Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How Good Will Kim Jong-Un be at Being Insane?

There has been a change of leader in North Korea.  Kim Jong-Il has died and apparently been replaced by his son Kim Jong-Un, perhaps.  The South Koreans have moved their armed forces to "It's a New Kind of Crazy" alert and the rest of the world watches with a combination of interest and bewilderment to see what happens next.  The prize for facile statement of the year goes to Hillary Clinton who said she hoped for "a stable and peaceful transition" in North Korea.

Permit me to translate that comment.  "The United States hopes that a starving, disease ridden prison camp of a nation swaps a bloated, self indulgent nutjob for God alone knows what in order to perpetuate one of the most monstrous and tyrannical regimes on the face of the Earth today in a socially acceptable fashion".  Am I the only one who hopes that the leadership of North Korea is decided by a murderous knife fight in the politburo?  Obviously hoping for peace, freedom or the possibility that the North Korean people might not have to supplement their diet with tree bark is just a little too extreme.

So what can we expect from North Korea now that Kim 3.0 is in charge?  Many people will say this is a mystery and as far as specifics go they're right but we can identify a few broad trends.  People like to say that North Korea is difficult to work out or predict but I'm not sure they're right.  What the North Korean leadership wants is simple.  It wants tenure.  It wants to ensure that none of its members wind up getting hauled out of a foxhole by either revolutionaries or US Marines and summarily shot or put on trial and then summarily shot.  To ensure this the leadership has to do two things.  It has to control its own population and it has to persuade the rest of the world not to topple their squalid and brutal regime from the outside.

A large army, secret police, incessant propaganda and murderous ruthlessness have so far managed to take care of the first issue which merely leaves the second.  Here the North Korean leadership have a problem because North Korea is weak.  I'm sure they would like North Korea to be strong but it isn't.  North Korea is a ruined cesspit of a country and will remain so while the current gang of thugs continue to be in charge, and they have no intention of going anywhere.  So what to do?  The answer is simple; if you can't be strong, be crazy.  Ensure that none of your enemies real or imagined can ever be entirely certain that you wouldn't commit suicide simply for the opportunity of inflicting pain on your opponent.  A useful analogy might be someone who periodically swallows poison because he knows it will stop cannibals eating him.  What we have yet to see is how efficiently the new leadership (assuming there is one) can do this.

North Korea isn't actually that difficult to figure out.  The behaviour of its leadership is largely logical (although tempered by unseen struggles for position within their system).  The problem is that people frequently mistake logical for rational when the two have very little in common.  To understand North Korea take as your starting point the fact that its leadership is deeply psychotic and then build a logical structure on that foundation.  If you do that their behaviour becomes a lot more comprehensible.  Whether that helps us deal with them or not is another matter.

Neil the Moderately Easygoing Ghost

There is an apartment complex (well simple really) across the road from the cafe I frequent.  No matter what the day or the weather there is always a ute, truck or van moving stuff in or out.  It can't just be natural wastage, there aren't that many flats in the building.  Obviously something is going on and I'm pretty sure I know what it is.  The apartment block is haunted.  After all there's nothing like the presence of tormented souls from beyond the grave to prompt a high tenant turnover.  Considering the housing shortage in Sydney its difficult to imagine anything else it could be.  Crappy building work or unbearable neighbours wouldn't prompt people to move.  In Sydney unless the roof actually falls in or the neighbours are selling heroin out of your living room then you stay where you are.

So, ghosts huh?  I have never believed in them but the evidence of the moving vans seems pretty incontrovertible.  One normally associates the presence of ghosts with some deep rooted emotional or physical trauma; a particularly grisly murder for example or a shattered love affair or missing the final episode of Glee.  In Sydney its more likely to be because the ghosts can't find anywhere better to move on to either.  Anyway I don't buy the entire haunting the scene of some horrible occurrence in your life.  If I was a ghost I would haunt somewhere I enjoyed (sorry Ash you're going to be stuck with me for a lot longer than you thought).

It's always possible that the ghosts are those gloomy self destructive types who hang around a place they hate simply so they have a reason to be angry.  This is probably the case with poltergeists who tend to make a lot of noise and smash things up.  Come to think of it's possible a couple of my neighbours are poltergeists.

Some people suggest that ghosts hang around because they have some unfinished business to attend to.  I don't think that's particularly likely myself.  For starters we all die with unfinished business (unless we are very, very organised).  Secondly if I were dying with unfinished business my prevailing thought as the darkness took me would probably be something along the lines of  "thank God somebody else has to deal with that now".  I rather suspect that I wouldn't make a particularly good ghost.  There I would be haunting somewhere I enjoyed being in a quiet an unobtrusive manner steadfastly refusing to worry about the things I failed to complete during my lifetime.  The more I think about it, its entirely possible I have been a ghost for the last few years.  I must buy myself a white sheet and some chains.

Not that that has anything to do with my being a ghost.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I Might Visit the Pole of Right Next Door

On the 14th of December, 1958 a team of Soviet explorers became the first people to reach the Southern Pole of Relative Inaccessibility.  When I discovered this information I paused briefly to consider human courage, endurance, determination and most of all; what the hell is a pole of inaccessibility?  Realising that I could not draw another breath without adding this piece of monumental inconsequence to my pool (well, puddle) of knowledge I did a little research.  I now present the fruits of those arduous seconds of investigation for your edification.

A pole of inaccessibility is a spot on the Earth's surface defined essentially by how difficult it is to get there.  That is it is generally as far as possible from any practical starting point.  In the case of the Southern Pole of Relative Inaccessibility this is the spot in Antarctica which is furthest from the Great Southern Ocean thus ensuring that the hapless traveller must traverse the maximum amount of bleak, frozen hellscape in order to get there.  Once you arrive there isn't even a pole, just a bust of Lenin staring towards Moscow.

Poles of inaccessibility are really only of interest to explorers, thrill seekers and others who find the normal world too dull but have inexplicably failed to develop a drug habit.  You know, the sort of people who are prepared to waste a perfectly good life travelling a very long way under conditions of terrible privation in order to get absolutely nowhere and then turn around and come back.  Doing all of this while carrying a bust of Lenin on your back is, apparently, optional.  Frankly I can't help thinking that these explorer types are getting just a little desperate.  Let's face it; all the mountains have been climbed, deserts traversed, continents found, tribes enslaved, jungles conquered (and in many cases, bulldozed).  Is it any wonder that they're resorting to making stuff up?  Pretty soon poles of inaccessibility will lose their edge as well then they'll have to come up with something new.

In a spirit of human compassion I have decided to help by creating a whole new crop of poles for these daredevils to reach.  First up is the Pole of Ranting Tedium.  He lives in my apartment block just up the back.  Risks involved in this expedition include avoiding our surly caretaker, the very real possibility of magpie attack and the likelihood that a twenty two stone Polish ex soldier will beat the crap out of you if you make it to his apartment.  This can be an introductory expedition.  Once you've survived that you can journey to the Pole of Exotic Dancers.  On the way you will encounter such natural phenomena as vomit pools, fields of broken glass and rubbish slides while avoiding the maddened charges of the dreaded steroid addled bouncer.  Once inside you have to run the gauntlet of the police raid (or worse, their Christmas party) to reach your goal.  After this you're ready for the big leagues.  Take a journey to the Poles Apart.  This is where you pick two separate places on the Earth's surface and attempt to travel to both of them simultaneously.  Extra points will be awarded if you manage it while towing a bust of Lenin.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Have Seen the Future and it is Penguin.

Good news on the penguin front!  You didn't know there was a penguin front?  Well there is and there's good news on it.  Apparently penguins convert salt water to fresh.  Yep what you always thought was a short black and white waste of space is in actual fact a fish powered, over dressed desalination plant.  This is great news for humans and, by extension, penguins.

Access to fresh water is one of the current concerns of various doomsayers who have been predicting the end of the human race pretty much since its beginning.  Despite the source of the warning it has to be admitted that there are areas of the globe that could do with a little more fresh water than they currently possess.  Water itself isn't a problem, the planet is lousy with the stuff.  Unfortunately most of it is of the salty variety and that isn't terribly helpful for supporting life.  At least, not our sort of life, it has to be admitted that fish and, of course, penguins don't seem to have a problem with it.

In fact penguins don't actually convert salt water into fresh however they have a gland (isn't there always a gland?) called the supraorbital gland which is incredibly efficient at filtering the salt out of seawater thus leaving one with perfectly fresh, if slightly penguin flavoured, water.  When I say "one" I mean the penguin, at the moment but all that could change.

Desalination plants are going to become a thing of the past.  Sure they work but they're big, ugly, expensive and they chew a lot of power.  In the future all we're going to have to do is rip the supraorbital gland off a few million penguins, stitch them together and filter seawater through them.  With the money we save not building desalination plants we can pipe this eau de penguin into the parched and generally water deprived sections of the planet for the benefit of all.  We can make a little cash on the side by selling the remainder of the penguin as a stuffed toy for kids.

Now that you have seen the future you will have noticed that while there is an abundance of fresh water there is also a huge pile of penguin corpses blotting out the sun.  This should help with global warming or at least provide a little shade. 

At this point you are probably looking back at my first paragraph and wondering exactly where is the upside I promised for the penguins.  Wonder no longer for the answer is simple.  For this fresh water scheme to work we're going to need a lot of penguins, far more than nature carelessly provided.  The obvious answer is a breeding program.  I envision huge penguin farms spanning the chillier parts of the globe to cater to our endless need for fresh water.  This will be the salvation of the penguin, no animal ever went extinct after we started farming it.  We kill millions of cows and sheep each year and we don't seem to be running out of them.  Of course all these penguins will need feeding so I think we can all agree that our fish stocks are doomed.

Monday, December 12, 2011

It Probably Wouldn't Be a Good Idea to Give Me a Job in Social Engineering

I passed by a cemetary the other day, well I say "by" I mean through.  I have a second job delivering past their use by date body parts to this guy who claims he's a doctor although I suspect he's just doing a modern art installation.  What struck me about the cemetary was how crowded it was.  It was a positive forest of crosses, memorials and headstones, some of which were pretty difficult to shift.  I couldn't help thinking that if all those people were alive today they'd be pretty annoyed at the overcrowding and that's even taking into account the fact that most of them have lost quite a bit of weight in the time they've been there.

In fact the more I think about it the more I suspect we could market death as a weight loss technique.  Can't shake those last few kilos?  A couple of weeks dead and they will literally fall off.  Warning side effects can include lassitude, paralysis, brain death and of course actual death.  Pretty soon Hollywood stars would be lining up for this latest get thin quick method and in a lot of cases it won't affect their acting ability much either.  Then of course it will be all over the gossip magazines and current affairs programs.  There will be interviews with exponents of the diet although, of course, those interviews will be conducted by seance.  Pretty soon everybody who despairs of looking good in their formal dress (I looked dreadful in mine) or their wedding photos will be lining up for a terminal solution to their weight loss problems.

Naturally the wholesale embrace of the Angel Diet (catchy name, no?) would cause a number of serious social problems.  Perhaps the most important of these is "what the hell are we going to do with all these corpses".  My "doctor" client can't take them all.  You think the cemetaries are crowded now?  Its going to be standing room only there in the future, in a manner of speaking of course.  On the plus side social barriers will, perforce, be lowered.  In the future people are going to have to get used to being buried next to people they wouldn't be seen dead with.  Cemetaries are going to be some of the most expensive real estate on the planet.  Which teaches us an important lesson; there's always money in property.  Although the value of actual houses is going to plummet as there are fewer and fewer people left to rent or buy them.

Soon the city will be one sprawling necropolis (I love that word, I'd use it even if I didn't know what it meant) speckled with the occasional house inhabited by some of the few living most of whom will have jobs in the funeral business.  On this day we will all have achieved one of mankinds dearest and longest held dreams; quiet neighbours.