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Category: Korean Society (page 2 of 36)

81-year-old guy with dementia charged with setting hospital fire: report

Ye Olde Chosun is reporting that an 81-year-old man by the name of Kim has been arrested on charges with setting the fire at the convalescent hospital in Jangseong, Jeollanam-do that killed 21 and injured eight.

The man had previously been treated at the hospital for dementia.

The hospital’s CCTV apparently got Kim entering and leaving the room where the fire originated one minute prior to the start of the blaze.

I’m sure we’ll be learning more soon.

UPDATE: Kim was apparently still a patient. And police think he started the fire by setting bedding alight with a lighter, although why he did so, they do not know. For what it’s worth, the guy—who is apparently with it enough to undergo questioning—is denying the charges.

Back by Popular Demand: Crap I Read Today, May 20, 2014

- Fire at a power plant yesterday, explosion on a subway today. When it rains, it pours.

– If you were wondering how to spin the Sewol disaster into an opportunity for national reunification, see John Feffer’s “Koreas united by rule-breaking spirit” in the Asia Times (HT to Joshua).

– KORAIL’s union is claiming that over half the KTXs are running on wheels that need reprofiling.

– Do does this mean if I grow rich and found my own cult, I can unsafely modify a ferry to move my photos off Tumblr? Not that I’d want to move my photos off Tumblr, of course—Tumblr has been quite good to me recently.

– Well, maybe not as good as the Louvre was to Yoo (HT to KB):

To be fair to Mr. Loyrette, he wasn’t the only director of a high-profile museum to get snookered.

– So, just how many public organization heads were “parachuted” in from the ministries or the political parties under President Park? Nearly 50%: 75 out of 153. And only 7% have been women. Read the bloody details in the linked article. Needless to say, a bit disappointing from a president who has repeatedly pledged to stop doing that sort of thing. But not surprising, either.

More stuff about the Geumsuwon compound in Anseong. Seems like not everyone there is playing by the same playbook.

And then there’s Samsung

If you haven’t read it yet, Kurt Eichenwald’s piece on the Great Samsung—Apple War in Vanity Fair is a MUST READ.

Samsung does not come off very well at all, but to be honest, my impression after reading the story is that the Korean electronics giant should count itself lucky—it could have come off much, much worse.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that because, well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Samsung scares the shit out of me.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Samsung rather unexpectedly apologized to workers who contracted cancer at the company’s semiconductor factories and their surviving family members (read that Businessweek piece in full). Of course, there’s still negotiating to do before Samsung, like, compensates anyone, but I suppose a start’s a start.

(HT to KB, Colin)

Yoo still ignoring summons; his cult is batshit insane

Following up on Yuna’s earlier post, former Semo Group chairman Yoo Byung-eon is still ignoring a summons for questioning.

Now prosecutors are asking for a detention warrant:

Judging that Yoo could flee or destroy evidence, the prosecution office asked a district court to issue the warrant to detain him for questioning.
The prosecution office said if Yoo once again fails to appear at a court hearing that is to decide whether to issue the warrant, it will seek out other measures to detain the disgraced businessman.

And by other measures, what prosecutors mean is that they’ll probably raid the compound of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Anseong, where Yoo is believed to be hiding. They can’t be looking forward to it, though, as members of the church—cult, really—are forming human barricades to stop the law from moving in. And they may be willing to protect Yoo, a founding member of the church, with their lives:

Even if the prosecutors decided on forced entry, detaining Yoo will not be an easy task.

Jeong Dong-sub, a leader of a victims’ group of heretical sects’ and a former member of the Salvation Sect, said the cult members are likely to be faithful to their words that they will “stop the authorities with their lives.” He said in a radio interview that Yoo’s father-in-law likened him to Jesus, while some members actually think Yoo is God.

If this goes down Waco or Jonestown-style, I won’t be the least bit surprised.

Anyway, prosecutors suspect Yoo and his family were up to their eyeballs in all manners of maleficence, although in what is either a touching display of loyalty or batshit insanity, his aides are saying Yoo had nothing to do with Cheonghaejin Marine:

Yoo — a businessman, artist, ex-convict and religious figure — may face a host of corruption charges, including embezzlement, dereliction of duty, tax evasion and bribery, according to prosecutors. They suspect he controls Chonghaejin Marine through two of his sons, who own stakes in the firm through various subsidiaries.

However, his close aides have so far denied his involvement in the management of Chonghaejin Marine and a dozen other affiliates, saying that he does not have any stake in them.

The prosecution suspects that the Yoo family established three paper companies to create slush funds and illegally transfer money abroad by embezzling corporate funds while failing to fulfill the duty of properly managing the companies.

Embezzlement, tax evasion, fleeing from justice, fanatical followers and megalomaniac family heads* controlling companies they hold little or no equity in… it’s like every bad chaebol practice rolled into one!

* If you ARE a chaebol head reading this, I don’t mean you, of course. I mean your competitors.

(HTs to a few people, but mostly KB)

손석희’s interview with 정몽준 on JTBC

정몽준, Saenuri’s candidate for the position of Seoul City Mayor has been on the news after he was interviewed by 손석희 on JTBC.

He has been in the news following the Sewol disaster due to his son’s statement only a few days after the tragedy that “the President is having a hard time due to 미개한 국민성 (uncivilized/primitive national character of the people)”.
He has also been in the news due to his wife being charged for campaigning for himself (somebody in a current political position) a violation of election law according to the election committee.

Here he is being interviewed, and answering questions on this issue, as well as some other issues. 손석희 says he would not question him on his son’s statements, and 정몽준 says “well saying you won’t is the same as (being questioned)”

On the charge against his wife, he says that things are not so clear cut – the rules of election, and also says that the way the media is treating it, it’s as if “his wife has distributed money-filled envelopes”. He then goes on to add “she asked people to vote for “the candidate that would win” and did not specifically mention his name.”

He also calls 손석희 “우리 손사장님” in a sarcastic manner during the interview when he is in a pinch.

What comes across very strongly is his character as well as the level of intelligence during the interview.

NYT becomes Korean political battleground. Again.

A group of Korean-Americans in Los Angeles has placed a full-page ad in the New York Times blasting the Park administration for a) its handling of the Sewol disaster and b) weakening democracy in Korea.

You can read a pdf of the ad here. The group that released the ad has more stuff in English at their website and at their Indeigogo page. The campaign apparently began on MissyUSA, a site for Korean immigrant women in the United States that, last time I remember reading anything about them, was where some folk were conducting a signature campaign against the KORUS FTA in 2011.

Needless to say, how you feel about said ad largely depends on your political bend:

The ad got a mixed response back in Korea. While conservatives condemned it as treachery and an act of agitation, liberals claimed the Park administration deserves such humiliation abroad given the extent of its wrongdoings.

The ruling Saenuri Party yesterday expressed concerns about the campaign overseas, defining it as “instigation.”

“When some people believe that political factions are trying to instigate the public, we need to be much more cautious,” Hwang Woo-yea, president of the party, told the members of its Supreme Council yesterday. “I am extremely worried that those factions are perpetrating various acts of sedition via overseas media.”

According to reports, Korean-American opinion about the ad is divided, too. I find it hard not to sympathize with “John” here:

”I understand people are angry. We are all furious about the tragedy, but what do we get out of publicly condemning the government in a New York Times ad? What’s with all these New York Times ads anyway?’’ says John, 44, a PR firm executive in New York who didn’t want to disclose his last name.

”Being in the marketing and public relations industry, I know that this newspaper ad is going to do very little to help organizers get what they want,’’ he said.

Other overseas Korean groups will release statements of their own refuting the NYT ad.

I’m sort of frustrated with everybody involved in this story. I actually agree with the folk who posted the ad that there are journalistic practices that need improving and the government’s handling of both public relations and the press has been, as usual, hamfisted. I’d love to learn more about what happened to a Korean-German journalist who was allegedly harassed by the Korean embassy after writing something critical of the government in Die Zeit. That said, I’ve read so much bitching about what the government did or didn’t do during and after the sinking that if the government really is trying to control and sensor the media, it’s doing a piss poor job of it.

And I’ll be honest—the Sewol sinking is starting to remind me a lot of another recent maritime outrage, the 2010 sinking of the Cheonan. And by that, I mean that just as everybody became an expert on naval engineering and forensics in the aftermath of the Cheonan sinking, now it seems everybody’s an expert on maritime search and rescue. Do I think the government is being 100% honest about the sinking? No. Do I think Park’s detractors really know what they are talking about? No, I don’t think anybody knows at this point. Do I think the government is trying to spin events to minimize the political damage? Yes. Do I think certain elements of the opposition are cynically using the tragedy to attack the government politically? Yes. Do I think the NYT ad represents said cynical use of the tragedy to score political points against the government? Yes. Do I think the government, its paranoia heightened, may react to the ad in a way that at least partially justifies the complaints made by the people who ran it? Yes.

Like I said, it’s pretty much all bad.

(HT to the folk who sent me links)

Not a banner month for public safety in Korea

A subway train apparently rear-ended a stationary one at Sangwangsimni Station, Line 2, leaving 170 with slight injuries.

According to the government (make of that what you will), many of the injuries came from passengers disobeying orders:

One subway car was derailed and passengers walked a short distance along the tracks to the station, YTN television said.

Many of the injuries were caused by passengers jumping from the subway cars onto the tracks, a government emergency official said.
An onboard announcement initially told passengers to stay inside, but most people ignored it and forced the doors open to escape, he said.

Can’t wait for that to be spun culturally.

A friend of mine sent me a tweet with an image of passengers walking along the rails:

Sewol Tragedy: May 2

- Thought Cheonghaejin Marine could look any worse than it already does? Think again (HT to King Baeksu):

The owner of the sunken ferry Sewol refused coverage of funeral costs for part-time employees of the ship, according to Kookmin Ilbo Wednesday.

The development sprouted from the deaths of Lee, 19, and Bang, 20, who worked in Sewol distributing meals to passengers. After the accident, their bodies were recovered Tuesday on the ferry’s fifth floor lobby.

The report said Cheonghaejin Marine, the ferry’s owner, notified the city of Incheon that they will cover funeral expenditures only for its regular employees and not for part-timers.

The company is also being accused to hiding evidence following the sinking.

– And just when you thought things could get any seedier, we have people wondering what the hell the captain—who was wearing just his underwear when he was rescued—was doing with a middle-aged Korean woman and a Filipina singer. See more here (Korean).

– At least John Mayer wants to help.

– President Park’s going to apologize again. Or so it appears, anyway. Let’s hope it goes down better than her last one, but I’m not holding out hope. I admit that an apology is politically necessary at this point, but as for what, exactly, the government needs to apologize for, I think we’re going to have to wait for the follow-up investigations and hearings before we know. I think it’s safe to say that the government dropped the ball BEFORE the accident by allowing Cheonghaejin Marine to operate, but as for its handling of the accident itself, honestly, I don’t know what’s true and what ain’t. There’s just too much shoddy journalism, grief-driven anger and political point-scoring for that. I do recommend Aja Aja’s comments in this thread, though.

– To add to Kuiwon’s comment here, I do find it odd—you know, given the way Confucianism and other aspects of Korean culture have come under scrutiny following the Sewol sinking—that nobody’s asking what role Baptist theology and American missionary activity may have played in the tragedy. While we’re on the subject, see Dogbertt’s comment here:

Interesting to me that so many are eager to blame “Korean culture” for the actions of the captain, etc., but I haven’t seen anyone praise “Korean culture” for the incredible, selfless sacrifice of those crewmembers who gave their lives knowingly and willingly to save passengers. I would rather praise that as “Korean culture”.

– The Dong-A Ilbo ran an interview with former 2ID commander Russel L. Honoré, who is better known State-side as the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina. As you’d imagine, the interview deals with leadership in times of disaster, but it also talks about the lessons he learned from the 2002 Miseon-Hyosun Incident.

Park getting blasted, bodies still being recovered, cult connections and more

Excuse the lack of posting: part of it has been my schedule, but mostly, I just needed a break.

213 bodies have been recovered. 89 are still missing.

– President Park may have to apologize again for the government’s handling of the Sewol disaster. Her most recent trip to the scene of the accident did not go well at all. That Park is a micromanager hasn’t helped the government response.

– Park also says she will break the so-called “government mafia” in which former officials find jobs with industry lobbies after their retirement (HT to Anonymous Joe). Good luck with that. To get an idea of how this corruption helped pave the way for the tragedy:

When the ship set sail from Incheon, west of Seoul, on April 15, it was top-heavy with cabins recently added to its upper decks, investigators said. The ship was reportedly overloaded with poorly lashed cargo, and crew members did not keep a correct record of passengers. Still, the Korea Shipping Association, a lobbying group for shipping companies that also serves as a safety monitor, ruled the ship fit to sail.

On Tuesday, prosecutors sought to arrest two officials at the shipping association on charges of destroying documents and deleting computer files before their offices were raided last week by investigators. Prosecutors were looking for evidence of corrupt ties between the association and shipping companies.

Park has also ordered a review of the safety budget.

– Leave it up to the Chosun Ilbo to express concern about the abuse President Park is taking from netizens and some progressive groups. One analyst quoted in the piece said the groups were trying to recreate the candlelight protests against US beef imports that rocked the LMB administration. Of course, looking at the Hani front page, it’s not hard to see why the Chosun would be concerned, but I can only Park shows more tact than her predecessor.

– The Semo Group, which owns Chonghaejin Marine, is a tangled web indeed. Ultimately, though, it’s run by the two sons of former chairman Yoo Byung-eun and a couple of other individuals. And to make things worse, Yoo, many Cheonghaejin Marine officials and even the Sewol captain are members of a religious cult (HT to King Baeksu). TK of Ask a Korean did a write-up about the cult in question back in 2010.

– Yoo and his family claim they only have KRW 10 billion in assets, but prosecutors believe they have something KRW 320 billion in assets. (HT to King Baeksu)

– Interestingly enough, Yoo is also a photographer who I actually posted about back in 2012.

Sewol Tragedy Updates: April 22

- The grim work continues, with 105 bodies recovered so far and 197 passengers still missing.

– To show how difficult getting the numbers right will be, divers have recovered the body of a foreign man, believed to be Chinese, who was not on the original boarding list. Officially, there were only five foreigners on board, including two Filipino cruise boat singers who were rescued. Of the other three, the bodies of two were recovered and a third is still missing.

– Police are investigating a Saenuri Party lawmaker for posting on her Facebook page that a female protester at the Miryang power line protest was down in Jindo stirring shit up while posing as a family member. The woman in question, who says she hasn’t been to the Jindo gathering, has accused the lawmaker of slander. The lawmaker in question has erased her post and apologized for posting something she’d read on a friend’s site but hadn’t looked into herself.

– Then there’s fellow Facebook warrior Rep. Han Gi-ho, who warned that leftist groups and cyber-terrorists have gotten their marching orders from Pyongyang to use the Sewol sinking to destabilize the government. Face palm time.

– The prime minister announced today that the government would formulate a master plan to improve public safety.

– President Park, meanwhile, has likened the captain’s action to murder. Mind you, I don’t believe many would disagree, but some have questioned whether the head of state should be making such statements before the guy’s had his day in court. I don’t know. Do you really need a trial in this case to heap rhetorical abuse on the guy?

– Everybody—local press, foreign press—seems to using the tragedy to take issue with aspects of Korean society they dislike. As in the case with incidents like this anywhere in the world, there’s going to be a look of finger-pointing and genuine national self-reflection, but there’s also going to be a lot of political opportunism and ill-timed foreign lecturing.

Sewol Disaster Updates: April 21

- As of this morning, 64 bodies have been recovered. Another 238 are still missing.

– Rescue personnel should enter the kitchen area at noon as well as conduct a concentrated search of the third and fourth-story passenger rooms. This is where they believe many of the passengers/bodies are. Weather conditions around the wreck are reportedly pretty good. Rescue personnel are now using a Remotely-Operated Vehicle, too.

– In addition to the captain, four other crew members have now been arrested on charges of abandoning passengers on the sinking ship.

Also appearing before the police following the issuing of an arrest warrant was Hong Ga-hye, the young “volunteer diver” who during an interview with broadcaster MBN claimed the government was hindering volunteer efforts to rescue passengers, that relief equipment was lacking, etc. Turns out the woman in question was a serial impostor, and MBN has apologized.

– MBN’s screw-up was indicative of how badly the media has handled the Sewol sinking. To be fair to the Korean media, though, it seems the rush to publish—regardless of veracity—is now simply part of the contemporary media environment the world over. Doesn’t mean that’s a healthy phenomenon, though.

– Perhaps unsurprisingly—especially given the anger being expressed by the parents of kids on the ship—the Hankyoreh is complaining about the government response to the tragedy. I guess in the investigations to come we’ll learn of things the government could have done better, but frankly, I think the government has responded fairly well so far, and as Andrew Salmon notes in Forbes, the anger should probably be directed at the crew and the ferry company, not the Park Geun-hye administration. Having said that, I—unlike the son of possible Seoul mayoral candidate Chung Mong-joon, apparently—understand that families are grieving, angry and lashing out at anyone they can. I might do the same, if I were in their situation.

– The fact that so many of the kids who did what they were told died has parents and teachers wondering what to tell kids now. There is also concern that the lesson people will draw from this is that you should just do what you think is best in an emergency, which is probably NOT what you’d ordinarily want to do in an emergency situation.

– Given what I’ve read in my comments, I suppose it was only a matter of time before somebody started blaming culture for aspects of the accident, in this case, the number of fatalities. Of course, we are talking about CNN, so perhaps we shouldn’t expect much. As I’ve said earlier, it doesn’t help that the Korean media itself will frequently resort to cultural explanations for this sort of thing, too. For instance, we’ve got a Korean sociologist in the JoongAng Ilbo piece linked above saying much the same thing the CNN reporter (herself Korean, or at least ethnic Korean) does.

Odds & Ends in the News . . .

Other odd  or interesting bits in the news as of late:

The penis patrol is on alert for adultery again: South Korea has banned the Korean Ashley Madison website that offers a way for married people to meet since South Korea still has a 1953 statute that criminalises adultery.  The website owner, Noel Biderman believes the law is “hopelessly outdated” but still heeded legal advice not to attend the South Korea launch in person.  For those that might wonder why people would visit such a site, this GQ piece was pretty much to the point and interesting.  The power of scent is not to be underestimated.

South Korea and Japan have held senior-level discussions on Korea’s “comfort women” and have discussed the need to put this issue behind both countries for the sake of future relations.

Sewol Sinking Updates

- The confirmed death toll is now up to 26, with 270 still missing.

– Divers have begun exploring the inside of the vessel. They are also pumping oxygen in to give any survivors a better chance.

– That said, the ship has now slipped completely beneath the waves, three days after it capsized.

– 108 patrol boats, 61 civilian and government boats, four cranes and 535 rescue personnel are on the scene.

– The parents of the missing have issued a statement blasting the government response.

– Overseas experts told the Chosun Ilbo that the captain’s misjudgment essentially wasted a 140 minute opportunity to evacuate the ship. More analysis in the New York Times.

More to come later.

Sewol Tragedy: What we know so far

- Of the 475 passengers, 179 have been rescued, nine are confirmed dead and 287 are still missing.

– 10 crew members, including the captain, were called into questioning a second time by the Coast Guard. Unlike the first questioning, in which the captain was brought in as a witness, this time he was brought in as a suspect as the Coast Guard is considering filing a number of charges against him, including manslaughter. He issued an apology to the public, but refused to answer any other questions from reporters, including questions regarding reports that he abandoned passengers to jump ship first.

– Rescue workers haven’t been able to explore the interior of the ship yet. They are trying to pump air into the vessel, though, to boost the chances of any survivors inside.

– As for the cause of the accident, we’re still not sure, but the Coast Guard think the most likely cause was that the cargo inside shifted to one side of the hold as the ship made a sharp turn, capsizing the vessel.

– There’s been a lot of talk about the crew’s response to the accident. And by talk, I mean criticism. In particular, survivors testify that crew told passengers to stay where they were rather than try to escape even as water was flooding some of the decks. Only one life raft was deployed, too. As there’s still a lot we don’t know, I’m not going to join the chorus of condemnation just yet, but I will say this is not something you want to hear from a crew member:

선원 김모(61)씨는 “침몰하는 배에서 빠져나오는 데 바빠 다른 사람들이 구조됐는지 신경쓸 틈도, 어떠한 조치를 취할 겨를도 없었다”고 말했다.

– We know that the ship deviated from a government-recommended course. I don’t know if that had anything to do with the sinking, though.

– You can read some of the communications between the ship and the Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center here.

Developing Situation: Ferry sinks off Jindo

Let’s pray for the best here:

A passenger ship carrying more than 470 people, mostly high school students, sank off South Korea’s southern coast on Wednesday, leaving at least two people dead and 13 others injured, amid fears the toll could be much higher.

A total of 368 people have been confirmed rescued, but the death toll could rise sharply as nearly one hundred passengers remain unaccounted for amid fears that they could be trapped inside the sunken vessel.

In its last report, Yonhap said there were 107 missing. The fear is that many were perhaps unable to leave their rooms before their floors flooded, but we just don’t know yet.

Still no word on the cause of the sinking.

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