Friday, April 30, 2010

Daily Kor for April 30, 2010

As South Korea honors the dozens of fallen sailors killed in the Chonan sinking, presumably by the hand of North Korea, international news agencies like the Washington Post, BBC, and UPI wonder about the odd situation of a country that is militarily attacked but does not respond.
  1. Nation mourns Chonan sailors with five-hour funeral (Yonhap, Korea Times, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily, Donga Ilbo)
    • President Lee meets with PRC President Hu Jintao to discuss situation on Korean Peninsula (Yonhap)
  2. South Korea gives Prudential anti-trust green light in takeover of AIG (Reuters)
  3. Zimbabwean opposition demonstrates against DPRK national soccer team in their country in protest of North Korean involvement in five-year conflict in 1980s (AP via WaPo)
  4. New Zealand racist sentenced to sixteen years in prison over killing of South Korean hitchhiker (BBC)
  5. Chile and South Korea agree to deepen trade ties (Yonhap)
  6. Moon landing skeptics say lunar photos are actually cantaloupe (BBC)

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

See the ROK in your Chevrolet?

Well, it looks like some GM Daewoo vehicles are going to become GM Chevrolets... er, just Chevrolets.

From AFP:
US car giant General Motors will introduce its Chevrolet brand into South Korea next year in an effort to boost sales, the chief executive of the struggling local unit said Thursday.

GM Daewoo CEO Mike Arcamone said the Chevrolet brand would provide "a significant momentum" to increase the local unit's sales and domestic market share, Yonhap news agency reported.

"According to our survey, half of the (Korean) public is familiar with the brand," he was quoted as telling reporters at a motor show in the southern port of Busan.

GM Daewoo, acting as the US company's global mini car development centre, uses the Chevrolet brand overseas but its cars are sold under the Daewoo brand in South Korea.

GM Daewoo's union has opposed the idea of selling the Chevrolet brand in South Korea, claiming it would relegate the company to a subcontractor for the US company.
Indeed, there had been talk of turning all of Daewoo into Chevrolet, but there was opposition, especially from unions, and you don't want to piss off the unions, not in Korea.

Plus, basically, if the Korean automaker remains as GM Daewoo, the narrative is that Daewoo is saving General Motors, but if Daewoo vehicles were to be branded as Chevrolet, as is done elsewhere, the number-three Korean automaker might be seen as just a subsidiary of the American car company.

Of course, the rebranding would have the added effect (maybe) of undermining "the big lie" whereby anti-KORUS FTA types claim that Korea sells oh-so many cars in America (by counting Georgia- and Alabama-made Kia and Hyundai vehicles as Korean) but America sells so few (by counting Korea-made GM vehicles as Korean also). If, say, half of all Daewoos become Chevrolets, it will sound even more ridiculous to make such a pitch.

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Daily Kor for April 29, 2010

Well, if Pyongchang's for finally winning the right to host the Winter Olympics has probably shot up quite a bit. I think only a totalitarian wolf in democratic clothing could scare the IOC away from giving South Korean hosting rights now, and that already happened.

Seriously, Kim Yuna represents quite a few things that give the ROK an edge — she's an Olympic celebrity of considerable skill and popularity, she represents a growing interest in winter Olympic activities, and she's just genuinely likable. I don't want to go on record saying Pyongchang is a shoo-in, because I've been wrong twice when the county won a plurality of votes on the first round but lost in the end, but I'm hopeful.
  1. Olympic gold medalist Kim Yuna enlisted to help Pyongchang's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics (AP via WaPo)
  2. Seoul seeks support of Beijing and Moscow to bring sinking of Chonan to UN (Yonhap)
  3. ROK Defense Ministry insists stray South Korean mine could not have sunk Chonan (AFP)
  4. ROK financial watchdog says credit downgrades for Greece and Portugal will have little impact on South Korea (Yonhap)
  5. Fact-finding committee to summon twenty-eight current and former prosecutors accused of bribery (Donga Ilbo)
  6. Farm on Kanghwa-do Island is site of South Korea's ninth outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease (Yonhap)
  7. LG Electronics books $605 million quarterly profit on sales of cell phones and flat-screen TVs (AP via LAT)
  8. South Korea to ban foreign spouses from "adult entertainment" venues such as massage parlors and karaoke facilities (Yonhap)
    • Not that anything illegal or untoward goes on there
  9. In latest sign of Kim Jong-un's ascent, pictures and artwork of son of Dear Leader featured on packaging at Pyongyang McDonald's pilot restaurant (Yonhap)

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Daily Kor for April 28, 2010

It's nice to have some good news for a change. Congratulations, Oh Eunsun! Now get down safely.
  1. South Korean climber Oh Eunsun becomes first woman to reach summit of all fourteen peaks over 8000 meters (AP via LAT, Reuters, Guardian, Yonhap, Joongang Daily, Korea Herald, Korea Times)
    • Dispute exists over alpinist's feat (BBC)
  2. South Koreans stream to memorial altars for victims of Chonan sinking (Yonhap)
    • Heritage Foundation senior researcher says ROK unlikely to respond militarily (Yonhap)
    • Experts say sinking shows hole in ROK defense (Yonhap)
    • North Korean watchers report boasting about "revenge" brought by sinking (Joongang Daily)
  3. ROK foreign exchange traders buy $1.5 billion to offset "excessive" rise of Korean won (Reuters, Bloomberg)
  4. HSBC head says bank will not bid for Korea Exchange Bank (Reuters)
  5. South Korea lifts iPad "ban" (WSJ, Yonhap, Joongang Daily)
  6. President Lee says Saemangeum tidal flat reclamation will change Korea's history (Yonhap)
  7. Shockwave ripples through washed-up former athlete community as Pete Rose's girlfriend, Kiana Kim, revealed to be Real Doll (ESPN)
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Daily Kor for April 27, 2010

The news story at #1 is something I find disturbing, but hardly surprising. It's hardly surprising because the threat of a massive North Korean artillery attack (not to mention acts or terror from elements already in the metropolitan area itself) on the heavy population concentration so close to the DMZ is an excellent deterrent against any South Korean leader who might decide to take DPRK out.

What I find so disturbing about it is that it provides an opportunity — even if it is a long shot — for an actual winning strategy: If North Korean can move hard enough and fast enough to take the capital, then all bets are off for what comes next. The "North Korea will surely collapse" scenario is by no means a given, particularly if the US is out of the picture, ROK bases are hit hard enough, and there is a threat to even more population centers. Sound far-fetched? They tried it once before and who knows if the Chinese (or Russians) would actually flip in favor of Seoul this time? 

Okay, I'm done scaring ya'll. I actually have no knowledge that anything is worse now than, say, back in the 1990s when Clinton almost bombed Yongbyon (something I wasn't all that concerned about while in Korea but suddenly became freaked out about when I got to California and saw how much it was being talked up in the papers — this was pre-high-speed Internet days).
  1. North Korea has reportedly altered its wartime strategy to concentrate on Seoul metropolitan area (Joongang Daily)
  2. Korean won near nineteen-month high on better-than-expected economic news (Bloomberg)
    • Kospi hits 22-month high on KRW rise (Joongang Daily)
    • Finance Minister sees five percent growth in 2011 (Reuters)
  3. US Assistant Secretary of State says Washington is prepared to take action if North Korea determined to have been responsible for sinking of Chonan (Yonhap)
    • President Lee to discuss Chonan sinking with PRC President Hu Jintao (Korea Herald)
    • US remains cautious on cause of sinking (Yonhap)
    • Militant labor union puts off one-day strike until middle of next month due to national mourning period (Yonhap)
  4. WHO director-general makes rare visit to North Korea (Yonhap)
  5. Court in Pusan has bribery scandal "whistleblower" re-arrested (Korea Times)
  6. Anti-English Spectrum pressures Korea Tourism Organization to fire David from popular ad campaign after accusations of sexually harassing young co-star; says unqualified cartoon will also be investigated for drug use and unorthodox Tokto views (OhMyNews)
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Loose change for April 27, 2010

 Economic and business news 
 North Korea news and stuff 
 Other Korea-related stuff 
 Americana and miscellany 

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Daily Kor for April 26, 2010

"The Republic of Korea will not forget your lofty sacrifice," says President Lee. 
  1. ROK Defense Minister says torpedo most likely cause of Chonan sinking (Bloomberg, AP via NYT, CNN, UPI, The TimesYonhap)
    • President Lee pays tribute to victims of sunken warship (BBCYonhap)
    • Hundreds of political leaders also join in paying respects (Yonhap)
    • Prime Minister says South Korea will observe five days of national mourning (Joongang Daily)
  2. Dozens of South Korean business officials will accede to North Korean demands this week that they be present when their tourism assets are frozen (Yonhap)
  3. President Lee calls for prosecution reform amid bribery scandal (Yonhap)
  4. Bloomberg says South Korean economy "probably accelerated" during first quarter (Bloomberg)
  5. Unemployment for twenty-somethings falls to near thirty-year low (Yonhap)
  6. Kim Yuna's "queenmaker" coach Brian Orser denies rumors he will work with Mao Asada (Yonhap, Korea Times)
  7. NHRCK declares kochu-eating component of ROK naturalization process to be human rights violation (Yonhap)
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JAD: "World's biggest dike finished
after 19 years of construction"

She says she'd rather have a desk job now.

No, seriously, it's a real story about the demands of development at the expense of the environment.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Korea demography reader
(April 25, 2010 edition)

  • Foreign passport holders visiting the Republic of Korea will be photographed and have their fingerprints scanned starting in August. Except for those whose culture holds that such practices will steal their soul; try that one.
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Daily Kor for April 25, 2010

There are only eight shopping months until Christmas. North Korea has nearly done with their window shopping — they've picked out exactly what they want.
  1. Wind and snow on Annapurna force Oh Eunsun's to delay attempted ascent of deadly peak, putting record of being first female to have climbed all fourteen over-8000-meter peaks in jeopardy (see update here)
  2. More clues of Pyongyang's involvement in sinking of Chonan are found as front half of warship is raised (Reuters, AP via WaPo, BBC, VOA, WSJ video, Yonhap)
  3. North Korea will carry out freezing of South Korean tourism assets over next four days (Yonhap)
  4. Bank of Korea head says exit strategy will be implemented after private sector recovers (Yonhap)
  5. Despite millions in education funds pumped into the project, Kyŏnggi-do's "Italian Village" immersion program deemed an unmitigated failure (Yonhap)
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Loose change for April 25, 2010

 Economic and business news 
 North Korea news and stuff 
 Other Korea-related stuff 
 Americana and miscellany 
  • The two major Republican candidates vying to win the nomination for the US Senate seat are both under fire for previous campaign donations — to Democrats! One gave thousands of dollars to her would-be Democratic opponent in November, incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer, whom she described as "a courageous leader and friend of California's technology industry." The other blamed his wife for being the one who donated $21,000 to Al Gore.
  • Japan is moving to settle its row with the US over the bases in Okinawa. (And make no mistake, if the US ever leaves South Korea bases, it will not be able to sustain bases in Japan for very long, particularly Okinawa.)

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Land of the rising son

The Washington Post has a piece on the "Kremlinology" surrounding the enigmatic son of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il and how his rise to power may end up being cemented — or not:
It is the pudgy but stern-faced young man next to him, dressed in a snappy Western suit and dutifully scribbling in a notebook, who has spurred intense speculation. Could this unidentified man be just a plant manager? Or could this be the first public appearance of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader’s third son and heir apparent?

“There, see how his face is in focus and illuminated even more than Kim Jong-il himself?” said Cheong Seong-chang, a specialist on North Korean politics at the Sejong Institute. “There is a high possibility that this is Kim Jong-un.”

Little is known about the inner workings of the secretive North Korean government, not even the identity of the heir apparent. But if Mr. Cheong is right, the enigmatic photographs are the latest signs of the desperate push that the North Korean government is making to build a cult of personality around the son, who is believed to be 27, to prepare him to assume control as the current leader’s health declines.
Already the conclusions made from this photo have been discredited by some who say it's not Kim Jong-un at all, and I'm not convinced. The guy doesn't really look like Kim Jong-il that much, though he seems to have that wavy hair. He also seems a bit older than twenty-seven and he's not wearing the Secret Juche Inner Circle Decoder Ring.

All this underscores how little we really know. After all, up until very recently, Korean intelligence thought his name was 기정운 [kim chŏng•ūn], not 김정은 [kim chŏng•ŭn], based on the English spelling! That is how pathetic our knowledge of the inner workings of Pyongyang really are.

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In other blogs (April 25, 2010 edition)

  • And on a roll, The Korean handily deals with the Lousy Korea blog fiasco in the comments section of Korean Rum Diary (here, here, and here). While no one deserves threats of injury or death for what they write (and I'd really like to see some of what was we're talking about before I totally sign off on that, as it appears that some other threats in the NSET universe may not have been genuine), the site itself was an exercise in hate speech masquerading as free speech and there should be no surprise that it attracted equally stupid and hateful response.
  • Ampontan addresses the lawsuit against President Lee (dismissed, but apparently being appealed), saying that Lee should be impeached for asking Japan's then-PM Fukuda Yasuo to wait a bit for the Ministry of Education to release guidelines for junior high school textbooks saying that Tokto is Japanese territory. 
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Sex volunteers?

Steve, a commenter at The Grand Narrative, mentioned an article in the Joongang Ilbo I had missed about so-called "sex volunteers." These are people who volunteer to have sex with disabled people who might otherwise have no sexual outlet:
While director Cho Kyeong-duk was studying in Japan in 2004, he came across a nonfiction book with a provocative title: “Sex Volunteer,” by Kaori Kawai. It was based on two years of interviews with physically disabled people in countries from Japan to the Netherlands, about their sex lives and the group of people who, as the title implies, volunteer to sleep with them.
It reminded me of something I had read or heard in English a few years ago, about a man in Japan who is paid to take women's virginity. The women who use his service are largely thirty-something women or older who just never ended up having sex for one reason or another: A typical case would be a person who was saving it for the right person who never came along, and now at this "advanced" age, the virginity has become a burden that might turn off someone they would rather not scare away.

The JAD article immediately reminded me of a very minor character in the movie Fight Club. Though she's not "disabled," the woman dying of cancer tells her support group (attended by Ed Norton's and Helena Bonham-Carter's characters) that now all she wants to do is get laid and she makes an offer for anyone who will listen. Finally, she's removed from the podium.

While it might be a throwaway scene in a pop film, it's a real issue for a lot of people. Just because you're in a wheelchair or bed-ridden doesn't mean your libido shuts off. In public health and medical sociology, elder care is a major topic, and one key element is that your physical needs continue, a point driven home to me as I have two elderly relatives who are in nursing care facilities who are as randy as ever, but with no sexual outlet. In fact, it is their lack of sexual expression that leads to their sometimes inappropriate behavior in the form of ill-timed remarks that are really an expression of their horniness.

And who can blame them? It's not their fault they are paralyzed or have Alzheimer's... or were in an accident or have cerebral palsy or whatever. It's society at large that wishes they weren't so inconvenient to have around, shovels them off into facilities where they won't be so prominently visible, and then complains and gets grossed out when these people turn out to be people.

Okay, rant off. The JAD article actually gets into a movie about these so-called "sex volunteers":
Using a fake documentary format, the 123-minute film tracks the story of three people - college student Ye-ri, cerebral palsy sufferer Chun-kil and a priest — who are brought up on prostitution charges. Ye-ri said she was not paid to have sex with Chun-kil nor was she his girlfriend, instead calling their relationship volunteer work.

As the film unfolds, a female reporter interviews groups of people like the ones Cho met, from a priest who hands out sex aids to the physically challenged to a man who secretly operates a group of sex volunteers online.

Asked to explain where the boundary between fiction and nonfiction falls in the film, Cho said, “I added two characters: the priest and Ye-ri’s mother [who helps prostitutes leave brothels]. Except for those two characters, the film is based on truth.”

Cho has “no idea” how many real sex volunteers there are in Korea. “I just talked to a few people, and they don’t represent the whole sex volunteer community,” he said.
Apparently the film is getting some recognition:
Everyone told him his movie would flop, but Sex Volunteer has actually been invited to many international film festivals including the 2009 Montreal World Film Festival and the 2010 Singapore International Film Festival, Cho said. The film even won the Humanitarian and International Jury award at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival last year. The film was also certified as an art film by the Korean Film Council in the same year.

Still, the project has met with a mixed response among activists for the disabled here. Koo Ja-yoon, a former counselor at the Web site Pureun Ausung for the Disabled, said Cho’s film might spread the misconception that sex volunteers are common, which is not true.
Well, when you deliberately choose a salacious title, you shouldn't be surprised when people respond primarily to that.

I'll try to look for this film. I'm curious how it ultimately depicts the disabled, with whom Mr Cho says he spent considerable time in order to research this topic. Movies like Oasis sometimes do a good job of humanizing those on what society has deemed the fringe, but when non-disabled are playing the disabled parts, it's easy to get into caricature or other forms of misrepresentation.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

LAT on South Korea's new volunteerism

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, John Glionna talks about South Korea's recent attempts to make a difference in the wider world with the ROK's own version of the Peace Corps:
South Korea's international volunteer program is one way this bustling Asian nation is marking its emergence as one of the world's most industrialized nations.

Founded in 2009, the World Friends Korea program consolidated several smaller volunteer efforts under one umbrella. The organization now has 3,000 volunteers working in 40 countries, a number second only to the 8,000 enrolled in America's Peace Corps, officials here say.

Not all volunteers are young — many are retired, members of a generation that lived through the 1950s conflict with North Korea and the subsequent hard times. By 2015, the program is due to expand its ranks to 20,000.

"South Korea's development as a nation is due in part to the generous contribution of the international community," said Lee Chan-buom, coordinator of the program's launch. "We can empathize with the nations we assist because 50 years ago, there was widespread famine in Korea. For many volunteers, that starvation is a childhood memory."
Mr Glionna's article also raises doubts about the sincerity of the effort:
But in a nation obsessed with success and ranking, some question the altruism of programs such as World Friends Korea.

In a spin on the line from President Kennedy's inaugural address, some chide South Korean volunteers for having the attitude: Don't ask what you can do for the world, but what the world can do for your resume.

Many volunteers do see the program as a way to sell themselves in a downsizing job market, analysts say.

"Overseas volunteer activities are considered a special [resume builder] you cannot earn domestically," said Shin Kwang-yeong, a sociology professor at Chung-Ang University in Seoul. "They are valued highly, so that is why people prefer those activities."
Who exactly are these doubt raisers? Frankly, I think it's a tad overly cynical to call into question the motivation of people who are putting themselves out there like that when the general public (perhaps including the author) have not done or would not do the same.

And realistically, does all volunteerism have to be purely altruistic? Do volunteers stop thinking about what will happen after their two-year or vacation-long stint is done? Do all their financial needs and physical wants magically get met when they volunteer such that they needn't think about how this might be a good résumé builder or how they will clothe and feed themselves when they return?

Sure, a CV with volunteering on it might be an attention grabber, but surely there are easier ways to get ahead that don't involve so much discomfort, time away from friends and family, and no small risk to one's personal safety. Why not question the whole of World Friends Korea in general as just a way to make Korea look good, regardless of who is getting helped?

I can't say it's a universally held feeling, but I know a lot of KoKos who feel that South Korea really owes much of the world a debt of gratitude for coming to its aid in 1950 or later, and this is one way to pay it forward. If something like that is the primary reason for doing this, I don't give a rat's ass if there are also secondary benefits of career enhancement.

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Monster Iceland

The Los Angeles Times has some real cool pictures of some rather monumental volcanoes around the world, starting with everybody's favorite Icelandic air traffic stopper and then moving on to Washington State's Mt St Helens (which I visited as a kid right before it erupted; it took years of therapy before I stopped blaming myself in a personal conflict I called "'Bo versus the volcano").

The slideshow includes such ash heaps of history as Mt Mazama, which erupted thousands of years ago to form Oregon's Crater Lake [below], or the Greek islands of Santorini, which may have been the inspiration for the myth of Atlantis.

Meanwhile, the LAT also has an article on how volcanoes below ice, such as Iceland's Eyjaquiviksostuugeklw3wwugi*%, might be able to tell us about the relative thickness of ice when various volcanic eruptions occur, going back thousands or even millions of years, which may in turn give us more insight into climate change.

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Korea public health reader
(April 24, 2010 edition)

  • A potentially lethal airborne fungus is headed for California. People who were healthy before they were infected have already died in Oregon. Authorities are calling for increased awareness of the symptoms, as the infection is treatable. This underscores exactly why basic medical care — going to the doctor for check-ups and for possibly minor conditions — is of the utmost important and should be available at little cost.
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Daily Kor for April 24, 2010

Well, it looks like I'll have to slightly revise my script for the Chevy Chase career-revitalizing vehicle, North Korean Vacation.
  1. North Korea to seize five South Korea-owned properties at Kŭmgangsan resort (BBCAFPCNNUPI, NYTAP via USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, Yonhap, Korea Times, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily, Donga Ilbo)
    • Seoul denounces seizure (Yonhap)
  2. President Lee vows international cooperation in follow-up to Chonan probe (Yonhap, other links)
    • US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warns North Korea not to take provocative actions (Reuters, Yonhap)
  3. Kia Motors' first-quarter profits quadruple on stronger sales and equity gains (AP via WaPo, CNBC)
  4. Government bans movement of animals near areas where foot-and-mouth disease has been reported (Yonhap)
  5. Senior Pusan prosecutor offers resignation after being implicated in bribery scandal (Yonhap, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily)
  6. Transit passengers stranded in Incheon International Airport say the best part of stay was the invisible pillows (BBC)
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Loose change for April 24, 2010

 Economic and business news 
 North Korea news and stuff 
 Other Korea-related stuff 
  • Goo Hara (really? Goo? Did you run that by anyone?) of pop group Kara gets a mention in the Orange County Register over her confessions of plastic surgery.
  • McDonald's Korea employee Hur Jin won second place in the "Voice of McDonald's" singing contest. Brian has been following this carefully, so go read about it there (see here and here).
  • The Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry is ready to test its "TOEIC killer." Frankly, as a long-time critic of ETS and their protected monopoly that allows them to foist onto the public overpriced tests that often don't measure what they're purported to measure, I hope they succeed and I hope others follow.
  • In an article asking why there are so many oil spills, the Christian Science Monitor notes that South Korea has had thirty-two such incidents since 1960.
 Americana and miscellany 
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The Wall Street Journal likes the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, I think.

There's a pretty universal theme running through the press about the Hyundai line-up these days: lots of car for a lot less money, but not in a cheap way you should be embarrassed by.

Quoting the WSJ:
No one will ever write erotic poetry about the Hyundai Sonata. No courting suitor ever promises a woman, "Darling, I'll give you the moon, the stars, a Sonata with cloth seats..." Snooki from "Jersey Shore" will be named secretary of agriculture before a Sonata crosses the field at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance classic-car show. These things are appliances, disposable widgets, destined to wind up as brightly colored cubes of crushed and fused metal, the unlamented scat of our mobility society.

But for now, be amazed. Be amazed that any company can put together a car with this much raw, unmitigated content—a 2.4-liter direct-injection four cylinder with variable valve timing on both cams; six-speed automatic with manual shift mode; iPod/USB/AUX jacks and Bluetooth; stability control and smart ABS; airbags and power amenities galore—wrap the whole thing in a 10-year powertrain warranty and push it out the door for $20,195. That's ridiculous, ridonkulous. This is the sort of scorched-earth pricing that makes other car makers consider a change in strategic direction. Perhaps there are some openings at Hardees? ...

This is a nice-looking car, and for all the blathering about remote keyless entry and the like, the styling—thoughtful, attractive, premium, by several degrees above the call of duty—is the feature that impresses me most. Wrought in what Hyundai calls "fluidic styling"—trademark alert!—the car does have a handsome, hydraulic wholeness to it, like water flowing over a river rock. The bold "light spear" along the side (the shallow draft under the accent line broadens as it goes back along the side of the car, creating a spear-like shadow) plays nicely against the back-drafting energy of the roof line. A little bit of Volkswagen CC in there, a little Mercedes-Benz CLS. The most sophisticated exterior touch is a thin chromic bow that runs from the headlamp to the C-pillar along the belt line, a brightwork meteor across the car's firmament. Lovely.
Maybe they need to dust off the "Hyundai. Yes, Hyundai" slogan. The article certainly makes the case that it deserves a second look. Mercury ran an ad campaign a year or so again imploring that "You've got to put Mercury on your list," but it seems Hyundai is the one actually succeeding in that department. (If my mother is any indication, Hyundai has a bright future: My parents, siblings, and I have exclusively been drivers of Hondas, Toyotas, and Chryslers for the past three decades, but she is seriously looking at a Hyundai Veracruz or a Kia Sedona.)

Ah, but the article does take a look at the deep underbelly of Hyundai's success:
Of course, all cars are in some sense political, since country of origin and economic policy are inextricable. And here the story turns a bit melancholy. The Sonata's awesome pricing occurs at the whip end of a long chain of factors, including the fact that it's built in a place with low wages, a low standard of living and an indifferent attitude toward workers' rights. Someone really should take up a collection for Montgomery, Ala.
It's funny, but I always thought that WSJ's core readership wouldn't see that kind of stuff — if Hyundai is in fact abusing its workers by building factories and giving them jobs — as a bad thing.

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(UPDATE below) South Korean woman's claim of tackling world's fourteen highest peaks in doubt

Frankly, I blame Hwang Woosuk for all this.

As I mentioned a few days ago (here, too), Oh Eunsun is poised to be the first woman to reach the summit of all fourteen peaks over 8000 meters, but her next closest rival, Edurne Pasaban of Spain, is apparently claiming that Ms Oh may be cheating:
The two rivals met at Annapurna base camp on 7 April over a cup of tea. "It was a very pleasant chat… we laughed a little. It was good," Pasaban wrote in her blog.

But this week, after Pasaban's descent from Annapurna to Kathmandu, the gloves came off.
She began to voice doubts that Oh had reached the top of the world's third-highest mountain, Kangchenjunga, which both of them tackled in May last year.

Crucially, she sowed seeds of doubt in the mind of the world's most respected keeper of Himalayan mountain climbing records, Elizabeth Hawley.

Miss Hawley, an 86-year-old American, told the BBC that following her conversation with Pasaban on Thursday, she was altering her unofficial but authoritative Himalayan Database to mark Oh's ascent of Kangchenjunga as "disputed".
The stakes are certainly high (get it? high!): If Ms Oh is disqualified, Ms Pasaban gets all the glory and Apolo Anton Ohno will be awarded the bronze.

All kidding aside, this is some serious business, so much so that fellow alpinist Ko Miyoung died last year in the same race for these lofty bragging rights.

UPDATE (April 25, 2010):
Ms Oh's ascent of Annapurna has been delayed until Tuesday because of winds and snow. From AFP:
A 10-member team including Oh and a KBS producer on Friday reached camp three, located at a height of 6,400 metres (21,100 feet).

But they started descending on Saturday morning after giving up efforts to reach the next camp, at a height of 7,200 metres, because of strong winds, KBS TV reported.
Oh and her colleagues were planning to descend to a lower-level camp and wait for the weather to clear. Avalanches and ice falls have claimed the lives of dozens of climbers attempting to summit Annapurna.

Annapurna is particularly dangerous because it is both technically difficult and avalanche-prone, and it has a much higher death rate than Everest, the world's highest peak.
Oh, who was defeated by Annapurna last year, made the decision to delay her assault on the peak after being told by radio from her base camp that it would be snowy and windy at the weekend, Yonhap news agency said.
I'm glad they're putting safety over glory.

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Reuters: No indication South Korea will retaliate alone for sinking of Chonan

It looks like a unilateral attack on North Korean bases in response to the sinking of the Chonan, allegedly by the North, is not going to happen.

From Reuters:
South Korea Friday gave the clearest signal to date it had no plan to launch a revenge attack if it turns out, as widely suspected, North Korea sank one of its navy vessels last month near their disputed border. ...

"Just as the investigation is being conducted with international cooperation, we'll try to cooperate with the international community in taking necessary measures when the results are out," President Lee Myung-bak told a group of visiting foreign journalists.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that North Korea should not take provocative actions following the allegations it may have sunk the South Korean ship, and should resume talks on ending its nuclear programs.
The same article notes the risks and problems associated with any action Seoul might take:
The sinking of the ship is an issue fraught with risks for South Korea's Lee.

If he were to launch a military attack on his impoverished neighbor, it would be the South that would come off worse, with investors likely to take fright at the threat of conflict across the Cold War's last frontier just as the economy is recovering fast from the global financial crisis. ...

Lee needs to prevent turning the emotionally charged affair into a weapon for his political opposition at home ahead of June local elections which could, if his ruling party suffers a serious setback in the polls, damage his authority and ability to push through promised pro-business reforms.
Of course, taking no action also comes with risks. Fortunately, there are some good options available that can teach the North a lesson without things getting too hot.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Counterfeit this, Pyongyang!

It looks like we're getting new $100 bills (yeah, like I see that many of them), full of bells and whistles (well, bells at least) that are designed to make it really, really, really, really hard for rogue states like North Korea to make supernotes based on them. I guess they'll have to resort to counterfeiting yuan, yen, or euros.



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The real reason behind the financial collapse of 2008-09

I knew it all along:
Senior staffers at the Securities and Exchange Commission spent hours surfing pornographic websites on government-issued computers while they were being paid to police the financial system, an agency watchdog says.
Porn and lots of it. Sometimes eight hours a day, to the point of running out of hard drive space (heh heh heh — hard drive... guess he'd need some floppies). Go read it on your own. Meanwhile, here's some safe-for-work porn.

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Legal insurance for NSETs?

Roboseyo has a must-read post that highlights what could be a very good idea: W20,000 per month assurance (read: "insurance") from Kangnam Labor Law Firm that could cover much of the initial high cost of going to court (or other legal matter, I suppose) for English teachers (and others?). If this is the work of ATEK, my hat is off to them for doing something very worthwhile.

As I mentioned at Roboseyo's blog (and the rest of this is a slightly edited version of a comment I left there), I think this is an excellent idea, and I think Roboseyo did a good job of recognizing and discussing some potential problems with such a system, particularly in its pilot stages. I'm a pragmatic optimist, however, and I think that all of those problems are fixable with some fine-tuning and tweaking.

The biggest problem is that by having voluntary (versus mandatory) insurance, an insurance provider runs the risk of a form of adverse selection. Basically, those with a propensity to sue and those who perceive themselves as having a greater likelihood of needing to sue will seek out this kind of insurance. If the insurance provider (i.e., Kangnam) takes all comers, they may end up with a lot of high-maintenance customers that cost the firm more than they take in through premiums.

Spreading the risk amongst a more "normal" population is what needs to be done. That is, try to get as many people who might need the service at some point but likely won't. I believe this could be done by ATEK upping the cost of its own membership by the amount of the insurance (suggested as W20,000) and offering it as a package (W20,000 for the insurance and W10,000 (right?) for the membership).

Of course, this would discourage membership among those who feel they don't need the insurance, but it might encourage membership among others, especially if a packaged savings is only available as part of ATEK. For the former, an assurance-free ATEK membership option could be available: W15,000 for membership instead of the current W10,000, so that getting the two would be a bargain. As well, the law firm should charge W25,000 for the assurance alone, not W20,000. I think this would boost both ATEK membership and assurance enrollment, both good outcomes.

Another problem, as Roboseyo mentioned, is that there would be greater usage of legal services, perhaps more than is being covered by the assurance premiums of W20,000 or W25,000. This would be for two reasons, the first of which would flatten itself out over time. That is, there is pent-up demand for legal services that would find release in this new system. Eventually, though, as these pent-up cases are dealt with or play out, the demand for services will flatten to a "normal" level.

The second problem, though, is one that plagues insurance plans whether they be nearly all private, like pre-Obamacare US or nearly all public: People are more likely to use something if they are shielded from its more expensive true cost. Right now people who want to sue are curtailed by the high cost (W600,000), but if it costs nearly nothing, they are more likely to go and do it. Perhaps a gatekeeper role will have to be performed by ATEK or some objective third party, someone deciding — hopefully with some criteria — if a case has merit and a reasonable chance at success in litigation or arbitration.

Of course, that will give us NSETs whose cases are rejected screaming bloody murder on their blogs and, as some disgruntled folks are wont to do, trying to take down the system through badmouthing or worse, perhaps even death threats purportedly from others (I kid! I kid!).

The problem is finding that happy medium between the two ends of the spectrum: having legal services so cheap that people will use them even for frivolous or unlikely cases on the one hand, and, on the other end, having them so expensive that those with a genuine need and whose cases may effect real change are unable to get legal care.

And that brings me to another point that may actually help things along: If this assurance-providing law firm starts getting good at such services, they may actually have the effect of reducing demand for their services or their workload for each case. That is, they might end up creating a network of connections that would include, say, government officials who will go to bat for them or are at least familiarized with their type of cases, or they might end up developing a skill set such that a few phone calls to hagwon owners or school principals gets cases resolved.

We shall see.

I just hope this doesn't get mucked up with overly high expectations, miserly cheapness from people who want services they haven't been properly paying into, and bruised egos trying to ruin things for everyone else. Not that anything like that has ever happened before.

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Daily Kor for April 23, 2010

Another quick-and-dirty edition. It's my "day off" and I'm off to see the Hitachi monkeypod tree at Moanalua Gardens (this is the same kind of tourism that "Winter Sonata" generates in South Korea).
  1. ROK military intelligence "certain" Chonan sunk by North Korean torpedo (links here)
  2. Hyundai Motors reaches record high profit of $1.03 billion in first quarter of 2010 (AP via WaPo, Reuters)
  3. Foot-and-mouth disease spreading across South Korea (Yonhap)
  4. North Korea says President Lee will "pay dearly" for his criticism of the wastefulness of the fireworks display honoring hundredth anniversary of DPRK founder Kim Ilsung's birth (Yonhap)
  5. ROK Supreme Court rules in favor of student who was forced to attend religious services at his school (Yonhap, Joongang Daily)
  6. South Korea helps launch global food security program (Yonhap, AP via WaPo, Reuters)
  7. Japanese engineering experts announce the creation of "Hanako," whose mouth is designed to make her the perfect humanoid on which dental students and practitioners can hone their skills and... yep, that's what they're expecting us to believe (AFP)
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Hawaii poised to shut out Obama birth certificate requests

I've written in the past (see here and here) about Hawaii's annoyance at dealing with repeated requests for an asked-and-answered issue, whether or not President Barrack Hussein Obama was actually born in Honolulu.

It's a costly endeavor at a time when state and city-county budget cuts are forcing school furloughs and cuts to even core courses at the public university system, which is why the state legislature is serious about doing something about it.

From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:
A proposal aimed at stopping repeated requests for information from so-called "birthers" might also shut out legitimate information requests by the public, says a University of Hawaii professor opposed to the measure.

An amended version of Senate Bill 2937 advanced out of a joint House-Senate conference committee yesterday and now faces a final vote in each chamber. The bill says government records are open to public inspection unless access is restricted or closed by law.

Government agencies would not be required to respond to follow-up requests for information if, after a "good faith review and comparison," the subsequent request is deemed duplicative or substantially similar to a previous request.

Agencies also would not be required to respond to subsequent requests if the pending request had been responded to in the past year or if the agency's response to the request would remain unchanged.
There are dissenters, including a University of Hawaii journalism professor who fears that this will also "provide a big loophole for government bureaucrats in terms of ignoring legitimate requests."

Furthermore, many "birthers" will end up seeing this as one more sign of a conspiracy.

Me, personally, I really think this is a stupid waste of time and a distraction. And setting aside the constitutional question, South Korea's President Lee has shown that a foreign-born head-of-state (himself, born in Japan) can do a fine job as national leader.

[Note: Since the Star-Bulletin sometimes removes stories from its website, I'm also linking to an AP article of the same story.]

[left: A gone-natural Madonna and her latest adoptee Young Barack with his mother. Picture source here, which is extremely NSFW and you should not click. I promise you that you will wish you hadn't. But I did, and now I have to scour my eyes with hand sanitizer. Perhaps you think there's some gag if you click the link and you'll have some laugh after you go there, but I'm not kidding.]

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I guess it's semi-official: North Korea sunk Chonan

That's the news from Seoul, according to Reuters and Bloomberg, which cite a Yonhap report I couldn't find in English [UPDATE: Yonhap now has it in English].

From the Reuters article:
South Korea's military believes a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine sank its navy ship last month, based on intelligence gathered jointly with the United States, a news report said on Thursday.

The Yonhap news report appears to be the clearest sign yet that Seoul blames Pyongyang for what would be one of the deadliest incidents between the rivals since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. It puts more political pressure on President Lee Myung-bak, but analysts do not see it triggering a war.

The military's intelligence arm sent the report of "certain" North Korean involvement to the presidential Blue House soon after the incident, Yonhap quoted a high-ranking military source as saying. ...

"North Korean submarines are all armed with heavy torpedoes with 200 kg (441 lb) warheads," the military source was quoted as saying by Yonhap. "It is the military intelligence's assessment that the North attacked with a heavy torpedo.
A tearful President Lee Myungbak reminded everyone of the nation's loss, so it's clear something will be done (I mean, if you're going to hope everyone calms down so you won't have to deal with this, then you don't read off the names of each of the dead on national television).

At any rate, this is still not the final word, which would be something like the Blue House signing off on a Defense Ministry report that makes use of this conclusion by the intelligence group (which may itself fall under criticism for reaching this conclusion so quickly after failing to deal with the threat). So don't expect fireworks just yet.

And for reminders of actions short of full-blown war, please check out the reader discussion three weeks ago or Joshua Stanton's (or One Free Korea) must-read post on how to respond without causing a full-blown war. GI Korea at ROK Drop also had a good discussion.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Daily Kor for April 22, 2010

Somali pirates (remember them?) are angry about all the attention the North Koreans are getting over the sinking of Chonan, the biggest will-they-or-won't-they since Pam and Jim. I guess if they've been reading the Daily Kor, threatening to blow up a ship seems to like a good way to get some notice.
  1. North Korea demands to be accorded status as "nuclear weapons state" (Reuters, Yonhap)
    • Pyongyang says it will not produce more nukes than it needs (Arirang, Yonhap)
    • US rejects designation (Yonhap)
    • Seoul will not ask Washington to redeploy nukes to South Korea (Korea Times)
  2. Somali pirates threaten to blow up South Korean oil supertanker unless $20 million ransom paid (Reuters via WaPo)
  3. ANZ considering $4 billion stake in Korea Exchange Bank (Reuters)
  4. Foreign investment climbs 23.7 percent in 2009 (Yonhap)
  5. Asian airlines resume most flights to Europe (WSJ, Korea Herald)
  6. North Korean military inspects South Korean assets at Kŭmgangsan (Yonhap, Joongang Daily)
  7. Taking advantage of their disgruntlement over being stranded at Incheon International Airport for days, an official of the British Embassy tries to convince angry British travelers to help take back Port Hamilton (BBC)
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Loose change for April 22, 2010

 Economic and business news 
  • The Nano may help Tata surpass Hyundai as India's #2 automaker. I've seen the Tata Nano, and let me tell you, they're on fire!
  • Lone Star is getting ready to sell off Korea Exchange Bank again.
  • Most South Korean firms don't expect to be affected by the travel slowdown caused by the Iceland volcano that no one can spell or pronounce.
  • South Korea's stock-investing population has reached a record high. Let's just hope the wisdom of crowds notion holds true, though I'm skeptical in this particular case.
  • South Korea is the eighth most competitive in the OECD. That's average; it's putting the C in OECD.
 North Korea news and stuff 
 Other Korea-related stuff 
 Americana and miscellany 
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Reuters on Seoul's status as Global Design Capital for 2010

Reuters has an article on the transformation of the ROK capital from a dreary rock garden of apartment blocks to a more aesthetic mixture of parks and more innovatively conceived residential and business structures:
Long a domain of excessive concrete and drab apartment blocks, Seoul is embarking on perhaps the most ambitious facelift in its 600-year-history, aimed at catapulting it into the top ranks of global cities in terms of architecture and image.

The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) has praised Seoul's ongoing transformation, naming the city its Global Design Capital for 2010.

But critics wonder at the cost of the change and how much of what distinguishes Seoul will be destined for the wrecking ball.

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, a telegenic politician up for re-election in June and seen as a possible contender in the 2012 presidential race, has staked his fortunes on the design plans he hopes will bring more business and tourism to the city.

"Cities worldwide are entering an era of competition," Oh told Reuters. "We need to have not only the technological and cost competitive edge, but more than anything, the competitive edge in attractiveness."

Under Oh's watch $100 million of the city's budget has been dedicated annually to initiatives such as the Han River Renaissance, which has spruced up the river bisecting the capital with dazzling evening light shows and fountain-spouting bridges.

The project will culminate in the construction of an arts facility on a river islet with a massive symphony hall and opera house, capped with an undulating, photovoltaic-ready roof.
Frankly, this almost certainly means my thirty-year-old Seoul Station-area apartment will be razed and the rise again as a glass and ferro-concrete phoenix. Frankly, I don't mind so much.

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Let them eat steak

Reuters has an article on the collaborator restauranteur in New Jersey who has been using his BBQ restaurant as a form of diplomacy with North Koreans stationed at the UN mission in New York City:
New Jersey restaurateur Robert Egan barbecues meat for a living, except when he acts as a self-appointed, unofficial conduit between the United States and North Korea.

In his book "Eating with the Enemy: How I Waged Peace with North Korea from my BBQ Shack in Hackensack," which will be released on April 27, Egan recounts how he forged an unlikely friendship with North Korean diplomats at the United Nations.

For a decade, he courted them with racks of ribs, hunting trips and by making occasional trips to help deliver humanitarian aid to Pyongyang, the capital of the impoverished, reclusive communist state that harbors nuclear ambitions.

"With diplomacy, sometimes everyone takes themselves so seriously," Egan told Reuters during an interview at his restaurant Cubby's BBQ, located a short drive from Midtown Manhattan. "You know, you have to let your hair down every once in a while."

The decor of Cubby's pays tribute to its owner's second life. The walls are lined with framed photographs of Egan, a gregarious, broad-shouldered 52-year-old man with mixed Irish and Italian ancestry, posing with North Korean diplomats and newspaper articles that document their friendship.

"On a local, personal level there was a breakthrough. That's a good thing," said John McCreary, a retired analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and a North Korea expert, who counts Egan as a friend. But McCreary said it was not clear Egan had accomplished more than that.
While it's important to remember that even North Korean government representatives can be regular people, putting this human face on DPRK citizens should never mean putting a mask over the regime's evil, which I fear this may do. I'm also not terribly pleased about people making a buck for their collaborative (?) dealings with the North. At any rate, I can think of two reasons why Mr Egan needs to wash his hands after his barbecues. Sphere: Related Content