June: Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism Month

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

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

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

You can read the full article here.

More Shizzilistic Science from the DPRK

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

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

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

Getting Green, Getting High and Spying on The Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvard-Stanford Math Prodigy Hoax


The widely circulated story of a “Korean high-school student (who) has set the enviable record of attending both Harvard and Stanford universities” is a hoax.

Chosun Ilbo - Korean Student Gets Chance to Attend Both Harvard and Stanford

Local and some international media outlets reported last week that a Korean student at a Virginia high school had been accepted by Harvard and Stanford and that both universities so desired her that they agreed to create a special program to allow her to study at both universities without her having to choose one.  Questions quickly arose about her admissions and special program, and both universities have issued statements denying the reports.

According to Yonhap News, “Harvard and Stanford universities denied Tuesday that a South Korean high school student can attend both schools as part of a special joint program for her, debunking the story of a ‘math prodigy’.”

The student’s family claimed that both Harvard and Stanford tried to convince Kim to choose their universities  because she was “such a brilliant student, especially at mathematics.”  The student’s family went on to claim that the universities created a special program to allow her to study at Stanford for the first two years and at Harvard for the other two years.  The Chosun Ilbo published the following in an article that was removed from its site today:

(The student) initially opted for Harvard, but Stanford wanted her too and struck a deal with Harvard to create a unique program for her. She will study at Stanford during her freshman and sophomore years and then at Harvard for her junior and senior years. She can then choose from which school she takes her bachelor’s degree.

Harvard Public Affairs and Communications official Anna Cowenhoven wrote in an email to Yonhap News Agency that “we have been made aware of an alleged admissions letter sent to (student name) by Harvard University. We can confirm that this letter is a forgery…. Despite recent media reports, there is no program in existence through which a student is admitted to spend two years at Harvard College and two years at Stanford University.

The student’s family provided a letter to reporters as evidence of the student’s admission to Stanford.  A senior communications official at Stanford University, Lisa Lapkin, denied that Stanford had admitted the student.  “‘I am confirming that the letter you received was NOT issued by Richard Shaw or Stanford University,’ she said in response to Yonhap’s request for confirmation of an alleged admission letter signed by the dean of admissions and financial aid.”

The student’s father is reportedly the managing director of Nexon Korea.  “In response to the allegations of fake admissions, he has said that there could be some misunderstanding because her admission is a very special case that has been discussed only between professors of the two universities.”

The student’s family has nonetheless “stuck to the claim and decided to take the case ahead through a lawyer.”

Anyone who is familiar with those universities likely suspected that the story might not be true.  Harvard and Stanford almost routinely receive (and reject) applications from among the best and brightest, and their admissions’ committees strive to balance admitting talented and interesting individuals against building a diversified and cohesive class.

The Korea Observer published an image of the letter supposedly received from Stanford and submitted as evidence by the student’s family.  The letter is dated April 1, which might indicate a cruelly epic April Fool’s prank.  If I remember correctly, the Ivies send their regular admissions notices (and rejections) on April 1.

Unfortunately for the student, the father’s claim as reported that “there could be some misunderstanding because her admission is a very special case that has been discussed only between professors of the two universities” seems to preempt the April Fool’s we-was-pranked defense.  I suspect that the father’s sticking to the claim and pursuing the case “through a lawyer” is for public consumption.

UPDATE:  The father of the student has issued an apology to the press and taken full responsibility for the hoax.  Below is the translation of his letter to the press:

I am the father of the child, and I sincerely apologize for causing such a big controversy with false information, and apologize to those involved.

Everything is my fault and my responsibility. I did not know until now how much my child was suffering and hurting and did not properly take care of her. As her father, I regret having pushed my child into deeper sickness and causing the problem to get bigger.

Going forward, our family will put everything toward treating and taking care of our daughter and live quietly. Please forgive me for not being able to explain all the details, as we have not yet finished assessing the entire situation.

My family is the most precious thing to me in any situation. To help my child and my family go forward in recovery without further hurt, I ask that the media cease reports and filming. Once more, with my head lowered, I apologize.

Although the father “had provided dozens of pages of proof in the form of acceptance letters from each university and correspondences between himself and alleged professors at each school”, Korean language newspapers have suggested that the source and fault for the hoax lie with the student and have hinted at a deeper problem.

UPDATE 2:  JTBC News and other Korean language news sources cite the student’s father implying that the student had some psychological issues.  I have not seen such implied (besides the translated letter above) in English language media, and I believe that, regardless of whether the student had psychological issues, that airing or publishing such is wrong.

According to news sources (see above), the father claimed to have evidence of “correspondences between himself and alleged professors at each school”.  Either news sources made a false attribution to the father or the father lied about the correspondences.  The father’s statements of his child’s mental state in Korean media serve no purpose other than to save his own face at the further expense of his child.  He needs to do now what he should have done once the story blew up:  issue an apology, make some vague statement accepting full responsibility, take care of his child, and shut up.  For any father, regardless of whether he had the slightest hand (as suggested by his claims of correspondences with professors) in creating this mess, to do anything else…

I’m at a loss for words.

UPDATE 3:  The Chosun Ilbo has published another article, Korean ‘Prodigy’ a Serial Fabricator.  Particularly given Korea’s anti-defamation laws, I do not see how the public interest is served in revealing such defamatory information.  I did not see the necessity for the JTBC interview with the student’s father and now less so for the piling on in the Chosun Ilbo.  Although U.S. speech laws would make publishing such non-actionable, I’d like to think journalistic integrity would preclude the publication.  I’m no fan of Korea’s anti-defamation laws, but given their existence and the lack of journalistic restraint, I hope they’re exercised in this case.

Enough already.

Korean Robots Are the Future – 2.6 Billion USD Worth

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

Loser bot?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MERS Goes Viral

MERS Goes Viral

Korea, from news broadcasts to casual conversations, seems to be all MERS all the time.  Korea’s media have covered angles from the effect on the economy and tourism to the government’s inadequate response, contrasting Cheong Wa Dae’s with the White House’s model during the U.S’s ebola outbreak.

As of this writing, 585 schools (mostly in Gyeonggi-do, Chungcheongbuk-do, and Chungcheongnam-do) have voluntarily closed at least through the end of this week.  Those 585 school closings don’t include kindergartens or daycares or the effectively shutdown education institutions where parents have kept their children home.

When I arrived home last night, Anonymous_Wife pointed to the empty playground and told me that she had kept the Anonymous_Kids home and that no children had gone to the playground all day.  (“Wouldn’t the playground then be safe for our kids?”)

My conversations with working Koreans have centered around their MERS concerns and MERS rumors’ outbreaks.  All speak as though what they have heard through the rumor mill is fact.  Even my Gyeonggi-do city has had a MERS death. I’ve heard the name of a major hospital in the neighboring city where a bus driver (or bus company executive, depending on the storyteller) had been admitted, had several bus driver visitors, and was later diagnosed with and died of MERS.  The implication is that bus drivers visited an infected coworker bus driver, drive buses, and come into contact with thousands of people everyday.

One might reasonably ask, as Arirang News did,

…why is the government not announcing the names of the hospitals that are treating confirmed patients?

The task force said it has decided to withhold that information because it would do more harm than good.  They’re concerned that people who suspect they might have the virus might delay treatment out of fear of going to one of these hospitals.

So rather than officially name a few hospitals (and then provide assurances), the rumor mill effectively names ’em all.  The law of unintended consequences in action.

A Chinese Sewol?

Map: The Guardian

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

According to Reuters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum: June 4, 2015

This is sounding more and more like the Sewol tragedy:

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


Flaming Flags

South Korea Flag Burning

Seoul Metropolitan Police filed on May 31 for an arrest warrant against a 24-year old Korean man, identified only by his surname Kim, for flag desecration.  According to the Hankyoreh,  Kim “burned a piece of paper showing an image of the South Korean flag while facing off with police who had erected a vehicle barricade at a memorial demonstration for the first anniversary of the Sewol ferry sinking.”

Kim is accused of setting fire to the paper showing the South Korean flag in front of the barricade of police buses after large sections of major roads around Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul were closed off during the Sewol memorial demonstration on April 18. After images of the scene appeared in the press and politicians began calling for harsh punishment, police spent 40 days tracking Kim’s activities before finally arresting him on May 29 at a park in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province.

…In requesting an arrest warrant, police also charged Kim with general traffic obstruction, failure to obey an order to disperse, and damage to public property (a police bus).

The most interesting charge pertains to Article 105 of the Criminal Act, Pofanation of the National Flag or Emblem:

A person who damages, removes or stains the national flag or the national emblem for the purpose of insulting the Republic of Korea shall be punished by imprisonment or imprisonment without prison labor for not more than five years, suspension of qualifications without prison labor for not more than five years, suspension of qualifications for no t more than 10 years, or a fine of not more than seven million won.

Article 105 specifically requires intent or “purpose of insulting the Republic of Korea” for the charge of flag desecration.

According to the op. cited Hanky article, “during questioning by police, Kim said he ‘did not have the aim of desecrating the flag,’ adding that he set fire to it ‘spontaneously out of rage at the police’s unjust use of authority.’  Kim’s attorney, Jeong Min-yeong, said Kim ‘only set fire to the flag as an expression of protest at the police’s excessive suppression tactics. There was no other aim besides that.'”

Chief of the SMPA’s second investigation section Kim Geun-man said,”the purpose of his flag burning is still under investigation.  It has not been confirmed whether Mr. Kim is affiliated with any specific groups.”

An attorney with the group MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, Park Ju-min commented “we should take a separate view when it comes to criticizing the government’s exercise of public authority, as opposed to insulting the state.”

For those who wonder “what constitutes a flag” and for comparison, U.S. code uses the term “flag of the United States” to mean “any flag of the United States, or any part thereof, made of any substance, of any size, in a form that is commonly displayed.”  In short, that Kim burned a paper picture of a Korean flag is likely a non-starter as a principle of defense.

U.S. law also has provisions for criminal prosecution of U.S. flag desecration:

§700. Desecration of the flag of the United States; penalties
(a)(1) Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

U.S. code considers flag desecration damaging the U.S. flag for clothing material or using the U.S. flag for a beach blanket.  I found nothing in Korea’s Criminal Act that criminalizes such uses.

Korea’s Criminal Act, Article 109 (Profanation of Foreign Flag or Foreign Emblem) also criminalizes damaging, removing, or staining a foreign national flag or emblem for the purposes of insulting a foreign country.  Article 110 requires, in effect, the consent of the foreign government concerned, which might explain the absence of criminal prosecutions when Koreans burn U.S. flags in protest.

The key difference is that the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that flag desecration as a form of political protest, even against the United States, is protected speech.

I do not want to make spectator sport of another man’s life, but I hope Kim is forced to mount a constitutional challenge based on political speech.  Korea’s Constitutional Court has made some head scratching rulings regarding political speech in Korea, and the Constitutional Court’s prior rulings paint itself into a corner.

UPDATE:  Arrest warrant rejected for protester who burned national flag

A local court refused to issue an arrest warrant Tuesday for a protestor accused of burning taegeukgi, the Korean national flag, during a rally in April after concluding that the incident as an impulsive act

…Seoul Central District Court said, “It seems that Kim was stirred up, inflicting an injury on himself on the arm during the rally, and burned the flag impulsively and unpremeditatedly.”

It said that the prosecution would be able to investigate Kim without arresting him, considering that he did not commit the crime systematically or with other accomplices, that he has reflected on his acts and that he has no previous criminal record.

Seeking the warrant prompted criticism of the police and the prosecution, because it is unusual to do so for burning a taegeukgi.

There have been many incidents during which protestors, conservative and progressive, have burned the national flag during rallies. But such people have usually not faced indictment, as the law states only those who damage the national flag “with intention to defame the country” are subject to punishment.


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

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

One article states that:

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

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

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

An Insult that was Criminal

Suwon District Court sentenced four months in prison to two “Ilbe” members who were convicted of criminal insult. The insult unfolded in this manner: one defendant, last named Kim, purchased the school uniform for Danwon High School–the high school whose entire second year class nearly wiped out in the Sewol tragedy–for the purpose of Internet trolling. Kim discussed with the other defendant, last named Cho, about the best way to troll, and Cho suggested Kim take a picture of himself wearing the uniform and holding up a stick of fish cake. The caption for the picture would read: “I made a new friend”–that is to say, the drowned Danwon student is now friends with fish. (The picture can be seen here.)

This is one of the instances in which Korea’s criminal law against insult worked exactly as it was supposed to work. While I am hardly a fan of the way in which Korean law regulates speech, I have always found there is a sound policy reason to keep criminal insult in the books:  to punish people like these two assholes, who travel such lengths to make light of a massive tragedy, solely for the purpose of the lulz. A civilized society requires that its members act with a minimum level of decency, and it makes sense to hold this line upon the pains of the law.

US Defense ships Live Anthrax by mistake to South Korea

Korean media (Chosun article here) are reporting on a revelation that live anthrax was shipped by mistake to Joint United States Forces Korea Portal and Integrated Threat Recognition Program (ITRP) at Osan Airbase in South Korea, from Dugway, Utah in the US. Some report that it is the first time the ITRP program was officially acknowledged at all. Needlessly to say, this Hankyoreh article is highlighting the unanswered – whether the US government had notified the Korean government prior to the shipping of the anthrax, how much was shipped, and if they ship (hopefully dead) sample often.

주한미군사령부는 살아있는 탄저균 표본을 발견한 사실을 27일 한국 정부에 통보했다. 하지만 주한미군 쪽은 실험 목적이나 사전에 탄저균 이동 등의 상황을 한국 정부에 통보하고 협의했는지 등은 밝히지 않고 있다. 탄저균 양이 어느 정도인지, 얼마나 자주 탄저균을 들여오는지 등의 의문에도 답하지 않았다.

The same article says that North Korea is meant to possess up to 5000 tons of Anthrax, and only 100kg of it in a large metropolitan city would kill 1 million to 300 million people.

This Kyunghyang article reports that the Korean defense ministry is trying to develop their own vaccine by 2016. They have been asking the US to buy the vaccination for the last 10 years or so, but the US have turned them down due to lack of previous such cases (exporting anthrax vaccine) and lack of stock. Korean government does however, possesses some amount of antidote (Cipro, developed by Bayer), but this amount is nowhere near enough for the number of Korean troops. Kyunhyang also adds that the US have been vaccinating its own troops based in South Korea, since June 2002. (they started in September 1998, but stopped for a while)

Here is the link to CNN report in English on focusing on just the event.