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Winter Olympics 2018: How South Korea learned the hard way not to mess with North Korea
Could the upcoming Winter Olympics stand as a turning point, or will it be more of the same?
The icy relationship between North Korea and South Korea seems to be thawing thanks to this year's Winter Olympics. This year's Winter Games will take place in mountainous region of PyeongChang, South Korea (not to be confused with North Korea's capital Pyongyang).
Athletes belonging to the olympic teams of North Korea and South Korea will enter the Olympic stadium for the opening ceremony under one flag, and the two nations will field one unified female ice hockey team. But why is the South Korean government, headquartered in Seoul, so keen to get Pyongyang and North Korea to participate?
The answer requires some context.
Fire before Ice:
How the 1988 Summer Games Caused Chaos
In 1981, South Korea was selected to host the 1988 summer Olympics by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It was looked upon as the nation's coming out party. Though still under a dictatorship at the time (but not for much longer), South Korea was able to project its impressive economic development since the end of the Korean War.
Nicknamed the “Miracle on the Han River,” South Korea went from an extremely poor country to an economic powerhouse in just a few decades. The government made reforms, to be sure, but it was pressure from the people of South Korea in the 1980s and 1990s that midwifed true democracy in a place once mockingly referred to as a “rice republic.”
North Korea regards its southern neighbor as a puppet regime of the West, particularly the United States, who it believes is plotting its eventual overthrow. The Kim regime, currently led by Kim Jong-un, considers itself the only true Korea, uncorrupted by foreign influence (although it depends on China for its economic livelihood). But after the IOC awarded the Summer Olympics to South Korea in 1981 (for the 1988 Games), North Korea petitioned to co-host the Summer Olympics with South Korea.
Memorial for the Rangoon bombing that took place in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1983. Credit: Getty Images.
South Korea rejected the co-hosting idea but decided to allow the DPRK (North Korea’s officialname) to host five sporting events as a concession. Pyongyang (the North Korean capital) found this insulting and ended up boycotting the Summer Games completely. But that’s not all. Two tragedies occurred between when South Korea was awarded the Games in 1981 and the opening ceremony in 1988.
The first tragedy wiped out the entire South Korean cabinet in Rangoon in 1983. Here, North Korean spies planted a bomb that killed 17 South Korean officials while they were visiting what is now Myanmar’s capital. The second incident was the bombing of Korean Air flight 858. In this case, North Korean agents planted a bomb on a Korean Air Boeing 707, which killed all the passengers and crew: 115 people, mostly South Koreans.
A Squeaky Wheel Gets Its Oil:
How North Korea's Bad Behavior Wins Concessions
These incidents can also be looked at in terms of the transfer of power. North Korea is the world’s only Communist dictatorship that has successfully passed power down power from father to son over two consecutive generations. These attacks may have helped build Kim Jong-il’s legitimacy as a military commander, fighting off the foreign imperialist threat, just as the sinking of the Cheonan battleship in 2010, and the further development of North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs have helped build the military chops of the hermit kingdom’s most recent heir, Kim Jong-un.
North Korea historically employs a strategy called brinkmanship. It goes through cycles of belligerence followed by a calming of tensions, only to turn belligerent once again. During two periods in recent history—1993 to 1998 and 1999 to 2005—the United States negotiated a deal with North Korea to get it to halt its nuclear program. But after both attempts, North Korea pulled out of deal, kept the aid money, fuel, and other goodies, and restarted its weapons program anyway. On the surface, these latest overtures look like just another calming phase.
2017 saw some of the tensest months in the conflict between North Korea and the West, mostly because North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests began to bear fruit, but also due to intensifying rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington DC. Now North Korea is once again extending an olive branch to South Korea. On January 8, the two sides met at Panmunjom, as known as the “truce village,” which is a hall on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)—the most heavily fortified border in the world. It was the first such meeting since 2015.
Meeting of the two Korea's for the first time in two years. Panmunjom, the DMZ. Credit: Getty Images.
As a result of the meeting at Panmunjom, the United States and its South Korean partners in Seoul have pledged not to hold military drills during this year's Winter Olympics (which the Americans and South Koreans call defensive while North Korea sees them as practice for an invasion of its territory).
After a follow-up meeting on Jan 17, 2018, the two Koreas announced that they will cooperate in several ways during the Olympic games, which the IOC has approved: marching together under a unification flag during the opening ceremony, combining their women’s hockey teams and perhaps others, and North Korea is to send a 230 member cheering squad to root for both countries.
Such a sudden change of heart among western leaders—from ostracizing North Korea to making concessions over symbols of reunification—may seem like bizarre behavior, but negotiators say North Korea has perfected brinksmanship, and seems to now be pivoting toward the conciliatory phase. Perhaps bellicose rhetoric exchanged with President Trump caused it to seek a more amiable tone. In December, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States was ready to talk to North Korea without preconditions. He still holds that position today.
Too Much of a Bully Pulpit?
Direct Diplomacy between North and South
Both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations demanded that Pyongyang give up its nuclear ambitions before coming to the table. Even so, inflammatory remarks by President Trump during a cooling period may have sent Kim into the arms of his southern neighbor. A good cop, bad cop scenario? That remains to be seen.
What’s different is, Pyongyang is actually dealing directly with Seoul. Before, it has demanded to deal directly with the United States. North Korea's Kim regime is loath to give up its nuclear weapons program after seeing what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, each of whom dismantled their programs after receiving heavy pressured from the West. It is therefore likely that Kim will get an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) strong enough to carry a nuclear warhead and use it as leverage to secure a handsome deal.
If the North and South Korea could work out a lasting peace among themselves, that might lead to the best outcome. Experts say a soft landing on North Korea, rather than a bloody conflict, assassination, or coup, is probably the best approach. Besides nuclear weapons, North Korea has thousands of long-range artillery pointed directly at Seoul, along with other horrific plans should its final hours be at hand. A conflagration would cause devastation and a horrific loss of life, the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since perhaps World War II.
Despite strong rhetoric to the country, there is little leverage outside of pressuring China to try and stop North Korea from developing it’s nuclear and missile programs. Credit: Getty Images.
But that’s an end game for the Kim regime. A starving army, old equipment, and a lack of resources means it can only see temporary gains through asymmetrical warfare. There’s no way the Kim regime could hold onto power should it come to an escalating conflict. And say the country were to fall suddenly, what then? Well, millions of starving North Korean refugees might flood the Chinese and South Korean borders.
Besides that chaos, South Koreans would have to foot a significant part of the bill to rebuild North Korean infrastructure, a price tag estimated at $1 trillion dollars, according to S. H. Jang, former president of the Royal Asiatic Society-Korean Branch. Such a public investment would surely sow a lot of resentment among the population of South Korea.
Meanwhile, North Koreans would likely be forced to work in factories for low wages, once corporations flood in to take advantage of the cheap labor. North Korean citizens militarized and filled with propaganda could easily organize themselves and start a bloody uprising to overthrow what they’d see as imperialist invaders. Since many of those factories would likely be from South Korea, it could even spark a civil war. So, whether Pyongyang’s current intentions are authentic or merely posturing, Washington and Seoul will have to play along, play nice, and see where this new thaw in relations is leading, if anywhere at all.
For its part, the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, will include six new sporting events: men's and women's big air snowboarding, men's and women's speed skating mass start, curling mixed doubles and the Alpine team event where skiing teams pool their talent. And more competitions means more gold medals—102 in total—the most ever contested at an Olympic Winter Games to date.
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Humanity knows surprisingly little about the ocean depths. An often-repeated bit of evidence for this is the fact that humanity has done a better job mapping the surface of Mars than the bottom of the sea. The creatures we find lurking in the watery abyss often surprise even the most dedicated researchers with their unique features and bizarre behavior.
A recent expedition off the coast of Java discovered a new isopod species remarkable for its size and resemblance to Darth Vader.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.
According to LiveScience, the Bathynomus genus is sometimes referred to as "Darth Vader of the Seas" because the crustaceans are shaped like the character's menacing helmet. Deemed Bathynomus raksasa ("raksasa" meaning "giant" in Indonesian), this cockroach-like creature can grow to over 30 cm (12 inches). It is one of several known species of giant ocean-going isopod. Like the other members of its order, it has compound eyes, seven body segments, two pairs of antennae, and four sets of jaws.
The incredible size of this species is likely a result of deep-sea gigantism. This is the tendency for creatures that inhabit deeper parts of the ocean to be much larger than closely related species that live in shallower waters. B. raksasa appears to make its home between 950 and 1,260 meters (3,117 and 4,134 ft) below sea level.
Perhaps fittingly for a creature so creepy looking, that is the lower sections of what is commonly called The Twilight Zone, named for the lack of light available at such depths.
It isn't the only giant isopod, far from it. Other species of ocean-going isopod can get up to 50 cm long (20 inches) and also look like they came out of a nightmare. These are the unusual ones, though. Most of the time, isopods stay at much more reasonable sizes.
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During an expedition, there are some animals which you find unexpectedly, while there are others that you hope to find. One of the animal that we hoped to find was a deep sea cockroach affectionately known as Darth Vader Isopod. The staff on our expedition team could not contain their excitement when they finally saw one, holding it triumphantly in the air! #SJADES2018
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What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?
The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.
Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:
"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region."
The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its head. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and Great Old Ones.
It could lead to a massive uptake in those previously hesitant.
A financial shot in the arm could be just what is needed for Americans unsure about vaccination.
On May 12, 2021, the Republican governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine, announced five US$1 million lottery prizes for those who are vaccinated. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, younger citizens are being enticed to get the shot with $100 savings bonds, and a state university in North Carolina is offering students who get vaccinated a chance to win the cost of housing. Many companies are paying vaccinated employees more money through bonuses or extra paid time off.
The push to get as many people vaccinated as possible is laudable and may well work. But leading behavioral scientists are worried that paying people to vaccinate could backfire if it makes people more skeptical of the shots. And ethicists have argued that it would be wrong, citing concerns over fairness and equity.
As a behavioral scientist and ethicist, I draw on an extensive body of research to help answer these questions. It suggests that incentives might work to save lives and, if properly structured, need not trample individual rights or be a huge expense for the government.
In the United States, incentives and disincentives are already used in health care. The U.S. system of privatized health insurance exposes patients to substantial deductibles and copays, not only to cover costs but to cut down on what could be deemed as wasteful health care – the thinking being that putting a cost to an emergency room visit, for example, might deter those who aren't really in need of that level of care.
In practice, this means patients are encouraged to decline both emergency and more routine care, since both are exposed to costs.
Paying for health behaviors
In the case of COVID-19, the vaccines are already free to consumers, which has undoubtedly encouraged people to be immunized. Studies have shown that reducing out-of-pocket costs can improve adherence to life-sustaining drugs, whether to prevent heart attacks or to manage diabetes.
A payment to take a drug goes one step further than simply reducing costs. And if properly designed, such incentives can change health behaviors.
And for vaccination in particular, payments have been successful for human papillomavirus (HPV) in England; hepatitis B in the United States and the United Kingdom; and tetanus toxoid in Nigeria. The effects can be substantial: For example, for one group in the HPV study, the vaccination rate more than doubled with an incentive.
For COVID-19, there are no field studies to date, but several survey experiments, including one my group conducted with 1,000 Americans, find that incentives are likely to work. In our case, the incentive of a tax break was enough to encourage those hesitant about vaccinations to say they would take the shot.
Even if incentives will save lives by increasing vaccinations, there are still other ethical considerations. A key concern is protecting the autonomous choices of people to decide what they put into their own bodies. This may be especially important for the COVID-19 vaccines, which – although authorized as likely safe and effective – are not yet fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
But already people are often paid to participate in clinical trials for drugs that have not yet been approved by the FDA. Ethicists have worried that such payments may be “coercive" if the money is so attractive as to override a person's free choices or make them worse off overall.
One can quibble about whether the term “coercion" applies to offers of payment. But even if offers were coercive, payments may still be reasonable to save lives in a pandemic if they succeed in greater levels of immunization.
During the smallpox epidemic nearly 100 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the power of states to mandate vaccines. Compared with mandating vaccination, the incentives to encourage vaccines seem innocuous.
Exploitation and paternalism
Yet some still worry. Bioethicists Emily Largent and Franklin Miller wrote in a recent paper that a payment might “unfairly" exploit “those U.S. residents who have lost jobs … or slipped into poverty during the pandemic," which could leave them feeling as if they have “no choice but to be vaccinated for cash." Others have noted that vaccine hesitancy is higher in nonwhite communities, where incomes tend to be lower, as is trust in the medical establishment.
Ethicists and policymakers should indeed focus on the poorest members of our community and seek to minimize racial disparities in both health outcomes and wealth. But there is no evidence that offering money is actually detrimental to such populations. Receiving money is a good thing. To suggest that we have to protect adults by denying them offers of money may come across as paternalism.
Some ethicists also argue that the money is better spent elsewhere to increase participation. States could spend the money making sure vaccines are convenient to everyone, for example, by bringing them to community events and churches. Money could also support various efforts to fight misinformation and communicate the importance of getting the shot.
The cost of incentives
Financial incentives could be expensive as a policy solution. As in Ohio, lottery drawings are one way to cap the overall cost of incentives while giving millions of people an additional reason to get their shot.
The tax code could also allow for a no-cost incentive for vaccination. Tax deductions and credits are often designed to encourage behaviors, such as savings or home ownership. Some states now have big budget surpluses and are considering tax relief measures. If a state announced now that such payments would be conditional on being vaccinated, then each person declining the shot would save the government money.
Ultimately, a well-designed vaccination incentive can help save lives and need not keep the ethicists up at night.
Geologists discover a rhythm to major geologic events.
- It appears that Earth has a geologic "pulse," with clusters of major events occurring every 27.5 million years.
- Working with the most accurate dating methods available, the authors of the study constructed a new history of the last 260 million years.
- Exactly why these cycles occur remains unknown, but there are some interesting theories.
Our hearts beat at a resting rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. Lots of other things pulse, too. The colors we see and the pitches we hear, for example, are due to the different wave frequencies ("pulses") of light and sound waves.
Now, a study in the journal Geoscience Frontiers finds that Earth itself has a pulse, with one "beat" every 27.5 million years. That's the rate at which major geological events have been occurring as far back as geologists can tell.
A planetary calendar has 10 dates in red
Credit: Jagoush / Adobe Stock
According to lead author and geologist Michael Rampino of New York University's Department of Biology, "Many geologists believe that geological events are random over time. But our study provides statistical evidence for a common cycle, suggesting that these geologic events are correlated and not random."
The new study is not the first time that there's been a suggestion of a planetary geologic cycle, but it's only with recent refinements in radioisotopic dating techniques that there's evidence supporting the theory. The authors of the study collected the latest, best dating for 89 known geologic events over the last 260 million years:
- 29 sea level fluctuations
- 12 marine extinctions
- 9 land-based extinctions
- 10 periods of low ocean oxygenation
- 13 gigantic flood basalt volcanic eruptions
- 8 changes in the rate of seafloor spread
- 8 times there were global pulsations in interplate magmatism
The dates provided the scientists a new timetable of Earth's geologic history.
Tick, tick, boom
Credit: New York University
Putting all the events together, the scientists performed a series of statistical analyses that revealed that events tend to cluster around 10 different dates, with peak activity occurring every 27.5 million years. Between the ten busy periods, the number of events dropped sharply, approaching zero.
Perhaps the most fascinating question that remains unanswered for now is exactly why this is happening. The authors of the study suggest two possibilities:
"The correlations and cyclicity seen in the geologic episodes may be entirely a function of global internal Earth dynamics affecting global tectonics and climate, but similar cycles in the Earth's orbit in the Solar System and in the Galaxy might be pacing these events. Whatever the origins of these cyclical episodes, their occurrences support the case for a largely periodic, coordinated, and intermittently catastrophic geologic record, which is quite different from the views held by most geologists."
Assuming the researchers' calculations are at least roughly correct — the authors note that different statistical formulas may result in further refinement of their conclusions — there's no need to worry that we're about to be thumped by another planetary heartbeat. The last occurred some seven million years ago, meaning the next won't happen for about another 20 million years.