Monthly Archives: October 2006

The Pun That Got Away

In my Renaissance Literature seminar, I was listening to one of my classmates talk about how women were represented in the literature of the time. She mentioned how women who attempted to learn and acquire knowledge for themselves were at that time regarded as unnatural and “hermaphroditic”. I was about to ask if she meant “androgynous”, but then realised I couldn’t open my mouth, because if I did, I’d make some awful joke about “boning up.”

Somehow, I managed not to blurt out anything, and the seminar finished with everyone none the wiser that I am in fact a childish idiot.

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Channeling Ed Murrow

US broadcaster Keith Olbermann takes on the Military Commisions Act 2006. It’s nine minutes long, but a must-see.

(via Chicken Yoghurt)

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Korea and China

The conventional wisdom on North Korea’s nuclear test is that it’s out for the international prestige and insurance against a possible US attack that joining the nuclear club would provide. An alternative explanation of its actions comes from China Matters – it’s actually all about China.

North Korea’s weapons programs are meant to discommode China with the threat of a Asian arms race and the specter of Japan becoming a pro-active regional security force with US backing, and remind Beijing of the necessity of advancing North Korea’s interests on the world stage—in this particular case, getting China to support lifting some onerous U.S. financial sanctions.

Well, I believe China’s looked at its options and opportunities and decided that the best riposte to North Korea’s nuclear program is to strip Pyongyang of its independence in national defense and foreign affairs—in other words, assert virtually the same suzerainty that China imposed on the peninsula before the Japanese occupation in 1895.

(via) It’s been said that North Korea is angry over the freezing of its accounts in Macau and elswhere by the US, as these provide the country’s elite with the hard cash they so desperately need. But now China has joined in financially isolating the North (see the China Matters post above) the matter of motive becomes a little unclear.

North Korea wants to step out from under China’s patronage and become a player on the world stage. China doesn’t want it to – it trades more with South Korea than the North now, and is looking to a future where the Korean peninsula is at peace, with both nations under Chinese influence. However, China’s plans for North Korea to emulate its own economic reforms are running aground, simply because the North’s rulers are putting their foot down and saying no.

The two Koreas have a few factors in common, shaped by culture and history. The are fircely proud of their national heritage, and they are suspicious of Japan and China, their two larger neighbours who have both occupied Korea at various times in the past. Just as anti-US sentiment in South Korea is currently running high, the patron-client relationship between China and North Korea has slowly gone sour.

So what does this mean for the future of the region? China, angry at the North’s defiance, will carry on squeezing it, which in turn will only cause the regime to dig in its heels. I see no sign of a rapprochement between the two Koreas, and there is no incentive for China to talk to any of the other regional powers. Meanwhile, the US is realigning its forces in the Pacific, transferring forces from Japan and Korea to Guam, focusing on “capabilities, not numbers” – basically the lightweight, high-tech military strategy that is en vogue at the moment. They aren’t planning for a heavy-duty, full-scale invasion anytime soon.

Basically, the situation is in stalemate. China holds all the cards, and the current state of affairs is very much to its liking. The US, being unable to either destroy Kim Jong-Il or talk to him directly, is going to have to take a back seat for the forseeable future.

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Connecting, translating, pok(er)ing

We now have broadband in our house, and I am currently tapping away at this post on my laptop. Makes posting a bit more civilised (and easier) when you don’t have to go out of the house and head to the computer clusters on campus.

In other news, Level 2 Japanese is working me very hard. I’m staying on top, just about. In translation classes, we are working on an op-ed piece by Shintaro Ishihara, governor of Tokyo, right-wing icon and lover of things robotic. It’s an unintentionally hilarious rant against Chinese immigration, featuring some unduly convoluted language which would be a real pain even if I was actually good at translating. We have a great teacher though. It’s a shame that I’m firmly in her bad books for missing lessons.

In happier news, I won my first poker game last night. My housemates are fiends for card games, and we play Texas Hold ‘Em for small stakes sometimes. Not sure what I’ll do with my winnings yet. Oh, who am I kidding, I’ll spend ‘em all on booze.

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KGU connections

I went out to a Japanese Society social last night. I was rather pleased to find my Japanese hadn’t deserted me completely. I met a student from Kansai Gaidai, which was rather fun, and a little nostalgic.

I’m enjoying my Asia-Pacific module at the moment, as I can appear intelligent in class by simply saying things I’ve cribbed from Scott’s Pacific Rivalry course back at Kansai Gaidai. It worked a little too well when one of my comments segued into a showing of the same documentary series we’d watched in Scott’s classes.

All these coincidences … is Kansai Gaidai in fact the Lost island? I’ll have to find a picture of the time my friend Joe was in a wheelchair. Don’t tell him what he can’t do.

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Insert straw-man joke here

Had a rather evntful morning. Woke up to discover that the water was off and the street outside was flooded. The people from Yorkshire Water came out and had it back on very quickly, only for us to discover that the toilet was now spilling water all over the bathroom floor. We stood there like lemons looking at it, until S (the organised one and mother of the house) took charge and got us to stem the flow. Eventually it stopped, and all was back to normal.

Free from torrents, toilets and other disctractions, I can now talk about Jack Straw’s latest comments. He’s taken it from concerns about meeting with his contituents to a full-blown “open and honest debate” of the kind of new Labour love so well. If this is Straw making his play for high office when Brown takes over, it’s telling that all he has to offer is yet more stupidity and illiberalism. (I remember when Jack Straw as Home Secretary was the last word in stupidity and illiberalism. Oh, those were the days.)

I see a couple of Muslim students around campus who wear the full niqab, with only a slit for eyes. It does make me a little uncomfortable. But I don’t ask them to take it off, just as people don’t ask me to change my appearance or dress. If we were talking, maybe I’d ask her about why she wears it. Maybe I’d learn something. And maybe I’d come away reassured.

Letting someone know who you feel about the veil is fine. Asking them to take it off, in your office or home, is fine too, as long as you explain why (and ask nicely). Demanding that it not be worn at all is illiberal and plain wrong. And conflating the two positions, as Straw has done, does no favours for understanding and tolerance.

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Honest Assessments

Talking to a classmate, before our Japanese lesson today:

Me: Who teaches the Thursday lessons?
Her: H~~~-sensei.
Me: Right. I need to talk to her.
Her: Got a question to ask?
Me: No, I missed last week’s class.
Her: Oops.
Me: Yep. I think an apology is in order.
Her: To be honest, I don’t think she’ll care. Or notice you were absent.
Me: Really?
Her: It’s like she’s on this other plane of reality.
Me: So she’s not a crack-the-whip type?
Her: Oh no.
Me: …Thank God.

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