Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Daniel Chong is an instant millionaire

Remember Korean-American college student Daniel Chong from San Diego, the guy who was mistakenly locked up and left in a DEA facility for five days without food or water? He has been awarded $4.1 million in a lawsuit against the agency.

I wonder if he'll stay in college. It would be tempting not to. ($2 million is my "set for life" amount where I feel I could invest prudently and live in modest perpetual comfort with the occasional splurge.)


Banner men

The banner literally says, "A people who forget their history have no future." A cousin of the old adage, "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it." Next match's banner will read, "If you love something set it free; if it comes back it is yours forever, but if it doesn't it never was." 

It is the problem that won't go away. And soccer matches seem to bring out the ugliness. 

The Japan-Korea conflict over historical grievances has erupted anew as South Korean stadium goers unfurled a banner chiding Japan on its historical amnesia, supposedly in response to Japanese soccer fans waving flags that evoke memories of Imperial Japan and its expansionism and brutal occupation during the first half of the last century.

Apologists for Japan argue that the flag is a flag used in today's military, and not the Rising Sun of the 1940s. But that begs the question: Why are they waving a military flag and not the national flag that is so beautiful in its simplicity of a red dot on a white field?

Both sides need to recognize that sporting events are not the place for political and historical grievances. But when sporting events involving national teams are themselves filled with patriotic sentiment, I guess it's hard for some people to fall in line.

Like so much in this back-burner feud between these frenemies with the intense love-hate relationship, expect these hijinx to be repeated over and over again until the end of time.

But if the conflict involves balls and set of bullets, is that really still bad? It is rare for these things to turn into a physical confrontation.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Armistice + 60

At the sixtieth anniversary, in 2005, of Korea's liberation from Japanese rule, I noted that in East Asia long periods of time go in five cycles of twelve years, making sixty years a kind of century-like milestone. It was, I hoped a chance during Korea-Japan Friendship Year for South Koreans to move past the emotional response to frequent insensitive utterances from Japan's right wing — and the politicians who supported them — and move toward reconciliation. Nationalists on both sides of the East Sea wouldn't let them.

Three years later, in 2008, I hoped for the same thing as the Republic of Korea entered its second sixty-year cycle as an independent country. Two years later, in 2010, I had a similar sentiment regarding the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities in the Korean War.

So on July 27, 2013, we again come to such a milestone, as both sides mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Armistice that effectively ended the Korean War, which officially is still going on, though it wasn't officially a war, depending on whom you ask.

North Korea marked the occasion with (reportedly) the largest military parade in its 65-year history. In Washington, President Barack Obama gave a moving speech about the significance of the Korean War and its effect on the Cold War that would involve much of the world for the next four decades or so. Here in South Korea, dignitaries gathered in Seoul to make speeches and show their solidarity with one another. It was easy to spot banners and posters thanking the United Nations forces — led by the Americans but with no small amount of support from sixteen other countries — for rescuing South Korea when the country was on the brink of collapse at the Pusan Perimeter.

On this sixtieth anniversary, as a war-weary South Korea enters a new cycle, can we possibly see a new direction? Where will it take us? Will it be reconciliation, a chance to make nice with a new DPRK leader who may wish to go down in the history books as North Korea's Gorbachev or North Korea's Deng Xiapoing rather than a brutal third incarnation of an evil Kim?

Or will a new cycle see South Korea go in the direction of accepting as its fate a permanently divided peninsula, where the two Koreas will never become one. Koreans are fond of saying they're the last divided country, but that's not really true. Germany has been reunited for two decades, but China remains divided in the PRC and the ROC, and many Taiwanese seem determined to become an independent country, though China is determined to prevent that. Cyprus continues to be divided, though European Union and NATO politics may finally effect a change in that status. Arguably Ireland is still divided into its Republic side and its British side, and that seems unlikely to change.

What lessons can be learned from Germany, the two Chinas, Cyprus, etc.? Maybe nothing. Maybe Korea is unique, but so far that uniqueness has meant division. Maybe, like the other sixty-year cycles I mentioned above, the status quo will dominate. For now at least.

In that case, the significance of the sixtieth anniversary is reflection on how far South Korea has come. We can see from the North that the ROK's economic and democratic development was by no means a foregone conclusion. Hard work and sacrifice is what propelled the country forward, but that was made possible by brave ROK and UN soldiers taking up arms and laying down their lives for the Republic of Korea to eventually flourish. In later decades, workers would turn their sweat and blood into dollars, and eventually students and workers and other citizens would rise up and oust dictators in favor of a truly democratically elected government, but without the sacrifice of so many, the ROK would have become the southern part of the DPRK, and its prospects would have been very dim.

Thank you, soldiers of the Republic of Korea and the member countries of the United Nations forces, for bringing that bright light.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Another Korean entertainment figure commits suicide

Kim Jong-hak, a director behind some very popular South Korean television series in the 1990s and beyond, including Sandglass and Full House, has committed suicide.

This is always a tragedy, but even more so in a place like Korea where suicide rates are high and it is not always un-stigmatized, but even seen as a positive things. You can read more of my views on that by Googling suicide+kushibo+normative (when I have more time, I'll provide links).

Requiescat in pace, Mr Kim. It's too bad whatever tormented you won out in the end.

Here are some Monster Island links on suicide:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Royal babies and royal possibilities in Korea

The Duchess of York Kate Middleton has given birth to an heir who is now third in line to the British throne. I had been hoping for a girl just so that she could eventually be the first female monarch who got the position by being first in line and not just the because there were no male heirs. Oh, well. I guess we'll have to wait another generation.

Right now, I'm just hoping for the best for the little guy: It has to be tough growing up when you're famous even before you're born. The Brits and their media were all geared up for the arrival of the new Prince of Cambridge; they even formed a Labour Party.

Anyway, with all the hoopla about the future kinder king, I thought it would be a nice time to resurrect some posts on the Korean royal family and the Japanese royal family. In this post, I wrote about the surviving descendants of Chosŏn's royal/imperial lineage, including the nonagenarian (below) who claims the Plum Blossom Throne if it is ever reestablished. The sole comment there was left by someone claiming royal connection who criticized the eligibility of some of the people I described.

And The Korean wrote about a similar topic in this post, where he answered what became of the Korean royal/imperial family.

I also wrote (here and here) about possible changes to the imperial lineup in Japan, which (unlike Korea's) is still firmly established and isn't going anywhere for the foreseeable future.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

If I had a nickel for every time I'd heard this one...

When a satirical site claimed in 2012 that Samsung paid Apple its $1.05 billion award in nickels (which would be 20,000,000,000 of the 5¢ coins), some media outlets picked up on it as if it were true, as did a few social media sites. This all happened a year ago, but the meme seems to have made a resurgence recently in social media, judging from what I've seen in my inbox and Facebook feed today.

Paying over a billion dollars in nearly worthless coins would be some real petty stuff, but I didn't think even Samsung's leadership would stoop that low (or that their lawyers would let them). And sure enough, several news sites took the trouble to point out that the story wasn't true. The Guardian, for example, noted that it would take 2,755 lorries to transport all those nickels

Snopes even went so far as to debunk this. The Guardian says it originated at this Onion-esque website in Mexico, with a translation here

If this meme gains a second life, I wonder if Samsung will follow Asiana Airlines lead and think about suing the various websites for defamation before public opinion skewers them and they decide against it. 


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bedlam, is right (UPDATED)


I haven't yet chimed in on the atrocious viral video that's been making the rounds in South Korean sites and now has hit the US via the Washington Post. Frankly, it's just too obnoxious for me to want to write about, and lots of people are confused about where to place their outrage.

For sometime now, Westerners in Korea (and elsewhere in East Asia) have occasionally been depicted in stereotypical, offensive, or even racist ways by Western actors putting dollars before ideals. While this is a relatively recent phenomenon for Westerners in Korea, it's almost as old as movies themselves for Blacks in America, as well as Hispanics and East Asians.

Last year, in fact, there was the infamous case of the "yellow girl" political ad depicting a Vietnamese woman. The actress who played the part, Lisa Chan, apologized for her role, but strangely she didn't think anything of it before the outrage.

Ditto for this video (which has outraged many South Koreans and others who complain that the kind of treatment of Korean women depicted in the video is far too common), if the latest unsubstantiated speculation news is to be believed:
A third man claiming to have been involved in a video appearing to show a Korean woman being harassed by a group of Western men has said the footage was staged.

The video, which has caused outrage online worldwide in recent days, appears to show a number of men sexually harassing and insulting an intoxicated Korean woman. The men are shown cursing at the woman, filming her chest and legs and forcing her own finger up her nose and into her mouth.

A Korean film studies graduate told The Korea Herald on Wednesday, however, that he was one of the makers of the video and that it was “totally fictional.” On Tuesday, two other men, who identified themselves as the Western men in the clip, had separately claimed that the video had been edited and was part of a series of short films shot in January 2011.

One of the alleged actors said that the video was supposed to depict the harsh way society treated people with physical imperfections. In the video, the men are seen ridiculing the woman over the condition of her teeth.

He also provided a screenshot from a Facebook conversation with the film studies graduate, claiming that he was the director. In the conversation, the film graduate said he had uploaded the video several years ago but that it had been taken down and he was unsure how it had resurfaced.
So we've gone from this being a bunch of definitely obnoxious, certainly misogynist, and possibly racist hoodlums to this all being staged.

If it really was staged, then WTF? Who in their right mind would sign on to do something like that? (See discussion above.) There needs to be a moratorium on hiring people who have appeared in this kind of nonsense (although temporarily visiting Russians or Nigerians are sometimes the ones who depict Americans) just so there is a solid disincentive against taking such work, for the ethically challenged.

That is, if this really was staged by Infamous & Andy actors.

With sh¡t hitting fans across Korea, who wouldn't want to try to nip this in the bud by saying, "Hey, it's all fake!"? Has The Washington Post or the Korea Herald or anybody actually verified the identity of these people who are coming forward? It shouldn't be terribly hard to do a visual check.

The WaPo's Max Fisher, who earlier wrote about this, has given us reason to doubt claims of a hoax. (It has also been written about extensively by Matt at Popular Gusts herehere, and here).

Either way, there's a lesson to be had: don't be a douchebag. That has two axioms here: (1) If you're harassing Koreans in public, then stop, and if you are unable or unwilling to stop, don't record it electronically for all to see later*; and (2) If you're out of work and someone asks you to depict somebody in a stereotypical, offensive, or even racist way, take the high road and bow out, and possibly even give them a piece of your mind.

Oh, and don't forget: If you're not on the proper visa, doing this kind of thing might be a visa violation anyway. One more reason not to do it.

The Korea Herald has looked at evidence that makes their reporter John Power believes that it is in fact a staged event (even The Marmot thinks so). He has seen alternate takes of the same scene, after several people claiming to be involved in the project came forward to say it was staged. Still, as I mentioned, that doesn't absolve anyone of any stupidity (the "actors") or malicious intent (the director).

Below is the video, perhaps NSFW (but I don't know where you work):

*A reference to Blackout Korea, which is still going strong and which I wrote about here and here and here,  and about which I made an homage site here.


Steve Colbert highlights why the Asiana decision to sue KTVU for damaging the airline's reputation will damage the airline's reputation

If you aren't catching The Colbert Report or The Daily Show on a regular basis — and you can in Korea — then you are missing out on some incisive, insightful, and (for many people) informative stuff.

An excerpt from the three-minute cringeworthy segment above:
I do not care who confirmed these names; it is wrong:

"Wi Tu Lo"? "Bang Ding Ow"? This is a Korean airline; those are Chinese names.

If you're going to do a racist joke, at least get the ethnicity right. Like "Captain Park Ma Plen Tu-sun" or "Ha Yu Lan Dis Tang.'
If you haven't seen The Colbert Report, the gimmick is that he's a conservative talk show host, à la Bill O'Reilley, who frequently utters unintentionally and unwittingly ridiculous things, all to the mocking of conservative viewpoints.

Of course, other things get skewered as well. In this case, Asiana Airlines, which is right to be outraged over the stupid and racist "joke" about the pilots' names, but which is trying to check in two 23-kilogram bags full of chutzpah if it goes to court to claim that the KTVU incident and not the fatal crash landing is what is damaging the carrier's standing with the public.

Unless and until mechanical error absolves the pilots and the airline of culpability, perhaps Asiana should STFU about KTVU.

(Disclaimer of sorts: I still love my Asiana Airlines. Also, I realize that while deriding the KTVU racist incident, Steve Colbert produced more of the same, but that cringeworthy stuff is part of the shtick, though one could easily argue — I can, at least — that Mr Colbert is being more a part of the problem than a parody of it.)


Prosecutors want their money back from former President Chun

In the United States, a president is deemed to have had a successful administration if the economy doesn't tank, a war he (or his predecessor) started doesn't turn into a quagmire of lost lives and treasure, and/or he passes some major game-changing legislation. (I will go back and edit this post to be gender-inclusive when our first female president ends her term.)

In South Korea, a president is deemed to have had a successful administration if he or she can avoid arrest.

Yesterday's big news was about prosecutors raiding the home of former President Chun Doo-hwan, who amassed a huge slush fund during his eight years of rule.

From the New York Times:
State prosecutors equipped with metal detectors raided the Seoul residence of former President Chun Doo-hwan on Tuesday in a search for assets. Mr. Chun, the former military dictator, owes South Korea 167.5 billion won, or $150 million, in fines but claims to be broke.

In a Supreme Court court ruling in 1997, Mr. Chun, now 82, was ordered to return to the state 220 billion won he had illegally accumulated through bribery from big businesses during his eight and a half years in power in the 1980s. He has so far paid only a quarter of the amount. In his last payment, he handed in $2,680 he said he had collected as a lecture fee.

Mr. Chun has rarely appeared in public since he stepped down in 1988 and entered a Buddhist monastery. In the 1997 verdict, he was also convicted of sedition for his role in the 1979 military coup that brought him to power and a 1980 military crackdown that left hundreds of people dead in the southwestern city of Kwangju. He initially was sentenced to death, but the penalty was reduced to a life imprisonment. He was later pardoned and freed.
Having lived in Korea off and on since I was a teenager, I've been around to remember pretty much most of this, including the two generals-turned-president (one of them democratically elected, by the way) getting the death penalty (more about that here) only to be pardoned and released.

Indeed, it seemed like former presidents getting into hot water was de rigueur, with Mr Chun's friend and deputy Roh Taewoo following him to the Blue House and then the Big House, and the troubles faced by two of The Three Kims (former opposition leader turned ruling party president Kim Youngsam and then perpetual opposition candidate Kim Daejung) and then the scandal that led to Roh Moohyun killing himself.

To be fair, the two President Kims came out mostly unscathed. And if recently stepped-down former President Lee Myungbak and current President Park Geunhye manage to escape a courtroom or prosecutorial investigation, they will be seen as successes.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Reports on UN critiques of South Korea's mandatory military service could be harbinger of policy change, and that in turn could be a boon to fertility in South Korea

Yonhap is reporting that the United Nations Human Rights Commission doesn't like South Korea's compulsory military service (HT to GI Korea at ROK Drop):
More than nine out of 10 people being imprisoned worldwide for refusing to serve in the military on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion are South Koreans, a report showed Monday.

According to the report released by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) earlier last month, of the 723 conscientious objectors worldwide, 92.5 percent or 669 are South Korean nationals.

In South Korea, all able-bodied men are required to serve about two years in compulsory military, and conscientious objectors who refuse to serve without justification face up to three years in prison if convicted.

Noticeably, 17,208 South Korean male members of the Jehovah's Witnesses have been criminally punished since 1950 for refusing to perform in the military service for their religious beliefs, the report said.

The report said that many countries have either abolished or postponed mandatory military conscription, citing examples such as Germany and Croatia.
I'm not sure how I feel about the UN chiming in on this. South Korea remains in a declared state of war, and it is South Korea's continued readiness (or perception thereof) plus the guarantee of US intervention, that keeps North Korea (and its patron China) at bay.

But when the South Korean media starts putting out these stories, especially with comparisons with other countries, it likely signals the beginning of a dialogue on policy (if media stories and public opinion polls can be called such, in any country) that could eventually mean the end of mandatory service in favor of a voluntary professional military.

Frankly, I do like the UN's suggestion of providing an alternative civil service to military conscription for true conscientious objectors (like Jehovah's Witnesses), but I fear that such a change would be rife with abuse. And that in and of itself would be troublesome, not just because those with fewer economic or social means would probably end up more likely doing the tough military jobs, but also because a change in the status quo would remove the great equalizer that ROK military service represents: whether one is rich or poor, from Chŏlla or Kyŏngsang or Seoul, highly educated or poorly educated, every ROK male is expected to take time to do their military service (or some equivalent time in special civil service) unless they fall into a very narrow set of exemptions.

(Truth be told, what I'd really to see is a shortened national service period — say, eighteen months versus the current two years — that is required of all citizens, including females, that can be military service, volunteer service, or some civil service.)

So why is the media talking about military service at all? From discussions with policymakers and academics, I believe that one major impetus toward a change is that ROK military service hinders the fertility rate, which is abysmally low in the Republic of Korea.

Its Demography 101 that the longer the period is that people are screwing a spouse or would-be spouse who is fertile, the more babies they will produce on average (even with high abortion rates). But military service takes men out of some of the most productive years for their partner's fertility. At least for the two years or so they do military service and then longer as they try to finish up school and then seek work to pay for said children. (This is also a drag on economic output; South Korea pays a huge amount in real costs and social and economic opportunity costs with the current level of military readiness.)

Ending mandatory military service could tick up the fertility rate by a few tenths of a percent, which could have a dramatic impact on public policy in the coming decades. This may be an enticing idea as legislators realize that South Korea can't maintain the population on immigration and hopes for a unified Korea alone.

(And I should admit that the all-gender mandatory national service idea of mine would, at best, be a wash in terms of the fertility rate.)


Random Korean mention of the week

This week's random mention of Korea in the media is actually from May 25, 2013 (I've been busy with work and travel and didn't get to this one until this morning). The NPR radio news quiz show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" had this to say in reference to the United Kingdom finally sending an official astronaut into space:
In 2015, Major Tim Peak will become Britain's first official astronaut in space, meaning the only people to beat the U.K. into space are the Americans, the Russians, the Canadians, the Chinese, a dog, a monkey, Richard Branson, that guy from NSync and a jar of kimchi.
This is actually a pretty funny show, if you're into the news (and even if you're not).


Heyyyy, sexy tolchanchi*

Can you believe Psy's "Gangnam Style" song and video are one year old today? Yeah, I thought it was hella longer than that, too.

And the "one-hit wonder (?)" is still racking up the hits (YouTube hits, that is): "Gangnam Style" up to 1,743,138,214 at the time of this writing.

And in honor of this momentous occasion, let's listen to the video one more time...

There. Now that's going to be stuck in your head until the two-year anniversary. China would make appropriate gift (the plateware, not the country).

*Tolchanch'i or tol (doljanchi or dol in the atrocious Revised Romanization system pushed on us by the NAKL) is the one-year celebration. Quite a party, actually. Perhaps they should make a new Gangnam Style video that features nothing but one-year-olds. Note: That's a copyrighted idea. 


Apple and Samsung in love again

Or at least in like. Like the frenemies they are.

I've always thought that the legal battle between Apple and Samsung — Apple sues over something and Samsung sues over something different, while both counter-sue — was not only silly but downright damaging to the consumer. The only winners were the lawyers.

Anyway, Samsung is now back in Apple's arms, according to the Korea Economic Daily, which reports that Samsung will again be providing chips for Apple's iOS devices in 2015, after losing out to Taiwanese rival TSMC. These 14-nano A9 chips are expected for what is tentatively being called the iPhone 7 (TSMC is providing 20-nano A8 chips to whatever's coming out soon).


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Racist fun with Asiana crash

The Eagles told us that "it's interesting when people die," but Reuters tells us (via HuffPo), it's amusing when Asian people die.

Head-shakingly, mind-bogglingly offensive shit you wish someone had merely made up:
The National Transportation Safety Board apologized on Friday after an intern mistakenly confirmed to a local television station racially offensive fake names for the pilots of an Asiana flight that crashed in San Francisco.

"The National Transportation Safety Board apologizes for inaccurate and offensive names that were mistakenly confirmed as those of the pilots of Asiana flight 214, which crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6," the NTSB said in a statement.

"Earlier today, in response to an inquiry from a media outlet, a summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft," the NTSB said.

The crash of the Boeing 777 plane resulted in the deaths of three teenage girls in a group of students from eastern China who were visiting the United States for a summer camp, one of whom died on Friday in the hospital. Over 180 passengers and crew members were injured.

On Friday, an anchor for Oakland, California, station KTVU read a list of the supposed names of the pilots of the South Korean carrier on its noon broadcast after an employee apparently called the NTSB seeking to verify them.

The names appear to mock the events of the crash. The prank names were: Captain Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow.

KTVU anchor Tori Campbell later came back in the same newscast and told viewers the names "were not accurate despite an NTSB official in Washington confirming them late this morning."
Here's a video of the newscast, again courtesy of HuffPo:

Seriously? In 2013, after a crash that resulted in the death of three teenage girls (one of whom was killed by an emergency response vehicle)? I hope this follows you around for a long, long time, you racist piece of crap intern. [UPDATE: Courtesy of Hannah Bae's Twitter feed, it appears the intern may not have been at NTSB but KTVU itself. I agree with one of the commenters that this is a reflection of the deterioration of the broadcast news industry; I used to do two news programs a day, and this would have had red flag going up for me such that I never would have said this on the air.]

Also courtesy of HuffPo, here is a animated version of the crash:


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Toddler Hannah Warren dies

Terribly sad news to report: Three-year-old Hannah Warren, the South Korean toddler who received groundbreaking treatment aimed at giving her a trachea created from stem cells, has died of lung complications following a second surgery.

Monster Island readers may recall her story (and that of her adoring and heroic parents, an English teacher from Newfoundland and a South Korean national) from this post and this post. I suspect the parents may still need money for this expensive experimental treatment, so the HABO post (as in "help a brother out") still goes.

Requiescat in pace, little Hannah. Thoughts and prayers go out to you and your loved ones.


More on Asiana Airlines 214 crash landing in San Francisco

Wednesday, July 10, 6:30 pm (Kansai time):
With a hat tip to Zen Kimchi and his Twitter feed, here's a Wall Street Journal article on why Asiana Airlines has a PR problem. The usual suspects, of course, though I think it boils down more to Korean speakers relying on Korean speakers to represent Korean speakers to a non-Korean-speaking global audience, and not so much about Korean culture per se. If Americans didn't natively speak the language  the rest of the globe is pretty much standardized to learn, we'd be mucked.

And it doesn't help the Asiana Airlines PR situation when (as I mentioned here) outlets like The Washington Post quickly write about Asiana Airlines and a "troubled past" that conflates Asiana with Korean Air, while failing to point out that in the same time period of Asiana's incidents (i.e., 1993 to present) a major carrier like American Airlines experienced more fatal accidents or serious problems, including deaths in 1995, 1999, 2001 (not including the 9/11 hijackings), and 2009 (source).

More links on this page as I have time...


Monday, July 8, 2013

How else would you expect a rhythmic gymnast to throw out the first pitch of a ball game?

A lot of celebrity first pitch throwers are just there to look cute, but rhythmic gymnast Shin Suji (Soo-ji) classed it up a bit (and managed to get the throw across the plate).


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Asiana flight crash lands in San Francisco (UPDATED)

I woke up this morning to see news alerts of an Asiana Airlines crashlanding and then catching fire, followed by multiple iMessage texts from friends and family who were trying to make sure I wasn't aboard.

So far there have been few details available on casualties from the plane (one report says 40 injuries, some of them critical, with the comments section citing reports of two fatalities), but it appears a lot of passengers were able to slide to safety before the plane caught fire, despite this having been a very hard landing that involved the tail breaking off and the plane apparently spinning around.

Since this is a developing story, I'm including the previous link to the San Francisco Chronicle and to CNN as well as the Huffington Post, all of which tend to update.

The Washington Post is saying that two of the passengers have been reported dead.

The Washington Post says the fatalities were two middle-school girls from China (requiescant in pace, Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia) and that Federal investigators have ruled out mechanical failure (that was quick) and are focusing on pilot error. The Washington Post also has a piece highlighting "South Korean airlines' spotty safety record."

I am normally one of those people who prefers to wait until the facts are out before forming an opinion, but when opinions are being formed before the facts are out, I feel compelled to chime in. It seems awfully fast to rule out a mechanical issue with the plane, before the flight recorders have been analyzed, and the WaPo piece on South Korean carriers' "troubled past" seems like it's meant to be part of a hit piece: What do Korean Airlines accidents have to do with an Asiana Airlines pilot?

The article cites a crash two decades ago and a relatively minor taxiing incident fifteen years ago to conclude that Asiana Airlines has a problem. In the same time period (i.e., 1993 to present) American Airlines experienced more fatal accidents or serious problems, including deaths in 1995, 1999, 2001 (not including the 9/11 hijackings), and 2009 (source).

The hasty conclusion that mechanical error was not at fault and pilot error the likely cause, plus the hit piece, make me wonder if something a tad sinister is going on. This is reportedly the first crash of a Boeing 777, at a time when that company continues to experience some very high-profile problems with its Dreamliner 787 aircraft. The possibility of problems with its high-selling 777 could be a double-whammy that might harm the company.

That's just a thought; I am just a bit perplexed to see those two news items so quickly. I'm also wondering how pilot error could cause the fire on top of the plane.