Kim Jong-Un – The Busiest Man in the DPRK

Busy? Yeah, I’m busy but not like Kim Jong-Un, who is so busy that he canceled his attendance in Moscow of the 70th anniversary of the Second World War’s end citing “internal Korean affairs” as being the cause.

What in Korea could be keeping him at home? It’s simple. He has been busy. . .

. . . The director general of North Korea’s Unhasu Orchestra and three members of the troupe were stripped naked and shot dead with machine guns in a public execution in Pyongyang last month, a resident of the North Korean capital said, as South Korea’s intelligence agency issued a tally of 15 executions ordered by leader Kim Jong-un so far in 2015.

watching_uand I almost choked when I read that these people were killed “while 400-500 members of the Pyongyang artistic community were forced to watch . . . There has been no execution done in this cruel way, so all people who saw this scene were shocked” and one of the people killed was a composer even!
Certain sources have stated that up to fifteen highly placed officials were executed this year by his busy-ness and there are even photos of some of it as well.
There are other North Koreans who are busy as well, like its diplomats when “A U.S.-organized event on North Korea’s human rights briefly turned into chaos at the U.N. on Thursday as North Korean diplomats insisted on reading a statement of protest (amid shouts from defectors) and then stormed out.” <link>
Yes, Kim Jong-Un has been busy shoring up his grip on power but, like many things in life, the harder you try to avoid something, the more likely it will become a visitor at night, when it is least expected.

Another Saenuri Victory

¹Ú¼öÄ¡´Â »õ´©¸® ÁöµµºÎ

So the most recent parliamentary election results are in and it appears that the Saenuri Party has defied expectations and won. Again.

Despite the fact that Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo resigned after serving for only two months; despite the fact Sung Wan-jong made his now infamous list of people before committing suicide; despite the fact that many have accused the government’s handling of the Sewol protests as excessive; despite the fact that a lot of buzz has been made about the timing of President Park Geun-hye’s South American trip; despite her plummeting  popularity – the Saenuri Party won three out of the four contested parliamentary voting districts. The one race that it didn’t win was in Gwangju – the NPAD’s stronghold. That seat was swept up by an independent lawmaker who had defected from the NPAD.

This election was supposed to have been an easy win for the NPAD – a symbolic “f-you” to the president. And it failed. Again.

It might be worthwhile to read Steven Denney’s article “What’s Wrong with South Korea’s Liberals?” again. Not to mention Joshua Stanton’s reply to Steven Denney’s question.

So what happens to Mr. Moon Jae-in now? As the NPAD’s chairman, he was supposed to direct the party’s political goals and objectives to help it make big gains in next year’s general election. On a more personal level, he was supposed to be the NPAD’s once and future king when he inevitably makes his second presidential bid.

Will Mr. Moon follow in the footsteps of Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Han-gil and resign from the party’s leadership after taking responsibility for the electoral loss? Or will he stay and attempt to duke it out with the left’s other rising star, Mayor Park Won-soon?

Either way, at least for now, the Saenuri Party seems unstoppable. Rather inexplicably.

 

EDIT: I guess it wasn’t that easy for the NPAD to have won.

A Youth Drinking Problem or A Business in Need of Regulation?

baby-drinkingAccording to reports, a bill that restricts people under the age of 25, from appearing in advertisements for alcoholic beverages, has passed a  committee vote, and will become law if approved in the National Assembly.  This strange bill was passed due to a perception that younger Koreans (teenagers?) are drinking more.  The same lawmakers, who had such a problem passing a decent anti-corruption law, have decided that pop stars, athletes and people of note, who are younger than 25, may encourage teenage drinking, since many of their fan base are in that age bracket.

. . . That means 21-year-old singer Lee Ji-eun, known to her fans as UI, would have to stop advertising a popular brand of soju liquor, . . . the bill was proposed after skater Kim Yuna helped advertise a brewery when she was 22 years old, leading lawmakers to question whether young idols could be enticing teenagers to drink. <link>

This sort of reportage dodges a better question though.  Are those cheap bottles of soju actually encouraging the noted rise in South Korean drinking?

Soju is really cheap in South Korea at just 3,000 won ($3) for a bottle. People tend to go out to drink almost every day, including women. At the very minimum, drinking is done three times a week” said South Korean native Lim Hyun <link>

As noted in other articles, often there is a correlation between economic problems and drinking in both unemployed and employed.  During the current “deflationary spiral amid near-zero wage growth” in Korea, the one thing that has sold better is alcohol. <link> This is more than merely a youth problem that has been exacerbated by young celebrities’ promotion of alcoholic products.

The only winner in this period of economic troubles & the ongoing problem of alcohol abuse are large beer and liquor manufacturers such as Hite-Jinro

with a 47% market share in Korea’s drinking habit.  If Korea’s drinking problems are so large (About 1.6 million of South Korea’s 50 million population are alcoholics, while social costs stemming from drinking is around 23 trillion won annually), wouldn’t cheap soju and neighborhood stores selling to younger Koreans be more of a problem than young stars marketing alcohol?  How about the management for the “younger celebrities” that are willing to force their talent to help Hite-Jinro expand their market share? How about the advertising campaigns put out by Hite-Jinro that target a younger audience?  Also, considering the advertising spent in printed news media, why is their no media-lead examination of the business side of this alcohol problem in Korea?

Adultery Is Now Officially Legal & Ashley Madison Is Back

what-Once upon a time . . .

adultery was illegal in South Korea. People could go to jail because of it.
Sites such as Ashley Madison – that promote married people having affairs – were banned in South Korea, despite their efforts to sue Korea, claiming that the Korean Government was protecting local hook-up sites (see Brendon Carr’s first comment on the linked page), until, one day, the law was changed.

Now, according to the claims of Christoph Kraemer, director of international relations for Ashley Madison, “. . . Membership is growing quickest in India, South Korea and Japan.” (cite)
When I read about this, I checked and, yes, the site is accessible now from Korea and does offer support in Korean, however, since there are quite a few complaints of this service being fraudulent.  Several people I know thought that this site was a typical dating scam setup, where there are fake accounts setup just to drawn in the unsuspecting, so we thought it would be a good idea to test this and to ascertain if previous complaints had any merit and the following is what we found.

First, any adult can sign up for an account, which we did. We fought more over the online name than we did about anything else. We were torn between choices like “Nunchi lover”, “Peachy white guy” or “Tall and handsome carpet muncher” and so many other corny names but, just as soon as we created our account, we got four notices in our mail account from interested women, but wait, under the “viewed me” section of our account, it said “no one has recently viewed your profile”! Wow, these women must be psychic and married since they knew we had just joined Ashley Madison before anyone had even looked at our profile yet.

We went on to search the site for Seoul listings, for women that listed both Korean only or Korean and English as languages. We viewed several listings; many without photos. We pulled up one listing several times, arguing over whether or not a certain woman looked good or not. Lo and behold, some hours later, the same woman whose profile we had argued over had sent us mail but – we had spent no money to buy “credits” for the site’s service, thus we could not read the obviously juicy mail sent to us by the very women whose profile we poured over. We were also amazed because the site dashboard told us that no one had viewed our profile as of yet, thus this women must also be another psychic married woman, looking for action.

Well, it was obvious to us that the time had come to make a decision – do we wisely save our money or do we give in to our lustful, now legal desires?

After splitting the cost, we bought the cheapest option, which is still pretty expensive for one person. We also discovered a little tricky thing about this site.  As listed in the conditions for this service (DO READ THE FINE PRINT) they have the option to automatically charge your card or Paypal account to purchase additional credits for you to keep your account active:

. . . (we use an) automatic re-bill “top up” feature to keep your account active. In the event that any action you take or features you use on the Service that require the expenditure of credits results in you having a “zero balance” or a negative balance of credits, WE WILL AUTOMATICALLY PURCHASE (WITHOUT FURTHER AUTHORIZATION FROM YOU ONCE YOU OPT IN) FOR YOU THE SAME MEMBERSHIP PACKAGE THAT YOU HAD PURCHASED PREVIOUSLY . . .

basically, they reserve the right to charge you again if you are careless and opt-in without understanding what you are agreeing to. This auto-charging is a similar practice to one used by certain illicit online streaming sites where they offer a free trial for their service but the fine print says that if you don’t cancel the trial before a certain time, they will charge you the full fee and their fine print also says there is a cost to cancel.  Ashley Madison also charges for a “full deletion” of account information from their site as well, which again is in the fine print. (link) though you can hide your account from viewing.  It is definitely not clear just what happens to a members photo if they should cancel their service either.

There is also this bit of fine print from the site:

Our profiles message with Guest users, but not with Members. Members interact only with profiles of actual persons. Guests are contacted by our profiles through computer generated messages, including emails and instant messages. These profiles are NOT conspicuously identified as such.
You understand, acknowledge and agree that any interaction or messaging with our profiles is independent of, and separate from, our general database of Members who may be seeking in person or other kinds of encounters or introductions. You understand that you cannot meet any of the images associated with our profiles in person and you acknowledge and agree that such communications are solely for your entertainment and to encourage your use of our Service. You acknowledge and agree that the user conduct provisions of these Terms apply to your interactions with these profiles. If you do not wish to continue to receive communications or other interaction from our profiles, to which the receipt of such messages you hereby agree to and consent, go to “Manage Profile” and click on “Profile Options”, in “Profile Options” select “Check this box if you do not wish to by contacted by Market Research.” Then click on “UPDATE”.

This means that the “psychic married women” we encountered were actually Ashley Madison bots that were inticing us and giving us the impression that their site is really active with women looking for sex.

Once having bought credits on the AM site, they charge five credits to send mail to any member (or bot) though any additional follow-up mail to a member is free, according to their site.  Having loaded up on credits, our itching fingers grabbed the mail that had been out of our reach, only to read that the women wanted a photo and would reply if interested. She never did, in fact, after having purchase our credits, all mail from these psychic married women stopped completely.

Almost once every other day, we did get a “wink” from women who actually viewed our profile, right after we logged on, but were located on the opposite side of the earth from Korea (!??) and a couple looked like sex pros, but the dashboard on the AM site still told us that no locally available married women, including the ones we “winked” at, had viewed our profile. We are smug in a dejected sort of way at this point since we suspected that this very thing would happen, however we picked the sexiest pictures we could for our profile and feel that they have been wasted so far.  Even Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung is more popular than we are and we feel we are collectively much more handsome than he is.

disappointed

“no one has recently viewed your profile”!

We sent out more “winks” to certain local women to show our interest in them. We tried a combination of English and Korean but to no avail and still no members in Korea, who are Korean, have viewed our profile! Only one local “member” (we never “winked” at them) did view our profile but they were listed as having English as a primary language and wanted to only chat, which was not a selected option for our profile.  Why were they trying to send a message to us?  We were looking for action and fun; not “chatting”.  Despite the sites’ statement in their terms and conditions that their “angel” bots would send messages to only “guests” we still received one message (with a Korean online name) from what apparently was a bot since the “member”(?) was not listed as having viewed our profile. We believe this should have been a violation of the terms and conditions of their site. (Note: we have kept a log and screenshots of everything as well just in case . . . )

A few listings did look like they *might* be actual people but we felt that the cost alone to determine if they were real would preclude investigating this further and some of the accounts had pictures that looked very much like the shots seen on those little business cards that litter the streets around Gangnam and Seolleung. Humm . . .

Even now, our conclusions are unanimous. We feel that people would have a better chance of meeting someone in Korea – married or not – by learning some Korean and learning how to smile and be pleasant rather than wasting their money and time on Ashley Madison’s site.  This site left us with more doubts about the veracity of the site than fun.  We think it is also probably a good idea for the Prosecutor’s Office, in Seoul, to investigate these people or have their site blocked since they are probably not the sort of people that should be allowed to operate in Korea.

Seoul Ed Superintendent likely expelled

…and in other corruption news….

The Seoul Central District Court convicted Cho Hee-yeon, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, of disseminating false information against his rival during last year’s election.  The Seoul Central District Court Wednesday fined Cho five million won (US$4,600) for spreading false rumors against his conservative rival Koh Seung-duk during the election campaign.

Under current election law, any fine for “running a smear campaign” in excess of one million won leads to an automatic nullification of one’s election.

Cho is appealing to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds the Seoul District Court’s decision, Cho will forfeit his office and be made to return three billion won in campaign funds. The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to be announced in one year.  (One year???)

Cho, the only liberal candidate and a former sociology professor, earned a surprise victory in the election for Seoul education chief last June, beating two favorites, including conservative rival Koh Seung-duk, a lawyer turned politician.

The Seoul District Court found that Cho disseminated false information about  Koh by claiming Koh was a permanent resident of the United States and used his permanent resident status to educate his two children in the U.S.  Koh publicly explained that he did not hold permanent U.S. residency and his children were U.S. citizens by birth.   The court found that Cho continued to accuse Koh with the allegations even after providing a valid explanation.

Cho is the third of four Seoul education superintendents and latest Seoul education superintendent to be convicted of violating Korea’s election laws.  In 2009, Gong Jeong-taek lost his post after the Supreme Court fined him 1.5 million won for receiving bribes to bankroll his election campaign.  In 2012, Kwak No-hyun lost his office after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction on charges of bribing Park Myoung-gee to withdraw from the 2010 election for the job.  The court sentenced Kwak to one year in jail and made him return 3.52 billion won he received as a refund for campaign costs.

What of our one beacon of hope?   “Cho’s predecessor, Moon Yong-lin, was also put on trial on similar charges after he stepped down.”

So the soap opera is told and unfolds
I suppose it’s old, partner, but the beat goes on
Da da dum da dum da da….

Yep, this was bound to happen.

A Kenyan man lands in Pyungyang when he thought he was heading for Pyungchang for a conference :
from this WSJ report

Maybe they should have an Olympic slogan,
“2015 in Pyungchang, not Pyungyang”,
simple, effective and funny, much more cool than any of the dynamic sparkling shite variety they tend to come up with.
This story reminds me of how an acquaintance who was trying to book a plane ticket to Auckland (NZ) in a Korean travel agency in UK, talking to a Korean woman, nearly got himself a ticket for Oakland (USA).

What I want to know is why Chinese reporters (in Hong Kong?) are covering this story.

How to survive a drinking session in Korea

Hoesik

How to survive a drinking session in Korea is the title perforce and not my title of choice.  Anthony Bourdain travels to Korea for the season five premiere of “Parts Unknown” and teases the segment with that title on CNN’s website.

Here is an abbreviated, in consideration of my reader’s time and attention span, sampling of the original article.

Hoesik is the Korean tradition of eating and drinking together

(CNN)Most companies in South Korea have hoesik at least once a month and sometimes every week.

Literally, this means dinner with co-workers.

In practice, it means official eating/drinking fests involving multiple rounds of alcohol at multiple venues.

For the foreign business traveler, using foreignness as an excuse to bow out of the action only goes so far.

The pressure to participate is intense.

Drinking etiquette is the first thing you teach foreign guests,” says Bryan Do, a Korean-American director at the South Korean branch of a U.S. company.

“It was shocking when I first arrived in Korea.

“My boss was a graduate of Korea University [renowned for its hardy drinking culture] and at my first hoesik, we started out with everyone filling a beer glass with soju, and downing it on the spot. That was just the beginning.”

CNN’s piece continues with, “for Koreans, drinking is considered a way to get to know what someone is really like.  ‘I didn’t really like it in the beginning,’ says Charles Lee, a Korean-Canadian who came to Seoul to work for a South Korean company. ‘I was like, Why are you making me drink something when I don’t want to? But once I understood the meaning behind it, I appreciated it more.’ ”

The article notes that “drinking is such a big part of Korean life that Seoul traffic is said to correspond with the city’s drinking culture.  Mondays are a big night for hoesik, so there are fewer cars during evening rush hour, as most office workers leave them at work so they can go drinking.  Tuesdays are a rest day, while Wednesday and Thursday nights are also big nights for company drinking. Fridays have the worst evening traffic, as everyone is taking their cars home to use with their families over the weekend.”

Finally, the author offers these seven (edited for length, see original article for complete context) rules:

1. Know the hierarchy

Koreans always identify the “higher” person in the relationship, and defer to them accordingly.  Even someone just a year older is afforded a language of respect, though age is always superseded by a higher position.

2. Show respect

It’s considered rude for anyone to have an empty glass.  If a senior person is pouring — this usually pertains to hard liquor only — others shouldn’t drink until someone has poured the senior a shot.

After all glasses are full, everyone says “Gunbae!” and chugs — usually “one-shotting” the entire glass in one go.  While downing alcohol, you should turn your body away from senior figures so that your body visually blocks your drinking action from your senior.

3. Use two hands

Always hold bottles or shot glasses with both hands. By raising your glass or pouring alcohol with one hand, you are establishing yourself as a senior person. If you’re not, well, you’ve just breached protocol.

4. Do some research

It’s always a good idea to find out people’s drinking habits beforehand.  …Hoesik usually involves changing venues for a different type of alcohol — i.e., round one is dinner, accompanied by beer, round two is soju, round three is for whiskey, and so on.

5. ‘No’ means bad things

Unless you have an airtight reason, refusing alcohol is considered a mood killer and deemed rude.  Sorry, but “I don’t like soju” doesn’t qualify as a good reason not to punish your liver. Neither would “I’ve been on the wagon for three years.”

In fact, unless you’re pregnant or already puking, what might be a “good reason” not to imbibe elsewhere often won’t fly here.

6. Flex your vocal cords

…Koreans love singing, as evidenced by the country’s staggering number of karaoke bars, as well as the rush of audition programs on Korean television.  Your companions won’t rest until you sing.

7. Use the black knight or black rose as a last resort

If you simply cannot take any more, you can call a black knight (male) or a black rose (female) to your rescue.  This entails a person of your choosing drinking your glass for you, but it also means they get a wish.  As in, you might soon wish you’d just taken that last shot as you’re spelling your name out with your butt in front of your client.

Bottoms up.

(Anthony Bourdain missed out on the real ratings grabber:  the after-party ;-))


For those of us who have been here for any length of time, we’ve at some point bumped into, if not against, Korea’s hoesik business culture.  I am still incredulous and try not to judge, but I can’t resist:

Sorry, but “I don’t like soju” doesn’t qualify as a good reason not to punish your liver. Neither would “I’ve been on the wagon for three years.”

Pressuring an admitting and recovering alcoholic to drink? Really? (Unfortunately, I know the answer.)

I have worked with several of Korea’s top companies, and no one in upper management has ever asked me.  If I could, however, tell them one thing, I would tell them that their top young talent (by virtue of their degrees, positions, and matriculation in my training classes) tell me that if they could quit the company, they would.  Their cited reason:  the company’s drinking culture is ruining their health, if not “killing” them.

Perhaps I should go out on hoesik so I can tell them.

Raising the Sewol Ferry

Sewol in Korea Herald (Yonhap credit)

The good news is that South Korea announced today its commitment to raise the Sewol, which sits submerged in up to to 44 m (144 ft) at the bottom of the ocean.  The operation is slated to start in September, cost approximately 150 billion won ($139 million), and take up to 18 months.

According to the Korea Herald, “Public Safety Minister Lee In-yong said priority will be given to preventing the loss of the bodies of the nine people still missing and minimizing the possible damage to the hull.”

According to the WSJ:

The ferry, which weighs more than 6,000 tons, is lying 44 meters (144 feet) below sea level. Its more than 20-year-old structure is “severely weakened,” said Public Safety Minister Park In-yong. But a government-sponsored computer simulation showed the ship can be moved with cranes to an area with shallower waters and slower currents where it would be raised onto a floating dock, a maritime ministry official said at the same briefing.

A South Korea Coast Guard boat passes a buoy marking the site where the ferry Sewol sank off Jindo, South Korea. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
A South Korea Coast Guard boat passes a buoy marking the site where the ferry Sewol sank off Jindo, South Korea. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The WSJ quoted the public safety and maritime ministries as using a 200 billion won ($185 million) figure for the estimated operation cost.

EDIT:  A reader (see comments and discussion) has shown evidence that the photo credited to Yonhap was not retouched.  I have changed the title and retract the following from the original piece:

In its article, The Korea Herald published the photo (credited to Yonhap), which I ripped used as this blog post’s featured image.  The image appears photoshopped: the Sewol Ferry is impossibly propped on its stack and cut in half.  I am surprised that the Korea Herald, which I think of as Korea’s best online daily (high praise, indeed), used a manipulated image.

North Korea declined to make charges of tu quoque upon realizing the implications of the charge.

 

KJU climbs Mt. Paektu, provides precious “pabulum” to press

KJU Summits Mt. Baekdu

Kim Jong Un scaled Mount Paektu, the highest mountain on the Korean peninsula, on Saturday, according to North Korea’s state-controlled newspaper, Rodong Sinmun.  The Rodong Sinmun further reported that Kim delivered a speech, three days after the celebration of Kim Il Sung’s 103rd birthday, on the significance of Mount Paektu.

Climbing the 2,744 m (9,003 ft) Mt. Paektu is no mean feat; doing so in a double-breasted wool overcoat and oxfords is… wait for it… legend-ary.

The western press has lapped up Kim Jung-un’s precious use of pabulum as reported in the Rodong Shinmun:  “When one climbs snow-stormy Mt. Paektu and undergoes the blizzards over it, one can experience its real spirit and harden the resolution to accomplish the Korean revolution. Climbing Mt. Paektu provides precious mental pabulum more powerful than any kind of nuclear weapon and it is the way for carrying forward the revolutionary traditions of Paektu and giving steady continuity to the glorious Korean revolution.”

Here is the piece as published by the Rodong Shinmun:

Kim Jong Un, supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, climbed the top of Mt. Paektu at dawn of Saturday, together with the members of KPA fighter pilots’ expedition of the revolutionary battle sites in the area of Mt. Paektu.

With a broad smile on his face, the Supreme Commander said that the look of Mt. Paektu is impressive and the sunrise over Mt. Paektu is a charming and beautiful sight rare to be seen, adding the new morning of Korea dawns from Mt. Paektu.

“Mt. Paektu is the ancestral mountain and the sacred mountain of revolution associated with the soul of the Korean nation and suggesting the spirit of Songun Korea, and it is the cradle of the Korean revolution, the symbol of victory and the eternal beacon of the Songun (army-first) revolution”, he said, adding:

“When one climbs snow-stormy Mt. Paektu and undergoes the blizzards over it, one can experience its real spirit and harden the resolution to accomplish the Korean revolution. Climbing Mt. Paektu provides precious mental pabulum more powerful than any kind of nuclear weapon and it is the way for carrying forward the revolutionary traditions of Paektu and giving steady continuity to the glorious Korean revolution.”

KJU Summits Mt. Baekdu 01

KJU Summits Mt. Baekdu 02

The revolutionary spirit of Paektu, the spirit of the blizzards of Paektu, is the noble spirit the army and people of the DPRK should keep in their minds forever, he said, adding that they will have nothing to fear and they will do everything when they live in the spirit.

Saying that the Korean revolution started in Mt. Paektu is not yet over, he expressed expectation and belief that the fighter pilots would fully discharge their mission as heirs to the Songun revolution. And he had a photo session with them on the top of Mt. Paektu.

He was accompanied by Hwang Pyong So, Choe Ryong Hae, Kim Yang Gon, Ri Jae Il and Ri Pyong Chol.

KJU Summits Mt. Baekdu 03

KJU Summits Mt. Baekdu 04

In addition to republishing the Rodong Shinbum’s pabulum, the western press has focused on the obviously photoshopped images:

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported the Kim Jong Un visit to Mount Paektu was presented in a manipulated photo image, seen above. In the circled area, one soldier is standing without support. Photo by KCNA/Yonhap
South Korean news agency Yonhap reported the Kim Jong Un visit to Mount Paektu was presented in a manipulated photo image, seen above. In the circled area, one soldier is standing without support. Photo by KCNA/Yonhap

Perhaps a long-time Marmot’s Hole commenter could lend his Photoshop skills?


Okay.

What I want to know is where’s his cane?

I feel like KJU is sandbagging us like Yoda in Star Wars Episode III when all along he hobbles with a cane, and then…  BAM!  He opens up a can of whoop-ass on Count Dooku.

From now on, whenever I see Kim Jung-un, I’m going to think foppish Mr. Peanut carrying a cane as an affectation.  How long until he assumes the monocle?

PM offers to resign, President Park meets with K-Pop fans in Peru

Prime Minister Offers to Resign

Oh, how the blogging gods have conspired against me.  I have been working on pieces and considering titles: “Prime Minister impeached, President Park impickled” and “PM impeached, PGH in Peru“.

Alas, they are not to be.

According to the Korea Herald, Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo submitted his resignation today to President Park Geun-hye amid accusations that he took bribes from Sung Won-jong.  Sung named Lee Wan-koo among seven others in a note found on Sung’s dead body, which was found hanging from a tree in an apparent suicide.

“Prime Minister Lee offered his intention to resign to President Park as of April 20,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. “The president will decide whether to accept his resignation or not after she returns from her trip.”  A presidential spokesman, Min Kyung-wook, accompanying her in Lima, Peru, confirmed the announcement of the Prime Minister’s Office.

President Park is currently in the middle of a 12-day Latin America trip.  Park departed on the first anniversary of the Sewol Ferry sinking, this Korean generation’s where were you moment akin to Americans’ Pearl Harbor, FDR death, JFK assassination, John Lennon murder, or WTC 9/11 attack, and amid the growing bribery scandal that threatens not only Korea’s government’s credibility but also constitutional succession:  the prime minister is first in line in case of the South Korean president’s incapacitation.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the Sewol Ferry sinking’s first anniversary, the crisis engulfing PGH’s presidency, and by-elections on April 29, less than two days after President Park’s return,  Blue House Foreign Affairs and National Security Secretary Ju Cheol-gi said in a media brief one day before PGH’s departure, “there is no good reason to delay the trip, and it must go forward as planned. We have to create opportunities to help the economy, and ethnic Koreans in Central and South America are looking forward to the trip, so we will do what needs to be done.”

President Park is scheduled to return to Korea next Monday and as of this writing has no plans to cut short such an important tour of South America.  “President Park Geun-hye met with hallyu fans in Peru, Sunday, during the second leg of her South American tour. …Park’s encounter with 14 Peruvian hallyu enthusiasts took place at a hotel in Lima at the request of some of the fan clubs.”

President Park meets with K-Pop fans in Peru
President Park pictured at an important meeting with part of and receiving a present (???) from a contingent of 14 K-Pop fans in Peru

“I heard that members of the fan clubs learn Korean dance and ‘hangeul’ (Korean alphabet) together,” Park said. “These activities will bring our two countries closer,” she added.

Park’s other important accomplishments on this trip include a pledge from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to accelerate efforts toward ratification of their free trade agreement (FTA,) which was signed more than two years ago.

I have seen no press information whether members of the Korean press corp have deigned to ask President Park “might she return?”

(Damn you, blogging gods.)


UPDATE:  PM’s resignation tender written large on CNN’s front page.  According to CNN’s article, “Park is in Peru and is expected to arrive back to South Korea on April 27.”

CNN Front page April 21, 2015

(I have no further updates on the K-Pop diplomacy initiative.)

Safety At All Costs?

food-tradeoff

Starting with the Sewol accident a year ago, there have been many accidents that have occurred in Korea in the past year.

For one thing, there have been a couple of subway accidents. There was also an accident in a K-pop concert where sixteen people lost their lives. There were also a string of accidents at Hyundai in the past year. And of course, there has been the seemingly increasing number of sinkholes around Lotte Tower. Of course, there are many more examples that I could not list all of them here.

With each new accident reported in the news, there is plenty of hand-wringing in the news media. For instance, this op-ed from The Korea Times claimed “incompetence, irresponsibility and a lack of safety awareness” can be blamed for the Sewol accident. The earlier article about the subway accidents blamed outsourcing of safety inspections.

I am sure that those same culprits can be blamed for almost every other accident that occurs in Korea.

There are a lot more examples of hand-wringing that can be found on social media where the chastising is more sarcastic.

Of course, corporations have been blamed for the accidents, also. Specifically, many people have blamed businesses’ “ppali ppali culture” as well as “businesses that put money and profits ahead of human lives and safety.”

However, what none of these moirologists ever specifies is how much fewer accidents there have to be for them to be satisfied. Must the number of accidents be halved, or at least reduced by a third? How much should businesses spend on safety precautions before they are satisfied that businesses are not putting profits ahead of people? Or will they not be satisfied until there isn’t a single accident that ever occurs anywhere within Korea’s borders, including its maritime borders?

More importantly, do people truly believe that Koreans really lack safety awareness? If they do truly believe that, then I have to wonder just how arrogant and self-righteous one has to be to actually think that to be true.

It is true that we do not often think of our own mortality. Can you imagine if each person in the world actually spent a significant amount of time thinking about their own inevitable ends each day?

So we choose to put the Grim Reaper at the back of our minds and until that fateful day comes, we continue to choose to live because we must. And while we live, we have to make choices. And sometimes, those choices come down to choosing between safety and convenience.

Despite all the moralizing and hand-wringing that people take part in, the fact of the matter is that safety does not always trump convenience. If it did, no one would ever do anything. Jaywalking, eating food sold by a street vendor, climbing a mountain, swimming in a lake, getting inside a taxi cab – each of those things carries certain amounts of risk.

At every waking moment, each of us has to make trade-offs. Do we sacrifice some safety to get more convenience, or do we sacrifice some convenience to get more safety?

However, those are private choices that each of us has to make for our own selves. And no one should presume that their preferred balance between safety and convenience is or ought to be the preferred balance for everyone else.

But what about those children who died on that ferry? They didn’t choose to put their lives in danger. There was no trade-off between safety and convenience. They implicitly trusted that the ferry they boarded was going to be safe. The ship’s captain, some of the crew, Chonghaejin Marine Company, and the coast guard failed them all.

That is, indeed, true. When it comes to third-parties who suffer from the choices that others have made for them, there is no satisfying answer. There is no “gotcha” argument or a clever turn of phrase that people can give that will satisfy everyone. The best that we can say is that better decision-making ought to be practiced and incentivized.

However, we must never kid ourselves and delude ourselves into believing that human life is somehow priceless. The truth of the matter is that no human life is worth an infinite value. Life is all about trade-offs. And at the end of the day, we have to decide how much money, how much comfort, or how much anything we are willing to sacrifice to save one additional life.

For example, if there were a way to make sure that no ferry would ever sink again, but it would cost a billion dollars to do it, would anyone actually spend a billion dollars on each ferry to ensure such an outcome? No, no one would do such a thing. Such a decision would soak up resources that are needed for other things.

If not a billion dollars, then how about a hundred thousand dollars? Or a thousand dollars? No one can answer this question and say that it ought to be the same answer that everyone else ought to give.

Contemptible as it may be, economic factors have to be taken into account and we must remember that economic factors set a limit on what is feasible to do. It is easy to say that no amount of money should ever be valued more than the life of another human being. It sounds nice, but, like most rhetoric, it is empty of thought. Moral intuitions, even the most well-intended kinds, can lead people astray; and it is absolutely necessary to subject moral judgments to a reality check.

Feeling Blogged Down

Writer's Block

What to do?  What to do?

Korea’s news cycle has been consumed with the anti-corruption probe, the ensuing Sung Won-jong suicide, news of cash stuffed energy drink boxes, more threats (?) of suicide(!), captains abandoning their ships,  and thoughts of whether Korea is a police state in random musings about the reported 10,000 police officers at the first anniversary memorial commemorating the Sewol Ferry tragedy and its victims.

…and that’s just here at The Marmot’s Hole.

Korea’s news media and blogosphere has been similarly consumed, save for one sanctum sanctorum, fortress of solitude, alternative airing of Heidi when everyone else is thinking Superbowl, The Chosun Ilbo.

While all other of Korea’s daily news media have blared Sewol Ferry and the anti-corruption probe in their headlines for the past few weeks, today’s Ye Olde Chosun Ilbo featured the following:

Chosun Ilbo Front Page April 18, 2015

 

For the inquiring mind who wants, nay needs, to know, I humbly provide for his convenience and further edification:  Why Mostly Older Men Use Libraries.

…and what is the most read article at the venerable Chosun Ilbo?

Again, for his further denigration edification and to save my gentle reader the burden of a mouse click, I have reproduced the article complete with pic here:

Woman Holds Topless Protest in SeoulChosun Ilbo Most Read - Woman Holds Topless Protest

A topless woman appeared in Seoul’s busy downtown area around noon Wednesday with her private parts only covered in tape to protest for women’s right to bare their breasts.

Holding a sign that roughly translates as “Why are men allowed to expose their nipples while women are not?” she later put on a bikini top to cover herself up when a crowd of men had gathered around her.

Police arrived at the scene to stop her and the woman left at around 1:30 p.m. Police said they had no idea why she was holding the protest.

The 27-year-old woman, identified only by her surname Lee, had caused a stir last month after a video clip of her dancing topless at a night club went viral on the Internet. She is known to be an ex-dealer of German luxury cars.

Chosun Ilbo Woman Stages Topless Protest
A woman in a bikini holds up a picket in the Cheonggye Stream in Seoul on Wednesday.

It was her third topless protest. She protested semi-nude last month with a sign reading she would prefer to be naked rather than wear fur and stood in front of a memorial set up to mourn the victims of last year’s ferry disaster. On social media she claims to be a vegetarian, animal rights activist and feminist, and indeed her protest copies similar stunts by Western activist groups like FEMEN and PETA.

She claimed nobody would pay attention to her if she did not take her clothes off.

I feel like balance has been restored in the blogiverse.


(Special thanks to Brier for the kick in the pants inspiration.)

 

 

 

 

Random Thoughts from the First Anniversary of the Sewol Accident

Absconding President and Angry Parents

On the day of the first anniversary of the accident that took more than 300 lives, President Park Geun-hye hurriedly absconded the country for a previously scheduled 12-day tour of four South American countries.

Her decision to leave the country on that particular day has been the source of much tongue wagging, for understandable reasons, as can be seen from John Power’s tweet here.

(For those who do not read Korean, Power’s tweet translates to: “Are there cases in other countries where the president has left on the first anniversary of a big tragedy?”)

The president’s decision does, indeed, stink, just like the way the government’s response to the aftermath of the tragedy has stunk for the past year. But would her being at the ceremony helped? What would it have accomplished?

When President Park visited the memorial site in the morning before she left for South America, the families of the victims refused to meet with her. Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo was also blocked from paying his respects by the families. Never mind that he was not in office when the Sewol accident took place.

 

Prime Minister being blocked from paying his respects
Prime Minister Lee being blocked from paying his respects

 

People on this blog have told me that the president should have “bitten the bullet.” But what kind of bullet would she have bitten? It’s quite clear that the families are not looking for an apology from the president. They don’t even want to see her or allow her to pay her respects or even allow her cabinet ministers to do the same.

Their anger is understandable. However, seeing how they do not seem to wish to have their anger assuaged, at least not by President Park, I do not see how the president’s presence at the ceremony would have helped to improve things in any way, shape, or form.

It’s true that President Park has handled the aftermath of the sinking very poorly, amateurish, in fact. There is no question about that. However, as I have said before, I am convinced that her decision to leave the country yesterday may have been the least bad decision that she could have made about attending the ceremony.

For reasons that could have been avoided, President Park has become such a toxic figure to so many people that her presence there would have only exacerbated matters.

 

Korea the Police State?

Here is the way Merriam-Webster defines “police state.”

A political unit characterized by repressive governmental control of political, economic, and social life usually by an arbitrary exercise of power by police and especially secret police in place of regular operation of administrative and judicial organs of the government according to publicly known legal procedures.

There was a time when this description DID apply to South Korea. The Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan administrations come immediately to mind.

Other examples of police states that come to mind are North Korea, Nazi Germany, East Germany, the Soviet Union, and Apartheid South Africa.

Modern-day South Korea, however, is NOT an example of a police state. Regardless of anyone’s rhetoric.

So why am I bringing this up? That’s because any time a massive rally or protest takes place, and the protesters are met by thousands of police officers, people never seem to fail to mention, carelessly I might add, that Korea is either turning into a police state or is already a police state.

For instance, Se-Woong Koo, the editor-in-chief of Korea Exposé published this image on his Facebook page, which he captioned by saying:

“The sad reality of South Korea: a police state protected by frightened barely legal kids wielding video cameras from people holding flowers.”

Simply because there is a large police force in an area where thousands of mourning (and potentially angry) protesters have all gathered together for a common cause just a stone’s throw away from the Blue House does not mean that the country has turned into a police state.

Mr. Koo is not the only person to be guilty of resorting to this type of logic. Many people think the same way.

What I do not understand is the mentality behind it. Why is it that it never seems to occur to some people that it was precisely the presence of huge numbers of police officers on the scene that prevented potential rioting without actually having to use excessive force? Why do some people immediately jump to the conclusion that any police presence is “excessive” or “an overreaction?”

More importantly, what would those same people be saying today had there not been such a police force and the ceremony had become more violent?

And it is not that hard to imagine that any mob could grow violent. The fact of the matter is that violent protests are not unheard of in Korea. There have been times when what started out as peaceful protests ended with arson (see here and here). There was also that one time when the chief of the Jongno Police Precinct was assaulted by demonstrators in what was supposedly a peaceful political protest against the ROK-US free trade agreement.

Just because yesterday’s rally was not marred by violence does not mean that the police can afford to take chances and simply assume that thousands of mournful and angry protesters in Gwanghwamun Square will not decide to do something as foolish as trying to storm the Blue House.

The police erred on the side of caution. This is something to be praised, not derided.

So what police state are people talking about? I don’t see one. Do you?