Why so many Koreans are called Kim

September 16th, 2014


saying claims that a stone thrown from the top of Mount Namsan, in the centre of the capital Seoul, is bound to hit a person with the surname Kim or Lee. One in every five South Koreans is a Kim—in a population of just over 50m. And from the current president, Park Geun-hye, to rapper PSY (born Park Jae-sang), almost one in ten is a Park. Taken together, these three surnames account for almost half of those in use in South Korea today. Neighbouring China has around 100 surnames in common usage; Japan may have as many as 280,000 distinct family names. Why is there so little diversity in Korean surnames?

Korea’s long feudal tradition offers part of the answer. As in many other parts of the world, surnames were a rarity until the late Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). They remained the privilege of royals and a few aristocrats (yangban) only. Slaves and outcasts such as butchers, shamans and prostitutes, but also artisans, traders and monks, did not have the luxury of a family name. As the local gentry grew in importance, however, Wang Geon, the founding king of the Goryeo dynasty (918–1392), tried to mollify it by granting surnames as a way to distinguish faithful subjects and government officials. The gwageo, a civil-service examination that became an avenue for social advancement and royal preferment, required all those who sat it to register a surname. Thus elite households adopted one. It became increasingly common for successful merchants too to take on a last name. They could purchase an elite genealogy by physically buying a genealogical book (jokbo)—perhaps that of a bankrupt yangban—and using his surname. By the late 18th century, forgery of such records was rampant. Many families fiddled with theirs: when, for example, a bloodline came to an end, a non-relative could be written into a genealogical book in return for payment. The stranger, in turn, acquired a noble surname.

As family names such as Lee and Kim were among those used by royalty in ancient Korea, they were preferred by provincial elites and, later, commoners when plumping for a last name. This small pool of names originated from China, adopted by the Korean court and its nobility in the 7th century in emulation of noble-sounding Chinese surnames. (Many Korean surnames are formed from a single Chinese character.) So, to distinguish one’s lineage from those of others with the same surname, the place of origin of a given clan (bongwan) was often tagged onto the name. Kims have around 300 distinct regional origins, such as the Gyeongju Kim and Gimhae Kim clans (though the origin often goes unidentified except on official documents). The limited pot of names meant that no one was quite sure who was a blood relation; so, in the late Joseon period, the king enforced a ban on marriages between people with identical bongwan (a restriction that was only lifted in 1997). In 1894 the abolition of Korea’s class-based system allowed commoners to adopt a surname too: those on lower social rungs often adopted the name of their master or landlord, or simply took one in common usage. In 1909 a new census-registration law was passed, requiring all Koreans to register a surname.

The Economist for more

Naseeruddin Shah: I have discovered my love for the family because of Ratna

September 16th, 2014


Film actor and director Naseeruddin Shah PHOTO/Wikipedia

Naseeruddin Shah exudes so much aura that it is difficult to not be taken in by that. The saving grace is that he looks down while he talks and that helped me start my conversation without being conscious.

Were you not able to do commercial cinema or did you not want to do it?

Well, there is a lot of it that I don’t want to do, but there is some that I did feel like doing and did, quite a lot in fact, but I was never at ease, never at home in those kind of films, never felt tested. I was cast in the role that was convenient to cast me in, but they were never challenging roles, be it Karma or Tridev, which are my two big successes. I am not particularly fond of either film. The films I love are films like Masoom, Jalwa and The Dirty Picture.I am not averse to commercial cinema and the most gorgeous film ever made is Mughal-E-Azam, followed by Pyaasa and Guide as a close third.These are my favourite films and not a Satyajit Ray film. I love Raju Hirani’s films and am eagerly awaiting his next one. I like Farah Khan’s films, but didn’t like her last one Tees Maar Khan at all. I loved Queen, Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1, Dev.D, Paan Singh Tomar .These are the kinds of films that we should make as they use commercial form that our audience is addicted to, and we cannot get away from that, much as I may dislike it. I would happily see a Raju Hirani, Anurag Kashyap or Ritesh Batra’s new film. I am not a snob that I am made out to be.

Times of India for more

The Silicon Valley Mosque

September 16th, 2014


(Part of the timovation challenge. Judge’s response: “Irfan’s essay imagines what a mosque of 20 years in America can look like.”)

Also in the SVM complex is a women’s shelter and orphanage building. Even though in today’s world most people are progressive in their thinking, there are still those who abuse their power over those who are physically weaker than them. It is the duty of the Muslim to help and take care of women and children in need, no matter their religion. In the past Muslims built many mosques with schools, but very few shelters and orphanages. Even in today’s world there are a few around which are run by Muslims, so the SVM decided to build these as part of their larger complex.

The SVM has a separate community center building which can be used as a gym, basketball court, indoor tennis court and there is also an indoor swimming pool – which can also be closed off so women can use it in private if they wish to do so. Of course the multi-purpose room can be used as a banquet hall which people can rent out for weddings and other such parties. Music and dancing in the community center is OK, because even the Prophet Muhammad (S) allowed the dancing of the Abyssinians inside the mosque on the day of Eid and also music to be played on festive occasions such as weddings.

The Islamic Monthly for more

Noam Chomsky on Scottish independence

September 15th, 2014


You Tube

Z Communications

Past present: Mind over matter

September 15th, 2014


The trial of Giordano Bruno by the Roman Inquisition. Bronze relief by Ettore Ferrari, Campo de’ Fiori, Rome. IMAGE/Wikipedia

In the 16th century, Europe confronted religious, social and political conflict. This is not necessarily a bad thing as historians believe that conflict is a leitmotif of change. It awakens society from slumber and stagnation and leads to the creation of new ideas and thoughts with the passage of time.

When Martin Luther challenged the Catholic Church and its outdated institutions, the church became divided. In turn, the Catholic Church launched the Counter- Reformation with an aim to reform the church and restore Catholicism in Europe.

In 1618-48, the Thirty Year War ravaged Germany along with other European countries like Sweden, France, Spain and Austria when the Roman Catholic Church attempted to curtail the activities of the Protestants, sparking a rebellion. At first the Catholic Church authorities underestimated the extent of the Reformation but when they realised that the movement was spreading from one country to another, they decided to take action to defend and reform themselves.

The Inquisition, which was a group of institutions within the judicial system of the Roman Catholic Church, took harsh steps against heretics to check any deviation from faith in order to retain its unity.

The first philosopher to face the charges of heresy was Giordano Bruno (d.1600) who propagated his idea that earth moved and there were a number of galaxies behind the sun. The Inquisition arrested him and tried him as a heretic. It was the practice of the Inquisition to torture its prisoners and force them to plead guilty. Giordano Bruno endured the torture but refused to reject his ideas. Finally, he was taken out of prison, paraded in the streets as a heretic and burnt at stake.

In 1610, Galileo a prominent scientist and philosopher published Sidereus Nuncius presenting his startling astronomical observations in which he recorded the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter. With these observations he promoted the heliocentric theory of Copernicus. Galileo’s initial discoveries were met with opposition within the Catholic Church, and in 1616 the Inquisition declared heliocentrism to be formally heretical. Responding to mounting controversy over theology, astronomy and philosophy, Galileo was tried in 1633 for heresy and sentenced to indefinite imprisonment. He was kept under house arrest until his death in 1642.

Dawn for more

25 years ago: Hungarian Stalinist regime breaks with Soviet bloc

September 15th, 2014


East Germany’s leader Erich Honecker (1912-1994)(1971-1989)

On September 8, 1989, the Hungarian People’s Republic opened its borders to allow some 10,000 citizens of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) to emigrate to West Germany via Austria, over the protests of the Stalinist government in East Berlin. Two days later, Hungary requested the withdrawal of two Soviet tank battalions, proclaimed its intention of eventually becoming a neutral state, and announced the unilateral demilitarization of a stretch of its borders with Austria and Yugoslavia.

From these first acts taken in Budapest the liquidation of the Eastern European regimes began, to be followed in two years with the dismantling of the Soviet Union itself. Beginning with Hungary, factions of the Stalinist bureaucracies led and profited from the dismantling, privatization, and out-and-out looting of the state property that had been established in Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the victory of the Red Army over Nazi Germany in World War II. The living conditions of the working class were thrown back decades.

With the promise of automatic West German citizenship, the East German émigrés began to arrive in Hungary earlier in the year after it said it would open its border with Austria. Negotiations continued until September, during which time the émigrés were housed by the right-wing Catholic Order of Malta charity in Budapest.

WSWS for more

Weekend Edition

September 12th, 2014

Like Yahweh, like believer

September 12th, 2014


Givati Brigade commander Ofer Winter PHOTO/Electronic Intifada

“Oh Lord, the God of Israel, make us succeed”
“against an enemy who curses your name!” n creed
we turned their country Palestine into ours
and they throw stones at us instead of flowers

so said Colonel Ofer Winter, on the eve of battle
about people who for them are nothing but chattel
he calls his victims “terrorists”, that’s nothing new
whereas his government grabs their land, that’s true

Yahweh, the God Winter’s invoking, was not good either
(other Gods, gods, and goddesses are better neither)
He declared: “I will make my arrows drunk with blood,
and my sword shall devour flesh” from the war flood

B. R. GOWANI can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

Flayed alive by the Bacchae

September 12th, 2014


Ancient Greek kylix showing a Maenad and Satyr, fifth century BC SOURCE/Makron

Bacchae was the final work—and thought by many to be the greatest—of the Athenian playwright Euripides, who Aristotle called “the most tragic of the poets.” First performed in Athens in 405 BC, a year after Euripides’ death, the play tells the story of the introduction of the worship of the god Dionysus—also referred to as Bromius and Iacchus—from Asia into Greece. But as Dionysus arrives in the Greek city of Thebes, he finds that the populace, led by its king, Pentheus, refuses to acknowledge his divinity. Dionysus sets out to punish the unfaithful, and as Daniel Mendelsohn, writing in the October 22, 2009 issue of the Review, put it, “stings the female population of Thebes with daemonic frenzy, sending them to the mountains outside of the city where they celebrate his rites at last.” In this passage, a messenger describes to Pentheus the sights he has seen on Mount Cithaeron, where the Theban women—now Bacchants, Dionysus’ female adherents—have fled. Among them are Pentheus’ mother Agave, and her sisters Autonoe and Ino.


The sun had just risen and the earth was warming up
as we drove our herds?
along the ridge to the high meadow,?
when I saw three bands of women:
one led by Autonoe,
one by your mother, Agave, and one by Ino.
They lay exhausted,?
some resting on fir branches,?
others sleeping among oak leaves.?
They were modest and composed, not drunk
with wine as you say,?
not dancing wildly to pipe music,?
or chasing Aphrodite in some ecstasy.

The New York Review of Books for more

A fly on Nicholas Kristof’s wall; The white knight

September 12th, 2014


New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Somaly Mam in 2012 in New York City. PHOTO/Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Conde Nast Traveler/Slate

(Nicholas Kristof is in his study. He is at work on his New York Times’ column. Calls in his black maid, Betsy. She’s about fifty-five. Slender. Wears church hats on Sunday. Has a son and daughter in college. She and her husband, a parking lot attendant, saved money to send them there. Favorite dessert is sweet potato pie. Her favorite song is “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” sung by Aretha Franklin.)

Kristof: Betsy, would you come in here a minute?

Betsy: (She’s waxing the kitchen floor. Rises. Exasperated.)

What he want now? I bet I know. (Enters his study.) Yes, Mr. Kristof.

Kristof: As you know, Betsy, I have been traveling around the world in my quest to save humanity. Giving my advice to the poor on how they can take responsibility for their actions. As when I told the men in the Congo that they can improve the lives of their wives and children by refraining from whoring, drinking and smoking. For my advice I often get called sanctimonious, haughty and callous.

Betsy: They wrong. You a good man, Mr. Kristof.

Kristof: Do you think that race relations have improved in forty years?

Betsy: (My sister’s son is in prison for possessing one stick of marijuana. My brother’s home was foreclosed. My neighborhood has been taken over by these young white people. They don’t clean up their dogs’ poop. If I tell him what he want to hear, maybe I can get back to work). I think things have definitely improved. Why twenty years ago us maids had to run and catch the sundown bus back home or get arrested. It looked like the Olympics. I’d be all out of breath. Now I can drive my car up here.

Counterpunch for more

The White Knight


Kristof feels lousy when he has to “cut somebody off and say, ‘It’s terrible that you were shot in the leg,’ ” he said. “Meanwhile, I will go off and find someone who was shot in both legs.” But he does it because he knows that if he finds a compelling story abroad, Americans back home will line up to help. “I want to make people spill their coffee when they read the column,” he said. “I do want them to go and donate, volunteer, whatever it may be, to help chip away at some of these problems.”

Perhaps that is how he came to write about Long Pross, a Cambodian teenager who said she was kidnapped, beaten, tortured with electric currents, tied up, and sold in a brothel at 13, “where her brothel owner gouged out her right eye.” When the wound sprayed “blood and pus” on customers, Kristof wrote in a 2009 column, the owner “discarded” her. That story came courtesy of Somaly Mam, a telegenic Cambodian anti-trafficking activist who had rescued Pross after overcoming a similarly sad backstory. Mam said she had escaped rape and torture as a child sex-trafficking victim to advocate for girls like her, only to see her 14-year-old daughter kidnapped and gang-raped by human traffickers in retaliation. Kristof devoted columns to her, too, boosting her story and live-tweeting his ride-along on her 2011 brothel raid.

Last month, Newsweek revealed that the most horrific sections of Mam’s backstory had been inflated and fabricated, and that she had enlisted Pross—who had actually lost the eye after undergoing surgery for a nonmalignant tumor—to do the same. Responding to revelations about Mam’s deception, Kristof said in a column last week, “I wish I had never written about her.”

Slate for more