President Lee’s polar bear tic

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President Lee’s polar bear tic


The Asahiyama Zoo in Hokkaido, Japan, is widely known as an exemplary case of innovative management. The zoo nearly shut down in the mid-1990s, when the number of visitors declined significantly. But it overcame the crisis to great success by introducing “behavioral exhibitions.” It built an aquarium on top of a walkway so visitors could see seals swimming overhead. It also developed programs that allowed visitors to interact with animals. In 1996, before the exhibitions were introduced, the zoo had 260,000 visitors. Last year, the number was 2,061,519. When I visited the zoo earlier this year, it was crowded despite a recent cold snap.

While I was there, I spotted a flaw in the polar bear cages. I noticed that one bear was walking the same path over and over. He would walk to the edge of the cage, turn his head, walk back and repeat the pattern. Its behavior is similar to a child who develops a tic when under extreme stress. It happens to tigers and lions as well, but polar bears are especially prone to this behavior. In the wild, a polar bear’s boundary of movement is over 80,000 square kilometers (30,888 square miles). It is only natural that being confined to a small space with only a tiny pool would put it under tremendous stress.

The polar bear in his cage reminds me of the appointments made by the Lee Myung-bak administration since the beginning of his term. The president has created controversy with his tendency to make appointments based on academic, religious and regional favoritism - and repeated the same pattern over and over again.

The administration’s tendency toward cronyism is serious. A friend of mine holds a public position. He said that although the position was advertised, his selection was predetermined thanks to his personal connections. He even visited the office before the recruiting began to meet with the staff. At the interview, he said that, while he was waiting with other candidates, he grew nervous because he was worried that one of the staff members he had met would talk to him, and he did not want the other candidates to realize the interview did not matter. The sad thing is that countless positions have been given away like this under the Lee administration.

For caged animals, there is a behavioral enrichment program for correcting repetitive behavior. I wish there were such a thing as a personnel-appointment enrichment program for politicians. But I worry that even if there were, the Lee administration would not try it.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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