Good Reads, Politics

Sobak Ham

I stumbled into work about twenty minutes early yesterday, and Gallery Man asked what’s up, and I answered quickly, with a single word, shit, which is the sort of answer that Gallery Man can accept in stride as part of the pulse of things. Then I felt bad because The Boss was sitting over in the cafe. I don’t know if he heard me but when he saw me I asked how I was doing, and I said I was great, which was perfectly true. When I’d answered shit, I was thinking about how my morning started hearing that we were pulling out of our embassies and missions in Saudi Arabia, and an analyst was condemning our reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan as a clear failure because they don’t exist and we are so far repeating this performance in Iraq, while Israel and Palestine are at each other’s throats all the more this week, which doesn’t bother me so much as our nation piling new fuck-ups on its plate.

If you aren’t sufficiently quesy about our neglect of world affairs, the New York Times has a piece on the other Dangerous Lunatic World Leader, from which I’ll cobble together:

Stalin and Mao were revered for their perfect grasp of dialectical materialism, an omnipotent science that made them omnipotent too. Kim Jong Il and his late father, Kim Il Sung, are revered, like the monarchs they more closely resemble, for their perfect embodiment of national virtues.

Chief among these virtues is “sobak ham,” a hard-to-translate Korean term that corresponds closely to the word spontaneity in its Marxist-Leninist sense. The Soviets considered the spontaneity of the common people, especially their tendency to violence, to be a dangerous force unless tempered with political consciousness. In North Korea, the people’s spontaneity is seen as one of the country’s greatest strengths.

North Korean novels and movies often show the hero casting off the restraints of his book learning in a fit of wild, sometimes suicidal rage against the Japanese or American enemy. The central villain of Han Sorya’s novella “Jackals” (1951), the country’s most enduring work of fiction, tells of an American child who beats a Korean boy so brutally that he ends up in a hospital — where he is murdered by the American’s missionary parents.

This propaganda appears to be effective even among North Koreans opposed to the rule of Kim Jong Il. When I visited a resettlement center for refugees near Seoul last year, many of those to whom I was introduced as an American recoiled in terror or glared at me in hatred.

I’ve been thinking of plenty of interesting ways to improve my own position in an American context, but it seems far more valuable to improve the situation outside of my prosperous, fat and happy nation. I need to see if there’s anyone lobbying to make sure Congress and George budget money to make Afghanistan a better place – the Afghans need the money far more than the Iraqis, who have oil money and a tradition of economic prosperity. If these people exist, maybe I can help get people to write letters to pressure appropriate congressional representatives where such pressure is due.

More immediately, I need to fix out my sleep schedule, which seems to run from 3-5AM towards noon at this point, which saps productive hours ringing the 3-11PM working shifts to which I’ve been exclusively assigned. But first, I think I’ll head towards work and stop for a Vienna Beef hot dog along the way. Yum.

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Categories: Good Reads, Politics

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