bookmark_borderPost-267: U.S. General Walker’s Site of Death (1950) in Seoul

On Monday December 29th, 2014, with temperatures in the 40s Fahrenheit, I and an American friend, M.P., hiked up a section of Dobong Mountain (도봉산) in northeast Seoul. We ended near a dramatic high rock outcropping, atop which a few dozen birds were squawking at long length to each other about I cannot imagine what. I was puzzled why these birds hadn’t migrated south. That was afternoon. We’d arrived by train at Dobong Station that morning.

The area around Dobong Station, still within the Seoul city limits (barely), felt more like a backwater country town a hundred miles away than it felt like Seoul.

While we were still near the station, M.P. did a “Hey, let me show you something,” and waved in a particular direction. M.P. had lived in this area before. I followed. We came to a little building housing a bland cell phone shop and a piddling, unremarkable cafe with a typically-ostentatious name (“Cafe Lucile”). I wasn’t impressed. But just then I looked up.It was a museum in honor of a long-forgotten American general killed nearby many years ago. Now I was interested.

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Looking at the near corner of this building, up near the roof, you see a memorial stone. This is it:
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Those are four stars you see, next to a portrait of General Walton Harris Walker, U.S. Army. It was a museum in honor of the general, apparently. I asked M.P. if he’d ever been inside. He hadn’t. I tried opening the door; locked. I tried walking around the back; nothing there. I tried looking in the window. I saw were stairs descending down into blackness. The museum, if that’s what it was, was closed on this Monday late morning.

I commented to M.P. that I was sure that General Walker, who in 1950 frantically led Eighth Army (under which were all U.S. Army units in Korea), did not say the words attributed to him on this plaque verbatim, i.e. “I’m going to keep the korea end of the die here.” This is such a poor translation as to be almost indecipherable if you didn’t know the context. It is a translation into English from Korean from English. (As written: 내가 여기서 죽더라도 끝까지 한국을 지키겠다). I can’t find the original words in English online. I would offer the following as a better translation: “Even if I have to die here, I’ll fight to the end to keep Korea free”.

Nearby, across from the train tracks and not far from Dobong Station, marks his spot of death all those years ago.

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Walker led U.S. Army forces for six months in the war, during the long retreat in June, July, the defensive stand at Busan in August and September, the drive north in September and October after the Incheon Landing, the occupation of North Korea, and he was also on the scene when Chinese intervention escalated the war in late 1950. He was killed in a car accident just as the Chinese were getting ready for their successful attack on Seoul.

Walker was a Texan. Physically, he was short and fat (“stocky”). The author of a book about the Korean War I read compared him to a comedic stock character often seen in old war movies, the local misfit drafted into the army, assigned ill-fitting clothes, whose helmet won’t strap properly; this kind of thing. He may not have looked the soldier, but according to my reading, he was always at the front in the crucial months of summer 1950, often zipping from place to place in his personal propeller plane, always “inspecting” (yelling at) the Americans to stiffen their backbones, to shape up and start fighting for God’s sake; stop retreating. Of course, actions speak louder than words, and General Walker so often showing up at frontline positions must have inspired bravery by example.

bookmark_borderPost-266: “Notorious” Movie (1946)

I watched a 1946 movie directed by Hitchcock called “Notorious”. It presents us with a U.S. plot to infiltrate a group of Germans who had escaped from the fiery end of the Reich in Europe the previous year and had set up shop in Brazil — a kind of safehouse for mid-to-high-level escapees. The safehouse also harbored escaped scientists who were continuing some kind of covert research program interrupted by the defeat in Europe, surrender, and occupation.

The movie is actually a romance story between the lead American agent (Cary Grant) on the case and the German-American young woman (Ingrid Bergman) whom the FBI asks to infiltrate the safehouse.
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Ingrid Bergman’s character’s father had been some kind of fascist agent in the USA who, in the opening scene, is jailed by a U.S. court for treason and soon dies in jail in mysterious circumstances. Through her father, the girl had had contacts with the “international fascist” world but was “pro-American” personally, these two facts being why American intelligence wants to recruit her. Cary Grant becomes her handler, and they fall in love…
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Off to Brazil to infiltrate the safehouse to see what they’re up to. She gets in. Then the dramatic turn: The lead German “Nazi”-in-exile in Brazil (actor: Claude Rains) asks the girl to marry him. They’d known each other years earlier, you see. At the urging of the FBI, so as to gain the trust of the safehouse community, she agrees to marry him. They marry.

A series of events leads the Claude Rains character, the head of the safehouse, to realize that his new wife is an American agent, and he panics. If he admits the fact that he has married an American agent to the other safehouse people, he fears they will kill him. His mother, who is also a resident of the safehouse, persuades him to poison her, and he reluctantly agrees. Sure enough, she is rescued at the last minute by Cary Grant.


So what is the significance of this movie, made almost seventy years ago?

For one thing it is an early example of James Bond. Cary Grant plays James Bond here, many years before James Bond was created. This is a genre that audiences became familiar with as the 20th century rolled on.

A very similar movie could be made today, with one glaring exception (as I see it):

The “Nazis” in this movie (filmed in late 1945 and early 1946), with one or two exceptions among certain lesser characters in the safehouse, are more sympathetic than Nazis whom we would see on screen in a film produced today. This is amazing given that the war had only been over for six months at the time of filming. Certainly the main German exile character (played by Claude Rains) is a sympathetic character. We are shown a human rather than a “Nazi”; a tragic figure with his own struggles in life just like anyone else.

Do I mean to say that Hitchcock was a “fascist sympathizer” himself? Surely not. I think something much more interesting may be going on here: I am reminded again of the newspaper columns by George Orwell in 1945 and 1946 and thereabouts (see also #59), reporting from a ruined Germany. He reported that the Germans were so thoroughly defeated that any more anger at them just seemed superfluously cruel; sadistic. He reported one scene he witnessed in which, months after the surrender, a guard kicked, spat on, and otherwise abused a shackled German SS man, a POW. Orwell pointed to how senseless this seemed. The war is over; their side is totally defeated; what are you doing? Let’s extinguish the flames of war passion and try instead to kindle (rather than strangle the life out of) the long-suppressed spirit of Good Will Toward Men now trying to crawl up out of the ashes, Orwell seemed to say in many of those columns/essays from those years. Maybe Hitchcock, directing “Notorious” about the same time, had a similar idea in mind. In the immediate period after Germany’s surrender, portraying the Germans as unequivocally evil would seem just plain lazy, if nothing else, and Hitchcock could never be lazy.

As it turns out, of course, in recent decades ever-more-histrionic portrayals of Nazis have prevailed in Hollywood. This means that, ironically, movies made in the 2000s and 2010s, sixty and seventy years after the fact, are much more “anti-Nazi” than this movie, “Notorious”, filming of which began six months after the end of the war!


bookmark_borderPost-265: Yuletide 2014 (Thinking about Yule and Christmas)

Yule 2014 has come and gone. I was too busy with work and other things to mark it on these pages as it happened. I write this four days later.

This is the second “Yule” that has passed during the life of this blog so far. (See here for Yule 2013.) Those who know me know why I might be interested in Yule (spelled with a ‘J’ in the Scandinavian and other related languages).

The actual meaning of this word is originally “Winter Solstice”, i.e. the point at which the Sun’s rays, travelling southward for the previous six months, hit their southernmost maximum and then begin to come back north. This is why the day on which the Winter Solstice (Yule) occurs is “the shortest day of the year”. Tide is another old word for “time” or “period”. Yuletide simply means the time around the Yule moment (Solstice).

The exact moment of the “Yule” (Solstice) in 2014 6:03 PM Sunday December 21st 2014 Eastern U.S. Time, or 8:03 AM December 22nd 2014 Korea Time where I still find myself. I was typically very busy in the days leading up to this day, including unexpectedly having the opportunity to help a Syrian student of the Korean language living in the UAE (and now back in the UAE) visit around the Seoul area (more on this later, perhaps). I also worked full-time Monday through Wednesday of this week, back in Ilsan, and had the chance to revisit some old friends. I have no classes of my own till January 7th.

Three days later, Christmas morning, I was at the top of Gyeyang Mountain (계양산) with three others. I don’t know what the ancient Northern Europeans did to celebrate Yule, but trudging up a mountain in the windy cold with the sun rising at our backs seems appropriate. We had a meager meal of chocolate-coated wafers and bottled orange juice at the top. My main activity besides trying to keep warm was trying to decipher the historical sign posted at the top, with more success than usual.

Here is the “Yule Plus Three Days” sunrise:

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Sunrise over Gyeyang Mountain (Incheon, South Korea), looking east, December 2014

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In high school, I had a friend, P.S., born in India and who came to the USA at age 2 or so. I liked him because he was smart, knew a lot of things, and could hold a conversation about any topic at length. He went on to go to Mr. Jefferson’s university (University of Virginia), but tragically ended up trapped a in a job he hated in Washington, D.C., the last I know of. Anyway, back in high school, this friend was very interested in the idea that my surname, which is connected to “Yule”, would imply a connection to this ancient Solstice celebration in Northern Europe. Being a Hindu, this would put us in closer “spiritual” kinship, probably he supposed, as Hinduism and the pre-Christian pagan religion(s) of Europe were somewhat connected.

I said I didn’t suppose Scandinavians had an unbroken chain of surname inheritance from pre-Christian times to the present. But the story is more complicated than this and he may be more right than we think:

English-speaking people, centuries ago, decided that Latin words were much more sophisticated than the equivalent words descended from Germanic words (note: “sophisticated”, “equivalent”, and “descended” are all Latin-origin words, as is, ironically, the word “Germanic”!), and this “Yule” is a case of that. The Latin word (Solstice) replaced the Germanic (Yule) in English and so “Yule” fell into disuse. It has held on by vaguely attaching itself to Christmas, which occurs a few days later. This is not coincidental. The early Christian leaders, it seems, chose December 25th to commemorate Jesus’ birthday specifically to placate the Pagans of Europe at the time and their major Yule festival, kind of taking it over. This must be why so many traditional aspects of Christmas seem to just not fit at all if the holiday is ostensibly about Jesus’ birth. Evergreen trees; mistletoe; wreaths; feasting; special kinds of alcohol; the Santa figure; reindeer; elves; snow; travelling to visit family; and a general kind of magical goodwill permeating things for a week or two. These things make more sense in light of the Yule connection.

The Lutheran Church, and maybe others, have a tradition of dawn service on Christmas morning, which seems to me very surely to be a descendant sunrise Yule rituals. In my time in Estonia (Ethnic Estonians are also Lutherans), I recall that some people of my acquaintance at the time were holding a more explicit Solstice festival. Finally, here is a list of translations of “Merry Christmas” in the Scandinavian languages.

bookmark_borderPost-264: Korean English Newspapers Contrasted, Part II (Cases in Point)

#263 was a long comparison of the two English newspapers of South Korea, the (basically) left-wing Times and the (basically) right-wing Herald. (Don’t think that the adjectives that preceded each newspaper title in the preceding sentence give you any full or clear idea about in line with U.S. or other Western politics. Notably, for certain complicated reasons, racialism is more associated with the political Left in Korea. The DPRK regime itself is certainly racialist.)

Somebody arrived at my quiet corner of the Internet here, I presume via a Google search, and left a comment asking for specifics on the broad tendencies I discussed in #263. I had stated in the post that as this is just for my own “entertainment” and kind of a personal reflection on things I’d observed over a long period, I didn’t want to dig through archives to tendentiously and/or pedantically prove everything. Why do it? It would turn into a big research project for which I have no time.

But I’ll do it anyway, in a limited way because he sort of challenged me to. I can use examples from this very week to show that Times is left-wing Herald is right-wing. This will prove to be very easy to do, as you’ll see if you read any more below.

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It so happens that a small, far-left political party was banned on Friday by the South Korean government for being “anti-constitutional” and allegedly supporting North Korea, a criminal offense. This was the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) (통합진보당). It had several of its elected, sitting members of the national legislature jailed after the government implicated them in a supposed “pro-North Korea plot” in 2013.

This was the first time that South Korea has ever banned a political party. That was Friday. Now consider the two newspapers’ lead editorials published the next day, Saturday.

Left-leaning Korea Times chose not talk about the ban handed down the previous day at all (anywhere on the opinion page), but talked instead about the inevitably-related issue of North Korea:

U.S. officials, and their South Korean counterparts for that matter, have always said they are open to dialogue with North Korea ― provided the latter shows “sincerity” by taking preliminary steps toward giving up its nuclear programs. If the Cuban breakthrough is any guide, however, the allies would well do to ease their preconditions somewhat and reopen talks with the isolationist regime in other areas. That is, on condition of Kim Jong-un trying to be at least as open and reformative as Raul Castro, if not the late Deng Xiaoping of China.

South Korea should attempt to be such an arbiter and facilitator, instead of parroting the U.S. tactics on North Korea. This is why we find something missing from the government’s response to the U.S.-Cuban development, which just welcomed it and expressed a willingness to also set up relationship with the Caribbean country.

Seoul should do far more, and better, than that. [Note: “Seoul” appears in the paper copy of the newspaper. In the online archive, this was changed to “the Park Geun-hye administration”.]
[“Korea Times” / December 20th, 2014
editorial]

Take special notice of the bolded parts above. The Times editorialist is calling for South Korea to be (we might say) “soft on North Korea”. A renewal of the Sunshine Policy, the years-long irritant of the South Korean Right which has been mothballed for years.

There is also a not-subtle mockery here of the South Korean right-wing for “parroting the U.S.” This is a nod towards the idea often voiced by the Korean Left that Korea is under threat of “becoming an American colony” (whatever that means). Ultimately, this must draw at least some of its water from the racialist well. “Let’s support our fellow Koreans, not be led around by White outsiders”. They cannot directly say something like that, of course. They walk a fine line.

Now look at the Korea Herald editorial, which waved the “anti-red flag” high and clear.

Demise of radicals
The Constitutional Court’s ruling to disband the leftist Unified Progressive Party was a long-awaited, legitimate move to drive out dangerous radicals disguised as “liberals” from this society.

The court, announcing the result of its yearlong adjudication on a petition filed by the government, ruled Friday that the UPP should be disbanded because its objective and activities violate the basic democratic order protected by the Constitution. 
[…]
But the end of the legal war does not mean that we can lay down our arms against the staunch leftists. The UPP and its loyal supporters will not easily give in to what they call “a ploy to destroy conscientious liberal political forces.”

One more thing we should watch out for is the possibility that the same anachronistic radicals will attempt to regroup and create a surrogate party. Friday’s ruling includes a ban on any such attempt, but we are well aware that the radicals are good at reorganizing themselves.

Never again should they be allowed to attempt to gain a foothold in any sector of this society, not least the parliament.      [December 20th, 2014 editorial, “Korea Herald”]

The Herald editorialist has no time for the view that going around banning political parties is a really dangerous game.

The left-leaning Times, while it didn’t editorialize on the subject on the day after the ban, did report on the ban as its lead story on the front page, using the subheading “Unprecedented ruling on UPP met with hurrahs, fears of McCarthyism“. There is some soft or tacit editorialism within this Times front-page article:

UPP members and its supporters criticized the court ruling, saying it would lead to an ideological witch hunt, similar to McCarthyism experienced in the U.S. during the 1950s. The UPP has almost 30,000 members.
[…]
Friday’s decision was welcomed by many conservatives, while liberals largely condemned it. Members of the UPP staged a protest outside the Constitutional Court to protest the decision. 

Lee Jung-hee, the party chairwoman, said after the ruling that, “Now [the Republic of] Korea is ruled by a dictator.”  “The Constitutional Court, which was created after the pro-democracy movement of the 1980s, has now given up listening to the people,” she added. 

Some people have viewed Friday’s decision with concern, saying it may restrict free speech, especially when it comes to North Korea. A similar question was raised by Korean-American intellectual Shin Eun-mi, who is currently being questioned for travelling to North Korea and speaking publicly about her trips.


The Korea Times addresses this issue directly in an editorial that will appear in the Monday December 22nd edition:

[I]t is undeniable that the verdict [to ban the far-left-wing political party] might compromise our precious democratic values ― freedom of speech and pursuit of diversity. At a time when the party’s platform does not clearly stipulate a violent revolution or the North Korean style of socialism, the ruling might be the result of interpreting the platform out of proportion. That is because of our concern that the break-up of a political party through a court decision could weaken the freedom of political activities and violate democratic values based on party politics.

Most worrisome is that the verdict might deepen the ideological conflict between conservatives and progressives. But given that the Constitutional Court’s ruling is final, it is basic for every member of society to honor it. Rather, our sincere hope is that this can serve as an occasion to let progressive politics flourish if liberals succeed in dampening the time-consuming dispute on “following North Korea” from now on.

It is obvious that North Korea’s anachronistic system cannot be an alternative to the country’s progressive forces. They should emerge as social democrats that can take power by uprooting the cause for controversy over North Korea. [December 22nd, 2014 editorial,‘”Korea Times”]


bookmark_borderPost-263: South Korea’s English-Language Newspapers, Contrasted

There are two English newspapers in South Korea, the Korea Herald and the Korea Times. Both were founded during the Korean War and have drifted all over the place in editorial opinion, focus, target audience, tone, professionalism, and ownership over the decades, or so is my impression.

Below I’ll compare the two, as they exist today, at some length. Both newspapers are totally Korean-owned and almost-totally Korean-staffed, and both probably get a lot more revenue from Koreans who want to practice English in a “live” setting than from people like me (native English-speaking foreigners). A lot of the below should be viewed within this framework.

Within the foreign community in South Korea, both newspapers are influential, moreso than any other Korea-focused, English-language news media, I think. More importantly, though, when the big players in media abroad want to run a news story on something related to Korea, they will often quote one of these papers because they are in English, so the influence of these two newspapers is much bigger than you’d think. In a given month, I expect that many millions “get information” from these Korea Times and/or Korea Herald, indirectly, via material these newspapers originally reported on Korean affairs in English which is then quoted by other media abroad. This  happens, for example, in December 2014 in the Korean Air “nut” fiasco.

Here are my impressions of the two newspapers as they have existed from the late 2000s to the early-to-mid 2010s when I’ve known them and occasionally read them. I base the below on years of off-and-on observation. (Note: On a desktop computer, the two lists should display side by side. On other devices, they probably won’t be side by side, but the numbers will match up for comparison.)

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Korea Times

  1. Politically center-left on socioeconomic issues.
  2. Leans anti-USA or at least anti-USFK (U.S. Focres Korea); tends to highlight stories that make USFK look bad.
  3. Noticeably anti-Japan; Times sponsors a “Dokdo Essay Contest” (Dokdo is an islet that Korea and Japan both claim but which is occupied securely by Korea; the Dokdo issue is a “political whipping boy” used by Korea). Times‘ choice of article titles on any matter related to Japan is generally hostile.
  4. More “racialist” in outlook. This may seem ironic for a foreign-language newspaper, but my impression has been that Times has a significant opposition to the principle of racial foreigners in Korea. Problems caused by racial minorities are played up (especially the transient White minority; in this they are in the mainstream of Korean media) (see also #2). There was one particular reporter for the Times, notorious among Western foreigners, called Kang Shin-Who, whose job title may as well have been “Racial Agitator” as “Reporter”.
  5. Parent company: Hankook Ilbo (a leading South Korean newspaper considered centrist)
  6. No direct international partners but will often reprint editorials from the New York Times and the like under the heading “Overseas Comment”.
  7. American Feel (which may be ironic given much of the above). By this I mean Times tends to feel like a mid-market American paper. (Tellingly, Times called the December 2014 “nut rage” executive “Heather Cho”.)
  8. Simpler writing style. Tends towards general-interest stories. More cartoons and horoscopes. In this way, a little reminiscent of USA Today.
  9. At times it drifts into “tabloid-ism“. I mean to say that a shade of yellow tinges its journalism (and that’s not a racial slur).
  10. Covers cultural affairs to an extent, but has no pretensions of being anything but a simple newspaper. Consider the sprawling one-third-of-a-page it devotes to TV schedules (12 channels) for the day.
  11. Relatively lower reputation among Western foreigners resident in Korea in recent years due to  perceived racial antagonism and biased/slanderous reporting [see #4 and #9].
  12. Seems to have fewer foreigners on staff.
  13. Despite #11 above, Times solicits and will often publish “guest columns” from regular people, and not just pro-Korean puff pieces or “Dokdo Contest” entries, either. I may seem harsh on Times in this rundown, but this is (can be) a distinctly strong point. Its guest columns can be very interesting and a wide range of views are to be had. This is the kind of thing the Internet may put under threat; it is easy to stay within a bubble of people with the same opinions. An old coworker and friend, B., was once published in Times. These guest columns are legitimized by being on the editorial page.
  14. Price: 1,000 Won at the newsstand (90 U.S. cents at current exchange). Home delivery six days a week: 20,000 Won/month ($18.00)
  15. Widely available for sale in central Seoul (wherever foreigners tend to go often, you’ll find this paper sold) and even in Incheon and other cities. In the case of a newsstand or convenience store selling only one English paper, it’s always Times, for some reason.

Korea Herald

  1. Politically center-right.
  2. More pro-USA, at least as the USA relates to South Korean interests (USFK). When it discusses U.S. or other Western domestic politics, this fades away (see #6 below).
  3. Much less anti-Japan. (Tellingly, it editorialized heavily in 2013 for the return of statues stolen from Japan by a Korean crime ring. These were originally stolen by Japanese “pirates” in the 1300s, some said; many argued to never return them; a big issue in 2013.)
  4. Can be seen as neutral on the Race Question within Korea. On the other hand, one of its most frequent editorial subjects is on the need to help the integration of multicultural families and children. Herald seems to call for a multiracial future for Korea (which, de facto, means accepting large numbers of Southeast Asians). This is probably a popular opinion among its core readership but (until very recently, maybe) a truly fringe view in wider Korean society.
  5. Parent company: Chosun Ilbo (a leading conservative daily newspaper)
  6. Partnered with an international network of newspapers including Washington Post and LA Times. Its foreign editorials, borrowed from these partners, are noticeably further to the left than its own pieces on Korean affairs.
  7. More Asian/Korean feel. (Tellingly, they Herald called the December 2014 “nut rage” executive “Cho Hyun-Ah”, in completely traditional East-Asian style including family name first).
  8. Somewhat more high-brow writing style/tone.
  9. It aims to maintain respectability and rarely forays into “yellow journalism”; I would view anything reported by Herald as a little more reliable, ipso facto.
  10. High-quality articles on cultural affairs; its weekend editions are “themed”, with many articles devoted to special matters of cultural interest (art exhibitions, poetry, fashion, architecture, history, language, etc.). Buying a weekend Herald is like buying a little magazine on the subject of that week’s theme. They are well done. You are out of luck if you want a TV listing in English, as Herald only lists three channels, tucked away in about 5% of a page.
  11. Heralds reputation among resident foreigners is relatively high.
  12. It seems to have more foreign reporters, and one guy whose job seemed to be to report on matters of interest to the foreigner community, which as far as I know Times did not have.
  13. Despite #11 above, Herald does not regularly publish guest columns from regular people on its editorial page, limiting its editorials to a select group, generally Korean intellectuals who are fluent in English, whom it deems acceptable. This aligns with #8 and #9 above. It does, though, occasionally publish readers’ feedback in special sections on key issues, like “Should the Koreas unify?” and suchlike.
  14. Same prices as the Times.
  15. Widely available but somewhat less easily found for sale at newsstands than Times.

I can also say this: Both Herald and Times now include daily loose-leaf insets for English practice, to appeal to the much larger “English learner” market in Korea. Among other English education goodies, these insets translate recently-published articles and highlight/explain key vocabulary/phrases from them (this might be called “controlled practice” in the ESL ‘biz, whereas reading the general newspaper, which is 100% English with no exceptions, would be “free(r) practice”). Note: I used to do get Herald delivered to my home when I lived in more regular conditions, and for fun I did the “GRE Prep” daily at that time. See post #72 for an example of this.

There is one other comment I can make. Look again at points #5 and #6 above for both Times and Herald, and then back at #1 (among other points). (With the caveat that the above list consists of my own impressions*:) Both newspapers’ stances are to the left of their parent (Korean-language) newspapers. Why is this? This is an interesting thing to consider.

* — I am reasonably sure that anyone familiar with both these newspapers will generally agree with me on most points above, and I am reasonably sure I can prove everything I said above with examples, but that would be a major project and no one is paying me.


Here are the two newspapers’ front pages from this past weekend.

Comment: Times published the “Korean Air nut rage” on its front page with rather humiliating photographs and use of the demeaning phrase “nut rage” (see, perhaps, #9 above). I would see this as reflecting its politics (see #1 above): This story makes South Korean big business, the chaebol system, look bad. Note also the little swipe at Japan (see #3 above) in the teaser to the story on Japan’s election, “Voters ready to give unenthusiastic yes to PM Abe”. Why ‘unenthusiastic’?

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Korea Times of December 13-14, 2014

Here is the same day’s Herald  (called “Weekender” on Saturday-Sundays).

Comment: This issue’s theme is architectural design (See #10 above), with at least five full-length articles inside on this subject, among a lot of other cultural stuff; something about translating Korean classics into English, and lots about movies, art exhibitions, music and plays. The “Korean air nut rage” story is tucked away on page 5 with non-humiliating pictures of the CEO and the daughter, and carrying the bland title “Korean Air chairman apologizes” . There is a lot of power in titles. That one gives very little information to the casual glancer, and may even seem positive; after all, isn’t apologizing a good thing? (See #1 above — I interpret this headline as differing in tone from the Times‘ due to the political stances of the papers; this sordid story of nepotism and bullying of subordinates is widely seen as a black mark for the chaebol system, i.e. big business, so left-leaning Times jumped at it while right-leaning Herald played it down; they could not ignore it because it had become such a huge story in the American media).

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Korea Herald of December 13-14, 2014


bookmark_borderPost-262: European Identity Circa 200 AD (and Beyond)

Last week l I finished the enjoyable and informative book I’d mentioned in #252 (The Birth of Classical Europe), a 2,500-year guided tour of Western Civilizational history ending around 400AD.

I felt the authors skirted around a key question, namely what the nature of European/Western identity is. We might expect a book with such a title to address this. We have to make our own inferences. Towards the end of the book, they report a very interesting Latin inscription recently discovered in London, dated to “the late second century AD”.

Num(inibus) Aug(ustorum)
Deo Marti Ca-
mulo Tiberni-
us Celerianus
c(ivis) Bell(ouacus)
moritix
Londiniesium.

To the divine will of the emperors
And to the god Mars Camulus:
Tiberinius
Celerianus
citizen of Beauvais
seafarer
of the Londoners.

These few words say a lot, as the commentary from the authors explain well:
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This dedication was set up by a man carrying a good Roman name: Tibernius Celerianus, a native of Beauvais (ancient Caesaromagus Bellovacorum) in northern Gaul. Celerianus describes himself as a “seafarerer of the Londoners” (moritix Londiniensium), and we should probably understand him to be the agent of a shipping company which transported goods between London and northern Gaul.

It is very striking that Celerianus chose to define himself with the curious term “moritix”. Moritix is not a Latin word at all, but an ancient Celtic term meaning “seafarer”. There is, of course, a perfectly good Latin word meaning exactly the same thing (nauta). Why did Celerianus choose to use the old Celtic word? Was he trying, consciously or unconsciously, to emphasize his local Celtic identity?

The real cultural affiliations of a man like Celerianus are desperately difficult to recover: a native of northern Gaul, with a Roman name; worshiper of a superficially Romanized Celtic deity of his native region, but also of the reigning Roman emperors; capable of setting up a dedicatory inscription in impeccable Latin, but opting for a local Celtic term to describe his profession.

This man, Celerianus, would’ve been born around two hundred years after the Roman conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar. Not even his grandfather’s grandfather would’ve known a politically-independent Celtic state in Gaul.

So let’s say Celerianus retained a Celtic-Gallic ethnic identity. We might also go so far as to say that the authors discuss this inscription as much as they do because Celerianus is a quintessential “European“. This implies that “European” unites two strands of identity and worldview, the ethnic (a set of specific local, related ethnic identities, generally harkening back to a “heroic barbarian past”) within certain political and cultural superstructures and philosophical traditions. This Celerianus personifies it. Seems reasonable.




bookmark_borderPost-261: But Which Twin is the Elder? (A Korean Dilemma)

In the case of twins, which is the elder? Say one is born at  7:00 PM and one at 8:00 PM. If one must be called the older brother, which one is it? Our Korean reading textbook talks about this at long length and declares that it is a point of difference between East and West.

In Korea, who the superior is and who the inferior in any relationship is highly important even for the basic mechanics of how sentences are constructed. It would take a while to fully explain this. I can say the same exact same sentence in lots of different ways, altered depending on my relationship with the listener(s). It means constantly having to evaluate relative positions within a hierarchy, shifting forms as context dictates. I told you it’s complicated.

One layer to this (certainly not the only one) is titles. Koreans will generally always use titles for anyone higher in a hierarchy; many times people don’t even know each other’s names because they just cruise along using titles.

Age is one of the most powerful natural hierarchies in the Korean mind. Here’s how it works:

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If I am born in 2002, then I must and will call my brother born in 2000 by a special title (the term meaning “older brother”, i.e. 형); Meanwhile he calls (must call) me by my name. This applies both to both kin and non-kin. (Existence of another title, say an office title [everyone has a title at the office] will supersede here.)

Don’t think this is an anachronism. Even for those born in the 2000s (that is, school-age children in 2014) the system shows no signs at all of cracks. The children observe it loyally and naturally.

There are lots of problems in logical consistency that occur to me with this system. What if one boy is born January 1st and one December 31st the “previous year”? East Asians traditionally determine age by year of birth (everyone born in the same year is the same age), so even separation in age by one day calls for use a special “older brother” title. Not using the title for an elder sibling would be a serious faux pas; very rude. (Koreans whom I have quizzed about this — “Have you ever called your [elder sibling] by his/her name?” — They generally promptly say “never”. Upon further reflection some will say, “Maybe once or twice when I was very angry”.)

Back to the twins problem. Two twins, one born at 7 PM and one at 8 PM. According to Korean thought, our textbook says, the brother born at 7 PM is the “elder” but that “many European countries” believe that the twin who was born later is the elder. I don’t know of any Europeans who would obsess over this matter. Nor had I ever thought about this problem (of determining elder status between twins) before. I am tempted to insert a “so-called” before the word “problem” in the previous sentence, but far be it from me to be culturally insensitive!

The lesson is that Koreans show a shocking level of commitment to the principle of hierarchy. “Come hell or high water”.

bookmark_borderPost-260: What’s Wrong With This Picture?

A philosopher asks what’s wrong with a picture of teenagers (presumably American) in an art museum who are — Ah, let me just repost the picture:
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A picture taken from the Maverick Philosopher blog

It seems they’d rather stare at frivolous content on tiny screens rather than have a look at these great works of art.

Some will say we can’t blame them; maybe they don’t really like art (that’s okay, isn’t it?); maybe they already looked at the pictures and are resting; and so on. The fact is, though, that these kinds of museums (among other places) were once a kind of hallowed ground, and represented an awe-inspiring experience. One was to treat them reverentially. This would very likely be greatly diminished by widespread and constant use of “mobile devices”.

Most of us (in rich countries) now spend much or most of our waking lives in the “virtual/digital” sphere in some way (see #250); some people have come to cocoon themselves inside the virtual world and hardly “exist” outside it. This is troubling. If the purpose of life is authentic experience, existing in a virtual bubble world may seriously diminish it. The virtual world can be a poor substitute for the real in important ways. It can also enhance it, if done right, but I am not sure how to ensure that or even what it means to do it right.

I resisted getting a smartphone until the very end of 2013 (See #22), which was a real shock to Koreans by 2012 and 2013. I told myself it was because of money, but really I think it was because of philosophical principle. In my nearly nine months in Germany and Estonia in 2007, I somehow existed with no phone at all. Can you believe that? It’s hard to imagine now. I occasionally had to make phone calls and did so using pay phones. Pay phone? Yes. You may remember: Telephones, often in free-standing little booths, in public places. You dropped in coins to make a call…


bookmark_borderPost-259: [Korean] To Each Country Its Own…Alcohol Culture

In September, I wrote something very brief about differing attitudes towards alcohol in different countries. I posted it here as #235. I’ve now expanded the argument into a full essay, directly below. Grade not know yet.

I am not good enough at Korean to write fully-nuanced, coherent, smooth (much less grammar-error-free) arguments. In my translation here I try to preserve the awkward wording.


나라마다 다른 “술문화”

많은 사람들은 나라마다 다른 문화가 있다고 알지만 대표적인 좋은 예는 모릅니다. 밑에 쓴 글에서 미국/한국/이슬람국가의 술문화를 비교하겠습니다.

우 선, 미국에서 온 저는 미국의 술문화에 대한 설명을 하겠습니다. 사실, 미국의 전통문화는 술을 싫어하는 편입니다. 특히, 옛날에는  술을 싫어하는 사람들이 많은 것 같습니다. 여러 주에서는 일요일에 술이 팔리는 것을 법으로 금지합니다. 그리고 밤에 너무 늦게 술이 팔리는 것도 법으로 금지합니다. 또한, 미국에서 술의 세금이 다른 나라에 비해 높습니다. 마지막으로, 미국 경찰은 밖에서 술을 마시는 사람을 보면, 그 사람을 꼭 감옥에 데리고 가야 합니다. 따라서, 미국의 문화는 술에 반대라고 할 수 있습니다.

한국과 미국의 “술문화”를 비교하면 한국문화가 술을 더 좋아한다고 할 수 있습니다. 한국은 술에 반대하는 법이 별로 없는 것 같습니다. 예를 들면 한국에서는 24시간 동안  술을  쉽게 살 수 있습니다. 또한 술을 자주 마시는 한국사람들이 미국사람들보다 많은 것 같습니다. 많은 한국 회사원들은 “회식”에서 술을 많이 마신다고 합니다. 미국에서는 그 관습이 없습니다. 미국사람들은 한국의 술이 관계가 있는 회식문화를 알면 놀랍니다.

반대로, 이슬람 국가에서는 술을 법으로 늘 금지합니다. 이스람 종교 때문입니다. 전통적인 이슬람교인 나라에서는 “술문화”가 없다고 볼 수 있습니다. 그래서 우리는 이슬람 교인 사람들이 “회식”할 때 뭘 할지 궁금할 수 있습니다!

Each Country Has its Own Alcohol Culture

Although a lot of people know that each country’s culture differs, they don’t know any representative examples. In the below essay, I will compare American, South Korean, and Islamic alcohol-drinking cultures.

First, as I am from the USA I can explain about U.S. alcohol culture. In fact, American traditional culture tends to dislike alcohol. It seems that, especially in the past, there were many people who disliked it. In some states, alcohol sales are banned by law on Sundays. Also, sale of alcohol in the late evening is banned. Furthermore, in the USA taxes on alcohol are high compared other countries’. Finally, in the USA the police have to take people whom they see drinking alcohol in public to jail. Accordingly, we can say that American culture is “against alcohol”.

If we compare American and South Korean “alcohol culture”, we can say that Koreans like alcohol more. In South Korea, there seem to be almost no laws against alcohol. For example, in South Korea people can buy alcohol 24 hours a day easily. Furthermore, it seems to me there are more heavy drinkers among Koreans than among Americans. In many Korean companies, drinking with coworkers is common. In the USA, we don’t have this custom. If Americans learn about this alcohol-drinking culture in Korean companies, they will be surprised.

On the other hand, in Islamic countries, alcohol is always banned by law. It is because of the Islamic religion. Traditional Islamic countries have no “alcohol culture”. Therefore, we might wonder what the Muslims do during outings with coworkers after work!

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See also:


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bookmark_borderPost-258: Pearl Harbor from the Japanese Perspective

I was sent this article today from a relative:
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So Japan’s official museums don’t treat the famous attack on December 7th as something shameful, a sucker punch (there was no declaration of war). We ought not be too surprised. Who wants to depict their own history that way?

Our historical memory of Pearl Harbor is something like this: “The sneaky Japs attacked us without any shred of provocation at all just because we were there; Imperial Japan was so irrationally hyper-aggressive that they would attack anyone, given half a chance”.

From my reading (especially a book or two on this subject by historian John Toland), the Imperial Japanese government in 1941, though definitely aggressive, was not irrational.

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The Roosevelt government had recently organized a trade embargo against Japan (to protest Japanese aggression in China). Resource shortages would soon begin to bite, slowing everything down, especially a potentially devastating oil embargo. What do you call a modern army without oil? Useless.

There were long debates about this in Tokyo throughout 1941. The hawks said that the embargo meant Japan, already at war in China, had no choice but to secure resource-rich Southeast Asia — Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines (British, Dutch, and American possessions, respectively, at the time) — to retain access to raw materials and keep things rolling. The Europeans could not be expected to fight, given the situation in Europe at the time.

During the debates in Tokyo, the doves pointed out that war against any European possessions in Southeast Asia would very likely mean war with the USA, and certainly so in the wider-envisioned campaign which included conquest of the Philippines. So the choice was: Prepare for war with the USA, or begin to rein in the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” project (Japan’s decades-in-the-making plan to unite East Asia under Japanese leadership; i.e. Japanese imperialism and its network of puppet states, satellites, and allies-to-varying-degrees).

The hawk lobby in Tokyo won the argument, of course, and so Pearl Harbor went ahead. Even the hawks conceded that a long war with the USA would be impossible to win, given the USA’s size and potential in war, so they planned a sneak attack to weaken the U.S. Navy, conduct a quick and efficient war in Southeast Asia, and try for a settled peace.

Malaysia and the Philippines were also invaded on the same day as Pearl Harbor, and Indonesia the next week. British Singapore surrendered within two months; oil-producing Dutch Indonesia fell within three months; and in the Philippines, the main body of American troops surrendered within four months at Bataan. This wider view of things can explain how Japanese might see Pearl Harbor as “just another battle”, as the article’s title has it.

The Japanese totally underestimated American resolve to win the war, once it was begun, of course.


See also:
Post #23: “On Iwo Jima Isle / At Iwo Jima Memorial
Post #24: “High on the Hill Suribachi