Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Old Entish Soldier

Old Entish Soldier

Along the base of Emeishan in Sichuan Province, a network of forest trails connect temples, pavilions, and spots of tranquil contemplation (despite the heaving crowds!). This solitary figure continues to stand tall – though the tree has died, it’s a home to lots of other new life.

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Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , , ,

The emperor’s new clothes: North Korea keeps on marching

Sometimes, you just want to give them a hug.

Pyongyang put on this earnest show of transparency around its rocket launch, inviting foreign journalists into the heart of their futuristic Space Control Centres (SCCs).

Witness the marvels of our microcomputers and our, umm, extraordinarily large antennae!

It was one part quaint, one part chilling. The display was clearly designed to flummox Western voices that North Korea has something to hide, and, if lucky, to also alert the world as to the advanced state of North Korean spacefaring, and the military implications of that.

The problem with Pyongyang’s approach is that what they put on display was utter rubbish.

Watch this BBC video – seriously.

At 0:48, foreign journalists are shown the satellite itself – a locally-designed and constructed device to be launched as a spaceborne weather station. Look at it. Look at it. I am not exactly an engineer, but can we all agree that this is a 100W guitar amp with a tin can screwed to the top? Is one of those foil baubles meant to be a camera? Or some means of adjusting its trajectory? Somehow?

It really does appear to be something a precocious seven-year old might duct tape together in his dad’s workshop, and take to Show and Tell as his real, genu-wine, state-of-the-art weather satellite. So absorbed in his own delusions of imagined grandeur, he could not detect any of the snickers coming from around the class.

At 1:02, we are introduced to North Korea’s apparent Space Control Centre. You’d be forgiven for believing it instead to be the set from a community theatre’s stage production of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cue big projection screen showing the rocket, awaiting its command! Cue about twelve scientist-folk looking studiously at Google Earth on their enormous computers!

I’m being ultra-glib. But they’ve earned glibness, haven’t they, and moreover, perhaps they will appreciate a candid critique of their offering? Room for improvement and all that?

The assumption among the North Korean hosts must have been that the visiting journalists (and the Western audiences they feed) are actually somehow quite comparable to their equivalents in North Korea itself – woefully undereducated and easily gobsmacked by technology that looks suspiciously like Robotix.

Perhaps their version of MI7 have gotten lazy, with the success of their internally-directed propaganda depending principally on the religiosity of its people, and not the sophistication of their messages. Perhaps it’s a fortunate irony that North Korea’s propagandists are themselves the product of the same propagandist educational system as the people they now propagandise – a feedback loop of loopiness that renders their narrative almost incomprehensible to foreign ears.

All of this serves to reinforce the Wizard of Oz aspect to Pyongyang’s military prowess. The bluster almost certainly magnifies actual capacity several-fold, and someone atop the KPA will have to know that the failures yesterday have exposed their bravado as somewhat unwarranted.

Unfortunately, they’ll seek to correct that – this embarrassment may shock North Korea into reasserting itself with a more tangible display of power. Whatever the delusion in Pyongyang that it can convince the world that it’s a military space-power, the real power they can wield is closer to Earth – firefights along the disputed maritime boundary would rattle markets, shake China’s image in Washington as a robust regional power, and create conditions for big powers to come back for more talks on more aid.

The emperor may have no clothes, but I suspect he knows it and does not mind it. Because there’s no telling what an angry, naked emperor might do next.

Filed under: International, Korea, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Meaning it – and loving it

I’m beginning to build a distinct impression of David Cameron – especially when seeing him abroad. It’s a vision of a kind of self-playing bagpipe, one which honks and hums from one note to the next with no apparent effort to achieve coherence, grace or melody. Sorry, bagpipes.

He communicates with a Blairesque (or even “Obaman”) self-confidence, but without the gravity of substance, the thrill of compelling argument, or the ring of sincerity. The end goal seems to be no greater than “conclude an effective schmooze” with whoever is hosting – even if that means infuriating other parties who aren’t physically present.

It seems true of his visit to Turkey this week. I’m including some choice excerpts from his speech to the Turkish Parliament today (sub-headings by me).

Patronising
“Those who wilfully misunderstand Islam, they see no difference between real Islam and the distorted version of the extremists. They think the problem is Islam itself. And they think the values of Islam can just never be compatible with the values of other religions, societies or cultures. All of these arguments are just plain wrong.”

Thanks, David. I’m sure that the Turkish Parliament (which, umm, operates within a secular constitution) appreciates your view that Islam isn’t (just) for monsters. Hopefully in future, we should be so lucky as to have the UK or Canadian Parliaments told by a foreign leader that Christians are not inherently spiritless hypocrites. Because that’s just plain wrong.

Cringeworthy
“A European Union without Turkey at its heart is not stronger but weaker… not more secure but less… not richer but poorer.”

Wow. A triptych of juxtaposed opposites. Could Cameron have continued? “Not more united, but less united. Not happier, but sadder. Not pepperier, but saltier. Wait, are those even opposites? Ooorgh!”

And that’s the point – presenting vague “opposite scenarios” isn’t really an insight – it’s fluff. Of course Turkey joining the EU would strengthen it in some areas, weaken it in others, anger the consolidating Hadrians and delight the expansionist Trajans. Cameron could have explained his idea as to what would be strengthened, why we’d be more prosperous, and how we’d be any more secure. Ambitious, I know.

Angry
“It makes me angry that your progress towards EU membership can be frustrated in the way it has been.”

Does it? Because there are steps that a constructive member of the European Union could take to ensure that it maximises its influence, and they aren’t the steps Britain has taken. We know what Britain generally (and especially the Tories) wants the EU to look like – they pursue the broadest, shallowest version of Europe possible. A Europe that ought to keep spreading out to Ukraine and Turkey (even some liberals would like to include ceremonial semi-states like Kosovo), but the UK generally also idealises a Europe that does nothing, makes no laws, bears no arms, waves no flag. Kind of a big house party where everyone’s invited, and no one has any responsibilities.

But the Conservative British desire for a big, flat useless Europe has manifested itself, unhelpfully, in British retrenchment from Europe. Cameron’s sidelined the UK in the EU Parliament by joining a bloc of nutters and nationalists. He campaigned on an anti-Europe ticket, and upon election, told the faithful he’d soon be wresting powers away from Brussels as soon as he could figure out how to.

None of these policies have given the British any more influence in shaping Europe to their Trajanist vision, and so any “anger” now at Europe not behaving in UK interests is just misplaced. In short, if Britain were at the heart of Europe, maybe Turkey would be closer as well.

“So I will remain your strongest possible advocate for EU membership and greater influence at the top table of European diplomacy.”

Britain isn’t at the “top table,” and are unlikely to return there by stamping on Sarkozy’s or Merkel’s toes like this.

Next stop?

Well, excitingly, Cameron will be delving deeper into Old Asia next, with a visit to India. Let us hope he doesn’t tell them their religion isn’t as godless as some make out, and that they’d make a smashing partner in the European Union too, if only the damned French weren’t so difficult about it.

Filed under: International, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , , , ,

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