Archive for September, 2011

The DMZ to become a protected wildlife zone… again

September 29, 2011

From the Ministry of Environment via Scientific American:

I guess the DMZ, the four kilometre wide and 250 kilometre long area between North and South Korea, appears in many ways to be an excellent place for the preservation of wildlife.  It is already home to many animals that are otherwise locally extinct and it is by definition a no-man’s land.

As the joke goes, there are a lot of three-legged animals there that are ‘protected’.  Hmm, I wonder if the local wildlife has evolved the ability to sniff out the landmines.

I have two concerns, one structural and one, I don’t know, sociological.  First, although the DMZ is definitely long enough, I am concerned about it’s depth.  Four km isn’t that far for some of the larger animals that are rumored to live there.

Second, encouraging wildlife there may well encourage hunting by starving North Korean soldiers.  The DMZ is nearly empty of human life but is also the focus of huge military and political forces.  It is a carefully balanced level.

My point here is that the Koreas should not forget or cover up what the DMZ really stands for.  It was created and lives today solely due to war.  It is not a symbol of peace nor of animal protection. My opinion is unchanged. “The DMZ is a pretty bandaid hiding a hideous wound and we are admiring the bandaid.”


Sympathy for the president

September 29, 2011

I am powerfully ambivalent about Korea’s President Lee Myeong-bak.  I don’t care for and don’t trust his giant schemes for improving Korea’s waterways.  The Canal plan was ludicrous.  On the other hand, he is the man I want in charge around here when it comes to dealing with North Korea.  I think the Sunshine Policy of the late Kim Dae-jung has been shown to be a failure and Roh Mu-hyon was not the right man to face off against the North Koreans.

In an recent Joongang article, Lee’s problems with corruption are discussed.  I am again torn.  without once claiming that Lee had ever been personally involved in bribes while in the construction field, I have to imagine he saw them and saw how influence could be bought.  At his level of leadership, he must understand how corruption works from the other side in contract discussions.

From the article:

Lee sternly warned members of his government to maintain their integrity and transparency, calling it an important goal of his administration. “The crisis was prompted by the so-called confidants who have failed to separate their personal lives from their lives as public servants,” Lee was quoted as saying. “Public servants must work with a new determination, and the people working in the cabinet, Blue House and near the president must remember this.”

Lee also ordered the Ministry of Justice to investigate the corruption allegations of his aides quickly and thoroughly.

“Cases against my relatives and aides must be investigated more sternly,” Lee said. “That will allow us to achieve the goal of building a transparent administration and an advanced country.”

I hope he means this and follows through.

Aides, relatives and top public servants will be the objects of special surveillance to detect corruption, Yim said, adding that top officials have agreed to work toward “self-purification.”

“Until now, investigations only took place when allegations were raised at the National Assembly or by the media,” Yim said. “But from now on, we will thoroughly look into rumors and suspicions. We also want to spot accusations with malicious intent.”

This sounds good but feels very much like the way Muslims and, well, brown people in the US are “the objects of special surveillance” and dragged off of airplanes due to “rumors and suspicions”.

I would like to see other focuses for such investigations.  If Korea wants to show the world it is working on reducing corruption, chaebol leaders should not be so quickly released and pardoned.  They may indeed deserve to be “the object of special surveillance.”

I was told by my adult students that during their occupation by Japan, breaking the law was a  form of resistance and patriotism.  I feel that even though the leadership is now domestic, the tradition continues.  As the son, grandson and husband of police officers, I do acknowledge that the police need to be themselves watched.  Here in Korea, they also need and deserve more respect.  I don’t know, but I suspect a broken window policy here might help.  Show that people will be charged for minor violations (the metaphorical breaking of windows or more concretely of traffic violations) and they may gain more respect for the rest of the legal system.  People would have trouble feeling less.

Athletic fundraisers in Muskoka that I am missing.

September 28, 2011

I have participated in several ‘marathons’ – in Korea, that is any distance beyond five kilometres – and have found my training improves as I prepare for them.  A few years back, I carefully, but relentlessly piled on the kms in preparation for a Terry Fox run in Seoul only to find it cancelled*.  The week before I learned of the cancellation, I ran more about thirty km.  The week after, about five km.

There were two events in Muskoka that I wish I could have been home for.  The Terry Fox run was ten days ago and a ‘Ride For Refuge‘ occurred last weekend.  I agree with the motivations for these events, but would probably have joined either one for the athletics alone.  The “Ride for Refuge” helps various charities that bring aid to impoverished regions in Africa.

There were two strange things about the write up for the Ride for Refuge that I want to touch on.  First, the opening to the article tells us that cyclists will be “putting their pedals to the metal”.  I wonder how precisely they do that?  Like the write-ups for the swim team that seemed required to include “made a splash”, “making waves”, “Dive in to competition”, or, I don’t know, some reference to “wet behind the ears”, this is a valueless cliche and unlike those latter ones, the ‘pedal-metal’ isn’t even a bit fitting.

Secondly, one featured charity, Listen to Learn, will “bring Bible resources via mp3 players to impoverished regions of Africa”.  ‘Feeding the homeless’ or ‘housing the hungry’ would be far better than supplying bible resources via mp3 players.

I imagine “Hello to the people of drought-stricken Malawi.  I heard that someone in this country has supplied a little electricity for his town (1, 2).  I propose you use it to recharge our mp3 players so you can listen to stories that will not fill your belly nor put a roof overhead.  You’re welcome!”

As I wrote in the previous post, I do enjoy Christian and religious culture, but think the poor in Africa would prefer food first.  Then they would feel more inclined to listen to the MP3s.


* I do understand why the people in Seoul cancelled the Terry Fox Run.  The run is far less well-known here and the requirements the Canadian leadership made regarding safety and insurance were overly costly.


Not Really Related:

The Gravenhurst Town Council is working to provide various non-profit organizations free meeting rooms.  I approve.

Religion for Atheists

September 28, 2011

The Herald hosts an interview with Alain de Botton, who has recently authored a book, Religion for Atheists. With the understanding that my views are based solely on this interview and that I have not seen the book, I am at a loss for who he thinks his book is for.

Some excerpts:

“(My family thought) if you are intelligent, you believe in science. … And with respect to my parents, I nevertheless moved away from that position. And even though I am still an atheist, I am now much more sympathetic to many of the lessons and traditions of religion.”

The newly released Korean edition, published five months ahead of the English edition, is de Botton’s philosophical account on how “people who don’t believe in supernaturals” can also benefit and learn from religious teachings and practices.

“It’s my story in relation to religion even though I don’t actually discuss myself in it,” he said. “It is the personal journey of someone travelling in this unusual direction from complete atheism to respecting, not for the supernatural sides of religions, but the institutional, aesthetic, and educational side (of religions).” 

I am not convinced his view is so unusual.  Dawkins is on record as enjoying the singing of Christmas Carols.

I’m a cultural Christian in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims.

“So, yes, I like singing carols along with everybody else. I’m not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history.

I personally enjoy visiting Buddhist temples and see real value in meditation and the way monks live their lives, without granting any credence to their claims of reincarnation.  I am hugely impressed with the way the Catholic church in Wilno, Ontario dominates the town.

I have frequently heard the strawman argument that atheists hate all that religion has made and it is not true at all.  Perhaps de Botton’s book will assist in explaining why not.

‘Bo’s, not Bows, in the rivers

September 28, 2011

I sometimes worry that my voc…., my vocb.., my word-bank-in-head-thing is failing as I spend too much time in Korea.  At other times, such as this, possibly appropriate words that are very technical and arcane are used very nonchalantly in newspaper articles.


The Dong-A Ilbo has such an article with the offending term right in the title.  To my surprise, it’s term  that I want to know.

The article is about ‘Bo’s, or what I always thought were ‘low-head dams’. A google search for weir shows me images similar to low-head dams.  Bos, for which I can find no appropriate images, seem to consist of a weir plus a liftable-gate to control water levels.

I also finally investigated what a ‘barrage‘ was. Turns out it is not only an artillery term. The barrage in Busan looks like a series of mighty jaws that can close to reduce salt influx during high tide, but open to let the river water flow.

About Civil (engineering) offers a comparison:

The only difference between a weir and a barrage is of gates, that is the flow in barrage is regulated by gates and that in weirs, by its crest height.

Barrages are costlier than weirs.

Weirs and barrages are constructed mostly in plain areas. The heading up of water is affected by gates put across the river. The crest level in the barrage (top of solid obstruction) is kept at low level.

During flood, gates are raised to clear of the high flood level. As a result there is less silting and provide better regulation and control than the weir.

Alright, back to the original Dong-A article:

It is chiefly a defense of various bos that will be placed in the four rivers as part of President Lee’s Four Rivers Project.

I am torn about the project for idealogical and ecological reasons.

Ideologically, the Four Rivers Project feels too much like a revamping of the Great Korean Canal Project that would allow ships to travel upstream from Incheon and Seoul via the Han River to Taebaek and down the Nakdong River to Daegu and Busan.  I can see no benefit to such a project and am glad it has been scrapped.

Ecologically, I would prefer that rivers and natural areas be left alone, but humans rendered that option untenable when we reached a number of six billion.  As we are now at seven billion, and our presence is felt everywhere, no place is ‘natural’ so careful management is often the wisest course.

The bos – or low-head dams or weirs – do seem among the most environmentally-friendly of options. As with anything else that is new or strange, we won’t know how well they work until they are built and the Dong-A article ends somewhat ominously:

The bos in the four rivers are reportedly designed in a much more eco-friendly manner than traditional bos because they have the features of weirs. The people must now see the bos of the four major rivers and judge them.


Government blacklist of Korean universities

September 7, 2011

The news was apparently on Monday: now the English news is full of it.

I first learned of the blacklist from Asiaone:

The naming and shaming of 43 poorly managed universities by the Education Ministry on Monday has spawned confusion and concern among universities, with some decrying the label or expressing worries about next year’s freshmen recruitment.

But a closer look and deliberate search finds the news everywhere.


 Officials have said that an equal provision of funds to all schools would be a waste of taxpayer money and could end up as a lifeline for uncompetitive colleges. President Lee Myung-bak has also called for college restructuring as a condition for providing government money to universities.

   In South Korea, 80 percent of higher education institutions are operated by private foundations that rely heavily on tuition for revenue.

And also:

The ministry said it has chosen the universities in consultation with advisory bodies based on the results of a university evaluation that used criteria, such as the employment rate of graduates, the yearly enrollment rate and the number of full-time instructors. 

The Herald has copied the same press release as Yonhap.

The news has reached Malaysia, where Bermana reports:

The education ministry has selected 43 private universities that will have their subsidies partly cut or denied next year as part of a government drive to weed out poorly managed schools.

I find this big news especially as I just finished writing a big article saying that blacklists couldn’t happen here.  I don’t exactly have egg on my face, but perhaps on my freshly washed jacket.

My old university is on the list, which I cannot find in full anywhere – Asiaone names a handful of the schools in question.  I hope that my friends are okay, or will be okay during the next semester.  Time to dust off those resumes!


UPDATED: I wrote this is sort of rush-to-press.  I don’t know, maybe I was trying to scoop other K-bloggers for some reason.  Anyway, there is more news this morning, but i am again in a rush as I must leave for work.

The Times has two articles that don’t integrate well.


Religious schools were also displeased with the ministry.

“Fifteen of 21 religious colleges boycotted the survey because they couldn’t trust the government’s evaluation criteria,” a spokesman for Holy People University in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, said asking not to be named. “Is it sensible to assess religious schools with the employment rate? Students choose us to study religion and become religious leaders, not to get a job.

and second:

Curiously, none of the 15 schools run by religious organizations are on the list.

I still have not seen a full list but am looking for one.  Any commenters know where to find one?

This list was found at the Joongang.  Thanks commenter Mattsid at Koreabridge. Click to biggify.

Libel in Korea and elsewhere

September 5, 2011
New Content here:
The Korea Herald recently looked into libel:
Truth does not offer absolute protection from prosecution, reflecting the Korean Constitution’s provision that “neither speech nor the press shall violate the honor or rights of other persons.” The burden of proof is on the defendant to prove his statement to be true and “solely in the public interest.”

“The rationale here is that even true statements are fully capable of tarnishing a person’s reputation, and if such true statements serve no public purpose, they are defamatory in nature,” said Kang Ju-won, an attorney and member of the Seoul Bar Association. “The aim is to protect the reputation of the individual unless it is outweighed by the public’s need for disclosure.”

—————Original content here————–
Below is a somewhat lengthier version of an article I wrote for Busan Haps.  One of the Haps’ editors asked for it and told me I could also put it on my blog.  I handed it in just over a week ago and told him I would put it up on my blog on Sept 5.  Here we are but I don’t see it there.
The article was supposed to be around 800 words but, after vigorous cutting  came out at about a thousand.  One thing I did not include in the article was my opinion of what should or could be done.  I don’t like Korea’s libel laws – or the UKs, etc- but the article was mostly a review of problems without any solutions offered.
Let me discuss my conclusions first for people who came here from the Busan Haps article  Below that is the article itself.
Blacklists: Blogger McPherson tried to warn ESL job seekers about the school he worked at and was sued for his trouble.  I follow McPherson’s blog and have met the man; I trust what he says and if he told me to stay away from a position, I would do it.  I can’t say that for everyone though.  Blacklists can become a way for crappy teachers to get back at their schools.  Also, a way for crappy schools to punish teachers.
I think Dave’s ESL Cafe (does anyone still go there) had a blacklist but can’t find one now. I did find this exchange:
[Cazador 83 asked:] Is there a thread on this website or is there another website that lists all the hagwons that are blacklisted? I tried searching but the search function on that site isn’t so great. 
[And Provence replied:] The main problem with creating a thread that blacklist hagwons in Korea is that it is illegal. I would love to warn everyone about my hagwon but I am worried they will find out it is me since I am the only foreign this school has had in 3 years. It wouldn’t be hard for them to figure out who blacklisted them. Basically they can blacklist you but you can’t blacklist them, welcome to Korea.
The Marmot discusses blacklists by hagwons of teachers here:
Marmot’s Note: One wonders how long this is going to last before it runs into legal problems. I mean, I know teachers run their own blacklists of hagwons, so what’s fair is fair, but my understanding is that in Korea, printing names like that could be problematic even if the accusations are true. The other thing is that the list is being composed by hagwon recruiters based on claims made by hagwon owners, two groups not known for their business ethics….

UPDATE 2: In our comments section, a real live lawyer says:

The blacklist is quite unlawful. Not only is it a criminal defamation violation under the Criminal Code, but the Labor Standards Act forbids employers to share blacklists. These teachers ought to complain to the prosecution.

Chris Backe in South Korea also warns against starting a blacklist here.
I’m on the fence.  A single blog post or newspaper article on a company or product, explaining why it is bad, a post with supporting evidence offered, seems appropriate. A wide-open list of products or companies that a similarly wide-open variety of authors dislike, for whatever reason offers less valuable information.  In short, blacklists are as useful as your knowledge of the person writing the information – caveat lectorem.
Another concern I have is with people charged-but-not-yet-convicted of various crimes.  At the Asian Correspondent, Nthan Schwartzman translated an article  about a (Korean) teacher molesting students.  At first, I wanted to know the name of the teacher especially as the parents wanted the teacher transferred.  If he is transferred, I really want to know his name.  Then, aware that even the suspicion of such a crime is poison, I realized that no one wants the name published until after a trial – at which point I hope they do publish it and not merely transfer the teacher.
I guess that although I do not like Korea’s libel laws, they certainly are defensible.  Play differently, lose differently.
——–Busan Haps article on Libel, by Surprises Aplenty——-
If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. -Thumper’s Mom
A commenter at KoreaBridge wrote: “if you have an understanding of the American Constitution, you will have heard of freedom of speech. He is quite free to write whatever he wants…”
Thinking you have the legal rights freedoms here you would have if you were elsewhere is a good way get in trouble.  Indeed those legal freedoms, as relate to libel, aren’t so broad as you may think, in Korea or elsewhere.  A friend who has recently returned to Canada after more than a decade here adapted quickly to local libel laws by taking a toy store to task.  It appears he has since taken his post down (I think this was routine, he typically removes personal content after a week or so) but in it, he named the store and its specific location -just outside of Toronto with the recommendation that people not shop there.  I believe his post contained useful information, was honest, the facts were correct and specific and was written to help other shoppers.  If he posted it here in Korea, he could have faced a fine and possible deportation.Generally, a written work is libellous if it defames someone identifiable and living, is given to people other than the victim and the victim reputation or income suffers. (Libel defined.  And here.)  Usually, if the material is true, it is protected.  Results of court cases can be described, for example. Satire can be protected…if it is blunt or obvious enough.  Pubic figures, like politicians are less protected so discussions about them can be as free as possible, but media personnel and celebrities are also in this group.  Opinions are protected, but as with satire, it had better be clear that you are stating an opinion.To avoid libeling someone you could use a pseudonym or avoid using a name altogether. This is NOT a free pass, however.  If the person can be identified by your description, you could still be charged with libel.Why did I begin to care so much about libel that BusanHaps mistook me for an expert?  Because of one apparent difference in the way libel works here: truth is not a defence in Korea.  Well, that point plus the strangeness of the exceptions or loopholes that the media seems to follow.As a moderator for KoreaBridge, I needed to judge a post about a recruiter that a new poster disliked.  “beware of [Korean city][district of that city][English nickname], aged XX.  …doesn’t care about the teacher…JOBS SUCK!!”   This post, with the raging ALL-CAPS ending, is clearly an opinion but far too descriptive of the recruiter.  The owner of KoreaBridge confirmed we couldn’t accept the post as it was too specific.

Joe McPherson is a blogging acquaintance of mine who had some trouble with a hagwon he worked at.  After considerable time and effort, he won a court case against them.  To assist others, he blogged about his experiences and named the hagwon.  Back to court for him, this time as the defendant. Read The Libel Trap at the Joongang for details.

These examples demonstrate the problem I have with Korean Libel laws.  Although the first example is a little overwrought, the first two are attempts at public service announcements.  These people are trying to help others avoid their mistakes.  Apparently, you can’t do that here.  No blacklists.  Also, be careful with satire:

Michael Breen was recently sued for libel by an organization that is too big and scary for me to name.  Let me throw The Marmot under the bus. Breen was also interviewed here at the Haps in April.

Professional media sources know this and tailor their articles accordingly.  Investigative journalism is toothless here.

Consider the ‘Babyrose’ scandal.  Babyrose, a Korean ‘power blogger’ raved about an air sterilizer  and many purchased the product.  Turns out, the sterilizer had some unhealthy flaws and Babyrose pocketed money from every sale.  Korean news outlets had a field day.  Hats off to the Korea Herald which alone of the three papers I read  included the blogger’s real name, but none of the papers named the unsafe sterilizer.  That would have been a good thing to know.

In June, I read a news article about three ‘bad’ universities.  Again, no names were given. The Joongang attempted good investigative journalism but the attempt is useless without the names.

So we know that at least one kind of sterilizer is unsafe and there are at least three bad universities in Korea.  One is in Gangwondo and another in Jeju.  The malfeasant institutions are relatively unharmed, but all in their niche are suspect.

Updated on Sept 7, 2011: Asiaone has news of 43 universities being blacklisted.  One Gangwon university is named:

Kwandong University expressed similar complaints.

“The whole school is shocked and confused,” said one official. The university is one of major four-year universities in Gangwon Province.

original article:

To further confuse the issue, or maybe out of fear, newspapers have at least once hidden the identity of a person I don’t feel was protected.
Back in 2007, during the problems with US beef being imported, a man, presumably a Korean cattle farmer, threw cow manure over American beef at a Lotte Mart (original here).  In the photo, you can see many photographers on hand: clearly this was a PR event and journalists had been invited.  Look at the man throwing the manure.  If he planned this event and invited the media, why is his face – and those of the other sash-wearers- pixellated?

Another complication is described by Chris Backe.  He wants to know why the Anti-English Spectrum group has not been charged with libel. The AES has stated in the past that “that foreigners engage in “sexual molestation,” and that they “target children.””  Backe wonders who and how to sue:

Who is the guilty party, though? The AES as a whole? Naver, for not shutting down a website that is against the law / their own principles? The person / people whose posts are allowed to promote a racist / xenophobic agenda? The lawmakers who go on record with the same racist / xenophobic agenda? And how has a foreigner’s reputation been damaged? Both of those things would have to be figured out before a libel case could go forward.
In politics and crime stories, everyone knows what is happening in the US – often better than they do in their own countries or in Korea.  I started this article with a comment from a person who seemed to think American freedoms are defended here.  That commenter should also be careful in other countries.In the UK, the reporter Simon Singh let slip the word ‘bogus’ in an article about chiropractic.  He lost his first court case but eventually won.
“Simon is likely to be out of pocket by about £20,000. This – and two years of lost earnings, which he can never recover, is the price he has paid for writing an article criticising the BCA for making claims the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled can no longer be made. In the game of libel, even winning is costly and stressful.”  
Indeed, the UK is known for libel tourism.“one of the favored venues for restrictive and chilling judgments is England, where libel laws are heavily weighted toward the plaintiff, placing on the defendant the entire burden of proving that a statement was not false and injurious.”In Canada, Dr Jeffery Shallit from the University of Waterloo, describes ‘libel chill’ in this article.  “…if the court finds you told the truth but your intent was malicious, you might lose anyway.”  At The New Republic, libel in China and Singapore is mentioned, mostly as a tool used by the government to control dissent.  In the US, it does seem you are well protected from libel; at least senators are.  Jon Kyl seems to be fine after claiming 90% of Planned Parenthood’s business comes from abortions.  The correct number is 3%.  The Colbert Report had fun with this one.