Monday, June 02, 2008

Ask A Korean! News: Those Crazy Cows

Note: After reading this post one more time before publishing, the Korean realized there are a lot more interesting things that he left out, such as how a protest happens in a fun way in Korea, how there were so many young students in the protests, and further ineptitude of the Korean right-wing politicos. And then after reading seven pages of draft, the Korean realized he was not getting paid for this. Readers, feel free to contribute on anything this post is missing.

The Korean refrains from talking about Korean politics too much, but this is an exception because it involves the U.S. very much. (But the Korean would bet anything that 95 percent of Americans have no idea about this – Americans are amazingly ignorant about how their own country affects the world.)

Right now there are nightly mass protests in the center of Seoul, gathering anywhere between ten to forty thousand people. Protesters often include students as young as early teenagers. The protests so far have been by and large peaceful, but there have been occasional bouts of violence and injury – there has been pushing and shoving on a mass scale trying to break down barricades, and the police has been using water cannons to suppress the protests, which have reportedly caused severe injuries in some cases, as seen in the pictures.

(As an aside, even though this is a protest involving tens of thousands of people, it is no riot – no indiscriminate violence, and absolutely no looting. Rather, it is more like a slightly disorganized festival, complete with song and dance, albeit politically charged. Koreans arguably have the most fun protests in the world.)

What are they protesting about? (The overly simplistic) Answer: mad cow disease from beef imported from the U.S. To understand this, a little bit of history is in order.

Background: The Sore Point of FTA

It all began with something called KORUS FTA – the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. It was one of those groundbreaking events that everyone in Korea knew and no one in the U.S. knew. In many areas, the Korean and American governments agreed to remove tariffs and standardize products in order to promote trade. The negotiation took 14 months, and the agreement was signed on April 2, 2007.

KORUS FTA was generally very popular in Korea – in fact, it marked one of the few high points in the former president Roh Moo-Hyeon’s administration. It is also fair to say that from Korea’s point of view, KORUS FTA was very well negotiated, as Korea achieved some very important concessions from the U.S., such as removing tariffs on pickup trucks. However, there was a small yet well-established minority in who staunchly opposed the FTA – i.e. farmers. The agricultural sector in Korea was certain to be swamped by cheaper American product.

Once the agreement was finalized, it was submitted to each country’s legislature in order to be adopted into law. However, both parties agreed that they would leave certain sensitive parts out of the reach of KORUS. One such point was rice and beef import from the U.S., because there were a significant number of Korean farmers who would protest this cause to death. (And to death, the Korean means to death. Self-immolation in protest has been known to happen in this demographic. Linked article is in Korean.)

However, once submitted to the legislatures, the political circumstances of both U.S. and Korea began to change in a way that made the ratification of FTA difficult. On the American side, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign machine began to run, and one of the battle fronts that the campaign decided to open was the KORUS FTA. As the U.S. economy was going further and further down the sinkhole, the Clinton campaign correctly saw that making economy an issue was a good selling point, and blaming the economic trouble on foreign trade is always an easy route to take for a politician. Because the U.S. did make significant concessions, it was easy to characterize KORUS as an unfair pact that hurts the American working class.

Following her lead, certain Congressmen and Senators vowed that unless Korea opens up its beef market, they would lobby against ratifying KORUS. Instead of ratifying right away as both parties hoped, a year would pass by without any action from either Korea or America.

On the Korean side, new president Lee Myeong-bak was sworn in, and the conservative Grand National Party returned to power after ten years out of the presidency. Because President Lee vowed to be an economy-first and business-friendly executive, everyone expected the approval of FTA would move on smoother on the Korean side. But it is fair to say that no one expected how badly the new administration would fuck up the process.

The Beef with the Negotiation

Korea actually imported a significant amount of American beef up to 2003. However, the first case of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, i.e. the Mad Cow Disease,) was discovered in the U.S. in Dec. 23, 2003, and that put the end of American beef export to Korea. (Remember all the craziness about mad cow disease in America? It was not too long ago, folks.)

Korean beef market did open up in 2006, but the import was limited to meat only, as BSE is known to be populated in soft tissues such as brain, eyes, certain parts of intestines, certain parts of stomach, and bone marrow in certain parts of vertebrae. There were several fusses over this requirement, as Korean customs repeatedly rejected entire shipments of U.S. beef because it discovered a bone chip in a size of a nail.

President Lee’s administration came in on beginning of 2008, and it needed a visible result right away to convince the people that it cared about the economy. To that end, ratifying KORUS took priority. And to ratify KORUS, the beef market had to open. Given the positive response to KORUS among Korean people, quickly taking care of the prerequisite for KORUS would receive a positive mark. Although protests from farmers would inevitably happen, the people would be behind the measure, especially since President Lee won the election by landslide – this must have been the thought process of the Lee administration.

This concern was compounded by the fact that President Lee would visit the U.S. in late April of this year. In order to personally pressure the U.S. Congress to act on FTA, the prerequisite for KORUS had to be satisfied, and satisfied quickly.

Therefore, on April 18 of this year, Korean government agreed to open its beef market at an undoubtedly favorable term for the U.S. Regarding mad cow disease, these were the terms:

- For cattle that are older than 30 months, every part except seven types of Specified Risk Materials (SRM) are to be imported. Intestines are not included in the seven types.

- For cattle that are younger than 30 months, every part except two types of SRM are to be imported. The two parts are tonsils and one of the stomachs. Note that bones of cattle younger than 30 months are to be imported.

- U.S. is generally required to follow the regulations of OIE (for “Office International des Epizooties” – an office under World Trade Organization that deals with animal health. Don’t you just love the French’s attempt at relevance?). OIE classify countries with BSE risk into three tiers (from low to high): Negligible Risk, Controlled Risk, and Undetermined Risk. Currently U.S. in the Controlled Risk category. Importantly, even if U.S. gets another reported case of BSE, Korea can only stop import only if U.S. moves from Controlled Risk to Undetermined Risk.

If one knows all the numbers behind BSE, these terms are not entirely terrible. So far, only known cases of BSE occurred with cattle that were older than 30 months. Less than 1 percent of cattle slaughtered in the U.S. is older than 30 months, and 97 percent is younger than 20 months. Among the cattle older than 30 months, there is about 1 in a million chance that it has BSE. Then the infected SRM has to mix in with non-SRM parts, and then has to be eaten. After all this, the estimated chance of infection through these rules is about one in one billion.

On top of that, consider the fact that in the 20 years since the discovery of BSE, roughly 200 people worldwide died from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), i.e. the human variant of BSE. (Note 6/3/08: Thank you Jenny B. for the correction to vCJD from foot-and-mouth.) That’s 10 people per year. Shark attack worldwide kills 15 people a year. Now for the probability, compare the number of people who swim near sharks multiplied by the number of times of actual swims, and the number of people who eat beef, multiplied by the number of times of actual consumption!

Even further on top of that, there were only three reported cases of vCJD in the U.S., and as it turns out, all three of them immigrated to the U.S. only several years before being diagnosed with the disease. (Two from Britain, one from Saudi Arabia.) In other words, given that latency of vCJD is over 10 years, it is not American beef that killed them.

But anyone with half a brain can figure out that those terms definitely look bad. Common people know Mad Cow Disease as some deadly disease that spreads through eating soft tissue. So imagine how a regular Korean person, who unlike the Korean is too busy to go through various channels of information, would receive the news: “Wait, so we are importing all those soft tissues? And even if Mad Cow Disease actually happens in America, we can’t stop the importation?”

Legitimate Concerns about American Meat and Korean People

There are some legitimate concerns surrounding American regulations, Korean people’s eating habits, and Korean people’s physiology.

First, U.S. was relatively late addressing cross-infection concerns. One of the ways in which BSE spreads is by mixing in infected SRM into cattle feed. (This disgusting and cannibalistic practice began in Britain, where grain price was too steep to create cattle feed that is 100 percent grain. This is why 80 percent of vCJD occurred in Britain.)

U.S. never really had that practice, but prohibited it anyway once that practice became a problem. However, mixing in SRM for feed for non-ruminating animals (like chickens) was still allowed. Then, theoretically, if a chicken eats BSE-infected SRM, and later parts from that chicken are mixed into cattle feed, the cattle may become infected – i.e. a cross-infection. FDA finally decided to prohibit mixing in SRM from cattle older than 30 months in any animal feed, but the prohibition does not come into effect until April 2009. This is definitely late compared to Europe.

Also, unlike Europe, U.S. only requires sample testing of BSE instead of testing every head of cattle. The sample consists of cows that cannot stand or otherwise failed a physical test. Therefore, it ends up being that only .1 percent of 100 million cows in the U.S. are tested. This is mostly because testing every head of cattle is too expensive in America, where there are many more cows than Europe.

Another legitimate concern is that U.S. is lax in tracking the age of the cow. The 30-month mark is obviously critical. The most accurate method of tracking age is to tag every single head of cattle, but that only happens with 20 percent of the cattle in the U.S. The rest are checked based on teeth and muscle conditions; this method is reasonably accurate, but certainly less accurate than tagging.

On the other side, Korean people’s eating habits are unique in that they consume a lot of soft tissue. Bone soup (featured in the Korean’s article here) is a very popular Korean dish, and Korean barbecue invariably features ribs with bones. Korean people also often eat tripe (= stomach) and small intestines.

Lastly, there was an interesting study that suggested Asians are possibly more susceptible to vCJD. For vast majority of vCJD patients so far, at their 129th genome, Methione/Metionine identicality has been observed. Among Caucasians, the M/M identicality occurs at around 35~40 percent, but among Asians it occurs over 90 percent.

This result is intriguing, but consider this: Caucasian Parkinson’s Disease patients tend to have more H1 haploid compared to H2 haploid in their MAPT genome – the ratio is normally around 8:2, and white Parkinson’s patients have a higher ratio of H1. But for Asians, the ratio is more like 9.9:0.1. So does Asian people get Parkinson’s more often? The answer is no – Parkinson’s disease occurs at the same rate across all races. In other words, it is a stretch to find susceptibility to disease based on a single genome, and while the study above is interesting, it is inconclusive.

Nonetheless, the concern was at least worth looking into, especially given that racist Korean people would eat up the notion that their physiology is somehow different and special. (Described in the Korean’s post here.)

Ridiculously Outrageous False Rumors

But as these things are, crazy false rumors swirled around Korea as opposition to beef import began to form.

Some of them were variants of an existing fact. For example, it is true that SRM from cattle older than 30 months can no longer be used in animal feed in the U.S., as written above. That fact morphed into a rumor that all beef from cattle older than 30 months is unfit for animal feed. Then the predictable reaction from Koreans is: “Americans want us to eat meat that they won’t even feed to their dogs?”

Also, it is true that U.S. imports Australian and Canadian beef, mostly to be used at fast food chains because they are cheaper. That fact turned into a rumor that even Americans won’t eat their own beef and only eat Australian or Canadian beef, and now they are pushing their infected meat to be sold abroad.

It is true that BSE cannot be eliminated by cooking the infected part, because BSE is not caused by bacteria or virus, but a mutated strain of protein. That fact changed into a paranoid whisper that BSE virus is this invincible thing that cannot be destroyed no matter what.

But some rumors are absolutely crazy, like:

- Using any of the 600 products that use cow’s gelatin or collagen, such as cosmetics, maxi pads, diapers, etc., will give you BSE. (Gelatin or collagen is not SRM.)

- BSE is carried through knife or cutting board that touched infected meat. If you wash those things in water, BSE virus will survive in the water through treatment and will eventually infect the drinking water. (Too much Outbreak/28 Days Later. BSE is not caused by virus – one has to eat the infected SRM to catch BSE.)

- There are 5 million Alzheimer’s patient in the U.S., and roughly 250,000~650,000 among them are suspected cases of BSE. (The symptoms of Alzheimer’s and BSE are completely different, and BSE kills within one or two years of diagnosis – anyone notice all demented people dying within two years?)

- Kissing will transmit BSE. (Maybe in Korean dramas.)

Incredibly Stupid Responses by Korean Government

Chris Matthews, in his book Hardball (that’s right, it was a book before there was a TV show,) said after every election, the winning politician must carefully assess whether s/he won, or the other side lost. Did you win because your platform was strong, or did you win because the other side was so terrible? Although grammatically the same, they are two wildly different things in politics.

This question is important because it determines the true amount of political capital you amassed from your victory. Obviously it is smooth sailing if you won through your strength; you can go ahead and implement your policies, and the people will be behind you. However, if you won through the other’s weakness, you must proceed with extreme caution, because your support will disappear in an instant at one misstep.

Apparently, the Lee administration did not bother to ask themselves this most basic question. It was drunk on the landslide victory and did not realize that the victory came mostly from the epic disaster that was Roh presidency, and not as much from Lee’s own track record and policy proposals.

Even before the Mad Cow row, signs of Lee administration’s just “not getting it” were plenty. Even though Lee touted his own resume as a CEO of Hyundai during the election, the economy was no better than before. (Which is in fact natural – despite many promises, there is little that a president can do to revive the economy.) Food price and gas price went up to new heights (as did everywhere else in the world).

But the administration did not fully commit itself to economy; instead it was detracted by self-created distractions. Its selection of cabinet was marred by the (mostly true) allegation that it is stuffed with wealthy cronies of Lee or complete amateurs from universities. In the National Assembly elections held a few months after the presidential election, Lee’s Grand National Party went through a civil war over who would run for the elections, with Lee’s proxies and Park Geun-Hye, the presidential candidate who lost the primary, duking it out. Public confidence in the new presidency fell quickly.

The fact that the beef import negotiation was done so poorly, at a time when Lee administration was hanging on a balance, indicates that Lee administration did not even have the wherewithal to assess the situation they were in. Any Korean with half a brain should have known that beef importation is a sensitive issue. In fact, it has all the indications of a “trouble” issue. It has a small, vocal group of opposition (= cattle farmers) who would begin stoking the fire; it plays right into the general public’s concerns about health and excessive American influence; finally, it deals with fatal disease that is not yet fully understood (and it affects the brain!), which would easily produce sensationalistic headlines.

However, what is more astounding than the poorly negotiated beef market opening is the administration’s even poorer management of public opinion. Even as things were spiraling out of control, the administration never grasped why and how things were spiraling out of control.

The “why” part is what we discussed so far – Korean people was running out of patience with the administration. But the initial reaction by the administration showed no sign that it understood what its people were thinking. President Lee himself offered a pithy comment: “Inner city laborers will be able to eat quality beef for cheap; people with health concerns simply don’t have to eat.” The natural reaction is: So you mean inner city laborers can go ahead and die from Mad Cow Disease? And what if I catch BSE from my lipstick?

Chief negotiator for Korea held a press conference to explain, but only made it worse by saying “It is like being able to eat blowfish after the poison is removed.” First, blowfish is a relatively expensive food, and definitely not something one would eat every day, or even every month. Furthermore, those who cook blowfish in Korea must have a license, and blowfish is rarely processed outside of the restaurant’s kitchen, and never in a large factory through a machine. All in all, it seems as if the negotiator did not spend more than five minutes thinking up that analogy, which appeared consistent with the way he handled the negotiation.

Equally important – and equally ignorant, on the administration’s part – was “how” things managed to spiral out of control. The administration did not seem to realize that South Korea, as one of the world leaders in information technology, has a completely new way of forming public opinions that did not exist 10 years ago when they were last in power.

The Korean public has the closest thing to virtual democracy in the world. They are instantly informed through the Internet (putting aside the issue of whether they are informed with anything more than sensationalistic crap,) and organization comes extremely quickly. The word spreads instantaneously through the vast network of text and instant messaging, and the meeting place is always the same: the City Hall Plaza. A gathering that features tens of thousand people does not take more than a week to organize, and that might be too conservative of an estimate.

Controlling this new world order takes a level of mastery with which this administration is simply not equipped. In this circumstance, like a good basketball drive, the first step matters the most; it is exceedingly difficult to fix the situation when the first step was so egregiously bad. Lee administration did try some methods to fix things online – however, this new, Internet-savvy voting public would have none of the crude methods with which the government tried in order to control information. In fact, it reminds of ill-fated attempts of confused parents trying to connect with their teenage children by talking “cool”.

(One of the ways the Korean saw was a large, flashing pop-up ads on online newspapers that screamed “AMERICAN BEEF, EATEN BY 400 MILLION AMERICANS AND 2.5 MILLION KOREAN AMERICANS, IS COMPLETELY SAFE!!!! YOUR GOVERNMENT WILL TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR HEALTH!!!!” You can't make this stuff up.)

Despite all of his faults as the president, Roh was fantastic in using this new form of public opinion to his advantage – it propelled him all the way to the presidency, and once there, saved him from impeachment. Approached without caution, this force could just as easily undo a presidency, as Lee administration is facing right now.

The Korean is literal in saying “undoing a presidency.” Currently 1.35 million people signed on the online petition calling for President Lee’s impeachment. Although the actual impeachment may be a pipe dream, one prominent conservative newspaper (Dong-A Ilbo) went so far as to call for the resignation of the entire cabinet, and it does seem likely that it will happen.

-EDIT 6/3/08: The Korean had the following paragraph in the draft, and realized it disappeared somehow. Here it is-

And truly, this is the reason why protests continue night after night. It is not because Koreans are dumb enough to really believe those ridiculously crazy rumors about American beef. Koreans want to send a signal to their government that did not understand what they were concerned about. Koreans wanted a government that cared about their health; a government that would hold its own in a negotiation with America; a government that would respect their opinion and attempt to persuade them sincerely, instead of talking down as if they are too stupid to understand. The way Lee administration handled the beef negotiation and the aftermath was the clear sign that this government was badly out of touch. In response, Korean people are taking to the streets every night, trying to slap some sense into it.

What is Happening as of Today

Today, the Korean government decided to delay the official announcement of the opening of beef market. This move de facto signifies that the Korean government will be engaging in some form of renegotiation. The news so far says the government is considering implementing its own quarantine over American beef such that meat from cattle older than 30 months will have a clear designation such that it will not be sold. Also, President Lee is expected to announce major change in his cabinet within a week.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at

-EDIT 6/2/2008- Moments ago the Minister of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced that it will ask the U.S. to stop the export of beef from cattle older than 30 months, which is essentially a renegotiation.


  1. Here's a report from the USDA website that lays it all out about the beef thing. And yep, Americans do eat beef 30+ months.!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?contentidonly=true&contentid=2007/09/0248.xml

    For all the info that Koreans like to get off of the internet from 'userxyz' and use as truth, you'd think this would've been one of the first places they'd go....

  2. Hey man,

    Awesome post.

    The only thing that you didn't hit on (which is one of the hottest topics as of today) is the policeman kicking the co-ed in the head after pushing her down.

    Apprently, the perpetrating policeman has been "punished" internally, but that normally means a slap on the wrist.

  3. Very nice and sensible summary of the thing from the Korean side.


    If Koreans would only use the internet to do research as avidly as they use it to get each other angry, we might have something more sensible going on here.

    There seems to be a shortage of critical thinking in Korea - partly the result of its intimacy (vs. the Western integrity) culture and partly the result of its paranoia(a paranoia often soundly based on history). The educational system should also be tossed into that stew, since it really teaches to tests, not to thoughts.

    I love living here, but when a thing like the mad-cow scare (and scare understates it) pops up? It makes Korea seem silly.

    The good news being that most of the rest of the world isn't paying attention. ;-)

    And I get to take amusing photos of Koreans dressed up in ratty cow-costumes.

  4. I had the glory of editing one of my students papers on mad-cow and Korea. It was the most slanderous crap I had ever read, but rather than getting shocked at its content, I realized that the fault lies in education in Korea. They teach to test as the fellow before said and seem to forgo all ideas of critical thinking.

    Not to imply that my comments are correct, but I believe that this mass hysteria is congruent with Korea's flawed education system.

  5. Ed, the Korean would LOVE to read that paper. But it would not be good manners to send it around.

    The Korean actually disagrees that Koreans lack critical thinking ability. Sure, Koreans display herd mentality once in a while, but what country in the world doesn't? (Remember Iraq War? And how the rest of the critical-thinking world opposed it?)

    In fact, this protest is generally rational, although the Korean would never deny that there are numerous irrational parts to it.

    The true issue here is not the danger of BSE. Bottom line is that, regardless of whether there is true danger for BSE from American beef, the Korean government royally screwed up the negotiation. And after screwing it up, the government tried to play it like people were too dumb to understand. Korean people are reacting to that. This is really what the protest is about.

    In the Korean's opinion,the Westerners draw the conclusion of Korean people's irrationality because they consider the reaction - of protesting - to be extreme. This line of thought is understandable. After all, if you burned down someone's house because that person stepped on your foot, you acted in an irrational way because that's too disproportionate of a response.

    But one must understand that in a society like Korea -- a highly networked society where everyone lives close to each other -- organizing and protesting is not an extreme reaction at all. The Korean public has a rich experience in gathering for protest whenever something goes wrong with the government. After all, that is how Korean democracy was brought about. This is just a normal democratic reaction -- there is no reason why Koreans must follow the sterility of Western democracy.

  6. "...sterility of Western democracy" is a perfect phrase.

    Ed, I would also love to see that student's paper, but the Korean is right. Poor manners to disclose it. Quite sure I could find a comparable example from a U.S. student. Critical thinking skills are increasingly difficult to enhance in this age of standardized testing.

    Nice post and this is the *abbreviated* version.

  7. This does NOT hold water, is NOT sensible. If you put bullshit in a vase with roses, it's still bullshit. The rabid anger that ignorant people went to the streets with against a major US import that has been signed off on by the Korean gov't. is NOT to be found against any other import from any other country. And there are plenty of issues that could warrant such rage related to other trading partners.

    This is irrational rage against the US, as we see over and over again from Koreans who just can't stand it that the US is the source of almost every new and good thing to come to this country in the last 60 years.

    And despite that anger, and despite that stupidity, despite the utter lack of cogent arguments against healthy, delicious, US beef, the protesters are starting to get what they want. Americans should rightfully abhor them all. You have a free ride for now on the national security issue. But nothing is forever my precious darlings. I hope and pray for the day that Koreans pay the price for their spoiled and idiotic antics.

  8. Yeah, Koreans wish the Lee administration would make more of a show of "standing up to the U.S." on the trade issue. Most Koreans see the benefits of free-trade in a mercantilist mindset, i.e. Hyundai will be able to export X amount of cars to the U.S. which is X more jobs in Korea. However, this is just another example of the seen vs. the unseen, which Frederic Bastiat warned could distort even the shrewdest of analyses.

    While some Koreans certainly don't appreciate the long-term salutary effects of lower food and consumer-goods prices, the biggest problem is a fundamental denial of international competition in the service sectors of the economy (e.g. law and yes, I know most of this goes unaddressed by KORUS). Of course, the exact same complaint is valid for the U.S., especially in the medical field.

    Because the majority of Koreans see trade (and any economic activity that produces job losses) as a zero-sum game - actively rejecting the idea of "creative destruction" trumpeted by Schumpeter among others - they want politicians to be especially "tough" negotiators, as mercantilist as possible in all trade agreements, but especially with the old "nemesis," the U.S.

    After all, it was exports TO the U.S. (the equivalent to "attacks" in the mercantalist mindset) that made Korea rich, right? If there were actual support for the ideas behind free trade, I highly doubt that a few BSE cases 5 years ago would be a problem. Yet without any kind of ideological underpinning that free trade still enjoys in the U.S. (among many opinion leaders, academics, and even the portion of the population that still remembers the "comparative advantage" unit from college econ) small, memorable issues such as mad cow - where a number of cognitive biases, especially availability bias and the endowment effect, make the prospect of American beef imports seem dangerous - can easily scupper any free-trade deal. Curiously, the only prominent Korean economist I can think of is Chang Ha-Joon (Cambridge), who is notoriously anti-free trade.

    I'm not claiming the U.S. is an "economic" haven where the median voter understands the reasons behind the solid consensus among economists for relatively free trade (IMO, the most important is that free trade reinforces the intuition that "increasing productivity is a good thing" which at times isn't so intuitive, especially in the short term, when trying to maintain a "harmonious society" or political popularity).

    However, I am saying that there are enough "free-trade fundamentalist" Americans to form an alliance of convenience with exporter groups, Koreans in general have very little appreciation for the benefits - both tangible and intangible - of free trade.

  9. One of the kids I tutor told me, with complete sincerity, that if Koreans started eating US beef they'd all die in exactly ten years from Mad Cow.

    Great post, really - I finally am getting the nuances of the situation.

  10. Oh great, the bouncer fell asleep.

  11. Lol
    I've discussed this subject with my politics professor.
    and the simple answer he said was "So they protested. What are they aiming for? The contract is done. There is nothing else that can be done now."

    And frankly, although I've heard many jabbering from my peers about this subject. If mad cow disease was so easy to get, how come koreans overseas haven't yet got it o_o;... or I haven't heard of any. =_=...

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  13. I truly enjoyed your post, and you helped me clarify a few points about Sogogi-gate. I find myself agreeing with some of the issues. Yet why weren't they stated from the start?

    I still don't get why mad cow was the big issue when there are bigger methods to prove U.S. grain-finished beef is unsafe, or at best unhealthy. I also feel it's suspect that the minds behind these protests targeted pubescent and pre-pubescent children to push their agenda.

    Keep up the great research and insights. We need more balance in the echo chamber English-language Korea blogging community.

    (Deleted and reposted because I caught a grammatical error)

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  15. Excellent post analyzing some of the real issues behind this whole fiasco. A lot of the protesters are motivated more by the (spectacularly incompetent) process by which the Korean government decided to import U.S. beef than the beef itself, and there are many other complicated issues involved. Mass demonstrations excel at making a simple point, but are poor at articulating, so you really need to be in touch with the Korean-language media and Korean populace to see what's going on. Personally, I'm still a bit unsure about what to make out of this whole thing. Ill-founded myths and emotional spontaneity definitely seem to be a part of these protests, and I'm sure a lot of the kids are just out there because their friends watched "PD Diary" and they're all bored with their studies, kinda like me when I was in college. But on the other hand, one still needs to look at and be able to answer to the real issues (such as those that you mentioned) before simply (and shallowly) dismissing these protests as just "bullshit" or "irrational behavior."

  16. That's an excellent post - many thanks for making it.

    One thing jumps out at me was your comment comparing the 'herd mentality' of Koreans over the beef issue with the Iraq war. While you might be right that other countries have 'herd moments', the Iraq war drew huge protests in the USA, Britain and all the other countries whose governments supported it. It's not an example of herd thinking.

  17. Thank you for your extremely detailed and well researched post on this topic. I've enjoyed reading your blog but I haven't said so yet. That must have taken a lot of time to write. Kudos!

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  19. excelent post :) thank you.
    i was curious about that and asked my fellow students what they think about (all undergraduates in the fiel of life science / food techology / pharmacy) and it was plain shoking. the best informed could tell me what they knew about prions. but that was all they didnt know anything about how many case there are in other countries nor what material is possible dangerous. until now no mater from which university ( small private ones or even the mighty seoul national) i got only negative opinions about the american beef... im actually quite depressed about it. i belive that a big part is based on the information source of the 'net generation' namely daum and naver. most students i asked didnt got informations from international sources.

    my 0.02$

  20. Excellent and informative post! But when you talk about the genetics stuff, you don't mean "genome." You mean something like SNP site. The genome is all your DNA.

  21. Dear Seanchile

    You said, "the only prominent Korean economist I can think of is Chang Ha-Joon (Cambridge), who is notoriously anti-free trade"

    Chang is not opposed to trade and markets as such. He merely argues that the current economic policies supported by the IMF and wealthy countries are hindering development and creating poverty. He rightly points out how trade relations between developed countries and developing countries have been dotted with hypocrisy of developed ones. You can clearly figure this out through his recent book "Bad Samaritans".

    And I also want to point out that most mainstream Korean economists, including academics at prestigious Korean universities are blind believers of free trade. Chang represents a minority in the Korean economist circle, which makes his presence even more valuable for healthy academic debate in Korean society.

  22. "Apparently, the Lee administration did not bother to ask themselves this most basic question. It was drunk on the landslide victory and did not realize that the victory came mostly from the epic disaster that was Roh presidency, and not as much from Lee’s own track record and policy proposals."



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