bookmark_borderPost-421: A defense of libraries

From a late-July 2021 interview with Niall Ferguson by prolific economics blogger and sometimes-professor Tyler Cowen. The interviewee just throws a series of questions with little framing or fluff or sidebar-ing and Ferguson has to deal with them as best he can. (As usual the British are better at this kind of thing.)

I want to highlight his answer on libraries but I’ll add in the preceding and following questions for the feel of how the interview went:

COWEN: What’s your favorite bridge in Glasgow?

FERGUSON: There’s a bridge over the River Kelvin near the school where I went, Glasgow Academy, which might be boringly called the Kelvin Bridge. I forget its name, but it’s a lovely spot. Glasgow’s a rather beautiful city. You might be surprised to hear me say that, but the area around the university and the place where my school was has the River Kelvin. That bridge is one that I associate with, yes, walking to and from school in all weathers.

COWEN: It’s such a great tragedy that the Macintosh Library burned down.

FERGUSON: Yes, libraries are really a crucial part of my life because, without the public libraries, I would not have been able to read as much as I did as a kid. If I hadn’t been sent to the Mitchell Library as a schoolboy, I wouldn’t have understood that history was this unmanageable quantity of data. I remember seeing the shelf of books about the Thirty Years War. I’d been asked to write an essay on the Thirty Years War. I went to the Mitchell Library, and there were all the books on the Thirty Years War. And it hit me, “Oh my God, there are just hundreds of them.”

That was when the challenge of history suddenly gripped me, that there was this vast, almost unmanageable body of literature to read on any topic. So, libraries, yes. Libraries are better than Google. Very important because libraries sort the material in a way that is honest, and Google sorts it in a way that’s designed to sell ads to you.

I think libraries — they are sacred places. Isn’t it funny? Think back: The way that print evolved as a technology produced an enormous amount of content that was not selling ads, and libraries ended up as the organizing institutions of information with a system of cataloging that wasn’t designed to do anything other than get you to associate the book you were reading with the other books that were related to it. I think library cataloging systems are a much-underrated contribution to our civilization.

COWEN: If we look back at the great thinkers of the past and ask ourselves who produced the strongest defense of liberalism — liberalism in the broad sense of that word — it could be John Stuart Mill or Hayek or Burke or Tocqueville. For you personally, who is it?

FERGUSON: Tocqueville —


FERGUSON: — has always resonated with me much more than Mill, and more than Hayek too. I think that’s partly an Oxford story. As an undergraduate, we were required to read Tocqueville’s L’Ancien Régime in French in our first term. My French wasn’t that good, so it was quite hard work, but the conversations about that book that I remember having — not only with my tutor, Angus Macintyre, but with my near-contemporary, Andrew Sullivan — were very seminal.

The realization that Tocqueville’s idea of liberty is something that has to be protected by nonobvious means, by things that you might not, as a liberal, even approve of — that’s a fascinating insight. Then, when we read Democracy in America, it became even clearer what Tocqueville’s project was, which was to show why France had failed to be or could not be the United States, and why American liberty had a very distinctive set of institutional supports.

To highlight the core of Niall Ferguson’s off-the-cuff defense of libraries:

Libraries are better than Google. Very important because libraries sort the material in a way that is honest, and Google sorts it in a way that’s designed to sell ads to you.

I think libraries — they are sacred places. Isn’t it funny? Think back: The way that print evolved as a technology produced an enormous amount of content that was not selling ads, and libraries ended up as the organizing institutions of information with a system of cataloging that wasn’t designed to do anything other than get you to associate the book you were reading with the other books that were related to it. I think library cataloging systems are a much-underrated contribution to our civilization.

Ferguson is twenty-some years older than I but I have had many of the same thoughts. I have also often chewed over the idea of what we can date the start of the Internet Era. In the sense we now understand the Internet, I think this may be 2010 or so. The Internet Era as we understand it exists in the 2010s without doubt, but not quite in the 2000s, and definitely not in the 1990s—even if the technology existed.

Ferguson, as a prolific academic and by the 2000s or so certainly qualifying as a transatlantic public intellectual, no doubt was an early adopter and for him the Internet Era began some notches earlier than for the median person, but that still doesn’t change the fact that the infrastructure was not there. However may notches earlier he “adopted” than the median educated Western person, he encountered the Internet Era as an adult, certainly in his thirties. I therefore expect many would dismiss his defense of libraries as that of someone simply spinning his top in nostalgia for his 1970s-era childhood and adolescence and 1980s-era young adulthood, and 1990s-era early careerhood.

What does it say about me that I have had many of the same ideas?

The mass shutdown and/or severe restriction on libraries has also been one of the highly disappointing things during the Neverending Flu Virus Panic of the past two years, which dug in deep into something political and therefore found fuel for its fire. What were they thinking? Even major research libraries were simply folded up and closed indefinitely, with no access of any kind. This was true even of my graduate school library and many others. The Library of Congress finally reopened in June 2021 but remained subject to difficult and annoying restrictions disruptive to any productive work.

One of the reasons they were able to get away with closing libraries — and by extension most other places — is the weakness of true commitment to the Niall Ferguson view of libraries as sacred places. Even those who administer libraries, in many cases may just view them as elaborate museums, and if you want to do some kind of research, there’s all this available on the Internet so stop your whining. I could write much more on this.

bookmark_borderThe 2020s, Day 2 or Day 368?

I received a long, reflective email from an Australian friend living in Korea, sent to a large group of his contacts. It started:

Welcome to the 3rd decade of the 3rd millennium Anno Domini 2021.

I see that I first wrote about this exactly a year ago.

The idea, here, is the “third decade” of the century starts with Jan. 1, 2021, and not Jan. 1, 2020, because there is no “Year 0.”

In our counting system, “Jan. 1st of AD 1” was the first day of the first year of the era, approximately around the time of Jesus’ birth. Therefore Jan. 1st of AD 2021 would be the first year of the new decade.

I think this is too complicated and decades ought to be measured by the third digit for clarity and simplicity’s sake, and therefore we are now at Day 368 of “the 2020s” (Leap Year 2020 at 366 days, plus Jan. 1st and now Jan. 2nd = 368). Before you know it we will hit the 11% mark of the decade. And for how terrible a decade it’s been so far, one might hope it will get better.


There is another way or counting eras, only possible in retrospect, always subject to possible dispute. The (“Short”) 20th century was really Nov. 1918 to Nov. 1989. A clean seventy-one years, from the end of the Great War in Europe, which unleashed the era of competing ideologies, until the Fall of Communism process, a complicated process but symbolized by the peaceful Fall of the Berlin Wall, Nov. 1989.

In more recent times, “the 2000s” may have ended in Sept. 2008 when the financial crisis suddenly hit, or at least that’s when the panic in the news hit, preceded by the strange oil price spike of mid-year 2020. I remember it.

Economic disruptions affect almost everyone at least a little, and some a lot, often in ways they don’t recognize or appreciate. I was determined to go abroad in 2009 and did. The 2008-09 recession had a long, lingering effect. If my old job were still there, in Sept. 2010, when I showed back up, I would have taken it back. Instead, I did a lot of other things. The 2010s went in unexpected directions for me, but I never had a master-plan anyway, and maybe it was for the better. I did some interesting things in the (calendrical) 2010s.

Now the harder question: When did “The 2010s” begin and end? Or have they not ended yet? We’re too close to say. Check back on this in the 2030s.


bookmark_borderAnnus Horribilis Twenty-Twenty

I distinctly recall, as I write this, rushing to make an end-of-year post on Dec. 31, 2019. It is now Dec. 31, 2020. Here I am again. The hours of the year are fading fast.

People tend to do review the events of the wider world, or their own lives in a narrow sense, at such times. What can one say about 2020 except this:

This is the “annus horribilis” of the firstquarter of the twenty-first century. With four years left in this quarter-century, I can’t imagine any of the others being worse. Across almost all possible measures, a terrible year.

(Without getting into it, I think the problems are much more of our own making than anything. Certain historical trends are active which have inevitably found at outlet, if not through the surreal craziness through which they manifested in 2020, then some other way sooner than later. But we could have, and should have, done better. I am ashamed of us.)

In some ways I feel it still is Dec. 31, 2019, right now, and there has been a 366-day (leap year) pause. Nothing has advanced. We’ve lost a lot of time.

But it wasn’t all bad. I worked hard for a time I greatly enjoyed and greatly excelled at, being promoted to a leadership position on merits and being consistently one of the best performers. I have been juggling other projects. Life moves on.

bookmark_borderPost-390: Anti-Shinchonji

By late February 2020, the name Shinchonji was surfacing in the media, both in the Korean media (where it would very occasionally make an appearance anyway) and for the first time ever in the world media. The reason was the Virus Panic (so-called COVID19 disease; caused by a “coronavirus”) was tied to a returning Shinchonji missionary in China who ignored self-quarantine orders; most of the Korean cases seem tied to this incident. I am not surprised that it was them because of what kind of group it is.

Shinchonji [신천지] is a religious cult which I had many experiences with, directly and indirectly, in the 2010s, some of which I caught onto at the time and others I reconstructed later as certain, likely, or possible cases. Because generally you don’t know what’s going on. They don’t tell who they are. They use deception. As a result, I can say I have hated Shinchonji for years. I can equally say that few have ever actually taken me seriously when I talk about this, because it seems too bizarre; I wouldn’t take someone who talked about it as I do either, had I not seen it. I will record a few things here.

Continue reading “Post-390: Anti-Shinchonji”

bookmark_borderPost-389: “Virus Panic” of 2020 and China’s Soft Power

I was in China for part of December 2019, but only Beijing. About the time I left (which was Dec. 29, I think), the headlines began coming out that someone in Wuhan, China, was suspected of carrying a “new virus.” I had previously been in China at the very start of the decade, May 2010, and now was back in the last month of the decade, Dec. 2019. I had many observations of how I imagined China had changed.

This “virus” story, from my perspective, writing in early March, has been bad for China’s soft power.

The writing I was doing, in emails and chatting-app messages to many at the time, were all about how I perceived a South-Korean-ization of China economically and a North-Korean-ization of China politically. The South-Korean-ization of certain consumer goods and television shows were, I think, probably consciously copied. On the other hand, anything political was much more reminiscent of North Korea. The political sections of bookstores were laughable; they might as well have been selling nothing but repackaged and new editions of the Little Red Book.

That was my perceived reality. I admit it was probably colored by the fact that in 2010 I was in the south and in May, and in 2019 I was in Beijing in December; Beijing is never a friendly place, they say. In any case, the restrictions I perceived, such as on the Internet, I felt were tougher in 2019 than 2010.

What I meant was China’s soft power deficit still had a long way to go in 2019.

bookmark_borderPost-362: My “23andMe” ancestral results considered; and, Some thoughts On the Politics of Ancestry-Identity

Today’s genetic tests are able, with remarkable degrees of accuracy considering all that they have to go on is a vial of your saliva, to reasonably reliably estimate your ancestral origins. Not perfectly, but pretty well. (Maybe we have passed the point where intelligent people feel free or even compelled to say ridiculous things on this topic.)

I took the 23andMe ancestry test in February 2017 and a few weeks later got the results back. The “results” are percentage estimates for personal ancestry. I have some comments and thoughts on the results and related issues that I’d like to record here. I’ll compare the raw numbers to what I know of my documented ancestry and related ancillary information I know to fill in gaps.

The final section deals with the political implications of what is (purported) to be measured by tests like these and how people use and understand personal ethnic-ancestry identity. The political implications are substantial I think; this is the kind of iceberg issue that is mostly below the surface, unseen but enormous.

(Warning: Long post).

I have occasionally posted about this subject over the years on these pages, including:


First, my father’s results. My father took the test about two years before I did. His reaction to his results was to the effect that there was nothing interesting in it, i.e., it was all as expected.

The general comments I would on his results are:

  • 23andMe misguessed a substantial portion of my father’s ancestral-stock [17.9%] to be British, when in fact, as best we know, it is 0% British; all was in Scandinavia as of the mid-1800s. (Yes, British vs. Scandinavian is a pretty fine-grained distinction to make.)
  • 23andMe gives my father a 51.0% Scandinavian estimate, when it should be 100%. The ratio of Scandinavian(correct)-to-British(incorrect) is less than three-to-one.
  • A close analysis does reveal one ancestral component not otherwise known to us / not documented in the paper-genealogy records, which is Finnish. (Much more on this below and what I think is a plausible origin-story for it.) My father gets a 3.4% Finnish reading, which I seem to have disproportionately inherited. I get 2.3% Finnish, of which zero is estimated to be from my mother (see below).
  • My father’s older brother took the test recently and got 10.0% British (much lower than my father’s, but again both should be 0%), 67.1% Scandinavian, and 3.8% Finnish (similar to my father’s).

Now, my own.

The table below contains my own comprehensive ancestry-estimate results:


Compare the 23andMe estimate for me (91.5% Northwest European, of which: 31.2% Scandinavian, 27.7% French/German, 6.7% British Isles, 2.3% Finnish, 23.6% Broadly Northwest European) to my ancestors’ known places of residence in the middle 1800s:

  • [Paternal] 50% Scandinavia
    • 12.5% Denmark (patrilineal line traces back to the island of Funen [Fyn] circa late 1700s)
    • 12.5% Sweden
    • 25% Norway (Hedmark)
  • [Maternal] Mainly Germany, some in New England (USA)
    • 37.5% Germany (partilineal line traces back to Saxony; these German ancestors were all Lutherans)
    • 12.5% Vermont (all with Colonial New England roots, patrilineally the Hazen family [see post-224] and similar families filling out the rest)

I stress what I know about the ‘patrilineal’ lines in the summary above because culturally we always know more about male lines. Whereas culture demands thing be simple, genetic tests can be very fine-grained: The system 23andMe uses can separate paternally-inherited from maternally-inherited DNA if you link your account with a parent’s. Naturally I linked mine with my father’s.

The following is the father(known)-vs.-mother(implied) breakdown for my own inherited DNA:




First, some comments on each major component:

[Father’s Side]

Scandinavian (Actual: 50%) (23andMe Estimate: 31.2%)
23andMe is said to generally underestimate the Scandinavian component and does so in my case. My actual ratio of Scandinavian-to-German ancestry is 133-to-100 (.5/.375) but 23andMe estimates exact parity, about 100-to-100 (both are at 31% if adding ‘German’ [27.7%] and ‘East European’ [3.3%], which will reflect eastern German ancestry).

The Scandinavian ancestral component for me includes the (historically) culturally important patrilneal line.

My father and my own Y-chromosome line is a branch of the greater European R1b family called R-U106 (see post-223), which is concentrated in Germanic Northwest Europe.


Paper-genealogy finds our patrlineal line’s origin many generations ago on the island of Fyn [Funen], Denmark, in the late 1700s. In 2015, in Korea, I met someone from this island, an experience I discuss in Post-315 (“Two Danes“).

Despite the continuing cultural importance of the patrilineal line, and while my father is aware of and acknowledges that his father’s line comes from Denmark, he has always felt much closer to his Norwegian ancestry.

All of my father’s Norwegian ancestry [50% of his total ancestry] seems to come from the region of Hedmark, which is very close to Lillehammer, site of the first Olympics I can remember (1994). They were farmers there, and like many Norwegian farmers, took family names based on the names of their farms.


This raises the question of why a person “chooses” to identify with (emphasize) a particular ancestry component and “neglects” (deemphasizes) other parts. In no particular order:

  1. Distance in time/generations;
  2. Language / mother language / exposure to language;
  3. Experience with older relatives of a particular origin/ancestry closer to the source;
  4. Experience with culture/traditions/religion;
  5. Surname: historically, patrilineal descent is important, as symbolized by (sur)name inheritance;
  6. Relative power or prestige of a given identity when and where a person grows up.

In my father’s case, his mother’s parents were both born in Norway, but his father’s parents were both U.S.-born (Miller, Iowa and Davey, Nebraska, respectively). This alone is already a big deal as per (1) above.

My father’s mother’s father was in Iowa from a relatively young age (Bert Sveen, 1876-1966, in the USA from 1882 or 1883), but his mother’s mother (Dena Kjendlie, 1880-1947) arrived around age 20, circa 1900 or 1901. These are two of my great-grandparents. Their daughter, my grandmother, spent her early years at home hearing mainly Norwegian, so the language component is there, too. My father and his brothers fondly recall eating certain Norwegian foods at home, and I got to eat these, too, when I visited Iowa, which means there was at least some symbolic connection to the ancestral cultural identity. As for the surname, our surname could plausibly be Norwegian (though it is actually from Denmark). Presumably, possession of an obviously non-Norwegian surname would reduce strength of any Norwegian identity.

The above are, I think, useful insights, but there remains point (6), which is what really interests me:

My impression is that ‘Norwegian’ is and always has been a more prestigious ancestry-identity in the Upper Midwest than ‘Danish’ or ‘Swedish.’ Why? Is it numbers? In absolute numbers, Sweden contributed more to the total U.S. White ancestral stock than Norway did (though in relative terms, relative to the home-country population, Norway contributed more.) I will return to this issue in the final section of this post.

Finnish. (Actual: not known to have any) (Estimated by 23andMe: 2.3%)
Where does my father’s/uncle’s 3-4% Finnish and my 2.3% Finnish come from?

One might reasonably suppose that all Scandinavians get some small percent of ‘Finnish’ as a kind of background noise, reflecting not recent ancestry but some baseline level inevitable given that we are not Andaman Islanders and mixing has occurred. This is plausible and a reasonable supposition, but incorrect, or at least not correct in many cases. Browsing through some of the 1,000+ people’s profiles on the “DNA Relatives” feature of 23andMe, I see that some who list grandparents born in Sweden or Norway do have similarly low Finnish percentages to mine and my father/uncle, but quite a few, at least as many, also have 0% Finnish. One man with an 82.5% Scandinavian reading, the highest I’ve seen, all four of whose grandparents he reports born in Norway, gets 0% Finnish.

So Scandinavians will not necessarily have a low ‘background noise’ Finnish component. This is corroborated by the statistical methodology provided by 23andMe, from which I understand that 23andMe’s Finnish estimates are of a higher confidence than most of its national estimates, with an exceptionally low rate of false-positives. This is confirmed again when raising the highest confidence level, I still get 2.0% Finnish (and down to 5.5% Scandinavian).

A ‘Finnish’ reading from 23andMe, then, indidcates strong possibility that I have a relatively recent ancestor of entirely-Finnish or heavily-Finnish ancestry about six generations ago. Consulting the paper-genealogy records, this person was most likely born around the 1780s, 1790s, or the first decade of the 1800s, presumably in Finland.
Here is my historical speculation on where the Finnish component may come from:

The Finnish Question
Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden for many centuries, a relationship that ended abruptly in 1808, at which time Sweden lost control of Finland to Russian forces. This was one of the last wars Sweden was directly engaged in, and it lost big (the last war was a brief war against Norway in 1814).

Finland under the Czars for 110 years, remained oriented in spirit towards the West and broke away immediately with the collapse of the Czarist regime in 1917. There is much to admire about Finland, as it fought successfully avoided ‘Bolshevization’ (with German assistance), preserved its independence through the turbulent next few decades, fought its famously valiant war, all alone against Stalin in 1939-1940, then again in 1941-1944, this second time allied with Germany.

Finnish leaders couldn;t have an endless run of good luck, though, and realized the time to ct a deal was at hand. Stalin guaranteed their independence in the late 1940s by informal and then formal agreement in which Finland promised to never attach itself to the Western security apparatus (this led some of our Cold Warriors to coin the term “Finlandization” to refer to a country adjacent to the Soviet Bloc partially detaching itself from the USA/West to appease Moscow; “Finlandization” was always the USSR’s goal for really all Western European countries, notably West Germany; at the high tide of Ostpolitik in the early 1970s, this effort reached a high-water-mark (only later did we learn just how mjuch Chancellor Brandt’s Ostpolitik administration was infiltrated by East German agents). Finland only “de-Finlandized” in the 1990s with the end of Soviet power, and is still partially “Finlandized,” if NATO membership is the standard. It is not and has never been in NATO.

1808-1809, anyway, must be seen as the dramatic turning point from which all subsequent Finnish and also Swedish history has followed, to an extent inevitably. With the loss of such an enormous amount of territory and the end of the military prestige it gained in the wars of the 1600s, Sweden became more-or-less been a neutral power, and has been once since. Like Finland, Sweden has never been a NATO member.

The historical experience of 1808 is critical. Consulting the genealogical records (via the work of my uncle C.J.), I see that 1808 aligns perfectly with the timing of when the hypothetical Finnish ancestor would have entered Sweden. I will try to explain this more below.

The Fall of (Swedish) Finland
What exactly happened in 1808? The Sweden-Russia conflict, which Sweden lost, was a Napoleonic-era  war induced by Napoleon that lasted from February 1808 to September 1809. By 1808, Sweden and Britain were almost alone among European states still resisting the machinations of Napoleon. Denmark (which ruled Norway at this time) had been among the states puppetized by Napoleon. Russia was also on Napoleon’s side at this time. Napoleon would, a few years later, invade Russia with famously bad results, but in 1808 it was still allied to Russia.

Poor Sweden. In 1808, it ends up fighting two Napoleon-aligned states, Denmark/Norway and Russia, at the same time (Prussia had been neutralized two years earlier and could not assist Sweden). This was a strategic nightmare, and actually a close parallel of Germany’s dilemma of the first half of the 20th century: Encircled by hostile powers, allies distant or unreliable, ending up in a two-front war with one front being against the Russians. I read that for every man Sweden put in the field in the 1808-1809 war, Russia put between two and three, again paralleling the German manpower disadvantage of the following century.

Sweden’s military forces simply could not win a two-front war because it was forced to keep a large garrison away from the action to keep Napoleon-backed Denmark in check. (From Swedish Wikipedia [Google Translate:] “[In 1808-1809,] Sweden also had a knife tip in its back. Denmark was allied with Napoleon, and the French, in association with Russia, sent large troops to Jutland for a planned invasion of southern Sweden, and because of this threat, the Swedes were forced to hold large troops [in] Skåne and the Norwegian border.”)


Reenactment of the Battle of Oravais (Sept. 1808), a decisive defeat for Swedish forces in Finland
Swedish Götterdämmerung, 1809
By March 1809, Sweden’s military fortunes are at their lowest point perhaps ever in history. Russian troops are in mainland Sweden moving on Stockholm itself. Is all hope lost? In another parallel with German history, Swedish generals conspire to take out their own ruler. Unlike the later German military plot (July 1944), the 1809 coup plan succeeds.

So we have Swedish officers staging a military coup d’etat and sending their own king into exile (he dies in Switzerland thirty years later, living in poverty under an assumed name). The new regime is a much more parliamentary one and negotiates a peace with Russia and Napoleon. Sweden cedes control of its large Finnish territory. Sweden itself is, to use an anachronistic term, “Finlandized” within the Napoleonic world for a time. To this day, Sweden has still only partially “de-Finlandized.”

Finland tries to make the most of things and begins several generations as a Russian possession, until Dec. 1917. (IThe Finnish Embassy held an open-air 100-Year Independence Anniversary party at Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C., in December 2017, which I saw at a distance.)

Fleeing Finland
I would propose that the Finnish ancestral component for my father and his brothers (3-4%) may come from one or more pro-Swedish individuals resident in Swedish-Finland in 1808, who fled Finland to Sweden proper, likely in 1808 or 1809. Once in Sweden, the person integrated into Swedish life, married a Swede, as did his or her son/daughter, and any trace of the Finnish origins melted away into the general Swedish population. Generations pass, and any knowledge of this Finnish origin was eventually lost. The last person who knew about it, if my theory is true, is probably very long dead now. Two hundred years later, evidence of it resurfaces via this test.

I have no genealogical record extending this far back to confirm this theory and I am open to alternative ones.

The most distant Swedish ancestors on whom I have information are a Charles E. Erickson (1848-1896) and an Annie K. Johnson (1850-1930), both born in Sweden. Both wind up in the U.S. Midwest by the 1870s or 1880s. I lack information on Charles’ and Annie’s personal ancestries. Both of these individuals theoretically contribute 1/8th (12.5%) each towards my father and his brothers’ ancestral stock, and 1/16th each of my own.

Using likely average age at childbirth. Charles’ or Annie’s grandparents were most likely born before 1808, perhaps in the 1790s or 1780s at the earliest. If any one of either Charles’ or Annie’s grandparents were among the Finns fleeing the fall of Finland in 1808 or 1809, that would account for this ‘Finnish’ 23andMe reading: Each one of Charles’ and Annie’s collective eight grandparents theoretically constitute 3.125% of my father and his brothers’ ancestral stock, which is about exactly the result implied by my father’s estimate. The numbers just line up perfectly.

I find online that a Dr. Markku Mattila of the Migration Institute of Finland notes a large exodus from Finland to Sweden in 1809 with the loss of the war, which adds plausibility to this hypothesis.

I note again how comparable this theory is to a later exodus event, involving similar players and a similar situation: those who fled Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1944 as the German defense effort began to falter and a Red Army re-takeover looked inevitable.

The USSR’s invasion and subsequent 13-month reign of terror 1940-1941, before the Germans came in [July 1941], was the profound trauma for Latvia and Estonia (at least) in the 20th century. The Estonian national museum primarily revolves around this trauma, the 1940-1949 period but especially the terrible 1940-1941 period of Soviet terror, which so badly psychologically wounded the nation, and which cost the lives of a good portion of the Estonian elite of the day.

I understand that about 15% of the Latvian/Estonian population fled west with the retreating army in 1944, abandoning homeland towards an uncertain future. One of these was the mother of Svante Paabo (b. 1955), a renowned Swedish biologist. She was an Estonian and fled Estonia in 1944. Another, a so-called Displaced Person from Latvia, lived for a period with my mother’s family in Connecticut in the early 1950s.


German. (Actual: 37.5%) (23andMe Estimate: 27.7%)
I have never been able to confirm regions of origin for most of my German ancestry. I know with certainty only the regional origin for one branch, my mother’s father’s patrilineal line: That is the region around Leipzig, Saxony.

My great-great grandfather through this line, Gustav K. Sr. (1857-1917), served in the German Army as a conscript from 1879 to 1882 (peacetime). I have held his original military service booklet in my hands. It was preserved all these years, 135 years and counting (though increasingly fragile and faded), by descendants, including my grandfather and now aunt in Connecticut. The seervice booklet lists his place of birth (in 1857) as “Klein Goddula,” a small village now part of a larger jurisdiction called Dürrenberg, which has been renamed “Dürrenberg Spa Town” (Bad [Spa] Dürrenberg) to promote tourism).

Gustav K. at some point movies to the big local metropolis, Leipzig and becomes involved in the printing industry, but leaves Germany forever in somewhat unclear circumstances in 1887 (more on this shortly). His wife Emma Kretchmar (b. 1858)’s surname is highly concentrated in Saxony, strongly suggesting she was a local too. As for the surname K., it is the name of two villages, one in Saxony, and one in an adjoining region of Germany.

The two above-named 19th-century Germans (who were in the USA in their 30s and until their deaths) each constitute 1/16th — and thus together 1/8th [12.5%] — of my own ancestral stock. As for the other 25% German to account for, as I say I have not been able to confirm their origins with certainty. I do know that they were all Lutherans.

This map of the political situation in central Europe in 1789 may be helpful. The Electorate of Saxony, in orange, is the origin of the two above-named people. It was one of the larger German states (there were dozens or hundreds of German or quasi-German states and “statelets” at this time. Blue and teal (not purple) were areas under the control of the Hohenzollern Dynasty (which mainly means Prussia, capital Berlin. It would go on to unite Germany, excluding Austria [Bismarck did not want them in] by 1870.)


I have speculated that my ancestor Gustav K. Sr., who was born after the territorial realignments of 1815 that came with the end of the Napoleonic Wars but before German unification, inherited a cultural loyalty/romantic-affinity for Saxony, and a complementary mild antipathy towards Prussia/Berlin. His hometown had been one of the many parts of Saxony handed over to Prussia in 1815. He would not be born for a few more decades, but by the 1860s and rapid movement towards German unity under Berlin may have caused a minor revival of local resentment. If this is accurate, this may have been a seed of the discontent that later contributed to Gustav’s involvement as a young man in dissident politics in the Leipzig of his day.

Lots of other things were going on during Gustav K. Sr.’s time in Germany, including the beginning in earnest of Germany becoming an urban industry-oriented state. Gustav himself was born in what must be called a hamlet. Likely by adolescence or so, he in one of Germany’s leading cities (Leipzig). The cultural disorientation of country-to-city movement no doubt also contributed in some way.

As far as I know, both before and after his mandatory military service, Gustav was in the book-binding industry in Leipzig (1870s and 1880s). His decision to leave Germany in 1887 came after he was fined by the government in unclear circumstances. We assume this was related to publishing. My grandfather understood the matter to have been related to the political push then-current in Bismarck’s Germany towards what we now would call social welfare politics. This was the era of the rise of the Social Democratic Party in Germany (See this Wikipedia article for more on this.)

Whatever the specifics of it were, Gustav K. Sr. was ahead of his time, and almost all forces in later German politics, across the political spectrum, would call for similar programs as a matter of course. But Gustav was done. Who wants to stick around when you’re on “the list” of the secret police? Greener pastures await.

Gustav K. Sr. would go on to co-found a German social club in New Britain, Connecticut, remained active in the Lutheran Church, as did several subsequent generations of American-born descendants of his. Gustav is listed by census takers on the 1900 U.S. Census as a “saloon keeper.” He died just before Prohibition came in, which he certainly would have opposed.

Gustav K. Sr.’s son (my great-grandfather, Walter K [another son was named Gustav K. Jr.]) would follow his father in the publishing industry in the Connecticut of the 1900s and 1910s. Walter K. worked in newspapers, but a workplace accident when he was about thirty left him partially disabled and limited his life prospects.

Gustav K. Sr.’s grandchildren (including my grandfather) largely retained a significant German identity, and my grandfather spoke German quite well, though was certainly more comfortable in English. I later studied German with some success, but studied it purely as a foreign language; I “inherited” no German (or any other) language at all.

Eastern European. (Actual: None Known) (23andMe Estimate: 3.3%)
The East European component in the 23andMe result most likely reflects eastern-German ancestry. I expect a baseline level of Eastern European reading for Germans from regions of eastern Germany, like Silesia (see map above), and anywhere that was in the pre-partition Kingdom of Poland.

The alternative hypothesis is that this could be of morw recent origin, and an actual full- or partial-ethnic-Pole, one of the several million in the former eastern regions of Prussia/Germany in those days.

One famous German with a partial Polish origin whose story may be helpful here is Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her grandfather (1896-1959) was a German citizen and a veteran of the 1914-1918 war on the German side, but had a Polish surname and is considered by historians “ethnically Polish,” making Merkel 1/4 Polish by ethnic-ancestry, though 4/4ths German by citizenship-ancestry.

This ‘Polish’ grandfather of Merkel’s opted to retain German citizenship after the creation of an independent Poland in 1918 and ends up in Berlin by the 1920s. His son, Merkel’s father, ends up a West German Lutheran pastor who entered communist East Germany in the 1950s to set up a church mission. His rhetorical support for the Socialist project of the East German regime apparently earned him the nickname The Red Pastor by some colleagues in the German Church at the time; some critics to Merkel’s right in our era have repopularized this to impugn Merkel herself, especially now with the rise of the anti-Merkel AfD party.

I relate this story of Merkel’s grandfather to show how fluid “ethnic-vs.-nation” identities can sometimes be, even in the past. The point is a similar case, about a century earlier or more, could make up for some or all of this East European component estimated by 23andMe. In this case, I do tend to think it is largely or entirely a baseline rate.

Southern European. (Actual: None Known) (23andMe Estimate: 2.1%)
I do not likely have Southern European ancestry. I can say with confidence that this particular 2.1% reading is a “false positive” as a closer look at the results shows that the entirety of it (2.1% Southern European) comes from the mtdna (the mother’s mother’s mother’s…[etc.] line). It is entirely on the X chromosome and not on any of the other 22 chromosomes.

My mtdna line is T2a. “Nearly 10% of Europeans can trace their maternal ancestor to Haplogroup T.” Here is a map of the regional distribution of T2a. It is widespread across Europe. Because it is slightly higher in parts of Southern Europe, it is classified as Southern European only because, I suppose, they have to classify it as something. 23andMe lets you lower the confidence interval, and at higher confidence levels, the Southern European reading disappears.


So what is the earliest known origin of my maternal line? The earliest name/place I have for my mother’s mother’s (etc.) line is a Justine Bucholz (nee Baumgarth) (1866-1920), born in Germany and died in Connecticut. As with many other of my mother’s relatives, she and her husband are buried at Fairview Cemetery, New Britain, Connecticut. I was surprised to see that their gravestone is written in German (here is a picture).

I do not know with certainty Justine Baumgarth’s specific regional origin in Germany, but surname analysis finds that a close variant surname, “Baumgardt,” is relatively concentrated in the Kassel region of Hesse, Germany, a Protestant region since the early Reformation era. which had a Lutheran majority and Protestant supermajority (90%+) when my ancestors left Germany.

Where is the Colonial New England Ancestry? (Actual: 12.5% )
One of my great-grandfathers, Earle Hazen (see post-224), was of (entirely) Colonial New England ancestry.

Earle Hazen’s ancestral lines are documented back into the colonial era. These days, with just a few names, it is easy to rapidly expand an ancestral tree through what others have put online. My investigation finds that either 15/16 or 16/16 of Earle Hazen’s personal ancestral lines were in the U.S. in 1776.

The surnames I see among the Earle Hazen ancestors are mainly English (Hazen, Knight, Knowlton, Darrow, Bell, Deuel, Blackman, Foster, Thurston, [Unknown], [Unknown], [Unknown], Lougee, Folsom, Goodale, [Unknown]). The name Lougee I thought might not be English, but turns out to be from the isle of Jersey, an island in the English Channel and a British possession since the Middle Ages. The French surname ‘Deuel’ is U.S.-born going way back and I presume Huguenot.

The first Europe-born ancestor in this line I have located is British subject William Bell (b. 1769), who is in the USA by 1794 at the latest (his year of marriage, recorded on U.S. soil). He was the great-great-grandfather of my great-grandfather Earle Hazen. Of the other 15 (great-great-grandparents of Earth Hazen) of this William Bell’s generation, six are known to be born in New England, one known to be born in New York, and eight have unknown birthplaces but are known to have lived as adults either in New York or New England, primarily Vermont.

Anyway, this line should be primarily, even overwhelmingly, British Isles, with small amounts of other mainly Northwest European components typical of New England Colonial stock. 23andMe estimates very little British Isles from my mother, so this ancestry hardly even leaves a trace in the 23andMe data. 23andMe assigns my mother only 3% British Isles ancestry (implied, see above), though she should actually be over 20%. It also assigns my mother 6-7% ‘Scandinavian’ which must also be miscategorized Colonial New England British-Isles ancestry.

Yes, it’s strange, but the entire Colonial New England component fades away at a bird’s-eye-view level in the 23andMe data.

Concluding Thoughts: On the Politics of Ancestry-Identity
Partial identities always fade away. It is the rule and not the exception. Actually, though, there are many exceptions. Some identities are much more successful than others.

In the ‘Scandinavian’ section far above, I discuss a bit about factors that may contribute to the relative success of competing ‘national’/ethnic identities in White Americans and other Whites outside Europe, and perhaps increasingly also inside Europe. I believe this is a seldom-seen and undiscussed but important part of our social fabric and worth thinking about more.

In line with some comments breezed past or implied throughout this essay, I can say that there are rarely “clean” identities, and components of identity are always subject to emphasis or deemphasis given changing cultural and political conditions, or personal preference, or some other reason. That is, genetic ancestry and ancetsral-ethnic identity are not the same; they are overlapping concepts but not identical, and people can and do pick-and-choose from components of their own identities to form their own or the one they present to others. This may be obvious, but is worth looking at directly.

People will also often universalize one particular identity (that is, to make one single ancestral-ethnic identity subsume all others when multiple possible ancestry categories are possible for them). It is laughable to “identify” as 3.4% this, 5.6% that, and so on. People need simple categories, and in places with multiple ancestral currents coming together (the situation of all societies at some level), every individual has to engage in a kind ancestry/culture-identity selection to smooth things over. Even those with very low awareness of their own ancestral origins do this.

This not only applies to people with multiple strains of ancestry from various nation-states, but to really almost all of us, as possible conceptualizations of ancestral-ethnic identity include the regional-subnational (like a specific region of England instead of ‘England’) or para-national (‘Scandinavia’ instead of Norway), and other factors. States, of course, rise and fall, and with them possible identities fade and successor identities must be born.

What if someone had a “Holy Roman Empire” identity in 1800? That awkward, lumbering pesudo-state was dissolved by Napoleon. What were the successor identities? Often based on language, but also based on other factors like religion (German Catholics on the margins of the German world, for generations maintained a kind of sullen, malcontented quasi-ethnic identity, always against the German mainstream, kind of like today when a minority political party seeks only to block legislation by the other guys; this was much to the annoyance of Bismarck, which is what led him to deliberately exclude Austria from the new Germany.

Back to the question of what leads an individual to emphasize and/or deemphasize/ignore/suppress a component of his/her ancestral identity? I would here propose the concepts of “high-prestige identity” and “low-prestige identity,” concepts which are directly related to political dynamics/power even if not exclusively so. I don’t have an easy formula for what makes an identity high prestige and another lower prestige, but just identifying the concepts may be useful.

High-Prestige Identities
What are some examples of prestige identities?

I would say that a (high-)prestige identity is one that the culture encourages or promotes in some way, and to which ‘converts’ or admirers are attracted. In ancient history, at its peak the Roman Citizen identity was a good example. In more recent times in the USA, the WASP identity was a prestige identity (though not in several generations now).

A good example from the present in the USA is the Jewish identity. It emerged in the past few decades as a high-prestige identity. Jews are proud of being Jewish, marginally-affiliated Americans seem also to be attracted to the Jewish identity and try associate with it, and Jewish ancestry is usually emphasized, all of which form a good working definition of what I mean by high-prestige identity.

(This tendency for partial-Jews to emphasize their Jewishness is even true when the non-Jewish half is Nonwhite, like the two daughters of author Amy Chua, whose husband is Jewish: after reading the famous Amy Chua book called “Tiger Mother” some years ago, I found the daughters’ public blogs and social media accounts, and both seem to identify more as Jews; one of them is a major promoter of Israel and IDF fan. They seem to have little emotional investment, by contrast, in their Chinese 50% ancestry.)

It is possible to quantify this. Pew Research has data that support my impressions to the effect that Jews married to non-Jews report raising their children Jewish by about two-to-one. Other polling data suggests that while ‘Jews By Religion’ are only 1.8% of the U.S. population, people identifying as being of Jewish background, partly Jewish, or of “Jewish affinity” (“people who were not raised Jewish, do not have a Jewish parent, and are not Jewish by religion but who nevertheless consider themselves Jewish in some sense”) more than double their numbers to 3.8%. Despite relatively low fertility, Jews have expanded their share of the U.S. White population in the past fifty years, specifically explainable, I think, by the relatively high prestige our culture attaches to that identity.

(Those who do not believe that the Jewish identity is a high-prestige identity in our society today, I would invite to watch video of the AIPAC Conference. The yearly one has just wrapped up.)

What is another example of high-prestige identity, closer to home for me? To find one, reading through old books would do, beginning in the Romantic period of the 19th century and extending well into the 20th, in which writers extol their membership in the Germanic family of nations (using any number of then equivalent then-vogue terms).

In the 23andMe ancestry category framework, roughly they meant the “Northwest European.” I am thinking of people like Rudyard Kipling. Theirs was an era when such a thing, conceptually, was high prestige.

Consider that Norwegian cultural leaders before the 1914 war began spoke in such terms as these:

I’m a Pan-Germanist, I’m a Teuton, and the greatest dream of my life is for the South Germanic peoples and the North Germanic peoples and their brothers in diaspora to unite in a fellow confederation.

These were the words of Bjornstjerne Bjornson in 1901, one of Norway’s greatest writers and author of Norway’s national anthem. (This was shortly before Norway’s own independence in 1905.) Plenty of other leading Norwegians spoke in terms like this, too.

Low-Prestige Identities and ‘Out’-Identity Coping Strategy
People signal their disassociation with low-prestige identities. No Norwegian today, or really anyone else with a public image to maintain, would ever say something like what Bjornson said in 1901, and anyone who does so in a public forum would be either derisively laughed at or condemned. Why?

The answer is that the para-national identity or meta-identity implied by Bjornson’s words actually serves a negative function in today’s world. It is almost an anti-prestige identity. Bjornson, a leading cultural figure in Europe of his generation, if alive today would much more likely say something nearer the opposite: “The greatest dream of my life is More Syrian Refugees!” Why would he demand more Syrians? He would feel pressure to signal that he is not someone affiliated at all with those bad people who would promote the low-/anti-prestige identities like this high-culture, Nobel Prize-winning monster Bjornson promoted.

An important extension of the concept of low-prestige identity is that people of the low-prestige-identity background seek a “Way Out.” For ethnic ancestry, there is not necessarily a direct way “out,” with some oddball exceptions: I recall the recent case of that one White NAACP activist who pretended for years to be Black before being expelled from the group for pretending to be Black. What to do, then? Emphasize or conjure up (in some cases from little or nothing) some kind of exotic ancestry.

A large number of Whites in the USA vaguely claim distant American-Indian ancestry. 23andMe and similar genetic tests reveal that the large majority of Amerindian ancestry claims by White Americans are at least exaggerated and often totally false. (A well-known U.S. politician was one of the many who have falsely claimed Amerindian ancestry; she was either deceived by someone else in her family on this [her story] or deliberately deceived others possibly to get admissions preference at university [her opponents’ story].)

Self-predicted American-Indian ancestry among Whites is much higher than actual tested ancestry. It turns out that under 0.2% of total White ancestral stock in the USA is classified under 23andMe’s Native American category, according to one large peer-reviewed study. The sociological-political dimensions of this, I think, are obvious.

Ethnogenesis in Colonial North America
A specific example of an ancestry-identity that is almost always deemphasized in the USA, perhaps inevitably, is the English/British. Even though something like 30-35% of White-American ancestral stock is British-Protestant, we rarely, if ever, hear anything about that as an “identity” at all. The English element especially of a White American’s ancestry is, I think, the most likely to be ignored entirely, and is almost always and inevitably deemphasized.

One reason for this could be that a new defacto ethnic group was born in North America in the colonial era. Just like Whites in colonial-era South Africa successfully formed an entirely new, legitimate ethnic identity (the Boer/Afrikaner), one could argue that Americans had done so, too, by the late 1700s and early 1800s. I believe this. Subsequent immigration from Europe was so large in scale that competing European identities emerged (reemerged), which remain with us to this day despite tenuous-at-best connections to the ancestral homelands for most of us.

The Future
The few hundred million of us of European (especially, in my view, Northwest European) ancestry across the world today do seem to be encouraged to think of ourselves as nonethnicized “default people” of our countries of residence. It is other people who have legitimate identities, not us Default People. This is something I have consistently picked up on from our culture since high school, and I have always been uncomfortable with it.

So what next? As a process, this kind of thing never comes to a halt. It has not in the past, and it will not in the future.

This may partly explain the interest some of us have in genealogical investigation: It is not simply something of the past, but something which informs the future. After all, how is the future ever defined except in terms of the past?


Postscript: Scenes from some of the places mentioned in this essay or similar places.


Northern Lights / northern Sweden

“Egeskov Slot,” a castle (built 1554) on the island of Funen [Fyn], Denmark. My ancestors had nothing to do with this but were relatively close by. Two direct paternal ancestors (one 1795-1875 and one 1828-1913) were born in Strandelhjorn, Denmark, ten miles from this castle.

Hedmark, Norway

Glomdal Folk Museum, Hedmark, Norway

Hedmark, Norway

Faroe Islands

Halle, Germany, Christmas Market (2013)

From Bad Duerrenberg, village in Germany, birthplace of my mother’s father’s father’s father (1857)

Hotel in Bad Duerrenberg, Germany (now a resort town)

[Note: This was begun in September and October 2017 and left as a draft; finished in March 2018].

bookmark_borderPost-361: The City of “One Mountain, Korea” (Ilsan): Name Origins

It won’t be soon that I forget Ilsan, Korea (일산).

What is Ilsan? It lies along one  of the easiest avenues of approach from the DMZ south towards Seoul. It was my home for one year, 2009-2010. It is a place I still return to an average of around once a year. Many of these times are to visit my friend Jared, who has now lived in Korea ten years, almost all of that in Ilsan.

Some things about the Ilsan I knew are gone, never to return except in reminiscence. My former employer, disappeared. As far as I know, they are now running a business in Koreatown, Los Angeles. The American “burger” restaurant with the comically long name, long gone. The group of foreigners that seemed invincible to me when I first arrived, including Basil and Hannah, both of whom are not likely to ever return to Korea, much less Ilsan. There is also now a Mormon Church partially blocking the view of my old home. (I have often run into White Mormons in Korea, ex-missionaries. One of them [in his case an ex-Mormon but all the same a former missionary in Korea] is actually a Korea Studies student with me now in the USA. I don’t recall ever having met a Korean Mormon.)

Forgive the extraneous content above. The purpose of this post is to determine “which mountain” once and for all. Ilsan, you see, means “One Mountain” in Chinese, represented by the remarkably simple and intuitive Chinese characters of “一山.” So which mountain is that ‘one’ mountain? This is not as simple a question as it seems.

I would note first of all that “il san” is not how Koreans would say “one mountain;” They would say either “Han San” or most likely “San Hana” [한 산; 산 하나]. Chinese numbers (“il” for one) are not used for counting objects in the Korean I know. Perhaps they were a century ago when Ilsan apparently got its name. (There remains a certain arbitrariness to when Korean numbers are to be used and when Chinese numbers are to be used which still trips up even advanced students of Korean.

Ilsan Train Station, which is near the old Ilsan and has been a train station for over a century, must offer a clue. I was there to visit Jared this past time, as he works nearby (I didn’t work or live nearby in my year there; Ilsan is today much bigger and I lived miles away).

Ilsan Station is directly connected to Seoul Station on the Gyeonghui Line, a rail line built by the Japanese in the early 1900s, modernized and fully integrated into the Seoul metropolitan rail transit system since the late 2000s. The time needed from Seoul Station to Ilsan Station is 36 minutes, but trains are infrequent.

If you are coming from Seoul and do not get off at Ilsan Station but continue northward, in another 24 minutes you must get off as you have arrived at the present day’s northernmost accessible train station on this line, Munsan (문산역) (at 38.85 degrees north [location]). Below you see a scattering of people waiting to board a Seoul-bound train. I had just gotten off the northbound (Munsan-bound) train, boarding on the right.

Seoul-to-Ilsan: 36 mins (1,650 KRW, or $1.50 USD)
Ilsan-to-Munsan: 24 mins
Seoul-to-Munsan: 60 minutes (2,050 KRW, or $1.90 USD)

I wonder if it was deliberately planned that the Seoul-to-Munsan duration would be 60 minutes, a round and thus symbolic figure, as if to say: “From the heart of Seoul, to the DMZ in an hour (exactly).”

There is actually one more station north of Munsan, called Dorasan (38.90 degrees north) [location], just a few miles from the Kaesong Industrial Zone inside North Korea. Dorasan, being right along the DMZ, is not regularly accessible. If the DMZ ever opens to traffic, Seoul-to-Kaesong through Munsan and Dorasan would seem to be about 85 minutes, and that is by slow/cheap train.

Having arrived in Ilsan, I walked towards the main road where Jared works where we planned to get coffee and then lunch as we talked. There was something on my mind that day, but that is another story.

Here is the street on which Jared has worked most of ten years (I worked on the same street actually, but a few miles south). This is a few minutes’ walk from the station and the road is, according to Jared, a very old one. If we can “one mountain” from here, that would be a good lead. You’ll notice that there is, in fact, a mountain in the distance (there rarely isn’t in Korea). More on that later.

The original Ilsan was just a village around the titular train station, with all you see in the above picture essentially nothing but farmland in the late 1980s. In the late 1980s, the Korean government selected this flat land for the site of a new, planned city, with great success by the 2000s.

Jared’s interesting life story includes a stint in his youth in the U.S. Army, stationed just north of Ilsan circa 1990 and 1991. He often says he hated the army but was glad he did it anyway, and lucked out with an honorable early-release with downsizing after the USSR collapsed. Jared recalls an Ilsan of dirt roads and dilapidated shacks (well I made that up, but it fits my mental picture). Rural idyll with the occasional army vehicle racing along the dirt road. (I understand that the South Korean 9th “White Horse” Division [9사단 “백마”] is (still) today stationed near Ilsan. In one year I don’t recall ever seeing anything suggesting a military presence in or near Ilsan, except that the name of the Gyeonghui train station nearest to my own workplace of the time was called Baengma, or White Horse. I didn’t realize this connection until years later, though.)

I lived in Ilsan for just over one year, a long time ago now, 2009 and 2010. Before the Smartphone Age. I knew very little about Korea at the time and had no money. My first two months in Ilsan were with no cell phone at all, I recall, partly because I had problems legally making a contract as a foreigner (without an Alien Registration Card), partly because I felt I didn’t need one. This is a good example of how “the Ilsan I knew” was one from which I was pretty disconnected, actually.

I really walked into something completely unknown in 2009, showing up in Ilsan. One benefit of somehow ending up in a completely foreign place, though, is that “everything is new,” which lends itself to an intellectual excitement (for some of us), namely being able to ask a child’s questions with an adult’s mind. (After several more subsequent non-consecutive years in Korea since, the foreignness is still there, but the newness is not. While I know much more, many good questions remain but go unnoticed, unasked, and unexplored.)

After talking a while in the coffeeshop, Friday late morning, full of adjummas and almost no men at all, we stopped by Jared’s employer, and English institute the name of which is a common term in Buddhist theology. I knew the owner a little from visits over the years. He was a KATUSA, a Korean embedded with the U.S. Army due to language skill.

My own place of employment in that year was roughly similar, including that the husband had also been a KATUSA.

I taught 5th through 9th graders, and the youngest are now college age. I later did that full-time two more years elsewhere (Bucheon), as (I thought) the money was good.

The hagwon Jared works at is on the third floor of this building. I notice the first floor has a phone shop. There are an incredible number of those.

The Friday I visited Jared I had a curious phone problem, myself, though not as bad as the one that would befall me two weeks later (the theft of my phone at Texas Street, Busan, with large loss of data and psychological loss that the 2009-Me who went two months with no phone at all would be puzzled at). The phone problem on the Ilsan day was that I had no Korean SIM card at the time on this visit, and I had a guy making business cards for me who told me to call him at a certain time. There are hardly any public phones any more, of course. Jared offered me to call from his work phone, but I declined, with the original intent to find my old workplace. For some reason that didn’t happen, and as I realized time was running out I just went back to Ilsan Station, which did have a public phone.

I called the business card guy, inquired if the batch was done: he said it was. I went down to Euljiro, Seoul, to pick the batch up before he closed for the weekend. I am embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t really figure out how to use the payphone. (I can’t be the only one in the late 2010s like this.) It took a few minutes to get it to work.

In the meantime, I had seen no other mountains except the one Jared pointed out in the distance in this picture.

An Inquiry into the Origin of the Name “Ilsan”
Back to the main question, which has bugged me for years. I intend to not rest until I come up with a substantive answer.

Q. If Ilsan means “One Mountain” (it does), which mountain is it?

There are three candidates: 

(1) Jeongbalsan (정발산), a small hill in the center of today’s Ilsan New City (the least likely because of how insignificant  it is; but I have heard residents of Ilsan propose this, possibly including former coworkers, though my memory is fuzzy);

(2) Shimhak Mountain (심학산) (183.5 m) [location], 7km NW, as the crow flies, from Ilsan Station. This is the one directly visible in the distance in the photo above, a little to the left of the road;

(3) Gobong Mountain [location]. Gobong Mountain (which I have hiked on, has ample traces of military activity/exercises: ditches, trenches, reinforced circular pits for, I presume, artillery), is 2km NE of Ilsan Station but not really visible from present-day Ilsan, all the development of which is on the west side of the tracks. If Gobong is the titular ‘one’ mountain of Ilsan, it is ironic in that it is not visible to 90%, 95% of present-day Ilsan residents.

Jared believes that the ‘one mountain’ must refer to the mountain visible from the road, Shimhak Mountain. The present-day road has existed for a very long time in some form, a dirt road until the early 1990s. The old village of Ilsan was in the vicinity and so the clear view of this solitary mountain lends itself to the name ‘one mountain,’ Jared says, which sounds plausible. I have also heard him speculate over the years that Ilsan may have been named arbitrarily by the railroad to give some name to a proposed station.

Going a little into Korean Wikipedia, I see this partially or wholly confirmed as follows:
“일산동의 본래 이름은 본래 와야촌(瓦野村) 마을이다. 이곳 ‘일산’이란 이름이 처음 등장하는 것은 일제시대로 일본인들이 경의선 철도를 만들고 이곳에 기차역을 설치하면서 인근의 한산마을 이름을 ‘일산’으로 바꾸면서 사용한 것으로 알려져 있다. 이외에 일산은 이 지역의 고유한 이름으로 이곳에 고봉산과 같이 큰산이 하나밖에 없어 일산이라 부르고 있다는 유래설도 전해온다.”

My Translation:
“Ilsan District’s original name was Waya Village. It was first named ‘Ilsan’ during the Japanese period during the construction of the Gyeongui Line, when the Japanese erected a train station in the area. At this time, the Japanese renamed Hansan village ‘Ilsan.’ A common belief further has it that the name was applied because other than Gobong Mountain (고봉산), there is no other large mountain in the area.”

I am left with two questions: (1) The entry specifies that it is commonly believed (유래설도) that Gobong is the mountain. Does that means no one really knows? What evidence is there for it being Gobong except conjecture(2) Which is more plausible: That the Japanese renamed an existing ‘Hansan’ to the sinified ‘Ilsan’ (Han and Il both mean ‘one’), or did some Japanese railroadmen create the name outright and this ‘Hansan’ originally coexisted with ‘Ilsan’ before the Japanese imposed a sinified uniformity at some later time? There is no record I can see of any “一山” (Hansan or Ilsan) on a late-1800s map of the area, but then there are no small village designations. Perhaps after all this effort I am no closer to a definitive answer.

Now I find that a Mr. Choi Jae-Yong endorses the Hansan–>Ilsan and Gobong Mountain arguments in a 2015 book, “In Search of the History of Our Land through History and Etymology” (역사와 어원으로 찾아가는 우리 땅 이야기). (The relevant excerpt in Korean is here.)

Choi says that the place was also called 한뫼, hanmweh, the latter character (as far as I know) an extinct Korean word for mountain. He adds the surprising twist that this ‘Han’ we are dealing with did not mean ‘One’! The Chinese character used for the name was a different Han, which he says, in a complicated explanation, can here mean ‘great,’ or ‘big/high,’ which would fit because Gobong itself means high mountain. Choi says that the Japanese changed the name in 1914.

How could the Japanese, who could then, and still can, read Chinese characters and take pride therein, get the intended meaning-according-to-the-Chinese-characters wrong? They changed it from ‘high mountain’ (Hansan ) to ‘one mountain’ (Hansan [一山] in Korean; Ilsan [also 一山], sinicized)?

I would propose the following as the most likely explanation: The Japanese railroad promotion man in charge of naming the station, or the low-level Japanese government official, or whoever it was who was in charge of sinicizing place names in 1914, understood spoken Korean. He either heard the name orally only (hearing “han san,” it is only natural he thought it would mean “one mountain” rather than the other, obscure, Chinese-origin Han discussed at confusing length by Choi above), perhaps because the only Koreans on hand when he inquired about the local village name were illiterate. It was a deeply rural area at the time, after all. Thus the name was transformed.

So it was that one Japanese railroad man’s or bureaucrat’s misunderstanding a century ago stuck the place with the goofy name ‘One Mountain’! Let this be a lesson: As some Korean teachers are wont to tell you, “Always check the Hanja” (Chinese character).

bookmark_borderPost-360: Nov 11th, Armistice Day and War Memory

November 11th, 2017, is 99 years since WWI Armistice Day (Nov. 11, 1918) (see also post-242). Sometime in the past twelve months I watched the 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front for the first time. Some years ago I read some of the book but misplaced it before finishing.

U.S. Veterans Day is on the day it is because of Nov. 11th, 1918. Few seem aware of this. This leads me to ask how Americans actually remember the war today.

All wars tend to be remembered differently by those who actually lived through them, or fought in them, than by later generations. This we can attribute to changing political circumstances and/or to concerted ‘lobbying’ efforts to remember a war in a certain way. There are many examples of this.

There is not now and I don’t think ever was much of a ‘lobby’ to remember WWI in the USA in a certain way. The U.S. entered this war towards the end and was only involved in major combat operations for six months in 1918, though its contribution and political commitment was decisive in the German decision to give up in fall 1918. Considering the limited commitment and the return to traditional “isolationism” (the George Washington Doctrine) quickly after the armistice, American memory of the war is inevitably going to be weaker than maybe any of the belligerents’, on whose land battles were fought, whose political systems were shaken and in many cases overturned by the war, and many more of whose men were killed.

A German pacifist and war veteran wrote the All Quiet on the Western Front novel in the late 1920s, inspired by his own experiences (a non-pacifist bestseller of the same era was Storm and Steel by another German veteran, Ernst Junger). All Quiet was immediately a huge international bestseller, a fact that alone tells us what war memory was like ten years after the war’s end. I think these four stills from that film may capture its essence:

The film follows a group of 18-year-old students (first picture), who are encouraged to enlist by their ultrapatriotic teacher, who is presented by the film as a pompous fool. The boys join enthusiastically. They fall in with Army life and have some good but many bad experiences with characters in the Army on their own side (second picture). They fight, and begin to die (third picture), but for what gain they die (even the temporary tactical gain of a particular battle) is deliberately made completely unclear in the film. They die for nothing. By the end (the fourth picture is the very last scene, a fade-out onto the field of crosses), almost all the major characters have been killed in various ways by an unseen, mechanical enemy. A waste of human life. That is the message of the movie.

This is classic pacifism, and is really not the standard view of war, of the military, in the USA that I have known since the 1990s. Pacifist ideas as such today have been relegated to a political margin, heard sometimes but not really taken seriously. (This is an inevitability given the world political situation since about 1942.)

I understand that pacifism was once very important in U.S. culture/politics, and I don’t mean that brief period around the late 1960s and 1970s that exerts a powerful cultural memory now fifty years later. I mean a much longer time ago. I discovered in my grandfather (b. 1916)’s book collection, several serious pacifist books of the late 1910s and 1920s or so, which he seems to have inherited from his father (born 1886 in Germany; in the USA from 1887) and other relatives. He also had a copy of All Quiet on the Western Front, in English, published in one of its early editions.

So how do non-pacifist Americans, that is, mainstream Americans, remember the disastrous 1914-1918 in Europe? I think most Americans “write it off” as a prelude to the 1939-1945 war; that is, the 1939-1945 mythos swallows up 1914-1918, destroys it, “puppetizes it,” towards the political ends of 1939-1945 which remain with us in the 2010s. Roughly: Imperial Germany in 1914 is the “bad guy,” is a nationalistic-militaristic bully-state that threatens world peace, and — though this is vaguer — somehow maliciously orchestrated the war in summer 1914 through aggressive intent and aggressive action. A surer menace to world peace, unknown. A regime that bore all the “war guilt” for 1914.

These were the ideas churned out of the British or French propaganda ministries, ideas that at the time were widely rejected in the USA ,in which popular opinion was against the war through its first years, ideas which, in the 1920s were essentially all discredited in the vigorous historians’ academic battles over “war guilt” for 1914 (the so-called Kriegsschuldfrage). In other words, this view of Imperial Germany in 1914 is wrong, at least if we trust expert consensus. Imperial Germany, the historians concluded, was not much different from any other regime in Europe at the time and acted in its interests, even if a bit sloppily, just like every other state did.

I note that the U.S.-made film All Quiet on the Western Front, released in April 1930, does not depict the German soldiers as villains at all but generals as the opposite, as sympathetic people, normal people, not unlike “us.”

The problem was not ‘Germany’ or ‘Prussianism’ in any sense which singles out Germans as a people, or Berlin’s Hohenzollern Dynasty, or the military, or anything else; the problem was the lack of a stable international system, and, really, the fact that 20th century Europe still had a 19th century ruling apparatus.

So rather than a morality tale of “this state was a good-guy and that state a bad-guy,” what is forgotten, I think, in the popular mind, is that the real lesson is one of poor statesmanship. It was so during the July 1914 crisis, during the war, and during/after the 1918-1919 peace negotiations. Too few realized that this war had no winners. It had been socially destructive and seriously destabilizing. Perhaps worst of all, it gave birth and sudden energy to the global Communist movement, starting in Russia; one hundred years ago this week, in fact, Nov. 7, 1917, armed Communists took over St. Petersburg, then the Russian capital. Russia was in peace negotiations with Germany within weeks and exited the war soon thereafter, before large numbers of Americans began arriving at the front.

In long retrospect, strong candidates for villainy may be the British and French governments, who angrily demanded their diplomats shove aside hapless President Wilson’s “peace without victory,” demanded Germany be punished, and saw to it that it was. The War Guilt clause demanded reparations. The results were bad for everyone.

Anyway, my impression is that the British, French, and Germans remember the 1914-1918 war, after a century, with a deep sadness, closer to the All Quiet on the Western Front view than anything. It is harder for Americans to do this.

bookmark_borderPost-359: Martin Luther at 500 / Scenes from the Luther Party

Count me among the many fans or admirers of Martin Luther. Today is his day. Not his birthday, but the day he crossed his own Rubicon in life and began to really achieve his life’s purpose.

Five hundred years ago today (Oct. 31, 1517), Luther the young monk, Luther the German dissident nobody, walked a short distance to the town center and nailed a document he’d been working on to the door of the main church. This was the church in a no-name town with a third-rate university (Wittenberg). His document called for a theological debate; he’d been mulling over the issues at hand for a few years; he was sure the authorities were wrong and equally sure there was a need for someone to take a stand. If not me, who? And the rest, as we like to say, is history.

I have been twice to this very site. The church still stands in Germany and the door has been re-created. Wittenberg is today a tourist site. The town center, preserved, is not much different, i imagine, than it was in the 1510s. It is not a bad place but not the most impressive place you’ll ever see, either.

How could it be? A country-bumpkin type, not one of the important people, someone who’d stumbled his way through early life, someone who seemed adrift and obsessed over his religious uncertainties. This character rises out of nowhere to confront and defeat the Church and the entire established order of Europe?


(Thanks to my friend James A. for this version)
One reason why the Luther story has inspired so many for so long is that there are many Luthers. People can see what they want to see in him; he is not a figure easily classifiable, partly because he is a bridge between historical eras. partly because he was such a trailblazer that he came before most such classifications were even roughly in place.

We have Luther the Devout Christian; Luther the Discoverer of Grace and thus Luther the Religious Revivalist. Ending it there cannot begin to capture what’s going on. We have Luther the Common Man (against the ‘Fatcat’ or the priestly elite caste); Luther the Uncompromising Crusader for Truth and Honest-Dealing (against the slick con-men types); Luther the Optimist (following his discovery of Grace); Luther the Intellectual and Scholar; Luther the Bombastic Propagandist; Luther the Country-Bumpkin and anti-Elitist (and yet his patron is the King of Saxony); Luther the flouter of early-16th-century Political Correctness is enjoyable to watch. We have a Luther whose immediate ancestors were Late-Medieval men yet Luther is not one, thus Luther the New Man, the Early Modern Man; the latter leads us to another enduring image, Luther the German (or perhaps Luther the Northern European); Luther the modern-style Patriot or proto-Nationalist is a sure extension from that. Lest anyone accuse him of being a proto-Prussian-militarist aligning to some kind of late 19th-to-eary-20th-century stereotype, we also have Luther the Pacifist who consistently refuses and denounces any armed struggle. Lest any of this seem too serious, we cannot miss Luther the Lover of Life (following his discovery of Grace, and following his marriage); and Luther the Joke-Teller, the Dry-Humorist.

But the Luther that most endures would seem to be Luther the crusading, righteous Dissident; the (Religio-)Political Insurgent. And what of politics? We have a Luther the Conservative coexisting with a Luther the Overturner of things Conservative’; Luther the abandoner of established, inherited, dominant orthodoxies that are not defensible. Tradition itself ipso facto is no justification for Luther, after all, if it means indifference and lazy acceptance or wrong or harmful ideas. Hence, after all, Luther the Reformer.

The German press in this the 500th Reformation Year, has called Luther Der erste Wutbürger, or “the First ‘Angry Citizen’.” The term Wutbürger‘ [Anger/Rage+Citizen] is a recent coinage in German, voted 2010’s “new word of the year.” Wutbürger is defined in English by a Wiki writer as “an angry or enraged citizen, especially one who feels politically marginalized.” The term was coined to describe, among others, Thilo Sarrazin, an ex-official who published a book highly critical of the German state, and also various civic movements on the scene in 2010. The seven years since have seen many more Wutbürger on the scene and many are now in the Bundestag.

Usually, political anger is a flash in the pan and by its nature cannot sustain itself, or in some cases it is crushed by force. In other words, very few Luther-type figures ever achieve anything. He quickly became

The early days of mass printing allowed his writings to spread widely, quickly, cheaply and for him to become a symbol for the aspirations of millions. (I learned from the new Luther movie that 100% of his writings were 100% ‘pirated’ by early printers; he never received one cent of royalties for any of the millions of copies of his many writings; he didn’t mind.)

If words can be printed, so could pictures. Some of the pro-Reformation artwork that took off with the Luther movement is very clever and like nothing we see today. They must be among the earliest political cartoons. They range from “agitation propaganda,” to serious lionization of Luther and the reformers (“Luther’s Triumph“), to mockery, belittlement or demonization of the detractors (“papists”), to the satirical, like this:

This pro-Lutheran cartoon (1524) makes me laugh: “The Devil proclaims the opening of his feud with Luther.” The And how else does one inform one of one’s intention to open a feud but to write as much in a letter and hand deliver it? Naturally!

I found this Reformation cartoon in a Luther biography I found at the library which I have tried reading during spare moments but failed to get through before the 500th has finally come:

.I was briefly (a few days) in Germany again in early 2017, on the way to and from Korea. I recall that commemorations and excitement about the Reformation anniversary were around. I understand the whole country, by special proclamation, has October 31st off this year for the anniversary, and many have Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday all off. A Luther Vacation.

I commemorated the great man in multiple ways, one of which you are now reading, i.e. my attempt to write something of some meaning on him that hasn’t already been said a hundred times (in this perhaps I have not succeeded; my insights on him cannot be said to be novel). There was also the new Luther movie in early October (I went with M. who was in town that week; a great time).

Another commemoration was a last-minute decision on Sunday October 29th (Reformation Sunday). I snuck in a visit to the Washington, D.C., National Cathedral, which, for the occasion, was full of thousands of Lutherans (and others, I presume). Every one of the thousands of seats was full and there were people crowding all along the sides and in the back, myself included. I have never seen so many Lutherans in one place. “Jubilant” is how I’d describe the atmosphere. As if a war had just been won. I’m glad I went, despite rainy/windy conditions and my having an exam in International Trade the next day.

Then there was the hugely successful Reformation Party / Luther Party at the church, some moments from which I include here:

I created (below) a shorter version of the above exposition by Luther, using a few props:
Below: The dining room stood ready for the Luther Party. Above: some of the Luther-related books on the rear bookshelf visible in the picture below.
The food was great and all-you-can-eat. There were over a hundred attendees, among whom was me. It was I who took all these pictures. I brought a friend, G.S., and he enjoyed it very much, especially given how long (5+ years) he spent in Germany. Many of the rest of the attendees are people I know now a little bit, or used to know. There were also many guests I had never seen before.

A fitting tribute, one of countless thousands of tributes to 1517 across the world in 2017.

Oh! And the Luther impersonator. How can there be a Luther Party without a Luther impersonator?

Here he is. “Luther enters the building”:

Luther preaches! The people listen:
Lots else happened as well. There was one guest, who may be related to me, who seemed to be heckling or teasing Luther, all in good fun: I am quite sure Luther didn’t mind.

Oh, and an “indulgence peddler” was also active before dinner, wandering around selling them in a big basket. I managed to procure one which gives me “Permission to not attend one meeting you really don’t want to attend.”

Among many others, told E.S., an Australian I know who is in Korea for the year, about the Luther party. E.S. was impressed and replied that if there is one thing the world needs more of, it is “more Luther impersonators.”

bookmark_borderPost-358: Hundred-Dollar Bill

An ATM at a 7-11 gave me a one-hundred-dollar bill today, a first-ever experience for me.

It did not give me the option of what denomination bill I wanted but just thrust the hundred-dollar bill at me. It then beeped in annoyance that I wasn’t quicker on the draw, and then was done with me.

Since when have ATMs stocked hundreds? I ask.

As any true American knows, only criminals (drug dealers) and ignorant foreign tourists ever carry hundred dollar bills. Cashiers are known to reject them; even when accepted, he who pays with a hundred-dollar bill is viewed with suspicion. I have always understood/felt this stigma against hundreds. In fact, growing up I recall never even seeing a hundred-dollar bill, with one exception.

I remember the hundred-dollar bill as a reference point in the distant and mysterious world described by the rap music of the late 1990s, music we were all exposed to. Rappers used the word ‘Benjamin’ to refer to hundreds (“It’s All About the Benjamins,” circa 1997-1998; they were implicitly bragging about dealing drugs, which fueled a high-life with hundred-dollar bills, drug earnings, flowing freely).

This puts the hundred-dollar bill way outside any mainstream use for people of my generation or older. Getting this hundred-dollar bill at the ATM leads me to ask whether this social prejudice has changed; are people born in the 2000s, now in K-12 schooling, going to be much less prone to this prejudice against the ‘Benjamin’? Or will an emergent anti-cash prejudice reinforce the anti-hundred prejudice?

The first time I ever saw a hundred-dollar bill.
An anecdote. An eight-year-old me: enthusiastic about doing well in 2nd grade, involved in speculation with others about whether ghosts inhabited the boys’ bathroom at school, keen to play soccer at ‘recess’ after lunch, and a daily rider of the school bus with many peers. A character called Hosmann, a friend at the time, rode the same bus. Hosmann, on the bus one day, produced a hundred-dollar bill out of his backpack. He proudly showed the bill off to other students, including me.

Second-grade students, of course, don’t even carry cash beyond something like a dollar and a few coins for school cafeteria lunch money. Hosmann was of Bolivian origin. He had odd turns-of-phrase in English (he would say “twist” instead of “turn”). How did he procure this hundred-dollar bill? I presume he pilfered it from  home, from his mom, to show off to his peers. Why did he think it a great idea to flash it around on the school bus? A bad sign for where he was headed in later years. I recall his tendency to giggle at everything. I recall him giggling whenever a student saw the hundred that day, which he kept half-concealed in his backpack.

This little experience, around the middle 1990s, made such an impression on the eight-year-old me that I still remember it. A hundred-dollar bill! It may as well have been an artifact from the lost city of Atlantis. I remember criticizing Hosmann to other students at the time for this recklessness.

I cannot remember much else about the school-bus experience from that year. This experience stands out. (Side anecdote: The only other thing I can now clearly pull out of my memory about that year’s school bus is Oscar the Bus Driver, Hispanic, perhaps Salvadorean, a fat man always keen to joke around with students. He acquired the endearing nickname “the Garbage Man” among the student-passengers, which he didn’t mind. This came from a game he would play in which he or students would point to someone outside on the sidewalk or street and say “That is you in the future!” He would give as good as he got. It must have been that once a student was playing this game when a garbage truck came around at an (in)opportune time; the nickname stuck.)

So what of the origin of the American anti-hundred-dollar-bill prejudice? I am guessing that it was probably considered too risky due to its high value, especially when street crime rose from the mid-1960s. Before that, it was probably also stigmatized as an unnecessarily-high-value bill. However! Both of these factors (street robbery, as of the 2010s, and the real value of the $100 bill today, accounting for inflation) have declined:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator,

  • $100 in October 1957 equals $870 today (October 2017).
  • $100 in October 1977 equals $400 today.
  • $100 in October 1997 equals $150 today.
  • $100 in October 2017 equals less than four hours of work (gross pay) for the average worker ($25/hour in 2015).

So maybe our anti-hundred-dollar-bill prejudice should be discarded as an anachronism.

bookmark_borderPost-355: “Chinese Government of Beijing is Rogue Government”

The Chinese students here (a graduate school in Washington, D.C. at which I study) tend to kneejerkingly defend the Chinese government whenever it is even implicitly criticized in some venue, as if they were paid agents of their state. (Some, of course, will be ‘paid agents of their state,’ government officials and things.) Anyway, this kind of thing is not well received. The Chinese students here, taken as a whole, are generally seen as politically drab “party line” (Communist Party) people. Not all are exactly like this. A large number are. The rest seem to be politically neutral.

So we have a Chinese Student political spectrum ranging from “extremely pro-regime,” to “highly pro-regime,” to “moderately pro-regime,” with a further contingent of “silent.” There are no dissidents.

What must go through their minds when they see actual anti-Communist demonstrations:

This is in front of the White House about May 2017. The head demonstrator of this small platoon, a short woman with poor English syntax and a bullhorn, kept repeating: “Chinese government is mafia! Chinese government is mafia!” She occasionally let ‘mafia’ have a rest and substituted one or the other of the words ‘evil’ or ‘criminal.’

I cannot judge the merits of their issue as I do not understand it. Many neutral onlookers probably saw them as purely cranks or malcontents, especially due to their incoherent sloganeering and grammatical deficiencies; if cranks is what they are, they are far from alone in the civic space in front of the White House. (There is one Flat Earth activist who often shows up with whom a friend and I once talked for a few minutes.)

A policeman came by to silence the bullhorn after a few minutes, but the ‘Beijing is Rogue Government’ squad remained.

I am glad that the street in front of the White House is closed to traffic. Its enormous pedestrian- and bicycle-only space creates a kind of Town Square atmosphere. One anchor of this is the perennial protest tent across from the White House. The main issue has always been nuclear weapons. Over the years that protest tent has accumulated many other issues. It is, today, completely covered in various slogans. I once talked to the guy manning that tent once. He didn’t even know what some of the issues were. One, anyway, it should come as no surprise, is ‘Tibet.’

The Tibet issue is one of the few that unites the entire political spectrum in the USA; to be angrily anti-Tibet puts you in an odd place, as both U.S. Left and Right are pro-Tibet with no domestic U.S. faction I know of (or can imagine) that is anti-Tibet. I have heard Chinese students, though, unaware perhaps of how isolating such talk is within U.S. political discourse, refer to the Tibet movement as a terrorist movement. (The Communist Party approves.)

One day, perhaps it was late 2016, someone in a class told me one of our Chinese classmates was a Communist Party member. I was a little surprised because I didn’t see her as one of these ‘enforcers’ for the Beijing government I have alluded to above. She seemed to me rather one of those ambitious-and-smart-but-somehow-uncurious types (this is, for me, a tragic type). I saw her, further, as someone who who didn’t take strong stands on things, didn’t fully develop independent ideas, didn’t challenge things (she would often ask softball questions to the teacher that I found a waste of time), and she didn’t have the kind of awareness of issues I’d expect an equivalent Westerner to have. She was, though, someone who did always want to show how smart she was. Is this the political type that today’s technocratic China has produced en masse?

bookmark_borderPost-354: Grandfather in 1943

“The year was 1943,” as they say; the Glenn Miller Orchestra was at the top of the music charts.

If you were in the right place at the right time, in summer 1943, you could have caught glimpse of my grandfather in the uniform of the U.S. Army Air Corps. His term of service began in June 1943. I think he was conscripted. He would have been passed over in the first waves in 1942 due to having a dependent wife and son and his occupation (farmer). He spent most of the period from later 1943 to the end of the war (May 1945) in England, fixing airplanes, or so is my understanding. When the war was over, he returned to farming in Iowa, as he and his family had been doing for several generations (except for a brief stint in Colorado).

My Iowa cousin, J., looks a lot like our grandfather in these pictures.

J. would, himself, serve in the U.S. Army some six decades after our grandfather (the 2000s). I haven’t seen much of J. recently but I remember him telling me, after his discharge from active service some years ago, that he hadn’t really liked being in the army. I have heard similar things from a lot of people. Sometimes they also add something like “well, but, you know, it was a great experience to have gone through all the same.”

I saw my grandfather often when I was ages 0-13 or so, but don’t now recall him saying anything about his military service.

A farm scene. The baby is my uncle.

My grandfather died in 2007. I don’t recall how I came to find these photographs. I think I came across them in 2014, probably in the possession of my father.

Who took these pictures? It may have been my grandmother. He seems to have been on leave visiting her, anyway.

Some letters my grandfather wrote to my grandmother at this time survive. He would have written them while stationed at some airbase in England as a U.S. Army Air Corps mechanic. They remained at the house in Iowa until they died. Seventy years after their writing, I had the chance to read one of these letters. It was nothing special, in fact; just saying ‘Hi,’ really. He talked about on-base friends he had and that the big pastime was going to the movies on off-time. He wrote the name of a movie he’d recently seen. He was never near any active fighting that I know of.

(On the custom of writing letters by hand, on paper, and mailing them. It makes me think what it takes to ensure something you write survives into the distant future. A lot of it may really be luck, hence our use of the phrase “[this document] survives,” as everyday life constitutes a constant storm of destruction of small things like small letters;  most of what we do ends up discarded or otherwise lost, sooner or later. Losing what we’ve written may actually be more of a risk under higher technology: The great majority of my own digital correspondences, since about the late 1990s when I was first online as a child, are now gone without a trace. Early email accounts, passwords forgotten or deactivated with little or nothing saved; instant messenger programs, long lost; school email accounts, inaccessible to students upon graduation; and so on. I can only hope that the contents of this humble blog are not lost too easily.)

bookmark_borderPost-352: Twenty Thousand Photographs

Photographs I Have Taken
2013: 6,847
2014: 5,570
2015: 5,613
2016 through August 16th: 3,727
= 21,757 photos taken in 44.5 months, or about 490 per month.

Some hundreds of these appear on this very website. They direct a lot of the traffic that comes from strangers to what is now called

This seems like a lot of pictures. I don’t remember at all what the great majority were. How could I? Why did I take them?

I do know exactly why I took about a thousand of those taken in year 2014 (nearly 20% of that year’s total). They were very explicitly taken to “preserve the past.” I photographed many of the papers, writings, and other miscellany of my grandfather in Connecticut who died eighteen years ago. He was born a hundred years ago this year.

His files were then still intact. Without going into details, in 2014 I had a fear that everything might be thrown away at any moment. When I visited Connecticut on one of my trips there in 2014, I figured I could prevent the total loss of it all by photographing, no matter what comes later. Then, I reasoned, I could transcribe some of his writings and upload them to a website that I could create for that purpose. This has not yet been done.

There were many good writings, all of which were bound to be lost. I had the power in my hands, literally, to preserve them. His writings were things like letters-to-the-editor, essays, short stories, newsletters for the clubs he was in, and of course his full-length comedic novel from the ant’s perspective (two animation movies quite similar to his novel were produced in the late 1990s; he had his manuscript done already by the mid 1970s; among his files there was much correspondence with literary agents trying to get that novel published). There were also speeches he gave, personal histories and reminiscences, and travel writings, such as from his trip to East Germany in 1979.

He was also a photographer and a longtime member of a local camera club. My attempts to take digital photos with my phone camera of his old black-and-white photos, some from the 1930s, were not totally satisfactory. There were some photographs around even older, mostly family pictures. Of those he took, one interesting set shows him with buddies in the 1938-1940 period with the Connecticut National Guard. The guardsmen, himself included, are photographed horsing around, often with shirts off, and grinning. This was a military outfit, even if in peacetime, so this surprised me. My grandfather had lied about his eyesight (it was below standard for the army) and when they figured it out, they kicked him out. That was before the war began…

Then there was the slide projector. My cousin B.W. helped get it working, after some difficulty. It was a 1970s model. It was my first time using one of those. There were boxes full of slides and  was able to photograph some very nicely. He was a comedic writer and a comedic photographer. He made entire visual stories out his slides. The one pre-loaded in the projector was made with the help of a local family, a boy and his mother. I could recreate the slideshow on these pages. It hasn’t been seen by very many people in recent decades. I think it was made in the 1970s as well.

The only failure of this historical preservationist endeavor was in my cousin B.W. and I wasting an hour or two trying to get the film projector to work. We did finally get it to work, whirring along and projecting those “moving pictures” our grandfather had filmed decades before we were born. The reel we’d spooled in was of some kind of trip they;d taken, perhaps in the 1950s. The case was marked ‘Florida.’ We’d seen a minute of it, a scene filmed in the airplane, a scene of palm trees swaying, a scene of people walking on the tarmac after getting off the plane — then — poof! — the light bulb burned out. It was not easily replaceable at all and they’d stopped making them long ago.

The burning out of that lightbulb, when I look back on it, is a clear metaphor for the whole endeavor, for trying to hold onto the past, or maybe to “find” the past, but being unable to do so.

Is remembering the past now much easier than before? It’s true that enormous amounts are now being recorded — Three years of my occasional writings on these pages, for one thing. Then there is the Facebook behemoth. For all that sort of thing, though, there really is no perfect repository of “what has actually occurred.” For instance, despite the thousands of words on these pages, written by me, rather little of my “life,” really, has shown up here, just what I choose to write about. I prefer writing, when time allows, about other subjects than my day-to-day life, though aspects of my own life sometimes play supporting roles.

Then there is the ephemerality of the Internet. Much of the Internet that I remember from the old days has vanished totally, including my own first-ever webpage, a tribute page to The Simpsons that I made about year 1999 when I was in middle school (while trying to learn HTML). The second website I tried making, about year 2001, has also long since vanished (no big loss). My early email accounts have, likewise, all vanished with no access, that I know of, to the archives. Various discussion forums I used to visit in the mid-2000s are now totally gone, with all posts lost.

It would seem that memories themselves are like this, too. Not all survive. Even to recall, in the evening, precisely what one did that very same morning can be difficult. How, then, can we hope to really remember one year ago, ten years ago, and so on. At some point, things fogs up, and at some point beyond that, things vanish. This can happen quickly. As soon as events happen, they start slipping away.

What, then, is “history”? It can’t be “telling us what happened”, because of the slide towards the loss of most information that starts as soon as something occurs. Much more can be said on this and the historian E.H. Carr said it well.

Is the attempt to “preserve the past,” in general, to fight a hopeless rearguard action against a superior enemy force that will eventually win? Yet still we fight.

bookmark_borderPost-350: “Scolded by the Thief”: China’s Resentment of THAAD Missiles in Korea [News Translated]

It was during the now-forgotten MERS Virus Panic of Summer 2015 that I first heard of “THAAD” (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, a U.S.-made anti-ballistic missile system).

Public places in Seoul were largely empty at the time, with the great masses afraid of inhaling a gulp of MERS-tainted air and staying home. Schools and hagwons were closed by the thousands; cafes were deserted; tourist spots, likewise. The TV news at the time consisted of wall-to-wall MERS coverage, as more infected persons were discovered and some began to die. A war panic, without the war.

Anti-government protestors, though, kept vigil, as they always do, at the broad avenue in front of Gwanghwamun [광화문] in central Seoul. As so many of those normally out and about were hunkering down during the MERS Panic, these protestors were more visible than usual. I was there. I was not particularly afraid of MERS and used the opportunity to take full advantage of the emptiness of the streets. (The final MERS death toll was 36, almost all of them elderly; I don’t think there was ever evidence of any sustained general airborne transmission.)

I recall vividly two things from Gwanghwamun on that MERS days: (1) The unusual daytime silence, and (2) The handful of predictably dour protestors, some masked to prevent MERS. One of the protestors’ placards had the word THAAD on it. “What’s THAAD?” The placard called for U.S. military expulsion from Korean soil. I guessed THAAD must be something the U.S. military was doing. (See post-318, “A Glance at the Gwanghwamun Protestors, “. I will repost the photo here:)


Photograph taken by me, June 2015. See here Post #318: The Gwanghwamun Protestors
(Note #1: Some would call the group behind that burgundy placard above “친북성향” [“Rather Friendly Towards North Korea”], a kind of political slur in South Korea. These groups are worth watching because they are political spearhead groups, by which I mean that they are the first to speak up on issues that often get traction. Their influence is much greater than the vote totals that their explicit parties can secure.) (Note #2: THAAD will, as far as I can tell, be under ROK-Army control and not USFK control, so the sign is factually incorrect in that it insinuates the USFK is bringing in THAAD. [See Post-#318 for a translation of the slogans on the placard.])

A few weeks ago, the THAAD deal between the U.S. and ROK was finalized and the deployment process begun. There was some opposition from the left-wing Democratic Party [더불어민주당], who performed well in the recent elections, but the issue was never put to a vote in the National Assembly. It was simply a government initiative. Full operational readiness for THAAD, they say, will be at hand before the end of 2016.

My impression in mid-2015 was that THAAD had very low awareness in the Korean public mind, and Koreans I asked about it had never heard of it. By this summer (2016), a year later, it has become perhaps the top international political story in Korea, and a significant one for East Asia as a whole.

China has been publicly resentful of THAAD.

The Korean Democratic Party organized a visit to reassure China about THAAD, sending some of its top parliamentary figures. The visit may not have achieved much, according to a news report which I will translate here:


From SBS News. Story here, with video
더민주 의원 6명 방중…’사드 비공개 좌담회’

<앵커> 더불어민주당 소속 의원 6명이 논란 속에 2박 3일간의 사드 관련 중국 방문 일정을 시작했습니다. 중국에 도착한 의원들은 당내에서도 엇갈리는 찬반 논란이 부담스러웠던지 베이징대 교수들과의 좌담회를 비공개로 열었습니다. 베이징 편상욱 특파원이 보도합니다.

Six Democratic Party Representatives in China for Closed-Door Talks on THAAD  [Translated by Peter] August 8th, 2016

<Anchor> Amid the controversy over THAAD, six representatives of the Democratic Party have begun a  three-day official visit to China. Despite the division within the Democratic Party itself over this issue, the party reached an agreement to hold closed-door talks with Chinese academics on the matter. Our Beijing correspondent Pyun Sang-Wook reports.

<기자> 오늘(8일) 오전 베이징 공항에 도착한 더불어민주당 의원 6명은 이번 중국방문에 집중된 이목을 의식한 듯 매우 신중한 모습을 보였습니다.

<Reporter> Six representatives of the Democratic Party today arrived at the Beijing Airport, and all seemed determined to concentrate fully on the task at hand during their official visit to China.

[김병욱/더불어민주당 의원 : 한중간의 관계가 중요하죠. 지금까지 잘 발전돼왔고, 앞으로도 좀 더 보다 성숙된 모습으로 발전하기 위해서….]

[Kim Byung-Wook / Democratic Party National Assembly Member: “Korean-Chinese Relations are, of course, important. They have been developing well. Moving forward, we intend to improve ties even more and develop a more mature relationship…”]

하지만 공항엔 중국 기자가 단 한 명도 나타나지 않았습니다. 한국 야당 의원들의 방중을 연일 대서특필하던 중국 관영 언론의 태도와는 사뭇 다른 것입니다.

But in fact not a single member of the Chinese media appeared at the airport. Past official visits by Korean opposition figures received headlines in the Chinese state media. The reception this time stands in marked contrast.

도착 첫 일정은 베이징대 교수들과의 간담회였습니다. 주제는 한반도 사드 배치 등 한·중 간 안보 현안이었습니다. 민감한 주제를 감안한 듯 3시간 동안의 간담회는 전면 비공개로 진행됐습니다.

The first item on the agenda: A round-table discussion with academics at Beijing University. THAAD deployment on the Korean Peninsula was one of the topics discussed, as were others related to ROK-Chinese relations and security. The sensitive nature of topics under discussion meant that the three-hour-long talks were held behind closed doors.

[박 정/더불어민주당 의원 : 사드가 배치되는 과정에서 소통 부재가 제일 컸다. 두 번째는 양국의 언론들이 너무 이 문제를 키운 게 없잖아 있다 이런 말씀을 (베이징대 교수들이) 하셨습니다.]

[Park Jung / Democratic Party National Assembly Member: “The biggest problem in this whole THAAD matter is the lack of communication. The second problem, according to the esteemed Chinese academics with whom we spoke, is the press — in both our countries the press bears some of the responsibility for this problem.”]

인민일보 자매지인 환구시보는 청와대가 ‘사드 배치로 한중 관계를 긴장시킨 책임을 북한과 중국에 전가하는 건 적반하장’이라는 내용의 칼럼을 실었습니다.

The Global Times, an organ of the Chinese People’s Daily, published an op-ed saying that Seoul is damaging ties with China through THAAD deployment. It accused Seoul of hypocrisy and bad faith in accusing China and North Korea of being in the wrong, using a Chinese proverb [적반하장, 賊反荷杖, “Thief Instead Scolds”] in which a thief scolds his victim rather than being scolded himself, comparing Seoul to the thief.

하지만 나머지 관영 언론들은 연일 맹공을 퍼붓던 사드 문제에 대해 오늘은 자제하는 모습을 보였습니다. 중국이 사드 공세의 속도 조절에 나선 건 지, 좀 더 지켜봐야 할 것으로 보입니다.

베이징에서 SBS 편상욱입니다.

But the relentless attacks by the Chinese state media seem able to be brought under control. The pace of China’s attacks on THAAD may soon start to be reigned in. We have to wait and see how the situation develops.

In Beijing, this is Pyun Sang-Wook reporting.

Final thoughts:

1.) The Democratic Party of Korea (더불어민주당) is, curiously, is still called the “opposition party” [야당] in the Korean press despite winning more seats than the government party (Saenuri Party 새누리당) in the April 2016 election. No party now has a majority.

2.) I recently re-read the first-ever account of Korea written by a Westerner, the journal of Hendrik Hamel [published 1658]. I can’t help but be reminded by this Korean delegation of the regular tributary visits and payments that Chosun Korea made to China. Hamel talks about these some length in his book. (Hamel and the other shipwrecked Dutchmen were held against their will in the Kingdom of Chosun [i.e., Korea], and the Chosun king was very afraid of the Chinese learning about the Westerners. He locked them up when a Chinese delegation visited.)

3.) Whether you agree that a walk down the above path of historical analogy is valid or not, at least you’ll agree that this THAAD issue is a metaphor for bigger things.

4.) A similar deployment just twenty-five years ago would never have generated a high-profile official state visit to China no matter how angry China was — I say this with certainty because until August 1992 there were no official ROK-PRC relations at all and thus no official state visits.

5.) Say unification occurs. Unified Korea would share a long border with Manchuria, China. Some Koreans feel that they have historical claim to parts of Manchuria.

I have known some ethnic Koreans from China [조선족] who have come to Korea. One, born in the 1970s, is married to my friend M.P., now in Texas. Another, P.G.H., a male born in 1988, gave up on Korea in late 2015 and returned to China because the jobs he was getting were of the “handing out flyers” sort. His Korean was rather worse than mine. The reason he gave us, though, for giving up on Korea, was that all his friends were in China. Another ethnic-Korean-from-China, K.J.H., born 1991, majored in linguistics in China, briefly taught English there (though we have only ever spoken Korean and she says she knows English only ‘academically’) and got TOPIK-6 (the highest Korean level) after coming to South Korea last year. She says she can’t understand most of the TV news, which makes me feel relieved. These ethnic-Koreans-from-China seem certainly culturally more Chinese, but they may seem something different to Chinese, I don’t know.

Anyway, this pool of Koreans-in-China is several million strong.

I was once handed a leaflet in front of Tapgol Park in Jongro, Seoul [종로 탑골공원앞] by a thin and grinning ajeosshi in his fifties or so, the type you’ll find somewhere on a mountain trail on a sunny Saturday drinking magkeolli alcohol. Why did he give me, an obvious racial foreigner, his four-page-long Korean-language leaflet? I’m glad he did, but he’d not have been able to know I could read it. The rambling treatise, as far as I could understand it, called for “reclamation” of “our land.” This would mean parts of the Chinese provinces of Jilin and Liaoning on the below map, and maybe even some of southern Heilongjiang:

bookmark_borderPost-349: On British Rhetorical Superiority

I have had the good fortune throughout life to meet many interesting and amazing people from all over the world, and this trend seems to be accelerating in the year 2016. I ought not to squander my good fortune or shirk the responsibilities that come along with it.

I recently met a British journalist based in Korea, author of several history books, and that meeting has, in part, inspired me to make the forthcoming comments.

Now, in fact, I have actually never set foot on UK soil and have, actually, always felt closer kinship with the peoples of the northwestern European mainland despite shallow language differences with the latter and purported linguistic unity with the former. (I have come to realize two things in recent years [1] On American-British linguistic unity: I cannot speak on “native speaker terms” with people from the UK, as my days regularly playing soccer with British people in Incheon, Korea taught me. Very often I stood there unable to follow their conversations… and [2] I have come to appreciate, after some years away, that culture similarity among the kindred peoples of Europe — despite what we may think or want to think — is very high.)

I admire the British for their highly-cultivated verbal abilities. It is generally always entertaining to hear a British speaker, on any subject. Take a North American and an Englishman of equal intelligence and background. Despite this “base parity” and despite our shared cultural origins as products of that which we call Western Civilization, we all know that the Englishman will likely have a much better apparent way with words. Why is this? I am not exactly sure.

I have also had occasion to listen to an American pastor (in English) and a German pastor (in German), who share the exact same nominal religious tradition, but in whose presentation I found the American somewhat too unserious, readily sliding into a jokey mode, while the German pastor I found more properly dignified and ultimately, then, a warmer and more engaging.

Is it that Americans have a certain anti-intellectualism that has leveling effect on demonstrated rhetorical ability? Is there a cultural pressure in the present-day USA to not appear “too smart”? Has there always been? How then, does one explain the beautiful rhetoric of the Founding Fathers, of Lincoln?

As to whether present-day American civic life suppresses rhetorical ability (or the demonstration thereof), I can say this, recalling my school days: I am certain that it was true of myself in many contexts. I generally wanted to do well in classes, but I remember writing essays around high school that had deliberate mistakes in them, and even deliberatly poor reasoning at times, to avoid intellectual self-aggrandizement at the cost of my peers, many of whom were not even English native speakers.

Some might dismiss the foregoing paragraph’s reminiscence as high school antics by an American boy unsure where he fit in the multiracial maze of a U.S. public school circa the early 2000s. It is also true, though, of adult American sons of privilege, notably George W. Bush, twice elected (once even with a majority of the vote). People mocked him for being such a poor speaker, for fumbling around with words, for saying words that just didn’t exist, for being incoherent. Those of my age and older will remember this well. He presented himself as having a much lower IQ than he actually had/has.

There was also the famous case of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s “Unknown Unknowns” speech which has its own Wiki entry now. Rumsfeld was a Princeton graduate and a very sharp man, but he couldn’t spin a proper neologism for what he wanted to say (reading it again now, I still am not sure) and he confused audiences far and wide. If Rumsfeld were a product of the British system, ceteris paribus (as a British writer might write; an American would almost always use “all else equal”), he would have come up with something better than “unknown unknowns”!

Before I break this off, let me say that my occasional reading of old newspapers and magazines suggests the “decline of American rhetoric” may be more recent. I am not sure when or how it happened…

bookmark_borderPost-348: “An Empty Chair is What I Am” (1978) [Korean Pop Song, Translated]

I heard a song on FM radio in Seoul and I’ve tracked it down:

Title: “Empty Chair” (빈의자).
Artist: Chang Jeanam (장재남).
Era: Late 1970s.

I actually like the tune and the optimistic lyrics/message (see below). Koreans of my age would not readily admit to liking such a song. I am not a Korean.

This song hardly registers on the Internet, with really nothing in English at all that I find, so again I find myself blazing new ground on these digital pages.

Below: Youtube of the song; lyrics; my translation; a friend’s comments.


Chang Jeanam

Here is another version:

장재남  /  빈 의자 (1978)

서 있는 사람은 오시오 나는 빈 의자
당신의 자리가 되드리리다
피곤한 사람은 오시오 나는 빈 의자
당신을 편히 쉬게 하리다

두 사람이 와도 괜찮소
세 사람이 와도 괜찮소
외로움에 지친 모든 사람들
무더기로 와도 괜찮소

서 있는 사람은 오시오 나는 빈 의자
당신의 자리가 되드리리다

서 있는 사람은 오시오 나는 빈 의자
당신의 자리가 되드리리다
피곤한 사람은 오시오 나는 빈의자
당신을 편히 쉬게 하리다

두사람이 와도 괜찮소
세사람이 와도 괜찮소
외로움에 지친 모든 사람들
무더기로 와도 괜찮소

서 있는 사람은 오시오 나는 빈 의자
당신의 자리가 되드리리다

Chang Jeanam  /  Empty Chair (1978)

All you standing people, come on over!
An empty chair is what I am…
and I offer myself up as your seat…
All you tired people, come on over!
An empty chair is what I am.
To let you relax in comfort…

Two people want to come? That’s just fine!
Three people want to come? That’s just fine!
All those of you tired of being lonely,
Come, pile on! It’s just fine.

All you standing people, come on over!
An empty chair is what I am…
I offer myself up as your seat…

All you standing people, come on over!
An empty chair is what I am…
and I offer myself up as your seat…
All you tired people, come on over!
An empty chair is what I am.
To let you relax in comfort…

Two people want to come? That’s just fine!
Three people want to come? That’s just fine!
All those of you tired of being lonely,
Come, pile on! It’s just fine.

All you standing people, come on over!
An empty chair is what I am…
and I offer myself up as your seat…

A Korean friend named L. made some interesting comments to me about the song. This is a Korean who majored in German and with whom I communicate in a mix of German, English, and Korean, as the mood fits. (L.’s Korean name, if written in English initials, is the temperamentally-unsuitable S.H.Y.).

These are L.’s comments on the song (in original German):

“In den 70er Jahren lebten Koreaner in der dunklen Zeit der Diktatur. Deswegen sang die viele Folksong über die Solidarität zwischen den Leuten oder die leuchtende Zukunft.” (“In the 1970s, Koreans lived in the dark days of dictatorship. It is for this reason that they sang a lot of folk songs about unity of the people or the bright future.”)

L. was born in 1987 and the above reflects the view of that generation, I think. Few Koreans of our generation would admit to liking the “dictatorship” (which ended around the early 1990s), I suppose.

Is it a stretch to impute a political message to this very simple song? Maybe, but this kind of thing is the bread-and-butter of certain academics, isn’t it. There is also value in the comments for their own sake, i.e., how young Koreans see their own recent history.

bookmark_borderPost-346: Upset Victory in the 2016 Korean Election

Yes, I can say that the Korea election result surprised me. I learned it, or at least the early projections, on the bus on the way back from Paju (Wednesday was a holiday). Most other observers were also surprised.

From my Korean contacts, I sense a new political optimism in the form of breaking the democratic tyranny of the two-party duopoly system.

I have been busy and have no time to do any further in-depth commentary, as I’d like to, and as I will get back to.

Final Score
300 seats allocated (majority: 151+)
122 seats: Saenuri Party [right-wing, so-called, governing] (새누리당)
123 seats: Democratic Party [left-wing, so-called; it and its predecessors have been in opposition for almost all of the history of the Republic of Korea since independence in 1948, both during the military rule period and during the past twenty-five years of quasi-democracy] (I have learned they want to be called “the Minjoo Party of Korea” in English). (더불어민주당).
38 seats: People’s Party [centrist, so-called, but most seats are due to Jeolla region voters punishing their long standy party]. Party leader, Dr. Ahn Cheol-Soo, also easily won re-election.
6 seats: Justice Party [left-wing] (정의당)
11 seats: Independents. Many of these are expelled members of the Saenuri Party.

The big winner, alas, was Ahn Cheol-Soo. He’s got to be a favorite for the presidency now.

bookmark_borderPost-345: K-Pop Says, “Join Us and Vote” [Korea Election 2016]

Election is tomorrow, Wednesday, and is a holiday. Election day a holiday? What a good idea.

The last I’ve heard is that the left-wing opposition Democratic Party (더불어민주당) is looking like it may lose more seats than expected in its southwest heartland. If it can’t sweep that region, as it usually does, that is a major problem for it. The newly-formed People’s Party (안철수의 국민의당) may take many of their seats.

Given the split opposition, a big net gain by the governing, right-wing Saenuri Party (새누리당) still seems possible. Saenuri has apparently set “200 seats” as their election goal (of 300 total seats to fill), up from the current 150. The opposition to the Saenuri Party seems politically discouraged. Both parties have been marred by pathetic infighting.

Here is a frontpage headline story in the Metro newspaper, translated by me. (Thanks to K. from my Korean class for the newspaper.) It was not so hard to translate, but I am unsure what, if anything, is to be “read between the lines”:
With One Day to the Election, Entertainers Urge: “Join Us and Vote”

[Caption:] With the 20th National Assembly Election only a day away, entertainers, too, are doing their part to get out the vote. On Friday, April 8th, AOA girl group member Seolhyeon exercised her right to vote through the early voting system.

“I ask everyone to please exercise your precious right to vote.”

With the 20th National Assembly elections approaching in just a day, entertainers, too, are attracting attention in their efforts to get out the vote.

A number of entertainers took time out of their busy schedules to exercise their right to vote through early voting, and recommended that citizens participate in the election.

Among the entertainers participating in the PR campaign to get out the vote for this year’s election is Seolhyeon, a member of the girl group AOA. On the afternoon of Friday the 8th, she cast her vote at a community center in Cheongdam, Gangnam District, Seoul.

Seolhyeon is voting for the second time. She voted for the first time in the June 2014 local elections. On Friday, Seolhyeon said, “Every time I vote, I’m filled with feelings of excitement and nervousness. I hope that the person I voted for wins,” and “I voted with a sense of excitement in my heart.”  [End translation]

Original Korean:
[사진] 제20대 국회의원 선거를 하루 앞두고 연예인들도 대거 투표 독려에 나서고 있다. 지난 8일 사전 투표를 통해 선거권을 행사한 걸그룹 AOA 멤버설현. /연합뉴스 총선 D-1, 연예인 투표 독려”소중한 안 표 함께 해요” “여러분의 소중한 한 표 꼭 행사하가시길 바랍니다.” 제20대 국회의원 선거가 하루 앞으로 다간온 가운데 연예인들도 대거 투표 독려에 나서 눈길을 끌고 있다. 일부 연예인들은 바쁜 스케줄 속에서 사전 투표로 먼저 소중한 한 표를 행사하며 시민들의 선거 참여를 권했다. 올해 총선 홍보대사로 활동 중인 걸그룹 AOA 맴버 실현은 지난 8일 오후 서울 강남구 청담동 주민센터에서 투표를 했다. 설현은 2014년 6월 제6회 전국동사지방선거 이후 두 번째로 투표에 참여했다. 설현은 이날 “투표할 때마다 설레기도 하고 긴장되기도 한다. 내가 뽑은 서람이 당선될까 기대도 된다”며 “설레는 마음으로 투표했다”고 말했다.

This was in Metro, a free newspaper distributed at subway stations in Seoul (claimed daily readership, 226,000). The article continues by mentioning other entertainers who voted early and/or made similar statements to encourage the apathetic to take part in the civic ritual.

Nothing Seolhyeon said can be read as an endorsement of one party or another. If she has been Gangnam-ized yet, though, she most likely voted for Saenuri. (Her voting precinct is one of the wealthiest in the entire country.)

Why are K-Pop stars, including 21-year-old Seolhyeon, being used as props to promote voting?

Self-Promotion Angle
“Seolhyeon is patriotic; she votes; she cares; she is a good citizen. She also donates money to orphans, holds the door for the elderly, covers her nose when she sneezes, and says her pleases and thank yous, we’ll have you know!” (Sincerely, The Management).

Pro-Opposition Angle
Seolhyeon’s fans are not likely to be Saenuri supporters. Saenuri has low support among those born in the 1980s and 1990s. If she gets thousands more fans to vote and they go many-to-one against Saenuri, that could swing some elections against Saenuri.

Pro-Government Angle
The government has put up “Make Sure You Vote” banners everywhere. Why would the government do this if higher turnout may mean more votes for the opposition?

Voter turnout for National Assembly elections was:
2012: 54%
2008: 46%
2004: 60%
2000: 57%
1996: 64%
1992: 72%
1988: 76%

There is a clear downward trend, here. There may be a fear that low and declining voter turnout could undermine the state’s legitimacy itself. The “Make Sure You Vote” campaign could be a way to reassert the state’s legitimacy.

My “Connection” to Seolhyeon
I admit that I’d never heard the name Seolhyeon (설현) before seeing this article. I have seen her, it seems, in advertisements but I didn’t recognize it to be the same person as in the newspaper photograph above. Seolhyeon is the spokesmodel for the SK Telecom phone company, my classmate in my current Korean class, M.P., tells me.

I also see from Wikipedia that she was born in Bucheon, next to Seoul, and is a graduate of Gyeonggi Art High School (경기예술고등학교). In fact, I lived in Bucheon from 2011-203, and, in fact, I worked just two minutes’ walk from that high school (in a dense urban part of Bucheon New City’s Central District [부천신도시 중동]). Seolhyeon graduated in February 2014, which means she was a student at that school from March 2011 (in accordance with the Korean and Japanese school-year system). I began working in Bucheon in September 2011. I likely passed her on the street many times.

bookmark_borderPost-344: One Week to the Election; Closer Look at a “Political Noise Truck” [Korea Election 2016]

I write this on Tuesday evening, April 5, Korea time. Regular voting begins in this country’s national elections one week from tomorrow morning.

This year, direct elections will be held in 253 constituencies, with a further 47 members allocated proportionally based on party vote totals, for a total of 300 seats.

The current National Assembly has only 292 seats filled (Korean Wiki), presumably because of the expulsion and jailing, in 2014, under charges of treason, of several far-left National Assembly members. The Korea Herald, the right-leaning English newspaper, suggested Monday, disapprovingly, that some of the remnants of this far-left party, allegedly pro-North-Korea, have regrouped and are running again in 2016.

Here is the election outlook, according to the Korea Herald, reporting on recent polls:

Likely to Win (“safe seats”)
82 seats: Saenuri Party [새누리당] (right-wing, currently governing with a slim majority and the presidency)
35 seats: Democratic Party [더불어민주당] (left-wing, heirs to the Sunshine Policy but trying hard to “rebrand”)
20 seats: People’s Party [국민의당] recently formed by Ahn Cheol-Soo [안철수] (called “centrist;” populist) (See post-342)
6 seats: Others and Independents
110: Too Close to Call
253: Total Seats to be Elected Directly (plus 47 proportional = 300).

Here is one of the trucks I referred to in post-343, “Waving Back at the Political Noise Trucks.(This was not the truck I “waved back” at.)

“On April the 13th, Your Vote Can Change Songpa!”


Songpa District, Seoul

Some of these political noise trucks are mobile and some are stationary. This one, being stationary, allowed me to get good shots of it, front and back.

This was in Seoul’s Songpa District (in red), directly east of Gangnam District.

I originally thought that the man standing in the truck bed was the candidate himself, Park Sung-Soo (박성수), a.k.a. “Number 2,” of the Democratic Party. Candidates very often appear personally on their campaign trucks. I am not so sure anymore. The giant picture of him shows him with glasses…

Candidate Park calls himself “The Fool of Songpa” (송파바보 박성수입니다) on his placard, which seems odd. I don’t know what to make of that.

The Fool of Songpa, though, seems likely to lose. I learn from Korean Wiki that Songpa District (송파구) of Seoul, a rather wealthy area, is a stronghold of the conservative Saenuri Party. All three of Songpa District’s current National Assemblymen are Saenuri members. Gangnam District itself is just as solidly Saenuri.

The Democratic machine was clearly weaker in the area. Behold, above, the two-man street-corner operation during prime Saturday politicking hours. The “red team” (Saenuri Party) had a much slicker operation in the neighborhood (See again post-343, at the end, for a further brief account of each side’s politicking tactics as I experienced them in my own small way.)

In Jongno District today, Tuesday, I saw a few more of these sorts of trucks. The one I got the best look at had three people in blue standing in the back, holding a kind of railing, as a driver sped by and one of those in the back jabbered something indecipherable to me, her voice amplified over traffic…

bookmark_borderPost-343: Waving Back at the Political Noise Trucks [Korea Election 2016]

I had occasion to visit an American friend, Z.D., who now lives near Jamsil, southeast Seoul.

The election season is now fully underway (Election Day, April 13) and in Korea that means the “political noise trucks” (as I’ll call them) are out in force. They were on this Saturday afternoon. The infantry was also in the field, political cheering squads on many street corners of large roads. They accosted passersby (the kind of sales pitch I have never understood but which seems to work in East Asia, i.e. the idea that making more noise attracts people rather than repels them).

Sometimes little mini-trucks trucks were stopped at corners and figures in the truck beds thereof shouted at passersby via megaphone to vote for so-and-so. I think sometimes these were the candidates themselves. And then there is the music. This kind of political campaigning all seems gaudy and distasteful to us.

Candidate numbers. All campaign posters have enormous numbers on them to remind people who to support. Too many people have the same family name, or similar names in general, so all candidates are designated numbers within their districts. I even heard one cheer squads shout, “Number One! Number One! Number One!” Why even bother with a name? I have no idea what the man’s name was. I remember “Number One.”

Candidate’s names and numbers, and the noise associated with them, are everywhere. The biggest offenders are the political noise trucks, but I actually find them endearing. I’m just glad that Korean law bans such activity more than two weeks before election day.

Blue is for the left-leaning Democratic Party [더불어민주당], red for the right-wing (and governing majority) Saenuri Party [새누리당].

Blue Experience
One group of blue cheerleaders that day announced their candidate as an “MBC news anchor” (as if that is a legitimate qualification for high office). I observed this blue cheering team for a few minutes, and they observed me, suspiciously, I think. The team was composed of about six middle-aged women in matching blue uniforms. They seemed to go into a set-piece chant on behalf of their candidate whenever someone walked near them, as if the passerby had triggered a motion-sensor light. One of these passersby was my friend Z.D., aforementioned, when he arrived to meet me at Sincheon Station [신천역] in southeast Seoul. Maybe this blue cheering team was bored, because they let this obvious(?) foreigner, a White man, have it. If a war analogy is what we want, it may be the equivalent of a soldier, during a lull, shooting at birds. The chant’s crescendo hit Z.D. right as he noticed what was going on. He was stunned. He wandered over to me. They giggled. I said, “Wow, they actually pitched their guy to you! So does Number Two have your vote now? Did it convince you? ” His reply: “Huh?”

He had been unaware there was an election on.

Red Experience
A few hours later, as we were the sole pedestrians on a particular stretch of road, a truck carrying young women in tight-fitting red uniforms standing in the truckbed rolled by, exciting music blaring. There was more than a touch of “K-Pop” to this effort. Attracted by the loud music, a siren song, before I knew it I found myself looking directly at these women as they were waving at us, mere feet away from us on the road. There were no Koreans around. They waved anyway, and even made eye contact. I waved back and smiled, thinking it all in great fun, if surreal. Why not? To my friend, walking beside me, who hadn’t waved back, I said, “Did you see that? They waved at us! ….And you know what? The truck was covered in red. Those were right-wing women.” [i.e., of the Saenuri Party] at which he laughed. He dismissed the idea that they might have been waving to us specifically. Said he: “Once a wave starts, you’ve got to follow through. There’s no way to stop a wave.”