Why you so fat?

CNY power play

Young people dread Chinese New Year. While they get red envelopes full of cash, they also get some pretty brutal criticism from their relatives for being too fat/too thin/not married yet/insufficiently fertile/not having a good enough job. Think Jewish grandparents, but ruder.

This year, the rebellion begins.

Singaporean teens and 20-somethings have begun compiling a Google Doc of all the passive-aggressive remarks they have had to endure over new year, and it has gone viral. You can read it here.


Tan Chuan Jin is tired of your shit

The annual haze season has hit Singapore, and it’s a bad one, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) regularly topping 200.

On Friday the government decided to allow students whose parents could arrange childcare to take the day off school, and Minister for Manpower, Tan Chuan Jin, is growing progressively more irritated at having to answer your stupid questions on Facebook, damnit.

Tan Chuan Jin Facebook

Irritation level: 80/moderate

Tan Chuan Jin Facebook

Irritation level: 170/unhealthy

Tan Chuan Jin Facebook

Irritation level: 220


Just what Park Geun-hye needs

comfort women

We’ve already covered the Korean government’s use of the comfort women issue extensively, so when I heard that some Japanese media outlets were reporting the discovery of Korean-run ‘comfort stations’ during the Vietnam war, I pretty much skipped past it.

True or not, there was every likelihood that the Korean government – which is currently surviving on a mixture of lacklustre opposition and angry WWII-related nationalism – would just ignore it. The only outlets covering the story were relatively low-circulation Japanese magazines, after all, and the Park government has recently been going all out to weaponise the issue:


However, it now seems like the Hankyoreh has taken up the issue and fully intends to use it to do as much damage as possible to the incumbent government. (The Hankyoreh is a relatively small, progressive news outlet in Korea – something like the equivalent of the New Statesman in the UK – they’re bent on causing trouble for Park because she belongs to the centre-right.)

They began with a no-smoke-without-fire piece based on the original Japanese articles, which could quite easily have been brushed off by the powers that be. However, they immediately followed this up with interviews with Vietnamese grandmas claiming to have been raped by Korean troops. Uh-oh.

As one of  the original Japanese pieces put it:

“If President Park Geun-hye truly sees the comfort women issue as a human rights issue rather than a tool for domestic politics and diplomacy . . . then she will take the lead in investigating [the allegations] as with the example of the South Korean comfort women. Otherwise, [South Korea] would be proving to the international community that it is a country that ignores truths that are inconvenient to itself and refuses to confront history.”

It will be interesting to see whether the Park administration will manage to succeed in shrugging this off over the next few days. My bet is that it probably will.

This means you, Amos Yee

Amos Yee

The gahmen has a new campaign to convince us all to be nice online. If you want to know why this is an issue now:

On 27 March 2015, Amos Yee uploaded an 8-minute long video to YouTube titled Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead![16] In the expletive-laden video,[17] Yee likened Lee to Jesus, saying that both were ‘power-hungry and malicious but deceive others into thinking they are both compassionate and kind. Their impact and legacy will ultimately not last as more and more people find out that they are full of bull‘.[16[18] Yee went on to compare Lee’s ‘completely delusional and ignorant’ followers with ‘absolutely no sound logic or knowledge about him that is grounded in reality’ to the Christians’ knowledge of the Bible and the religion’s priests.[19]

Apart from conveying his hope that the late Lee would not rest in peace,[20] Yee also said that Lee was a ‘horrible person’, an ‘awful leader’ and ‘a dictator but managed to fool most of the world to think he was democratic’.[18] Lastly, Yee issued a challenge to Lee’s son, Lee Hsien Loong, stating that if the younger Lee, the Prime Minister at the time, wished to sue him, Yee would ‘oblige to dance with him’.[21] The 2015 video was viewed over 880,000 times.[22]

Arrest and charges

At least twenty police reports were made against Yee’s uploading of the 2015 video, while another police report was made against alleged obscene material on Yee’s blog,[23]where Yee had displayed and claimed credit for making ‘a picture of Lee Kuan Yew buttfuckingMargaret Thatcher‘.[24]The Straits Times reported that Yee’s mother had filed a police report against her son because she was unable to control his behaviour.[3] Yee’s mother, Mrs Mary, later told The Online Citizen that she had filed a police report on 29 March, ‘not … to have my son arrested’, but in response to Yee publishing a vulgar image online despite her objections, leading her to fear for his safety. As she assumed that police action would soon be taken against her son, she filed a report in which she apologized to the nation for her son’s actions and requested counselling for Yee.[25]

On 29 March 2015, Yee was arrested. Police stated that the arrest was on the grounds of ‘deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings’, ‘threatening, abusive or insulting communication’ and obscenity.[26]


Provoking a government – any government – into launching a public information campaign to convince its citizens to behave less like me is now at the top of my bucket list.

At last, a Western country stands up to Saudi Arabia on human rights

Saudi Human Rights

The Swedish government this week decided to scrap an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, effectively bringing to an end a decade-old defense agreement with the kingdom. The move followed complaints made by the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom that she was blocked by the Saudis from speaking about democracy and women’s rights at a gathering of the Arab League in Cairo.


This is worth sharing for two reasons:

1. It’s always a pleasure and a privilege to watch as wholly unlikeable a group as the Saudi leadership get it in the neck.

2. I’m not really 100% convinced that this is all about saving poor opressed Saudis, or even about diplomatic offense-taking. I think this is about The European Model.

With an economy in terminal decline, the nations of Europe only really have two assets worth promoting to the rest of the world: their tax havens and their reputation for niceness.

Attend any political conference, be it in ever so repressive a regime, and you will hear the ‘soft power’ of the European model praised to the skies. Obviously, the people doing the praising have no intention whatsoever of actually copying more than the barest trappings of said model (I frequently hear the concept of the separation of powers lauded by high-ranking Asian officials who don’t have the faintest idea of what it was originally supposed to do), but the fact of its existence is an obscure source of comfort.

I guess you see a similar phenomenon in the Catholic Church: you wouldn’t want to become a priest yourself, but the fact that other people do is somehow reassuring.

Sweden makes excellent weapons, and will be able to find a market even without the Saudis, but they also appear to believe that in coming years they will be trading increasingly on their reputation as the go-to guys for any regime who wants to learn to be (or look) a little less nasty (but not all that much less, let’s not go overboard here). A sort of Kitemark for moderate authoritarians.

Japan is Tired of your Shit

Japan is tired of your shit

The Japanese ministry of foreign affairs just changed a sentence on its website. Rather than describing South Korea as ‘an important neighboring country that shares basic values with Japan such as freedom, democracy, and a market economy’, it now merely describes it as the ‘most important neighboring country’.

And South Korea is outraged. How could you do this Japan? How could you?

Meanwhile, in other news, South Korea is also outraged that Wendy Sherman said that ‘it is not hard for a political leader anywhere to earn cheap applause by vilifying a former enemy’. They’re also outraged that Big Hero 6 contains Japanese references.

They also just began a new round of confiscation of assets from the children and grandchildren of people accused of collaborating with the Japanese during the war. No doubt any ressemblance to the North Korean songbun system of hereditary political dishonour is entirely coincidental. (One also presumes that a certain Takagi Masao‘s daughter will be safe from any depredations…)

The problem, as mentioned before, is that outrage has diminishing returns. If you’re never anything but outraged, and you make it clear that no amount of apologies or compensation will ever be enough, then that pretty much frees up the people who’ve offended you to do whatever the hell they like, a fact upon which Shinzo Abe has built his entire foreign and defence policy.

Pope threatens to punch colleague for ‘your mom’ comments

Pope Francis

True story:

Pope Francis has said there are limits to freedom of expression and that anyone who ridicules someone else’s religion could deserve a punch, after 17 were killed in Paris over Prophet Mohamed cartoons.

Francis spoke about the Paris attacks while on his way to the Philippines, where around 1,500 Muslims protested yesterday against the depictions of the Prophet in the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

He said that freedom of speech and expression are fundamental human rights however he added that he believes there should be limits to offending and ridiculing the faiths and beliefs of others.

By way of example, he referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organises his trips and was standing by his side on board the papal plane.

‘If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,’ Francis said while pretending to throw a punch in his direction.

He added: ‘It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.’

Expect much wailing and gnashing of teeth from polite society, which had almost begun to believe that this was the good German Pope.

Nevertheless, this seems to be another example of the recent trend towards a new style of politics – one that’s more relaxed, confident, unembarrassed about enjoying power and – yes – has a sense of humour… But which is also entirely unwilling to take any crap when it comes to the Red Lines.

So far, the only Western leader to come close to embracing the new style of doing politics has been Angela Merkel. Is this new belligerence a sign that Francis is following in her footsteps?

However much those outside his flock may wish otherwise, Pope Francis is not just a lovely old chap. The Spectator has an excellent piece about how the media has made a concerted effort to ignore Francis’ more orthodox views in order to create a more appealing character for their readership:

The most influential media outlets decided he was essentially a decent guy and judged him thereafter on his intentions rather than his achievements (…)

There’s only one case I can think of in which the media would turn on Francis: in the unlikely event that his private character were dramatically at odds with his public persona. He would have to be caught, say, building a death ray in the Vatican Gardens. (Even then some outlets would present it in the best possible light: ‘Pope Francis develops radical cure for human suffering.’)

Journalists also have a clear economic motive for sticking with the Fantasy Francis narrative: people will pay to read about it. After all, he was the most discussed person on the internet last year. Post a cute photo of him hugging a child, or posing for a ‘selfie’ with young admirers in the Vatican, and you’ll see a satisfying spike in page views. Francis has become one of the world’s most reliable online commodities. What sensible hack would want to threaten that?

This latest bit of outspoken opposition on the Charlie Hebdo issue seems like an attempt to reassert opinion leadership and show the world that he intends to actively direct the Church, rather than merely bringing it into line with mainstream opinion. Moreover, while the point view may not – on the surface of it – be a popular one in the midst of the Je Suis Charlie moment, it is in fact a very canny choice of an issue upon which to make a stand. It is far less emotive for non-Catholics than anything sex-related, and does not risk causing the theological divisions that any pronouncement on the nature of sin would be bound to provoke. Francis is effectively telling believers that he’s got their back, but in a way that will not greatly offend non-believers. (Qui plus est, France’s practicing Catholics have hated Charlie Hebdo for years. Even a metaphorical punch in its direction will bring them immense and entirely unchristian joy.)

In fact, this is not the first time that Francis – such an innocent, saintly old man – has displayed a thoroughly politic understanding of the currents of public opinion. His trip to Korea in 2014 contained all the ingredients for a Solidarność moment with regards to the DPRK. The option of his making some sort of impressive, regime-undermining gesture towards North Korea’s surprisingly large Catholic underground was skilfully left open throughout the trip. However, he appears to have realised that now was not the time (information filters into North Korea far too slowly for any one political declaration made outside to have any coherent effect), and – moreover – had the good sense to restrain himself from taking the risk. (Knowing when and how to do nothing: the most important skill in politics.)

This comment about punching people who insult Catholicism is effectively the mirror image of the strategy used during the Korea trip: Francis is picking the battles in which he knows he can win – or at least emerge ahead of the game. Where Benedict scrabbled around the edges of his domain, ineffectually trying to shore up the crumbling sea walls of Catholicism in a million different places (child abuse, contraception, marriage of clergy, confession…), Francis is effectively reinforcing both his own and the Church’s position where it is strongest. From this stable standpoint, and using his new popularity, he will – if he is lucky – be able to strengthen his hold over theological and geographical territories that are far less secure.

The *other* satire that the North Koreans don’t want you to see

Kim Jong Un game

‘But he *can* talk to dolphins, right?’

The Kim Jong Un video game is no more. As its creators said in a statement:

As many of you know, over the holidays we were victims of a hack inspired by the attack on Sony. The hackers destroyed data pertaining to Glorious Leader! and other projects we had in development and locked us out of our own computers and wesbite. The timing couldn’t have been worse as it hampered our ability to attend to the Kickstarter project. We realize that we also made mistakes in our pledge levels and rewards. It is now evident that our funding goals will not be met, so we are cancelling our Kickstarter campaign.

This is not the first time we have been targeted because of Glorious Leader! Between the hacking and other threats, we think it is time to reevaluate our commitment to Glorious Leader! We thank our fans and supporters, and we are sorry to let you down.

In fact, North Korea has been on something of a hacking spree over the holidays (something which inclines me to believe the FBI’s assertions that it really was behind the Sony hack, whatever the conspiracy theorists may say).

The North Koreans do a lot of hacking, just in the general scheme of things, and it’s a rare DPRK-watcher who hasn’t been done over once or twice, just as a matter of course. It’s what brings us together as a community.

The attacks are not usually as severe as those experienced by Sony and (apparently) Moneyhorse, however, nor are they as widespread as the recent wave of incidents.

Deconstructing the Responses to the Charlie Hebdo Attack

Je Suis Charlie

Yeah, I know, it’s not Asia, but I am a Sciences Po – indulge me. Moreover, in these days of 24-hour rolling news, it’s never too early to start on the analysis, as the pols tweet frantically to gain control of the narrative.

So who’s won?

Not the government, that’s for sure. This could, in other circumstances, have benefited those in charge, with an upswelling of national sentiment etc. etc. No doubt there will be one – it’s beginning now, in fact, and you can follow it in real time under the hashtag #CharlieHebdo – but it won’t help Hollande’s beleaguered cabinet at all. He comes to it with two reputational handicaps that will undermine any attempt to make hay:

1. This follows up on a series of smaller-scale attacks that took place over the holidays, involving Islamic extremists crashing cars into people walking down the street and attacking police officers.  The authorities tried to play the incidents down, with the Interior Minister and the prosecutors insisting that it was the work of ‘mentally unstable’ individuals with ‘long psychiatric histories’, who merely yelled ‘Allah Akbar’ to ‘psych themselves up’ (genuine translations of the official statements – I’m not making this up),  and was definitely ‘not terrorism‘ (one can only imagine how frustrating this must have been for the wannabe terrorists themselves). Bizarre as it may seem to anyone used to US reactions to terrorism, the strategy worked incredibly well. It all happened in the run-up to Christmas, and mass media audiences were focused on the holidays. The only people who tried to make a big deal out of the story were the far (and far-ish) right’s usual suspects, who – perversely – probably succeeded in undermining the very idea that they were trying to promote: that this was a serious national threat. If extremists and paranoiacs believe it, then it must be false, amirite? Kind of like when the KKK holds a fundraiser for Darren Wilson. A sort of anti-Streisand effect. Sometimes you just need to face up to the fact that your rep is just so bad that the best way you can help is by not helping.

Already this image is doing the rounds on Twitter, supposedly to illustrate the government’s lackadaisical position on terrorism:


It’s a quote from Bernard Cazeneuve, the Interior Minister, pointing out that ‘it’s not illegal to support jihad’. Probably. If it were just that, it would be an entirely correct statement, and a manifestation of precisely that freedom of speech for which the Charlie Hebdo journalists died. The problem lies in the verb prôner, which means ‘to advocate in favour of something’.  In everyday speech, however, it more usually implies ‘to advocate in favour of something that you do yourself‘. Uh-oh.

But why was it so necessary to play down the attacks in the first place? Don’t politicians tend to exaggerate the threat of terrorism to consolidate their own power? Often yes. But in the last set of French presidential elections the Front National vote hit 17.9%, and all the indicators suggest that it will be higher next time around. At the opposite end of the scale, the disaffected youth of the banlieues includes a large Muslim contingent (though not nearly as large as the British tabloid press would have you believe) and is liable to riot whenever they feel got at. Which – given the level of institutional racism in French society – is frequently.

Ironically, 2013 saw an unexpected flowering of public fraternity between France’s largely rural, bourgeois Catholic right and the conservative Muslims of the Paris suburbs. United by their shared horror of buttsecks, they came together in vast numbers to protest against the new law in favour of gay mariage. Unfortunately, it seems that while the friendship is unlikely to last, both groups left with a renewed sense of purpose and team spirit, and – more importantly – an awareness of the amount of leverage they were capable of exerting when they really put their minds to being awkward. (They did not succeed in overturning the law, but they did have a huge effect on the right-wing UMP’s internal leadership elections, strengthening the social conservative vote and dividing the party.)

So yes. Minimising the pre-Christmas attacks would have been an excellent strategy, if they hadn’t immediately been followed by a far bigger and effectively un-minimisable attack. As it is, it looks as though the government willfully ignored omnipresent signs of impending disaster and risked lives out of a mixture of timidity and ideological blindness. Realistically speaking, this is probably not the case. The security services have probably been doing their damndest (or, well, you know… their damndest – they’re not generally hugely efficient, and it won’t necessarily be the equivalent of your damndest, but still… points for effort) to put a stop to this sort of thing ever since the original attacks, but the key lesson that 9/11 taught us all is that security is performative. Unlike justice, it might not necessarily be done, but by God it needs to be seen to be done. All those invasive TSA screenings might be next to useless as far as stopping terrorists is concerned, but they give the impression that something is being done. The quiet work done behind the scenes by the Renseignements généraux and others gives the impression that nothing is being done.

As Michael Migueres of the UMP put it: ‘Things are looking black. The Republic is weak, and its enemies are engaged in a war against it that the government refuses to see. France has ceased to be governed, now it is not even being protected.’

2. People just don’t believe the government cares. Not about terrorism, but about them, full stop. The Socialist Party elite are seen as being totally disconnected from the reality of the majority of France’s citizens. When Valérie Trierweiler’s allegations that François Hollande enjoyed taking the piss of the poor in private surfaced, they were not so much the source of mass outrage as of a sort of collective shrugging agreement that, yes, he probably did say it and no, it’s not surprising. It was bad enough – and we’re talking ‘bad’ as in ‘poll-ratings-of-12%-bad‘ here – when people merely felt that the government didn’t care about high taxes, low growth and high unemployment. The risk now is that they’ll be perceived as not caring about terrorism either.

Intriguingly, the government response has mixed aspects of the old, minimising strategy, with more of a ‘strong leadership’ approach. François Hollande was on the scene relatively quickly, which seems to indicate that he has learnt his lesson from previous criticisms about not being hands-on enough, moreover, he immediately labelled the attack as ‘terrorism’, which goes some way towards undoing the effects of previous denials. The overall response to his speech, even on the right, was relatively positive, or at least neutral.

The Instagram from the situation room was less successful, with Le Lab, a young, right-wing new site tweeting it with Buster Keaton poker-faced irony.


Took me several double-takes to realise that’s Athena on the mantlepiece, not Batman

One suspects that in less solemn circumstances it would have been subjected to a similar treatment to the infamous Cameron-on-the-phone-to-Obama tweet.

Moreover, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s attempt to contain prospective vigils and demonstrations was a dismal failure. Calling on all ‘republicans’ (in France this merely means something akin to ‘good citizens’, not Fox News junkies) to march ‘with contemplation, solidarity and silence’ (emphasis, one suspects, on the last of the three) at Place de la République tomorrow night. Spot the mistake? Yes, the Paris Socialists have long been terrible at social media (one of the greatest joys of the younger UMP supporters involves cybersquatting technologically inept Socialist personalities – it’s the little pleasures in life etc.). It is not surprising that they underestimated the speed with which people like to organise mass events these days. Tomorrow night? Fuck that, cried the internet. It’s on for tonight:


Most of the main news outlets are diffusing that call to arms rather than the Hidalgo version.

If you want to show solidarity yourself, protests and vigils are being held across France and abroad: Le Monde has a map. They have already started in many places.

So, if the Socialists haven’t done very well out of it, how did the opposition fare? Pretty badly too, in the case of the UMP. The problem with being in opposition when these things happen is that if you do make a statement you’re a cynical bandwagon-jumper, and if you don’t you’re a heartless shit. While no one could possibly criticise Nicolas Sarkozy’s anti-terrorist credentials (not many people outside France know that he once single-handedly rescued a class full of children from a suicide bomber, a feat would make most politicians 100% fire-proof, electorally speaking), there was a fair amount of oh-Gawd-not-him-again groaning when he made his official speech. Actually, it was a somewhat bland and forgettable effort – again, the only possible strategy to adopt if you know that you’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s worth noting, however, that among the platitudes was a clear challenge to Hollande’s administration: ‘The government must take clear measures against terrorism’. The right will almost certainly pick up on this within the next few days, causing yet more problems for Hollande. If he does introduce new measures, he risks alienating his few remaining supporters. If he doesn’t, he will confirm his reputation for weakness.

Meanwhile, on the other, more socially conservative wing of the UMP, Jean-François Copé tried desperately to burnish his chances for future electoral success, toning down his current highly anti-Muslim reputation by declaring that he hopes that there will be ‘no division and stagmatisation of our Muslim compatriots’. (No chance. Nicolas Sarkozy and a variety of corruption scandals have finished his leadership hopes.)

The biggest winners, however, will undoubtedly be the National Front, and they know it very well. Marine Le Pen has been relatively restrained, hinting delicately that now is not the time to discuss politics, while – of course – discussing politics. She did, however, manage to get in a couple of small I-told-you-sos in the direction of the government’s minimisation policy. Her right-hand man, Florian Philippot, added – with ominious piety – that ‘the time for political debate will come’

Terrorists win

Randall Park

Woah. Holy backlash, Batman.

Sony’s decision to pull the film shredded sympathy in the creative community and drew ridicule as well as recrimination.

“Dear Sony Hackers: now that u run Hollywood, I’d also like less romantic comedies, fewer Michael Bay movies and no more Transformers,” tweeted the filmmaker Michael Moore.

Sony was labelled the coward, but others quietly lobbied to drop the film.

Cinema chains feared audiences would steer clear of theatres showing The Interview. AMC cited “overall confusion and uncertainty that has been created in the marketplace”.

Shopping malls also reportedly lobbied to drop the film lest screenings deter skittish Christmas shoppers.

Legal experts warned of potentially enormous liability for Sony and theatres if there were any incident, whether committed by terrorists or copycat attention-seekers.

Rival studio executives with their own Christmas films worried about losing revenues during a key box office month.

“We’re all afraid people aren’t going to go to theaters in general because of the threat,” an unnamed studio executive told the LA Times. “The theaters are supposed to be an escape for people to get entertained … If they don’t show up, it could be disastrous.”


There’s no way Sony did not see this coming, so we must necessarily conclude that the material that the hackers held back in anticipation of a Christmas surprise was really bad. Like, worse than $60 million bad. One can only imagine…

Or, alternatively, write tiresome moralising articles like this:

What’s more, crowding the North Korea “story” with anecdotes of nutty behavior and amusing delusions may ironically benefit those in charge in Pyongyang. It serves to buffer and obscure thesheer evil of a regime that enslaves children and sentences entire families to death for crimes of thought, while building ski resorts, dolphinariums, and other luxury escapes for elites with funds that could feed its malnourished people for several years. How many people would have watched The Interview and concluded that they should do something to help change this odious regime and bring about human rights for North Koreans?


Or this:

But let’s cut to the chase here. What did Sony think it was doing by allowing the movie to be made in the first place? Did it not anticipate that there would be a backlash?

The plot, which involves the CIA encouraging two journalists to assassinate Kim, could not be more controversial. It was bound to provoke anger. And an angry rogue was unlikely to turn the other cheek.

Sony can argue all it likes about artistic freedom – as can the movie’s directors, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, and their writer, Dan Sterling – but to depict the killing of a living political leader, even in comic terms, was surely going way beyond good sense (and good manners and good taste).

I appreciate that no-one should be beyond parody. What is surely unacceptable, however, is to encourage the idea that it would be a good wheeze to kill a president.


Or a dozen other dreary first-world whines penned by the Mrs. De Ropps of this world, who were raised on a diet of gluten-free Ryvita and trigger warnings. Because obviously the best way to fight North Korea’s attacks is by becoming as humourless, censorious and illiberal as possible. 

Meanwhile, the Obama administration intends to consider a ‘proportionate response‘, which has to be the single most boring threat I’ve ever not bothered reading to the end of (though I have to say that if you gave me a million years I couldn’t come up with a better name for a White House spokesman than ‘Josh Earnest’). No one – least of all, it seems, the DoD – has the faintest idea what constitutes a ‘proportionate response’ in these circumstances. Sulking? The pillory? An invasion of an entirely uninvolved Middle Eastern country? Answers on a postcard please.