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Category: South Korea (page 1 of 208)

Some of the Real K-pop – LeeSA

LeeSa

LeeSA doing her cover of “Red”.

I have spent a good bit of time listening to chaebol music and, though the production skills are good, it leaves me wanting to hear something fresh – something fresh like LeeSA (리싸).  She has a great voice and her covers really do sound good, so much that I prefer listening to her version. Her version of “Red” is really nice.  The stripped down versions of these covers are great because the music is not hiding under a pile of audio tricks, sampling and ProTools plug-ins – Just basic mixing.

As happens with most indie Korean artists, LeeSA has a notable presence on youtube, which is lucky for listeners looking for something different from South Korea that has something to do with music and not “music business”.

Other great original songs, such as “Could You Stop that Smile” are here.

Open Thread: October 19, 2014

My whirlwind weekend tour of Korea’s October festivals continues.  Yesterday, I took Anonymous_Family to Yeonan University’s Fall Flower Festival.   Here’s the only pic that I could crop out Anonymous_Kids:

Cheonan Yeonan Flower Festival

For those interested in a literal breath of fresh air from Itaewon and Hongdae, the college’s campus is beautiful, the prettiest I’ve seen in Korea.  With red brown brick buildings and landscaped acreage, Yeonan’s reminded me of a small New England or mid-West college’s campus.  The drive (you will need a car) is just over the Pyeongtaek border in Chungcheongnamdo through amber fields of waving Asian grains.  We spent the afternoon, and the campus’s trees seemed to turn on us, showing their true colors by early evening.

 

16 Concert-goers Dead in Seongnam

A failed ventilation grate at the fateful Seongnam concert.

At least sixteen people were killed after falling through a ventilation grate at a K-pop concert in Seongnam.  An English link is here. According to accounts:

. . . in the dense crowd, 20-30 people climbed on a grate over the deep ventilation shaft. Under their weight the grate gave way and the group fell through.

Photo: Yonhap News

UPDATE: The concert promoter has committed suicide shortly after being questioned by the police.

Kakao Jumps Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

As a measure to stem the flood of users leaving Kakao Talk, Daum Kakao CEO Lee Sirgoo announced today that the company would no longer comply with prosecutors’ requests for private Kakao Talk conversations.  The surprise announcement set the stage for a direct confrontation between the company and Korean authorities that will likely end in obstruction of justice charges brought against the company and its CEO.

Lee Sirgoo Apology

Lee Sirgoo, Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

At a quickly arranged press conference on Monday, Lee bent his head in apology and said that he would personally bear the full legal consequences of the decision.  “If the decision means violating the law, I will abide by any punishment because I made the final call on this as CEO.  We did not talk with related government agencies about this, and we are not saying that warrants issued are flawed. But I believe the right way to handle our users’ criticism and disappointment is to strengthen protection of their privacy….  To do this, we stopped accepting prosecution warrants to monitor our users’ private conversions (sic) from Oct. 7, and we hereby announce that we will continue to do so.”   Daum Kakao officials characterized the measure as a matter of “survival” and not “optional”.

Lee stated that the decision was not personal and was made with the agreement of management, and vowed that the company would, according to the Korea Times, “continue to prioritize users’ privacy even if he is replaced by another person.”

In the first half of 2014, Korean authorities made 2,131 requests for users’ information with search warrants , and Kakao Talk cooperated with “more than three quarters” of those requests.  Korean authorities made an additional 61 court-approved requests  seeking to wiretap users’ conversations under suspicion of charges such as rebellion or violation of the National Security Law.  The company denied that authorities used the warrants to monitor users real time conversations and claimed that that the company was not technologically equipped to monitor real time conversations. Kakao Talk nonetheless “cooperated with nearly all the 61 requests by collecting messages that had been stored on its servers for between three and seven days.”

Lee announced that the company would introduce several measures to protect users’ privacy such as organizing an information security advisory committee, regularly publishing a transparency report, and implementing “end-to-end” encryption to remove the possibility that conversations could be monitored through Kakao’s servers. He conceded that the enhanced security features would necessarily make the application more difficult to use.  Lee stressed that the company had already cut the period that information gets stored on Kakao’s servers from seven to a maximum three days.

KT’s article concluded that at a September 16 cabinet meeting PGH complained “of insults about her and said online rumors have ‘gone too far and divided society,’ according to the Cheong Wa Dae website.”


The problem of course is that CEO Lee Sirgoo will not bear the full responsibility of the decision.  The security guards at the gates of Daum Kakao will have to permit entry to Korean authorities with warrants, and technicians served with such warrants will perforce offer up their wares or face obstruction charges themselves.  Lee Sirgoo’s stance has bought Kakao 15 minutes.  Daum Kakao needs a decision based on the constitutionality of the wiretaps for the future of Daum Kakao and free speech in Korea.

Aware of Korea’s legacy of lèse-majesté, which might play inside Korea but conflicts with the freedoms of a liberal democracy, I am continually surprised, though I no longer know why anymore, that Korean public figures are unaware that their protestations bring scrutiny and ridicule upon themselves.

PGH needs to grow a thick skin, by which I mean in addition to the lovely, perfectly complected thin skin that encases her now.

Seoul’s Mayor Comes Out In Favor of Legalizing Same Sex Marriage

Seoul’s mayor and popular pick among pundits for presidential candidate in 2017 Park Won-soon came out in support of legalizing gay marriage.  In an interview with the San Francisco Examiner published last Sunday, Park voiced his personal support for gay rights and hopes that Korea would become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.

“I personally agree with the rights of homosexuals,” Park said. “But the Protestant churches are very powerful in Korea. It isn’t easy for politicians. It’s in the hands of activists to expand the universal concept of human rights to include homosexuals. Once they persuade the people, the politicians will follow. It’s in process now.”

When asked whether Taiwan would be the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage since Taiwanese legislature currently has a bill under consideration, Park answered, “I hope Korea will be the first. Many homosexual couples in Korea are already together. They are not legally accepted yet, but I believe the Korean Constitution allows it. We are guaranteed the right to the pursuit of happiness. Of course, there may be different interpretations to what that pursuit means.”

If Park is indeed considering a run for the presidency, his support for same-sex marriage could prove politically risky.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “the vast majority of South Koreans have negative attitudes against gay people, let alone same-sex marriage….”   A poll conducted last year by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies showed that 21.5% of the 1,500 adults surveyed said “they had little or no objections to homosexuality, while only a quarter said they supported gay marriage.”  The results were polarized by age:  a majority of those over 50 said they had “negative views towards homosexuality”, a majority of those under 40 were supportive of gay rights, and respondents in their 40s were almost evenly split in their views of homosexuality.

Park Won-soon,  58, was expelled as a freshman from SNU for his participation in a pro-democracy demonstration and made his bones as a civil rights attorney.  When the subject of South Korea’s prosecution and jailing of Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse to perform compulsory military service came up, Park said “alternative civilian service for Jehovah’s Witnesses would be acceptable.”

According to an official at the mayor’s office, the interview took place during the mayor’s trip to California last month.

Samsung profits taking a beating

Samsung Electronics has announced that their third quarter profits will decline 60% vs. last year’s third quarter.  This represents the largest quarterly drop in profits in five years.

Per CNET:

The South Korean electronics giant said it expects to record an operating profit of 4.1 trillion won ($3.8 billion) for the quarter ended September 30, a 59.7 percent drop from the year-ago quarter. The company also said it expects sales for the quarter to come in around 47 trillion won, a 20 percent decline.

The main culprit?  Cheap phones from China.

Samsung’s market share of the global smartphone industry fell from 31% to about 25%.  However, this negative news hasn’t dampened demand for Samsung stock as its price rebounded on the bad news, rising 1.8% on the belief that Samsung’s stock won’t decline much more and profits will eventually rebound.

Some believe that Samsung will claw back to sales and profit growth through three strategies:

1. Expanding chip production (i.e. the brains that drive smartphones), particularly 14 nm chips that will produce smaller, but more powerful and energy efficient processors.

2. Produce profitable, but cheaper smartphones to better compete against the Chinese.

3. Differentiate their phones by using flexible screens and new materials.

However, other analysts believe Samsung has a difficult road ahead of it, squeezed between cheaper Chinese competitors and high-end phones from Apple and a over reliance on hardware innovation when it’s usually been software innovation that’s driven smartphone value creation.

We have seen Samsung scramble itself out of market shifts before.  We shall see if it can do so again.

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.

Former Mongolian president takes asylum in Korea: report

Former Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar has taken asylum with his family in Korea, reports the JoongAng Ilbo.

For those keeping score at home, this would be the first time a foreign head of state—serving or former—has taken asylum in Korea. Assuming the report is true, that is.

A former poet, translator and minister of culture, Enkhbayar was president of Mongolia from 2005 to 2009. A former communist, he was credited with helping Mongolia transform into something resembling a liberal democracy, earning the appellation “Asia’s Tony Blair” from Reuters and USD 285 million in aid from the American taxpayer.

In 2012, however, Mongolia’s anti-corruption board—a board I would not want to sit on, BTW—arrested him on charges of illegally transferring ownership of state-owned factories, hotels and other properties to his family. He cried political persecution, explaining that what he did was just common practice for Mongolian politicians (Marmot’s Note: his complaints were not completely without substance). While he was being detained, he went on hunger strike, prompting his friend, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to call current Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj to ask for leniency.

Anyway, a court found him guilty of abuse of authority and sentenced him to two years and six months in the sin bin. Rather than prison, though, he spent some time in the hospital before getting pardoned for health reasons in August of last year.

After his pardon, Enkhbayar spent much of his time in Korea, getting medical treatment and engaging in various activities. Recently, he and his family took Korean citizenship. While president, Enkhbayar was a good friend to Korea, visiting Seoul several times and proposing a number of joint projects—including mining development—to both presidents Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Myung-bak. A devout Buddhist, he also received Korea’s Manghae Prize in 2006.

His asylum was reported first in the local Mongolian press last month, but that story reportedly ended when the secretary general of his party, the Mongolian People’s Party, denied the report. However, Enkhbayar is still currently president of the Mongolian People’s Party, so his taking of Korean citizenship has to be a sensitive issue, says the JoongAng Ilbo. When the Mongolian press reported his exile last month, it said he was concerned that he might be recharged with illegal real estate acquisitions. A Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo, however, that since Enkhbayar had been pardoned, his taking of Korean citizenship did not pose any legal problems between the two countries.

Marmot’s Note: As far as I know, the Mongolian government has not confirmed the story yet, but the JoongAng Ilbo report has apparently made the news in Mongolia, so I imagine UB will be commenting on it soon enough.

UPDATE: The Korean government is denying the JoongAng Ilbo report:

The government denied a news report, Monday, about a former Mongolian President seeking political refugee status in Korea.

“We have not received any requests from Nambaryn Ennkhbayar seeking asylum here,” a Korea Immigration Service (KIS) official said on condition of anonymity. Ennkhbayar, 56, was convicted of corruption by Ulaanbaatar’s highest court in 2012 after serving his four-year presidential term from June 2005 to June 2009.

Seoul’s immigration office added that Ennkhbayar has been living in Korea since August of last year after the Mongolian government granted him a pardon, citing his “health.”

Interesting, but the JoongAng Ilbo also cited a Korean government official. So who the hell knows what’s going on.

Open Thread: October 5, 2014

Festival Week, and I’m frequenting my favorites.

Finally, Happy in Seoul

Pharrell Williams’s infectious song that inspired videos around the world has finally inspired Seoul, and Happy videos taken in and around Seoul have sprung up on YouTube.

I first became aware of the song and the selvies (I’m looking to trademark the portmanteau self + video….  a little help BC, DLB?) during the international story that came of six Iranis, three men and three unveiled women (oh, the jackals),  who were arrested and sentenced to 91 lashes and jail for dancing to Happy.  (For those unaware of the story and video, be certain to view what people in parts of the world face prison for.)

Since then a spate of selvies™ has appeared on YouTube.  A notable project is 24 hours of Happy, which shows selvies™ stitched together in an hour loop taken at each hour of the day.

Seoul seems late to the Happy hour project party, but the Irani Happy story broke in May, around the time of the Sewol Ferry trajedy.  Korea wasn’t feeling Happy.

Here’s a Happy sampling of Seoul:

–and–

I like the song, and I like the videos.   Seoul looks great, and Seoul’s selvies™ are every bit as good as, if not better than, other cities’ selvies™.

Pardon moi?

Citing the downturn in the Korean economy, members of Park Geun-hye’s ministries have floated the possibility of special pardons to conglomerate owners and family members in prison on convictions of economic crimes such as embezzlement, breach of trust, and incurring losses to their companies.

On September 24, Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn hinted at the possibility of releasing or pardoning imprisoned businessmen by rhetorically asking, “Couldn’t they be given a chance if a national consensus is formed?”, and on September 25,  Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Choi Kyung-hwan supported  Hwang’s position:  “Punishing businessmen with excessively stringent penalties is no help when it comes to economic recovery.”

Candidate Park Geun-hye campaigned on a promise that President Park Geun-hye would have zero-tolerance for chaebol chiefs’ crimes.  Hwang had previously reiterated PGH’s stance for strict application of law regarding business irregularities, and a special amnesty in January did not include businessmen involved in financial crimes:  “The Justice Ministry last year declared that those in leadership positions in society and high-ranking government officials will not be given parole, as a matter of principle. It was in that spirit of nontolerance that Park Yeon-cha, former chairman of Taekwang, was denied parole even after approval was granted by the parole board.”

Chaebol Prisons Sentences

Now two high ranking members of PGH’s ministries have publicly voiced statements for some tolerance.  Given PGH’s bloodlines, Korea’s hierarchical culture, and PGH’s reputed imperial presidency, any remaining doubt whether PGH herself tested the proposal should be dispelled by Cheong Wa Dae’s failure to rebuke, deny, or distance itself from the proposal.  More so, two officials from two separate ministries making two such statements on two consecutive days feels like a toe in the water approach to ease the cold shock of an inevitable plunge.

The one positive, real difference that I had seen in PGH’s presidency was her stance on chaebol chiefs’ misconduct and the signal that got sent to Korea’s subculture of corruption.   Cheong Wa Dae’s seeking economic salvation from criminals convicted of accounting fraud, tax evasion, and embezzlement seems like bringing back the fox to shape up the hen house.

Pardon me, but are convicted criminals truly the best Korea can do?

Korea to sign on the F-35 dotted line and some KF-X news

It seems to take nations forever to figure out if they are going to buy into an expensive fighter jet procurement program, or not.  So, although Korea stated its intention to select Lockheed’s F-35 back in March of this year (40 jets for ~$7 billion USD), apparently today Korea stated its intention to actually sign on the dotted line.  What probably took six plus months was the negotiations for tech transfer for Korea’s native KF-X program.

It’s apparent that the Koreans wanted to negotiate all they could from Lockheed to get as much tech transfer as possible.  To get to this stage, the Koreans essentially has to say no to the Sweds and their Flygsystem 2020 stealth program and the Euros, who offered to throw in the kitchen sink, including full sharing of engine and avionics technology.

Despite all these promises from the Euros and the Swedes, the Koreans decided to go with the Americans for all three F-X phases, with one and two going to Boeing’s F-15K “Slam” Eagle and phase three going to Lockheed’s F-35A.  If the Koreans were okay with dissing other technology partners, pray do tell what did Boeing and/or Lockheed promise to the Koreans, regarding technology transfers?

According to the NYT:

The deal, which has yet to be signed, includes undisclosed terms for technological transfers from Lockheed to help South Korea’s $8.2 billion KF-X program to develop its own advanced fighter jet, the procurement agency said. The procurement agency said its negotiations had also involved the United States government, whose approval is often needed for technology transfers, suggesting that the deal had already received the government’s blessing.

So, what are these “… undisclosed terms for technological transfers from Lockheed…”?  What did the U.S. government agree to allow to be transferred?  It’s got to be more than what the Sweds and Euros were promising, right?  I’m damn curious.

Anyways, in other news, Japan is going forward with its own indigenous stealth jet designs (spearheaded by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries) called the ATD-X Shinshin.

(Photo from The Aviationist)

Hummm, the technology demonstrator (above) looks like a stealthy version of a Super Hornet.

Regarding native Korean attempts at stealth, the wheels seem to be turning slowly but excruciatingly forward.  The Defense Ministry has finally decided on which basic design the KF-X will take, ultimately opting for the double-engine configuration.  The battle between the single and twin engines have been a battle between the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) and the Agency for Defense Development (ADD).  ADD has always wanted to the two engine design and DAPA has always been more conservative.  The cost difference between the single engine is $6.2 billion USD vs. $8.3 billion USD in R&D costs alone.  Off-the-cuff, it has been know that the ADD prefers the C103 design (i.e. non-forward canard configuration), although no twin-engine design has yet been finalized.

(ADD’s C103 design, image from Chosun.com)

With this design, the estimated cost of R&D is $8.3 billion USD and procurement of 120 craft after 2020, the total budget is expected to be $19.7 billion USD, easily Korea’s largest single defense expenditure ever.  Given the shear size of this project, getting the National Assembly to approve the budget is going to be quite an experience, I’m sure.

Any ways, KAI will be building a special development center for the aircraft and GE has been eagerly requesting to be the main contractor for the engines.  More to come, I’m sure.

Might as well spit this out while I’m on here.  In T-50 news, an internal U.S. Air Force report (the air force’s air university division, I believe) has essentially endorsed the FA-50 as the ideal platform for  America’s T-X program (trainer).

Colonel Michael Pietrucha states:

The service should procure the F-X, envisioned as a T-38 replacement, in three variants.  The base airframe; T-X, essentially a modernized T-38 equivalent purchased off the shelf- would constitute the most numerous aircraft (400).  The AT-X would take the form of an all-weather, combat-capable, multirole T-X with air-to-ground capability including guns, rockets, and precision guided munitions.  The FT-X would be a fully capable light fighter with a modern air-intercept radar and air-to-air-missile capability comparable to that of the F-16C.  The FT-X is intended as a good fit for the Air National Guard’s ASA mission and for use as an aggressor.

A  “base airframe” that’s “off the shelf” and can be tailored into “three variants” like trainer,  ground attack and fighter, huh?  There’s only one product that fits that bill: the T-50.

Oh, and lastly thumbs-up Madame President!

Koreans now drink more coffee than eat white rice.

The headlines are saying that Koreans drink more coffee than eat rice, a statement that’s patently false.

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 10.00.14 AM

(Graphic from I Am Koream)

White rice 7 + multigrain rice 9.5 = 16.5 total rice > 12.3 coffee, no?

However, there is very little doubt that total Korean intake of rice has been decreasing over the past few years, particularly among urban dwellers.

Do North Korean refugee women dream of finding their perfect South Korean meal ticket husband?

What usually comes to mind when one thinks of North Korean women?  Those pretty cheerleaders that the North occasionally send out to international sporting events?  Women who, by very nature of being malnourished, being an average of 2-3 inches shorter than their South Korean counterparts?  Prettier than average Korean women in line with the Korean saying, “남남북녀” (“Namnam buknyeo”), or in English “Southern men [are handsomest], [and] northern women [are prettiest].”

Well, according to The Hankyoreh, at least one matchmaking agency has drawn some cartoons to expound their own stereotypes of apparently economically desperate North Korean women refugees looking for South Korean husbands to take them away from their destitution.

(Image from The Hankyoreh)

The blog Korea Exposé offers interesting English commentary:

A North Korean woman, alone in her cheap government housing, asks, “I want to get married. Where is my love?” She daydreams of being only in her underwear, straddling her ideal South Korean man, and calling out to him in affection, “My dear husband.”

That controversial advertisement by a matchmaking firm specializing in bringing North Korean defector women and South Korean men together was abruptly pulled late last month amid a firestorm of criticism at the way it depicted North Korean women as lonesome, sexually charged, and desperate.

Added bonus?  The same match making agency put out another cartoon explaining the, uh, “benefits” of having children with North Korean women:

(Image from The Hankyoreh)

No brown interracial children!

Open Thread: September 21, 2014

Lost Count + 1

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