We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

What the new Fat Controller might now do

Mick Hartley, who has been watching North Korea closely for years, senses that things may be about to explode, sooner rather than later:

Under the departed Dear Leader, there was at least some measure of balance. The Songun military-first principle held sway then as now, of course, and the level of vitriolic rhetoric aimed at South Korea and the US and Japan was constant and unrelenting, but there was some sense of a cunning plan; of a canny political operator at work.

Now, though, with the new Fat Controller Kim Jong-Un, there’s a strong feeling that it’s all getting out of control. As a sign of his weakness and insecurity, and doubtless under all kinds of internal pressures, and in-fighting within the top brass which we don’t know about, he just keeps pressing the same buttons that worked for his father, but he has to press them harder and harder. Up with the militarisation; up with the vicious rhetoric; up with the provocations and the bluster. He doesn’t know what else to do. Now the whole country’s on a war footing, the economy – such as it was – is imploding, and maybe for the first time in the history of the DPRK there’s a sense that the suffering people may not be prepared to tolerate this increased hardship much longer.

The logic of his position, then, may force him into some reckless action. He’s backed himself into a corner. South Korea’s western islands are looking increasingly vulnerable. If he doesn’t do something he’s going to look weak, and all that hardship is going to look like it was all for nothing to the wretched populace. And, as the economy tanks, he has to do something sooner rather than later….

I recommend also reading Hartley’s earlier piece, linked back to there, which does indeed link in its turn to reports about the vulnerability of some South Korean islands, but which is itself a copy-and-paste posting about what China is preparing to do about all this. Preparing to invade North Korea, basically, and racing against time. As always, when states like China build railways (in fact when almost any state has ever built a railway), the thinking is not just economic; it is also military.

China was and remains content to sponsor a North Korea that is vicious and strong. But a North Korea that is vicious and weak, to the point of recklessness, is a serious threat to China’s interests.

It says everything about the state of life for regular people in North Korea that if and when the Chinese do invade, the Chinese may well be greeted as liberators rather than as another bunch of predators.

Stability

Kim Jong-un is looking at things, just like his father!

The Kim is dead, long look the Kim!

– commenter Alisa

You can see why Matt and Trey picked on them

You have probably read of the North Koreans shamelessly ripping off a suite of Disney characters in one of their infamous stage shows.

Why all the pageantry? OK, it’s North Korea, silly question. But why now? Well, it may have something to do with the young leader Kim Jong-un being freed from Dad’s shackles and finally being able to get his leg over recently married (not to Fatty Kim, as the Chinese call him) new mother and former popstar, Hyon Son-wol.

But she’s an interesting one, is Madame Comrade Hyon. An accomplished musician in her own right, she has a string of hits as long as your bayonette, such as Footsteps of Soldiers, I Love Pyongyang, She Is A Discharged Soldier, and We Are The Troops Of The Party. Real toe-tapping stuff. However, her star rose highest when she embraced her fans in the countryside with the 2005 chart-topper Excellent Horse-Like Lady.

Something lost in translation, or a manifestation of the severe shortage of tractors?

Update: by popular demand, Youtube clips provided. No translations, sorry. And I am unable to verify whether the clips match the actual songs, not being versed in Korean.

Further update: call that pop music?? This is pop music. (And no I don’t expect you to sit through that atrocious K-Pop; just trying to make a point…) That being said, it is worth noting how freaking massive K-Pop is throughout Asia, a market of 2 billion+.

Comparing the vigour of South Korean K-pop with its nothern counterpart as churned out by the likes of Kim Jong-un’s latest squeeze reminds me of this well-known photo. God bless capitalism!

Finding new things to say about Kim Jong Il being dead

We haven’t here done a Kim Jong Il is dead posting until now, probably because what else is there to say besides Kim Jong Il is dead? A new Kim Jong has been installed. Un. From Il, to Un. In English it sounds like going from sick to nothing. North Korea, presently terrible, will either get a bit better, or a bit worse, or a lot worse, or stay much the same. Or, if it gets really lucky, a lot better! Will paid North Korea watchers, experts in North Korean things, do any better than that? I doubt it.

I have called Kim Jong Il Kim Jong Il. Others call him Kim Jong-Il with a hyphen, or Kim Jong-il, with a small i for il. Until today I never knew of this confusion. Blog and learn.

My favourite of the Kim Jong Il is dead postings that I have seen so far is this one, at Mick Hartley’s blog, which features the very last Kim Jong Il picture: King Jong Il looking at toilet paper.

I wrote all that last night, but Mick Hartley now has another Kim Jong Il is dead posting up, in which he quotes somebody called Simon Winchester saying this:

India’s attempt to go it alone failed. So, it seems, has Burma’s. Perhaps inevitably, North Korea’s attempt appears to be tottering. But seeing how South Korea has turned out – its Koreanness utterly submerged in neon, hip-hop and every imaginable American influence, a romantic can allow himself a small measure of melancholy: North Korea, for all its faults, is undeniably still Korea, a place uniquely representative of an ancient and rather remarkable Asian culture. And that, in a world otherwise rendered so bland, is perhaps no bad thing.

Or then again, perhaps … not. No bad thing? Competition for commenters: concoct morally disgusting sentences which begin with “For all its faults …”. You’ll struggle to top that one. These obscene ravings are currently behind the Times pay wall, hence no link, although Hartley does supply one.

Says Hartley:

Better a starving slave state, it seems, than this ghastly modern Americanised culture.

Conservative romanticism raised to a truly idiotic level.

Commenter Martin Adamson adds:

And it’s not even remotely true on its own terms. The architecture of Pyongyang is Moscow 1952. The mass displays are China 1964. Painting is Soviet Academy 1936. Music is Gang of Four Operas 1974. Dress is Bucharest 1988 etc etc.

Assuming this is the Simon Winchester in question, it seems that:

Simon Winchester is a best-selling British author living in Massachusetts and New York City.

Heartfelt apologies from Britain to Massachusetts and New York City. Apparently American culture is itself sufficiently un-Americanised for Winchester to find it livable in. Winchester has a new book out, which looks rather creepy. Let’s all not buy it.

Kim Jong-il looking at not very much fruit

NickM has a nice piece up today at Cats about a website called Kim Jong-il looking at things. He picks out a picture of Kim looking at some fruit:

What fascinates me about that image in particular is that whilst the side of the fruit stand facing Kim is laden with produce the side facing us looks a bit sparse. The Russians might have had Potemkin villages but it takes the true Juche lunacy of North Korea to have created the Potemkin fruit stand.

What fascinates me about these pictures is what often fascinates me about Potemkinity of all kinds, which is how it so often achieves the opposite of the desired effect. It presents what its presenters, now themselves probably living quite close to starvation (never mind all the regular people of this wretched country), imagine to be a miracle. But when the rest of us, out here in non-Kim world, look at their sad little picture, we merely shrug and note that capitalism of the most feeble and emaciated sort can do that with one arm tied behind its back, on a wet Thursday morning in an economically depressed inner suburb of a city that has been in relative decline for a century. We look at it, and we say: is that the best you can do?

For me, the obvious thing about Kim’s faked up fruit stand is that there is so very little fruit on it, compared to what there is room for. My local market, just the other side of Vauxhall Bridge Road from me, is a cornucopia by comparison.

Crisis in Korea…

So when Hilary Clinton states that maintaining stability on the peninsula was “critical”, surely a solution seems to be staring everyone in the face.

  1. Keeping tens of thousand of US troops in South Korea is expensive for the hapless US taxpayer
  2. China would rather not have US forces stationed anywhere in Korea
  3. North Korea will soon be capable of actually delivering nuclear weapons
  4. North Korea has an antiquated military and a busted economy and therefore no ability to fight a long war
  5. North Korea is clearly lead by deranged madmen prone to attack South Korea (i.e. torpedo their ships) for no good reason
  6. South Korea has a formidable and modern military

So…

Bite the bullet, so to speak. Give South Korea a nudge and whatever backing it needs to blow the living shit out of the North and reunify the country. They have the wherewithal to do most of the heavy lifting themselves and the casus belli is a legal slam dunk.

Result? Short term death and misery, for sure… but long term geopolitical stability for the region because:

  1. The most repressive regime on the entire planet will be history
  2. No longer any justification for stationing significant US forces on China’s doorstep

The backroom deal is obvious: China throws North Korea to the wolves and US promises to get out of the post-unification Korean peninsula.

This has the making of a win-win-win-win for China, the hapless occupants of that open air prison called North Korea, nuclear threatened South Korea and the ever burdened US taxpayer. Extra added ‘win’ can also be added to the scenario if the leadership in Pyongyang end up on meat hooks (but eating a laser guided 500 kg bomb also works).

The human machinery of North Korean fantasy

I recommend this short illustrated talk given by an American academic (no: businessman – see comment) who taught at Beijing University and who went with his family on a trip to North Korea. Here is part of what he says:

This is a woman that was directing traffic with great resolve and military precision outside the front door of our hotel. We watched her for at least ten minutes, as she moved and rotated with complete control of her little domain, and we didn’t see a single car go by. [Laughter] I mean, you do have to wonder what they think. …

He then sees one of those giant stadium displays, done with thousands of big hand-held squares which keep changing.

This big display, which sat opposite most of the people is just a huge communist video monitor, one person per pixel. The resolution of this screen was about seventy by four hundred. The frame rate was one to two hertz, and you could get up to two frames a second, before muscle fatigue set in.

And then we see this screen in action. It is actually rather impressive, especially when you consider how much the poor bastards doing it probably get to eat each day. And they’re the lucky ones.

It often happens that people who report not on “the situation” in wherever it is, but simply on what they happen themselves to see, can supply an extraordinarily vivid feeling of what it must be like there. They don’t tell the whole story. But then again, they don’t pretend to.

Meanwhile, the latest “news” from North Korea, is that they are building a huge underground fighter runway, right near the border with the hated South, Thunderbirds style. It is supposed to be invulnerable to military attack. Fat chance. I wonder how many people will die while making it.

Korean military ‘assistance’? No thanks

By caving into the demands by the Taliban to get their troops out of Afghanistan in return for the return of South Korean hostages, the Korean government simply entourages more of the same tactic. Clearly the US seriously erred accepting military ‘assistance’ from Korea given that the South Korean government are not just utterly craven, they seem to have no concept of cause and effect. The only way to demotivate hostage taking is to respond in the opposite manner to what is being demanded.

If I was the US government I would be making a simultaneous complete withdrawal of US forces from South Korea, timed to coincide with the departure of Koreans forces from Afghanistan. Quite why a wealthy nation like South Korea requires US forces to keep its psychopathic neighbour at bay is unclear anyway. Perhaps this incident will shake loose any residual attachment to the value of subsidising South Korea’s defences in the minds of US taxpayers and politicians. There are parts of the world that it may well suit the US to defend but surely South Korea is more that wealthy enough to look after itself given how primitive North Korea is.

“America” is Hell, but the DPRK is Paradise

By strange twist of browsing, I came across this North Korean propaganda video. The producers probably went to the same Stalinist school as Soviet and East European communists, so it seemed eerily familiar. There is also a strange propensity of propaganda writers to write paragraph long-sentences full of rousing adjectives (check out the text next to the video on YouTube). Hm, reminds me of corporate speak… But I digress.

This documentary movie objectively shows the fondamental difference between the criminal capitalist system of “USA” that is at odds with human rights and the genuinely benevolent Juche-based man-centered Korean-style socialist system of the Democratic people’s Republic of Korea blessed with the flawless Songun leadership of Dear Leader Comrade Generalissimo Kim Jong Il the Heaven-born great brilliant Mt. Paektu type general born on the Sacred Mountain.

This would be hilarious if not for the fact that it comes from an evil place where there is no regard for the truth and human life. That this is still possible makes me think that nothing ever changes and people never learn from the past.

It is enough to make you turn communist

The satirical Songun blog has dug up a North Korean propaganda movie shot in the 1980s that is worth a look. Songun has made Always Working Together For The People available on YouTube, split into seven segments (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7). Combined, there Is about an hour of video. I am a little weird – I watched it all.

However, I find this sort of thing quite fascinating; lots of interesting tidbits to be found. For example, part three sees Kim Jong-il being exhorted for easing all the Great Leader’s concerns about the people’s welfare (a common theme), in this instance in the field of “traffic problem”. What bloody traffic problem?? There Is nary a car to be seen motoring down the wide boulevards and highways shown. (Fair enough, those ridiculously broad motorways were designed to serve more than one purpose.) In part four, the two Kims are seen pouring over an architectural mock-up of Pyongyang in a manner most reminiscent of those Speer/Hitler snaps showing them admiring a model of the Berlin they were going to create after they won the war. Hopefully, the latter day town planners meet a similar fate as their similarly megalomaniacal forebears.

This propaganda piece is clearly a past effort to position Kim Jong-il as Crown Prince by welding him on to his father’s cult of personality. His leadership abilities are constantly lauded and he is portrayed as an indispensable part of Kim Il-sung’s revolution. The succession issue is explicitly mentioned at the end of segment six. Still, in spite of all the adulation, it is difficult not to laugh at the rather miserable figure Kim Jong-il cuts throughout the programme. Part 5 shows Kim Jong-il and daddy making a trip to the Dear Leader’s fabled birthplace, Mount Paektu. The glowing exaltations to the younger Kim pair most incongruously with his stature and bearing – unless ‘mountain spirit’ is a North Korean euphemism for ‘ample paunch’. Really, how can you not laugh at the spectacle of this malignant little gnome. As was said last week – and in great anticipation of a repeat performance – sic semper tyrannis.

North Korea’s uniquely funny propaganda

Despite it being a highly sinister state, one of the most notable aspects of the façade North Korea presents to the rest of the world can be found in the unintentionally rich comedic value sincerely dished out by Pyongyang’s global network of propagandists. Exhibit A would have to be the depiction of the country’s kooky leader, Kim Jong il, who was famously and brilliantly lampooned in the movie Team America: World Police. Further evidence can be found in Samizdata postings on earlier oddball giggles courtesy of North Korea’s propaganda machine – review these here and here.

But wait, there’s more. A brief glance at recently-discovered Songun blog (looking through the comments threads there, it is quite remarkable how many people do not realise the site is satirical – hint, hint) prompts further amusement at the cack-handedness of the North Korean P.R. people. Did you know that North Korea is planning to host an international rock festival in early-mid 2007? It’s true. According to the North Korean English language website, Voice of Korea, ROCK FOR PEACE

will be the 2007 version of Woodstock rock festival in 1969 but in a different location and with a different goal.

Riiiight. And like crazy ol’ spontaneous and unregulated Woodstock of 1969, Rock For Peace promises

few restrictions and conditions on participation but any band will be considered even though you are from USA. The lyrics should not contain admirations on war, sex, violence, murder, drug, rape, non-governmental society, imperialism, colonialism, racism, anti-DPRK, and anti-socialism. There are few restrictions and conditions on participation but any band will be considered even though you are from USA. The lyrics should not contain admirations on war, sex, violence, murder, drug, rape, non-governmental society, imperialism, colonialism, racism, anti-DPRK, and anti-socialism.

I am not sure there are any American acts who would satisfy the criteria. Perhaps the Brits could send Rolf Harris, preferably on a one-way passage.

There are, however, indications that the North Korean propaganda machine is starting to come to terms with the concept of producing convincing copy. Displayed at the bottom of the Voice of Korea website is a photo of a few hot and bothered middle-aged Euros posing with a group of male teenage soccer players. Songun (and this Guardian article) quotes the caption of the picture in question as reading

HEY, AMERICANS, YOU SHOULD LEARN A LOT FROM OUR NORWEGIAN FRIENDS WHO ARE HAVING REALLY GOOD TIME WITH NORTH KOREAN YOUNG SCHOOL BOYS.

No doubt to the Norwegians’ immense chagrin, a really good time with the boys is no longer being had over at Voice of Korea. They’re learning – one step at a time.

Would North Korea attack?

In a recent DOD press release, General Peter Pace is quoted on the North Korean threat:

“What is not knowable is the intent of the leadership in North Korea to use or not use that power at any given time, And applying Western logic to the leadership in Korea is not something that I would personally want to bet my future on.”