The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

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Asiana Plane skids off the runway on landing at Hiroshima Airport

There is breaking news (in Korean) that an Asiana plane which left ICN, Seoul at 6:49pm and landing at around 8pm at Hiroshima airport skidded off the runway on landing. Of the 74 passengers and 7 crew members on board, 23 people suffered light injuries.

In July 2013, a faulty landing at the San Francisco airport of the Asiana flight 214 resulted in the death of three people.

Update 1 :

It seems like the plane hit a ground antenna tower as it landed, exact cause to be obtained after more investigations.
Yahoo link (in English) here
Guardian Link (in English) here

Open Thread April 11, 2015: Spring is in the Air

Just be happy I curbed my instincts for Spring is in the Ear.

A Solution for the History Textbook War

Personally, I enjoy watching musicals. So, when there was a showing of Wicked a few years ago here in Korea, I was one of the many people who went to watch the show.

Yes, Gravity was certainly the highlight of the show and it was certainly exhilarating to watch Elphaba belt those high notes during the song’s climax. However, the song that I thought was rather under-appreciated was Wonderful, which was performed by the Wizard.

The part of the song that caught my attention was:

Where I come from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it history.

A man’s called a traitor or liberator.

A rich man’s a thief or philanthropist.

Is one a crusader or ruthless invader?

It’s all in which label is able to persist.

And that brings me to the History Textbook War that is being waged between Korea and Japan. The Japanese government seems to be doing all it can to whitewash its history regardless of how much it might offend its closest neighbors’ sensibilities. And it’s not like as though the Japanese are unaware of how its neighbors feel about it.

Of course, it’s not only the Japanese who are diving head first into the sea of historical revisionism. So are the Koreans.

With each side trying to make sure that history is taught “properly,” it appears that this rhetorical conflict will not end any time soon.

But is there really no solution? Are Korea and Japan forever destined to go through this series of sickening motions every time either country has an election coming up?

It doesn’t need to be so. I have a modest proposal. My proposal is for both countries to get their respective governments out of the business of authorizing text books altogether.

As Steven Denney said in the link that I provided earlier:

There is a fine but significant line between the history of a nation and nationalist histories. The former is more likely to be objective, the latter anything but.

Seeing how the only way this conflict will proceed is that both sides will get into a shouting match every time there is an election in either country, which, unfortunately also prevents both countries from doing other important things such as, oh I don’t know, having a summit between the leaders, the best way forward seems to be to allow individual publishing companies to publish their own history textbooks; as well as to allow individual teachers to select the textbooks that they think reflect the most accurate version of history.

No, it is not a perfect solution. There is no such thing as a perfect solution. There will always be those Japanese right-wing publishers that will claim that comfort women did not exist and that Dokdo is Japanese territory. There will always be Korean left-wing publishers that will claim that the only thing Park Chung-hee ever did was to torture his political opponents while accepting Japanese blood money. There will always be nutty teachers and parents who will think that an obviously biased interpretation of history is THE correct version of history. And the students will always be the ones who will suffer.

But it’s not like as though the current situation seems to be doing anything that much differently.

The difference is that by completely privatizing the publishing and distribution of textbooks, at least both governments will have that much less ammunition to attack each other with. And hopefully, the market will show that the number of people who actually have a life is greater than the number of those people who take to the streets with their effigies and banners denouncing the people in the other country as evil pigs.

If enough people in both Korea and Japan can agree with this opinion and tell their respective governments to can it, maybe, just maybe, both countries can move on to something else, like I don’t know, economic cooperation?

Sung Wan-jong suicide aftermath: the noose tightens

Sung Wan-jong, former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises was found dead yesterday.  Police suspect suicide.  Sung was Keangnam’s chairman until he resigned last month amid the widening anti-corruption investigation that touched Keangnam Enterprises and Sung’s personal business.

Sung was scheduled to appear Thursday at a court hearing over a detention warrant.  Prosecutors earlier this week charged Sung with misappropriating up to 46 billion won of government subsidies, based on falisfied accounting records.  Authorities suspect Sung embezzled 25 billion won of those funds “and was engaged in accounting fraud to the tune of 950 billion won.”  Sung denied all allegations of wrongdoing and even “strong” connections with the Lee government.

According to police, Sung left his house 5:11 a.m.  Sung’s chauffeur and sons found a suicide note in Sung’s house, and Sung’s family reported Sung missing to police at 8:06 a.m.  Police traced his two mobile phones and detected a signal in Pyeongchang-dong, (near an entrance to Bukhansan, his favorite hiking spot)  Jongno District at around 8:40 a.m and dispatched a manhunt with more than 1,300 officers.   At 3:32 p.m. and approximately 300 meters from the ticket office at Bukhansan, a police dog found Sung’s body hanging from a tree on an “untrodden” path near Jeongto Temple.  According to an officer at Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency,  “It was where Sung frequently went for a walk. He was hanging from a necktie tied to a branch two meters above the ground.”

Sung Jong-wan body from KT

Police officers carry the body of former Keangnam Enterprise Chairman Sung Woan-jong down from a mountainside, Thursday. Sung is believed to have committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree on Mount Bukhan in northern Seoul the same day. / Korea Times Photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Sung’s suicide “comes amid parliamentary probes into the Lee administration’s resource diplomacy policy.  The probes began to investigate allegations that Lee administration officials embezzled public funds during the government initiative.”

No, I’m not so cruel as to refer to Sung in this post’s lede.

At a press conference on Wednesday and less than 24 hours before his suicide , Sung dropped the 2MB bomb, specifically implicating former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak’s administration.  Korea Joongang Ilbo reported Sung’s statements as the following:

“I’m not an MB-man [someone close to former President Lee].  How can a victim of the former government become an MB-man? I actually worked for President Park Geun-hye, who was running the Grand National Party’s primary.”

The Joongang Ilbo observed, “Sung emphasized his innocence and shed tears.”

The Korea Herald published the following account of Sung’s Wednesday news conference,

Sung, a former Saenuri Party lawmaker, had called the investigations a politically-charged witch hunt.

“I am a victim of the Lee administration,” he said at Wednesday’s news conference, hours before his disappearance.

“I am much closer to President Park Geun-hye.”

“Many other companies had participated in resource development projects (under the Lee administration) at the time,” he added. “I do not understand why only we are being targeted.”

Police disclosed fragments of the suicide note Sung left in his house.  “I’m an innocent man who should be cleared from suspicions,” he wrote. “I will kill myself to prove it.”

Well, now. I’m convinced.

I do not understand the Asian custom (or is it only Korean custom?  My question is genuine, and I really do not know) of “proving” oneself innocent in the face of such scandalous, disgraceful, and especially criminal charges when presented with overwhelming tangible substantiating evidence through suicide.

Sung’s suicide makes prosecution’s pursuing its resources diplomacy case difficult.  Keangnam Enterprises played a major role in the probe. In another cultural difference I find incomprehensible, with suicide often accepted as proof of innocence, inquiries into the wider investigation often stop.

Nonetheless, make no mistake about it:  all, from business to governmental agency and education institutional, investigations so far show an Lee Myung-bak connection.  Lee Myung-bak seemed to have given enough rope in his time as president, and the noose appears to be tightening around him.

I’ll end with Sung’s last wish:  “Bury me next to my mother.”


(For a summary and impression of the extent of the anti-corruption probe, see here.)

Hope For Night Owls . . .

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

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

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

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

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

 

PGH’s Bipolar Presidency

I have never been so happy to be proved wrong.

I posted first on September 30, Pardon moi, and again on December 29, Pardon moi? (redux), that the Park Geun-hye administration seemed to be sowing the seeds of parole or even pardon for conglomerate owners and family members imprisoned for economic crimes such as embezzlement, breach of trust, and incurring losses to their companies.

PGH’s administration slung the dung, fertilizing the field:  in September,  two high ranking officials (Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Choi Kyung-hwan) from two separate ministries made two separate statements on two consecutive days signaling leniency.  On Christmas Eve ruling Saenuri Party leader Kim Moo-sung and the day after Christmas Floor Leader Lee Wan-koo seemed to partake of the holiday parole punch.

I went so far as to “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.”  “…in absence of a major public backlash (they clearly anticipate and desire to diffuse the minor public backlash) the pardons will happen.”  Long-time Marmot’s Hole regulars laid their bets, waging virtual beers.

Then, …nothing.

In March, the PGH administration pulled a one-eighty, going polar opposite, and cataloging the (thus far) discovered corruption presents a daunting task:

  • A 105 member team “consisting of prosecutors, state auditors, police and taxation officials” targeted alleged malpractices involving Ilgwang Gongyeong, one of Korea’s largest defense brokers.  On March 11, prosecutors arrested Ilgwang Gongyeong chairman Lee Kyu-tae on charges that he “inflated the costs of procuring an electronic warfare training system from a Turkish defense firm” and “pocketing some 50 billion won ($44.4 million) by defrauding Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration.”  On March 12 prosecutors arrested a senior official of an affiliate of Lee’s company “for complicity in the case.”
  • In mid-March, a wide-ranging POSCO probe grabbed headlines, and POSCO’s share price plunged on March 31.  The investigation has spread to POSCO group and netted its first high-profile arrest at POSCO E&C  in a slush fund scandal Tuesday .  “The prosecution is expanding its probe into how the slush fund was created and used amid allegations that former President Lee Myung-bak’s key aides are at the end of the money trail.”
  • Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office is investigating Lotte Group’s shopping subsidiary for allegedly creating a slush fund.  According to the prosecution, “billions of won was sent from Lotte Shopping’s head office to affiliated businesses — Lotte Department Store, Lotte Mart, Lotte Super and Lotte Cinema — between 2011 and 2012, and why the money was transferred was unclear. The money was later withdrawn in cash.”  The Seoul Regional Tax Office imposed a 60 billion won fine on LG Group for tax evasion in 2013.
  • Dongguk Steel is suspected of, among other crimes, evading taxes, inflating the cost in the construction of a power plant, and fabricating the amount of goods imported from Japan and Russia.
  • On March 18, prosecutors raided Keangnam Enterprises Co., a Seoul-based builder, investigating allegations Keangnam misappropriated 10 billion won.  Investigators are also “looking into an alleged corrupt transaction between Keangnam Enterprises and the Korea Resources Corporation (Kores) in 2010.”  **UPDATE:  Lee Tae-hoon at The Korea Observer has reported the former head of Keagnam Enterprises has disappeared “hours before he was set to appear before police for a hearing to determine the legitimacy of his arrest”, leaving behind a will and suicide note. **  UPDATE 2:  “The body of Sung Woan-jong, former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises was found some 300 meters from a ticket booth in Mount Bukhansan. The cause of death needs to be investigated but reports said he appeared to have hung himself.”
  • Other companies under investigation include Kosteel, state run Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC),   SK Innovation, KEPCO, and others in a search that seems to have given Goooooooogle its name.

According to Yonhap, the investigations began in mid-March “after Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo declared an ‘all-out war’ on corruption in an apparent attempt to prop up weak public support for President Park Geun-hye.”  The Korea Herald in an editorial Unfit corruption busters – Anticorruption agencies should check themselves first lamented,

There may be some political purposes behind this harsh corruption busting ― like taking revenge against former rivals and taming big businesses and the civil service. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we deal sternly with all cases of corruption.

Seeing the anticorruption war unfold, however, we cannot but raise a fundamental question: Are our anticorruption warriors clean enough to fulfill their mission? Few would say yes.

The recent cases point to the sad reality that some of our anticorruption agencies are rotten to the core. Police raided six tax offices in Seoul and Gyeonggi in a corruption probe last week. Before that, four senior officials ― two from tax offices and two from the Board of Audit and Inspection ― were caught having sex bought for them by those who they are supposed to be checking up on.

The case of the BAI officials is outrageous. They had dinner with officials from the Korea Electric Power Corp. and its affiliate ― the bill for the meals and drinks for the four was 1.8 million won ― and went to a hotel with two women who work at the restaurant.

KEPCO and its affiliates are subject to audits of the BAI and it is not hard to understand why they provide such generous entertainment to BAI officials. What’s more comical is that the two officials belong to the audit agency’s internal audit team which has been expanded in the wake of previous graft cases.

It is not rare for BAI and tax officials to be implicated in graft or other corruption cases. But the recent cases should reawaken Park and her aides to the importance of cleaning up the powerful anticorruption officials first.

PGH’s administration’s probes have widened from businesses to governmental agencies and educational institutions.  Only churches have (thus far) remained unscathed.  I suspect that will change in short time.

Interpretations for PGH’s administration’s about face run from trying to shore up her flagging poll numbers through providing a distraction to the Sewol Ferry saga to Korea’s political tradition of vanquishing one’s political enemies.   I opened the piece with PGH’s administration’s plans to pardon chaebol chiefs. “Nut rage” ended any possibility of that, and left PGH only with her campaign pledge.  I find all credible, not mutually exclusive, and additive.

The extent of the corruption should not surprise anyone who has been in Korea for any length of time.  Although I feel sad (I’ve made no secret of one aspect of my anonymous life:  my wife and children are Korean and of Korea) on the precipice of publishing, I remain a hopeful idealist.  The best thing that could happen to Korea is massive uncovering of the entrenched, unseemly side of Korean culture.

Pardon moi for taking a water droplet’s credit for its contribution to the flood.

Whiplash and Bullying in Korea

Warning: This blog post will be discussing the movie Whiplash. If you have not yet seen the movie and would like to avoid any spoilers, please, stop reading this post.

 

1

 

I went to the cinema yesterday to see what all this hype around Whiplash was about; seeing how well the movie did in Korea. By the time the movie ended, I felt conflicted. The movie aroused a mix of emotions that seemed like a combination of revulsion, hatred, pity, sympathy and, oddly, admiration. In other words, it was a very similar mix of emotions that I had felt during my time in the ROK Army.

As I watched J.K. Simmons‘ portrayal of Terence Fletcher, the abusive conservatory professor at the fictional Shaffer Conservatory in New York, I felt like I was back in Nonsan Army Training Center. The moment he walks into his classroom, the students sit at attention and stare forward in complete silence, vigilantly watching Fletcher’s hands for the slightest movement to begin playing their assigned parts to his brutal level of perfection or else.

Of course, there are many differences between the fictional Fletcher and the real-life drill sergeants at Nonsan. Today’s ROK Army is a kinder and gentler army where every officer, commissioned and non-commissioned, has to be wary of conscripts who could potentially kill themselves and others. In fact, the ROK Army has gone to the other extreme in trying to eliminate bullying and hazing. A few months before I was discharged, the battalion that I served in became one of the first units in the ROK Army to implement a new barracks policy. To explain, under this new policy, conscripts were no longer bunked with their squadmates (who each has a different rank), but rather with other conscripts of the same rank – regardless of the fact that those other same-rank conscripts might not even be part of the same company.

Although this certainly reduced the ability for soldiers to bully and haze each other, what this has done to discipline,  unit cohesion, overall morale, and combat-readiness, however, is a different matter. But I digress.

The point is that comparing Fletcher, an abusive and probably racist tyrant who would endanger a student’s life, to any typical real-life army drill sergeant in the ROK Army is ridiculous. However, the intensity, the motivation, the drive, and the intimidation that one feels whenever Simmons is on scene is the same. Simmons’ acting skill was the epitome of raw talent and the man certainly deserved the accolades that he had been awarded.

 

Image Source: http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Brody-Whiplash-1200.jpg

Image Source: http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Brody-Whiplash-1200.jpg

Toward the end of the movie, as Fletcher is having a drink with one of his former students, Andrew Neiman, who was played by baby-faced Miles Teller, Fletcher says something that I thought was truly amazing.

He says that the reason he was so hard on his students was in order to push them to be greater than they thought possible; that he would never apologize for trying to make his students great. And the thing that he says that nearly won me over is that in today’s society, people don’t seem to want to push people to greatness, but rather tell them that they are good enough, no matter how mediocre they may be. Fletcher then says, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job.””

I wasn’t sure whether that was the lie that Fletcher told himself to justify his actions or if he was being honest. But it was an unapologetic call to say “no” to mediocrity. Regardless of what else was going on in the movie, that single line was what made me feel admiration and respect for this monster. And Fletcher truly was a monster.

I had to leave the cinema where the magic that is movie-making could no longer cloud my judgment before I realized just how truly horrific Fletcher was. Fletcher was no Coach Carter or even a Tiger Mom whose actions might possibly be defendable. Not even close. Fletcher was a simple bully and bullies do not do anything to protect or help their victims. They only seek to inflict pain and misery on their victims.

A few years ago, I remember watching on the news about a group of university students (선배) who had beaten their 후배 to “instill discipline.” The savagery of the beatings that they committed were overshadowed only by the threats and the insults they hurled at the freshman students.

When the story aired on the news, the abusers sat next to their parents as they were being interviewed, their faces blotted out and their voices disguised. They were weeping. They desperately defended themselves by saying that they only did what they did to help their 후배. I remember feeling nothing besides revulsion and disgust at those vile creatures. What was truly bizarre, however, was that some of the victims came to the defense of the abusers, giving the same excuses for them that they gave for themselves. It was absolutely chilling to see Stockholm Syndrome in action.

(For the life of me, I cannot find the link to that story.)

In the movies, however, even monsters can be made to look like misunderstood heroes. And that’s how Fletcher is portrayed in the movie. “The next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged,” Fletcher says. And Neiman, the perennially bullied student, keeps trying to win Fletcher’s respect because Neiman is determined to be the next Charlie Parker. Never mind the fact that it is revealed in the movie that one of Fletcher’s previous students, who never appeared on screen, killed himself after having been abused by him for so long – something that is not unheard of in Korea.

In real-life, bullies are the furthest thing from heroes, even the most misunderstood types. By the time I came to, a part of me was concerned about the movie’s popularity. Was it so popular in Korea because the bullying that was portrayed was reflective of so much of Korea’s militaristic and hierarchical society? Or was it popular because so many Koreans might be suffering from some form of Stockholm Syndrome, therefore using that movie to justify their behavior or to tell themselves that they should endure as much bullying as they can because “the next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged?”

Whiplash was a truly amazing movie and J.K. Simmons’ acting chops has made him my new favorite actor. However, it was also a terrifying movie because it romanticizes and justifies bullying.

Regardless of how one may feel after having watched the movie, no one will leave the cinema without a strong opinion about it one way or the other.

A Nagging Reminder About Trust & Transparency

This BBC article, on the current discontent the families of the Sewol victims have with the government’s position, is to the point:

Committee chairman Lee Suk-Tae, one of the members nominated by the families, said that the “attempt to appoint maritime ministry officials, who should be the very subject of our own investigation… is completely unacceptable” . . . We need full political independence to get to the bottom of this tragedy and to prevent accidents like this from happening again.” A statement from the victims’ families said that “the priority for the government should not be monetary compensation but getting to the bottom of the incident, salvaging the wreckage and finding the last missing persons”.

which really contrasts to the comments I personally heard from one conservative constituent in Taegu, who mockingly accused the Sewol families of holding out for more money.

If the next president ends up being any other candidate than a Saenuri candidate, it will be because of this lack of transparency and trust generated by the government and the party that has continually not acted upon one of the most obvious needs of society – having a government that can be trusted.

Open Thread, April 4 – The Let’s Pray for Rain Edition

Long-lasting dry spell has water levels and dam capacity falling

I’m just really hoping Korea does not have the same problem with pine beetles that the US has had; talk about global warming!

DNS Poisoning and Script Attacks – Made in China

Some website owners are baffled by what amounts to DOS attacks on their sites since they originate from China.  Why should some site that has nothing to do with things Chinese be subject to attacks that route back to the PRC?:

Software designer Craig Hockenberry noticed something very strange was happening to his small corporate website. . .  one morning last month: traffic had suddenly spiked to extremely high levels—equivalent to more than double the amount of data transmitted when Kim Kardashian’s naked photos were published last year. The reason, he quickly discovered, was that China’s Great Firewall—the elaborate machinery that China’s government uses to censor the internet—was redirecting enormous amounts of bogus traffic to his site, which designs online icons, quickly swamping his servers. (cite)

This resulting denial-of-service (DOS) attack happens due to something referred to as “DNS poisoning” when servers (in China) that keep the addresses of sites are used to redirect traffic away from certain sites that a deemed sensitive to government personnel, they redirect inquiries to completely different sites deliberately. The result is a mass of traffic is directed to one site, which can quickly overload their servers.

South Korea is not immune to this sort of Chinese DNS poisoning either, China has also done the same thing to South Korean Government sites in the past. As shown below, at one time, Chinese web users were unwittingly used to DDOS a Korean Government website – just because (cite).  Even French sites have been hosed by the Great Firewall – no where is now safe.

Korean gov DNS poisoning

Even now, an American company’s site – GitHub – has been subject to just such an attack, which appears to be a deliberate attempt by the PRC Government to prevent Chinese net users from gaining access to their GitHub tools that would allow users to view sites and information on the internet that has been censored behind the “Great Firewall” in China:

The attack on San Francisco-based GitHub Inc., a service used by programmers and major tech firms world-wide to develop software, appears to underscore how China’s Internet censors increasingly reach outside the country to clamp down on content they find objectionable. . . Specifically, the traffic was directed to two GitHub pages that linked to copies of websites banned in China, the experts said. One page was run by Greatfire.org, which helps Chinese users circumvent government censorship, while the other linked to a copy of the New York Times ’s Chinese language website.

Likewise, there are certain things related to South Korea that are off-limits to the average Chinese citizen as can be seen here.

Another variation of this DNS poisoning involves scripts to reroute traffic.  The basic pattern of this sort of attack is as follows:

  • An innocent user browses the internet from outside China
  • One website the user visits loads an analytics script – a sequence of instructions – from a server in China, for example Baidu, something that often used by web admins to track visitor statistics
  • The web browser’s request for the Baidu script is detected by Chinese equipment as it enters the country
  • A fake response is sent out from within China instead of the actual Baidu Analytics script. This fake response is a malicious script that tells the user’s browser to continuously reload two specific pages on GitHub.com

(Cite)

Vows to Cut Government Waste and an Oversized Rice Cooker

Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo announced today that  he will conduct a thorough check on government spending to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not wasted.

In today’s JoongAng Daily, however, it is reported that a former county chief of Goesan County, a rural area 160 kilometers (99 miles) southeast of Seoul in North Chungcheong province, attempted to increase the number of tourists to his county by building the world’s largest gamasot, which apparently didn’t work all that well.  Also, the promised tourists never showed up either.

This oversized rice cooker that can’t even cook rice properly cost a total of ₩500 million (or about US$450,000). Perhaps Prime Minister Lee can start his investigation there.

Of course, this is not the only example of government waste. One only needs to turn on the news to witness some form of government waste every day.

It reminded me of one of PJ O’Rourke‘s many quips:

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

If the Prime Minister was being sincere, and he has given no reason for anyone to doubt his sincerity, it seems like he has quite a Herculean task ahead of him. I wish him luck, but I do not think that it would be wise for any of us to hold our breaths for too long.

삼국사기 of cherry blossoms

China (The president of Chinese cherry blossom association/Botanical society) has recently weighed in the cherry blossom dispute by saying that cherry blossoms came from China to Japan and Korea does not even feature in the dispute.

First of all, I was not even aware that there was a dispute over the origin of a particular species of cherry blossom/벚꽃/桜 between Korea and Japan.

Apparently there is.

The species in question is King Cherry 왕벚나무 (Prunus yedoensis var. nudiflora) with its natural habitat/place of origin still in Jejudo, Korea (the only natural habitat found in the world), and the similarity it has with the Somei Yoshino (Prunus × yedoensis) which is the Japanese Yoshino cherry that is believed to be produced from crossing the two separate Japanese species of Prunus subhirtella var. ascendens (Edo higan) and Prunus lannesiana (Oshima zakura).

The JTBC report makes it somewhat clear for me. It’s whether these two species are the same or whether the Japanese one could somehow trace its origin back to include the Korean one, or distinct (I mean they have the same species name, only difference being the Yoshino cherry has the x in between) which is the question. Juvenile as always, I know, but it’s become more of a question since the Nagoya Protocol was established in 2011, with respect to paying royalty to the country of origin of the genetic material.

The funny thing about this is that this is just what just about sums up the characters played by these three countries on everything.

Japan : is the best in packaging, propagating and turning into its own many many things which sometimes (and sometimes not) originates from China and Korea, and often many things just get buried in history, likes to believe that everything just sprang out of Japan the island nation out of spontaneous generation (people, culture, craft etc) with no influence/migration from outside to contaminate them.

Korea : always late into the game, it gave away and did not look after its own properly, busy fighting among themselves, only to find out too late, that a lot of things originated from Korea and comes across as a jealous crybaby who likes to claim many good things in Japan came from Korea.

China : Everything came from China. Everything. The two countries are just being silly. They remind me of the hilarious clip of “everything comes of India” from the BBC comedy series Goodness Gracious Me. “Is the Pope Punjabi?”

It’s really sad.
I don’t know why these three Asian countries bicker so much over such trivial things.

Smoking Ban – April 1 No More Fooling Around

On January 1, 2015, South Korea by law completely banned smoking in all bars, restaurants, and cafes (including smoking rooms) regardless of size.  Starting tomorrow, April 1, they’re no longer fooling around:  the three-month grace period on enforcement ends.  Smokers could pay fines of 100,000 won and shop owners up to 5 million won for violating Korea’s anti-smoking law.

Korea has gotten serious about smoking.  In 2012, a World Health Organization (WHO) conference held in Seoul recommended South Korea change its lax laws on smoking and drinking, citing public health issues.  In December 2012, all restaurants and bars were issued one week’s warning that such establishments with a floor area greater than 150 square meters could no longer allow smoking. In 2013, Korean law banned taxi drivers from smoking  but did not specify whether their clients could smoke.   On June 8, 2013, PC bangs (PC rooms) became smoke-free zones,  On January 1, 2014, the smoking ban for restaurants and bars with an area exceeding 100 square meters became law. On December 12, 2014, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced the government planned to ban smoking in billiard halls and indoor golf driving ranges in 2015.  On January 1, 2015, the ban on smoking in all bars and restaurants, regardless of size, became law.

The backlash has begun.  On March 3, I Love Smoking, an online community representing the largest network of smokers in South Korea, filed at the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of the smoking ban in all restaurants, claiming the ban infringes on people’s rights to happiness, suppresses individuals’ rights to run a business, interferes with businesses’ freedom, and interferes with businesses’ rights to profit.  Good luck with that.  In 2011, 299 internet cafe operators filed a complaint against the smoking ban in Internet cafes, and the Constitutional Court upheld the ban.

Regardless and according to Yonhap News,

“The new ban has caused all kinds of conflicts between the restaurant staff and diners who smoke,” (I Love Smoking) said at a press conference held in front of the court in central Seoul. “It has also eaten into business owners’ profits, some to the point of considering closure.”

The group said as an alternative, the government could prohibit smoking at all restaurants during the day but allow bars and clubs to seat smokers in smoking sections in the evening.

…The government could use the extra taxes smokers pay toward subsidizing the costs of creating smoking sections at restaurants, which on average cost 10-30 million won (US$9,100-27,000), the group said.

“Independent restaurants can’t realistically afford the cost without subsidies,” it said.

Yeah, good luck with that too.

OECD Daily Smoking By Gender

South Korea remains among the smokingest nations in the OECD, ranking 13th in the world in cigarette consumption and second, behind Greece, among OECD nations .  Cigarette prices, prior to the tax increase, in South Korea were among the lowest in the world by PPP.  The much needed price increase reflecting the negative externality cost in cigarette consumption and proper use of zoning laws protecting non-smokers, brings Korea in line with laws, trends, and thinking in other OECD countries.  I’m a libertarian minded non-smoker who wonders how Korea’s ajeosshi-packed Constitutional Court will rule let alone why the Constitutional Court would even hear the case.

Are Koreans really unhappy? And what should be done about it?

How happy or unhappy are Koreans? The answer seems to depend on whom you’re asking.

According to this Gallup poll, Koreans rank 118th place out of a total of 143 countries. In this poll, Koreans are ranked as being as unhappy as Palestinians and even unhappier than the Iraqis. If the Iraqis weren’t so busy trying to get out of ISIS’ way, I think it is possible that they might post a series of “first world problem” memes to mock Koreans.

However, it is not all doom and gloom for Koreans. That is because according to this poll from Bloomberg, Koreans are the fourth happiest people in the world – far happier than Americans, the people whom Tocqueville praised for their optimism.

So why the discrepancy?

It has to do with the fact that “happiness” is a vague and complex concept, which means something different to different people. After all, how many of us can truly define what happiness is; which we can all universally agree to be correct? Even if happiness could be defined in such a way that everyone in the world could agree with the definition, how does anyone measure a qualitative concept? Quantifying a subjective opinion, which could be based on numerous factors such as affluence, culture, mood, psychological conditions, the weather, etc., is impossible. Therefore, it is no surprise that when researchers attempt to define and measure happiness in order to generate something that resembles meaningful data, the results are wildly different.

As such, pursuing government policies that are meant to increase happiness levels could lead to outcomes that could make people even less happy than they were before.

So, how would the government go about to improve happiness? Raising tariffs on rice might make the rice farmers happy, but what about the consumers who will not have the opportunity to buy cheaper rice? It could lead to happiness for some, but less for others. In fact, people tend to get quite a bit upset if there is even a hint that the government is helping some people become happier while it neglects others.

1

As happiness is such a subjective concept, when policymakers try to improve people’s happiness, even if they have the purest intentions, as per human nature, they will naturally pursue policies based on their own idea about what makes people happy as opposed to what people actually care about. Which defeats the whole purpose of measuring happiness.

So, if the government cannot directly affect people’s happiness, at least not in a positive way, then what is the alternative? In my opinion, what the government should focus on is pursuing reforms that allow people the greatest freedom to pursue whatever makes them happy.

That way, the government would be able to deal with other pressing matters, such as national security, while leaving the pursuit of happiness to the people. After all, who knows better than the people themselves about what makes them happy?

A News Report Worthy of A Movie Script

Thanks to Kim Hyung-Eun (JoongAng Ilbo) this news report of a fire turns out to be a cross between a detective-mystery and tragedy.

The  “Hunminjeongeum” or “The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People” was written  so that the common people illiterate in hanja could accurately and easily read and write the Korean language. It was announced in Volume 102 of the Annals of King Sejong, and its formal supposed publication date, October 9, 1446 ( Hangul Day). The Annals place its creation to the  25th year of Sejong’s reign, 1443~1444 thereof.  The book has two parts: the Yeui section, which explains why Hangul was created, and the Haerye section, which details the principles, usage and gives examples of the writing system but the Haerye section is far more rare, thus very much sought after by collectors.

The story begins in 2008 when Bae Ik-gi notified the government that he had a copy of “Hunminjeongeum” with the Haerye section intact.
Curators found this to be true and noted the book even contained footnotes missing from the version that was known, however, there was a problem:

an antique dealer Jo Yong-hun claimed that Bae had stolen the book from him: “Bae bought several ancient books from me at the price of 300,000 won [$272] and sneaked ‘Hunminjeongeum’ into the books,” Jo said while filing civil and criminal lawsuits against Bae. Jo won the civil suit in 2012 and announced in May that year that he would donate the book to the state. The CHA even held a donation ceremony with Jo – ironically without the presence of the artifact, as only Bae knew where it was . . .

Jo passed away and the government held Bae but Bae never revealed where the book was and would not reveal where it was until the government cleared him of charges, saying the world will never see the book, yet – he was reportedly seen running into the burning house with a small hammer, attacking a portion of a wall . . .

. . . Gwangheung Temple in Andong, North Gyeongsang, has been arguing that one of Korea’s most notorious antique thieves, surnamed Seo, stole a group of artifacts kept inside a Buddhist statue in the temple in 1999 and that the book was (originally) one of the items.

and the house burned.

burning

If there were a love interest, this would make a great movie but there was little love to be found therein and more so is the tragedy.

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