Sunday, June 29, 2008

In the beginning...

(Note - I will get around to posting the sequel to this soon, and yes Joe, I do have something more humorous to post in the near future...)

In this article (linked to by a commenter in this Korea Beat post), the writer looks at the numbers and compares chances of death from BSE-contaminated beef with the CSAT:
In November 2007, 600,000 students took the CSAT. Of them, one student committed suicide right after taking the test on November 15 by jumping from his apartment building, and twin sisters in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province did the same in December after receiving their test scores, according to the JoongAng Daily (December 11).

Thus, at least three deaths out of 200,000 died as a direct result of the CSAT. Given Korea's population of 48 million, we can infer a comparative figure of 240 deaths from the CSAT compared to less than one from BSE-contaminated beef (assuming a link with Creutzfeldt-Jakob in the first place).

The figure may be far higher as 764 students committed suicide between 2000 to 2006, according to MoE statistics (Daily Surprise, Jan 5, 2008, Internet). Of course, these students unfortunately end their lives for a variety of reasons, from bullying to humiliation by teachers to economic distress.

Nonetheless, the CSAT remains a far greater killer of Korean children than mad cows. Where are their candlelight vigils?
Well, there have been candlelight vigils for them, actually.
I looked at the story of the twins who comitted suicide in Changwon several months ago, where I posted the photo below of a protest against the suneung (CSAT) in Daehangno after a girl in Namwon killed herself on November 5, 2003.

Of course, parents have held candlelight vigils as well - praying for their children's success before the test.

Parents praying at Bongeun Temple on November 10, 2007.

There have been larger candlelight protests, however. Heemang 21 (21세기 청소년공동체 희망, or '21st century youth community hope') organized this candlelit rally, in May, 2005, which criticized the education system and the pressures which cause students to kill themselves. The vigil itself was for those students who had died.

A Hankyoreh article about the vigil before it took place is here (which, unsurprisingly, tries to tie it to protests against the US military). The Hankyoreh also has an English editorial here:
The "Remembrance Event for Students Sacrificed for School Education" was attended by hundreds of students and regular citizens over the weekend without any major mishap. The reason there were fewer participants than had been anticipated was likely because the authorities had threatened disciplinary action and because teachers were mobilized and sent to the protest site to pressure people from attending. The thousands of police who surrounded the area with an intense presence also contributed to the low turnout. It was a perfect demonstration of the authoritarian and oppressive atmosphere in our society, since the free expression of opinion was labeled "collective action" and blocked.
What's interesting is that, according to some sleuthing R.Elgin did over at the Marmot's Hole, the website, which I looked at here, was registered on April 28 this year, and its Domain Name Server is This is the same group mentioned above - '21st century youth community hope' - that organized the protests against the education system in 2005.

What's interesting is that if you look at this article (linked to by Sonagi in this Marmot's Hole post), you'll see photos of a December 6, 2006 protest against the importation of US beef. In 2006, Korea began importing (boneless) beef for the first time since 2003, but sent back shipment after shipment because bone fragments were found in them. As can be seen below, people are holding the same mad cow posters seen at these days.

December 2006

May 2008

This would seem to suggest that these images predates, but though the site may have been registered on April 28, 2008, looking at the message boards on the website reveals that messages were posted there between November 15, 2006 and March 5, 2007 before the dates jump to April 28 of this year. It may be possible that this website had something to do with the December 2006 protest we see above. To be sure, two days after the website started again, messages announcing the first two candlelight vigils (May 2 and May 3) were posted there.

Police officials declared the candlelight vigils to be illegal on May 5. Referring to the first vigil on May 2,
"The event was registered as a cultural event but it was in fact a political gathering overflowing with agitation and agitating slogans,” said a Seoul Police Agency official. “It also dispersed at 10 p.m. instead of the 9 p.m. time it was registered for. We are already working on how to prosecute the organizers, since that much looks unavoidable,” he said.

Approximately ten thousand people gathered at Cheonggyecheon Plaza on May 2 and 3 and shouted slogans protesting the decision to allow imports of American beef and calling for the impeachment of President Lee Myung-bak. Similar protests took place in Busan, Gwangju, Incheon, Daegu, and other provincial cities. They were largely organized online, and those involved say there are going to be another round of protests on May 6 and 9.

The article above says the "event was registered as a cultural event," but another article says it's not necessary to register such events:
Civic groups and online communities have held rallies in downtown Seoul and in major cities nationwide since May 2. They did not report the gatherings to the police, claiming they were cultural events, which can be held at any time without prior reporting or permission according to the law.
The obvious question then is: who organized the first rally(s)? I looked around on naver for more information and discovered this poster:

(Click to enlarge)

In the square at the top it says LMB Tanhaek Tujaeng Yeondae, or "Lee Myung Bak impeachment struggle solidarity", which is also known as (see the black text at the bottom), the "National headquarters for the movement to impeach Lee Myung-bak", whose website can be found here (the antimb daum cafe) or at A look at the message board at this daum cafe shows that it began on December 19, 2007 - the day of the presidential election. The dot com site was registered the next day. While it should be pretty clear those running the cafe were rather opposed to Lee (or his policies), there may be other reasons for this timing.
The mainstream conservative media in Korea and in the U.S. originally applauded Lee's election claiming that he had won by an unprecedented margin. They left out the fact that a relatively small percentage of the population voted in the election. Also most media failed to mention that though netizens and the Internet had played a signficant role in the previous presidential election in South Korea in 2002, the online community had been excluded from the 2007 election. A new addition to the election law had been put in place for the 2007 Presidential campaign and election which led to the censorship of much of the netizen participation.

Over [extern] 65,000 online comments by netizens relating to the election were removed from the Internet and over 1000 netizens received summons to report to the police. According to the organization People in Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), even some netizens in Japan and the U.S. were told to report to the police in South Korea because of their posts on Korean Internet sites.

The imposition of such censorship with its arbitrary enforcement and penalties, left many netizens unable to discuss the election. After the election, however, when it again became possible to discuss political issues, netizens in Korea took up to actively discuss the nature of democracy and the importance of having government officials who are the servants not the masters of the citizens.
I'd tend to think that a cafe dedicated to impeaching a man who had only just been elected would not fall under the discussion of "the nature of democracy".

An interview with one of the cafe's administrators, Han Byeong-sang (45), reveals him to be a former member of Uri Party and later the Changjo Hanguk Dang (Korea Renewal Party), the party formed in October last year under which Mun Guk-hyeon ran for president. I'm quite certain "member" means an organizer or 'card carrying member', not someone running for office. He quit the party after the election, he said, so that he would not be seen as running the website for political reasons. He also says that he is shocked that people would think he just started the site to take advantage of the mad cow scare, that it's been around for months, and that it has issues other than mad cow that it thinks are important. He also states that 14 of the administrators at the site are members of the Korea Renewal Party or other parties.

As the wikipedia entry on the
National headquarters for the movement to impeach Lee Myung-bak notes, they've been organizing vigils or 'publicity protests' for months to draw attention to the negative side of Lee's policies and call for his impeachment. It should be noted that the well-known petition to impeach Lee Myung-bak was first posted on April 6, before Lee's trip overseas to Japan and the US. No mention of the petition turned up on the message board at the antimb cafe in the days after the petition was posted on Daum, suggesting the cafe members were unaware of it for several days, if not longer. They may not have had anything to do with the petition, but they were busy propagandizing in other ways: Here's a video on youtube put up in their name on March 30. On April 5 and 6, they held rallies in Myeongdong and by Tapgol Park.

On April 26 they held a rally at Cheonggyecheon Plaza. This site displays the poster seen below, as well as prophetically (as it turns out) surmising that each rally might bring out 10 times more people.

The poster complains of things like 'disgraceful diplomacy' and mad cow (the announcement that US beef would be imported came on April 18), though the picture depicts Lee in Japan. A post by one of the top administrators at the antimb cafe describes the rally's program as "Reject the second colony." It seems that 'mad cow' is just one of several complaints the group had. This article says that only 200 showed up for the April 26 protest at Cheonggyecheon. This site has many, many photos of the event:

More than 200 would show up at the next protest 6 days later, on May 2:

(from here)

Why the difference? The antimb cafe planned for its weekly rally (to be held on May 3) after their April 26 rally. Prior to the April 26 rally, farmer advocates had held rallies against US beef, such as one on April 21 near the Blue House. The national association of beef farmers had a protest in front of the Gwacheon government buildings on April 24 in which 7000 people participated, while a small protest near the Blue house regarding school lunches took place on April 29, where they announced that another rally would take place the next day in front of the Sejong Cultural Center. Most of the protests seemed to be fairly small (other than the one in Gwacheon). In other words, the public wasn't really so interested in the farmers, or at least, not interested enough to join their protests.

A look at the photos of the last two protests turns up none of the images seen in December 2006 and at the protests on May 2. restarted on April 28, and its iconic image of the mad cow and the parodies seemed to catch on with a younger generation.

Things really took off when PD Diary's April 29 episode looked at the threat mad cow disease could pose to Koreans when US beef imports began again. On the antimb message board, the show was talked about with anticipation before it was broadcast. One member, "Keureijui (crazy)", wrote after seeing it, "Ahssa! MBC!! Mansei... now the news is showing it too." Another member wrote that after PD Diary ended MBC News had also reported on mad cow disease. A few posts later, likely in the early hours of April 30 after the PD Diary broadcast, it was announced that on May 2 from 7-10pm a candlelight vigil would take place at Cheonggye Plaza. I would imagine that other websites contributed to the vigil, but the antimb cafe members took it upon themselves to organize it and release posters with the cafe's name on them.

Of course, there was more than just PD Diary's broadcast that was influencing people and led so many to join the vigil on May 2. That day, the Chosun Ilbo described the aftermath of the broadcast in an article titled "Going Overboard with Mad Cow Scare":
After the program aired, photographs parodying the government's opening of Korea to American beef were posted on the Internet, with titles like "crazy cow" or "the government's policy of genocide has begun." Comments posted on the Internet by a television actress, saying it would be better to drink acid than eat American beef, were also widely viewed.
Another Chosun Ilbo article from that day continued:
The impending resumption of imports of U.S. beef has spawned a proliferation of rumors on the Internet about the perils of mad cow disease, amplifying confusion and fears among consumers.

The personal blog of President Lee Myung-bak, who promised that resuming import of U.S. beef will bring high-quality and low-priced beef to the table, has been virtually shut down by Internet users who bombarded it with messages protesting against the decision.

Even madly unscientific rumors like, “Jelly, cookies, a broiled dish of sliced rice pasta and pizza will cause mad cow disease,” or, “Cosmetic products, sanitary napkins, and diapers are also risky because parts of cattle are used in production,” exhorting consumers to hoard such items before the imports, are spreading on the Internet.

Some radical critics of the import of U.S. beef are taking this issue politically further still, organizing an online petition to impeach the president. As of 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, 418,000 people have signed the petition on Daum, one of the largest Internet portal sites in Korea.
That article is way off in its appraisal of the petition, which was started April 6, almost two weeks before the announcement that US beef would be allowed back into Korea. Still, its useful for dating the appearance of the internet rumors regarding mad cow disease, which seem to have come in the wake of the PD Diary episode.

One of my adult students in his early twenties told me about the appearance of these rumors on On the message boards there, comments on posted messages can be rated. Those comments that are clicked several times with a good rating rise to the top, and can be seen right at the bottom of the original message. Comments with 5 or more negative ratings sink out of sight. It was by abusing this that commenters were able to leave these rumors (he gave the example of sanitary napkins being said to spread mad cow disease) on messages on many sites, making it clear that the messages were being spread deliberately. Even messages that had nothing to do with politics, messages dealing with personal problems, advice columns, sports boards, etc, were 'infected', so to speak by the virtual mad cow virus.

Or to use another metaphor, PD Diary set the fire, the rumors posted on popular sites all over the internet fanned the flames, and the candlelight vigils, also organized by online communities like the antimb cafe (and provided with a visual brand image by sites like provided a solution, an outlet for the mix of exaggerated fear and legitimate concern being stirred up - for the people, that is. For members of these sites, especially the antimb cafe - aka the National headquarters for the movement to impeach Lee Myung-bak - the rumors and fears provided them with the means to take to the streets and occupy public space in the time honored way. Occupying and closing down cyberspace like the president's website is not enough, at least not yet.

Speaking of "the mad cow brand," a
group of students can be seen holding signs at the May 2 rally.

As I've mentioned, Gord Sellar was also there for the first rallies on May 2 and 3 and took photos. As I've mentioned before, the Donga Ilbo wrote that
Among the protesters at Saturday [May 3]’s candlelight vigil against the resumption of U.S. beef imports, 70 to 80 percent were middle and high school students.
Feel free to look through the photo gallery at the bottom of this Donga Ilbo article from May 3, and see if it's actually "70 to 80 percent" students. This Donga Ilbo article from May 5 is rather interesting:
The Korea Alliance for Progressive Movement posted a guideline for the “fight against mad cow disease” on its homepage Sunday. The guideline said, “Let us roll up our sleeves to help more people express their anger. Let us plan candlelight vigils in all regions of the nation.”

“Let us organize emergency meetings in every region and publicize unified public action guidelines.” The group said it will “declare war” after holding an emergency meeting in Seoul [tomorrow] afternoon and hold a vigil at Seoul Cheonggye Plaza at 7 p.m. every day.

The alliance is comprised of 37 groups including the Korea Farmers’ League; the progressive Democratic Labor Party; the Korea Federation of University Student Councils; Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities; and the Pan-Korean Alliance for Unification.

An event to “nullify the import of mad cow disease” in downtown Seoul Saturday was organized by the Mad Cow Disease Public Supervisors under the Korea Alliance Against the Korea-U.S. FTA, led by the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.

A television program was also aired on the danger of mad cow disease on the group’s homepage. Viewers were also encouraged to cut and paste video clips showing cows and people infected with the disease and Mp3 song files to other sites. Groups are also urging each person to relay text messages to 10 people to participate in the vigils and post ads on blogs and bulletin boards.
I like the phrase, "help more people express their anger." Who knew that civic groups were actually anger management organizations? Since the Donga Ilbo (and the Chosun and Joongang) were reporting on the internet rumors the same day, The sentence "Groups are also urging each person to relay text messages to 10 people to participate in the vigils and post ads on blogs and bulletin boards," seems to be rather convenient, especially since as time passed it has never been made clear where these messages came from. The Donga Ilbo may well be right, but I'm leery of trusting that remark without some evidence.

What really hit me when reading that article above was that it sounded like the civic groups were scrambling to organize after the May 3 rally: "
Let us organize emergency meetings in every region" sounds rather improvisational, and saying that the "Mad Cow Disease Public Supervisors under the Korea Alliance Against the Korea-U.S. FTA" (and PSPD) organized the May 3 rally seems off, considering the rally had been planned on the antimb cafe a week before (though they didn't expect many to show up). It seems more likely that the May 2 rally was a bit of a surprise, and that these groups joined in and rushed to add more to the next rally on May 3 (like a stage and sound system). Note that in this May 5 article, 37 groups are a part of the alliance. On May 7, the Joongang Ilbo reported that
Meanwhile, several protests opposing the beef deal broke out across the country yesterday, while some 1,500 civic groups formed a joint council to organize additional candle-light vigils and demonstrations on May 9 and 16.
It would soon become 1700 groups as vigils were organized throughout the country. After the internet-organized May 2 candlelight vigil, mainly organized by an online community dedicated to impeaching Lee Myung-bak, was successful, other groups and political parties throughout the nation began to pile on, causing the protest numbers to swell. The mad cow ghost stories and text messaging by students brought lots of students into the streets, but their participation was exaggerated by right wing media wanting to discredit the rallies, and by left wing media wanting to believe the youth were rising like it was April 1960 again.

The process described above sounds somewhat similar to what happened in 2002. In a 2007 paper by Ronda Hauben entitled "Online Grassroots Journalism and Participatory Democracy in South Korea," she traced the 2002 candlelight protests back to a posting by an angered internet user who was known online as AngMA, and who posted on several web forums a call to go to Gwanghwamun carrying candles after the drivers of the military vehicle were acquitted. Of course, what led to that was months of organizing by anti-US military groups whose propaganda (spread on websites and in the media) convinced this user that a grave injustice had been done. Once thousands showed up to answer his call, these same groups piled on and tried to enlarge and direct the rallies, calling for the revision of SOFA.

I think its important to note that the organizers of the May 2 candlelight vigil were dedicated to impeaching Lee Myung-bak (or at least used that concept to denote their opposition to him), and used the fear of BSE tainted beef to draw people to their rallies before other groups joined. As Scott Burgeson has written,
in effect, US beef was used as a kind of stealth WMD by opponents of the newly installed Lee Myung-bak administration, in order to put a check on his various neoliberal policies (including privatization of numerous state companies and services).
The protesters have wrung numerous concessions from the president, such as canceling the canal, and canceling the privatization of many companies, as well as preventing the shipping of beef older than 30 months to Korea. The protests continue, with fewer attending, despite such concessions, and photos like this are likely not going to make the public very supportive of the remaining protesters.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Magok Station Opens

Magok Station opened last Friday. Known as the 'ghost station,' it is 2 stops before Gimpo airport and was open for a few months when Line 5 first opened in 1996, but soon closed because it's in the middle of farmland. These days it's still in the middle of farmland, but this new development led to the construction of a new road which connects to Gonghangno near Magok Station, so the station has been re-opened after 12 years. I've looked at the opening of Line 5 before, and photos of Magok Station's construction can be seen here. Here's what its single entrance looked like last summer:

Here it is yesterday:

This skylight has always been there, but I never noticed it because it used to be surrounded by buildings which suddenly disappeared and no trace of them can be found. Weird.

Here's what the entrance looked like a month ago. The roof structure had been removed.

Here it is today:

They spruced it up quite a bit. Before they started renovating it, you could go down the steps and peer through the shuttered entrance, like I did last summer:

What was interesting was that, as it hadn't been used since 1996, 4 years before the new Romanization system was put in place, the sign above uses the old Romanization and writes 'Panghwa' with a 'p'. That's been corrected:

If you notice all the columns in the older photo, you can tell that temporary walls have been put in place. I'd imagine new entrances will be built before too long.

A maintainance worker I used to teach said he had to come here every night to check on the station, and that two people had killed themselves there (presumably by walking through the tunnel to get there). He said it was a bit spooky at night.

I guess someone else had the same idea as I did.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

PD Diary's tradition of ethical reporting

Update - Here is the Mad Cow Disease episode of PD Diary on Youtube (some screenshots have been added below):

Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 PD Diary as been criticized lately for its US beef report which set off fears of mad cow disease here. First, there was its faulty use of genetics:
In a thesis published in a foreign scientific journal in 2004, Kim said 94.3 percent of Koreans carried a gene called MM (methionine-methionine). That’s a much higher ratio than the 37 to 38 percent of Americans or Britons who carry that gene. Until now, all 207 humans around the world who have contracted CJD are said to possess the MM gene. Based on this, the MBC news program “PD Diary” broadcast a segment saying Koreans were two to three times more likely to contract CJD than Americans or Britons.
"Cow with Mad Cow Disease"
Then there was its use of images of downer cows, which did not have mad cow disease, along with another claim that it was told to apologize for:
The MBC news program “PD Diary”, which broadcast the report on mad cow disease showing a staggering cow being dragged into a slaughterhouse and an American woman in her 20s said to have died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease -- the human form of the bovine disease -- has been ordered by the Press Arbitration Commission to air a statement saying the two key points made by the program are untrue.
The claim about the woman who died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was also problematic:
"PD Diary" allotted 14 minutes of airtime reporting on the woman who died earlier this year, and carried an interview of her mother saying her daughter may have died from "CJD" (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). The news program carried a translated subtitle of the mother's comments, which misquoted her as saying the probable cause of her daughter's death was "vCJD". VCJD is a disease caused by eating beef from cattle infected by mad cow disease, while CJD is a disease that has nothing to do with cows. "PD Diary" portrayed a person who died of an illness completely unrelated to eating beef as having perished for just that reason.
The woman talking said, "The results had come in from the MRI and it appeared that our daughter could possibly have CJD." As can be seen above, PD Diary subtitled it "vCJD (Human Mad Cow Disease)." The photos of the victim in the hospital (just one of several victims shown to viewers) likely made a strong impact. It has also been confirmed that this woman did not die from vCJD. There is actually a section of the program that interviews people in the US who are critical of the system there, which might have been a worthwhile program if the show had compared it to Korea's system. Oh, and not lied about some of the strongest images in the show. It was likely the clip of a CNN report from earlier this year about downer cows being slaughtered and their meat sold and used in school lunches that provided the seed that would germinate into a fear that this kind of meat would end up in Korean students' school lunches. With such blatantly wrong subtitles and lies, its surprising the government didn't try to combat it more at the time. Having missed its opportunity then, the government has decided to take action now:
The Ministry for Agriculture, Food, Forestry and Fisheries on Tuesday said it will file civil and criminal charges against the MBC current affairs program “PD Diary.”
Is there precedent for charging a broadcaster in Korea? I don't know, but there's certainly precedent for PD Diary's behaviour. The program may now be remembered for being right about Hwang Woo-suk, but there were some problems:
On Nov. 22, [2005] “PD Diary” aired its expose, including revelations that the junior researchers donated egg cells and women were paid for occyte donations. The “PD Diary” producers have reportedly commissioned an independent authority to check Hwang’s documentation. [Later,] MBC's “PD Diary” said a researcher on Hwang’s team who took part in the somatic cloning of stem cells claimed the results published by Science in 2004 were a collection of falsehoods. [...] The geneticist’s side says “PD Diary” turned members of the team against one another and used hidden cameras in their efforts to dig up dirt on Hwang.
MBC would take its criticism of Hwang further:
[On] Thursday [December 1] on its Newsdesk program, Munhwa Broadcasting Co. reported that the producers of the documentary program “PD Notebook” had conducted DNA analyses on five cloned stem cells that they received from Dr. Hwang and that two of those cells did not have DNA matches with the original somatic cells. The news program reported that the DNA in the three others was “unreadable.”
Criticism mounted against MBC for taking on a national hero, and PD Diary was pulled off the air. It was announced on December 6 that
Korea’s broadcasting watchdog could punish MBC’s investigative program “PD Diary” over alleged strong-arm tactics in digging the dirt on cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk and his team.
MBC quickly responded:
Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation will suspend the producers of PD Notebook for violating journalistic ethics in the process of making a documentary questioning the authenticity of stem cell celebrity Hwang Woo-suk’s results.
There's nothing like violating journalistic ethics in order to report on the ethical lapses of others. The Joongang Ilbo editorialized on this (and reported on such investigative shows in Korea):
The MBC network’s program, PD Notebook, is under fire over ethics issues. The program had violated journalistic ethics by threatening sources with arrest. Even if it turns out that Dr. Hwang Woo-suk’s papers were faulty, as PD Notebook claimed, its illegal methods would still be a problem. The inappropriate investigation and coverage affect the credibility and accuracy of a report. Journalists pursue exclusive scoops, national interest, social justice and truth. However, they cannot ignore proper procedures and steps.
On January 10, another Joongang Ilbo editorial looked at PD Diary's triumph after it was put back on the air, calling it "victorious yet tarnished." As it produced more shows criticizing Hwang's work, readers were told that the "Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation will air a program tomorrow questioning the veracity of his cloned cow." It's nice to see that PD Diary's interest in cows isn't so new. It was 10 years ago today that the Hankyoreh published an article criticizing PD Diary for its sensationalism, saying that it had no self respect and was interested only in ratings. On June 16, 1998, PD Diary aired an episode titled "Wonjo Gyoje – The teenager’s new part-time job." (interesting that 아르바이트 - arbeit, or "part-time job" was in use then - I thought it was coined more recently). Using hidden cameras, they talked to girls and even waited outside an inn and followed some of the customers, recording their conversations ("My wife would beat me to death if she knew"). A high school girl says that "Of the 50 girls in my class, 20 are doing wonjo gyoje." PD diary confirms this by... oh wait, it doesn't. Up until that point the Korean media had reported on wonjo gyoje taking place in Tokyo, and how the growing phenonmena of Phone Rooms might lead to it taking root in Korea, but, after searching through every 'wonjo gyoje' article between 1997 and 1999, it seems no one had reported on its existence in Korea until PD Diary did. Irresponsibly reported though it was, the shocking statistic of "40% of girls" did its job. On September 4 the Korea Times reported that
The Commission on Youth Protection under the Prime Minister's Office has intensified legal provisions aimed at cracking down on "casual sex" and prostitution involving minors, it was learned yesterday. Adults found to have given money to minors in return for sex will be put behind bars for up to a year.
The next day, as the Munhwa Ilbo reported on the 9th, two middle school girls 'imitated wonjo gyoje' when they approached a man in his 40s saying "Let's go for drinks together." When he pulled out his wallet to buy cigarettes they tried to steal it, but were caught. Funny how the media was looking for anything that might be akin to wonjo gyoje. It wasn't until October 12 that the first report came of a man arrested on suspicion of having had paid a 14 year old girl 100,000 won to go to a video room with him. This was four months after PD Diary's episode had been broadcast.

The new law was a good idea, but its likely it was influenced by the inflated numbers and sensationalist reporting. "Victorious yet tarnished" would seem to apply to the 1998 and 2005 programs, but this time it's not in possession of the facts, its arguments are full of holes, and the sharks are starting to circle.

Justice for the Miryang victims?

A Joongang Ilbo article from Tuesday titled "Court orders state to pay for ID leak of rape victims" tells us that
The nation’s highest court ordered the state to compensate victims of a high profile 2004 gang rape case for violating their human rights and leaking their identities to the media. Upholding a lower court ruling, the Supreme Court yesterday ruled in favor of two sisters and their mother.
To understand what led to this, you'd have to go back to December, 2004. As a Joongang Ilbo article from December 12, 2004 titled "Outrage sparked by serial rape case" relates:
The case was revealed to the public last week after police raided an Internet cafe in Milyang, Gyeongsang province. They were leading an undercover investigation after a family from Ulsan, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Milyang, reported that their daughters had been repeatedly raped and robbed for over a year by a group of high school boys.

After police rounded up 41 boys from three different high schools in the Milyang region, they found out that the boys had been molesting and threatening five teenage girls, including the two middle school-aged daughters of the parent who reported the case.

(From here)

Police said a 14-year-old girl had been raped as many as 10 times by three to 24 high school boys. The boys reportedly blackmailed her to keep quiet unless she wanted pictures of her rape to be spread around her school. Then she was ordered to bring her younger sister and older cousin, aged 13 and 16, to Milyang. The boys told police that there were two more victims, but police said they are still trying to find out who the remaining victims are.
A Korea Times article from the time explained how the boys met her and then blackmailed her:
The boys allegedly met one of the victims, identified as Choi, 14, through chatting on cell phones, and sexually assaulted her when she visited them in Miryang in January. They then threatened to upload the scene of the assault on the Internet, and lured Choi’s sister and a cousin then raped them as well.
To elaborate, this Kyunghyang Sinmun article from the time says that Choi called the wrong number one day in January 2004 and talked to a high school student in Miryang who eventually invited her to come visit. When she did, she was beaten unconscious and dragged to a yeoinsuk (inn) where 10 high school students raped her. They recorded the assault with a cell phone camera and told her they would upload it and share it and her life would be over. By September 2004 she had returned 9 times, with 4-5 boys raping her each time. She brought her 16 year old cousin with her in January, and her 13 year old sister in July.

A Donga Ilbo article, "Police Once Again Hurt Victimized Middle School Girls," looked at the reasons the state will have to compensate the girls.
In the criminal case office room of South Ulsan police station during the afternoon of December 7, 10 boys accused of sexual assault were standing side-by-side in a single line.

A few minutes later, the police detectives brought in victim A with them and told her to point out their assailants. “A” pointed out few of the assailants with hesitation. Even though the alleged assailants were face-back to her, “A” couldn’t lift her head because she was too scared and shocked that she was standing in front of them again.

During the investigation of most criminal cases, and undoubtedly sexual assault cases, it is a standard procedure to make sure that the faces of the victims or the witnesses are not exposed. However, ignoring such procedures, the police exposed the victims to the assailants in the office where the suspects were interrogated.

Prior to this, “A” was beseiged by “H” (22) and other family members of the assailants as she was heading to the police station, receiving threats such as, “Let’s see if you can sleep well after reporting to the police. Watch out.”

A police related official explained, “The room to winnow the assailants is too small for more than one assailant to go in, so we have asked beforehand for the victim to point out the assailants.”

Meanwhile, it has been found that on the same day, Kim (39), a police senior patrolman of South Ulsan police station, insulted “A” in his office, saying, “My hometown is Miryang, and you girls have brought disgrace on the city.’’ The South Ulsan police station is planning to submit Kim to grave disciplinary punishment.
A post at the Marmot's Hole at the time describes what the officer actually said:

“Weren’t you girls waving your asses around and [kept] going there because you liked it? My hometown is Miryang, and you’ve destroyed the reputation of the town.”

The Donga Ilbo article continues:

Also, even though “A” requested a female police officer, saying, “Let me be questioned by a female police officer,” after the first or second questioning, it has been revealed that the male police officers questioned her because “there are too many alleged suspects and there aren’t any professional investigators among the female police officers.”

Perhaps this is a professional investigator? (from here)
On the arrest report announced on December 7 and the materials handed out to reporters, the police have stated that “A” (14,•Middle School Three) and her little sister (13,•Middle School Two) were sexually assaulted twice in July and September in Changwon and Miryang. However, both the victims and the assailants conceded that the little sister was not sexually assaulted but only hit with a blunt weapon.[...]

In the beginning, the police said, “Among the 41 boys caught, we have arrested 17 boys who directly participated in the sexual assault and we are still tracking down the 75 people who have not yet been brought in for questioning.” However, the police only arrested a total of 12 people, three people on December 8 and nine people on December 11, booking 29 others without detention. On Sunday, six days after gathering the accused high school boys, the police closed the investigation, saying, “No additional criminal acts have been revealed.”

Furthermore, the police have posted a statement of apology on their homepage, stating that “ignoring the demand for a female police officer to question the victims and for a police officer to insult the victims was indeed a wrongful act.”
The apology was likely a response to the outrage by netizens. As the 2004 Joongang Ilbo article noted,
the case sparked a demonstration in Gwanghwamun Saturday by 150 persons who decried officials handling the case.

“Police should protect the victims, not abuse them,” yelled one furious protester.
Others were angry that the victims were left unprotected while they and their families were threatened by the boys’ families.
"Rape is dismissed with a caution???"
(From here, where more photos can be found.)

Not mentioned in the English language articles (but described by the Marmot) was the fact that quite a few netizens had found pictures and homepages of the rapists and posted their photos, email addresses and phone numbers and urged other netizens to harass them:

The problem was that quite a few of the photos and names were wrong. The Joongang Ilbo was quick to blame internet porn
This case is a stark example of how diseased our society has become. There is no denying that the disintegration of our home and school education has reached a dangerous level. Adult entertainment industries that have invaded districts and the porn sites on the Internet are drawing our adolescents into sexual crimes. Such an environment is afflicting the moral conscience of our youths.
The Hankyoreh criticized social attitudes:
Citizens are feeling rage at police handling of a major rape case in Miryang. Approximately 40 high school boys took turns raping five middle school girls over the course of a year, and that was shocking enough. The next shock came and turned into rage for the families of the victims and the general public when the police applied for arrest warrants on only three of the boys and "dismissed with caution" (hunbang) the rest.

The police have belatedly announced they will change the investigating team and engage in a rigorous investigation into the actions of the other boys. Most of the perpetrators may be students, but when you think of the unspeakable mental and physical pain inflicted on the girls there must be commensurate punishment.

The case is a demonstration of how twisted the culture of sex is in our society and of the current state of women's rights. The perpetrators held the victims captive in a continuous cycle of sexual violence by threatening them with physical violence and disclosure of videos of what happened. The girls were experiencing terrible suffering and yet did not report what was going on for fear of reprisals and what others would think. It is a tragedy that originated in our society's low level of human rights awareness and a culture of sex that allows tolerance for men while being strict towards women. It was apparent in the way the case was handled as well.
The two sisters who were victimized and their mother filed a claim against the government, which was ruled on in mid-August, 2007, as reported by the Korea Times and the Joongang Ilbo:
The Seoul High Court ruled yesterday that the government must pay 30 million won ($31,560) each to the two teenage sisters, and 10 million won to their mother. They had filed the complaint against the government asking for compensation for the police officers’ illegal investigation procedures and insults made by the officials about the girls.

“It is evident that the victims felt humiliated and insulted by the police officials’ remarks,” said the court ruling. “Making the victims point out a person who sexually assaulted them among 41 suspects lined up in front of them in an open police office also violated police regulations designed to protect the human rights of victims.”
In December 2004, the story of the sisters, now 16 and 18, who were sexually assaulted by 41 high school boys for about a year in Milyang, South Gyeongsang, shocked Korean society. A police official at Ulsan Nambu police precinct asked the victims, “Did you try to entice the guys? You ruined the reputation of Milyang. The boys who would lead the city were all arrested. What are you going to do?” according to the ruling. “I am afraid that my daughter will be like you,” the official also said.

Some police officials went to a karaoke and revealed the names of the victims to hostesses there. “When the victims are teenagers, it is even more necessary to protect them and if the victims directly confront the suspects, the victims can suffer greater damage, such as revenge and more,” said the ruling.

No suspect in the case was convicted of criminal charges and only five were sent to a juvenile correctional center.
No criminal charges? Well, we wouldn't want to ruin these gang rapists' futures by convicting them of anything, now would we? On top of tis, the ruling was obviously appealed, as it was only this week that the supreme court ruled on the case.
“By making the victims identify their attackers in an open area, the police failed to protect the rights of the victims and caused them to suffer humiliation,” the Supreme Court said yesterday in the ruling. “Such an act can never be justified even with the stated claim by the police that they did so to expedite the probe.”

Initially a district court ruled only that police improperly leaked the victims’ identities and set compensation at 15 million won in total. An appeals court said the state was responsible for broader rights violation by forcing the minors to identify their attackers face to face.

Upholding that ruling, the Supreme Court said the state must pay each sister 30 million won and their mother 10 million won. The court said another factor in its ruling were comments made by a police officer that the girls had hurt Milyang’s reputation.
It's not really a whole lot for their trouble, is it? Hopefully it brings the victims some sense of closure - the justice system certainly didn't provide it by punishing their attackers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Targeting the webcasts?

An article or two of note:

Lee warns of the evils of the Internet
Lee stressed that he is convinced the Internet, if adequately utilized, can greatly contribute to resolving many problems facing mankind, including energy shortages, climate change and aging societies.
Don't forget changing lead into gold! I have a feeling "adequately utilized" should have been "properly utilized. " Another article:

Afreeca head accused of pirating
The arrest of Nowcom head Mun Yong-sik has stirred up the already angry masses who have been staging protests against President Lee Myung-bak for the past month. Prosecutors arrested Mun Monday night on charges of illegally distributing pirated films through online storage services that Nowcom operates. The storage services, PD Box and Club Box, have 9 million and 8 million registered members, respectively.

Nowcom also operates the self-broadcasting Web site Afreeca (, which has become one of the most popular Internet forums for protesters to get information on rallying points and riot police presence. Demonstrators also use the site to upload footage from the anti-U.S. beef rallies that they recorded with camera phones and camcorders.
This Korea Times article, which looked at the webcasting of the protests, gives some figures on the number of viewers:
According to Korean Click, an Internet media research firm, the number of visitors to Afreeca and OhMyNews has more than doubled over the last one month. They had an average of 600,000 visitors per week before, now almost 2 million.Another company Rankey's research showed that 720,000 people watched the rally through Afreeca over the night from May 31 to June 1 ― more than double the figure two weeks before on May 18.
The Joongang Ilbo article continues:
Some say [the webcasting] is what’s really behind Mun’s arrest. “The arrests naturally make us question whether the government authorities are conducting this probe with a politically motivated intention to prevent the expansion of candlelight vigils,” the company said in a statement posted on
I'd assume that if this was about piracy, the prosecution would be told to back off for the moment and not arrest the head of a popular webcasting company at this rather sensitive time. Which tends to make me think the arrest is entirely political. [Or I may be totally wrong about this].

The prosecution disagrees:
Prosecutors said is not the target of the investigation. “The film industry has been filing lawsuits against online storage services since March,” said Koo Bon-jin, a senior prosecutor at the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office. “Our investigation is focused on how these storage services are involved in circulating pirated films.”

He said that users are offered free storage services, but the services charge them by the number of bytes they download. This, he said, amounts to illegal distribution of pirated films. He also said the probe found that there were up to 9,000 pirated films stored in Mun’s service.
I'd suggest bittorrent as an alternative, but decentralization and Korea go together like ketchup and cupcakes.

Mmmmm. Cupcakes.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lee Myung Bak's new design for Namdaemun

I found this here. Very clever. I also found these photos here:

Lets have the kids throw water balloons at the bulldozer bullrider! I'd love have a conversation with an anthropologist and a psychologist and have them analyze this: "A rite of passage." "The bull represents danger." "Oh, and the man in the suit represents finality and death." "The water balloon represents life." "Thus we see how life is crushed so easily by danger and death." "Yes, this ritual serves to warn the child of the dangers that lie ahead." "That, or kids just like to smash water balloons against anything."

Anyways, I thought I'd add to the fun. Forget 'candlelight girls' - it's time for 'arson girls!'

Coming to a Blue House near you!

Note that this post has a few new photos, and this post has an update.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Thoughts on the continuing protests

[Update: I added a few photos and links below]

Here are some of the more interesting articles on the protests these days:

At Global Voices Online, there is a somewhat humourous take on the current situation, as a netizen asks how to break up with a certain man. Less humourous is the story of a middle school teacher who supposedly spoke out in favour of allowing US beef into the country and had his phone number and information spread on the internet, forcing him to cancel his cell phone service.

I'd joked before about how candlemakers might be the real driving force behind these protests, but, as this article tells us, the candlemakers aren't profitting so much, though other businesses are:
A domestic candle makers’ association on Tuesday said that its members cannot meet demand. Rally organizers estimate that around 400,000 candles were used during just the June 6 to 10 period. Local discount retailer Lotte Mart said that its candle sales shot up around 28 percent from May 5 to 16, compared to last year. But all is not a bed of roses for candle makers.

Though sales went through the roof, suppliers complain that because of a small profit margin, they aren’t raking it in. Instead, due to the rise in energy costs, paraffin costs have gone up to 2,000 won ($2) per kilogram (2.2 pounds) compared to 1,000 won last year. Some say they are actually losing money.

“With these candlelight rallies, people think that we [candle makers] are making big bucks. In reality, we’re losing money supplying more candles,” said an owner of a candle manufacturing company in Gyeonggi Province.
Convenience stores near the protest sites are doing well, however, as are others:
On the other hand, Nowcom, a local online services company, should be smiling ear-to-ear. Its Afreeca Internet broadcasting service has featured live broadcasts of the rallies. The company said that it hit a record number of viewers. From May 25 through yesterday, it had 7.8 million viewers. On Tuesday, Afreeca showed 1,357 live broadcasts with 700,000 people tuned in
This Korea Times article took up the topic of the webcasting of the protests further:
A lot of Koreans have been staying up all night these days. They are... watching "matches'' between demonstrators and police during candlelit vigils on various Web sites. Afreeca and other Internet sites have Webcasted the rallies live, using video cameras and laptops and taking advantage of the world's best wireless Internet technology. Among popular Webcasters are Color TV of the New Progressive Party, OhMyNews, Voice of People, Seebox and Radio 21.

Kim Young-il, a 32-year-old office worker, watches the broadcasting through Afreeca, one of the Internet sites, until 2 or 3 a.m. whenever he cannot go and participate in the demonstrations. "When I cannot take part in the rally myself due to fatigue or late work, I watch the Webcasting instead. In that way, I support the demonstrators who chant slogans on the streets and sometimes clash with police,'' Kim said.
Protests as spectator sports? Or webcasting as interactive game?
Some people join in the rallies at night after watching the internet footage. "I was watching Color TV at night between May 31 and June 1 when the most violent clashes occurred and police fired water cannons. Seeing many protesters injured, I thought that I should do something for them and rushed to the demonstration site,'' an Internet user with the ID "kiyeoun obba'' said on a Daum community site.

According to Korean Click, an Internet media research firm, the number of visitors to Afreeca and OhMyNews has more than doubled over the last one month. They had an average of 600,000 visitors per week before, now almost 2 million.
The organizers of these vigils have announced the contours of future protests, saying they will continue until at least June 20:
The People's Association for Measures Against Mad Cow Disease, which has been organizing candlelight vigils against the import of U.S. beef, warned Wednesday it would launch an impeachment campaign against President Lee Myung-bak if the government fails to begin an all-out renegotiation of the beef deal with the U.S. by June 20. In a statement, the coalition of over 1,700 civic groups including the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, urged the government to nullify the existing agreement and negotiate the deal from scratch. “If the government decides to ignore the mandate from the people, who hold the sovereign power in this country, we will not hesitate to launch a campaign to drive President Lee Myung-bak out of office,” the statement read.

The Association added it will continue candlelight vigils until June 20. The protesters are organizing large-scale rallies on Friday, which marks the sixth anniversary of the death of two schoolgirls killed by a U.S. armored car, and also on Saturday, the funeral of the late Lee Byung-ryeol who burned himself to death to protest against the import in Jeonju. They will also hold a big event on Sunday, the eighth anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit. The candles will not be snuffed out for at least this month, as the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions is scheduled to lead summer strikes soon.
It's interesting to go back to the beginning of the protests and see how they started. Gord Sellar attended the first two nights of protests, and posted photos of them. This is how the Donga Ilbo characterized the second protest, on Saturday May 3, in an article titled "Brainwashed by the Internet":
Among the protesters at Saturday [May 3]’s candlelight vigil against the resumption of U.S. beef imports, 70 to 80 percent were middle and high school students. The majority of the students were also girls.
Gord, in this excellent post, where he describes the protests as a "the postmodern equivalent of a peasant uprising," comments on this:
[T]he Korean media has, finally, stopped pretending that everyone at these demonstrations are middle schoolers. It was a lie from the start — I know because I was at the first two demonstrations, and saw the vast majority of people were adults with my own two eyes; Lime saw the same the other day, with Catholic clergy and office workers and mommies with babies in tow all together — and the lie has outworn its usefulness. (Foreign commentators on Marmot’s persist in clinging to it, unsurprisingly.)
An example of how newspapers like the Joongang Ilbo tried to belittle the protests and cherry picked the most ridiculous comments made by young participants was translated by Korea Beat:
13-year old middle school student Go, who came to the vigil after finishing an exam at school, said, “on the fan site for Dongbangshingi I saw a message saying let’s gather in Yeouido. I’m here because of Dongbangshingi.”

Many came because of what they read on the internet. 21-year old Myongji University student Kim Seon-ah said, “I received a message that said let’s stop mad cow disease, there is a candlelight vigil. So I came.”
What I don't understand are people (I'm thinking of Marmot's Hole commenters) who claim that one of the reasons for these protests is the very unscrupulous reporting by the Korean media (such as PD Diary). They then go on to show how illogical the protesters are by using examples provided by the... Korean media. Is it just me, or does that seem just as illogical as they say the protesters are?

As I'll look at in the sequel to this post, the choice of locations for these protests is distantly related to anti-Americanism, and to be sure, many of the organizations taking part in organizing the vigils are opposed to the FTA or American policies, and no one is concerned about beef from other countries (or Korean beef), but as noted by Scott Burgeson, who has been attending the protests every night for weeks and talking to the participants (and who has posted some of his observations and experiences here), the tenor on the ground is one of opposition to Lee Myung-bak. As Gord Sellar noted, "beef was the catalyst, beef is a vehicle, and it’s certainly a “folk devil.”" Burgeson noted that "there was a kind of pivot early on where it switched from being anti-US beef to being a broad coalition against 2MB". He also noted on June 7 that "As soon as you try to define this thing it turns into something else." Clicking on any of the comments or posts on this page will display photos he's taken during the last month of protests.

I've seen posts in the English language Korean blogosphere pointing out that vigil organizers were going to commemorated the deaths of Shin Hyo-sun and Shim Mi-seon, the two middle school girls run over by a US military vehicle on June 13, 2002 (for more background on the incident, this post at ROK Drop is well worth reading, and the Metropolitician offers his analysis of those that used their deaths to create a protest movement against the US military). Some of the commentary I've read recently has been saying, "See? They're going to include these girls' deaths in the anti-beef protests! That means this movement is [overtly] anti-American!" No it doesn't. Candlelight vigils have been held in the same places as the current vigils are taking place every year since the girls died. The inclusion of a memorial for the girls should be of no surprise whatsoever to anyone who has been paying attention to how they've memorialized over the past few years.

Above is a photo of the memorial vigil held in 2003 at City Hall (before Seoul Plaza was built), which is the same place the vigil was held this year. In 2004 and 2005, the girls' deaths were commemorated with vigils at Gwanghwamun. In 2006 there was a problem: June 13, the anniversary of their deaths, was the date of Korea's first World Cup game:

(The "up" isn't necessary... (from here))

The Hankyoreh criticized those celebrating in the streets for forgetting the anniversary of the girls' deaths, though a small memorial was held near Gwanghwamun. In 2007 a vigil was held at Cheonggye Plaza.

I planned on posting this a few days ago, and was going to say, yes, there is a certain kneejerk dislike of America that lies behind these protests, at least for some of the participants, but the true measure of just how overtly anti-American these protests are will be seen if the incorporation of the memorialization of these girls continues and becomes a focal point in the demonstrations. If it turns out to be a one or two day memorial for the girls, then it should be clear that the ghosts of 2002 are not as prominent as some would like to think.

The Korea Herald article "Candlelight vigils mark deaths of schoolgirls" describes the vigil yesterday:
Thousands gathered in central Seoul yesterday to commemorate the deaths in 2002 of two schoolgirls who were crushed by a U.S. military vehicle. The solemn candlelight vigil at Seoul Plaza was dominated by protests against U.S. beef imports and calls for resignation of President Lee Myung-bak. The rally was joined by a coalition of civic groups leading daily rallies against U.S. beef import deal.
Last night's vigil came just three days after the massive candle light march on Tuesday, where up to 700,000 took to the streets, according to the civil alliance, "People's Action for Countermeasures Against Mad Cow Disease." Only hundreds gathered briefly on Wednesday and Thursday due to the rain and fatigue.
The photo above is from this page, which shows both those mourning the girls and those protesting against Lee Myung-bak. This blog also has photos of the vigil.

This says 30,000 took part, but I have to seriously question that number. Some of the protesters (this article says 10,000) at City Hall then marched via Seosomun and Maporo across the Mapo Bridge to Yeouido to join people who have since Wednesday been holding a sit-in in front of KBS (apparently the sit-in was to go all night).

Today the funeral of Lee Byung-ryeol, who burned himself to death during a protest in Jeonju on May 25, was held at City Hall.

If the portrait above seems familiar, it seems designed to look similar to this portrait of Lee Han-yeol, who was fatally injured on June 9, 1987. Here is the same portrait being used at that time:

I have my doubts that Lee Byeong-ryeol's portrait will replace the 'candle girls'.

Perhaps worth noting is that tonight's protest took place at Gwanghwamun and City Hall.

If you look at the photos from the protest tonight, you'll notice that Lee's photo turns up several times, but the most visible signs are anti-Lee Myung-bak (or anti-beef). I didn't see any photos of Shin Hyo-sun and Shim Mi-seon, or any slogans related to them. I'd say with the amount of Anti-Lee slogans being displayed, as well as the march to Yeouido, and the funeral of Lee Byeong-ryeol, and the anniversary (tomorrow) of the 2000 inter-Korean summit, those who would use the deaths of the girls to turn things in an overtly anti-American direction aren't going to have much luck, as there are too many other anniversaries to commemorate at the moment.

Oh, and a little historical anniversary I forgot from last week: On June 3, 1964, Korea University students marched against the upcoming normalization treaty between Korea and Japan. Many students were arrested, including the student president, who can be seen in the center of the photo during his trial (after which he would apparently serve six months in prison):

It's always interesting to see photos of Lee Myung-bak when he had more hair.