Tuesday, August 12, 2008

He Who Controls the Past, Controls the Future

Korean athletes have been doing well at Beijing, which is nice, though I always also remember the athletes who aren't taking gold and silver medals back to their countries, as I did when Korea finally washed out of the 2006 World Cup. I'm pleased when Korea wins a game or a medal, because it makes my friends happy. But I'm also pleased when winning athletes lose, especially those who strut and preen when they win. For weeks in that summer of 2006, images of Korean soccer players taking victory laps and Korean fans dancing for joy in the stands had been inescapable on Korean TV; when the team was finally eliminated, suddenly there were touching slo-mo pictures of the same players wiping away tears and weeping fans hugging each other disconsolately. After that, when I had to watch a soccer game, I could simply root for the team that was cuter, or that was playing visibly better to my inexpert eye.

But enough of my evil Scroogelike socialistic criticism of competition. Here's a hot little news item from Beijing, about one of a "series of incidents at the Beijing Olympics involving the Korean flag", which resulted in "netizens slamming the president for disgracing the nation and calling into disrepute one of his aides":

Lord, lord, lord -- is this the worst folks have to worry about? I had to look very closely at the picture above (from The Hankyoreh) before I could find the upside-down Korean flag in it. (It's the lower, larger one.) On the other hand, can I really claim to love Korea if I can't tell when the flag is upside down? (Especially since I don't care if my own country's flag is right-side up or not.)

Well, yes, I think I can. I can love a friend who takes astrology seriously, while thinking that he's wrong. I can love my niece while wishing she'd quit smoking. Still, in public I suppose I should downplay my apathy. But according to The Hankyoreh, President Lee Myung-bak's failure to notice the inverted flag in his hand caused "national embarrassment." Koreans should be glad that their president didn't conduct himself at the Olympics like ours did:

(Pictures scavenged from here and here, respectively.) But hey, it could be (and has been) worse. I'm not embarrassed by Bush's goofing around at the Olympics, or even by his being there in the first place. I'm concerned about the genuinely evil, destructive things he's done.

And the same, I think, should apply to Lee: his corruption, his harmful policies, his clampdown on civil liberties in Korea, his toadying to Bush. And happily, these things get attention back home: Lee's administration has racked up its third bribery scandal in less than a year. Reading about this made me reflect once again on foreign business commentators who've talked about the reform of Korea's "crony capitalism" that they can expect under a bold visionary like Lee Myung-bak. Of course, they don't really care about corruption, as long as it benefits them and the companies they represent.

There is something interesting about President Lee's flag gaffe, though. According to the same article at The Hankyoreh, photos of Lee waving that upside-down Taegugki were removed from news websites, sometimes at the request of the Blue House. The pictures then disappeared from portal sites that carry news. A disciplined press is a bulwark of true democracy! It's a minor incident, of course, but indicates how far from true are claims that the Korean corporate media are hostile to President Lee. Or maybe they were willing to delete the pictures to compensate for their coverage of the new bribery scandal?

Whatever. I'll just finish with these cute photos (from OhMyNews, natch) of former President Roh Mu-hyon getting some love in the countryside. They were captioned "Chinguya!" Which means "Friend!" I love that word.