Saturday, October 31, 2009

Welcome back, Kirogger

From Pawikirogi, a man who needs a new mental filter:
the above is a hirohito fairytale, but folks, what we have here is a korea basher. anytime you see korea described as ‘the korean peninsula’, you got yourself a korea basher because the implication is clear; korea did not exist. there was no such thing as korea. there was only the korean peninsula. for example, if someone were to write, ’sumo probably came from china via the korean peninsula.’ , you got yourself a sophisticated hater of korea. he thinks himself sly, but he hath no clothes in the sunlight of reality; his choice of words doth betray him.
Well, the "the Korean peninsula" hypothesis is an interesting one, but where does that leave me? I use that expression all the time, if for no other reason than to provide a little variation between Korea, the ROK, South Korea, the Koreas, the South, and south of the DMZ, among others.

This would be the second time this week (one directly and this one indirectly) that my "Korean apologist" credentials have been called into question. Hmm... I wonder if I'm some Manchurian Candidate-like plant, whose presence has been engineered by the shrine keepers at Yasukuni, whose task is to build up an army of followers and then suddenly start messing their heads with over-the-top pro-Japan/anti-Korean stuff. I hope I'm at least getting a pension.

Like so many other pronouncements about Korea (or Japan), this one falls apart in its sweepingness or absoluteness. "Anytime" you see that, Pawikirogi? While I think a case could be made that it should raise the concern level from yellow to orange, let's say, it's by no means something that could be applied to anybody in any case.

This, of course, is one of your problems overall, Pawikirogi (and like the arrogant sombitch that I am, I'm assuming that Pawikirogi reads what I write just by the sheer will generated by me writing about him). You make these sweeping (I really like that word) pronouncements about "the expat" (or kyopos or some other groups) and don't grant that there could be exceptions. Many, much, a lot of, or even often or sometimes would be great modifiers that would enhance the veracity (and acceptance) of your words.

You often do have something important to say (just like wjk did), but you don't know how to say it.

A maltese proposal

In what may be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article, Jonathan Foer, author of the upcoming Eating Animals, suggests in the Wall Street Journal that eating dogs might be a good thing. After all, the Koreans, Indians (both South Asian and North American varieties), Chinese, Hawaiians, Filipinos, Nigerians, and even some Europeans have done it for quite some time.

Essentially, he says, this kills two birds with one stone:
Of course, something having been done just about everywhere is no kind of justification for doing it now. But unlike all farmed meat, which requires the creation and maintenance of animals, dogs are practically begging to be eaten. Three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized annually. The simple disposal of these euthanized dogs is an enormous ecological and economic problem. But eating those strays, those runaways, those not-quite-cute-enough-to-take and not-quite-well-behaved-enough-to-keep dogs would be killing a flock of birds with one stone and eating it, too.

In a sense it's what we're doing already. Rendering—the conversion of animal protein unfit for human consumption into food for livestock and pets—allows processing plants to transform useless dead dogs into productive members of the food chain. In America, millions of dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters every year become the food for our food. So let's just eliminate this inefficient and bizarre middle step.
Mr Foer touches on some issues, such as eliminating cruel forms of preparing dog traditionally (a point with which I agree), and then goes on to present a Filipino recipe for dog meat. Wow, hardly the kind of thing you'd expect to find in the conservative WSJ.

This article comes on the heels of a sympathetic piece in The Guardian about legalizing the consumption of dog meat in Korea. I wonder if such articles are leading toward creation of critical mass where, like gay marriage and legalized pot, the US and UK are going to go through some sort of sea change in attitude and the formerly unacceptable becomes a tolerated norm.

WaPo on Amerie

If someone has released a chart-topping R&B single and then you haven't heard from them for four years, it may be that they took time out to go to college. Georgetown, to be precise.

But Amerie, a stunning 29-year-old woman who is half Black and half Korean (and who lived in Korea for some time), will be releasing a new album, "In Love & War," next week, and so the WaPo wrote her up:
On Tuesday, Amerie will try to do it again with "In Love & War," her first U.S. release after a lengthy four-year absence. Weaving urgent melodies through sandpapery beats, it's an album tailor-made to stand out in an era where R&B singers are often treated as interchangeable parts in the great American pop machine.

"On the radio, you have a lot of artists sounding like each other," Amerie says between bites of bruschetta. "They don't really sound like themselves -- they just sound like the producer who did the record. To me that's super-whack."

Super-whack, indeed. In a world where uber-producers like The-Dream, Timbaland and Danja often play musical chairs with pop's A-list vocal cords, listening to the radio can have a particularly numbing effect -- one that makes Amerie's grittiness feel all the more resonant.
I shall check it out on iTunes when I can.

Korea news links for October 31, 2009: Over there! Over there! Send the word! Send the word! That the ROKs are comin' and it will all be over 오버데어!

With all the hemming and hawing about sending actual soldiers to Afghanistan instead of just vulnerable aid workers who would have to be protected by someone else (imagine, thanks to a group of missionaries in 2007, that South Koreans wandering that central Asian country in cartoon form, as walking dollar signs in front of caricatures of bearded men in turbans drooling at the sight), you'd be surprised that the actual announcement got as much media play as it did. But the 300 or so combat troops who will go to Afghanistan are front-page news in a big way.
  1. South Korea announces it will send troops to Afghanistan to protect its civilian aid workers (BBC, NYT, AP via WaPo, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily); Washington says it welcomes plans (Yonhap, Korea Times)
  2. Justice Ministry says South Korea likely to permit dual citizenship starting next year (Korea Times)
  3. Seventy-six-year-old man is South Korea's thirty-fifth death from H1N1 "swine flu" (Yonhap)
  4. US Trade Representative Ron Kirk is expected to outline Obama administration review of US-ROK free-trade agreement next week (Reuters)
  5. American academics and formal officials who met with North Korean envoy Ri Gun say Pyongyang appears to be more open to resuming six-party talks on North Korean denuclearization (Reuters); Ri Gun calls meetings "useful dialogue" (Yonhap)
  6. South Korean industrial output rebounds to busiest level in 18 months (Forbes, Bloomberg, Korea Times)
  7. Christian Science Monitor report says critics of North Korean regime claim that photos released of Kim Jong-il are of a body double (links here)
  8. South Korean spy chief says Seoul has concluded that Pyongyang's communications ministry was behind cyber attacks against ROK and US sites in July (links here)
  9. Samsung Electronics third-quarter profit more than triples from a year ago to $3.14 billion (Bloomberg, WSJ, AP via WaPo)
  10. Knowledge Economy Minister Choi Kyounghwan warns Seoul's carbon plan would cost jobs and reduce competitiveness (Korea Herald)
  11. The picture at right really happened. I'm not kidding. On live TV. It's not some Halloween gag inserted in lieu of my usual Jon Stewart-esque headline at the bottom of each Korea New Links post. Really happened. Myopic former president misread the teleprompter; it said to kiss the baby. What a tragedy. White babies are hard to come by (SF Weekly)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Serendipity: On working in a company in Korea

I've been blogging and commenting on other blogs for a number of years now, so every now and then I serendipitously find something on someone else's blog that I'd put a bit of time or thought (or both) into, which I think might be worth making into a mini-post.

The paragraphs I wrote below are in response to someone's well thought-out advice on working for a company in Korea:
I think this is a good post, but as with any kind of advice intended to apply to an entire culture, it’s definitely a your-mileage-may-vary kind of thing. Some of the things that are offered here are right on the money for the companies with which I’ve worked, and some are the complete opposite.

Bear in mind also that there are good companies and there are bad companies, especially at the hagwon level where new players pop up (and sometimes disappear) overnight. A bad company might be one where no logic or cultural understanding applies, even to the native Koreans who work there.

My other two bits of advice would be to shed (if you have it) a Korean-versus-foreigner perspective. I think people who call the sole “foreigners” in a company “tokens” are often doing a disservice or missing the point entirely. You are hired for a skill set and that skill set is needed for a reason. You need to figure out what that skill set is (and, yes, it might be just the ability to speak English like a native in some cases) see if that’s what you want to be your primary focus for the duration and, if possible, if you will be able to expand that skill set or the skill set that is needed so you can grow with the job. Anyway, it’s not good (and it’s probably usually wrong) to think that every bad thing happening to you that comes down from above is “because I’m a foreigner.” If that’s your perspective, you either won’t last or, if you do, you’ll be miserable.

Finally, anytime one is ready to make a stand about something in their company (and this applies outside of Korea as well), make sure first that you really are right about what you think you’re right about. It’s surprising how often that step is missed. If it turns out you’re wrong about something (especially something big), you won’t be trusted as much in the future, until you rebuild your rep again.
The link is from here (advice in a similar vein presented in a much funnier format here). And in case you're wondering why someone like me who is supposedly "all over comment boards at other blogs" would not write anything anymore at this particular blog, it's because last winter I was banned from that site. To my knowledge, that's the only site I've been banned from, except possibly The Fighting 44's.

All right, northeast Asia, take out your textbooks and turn to the chapter on World War II

The Los Angeles Times has an article on South Korea and Japan's efforts to sit down with China and hash out a history textbook that would be satisfactory to all three:
Several politicians in South Korea and Japan have begun exploring the possibility of a joint history textbook between their nations and China. But given the lingering differences over issues ranging from past wars to current territorial claims, the proposal faces numerous hurdles.

Members of South Korea's ruling Grand National Party met informally in Seoul this month with counterparts from the majority Democratic Party of Japan. One of the main topics was whether a joint history textbook could now be developed with government cooperation.

Kang Yong-seok, a GNP lawmaker, was among the South Korean politicians who approached the Japanese.

"We [told DPJ] members that it would be very meaningful to write a common textbook," Kang said, citing a history textbook created through German-French cooperation.

"We didn't think the idea was impossible, but the countries have been unable to agree on historical matters," said DPJ member Masashi Mito. "We agreed to revisit and delve into the differences of historical perspectives and look into how realistic such a project can be."
Though the tone of the above quote is pessimistic, I think a book common to the ROK and Japan may be more within reach with Lee and Hatoyama at the respective helms of South Korea and Japan than back when South Korea's leftists and Japan's right-wing LDP were in charge.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, for his part, seems very sympathetic to many of the issues that were either ignored by Tokyo under LDP leadership, or were downright exacerbated by an insensitive right wing that seemed to hold up a blameless Japan in the 20th century as a historical paradigm. Japan-born Lee, on the other hand, may be a little more willing to let some issues go, and less enthusiastic about conflict-laden historical narratives that are so common on the left.

So while I think a Seoul-Tokyo book is well within reach, I'm considerably less optimistic about a Beijing-Seoul-Tokyo (let's say Beseto) book. While China might team up with South Korea on Imperial Japan's atrocities (Rape of Nanjing, comfort women, occupation brutality, war crimes during battle, human experimentation, etc.), China's leaders still officially hold (as far as I'm aware) that South Korea started the Korean War by invading the North and that the Chinese who turned the tide of war (and, incidentally, solidified the North-South division we still have today) were volunteers and not officially sent soldiers.

Good luck with that one.

Still, it would be nice if historical frictions didn't keep heating things up in the present. There are definitely some unresolved issues — the surviving comfort women who have been done wrong by both Tokyo and Seoul, as well as ownership of Tokto — most issues from the past have little direct bearing on the present. They are issues of pride, and that makes them important, perhaps, but not all-important.

Really, good luck.

Note: Comments are now closed for this post. If you have an interesting insight or question you'd like to share, feel free to email me and I'll see about squeezing it in.

More North Korea spy sh¡t

South Korea's spy chief, Won Sei-hoon, is saying that Pyongyang's communications ministry was behind a series of cyber attacks in July that hobbled or disabled dozens of government and business websites in South Korea and the US. The attacks occurred by way of traffic generated by malware located on a bunch of computers, unbeknownst to their owners. From Reuters:
"The attacks on Korean and U.S. Internet sites were traced back to circuits originating in China," the South's spy chief Won Sei-hoon was quoted as telling a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting by Yonhap news agency.

"North Korea's communications ministry has been confirmed as leasing the line," Won reportedly said.

Some South Korean government websites, including the Defence Ministry and National Intelligence Service, were affected in the wave of attacks that lasted several days but did not lead to a breach of sensitive material or damage to online infrastructure, the agencies said.
Oh, that Dear Leader. Such a kidder.

Korea news links for October 30, 2009: I spy for the KJI

There are those of us who think — and really, there's no paranoia here — that Pyongyang does actively support a fifth column of infiltrators in academia, progressive movements, maybe even some conservative groups, etc., aimed at undermining support for... well, everything that Pyongyang doesn't like. And today we have Exhibit A, with the arrest of one "Professor Lee." Now it's not clear that Professor Lee was indoctrinating his students, but he is accused of passing military secrets to the North. Think how badly it would suck to find out your prof was a spy. You'd have to go back and re-examine a lot of what you learned, that's for sure.

  1. South Korean lecturer named Lee arrested and charged with spying for North Korea after passing military secrets (BBC, AFP)
  2. Despite informal meetings between US diplomats and North Korean envoy Ri Gun, US State Department says no plans have emerged for high-level bilateral talks (Reuters); Daily Yomiuri claims US envoy Stephen Bosworth will probably visit Pyongyang in November (Bloomberg, Korea Herald)
  3. Education Ministry says local officials will decide whether to close schools in response to H1N1 outbreaks (Joongang Daily)
  4. IMF revises outlook for Korean economy from 1% contraction to 1% growth in 2009 (Joongang Daily)
  5. ROK Constitutional Court says media reform bills railroaded through by ruling Hannara Party are valid despite procedural violations (Yonhap, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily); court also says hagwon curfew rule is constitutional (Korea Times)
  6. ROK Foreign Minister Yu Myunghwan calls on National Assembly leaders to support Afghan aid package (Xinhua); Defense Minister warns South Korean troops may have to fight Taliban (Yonhap)
  7. Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say speedy medical treatment is key in fighting H1N1 infection (Yonhap)
  8. South Korea's humanitarian aid offering this week was only one-tenth what Pyongyang had asked for (AFP)
  9. Chinese President Hu Jintao invites North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to visit Beijing (Reuters via WaPo, Yonhap)
  10. DPRK newspapers call for improving inter-Korean relations (Xinhua)
  11. Samsung Engineering wins $1.2 billion contract to build fertilizer plant in United Arab Emirates (Reuters)
  12. Citing new intepretations of Sharia law, religious leaders in Waziristan order the deportation of all gay donkeys (Reuters)

Dining with the Dear Doppelgänger

[above: If I ever achieve my dream of opening up a wax museum, this will be the display in the lobby.]

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, Don Kirk talks about the speculation that the Dear Leader whom former President Bill Clinton met on his rescue mission of the Stupogants™ may have actually been the Dear Doppelgänger:
A number of analysts here are convinced that not all the photos being released of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, are really photos of Kim Jong-il.

Instead, they say, a look-alike has been standing in for him on some of the 122 trips he's reportedly made this year to the countryside, factories, cultural events, military units, and all sorts of other venues.

Some observers say the North Korean leader is too ill to make all these appearances. One Japanese analyst claims President Clinton didn't meet with Kim Jong-il in August – he met with a Mr. Kim double.

The evidence of Kim stand-ins is far from verified, but several North Korean refugees here say that Kim has not one but several look-alikes playing his role.

Still, it's logical that for security reasons, Kim has one or more stand-ins, as did former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the US invasion in 2003. One argument is that Kim has no time for all those trips outside Pyongyang while his health remains uncertain and he's preparing his youngest son to take over as early as next year.

Ha Tae-young, president of Open Radio for North Korea, which broadcasts two hours a day via shortwave into North Korea, cites the word of one recent North Korean defector.

"He says he knows a girl whose father is the actor for Kim Jong-il," says Mr. Ha. "Recently Kim Jong-il loses fat. He's very skinny these days. The defector says, If Kim Jong-il looks skinny, the actor can do the same thing."
It wouldn't surprise me if Kim Jong-il had body doubles filling in for him — or distracting enemies — but I think some of this stems from a bit of wishful thinking among those who loathe the regime in DPRK. The prospect that he would be dead soon has had them full of glee and they can't bring themselves to believe there's any significant possibility that it's not accurate.

Anyway, I recognize that this is a potentially serious problem, so we here at Monster Island Industries & Food Services Inc have decided to put together a handy guide to help you determine if that Kim Jong-il-looking person in the produce section really is a genocidist — you wouldn't want to alert the International Court of Justice's 911 hotline for nothing.

above: Not real.

above: Looks a little puffy in the eyes and not many age spots on the side of the head. Might not be real. Events like this that are small on talking and big on hand gestures are perfect opportunities to use a double, especially when a bunch of people with weaponry are parading in front of you.

above: Real. As in real creepy.

above: Jury's out on this one. Could be a double, but could also be Kim Jong-il in his Margaret Cho phase. (Seriously, this guy looks like the guy two photos up, so they could be the same double.)

above: Not real. Pockets all wrong on vest.

above: Real. But the guy on the right is not the real Kang Sŏngbŏm.

above: Real painting.

above: Not real. Wish it was.

above: Jury's out on this one. Teeth look pretty bad. Someone needs to kidnap a German dentist.

above: Real back in the early 1980s. But if you see this guy today, not real.

above: Real. In the mid-1980s, Kim Jong-il loyalists kidnapped an entire Olan Mills studio from St. Paul, Minnesota, just for this family portrait. Nutritionists believe kid sitting at right is far more likely to suffer from obesity as an adult.

above: Oh, come on. You're not even trying.

above: Really KJI. An aging Skeletor himself, before his death due to throat cancer, provided verification in his autobiography, He-Man is an A-Hole.

above: Not real. Drawing. And those aren't the Beatles either. Also drawing.

above: Not real. Actually Clint Howard, Ron Howard's brother. Inspired KJI's 'do in the 1980s.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The nerve of Minerva

[above: If Minerva were a graphic novel. I like this bit of artwork from Wired, but it's obviously not "Korean." For starters, the cop in the doorway is not saluting the person he's about to take down. Hmm... ceiling fans are really not that common in Korean apartments or offices (though they should be). And for a real Seoul look, the high-rises in the background should be shaped like penises.]

Wired has a long feature on Park Daesung [박대성; pak taesŏng, aka Bak Daeseong], better known in Korea and now the rest of the world as "Minerva," an anonymous blogger whose precise but dire predictions got him into hot water with the authorities, who basically accused him of undermining confidence in the ROK economy as the global meltdown was getting into full swing. An excerpt:
As the financial crisis deepened, events confirmed Minerva’s prophecies all too terribly. By early fall, each new dispatch would rise into Daum Agora’s top five headlines, carried by a tide of user votes and drawing hundreds of thousands of pageviews. South Korea’s daily press began publicizing Minerva’s predictions and speculating about his identity. The more the newspapers tried to pierce the veil of Minerva, the more their readers devoured his posts, until it seemed the goddess was giving marching orders to the entire economy.

The post that would bring Minerva worldwide fame appeared on August 25, 2008, under the florid title “Overture to the 2008 Financial Wars: Apocalypse Now in Korea.” It attacked a plan, floated three days before by the Korea Development Bank, to purchase a large chunk of Lehman Brothers. Minerva held forth at length on the stupidity of this idea, given that Lehman was groaning under $50 billion in debt. If KDB invested in Lehman, Minerva wrote, the people of Korea stood to lose as much as $80 billion. Once again, his pessimism proved to be deadly accurate. KDB and Lehman were unable to agree on a sale price. A few weeks later, Lehman filed for bankruptcy. The newspapers hailed Minerva as “the Internet economic president.” The prediction, Park reflected later, was all in the data: “I looked at the mortgage market in America, the oil market, the economic cycle, the circulation of capital. I analyzed all of these and determined the result.”

Under the cloak of anonymity, Park believed he could insulate his real life from the adulation surrounding his online presence. Minerva had no published email address, and Park read only a few of the hundreds of comments that accumulated beneath his posts. Wearing the mask of Minerva allowed him to set aside the polite restraint that characterized his personal emails. As Minerva, he wrote with fiery bombast, comparing the gravity of the crisis to Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. Minerva’s ascendance, he now believes, was due to the “pure purpose” of his writing — the sincere desire to help his readers ride out the crisis. “Some people use the Internet for money or fame,” he said later. “I didn’t.”
There are many themes swirling around in this story, enough to write entire books and dissertations: Government face-saving, drowning out critical voices (a theme here), the detriment of insincere praise or agreement from yes men versus the value of genuine constructive criticism, the whole problem of finding out which critical voice is worth listening to, etc., etc.

The anonymity issue is inescapable in talking about the Minerva case. It's one that strikes home to many people in the K-blogs. How much freer can we be about voicing our opinions if we don't fear a knock on the door or a call from the boss to step into her office. I've had real life problems when people who didn't like what I said online — or what they thought I said online — decided to make it personal and tried to get me fired. I've been threatened with physical assault more than once, so it should be no surprise why I keep personal information close to the chest.

So I feel for Minerva's plight. At the same time, though, there are completely different issues of anonymity where calls for a "real-name system" (실명제) may be legitimate. Abuse does occur and there is a tendency for some, hidden beneath the cloak of a userid, to be vicious and rude. In many forums it the vitriol corrodes whatever community there is, and it all falls apart.

Many South Koreans are content, therefore, to accept an identity verification system (easily applied since all Korean nationals and legal residents have a nationally issued ID number). As I noted at Popular Gusts, Korea's frequent reverting back to 실명제 for this and that stems from before the Internet culture ever took hold, when fake names, assumed names, property put in others' names, were used to hide corruption and the rewards of corruption. Fair play, South Korea's underlying egalitarian sentiment, and a general striving toward transparency were the engines that pushed "real name" forward, and even today, a lot of people would support identity verification online to protect the masses from the abusers.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Discuss.

[above: At first, Minerva tried to throw the media off his trail by posing as a microphone repairman. But pretty soon, the jig was up.]

Happy days are here again

Media all across the United States are reporting that the US economy last quarter grew for the first time in over a year, at an annual rate of 3.5 percent (topping Korea's 2.9 percent).

Hawaii's economy is still in the toilet, though. Hey, South Korean citizens! The US gave you visa-free entry... Now use it, dammit!

In light of the recent deportation of undocumented worker advocate Minu, what, if anything, should authorities do to enforce ROK immigration laws?


(Background info from Popular Gusts here, here, and here; from the Korea Times here, here, and here)

NYT archive: Assassin "slew Ito to avenge conquest of Korea"

In a follow-up to this post (and its heated but interesting discussion that followed), here is an archive of the very next day's New York Times, in which assassin An Chunggŭn was able to lay out his reasons, to some extent, for killing Prince Itō Hirobumi in Harbin, China, for which he was later executed:
“I came to Harbin for the sole purpose of assassinating Prince Ito to avenge my country,” the unidentified Korean assassin declared after firing six shots in a crowded Manchurian railway station, three of which found their target. Then he and his companions, also unidentified, submitted to arrest without a struggle. “None of the three attempted to escape and calmly confessed that they had conspired against the life of Prince Ito. They boasted that the object of the plot was to take his life in revenge for his tyranny while he was Resident General of Korea. The assassin, while asserting that he was inspired by a patriotic motive and believed that Japanese wrongs to Koreans justified his act, admitted under examination that he had a personal grudge against the Japanese statesman, who had caused the execution of several of his friends.” The three were turned over to Japanese authorities, because “Koreans are under the jurisdiction of the Japanese courts.”
Unfortunately, the actual picture of the archived news is unavailable to all but home delivery subscribers (it's futile for those of us in Honolulu to even attempt home delivery of the NYT; even on the best of throws, the paper always ends up in the water).

But the assassination was the top story of the day. In addition to the above, there were six other stories related to this:

Kokovsoff Gives Details
Assassin Suddenly Forced His Way in Front of Prince

Japan Mourns for Ito
His Mission to Harbin Was Peaceful — Korean Prince Shocked

Seek Plotters in Korea
General Indignation Felt Even Among Koreans in Seoul
[Kushibo's note: Hmm... Talk about a successful propaganda machine. I have my doubts that "indignation" was the dominant reaction among Koreans in Korea.]

Baron Shibusawa Weeps
Declares Prince Ito Would Have Been Glad to Die for Emperor; Ito the Second Victim; Mr. Stevens, Who Aided Him in Korea, Assassinated Last Year

Meeting of Taft and Ito
Japanese Statesman Showed Great Fondness for the American

Ito’s Death Blocks Japan’s Secret Plan
His Meeting with Kokovsoff Was Expected to Have Most Important Results; America Is Interested; Mikado May Be Seeking an Agreement with Russia to Close the Open Door in Manchuria
[Kushibo's note: Well, that "secret plan" couldn't have been the annexation of Korea now, could it?]

I should consider getting a subscription for a week just to check these out. If anyone in the New York area has a subscription, I wouldn't mind receiving the links.

In other New York Times news that day:

Tell of Brutality at Training School
Boys Beaten and Threatened with Death, Disciplinary Attendants Declare; Youth a Prisoner 13 Years; Stars and Stripes Used as a Whipping Schedule — Supt. Farrell Often Intoxicated, Witnesses Assert

Congress Knew of “White Slave” Trade
Mr. Bennet Wishes the Report of Its Investigating Committee Could Come Out; Russell Proof of System; Inspector Who Was Demoted Was Told of It in Advance by a Dive Keeper — How Tammany Has Acted

1,000 Girl Strikers Shut Up a Factory
Big Cigar Plant in New Brunswick Forced to Close Its Doors Indefinitely; They Resort to Violence; Forewoman’s Clothing Nearly Torn Off in a Struggle and Many Kept Away from Work

Halley’s Comet Brighter
Is Seen Without Difficulty by Prof. Wendell with 15-Inch Equatorial

I wonder how many back in 1909 thought that the arrival of Halley's Comet was like the 2012 end of the Mayan calendar we face in a few years. Supposedly Mark Twain thought it meant his imminent death:
I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'
Apocryphal, perhaps, but it's an oft-repeated story. Not unlike other historical figures.

Word Verification of the day: hedomash

"Who is Colonel Potter?"

Korea news links for October 29, 2009: Outbreak?

Given the dearth of heavy news stories today, you'd be forgiven for thinking that after yesterday's collision of a Japanese destroyer and a South Korean freighter, everyone was so affixed to the the telly watching the Kurama burn that they forgot to report on all the other happenings on the peninsula. Either that or they were in line to get their H1N1 flu shots. I guess that is the one big story today: the nation seems to have hit a critical mass of freaked-outedness on the virus, even though not only the death toll but the death rate (i.e., per population) is only a fraction of that of the US. Maybe, however, a two-week break from school would be just what the doctor ordered, figuratively and literally.

[above: Two for the price of one: by-election voters wearing masks to protect from H1N1 infection]
  1. Korean Medical Association proposes two-week shutdown of schools to block the spread of H1N1 infections (Yonhap, Korea Times, Korea Herald)
  2. South Korea's main opposition party defeats ruling Hannara Party (GNP) in three out of five contests (Yonhap, Bloomberg)
  3. Death of three seniors and one 42-year-old woman bring South Korea's H1N1 "swine flu" toll up to thirty-three (Xinhua)
  4. Seoul court finds leaders of deadly Yongsan protest guilty (Korea Herald)
  5. US President Obama signs defense authorization bill that calls for Congress to submit a report to determine whether North Korea should be relisted as state sponsor of terrorism (Yonhap)
  6. Government to spend 200 billion won to help keep "Korea Wave" from losing momentum (Korea Herald)
  7. Lower priced steel products from China forces Hyundai Steel to cut prices by 6.8 percent starting in November (Reuters)
  8. Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama orders "thorough investigation" of yesterday's collision of Japanese destroyer Kurama with South Korean freighter Carina Star (Bloomberg)
  9. ROK military under fire for security lapses in wake of defection of pig farmer who made his way across the DMZ with a wire cutters (Korea Times, Korea Herald)
  10. Chinese President Hu Jintao, meeting with high-ranking North Korean visitor, lauds DPRK but ducks mention of nuclear issue (Reuters via WaPo)
  11. Concerns about the rate of economic recovery in the US cause ROK stocks to tumble 2.4% (WSJ); meanwhile, risk aversion drops KRW to weakest level in one month (WSJ);
  12. South Korean government begins shipment of 850 million worth of communications equipment to North Korea in effort to modernize inter-Korean military line (Xinhua)
  13. Government to open parts of military bases to civilian use (Korea Herald)
  14. ICANN announces new Hangul-based URL names aimed at ease of use; starting in 2010, www in Korean web addresses will be replaced by 더블유더블유더블유 (Yonhap)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Is the Korean government going to use the H1N1 pandemic as an excuse to "temporarily' close down hagwons, with the intention of breaking their backs?

Discuss. (Background info here and here)

Loose change for October 28, 2009

Korea-related stuff:


Korea news links for October 28, 2009: Putting the "careen" in Carina

It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. Well, for a minute there it seemed Japan had declared undeclared war on South Korea, smashing one of its destroyers into a ROK freighter, but there were no casualties and the Defense Minister apologized expressed regret, so everyone's happy. Well, everyone except a pig farmer from the southern peninsula, who is so disgusted with South Korea, he defected to the north.

  1. Japanese destroyer accidentally rams South Korean freighter in strait between Kyushu and Honshu; damage to both ships reported, but only minor injuries (NYT, AFP, AP via WaPo, Japan Times)
  2. South Korean pig farmer makes way across heavily armed DMZ to defect to North Korea (links here)
  3. South Koreans go to the polls today in parliamentary by-elections (Yonhap)
  4. South Korea posts a $4.2 billion trade surplus in September, double in September (Yonhap, WSJ)
  5. North Korean diplomat Ri Gun and US diplomats, meeting at a conference in La Jolla, California, hold a "frank but friendly" talk (Bloomberg)
  6. Meeting in Korea, ICANN to announce multilingual Internet address system for websites, including Korean (Chosun Ilbo)
  7. In gesture to US President Obama ahead of his November visit to China, Beijing says it will search for victims of the Guangdong crash of a US Air Force B-29 bomber on an unknown mission that occurred in the opening months of the Korean War (AP via WaPo, Reuters)
  8. As efforts begin for nationwide immunization and ROK health officials appeal for calm, four more South Koreans, two senior citizens, a 26-year-old woman, and a 43-year-old woman, die from H1N1 "swine flu" complications, bringing total to 29 (Yonhap)
  9. Bank of Korea reports that consumer confidence is at an all-time high (Joongang Daily)
  10. High-ranking North Korean defector tells Washington think tank that Kim family succession won't work (Reuters)
  11. Chinese consulate in Houston apologizes for "unwarranted disruption by unaffiliated persons" of a rally aimed at seeking the release of death-row inmate Melvin Tibbs (Dallas Morning News)

WAR? Japanese destroyer rams South Korean freighter in waters 227 nautical miles off Dokdo!

The Japanese navy Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Kurama smashed into an unarmed South Korean freighter that was carrying non-military supplies from the port city of Pusan. The unprovoked act of aggression occurred at 7:56 p.m. Tuesday, local time, in the Kammon Straits between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Kyushu.

The South Korean container ship, the Carina Star, had received a green light to peacefully enter Japanese waters, so it's unclear why the Japanese navy Maritime Self-Defense Force would try to sink it. Korean press are speculating it is some crafty, sneaky Japanese characteristic move, like in the movie Pearl Harbor (the part where Josh Hartnett's character pretends to think Ben Affleck's character is dead and makes the moves on his grieving girlfriend, but he knows all along that Ben Affleck is alive and is off recovering in England thinking everything's okay. Sneaky bastard, that Josh Hartnett).

The Korean media notes that The Carina Incident™ [카리나 사건/カリナの 事件] occurred just 227 nautical miles off Tokto, two islets that are an immutable part of Korean territory but which the Japanese claim and covet; they call the islets Takeshima*.

There are speculative reports in the Donga Ilbo that the captain and crew of the 5200-ton Kurama were yelling "Takeshima! Takeshima! Bonsai!" very loudly just seconds before ramming the Carina Star, and/or they had read a newspaper that printed the name "Takeshima" somewhere in its pages within the last year.

One leftist politician in Kwangju, South Korea, noted that the incident occurred just one day after Korean patriots the world over were celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Freedom Fighter An Chunggŭn's assassination of the evil Japanese warlord Itō Hirobumi, whom the Japanese do not consider evil, which might make they themselves evil. Or ignorant. "I think they were trying to steal our thunder and remind us that they can take over Korea again," said Democratic Labor Workers Party representative Choi Joonghee. "Was the timing a coincidence? I don't think so."

The Chosun Ilbo also notes that Kurama has the word "ram" in it. The Defense Ministry is now said to be searching their intelligence files to see if the Japanese navy Maritime Self-Defense Force also has a ship called Kusmasha or Kusinka. Really, someone's heads gotta roll for missing that one.

The AFP reports there were flames on the Carina Star, which suffered considerable shame and damage, including to its cargo. But the brave crew members of the South Korean ship came through with no casualties.

Irony prevailed on the Japanese destroyer, where flames occurred. Coast Guard fireboats arrived quickly to put out the fires, bukkake-style. Three members of the Japanese crew suffered injuries, including minor burns and smoke inhalation, surely a lesson not to ram peace-loving Korean ships in the future.

Having failed to sink the South Korean vessel, a humiliated Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa called a press conference and apologized for the incident, meekly promising an investigation. His circumlocutory expression of regret was barely sufficient, and didn't even include the word "sorry":
“It is extremely regrettable that the destroyer, Kurama, has been in a collision, causing everyone concern and inconvenience. We will quickly find out what caused the accident.”
Japan watchers in Korea expect the right-wing nationalistic LDP opposition in Japan to claim Minister Kitazawa's words of apology are just his own and do not reflect the views of the government.

Reportedly, some right-wing politicians have privately said that the unarmed Carina was weak and sluggish and would have been rammed by another ship anyway. A spokesman for Japan's War Bereaved Association claimed the Carina had actually volunteered to be rammed. After the captain of the Kurama dies, says a Japanese studies professor at Ewha University, he can expect to be enshrined at Yasukuni.

* Takeshima is formed from the Japanese word for island, shima, and take, a Japanese truncation of "we take these islands from Korea in 1905!").

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's still like 17,000 to 1

Yonhap is reporting on North Korea military claims that a thirty-year-old South Korean man named Kang Donglim [강동림; kang tongnim] has defected across DMZ and into North Korea. Mr Kang is a pig farmer who at one time worked for a Samsung-affiliated semiconductor company. (The story is also carried by the BBC, AP, and Reuters.)

[UPDATE: Reports indicate that Mr Kang was fleeing an assault charge (against his former boss) in his hometown.]

According to the Korean Central News Agency (the DPRK mouthpiece), Mr Kang was doing so to fulfill his "longing" for the worker's paradise. The KCNA says Kang "is now under the warm care of a relevant organ" (which, coincidentally, is American prison lingo for being sodomized and made someone's bitch).

While thousands of people have worked their way south, not too many make their way north. It's entirely possible foul play was involved, though the most logical explanation is that Mr Kang is simply one of those outliers who doesn't believe the writing on the wall about the DPRK and assumes it would be a better place for him. In fact, the KCNA says, Mr Kang had tried several times to defect during his time in the ROK military but failed.

One always wonders if these things are legitimate. According to AFP, Mr Kang is from Pŏlgyo (Beolgyo), on the south coast, so this is not some case of a Kangwon-do area farmer chasing down his pet pig and accidentally getting too close to a North Korean unit on patrol and being taken in.

But I do believe such things can happen, and South Korean maps should do a better job of showing motorists where the hell the DMZ is on their map. There are parts of Kyŏnggi-do Province on the way to Torasan Station that are just across a river from North Korean territory (you can see the buildings) and Kanghwa-do Island has some parts that are almost as close. My then-fiancée and I drove close to one such point, a village on the northern side of the island, having no idea that the island just across the way was North Korean territory, until a South Korean patrol popped out of nowhere, demanded my ID, and then told us to turn the fu¢k around. I think she broke up with me because I kept endangering her life.

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October 26 is Assassination Day in the ROK

Well, not exactly, but it could be. While writing up the Korea News Links, I just realized that October 26 is not just the anniversary of An Chunggŭn's assassination of Itō Hirobumi, but it's also the anniversary of the assassination of President Park Chunghee.

I don't mean to make light of the killing of controversial figures who ruled Korea, but it is an odd coincidence. I don't recall Kim Chaegyu giving that historic date as a reason for picking that night to kill President Park. Nor do I recall that coming up in the black comedy about Park's death, The President's Last Bang (그때 그사람들).

[above: Note the license plate]

NYT archive: Ito assassinated!

On the centennial of the assassination of Japan's Prince Itō Hirobumi [伊藤 博文] by An Chunggŭn [안중근/安重根; aka Ahn Junggeun], who is now revered as a hero by many in Korea, the New York Times reprinted its contemporary article on the event in today's TimesTraveler section:
A news bulletin reports that Prince Ito, one of the most powerful leaders of Japan, was assassinated today by a Korean in Harbin, Manchuria. “Prince Ito was 72 years old, and for years was one of the most conspicuous of Japan’s statesmen. Several months ago he was relieved of his work as Governor-General of Korea, in which post he had done much to pacify the country. By his arbitrary suppression of the insurrection he incurred the enmity of many Koreans who were opposed to Japanese rule…. The achievement above all others with which Prince Ito’s name has been associated in the minds of Occidentals was the framing of the imperial constitution by virtue of which Japan took her place for the first time in the rank of modern civilized states…. In some quarters it was believed that the tour of Prince Ito in Manchuria was to have been of a political nature and that it had as a basis an attempt to forestall the protests of the Powers against Russia’s domination of the Manchurian Railroad zone, under her agreement with the Chinese, by effecting a complete understanding between Japan and China.”
I may write up some of my own thoughts on this later, but for now, a few points. First off, I find it quite interesting that this contemporary account of Prince Itō mentioned the "harsh rule" of Korea and "arbitrary suppression." These are not self-serving descriptions of the man made up half a century later to engineer hate against Korea's former enemy.

While Itō himself may have thought he was doing good for the Korean people, especially as he tried to push back the militarist and expansionist forces in Japan to which he was opposed, he nevertheless ended up being at least partially culpable for Imperial Japan militarily hobbling and then politically swallowing Chosŏn and the Taehan Empire (i.e., Korea).

In that sense this revered Japanese statesman was a bit analogous to Secretary and former General Colin Powell taking the Bush administration's case for war to the United Nations — even though he may have been personally opposed to it and tried to stop it. I don't know if he deserved to be killed for that, especially when he was no longer in a position to do damage to Koreans or Korea directly and a person living at that time would have recognized that retaliation for such an act would be harsh.

At the very least, I find it distasteful that someone like An Chunggŭn — whose importance goes little beyond having killed someone else — has become revered as a hero. Rest assured, however, many people born and raised in Korea also question this, particularly Catholics. I also find myself returning to the same conclusion that Korean kids are taught all about An and Itō because it was the highest level assassination by a Korean freedom fighter, and thus the importance and justness of the assassination is trumped up to make the act worthy of reverence.

If An had to kill someone, the likes of Katsura Tarō [桂 太郎], Yamagata Aritomo [山縣 有朋], or one of the other people who were really behind the ruthless drive to take over Korea would have been far more appropriate. But almost no one in Korea has even heard of Katsura or Yamagata because they weren't the one who was assassinated by a patriot.

Note: Popular Gusts has some excellent posts here and here. ("killer handprints" is a brilliant title). A good Korea Times piece making the case for the assassination is found here.

UPDATE: Comments are now closed for this post. Discussion of similar material will be possible at this post later in the day.