Saturday, April 16, 2011
A liberal, free-market democracy has some curious rules and regulations
Over 700,000 South Korean children own smartphones, such as the Apple iPhone or a local rival by Samsung Electronics called the Galaxy S. Many use them so much for mobile online gaming that some 50 parental associations have called for an imminent night-time curfew for under-16s playing online computer games to be extended to mobile phones.
Concern over computer games is nothing new. Claims that marathon gaming sessions in South Korea’s “PC-bang” internet cafés have led to violence, including deaths, have prompted much soul-searching. All the same, the state seems too keen to use heavy-handed regulation. Its Game Rating Board (GRB), with the legal power to ban any game, now risks obstructing the development of an entire industry, one of the country’s most vibrant.
Graphic games such as Grand Theft Auto III are already off-limits to Korean gamers. But the chief problem is the GRB’s trouble keeping up with the sheer number of new mobile games being released on the iPhone and the rival Android platform, which Samsung uses. The board insists on a long approval process for even the most innocuous games. Apple and Google, which developed Android, are avoiding trouble by simply not selling any games to Korean customers. Related topicsCensorshipSocial issuesGamesHobbies and pastimesVideo games Yet many “indie” games developers in South Korea desperately want to reach customers. With talented programmers and a ready-made market of smartphone-owning game obsessives, this is a natural growth industry. The government pays lip service to the idea of encouraging entrepreneurship among the young. Yet the GRB, says Kim Jin-sung at Pig-Min, a games developer, is “the arch-enemy of the Korean gaming community”. This is all part of a bigger problem: technology-related censorship. In 2009 an online “economic prophet” who called himself Minerva was prosecuted for making gloomy predictions about the South Korean economy and casting aspersions on policymakers. The 30-year-old was later acquitted. The only charge that stuck was the state’s heavy-handedness. Unusually in a democracy, a “real-name” system is now in effect for those posting on popular online forums: any participant signing up to websites must use their national identity number. So would-be Minervas are now easily traced. The spread of false information carries a maximum punishment of five years’ imprisonment and a hefty fine. What is more, since 2008 a supposedly independent Korea Communications Standards Commission has had the remit to promote a “sound and friendly communications environment”. Critics argue that the commission serves as the government’s de facto internet censorship body. It is supposed merely to “advise” portals to remove articles believed to contain falsehoods, obscenity or statements in favour of North Korea that infringe the National Security Act. In fact it may issue administrative orders backed up by law, forcing content to be deleted. Unsurprisingly, its “advice” tends to be followed. Chang Ha-joon of Cambridge University, whose free-trade critique, “Bad Samaritans”, is on a list of books the defence ministry has banned troops from reading, argues that such efforts are counterproductive. “This is not the 1980s, when you could just cut a few telephone lines,” he says. Blocking free speech in one place would simply “start a bushfire” somewhere else. Much of the desire to control the flow of information and ideas can be traced back to longstanding fears over the spread of North Korean propaganda, which remains illegal. The administration of President Lee Myung-bak has additional suspicions about the power of IT thanks to massive, internet-driven protests against imports of American beef that brought Seoul to a standstill in 2008. Yet South Korea’s mild paranoia about controlling information harms its reputation as a liberal democracy and undermines its potential as a creative powerhouse. ◦
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
I had only one major complaint, and that was the length of time it took from the time I ordered my food to the point where it was passed through the window, which was more than 20 minutes. That’s a long time to stand around in the hot sun. But when I saw that one of the people who had placed an order before I arrived was handed three bags of about seven boxes, I figured that was the holdup. And when my order was finally ready, the young man who gave it to me apologized for the long wait, so I’m guessing it was an anomaly. During the day -- everyday -- Korean BBQ Taco Box is parked at the Citgo gas station on the northwest corner of Colonial Drive and Primrose Avenue, next door to a McDonald’s. The actual address is 2705 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. In the evenings, it can be found at a Shell gas station in Oviedo, at 4300 Alafaya Trail and the corner of McCulloch Road. Click this link to go to the Korean BBQ Taco Box website, but you can call orders ahead to 407-844-3990.
Sunday, April 03, 2011
Friday, April 01, 2011
South Koreans will see more cars and dealerships carrying the Chevrolet logo as General Motors Co. focuses on its core brand globally.
General Motors took a big gamble in South Korea at the start of March by getting rid of the brand name that was long familiar to Korean shoppers, Daewoo, in favor of its Chevrolet brand. So far, the transition is going smoothly, says Mike Arcamone, president of GM Korea. In the past four weeks, GM has re-outfitted its Korean dealers with Chevrolet signage and merchandising. More importantly, car inventory has rapidly shifted into Chevrolet-only product. Daewoo is one of the classic names of Korean business history, one of the major conglomerates to have been built during the 1960s as the country began its meteoric rise from poverty. But it was also the biggest conglomerate to fail during the country’s financial crisis of 1997-98. GM bought Daewoo’s car-building assets in 2001. But GM kept the Daewoo name, in part because South Korean consumers have long tended to favor Korean brands over foreign ones. Renault Nissan bought the car assets of Samsung under the same circumstances and in the same time frame and continues to brand its South Korean cars as Samsung, though they are basically re-badged Nissan models. But the Daewoo brand was tired, Mr. Arcamone said in an interview at the opening of the Seoul Motor Show on Thursday. And the move with the broader reshaping of the General Motors, which recently exited a bankruptcy process that allowed it to trim its brand portfolio and shed troubled assets. “Chevrolet is a global brand, an iconic brand,” he said. “Our studies demonstrated the Korean consumer was ready for this.” This year, Chevrolet will celebrate its centennial. At the Seoul Motor Show (which actually takes place in the suburb of Ilsan), GM added a couple of classic Chevy models sent in from Detroit and placed them near a futuristic concept roadster, dubbed Mi-ray, that was designed in Korea. GM Korea has the third-largest booth at the auto show, after the soccer-field-sized booths of Hyundai and Kia, which together account about 75% of all auto sales in the country. The giant gold Chevy emblem that dominates the booth is visible from much of the convention floor. A small part of the booth displays Cadillac models. The name change came just a few months after the South Korean and U.S. governments in December hammered out the final details of a free trade agreement that had been bogged down by perceptions that U.S. car makers didn’t fare well in the South Korean market. GM Korea has had about 15% market share under the Daewoo brand, but U.S. lawmakers, pressured by Ford and Chrysler to seek better terms in the FTA, rarely acknowledged GM’s toehold in the Korean market. Mr. Arcamone said the timing of the name change was unrelated to the FTA, which GM officially took a neutral stance on. He said the change took a long time to plan and execute, involving tens of millions of dollars in production and merchandising expense. “We never decided to wait for the outcome of the FTA,” he said.◦