Wednesday, September 29, 2010
If you look at satellite photographs of the far east by night,you’ll see a large splotch curiously lacking in light. This area of darkness is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Next to this mysterious black hole, South Korea, Japan, and now China fairly gleam with prosperity. Even from hundreds of miles above, the billboards, the headlights and streetlights, the neon of the fast-food chains appear as tiny white dots signifying people going about their business as twenty-first-century energy consumers. Then, in the middle of it all, an expanse of blackness nearly as large as England.
It is baffling how a nation of 23 million people can appear as vacant as the oceans. North Korea is simply a blank. North Korea faded to black in the early 1990s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had propped up its old Communist ally with cheap fuel oil, North Korea’s creakily inefficient economy collapsed. Power stations rusted into ruin. The lights went out. Hungry people scaled utility poles to pilfer bits of copper wire to swap for food. When the sun drops low in the sky, the landscape fades to gray
and the squat little houses are swallowed up by the night. Entire villages vanish into the dusk. Even in parts of the showcase capital of Pyongyang, you can stroll down the middle of a main street at night without being able to see the buildings on either side.
When outsiders stare into the void that is today’s North Korea, they think of remote villages of Africa or Southeast Asia where the civilizing hand of electricity has not yet reached. But North Korea is not an undeveloped country; it is a country that has fallen out of the developed world. You can see the evidence of what once was and what has been lost dangling overhead alongside any major North Korean road—the skeletal wires of the rusted electrical grid that once covered the entire country.
North Koreans beyond middle age remember well when they had more electricity (and for that matter food) than their pro-American cousins in South Korea, and that compounds the indignity of spending their nights sitting in the dark. Back in the 1990s, the United States offered to help North Korea with its energy needs if it gave up its nuclear weapons program. But the deal fell apart after the Bush administration accused the North Koreans of reneging on their promises. North Koreans complain bitterly about the darkness, which they still blame on the U.S. sanctions.
They can’t read at night. They can’t watch television. “We have no culture without electricity,” a burly North Korean security guard once told me accusingly. But the dark has advantages of its own. Especially if you are a teenager dating somebody you can’t be seen with. When adults go to bed, sometimes as early as 7:00 P.M. in winter, it is easy enough to slip out of the house. The darkness confers measures of privacy and freedom as hard to come by in North Korea as electricity. Wrapped in a magic cloak of invisibility, you can do what you like without worrying about the prying eyes of parents, neighbors, or secret police.
I met many North Koreans who told me how much they learned to love the darkness, but it was the story of one teenage girl and her boyfriend that impressed me most. She was twelve years old when she met a young man three years older from a neighboring town. Her family was low-ranking in the byzantine system of social controls in place in North Korea. To be seen in public together would damage the boy’s career prospects as well as her reputation as a virtuous young woman. So their dates consisted entirely of long walks in the dark. There was nothing else to do anyway; by the time they started dating in earnest in the early 1990s, none of the restaurants or cinemas were operating because of the lack of power.
--Barbara Demick from Nothing to Envy
Posted by theo at 2:10 PM
Monday, September 13, 2010
On September 14, 2001, President George W. Bush declared a national emergency with respect to the terrorist attacks of three days earlier. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 requires the President to renew this state of emergency on an annual basis if he wishes it to remain in effect. Bush renewed it every year he was in office, and now President Barack Obama has extended it for the second time during his term.
The United States of America, therefore, is now entering its 10th year under a continual state of emergency.
Posted by theo at 6:51 PM
Health & Human Services Sect'y K. Sebilius
The mobster walks into an office. "Mighty nice insurance company you have here," he muses. "Be a shame if anything happened to it." Shortly thereafter the business owner "voluntarily" hands over a payment for "protection."
The Obama administration didn't quite pull a page from the Sopranos last week -- but it came awfully close.
Faced with the fact that the new health-care law was driving up insurance premiums, Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius warned that the administration would have "zero tolerance" for anyone who blamed them for those price hikes.
"We will not stand idly by as insurers blame their premium hikes . . . on the requirement that they provide consumers with basic protections," she wrote in a letter to the insurance industries' trade association.
At the very least, she noted "bad actors" could be excluded from new government-run health-insurance exchanges that will begin operation in 2014 under the law. People also might not be able to use government subsidies to buy insurance from companies that don't toe the administration line. What's next? Only companies that write checks to the Democratic National Committee can participate?
Well, at the risk of sleeping with the fishes, let's be clear about what ObamaCare means for insurance costs. The new health-care law requires insurers to provide coverage even for people who are already sick and forbids them from charging sick people higher premiums than healthy people. It requires all insurance plans to include a host of added benefits and prohibits insurers from capping how much they pay out over a year or a lifetime.
Posted by theo at 6:37 PM
Some years ago I gave my expression to my own feeling – anti-patriotic feeling, it will doubtless be called – in a somewhat startling way. It was at the time of the second Afghan war, when, in pursuance of what were thought to be “our interests,” we were invading Afghanistan. News had come that some of our troops were in danger. At the Athenæum Club a well-known military man – then a captain but now a general – drew my attention to a telegram containing this news, and read it to me in a manner implying the belief that I should share his anxiety. I astounded him by replying – “When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves.”
Posted by theo at 6:17 PM
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness -- the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, "What does it matter so long as they are contented?" We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven -- a senile benevolence who, as they say, "liked to see young people enjoying themselves," and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, "a good time was had by all."
Posted by theo at 5:57 PM
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
"They're leaving as heroes. I want them to walk home with pride in their hearts," declared Col. John Norris, the head of a US Army brigade in Iraq. 1
It's enough to bring tears to the eyes of an American, enough to make him choke up.
Enough to make him forget.
But no American should be allowed to forget that the nation of Iraq, the society of Iraq, have been destroyed, ruined, a failed state. The Americans, beginning 1991, bombed for 12 years, with one excuse or another; then invaded, then occupied, overthrew the government, killed wantonly, tortured ... the people of that unhappy land have lost everything — their homes, their schools, their electricity, their clean water, their environment, their neighborhoods, their mosques, their archaeology, their jobs, their careers, their professionals, their state-run enterprises, their physical health, their mental health, their health care, their welfare state, their women's rights, their religious tolerance, their safety, their security, their children, their parents, their past, their present, their future, their lives ... More than half the population either dead, wounded, traumatized, in prison, internally displaced, or in foreign exile ... The air, soil, water, blood and genes drenched with depleted uranium ... the most awful birth defects ... unexploded cluster bombs lie in wait for children to pick them up ... an army of young Islamic men went to Iraq to fight the American invaders; they left the country more militant, hardened by war, to spread across the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia ... a river of blood runs alongside the Euphrates and Tigris ... through a country that may never be put back together again.
Posted by theo at 12:28 PM