Category Archives: Seoul

Prohibition of Marijuana

The Korea Times “report” that triggered this letter is poorly written and a waste of your time. but you can track it down if you want to see why I felt I had to respond.


Cannabis is coming; can Korea catch the wave?

Korean national policy regarding the legal status of marijuana as, alternately, an intoxicant and a medication, and their future role in Korean agricultural economy, must undergo change in the near future. Legal recreational use of marijuana in the US states of Washington and Colorado is a done deal, and although attempts to roll it back continue, they appear less likely to succeed with each scintillating report of growing profits and tax yields from sales.
Simply put, the combination of growing interest in utilitarian products made of hemp fiber, and the combination of recreational and medical consumption of an ever-widening range of cannabinol (get you high drug) and cannabidiol (relieves your ailment with no high) drug products has become so robust that when the movement is fully developed, it will transform every society that embraces it.
What is Korea to do, then? The nation bought into the false picture painted by US demonizers of the plant, and lodged marijuana with those natural and pharmaceutical drug substances like opium and amphetamine and their derivatives. Once so grouped, strong legal penalties for use, and the promulgation of cultural taboos such as attach to any forbidden item, were made strong, sweeping and draconian.
Why all this fuss over a plant that over decades of prohibition, despite collecting millions of enthusiastic users, has yet to be blamed directly for the death of a single person? Compare this to the same statistic for alcohol or tobacco and any reasonable person should get a glimpse of marijuana’s future (and explanation of its past) now the facts about it become more widely known.
It’s understandable that, where so much official and press puffery and bombast have been launched against marijuana since its criminalization was urged upon other nations by the US, no Korean policymaker is likely to be the first to come forward and say, “Look, we need to talk about this.” One’s political game is motivated by the urgency of getting reelected. Giving one’s opponents ammunition, in the form of support for changes in Korean anti-drug laws, even if convinced of the wisdom of it, might still cost one the office.
Unless a public movement builds in support of public discussion about the legal status of a common plant that should never have been banned in the first place, Korea stands to miss a golden opportunity to expand its agricultural and medical sectors, and to gain a step on the inevitable global economic movement that will result from the decriminalization of cannabis. It’s economic potential is a big part of what lies at the heart of opposition to it from alcoholic beverage and pharmaceuticals industries. There is no question that legal weed will shrink their bottom lines, and that will be a good thing.
The point of origin for pressure on the Korean political community to do this is the agricultural sector. Even if marijuana continues to be banned for use by Koreans, farmers should be permitted and encouraged to start the process of creating a grow-for-export sector, with strong support for research and development. If we work openly to ensure that Korea becomes one of the earliest advanced producers of top-quality cannabis products, especially medical cannabidiol, and a robust medical research program to go with it, Koreans will benefit economically. There’s no reason for Korea to be left behind. All it will take is the political courage to kick it off.

Ways I contribute to climate change

Driving A Big Car All Over The Place By Yourself
Having LOTS Of Kids
Idling Your Car
Eating Lots Of Meat
Voting For Climate Change-Denying And Pro-Oil Representatives
Taking A Really Long Shower
Buying Things From China
Wasting Paper
Wasting Food
Eating Out Of Season
Using Lots Of Power When Your Electricity Comes From Coal
Air Conditioners
Owning Pets
Not Sealing Your House

A slide show illustrating each of fifteen “Ways I contribute to climate change” appeared online at Huffington Post, May 12, 2014. Tempted to share it on FB immediately, I was stopped by its being imbedded in another page that showed up with the “front end” for sharing, where I would include any intro snark/remark I might like to add. That gave me enough time to think a little more about the list as a whole, about some of the individual items on it, and about what I could see from what is not on it that makes of it a troubling and troublesome list, indeed.

Personally, it’s a matter of small satisfaction that it takes me all the way to China before being hooked by the barbs on the list. Mostly, though, I had to admit that the main reason I get a pass on the previous ones is because of my age. I didn’t have a lot of kids; I have two. Maybe two is the new six, like my parents had, so again, I don’t deserve a pass. Anyway, who am I to look at someone else’s kids, if they’re loved and cared for by their families, and society, and say, “You shouldn’t have!” It’s not in me.

I waste paper. Yes, I do. It isn’t easy to stop, despite a better Korean approach to recycling paper than to limiting wasteful use of it to begin with. Paper laminates, product wrappers, handbills, towels and napkins and all forms of paper products considered “contaminated” if adhered to organic residues of any kind, are not recycled often, if at all. These go into landfills or incinerators, where they degrade into pollutants of great quantity and variety. Publications and large cartons and containers make up most of the recycled content.

Flying. Ah well, I am an expatriate, living on a peninsula from which there is no land exit. To come and go from Korea is to fly. There is the sea, but ferries to China, Japan and Vladivostok are the only ones running, and they contribute to global warming, too. Ticket prices have done wonders to curtail my flying will force me to do it. It breaks my heart to tell friends and loved ones abroad that reducing my carbon footprint means I must withdraw the open invitation to visit. Although my need and desire to extend affectionate hospitality to them overwhelms in certain seasons and mental states, I feel cornered by it, having accepted that the climate science is accurate. Before scolding others about their travels, I must look too my own. That mobility is a cornerstone of our personal liberty doesn’t free us from being judged by the same standard that apply to all.

I waste comparatively little food in this phase of my life. In the main, it is a result of choosing a combination of healthy level of consumption, and a minimal amount of waste. The Korean approach to food waste, such as it is, has us paying collectors who process it into livestock feed, compost, etc., according to the weight of our discarded waste. I have speculated that some form of odorless drying devices will appear, but maybe not. Few substances are more malodorous than kimchi gone too far off. We use a key card to open a bin with an attached scales to keep track of our “contributions” of collected wet waste. I call it our “crap account”.

Eating out of season may be a category in which I am more culpable than others. Dietary changes I’ve embraced as a part of my inevitably futile attempt to live forever are the cause. The avocados from New Zealand, the factory salmon from Norway, Florida orange juice, chickpeas and lentils from the sub-continent, it’s a long list; all are seasonal, imported or both. I’m determined to learn to live without them without sacrificing the pleasure of delicious food, imaginatively prepared, but it’s harder than one thinks at first glance, to find a lot of encouragement at the market.

Of the remaining four conditions, only one applies to me. I have two small dogs. When the last one is taken by natural causes, we won’t replace them, despite our sympathy for the unfortunate creatures cared for by pet rescue services and clients. Pets are wonderfully satisfying, crucial even, to the very young and very old, but until I have reached that stage of aging where I am unable to go about on my own, I will put off adopting another animal friend to keep me company. A certain grey-to-rust colored miniature poodle may outlast me if I don’t penetrate the secret of local foods only (another item on the list), but if not, he’ll be the last pet I have for most of the time I have left.

Air conditioning, though desirable during the hottest summer months here, we have lived without it for so long that it no longer appeals, for it would mean blocking the circulation of air between inside and outside. Our location at some distance from the center of the urban metropolis that is Seoul is, on most days, more refreshing than not. There is no water shortage (yet), and a cold shower in clean, cold water three times a day is not such a bad fate in semi-tropical conditions, so that’s what we do. It’s also nice to go without most clothing whenever we can, so we do that too.

Korea is moving toward renewable energy, mostly solar, some wind, but is still too dependent on gas and nuclear generation for electricity. Coal, to the extent it is still in use, is primarily for winter “ondol” heating by burning the cylindrical briquettes called “nine-hole coal” with a boiler heats water to circulate through a grid of plastic pipes in a cement floor. The coal isn’t always necessary, but private homes will keep it as an optional way of heating the boiler. No matter how the house (apartment in our case) is heated, cold season weather sealing and insulation reduce energy costs. It’s also possible to dress more warmly indoors, and to heat only rooms of heavy use.

But there is an elephant in the room, once we accept that what we’re really talking about is decreasing human contributions to the greenhouse effect, the pollution of air and water, and environmental damage from the industries that cater to one or many of our appetites that lead to our doing these things. Presented in the form of a question, what would happen if we didn’t? The answer is why we almost certainly won’t change and stop doing them, unless their availability is curtailed by circumstances in or out of our control.

In the real world, driven by material values dictating that, to enjoy any semblance of a “lifestyle” in popular parlance, most of us have no choice but to exchange our labor for pay, which we then spend on the “things we do”, which are, technically, the “things we buy”, that is, “our shit”, as we refer to our purchases. In a nutshell, then, the algorithm of our lives becomes “no job, no shit”. That’s the problem. There are very few jobs today that can’t be connected to, or related to the Big Industries that are based on our continued embrace of these products and services. If we stop doing these things, without some clear plan for what comes after, then they, and eventually we (many of us, anyway) will cease to be. There is no time to waste on preparing such a plan, and we are wasting almost all of it.

The Best of the Billionaires

Since I put the idea out there for them to embrace with the alacrity and verve we find so appealing in them, America’s billionaires have been slow to recognize the real opportunity my plan represents. This is hard to explain. After all, who’s better known for seizing an opportunity to become even more financially rotund than the commercial behemoths produced by the US system of trickle down, Hoover up freemarket capitalism.

The plan in a nutshell, you may remember, is a unique combination of reality TV and game show, with an American Idol twist. It starts with a move every billionaire can get behind, and divides up the planet between a number of the most competitive billionaires (weaklings under $2bn net worth need not apply.) Each billionaire is allowed to compete with up to one billion of his or her own money, and whatever profits are gained from their enterprise in the competition are theirs to keep, after all expenses have been settled.

Every day brings new ideas and insights to the scheme, and today’s come from the sale of the Shine Group, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, to the mogul himself, price tag: $672 million. The old fellow wants the company, we are told, because of all the great things it’s goint to add to the content-creation arm of his behemoth media empire. He may envision improvements to his FOX Broadcasting unit, where the need for help with quality content is sorely needed, if we can’t believe what we’re hearing and seeing there, and it seems we can’t. Good luck with that.

So here it is, Ms Murdoch, here is the gem that will help ensure that the new Shine on the Murdoch fortunes is real, and not just a reflection of the stage lights on Dad’s ego. Pick up the option on this program and produce an instant hit. I say start with the 50 states and give one each to a billionaire with no current financial holdings in that state. Charge them with building a team of idea people, researchers, managers and engineers, and public relations and marketing people who are presently unemployed in that state. Start by landing one or more of the many unemployed human resources professionals wandering around looking dazed and confused and go from there.

All they have to do to get started is to verify that they have placed $US one billion in escrow for the project, and the game is on. Round up the local media teams to keep an eye (and a camera) on their their every move, as they begin to shape a new industry for the state, or to improve its existing resources to a level of fiscal productiveness. Make sure they all get exactly the same breaks, in terms of obeying the local laws. Air weekly or even daily reports on the action, answering questions on the minds of local viewers: Who’re the players? What’s the action?; How much is being spent, and on what?

Empanel a group of experts to evaluate the moguls’ projects in terms of whose ideas are generating the most good for the most citizens of each’s respective state. Finally, set up a method, a la American Idol, where the citizens can make their own opinions count, in terms of how they are receiving that which is being put in place for them. Use an algorithm combining the findings of the panel with the votes of the public to allot a number of points per week to each player. The billionaire with the most points for the week is the “Best Billionaire”.

I’m looking your way, Ms Murdoch, for the same reason I first offered the idea to Donald Trump. I figured he’d jump at the chance to do it, and earned a well-deserved Nobel, thus putting him a giant step closer to the US Presidency that he feels so uniquely qualified for. He’s ignoring me, possibly because it’s easier to just keep building projects that shave money off those of his own class. Who can say?

I reckon that, if you know anything at all, Ms Murdoch, you must know media. I think you will see the merits in this plan, if your imagination is as good as we imagine. This project has the potential to produce more media revenue in the first year alone, than Diddums is forking over for your Shine Group. Here’s your chance to build another one, even bigger and better, and in less time, without even breaking a sweat. Call it Spit Shine. Call it whatever you want, once it’s yours. Call me.

Jack Large


Health Care in Korea: Y’all Come

I am watching this video clip of Keith Olbermann on Countdown embedded in a story about Bill Clinton refusing to join an Olbermann-touted health care event in behalf of free clinics in Arkansas because Olbermann has “politicized” the event. I clicked on the story in Huffington Post because it had the instantaneous whiff of crap about it. Olbermann’s anecdote about the pharmacy visit to score anti-fungal cream for hundreds of dollars that could be gotten over the counter in, say, Canada for around ten bucks, rang a bell.

My daughter started college in the US this fall, and the cost will eventually break me. Yet compared with the cost/benefit ratio of medicine, even those tied to saving life as opposed to killing a fungus or clearing a respiratory passage, is a damn worthwhile way to spend one’s money. The reference to respiratory is not apocryphal. The kid recently went to a pharmacy to get the inhaler she has needed periodically since she was a small child, when she gets over-stressed or fatigued by the rigors of a kid’s life these days. Here in Korea, the inhaler was five bucks. In Philadelphia, the prescription was $295. I’m not making it up.

My best pal, a gifted painter, is growing cataracts on both eyes. He expects to need surgery before too many more years are out. His vague perception, at present, is that the surgery alone will cost on the order of 8 grand. Eight thousand dollars will be the cost to hang on to his vision. It almost seems like a bargain, and the medical authorities carry that proclamation around on a shingle hanging from their neck in lights that flash when the patient gets close enough to trigger the heat detector built into it.

I asked a doctor friend here in Seoul if he could find out what the same expense would be for a foreigner without the Korean health insurance that covers about half the cost for every man, woman and child in this small, densely populated and public welfare-conscious nation. He informs me that the cost of the surgery would be around $1500 per eye. I jumped on the news as predictive that I might get a prolonged visit from my friend, but it probably won’t happen. I had to agree with him when we discussed it that it was difficult to see him doing it, because he has passed up many chances to travel in his life, for reasons never entirely clear to the large number of friends who would be waiting expectantly at the other end of the flight.

Okay, I can accept that, but I see a much bigger picture here, and this is it: I am willing to discover and pass along the estimates of medical procedures in Korean hospital and clinic facilities, performed by well-trained and educated practitioners of their respective specialties, and for those opting to follow up on the information and undergo the procedure, I will help you with the arrangements in Korea.

Americans will have to take a lot of different steps to bring the American health care ship about and set it on a course that doesn’t include robust health care for insurance and pharmaceutical corporations while millions of Americans get sick and die, even those who succumb as a result of mind-numbingly stupid behaviours. Medical tourism is one way to accomplish that.

If the reader thinks this is something they want to explore, they may contact me by responding to this post.

Green light, Go; Red light……..Go!

Twice a year or so, a traveling group of retail concessionaires set up booths for a street fair in our apartment complex, an event mirrored at most other major complexes (ca. 5000+ apts). The best time to visit is around the hours when all the children return home from schools and hakweons, ready for something considerably more fun. The Familographer (a dynamic duo, in the present case), while exploring the setup and capturing a few photos and video for the family album, ran into an acquaintance, our friendly neighborhood mechanic, who we like because he understands TF’s obsession with keeping the old Sonata rolling until his scrotum strikes sparks on the pavement. Here’s the ensuing interview with our friend Kongeopsa Ajossi. He is explaining how the traffic light in front of his workplace came into existence as the result of a fatal accident there (motorist or pedestrian unspecified) which led local residents to picket several public offices demanding a signal be installed. The main result may be to lull the neighbors into a false sense of security. Too cynical? Judge for yourself.

Snarky don’t drive, but the Koryo troll do….

It’s embarrassing to acknowledge how slowly The Familographer catches up with current technology for capturing and disseminating information using computer and Internet. Younger, smarter users, in their drive to make of humanity the most widely interconnected organism in the history of organisms, put your old Familographer to shame here. A case in point happened this past week, but some background information is needed.

A blog that is essential among expatriate and Korean-English multilingual netizens anytime of Seoul is The Marmot’s Hole. If you want to take the pulse (or read what passes for a mind) of the community of The Outsiders (easily confused with foreigners) you will peer into the “hole” betimes. This is because said Marmot, fellow alum of the Lenny Bruce School of language relations, is assiduous in his selection of posts, based on their relevance to the Korean scene. His most endearing quality is a soft spot for classic and classy architecture, recalling the admonition of Edward Dorn to a group of poetry students at Idaho State University ca. 1963, “Architects determine to a great degree what the built environment is going to look like,” he shouted. “If poets don’t care what the world looks like, then who the hell will?”

Contents include regular posts by a small but prolific cadre of commentators on politics, current events, personalities in the news, press foibles, official boondoggle and malfeasance, inter-Korean relations, travel, gender relations (bias MCP), these and more are grist for the Marmot’s mill.

Every post attracts comments, perhaps a primary criterion for selection; The blog has achieved an enviable robustness in the mystical realm of blogosphere such that, if the writing is clear and somewhat piqued, a post will attract a few dozen comments. The comments often reveal more than the posts they address. The blog itself is eclectic, but the comments are a patchwork crazy quilt, where sublime and ridiculous are early stops en route to opposite corners of the spread. That’s the background for today’s post.

Previously, TF has called attention to the backward state of crossing signals on Korea’s streets and roads. It’s no surprise to discover that many agree, from the comments replying after The Marmot highlighted my post by linking his blog to it with a blurb. Of the nearly three dozen comments it garnered, more than a couple seized upon what they apparently perceived as an opportunity to snap off a snide reference implying it’s a Sad Sack country of half-wits, or generally so. The Marmot can himself be snide, and his blog is more interesting and entertaining because of it, but he always exercises himself in a very specific way about particular issues, not allowing the sour mood that some posts wring out of the more sanguine expatriate commenters to this and other blogs one can find. The tendency is best paraphrased, “Why can’t they be more like us?”

Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing. This is not TF’s position, nor TM’s either. More than a few Korean citizens are already making the attempt to be like us, (North Americans, in this case, but the Brits and French and have their sycophants, too) There isn’t a lot of evidence that success in the effort will inevitably be accompanied by any improvement in character. Perhaps it depends on who is taken as model. Expatriates are not, ourselves, a particularly exemplary class in terms of character (forgive me). The humble Familographer finds a lot more to like about Korea, especially the Korean people, than he finds to criticize and complain about come day’s end. It isn’t a difficult place of perception to reach. Complainant need only self-address the question, “Will this world really be a better place if everyone is more like me?”

When the problem of traffic signals is eventually solved, and it will be, the chief beneficiaries will be, overwhelmingly, Korean. We have many times seen the country change condition almost overnight when the political will is joined to a campaign of mass communication on an issue. Usually, though far from always, it brings improvement. Part of the key to bringing traffic signal change is to keep the issue in the public eye. Pursuing that end, TF will take to the streets, mapping, photographing and interviewing some of those drivers, workers and residents whose lives are affected by crappy traffic signal engineering. With the help of bloggers like The Marmot, keeping attention focused on the problem, TF salutes the memory of Sam Cooke and Dr. Martin Luther King, confident that “Change gon’ come.”