Saturday, November 04, 2006

Humor I Have Known

Hereupon follows a short summary of what I have learned in my short time comping (applying) for the humor magazine Satire V:

September 11th: Too Soon.
Conspiracy theories about September 11th: Funny.
North Korea: Funny.
North Koreans: Tragic.
Kim Jong-Il: Funny.
Communism: Funny.
Anti-Semitism: Funny.
War in Lebanon: Tragic.
Hezbollah: Funny.
HIV: Not Funny.
Herpes: Funny.
Gonorrhea: Funnier.
Syphilis: Funniest.
Baseball, Freedom, Apple Pie: America. Also funny.
Finals Clubs: Funny.
Date Rape: Not funny. Unless it's to do with Finals Clubs.
Feminism: Funny.
Harvard College Women's Center: Great kitchen (Fact).
Terrorism: Sometimes funny.
The TSA: Always funny.
Obscenities: Funny.
Specificity: Funny.
Post-Structuralism: Funny if (like me) you only pretend to know what it means.
Hitler: Not funny. Okay, kind of funny, but not okay.
Stalin: Funny.
Mussolini: Hilarious.

I knew I'd learn something at Harvard.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The J-Word

I realize it's been a while. I've been busy and in poor health.


I went to an interesting event last night, a forum on North Korea's "nuclear breakout" (the actual term used) at the KSG (Kennedy School of Government). It featured (I still have the program) a former CIA East Asia chief, the South Korean Permanent Representative to the UN, the (white, Korean-speaking, born in Seoul) head of an NGO who works with North Korea, the former UN general in South Korea, and some former Chinese official who I think now does consulting. Let me check the program...nope, now a research fellow at the KSG (specifically, the Belfer Center for International Affairs...a hot place).


I was a bit disappointed with what they all had to offer. Not a one had any vision of the DPRK in ten years as anything but the current government. Occasionally ridiculous things were said, though. When asked what might replace Kim Jong-Il upon his death, the Korean representative to the UN said that it surely wouldn't be a military government, because "military governance is foreign to the Korean people...it is simply not part of our history". I saw a number of other people visibly jerk at that statement, because that was simply untrue. The Chinese official noted that the official stance of the Chinese government was that it was very discomfited at the US's commitment to "spreading democratic ideology" by whatever means (translation: are you threatening us, Mr. Bush?). Mr. NGO noted that perhaps it was better for North Korea to have nuclear weapons, as that would do well to protect the entire peninsula from Japan. And no one commented on any of these things, though in any sane discussion, each of these, especially the last, would merit an "excuse me, WHAT?"


The last caused me to notice that 40 minutes in, that was the first time Japan had been mentioned. At this conference, which included official Korean, official Chinese, 2 semi-official American, and private American perspectives, this was a notable absence. I might point out that instead of including one North Korean apologist, two US bureaucrats, and two representatives from the two states doing the most to prop up North Korea, maybe a bit of differing opinion might have been useful. However, twas not to be.


Japan was, at this forum, definitely the "J-word". While I have no great love for Japanese nationalists, I think it's pretty clear that when that bomb went off in Kilju, it was revealed that they saw the situation far more clearly than the Chinese or Korean governments. But each of those are so desperately trying to avoid Japanese influence on the Asian mainland, they could never take Japan's approach to the situation. For fear of the return of Imperial Japan, they will tolerate Communist Korea. I posit that this is simply not a good choice. Japan has the potential to be scary, but one of these countries is a pacifist(ish) liberal(ish) democracy(-ish state) and the other is a nuclear, repressive dictatorship which holds together based on personality worship.


I have to go, but I'm not done with this yet.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Do You Ever Get That Feeling...

When you're just in a terrible way and you're always tired and your head hurts and you just get those damn hiccups where they get so bad they hurt, hurt like hell, and they just don't stop?


Yeah, me neither. Sounds weird, though.

Monday, October 23, 2006

So, thankfully, China seems to have fallen in with the rest of the sanctions crowd (Tokyo, Washington, and Seoul, in that order) with regards to North Korea. They're stopping remittances, probably going to sign on to the program of cargo inspections, all that. It really gives one a warm fuzzy feeling in the tummy, kind of like you're wearing laundry just out of the dryer (I'm waiting for that right now, speaking of (and I just lost The Game)). So now all the other powers of the six-party talks are presenting a united front...cept Russia. What's up with that?


Now, there's much I don't know about Russia. But I know enough to trust Putin's government about as far as I could throw him (that's not true...Putin's too skinny for that test...about as far as I could throw a drunken, raging Boris Yeltsin). This current Korean crisis happens to dovetail nicely with the latest Russian news, that of the journalist getting killed. Surprise surprise, Russia doesn't seem like the nicest, warmest, cuddliest power right now. For that matter, just look at the situation with Iran (nicely off the headlines for the moment) and how Russia is helping them. Russia's response to the Korea situation (namely, their foot-dragging and half-hearted defense of the DPRK) can be thus put bluntly: They're probably fucking with someone.


As for who, I'm not entirely sure, but I have a good idea. The most obvious target would be China, but China has the most to gain from the propping up of the Kim regime. Unless perhaps Russia thinks that China really would be scared of a nuclear DPRK and that they would rather have no Kim than a nuclear Kim. But I don't think that's the case. I can't imagine why they would (at this moment in historical time, anyway) want to get in a snipe at Japan or South Korea, which leaves one major party. Which would be the U.S. And that's all I could plausibly see Russia's actions targeted towards.


Putin does seem to get a lot of mileage out of irking the U.S., and of encouraging anti-U.S. governments (Iran is the most obvious example). And it is true that chaos on the Korean peninsula would leave them untouched to a degree not shared by their neighbors (Korean refugees would flee over the Chinese borders, not the tiny Russian border with the DPRK, and I'm willing to bet that the Chinese/Russian border in Manchuria is tight as a drum). So they wouldn't be hurt by it, particularly. But I don't see what they have to gain from it, in the least. If someone could explain Russia's stake in the DPRK is, I'd be much indebted and probably a bit further to understanding the situation.

From Russia With...Something

So, thankfully, China seems to have fallen in with the rest of the sanctions crowd (Tokyo, Washington, and Seoul, in that order) with regards to North Korea. They're stopping remittances, probably going to sign on to the program of cargo inspections, all that. It really gives one a warm fuzzy feeling in the tummy, kind of like you're wearing laundry just out of the dryer (I'm waiting for that right now, speaking of (and I just lost The Game)). So now all the other powers of the six-party talks are presenting a united front...cept Russia. What's up with that?


Now, there's much I don't know about Russia. But I know enough to trust Putin's government about as far as I could throw him (that's not true...Putin's too skinny for that test...about as far as I could throw a drunken, raging Boris Yeltsin). This current Korean crisis happens to dovetail nicely with the latest Russian news, that of the journalist getting killed. Surprise surprise, Russia doesn't seem like the nicest, warmest, cuddliest power right now. For that matter, just look at the situation with Iran (nicely off the headlines for the moment) and how Russia is helping them. Russia's response to the Korea situation (namely, their foot-dragging and half-hearted defense of the DPRK) can be thus put bluntly: They're probably fucking with someone.


As for who, I'm not entirely sure, but I have a good idea. The most obvious target would be China, but China has the most to gain from the propping up of the Kim regime. Unless perhaps Russia thinks that China really would be scared of a nuclear DPRK and that they would rather have no Kim than a nuclear Kim. But I don't think that's the case. I can't imagine why they would (at this moment in historical time, anyway) want to get in a snipe at Japan or South Korea, which leaves one major party. Which would be the U.S. And that's all I could plausibly see Russia's actions targeted towards.


Putin does seem to get a lot of mileage out of irking the U.S., and of encouraging anti-U.S. governments (Iran is the most obvious example). And it is true that chaos on the Korean peninsula would leave them untouched to a degree not shared by their neighbors (Korean refugees would flee over the Chinese borders, not the tiny Russian border with the DPRK, and I'm willing to bet that the Chinese/Russian border in Manchuria is tight as a drum). So they wouldn't be hurt by it, particularly. But I don't see what they have to gain from it, in the least. If someone could explain Russia's stake in the DPRK is, I'd be much indebted and probably a bit further to understanding the situation.


Ooh, laundry's done.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Stay Tuned!

Regular programming will be disrupted during the week, it seems, by a friend staying over and then it may or not resume over the weekend, when I have to go back to Chicago for a couple days for personal reasons. But stay tuned, next update is the world-famous annual Out On The Lawn Fashion Issue! Learn about the hot looks for the upcoming year.


Sneak Preview: Kim Jong-Il's hair: hot...or really hot? We report, you decide.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hmm...

I read an interesting article today. It's called Kim Jong-Il's Suicide Watch and compares North Korea to imperial Japan circa 1941 and cautions to not expect rational behavior out of them. Oh, I'm not sure if it requires Times Select (have I mentioned how much I hate Times Select? It's a lot), but I don't believe so. To sum up, the North Korean ideology is less Stalinist/statist, but far more fascist/racialist. In other words, they crazier than Commies. Now, one of the beautiful things about learning history in detail (I'm taking a course intensely focused on World War II) is that you learn when people are lying to you.


First of all, there's the nice little statement as to how Hirohito led his country into a war "no rational leader could have hoped to win". That's just not true. To begin with, Hirohito was at best marginal to the process (and at worst, irrelevant). Most of the people around him, moreover, were utterly rational. They believed a "knockout blow" of taking the Phillipines, Malaysia, Singapore and knocking out the US fleet at Pearl Harbor would prompt quick US/UK capitulation. They were wrong, not crazy. The same way, North Korea hopes a nuclear strike on Seoul or Tokyo might destroy the international community's will to fight in fear of what else might go. And that's pretty reasonable, I think.


More importantly, he denies rationality to the entire fascist (if that term is accurate) Japanese state. They were crazy in a way, I think; the same way Mussolini or most of the Nazi Party were crazy (Hitler was special, he really was half-crazed). They are impossible to recognize as fully sane because they operate on such different assumptions regarding life and morality. With those caveats, however, they are completely sane. Japan didn't believe a victory was inevitable because of their racial superiority (interestingly enough, they believed they'd have an edge in the beginning because of the constant underestimation of their ability due to American's innate racism...and they were right). On the contrary, in the December 1st 1941 Imperial Conference (so called because it was before the Emperor) where they decided to go to war, the head of the Planning Board laid out the dire consequences of what would happen in a prolonged war with the West. And what he predicted, and they all acknowledged, came to pass. Japan simply ran out of food and oil.


North Korea, likewise, isn't crazy at all. They are rational and shrewd, and have consistently been such. The danger is what happens when you take a rational, shrewd, and ideologically fucked-up regime and back it into a corner. The Japanese massacred a whole lot of people, pretty much everyone they could get their hands on, and fought long past the point where their defeat became obvious (which may very well have come at Midway when the bulk of Japan's fleet carriers were knocked out in 1942). North Korea might well do more damage if their situation becomes hopeless.


Just don't call them crazy.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Boom!

To quote a great man, "Another thing that's been in the news lately was that China, which we call "Red China", exploded a nuclear bomb, which we called "a device"."


Well, if you've been awake this past day, it may have come to your attention that a certain insular autocratic regime in Northeast Asia happened to have tested the detonation of a device. And not only a device, but rather a device of nuclear nature, no less. It's funny, they've invented nuclear weapons there but have not yet discovered freedom and the American way. I blame Confucius.


Strictly speaking, this changes nothing, but of course it does. Everyone already knew that North Korea had nuclear capability, it was hardly a secret, but it's a little hard to ignore said nuclear capability when the DPRK whips out its nukes to show to everyone on the playground. Not only does it have them, they work and the government has enough of them to waste one on fucking with the security council. Or South Korea. Or Japan. Whomever. The point is, China and Russia can no longer softpedal the North Korea issue, because it's become clear that North Korea is less than willing to do their bidding. The DPRK went to China shortly before the test to tell them, China said not to do it, and they did it. On the upside, this definitely sets the stage for some feel-good-togetherness-internationalist problem-solving, and maybe the US and China will take a break from pissing at each other over Iran & Sudan to act in concert on something. We could all learn some important life lessons like it's an after-school special. Nothing like righteous outrage for that.


I can't imagine it's the same in the ROK, where I'd imagine they're probably really fucking pissed. Yes, the trick to moderating the North is engagement, trade, and gradual normalization. And the "sunshine policy", how can something that sounds that good possibly be wrong? Apparently, um, they just got made fools of. And instead of their engagement policies making them look nice and sane and friendly, they just got made to look like a bitch. I don't know anything about Korean politics, but I'd imagine that this might set the stage for some serious political shuffling.


Back in Japan, well...Abe is starting off his career with a bang. This being high-grade "Scary Shit" aside, this might actually be good. Unsurprisingly, a lot of Abe's recent visit to China had to do with North Korea and their mutual conviction that a nuclear-armed DPRK is a Bad Thing. I don't know how much the status quo re:North Korea will change, but if it doesn't, this provides for some serious bonding time between the Japanese and Chinese governments. As of the moment that nuke went off, I'm willing to bet that Article 9 is now a dead letter (and who can blame them in the circumstances?). Thing is, it was going to get amended (or repealed) anyway, and this provides the perfect pretext to do so without threatening China. Granted, it'll up tensions in the future, but the act of changing it will be far better understood and handled by the Chinese government. It seems not so far a stretch to imagine the Japanese and Chinese governments working in concert on the issue.


This is exactly the opportunity to do what people are always urging, get China to "invest in the international system". While a war with North Korea would obviously be a Bad Thing (mostly for the South Koreans, who would take the brunt of it), one of the few good things it would do would be greatly strengthen the international order in East Asia. Anything that puts China and Japan on the same side of an argument is, in my mind, a Good Thing, at least in that regard. Any conflict that has them fighting on the same side? Well, that's a Very Good Thing, it makes it much harder to imagine a Sino-Japanese War. By focusing the attention of East Asia on this, it very well might help Abe mend the fences he promised to. Which is great, because he couldn't have otherwise.

D'you Ever...

Do you ever just look at the news and go "Fuck"? I know I just did. More later, when I'm not ready to sleep.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

My Soul Hurts A Little Bit

Well, write as I was polishing up a half-hour's worth of writing on this topic, my computer crashed. Wonderful. Since I'm a normal human being, this will thus be brief and shorter than what I had previously written. Fucking computers.


So, I've started writing for the Harvard Political Review, and my first assignment (rather, the story I pitched to them that they accepted) was to write an analysis article on the election of Shinzo Abe, the new Prime Minister of Japan. As you might be able to tell by scrolling down this page, I'm interested in him. So, just yesterday I conducted my first interview for the article, with an Associate of the Nihon Keizai Shinbun (Japan Financial Times). Like, he's a big deal. After the interview, he asked if I edited the International Section (!), what I was planning on doing after graduation (!) and if I was interested in journalism (!!!). On the outside, I shrugged and explained that I was a freshman and I didn't have a set life plan yet. He gave me his card and told me to call or email if I ever wanted to talk to him about Japan or journalism.


So I was leaving the building giddy with excitement when I all of a sudden stopped short and realized: I had just made a contact. And I felt kind of guilty. And kind of dirty. Granted, it's not like the guys who apply for Finals Clubs (Harvard's aristocratic, filthily wealthy version of frats) so they can "network". I just would like to get to know him because he's the kind of guy who interviews MPs and PMs and generally has his ear to the ground, and I plan to write about Japan for HPR. He'd be great to know. But there's a fine line between "So, what's the story over thurr?" and "So...heard about any openings at Nihon Keizai Shinbun?". And while I actually really liked him and enjoyed our conversation and plan to talk to him again, I still can't get the taint of "making a contact" off me.


On the upside, it feels pretty fucking fantastic to introduce yourself to important people as "Hi, I'm a reporter for the Harvard Political Review". While they wouldn't want to talk to some silly freshman with an unhealthy interest in international politics, they sure do want to talk to a reporter from the Harvard Political Review. The amount of doors that name will open is also rather disgusting. I feel very dirty and like important bits of my soul might be missing. But whatever, now it's streamlined and efficient.

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