Off for a few days. Back Friday.
Those of us left feeling somewhat deflated by the reappearance of Kim Jong-un after his 40-day absence, apparently recovering from some leg-related problem and not at all pushed aside in a coup led by his sister on account of his Swiss cheese addiction, can take some comfort from the fact that there is still room for doubt:
In North Korea’s propaganda conduct, a photograph of Kim is not just a photograph. Publicized images of Kim in particular are the product of a scripted choreography process and consequent selection and vetting procedures. It is in this context that the most recently publicized photographs of Kim Jong-un are quite perplexing.
It is difficult to see these images as being scripted according to the traditional rulebook that applies to media depictions of the Supreme Leader. Within these principles, presentations should have shown a smiling Kim Jong-un exhibiting his divine presence at the anniversary of the Korean Worker’s Party on October 10.
Why did Kim Jong-un miss such a golden opportunity, and why did he instead appear for a photo shoot in a residential area — which could have been arranged at any other time of year?...
In North Korea, coverage of the Supreme Leader’s on-site guidance is never released on the same day. This is due to a standard security measure that protects the exposure of travel details until the journey has been completed. Thus Kim Jong-un would not have visited the Uisung Scientists Residential District later than October 11 or 12. Photographs from the visit would then have been selected, possibly on the day, via the vetting procedures of the Institute for Party Records, then passed through the Propaganda and Agitation Department and finally distributed to Rodong Sinmun, KCNA and KCTV....
The photographs of Kim Jong-un released on October 14 shows him supported by a cane, but he is seen to be otherwise capable of movement. If Kim Jong-un were fit enough to make such a visit, why did he not make an appearance only one or two days earlier, for the important celebrations of the founding of the Worker’s Party on October 10?
During the 40 days of his absence, the “Supreme Dignity” of Kim Jong-un was damaged by a coterie of wild charges from the outside world ranging from speculations of mental illness, an overthrow, a coup d’etat, and even a claim that his sister Kim Yo-jong had nudged him aside. If there had been concern to remedy such damage surrounding the Supreme Dignity, his reappearance as the focal point and centre of the Party’s anniversary celebrations on October 10 would have made for a more magnificent and dignified statement than his on-site visit of a residential area.
Why did Kim Jong-un not take advantage of such a grand opportunity for redress?
By releasing a picture of Kim Jong-un with a cane, North Korea leaves open the suggestion that Kim Jong-un may continue to be absent from his public duties, until he properly recovers from his health problems. The reappearance photographs also leave questions: was the date of Kim Jong-un’s on-site guidance visit actually around October 11/12? If so, why did Kim Jong-un miss the Party anniversary celebrations that are arranged by the Party’s Organization and Guidance Department on October 10?
I'm not really convinced that there's an issue here. The indisposition of the Great Marshal will have been something of an embarrassment in the light of the supposed god-like status of the Kim dynasty. Perhaps a grand re-appearance at the Workers Party anniversary would only have served to highlight his previous absence. This way, gradually re-introducing him via a relatively humdrum visit to a residential home, the whole business can be more easily papered over and forgotten.
But who knows. There's certainly plenty for the Pyongyangologists to chew over here.
That Jeff Koons thing with cartoon sculptures, but more solid, less kitsch. More pics here.
Elsewhere, Yoyoi Kusama's "Pumpkin(s)":
Reza Aramesh with "Action 137":
and Gabriele De Santis's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You":
Anne Applebaum challenges the myth of Russian humiliation, whereby the story of the gradual democratisation of Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain - a notable success, by and large - is presented somehow as one of misguided American and Western triumphalism, foolishly goading the great bear on its home turf. On the contrary, we should have been more forceful:
[N]ot only was Russia not “humiliated” during this era, it was given de facto “great power” status, along with the Soviet seat on the U.N. Security Council and Soviet embassies. Russia also received Soviet nuclear weapons, some transferred from Ukraine in 1994 in exchange for Russian recognition of Ukraine’s borders. Presidents Clinton and Bush both treated their Russian counterparts as fellow “great power” leaders and invited them to join the Group of Eight — although Russia, neither a large economy nor a democracy, did not qualify.
During this period, Russia, unlike Central Europe, never sought to transform itself along European lines. Instead, former KGB officers with a clearly expressed allegiance to the Soviet system took over the state in league with organized crime, seeking to prevent the formation of democratic institutions at home and to undermine them abroad. For the past decade, this kleptocratic clique has also sought to re-create an empire, using everything from cyberattacks on Estonia to military invasions of Georgia and now Ukraine, in open violation of that 1994 agreement — exactly as the Central Europeans feared....
Our mistake was not to humiliate Russia but to underrate Russia’s revanchist, revisionist, disruptive potential. If the only real Western achievement of the past quarter-century is now under threat, that’s because we have failed to ensure that NATO continues to do in Europe what it was always meant to do: deter. Deterrence is not an aggressive policy; it is a defensive policy. But in order to work, deterrence has to be real. It requires investment, consolidation and support from all of the West, and especially the United States. I’m happy to blame American triumphalism for many things, but in Europe I wish there had been more of it.
Richard Tuttle's large wood and textile sculpture is the latest installation in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall:
It's colourful, I'll give him that: like the wing of a model plane on a huge scale, with bits of yellow cloth unsuccessfully draped over it, and a strange red protuberance in the middle.
The full title of the piece is "I Don't Know - The Weave of Textile Language". The critics certainly don't seem to know - but are, nevertheless, prepared to look for the positive. Rachel Campbell Johnston in the Times (£):
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s an utterly perplexing piece of contemporary art involving a series of teardrop-shaped pieces of plyboard draped with broad swags of bright crimson and marigold-yellow cloth.
Hoisted aloft so that they hang at mid-height in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, you can either climb on to the museum’s bridge and look down upon them or crane your neck upwards from below. Whichever vantage point you choose, I Don’t Know, the latest contribution to Tate’s landmark series of monumental Turbine Hall commissions, will look completely incomprehensible. But then that’s not surprising, given that the artist is Richard Tuttle, a sculptor-cum-painter turned philosopher-cum-poet...
It’s impossible to extract any logical summary, but I feel sure that he is not a fraud.
Well there's a ringing endorsement. But she's getting warmed up now. She's not an art critic for nothing:
To me, Tuttle feels more like a man who has glimpsed something so far beyond our ordinary experience that he hasn’t the language to speak of it, but is determined to discover a way to conjure some instinctive alertness to its truth instead.
In other words: he's a famous artist so there clearly must be something very profound going on - even if we have no idea what it is.
Jonathan Jones in the Guardian is equally keen to look on the bright side:
Standing, or still better lying, underneath Tuttle’s construction, you get a seductive sense of light and freedom. Changing daylight brightens or deepens the hues of this immense coloured kite, interacting with the golden glow of electric light on its flimsy beauty.
But has to admit in the end that really it's a second-rate piece.
I'm not sure I'd even go that far. It's just...meh. Nothing. It doesn't work.
As usual, the best fun comes with the language. The description at the side notes that the piece "represents a determined engagement with the space that it occupies". Oh yes.
It gets better:
Notes accompanying the installation explain that commissioning the fabrics was "an allegorical bridging of the social rift between physical and intellectual work, the worlds of textile production and art-making".
The fabrics were made in a factory geared towards mass production for foreign markets, Tuttle said, far removed from the romanticised image of Indian craftsmen using a handloom. It is something he wants people to think about when they view the work.
Asked to discuss his inspiration at the work's unveiling, the US artist talked about Brer Rabbit, Cubism and the Industrial Revolution. And he said: "Not to be over-dramatic, but I'm going to just raise the issue of genocide and how much genocide happened in the 20th century.
"I wanted to be a pilot and I passed everything but then I realised that what they wanted me to do was fly over Vietnam and push buttons and drop bombs on innocent children and villagers. And I just went crazy when I really grasped that was the course I was on.
"I guess the job of an artist is to try to find a healthy union of the mechanical and the human."
Tuttle described his work as "the first piece of the 21st century, because it is not Cubistic".
So there you go. I can certainly confirm that it's not Cubistic. Not at all. Unaccountably, though, I missed the genocide connection.
The most fun was being had by the kids on their scooters:
Why don't they just turn the whole space into a roller park or skateboard park and have done with it? They obviously have little idea what else to do with it.
Glen Campbell, diagnosed with Alzheimer's, records his last ever song:
Details at Rolling Stone:
Campbell was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2011. The disease has progressed to the point where the Country Music Hall of Fame member was admitted to a special care facility in Nashville in April 2014.
"Sadly, Glen's condition has progressed enough that we were no longer able to keep him at home," Campbell's family wrote in a statement to Rolling Stone. "He is getting fantastic care and we get to see him every day. Our family wants to thank everyone for their continued prayers, love and support."
Only Country music...
Ebola now functions in popular discourse as a not-so-subtle, almost completely rhetorical stand-in for any combination of “African-ness”, “blackness”, “foreign-ness” and “infestation” – a nebulous but powerful threat, poised to ruin the perceived purity of western borders and bodies. Dead African bodies are the nameless placeholders for (unwarranted, racist) “panic”, a conversation topic too heavy for the dinner table yet light enough for supermarket aisles.
Where else but The Guardian. "Black feminist writer" Hannah Giorgis:
And when this is all over, we will move on and find a new reason to weaponize black suffering to account for our unshakeable fear. There will always be a new emergency, a new threat, a new reason that black bodies cannot be allowed to infiltrate the borders of nations that our blood and sweat have built. Black death is remarkable only to the extent that its perpetrator could also affect citizens more deserving of sympathy, of news coverage and of life....
To be black – African or otherwise – is to be born into a world that anticipates your death with bated breath (or botched execution cocktail, or vigilante bullet, or syphilis needle). It is to occupy a position of social death, to exist in a liminal space that guarantees neither rights nor recognition under the law. It is to be a perpetual contaminant in the body of the western world.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) in Pakistan has upheld the death sentence for Asia Bibi, the Christian women convicted of blasphemy four years ago:
Asia Bibi, a mother of five, has been on death row since November 2010 after she was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Holy Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) during an argument with a Muslim woman.
“A two-judge bench of the Lahore High Court dismissed the appeal of Asia Bibi but we will file an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” her lawyer Shakir Chaudhry told AFP.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where 97 per cent of the population is Muslim and unproven claims regularly lead to mob violence.
Two high-profile politicians – then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti – were murdered in 2011 after calling for reforms to the blasphemy law and describing Bibi's trial as flawed.
The blasphemy allegations against Bibi date back to June 2009.
She was working in a field when she was asked to fetch water. Muslim women labourers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.
A few days later the women went to a local cleric and put forward the blasphemy allegations.
Over a dozen religious clerics — including Qari Saleem who brought forward the initial complaint against Bibi — were present at the court Thursday.
“We will soon distribute sweets among our Muslim brothers for today's verdict, it's a victory of Islam,” Saleem told AFP outside the courtroom as the clerics congratulated each other and chanted religious slogans.
Michael Totten on Erdogan and the Kurds:
Turkey finally decided to use military force after watching the Islamic State in Syria advance on the Kurdish city of Kobani—and did so by bombing the Kurds.
The Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) deserves plenty of blame here. Its fighters reportedly fired on Turkish positions near the Iraqi border. But no one who has paid the slightest attention to what Turkey has been up to for the last several decades has any right to be shocked by Turkish willingness to bomb the Kurds but not the IS.
There was never much chance that Turkey would help defeat the IS in Syria or Iraq. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is primarily opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the PKK. Our interests are not in alignment....
When he looks at the map he sees dominoes. Kurdish independence in Iraq could lead to Kurdish independence in Syria which could lead to Kurdish independence in Iran which could lead to Kurdish independence in Turkey. Every time a new independent Kurdish entity pops up in the Middle East, the liklihood that Turkey will lose an enormous swath of its territory increases.
His analysis is correct.
So he'll bomb the Kurds but not the Islamic State. He'd be against Kurdish independence in Syria even if the PKK didn't exist.
Turkish animosity against Kurds is hardly a secret, so I'm not sure why so many in Washington can't understand this guy. Maybe it's because he lets girls go to school and doesn't stone anybody to death.
Our science correspondent reports:
Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready for use in a decade....
If it proves feasible, Lockheed's work would mark a key breakthrough in a field that scientists have long eyed as promising, but which has not yet yielded viable power systems. The effort seeks to harness the energy released during nuclear fusion, when atoms combine into more stable forms....
Compact nuclear fusion would produce far less waste than coal-powered plants since it would use deuterium-tritium fuel, which can generate nearly 10 million times more energy than the same amount of fossil fuels, the company said.
Ultra-dense deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, is found in the earth's oceans, and tritium is made from natural lithium deposits.
It said future reactors could use a different fuel and eliminate radioactive waste completely.
As a commenter at Metafilter noted, "If we can deploy fusion power within 10 years it will literally save human civilization as we know it from environmental catastrophe". So that's got to be good news.
Anne Applebaum has a review in The Atlantic of a new book on Stalin. Taking full advantage of the opening up of the Soviet archives, author Stephen Kotkin shows that Stalin was far from being the dull-witted thug of popular legend. He was in fact a highly intelligent man who acted as he did not because he was driven by some personal psychological demons, or because he was a demented psychopath, but because he believed totally in the cause of Marxist-Leninism:
The Bolsheviks, Kotkin rightly notes, were driven by “a combination of ideas or habits of thought, especially profound antipathy to markets and all things bourgeois, as well as no-holds-barred revolutionary methods.” Right after the revolution, these convictions led them to outlaw private trade, nationalize industry, confiscate property, seize grain and redistribute it in the cities—all policies that required mass violence to implement. In 1918, Lenin himself suggested that peasants should be forced to deliver their grain to the state, and that those who refused should be “shot on the spot.”
Although some of these policies, including forced grain requisitions, were temporarily abandoned in the 1920s, Stalin brought them back at the end of the decade, eventually enlarging upon them. And no wonder: they were the logical consequence of every book he had read and every political argument he had ever had. Stalin, as Kotkin reveals him, was neither a dull bureaucrat nor an outlaw but a man shaped by rigid adherence to a puritanical doctrine. His violence was not the product of his subconscious but of the Bolshevik engagement with Marxist-Leninist ideology.
There's an interesting parallel here with Adolf Eichmann and the whole "banality of evil" argument. For years Eichmann was viewed, pace Hannah Arendt, as a dull bureaucrat who did what he did because he saw himself as a functionary, just doing a job. As we now know, this was not at all the case. The man was in fact a passionately committed ideologue, who believed totally in the rightness of the Nazi cause, and whose main regret seems to have been that he hadn't managed to exterminate even more Jews. Our response in both cases is part of the same pattern whereby we're more comfortable dismissing the power of ideas in driving people to do monstrous things, blaming instead personal psychological factors. It's somehow less threatening perhaps.
Applebaum makes the point:
In the contemporary West, we often assume that perpetrators of mass violence must be insane or irrational, but as Kotkin tells the story, Stalin was neither. And in its way, the idea of Stalin as a rational and extremely intelligent man, bolstered by an ideology sufficiently powerful to justify the deaths of many millions of people, is even more terrifying. It means we might want to take more seriously the pronouncements of the Russian politicians who have lately argued for the use of nuclear weapons against the Baltic states, or of the ISIS leaders who call for the deaths of all Christians and Jews. Just because their language sounds strange to us doesn’t mean that they, and those who follow them, don’t find it compelling, or that they won’t pursue their logic to its ultimate conclusion.