June: Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism Month

dprk_propEric Talmadge of the Associated Press has posted an interesting article on June, in the DPRK, as being the “Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism Month”, wherein the official history of the state’s struggle against America is remembered:

. . . it’s a time for North Koreans to swarm to war museums, mobilize for gatherings denouncing the evils of the United States and join in a general, nationwide whipping up of anti-American sentiment. . . the North Korean version of the war, including the claim that it was started by Washington, is radically at odds with that of the United States and often doesn’t even jibe well with documents released over the years by its wartime allies, China and the Soviet Union. . . At the Susan-ri Class Education Center, guide Choe Jong Suk, a somber middle-aged woman in a black-and-white traditional gown, gave a well-practiced lecture on the variety of tortures — 110 in all, she said — inflicted on Koreans by the U.S. that, she said, were “worse than the methods of Hitler.”

Which is far worse than the crimes comitted by the DPRK against its own citizens (Godwin’s Law here?).

You can read the full article here.

More Shizzilistic Science from the DPRK

DPRK_scienceThe Associated Press has reported that the DPRK has a cure and preventative for MERS, SARS, HIV/AIDS and likely the Ebola virus (cite).

. . . The official Korean Central News Agency said scientists developed Kumdang-2 from ginseng grown from fertilizer mixed with rare-earth elements. According to the pro-North Korea website Minjok Tongshin, the drug was originally produced in 1996.

I know this remarkable stroke of good fortune will be well recieved by the large community of AIDS-infected English teachers here in the ROK.

Getting Green, Getting High and Spying on The Kids

walkway concept01Seoul will get a new park and its pretty high up.

A long unused highway overpass by Seoul Station will be remolded into a “sky garden”, facilitating pedestrian space and harboring a local collection of trees and plants. (Hopefully, advertising and take-out auto-bikes will be discouraged) (cite):

walkway overviewMVRDV: an elevated park in Seoul won a contest to design the park, filling it with massive circular plant pots filled with 254 different species of flowers, shrubs and trees to create a “living dictionary of the natural heritage of Korea.” A greenhouse will grow new plants to populate the pots, and pedestrians can stop at a number of cafes, street markets, flower shops and other vendors. Once completed, the 55-foot-high structure will cut the walk around the railway station from 25 minutes to 11, and is expected to generate 1.83 times its cost in economic benefits.

The elevated park did meet with some resistence from local merchants:

. . . While the plan, initiated by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, has been challenged by some locals, particularly merchants from Namdaemun Market located just east of the overpass, the Dutch architect openly defended the city government’s plan to renovate one of Seoul’s traditional areas. “I’m aware of the mayor’s intention for the city’s architecture … [to make it] better, greener and more livable in the project, . . . I think it’s courageous, and there might be criticisms here and there, and I’m here to defend that policy because I do think the improvements will [inspire awe] (cite).

If you are a Korean kid, who is under eighteen, then you are being  watched.

The government has decided that all kids under eighteen must have an application called “smart sherrif” installed on their smartphones. “Smart Sheriff” was developed and funded by the South Korean Government and allows parents to spy on their kids:

Smart Sheriff and at least 14 other apps allow parents to monitor how long their kids use their smartphones, how many times they use apps and which websites they visit. Some send a child’s location data to parents and issue an alert when a child searches keywords such as “suicide,” ”pregnancy” and “bully” or receives messages with those words. (cite)

Though this might be useful for parents, who wish to monitor exactly what their kids are doing, it also raises an issue of data usage since the browsing habits of kids can also be monitored by the government, through this software and no mention has been made at this time if the information, collected through this software, will be used for commercial purposes either.

Korean Robots Are the Future – 2.6 Billion USD Worth

team_kaistA KAIST robotics team has done well enough at a recent DARPA robotics competition and came away with first place and a 2-million dollar prize:

loser_bot
Loser bot?
kaist_HUBO
KAIST HUBO

A team of roboticists from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology claimed a $2 million prize on Saturday that was offered by a Pentagon research agency for developing a mobile robot capable of operating in hazardous environments.
Twenty-five teams of university and corporate roboticists competed for the prize, which was first given in 2012 by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The robots were graded on their ability to complete eight tasks, including driving a vehicle, opening a door, operating a portable drill, turning a valve and climbing stairs, all in the space of an hour. (cite)

I know opening a door and driving a vehicle might seem like mudane tasks but for a robot, the programing is quite a challenge as can be seen in the video compilation of robots that have fallen and can’t get up.

“The KAIST team is led by Jun Ho Oh, a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, in Daejeon, South Korea, and one of the world’s top experts in humanoid robots. He and his team have been improving their robot HUBO over several generations.” (cite)

KAIST most notably developed packs of aquatic robots that have proven to be adept at hunting jellyfish though that might not be the best way to eliminate jellyfish. There are even prison robots that can patrol prisons, weld ships and even defensive Samsung robots that can patrol the DMZ with a range of up to 2 miles.

More importantly, manufacturing robots are a way to bring production back to South Korea and to make up for a reduced population. Currently, South Korea has the highest robot-human worker ratio in the world :

China has just 30 robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees, trailing South Korea (437), Japan (323), Germany (282) and the U.S. (152), according to the International Federation of Robotics, a trade group, but the federation projects that the total number of industrial robots being used in China will exceed that of North America next year. IHS Technology, a research firm, projects that robot sales in China will surge to about 211,000 units in 2019 from 55,000 last year. (cite)

taekwon_VKorea has had a fascination for robots since Robot Taekwon V was popular as a kid’s cartoon. Now, robots are very likely going to have a growing importance for Korea as time passes considering that South Korea is spending 1.1 trillion won to boost its robotics industry and will have invested up to 2.6 billion USD by 2018 (cite)(cite).

A Chinese Sewol?

ChinaSinking_map
Map: The Guardian

Reports from several news sources report that a Chinese cruise ship has capsized and sunk on the Yangtze River in the midst of a storm.  458 people were aboard, at least eight have been rescuced and amongst which were the captain and chief engineer (who are under arrest) were among the 8-12 people reported rescued (note: there are different reports running around now).  The ship sank within minutes supposedly due to a storm and no SOS was sent out.  Some of the people that escaped first notified the authorities about the ship (cite).

According to Reuters:

. . . Some passengers are still alive inside the hull of a passenger ship carrying 458 people, many of them elderly Chinese tourists (cite)

Among those on board the ship were 406 tourists, aged from around 50 to 80, on a tour organized by a Shanghai tour group, and 47 crew members.

CCP officials have acted quickly, sending many officials and men to the scene, if nothing else to avoid the blowback that has plagued the Korean Government, however much of this already is an erie echo of the Sewol tradgedy:

The accident is certain to catalyze widespread public calls for investigations into both the company and into the government officials who oversee safety regulations and boat traffic along the Yangtze. Ordinary Chinese believe corruption among local officials is rampant, and the Communist Party has made rooting out corruption a priority. (cite)

A large salvage ship has already been dispatched already to try to pull the ship upright in about 17 meters of water and there is a report of workers attempting to cut through the hull of the ship with a blowtorch.

State media said local Hubei law enforcement had mustered 40 inflatable boats for the rescue effort, while more than 1,000 central government law-enforcement officials had been dispatched to the site. (cite)

Considering the concerted attempts at controlling media reportage from within the PRC, it remains to be seen just what happened since there is little released at this point and it is still uncertain just how many people have survived this tragic accident. According to one twitter account:

. . . Non-swimmer Zhang Hui survived after floating in darkness for 10 hours . . .

A few more details have emerged about the extraordinary survival story of tour guide Zhang Hui. He owes his life to a life jacket and a branch after surviving in the water for 10 hours despite not being able to swim. He told Xinhua agency that he scrambled out of a window in torrential rain clutching a life jacket. “Wave after wave crashed over me; I swallowed a lot of water,” Reuters quoted him telling Xinhua. He said that he was unable to flag down passing ships and finally struggled ashore as dawn broke holding onto a branch. (cite)

which implies that least several hours passed before rescue efforts were made.

Addendum: June 4, 2015

This is sounding more and more like the Sewol tragedy:

In an interview, Yan Zhiguo, a director of the company that owns the ship, acknowledged that the hull of the Oriental Star was modified in 1997, an adjustment that could have altered its center of gravity and made it more susceptible to tilting over. And a former member of the ship’s crew said that its furniture was not bolted down, allowing weight on the ship to shift more easily in rough waters and making it more vulnerable to capsizing.
The Oriental Star was one of six vessels cited in 2013 for unspecified violations as part of an effort to improve the safety of ships on the Yangtze River, according to a document on the website of the Jiangsu Maritime Safety Administration. (cite)

 

United Nations to ROK: Testing Foreigners for AIDS to check ‘values and morality’ Is Discrimination

UNHRSeveral years back, an English teacher refused to take a second test for AIDS because she believed the testing was “discriminatory and an affront to her dignity” and was refused a contract renewal by the city of Ulsan. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination took up the case and has decided that this is discrimination against foriengers and that they teacher should be compensated for lost revenue by the South Korean Government.

One article states that:

South Korean nationals in equivalent jobs were not required to do so (be tested for AIDS).
South Korea has said it scrapped the HIV/AIDS tests for expatriate teachers in 2010 (they knew it was discriminatory). The Geneva-based Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said the HIV/AIDS test “does not appear to be justified on public health grounds or any other ground and is a breach of the right to work without distinction to race, colour, national or ethnic origin”.
It called on South Korea to grant Ms Griffin “adequate compensation for the moral and material damages she suffered”.
It also said South Korea should “counter any manifestations of xenophobia, through stereotyping or stigmatising, of foreigners by public officials, the media and the public at large”, and gave the country 90 days to inform the committee of the steps it has taken. (cite)

This much delayed vindication should also be a reminder of just how low politicians (like Lee Ju-yeong or Kim Han-gil) can get in their pursuit of bad ideas (cite).

Much thanks to Professor Benjamin Wagner for news of this recent development.

Beating The Rap – Not Just for Rappers

yoo-seung-joon-wideYoo Seung-jun is a former Korean (American) pop star and was one of the biggest selling artists in Korean history, selling over 5 million records in the country. Yoo’s career in South Korea abruptly ended in 2002 due his taking on American citizenship so as to avoid doing mandatory military service in South Korea.

Yoo has now apologized and has offered to fullfil his military service however the government is not forgiving . . .

however . . .

as an editorial at the JoongAng Ilbo has pointed out:

Each year, 3,000 people give up their Korean citizenship to avoid serving in the military. In 2013, among the children of 15 high-ranking officials in the current Park Geun-hye administration – which includes Blue House secretaries – 16 gave up their Korean citizenship and were therefore exempted from service.
Shouldn’t the same strict standard apply to them as well? We may well be neglecting an even more serious issue as we harshly criticize celebrities for the same offense.

That is a good question to ask.

Kim Jong-Un – The Busiest Man in the DPRK

Busy? Yeah, I’m busy but not like Kim Jong-Un, who is so busy that he canceled his attendance in Moscow of the 70th anniversary of the Second World War’s end citing “internal Korean affairs” as being the cause.

What in Korea could be keeping him at home? It’s simple. He has been busy. . .

. . . The director general of North Korea’s Unhasu Orchestra and three members of the troupe were stripped naked and shot dead with machine guns in a public execution in Pyongyang last month, a resident of the North Korean capital said, as South Korea’s intelligence agency issued a tally of 15 executions ordered by leader Kim Jong-un so far in 2015.

watching_uand I almost choked when I read that these people were killed “while 400-500 members of the Pyongyang artistic community were forced to watch . . . There has been no execution done in this cruel way, so all people who saw this scene were shocked” and one of the people killed was a composer even!
Certain sources have stated that up to fifteen highly placed officials were executed this year by his busy-ness and there are even photos of some of it as well.
There are other North Koreans who are busy as well, like its diplomats when “A U.S.-organized event on North Korea’s human rights briefly turned into chaos at the U.N. on Thursday as North Korean diplomats insisted on reading a statement of protest (amid shouts from defectors) and then stormed out.” <link>
Yes, Kim Jong-Un has been busy shoring up his grip on power but, like many things in life, the harder you try to avoid something, the more likely it will become a visitor at night, when it is least expected.

A Youth Drinking Problem or A Business in Need of Regulation?

baby-drinkingAccording to reports, a bill that restricts people under the age of 25, from appearing in advertisements for alcoholic beverages, has passed a  committee vote, and will become law if approved in the National Assembly.  This strange bill was passed due to a perception that younger Koreans (teenagers?) are drinking more.  The same lawmakers, who had such a problem passing a decent anti-corruption law, have decided that pop stars, athletes and people of note, who are younger than 25, may encourage teenage drinking, since many of their fan base are in that age bracket.

. . . That means 21-year-old singer Lee Ji-eun, known to her fans as UI, would have to stop advertising a popular brand of soju liquor, . . . the bill was proposed after skater Kim Yuna helped advertise a brewery when she was 22 years old, leading lawmakers to question whether young idols could be enticing teenagers to drink. <link>

This sort of reportage dodges a better question though.  Are those cheap bottles of soju actually encouraging the noted rise in South Korean drinking?

Soju is really cheap in South Korea at just 3,000 won ($3) for a bottle. People tend to go out to drink almost every day, including women. At the very minimum, drinking is done three times a week” said South Korean native Lim Hyun <link>

As noted in other articles, often there is a correlation between economic problems and drinking in both unemployed and employed.  During the current “deflationary spiral amid near-zero wage growth” in Korea, the one thing that has sold better is alcohol. <link> This is more than merely a youth problem that has been exacerbated by young celebrities’ promotion of alcoholic products.

The only winner in this period of economic troubles & the ongoing problem of alcohol abuse are large beer and liquor manufacturers such as Hite-Jinro

with a 47% market share in Korea’s drinking habit.  If Korea’s drinking problems are so large (About 1.6 million of South Korea’s 50 million population are alcoholics, while social costs stemming from drinking is around 23 trillion won annually), wouldn’t cheap soju and neighborhood stores selling to younger Koreans be more of a problem than young stars marketing alcohol?  How about the management for the “younger celebrities” that are willing to force their talent to help Hite-Jinro expand their market share? How about the advertising campaigns put out by Hite-Jinro that target a younger audience?  Also, considering the advertising spent in printed news media, why is their no media-lead examination of the business side of this alcohol problem in Korea?

Adultery Is Now Officially Legal & Ashley Madison Is Back

what-Once upon a time . . .

adultery was illegal in South Korea. People could go to jail because of it.
Sites such as Ashley Madison – that promote married people having affairs – were banned in South Korea, despite their efforts to sue Korea, claiming that the Korean Government was protecting local hook-up sites (see Brendon Carr’s first comment on the linked page), until, one day, the law was changed.

Now, according to the claims of Christoph Kraemer, director of international relations for Ashley Madison, “. . . Membership is growing quickest in India, South Korea and Japan.” (cite)
When I read about this, I checked and, yes, the site is accessible now from Korea and does offer support in Korean, however, since there are quite a few complaints of this service being fraudulent.  Several people I know thought that this site was a typical dating scam setup, where there are fake accounts setup just to drawn in the unsuspecting, so we thought it would be a good idea to test this and to ascertain if previous complaints had any merit and the following is what we found.

First, any adult can sign up for an account, which we did. We fought more over the online name than we did about anything else. We were torn between choices like “Nunchi lover”, “Peachy white guy” or “Tall and handsome carpet muncher” and so many other corny names but, just as soon as we created our account, we got four notices in our mail account from interested women, but wait, under the “viewed me” section of our account, it said “no one has recently viewed your profile”! Wow, these women must be psychic and married since they knew we had just joined Ashley Madison before anyone had even looked at our profile yet.

We went on to search the site for Seoul listings, for women that listed both Korean only or Korean and English as languages. We viewed several listings; many without photos. We pulled up one listing several times, arguing over whether or not a certain woman looked good or not. Lo and behold, some hours later, the same woman whose profile we had argued over had sent us mail but – we had spent no money to buy “credits” for the site’s service, thus we could not read the obviously juicy mail sent to us by the very women whose profile we poured over. We were also amazed because the site dashboard told us that no one had viewed our profile as of yet, thus this women must also be another psychic married woman, looking for action.

Well, it was obvious to us that the time had come to make a decision – do we wisely save our money or do we give in to our lustful, now legal desires?

After splitting the cost, we bought the cheapest option, which is still pretty expensive for one person. We also discovered a little tricky thing about this site.  As listed in the conditions for this service (DO READ THE FINE PRINT) they have the option to automatically charge your card or Paypal account to purchase additional credits for you to keep your account active:

. . . (we use an) automatic re-bill “top up” feature to keep your account active. In the event that any action you take or features you use on the Service that require the expenditure of credits results in you having a “zero balance” or a negative balance of credits, WE WILL AUTOMATICALLY PURCHASE (WITHOUT FURTHER AUTHORIZATION FROM YOU ONCE YOU OPT IN) FOR YOU THE SAME MEMBERSHIP PACKAGE THAT YOU HAD PURCHASED PREVIOUSLY . . .

basically, they reserve the right to charge you again if you are careless and opt-in without understanding what you are agreeing to. This auto-charging is a similar practice to one used by certain illicit online streaming sites where they offer a free trial for their service but the fine print says that if you don’t cancel the trial before a certain time, they will charge you the full fee and their fine print also says there is a cost to cancel.  Ashley Madison also charges for a “full deletion” of account information from their site as well, which again is in the fine print. (link) though you can hide your account from viewing.  It is definitely not clear just what happens to a members photo if they should cancel their service either.

There is also this bit of fine print from the site:

Our profiles message with Guest users, but not with Members. Members interact only with profiles of actual persons. Guests are contacted by our profiles through computer generated messages, including emails and instant messages. These profiles are NOT conspicuously identified as such.
You understand, acknowledge and agree that any interaction or messaging with our profiles is independent of, and separate from, our general database of Members who may be seeking in person or other kinds of encounters or introductions. You understand that you cannot meet any of the images associated with our profiles in person and you acknowledge and agree that such communications are solely for your entertainment and to encourage your use of our Service. You acknowledge and agree that the user conduct provisions of these Terms apply to your interactions with these profiles. If you do not wish to continue to receive communications or other interaction from our profiles, to which the receipt of such messages you hereby agree to and consent, go to “Manage Profile” and click on “Profile Options”, in “Profile Options” select “Check this box if you do not wish to by contacted by Market Research.” Then click on “UPDATE”.

This means that the “psychic married women” we encountered were actually Ashley Madison bots that were inticing us and giving us the impression that their site is really active with women looking for sex.

Once having bought credits on the AM site, they charge five credits to send mail to any member (or bot) though any additional follow-up mail to a member is free, according to their site.  Having loaded up on credits, our itching fingers grabbed the mail that had been out of our reach, only to read that the women wanted a photo and would reply if interested. She never did, in fact, after having purchase our credits, all mail from these psychic married women stopped completely.

Almost once every other day, we did get a “wink” from women who actually viewed our profile, right after we logged on, but were located on the opposite side of the earth from Korea (!??) and a couple looked like sex pros, but the dashboard on the AM site still told us that no locally available married women, including the ones we “winked” at, had viewed our profile. We are smug in a dejected sort of way at this point since we suspected that this very thing would happen, however we picked the sexiest pictures we could for our profile and feel that they have been wasted so far.  Even Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung is more popular than we are and we feel we are collectively much more handsome than he is.

disappointed

“no one has recently viewed your profile”!

We sent out more “winks” to certain local women to show our interest in them. We tried a combination of English and Korean but to no avail and still no members in Korea, who are Korean, have viewed our profile! Only one local “member” (we never “winked” at them) did view our profile but they were listed as having English as a primary language and wanted to only chat, which was not a selected option for our profile.  Why were they trying to send a message to us?  We were looking for action and fun; not “chatting”.  Despite the sites’ statement in their terms and conditions that their “angel” bots would send messages to only “guests” we still received one message (with a Korean online name) from what apparently was a bot since the “member”(?) was not listed as having viewed our profile. We believe this should have been a violation of the terms and conditions of their site. (Note: we have kept a log and screenshots of everything as well just in case . . . )

A few listings did look like they *might* be actual people but we felt that the cost alone to determine if they were real would preclude investigating this further and some of the accounts had pictures that looked very much like the shots seen on those little business cards that litter the streets around Gangnam and Seolleung. Humm . . .

Even now, our conclusions are unanimous. We feel that people would have a better chance of meeting someone in Korea – married or not – by learning some Korean and learning how to smile and be pleasant rather than wasting their money and time on Ashley Madison’s site.  This site left us with more doubts about the veracity of the site than fun.  We think it is also probably a good idea for the Prosecutor’s Office, in Seoul, to investigate these people or have their site blocked since they are probably not the sort of people that should be allowed to operate in Korea.

Suicide – A New Political Tool?

I can well understand Moon Jae-in at this point in time.

He realizes that he was robbed by the more radical elements in his own party during the last election and, now, he is attempting to realign his platform and change his focus and image by becoming much more pragmatic in his goals.

ticket_to_rideFor a completely different approach to politics, then there is this case within the Saenuri Dang: the case of the suicidal Saenuri Dang Prime Minister, who encouraged the corruption probe (War against corruption) that has caught him as well:

. . . Prime Minister Lee bet his life on his innocence Tuesday, but he refused to step down, although the ruling party made clear that it wouldn’t provide a shield for him.
“If there is evidence that I had taken the money, I will lay down my life,” Lee said during a National Assembly hearing.

All on the heels of Sung Wan-jong’s suicide due to a corruption probe by the prosecutor’s office. (link)

Using the threat of sucide to put off the very investigation that the PM demanded is unprofessional.  I would really hope that, if the PM decides he should kill himself, his leadership skills would inspire his beleagered compatriots to follow him.  Only then can this strange cycle of politcal evolutionary extinction end.

Hope For Night Owls . . .

A new study suggests that being a night owl may promote health problems.

blue owlA study conducted here in Seoul found that many middle-aged night owls (people that keep late hours) had a higher instance of diabetes (in men) and abnormal levels of lipids (higher blood sugar) and too much fat around the waist.

Dr. Nan Hee Kim, an endocrinologist at the Korea University College of Medicine, thinks there is hope for night owls that want to switch to become an early riser:

. . . (sleep patterns) can be modified by external cues such as light, activity and eating behavior. But it isn’t known if this would improve the metabolic outcomes (blood sugar levels, etc.).

If you are not sure you meet the criteria of being a “night owl”, you can take the test that was used here. If you would like to know more about changing your sleep patterns, try this link at the Times and quit dreaming about it.