Saturday, July 30, 2005

science can be misused to make anything sound logical (or crazy)

Update: I am very much pro-science and the first title for this post bothered me so I changed it from "Science can make anything sound logical (or crazy)" - I added 'be misused'.

One last whine about my troubles (now over) in connecting to my own blog. Because of those troubles, I was not as interested in keeping current on the blog. Consequently, I missed an opinion piece on a subject I flatter myself to be knowledgeable on and only found it because of a rebuttal. I still feel like commenting although .

Mr Kim wrote an article on the 24th that tried to use science terminology to describe moral issues, their cause and problems.

However, this pollution is now caused by knowing too much on the part of humans in the name of science, which is contrary to the primordial will of the Creator. As a result, humans are under the threat of being liquidated from the earth, just as the first man was expelled out of the Garden of Eden. Lamentably this time they have nowhere to turn to except the total and final self-annihilation. Pollution will prevail more and more and civilization will recoil further and further.

In doing so he really showed that he doesn't know what he's talking about.

Stripped of it's anti-science, Hellfire-and-damnation language, his simple point that our consumer culture is getting out of control can be, with some difficulty, found.

In his rebuttal, Mr. Thomsen rightly points out the big flaw in Kim's argument. The religious message steps on the anti-pollution argument.

Religion doesn't encourage environmental protection because it's more concerned with tabloid-oriented notions of ``life after death.’ ``Heaven is what's truly important. Why bother caring for the Earth?

However, he gets a little tangled up in Kim's wrongly-applied scientific terminology; it looks so much like a scientific response is called for but I don't think it is.

Mr. Kim is simply overzealous in his religion and needs to be reminded that most religions carry this same message, and it is one of the few points that modern science and environmentalism are in accord with religion. Again, stripped of the medium, his message is valid. If only the message were easier to find.

Protecting the Coast Guard

Each set costs 900,000 won ($875).
These modern suits of armour may be necessary but I don't know why they need to be so expensive. Get some hockey gear for Chrissake.

Photo from the Joongang Ilbo. Thanks to the Nomad for finding it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Book Review: Song of the Dodo

Song of the Dodo, by David Quammen

A fantastic book whose only flaw is that it requires the reader to keep track of various storylines.

Let's get my only complaint out of the way. Quammen does a good job of making us feel like we are part of the investigation into island biogeography but he does so by mixing several storylines together. These are the participants, locations and the time they occur, as they occur in the first unit.

Wallace's 1856 trip from Singapore to Lambok
Quammen's recent trip to Lambok
Nicolo di Conti's trip to to the Malay Archipelago
The ark and creation
Wallace's trip (again)
Quammen in Madagascar
Lyle and Darwin in England
Quammen in Madagascar (again)
Charles Lyell's trip 1856, to the Madieras (Atlantic Ocean)
Darwin's Beagle travels 1831
Wallace in Brazil, 1848
Quammen's travels in Brazil, modern
Wallace in Malaysia, 1854
Wallace in Dobo, 1857 Aru Islands -all this in Unit 1!

The book ends with Quammen in the Aru islands around 140 years after Wallace.

Maybe breaking the stories into bite sized pieces makes them more digestible but Quammen's own trip in Malaysia takes about 50 pages and is spread out over 630 pages.

I guess that's the difference between a very interesting book on modern science and a not-so-interesting science textbook. And this book is interesting. Every little piece fits together nicely and explains the subject well.

I like the way the author followed in the tracks of the people he writes about. I certainly felt a bit of a thrill in Australia, inland of Sydney, reading Darwin's account of the Beagle voyage and seeing the same sights he did. He described how he saw convicts working the stone to make steps and around Katoomba, I saw those very steps. I had the same feeling while traveling across Canada and reading a history of Canada. I read it as I crossed the Rockies and really got a feel for how important the railway was - in a way that I didn't in history class.

The subject is the ecology of islands but it is much more than that. Almost any place on earth can be described as an island for various animal groups. National parks in Korea (and elsewhere) are islands of wilderness in an urban or agricultural sea. Caves are islands; how do cave species cross lighted ground to another cave? Mountain tops are islands separated by valleys and valleys can be islands separated by mountains. Lakes are islands and deep areas in those lakes can also be islands, separated from other deep areas by shallow areas. One species of snake described in the book lived only in riffles or fast moving water in a few rivers. Those sets of rapids were separated by slow moving water that was home to larger snakes that preyed on them. Suburban residential blocks are grassy islands that are surrounded by treacherous asphalt

Some animals can travel from island to island. Most birds, but surprisingly, not all, fit this group. Small predators like foxes or (to maintain some connection with target audience in Korea) raccoondogs can also cross from one wilderness to another. Large predators or herbivores cannot. Tigers, bears and deer all have trouble crossing from safe harbor to safe harbor. .

A key part of island biogeography is determining how many species can live on an island. Typically the number of species on an island remains the same even while some species die out and new ones enter. This part of the book reminded me of my biology classes at university where I studied evolution but apparently forgot a lot until this book, much more grippingly, refreshed my memory. If you want to learn about evolution, this is the book.

The other side of new species evolving is older species going extinct. In most of history, the number of new species appearing equaled the number disappearing. Now, the extinction rate has increased 100 times and the end of the book has the required warnings and doom and gloom; "To despair of the entire situation is another reasonable alternative."

I suppose I should strengthen how the content of this book affects Korea. Well, there is a lot about the appropriate size of wildlife parks. Signs at Seorak Park claim there are bears in the park and Chilisan National Park has had researchers trying to find bears there. They may exist but are there enough to maintain a longterm population? As a qualified estimate from the book, a population of 50 is required to maintain a healthy population. I suppose the book could be used as justification for turning the whole DMZ into a park come reunification. Breaking it into farmland or even crossing it with highways will significantly reduce it's usefulness to large-bodied wildlife.

If you are interested in traveling to almost any island, this book will tell you about that island. Again, if you want to understand evolution, this is the book. If you are interested in the pragmatic details of wilderness conservation, this is the book. You can borrow mine, but I will want it back.

Thanks to James for suggesting it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Canada's Dokdo

There was an American named Kevin (not Kim) who ran a blog named incestuous amplification. The title described the phenomenon where bloggers read only the news they liked and all commented on the same thing and quoted each other in a cycle. In what is not really a connected thought, I was really excited when the Marmot linked to me; I felt as if I had reached the big time (sadly, only briefly). Bringing these two points together, I enjoyed being part of the Korean blogosphere but now I am not. I am blogging into a vacuum. What did the Hominid say? Did anyone else already cover this subject? I don't know and perhaps can't know, until late August. The camp I am working at has internet access but will not connect to any blogspot sites. There are a few other blogs are inaccessible as well. I can read the Marmot and the Nomad. I had the same problem at my university office; blogspot was unavailable.

Blogger is accessible so I can post but I cannot see my posts.

anyway, perhaps I am only talking to the wind, in practice, there is little difference from my regular posting.

Recently, Canada's version of Dokdo has been in the news. Canada and Denmark are squabbling over a tiny island (Hans Island) that is inaccessible by sea but probably will be reachable as global warming opens sealanes. Man, Dokdo has little going for it but at least you could reach it.

I believe the island is much closer to Canada than to European Denmark but Greenland (a Danish territory) may be closer still. I don't know if geographical distance is any kind of yardstick in these cases though. If it were, wouldn't it be funny if France got into the act? Miquelon and Saint Pierre are two French islands just east of Newfoundland so they may be close.

Anyway, the CBC account describes Denmark's claim but not Canada's. I don't know if we have a reasonable claim to Hans Island.

핸스도 우리땅!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Maybe now the heat can come off the US soldiers for a bit.

On Wednesday, three men surprised two Korean soldiers and took their weapons. The incident took place near Donghae, Gangwondo, about 100km south of Sokcho.

From the Joongang daily:
"The latest incident occurred shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday when the three men approached the soldiers, a first lieutenant and a corporal, and pretended to ask for directions. The Army unit to which the soldiers are attached has a policy of aiding tourists in the area." ... "Saying the incident demonstrates a breakdown in military discipline, the Grand National Party urged yesterday Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung to resign, but Uri Party officials said the call was politically motivated. After a fatal shooting incident in which eight South Korean soldiers were killed by a fellow soldier, the Democratic Labor Party voted with the Uri Party to defeat a resolution calling for the resignation of Mr. Yoon earlier this month."

I think linking the two incidents is crazy. The first incident, where a soldier killed many of his fellows, was probably preventable and does display problems in military discipline. The second incident was a crime of opportunity. It could have been preventable in specific although the general type is likely to success occasionally

Perhaps, the soldiers should have a policy of ignoring civilians or flat out warning them to keep their distance, although I don't know how exactly to do that with short-term conscripts. Soldiers are everywhere in coastal Gangwondo, and so are tourists and they are there for the same reason; the coastline. Should the soldiers drive away anyone who approaches within four meters? Should the soldiers ignore people appearing to have medical problems? Provincial and district officials would raise havoc with the army officials if the army drives out tourists.

I can't access GI Korea while at camp (I can't even access my own blog, only post to it). He may have already commented on the attack. In my uninformed opinion, the only way to prevent such attacks and seizures would be to increase the size of patrols, at least including an unarmed liaison member, whose only job is to interact with civilians and maintain some distance between soldiers and civilians. Distance is the only effective defense. I believe that Ontario Provincial Police doctrine is that a holstered pistol cannot be drawn swiftly enough if the assailant is already within five meters so other defenses need to be used (batons, unarmed combat, etc).

As an aside, OPP doctrine (both my father and grandfather were members of the OPP) also calls for firearms to be used only as deadly force - that is to kill opponents. Disabling shots are too chancy and dangerous to possible bystanders. Some Korean police forces are trained to try for legs, arms or shoulders and I think this is a dangerous restriction.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Excited about poop

No, The Big Hominid isn't guest blogging.

Here's Alex after all the excitement.

Alex, my 28 day old son has been home for only a few days now. He was sick and stayed in the hospital for his first three weeks. He's been fine at home but for more than 30 hours, he didn't poop and I was planning on taking him back to the hospital this afternoon.

Well, after I fed him a bottle and burped him today, I heard some rumbling from the undercarriage. I immediately checked, saw that had pooped and started changing his diaper.

Rookie mistake...

Three diapers and uncounted wet and dry tissues later we were both done. My wife, who had been out registering our son at city hall, arrived just as Alex and I finished -he finished making a mess and I finished mostly cleaning it.

Anyway, he seems healthy and I didn't freak out too much while cleaning him so I'm satisfied with his health and my competence as a father.

Monday, July 18, 2005

mugwort - friend or foe?

In this week's News of the Weird, park officials in Maryland (I think: The text reads Montgomery County, Md. Canada has only 10 provinces or 13 political units and we use three letter abbreviations, why can't the US with 50 states, use three letters?) are in a quandary. An exotic nuisance plant, mugwort, has invaded their parks and they are trying to get rid of it. Koreans in the area are collecting it (here it's called ssook -쑥) but are being charged with removing plants from a public park.

You are likely to see Korean women collecting ssook almost everywhere in Korea. When my wife sees it, she wants to bring it home but she admits to not knowing how to cook it. I am relieved that she doesn't bring it home, because we usually see it next to busy roads and I don't think I'd care for car-exhaust flavored ssook.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Disciplining athletes

The Joongang online had an article recently about problems with sports coaching in Korea. There is still a lot of 'old school' coaching in Korea where training resembles military bootcamp (and yes, I do mean Korean military). The article describes coaches using physical punishment on their athletes. I think this kind of punishment starts with extended periods of duckwalking (waddling around in a deep squat) and continues to coaches who "punched and kicked their athletes for no other reason than losing a match to others."

Before I get into my thoughts on sports training, I was amused/horrified by the report of the Korea Skating Union. Parents were upset that the coach hired used violence but also that he fabricated competition results. Violence could be a relative term but changing the results is fraud and only a country that recommends taxing bribes would allow such an appointment.

I wrote above that violence was relative. I want to be clear that I don't accept coaches punching or kicking their athletes but my taekwondo instructor used duckwalking as a training exercise (or so he said, maybe I was just gullible and he was having fun with the foreign class). Intense physical training feels a lot like punishment sometimes. I remember waking up in the middle of the night when I was a speed swimmer, afraid of the amount of butterfly I might have to do the next morning.

Of course, using swimming as a punishment for swimmers is counter-intuitive. Unruly swimmers were a challenge for me to deal with as a coach because I couldn't bring myself to think of giving them extra swimming as a kind of punishment. Making athletes do more exercise really doesn't seem to me to be that much of a punishment. I ended up kicking (no, not literally, this post is about my humane methods of coaching) them out of the practice. If they truly loved swimming, not being able to swim was the best response I could think of and if they didn't like swimming, then we were both happy they were gone.

What I really want to learn about Korean sports training is how their theory of stretching works. In Canada and, I think, the US, long (30 second) static (not bouncing) stretches are encouraged and short, bouncing stretching is considered a way to tear muscle. We are taught to stretch to the point of discomfort and hold that pose for half a minute. Koreans are taught to stretch to the point of extreme pain and to bounce their stretches (usually on the even numbers, counting "1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,2,2,3,4,5,6,7,8"). Canadians are taught that feeling extreme pain means we are damaging the muscle and it will, in fact, shorten: exactly the opposite result of what we want.

Please, if you have comments of stretching or other aspects of Korean sports training, leave a comment.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

At Camp

I am now at an English camp for elementary school students. It being held at my university so I am close to home.

However, I am expected to be available to the students so I have to stay at camp a few evenings. In my office, I can post to my blog but I cannot see my blog (nor any from blogspot - I miss the 'Big Hominid'; has 'Noraknowsnada' posted anything and where is she?).

Anyway, I will try to post on the weekend from home. I will be home for a few days then off to another camp without blogspot access so it may be September before you see regular posts here.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Real Names online: a roundup/catch up

The government is considering requiring real names online to prevent anonymous posting. Although the idea has been simmering a while, this incident has brought it to a boil.

Early last month, two pictures of a woman holding a
puppy and an old man cleaning up after her dog in a subway train became the
topic of enraged Internet users.

Tens of thousands of comments criticizing the lady
for her irresponsibility were posted on Web sites.

Of course they criticized her behind pseudonyms and anonymity. She became infamous as the dogpoopgirl and her life was ruined forever (apparently).

From the Korea Herald:

Koreans may not be the most foul-mouthed of peoples of
the world but they definitely are the worst-mannered as far as their Internet
conversations are concerned. Behind the cover of anonymity, many Internet
communicators use curses, invective, expletives and all kinds of foul language
in Web postings. This is one reason strong enough for us to call for the
implementation of an "Internet real-name system."

The National Police Agency reports a sharp increase in
the number of cyber crimes, ranging from classic hackings to conspiracy in
extortions and murders. There are a growing number of "suicide cafes" through
which members exchange information on their common subject. The number of
detected cases was 1.19 million in 2002, 1.65 million in 2003 and over 2 million
last year.

I don't think Koreans are the worst-mannered when under the cover anonymity. I have screamed at several jaywalkers and bad drivers from my bike. Although clearly a foreigner, I am gone too quickly to be identified. (I remember yelling at a driver in Seoul who ran a red light- I was furious and could see the woman in the car was scared although I didn't recognize her. Two days later, when she identified herself in my class, I sure felt like a jerk! BTW, I did leap onto the road from the sidewalk so I wasn't driving the best, either.)

California is infamous for examples of road rage; using terrible driving to teach other bad drivers a lesson. A driver in a car is almost as purely an anonymous agent as 'hyori byfrnd14' is online. Cars, of course, can be traced by their license plates but only legal authorities can do that.

Korean police today can't seem to prevent illegal parking; where will they find the manpower to watch the internet. My other concern here involves access to our ID numbers. Will all newspapers and internet portals be given the full list of Korean and foreign IDs?

From the Times:
Names a few of the polls- what is the accuracy of an online poll? Did they use real names to ensure that one person-one vote? Oh, the Joongang describes the polls as unscientific.

Ho-ho-ho; I just inadvertently made a case for real names online.

Comment: do you introduce a `real name` system in a
country where there are so many people with the same name? I mean
many Kim, Mi-Jin`s are there in Korea? Will you use their id number too...or
will you have to assign random numbers like car license tags? And of course, no
one in charge of this system is likely to have thought of foreigners in all

This is already a problem; there are many Korean sites that are inaccessible to foreigners, our ID numbers are required but a different length than Korean numbers so are not accepted. BTW, this commenter posted under a false name.

From the Joongang:

He [Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan] also said that it is not
right to exercise freedom of expression without taking responsibility for

(Insert standard joke about politicians not taking responsibility for their actions here)

Several Korean Blogs have had foul mouthed visitors without real names who have spread their poison. Possibly, the real problem here is the speed with which one can reply to a comment. Nowadays, posting is like speaking except spoken words are usually temporary and so gone before too many people can take offence.

Korea often uses the 'good citizen' approach where enforcement would seem a more logical solution. For example, using a group of celebrities to encourage people to pay their taxes. For the internet, they will make legal restrictions? Bad internet manners would seem most suited to a good citizen approach (or a 'good parent' approach - the DogPoopGirl episode was brought on by students, I believe).

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Shrinking university classes

From the Chosun:

Seventeen national universities countrywide and seven major private universities
in Seoul have decided to cut their undergraduate intake by 12,000 over the next
two years. That will mean stiffer competition for already stressed-out high
school graduates.

I don't know if this is good news or bad news for me. If my university decreases its' undergraduate intake, my job is threatened. My uni, however, is seldom mentioned in the same sentence as Yonsei, Korea or Ehwa so if fewer students can get in to the top tier universities, my uni might swell from the trickle down.

Elsewhere in the article, I saw this: [reducing enrollment was considered]an effort by the universities to turn themselves into the “world-standard research-centered schools” .

Another suggestion for universities would be to continue to accept whatever number of students, but to fail some. Was it Dongguk that became famous as the first Korean University to fail students?

On a possibly related note, my university has two campusses; Gangneung and Yangyang. I have heard rumors that the Yangyang campus will close sometime in the next few (5?) years.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Doesn't he know how important Canada day is?

It's hard to impart the importance of Canada day to a nine-day-old baby.

unexcited by Canada Day Posted by Picasa