The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Korean Society (page 1 of 37)

Shhhhhhh . . .

gagConsidering the current concern with satire and free speech, Hyung-Jin Kim’s (AP) article on Shin Eun-mi, the Korean-American woman that has been accused of saying nice things about the DPRK, is a recent report concerning the National Security Act, free speech in South Korea and the politically inspired abuse of such in South Korea.

Shin Eun-mi is due to voluntarily leave today (?) after the Prosecutor’s Office issued a request to have her deported from South Korea today, due to her praise of the DPRK. The Prosecutor’s Office has also requested that she be barred from returning to South Korea for five years and that she be required to apply for a visa to return after that time, even though US citizens do not need a visa to visit South Korea (link). Shin Eun-mi’s “praise” has been construed as being a violation of the controversial National Security Act (an abbreviated translation of it is here). This has also not been the first time a foreign national has been expelled from South Korea for expressing pro-DPRK views – last year, a Chinese student was expelled for such for “suspicions of ‘aiding the enemy'”. (link) The National Security Act has long been a means by which critics of the ROK Government and DPRK supporters, both, have been prosecuted and imprisoned for up to seven years.

This issue illustrates the political intolerance that has characterized the current administration in squashing not only those that say good things about the DPRK but those that criticize the politicians in power and those that would expose the majority party’s incidences of violating the law though means of illegally manipulating government agencies, such as the NIS, or the use of media allies to help thwart investigation into their own violations of law.
Even the closest ally of South Korea thinks that the South Korean Government has gone too far in suppressing what most Americans would consider to be a freedom of speech issue:

. . . In a rare note of criticism of a key ally, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that despite South Korea’s generally strong record on human rights, the (South Korean) security law limits freedom of expression and restricts access to the Internet.

A fair description about the current state of South Korean politics and its effect upon free speech and political commentary, by Jamie Doucette and Se-Woong Koo, describes how the security act and government have grown bolder in using the issue of state security to supress those that would indulge their opinions:

. . . In this essay, we argue that this rhetorical shift has been accompanied by an expansion of what South Korean intellectuals term ‘politics by public security,’ a phrase used to describe the use of public security as a ground for stifling dissent and criticism. What is unique about the present moment is not simply the evocation of a threat to national security but the extent to which state agencies have been actively involved in this process, whether it be in the form of direct electoral interference, the leaking of confidential state documents, or the initiation of probes into prominent critics of the government from across the liberal-progressive opposition. In what follows, we examine the recent sequence of events from NIS electoral interference to the more recent move to disband the United Progressive Party in order to better understand distorting effects to Korean democracy brought about by this recent rhetorical shift and its intricate relation to ‘politics by public security.’

A link to this essay can be found here

‘Hate speech’ a.k.a. when eating pizza is a crime

Over at the Korea Herald, Claire Lee has penned a piece on hate speech, hate crimes and Korea’s lack of hate speech and anti-discrimination laws.

Much of the focus of the piece is on Ilbe, a right-leaning online group discussed here before. While I certainly condemn firebomb attacks on anyone, even against alleged pro-North Korean sympathizers, and think folk who praise such acts of wanton mayhem probably should sit down and seriously reflect for a while, I found some of the ideas expressed in the Korea Herald piece quite disturbing, frankly, from a civil liberties perspective.

Over at The Korean Foreigner, John Lee – lovely gent whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently – did a superb job, IMHO, of looking at “hate speech” and “hate crimes” from an informed libertarian perspective. In it, he points out something I think is quite important:

Hate crimes and hate speech often get lumped together, but I think it is important to distinguish the two. For one, the former is an act that is committed against another individual that violates his right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. On the other hand, the latter is simply a form of speech – though admittedly one of the more vile types.

I think most of us can agree that firebombing a lecture or attacking a leading conservative politician with a razor (as happened to now-President Park Geun-hye in 2006) should not only be condemned, but the people who engage in those acts should serve lengthy prison sentences. I fail to see, however, why, say, eating pizza in front of hunger strikers should be considered a crime. Professor Choung Wan of Kyung Hee University Law School argues that it should be, however, and for reasons I find quite chilling:

However, Choung Wan, professor at Kyung Hee University Law School, said both the terror attack by Oh and the “binge-eating” protest against the Sewol victim’s father, can be clearly viewed as acts of hate crime.

“Expressing your opinion is one thing,” the law expert said in a phone interview. “But if you are hurting others in the process, it’s called violence and discrimination.”

Like Choi, Choung also said it is important for South Korea to promulgate comprehensive legislation against hate speech crimes, as the country is becoming more diverse socially, ethnically and culturally.

“Hatred often consists of regional prejudice and this is also linked to racism,” Choung said.

“And there is no ‘natural’ way of combating prejudice. For many, it does not go away ‘naturally.’ That is why we need to regulate hate speech. Seemingly innocuous prejudice may snowball into more pernicious forms (when expressed and shared by many), and result in dangerous consequences.”

Banning speech in an attempt to shape the way people think is the very definition of Orwellian Newspeak. And while it is bad to “hurt other people” in expressing your feeling – indeed, it’s illegal – “hurting other people’s feelings” should not be the standard by which we legally define the limits of speech in a free society.

I do realize there is a fine line between “free speech” and “incitement.” But even with the latter, it seems we must very, very careful in how we assign blame with even seditious speech, especially when legal sanctions are concerned. One of my favorite conservative commentators, National Review’s Charles C. W. Cooke, discusses this very issue in regards to the recent shooting of two New York City police officers, which has sparked a similar debate over the limits of acceptable speech in the United States:

That being said, the suggestion that those who chanted these words somehow “caused” or are “culpable” for the actions of a killer strikes me as a real stretch — as, for that matter, does the proposition that “anti-police protestors” bear some sort of collective “responsibility” for what happened on Saturday. Unless I am very much mistaken, nobody who chanted their death-wishes proposed any concrete action whatsoever. Nobody singled out a target or discussed tactics or agreed to return later with weapons. Nobody established a training camp or organized a rendezvous point or planted a bomb. Indeed, nobody did anything much at all. As is now clear, there were no ”mobs” or “groups of rioters” involved in the murders at all. Rather, some members within a group of peaceful protestors said something terrible (if abstract), and a troubled man in another locale went on a killing spree. Were these two events in some way correlated? Perhaps, yes. There is no doubt that the man intended to target cops in New York. But can we establish causation, or even blame? Nope.

All told, those of us who value robust free expression should be extremely reluctant to so casually transmute “there may have been a vague connection between these words and these actions” into “those who spoke the most forcefully are morally culpable and their entire movement should be shunned in consequence.” This latter approach was preposterous back when Sarah Palin was blamed for the shooting of Gabby Giffords. It was bizarre when the shooting at the Family Research Council was blamed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (sophomoric) “hate map.” It was farcical when the Isla Vista shooting was blamed on “white privilege” and “rape culture.” It was ridiculous when Timothy McVeigh was blamed on “militias” or on talk radio. And it is wrong in this case, too. Words, as ever, do not pull triggers, however harsh those words may be.

Photo by kungfubonanza.

KCNA irony alert

On a related topic – the Constitutional Court’s dissolving of the left-wing United Progressive Party – North Korea’s KCNA has weighed in. This is not surprising, of course, but I did find this bit mildly interesting (HT to you-know-who-you-are):

Park, figured herself a bandog, revenged herself upon the UPP for campaigning against her during the “presidential election”, which arouses much criticism even from the Amnesty International and other international human rights bodies.
[…]
The decision on the UPP disbandment only lays bare the political backwardness of south Korean society before the international community.

Clearly the KCNA hasn’t read what Amnesty has to say about their bosses.

UPDATE: In the comments, John Power writes:

Irrespective of the merits or otherwise of hate speech legislation, this particular discussion seems almost academic given the endless ways in which Korea already regulates expression. It’s already a crime — not a civil matter — to “defame” someone by speaking the truth, to insult someone, to speak ill of the dead, to praise North Korea. The list goes on.

From my perspective, there is relatively little appreciation of freedom expression at the legal and — yes, controversial though it may be to say — societal level. Korea is not an individualistic society. Certainly, there is nothing remotely comparable to the American tradition. But more than that, I genuinely wonder if there is a developed country anywhere with comparably weak protections of speech. (There may be, but I imagine Korea would give it fair competition.)

Now, to be fair, Korea’s defamation laws are widely misunderstood – telling the truth will rarely, if ever, get you convicted for defamation, even if the powerful frequently use defamation laws to harass critics (admittedly a big problem). That said, I suppose one could find it odd that given the restrictions on speech already in place – in regards to reputation, North Korea, etc. – that hate speech laws aren’t already in place.

Pardon moi? (redux)

Pardon me for resurrecting a prior post.

Voices for imprisoned conglomerate owners’ paroles and even pardons are gaining volume in Park Geun-hye’s ministries.  Floating pardons over a long yuletide weekend, the Blue House seems to be taking a page from the White House’s old play book.

On Christmas Eve, ruling Saenuri Party leader Kim Moo-sung argued for paroles and even special pardons for businessmen behind bars. “As the nation’s economy is struggling, those who need to work should work. Investment is impossible without the owner’s decision,” Kim said.

The day after Christmas, Floor Leader Lee Wan-koo banged the parole drum. “If the government requests discussions about conditional release of business people, we can consult with the main opposition party.”  Party spokesman Park Dae-chul gave an official statement:  “The role of entrepreneurs is important in order for Korea to revive the economy that remains in the doldrums. We urge the government to deeply agonize over the issue given the two criteria of economy and law.”

Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Min Kyung-wook told reporters that he did not know whether the president’s office was considering granting parole to businessmen, adding the Justice Ministry, not Cheong Wa Dae, is the authority on the matter: “Entrepreneurial parole is the justice minister’s own right.

The Joongang Ilbo added, “although the Blue House did not officially endorse granting parole for the convicted executives”, deference to the Justice Ministry could be “interpreted as its tacit recognition of the need to allow company heads more leniency in the legal system.”  In an opinion piece, the Joongang Ilbo went so far as to say “the minister’s comments could well translate into his de facto consent.”

Those eligible for parole include SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won and his younger brother Jae-won.  The older Chey has served 23 months of his four-year sentence for embezzling tens of billions of won of his company’s money.  LIG Group Chairman Koo Bong-sang is also eligible for parole, having served 26 months of his four-year sentence for defrauding 215 billion won ($198 million) from investors.

Serving less than one-third of their terms, other imprisoned chaebol leaders are ineligible for parole; a presidential pardon is their only opt out of prison. A rouges’ gallery sampling includes the following:

  • CJ Group Chairman Lee Jae-hyun –  Sentenced in September to a three-year prison term for embezzlement, breach of trust, and tax evasion totaling 165.7 billion won (US$159.5 million). Having served only four months, Lee has been granted temporary medical parole to remain in the hospital for treatment following a kidney transplant.
  • Taekwang Group Chairman Lee Ho-jin – Sentenced to 4 1/2 years for embezzlement and breach of trust.  Having served 63 days behind bars, Lee has been hospitalized for two years and waiting for a liver transplant.
  • Former STX Group Chairman Kang Duk-soo – Sentenced in October to six years for cooking the company’s books for 584.1 billion won ($556.2 million) and embezzlement (67.9 billion won).  To his credit, “the figures were much smaller than the charges raised by the prosecution, which had claimed Kang’s accounting fraud and embezzlement reached 2.3 trillion won and 340 billion won, respectively.”
  • Tongyang Group Chairman Hyun Jae-hyun -Sentenced in October to 12 years in prison for fraud.  Hyun ordered Tong Yang affiliates to issue 1.3 trillion won (US$1.2 billion) worth of virtually worthless corporate bonds and commercial paper. “The business tycoon systematically covered up the companies’ troubled finances by asking media to delete or tone down articles questioning their financial health,” the court added.

All news stories and opinion pieces seemed to omit that the heads of Korea’s ministries are appointed, not elected, and Korea’s is not a coalition government.  The Justice Minister, appointed by PGH, serves at the President’s pleasure and carries out the President’s policies.  If Chung Wa Dae were against granting paroles, all speculation would end with a simple no.

Complicating the Justice Ministry’s plans for paroles and pardons are candidate Park Geun-hye’s own words (“There will be no special pardons of tycoons“) and the recent nut-rage incident, which brought to the surface Koreans’ long suffering and ever broiling sense of Korean chaebols’ families’ perceived entitlement and privilege.

These handful of minority, though perhaps plurality, shareholders have successfully held their companies and other shareholders hostage and hoodwinked the Korean government and media into thinking that the whole of the Korean economy depends on their captaining of their companies …which they embezzled from and defrauded …which is the reason they are in prison.  The Joongang Ilbo opined against a “quid pro quo”, that “the government must not grant them parole in exchange for promises to increase investments. It should be a matter of principles, not a business transaction.”  Under what principle should an embezzler of nearly $200 million dollars be paroled from serving his four year sentence?

All this makes me wonder how Apple would fare if Steve Jobs were to die or what Microsoft would do if Bill Gates retired to pursue philanthropy.  Given Korea’s dependence on Samsung, the real elephant in the economy, what would happen if Lee Kun-hee suffered an incapacitating heart attack?

I handicap the paroles and perhaps some pardons happening between Korea’s New Years:  sometime after solar New Year, sometime before March 1, and with a probability density centered around Seollal.

Pardon my French, but ce qui la baise?

The Letter “D” as in . . .

Defamation is a problem for many in Korea, whose enforcement (or lack of enforcement) quite often infringes upon free speech, if not democracy itself.  The Wall Street Journal has a good, short piece on this issue here.

Korean Air… (facepalm)

Far be it from me to give the VP of Korean Air advice on how to deal with improperly served macadamia nuts, but don’t you think this is going a bit far?

The daughter of Korean Air Lines Co. Chairman Cho Yang Ho ordered a plane back to the gate so she could remove a crew member who gave an incorrect answer to a question on how to serve macadamia nuts, the airline said.

Heather Cho, 40, a vice president of the airline, ordered the head of the service crew on Flight 86 from New York to Seoul to deplane after an attendant earlier had served Cho macadamia nuts without asking, the carrier said. Cho then summoned the purser to ask a question about the airline’s policy on serving nuts. Cho ordered the man to leave the plane when he couldn’t answer. Under the carrier’s rules, passengers must be asked first before serving.

The purser didn’t know the company’s procedures and “kept on making up lies and excuses,” Korean Air said in a separate statement late yesterday.

Mind you, nuts are important, says the Economist. Just not that important:

Clearly nuts are an important part of flying (Alan Shepard, an Apollo astronaut, took a peanut with him to the Moon and back; on Earth, a possibly well-oiled Steve McQueen tried to eat it when shown the legume in a bar). But they are not quite as important as having a serene cabin. Korean Air said Ms Cho is responsible for checking service standards, although she was flying as a passenger at the time. One has to wonder what page of the carrier’s customer-service manual suggests that causing a scene, insisting the plane turn back for the gate while taxiing, and delaying a flight for 11 minutes is the response the other 400 customers demand for serving a snack on incorrect crockery.

Korean Air did apologize for delaying passengers, although, reportedly, they also said Cho had acted appropriately, something a Korean Air unionist apparently found quite funny.

Just to add a bit of irony to this story, last year, Cho wrote a post on the company bulletin board defending a flight attendant who had been assaulted by a POSCO executive because he had been served undercooked ramyeon. In the post, she also called for laws to punish people who interfere with flight attendants carrying out their duties. And indeed, the POSCO exec was sacked after being investigated by the American FBI, apparently at Korean Air’s request.

It should also be noted that Cho is suspected of going to Hawaii last year to give birth to twin sons. Korean Air says the kids will eventually do their military service, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Both the conservative Dong-A Ilbo and progressive Hankyoreh ran editorials asking jaebeol families to stop acting like entitled, petty dictators. Which is pretty much the only thing you can say in a case like this.

“Quo Vadis”- problems with Korea’s Mega Churches

A documentary will be coming out on December 10th that will examine allegations of wrong doings by three of Korea’s largest Christian churches.  Titled “Quo Vadis“(Latin for “Where are you going?”) the documentary was made by Kim Jae-hwan, a self identified Christian, who says he spent $270,000 USD of his own money to make it.

Documentary Quo Vadis’ challenges the mission of South Korean churches

(Photo from Los Angeles Times via Han Cinema)

According to a L.A. Times article on the  documentary:

Kim [Jae-hwan], a Christian, said South Korea’s media have gone soft on the churches because of their significant political influence and financial clout. His goal: to spark what he calls an overdue debate on whether churches have lost their moral authority in a quest to accumulate more congregants and money.

Kim centers his greatest condemnations on Korea’s largest Church- Yoido Full Gospel:

One of the scenes in “Quo Vadis” includes a 2013 news conference in which elders from the Seoul-based Yoido Full Gospel Church, purported to be the largest Pentecostal church in the world, asked embattled senior pastor David Yonggi Cho to step down.

The elders accused Cho of using millions of dollars of church funds to buy stock in a company owned by his son. Despite the evidence against Cho, other Yoido elders argued that the allegations were baseless. Cho supporters who barged into the church gathering included one who reached for the throat of a speaker. A brawl ensued. As groups of suited men shoved one another and threw punches, journalists’ cameras rolled.

A few months later, Cho was found guilty of tax evasion and professional negligence. He was sentenced to three years in prison and fined more than $4 million.

 

The Taxman Cometh – What Would Jesus Do?

The National Assembly’s Strategy and Finance Committee held a  meeting with representatives of various religious faiths (Catholic, Evangelical Protestant and Buddhist) for the purpose of discussing how clergy should be taxed.  Their plan is to levy an income tax of 22 percent on 20 percent of the incomes earned by ordained clergy.  (cite)

Well, out of the three main faiths represented, guess which one threw a fit over the money and threatened fire and brimstone?

Here is a hint: which faith is well known for running a growth-for-profit scheme where the pastor has sole proprietorship of the church and runs some of the world’s most intensive missionary programs, not to mention urinating and defacing Buddhist temples and statues in Korea?

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외국 남자들 (foreign men) portrayed as [completely normal] boyfriends?

A rather progressive yogurt commercial:

Commentary and background information given by James Turnbull over at The Grand Narrative.

We’re Mad as Hell and We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore–How about a Picnic?

An event has been planned and you’re invited.  Really, it’s just a kind of picnic, which my friends and I will again enjoy in lovely Gwanghwamun Plaza, downtown Seoul.  We’re thinking of keeping it simple: pizza, kimbap, fried chicken, soft drinks.

What’s the occasion you ask?  Well, we are celebrating our right to stuff our faces, “to eat and to live,” in the name of the “public good” because we’ve had it with the vile individuals who have been using our plaza as a site of protest.
p1
(Image from News 1)

What protest?  You know that ship that sank back in April and had some people on it who died?  Well, their families are protesting about their deaths and the cause of the sinking and something about the government’s investigation. Mostly pointless, annoying stuff, and unpatriotic people (aka commies) who think they can occupy our public plaza because someone in their family drowned and they haven’t gotten over it.

Why a picnic?  We decided that since these families have been on some sort of hunger strike, not eating, that we’ll show up and chow down right in front of them, filling our faces with supreme pizza, fried chicken and some good old kimbap, all washed down with a chilled cola or two.  If they’re not going to eat, then we will.  We’re calling it a “food binge strike,” an “eat-in” if you will.  Sounds cool doesn’t it?

Plus, to be honest, we’ve just had it in general and we’re not going to take it anymore.  We can’t let our nation get hijacked by protesting families, whining women, greedy migrant workers and other pariahs.  It’s our time to rise up.

What did you say?  That’s vile, reprehensible, misanthropic, shameless, and just plain dumb.  Well, 18 you jongbuk sonuvabitch.

Korea’s made progress, but racism still a problem: U.N. special rapporteur

U.N. special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance was in Seoul and apparently didn’t like everything he saw:

Ruteere said that South Korea has made “important progress” in addressing the issue of racism and xenophobia, given its history of ethnic and cultural homogeneity.

The country, however, now confronts “emerging challenges” due to an influx of foreigners and migrant workers who are contributing to social change and a shift from a migrant-sending country to a migration destination.

“I found incidents or problems that are serious enough to merit attention (in South Korea),” Ruteere told a press conference, without elaborating.

Ruteere showed particular concern for the rights of migrant laborers and called on Seoul to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

He did address other aspects of racism in Korea, though, too. For instance, he notes that in the vast majority of cases, policies for multicultural families apply only to foreign women who marry Korean men, not the other way around.

Black face performances and the “This Africa” cigarette ad apparently got honorable mention, too.

He also argued against Korea’s immigration policies, which focus on assimilation, saying, “My understanding of multiculturalism is to strengthen intercultural understanding. It is not a one-way street, but a two-way street…Koreans have a lot to learn from their migrants, and the culture of their migrants. True multiculturalism means learning from both sides.”

Some might argue with the last point, but OK.

He also called on Korea to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination act. Now, I think I’ve expressed skepticism about such a law before, and while nobody would argue that the media shouldn’t be responsible, I’m not entirely comfortable with rhetoric like this:

“(It is also important) to ensure that the media is sensitive of the responsibility to avoid racist and xenophobic stereotypes and that these are properly addressed and perpetrators punished where appropriate.”

Emphasis mine. “Punishing perpetrators” can mean anything, of course, including some pretty outrageous things, let alone what groups like the OIC would do with that principle if they could. Being an asshole shouldn’t be a criminal offense.

Anyway, on Twitter, Benjamin Wagner reminds us:

Hot or Cold – The False Dilemma of Korean Politics

Kim Young-Oh is hungry but more sad than hungry.

Mr. Kim lost his 16-year-old daughter to the Sewol Ferry disaster and he collapsed from his hunger protest last Friday and has been hospitalized.

Mr. Kim was demanding that a fully independent investigator be assigned to the Sewol case instead of a government-connected prosecutor.  A bill has been proposed but rejected because a government-connected prosecutor is a problem for many because there has been a profound and long-held distrust of the government under the majority Saenuri Party, which has had a troubled history of manipulating events at the expense of the public’s trust.  Because of the reluctance of the ruling party to give such powers over to a non-aligned prosecutor, – citing constitutional problems as being the reason – Mr. Kim decided to fast.

Along with Mr. Kim’s fast, an all too common problem has been demonstrated, once again and that is a major problem of not just Korean politics but of most two-party political systems.

The real problem is a political system that is so degraded that it is suffering under a “false dilemma” – also known as “black-and-white thinking”.  Such an inflexible mindset is best exemplified in a two-party political system, which produces a either-or way of voting.  Due to the bi-polar (black or white) mentality of the political system in South Korea, many Koreans have assumed that:

Mr. Kim is a likely a bad man, that wants money, that failed to be a good parent and is probably a Communist and wants to wrench control of the country from the ruling party

OR . . .

Mr. Kim is a victim of the corruption of the ruling party that controls the government (at this moment) and is a hero that can help end the unjust rule of corrupt conservative politicians.

Actually, Mr. Kim is neither A or B.

There are several aspects to this situation.

Since the Sewol disaster, the NPAD faction and other supposed civic groups have offered their assistance to the parents of the kids that perished from the disaster, using it partly for their political agenda.  According to one parent, many did not want such help from the start:

Another father of a victim said some family members did not want left-wing activists helping them, as it compromised their political neutrality. “Some of us didn’t want to mingle with them, but at that time we were office workers who didn’t know how to speak up for ourselves,” he said. “So I thought we needed their support.” (cite)

The NPAD has also begun a boycott of government, bringing most legislative activity to a halt since this seems to be one of their areas of expertise.

Then there is that HUMONGOUS problem of credibility (sabotaging a prosecutor general, NIS-generated electioneering, etc.) , which the Saenuri-Hanara Dang/Administration has lacked, except in parts of the country where they enjoy an older constituency that vote out of that false dilemma thinking called regionalism.  I had a conversation with a fellow (over 50) in Daegu recently where he said he believed that Mr. Kim was a contemptible fellow, who was holding out for more money. To this self-described Saenuri supporter, it was all about money since there could not possibly be any other reason for Mr. Kim’s fast.

Very black-and-white in Daegu.

Meanwhile, many Koreans, that are against the Saenuri Dang feel that the ruling party does not want a truely independant investigation because of so much corruption tied to the ferry owner and people higher up in the ruling party. The government’s citing constitutional problems as being the reason why independant investigators can not be allowed is seen by many as being a “false choice” or “a deliberate attempt to eliminate several options that may occupy the middle ground on an issue”.

As for Mr. Kim? – he has said that “I have a headache. I have a headache because of politicians in South Korea, . . . We want to find why more than 300 people died unfairly. We want to clarify this and hold a person in charge accountable”.  He does not want money – he wants accountability so that his daughter’s short life and death will not have been in vain.

When there is such a firmly encamped case of the false dilemma, there can be parity only after much struggle since this way of thinking quickly becomes a device of the few that manipulate the many for gain, for example, currently there is an “ice-bucket challenge” that has become a popular way to raise the awareness of Lou Gehrig’s disease – a disease that can strike anyone no matter which political party they belong to.  The challenge is “to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research” . . .
However . . .
Both Rep. Park Jie-won of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) and Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung have both taken the challenge not so much to donate money to fighting ALS but as a tool for political means, as per Kim Moo-sung’s statement “Please persuade hawkish lawmakers [within the NPAD] after sorting out your thoughts with some cold water” followed by Park Jie-won’s comment “Though I participated [in the charity event] there are still people gravely concerned over the passage of the Sewol law and who are still waiting for the return of their loved ones. I hope that ice bucket challenge and the Sewol bucket challenge will go together”. 

ice-bucket

Photo courtesy of NEWSIS.

I give you a visual example of the false dilemma on ice.

Yoon Yeo-joon also sees all of this as well but, like him, we are left without a ready solution.  IMHO, the change will have to come from the people – without the aid of any current party and in a manner that can not be co-opted.  That will take time and probably something unforeseen.

Daum and Kakao Are On a First Name Basis

Kakao Corp. and Daum Communications announced that they will adopt the anti-hierarchical office culture of Kakao Corp.  after their merger in October.  All workers and executives will be required to call each other by English first names:  “Some 1,600 employees currently at Daum will choose a new English name for this, and by doing so, we hope to further promote the two firms’ work ethics that prioritize openness and active participation as well as create a synergy effect between the two groups.”

From Yonhap: “Of course, it may feel weird or awkward for people to call each other by a foreign name, but we’ll see how this system settles in when business begins at the new Daum-Kakao in October,” said Kang Yukyeong, a communications official at Daum.

From Korea Times:  “All workers at Kakao call co-CEO Lee Sir-goo by his English first name Vino.”  Kakao employee Dallas said he felt “‘kind of awkward’ when he first joined Kakao about six months ago.  ‘It didn’t take so long before I became used to being called my English name and calling others by their English names. I realized we are encouraged to make active communication in the office even with CEO.'”

State-sponsored Arirang News broadcast a piece, IT companies in Korea change corporate culture to promote innovation (video starts at 9:02):  “Could the seemingly minor changes bring about real changes to Korea’s innovation potential?  A recent innovation index ranked Korea 16th out of 77 countries– higher than Japan or China.   But when it came to the so-called tolerance index, which measures how much a society tolerates different values and thoughts, Korea was ranked near the bottom at 62.”

The C- Word

News sources and quoted experts cited the move as an attempt to counter Confucian culture:

Yonhap stated in its article,”addressing employees of different ranks by their first name is uncommon in South Korea, where corporate culture is often perceived as rigid and is operated along regimented and hierarchical lines, a reflection of the country’s Confucian roots. Such hierarchy at workplaces is palpable in local companies….”

Arirang News aired a (translated) statement from Kim Jae-hee, Professor of Psychology at Chungang University, “if we look at our Confucianist culture, we were taught that there is a right answer to everything. We were never taught to look for new answers. To foster creativity, we need to learn that there isn’t just one correct answer to everything and understand there could be multiple answers.” 


Arirang posed an interesting question: “Could the seemingly minor changes bring about real changes to Korea’s innovation potential?”  

If so, how effectively and at what social or cultural cost?

I suspect that the change in some Korean major players’ corporate culture will carry over to Korean corporate culture in general.  When casual Fridays and then casual dress came into corporate culture, employees liked and perceived it as a benefit.  Employers saw casual dress as a no-cost benefit, and companies that resisted discovered how much the labor marketplace valued casual dress.  I suspect that young, professional Korean talent will similarly place a value on casual address companies.

Will this spillover into wider Korean culture and be the end to Korea’s deeply rooted hierarchical culture?  I think ‘yes’, and we are witnessing a seminal moment.

Pyongyang’s Non-(?) Reaction, North Korean Catholicism(!), and Lankov

Solidifying North Korea’s already dominant position as the more comically entertaining of the two Koreas, Pyongyang reacted to speculation that the three short-range rockets fired off the east coast before Francis’s arrival and the two launched shortly after were in reaction to the Pope’s visit:

“We don’t know and in fact have no interest at all in why he is traveling to South Korea and what he is going to plot with the South Korean puppets,” Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim In-yong, a North Korean rocket scientist, as saying in reference to the pope.

The real question, the report quoted Mr. Kim as saying, was: “Why of all the days of the year, as numerous as the hairs of a cow, did the pope choose to come to the South on the very day we had planned to test our rockets?”

Reading between the lines, I see that North Korea has developed, to what diabolical end I do not know, a strain of nearly hairless cow with precisely 365 hairs in most years.  I will continue to monitor North Korean media for references to Kim In-yong or infer in lack thereof that Mr. Kim and his kin got sent to gulags for letting slip state secrets in South Korea’s most widely read English-language blog dealing with Korea-related topics.

Surprisingly (certainly to me), the Catholic Church does have a presence in North Korea.  Known as the “silent church”, Pyongyang has sanctioned one Catholic church, which has no official ties to the Vatican and is led by an itinerant South Korean Father John Park who has traveled to Pyongyang once a year since 2000 to celebrate mass.  The State maintains strict controls, and I doubt that Father Park administers the sacrament of confession:  “a confidential one-on-one conversation between a South Korean — even if that person is a priest — and a North Korean is impossible and both could be accused of espionage.”  North Korea has not a single priest residing in the country.  The United States claims North Korea’s few state-run churches exist only for the appearance of religious freedom.

As for numbers, the United Nations estimates about 800 Catholics in North Korea while North Korea’s state-run Korean Catholic Association asserts about 3,000 “registered Catholics.”  I wonder the reason for the North’s higher number, especially given that the regime is officially atheist.

Members of North Korea’s religious groups and the groups themselves are often criticized as being fake.   Here’s MH favorite Andrei Lankov’s take:

“The North Korean government is tolerant of a small controlled religious presence within the country or is willing to fake such presence,” said Andrei Lankov, an associate professor in social sciences at Kookmin University in South Korea.

“Even if some members are true believers, they are selected by the government. The police authorities, the secret police, is checking your background,” he said.

North Korea’s constitution does allow its people to practice religion. However, in the same constitution, it also says it won’t allow it to be “used for drawing in foreign forces or for harming the State or social order.”

Dr. Lankov concluded, “from their (North Korea’s) point of view, it is a very real threat. Right now, Christianity seems to be their most dangerous ideological challenge to the existing regime.”

I would like to ask him whether Christianity in general or Catholicism specifically is the threat.  We have seen in our lifetimes the irresistible political force, even to the Soviet Union and a well-backed Communist state and party, that the Catholic Church and pope can be.  I wonder could the next pope be Asian or even Korean?

For the Pope’s final mass on Monday for “peace and reconciliation for the Korean peninsula”, Vatican representatives had invited North Korea to send a delegation.  North Korea rejected the invitation.  The state-run Korean Catholics Association cited the annual joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces as the reason for rejection.  Apparently as fervently as they might feel about the Pope, North Korean Catholics feel even more so about the annual joint military exercises.

Africa’s a big place, folk

Duksung Women’s University, the host of the World Congress of Global Partnership for Young Women 2014, has rescinded its invitation to Nigerian participants due to the West African ebola outbreak, but some feel this apparently not enough:

However, it was not enough to cool down intensifying frustration from critics who demanded the entire congress to be called off. Some of the women’s university students and other opponents argue that other African participants from countries like Ghana or Rwanda may have come in contact with the disease.

The students yesterday initiated an online petition to cancel the event, garnering support from more than 15,000 people. Duksung’s official blog and website as well as a bulletin board on the Blue House’s website were bombarded with a flood of posts condemning the school’s hosting of the event.

The school said that it would try its best to prevent any potentially detrimental effects, reassuring the public that health officials would be on the lookout for anyone exhibiting Ebola symptoms, especially among the African participants. The school also said it would have participants stay in a separate building away from the school’s dormitory, reversing its initial plan to accommodate them in the dorms.

“It’s impossible to block the entrance of those from the non-affected countries,” said Heo In-seob, a public relations official with the university. “We are cooperating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I think that worries are too exaggerated.”

It’s good to be cautious, of course, but one wonders what some of the same netizens might think if foreign netizens called for Korean participants to be banned from an international conference because of a disease outbreak… in Myanmar.

Testing For Money Spent – Why Standardized Testing is Rigged

here_I_amI have a daughter who went to Kindergarten for several years and public school here in Seoul for eight years. She is smart, however, she had problems when she did her big exams. Her weekly scores were fair but the grades on the larger tests were horrible. I didn’t yell at her but her mother worked with her on some subjects, I bought science books and hired a tutor for her math and her scores improved over time.

This last January, I let her go to live with my sister in Nebraska (her aunt who shares the same birthday even) and after two months there, her scores went from a 56 (here) to a 99 percent!

I thought maybe American schools are teaching easier than Korean schools, which in many cases seems to be true since her middle-school classes would introduce subjects that I only got in high school myself, however I then ran across an article from the Atlantic that maintains standardized tests, in America, aren’t actual tests of knowledge but are branded products produced by textbook companies, and getting a good score depends on whether you bought the right books to study. It seems that many schools here in Korea pull their testing material straight from textbooks here, that have a vested interest in making $$$ and some teachers do get gifts from certain publishers, so . . . it turns out I have a smart daughter after all who will not end up working in Wallmart. I only wonder and worry about her friends here and so many other bright Korean kids that have to labour and suffer under this deliberately weighted variable, not to mention the high household debt 1 2 3 here in Korea – much of which is due to educational expenses to help these kids keep up and to study at the *right* places or the very high rate of suicide (the number one reason for death between the ages of 10 and 30) (cite), due to the stress of living. How much income is lost to average Korean households due to this system and how long will the system function before it flips over and sinks?

Update

A new opinion piece in the NY Times discusses the stresses upon Korean kids in being driven by their parents (if not mom) to excel in grades:

. . . She (mother) did not want me to suffer like my brother, who had a chest pain that doctors could not diagnose and an allergy so severe he needed to have shots at home.
I was fortunate that my mother recognized the problem and had the means to take me abroad. Most South Korean children’s parents are the main source of the unrelenting pressure put on students.

The opinion piece is here.

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