A tale of two letters

The only world you know

In Korea, all who were born in 2013 (!) were supposed to start their very first year of primary school together in March, which has been delayed for obvious reasons and is likely to be further delayed due to the latest spike following a long weekend. Someone has shared an anecdote on Twitter that those little ones get super excited whenever they see another kid around the same age in the neighbourhood, rushing to ask which year and class they are in. If it turns out that they are indeed going to be classmates, out of joy, they lift their masks a little to exchange a peek at each other’s face.

I had been containing relatively well all these weeks, but something about this scene broke my heart. I hope this was some dystopian made-up story and I was only fooled by it.

Politics of counting [4]

13 hours of Trump: The president fills briefings with attacks and boasts, but little empathy (Philip Bump & Ashley Parker, The Washington Post, 26 April 2020)

RT @AshleyRParker Over the past three weeks, Trump has spoken for 13 hours at coronavirus pressers. In that time he has:
—Spent two hours on the attack.
—45 min praising himself/his team.
—9 min promoting hydroxychloroquine.
—Just 4.5 min offering sympathy for the victims. (26 April 2020)

260,000 words, full of self-praise, from Trump on the virus (Jeremy W. Peters et al., The New York Times, 26 April 2020)

By far the most recurring utterances from Mr. Trump in the briefings are self-congratulations, roughly 600 of them, which are often predicated on exaggerations and falsehoods. He does credit others (more than 360 times) for their work, but he also blames others (more than 110 times) for inadequacies in the state and federal response.

Mr. Trump’s attempts to display empathy or appeal to national unity (about 160 instances) amount to only a quarter of the number of times he complimented himself or a top member of his team.

The minefield that is being a woman [3]

Was just reading up on the latest general election in South Korea, which took place yesterday, and how women’s interests and voices were represented amid the pandemic, the new calculation system, and the old and new forms of misogyny including the “Nth Rooms” abomination

Then this video has turned up in my social media feeds, confirming my suspicions that South Korean women share more commonalities with women on the other side of the world than South Korean men living next to them.

Ways of remembering

‘Sewol’ ribbon listed as standard unicode (The Korea Times, 20 April 2016, crossposted here)

(Image source: Hankyoreh, 2016)

(France 24 English, 13 April 2020; dubbed in French here;
see also her interview with Andrew Marr here)

We have acted quickly and preemptively, and that is not just our philosophy but is a reflection of our recent experience. You may know that in 2014 we had a terrible ferry boat accident where we lost 304 lives in the midst of a very inept response by the government at the time, and that has been a collective trauma to all Korean people. And the following year, in 2015, we had a MERS outbreak that lasted for about three months, didn’t affect that many people, but was very highly fatal. And I think the government’s reaction then was also initially very intransparent [sic] and dismissive, and so heavily criticised. […] So, this government has been very determined to be prepared when disaster strikes. We may not be able to prevent disasters from striking but we can do a lot to prepare so that we can minimise the human suffering and contain the socioeconomic consequences.

세월호 관련 7편의 기고글 (2016-2019) (김승섭, 15 April 2020)

In law-law land [4]

Here is a genuine question for you, particularly legal experts. On 14 March 2013, the Supreme Court of South Korea confirmed that some of the administrators of the Daum Café for Eonsoju were “co-principals” [공동정범, according to Article 30 of the Criminal Act] in the “obstruction of business” charges [업무방해, according to Article 314 of the Criminal Act]. Eonsoju is a self-organised group calling for an advertiser boycott against the country’s conservative media troika Chojoongdong — similar to one against Fox News or the News of the World. A Daum Cafe is comparable to a Yahoo Group or a Facebook Group. (In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote a paper about the case.)

피고인들이 광고중단 압박운동의 목적에서 만들어진 인터넷상 조직의 운영진으로서 직접 광고주들 명단을 게재하거나 광고주들 명단을 게재하지 않았다고 하더라도 서로 공모하여 광고중단 압박행위를 하도록 독려하거나 광고주들의 홈페이지 운영에 지장을 초래할 수 있는 자동접속프로그램을 유포하는 등의 방법으로 광고중단 압박운동 참여자들의 개별적인 전화걸기 행위가 집단적인 광고중단의 압박이 되도록 조직한 사실을 알 수 있으므로, 결국 피고인들이 업무방해죄를 범할 의사 없이 광고중단 압박운동에 참여한 사람들을 자신들의 위력 행사에 이용한 행위는 이른바 간접정범을 통하여 그 범행을 실행한 것으로 보아야 할 것이고, 앞서 살펴본 바와 같이 피고인들의 경우 위와 같은 간접정범 형태의 범행에 대하여도 주관적 요건으로서 공모와 객관적 요건으로서 기능적 행위지배가 인정되는 이상 피고인들은 결국 이 부분 범행의 실행에 대하여도 공동정범으로서의 죄책을 면할 수 없다. (대법원 2013. 3. 14., 선고, 2010도410, 판결)

Now, fast-forward to April 2020. I have just seen the news that prosecutors have decided not to include the charges of “organisation of criminal groups” [범죄단체 조직, according to Article 114] and “preparations for or conspiracies of a murder” [살인 음모, according to Article 255] in the indictment against Cho Joo-bin, one of the operators of a digital sexual exploitation ring on Telegram called “Nth Rooms”.

How does one reconcile this?

While seeking answers, I am listing a few articles in case you need further details. Please proceed with a trigger warning in mind, although I have already excluded more graphic ones.

Alternatively, you can draw a parallel of some sort between this and the following cases.

L’enfer, c’est parmi nous. [2]

“I suppose hell is not a place. People may think it is because of reading Dante, but I think of it as a state.” (Jorge Luis Borges, 1982)

The warp and weft of politics in the digital age

Just came across the above article, right after reading about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak at today’s briefing. This is truly a surreal time to live in and I am barely processing.

As I already confessed on this blog a few years ago, I don’t like all my writings equally. The 2015 Eonsoju paper is among the ones closer to my heart, and I have been thinking a lot about the following passage this evening.

[…] Moreover, [Friedmann (2011: 127)] poses a further question as follows: on the one hand, civil society may rise up in protest against the state and its agents while, conversely, the state’s helping hand is needed, for example, for improving life in local communities. How is this contradiction resolved in both theory and practice?

A possible resolution of this contradiction can be found in Maffesoli’s (1996) work, where he identifies two different aspects of social order and labelled them as ‘the social (le social)’ and ‘sociality (la socialité)’. As an aspect of modernity, the social is based upon a mechanical structure of political and economic organisation. Consequently, it is constructed by social leaders and ‘imposed from above’. Individuals, therefore, need not play any particular part in this vertical structure. Sociality, on the other hand, is the order of post-modernity and is inherent in the social interactions of everyday life. Sociality requires individuals to perform social roles and cooperate with others in a horizontal flow.

An example of the social would be accessing educational institutions as the principal source of knowledge. If people exchange knowledge among themselves in preference to formal education, they are inclined to sociality. Likewise, if citizens expect their state to compensate each individual for a natural disaster, they are dependent on the social, whereas those who choose to rely on helping hands within their immediate communities are depending on sociality.

The tension between the social and sociality is ‘not new but has always existed with each one being more or less prominent depending on the character of the epoch’ (Kidd, 1999). […]


Not only does Maffesoli highlight the competing yet coexisting dynamics between the vertical threads of institutional structures and the horizontal threads of networks of individual citizens and groups, he also points to how people now seem to turn their backs on the former and instead look for meaning and the ability to survive in the latter (Kidd, 1999). […]

In other words [2]

Been thinking a lot about the “untranslatables” lately. A few months ago I came across a mini discussion on Twitter criticising the popular belief that certain Korean concepts, typically han, jeong, and nunchi, are so Korean that they cannot be explained to outsiders. That discussion led me to realise such beliefs often have a nationalistic, ‘self-othering’ undertone, wittingly or unwittingly.

Having said that, as someone who needs to switch back and forth between English and her native language continually throughout everyday life, I do occasionally feel what Anil Dash describes as “a linguistic equivalent of phantom limb pain” when my best English translation of an idea that I first have in Korean is still “a muffled approximation of [that] idea”.

One of such expressions that I seem unable to precisely convey is “사람을 갈아넣다”. Its word-to-word translation, “grinding humans in” [to keep the system running], would pretty much do the job. My “phantom pain” has more to do with the fact that in English it might strike as an overdramatic metaphor while Korean speakers would all know it is as literal as it can get.

I am witnessing on social media waves of awe about the Korean government’s response to the corona outbreak: e.g. demonstrating the unparalleled testing capability, mapping every citizen’s movement trajectories, offering the convenience of drive-through tests (taking about 10 minutes each), ensuring the tests are free to everyone including undocumented workers, and sharing the progress transparently with the rest of the world.

I am glad that the government seems to stay on top of the matter. It’s just that I can’t get the news out of my head that a Jeonju city official died last Friday of overwork while being on emergency duty in response to the outbreak and pulling consecutive overnighters. I can’t even begin to imagine the physical and mental strains that the KCDC and health officials must be under over the last two months.

((c) Yonhap News)

Politics of counting [3]

To count or not to count (e.g. Japanese authorities’ decision to exclude cases detected on the Diamond Princess from official statistics; a dispute in Lombardy over how much testing is too much); to count independently or comparatively to other outbreaks; to focus on velocity of spread, fatalities, absolute proportions, or relative proportions; to do the counting in the open or not; …

Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) resources (The American Society for Microbiology, 5 February 2020)

I live in South Korea where coronavirus cases are rising. Not much has changed. (Robert E. Kelly, The National Interest, 22 February 2020)

Coronavirus: A visual guide to the outbreak (BBC, 23 February 2020)


To use log scales or not to.


Those damn denominators: Math used to be a comfort zone for me in times of confusion. Not anymore. (KC Cole, Wired, 23 April 2020)