Friday, March 30, 2012

North Korea Fires Missiles. Nothing Actually Changes

Reuters reports that North Korea has launched some short range missiles.
Japan has issued orders to shoot down the missiles.
They're short range missiles -- not the long-range ones they'd been talking about, and had been universally warned and roundly criticized about.

I heard about it first on Twitter, at this guy's page.

But this does not change anything. North Korea continues stomping its feet, in order to make sure the Nuclear Summit is about them, and not anyone else. Whether North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-eun was behind this new plan, or whether one of Kim Jong-il's advisers is simply urging a continued, consistent policy, is unclear. However, North Korea remains true to its longtime policy of wild swings in word and deed, as an effort to grab international attention, play allies/rivals against each other, and extract as much aid as possible.

The fact the missiles were short-range, not the long-range ones we'd heard about, was a calculated move, I think. It's another example of North Korea's continuing balancing game of acting out, but staying just enough on THIS side of the pale that they can trick people into thinking it's worth negotiating with them (in exchange for aid!)... and then acting out again to make sure everybody remembers they're crazy and unpredictable, so it's important to pay attention to them and try to engage them! Their irrational behavior is actually very rational, and calculated, and various world polities have been taking the bait like suckers since the cold war.

Two good ways to think of North Korea are Hillary Clinton's hilarious assessment that it's like "An Unruly Teenager" (North Korea's prickly response to her comment is even funnier: I heard Kim Jong-il challenged her to a fight by the swingset at 3:30)

...or that North Korea is basically the geopolitical equivalent of an internet troll, doing whatever it can to get a reaction. We figured this out when North Korea's envoy to the United Nations started shouting "FIRST!" at the opening of the UN's General Assembly meetings.

As everybody who deals with internet trolls and melodramatic teenagers knows, the best way to deal with them is to ignore the histrionics, and maintain the original policy, lest a response be read as reinforcement of the drama-queen strategy.

One of the best pieces of North Korea analysis remains this piece from One Free Korea: "How To Disarm Kim Jong-il (now Kim Jong-eun, of course) Without Bombing Him"

Another one: (original map:)

It's actually not a bad fit.

My blog's licensed under Creative Commons, which means you're allowed to use these troll images... but please give me credit and a link. And if you make one of your own that's really funny, leave a link in the comments below!

Monday, March 26, 2012

ATEK is Dead; let's Bury it: What Next

This is part two of a two-post series about the demise of ATEK. Please read Part One first.

What next:

First thing:
I'm informed that all ATEK's e-mail addresses except the two still being used by the two active officers, have been deleted, so all e-mail records are deleted with them. If ATEK is to be retired, I think a fair thing to ask is that the ATEK website forums be closed, and all the website forum member data stored in the member IDs be deleted, so that I know the information I entered into ATEK's website or sent to the membership officer when I joined, won't appear elsewhere. I don't want to get random e-mails from god-knows-who saying "hey. You signed up for ATEK, so now I'm here to tell you about OUR English teacher thing." I'll sign up for THAT one if I'm interested. I haven't received any e-mails from ATEK in about a year, so it might be that the e-mail addresses have already been deleted. I'd be happy to have confirmation of this. The person who has been in charge of membership in ATEK over the last year and some is the single person involved with ATEK whom I respect the most for being honorable, honest, and ethical in the way he's carried out his ATEK duties, and his duty has, all this time, been to protect the private information of those who signed up for ATEK. If he confirms that ATEK has officially erased the member data he has, frankly, I trust him.

If another group wants to get started, I think it's best that they start with a blank slate anyway: I'd hate for them to inherit anything else along with ATEK's member data, but I fear that's exactly what would happen if a group decided to revive the idea of ATEK while using ATEK's member data. There's no need to keep that around anymore.

Second thing:
ATEK has to go. The name is toxic. The next organization needs a new name and a fresh start. Let's have no illusions about that.

Third thing:
As I wrote in 2009, in my "On Ugly English Teachers and Racist Korean Journalists"series, the English teaching community is fractured, disconnected, and a whole splayed out web of different needs, according to region, time in country, connection with Korea, type of school, nation of origin, and more. We are far, far less than the sum of our parts right now.

Yes, there are facebook groups, meetups and other informal organizations, and that's good; however, when some politician or journalist chooses the (still) politically easy road of scapegoating English teachers, there (still) isn't any group who can form an articulate, coherent response, and that hurts the English teachers ATEK was trying to represent... and all of us. I have very different ideas about expat community now than I did when I was writing about it so much in 2008 and 2009, but as long as there's no Korean language pushback when the Anti-English Spectrum, or any old Korean journalist or politician runs our name down, the situation won't change all that much. So, unless you like invasive drug and blood tests...

Something is needed.

Fourth thing: 

In the piece I linked just above, I wrote about how long-term expats seem to often go native, to stick to their own, perhaps tired of dealing with the turnover, which means the expats who have the time in country, understanding of the culture, and most of all, language skill, to really lead the charge, often end up looking out for their own instead.

And I'm sorry to say that with a wife and a kid, I now fall into that category. I wish well to anyone who wants to start something, I'll give you some advice on Skype or over the phone, but I won't be at the next KOTESOL conference signing people up for whatever somebody forms. I'm tired, and I already gave it a shot, and somebody has more energy and enthusiasm for it than I do. Somebody without a kid.

I've got a kid and grad school on the pipeline, and many of the friends of mine who were E-visa English teachers, whom I thought of while doing ATEK work, have repatriated, to be replaced by people I don't know, who are way younger than I am, with whom I don't always feel a great deal of connection, and frankly, toward whom I don't feel much obligation, when my baby's smiling at me from across the room. I've become one of the "gone native" expats I wrote about in 2009, and I don't identify myself as an English teacher anymore. The expats I connect with now are usually connections because of their blogs or their long-term status, not because of shared English-teacher status.

So... send me the e-mail, I'll link to the website and the press release, I'll even chat from time to time if you want to ask about how ATEK handled/mishandled a situation that's occurring in the new organization (if you ask nicely), and I'll send anybody who inquires along to you, but don't expect much more from me than that this time. I jumped with both feet, twice, for ATEK - once with Equal Checks, and then again as Communications Officer, and those stand as the two most stressful times in my whole life in Korea, so... I've paid my pound of flesh, and now I've got a family to look out for.

The English Teacher's organization that will succeed:

In looking at the nature of the native English teacher scene in Korea, and the ways ATEK failed and/or almost/could have succeeded, here are some features of the organization English teachers need, that will be able to successfully help English teachers:

1. It will not be one monolithic organization, but a series of affiliated organizations.
Public school teachers.
Elementary school teachers.
University teachers.
Teachers in Jeollado.
Teachers in Seoul.
Teachers from USA.
Teachers from Ireland.
Hagwon teachers in general.
Adult hagwon teachers.
Native English speaking teachers.
Long-term expats.
F-visa holders.
Non-native English teachers in public schools.
Non-native English teachers in hagwons.

and so forth.

People will be members of more than one of these groups (obviously) some may contribute to only one of them, some energetic, optimistic people, will probably help make decisions, or advise, for numerous groups. All groups should look with suspicion on anyone who tries to become an influential part of all of them.

A series of less rigid organizations will be better able to serve the information needs of the different subsets of teachers in Korea, it won't put too much pressure on one person, it will make it harder for English teacher-hate groups to target the leaders, it will make it harder for someone with ulterior motives to try and exploit too many people at once, there won't be any list of all the members in one place, and it will make it easier for each group to articulate the particular needs and concerns of those different subsets.

These affiliated organizations should be loosely enough linked enough that they can each act independently, but closely enough linked that when one group has a pressing need, the other groups can speak in support and solidarity, and keep members abreast of what's happening in other parts of the landscape. Also... closely enough linked to spot someone trying to exert too much influence in too many groups. Because that happens when volunteer groups are concerned.

2. Built for ease and speed of communication.
It might be as simple as a series of twitter accounts that all English teachers in Korea can follow: that would be enough to inform people about changes and concerns, to send people to the links and articles that might interest them, to alert people about petitions or changes in law, or to muster a few people with the Korean skill to translate a document or part of a document, in order to keep everyone informed.

3. Information exchange, not mobilization or representation, will be its main stock in trade
Let's be honest. There have been so many groups trying to create an "all-in-one Expat Korea source" that there's no need to create another. Except perhaps for this one, which is all you need. There are so many blogs and forums discussing English info, and the scene changes so frequently -- a blogger moves to a new host and all his old links go dead (I'm talking about you, Chris in South Korea); the laws change and a formerly dead-reliable page goes outdated; a recruiter closes his/her website; the laws change again, the most informative blogger repatriates -- that there's not really much point in trying to pull it all together in one place, because three months later everything's changed.

But the main thing these groups will do is get vital or useful information, tailored to the specific group, out to that group.

It will get information out proactively: "how to make sure you're covered by health insurance" is a much more important message to send out, than "raise funds for this guy who got hurt and doesn't have health insurance" -- we're responsible for ourselves.

4. But representation will be a limited part of it, and mobilization might be a VERY limited part of it
What kind of representation? Not the "ATEK is the only organization representing over 20 000 Native English teachers in South Korea" overstatement-type... but, for example, a set of Twitter accounts and blog connections, leading to a survey monkey survey that can help add a line like "80% of the 3000 English teachers surveyed strongly oppose this new law..." in a press release... that kind of representation, and the resources to GET that kind of representation, would be fantastic, and if it's links to surveys rather than all-in-one groups with membership lists, presuming to represent, the risk of vainglory goes WAY down.

5. Long-term Expats, F-Visa Holders and Koreans will Provide Much of Its Stability and Continuity, While Short-Term Expats will Provide (Either Some Or a Lot Of) Its Energy
Because it was easiest to verify membership with E-visa holders, ATEK put its main stock in the most transient of visa-holders. This led to a lack of institutional continuity that hurt ATEK a lot: loads of half-finished or barely-begun projects, tons of great ideas with no follow-through. Meanwhile, a few jobsworths (or maybe just one or two) made it unreasonably hard even for very willing non E-2 visa holders to get involved in meaningful ways. This was one of the biggest mistakes ATEK made. A successful expat organization will have long-term expats as the engine of its strength, and the long-term connections, both formal and informal, between them, will create a frame on which those with good ideas can hang their efforts.

6. It will not duplicate what other groups and websites already do, but send people to the places already providing information and services for English teachers, expats, and anyone.
'Nuff said.

So, if you have ideas about what an English teacher group needs or should be, weigh in in the comments. I can't think of much more boring than beating the dead ATEK horse, because that boat has sailed, but if people are interested in new organizations, in forming something more useful, feel free to put a link or an e-mail address in the comments, where people can reach you.

ATEK is Dead; Let's Bury it: A Eulogy


Since 3WM published its "Atek, the Great White Hoax" series, starting almost exactly a year ago, ATEK has gone silent. I've reached out to those who are keeping the website online, and the outlook ain't hot. The bad press has made it pretty much impossible to recruit officers, and without officers, it is impossible for ATEK to help English teachers in the way the organization hoped to in the beginning. ATEK has been without a president since last spring, and its other officers have slowly moved on, or shifted the networks they initially formed through ATEK, along other lines, under other names. ATEK's Facebook groups are mostly spam-catchers, the ATEK name has become radioactive, and whichever English teacher's organization comes next will have to answer some tough questions about why they're different from ATEK, and how they plan to do differently, or better. The ATEK website is basically defunct, though still operating, the English teacher help forums there are silent (except somebody who wants you to buy some video games), and all the ATEK e-mail accounts have been closed but two.

ATEK the organization, and the people involved in it, with a few exceptions, did want to help English teachers, for the most part. Yeah, some were in it for the resume padding or the networking or the ego-gratification, or to try to get a little extra buzz surrounding some other cause or gig they were involved with... but when is that untrue of any volunteer organization, and how does that preclude an organization from helping people, if people can set those agendas aside and focus on the goals of the organization?

It's a shame this group of people couldn't work that out, that for too many of the people involved in the organizational breakdowns, being right became more important than being pragmatic. I suppose that's the drawback of new organizations like this, though: they attract idealists, when they need pragmatists, and the pragmatists get frustrated with the drama, and seek out venues to get stuff done, where they don't have to deal with hissy fits.

Why it failed:

Problem 1:
ATEK talked a bigger game than it actually walked for pretty much all of its existence, promised a little more than it could deliver, and got started on the wrong foot with some of the groups and people it most needed to have supporting it: some of the people who would have provided the leadership, continuity and competency it lacked, and then was too inflexible to find a way to work with some of those people, even when they gave it numerous (probably undeserved) second and fifth chances. And a few people put too much of their personalities into ATEK, in the wrong way, for it to ever quite get completely clean of the stain. While I have well-publicized issues with the 3WM ATEK series, it is more or less accurate in its picture of the ways ATEK got in its own way, and hobbled itself from becoming a more useful organization.

Problem 2:
While some involved in ATEK might still maintain that the online peanut gallery, unwilling to contribute positively, but quick to loudly recount past flaws and wrongs, was mostly responsible for ATEK's demise, I disagree. While they ensured ATEK had a hard time living down its failings, if ATEK had had more successes, those criticisms would have sounded hollow.

Problem 3:
ATEK was brought down by a toxic mix of personalities, pretty much all of whom meant well, at least when they started in, but too many of whom couldn't work together, too many of whom couldn't set aside their egos agendas and vendettas, because of the way they were trying to portray themselves, or their beliefs about the role they had, or personal issues they had with other players, or their desire to please too many people with conflicting views, or their desire to be vindicated taking precedence over the greater good for English teachers. These ugly personality blends submarined the organization just when it was approaching the critical mass it needed to become a useful institution.  A few of the very best people involved in ATEK were too quiet during times when their voices of reason could have provided much-needed calm and leadership, or had already left in frustration, or got booted on technicalities, and so weren't around when their points of view were badly needed.

Problem 4:
ATEK became far too organizationally bloated, far too quickly, and that hampered people who wanted to help out, from finding places where they could help out with the talents they had.

Problem 5:
ATEK depended too much on the part of the foreign English teaching population that is least reliable in the long-term: the E-2 visa, one-year, high-turnover teachers. Some -probably most- of the people in Korea on E-2 visas are amazing people, with great ideas and awesome energy... but when 60-80% of an organization's membership repatriates every twelve months (the average officer served somewhere around six months while I was there, despite officer terms being one year), when nary an officer carries out their full term as an officer because they're changing jobs and countries, it's hard to generate organizational continuity and coherence.

Problem 6:
There had to be a way for people who weren't strictly, rigidly English teachers, even who did have something they wanted out of ATEK (people selling textbooks looking for buyers, recruiters or school HR people looking for recruits, labor law firms looking for commissions, whatever) to contribute to ATEK meaningfully, while remaining honest about what they were in it for. ATEK started working on a disclosure policy far too late.

Problem 7:
ATEK simply bit off way more than it could chew. University teachers, public high school, middle school and elementary school teachers, after-school hagwon teachers, preschool hagwon teachers and adult hagwon teachers each have their own unique needs. F-visa holders and E-visa holders have different concerns and needs, and by trying to address all the various needs of so many overlapping groups, ATEK couldn't do a good job of representing any of them.

Why We Still Need Something Like ATEK:

A year ago, when I wrote about ATEK, I mentioned that with all the back-and-forth over ATEK, we were forgetting this very, very important point:
Anti-English Spectrum is still out there, organized, and active. Anti-English Spectrum members continue putting bugs in the ears of Korean policy makers, and going through foreign English teachers' trash, and "following" them. And English teachers (and various non-English teacher expats) continue cannibalizing their own, rather than mounting/supporting/contributing to an organized response to it.

This remains true. And as long as they exist, and there is no organization representing native English teachers, the Anti English Spectrum will continue to set the terms for how foreign English teachers are portrayed in Korean media, and we don't want that. Unless you like invasive drug and disease tests, and constant resubmission of documents, and being scapegoated.

coming soon:
What next... (read part 2)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Foreign Drug Crime in Korea

Matt, at Popular Gusts, continues documenting the changes in drug-testing laws for English teachers in Korea, with this fantastic post including comparative statistics, a critique of the media narratives about drug-using English teachers, and reflections on the cumbersome new duplication of documentation that is, once again, being required of foreign English teachers in Korea.

You should go read it right now.

We've been over this territory before, lots of times -- these days I'm happily studying and being a dad, so I'm not as knuckle-deep in the English teacher stuff as I used to, but the main boilerplate remains the same:

1. As for the quality of the teachers coming into Korea, you get what you pay for: either in terms of initial pay, or in terms of opportunity for advancement. No career educator is going to stay in Korea teaching English if they have virtually no chance of ever graduating out of "assistant instructor"status, or going higher than "head teacher"(a position I'd been promoted to by my fifth month in Korea, which meant nothing except one night of drinking's worth in cash extra per month.)

2. As for retaining quality teachers who come, if it's too onerous to stay, because of duplication of already-submitted documents, or invasive medical tests that send the message teachers are assumed to be criminals until proven innocent... good teachers, or teachers who aren't wildly passionate about being in Korea, or ones who simply have a lot of dignity, will go elsewhere.

3. As the politics of English education goes, because English teachers don't vote, and don't push back in Korean, they're an easy scapegoat, and rearranging the laws for English teachers, nominally adjusting the requirements and timing of said requirements, is a great way for a politician to look like they're passionately concerned about kids with virtually no political risk whatsoever, because of the narratives already in place.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Limerick about Comment Moderation

Maybe this is a little blogger-referential for some of you... but at least it's short. A version of this poem is now my comment policy.

A brave keyboard warrior named Smee
emboldened by anonymity,
with misogyny bile
and a gospel quite vile
posted ravings and rantings freely.

The good blogger knew not what to do
as the racist and sexist words flew
for a while found it sport
to provoke a retort
but then quickly got tired of the spew.

Yet of late this small weblog could boast
twenty, thirty plus comments per post
all because of one dude
whose cartoonishly rude
comments seemed like a piss-take at most.

But the trashy fun starts getting tired
once the blog's entire content is mired
in a back-and-forth row with
a self-righteous blow-
hard whose kneejerk replies seem hard-wired.

So before your own blog gets derailed
see to it the trolls get curtailed
don't let jerks have their mirth:
a good chat is well worth
the due vigilance that it entailed.

If a commenter's words barely link
to the topic on which the post thinks
don't be shocked if the tangent
leads to rudeness more flagrant:
moderate it as quick as a wink.

And if courtesy seems somewhat lacking
let the trolls know they're in for a smacking:
that you keep a short leash
before hitting delete
so the chat in good faith can get cracking.

And if I'm in a generous mood,
on a whim I might answer the rude
get a couple barbs in
for a kick and a grin...
or it might be a ban for the 'tude

'Cause this here is my website, not yours
so I set all the rules and the mores
if there's stuff you don't like
you can take a quick hike
to more troll-friendly sites by the scores.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Korea's New Adoption Law Is Horrible (one part of it, anyway)

[Update: I'm not adding too much more to this post, because somebody much more knowledgeable about Korea's overseas adoption situation than myself has agreed to write a guest-post with more information.]

Step one:
The Korean adoption issue is a tough one, that involves fundamental identity questions for a lot of people. There's a huge number of people who, before they were old enough to make decisions of their own (though some were old enough to remember Korea), were sent overseas to be raised by an adoptive family. Their experiences with their adoptive families vary greatly, their experiences trying to figure out their position in/among/regarding Korea vary greatly. The official Korean narrative of overseas adoption is one of guilt and shame: while he was president, Kim Dae-jung apologized to overseas adoptees in 1998. For various reasons, Korea continues to send kids overseas for adoption. This, obviously, causes a whole mix of feelings, especially for the adoptees whose experiences of adoption, or exploring the Korean part of their identity, has been one filled with hurt or confusion. I won't deny any of that, and I welcome comments and views from overseas adoptees who read this blog. I also invite links to the websites, articles, blogs, and communities where overseas adoptees find community and understanding.

Now that we're clear on that... Step 2: the post:

I'm disappointed to see South Korean policy makers taking the wrong cues from the USA, in terms of the way it treats women. The Korea Herald reports on a new adoption law that has stirred up some controversy. How do laws like these keep getting passed without public discussion beforehand? 

[Update:I am informed that this idea was developed by a coalition of unwed mothers and adoptee groups.]

Choi Young-hee (we’ve met her before on the k-blogs) has suggested that women who want to give their children up for adoption be forced to keep the baby for a week before giving them up, meanwhile undergoing mandatory counseling about childcare options within Korea, and the types of support available for parents in Korea. It also requires agencies to search for a domestic adoptive family before looking overseas, and requires more rigorous documentation and background checking before approving an adoption.

[Update, thanks to Shannon, a reader:] The thinking behind parts of the law -- in particular cleaning up the shady part of the adoption "industry," pleading for more support for unwed mothers in Korea, and requiring birth registrations so that legally shady adoptions (tantamount to baby-trafficking) stop, are well and good. I am vigorously opposed to the "seven days" part of the law, for a number of reasons.

Number one: Until I see scientific proof Korean women can reproduce asexually, I’m pretty sure it takes two people to make a baby. Not one. Let’s not be stupid... or sexist... which is what this law is, if only the mothers need to undergo counseling. Daddy’s just as responsible for that little bundle of “what’re we gonna do about this” as mommy, and it’s unfair to write laws that only hold mommy responsible, because she’s the one who carries it to term.

Number two: it assumes that the mother is the one choosing to give the baby up for adoption. We all know this is not always the case. The babydaddy, or either pair of grandparents-to-be might be the ones forcing the mother’s hand, even though she might well want to keep the baby. The article also mentions that the decision to adopt his usually been made before birth. Why compound the alone, isolated feeling some single mothers already have, by forcing them to spend a week with a baby they’ve already decided they can’t keep or raise? And if a single mom gets bullied or guilt-tripped into keeping a baby she’s unable to properly care for, and her family disowns her because of the imagined shame, or gets stuck in poverty because there's not enough social support for her to finish high school or college while providing for a baby... who’s to blame for that? Most of all, why not move the counseling to a time before the decision has already been made?

Number three: if part of the motivation for this is the old birthrate thing (to be fair, the article doesn’t explicitly say it is... but when discussing thousands of babies sent away from Korea, the low birthrate usually isn't far behind), then file this one away with cracking down on doctors who administer abortions, and turning off the lights in office buildings for “Go home and fuck day” as half-assed solutions that don’t address the actual problem in any way, in order to make it look like policy makers are trying to address the problem, without actually having to address the problem.

And here’s the problem: Korean parents are choosing not to have babies, or to give up the babies they have, because of the imagined cost of raising a child in a hypercompetitive country, and because of such a dearth of social support for parents, that mothers feel like they must choose between having a career and having a family. Abortion, adoption, late marriages, people opting not to marry, the "gold miss" phenomenon (as it pertains to gold misses not having babies): all these things are merely symptomatic of those two overarching problems.

Until these two problems are addressed, everything else is window dressing. Making it harder for women to get an abortion, or making it harder for a woman to give up a baby she’s financially, emotionally, or just all-around not able to raise, again, is like raising the legal speed limit on Tehran-ro and thinking that will fix the traffic gridlock at rush hour in Kangnam. There are solutions to the problem, but they are fundamental, infrastructural, society-wide, not cosmetic and ad-hoc.

Here are some suggestions that might ACTUALLY convince families to have more kids, and keep the kids they have:

  •  enough social welfare support for kids in single parent OR two-parent families that people no longer cite cost as a reason for not having a kid. 
  • enough open public discussions about single parenthood, and PSA campaigns and the like to encourage support for single parents, that families (not just moms, but the parents of pregnant women, and the next-door-neighbors and sewing-circle and church-group-partners of the moms of pregnant women) don’t see anything wrong with single parent families... or see them as opportunities to display human charity and generosity and community support, rather than ostracism. 
  • mandatory subsidized childcare centers in office buildings large enough to host more than a set number of employees. 
  • expansion of employment options using irregular and flexible hours that will be more amenable for people balancing work and family, but still well-paid enough to make raising a child economically feasible. 
  • stronger laws, with better enforcement, ensuring maternity leave, a job to return to, and non-discriminatory hiring practices towards single parents  
Number four: take a woman who feels trapped by her situation and society, fill her up with the mad cocktail of hormones that childbirth releases, and trap her for a week with a baby she doesn’t want, and pressure her to keep it with mandatory counseling, and friends, we’re going to have some nightmare case where an unstable mom does something horrific either to herself, or heaven forbid, to her baby, in order to escape the situation that makes her feel trapped.

I mean, for goodness sake, is it that difficult to do this counseling BEFORE the baby's born - perhaps in the second trimester, when morning sickness has faded, and before the baby bump gets big enough to hinder mobility, so the mother-to-be can undergo the counseling without having to deal with the mindfuck cocktail of childbirth hormones? Can we also make it mandatory for both parents (if the pregnancy came from consensual sex) and all four grandparents (who will probably be involved in raising the kid)? I'd be a little more OK with that. In fact, I'd be VERY OK opt-in family counseling made available for ALL pregnant women.

But singling out a new mother for forced counseling? Forcing her to do this is inhumane, and a recipe for disaster. Singling women out for this possibly humiliating, distressing, seven-day treatment can be read as slut-shaming at a policy level, and it strikes me as needing to go back to the drawing board. Should we do something about overseas adoption being the go-to option for mothers with unwanted pregnancies, and qualms about abortion? Sure.

But I think we can come up with something better than this. Perhaps (and get ready for this... your mind is about to be blown...) we could ask women who abort, who adopt, and who delay marriage and pregnancy why they feel like they can't keep their babies, and then form policy in consultation with the lot of them?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

This week in a capsule...

It's been about a week since I last posted, and friends, it's been a week of contrasts.

and this

(Play this video 80 times in a row to experience my Tuesday night)

offset by arguing on the internet about making wild unqualified generalizations, laughing at the Indefatiguable Dragon Slayer's back-and-forth with well-known K-blog troll David T (also known as Archaeologist)

and offset again by "Does Modernization Breed Revolution" (not on its own), does identification with a nation-state, or ientification with marginalized communities within a nation-state, lead to political action? (more or less, but less than one would think), what are the sources of rebellion in Western societies? (perceived lack of legitimacy, history of protest, and past successful protests, among other things), and does poverty lead to terror? (nope)

Also... confucianism isn't enough to explain Korea's rapid development on its own... but probably figures in somewhere. It's just really hard to figure out exactly where, and how, and it's hard to come up with ways to measure "culture" as a variable in a social phenomenon, because culture is such a slippery word.

It's been interesting.

Oh... also... Babyseyo's first day trip happened a few sundays ago, when we took him to a convent where Wifeoseyo and I like to visit, and he nearly caused a riot.

The nuns there had prepared a song for us, which is at the end of this video. Absolutely lovely.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Blog Posts of the week Recap: Best link comes last

These are the blog posts I discussed in this week's "Blog Buzz" feature on TBS radio. See you next Thursday!

1. A sober topic:

The Korean translates comments by Joo Seong-ha, a North Korean defector who's been deeply involved in recent efforts to stop the repatriation of North Korean defectors from China. He describes counting the cost of bringing the repatriation story into the news: due to the publicity, there'll be a crackdown in China, and tougher border control in North Korea... that’s a lot of potential human suffering to be caused by a media campaign... yet in Mr. Joo's calculus, border control has been so tight since the transfer of power to Kim Jong-eun anyway, and China's been so tough lately on North Korean defectors (refugees: let's call them what they are) that  Mr. Joo figures things pretty much can’t get any worse... so it’s time to build international pressure. 

Every time I see coverage on this protest, and government leaders adding their voices to the pressure on China, I'm glad.

2. Hub of Tackiness

After a lot of talk about the military base, Lost on Jeju is annoyed about some tourism developments around Jeju: apparently, they're developing Jeju’s coastline at Tapdong -- wrecking the natural coast and pouring concrete to build more tourist attractions...

Though at Iho Beach, development has led to lots of asphalt, but no influx of businesses, so that all you see is a wrecked beach, the redevelopment of Tapdong seems to be going ahead.

Basically... there's a delicate balance that must be reached between developing amenities for tourists, and retaining the charms that initially made a site attractive to tourists. My mind turns to Samcheongdong, which has lost all its original charms, as traditional restaurants and unique cafes have been replaced by waffle cafes, coffee shop chains and accessory shops.

When I saw a "Ripley's Believe it or Not!" museum under construction on Jeju, my heart sank. Importing the worst of tourist trap amenities from the world's other famous tourist traps, doesn't automatically make Jeju Island a world-class tourist destination, any more than getting arrested for tax evasion makes me as famous as Martha Stewart.

Two-fer from INP:
I liked I'm No Picasso's call for more nuance in discussions of Asian masculinity, in this post.

even more, I liked her insights into trying to find the kinds of expats you actually want to hang out with, here: 

This is a risky topic because it’s easy to fall into stereotypes, but basically... there is a spectrum of how seriously people take their time in Korea as an opportunity to learn another culture -- ranging from "Let's drink budweiser and shit-talk Korea" to "Let's study Korean fan dancing together" -- and most expats fall somewhere in between that... but it's important to find people who are at about the same place on the spectrum as you are, so that the level of shit-talk, and the level of "trying to understand" stay at tolerable levels for all involved.

All that to say... don't give up, because those people are out there. INP suggests developing an online presence, whereby you can filter people before meeting them in person, to figure out who's likely to be the kind of person you want to hang with.

Hyori Pushes Back
Every person who's been body-snarked in Korea, or been told they're fat when their body is perfectly within healthy range, has to smile a little inside at Lee Hyori's response to netizens who criticized her no-longer-epically-taut abs.

When Lee Hyori struck back at netizens saying, basically, “well of course people lose a little tone as they get older” I felt a little hope in my heart that maybe fans will start offering their idols a little more leeway to be, um, healthy.

Full disclosure: I especially liked it, because I’m the same age as Hyori.

Ran out of time:
I didn't have time to talk about the awesome mixtape posted at "G'Old Korea Vinyl" -- which has songs ranging from the '80s to 1939, and is a great overview of old Korean music, in about 40 minutes. Go. Listen. Enjoy.

That is all. go listen to the mixtape.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Go Read Matt's History of Blackface in Korea

[Update: still more great Blackface insights that I'd like to keep connected to the rest of this discussion:

Gord Sellar with another really great insight about blackface in Korea
and Eugene is Huge topped himself, and wrote an even better post about unintentional/intentional racism, and when a "pass"should and shouldn't be granted.

After the storm and thunder, two great last words to add to the discussion:

1. Eugene Is Huge, with a perspective on how much we can infer about Korean people in general, from this Blackface thing. I look forward to the day his comment, "that not everyone in Korea feels that this is not a problem, and that Koreans themselves are not a hive mind" feels like an unnecessary stating of the obvious, when "Oh, Korea" issues come up, rather than feeling like a worthwhile reminder.

2. Matt, from Popular Gusts, has a very well-researched history of Blackface in Korea, tracing the first time blackface was used in comedy, what happened before the '88 Olympics, and a case where Koreans called out a TV station for inappropriate programming, after a case of a Korean comedian imitating a black person.