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Monthly Archives: February 2012

A 30 year old man was indicted on charges of stock price manipulation yesterday. Well, this kind of thing always happens (and always will hereafter) but what interests us in this case is that it was related with politics, namely upcoming elections.

The rigger made a picture go viral on the web lat June. The picture depicted an unknown man with Moon Jae-in, one of the most prominent presidential candidates. With the picture, the rigger claimed that the man in the picture (with the prominent candidate) is a member of board of some company, of which the rigger had bought stocks. The price of the stock tripled in a month. Later, it turned out to be a lie—the man in the picture was a nobody—and the price crashed, causing heavy damages to personal investors.

There is no reason to believe that even if the man in the picture was in fact a member of board or a CEO or a founder, the actual value of the company would increase. Unless you realize this is the Republic of Korea, in which political-power-related corruption is still regarded to be prevalent. Although a lot of corruption cases (around those who are close to the president) are exposed recently, power-related corruption is less likely to happen today but you know the power of a belief: if everyone believes, something that isn’t true becomes, or incarnates to be, true.

Even those who bets their fortune on the stocks with political rumors do not believe their actual value will increase. Anyway reserve money seeks to invest on and there are stocks with rumors whose value rise threefold at the sudden of a month or two—who wouldn’t bet on them? My mother, currently betting on both Moon-related and Park Geun-hye-related stocks, retorted.

There is a history of these charged-with-rumors stocks, which are usually dubbed “theme stocks.” Let me entertain you for a moment, with one of these cases:

The history of “theme stocks” starts from late 80’s, after the stock market became closed with ordinary investors.

The most ridiculous cases came up with the birth of the theme stocks craze were the “Great Wall 4,” which gained attention with the government’s rapid establishment of diplomatic relationship with China. It was said that the Chinese government is going to raise windbreaks on the Great Wall and Daehan Aluminium (delisted in 2001) will supply all the chassis necessary to build them so the price of the stock soared. After that, Taewha (delisted in 1999), which had been producing rubber shoes, accompanied: the rumor said that the company in question will be supplying all the shoes for the construction workers.

Soon, Samlip General Food, which is still beloved for its steamed buns, joined the fad, due to the next rumor said that the company will supply steamed buns for the workers.

Yet, there is one, the most ridiculous one, left—Handok Pharmacy. Wait… a pharmacy company? Yup, the rumor said—*drum roll*—it will supply digestive medicines for the workers in case of an upset stomach.

True story. And the history continues.

Ministry of Defense has determined a policy to remove apps that slander the government from the officers’ smartphones. None of the SK media provides the news in English so I had to translate by myself. (and I do see that they do not release this kind of news in English)

Via SBS: (hyper-linked by me)

An official from the MoD announced that “officers who rank above staff sergeant will be educated the problems of apps that slander the government and the commander-in-chief or praise North Korea, and will be induced to remove them voluntarily.”

The blacklist includes I am a WeaselSmart Candle [the candle refers to the massive protest in 2008], “Gaka” Retiring Day Counter [“gaka” is “Mr. President” pronounced in a tongue-in-cheek manner], North Korea World, etc.

The minister Kim Kwan-jin contended the measure is proper, saying “apps that deny the system and slander the commander-in-chief undermine the armed force’s moral strength” via his twitter account.

Civil rights groups are criticizing that the measure is violating the rights of the individual.

Without a doubt, MoD’s main target is I am a WeaselWeeks ago I told you how strong the podcast were politically charged. Anyway, this incident tells us that they have no idea how the media is consumed on smartphones. Podcast is not an app. MoD would have to consult with Apple if they really want to remove iTunes.

I’ve been telling as many times as possible that there is a huge educational fever in SK and it already crossed the line where Obama can praise it (though it seems that his comments on the SK education were exaggerated) somewhat 10 years ago. As I told you before, kids are killing themselves: definitely no good.

I always wanted to tell you how bad it is, but I am not a mom or a dad and there is few of them around me so I had to wait until this piece from Pressian came up:

Daechi-dong, the very heart of the private education. About 500 private preparatory schools are concentrated in this area.

A (14 years old) is taking classes for English, math, science and violin to get into an art high school while the [public] school is on vacation.

“It is much busier when I’m on vacation. Have to go bed at 3AM and get up at 8AM but still my assignments cram.”

When asked if he [in fact the sex is not mentioned and I guess you would know that there is no male/female pronouns in Korean. 그녀 is a later-made-up word from translation.] want to play around, “No,” A said, shyly smiling, “everyone’s doing in this way so I can’t be just left behind.”

Tiger mom? Helicopter mom? That is so yesterday in SK—here comes the drone mom, manipulating her children over everything, including their plan of life:

C is going to be a 6th grader. He [same is here, too] said he couldn’t spare much time because he has got to go to another school soon. He was looking a watch repeatedly while talking…

C is taking English, math, piano and an aggregational [which means providing lessons over complete subjects in the education course] school… When things are done early he sleeps at 12AM but usually after 2AM.

C’s dream is becoming a doctor. He is planning to transfer to Harvard after an entrance to the dental college of Seoul National University. His mother told him that he can transfer while he’s attending Korean university.

“Mum plans my schedule. After she brings me to first school, I move on around.”

“This is tough indeed but I don’t want to be one who reapply to university later. All my friends are taking classes [from private schools].”

A run-to-the-mill explanation on this phenomenon:

Lee Bum, the policy advisor of Seoul Education Office explains why Daechi-dong is on the boom:

“Almost all households move into Daechi-dong while their children are in the elementary school. Parents, of course, agree with the Kangnamian [Kangnam is the south-east section of Seoul, where rich residences are concentrated.] view of education. They are well-educated middle class people. They don’t have much to leave for their children so they want their children to succeed, by study, as they did. That wishes are suffocating children.”

To succeed by higher education was possible. Until the 486 generation, those who are currently at their 40s, started their higher education (university, I mean) at 80s, are born in 60s. But by now it seems that the door is closing and there is not much space left in the chink.

And the parents are well aware of this. So what exactly drives them into this minus-sum game?

Mr. Lee continues: “There are extraordinarily numerous tea parties along the Kangnam mothers. Once you join in one of the parties, you can’t get over the anxiety from the amplified sense of rivalry among the mothers. Thus you have to force their children to make themselves into a better university.”

Mrs. Park, 39, who quit her job to focus on her children’s education says, “I had made up my mind not to raise my kids like them but soon I realized that I was pushing my kids to school before I notice myself doing so. Many things are mentioned in the meetings of moms. It’s impossible to let my kids just be after I joined the meeting. You are being left behind if you just stand still.”

Distinction, the late Bourdieu’s buzzword would fit in very well. Until the 90s, there was no strict distinction between the classes, no, there was no such thing the class until then, it seems to me. In other words, the hierarchy of the social status was soft, allowing those who are enthusiastic to step up.

Even though the gate is almost closed, they still believe that it is possible to step up. At least they want to leave a distinction by how much they have got to waste invest on it, not by a cultural taste on arts or something. I see their desire to distinction is fierce and why is that?

(Same goes on with the stupid North Face fad. Now the kids are moving away from North Face. Would the next be Patagonia, or Moncler?)

There is something missing definitely during the compressed development and the extrinsic social transition of the past half a century. And finding this was one of my all-time interests.

I see that at least the media was not exaggerating about the so-called Korean wave but I didn’t want to believe because I really hated the nationalism in their tone of voice. In most cases they include an ordinary citizen, who has nothing related to the Korean wave stars, saying “proud to be Korean” in their quasi-nationalist-state-propaganda, as if the total strangers’ success is by itself his/her success as well as Samsung’s success is his/hers.

This is definitely old-fashioned nationalist sentiment and one of the major properties of the SK culture: a hyper-modern economy due to an ultra-rapid development with a pre-modern—militaristic, nationalistic—state of mind. In the past half a century’s densely compressed development was possible, I guess, by this state of mind—selection and concentration of resources, like a military operation, conducted by real-life military officers—but it will be an obstacle to a further development, which is on the another plane of society and culture, during the approaching half a century.

I see a resemblance between the current state of the Korean wave—especially in the music industry—and the past history of development in SK. Bodies under a strict, militaristic discipline, produced in an industrial manner, exploited by the bureaucrat-capitalists. The glittering, glamorous bodies of young boys and girls proudly presents the current economic status of SK but unfortunately I don’t see any flavor of culture in them, at least in my point of view that a mere product from a conveyor belt is not a product of culture, which is quite romanticist, I admit.

The question is, is this Korean wave these days sustainable? My answer is very negative. Yet I see any cultural flavor that may attract minds from foreign cultures. I ask almost everyone I meet in person about what they think is drawing foreign attentions in the K-pop. Music? Most of them are rip-offs of the US or Japan hit singles. So far our best answer is the bodies, their appearance. And an additional one of my own is a whimsical interest of western teens for something exotic, which is intrinsically—because it’s whimsical!—unsustainable. What if Chinese girl band, consists of those who were chosen amongst 1.5 billion people of the vast continent, trained under a strict-as-Foxconn discipline, turns out?

It seems that it takes a long while for an economic substructure to have an impact on a cultural superstructure. The US, Europe and Japan successfully accomplished this cultural development more or less. I think the cultural development is one of the crucial factors in making of the advanced economy. So, will the voracious beast of globalization awaits culturallydeveloping countries like SK to blossom? This is the mission SK has got.

Obviously election time is coming. GNP (now renamed to Saenuri Party) made a proposal to raise the enlisted’s wages four times. SK political parties usually do something like this in election time but what, four times? Probably you’ll be shocked if you don’t know well about how enlisted are treated in the SK military. So how much are they going to be paid if the proposal is in effect? *drum roll* About $357 for a month! It means that they are currently being paid about $100 for a month and you’re yet to be surprised: $100 is for sergeants, the highest rank for the enlisted in the SK military system. For an ordinary male citizen of SK who serves his duty as an enlisted, he would be paid in total amount of about $1,670 through his entire service days (21 months).

Bad is not only the pay. 126 soldiers die annually on average since 2004. Except for the Yeonpyeong, SK has not conducted any offensive since 2004. So why did they die? 60 percent of the deaths were suicide. This obviously is a serious issue even in a cold, strategical point of view. Even though I didn’t serve the duty as an enlisted, I spent a lot of time and talked a lot with them as I was their commanding officer so I might give you a picture of the SK military culture and its issues.

After 6 weeks of basic military training, soldiers are dispatched to posts or bases that are usually remote from urbanized community. With some exception, their activity is confined within their posts, even after routine. There are not enough recreation, communication device, i.e. telephone, internet connection and enlisted are not allowed to carry a cellphone and a personal computer. In short, they are isolated from society they used to belong while they are serving the country, short of their regular leave. It often happens that a private on his first regular leave shirks to return and eventually ends up being arrested by military police. (feels bad, man…)

It is relatively easy in this isolated society with a strict hierarchy, to be more violent than they used to be. It would be no exaggeration that every single enlisted suffers from any kind of violence, including verbal ones as well as physical ones, at least once or more. A delicate mind sometimes lose his temper and accident happens.

The worst case of the accidents happened in 2005, at a guard post in the military demarcation line. PFC. Kim, who suffered from severe verbal violence by his superiors, went on a shooting rampage and thrown a grenade into a barrack, killed 8including an officer. It was a huge shock to everybody because it happened in the front line. Even the stubborns in the Minstry Of Defense recognized the seriousness of the issue, they grilled commanding officers to prevent accidents at any price. This was the birth of so-called “the status quo military.”

관리형 군대, “the management-typed military” when literally translated, the status quo military’s primary aim was preventing any possible accidents from happening. Sentries are not provided with live bullets with exception of those who are guarding the MDL. Face-to-face talk with newly transferred private was routinized. Letters to a commander from a private often blows a harsh wind in a camp so commanding officers have to keep their eyes upon their privates. A newborn military proverb, “a private above a four-star general” came out in this era. Not only stubborn machos but even good-willed officers became wondering why they are doing this.

The problem lies among these these facts: 1) every male citizen has to serve his duty but 2) SK doesn’t have enough budget to maintain a military of this size or SK doesn’t need that many soldiers. That the general circumstance of the military has to be improved is obvious. For example, allowing the enlisted to carry their own cellphones and PCs to relieve them from the feeling of isolation does not cost much and is not harmful, if with proper security options. However, increasing their wages and improving facilities definitely cost very much. The entire SKorean military system has to be reformed and the reform probably would be related to downsizing and old men with stars in their heads will not tolerate the military downsizing. (At this point you’ve got to remind of that SK had been ruled by the military. Surprisingly a lot of them still hold the power today.) So the problem remains still.

In where (almost) everyone serves the duty, especially where the country itself does not treat well those who served, the service itself is not considered something honorable. It used to be something that discriminates those who didn’t serve. I’d like to name this certain mentality “the solidarity of pain,” banding those who took the pain together and persecuting those who didn’t. I think that the same would be true about racism. If you are really happy and having a benefit for being white, they wouldn’t care that much about the aliens.

In every election time, the service issue of candidates (or their sons) comes out. Without an exception, “the reserved,” which means that they served the duty, exasperates and the candidate in question takes serious damage in his/her political career. Lee Hoi-chang, the most prominent presidential candidate of the 2002 election, had to be defeated by Roh Moo-hyun over his sons’ shirking the duty. Recently the same issues were raised upon the Seoul mayor Park Won-soon’s son andthe Seoul education chief Kwak No-hyun’s son. (Well, the President Lee Myung-bak was once ridiculed by his lack of any military experience.)

But it is not that hard to imagine what they would feel, as fathers, when their sons are going to enter the military where every 126 soldiers dies annually and there are ways to shun the duty, legitimately or illegitimately. So what we are about to see is an inequality of the service. Rich boys don’t go and live, poor boys go and (sometimes) die. The recognition of the inequality aggravates the discrimination. Anyway those who actually aggravates the inequality are not around the infuriated — they don’t share a playground with them, so the unlucky ones who didn’t serve often become their victims.

Change is needed, indeed, but opinions vary about how. Some of so-called “liberals” call for a change into volunteer military system. I have a serious doubt of the actual result and I sense their dislike of the military issues and their trying to put the issues aside and to not think about them. If the system changes into volunteer system, it would be far easier to send soldiers into war zones, as we see in the case of the U.S.: “Why do they always send the poor?