Monday, June 23, 2014

Psychology Testing in the Korean Military is a Joke

For those of you who have been keeping up with the news, a Korean soldier, who has only been identified as Lim () killed five other soldiers and injured seven others before deserting his post with his K-2 rifle and 60 rounds of ammunition on Saturday.

It has been reported that the military has deployed several helicopters and special commandos to capture Sergeant Lim.

(Lim is a conscript and his rank is byeong-jang (병장), which does not have an equivalent in the US Army.)

And as it stands right now, the soldier who was conscripted in December 2012 and was to be discharged from active duty in September, opened fire at some of the soldiers who has been ordered to capture him. A platoon leader, who has also been thus far unidentified, suffered gunshot wounds during the firefight.

It was also reported that when Lim took a personality test in April 2013, he was classified as a “Grade-A” soldier that needed “special attention” and was unfit for duty at a general outpost (GOP). In Korean, those kinds of soldiers are known as gwan-shim byeong-sa (관심병사). When he took the test again in November 2013, he was classified as a “Grade-B” soldier who still needed attention, but was able to carry out the GOP mission.

When he took the personality test again in March this year, he was evaluated as having no special problems.

It has been further reported that there are about 1,800 other soldiers that have also been classified as requiring “special attention” in the 22nd Army Infantry Division, where Lim had been stationed.

As of this writing, he has yet to be apprehended, though his capture, dead or alive, is inevitable.

Location 1 is the GOP where the incident originally took place and Location 2 is where Sergeant Lim is currently engaged in a one-man guerrilla war.
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From this point on, I will attempt to use my experience to speculate as to how this incident happened. Of course, I do not make any claims to know this soldier or what he thought or what the military is currently trying to do. I am going to explain the system that allowed something like this to happen.

I served in the ROK Army from June 2011 to March 2013. Though I don’t think about those boys in the military very often as I am very busy with my job, my personal life, and blogging, I do think about them from time to time. And it is heartbreaking whenever these kinds of news stories emerge.

After all, this was not the first time that a shooting incident like this has taken place.

Like anyone else who has served in the Korean military, I, too, have taken these tests before. I took it once before I was conscripted, once more during boot camp, and then took the test at least once every two months during the remainder of my time in the Army.

The test is mandatory for all conscripts and consists of around 200 to 300 questions; many of them that are similar to each other and merely worded differently. They are multiple choice questions. The simplest ones are “yes or no” questions and some of the harder ones are answered by grading how strongly one feels about the question; the answers ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” The following are some of those questions that I recall at the top of my head:

  • I think that life is not worthwhile.
  • I often hear voices although no one is around me.
  • I feel that the world is out to get me.
  • If I died, no one would notice.
  • I often contemplate suicide.
  • I am afraid of what kind of life I will lead after being discharged.

Of course, there are many other questions. The ones that I picked are the questions that the examiners look out for the most. Other questions are mostly used to know how well an individual might adapt to Army life, or how optimistic/contented or pessimistic/dissatisfied a person is.

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Though I am sure that not all military bases does this the same way, in my experience, failing this test was not an option. Let me explain.

Firstly, if it were to be discovered that a soldier was deliberately answering the questions to appear suicidal when the soldier is actually mentally fit, there is the possibility that he could be thrown into the brig. Not an altogether pleasant experience, I hear. On top of that, the time that a soldier spends in the brig does not count toward the number of days that he must serve in the military. For example, if a soldier is sent to the brig for a week, his service is extended by a week.

Secondly, before it is determined that a soldier is faking the results, if a soldier raises those red flags, that soldier is made to retake the test at least one or two more times. If the soldier still raises those red flags, then the company commander (who is usually a captain) will have a discussion about that soldier with the rest of his squad, his squad leader (who is usually a byeong-jang), and his platoon commander (who is usually a non-commissioned officer).

If it is deduced that the soldier is not faking it, the company commander, after consultations with the battalion commander (who is usually a major or a lieutenant colonel) will then order that soldier to go to a place called “the green camp.” That is where all the maladjusted end up going where they are constantly watched to make sure that they do not try to hurt others or themselves. They are also never allowed to go anywhere alone; not even to the bathroom. They are mostly made to watch videos (that are usually badly made PowerPoint slides) that have been made by the Defense Department during “mental training lessons” (정신교육) that are meant to instill pride and self-esteem.

Other conscripts also have to watch these videos, too, about once a week, but I was told those at the green camp are made to watch these ad nauseum.

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As I have never been ordered to go to a green camp myself, I have no first-hand knowledge of what goes on in there.

Occasionally, when a soldier’s case appears so extreme that the military does not think that it has the ability to help him, the military will give him an early discharge. However, such instances are very rare.

The test itself is very easy to pass. Even if a soldier does hear phantom voices and does have suicidal tendencies, the hassles that one has to go through can be so damned tedious that most soldiers give the answers that the test givers want to see. Most soldiers who take the test repeatedly and still provide the same answers that raise those red flags despite the tedium and the possibility of wrongfully being thrown into the brig are those who are sincerely disturbed and calling out for help. And the best they usually get is being sent to the green camp.

In other words, the tests are a joke. However, there is no other way to test these soldiers.

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In the battalion that I served, there were approximately 300 conscripts and about 40 non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and 20 commissioned officers (COs). Each has their own functions and jobs and unless there are outward signs that people can easily notice, it is very hard to know which of these soldiers are ticking time bombs. As mentioned earlier, there are approximately 1,800 soldiers who require “special attention,” but not all of them are potential killers. There is no way to know for sure that there isn’t a soldier who will decide to do something really stupid one day.

The ones who will know best are the squad members themselves. However, there are a lot of disincentives that prevent those conscripts from coming forward. Conscripts are at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole. If they make such reports to their platoon leader, depending on the kind of leader that they get, each and every one of them will be questioned and interrogated to the point of excessive tedium (which means that there will be A LOT of work that they have to catch up on later on, which means that there won’t be much time for them to rest even on the weekends) or they will simply be ignored.

The officers do not have the incentive to help much. Firstly, unlike the conscripts, these officers are in the military by choice. The military is not just some annoying thing that they have to go through. It is their career. And if a conscript, some runt who is only there for twenty-one months, messes up and is later discovered, there is a good chance that those officers might be censured, which means that they won’t get promoted. For an officer, there is no clearer death knell than being passed up for promotion.

Therefore, they prefer not to deal with it and want to see things buried.  Out of sight, out of mind.  A mere 21 months later and those trouble makers will be someone else’s problem!

(While I was in the Army, I heard conscripts frequently saying that the officers are not out for their best interests. Some even said that if a war breaks out, they will kill their own officers before they start shooting at the North Koreans.)

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As a result, the conscripts usually try to deal with whatever problems that are on hand by themselves. However, they aren’t psychologists. And being young boys – bored and armed to the teeth – who are usually anywhere from 19 to 22, they have little patience for the gwan-shims. This is why a lot of bullying and hazing takes place.

If a single conscript messes up, it’s not just him that is punished. The entire platoon, and sometimes the entire company is punished. And the officers don’t go unpunished either. In fact, the officers are more severely punished than the conscipts usually are, which goes back to why the officers are not inclined to help.

So, the conscripts try to handle things “locally.” Unfortunately, the bullying and hazing tactics that the conscripts rely on can be extremely counterproductive. Therefore, as useless as these tests are, they are the least bad way to determine if a soldier is a threat to others and/or himself.

The fact that the vast majority of the Korean military is composed of conscripts, young boys who have been forcefully made to serve in the military, is likely the biggest reason why these individuals are there in the first place.

In an all-volunteer military, such individuals, if discovered, can be discharged honorably or otherwise (not that that is any guarantee that psychologically problematic individuals are not weaned out). However, in the case of Korea, where all able-bodied Korean men are forced to serve by decree, it becomes nearly impossible to discharge them.

When there are so many soldiers who will do anything to get out of having to serve in the military (as can be seen here, here, and here), when there are so many who will fake being sick, mentally or physically, the military bureaucracy does not give a lot of opportunities for those who genuinely need help from receiving it.

I stand firmly opposed to military conscription for moral reasons. However, as long as North Korea remains an existential threat to South Korea, it will be nearly impossible to do away with conscription.

Until this view changes, I think that these shootings will not be the last of its kind.

Milton Friedman's Influence on Ending the Draft in the United States

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Perfect Prime Minister

Author’s Note: The following is a work of satire that was inspired by an article that was written in The Wall Street Journal. It should NOT be taken seriously. If you do not have a sense of humor, you should stop reading this right now.

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President Park seems to be having quite a tough time nominating her next Prime Minister. And it is a shame that such a mess is being made about appointing someone to a position that is largely ceremonial and devoid of any real political power. The Prime Minister’s chief reason for being has always seemed to act as the fall guy whenever the government does something wrong. After all, Korea has had eight prime ministers since 2004.

President Park’s first nominee for the position, Ahn Dae-hee, withdrew himself after it was discovered that he was quite rich.

Never mind that there seems to be no evidence to suggest that he has done anything illegal or that he has shown himself to be a man of integrity who does not let himself be blinded by political ideology. During his time as a state prosecutor, he helped to prosecute both the Grand National Party (the precursor to the Saenuri Party) for illegal campaign funding and against President Roh Moo-hyun’s election team for election fraud.

The lesson is clear. No rich people need apply. After all, as everyone knows, being rich is clearly a sign of pure evil.

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Then President Park nominated a man who, for all intents and purposes, does not seem ready for prime time. Among Moon Chang-keuk’s growing list of... faux pas, the former editor-in-chief of the Joongang Daily, has said on record that Japan should not apologize to Korea over the “comfort women” issue. On top of that, he also said that the Japanese occupation of Korea and the partitioning of the Korean peninsula was “God’s will.” Oh and something about the people of Joseon (the Korean kingdom that existed prior to the Japanese occupation and the subsequent division of the peninsula into North and South Korea) had laziness incorporated into their DNA and how it was Christianity that helped Koreans overcome their laziness.

What a charming fellow. Credit should be given where it is due. He’s certainly a maverick. He’s got that going for him, at least. And he’s certainly not as rich as Ahn Dae-hee but he doesn’t have any political experience. Definitely not cut out for prime time. So the second lesson is this – No inexperienced people, no matter how poor or how mavericky, need apply.

Not even if you're as dreamy as Tom Cruise.
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But it’s not just the Prime Minister. Kim Jeong-hoon, a Korean-American citizen (who was willing to give up his US citizenship) who was a former president of Bell Labs, was appointed to fill the newly created post of Minister of Future Creation and Science. In order to show his commitment, he was willing to donate up to ₩100 billion in expatriation taxes. The opposition party made a huge stink about him, however, because of his dual-citizenship. He was also accused of being a spy and his wife was associated with a brothel. He did the smart thing and decided to call it quits and headed back to the United States.

Another lesson learned. No smart American with tons of relevant experience need apply.

Surely Americans in Korea have seen these signs on occasion by now?
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So here is what we know about who is not fit to be Prime Minister:
  • No rich people.
  • No mavericks.
  • No inexperienced people.
  • No smart people.
  • No Americans.

In that case, the only kind of people that are fit for that office are:
  • Poor people.
  • Yes Men.
  • Experienced people.
  • Stupid people.
  • Non-Americans.

Well, if President Park is willing to consider the suggestions of a humble blogger, I have the perfect candidate in mind for the next Prime Minister. I nominate Adolf Hitler! It’s the only logical choice.

He might need a little image update though.
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Well, let’s think about it. Hitler was born into a very poor family. So we know for a fact that he understands the plight of the working poor. And this is paramount to picking a political leader – a man who has first hand experience in what it’s like to be poor.

To use an analogy, can we really trust an AIDS researcher to have a clue about what he is doing if he himself has never suffered from AIDS? Of course we can’t! Similarly, we cannot expect a rich man to even have the most basic understanding of what it’s like to be poor or even middle class. Hitler was born poor AND he was a struggling artist. If that doesn’t speak to the millennials, nothing will.

And of course he has a lot of experience! Hello? He was the Führer of Germany for eleven years. Even the most recent Korean presidents’ experience in running a country is a mere five years. Hitler has the kind of political experience that money can’t buy.

What about being stupid? Of course Hitler is stupid! Who else goes to war against the Russians and the Americans at the same damned time? You would think that Napoleon’s experience in Russia would have served as a great lesson about never invading Russia when it is cold. But he did it anyway.

He was a Class A Idiot.
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Most importantly, he’s not American. Sure, he’s not Korean either but that’s totally fine. At least he’s not from Southeast Asia, unlike some unspeakable people! Surely people have not forgotten how vitriolic and racist some people got when Jasmine Lee won a seat in the National Assembly? Anyway, I can’t imagine how the fact that he’s German will go down badly.

Another bonus – he hates, and I mean absolutely abhors, communists.  Take that, North Korea!

Yes, he forged an alliance with Hirohito and that might cause some people to get a bit upset.  So we should not bring that up too often. As long as we steer away from the fact that Hitler and Hirohito were allies, and focus on the more positive aspects, I think Hitler might turn out to be a great Prime Minister. Hell, I know at least one person in Busan will think so.

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And women voters will love him, too! Say what you will, but the Nazis had some really spiffy uniforms and we all know that women love men in spiffy uniforms. Besides, there is an entire sexual fetish dedicated to Nazis! Is there a sexual fetish for democratically elected middle aged men? I didn’t think so.

Yes, this movie actually exists.
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Now, admittedly, nominating Hitler for the position of Prime Minister is not without its hurdles. For one thing, he is dead. And there’s not even a body that we can dig up somewhere. But that’s the beauty of it all! He’ll be the one political leader whom no one will see, and above all else, or hear from. He will not do a damned thing. And who wouldn’t love that?

But if we really need someone to fill the role, we can always hire this guy. And he already has his own catchy theme song.

So, three cheers for Adolf Hitler! Hip hip hooray!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Korean Wave and the Broken Window Fallacy

They are beautiful and relatively clean looking. Though they often push the envelope in regards to what might be considered too risque to be shown on television (as has been written about expertly in this article in The Grand Narrative), for the most part, they appear non-threatening and they try their hardest to be as inoffensive as humanly possible. And occasionally, some of them will actually be talented.

That is K-Pop and K-Drama in a nutshell. In all fairness, this description probably fits almost every mainstream entertainer from all around the world.

With the occasional oddity that slips through the cracks once in a while (read, Psy), these are the criteria that wannabe superstars have to meet in order to be part of the Korean Wave. When I say “Korean Wave,” however, I am referring to it as the marketing tool that the government uses in order to sell a sugarcoated image of Korea to the rest of the world to either attract tourists or other kind of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs).

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However, it is important to clarify that I do not mean to say that those entertainers would not be successful at all without government support. It should be noted that companies like YG, JYP, and SM Entertainment are for-profit private entities, albeit in bed with the government. With or without government assitance, however, they will continue to produce what sells. And if there were no demand for K-Pop or K-Dramas in their current form, you can bet your mother’s pension that they would stop producing it.

The Korean government’s financial aiding of the K-Entertainment industry, however, is not for domestic consumption. It is without question that government regulation of the industry in the past was for the specific purpose of weeding out “subversive” elements, aka censorship. Although vestiges of that era still remains to this day, government meddling in the entertainment industry today is mostly geared towards the goal of exporting it.

And, according to this article in Soompi, business is booming!

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So has the government’s involvement in the industry paid off? It would be difficult to disagree. After all, US$106 million in the first three months of the fiscal year is no small change. Those earnings are very real. On top of that, considering the fact that the financial successes of the entertainment industry also means that it was (partially) successful at selling its goods overseas, that means that the number of tourists visiting Korea will likely increase as well. And there will certainly be shop owners, big and small, who will never complain about that. If nothing else, it has at the very least succeeded in increasing people’s awareness of Korea. There isn’t even a shadow of a doubt that all of this was the government’s end goal all along.

More business, more tourists, and more profits! How could anyone complain about that? It appears that I may have to swallow my pride and accept that government interference in the private sector has produced marvelous results.

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But has it really?

In 1850, a French economist named Frédéric Bastiat (pronounced Bas-tee-aa) wrote an essay titled That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen.” In this essay, Bastiat wrote what he was going to be best known for – The Parable of the Broken Window, which later began to be referred to as the Broken Window Fallacy.

Basically, this is how the parable goes:

A young boy in a village breaks a window pane in his father’s shop. A crowd gathers around and they try to look at the bright side of things. They say that now that the window has been broken, the shopkeeper will have to spend money to pay a glazier to replace the broken window. That glazier will then be able to use that money to buy himself a loaf of bread from the baker. The baker then can use that money to buy a pair of shoes from the shoemaker. And it goes on and on.

So the crowd takes pleasure at the thought of this. As far as they are concerned, this young boy who broke his father’s window has helped to stimulate business in the village.

But the shopkeeper who had his window broken is not happy. He chastises them and says that they are all being silly. If his window had not been broken, he would have been able to use his money to buy a new suit from the tailor. The tailor would have then used that money to buy meat from the butcher. And it would have gone on and on.

In other words, had the window not been broken, the local economy would have gained a new suit. But now that the window has been broken, the local economy has gained nothing. It has merely had a window replaced.

The problem was that the crowd was only able to see what was visible – actual costs and benefits. They could not see the unseen, the what-might-have-been, aka opportunity costs.

So what does this 164-year-old essay have to do with the Korean government’s financing of the entertainment industry? Everything!

Firstly, the only money that a government has is the money that it collects from the people via taxes. Therefore, when the goverment collates all that tax monies that it has scraped from the people, all the way from Seoul to Jejudo, it should not surprise anyone that there is a significant amount of money. And when a chunk of that significant amount of money is given to one particular person or group, such as the entertainment industry, it should also come as no surpise if the recipients of that money become quite rich all of a sudden.

But what are the hidden costs? The what-might-have-been? Do those benefits cost nothing? It has to be remembered that the taxpayers, from whom that money came from in the first place, are now poorer by exactly that much money. Can you picture the billions or even trillions of interconnected economic activity that would have occurred had millions of taxpayers not been deprived of their money to fund this special interest group the entertainment industry?

To get a small glimpse of what billions of economic interconnections look like, watch this video.

If you actually can picture it, you’re on drugs. Unless we develop a way to look into parallel universes, there is no real way to calculate the economic costs and benefits of things that never occurred.

Yes, YG, JYP, and SM Entertainment have certainly benefited. The singers and performers have gained fame, notoriety, and riches. The executives have gained massive wealth. Yes, some shopkeepers have certainly benefited from the arrival of tourists. But at what cost?

Does it make sense to deprive so many people of their money in order to finance an already highly profitable industry? Is it just?

I know what I think. What about you?

That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Another Slogan for the Korea Tourism Organization?

Einstein once defined madness as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By that definition, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) is truly insane.

In a matter of a few years, the KTO has attempted various slogans to get tourists to visit Korea and to spend their money here. This article at The Korea Herald shows at least some of the slogans that the KTO has tried to use in the past:

  • Dynamic Korea: Hub of Asia
  • Korea Sparkling
  • Korea, Be Inspired!

Does anyone remember this little guy?
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Now, Byun Choo-suk, the KTO president, who was formerly a career ad-man and a former communication design professor, seems to think that the time has come for a new slogan.

Never mind that those slogans, as laughable as they are, usually come at a cost that is seldom laughable. The TV commercials, the newspaper ads, the pamphlets and booklets, the banners, the labor costs, the legal fees, etc., etc. all eventually pile up. It would not be surprising at all to assume that billions (in Korean won, of course) has already been spent over the years.

Has the KTO been successful? It’s dubious.

It is certainly true that the number of tourists that have come to Korea has been increasing since 2004. However, can the KTO truly take credit for this increase? Or is it more plausible that more people have been coming to Korea over the years due to increased awareness of Korea that partly sprang from the financial successes of the K-Pop industry? Whose success, by the by, did not need much help from the Korean government.

Of course, the Korean government has been involved with the entertainment industry to export K-Pop internationally. However, considering how much success (or the absolute lack thereof) that it had with something as benign as food, it’s not hard to imagine the government bungling this one, too.

But then again, Milton Friedman did once say:

If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there'd be a shortage of sand.

Whether you agree with him or not, you have to give credit where it is due.  The man did have a way with words.
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But that’s neither here nor there, I suppose.

Ah, but it’s another year. And I am sure that they will do a spectacular job this time around!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

An Open Letter to the Anti-Gay Conservative Christians

Dear Conservative Christians...

Actually, lets not mince words.  There is nothing Christ-like about you.  And I should know.  I am hardly a fan of Christ but I like to think that I really do my research before hating anything or anyone.  So let’s call you what you really are.

Dear Primitive Neanderthals,

Yesterday, with hundreds of people carrying signs that read “Love is Stronger than Hate,” the fifteenth annual Queer Pride Festival took place in Sinchon. It was not without controversy.  That was because you refused to let it go quietly.  You  had to make it a point to show the world how hateful you are.

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True to form, you showed your ignorance, myopia, bigotry, and misanthropy by participating in a protest against the legally sanctioned Queer Pride Festival.  If you thought that the police would support you, you were clearly wrong as evidenced when some of you were arrested for refusing to disperse after being told to do so.

Much has been said about gay rights, civil rights, and equality. On the other hand, much has already been said about tradition, the sanctity of marriage, and religion. Much has already been said about how wrong the other side is.

I know for a fact that what I say here will not change this debate. The debate will not change. It will only end when you primitive mystics are bred out of the gene pool.

In the meantime, my dear conservative idiots, please, watch this video. If Mr. Bill Fox News We’ll-Do-It-Live Papa Bear O’Reilly tells you that you’re wrong, YOU ARE WRONG.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Gangnam Style's " Two Billion Hits and the (Tongue-in-Cheek) Opportunity Costs

When I read this article in The Economist, I could not help but chuckle a bit.

Who ever says that economists have no sense of humor?

Of course the study is full of holes, silliness, and wildly-made presumptions.  But then again, so is the rest of the dismal field.

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