Friday, August 31, 2012

Hantaviruses explained

Did you know that the infamous and deadly hantavirus gets its name from a river in Korea? The Hantan River, to be precise.

From the Los Angeles Times:
During the Korean War, several thousand United Nations troops were stricken with a severe, mysterious disease called Korean hemorrhagic fever. It was characterized by high fever, internal bleeding, kidney failure and, frequently, death. The source of the illness remained a mystery for a quarter of a century until 1978, when South Korean virologist Ho-Wang Lee isolated and identified the causative virus from a specimen found in the Hantaan River area. The group of viruses it represented have since been called hantaviruses, after the Hantaan River virus. It was a member of this genus that caused the deaths of at least two visitors to Yosemite National Park this summer and led the National Park Service to warn 1,700 other visitors of the potential risk.

Hantaviruses are lethal RNA viruses of the family Bunyaviridae. They are spread primarily by mice -- particularly deer mice -- and related rodents and can be contracted by bites, but most commonly occur when a victim breathes in air contaminated with rodent urine or droppings -- such as in a cabin that has been empty for some time. In Yosemite, the encounters with the virus are believed to have occurred in permanent tents used to house visitors in the Curry Village area. There have been isolated reports of human-to-human transmission of the virus, but that appears to be extremely rare if it does indeed occur.
Actually, I knew this already, but it's a fun fact I like to share.


Apple's award against Samsung too high?

Law professor Brian J. Love of Santa Clara University, writing in the Los Angeles Timesseems to think so:
The award, the third largest in the history of U.S. patent litigation, will likely cruise into first place next month when U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh decides what additional amount Apple should receive from Samsung based on the jury's finding that much of the infringement was "willful."

But even without that enhancement, which could add another $2 billion to Samsung's tab, the jury's $1 billion-plus verdict breaks down to just under $48 for each of the roughly 22 million infringing phones sold by Samsung. To the jury, 50 bucks per phone must have sounded like a reasonable figure, and it may well to you too.

But it's not — it's way too high — and here's why: The average smartphone may arguably infringe as many as 250,000 patents, not to mention myriad copyrights and other design-related intellectual property. (Companies don't sift through every patent coming out of Washington before engineering and releasing a product; they create devices and battle claims as necessary.)

If you were to divide the average retail price of a smartphone — about $400 — by those 250,000 potentially applicable patents, you'd find that each one would account for just $0.0016 of the phone's value. And, in reality, even that's too much, once you factor in the costs of raw materials, labor, transportation and marketing, which also contribute to a phone's value.

Yet for infringing just a handful of Apple's patents, Samsung faces a minimum payment of $48 per phone, a shocking 30,000 times the average per patent value. Put another way, if the owners of all the 250,000 inventions that might be present in Samsung smartphones were awarded damages at the same level as Apple, Samsung would have to charge a ludicrous $2 million per phone just to break even.

But wait, you say, the San Jose jury no doubt included some level of punishment in its award, in order to "send a message." But, by law, patent damages are meant to compensate not punish, as the jury was expressly instructed.
I'm no lawyer (though I've played one on TV) but that seems like sound logic. I don't know if it holds any weight in a courtroom, though.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lee Myungbak administration wants two-track policy with Tokyo, dealing with economic and political issues separately

It's a little late in the game (his single five-year term ends in just under six months) but ROK President Lee Myungbak seems to have grown a pair.

A pair of hands, that is. He is making the case for a new "two-handed Japan policy" that shakes with the right and bitch slaps with the left.

From the Wall Street Journal:
The latest flare-up of a territorial dispute between South Korea and Japan shouldn't prevent economic cooperation between the two nations, Seoul's finance minister said in Moscow.

Responding to Tokyo's suggestion that it may reconsider agreements to bring the two economies closer together, Bahk Jae-wan said there should be a firewall between economic and political matters.

"The territorial issue and the issue of the mutual economic cooperation between our two countries should be dealt with as two separate issues," Mr. Bahk said in an interview Wednesday, ahead of a meeting of finance ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
I'm not so sure how the Japanese are going to go for it. But to be fair, for as long as they've sought massive trade with Seoul while simultaneously claiming Tokto and ducking responsibility for the Comfort Women issue and other lingering issues from World War II, Tokyo has pretty much been operating from the same policy.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Massive Typhoon Bolaven batters South Korea

In the US, the big weather news is Hurricane Isaac postponing the Republican National Convention in Tampa and possibly hitting Louisiana on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans (with damage to earthquake-reeling Haiti a secondary concern). The message is clear: Run as fast as you can from anything named Isaac.

But out in Asia, Typhoon Bolaven is wreaking havoc, first on Okinawa and now the Koreas (while Typhoon Tembin battered Taiwan). The above picture from BBC of a brick building having been felled on Wando Island by the typhoon has me scratching my head (not to mention that it turns the entire premise of The Three Little Pigs on its head).

The typhoon has reportedly ripped apart Chinese fishing boats off Korean waters near Cheju-do Island, leading to at least five deaths there and three deaths on the mainland. The above photo shows other Chinese vessels riding out the storm.

The capital region is apparently being spared the typhoon's hardest blows, but expect a lot of rain, wind, and slippery or flooded roads with idiot drivers. Ironically, bad weather like typhoons on Korean roads can actually reduce deaths because traffic jams force drivers to go slowly, whereas California drivers tend to speed up when conditions are bad so they can get out of the inclement weather more quickly.

So folks, stay dry and warm. Enjoy nature's display from your apartment window.

Large waves off Pusan


North Korea sends its first Paralympian to the Paralympics, a Pandoran problem for Pyongyang

Perhaps as part if it recent charm offensive, North Korea is sending the country's first disabled athlete to the Paralympics. 

As the HuffPo notes, this is a bit ironic, considering the shoddy treatment the disabled have received in North Korea (or, as I might add, the way the Pyongyang regime produces disabled people through torture and abuse).

Still, I welcome Rim Jusong's participation. As the HuffPo suggests, maybe this really will inspire the folks back home. You see, the thing with opening all these Pandora boxes is that they're really hard to close when you're done with them. North Koreans are seeing the world -- and at some point they will insist on not going back. I'm holding out the possibility that the Swiss-educated, basketball-loving, writing on the wall-reading Kim Jong-un is counting on that. 

This succinct email was sent from my iPhone. 


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Eight Samsung phones Apple wants banned

CNET has a slideshow of the eight Samsung products that Apple wants banned, including the Galaxy S 4G (which, in my opinion, looks a lot more like the iPhone 3G or 3Gs than the iPhone 4 or 4S. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

CSM: Samsung's loss to Apple puts innovation in spotlight

I'm always a bit dissatisfied with these proclamations that Korea (and Japan and Taiwan) are copiers who should be innovators, especially if the corollary is that Americans and Europeans are innovators and not copiers. 

In reality, both sides seem to be a mixture of both, even if Korea in the past did indeed rise from the ashes by copying things that were already successful. 

Hyundai is successful because... is building a better mousetrap innovation or imitation? I'm not so sure Samsung has failed at innovating either. producing a rectangular handheld computer (which is what a smartphone is) is hardly the mark of imitation. 

Moreover, look at successful companies in America. Microsoft's OS is a copy of Apples (I'm old enough to recall the Mac lovers' slogan, "Windows95 = Macintosh 87") and Apple itself got its graphical user interface from somewhere else. 

I'm biased a bit. When I see a product form I like, I want it to stick around. I'm in the market for replacements for my three-year-old MacBook Pro, my four-year-old iMac, and my two-year-old iPhone4. But frankly, I want their successors to look pretty much the way they do, but with different and more powerful innards. All three aluminum/glass structures are, in my opinion, works of art, and if Samsung or Nokia makes a rectangular shaped device that also has a while glass front or whatever, I don't really see the problem. 

Again, how many different ways can you make a rectangular wafer of an electronic device? 

From the CSM:

Samsung Electronics, the loser in a milestone patent infringement case brought by Apple, was ordered Friday to pay $1.05 billion for violating Apple's patents on I-phone and I-pad technology. Samsung is vowing, however, to fight to overturn the verdict of the nine-person jury in a federal court in Cupertino, Calif., near Apple's global headquarters.

Whatever the final outcome, the case may force Samsung to focus more intensively on innovation, according to analysts here.

Samsung should "stop fighting it," says James Rooney, chairman and CEO of the Seoul advisory firm Market Force. "It's time to stop copying others. Samsung would be far better advised not to fight it. To continue fighting it is to give themselves a bad name."

Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee, the head of a sprawling empire that accounts for 20 percent of South Korea's economy, has periodically called on his army of executives and engineers to "shift from copying to innovation."

Intrinsic in Korea's rise as an industrial power from the devastation of the Korean War has been the drive to imitate whatever worked for major economies, notably Japan and the United States.

In recent years, however, Korea has been bursting with creativity in fields ranging from motor vehicles to music as epitomized in K-Pop groups with global followings. "There is a huge capacity to create," says Mr. Rooney, "They've been schooled so much in the other way of doing things. Copying has been the backbone of Korea's economic growth since the 1960s."

France Accuses South Korea's Hyundai, Kia of Dumping s

This sounds serious -- dumping is a grave charge that a company is trying to flood a market with goods being sold AT A LOSS (i.e., not merely at a lower price) -- but this may simply be a routine mechanism triggered by Hyundai's and Kia's dramatic rise following the start of the EU-Korea FTA.

From the article:

The EU-South Korea free-trade treaty was signed in July 2011 and took effect in May. Mr. Montebourg issued a statement earlier this month declaring South Korean car exports to the EU had jumped 50% in January and February compared to a year before. He said the increase was mainly in the segment of small, diesel-engine cars, a niche where French makers were traditionally strong.

He noted that the treaty provides for the EU to urgently look into any sudden rise in imports to one or several member states of products belonging to a sensitive sector, such as cars. Mr. Montebourg wants the EU to look into the trade imbalance and to come up with a plan of "new action" if it turns out that there is a deep trade imbalance in France's disfavor.

According to European automobile manufacturers' association ACEA, Hyundai and Kia together sold 391,511 cars in the European Union in the first half of this year, up 17% from the first six months of 2011. The two brands together increased their market share to 5.9% in the first half of this year, from 4.7% a year.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Soaking up the sun in Waikiki

Enjoying the beach at The exclusive Halekulani following a friend's hybrid Korean-American wedding at the Hau Terrace.

No blogging until I'm out of my dessert-induced sugar coma.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Samsung ordered to pay Apple $1.5 billion in lawsuit over smartphone technology

But the Korean court said they were BOTH in the wrong.

Oh, we'll. I'm sure Samsung will appeal, but in the scheme of things, $1.5 billion is not going to destroy the company.

The question is whether Samsung and Apple can get back to being iBuds again, putting together various Apple tech goodies.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Seoul court upholds the right to troll (or to be anonymous, depending on your POV)

Release the trolls!

For fans of good social order, the so-called "real-name system" (실명제?) was supposed to prevent social breakdown on the Interwebs, a world where people could don fake identities and viciously attack others, particularly those who were good and honest and used their actual identities online.

For fans of "free speech," however, the real-name system stifled expression, preventing people from saying things they wanted to say but could not or would not because their words would be attached to real-world identity, and they, too, could be viciously attacked by powerful (or unscrupulous) others hell-bent on snuffing out opposing viewpoints.

Well, a Seoul court came down on the side of "free speech," saying that the "Real-name System" was unconstitutional.

From the New York Times:
In a major victory for free speech activists in South Korea, a top court on Thursday ruled unconstitutional a law that required Internet users to verify their identity before posting comments on major local Web sites.

South Korea introduced the so-called real-name identification system in 2007 for nearly 150 popular Web sites with more than 100,000 visitors a day, including some newspaper sites.

The regulation was adopted amid widespread concern that Internet users were deluging Web sites with malicious and defamatory comments and false rumors; in a few cases, such statements were blamed in the suicides of celebrities.

But free-speech advocates condemned the rule, arguing that the government was using perceived abuses as a convenient excuse to discourage political criticism. They feared that people would censor themselves rather than provide their names, which would make it easier for the government to find and possibly punish them.

On Thursday, an eight-judge Constitutional Court panel unanimously ruled that the restriction violated the right to free speech.

“Restriction on freedom of expression can be justified only when it is clear that it benefits public interests,” the court said in its verdict. “It’s difficult to say that the regulation is achieving public interests.”
From a social science standpoint, this reversal of policy may yield an interesting contrast in a useful "controlled" setting: Will online behavior become more trollish now that people are freed from the shackles of using their own ID numbers (or having to pilfer that of others), or is it already trollish despite implementation of the real-name system? Will people be more willing to say things that criticize the government? Will we see the advent of rumormongers who can attack others with impunity?

Or will nothing really change at all?


You're both wrong!

In addition to sounding the death knell of the "real name system" for on-line users, the ROK judicial establishment has chimed in on the Samsung-Apple frenemy battle, saying that both companies ripped each other off. (They also said that Samsung could not sell its older models of the Galaxy and Apple could no longer sell the older models of the iPhone and iPad.)

From CNET:
A Seoul court has ruled that Apple and Samsung violated each other's patents, has prohibited the companies from selling the infringing devices in South Korea, and has awarded both companies fairly insignificant damages, the Wall Street Journal reported this evening.

The three-judge panel in the Seoul Central District Court also ruled that there was "no possibility" that smartphone buyers could confuse devices from the companies, the Journal reported -- an interesting fact given the headline-grabbing trial currently before a jury in Silicon Valley. In that trial, which is just one part of the international struggle between the two companies over intellectual property, Apple has raised the issue of consumer confusion.

"There are lots of external design similarities between the iPhone and Galaxy S, such as rounded corners and large screens...but these similarities had been documented in previous products," Reuters quoted one of the judges as saying in the Seoul case.

"Given that it's very limited to make big design changes in touch-screen based mobile products in general...and the defendant [Samsung] differentiated its products with three buttons in the front and adopted different designs in [the] camera and [on the] side, the two products have a different look," Reuters quoted the judge as saying.

The judge also said company logos on the devices would make it hard for consumers to mix them up, and that buyers also look at price, brand, applications, operating systems, and services when choosing a product, Reuters reported.
True that. I guess the fact that Samsung's and Apple's logos are so different makes the whole "whose product is this?" confusion sorta moot.

Unlike, say, Honda and Hyundai (car buyers seem to be confusing the Sonata with the Accord).

Anyway, I have been intrigued by the possibility lately that Samsung and Apple have decided (independently or collectively, I'm not sure) to keep this frenemy battle going because it is free publicity.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Americans toss out as much as 40% of their food

If we Americans were to wrap up all the food we waste and send it to North Korea, would that prolong the regime — by allowing that murderocracy to keep more resources for their selfish selves — or hasten its demise, as more and more of the citizenry hoi polloi get fed up (literally) that they're eating someone else's garbage?

From the Los Angeles Times:
Americans are throwing out nearly every other bite of food, wasting up to 40% of the country's supply each year – a mass of uneaten provisions worth $165 billion, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

An average family of four squanders $2,275 in food each year, or 20 pounds per person per month, according to the nonprofit and nonpartisan environmental advocacy group.

Food waste is the largest single portion of solid waste cramming American landfills. Since the 1970s, the amount of uneaten fare that is dumped has jumped 50%. The average American trashes 10 times as much food as a consumer in Southeast Asia, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Such profligacy is especially unwarranted in a time of record drought, high food prices expected to get higher and families unable to afford food, according to the council. Efforts are already in place in Europe to cut back on food waste.

But American consumers are used to seeing pyramids of fresh produce in their local markets and grocery stores, which results in $15 billion annually in unsold fruits and vegetables, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. In restaurants and home kitchens, massive portions often end up partly in the trash.

Half of American soil and many other key resources are used for agriculture – the Natural Resources Defense Council says wasted food eats up a quarter of all freshwater consumed in the U.S. along with 4% of the oil while producing 23% of the methane emissions.

In its report, the council urges the government to set a target for food-waste reduction. Companies should look for alternatives in their supply chain, such as making so-called baby carrots out of carrots too bent to be sold whole at the retail level.

The study also asks Americans to learn when food goes bad and to become less averse to buying scarred or otherwise imperfect produce. The average consumer should also save and eat leftovers, researchers said.
Frankly, I think we would have to see some really high food prices before most Americans start buying the flawed fruits and vegetables they typically eschew. Ditto with the beef and pork that take up so many resources. If we could curb meat consumption and get consumers to buy more aesthetically imperfect produce, we could go a long way toward resolving this issue. But of course, that's nanny-state socialism.


Beloit College "mindset list" for the Class of 2016

I'm surrounded by college undergraduates, and even the newer graduate students are often a decade younger than I am. Every year Beloit College in Wisconsin issues a "mindset list" regarding the new students entering college to give those of us old enough to be president (but not as old as the president) a clue as to what young kids today are calling it, or thinking about. Heck, for the truly ancient, it would have been nice if this kind of list had been around when I was in college.
A fun mental exercise would be to think about what those in the upcoming Korean class of 2013 (note that in Korea your class is when you entered, not when you plan to exit) will be thinking about. Born mostly in 1994 or 1995, they will have always lived in a democracy, likely never smelled nor expected to smell tear gas, had a military service stint of only about two years, mostly don't remember the use of yŏntan coal bricks, have lived most of their lives in "the world's most wired country," etc., etc.

For now, though, I will add one to the Beloit College list:

95. For most of the Class of 2016, there has never been a realistic expectation to actually graduate in 2016.

Anyway, the rest of the list (found at this link) is after the jump...

Decline in circumcision means rise in health costs

The debate over circumcision (which to me sometimes to take on anti-Christian overtones) is an interesting one in the public health field. It will be interesting to note how this plays out in Korea, where heavily Christian and generally Western-influenced medical practitioners have made circumcision widespread (some getting the procedure as tweens, teens, or young adults, as I understand).

Korea's case also speaks to how denying the case may be penny-wise and pound-foolish, as the article suggests. In a country like the United States, the insurers when a child is born or young (including the government) do not reap the benefits of preventive care if they are not insuring that same person when he/she is older. From a bottom line perspective, they have no incentive to pay for circumcision, unless they can convince all the other insurers to do the same.

By contrast, in Korea and many other countries with a more nationally centered health coverage structure, the state benefits in the long term from such preventive care. In fact, those who have set up Obamacare (as well as the Heritage Foundation folks who proposed it a decade and a half earlier) know that this is where a significant amount of savings comes from but a strictly private system with low regulation will likely never impose that on its own.

From the Los Angeles Times:
Declining rates of circumcision among infants will translate into billions of dollars of unnecessary medical costs in the U.S. as these boys grow up and become sexually active men, researchers at Johns Hopkins University warned.

In a study published Monday in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a team of economists and epidemiologists estimated that every circumcision not performed would lead to significant increases in lifetime medical expenses to treat sexually transmitted diseases and related cancers — increases that far surpass the costs associated with the procedure.

Circumcision is a hotly debated and emotional issue in the U.S., where rates have been falling for decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, about 80% of baby boys were routinely circumcised in hospitals or during religious ceremonies; by 2010, that figure had dropped below 55%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some of that decline is due to shifting attitudes among parents, but at least part of it can be traced to the decision by many states to eliminate Medicaid coverage for the procedure in order to save costs. Today 18 states, including California, do not provide Medicaid coverage for the procedure, which is considered cosmetic by many physicians.

But in the last decade, studies have increasingly shown that removing the foreskin of the penis has significant health benefits, said Dr. Aaron Tobian, senior author of the new study.

Three randomized trials in Africa have demonstrated that circumcision was associated with a reduced risk of contracting HIV, human papillomavirus and herpes simplex in men. One of those studies documented a reduced risk of HPV, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis in the female partners of men who were circumcised.

Circumcision is believed to prevent STDs by depriving pathogens of a moist environment where they can thrive. The inner foreskin has been shown to be highly susceptible to HIV in particular because it contains large numbers of Langerhans cells, a target for the virus. ...

If circumcision rates were to fall to 10% — which is typical in countries where insurance does not cover the procedure — lifetime health costs for all the babies born in a year would go up by $505 million. That works out to $313 in added costs for every circumcision that doesn't happen, the report said. ...

To Tobian, the message is clear: Government efforts to save money by denying coverage for circumcision are penny-wise but pound-foolish.

"The federal Medicaid program should reclassify circumcision from an optional service to one all states should cover," he said.
Of course, the cost effectiveness argument is only one side of the issue. There's a whole school of thought whereby circumcision is seen as a form of genital mutilation. Frankly, I've never seen in that way, and I certainly am not scarred by the procedure, but I guess I can see where others are coming from. I guess.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

You must say "kimchi," Comrade, but you may not eat kimchi.

Why does the girl at the front (heck, the whole family)...

... remind me of this little girl?

Or this one?

And that, of course, reminds me of this little girl.

But not this.

Anyway, "Oh, sh¡t, it's Kim Jong-un!" should so become a meme. Get on it!


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eight injured in capital-area subway when man goes on ten-minute rampage with box-cutter

A ten-minute "rampage" that occurred on the subway system in Ŭjijŏngbu (Uijeongbu) was substantial enough that it got picked up by the Associated Press and ended up in the likes of the Washington Post.

I'm not sure if the 39-year-old Mr Yoo deliberately set out that day to stab or slice a bunch of people with a boxcutter (the same type of device the terrorists used to gain control of the aircraft during the 9/11 attacks) or if something just set him off and that's what he grabbed. Whatever the case, it would seem Mr Yoo is mentally ill, and it would almost be blogger malpractice to not point out how authorities in Korea need to do a better job of seeking out such individuals and getting them help, rather than just ignoring them and hoping they'll go away.

Of course, the government is already trying to do a bit of proactive preventive care in this regard, with its plans for mandated mental health checkups, which hopefully will remove (or at least bypass) much of the social stigma against being michŏtta ["crazy"] that prevents so many people from getting the help they need.

From the AP, via WaPo:
A man wielding a box-cutter stabbed or cut eight people at a subway station just outside of South Korea's capital after a teenager confronted him for spitting at him, police said Sunday.

No one died in the 10-minute rampage Saturday and the injuries weren't life-threatening, according to three police officers who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk to the media. Police arrested a man running away from the station in Uijeongbu, which is home to U.S. and South Korean military bases, the officers said.

Police identified the suspect as a 39-year-old man surnamed Yoo.

Yoo began wielding a box cutter at an 18-year-old man surnamed Park inside the train when the victim confronted Yoo for spitting at him, police said. Infuriated when Park said he would call police, Yoo began brandishing the cutter on a train and then on a station platform until he was arrested, Uijeongbu Police Station said in a statement released Sunday.

Yoo, who is unemployed and lives alone, was on his way to find work in Seoul on the subway, police said.
The Korea Times has more detail on the story, referring to Mr Yoo as a "day laborer," suggesting he is a generally unemployed which would fit with my theory of someone suffering from untreated mental illness who has fallen through the cracks — until he lands on someone.

The KT report includes the typical reporting of what the perpetrator says set him off, in this case "being told off." As an aside, the risk in reporting such claims is that it can easily seem as if the Korean news media is excusing the criminal behavior or at least offering mitigating circumstances that suggest reduced punishment or release, when in fact not such thing is intended. It is akin to how American news media constantly refers to alleged criminals allegedly having done things — even when we know perfectly well they did it — as a nod to the criminal justice system's ideal of "innocent until proven guilty" in a court of law.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Uncle Jang visits China to improve economic relations between Pyongyang and Beijing

If your working theory is that Kim Jong-un is a mere figurehead and the real power is Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law, it makes sense that the latter would be the one journeying to China to discuss expanding trade between the two countries.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

And speaking of silly political messages displayed by Olympians...

Some people in the US of A are a bit ticked off that one Olympian, Leo Manzano following his victory in the 1500-meter running race, chose to wave a Mexican flag on his victory lap.

Well, he initially waved the Stars & Stripes, but then added the Eagle Devouring Snake (full disclosure: I don't know what the Mexican flag is called) on his second round.

I'm torn here. While a ROK Olympian got a red card from his medal ceremony for flashing a "Tokto is ours" card, is donning the Mexican flag a political statement? I could imagine a Korea-born US Olympian doing the same with the Taegukki, but I don't think that would go over well with some people either.

But then again, some people are probably mad the entire Olympics is in metric, so I have to ask if the Olympians are supposed to cater all their behavior to an audience that had next to nothing to do with their hard-earned victory.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Reuters post mitten on taekwondo in the London Olympics

Taekwondo as an Olympic event has been criticized for being lackluster and opaque, but Reuters reports that rule and format changes were well received and may have saved it as an Olympic sport.

Though Korea Republic didn't fate as well as in Beijing, I see its continued presence at the Olympics as a win-win for Korea even if no Koreans medal.

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Critics See South Korea Internet Curbs as Censorship

The Korean government keeping tabs on what people say on the interwebs is becoming something of a meme.

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Tokyo “riled” by Lee Myungbak’s visit to Tokto

The Japan Times has the story on Japan caring about Tokto, the issue only Korea cares about.

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You can't get any more zen than that

In the frenemy battle between Apple and Samsung, the Korean electronics giant is asserting that it did not copy Apple's famed iPhone but, rather, its own handset's beveled design (yeah, I had to look that word up the first time) was inspired by a bowl of water:


Park, a senior designer at Samsung, gave testimony claiming the design patents for the F700 were applied for in December of 2006, well before the first public announcement of Apple's iPhone. Most important are the designer's statements regarding the handset's design inspiration, which she claims came from a bowl of water and not from any Apple patents.

According to Friday's filing, first reported by CNet, Park's testimony will explain that the F700's design features were borne out of function. The features include "a rectangular housing with four evenly-rounded corners, rounded edges on all four sides, a large, flat clear glass cover over the entire front face without ornamentation, a curved bezel that extends towards the back of the phone, an oblong speaker slot at the top of the front flat face, and a single optical jog button at the bottom of the front face."

Apple filed a motion to exclude Park's testimony as well as any testimony regarding the F700, and has thus far been somewhat successful with a court ruling stating the handset does not constitute prior art. The Court did say, however, that evidence pertaining to the F700 would be "admissible for other purposes, including to rebut an allegation of copying."


Sunday, August 12, 2012

South Korea beat Japan to bronze - BBC Sport Mobile - London 2012 Olympics

On the heels of their defeat in Tokto, Japan has lost the men's Olympic bronze to Korea.

More on this later.

Whoa, that was really dumb. Just as a I got done saying that over-the-top Tokto gestures, protests, etc. are unnecessary and should be unwanted, one of the bronze-winning teammates of Korea Republic goes and does a Tokto statement. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

And just like The Marmot, this ill-planned display of nationalism (in Orange County) following Korean defeat of Japan is what I thought of.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

President Lee does something no Japanese prime minister will ever be able to do

President Lee Myungbak has done what no South Korean leader has and what no Japanese leader can: he has planted his feet on Tokto (Dokdo).

From AFP:
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak paid a surprise visit Friday to islands at the centre of a decades-long territorial dispute with Japan, which recalled its ambassador from Seoul in protest.

Lee was making the first-ever visit by a South Korean president to the rocky volcanic outcrops in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), roughly midway between South Korea and its former colonial ruler Japan.

Disregarding Tokyo's warnings that the visit would strain already prickly relations, Lee toured the main island and shook hands with coastguards as a South Korean flag fluttered in the breeze.

"Dokdo is indeed our territory and a place worth staking our lives to defend. Let's make sure to safeguard it with pride," pool reports quoted him as saying.

TV footage showed him posing for a photo in front of a rock painted with the slogan "ROK (South Korean) territory".

The South has stationed a small coastguard detachment since 1954 on the islands known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.
The Tokto issue is one that, for a variety of reasons (including many not of South Korea's own making), will simply not go away until either Japan or South Korea (or North Korea) drops their claim or at least stops pushing it.

I am completely in support of the ROK claim to the Tokto Islets (known in Japan as Takeshima and sometimes internationally as Liancourt Rocks) ranging from the historical to the political to the practical*, but in 2005 I complained about the shrill response of Korean leaders to incidents in Japan that had been meant to provoke and should instead have been met with a low-key, ho-hum reply.

No finger-chopping, screaming, claiming Tsushima, etc., will do any good either for the collective Korean psyche or for Korea's position on the issue. In fact, it tends to erode the positive impression Korea™ has cultivated over the past few years.

ROK President Lee Myungbak visits the country of his birth. ROK President Lee Myungbak visits the Tokto Islets, rocky outcrops in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) firmly under South Korea's control since regaining them after liberation.

What works — and this is what I've been saying all along — is acting from a position of strength. Simply put, South Korea firmly has absolute control over the islands and the surrounding territorial waters and it should simply demonstrate that whenever Japan gets uppity with their anachronistic, ahistoric, and politically ill-advised claim.

I advised that South Korea should allow limited tours to the islets, and that's what happened. I have suggested (and it's under consideration) declaring all of Ullŭng-gun County (of which Tokto is a part and which includes all of Ullǔngdo Island) a national park.

And now President Lee Myungbak's visit to Tokto is another example of this. This is something that no Japanese prime minister can do, and it underscores the futility and pettiness of Tokyo's ongoing claim.

Good on you, Mr Lee. But be prepared for at least a little blowback: Tokyo has to do something to appease their political rightists and when they can't do anything in kind then they might be a little desperate.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Korea and Japan to compete for Olympic bronze ion soccer

South Korea and Japan frequently meet on the soccer pitch, but other than a temporary stoking of national sentiment, these matches are of little practical consequence.

With Korea having lost to Brazil and Japan losing to Mexico, the cross-Strait rivals will be fighting each other for the bronze.

Let's hope Korea Republic does better than the last time they were trying for a third-place finish (i.e., 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup).


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Truman's grandson visits Hiroshima

I missed the 67th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima three days ago (today is the 67th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing), but this year's news surrounding the commemorations include a visit to the Peace Park by the grandson of Harry S Truman, the US president who authorized the unprecedented attacks on those two cities, a move credited with ending World War II in the Pacific.

From the Washington Post:
Truman’s grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, and the grandson of a radar operator who was on both of the planes that dropped the atomic bombs, joined in the memorial. Ari Beser’s grandfather, Jacob Beser, was the only person who directly took part in both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

In a news conference after the memorial, Daniel declined to comment on whether his grandfather’s decision was the right one.

“I’m two generations down the line. It’s now my responsibility to do all I can to make sure we never use nuclear weapons again,” he said, according to Japan’s Kyodo news service.

Daniel, 55, said earlier that he decided to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki because he needed to know the consequences of his grandfather’s decision as part of his own efforts to help achieve a nuclear-free world.

The U.S. government sent a representative — the American ambassador — to the annual commemoration for the first time two years ago. Ambassador John Roos attended the Hiroshima ceremony on Monday.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said Japan must take a bolder role in leading global disarmament efforts and called on world leaders to come to his city to “contemplate peace.”

He also said the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant struck by a tsunami last year has shown the dangers of nuclear technology, even for peaceful purposes, and urged the government to create a mix of energy sources for Japan that is safe and secure.
While we're at it, I'll (re-)skewer the old chestnut that Koreans thought two atomic bombs were not enough. South Koreans are keenly aware that a large portion of those killed in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were Koreans working there (many of them forcibly so). You can read about one unlucky group here.


WaPo: Apple says Samsung document shows application icons copy iPhone

In the Washington Post, we hear that Apple has a smoking-gun memo showing that Samsung acknowledged virtual copying of Apple icons. A devastating blow in the frenemy war between the two companies:
Apple Inc. alleged that Samsung Electronics Co. changed the design of its smartphone icons to resemble those on the iPhone, supporting its claim with an internal Samsung document presented to a jury in California.

At its multibillion-dollar patent trial in federal court in San Jose yesterday, Apple displayed excerpts of a 2010 internal Samsung report in which the South Korean company did a side-by- side comparison of its icon designs next to those of the iPhone. The report recommended that Samsung alter icons that weren’t as user-friendly as those on Apple’s devices.

Susan Kare, a former Apple graphics designer paid $80,000 to be an expert witness, said the icons for the companies’ current competing products -- both are square with round edges and displayed on the device in rows of four -- are “confusingly similar.” Kare also told the jury that she mistook a Samsung smartphone for an iPhone while visiting the office of Apple’s lawyers.
Anyway, let all be aware that I, Kushibo, called it in 2006 (see below).


North Korea's first lady Ri Sol-Ju with £1,000 Christian Dior bag

My working theory right now is that Kim Jong-un's new wife Ri Solju is being trotted out as North Korea's answer to Kate Middleton, to gain affection not just from citizens of the DPRK but also from the rest if the world.

But there's a seamy side to covering the royals, and if the paparazzi tasked with keeping up with the Kims can't drive around and snap endless pictures, the British press will find other things to report on, like Lady Ri's designer bag that would cost the average worker five years of wages.

Meanwhile, does the "Christian" Dior bag signal a move toward religious freedom (okay, now I'm just being snarky).


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Iraq’s Kurds sign major energy deals with Korean firms to construct two power plants in their region

Back when President Roh Moohyun reluctantly signed on to send to Iraq what was then the third largest contingent of troops (after the US and UK) in Bush's wildly unpopular war, critics of Roh (and of Korea) dismissed it as a cynical way for Korea to get oil contracts.

And while one could easily argue that Roh sent the Zaytun troops for other reasons — namely to prove he was still pro-US — the oil and construction contracts continue to pay off.

From the Washington Post:
Iraq’s self-ruled Kurdish region has signed a deal with Korean companies to construct two power plants. It’s part of an oil exploration deal.

A statement says the $700-million transaction calls for Posco Engineering and Construction Ltd. to build a 300-megawatt steam power generation plant in Irbil in three to six months, and a 400-kilovolt power transformer in Sulaimaniyah within eight months.

It adds that Korea National Oil Corp., or KNOC, will finance the projects as part of its 2008 deal to explore for oil in eight blocks. They are expected to hold 7.2 billion barrels in reserves.

According to the 2008 agreement, KNOC will allocate some of its profits from oil finds for infrastructure projects.
South Korean companies have a pretty good — but by no means perfect — track record when it comes to these infrastructure deals, and judging from what I've heard from people in government and NGOs in the Middle East and Africa (which is not just a few people), they would rather have Korea come in than China.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Korea Finder (special spare change edition)

One of the many things I did on my recent return to Korea was fishing my coin-filled honey jar from my car so I could take it to a local bank in Hawai'i and cash it in (literally).

As a contest for regular readers, I'd like to have people guess the value of the coins inside (all US). If at least a dozen people participate, I may consider giving a free Starbucks coupon to he person who guesses the closest, as long as it's within 5% (one guess per person).

This could be more fun than McD's Olympic gold sweepstakes.

Contest closes within one week or after I go to the bank, whichever is later.

Though I originally posted this on July 31, at 6:23 p.m., I'm going to try to leave this at the top of my blog until I finally have time to go to the bank.


French feel the heat from Hyundai and Kia

And speaking of misunderestimating South Korea, the French are not too happy about a surge in ROK car imports following implementation of the EU-ROK free trade agreement, and they want something done about it, like "prior surveillance measures."

From Reuters:
The European Union is examining a request by France to require South Korea to give advanced warning of planned car exports to the EU, the first step towards the possible re-introduction of duties a year after a free-trade deal came into effect.

Sales of South Korean cars to the European Union surged 24 percent last year, even though the EU market is contracting, putting pressure on French carmakers who have lost domestic market share to the likes of Korea's Hyundai and affiliate Kia.

"The European Commission confirms it has received a note from the French authorities requesting ... prior surveillance measures for South Korean car imports," EU Trade Spokesman John Clancy said in a statement. "The Commission is reviewing carefully the request."

Such surveillance would mean authorities could demand a document to accompany products scheduled for export to the European Union. This would give advance warning of the type and number of products scheduled for shipment to the EU.
I suppose another method might be to make better cars.


Are you ready for some football (coverage)?

It is one of those rare times when South Koreans are happy to come in second place — or even third. The Wall Street Journal is reporting how ecstatic people in South Korea are to have defeated Olympic hosts GB (that would be Great Britain) in the Olympic soccer quarterfinals to face Brazil:
South Korea hit its gold medal target at the Olympics over the weekend, but the big news locally was about a win that only takes the country into a semi-final.

The front pages of all Monday’s major national newspapers carry pictures of the jubilation in the men’s soccer team after they beat host nation Great Britain on penalty kicks in their Olympic quarter-final late on Saturday night.

The victory takes South Korea into the penultimate stage of Olympic soccer for the first time ever and conjures up memories of a similar historic win, also on penalty kicks, against Spain in the quarter-final of the World Cup a decade ago.
What badminton scandal? What fencing unfairness?

The lesson is: Don't misunderestimate ROK Soc (or anything else in Korea, for that matter). Judging by this story in the Washington Post, the Brazilians don't plan on making the same mistake (maybe):
The only top contender still left in the men’s Olympic football tournament, Brazil has no excuse to leave the London Games without the gold medal. First, though, it will have to get past South Korea in the semifinals on Tuesday.

Brazil brought most of its top players to the Olympics and has been dominant so far, getting more wins and scoring more goals than any other team. South Korea, meanwhile, just barely made it through the first stage, backed by its strong defense, but is hoping for a second consecutive upset to add to its surprise elimination of host Britain in the quarterfinals.

The winner of the match at Old Trafford will play for the gold against either Mexico or Japan, which will face off in London in the other semifinal.

“There is an extra bit of tension in the matches now,” Brazil coach Mano Menezes said. “You are playing to try to get to a final, it’s different.”

It would be Brazil’s only third Olympic men’s football final, and first since the 1988 Seoul Games. Brazil won the silver medal in Seoul and also four years earlier at the Los Angeles Games. Brazil got the bronze in 1996 in Atlanta and in 2008 in Beijing, when it lost the semifinal to Lionel Messi’s Argentina.

“We know that our responsibility is increasing as we get closer to the final,” Brazil captain Thiago Silva said. “And to get there we know that we will have a very difficult task trying to beat South Korea.”
While a cross-strait Japan-Korea rivalry match would be fun, I think most South Koreans would be satisfied even if it didn't get any further than this. Certainly, no one can accuse Korea Republic of having gotten this far by playing off of home-field advantage, an oft-grumbled narrative following wildly unexpected success in the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup.

Now if only I can figure out how to watch the Korea-Brazil match live without having cable TV.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

The secret to North Korea's success

When the difference between winning and losing is a matter of life and death, you might go the extra mile (or never try at all).


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Friday, August 3, 2012

Who Koreans actually despise

The old chestnut that "Koreans hate Japanese!", when used as an explanation for just about anything, borders on intellectual laziness.

This piece in the Wall Street Journal underscores that point, suggesting that opposition to the now-scuttled intelligence-sharing pact between Seoul and Tokyo had a lot more to do with disdain toward all things Lee Myungbak than animosity toward all things Japanese:
The study then asked respondents whether they would change their opposition if Japan offered a formal apology to Korea for its war crimes—an act often portrayed in Korea as a requirement for better relations. Around 70% said no, suggesting a relatively weak link between bitterness towards Japan and opposition to the pact.

The survey also found that opposition to the agreement was strongest among those in their 20’s to 40’s and weaker among older generations. But when asked about their views about Japan, favorability towards South Korea’s neighbor was stronger among the younger age groups.

A stronger correlation to opposition to the pact was found in the approval ratings for President Lee; 88% of those that said they strongly disapproved of President Lee also opposed the information pact. The survey also showed that support for Mr. Lee remains stronger among the older generations, who are warmer towards the military pact.
Of course, many of the young people opposed to the pact, while not anti-Japanese per se, are being influenced by the pro-Pyongyang chinboista groups that are anti-Washington and anti-Tokyo in their outlook. Simply put, a stronger ROK-Japan relationship undermines their goals.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

In North Korea, Putting a Female Face Front and Center -

Someone should use this couple as a model for wedding
cake bride-groom figurines. It would be eerie but hilarious.

Choe Sanghun at the NYT has a thorough article on Kim Jong-un's new bride, the gracious Ms Ri:
The South Korean spy agency said that Ms. Ri had been to South Korea as a member of the North’s cheering squad in support of athletes competing in a track meet in 2005. South Korean photographers dug up the photos of Ms. Ri, noting her poise and smile [right].

Mr. Kim’s father also seemed to have a soft spot for performers: the current leader’s mother, Ko Young-hee, was a dancer with Pyongyang’s Mansudae Art Troupe. Kim Jong-il’s first wife, Sung Hae-rim, was a movie actress, and the woman who was believed to have been his consort in his final years, Kim Ok, was a pianist.

Defectors from North Korea say it is common for children of the top leadership to pick wives from Pyongyang’s artistic circles. The performers, who often do shows exclusively for the party and military elites, are selected in a rigorous audition process, and their families’ ideologies are investigated in a process that can take months. Talent and looks alone cannot guarantee entry into what is considered a privileged class. The fact that Ms. Ri was apparently allowed to travel abroad means that she was trusted by North Korea’s leaders, they said.
This is interesting for a number of reasons. For starters, that group of North Korean cheerleaders/performers who visited Inchon for the pan-Asian athletic meet supposedly (according to some North Korea watchers) ended up in the gulag because they'd become tainted by the West/South.

Also, given that last paragraph, if I were Kim Jong-un something like this is what would be on my mind (just move it down one generation):


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Main Event (a non-event?)

You'd be forgiven if you think all the fights were watching are in London, but the Apple-versus-Samsung and Samsung-versus-Apple fights are gearing up in San Jose.

Frankly, I like Samsung's opening just because I not only agree with it, but I've been running around saying it:
Samsung wants you to know it isn’t a copycat.

"Samsung's not some copyist, some Johnny-come-lately that's doing knockoffs," lawyer Charles Verhoeven said during the company’s opening statement in federal court Tuesday.

During his 90 minutes addressing the jury in federal court in San Jose, Verhoeven repeatedly insisted that an average person could tell the difference between Samsung’s mobile devices and Apple's, and said Apple "had no right to claim a monopoly" on a rectangle with a large screen.
And I say this as a long-time consumer of Apple products who loves his iPad 2 big time (and not just because I won it for free).

I have a friend who is a free-lance lawyer for Samsung on this case, but that's another post for another time.

Anyway, I hope these two frenemies kiss and make up soon. It's like watching my mom and dad fight.