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No wannabe totalitarian regime in the world is quite so ripe for ridicule as North Korea. I traveled there some years back and marveled over the Ryugyong Hotel, a 105-story monstrosity nicknamed the “hotel of doom.” Due to gross design and construction flaws, it’s sat unoccupied in downtown Pyongyang for two decades. It captures the regime perfectly: monolithic and impressive from a distance, laughable up close and fundamentally unhinged in concept, it teeters there awaiting the day when it is inevitably imploded to make space for something better attuned to reality.
Today the Washington Post brings us synopses of South Korean press accounts about the latest rumblings in the Kim family’s lair.
Amid accounts of starvation, food shortages in the army and runaway inflation, senior economic officials in North Korea have been fired in recent days, according to reports in the South Korean media. The dismissals were reported during a week in which North Korean leader Kim Jong Il made a rare acknowledgment of his state’s failure to provide its citizens with an acceptable standard of living.
“I am most heartbroken by the fact that our people are living on corn,” Kim said in a report monitored by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. “What I must do now is feed them white rice, bread and noodles generously.” Kim made a similar statement in January, mentioning white rice and meat soup. But the likelihood of his being able to improve nutrition in his country in the short term seems small. South Korean officials have said that North Korea could face severe food shortages this spring because of a poor harvest last fall.
The crises any government faces are rarely the ones it prepares for. But something tells me that Kim Jong Il’s clamoring for attention on the international stage is about to resume. It may take the form of kidnapping journalists or movie starlets, test firing a missile, or something still more sinister. But it’s time, once more, to be on guard.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”