Nonsense, horsefeathers, and idle musings from a decade in South Korea (2002-2012).

19 November, 2007

Visas: Everywhere You Need to Be

By Aaron
19 November, 2007

Sometimes it's a marvel to me that - even in the absence of coups, revolutions or plagues - governments survive for as long as they do. I truly do wonder how these institutions manage to avoid stumbling on their own idiocy, and the worrisome fact that they are the last, paper-thin fence between order and anarchy is never far from my mind.

I gripe thus because last Friday found the missus and me making what was to be the last of our annual trips to the Korean Immigration Office, located out in the wop-wops of Mokdong. We went there in the expectation that I'd finally be getting my F-5 (permanent resident) visa, for which I supposedly qualified after two years on an F-2 spousal visa. Little did we realize that we were about to be confronted by the dreaded Monster of Circuitous Logic, which roams freely here in its native Korean land.

Given that I knew I was facing a trip to Immigration, I woke up in a surprisingly good mood on Friday. It seems that winter may finally have arrived here on The Peninsula and the day broke brisk and clear, so crisp that you could damn near ping a needle on it. Changing the sheets on our bed the night before, I'd become aware that I had water in my left ear and, in trying to shake it loose, I'd strained the muscles in my lower back and they were feeling pretty tight when I crawled out of bed, but even that - combined with looming visa applications - didn't sour my mood. I knew that this would be our last trek to Immigration for the foreseeable future.

Well, as a wise man once said, beware the rising tide of optimism.

As I said, to qualify for the F-5 visa, you must be on an F-2 for two years. As it happens, I received my original F-2 on 24 November, 2005. The math majors among you will correctly note that, since that time, not quite two years has elapsed, a fact that was immediately brought to our attention by the immigration official who 'helped' us on Friday. According to her, I am ineligible to apply for an F-5 until 24 November, 2007, even though my current visa expires on 23 November.

"What happens if I wait until the 24th to apply for the F-5?" I asked.

"You'll be fined for letting your visa lapse?"

Hence my reasons for traipsing out to Mokdong on the 16th of November.

What to do, then? Pay 20, 000 KRW to renew my F-2 for a third year, of course, and then reassemble all the paperwork and come back anytime after the 24th - one week later - and apply for the F-5, which will then cost another 60,000 KRW. In other words, pay for a year's visa that I'll use for ten days: a penalty payment in its own right. So the government requires that you have the visa for two years, but they don't issue the visas for a period that covers two years. And, of course, never you mind that it takes the government about two weeks to process an F-5, so that - had they just let me submit the application - I'd be well past my two years on the F-2 when they finished the paperwork.

30 November will thus find us trudging back to the Immigration office for a mix and repeat of last Friday's activities - that is, if the Korean government doesn't drown in its own cretinism first.

08 November, 2007

For Your Viewing Pleasure

By Aaron
08 November, 2007

I'm not sure how I missed this, but it seems that the Christian Family Television network debuted a new sitcom this season, starring Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

CFT provides this preview:

Sam Brownback stars as a hardworking, idealistic US senator and married father of five, trying to make his way in Washington's corridors of power. His n'er-do-well friend, Orrin Hatch, has a habit of showing up, dressed only in hot pants, at the most inopportune moments, prompting Brownback's signature catchphrase: "Orrin, this is a helluva time for hotpants."

04 November, 2007

Over a Barrel

By Aaron
04 November, 2007

The gap between what people want to be true and what actually is true never ceases to astound me, though I suppose we're all guilty on occasion of forgetting that wishing doesn't necessarily make anything so. Outside of religion, there is nowadays no area where these rose-colored glasses are more prevalent than in the current debate over climate change and man's responsibility for it.

In my job, I've had the opportunity to meet and get to know a number of corporate executives at large Korean and international firms, and while I don't at present work directly with any energy companies I do work with the engineers who build their refineries and separation plants and the bankers who finance the explorations of the whole hydrocarbon enterprise. Needless to say, these folks - depending as they do on projects in places like Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Mexico, and Western Australia - have a vested interest in a continuation of the status quo. But let's be fair: these companies only provide products and services for which there is a demand. If consumers demanded solar panels and wind farms, these engineers would be only too happy to build them.

Even so, I find the managers in these companies to be some of the most resistant to any amount of evidence - no matter how compelling - in the debate over global warming. The other day, then, while discussing the issue with one such CEO, I posed the question: even if our actions had absolutely nothing to do with climate change, why should we not try our damndest to move away from oil, coal and other old-line energies? Aren't we, in our addiction to fossil fuels, merely binding ourselves to the past?

Earlier this year, the UN Panel on Climate Change issued a report stating that, in all likelihood (i.e. +90%), a majority of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the increase in human greenhouse gas concentrations. What I've found amazing - assuming that the UN numbers are correct - is how many otherwise intelligent people choose to cling to the hope that humans have had nothing to do with the overall warming trends - some out of a genuine skepticism (which in principle I applaud) but most because it's an easier worldview to swallow. After all, if our lifestyles and business practices aren't causing the dramatic warming then we can just keep on keeping on and go back to worrying about celebrities in rehab.

Or can we?

It's hard, for example, to think of an industry that has changed as little since its inception as the auto industry. Yes, cars are safer and more efficient than they were 80 years ago, but surely I can't be the only one who wonders why, after all these years, we're still measuring automobile efficiency in terms of oil-based energy consumption. And I know that I'm largely ignorant of the technologies involved, but consider that since the first automobiles hit the roads we've moved from the telegraph to the Blackberry; from ether anaesthetic to outpatient laser surgery; from player pianos to iPods. Hell, every individual component on a car has advanced exponentially, and yet we're still powering our vehicles with the same problematic resources - pumped out from under stone-age clerics - that we've always used.

With a few exceptions, this oil tends to be in the hands of despotic governments who use it to maintain cultures of ignorance and repression and depriving these regimes of their main source of wealth could therefore do as much for the cause of human liberty as any ill-conceived invasion. Whether or not climate change is a threat, then, scarcely matters in this regard. You don't like the governments of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela? Well, here's your chance to knock the legs out from under them.

And, for the sake of further discussion, let's say that human greed and inertia are not to blame for the overarching problem of climate change. It would be something of a relief, to be sure, except that our lifestyles are still causing a series of huge - albeit smaller than the Big One: planetary warming - problems that, in aggregate, are making the world far less inhabitable: those cars and smokestacks make for unbreathably polluted air; deforestation plays hell on our oxygen, groundwater and ecosystems; we're rapidly killing our oceans with overfishing and pollution. I could go on, but suffice it to say that whether or not these effects of our behavior combine to produce catastrophic climate change hardly matters because, to quote Laura Bush, "either way, we've gotta knock this shit off."

Forget about climate change for a moment and just consider the economic, technological and smaller environmental benefits that could result from a concerted effort to push beyond our current boundaries. I don't mean to imply that breaking our current cycles of destructive behavior will be easy. In fact, it only becomes more difficult with each passing day, as more and more countries "modernize" on the antiquated American model. Still, I can't help but think - in light of the great technological leaps we've witnessed in the past 40 years - that we'd be far ahead of where we are now if a reasonable fraction of the money spent on oil exploration had been invested in R&D for new technologies and fuel sources.

In my short time on this earth, I've learned that when sensible, feasible actions aren't taken, it's usually because someone has a vested interest in not seeing them happen. In this case, the blame falls not only on manufacturers and energy companies but also on governments and, perhaps even more fundamentally, on consumers. Perhaps, though, with oil at $100 a barrel, these consumers (well, Americans, at least) will realize that climate change is only one of our problems.