Flashback: Fights over seating arrangements between the two Koreas

The New York Times has the kind of article I like--a review of an issue/event that includes a bit of history to remind readers to be skeptical of today's optimistic headlines.
During border talks decades ago, the sides took the competition over protocol and appearances to the extreme, with North Korean military officers secretly adding inches to the legs of their chairs so they would look taller than their counterparts across the table from South Korea and the United States.
In those cold-war-era meetings, the sides usually exchanged invectives and retorts. But they also sometimes persisted in silence — for over 11 hours in one session in 1969 — challenging the other side to speak first.
In the best-known contest of pride on the divided peninsula, North and South Korea once engaged in a race over which country could raise its national flag higher over the heavily fortified border. That battle was eventually settled with the North beating the South; today, the North’s flagpole stands over 500 feet tall, beating the rival South’s by roughly 200 feet.
Of course, they can't mention everything in every article, but I would just like to add the previous battles over the seating arrangements at such meetings.

From March 1998:

Seating Squabble Gets Peace Talks Off To Slow Start 
March 17, 1998|By From Tribune News Services.


What's Worse?

Re: Can't see the forest for the trees!

What's worse:

* A Korean husband who beats his immigrant wife--or the Korean government that makes it difficult for that immigrant wife to live here legally without that abusive husband?

I ask that question because both issues are raised in Kim Rahn's article in today's Korea Times. Yes, I counted the paragraphs--the first 20 paragraphs of the article are about those abusive husbands. The last nine discuss the role of government making things more difficult for those immigrant wives. Reporters are taught to put a human face on issues--in this case, the faces of immigrant wives having their faces bashed in by their Korean husbands. And, of course, it is possible that Rahn has focused on the government in other articles.

Okay, so some people don't like "what's worse" questions, and I accept that. For those people, feel free to rephrase the questions as, "which part of this problem deserves more attention?"

* Brokers making money off North Korean refugees sending money to their families members in North--or the NK regime treating people born in NK as their private property?

* A big company bullying its suppliers and smaller companies--or a government using its guns and laws to bully big (and small) companies?

* Slush funds hidden by people trying to hide their money from the taxman--or politicians who openly steal MUCH MORE money from citizens?

* A whistle blower revealing a super secret government program allowing the government to have access to private phone calls, photos and emails of private citizens--or a government that rigs the law so it can have access to private phone calls, photos and emails of private citizens.

* High or low prices?

* A racist who doesn't want his daughter to marry a man of a different ethnicity--or a government that allows Jim Crow laws in public policy?

* A slaveholder--or a government that allows slavery?

* A slavecatcher--or a government that allows slavery?

* Bad words or bad actions?

* People paying and getting paid for sex--or arresting and prosecuting people for such activity?

* Someone who asks "what's worse" questions--or someone who asks "what's worse" questions?

* * *

In so much of public policy analysis, the focus is on the particular players. There is something that, it is good to tell the stories of people for dramatic effect, for example. But so much of public policy analysis also focuses so much on the individual stories that the larger story gets lost in the anecdotes and personal stories. In spending so much time, for example, in denouncing Korean husbands for beating their immigrant wives, it is easy to lose focus on government policy that makes it difficult for such wives to remain here legally without those abusive husbands.

Of course, one public policy change creates new problems. So what's worse, current problems that are known or new often unanticipated problems?

* * *

(And, of course, the husbands mentioned in today's Korea Times deserve to get denounced, I hope people won't somehow draw the opposite conclusion.)


Change we can believe in, sure--but how to get it done?

RE: When everyone agrees there must be change, but when change is slow...

Don't most people who experience Korea agree that there must be some serious societal changes (high suicide rate, constant complaints about inequality, other daily news complaints). At least, that seems to be true among intellectuals, politicians, culture vultures and others in the chattering class. But when there is such broad agreement, and that change doesn't happen, then what is the explanation?

Andrew Salmon writes in today's Korea Times about the kinds of stuff that I suspect most Koreans would agree about: that the education system needs to be reformed so that it can be more individualized and less competitive, there must be more diversity of talent, more variety in Korean life, more diversity in business, diversity of opportunity, etc. More and more, different and different.

So when almost everyone agrees, I suppose there will be a tipping point and change will come about. But it isn't like the American civil rights movement or push for democracy in Korea where people can go to the government and say, "Yo, government, get your boot off my neck." What Salmon and others are discussing is change in the mindset of people in society.

I guess he and others have taken the first step by making their argument, that change comes from people changing their mindsets or the old generation dying off, and someone needs to often make those arguments for change.

* * *

Even if Salmon gets the laundry list of what he suggests needs to be changed, I predict that a short time after that--and definitely a decade or so later--that people would still be complaining about the need for more and better change. When is the last time there was a public policy change that a large percentage of the population later concluded, "Wow! That's exactly the change we needed. And now things are exactly the way they should be."

The key point: People who want to change society are rarely, if ever, satisfied.

* * *

Of course, when I criticize the criticize the criticizers, people want to turn the mirror on me. I guess I am a reformer of the reformers, constantly questioning the never-ending plans of the planners.

* * *

A few asides:
* There has already been tremendous change in Korea, as anyone who has been here for more than a few years will tell you. Perhaps the amount of change has made people impatient about remaining problems.

* American and Brit friends of mine seem to be even more impatient about change than Koreans are. I like to remind them about the slow pace of change in their own countries.

* Okay, there should be change. So how is it to be done? Even advocates of limited government, huge government, or a mixed economy can agree there must be change in the economy. And that's where the agreement often ends, once it is time to implement change.

* One of my predictions from years ago is that Barack Obama was the one person with the potential to undermine trust in government. That's because he had convinced so many people that "change" was needed. Five years later, his change is looking like an extension of previous bad policies.


Hey, ya'll--I ate my veggies

If I ever go to Africa--and I don't expect that I will anytime soon--then I won't feel guilty at all. That's because I will be able to say to anyone I meet, "I ate all my vegetables."

Yesterday on TBS eFM 101.3 in South Korea, "This Morning" host Alex Jensen interviewed a lady who sounded like everyone's mom, warning about the danger of wasting food. She actually mentioned about everyone's moms telling them not to waste their food! 

In my case, if I ever go to North Korea--which I have no interest in doing--then I will also be able to say the same thing to them: "Hey, ya'll, I ate my vegetables. So don't blame me."

A few Korean friends have told me that when they were growing up that their moms told them to eat all of their food because the children in North Korea were starving. And I suppose that North Korean parents used to say the same thing about South Korean children--until the CDs and DVDs smuggled in proved otherwise.

My parents used to tell a story--which I deny, by the way--that when I was about eight years old, I dramatically told them, "Okay, I will eat all of the vegetables this time. Really. But next week, could you plan ahead and just send them all to the kids in Africa? I'm not starving, they are." I don't remember that particular incident, although I suppose that the ass-whipping I probably got right after explains why I don't remember anything about that--or that day...

If I had known more about African governments at the time, I would have also mentioned--"and they have armed guards blocking people from sending food to the unlucky people born there, so it isn't my fault they are starving if I don't eat all of my vegetables." And I suppose that South Korean youngsters could have said the same thing in the past--and today--about starving North Korean children.


The right of locomotion (Frederick Douglass, 1869)

(1869) Frederick Douglass Describes The "Composite Nation"

 In an 1869 speech in Boston, former slave and leading 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglass challenged most social observers and politicians by advocating the acceptance of Chinese immigration. Thirteen years later, the US Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first major piece of legislation blocking people from entering the country, laying the foundation for other exclusions.
Here is an excerpt in which Douglass argues that there is the universal right of locomotion (I hate to put words in his mouth, but I suspect he would argue today in favor of North Koreans also having the right to locomotion).
There are such things in the world as human rights. They rest upon no conventional foundation, but are external, universal, and indestructible. Among these, is the right of locomotion; the right of migration; the right which belongs to no particular race, but belongs alike to all and to all alike. It is the right you assert by staying here, and your fathers asserted by coming here. It is this great right that I assert for the Chinese and Japanese, and for all other varieties of men equally with yourselves, now and forever. I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity, and when there is a supposed conflict between human and national rights, it is safe to go to the side of humanity. I have great respect for the blue eyed and light haired races of America. They are a mighty people. In any struggle for the good things of this world they need have no fear. They have no need to doubt that they will get their full share.

But I reject the arrogant and scornful theory by which they would limit migratory rights, or any other essential human rights to themselves, and which would make them the owners of this great continent to the exclusion of all other races of men.

I want a home here not only for the negro, the mulatto and the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours. Right wrongs no man. If respect is had to majorities, the fact that only one fifth of the population of the globe is white, the other four fifths are colored, ought to have some weight and influence in disposing of this and similar questions. It would be a sad reflection upon the laws of nature and upon the idea of justice, to say nothing of a common Creator, if four fifths of mankind were deprived of the rights of migration to make room for the one fifth. If the white race may exclude all other races from this continent, it may rightfully do the same in respect to all other lands, islands, capes and continents, and thus have all the world to itself. Thus what would seem to belong to the whole, would become the property only of a part. So much for what is right, now let us see what is wise.


Rating the 10 Magazine speakers

I attended another 10 Magazine speech organized by Barry Welsh. Here are my unofficial grades for the speakers I have heard so far:

1) Shin Dong Hyuk (A+): The audience was captivated. A few ladies were in tears as he discussed his escape from North Korea, his adjustment to living in South Korea, his difficulty at enjoying life. I first met Shin shortly before the best-selling book (Escape from Camp 14) in America about him was published, and was a bit surprised when he recognized me at an event and struck up a conversation with me even though he is so shy. Even though I was already familiar with his story, it was still great to hear it first hand in an informal setting. I threw a curveball at him, mentioning that that some people have doubted the veracity of his story. He took it in stride. After escaping from a prison camp in North Korea, I guess that there aren't many things that could rattle him.
Shin, Lartigue

2) Michael Breen (A): An outstanding mix of humor, experience and common sense about Korea. He could have had an A+, but Shin Dong Hyuk’s presentation was special, and these grades are comparative. The only downside is there were too many questions from the audience about North and South Korean relations, but since Breen didn’t give a speech, it is understandable that the audience members took the discussion in the direction they wanted. I've already written about how impressed I was by Breen's presentation so I won't repeat that. I asked a few questions, including about Samsung's lawsuit against him. His answer was funny, informative and profound, and that's all that I'll say about Samsung as long as I live in Korea.

Breen, Lartigue

Andrew Salmon (B+): His presentation on the Korean War was tremendous. I rarely read about wars, fighting, military strategy, so it was like a crash course about the Korean War. His presentation got me to thinking about several issues I have heard about because he provided great context and some interesting historical points. The one thing missing is a broader point about what he learned, about how to apply his historical knowledge to today's discussions. It would have been better to have an expert or two in the audience to ask him a few questions during his presentation or Q&A to push him. Unfortunately, Salmon committed the crime of speaking twice as long as he had promised. He said he would speak for 45 minutes, instead, he probably spoke for at least 95 minutes.
Salmon, Lartigue

James Turnbull (B): His presentation was interesting cultural and social analysis about Korea, pulling together a lot of gossip, sexy photos and titillating stories into a well-organized presentation. I’m still not sure what it all adds up to—it is the kind of analysis more appropriate for late-night bull sessions by college students majoring in psychology/sociology/history with a minor in gender studies. Plus, he even beat Salmon, speaking for almost two full hours when he said it might take an hour or hour and 20 minutes. Based on his presentation today, my back of the room suggestions: 1) Don’t try to say everything. His presentation was the type that could have had great interaction with the audience, rather than a one-way presentation, and I suspect that it would have been livelier because there were a few folks in the audience who are also knowledgeable about Korea. I’m not that knowledgeable about Korea but even I had many questions and disagreements. 2) Be more accurate about how long he will speak. To be clear, I don’t mind long speeches and presentations, the speaker can develop his or her main points and give points to attack. I was sharpening my knives expecting questions after an hour, but he kept on going. Thankfully, Barry was able to reserve the room for an additional hour, otherwise there would have been no time for questions.

Turnbull, Lartigue

Daniel Tudor (C)—Many good things about his presentation, but he struck me as being a good young reporter who wrote a book about Korea prematurely. It seems that Korea must be experienced long term, not reported on. Probably after another decade of seasoning, he could come close to what Breen did and does. Korea is not the kind of place that you are ready to write a book about after being here for a few years, perhaps even a decade is not enough time and perspective. Someone who has been following Korea since the 1980s, witnessing the military dictatorships, the transition to democracy, the IMF crisis, the deaths of the 2 previous dictators of North Korea, 2002 World Cup, 2008 meat protests, etc., is probably the rare person to write a really good book about Korea. Of course, there are some parts that can be reported on well, such as Salmon's on the Korean War, but not about Korean culture.

Kim Young-Ha (INC)--I can't fairly grade his speech because I hated his book I have the right to destroy myself. It would have been more accurate to title it I have the right to help Korean women destroy themselves. It was a book about a psychopath seeking out Korean women on the verge of suicide, and coaxing them to go through with it. His success is an indicator that Korean literature was really lousy in the mid-1990s, that anyone Korean saying anything different or controversial attracted attention. So thank Korea's censors for his success. Of course, he may have written some non-garbage since then, but that one was particular edition was enough for me.

I stayed at the event through the first hour--he seemed personable, he may even be a good speaker and have some funny points. But it was like listening to a psychopath sound reasonable. So instead of giving him the "F" he deserves for his lousy book, I will just mark him incomplete because his actual discussion may have been okay.