Thursday, December 27, 2012

Happy Holidays from Roboseyo 2012

Hi, all.

I hope you all had a merry christmas (or whatever you prefer to call it), and that you're gearing up for a great 2013. My Christmas was full of sick -- the baby, the wife, the mom-in-law and I all took turns on the toilet/change table this christmas. So the best I can say is that most of us are now on the mend, and I hope your Christmas was better than ours.

And new-years is coming, with the new-year reviews...

and of course a 2012 pop music mash-up (along with year-end best of lists, one of my favorite things about the winding down of an old year)

2012 has not been as prolific as previous years at Roboseyo... but I'd like to hope that (for the most part) the quality has increased while the quantity decreases.  Does that make up for SUCH a decrease? Well, dear readers, I sure hope you've done something else with your time than sit by the computer hitting "refresh refresh refresh" waiting for new Roboseyo... maybe get some exercise.

Anyway, as a look back on the year... here are the most popular Roboseyo posts of 2012, in order:

Most popular... by a TON, and one of the five most popular posts on the blog ever:
The Blackface post

Also WAY above the others... thanks, I think, to the love/hate on tumblr:
Hyuna + Ajosshi fans are bullshit

Remember that racist MBC ad?

the Stupid, Sexist Adoption Law (very interesting comments below it... including one VERY recent one)

The one about K-boys... for which I still owe a retraction

SNSD on Letterman

perhaps anachronistic now but.... American kids hate Kpop

continue being excited about... CLASSIC KOREAN MOVIES ON YOUTUBE!

this year's April Fools' prank... which I'm still answering for

my announcement of All The Korea Blogs: the new big K-blog aggregator

ho-hum another North Korean missile launch.  (cut and paste it for the one this december as well)

And a few that didn't make the years' top ten, but of which I'm proud:

Ahn Cheol-su shouldn't (have) run for president.
my return from exile: "How (president elect) Park Geun-hye can Revitalize Korean Politics"
Seoul Sucks for Bike Commuters
Now that ATEK is dead, what kind of organization should replace it?

Old stuff also popular this year:

that dumb Visit Korea Ad

my mom's eulogy

don't do pot in Korea. Stupid.

the Ni-ga post that ruffled feathers.

the classic complaining expat post

Monday, December 24, 2012

Some Love for BoA...

And Maurice Sendak...

The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind...

and another...

his mother called him "Wild thing!"
and Max said

so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

That's all I could think the first time I saw this video.

(my kid loves that book)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How Park Geun-hye can Revitalize Korea's Politics

So Park Geun-hye, if the news tells it right, just won the Korean presidency, and we get five years of her in the iron throne.

I wrote earlier about my misgivings about her being held up as a female role-model actually being good for Korean women, because in her (an unmarried woman) the career/family dichotomy remains dichotomized, but now the I-Think-Women-Have-Come-Far-Enough-Thanks Koreans get to say "Look! We've got a female president! What more do you want?"

I also have misgivings about her being the daughter of a dictator... so I'm going to try to keep this short, but the context matters to the point I want to make in the title.

Her father was Park Chung-hee, perhaps the most polarizing personality in Korea. You've heard the story by now: he set the table for Korea's spectacular economic growth in the 80s and 90s by investing heavily in infrastructure and heavy industry in the 60s and 70s. While sure, he (like all the presidents in Korea so far) was corrupt... but unlike other presidents, he attached his favors to activities that fit with his long-term plans. He controlled the foreign aid money that came into Korea, by controlling the banks, meaning that he could give favorable terms to companies that cooperated with his master plan, when they applied for business loans.

Through this, the industries and business leaders Park hand-picked became mega-rich, but they also set up businesses and industries that helped Korea become wealthy.

To accomplish this, Park and his business leader buddies did a lot of union busting and suppression of workers' rights, in order to reap the benefits (nationally and personally) of a cheap labor force.

To make it easier to keep the little man as little as possible, Park is well known for using torture, kidnapping, and... let's call it... suspicious deaths of key people (a euphemism as sharp as calling sex slaves comfort women).

His legacy now is mixed: for those along the Seoul Busan Highway (where most of the industrialization took place) he's the genius whose long vision led to Korea's success today. For those whose parents and uncles and aunts were kidnapped from their homes and had their fingernails pulled out, he's kinda beastly.

and in a lot of ways, this election was, in part, a referendum on Park Chung-hee's legacy: if Ahn Cheol-su didn't do his tease act, it would have been the main narrative of the election... and perhaps the reason Ahn held on for so long was specifically so that the issues the Left wanted to bring to the table would get some play.

So that's the background.

Now, two things you may not know:
1. Park Chunghee was not a beastly military goon for his entire presidency. He was at the beginning, after the takeover, when he kept the elected president in office for a while as a puppet until he resigned in frustration. (that'd be Yun Bo-seon). But then, in the 60s, he ran for president and managed to win three elections in order to stay in power. He won elections in 1963 (by a hair) and 1967 (by a lot)... and maybe those elections were rigged, but they weren't as rigged as Rhee Syngman's, whose opponents had a way of dying. (see here... one of his other opponents was later executed under Korea's national security law). Park had three elections where the other guy might have won, and the last one (1971, where he barely beat Kim Dae-jung) was what pushed him around the corner and led to the "Yushin" era, when he declared a national emergency, suspended the constitution and basically concentrated all power to himself, and his enemies and threats started mysteriously disappearing.

2. The economic growth that came through Park Chunghee's efforts nearly didn't happen. After securing foreign funds with the (very unpopular) normalization treaty with Japan (the 1965 one that Japan points to as absolving their responsibility for war crimes) and by sending troops to Vietnam (earning aid from the US), Park saw the US pull out of Vietnam completely... well, if US pulls out of Vietnam when it's no longer politically useful, what's to stop US from pulling out of Korea? The next step in that logic is, "Korea'd better have a self-sustaining industrial background and military before that" -- so he invested in six heavy industries: shipbuilding, industrial machinery, automotive, heavy chemicals (oil refineries etc.), electronics, and steel, (also known as the six most necessary ingredients for developing your own military). But after investing SO FRIGGIN' MUCH in these industries, the world economy slowed down in the late 70s, and suddenly heavy industry was a bad place to have sunk your nation's entire wealth! To stir up capital, Park sent construction crews abroad, to build things in the middle-east (those oil rich OPEC countries that were undermining the other industries he'd invested in), and this barely kept Korea afloat until the economic boom of the Reagan-era 80s, when that heavy industry infrastructure suddenly led to MASSIVE economic growth for Korea when Chun Doo Hwan presided over the payoff of Park's investment.

This is more my opinion than clear fact, but here's a third thing about Park Chung-hee's legacy: being assassinated and followed by Chun Doo-hwan did more good for his legacy than anyone can account for.


Well... when you're assassinated, when you die mid-stride, your legacy gets a bump from what we might call "dead rockstar syndrome" -- if Axl Rose had died one week after releasing "Use Your Illusion I and II," we'd rank him with Kurt Cobain, instead of being sad about his "Fat Recluse" phase. Ditto if Michael Jackson had died in 1988. If Jimi Hendrix were still alive, the amazing things he did in 1968-70 would be diluted by those two albums in the 80s when he experimented with synthesizers, his religious phase in the early 90s, and his Grammy sweeping 2011 duet album with Taylor Swift. Park Chung-hee died... so he never had to spend time in jail, never saw the humiliation Korea's other ex-presidents suffered when later presidents jailed them to make themselves look cleaner, never had his corruption publicly revealed by whistleblowers or whatnot during a trial.

Second: the ugly parts of his dictatorship got smoothed over, because he was immediately followed by someone who was even worse. If M. Night Shyamalan had retired after The Happening, we'd all still be howling about what a bad movie it was. Instead, he went us one worse, and made The Last Airbender, and it was SO bad that all our The Happening jokes were no longer relevant. Chun Doo hwan managed the difficult accomplishment of making Park Chung-hee look like the GOOD strongman, which gave people the ability to gloss over that part of his legacy, and made it way easier to get nostalgic about him.

You don't see Chun Doo-hwan's kids in politics, do you?

So... all of that is in play, when you look at where Park Geun-hye came from.

Now, to wrap this up, I have one prediction, and one suggestion, which, as mentioned above, could revitalize Korea's politics...

The prediction is gross.
Opposition rhetoric during this presidency could be... has the potential to be... and therefore probably WILL be the shrillest, harshest, most polarizing, and most infantile, we've heard in Korean politics so far. Because every single time President Park introduces a policy the left doesn't like, they're going to play the dictator card, tell her how much she resembles her father... and that name calling will further polarize an already polarized political scene.

All the young people who were excited about Ahn Chul-soo's promise for a new kind of politics that doesn't involve brinksmanship and name-calling will get further jaded, and the broken system will get more broken. And even if you didn't like Park Chunghee... it'll be bloody annoying to hear the left jibjab about how the apple doesn't fall far from the tree... Park Geunhye at least should get a chance to show her own colors.

But here's the suggestion... Park Geun-hye could do something that would not only nip all those ad hominems in the bud, but completely change Korean civil society, meanwhile also showing that she is not simply riding her father's legacy, but that she'll be a new kind of leader appropriate for modern Korea. By doing two things:

1. Severing government ties to Korea's mass media. The fact that the government owns large stakes in most of Korea's major media entities is ridiculous... especially because the previous president actually had been interfering in the way government-owned media are run. Canada manages to keep the CBC run by government funds, without conflict of interest accusations coming out every month. BBC is generally seen as above reproach in that regard. These government run institutions are allowed to criticize their governments. And that's healthy.

2. And this is the biggie:
Striking the National Security Law from the books... or severely and specifically limiting it. The National Security Law has been the law that every president has used to stifle their critics or opponents. It's a vaguely worded catch-all law that allows a president to pretty much arrest or harass anyone who is doing something they don't like. It's been around since the cold war (1948)... when maybe vaguely worded catch-alls were needed, and "anti-state acts" could have meant a lot of things... but when retweeting a pro-north Korea tweet got somebody arrested? When an unemployed blogger gets called in by the national police? That's just ridiculous. Either a group of lawyers from both sides needs to get in there and add enough specific language that the National Security Law only catches North Korean spies... or it needs to be abolished entirely. Amnesty International and international human rights groups have been encouraging Korea to abolish the National Security Law for years, and the (mis)use of the National Security Law is one of the reasons that during Lee Myung-bak's presidency, South Korea went from "Free" to "Mostly free" on international press freedom indexes. (more at Amnesty International)

If Park Geun-hye does these two things, especially early in her presidency, she'll cut the umbilical cord, so to speak, from her father. She'll clearly distance herself from the kinds of behaviors that have plagued the Korean right for a long time, and open space for a healthier, less polarized civil society to develop more strongly in Korea. She'll also pull the rug from her opposition, so that the "dictator card" is unplayable, because she'll be able to toss back at them, "I abolished those laws, and removed the president's influence on the media. What are you talking about, I resemble my father? Take another look." She'd have the space to create her own legacy.

It'd be a genius move. Absolute genius.

Maybe the amount of name-calling in the national assembly would finally decrease... which might give more hope to those disenchanted voters who wanted Ahn Chul-soo to run for president. Maybe Korea's civil society would get a little less screechy, and we'd be able to have a conversation about issues without somebody calling someone else a dictator sympathiser or a communist. Maybe.

Too bad it won't happen.