Friday, May 09, 2008

Kim Jong-il, Who Sticks Up to the US, Would be Better’

Also in the JoongAng Ilbo, it appears the kiddies are taking full part in the anti-US beef festivities, with university, high school and middle school students taking part in signature campaigns and candlelight protests against the evil mi (美) chinso.

The JoongAng — no doubt saving it for later use against the Korean Teachers Union — cherrypicked some comments made by one high school senior at yesterday’s protest at the Cheonggyecheon. Getting up on stage, the student said, “Has the United States taken everything from us? It seems North Korea’s Kim Jong-il is greater. Wouldn’t it be better to stand up to the United States like North Korea?” He also said, “‘Doing it our own way.’ Doesn’t that sound nice?”

Well, I guess it does sound kind of nice — if there’s one problem North Korea doesn’t have, it’s excess imported US beef laying around.


cm your flag

Korea needs a new catalyst for growth. They need the FTA with the US. The way they’re going right now, future prosperity is in doubt. Unfortunately the current generation of leadership in all society don’t have any clue. Hopefully in about 20 years when the younger generation who’ve studied abroad come to take the reign, ROK will truly think beyond Korea. The only thing is though, by then it may be too late. It’s really sad to see a country with so much potential, not being able to fulfill their potential because the enemy is themselves.

They May Already Have vCJD

By Michael Breen

In a remarkable display of popular ignorance, tens of thousands of middle and high school students, scared they were going to be forced to eat mad cow meat, have taken to the streets to protest over the past week.

The target of their ire is President Lee, who has lifted restrictions on American beef imports which had been in place since mad cow disease broke out in the U.S. in 2003. The disease, officially called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, is linked to a fatal brain-wasting disease in humans, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, or vCJD.

Lee took the step in order to remove the last stumbling block to the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, negotiated by the previous government, but held up pending ratification by the U.S. Congress and Korean National Assembly.

Those who were too busy to attend the candlelit demonstration in Seoul were able to sign an online petition calling for the impeachment of President Lee. By midweek, some 1.2 million had signed, thus proving that they don't know the difference between the Constitution and a public opinion poll.

One of the notions that got the protesters out was alleged research showing that Koreans have a gene that makes them susceptible to the disease.

This misleading report, aired on the Bolshevik MBC-TV network, was particularly pernicious because it did contain a half-truth. Vulnerability to Mad Cow disease is in fact linked to the gene that controls one's ability to pronounce English. As the sizable population of Korean-Americans who eat American beef shows, if you can speak English you can eat beef until the cows come home.

The problem in Korea, however, is considerable because of genetic wiring that makes people say ``beeper" when the brain is saying ``beef."

A well-known actress, Kim Min-seon, spurned the students on with a claim that ``I wooder rador swallow shyanider than eat American beeper.'' Ms. Kim, whose nickname according to my Google research is ``Bambi" and who has type AB blood (don't ask me), is undergoing tests to see whether she has not already turned into a mad cow.

I must confess my first thought upon being confronted with protesters last Friday night and on reading the subsequent coverage was to link their rather ill thought-through cause to other historical moments of popular stupidity, such as when people used the rails of the first train track between Seoul and Incheon as a cooling pillow in summer, with predictably distressing results.

But that would be unkind. Sarcasm will not help liberate Korea's youth from the peculiar education that robs them of both their childhood and their faculty for critical thinking.

But I now wonder if there is not something more sinister at work. As reported in this newspaper Wednesday, police are investigating the source of some apparently deliberate rumors that got people out on the street. Last Friday, many students reportedly received a text message: ``First victim of mad cow disease found on May 2. This is not a rumor, but reality. Come to the rally at Cheonggye Plaza at 7 p.m. tomorrow.'' Others included claims spread online that mad cow disease can be contracted by drinking tap water and breathing air.

As evidence that some expert agitators were at work inflaming the masses, another rumor said that the government had accepted Japan's claim to Takeshima, the two islets better known in Korea as Dokdo. That's a good one.

If found, the rumormongers could face five years in prison or a 50 million won fine. I'm not a conspiracy theorist by nature, and I know there's always a lot of rubbish on the Internet that does not get us out on the street. But I'd be curious to know if there are any skillful political types at work here.

If not, it just means that it was just a question of time before students were distracted away from anti-Chinaism, after the Olympic Torch protests, and back to the safer and less intellectually challenging territory of anti-Americanism.

Michael Breen is president of Insight Communications Consultants in Seoul. He can be reached at

May 09, 2008

A Voice of Rationality

I love being right. I really do.

No, I'm not a scientist, as certain irrational people point out -- I love when people point out the obvious -- but I am a reasonable, educated person who has the ability to discern substance from, ahem, bullshit. (Yes, I am trying to be "punny.")

So -- as I've been saying from the beginning, when I have been taking people to task for 1) not really knowing what the actual source was for the "Korean genetic predisposition to mad cow disease" argument, and 2) for misinterpreting what even the apparent meaning of that statistic is -- the media and the general populace has been freaking out over nothing. Let me repeat:

It has not been established that American beef is any more unsafe than any other country's beef.

And so says the author of the scientific paper being (mis)used by PD 수첩, crazed netizens, petrified students, and anti-American FTA activists (who must be complimented for an amazing PR coup, since this was, admittedly, a master stroke of political theater and manipulation):

국내 광우병 사태를 촉발한 ‘한국인 광우병 취약’ 논문의 저자인 김용선 한림대 의대 교수는 자신의 논문이 일부 언론에 의해 과장 보도됐고 정치적으로 악용됐다고 주변 인사들에게 말한 것으로 확인됐다.

김 교수는 4일 한림대 의대 학장 자격으로 핀란드의 헬싱키 의대 등과의 업무 협의를 위해 윤대원 한림대 이사장 등과 함께 핀란드로 출국했다.

6일 헬싱키 시내 호텔에서 만난 윤 이사장은 기자에게 “김 교수의 논문은 일부 미디어에 의해 부풀려졌고 이를 다시 정치권이 마녀사냥 식으로 악용하고 있다”고 말했다.

I put it in Korean so it's clear to the several commenters who seem to take my critique of the poor critical thinking skills of the media and political groups as proof of my arrogance (guilty as charged, since I consider the rantings and ravings of stupid people, umm, stupid, and I don't consider myself stupid), or proof of me, once again, "hating" Korea. (You can read the English-language breakdown of the article quoted above at the Marmot's Hole.)

Well, it's not surprising, since the author of the study has had his house attacked by shit-throwing idiots. And I don't mean that in the rhetorical sense -- I mean that people have actually found his house and thrown shit at it. If even the author of the study in question gets shit on, is it surprising that anyone with lesser authority (ohhh -- I'm not a scientist!) would get the same treatment? Because we all need to be scientists or other specialists to make critical judgments of obviously faulty logic or specious claims, right?

We should be a clear expert or authority to make any claims? Kim Yong-seon has that authority! "He said Koreans are 94% more likely to...umm...I don't really understand it, but...anyway! He said it! See!"

But then that very authority turns around and says, "No. That's not what it says. You're wrong."

So people start throwing shit at his house, and he's afraid to even come back to Korea from his research trip. The man's nearly in hiding. And what did he do to deserve this? Umm, absolutely nothing. Lovely.

What is more obvious is that PD 수첩's research is shoddy and unprofessional -- I've said it before. And I'm right again: obviously, they never even contacted the professor to discuss the meaning of his paper. Otherwise, they wouldn't have made it the center of their claims, linking it with other specious claims.

The point is -- to those of you getting on my case for pointing out that the statistic looked fishy and taken completely out of context -- you need to ask yourself why it was so obvious to someone like ME that the "94% genetic predisposition" claim looked very suspicious, and NOT to someone like YOU. What separate us? Nationality? Genetics? What neighborhood in Seoul I lived in? Or perhaps my school names?

It's critical thinking skills, people. Link that with a little basic understanding of logical and statistical fallacies, a rudimentary understanding of the science we all should have learned in high school, as well as not being beholden to a slavish belief in "authority," or the petty maneuverings of a self-interested few of what is clearly a highly-politicized issue -- and you get the ability to not be driven into irrational hysteria over a minor trade dispute.

Does this make me arrogant? If so, I guess I'm arrogant, then.

Does pointing this out make me an asshole? If so, I guess I gotta be an asshole, then.

Does this make me anti-Korean? Again, I'm just pointing out what I consider to be the overreactions of the irrational. By some people's standards, that makes me "anti-Korean," I guess. Hmm.

But then again, by "some people's standards," this innocent professor who did nothing but write a paper on an issue that people not only didn't properly understand, but actively misused for political gain, and when he simply clarified the actual meaning of the research being misused by intellectual brownshirts (and I use the term "intellectual" hesitantly), a completely innocent academic who literally has been dragged into a political shitstorm now has cow dung being thrown at his house and fears for his physical safety.

I guess that makes me, him, and anyone else who raises a voice outside of the mass-mind of the angry crowd, "anti-Korean," right? But to the mob, what does the truth -- nay, even mere rationality -- matter? "You're either with us or against us." Or, as the great Captain Jean-Luc Picard once ominously warned while under the assimilative mind control of cybernetic alien nanoprobes, "You WILL become one with the Borg."


A Voice of Rationality

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