[VIEWPOINT]Scratch one up for great progress

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[VIEWPOINT]Scratch one up for great progress

Like many other people, I have my own ways of measuring social advancement. One of those ways is studying the "keying" of new cars. Keying is the brainless act of purposelessly scratching the exterior of a stranger's new vehicle with the pointed end of a key.

If there is much less frequency of such incidents these days than before, and I think there is, then that definitely means this society is progressing to become a better place in which to live. In fact, it is quite reassuring to look around and see far fewer instances of keying. It was a pity to find brand new cars in my apartment parking lot having wobbling black or white lines streaking across their white, blue or black exteriors. My heart used to pound when I imagined how distressed the owners of those damaged cars became when they saw the serpentine lines on the hoods, trunk lids and sides of their vehicles, for which they likely had invested a fortune, or had put aside a good portion of their salaries if they bought the cars on installment plans.

Keying had the effect of aggravating trade disputes in Korea when foreign car makers pointed out that scratching cars was more prevalent on imports than on domestic models.

These days I see fewer traces of keying in my apartment complex, or in public parking lots. And I determine it to be an indisputable sign of social development. Foreign car dealers might also be somewhat satisfied to read the latest statistics that show imported cars have at last passed the 1 percent mark in the domestic automobile market share. In the bustling Gangnam area, foreign car showrooms feature fancy facades and grandiose rooftop signs.

When I see luxury imports nonchalantly left unattended at curbs of busy streets, I all but admire the sheer guts of their owners who must be too rich to care about the little damage that could possibly be inflicted on their property and the costs of repairs. But at the same time I allow myself to cherish the thoughts that the members of my society have finally grown to the stage where people are more or less indifferent to the affluence of others, a definite sign of progress.

In terms of social advancement, I have some other sets of standards. One is the incidents of inhumane crimes, such as multiple murders and kidnappings. Another is large-scale accidents involving human negligence.

Having served in a public position for a few years following a journalism career, I tend to compare records of major crimes and accidents in five-year periods that match successive presidential administrations.

The Roh Tae-woo administration was notable for a series of kidnappings and murders that stunned society for the disregard of human life. The five "frog boys" of Daegu disappeared during this period and were not heard of again despite a presidential call for a nationwide search. The boys' bodies were recently discovered not far from their homes, but the case remains a great mystery.

The administration of President Kim Young-sam that preceded the current one was especially unlucky with major public facilities: A bridge on the Han River collapsed, throwing into the water a city bus crowded with commuting students, along with several other vehicles; a department store full of late-afternoon shoppers crumbled as a result of shoddy construction; and a national railroad train derailed due to a defect oversight, all during that one president's term of office.

Considering these unhappy records of the recent past, the present administration of President Kim Dae-jung is certainly more blessed, for it has so far seen no incidents of comparable scale in terms of the loss of human lives. The worst one over the past five years perhaps was the crash of a Korean Air passenger plane on Guam. The cause of the disaster that took place on the American territory remains unclear, though a recent U.S. court ruling found fault with the plane's mechanical system rather than human error.

Our society is advancing and improving. Indeed, our future looks brighter no matter what has happened in the past.

* The writer is board chairman of the Korea International Broadcasting Foundation, Arirang TV, and a member of the JoongAng Daily's Ombudsman Committee.

by Kim Myong-sik

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