealand, home to at least some of my readers, is one of several areas under a more serious tsunami warning: American Samoa, Samoa, Niue, Wallis-Futuna, Tokelau, Cook Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Kermadec Islands, Howland-Baker, Jarvis Island, New Zealand, French Polynesia, and Palmyra Atoll.

Hawaii is listed as under a tsunami watch along with Vanuatu, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Johnston Atoll, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Papua New Guinea, Pohnpeo, Wake Island, Pitcairn Island, and Midway.

My understanding was that the difference between a watch and a warning (for hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis) was that a watch was a possibility based on current conditions but a warning indicated a significantly more stepped-up likelihood of the event occurring in the near future. [Edit: It appears I wasn't far off.]

Honolulu is along the south side of Oahu, more vulnerable to events in that direction than, say, the North Shore.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Orange County crime story of the day

The Orange County Superior Court has decided that 41-year-old Martin Burt Kuehl, a resident of the central OC community of Costa Mesa, must stand trial for gross vehicular manslaughter involving a texting-while-driving incident.

Kuehl is charged with hitting 32-year-old Martha Ovella (below), a nanny in Newport Beach, as she was walking to work in late August 2008. The collision, which occurred in a crosswalk, killed her.

If Kuehl is convicted of this felony, he faces up to nine years in prison.

A commissioner for the court noted that while Kuehl was not sending or receiving text messages at the exact moment of the crash, "Kuehl had his cell phone in his hand during the incident, and had been texting back and forth with a friend for several miles prior to the crash."

The Orange County Register reports other such cases:
Kuehl is not the only individual facing criminal charges for a fatality allegedly caused by texting while driving. Jeffrey Woods, 21, of Huntington Beach is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 5 for hitting and killing 14-year-old Danny Oates as he rode his bicycle on Aug. 29, 2007. Prosecutors also accuse Woods of being intoxicated at the time of that crash.
I think I'll send this to my mom.

Well, that's not incestuous

Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's largest shipbuilder, is set to buy a controlling stake in Hyundai Corp for 201.5 billion won. Hyundai Corp is also a former part of the Hyundai Group, a trading arm currently owned by creditors.

Korea Exchange Bank, Hyundai Corp's leading creditor, says the acquisition "will help Hyundai Corp boost its trading business and invest in overseas resources development for its long-term growth."

North Korea says it will react to sanctions by building more nukes

Unleash the power of Juche, sea of fire, yadda yadda yadda.

But they say they will respond to dialogue with dialogue of their own. Sounds like my French class back in 9th grade.

Loose change of the day

  1. Should Mt. St. Helens (shown above during March 2005 eruption) become a national park?
  2. Should Tejon Ranch (near Los Angeles) become a state or national park?
  3. Should Maine Woods become a national park?
  4. Should Southern California's chaparral get national park protection?
  5. Proposals for new national parks (in case you haven't detected a theme by now)
  6. BBC pictures of life in North Korea (including a scene from a church!)
  7. Nintendo drops prices on Wii
  8. Common-sense ideas for how to look seven years younger
  9. WaPo op-ed on why health care reform needs to go all-out if you really want to make it work
  10. Notorious English teacher-hating law-talking guy warns foreign buyers of Korean property about an innocuous document that foreign nationals must submit when they get a new home (English-language version of law relating to this)
  11. The Seoul Podcast podcast that links to one of my posts but doesn't appear to talk about that post or any of the other related posts (an interesting podcast nonetheless, with Chris in South Korea as a guest)

News links for September 29, 2009

  1. Despite objection from opposition parties, National Assembly approves Chung Unchan as Prime Minister (Korea Times)
  2. North Korea's conciliatory gestures to top agenda at October 10 summit of Japan, South Korea, and China (MSNBC)
  3. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao to visit North Korean from October 4 to 6 (Bloomberg)
  4. Proposed national budget for 2010 includes 2.5 percent increase to bolster economic growth and provide stability for "ordinary people" (Yonhap)
  5. Foreign students in South Korea top 50,000, accounting for 1.41 percent of total (Korea Times)
  6. EU automakers seek to scuttle EU Commissioner plans for trade deal with South Korea by next month (Wall Street Journal)
  7. SK Telecom sells China Unicom stake for US$1.28 billion (Wall Street Journal)
  8. Sharp drop in imports leading to record high trade surplus this year (Korea Herald)
  9. North Korea removes "communism" from national constitution, adds "cuckoo for Coco Puffs" (Yonhap)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Skewed H1N1 death rates

The Boston Globe has an interesting story on how assessing the number of deaths from H1N1 or any other type of flu is a very tricky process, and this may be leading us to be underestimating how lethal so-called "swine flu" actually is. It also discusses some quirks with reporting and how the official death toll of 593 as of the end of August jumped to just under 1600:
Marc Lipsitch, a Harvard School of Public Health epidemiologist, speculated that the official count of swine flu deaths - it stands below 1,600, as of the middle of last week - “is certainly an underestimate of the number of deaths. It may be a bad underestimate or it may be a modest underestimate, but it is certainly an underestimate.’’

For example, research from New York City, particularly hard hit by the virus in the spring, showed that almost 20 percent of the people killed by swine flu hadn’t been hospitalized, Lipsitch said, making it less likely such deaths would be linked to the disease. Multiplied across the country, that phenomenon could contribute to making the flu strain appear less lethal than it is.

Assessing swine flu’s impact was further muddied by a decision in the past month to change what counts as an H1N1 death.

Until the end of August, only cases confirmed by sophisticated labs were included in the national tally of deaths, which, by then, had climbed to 593. But state health departments, overwhelmed by the number of people infected, have mostly stopped doing the sophisticated and expensive tests to confirm swine flu.

So federal disease specialists expanded the definition to include deaths that doctors attribute to flu and pneumonia based on symptoms, and both the swine type and the seasonal strain count. Since that change was made, the count has grown by an additional 936.

Flu stands in stark contrast to other diseases that are far easier to monitor because they cause fewer cases with more distinctive symptoms. “With flu, we can have 60 million people potentially infected,’’ said Dr. Lyn Finelli, flu surveillance chief at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We could never count all those cases, and we could never count all those deaths.’’
Note that some of this applies to "regular" flu as well. The article also suggests why H1N1 shouldn't be dismissed just because it hasn't yet killed as many as "regular" flu. In addition to the real possibility of the virus transforming into something much more (or less) pathogenic as it hops from infected person to infected person before we have a safe and widely available vaccine, there is also the fact that younger people (i.e., those born after a 1957 flu epidemic) may be more vulnerable to this new bug:
Flu viruses are capable of making subtle alterations in their genetic machinery that transform them into more - or less - fearsome pathogens. Timing is critical, too, and that’s especially true with swine flu: A vaccine isn’t expected to be widely available until mid-October, and the germ is already circulating among a population with little natural protection against it.

... A recent study found that people under 30 have little existing protection against the swine flu virus, while older adults harbor disease-fighting cells against the germ. It’s believed the older adults’ immune systems carry the memory of encounters with ancestors of the virus.
Kinda scary. Wash your hands. Stay home from work or school if you're sick with anything. Publicly chastise those who do otherwise.

Answer me this of the day

I've decided to launch a new feature where hopefully one of my readers (who, by all accounts, are highly intelligent and quite informed) will be able to answer something I don't know and can't seem to figure out. I have two such questions today:

1. When did the convenience store chain Spar disappear from South Korea?

I remember a few shops here and there in Yongsan-gu, including one not far from Yongsan Ward Office.

2. Is Daiso (Korea's ubiquitous version of a 99¢ store or 100-yen shop) indigenous to South Korea or did it come from Japan (or somewhere else)?

I always thought it was from South Korea, with its name derived from 다 있어 ("everything's here"), but in Hiroshima this past July, I happened to see one. But just one.

It wouldn't be unheard of for a South Korean chain to end up with a few locations in Japan or elsewhere (Red Mango, anyone?), but it's possible that Daiso is like Family Mart, a Japanese chain so common in South Korea that people assume it's Korean.

The Amazing Space Race

China has announced that it wants to build a manned space station with indigenous technology by the year 2020.

"Everything else is made in China," said a Ministry of Space, Education, Agriculture, and Nationalist Sentiment spokeswoman, "so why not a space station?"

Once the Earth-orbiting facility is completed, she said, it will be used for scientific inquiry. At the top of the list is confirming whether the Great Wall is actually visible from space.

Frankly, we here at Monster Island are elated. We'd rather they spend their Walmart proceeds this way than, say, propping up Pyongyang or building weapons aimed at Taiwan, South Korea, or Japan.

Spanking correlated with lower IQ?

Time Magazine has an interesting article on the association of spanking with lower IQ, including a discussion of whether there is a causative or correlative relationship:
So how might getting spanked on the butt actually affect the workings of the brain? Straus notes that being spanked or hit is associated with fright and stress; kids who experience that kind of trauma have a harder time focusing and learning. In another recent paper that he coauthored with Paschall, Straus writes that previous research has found that even after you control for parental education and occupation, children of parents who use corporal punishment are less likely than other kids to graduate from college.

Still, it's not clear if spanking causes lower cognitive ability or if lower cognitive ability might somehow lead to more spanking. It's quite possible that kids with poor reasoning skills misbehave more often and therefore elicit harsher punishment. "It could be that lower IQ causes parents to get exasperated and hit more," Straus says, although he notes that a recent Duke University study of low-income families found that toddlers' low mental ability did not predict an increase in spanking. (The study did find, however, that kids who were spanked at age 1 displayed more aggressive behavior by age 2, and scored lower on cognitive development tests by age 3.) "I believe the relationship [between corporal punishment and IQ] is probably bidirectional," says Straus. "There has to be something the kid is doing that's wrong that leads to corporal punishment. The problem is, when the parent does that, it seems to have counterproductive results to cognitive ability in the long term."
Everybody's case is different, I suppose, but my fear of getting punished for bad grades caused me to focus even more. The worst onslaught of physical and emotional punishment I ever received was the one time in my life I came home with a C, in seventh grade. So scarring was that incident that I never got anything lower than an A- (in the classes that counted) until college.

Still, one can't help but wonder how things would have turned out had I received more creative punishments. My siblings and I all have reasonably high, Mensa-level IQs (but I refuse to pay dues until they start calling it Peoplesa!), so imagine what we could have collectively accomplished with those extra five points. If only my dad had left the racquetball paddle on the court, we'd have cured cancer by now.

Um, anyway, one does wonder how this might relate to South Korean schools, where various forms of corporal punishment are still alive and well, and where they are sometimes meted out when the the educator is in a state of heightened emotion and exasperation. Do kids end up fearing the teacher and not focusing on what's at hand?

It might make for an interesting study. I'll have to add that to my planned debunking of "four hours succeed, five hours fail" (about how much sleep you should allow yourself if you want to ace the CSAT [sunŭng, or college entrance exam] and get into Seoul National University).

News links for September 28, 2009

  1. South Korea's first official school for "multicultural children" expected to open in 2011 (Korea Times)
  2. Light plane crashes into site of Gobal Fair & Festival 2009, killing one of two pilots (WaPo)
  3. Seoul officials say Pyongyang is asking for "reward" for hosting family reunions (WaPo)
  4. Mobile phone rates to be cut 8% (Korea Times)
  5. State-run KEPCO electrical utility to spend 2.8 trillion won on green energy (Reuters)
  6. Hatoyama to visit Seoul on October 9 (Korea Times)
  7. Japan's Kimiko Date Krumm wins Korea Open, her first WTA Tour title in thirteen years making her the oldest WTA winner since Billie Jean King in 1983 (AP)
  8. Thousands of Buddhist pilgrims flock to college dorm after discovery of banana resembling Bodhidharma (UPI)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Light plane crashes at Global Fair & Festival 2009 in Inchon

The Associated Press (via the Washington Post) is reporting that a light plane crashed at the site of the Global Fair & Festival 2009 in Inchon (Incheon), which was packed with tens of thousands of visitors.

The plane hit a bus that was on display and one of the two pilots died after both were taken to a local hospital. The second pilots injuries are not serious, according to the police.

Eleven other people had minor injuries, including some people inside the bus. Police are speculating that the many decorative kites flying over the site may have caused the crash.

Orange County crime story of the day

A nineteen-year old man from upscale Rancho Santa Margarita and three teenage minors (aged fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen) from nearby Mission Viejo were arrested for spray-painting hate speech-filled graffiti at an elementary school in Lake Forest, another community in tony south Orange County.

A representative of the Orange County Sheriff's Department said, "they spray-painted swastikas and white power racial slurs on the walls, windows, doors, and grounds of the school. Everything was painted in White supremacy-type statements."

An OCSD spokesman said that hate crimes in southern Orange County are rare. A local resident who recalls an incident in 2005 where a menorah was destroyed says it's especially disturbing that this happened curing the Jewish community's celebration of the High Holy Days.

An odd twist is that the one non-minor who was arrested, Thomson Vo, has what appears to be a Vietnamese surname.

The damage to the school may be as high as $20,000.

Faces of the Day

The family reunions, now routinely held firmly on North Korean soil at Kŭmgangsan National Park at the Hyundai-built resort, is a font of "faces of the day." Above are South Korean Lee Jungho (이정호) and his older brother Lee Kwaesŏk (이괘석), who lives in North Korea. The AP story (via the Washington Post) from which this photo comes does not give any details of how they became separated, but their faces say it all.

More than half a century of separation and uncertainty, ephemerally interrupted for a weekend. I can't even begin to imagine the torrent of emotions these poor old men must feel.

There are some 200 participants with 200 stories that are unique but all too familiar. There is Lee Dong-un, an 84-year-old South Korean man hearing from his 60-year-old North Korean daughter about how his wife was killed when a bomb fell on her town.

There is Chung Wanshik, now 68, tearfully asking his 95-year-old father Chung Daechun, who was on business in South Korea when the war began, why he failed to soon come back from Seoul as he'd promised.

Two of the reunion participants are South Korean fishermen who were abducted by the North Koreans twenty-two years ago, echoes of Kim Young-nam, the high schooler who was kidnapped to the north and eventually married Japanese abductee and cause célèbre Megumi Yokota. The North Koreans allowed him, too, to meet his elderly mother before forcing him to return to his geopolitical imprisonment. One of the South Korean fishermen, Roh Songho, brought his North Korean wife and daughter to the reunion.

Such cases highlight the 560 soldiers not returned since the end of the Korean War and the 504 civilians, mostly fishermen, whose boats were seized since then.

The South Korean Red Cross says that of the 127,400 South Koreans who have applied to be part of the reunions since 1988, forty thousand have already died.

Watching these reunions play out, I always get this sinking feeling of despair for these families. They are given the ultimate Hobson's Choice: see your long-lost relatives for an emotional but fleeting moment after which you will probably have no communication with them whatsoever, or never see them at all. The latter has the advantage of not ripping open old wounds, but it runs against the grain of the social forces that drive us — pull us — toward family.

Maybe 먼할머니 was lucky, in some way, in that her choice was made for her. I don't know how I would have consoled her had she gone through such a meeting.

But I know that tens of thousands of South (and North) Koreans would choose to see the weather-beaten faces of their loved ones and hold their hands one more time.

It's cruelty layered upon cruelty, but what else is there for them?

News links for September 27, 2009

  1. Koreans from divided families hold tearful reunions with loved ones (Korea Times; see also this post and this post)
  2. Missing Pusan high schooler found dead in T'ong•yŏng (Korea Times)
  3. Courts to allow community service in lieu of fines for small-scale punishments (Joongang Daily)
  4. Japan's Kimiko Date Krumm advances to Korea Open final in upset against defending champion Maria Kirilenko of Russia; will play Anabel Media Garrigues of Spain (ESPN)
  5. Cameroon defeats South Korea 2-0 in U20 (under-20) World Cup (USA Today)
  6. Netizens launch campaign to force President Lee to "upgrade to hot wife" (Chosun Ilbo)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Orange County crime story of the day

This is not really a crime story as it is just a sad tragedy. One week ago, at around 6 a.m. on September 18, a woman was crossing Western Avenue in the western OC community of Buena Park when she was struck by a 1998 Ford sedan. She died five days later from head injuries she sustained in the crash.

The thing is that since the accident, no one has come forward claiming to know this person who was found without any ID. The Orange County coroner's office has issued a detailed description of her clothes and her person. She is being described as probably Korean, aged 45 to 60, with shoulder-length black hair with some gray.

They are saying she is likely Korean because of Korean-language tags found on her clothing. The tag below (신영모자) is a Seoul-based company. And as anyone who has lived in South Korea can attest, her belongings are typical ajumma attire, very typical of those women who grew up in the period immediately after the Korean War.

If I had to guess, I would say she is a South Korean immigrant in her fifties or sixties. The clothes were almost certainly purchased in South Korea or at a Korean-run shop in California. The likelihood of her being Korean is probably near 100%, and the likelihood of her being an immigrant pretty high as well.

Pictures of the items she was wearing or carrying can be found here. As almost anyone who has lived in South Korean can attest, that is the archetypal uniform of middle-aged South Korean women and older.

They're also saying she has "markings on her skin – three bluish or greenish dots, possibly tattoos, on the inside lower section of her left arm." I'm speculating, since no photos have been released, that they may be a series of small "Mongolian spots." Most Asians who have them lose them in childhood, but a small percentage still have them in adulthood. It is rare for women over forty-five in South Korea to have tattoos, except for those involved in organized crime, but such tattoos wouldn't be so ambiguous, so I'm guessing that it might be something else.

If her backpack appears dirty worn for a reason other than the crash itself, and especially if she had changes of clothing in it, she may have found herself recently without a place to live (fight with family, etc.). But I'm less certain of that. She could just as easily have been out for a morning walk, as a lot of older South Koreans tend to do.

It is sad that someone might be hospitalized and then die without any of their family knowing, or possibly not even caring. Jane 도씨, indeed.

Face of the Day

Inspired by this regular feature at Korea Beat, here is my "Face of the Day":

Lee Sunok, who has been chosen to be one of ninety-eight elderly South Koreans who will participate in upcoming "family reunions" with their relatives in North Korea, weeps during a phone interview about her upcoming meeting with relatives she has not seen since the Korean War half a century ago. According to the Associated Press (via WaPo), Lee Sun-ok fled from North Korea to the South to escape chaotic fighting as UN forces were forced to retreat, boarding a ship along with thousands of other people in December 1950.

An updated story is found here.

Face-of-the-day runner-up:

A South Korean man who will also participate in the family reunions gets a check-up in Sokcho. The last thing we want is to spread H1N1 "swine flu" to the North Koreans.

News links for September 26, 2009

  1. Obama-backed UN Security Council backs broad nuclear agenda aimed at ending North Korean and Iranian nuclear designs (WaPo)
  2. At UN, Hatoyama warns that North Korean nukes threaten the world (WaPo)
  3. Inchon vies for G20 hosting rights after South Korea awarded next year's summit (Korea Times)
  4. Bank branch closes after six employees come down with H1N1 "swine flu" (Joongang Daily)
  5. Robert King nominated as US's human rights envoy for North Korea (Joongang Daily)
  6. North Korean poster seems to confirm succession of Kim Jong-ŭn (Chosun Ilbo)
  7. "SKY schools" dominate Korean top civil service positions (Chosun Ilbo)
  8. China beats South Korea to win Asian women's basketball championship (WaPo)
  9. Gay wins in South Korea (WaPo)
  10. With authorities fearing a record number of juvenile delinquents by the end of 2009, police vow to stop arresting teenagers (Seoul Times)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Because the Segway was just too easy

Jealous that Segway and Toyota were cornering the market on devices that would allow humans to move at the speed of walking but without all that pesky calorie loss, Honda yesterday unveiled a futuristic unicycle that allows users to move through the sidewalks while looking like someone is probing their ass.

The U3-X (the "3" stands for "three times the number of wheels this thing has) is the latest entry in compact self-balancing vehicles designed to deplete the wallets of people with more money than they would ever possibly need.

Unlike its two-wheeled rivals, this is the first entry with only one wheel. Reducing the number of wheels by half was a cost-cutting measure intended as a nod to the difficult times faced by even the filthy rich in the global recession.

The U3-X has a seat on the top and a tiny footrest on each side of the wheel. Riders steer by shifting their weight, while balance-control technology developed from research for the Asimo, Honda's bipedal humanoid robot, automatically keeps it upright.

In his spare time, Asimo is also working on other new robot technologies, and by 2013 is expected to have an army of 1.3 million minions, just under government estimates for the number required to overtake the Self-Defense Forces, if needed.

Honda warned that would-be riders above the upper weight limit of ninety kilograms will topple the device, Honda says, because even the most advanced technology is no match for the deadly combination of American obesity and Krispy Kreme.

With a handy-dandy handle, the device is easy to carry, weighing just 10 kilograms (160 donuts).

Honda officials said they think the electric unicycle will mostly be used indoors, mostly because of embarrassment.

So in conclusion, I would be remiss if I did not ask, when will Korea's Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Kia, or Lespo Bicycle Company get into the fray? Are we going to just lay back and let Japan win the race for the silliest looking transportation vehicle?

More green for green

The New York Times is reporting that South Korea topped the rest of the world's twenty largest economies in the percentage of economic stimulus money they spent on green projects.
China came in at #2, but with only half the amount of South Korea:
In order of the percentage of stimulus money committed to environmental projects, South Korea was first with 79 percent; China had 34 percent; Australia, 21 percent; France, 18 percent; Britain, 17 percent; Germany, 13 percent; the United States, 12 percent; South Africa, 11 percent; Mexico, 10 percent; Canada, 8 percent; Spain, 6 percent; Japan, 6 percent; and Italy, 1 percent.
It would be helpful to know what kinds of projects count as "green" projects. Does river beautification count?

South Korean consumer confidence highest in seven years

Well, if in the midst of a global recession, everyone was buying your products because they're seen as affordable but of good quality, of course you'd be confident.

Anyway, there's probably more to it than that:
Gross domestic product expanded 2.6 percent in the second quarter, the fastest pace since 2003. The government allocated extra funds and frontloaded the budget in response to the global recession. At the same time, the central bank trimmed the benchmark interest rate by 3.25 percentage points between October and February, the most aggressive easing in a decade.

The Kospi stock index has risen 51 percent this year as investors bet the economy is past its worst. An earlier government report showed sales at the nation’s major department stores, led by Lotte Shopping Co., increased for a sixth consecutive month while factory production climbed for a seventh month in July.

The Asian Development Bank, Citigroup Inc. and Barclays Capital Inc. this week raised their economic growth forecasts for South Korea.
Well, I'm feeling better.

No pleasantries from the peasantry

The Los Angeles Times has an article about the most recent edition of Rimjingang (림진강/臨津江), a magazine on North Korea published in Japan, which will feature inside stories — literally — from people actually inside North Korea:
The images will soon be featured in an issue of Rimjingang, a magazine published in Japan that offers a highly intimate look inside North Korea. What makes it all the more remarkable is that the quarterly publication consists of articles written not by outsiders, but by a few North Koreans, farmers and factory workers who risk their lives to provide poignant vignettes and hard-news accounts of life in their reclusive homeland.

The stakes are high. The reporters use pseudonyms because they know that if they are caught by North Korean authorities, they could be sent to prison or executed as spies.

Named by the magazine's reporters after a river that flows across the border from north to south, Rimjingang features everyday scenes of people's lives, from mammoth Pyongyang to the smallest villages. Since the magazine was launched in 2007, the tiny staff of reporters has delivered scoop after scoop.

Their cameras peek inside an illegal market where hungry children scavenge food from the ground. They offer images of a busy bus terminal patrolled by soldiers, a North Korean prison and a town where even children are put to work in a coal mine.

"I'm proud of these reporters," said Ishimaru, 37, editor of Rimjingang. "I'm committed to help them deliver a message to the world that they are risking their lives to report."
Amazing stuff, really. And makes the kind of thing that Laura Ling, Mitch Koss, and Euna Lee were supposedly doing pale in comparison. And speaking of the Tri-dumb-virate:
Not every reporter makes it. Some quit after experiencing the perils of reporting their stories and spiriting them out of the country.

Ishimaru travels to the border between China and North Korea to meet with staff members as they arrive to report their findings. He says the reporters' trips are always dangerous, but more so now since the two American journalists were taken into custody.
Nice. Oh, and DailyNK gets a mention:
Rimjingang has impressed Sohn Kwang-joo, chief editor of the Daily NK, a website reporting on North Korea from the outside.

"This is a magazine where North Koreans are the main characters," he said. "The regime does not want the world to hear their voices. But in Rimjingang, their lives and voices meld."
Go, Sohn. Great blog ("the hub of North Korean news"), by the way.

Corean the Barbarian

And I see it took only four days for this to reach The Hole. Had it been R. Elgin (the Marmot's Hole post author) who had written the comment below instead of The Marmot Himself, I'd have appreciated a hat tip. It is curious, Marmot, that you didn't do a post on this yourself, especially given your ties and insight to Tanzania and the rest of East Africa.

This past spring, many pundits and bloggers alike were falling over themselves trying to be biggest critic of South Korea's grand bargain (before there was a Grand Bargain™) with Madagascar. The deal would have had a South Korean proxy controlling, through a 99-year lease, a chunk of that island nation equal to the size of Belgium (which, no coincidence, is the Korea or Europe™).

Like many geopolitical things involving Korea, it ignited into violence, turmoil, and civil war. The new guy who took over said he would cancel the deal, which was reported by the British press as the catalyst for the overthrow of the previous government. The British press also inveighed against the deal, led by Daewoo Logistics, calling it exploitative colonization of Africa.

And if there's one thing the British know, it's exploitative colonization of Africa.

Although Daewoo Logistics had promised the development of infrastructure — roads, hospitals, schools, farming equipment, etc. — the deal was tainted because it was seen as favoring the old president, and thus it was canceled.

Food security is a growing issue for many countries whose populations exceed the arable land on which they sit. South Korea, Taiwan, China, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and others have been quietly making deals to take over (or at least lease) large tracts of land to be used for farming.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing can depend a lot on what the the food-seeking countries can offer the people of the land-granting country. Here in Hawaii, I've met a number of international students from Africa, who have said not so pleasant things about what they refer to as exploitation by the Chinese.

By contrast, I have heard far more positive things about the South Koreans in their countries, but this may be an apples-and-oranges comparison: the Chinese are exploiting the land, while the South Koreans are largely NGO workers and missionaries setting up hospitals and other do-gooder services. Would South Korean companies operating under a major land-leasing deal be any different from the Chinese?

This is a pertinent question because, as I reported earlier, South Korea has penned a similar (but considerably less ambitious) deal in Tanzania. This would have the state-run Korea Rural Community Corporation (KRCC), a division of the Agriculture Ministry, developing a thousand square kilometers (a little under 400 square miles) of land. Half of it will be for local farmers, and the other half will be used to produce processed goods for Korea.

[above: Tanzanian farmland (source)]

Korean officials say 1,000 sq km (386 sq miles) will be developed - half for local farmers, half to produce processed goods for South Korea. To put this in perspective, imagine a square-shaped area of land about 30 kilometers or 20 miles to a side, in a country 9.5 times larger than South Korea with slightly less than the same population. This planned arrangement is only 100,000 hectares, just 1/13 the size of the Madagascar deal. (Joongang Daily report on the deal found here, Reuters story here.)

Now just what does "develop" mean? From the BBC article:
[The KRCC] says it will produce processed foods like cooking oil, wine and starch on the land.

Lee Ki-Churl, a corporation official, said he expected Tanzanians to benefit from the deal.

"Some African countries export fruit and import fruit juice, or export olives and import olive oil, simply because their past colonialists did not teach them how to process food," he told the AFP news agency.

"We plan to set up an education centre for Tanzanian farmers in the food-processing zone in order to transfer agricultural know-how and irrigation expertise to them."

He said about 100bn won ($83m) would be spent to develop an initial 100 sq km of land over the next few years.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that the corporation hoped to exploit deposits of iron ore, gold and copper in other parts of the Tanzania to help fund its project.
So the idea is to behave differently from "their past colonialists"? While their "present colonialists" be any different? The last paragraph there suggests a potential for gold fever to ruin things.

The KRCC themselves ought to face some scrutiny. Here's the kind of project they work on, according to their website:
The Large-scale Comprehensive Agricultural Development Project carries out general projects such as the development of water resources, the farmland consolidation, and the reclamation of tidelands for specific areas centered upon river basin to effectively develop the foundation for agricultural production and to promote the establishment of a welfare rural community through the improvement in the farming environment and in agricultural productivity.
That's right, these are the folks who, among other things, help dig up mudflats and wetlands to make farmland in South Korea, as in the project shown in the picture below.

From what I've heard of them before, they do a reasonable job of improving opportunity for the farmers in those areas, but at what environmental cost? A good question would be whether their expertise at building irrigation systems will be more suitable for bringing water to dry parts of Africa than it is for drying out wet parts of Korea to grow more rice. Maybe, then, this type of project is a good thing.

Operative word: Maybe. The KRCC should be watched like a hawk. Any Korean corporate group who works with them should be watched like a hawk. Moreover, if part of the aim is to truly improve the lives of the people who are doing the farming, have some legitimate Korean NGOs go in there and help the local Tanzanians with what they need (schools, hospitals, roads, etc.). There are already South Korean NGOs doing do-gooder stuff in the area, including a branch of the Saemaul Corporation which was largely responsible for improving the lives of rural South Koreans. Get them involved, particularly in a capacity that allows for checks-and-balances.

The goal should be twofold: Treat the Tanzanians as if they were South Koreans (well, better, I suppose) and be better than your competitors. In the 1960s and beyond, there were clear goals set for the improvement of the lives of the farmers in South Korea, and a similar standard should be set.

All South Koreans should understand that they and their country will be judged on the outcome of such deals. You have been warned.

I suppose I should translate this into Korean, eh?

[Side note: The same BBC article talks as if the Madagascar cancellation may not be written in stone. Specifically, it says the deal "has been thrown into uncertainty." In my book, that doesn't mean an end-all, beat-all cancellation. Is something going on behind the scenes we don't know about? Is Daewoo trying to renegotiate their original deal on terms more favorable to the new government? An interesting prospect.]

Engrean fail

Spotted at the Safeway yesterday: 특급현비

While the t'ŭkkŭp part makes sense (특급, special grade), I'm wondering what happened with hyŏnmi (현비, brown rice, unpolished rice).

Were they trying for a combination of 미 and 변 (constipation), since, um, brown rice sorta helps out with that?

Really, you'd think that with the million or so ethnic Koreans in the United States, how hard could it to run this by a proofreader? I mean, even if you don't have a lot of money to pay a proofreader (or just don't want to), there are like a quarter million Korean illegals running around the US. Just grab one!

Epic fail.

Public service announcement: boobyball

It's not often I can combine my passion for public health issues and my love of boobies, so I relish it whenever I can (HT to LOTD).

Some people, apparently, have expressed offense or dismay at this, though I think they're missing the point. Without being any worse than a typical beer commercial (and thus not upping the ante in terms of pornification), it raises awareness about an issue that kills millions and about which many people prefer not to think.

It doesn't trivialize the issue, no more than the people having the breast cancer runs in their skivvies (I got caught up in one when I was visiting London in 2007 — certainly raised my awareness).

And from a public health perspective, getting partners to understand and talk about things like breast cancer is a good way to provide positive reinforcement. Right now, many men think the biggest health risk associated with women's breasts is poking your eye out.

Now if only I can find an equally salacious PSA for something farther south.