Wednesday, 16 July 2014

8 People Who Look Like My French Teacher

1. France Gall

French pop-singer popular in the 1960s and '70s

2. Natalia Poklonskaya

Attorney-General of the Crimean Republic.

3. Alison Doody

American actress most famous for her role as Elsa Schneider in the third Indiana Jones film.

4. Lauren Bacall

American actress most noted for her 

5. Emily Kinney

American actress 

6. Krista Lenz

Fictional character from Attack on Titan.

7. Elsa

One of the main characters of Frozen.

8. Betty Cooper

From Archie Comics. 

Monday, 19 May 2014

My Part In Defusing East-West Tensions

I sent the following e-mail to the Prosecutor's Office of the Crimean Republic:

Dear Prosecutor General Poklonskaya,

I would first of all like to apologize for my arrogant Anglocentrism by writing this letter in English. However I must confess I lack any knowledge of the Russian language and hope that you (or someone else at your end) will have a good grasp of the English language. 

I am a high school student in Orange County, California and like most other institutions of secondary education in the United States, my school will be holding the spring dance otherwise known as prom. I have been unable to find a date for this dance and thus been forced to ponder who to ask. Then it struck me that I should invite a woman I truly respect and admire. Therefore I must humbly ask the Prosecutor General of the Crimean Republic, Natalia Poklonskaya: will you go to Prom with me, your Excellency?

Undoubtedly, it is extremely presumptive of someone like me to ask a lady of such intelligence and beauty as you to Prom. Yet I sincerely believe that it is with you that both of us can have the best experience at Prom. I have a terrible time trying to understand girls my age and I hope that your wisdom and experience will allow me to gain some measure of enlightenment in this arcane subject more difficult then quantum physics. 

Additionally, I hope that my humble invitation may do some good in reducing tensions between the Western powers and Russia. I have recently read a science fiction novel by Norman Spinrad titled Russian Spring which was written right before the fall of the Soviet Union. In that novel, the Soviet Union never collapses but instead reforms and integrates with the European Union while the United States becomes increasingly isolationist and militaristic. Incredibly though, the book's climax involves the US backing a Ukrainian secessionist movement from the Soviet Union which causes an international crisis. Reading this book's wonderful resolution made me wonder if there could not be a way to defuse the current tensions-especially since the book involved a romance between an American space engineer and a Russian expatriate both working in Paris (incidentally I must say the Russian lady in the story, Sonya, was extremely reminiscent of you). Even if you reject my invitation, I hope you at least consider this a small offering of peace from the Western world-a flicker of a candle in the darkness. 

Sincerely Yours,
Casey Cho

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

An Ingsoc Easter

By a strange convergence of events, April 20th this year will not only be 420 and the birthday anniversary of Adolf Hitler but also Easter. As is the usual custom, parents will be telling their prepubescent children about the Easter Bunny and how he (or she or it) brings plastic Easter eggs filled with candy. In such circumstances, parents must admit that the Easter Bunny is a classist as the children of engineers and small businessmen will get Cadbury eggs while the children of the working classes will receive those queer, orange-coloured peanut-shaped marshmellows sold by the bulk at most supermarkets. Of course, one can say the same about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Republican Party.

Nonetheless, a moral question arises: is it right to lie to children about the existence of the Easter Bunny? Some will say that since this is not a lie done for personal gain, it is perfectly moral. However I believe that we must ask the opposite question-that whether the lie is absolutely necessary in that particular case. After all there are certain situations where lying is permissible and even the right thing to do-for example if a murderer asked where a potential victim was.

By this standard, I believe that there is absolutely no justification to trick children into believing in the existence of a fictional Easter Bunny who brings them candy. In the usual case the children will find out by themselves in the nonexistence of this entity and sow the first seeds of distrust of their parents (even if only subconsciously) in their hearts and minds. In addition this does not set a good example for parents who presumably would want to encourage honesty in their children. To a child who finds out about the mythological nature of the candy-dispensing creature, it may seem that their parents are delibrately engaging in doublethink by teaching them the virtues of honesty while telling them wholesale fictions.On a more pragmatic level, telling the truth that the parents themselves bought the candy will direct the children's gratefulness towards their true beneficiaries. Hopefully more parents

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

We Are At (Cold) War With Russia, We Were Always At (Cold) War With Russia

In terms of geopolitics, the events of the last few weeks have brought about the most monumental changes since the end of the Cold War in 1991. Indeed, it can be said that the Crimean Crisis has reversed many of the changes the break-up of the Soviet Union caused. No longer can we see Russia as a slowly liberalizing nation who can be a potential ally but which must instead be regarded for what it really is-a militarized oligarchy which desires to expand and control once more the former lands of the Russian and Soviet empires.

The question must be asked: how have we gotten to this point? Was this an inevitable event? What can the Western powers do from this point on? The first question must be answered by pointing to a mixture of causes. The fall of the USSR caused hope in the citizens of those countries that there'd be a new day of prosperity and freedom with the coming of material benefits of Western capitalism and the principles of liberal democracy. Alas, this was not to be, thanks to the disastrous policies of the Russia's first post-communist President, Boris Yeltsin.

One of the most unfortunate facts in history is that the break-up of the USSR occurred with the rise of The architect of Yeltsin's economic policies was Yegor Gaidar whose programme would end up destroying the economy of the newly independent Russian Federation, For example by lifting all controls on prices, massive inflation occurred which wiped out the life savings of many people including the elderly. In response to these prices, a strict austerity program was instituted that resulted in massive cuts in public spending which threw millions of those dependent on social welfare programs into poverty, Privatization of formerly state-owned enterprises resulted in these companies being acquired at basement prices by a small group of oligarchs who soon dominated the Russian economy.

Demographic and economic number shows the grim results of these policies. According to the World Bank, certainly no lover of Soviet state socialism, poverty went from 1.5% to well into the mid-forties by 1993. Income inequality grew in Russia to the same level as Brazil, while unemployment

"Oceania, 'Tis For Thee"

A fine national anthem of Oceania from the 1984 film version of Nineteen Eighty-Four.  

Friday, 7 March 2014

A Marxist Analysis of Attack on Titan

While the term "Marxism" undoubtedly evokes in the minds of most Americans such bloody dictators such as Josef Stalin or Mao Zedong; Marxist literary analysis has little to with such communistic politics. Instead it analyzes a piece of literature (or a film or a television show) as a product of its time, attempting to see how the values and concerns of that particular period are reflected in the work; along with whether these values are reinforced or subverted. As a case-study for Marxist analysis, I have chosen the manga/anime Attack on Titan. Before I begin this analysis I must note that I will only use the anime for the analysis for two reasons: 1) I have completed the anime series but have yet to catch up with the manga and 2) many people have only seen the anime and I wish to avoid spoilers.

The basic plot of Attack on Titan (or Shingeki no Kyojin as it is referred to in the original Japanese) is simple: humanity has been reduced to a small remnant that lives inside walled areas out of fear of gigantic, humanoid, man-eating creatures known as "Titans" and a diverse cast of soldiers strives to defend our species. I will discuss the plot further only as it relates to my analysis and recommend that one go to Wikipedia or just watch the anime for a full understanding of the story. I would also suggest that those who have not seen the anime not read the post, as I will be discussing many of the surprising plot twists in the story.

Watching the anime, I soon realized that many elements of the story strongly correlated with certain historic events of two generations ago. These events are those relating to the Third Reich in the Second World War and in particular to the Eastern Front. In this parallel the humans clearly resemble the Germans and the Titans the Russians, as portrayed in Nazi propaganda. Obviously, though, these parallels will not be exact as the primary purpose of the series was not allegorical. Finally I will attempt to show how these parallels relate to current events.

To start with, let us look at some of the characters in the anime. The main character in the story is Eren Jager (it should be noted there are variable spellings for various characters due to romanization) who due to her mother's death at the hands of the Titans, vows to kill all those of that species. This of course, is quite similar to the genocidal fantasies of Adolf Hitler regarding not just Jews but also Gypsies and Slavs. The parallel is furthered by the fact that Eren is revealed to be a Titan later much as Hitler had (unsubstantiated) rumours of Jewish ancestry. Lastly, the last name Jager is German for "hunter", which both signifies Eren's actions and furthers the use of Germanic themes and names.

Mikasa is one of the few characters without a visibly European appearance and is in fact acknowledged to be the last Asian in existence. However, this only serves to emphasize the point that the majority of the characters on AoT are white. In addition it can't be forgotten that Mikasa is also explicitly stated to be half-Asian and half-white, reflected by her Germanic surname of "Ackerman" (meaning ploughman). While it shouldn't be surprising considering this is a Japanese production, it is rather amusing that the only Asian character happens to ethnically Japanese, Germany's wartime ally in the Axis.

Going through the names of the remaining list of characters, we find that several of them to be also Germanic:
Armin Arlert-First name refers to Arminius, the semi-legendary deliverer of the German people from Roman rule at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest.
Reiner Braun-Not sure how a name can get more Teutonic than this
Jean Kirchstein-First name is French, but surname is Germanic 
Krista Lenz-Again, a highly Germanic name

Commander Erwin Smith is an interesting case since while his last name is quite English, his first name is a fairly obvious references to Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel. Driving home this point is that his birthday is the same day the Wehrmacht commander was forced to commit suicide for his alleged involvement in the July 20th plot. 

Turning from the characters we move on to the setting...

The above is Trost District from AoT, while below is Rothenburg, Germany. 

The lyrics of the songs from Attack on Titan further the parallels with the Third Reich. Let us consider the theme song for the first half of the episodes in Season 1, namely "Feurroter Pfeil und Bogen":

Sind Sie das Essen? Nein, wir sind der Jäger!

Unknown are the names of the flowers that have been trampled
Birds have fallen to the earth and long for the wind
Prayers won't solve anything
Only the will to fight can change the here and now!

O pigs who laugh at the resolve
to walk over corpses to move forward
Livestock complacency? False prosperity?
Give us the freedom of dying starving wolves!

The humiliation of being caged is what triggers us to fight back
We hunters slaughter prey beyond the castle walls,
consumed with surging bloodlust,
as our crimson bows and arrows pierce scarlet holes into the twilight

Few songs besides those in patriotic and military songs have such uncompromisingly bellicose lines. In fact one can easily imagine the opening line's rhetorical question of "Are we the prey? No we are the hunters!" on a Nazi-era propaganda poster accompanied perhaps by a Nordic-looking man breaking his chains or in a Feldgrau uniform.  The rest of the lyrics are no different: were they slightly reworded in order to be prose, it would not have been out of place in a wartime speech given by Dr. Goebbels urging the German people to commit to a total war effort or in a Das Schwarze Korps editorial attempting to embolden the Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS, Hitler Jugend, and Volkssturm men vainly trying to prevent the advancing Allied troops from entering German soil.

The theme song for the second half of the season, "Flugel der Freiheit" is no different:

O, mein Freund!
Jetzt hier ist ein Sieg.
Dies ist der erste Gloria.
O, mein Freund!
Feiern wir diesen Sieg, für den nächsten Kampf!
"It was a pointless death."
Nobody should say that…
Till we’re down to the last man…
Der Feind ist grausam… Wir bringen…
Der Feind ist riesig… Wir springen…
With gloria in our hands, we sing of sieg, bearing the Flügel der Freiheit upon our backs
(Diese elenden Biester…)
Clenching our resolve to our hearts, we tear through the Ringe der Torheit
(…Werden vernichtet!)
Let us dance in the clear skies——
Flügel der Freiheit!

Der Feind ist grausam…

The opening and certain other segments of "Flugel der Freiheit" have melodies resembling of a marching song. In fact some have found it resembles "La Marseillaise", the French national anthem, although I have not seen any such similarity. Regardless, the song which sings triumphantly of "victory", "glory" and the "next struggle" is one that would have easily fit in with dozens of German military lieder such as the Horst Wessel song, "Vorwats Nach Osten", and many others. But it is with the SS combat song "Sieg Heil Viktoria" that "Flugel der Freiheit bears the most stunning resemblance.

Ade, mein liebes Schätzelein,
Ade, ade, ade.
Es muß, es muß geschieden sein,
Ade, ade, ade.
Es geht um Deutschlands Gloria,
Gloria, Gloria.
Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil Viktoria!
Sieg Heil, Viktoria!

I cannot help but wonder if the lyrics for "Flugel der Freiheit" had not been inspired at least partially by this seventy-year old marching song. 

Now that we have established the clear presence of Third Reich motifs in Attack on Titan, we must analyze how this relates to the present-day situation. Unlike most other anime that deals with war (such as Gundam or Legend of Galactic Heroes), AoT has not been strongly anti-war in its themes. Indeed, going by the song lyrics shown above, one can even say AoT has militaristic themes. This does not mean, of course that AoT whitewashes war-we see the clear costs of it in the bloody deaths of several characters. Nonetheless, the overall message seems to be that the war against the Titans is necessary for the survival of the human species and its liberation from the confining walls in which the race has been trapped in for so long. 

The anti-war animes that I mentioned above were created in the decades following Japan's crushing defeat in the Second World War which included the dubious distinction of being the only country to ever have to suffer atomic bombing on its cities. Due to this national trauma and the enshrinement of pacifism in the postwar Japanese constitution, Japan has maintained a minimally sized military and had a largely antiwar popular culture. Of course there were exceptions, such as the far-right Japanese nationalists (most notably the writer Yukio Mishima who attempted a putsch and committed ritual suicide when it failed), but most Japanese were deeply sceptical of what a large military or foreign wars could cause on the country. However with the passing of the post-World War 2 generation, most Japanese today have no direct memory of the war. In addition China has increasingly exercised itself as a power in the East Asian region, particularly over the Senkaku Islands which are under Japanese control but claimed by Chinese. Due to these factors, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has urged dropping the provisions which renounce war in the Japanese constitution and expanding the military. 

Thus it seems clear that Attack on Titan reflects these evolving attitudes regarding the military in Japanese society. While overall a Japanese military buildup would be a positive for the United States by reducing America's burden of defending its ally, one must be cautious that this does not result in a resurgence of Japanese revanchism or denial of war crimes. In addition, I hope to continue to analyze developments in AoT and see if there are any further parallels with the Third Reich. 

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Secret Life of Mitty Romney

The former Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Willard Mitt Romney was eagerly watching the election results on FOX News in his hotel room while munching on a honey and peanut butter sandwich. The news had been good: he had won the three key states of Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. Now the returns from Colorado were starting to come in...

"FOX News projects that Mitt Romney will carry the state of Colorado and with that the election..."

Before Romney could even fully realize what had happened, cheers erupted throughout the room and he felt his wife, Ann kissing him on the cheek while several of his staff members slapped him on the back.

"Congratulations Mr. President!" they shouted.

Once the initial euphoria had died down, Romney began awaiting for the concession call from President Obama. Finally the phone rang and the Governor delightedly picked it up. He barely listened to the admittance of defeat by his former opponent as he laughed politely and thanked the incumbent.

Putting down the receiver, Romney smiled and took out the copy of his victory speech: "I always knew I'd win, so I only prepared this one,". Then he and his enterouge marched down the hotel corridor to the ballroom where Romney could here the sounds of cheerful music blasting. Finally he had done what his father had failed to do and what he himself failed to do four years ago...


The former Governor felt his wife tapping him on the back as he realized he had dozed in front of the television. On screen was 16 and Pregnant, a show Romney watched religiously ever since he'd discovered it while flipping through channels a few weeks after losing the election.

"Must you really watch that?" asked Ann.

Mitt rolled his eyes and said "Its a very touching show, you know. You should stop dragging me off to all these equestrian competitions and join me on our comfy leather Armani couch while sipping champagne and munching on Belgian chocolate. You know, like what a normal middle-class family does every weekend."

She shook her head and said, "Anyways, Mitt, we need to go shopping for a couple of things in the city."

Mr. and Mrs. Romney walked out of their house and onto the driveway where their chauffeur was waiting, holding open the door. Ann went in first, followed by Mitt.

Mrs. Romney asked the chauffeur: "Bill, can you turn to the Classical station?"

Mitt protested "But we listened to that last time, I suggest we instead listen to the Rage Against the Machine Paul gave us a while back."

As the car wound its way towards downtown, Mitt closed his eyes...

It was Inauguration Day and Mitt Romney was sitting watching the handsome  Paul Ryan take his oath of office (administered by Justine Scalia) as Vice President of the United States. Now it would be his turn. Romney arose and strode forward to face Chief Justice John Roberts to take the oath of office. He put his hand on the Bible (Mitt had considered using the Book of Mormon but political considerations regarding evangelicals and conservative Catholics convinced him otherwise) and began to repeat the words uttered by Chief Justice Roberts:

"I. Willard Mitt Romney, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God."

As soon as he'd finished, the band struck up "Hail to the Chief" while a twenty-one gun salute fired. The 45th President of the United States now strode forward to deliver his inaugural address. 

The speech was fairly long and clearly stated the new chief magistrate's vision for his nation. He uttered stirring words about the unity of the Republic and virtue of its citizenry. He stated his desire for strength in foreign policy, especially against rogue nations such as Iran. On the domestic side, Romney urged for the free market to be released to its full potential. He concluded:

"My fellow Americans, I believe we are already a great nation-indeed the last best hope in this world. We are a shining city upon a hill. Yet I believe, we can become greater. The light upon the hillside can shine ever more brightly and be an ever-clearer beacon for all the peoples of the world. Now then, let us work together, to fulfill this destiny!"

"Did you say Destiny sir?' asked the store worker in the Nordstrom. "Its a very good perfume, sir. It'd be a most excellent gift for your wife."

The former governor shook his head, wondering how he had ended up here and responded: "Oh, no thank you. I was just looking for a new suitcase."

"In that case, sir, let me show you over here..."

It had been about a year and a half since Romney had taken that oath of office on a crisp and clear January morning and how much the country had changed since then! The President was presiding over a regular weekly meeting of the Cabinet and evaluating the fruits of his administration so far. Of course, his accomplishments would not have been possible without coattails allowing the GOP to retake the Senate (who had of course immediately proceeded to abolish procedural filibuster) and increase its majority in the House. 

The bills that had sailed through Congress and onto the President's desk had been numerous. In the realm of taxation all the Bush tax cuts had been made permanent and this had been followed by the elimination of the estate and alternative minimum taxes. Of course, despite what certain pessimists had predicted, any gaps in the deficit caused by these tax cuts were made up for with vast amounts of cuts on discretionary spending. Spending on education, infrastructure, and scientific research (although obviously not the military since the nation needed to be secure) had all been greatly reduced. Despite this the deficit seemed to be increasing every year: no matter, more spending and tax cuts would come in next year's budget. Thanks to this the Dow was rising and corporate profits had seen unprecedented booms. Of course the employment numbers weren't so good but then rarely is everything perfect.

Now in the realm of healthcare President Romney had also passed great reforms. First of all, Obamacare had to be and was repealed (a bill which was not only different in degree but in kind from the bipartisan healthcare reform Romney had passed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts). There had been some inevitable grumbling when those with pre-existing conditions realized that once more they'd be denied health insurance, but the bill was a financially oppressive bill that would destroy the greatest healthcare system in the world. This reform had been followed by block-granting Medicaid to the states and voucherizing Medicare for those under 55. Now the final aspect of the great plan-Social Security reform was about to be passed through Congress. 

Yet despite these great triumphs in the domestic area, foreign policy was a bit of a problem...

Secretary of State John Bolton spoke up, "So what shall we do with Iran, Mr. President? We've issued yet more sanctions, but the Iranians remain as stubborn as ever. Netanyahu of Israel is seriously contemplating an airstrike within the next six months. I hope you will give our most faithful allies, tacit backing in this endeavour, Mr. President. You've already shown your great support for Israel by approving further settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank."

The handsome visage of Vice President Paul Ryan turned towards Bolton before facing the President: "Mr. President, while I am as much a friend of the state of Israel as anyone, we must consider that the CIA detects no sign of an active nuclear weapons program in Iran. In addition such an airstrike has the potential to destabilize the entire region, including the already tense situation in Iraq and get us involved in a war..."

Mitt Romney rose and looked around the room, staring hard into each member of the Cabinet, and boring the most into the cool, blue eyes of the Vice President: "You know I like you very much, Paul; and that I've always respected your opinion but John is absolutely right here. We cannot appease Iran at this critical hour, lest we see a new fascist regime attempt to destroy the Jewish people and take over the world. Tell the Prime Minister that the United States of America gives full support to her ally in this defensive assault and that she will always be behind her. The die is cast."

"Where do you want to eat, Mitt?" asked Ann.

Mitt wondered aloud, "Are we done shopping already?"

"Funny you should say that, considering you always complain how long I take to pick out my coats or shoes..."

They went to eat at a fine French restaurant called Le Mitterand for dinner. Ann ordered lamb with a curious sauce made of prunes while Mitt tried out some veal steak with mushrooms. The food was fantastic and Mitt decided to order some fine Bordeaux for Ann and himself. While this went against the precepts of his religion, he figured he'd just tithe a bit more next year for atonement.

As the former nominee for President downed a cup, then another, and another; he began to have a wondrous vision.

The Air Force One glided smoothly to a landing at the makeshift military airfield outside Tehran. It was the late spring of 2015, and American arms had triumphed in the war against Iran. After the airstrikes against Iranian facilities by Israel, the situation had escalated quickly. As it became clear that Israel would only have done it had the United States given tacit approval, there were clashes in the Persian Gulf. A US destroyer was attacked and a half-dozen seamen lost their lives. War then broke out.

After a swift series of punishing air and drone strikes that devestated the key nerve centres of the Iranian military, a land invasion had taken place via Turkey and Iraq (to which the US had "invited" itself back in after a Shia revolt). American tanks had smashed through any opposition and within a few months the Stars and Stripes were raised over Tehran.

Now was the moment of triumph. The liberator of seventy million human beings and the man who finally destroyed America's mortal enemy in the region was to give a speech in the former Iranian capital. Tens of thousands of troops had gathered to listen, all their eyes set upon their commander-in-chief.

"My fellow Americans and all who are listening around the world, I speak from a city where the bright sun of freedom shines once more after thirty-five years of darkness. Our brave men and women, marching in the spirit of their forefathers at Saratoga, Gettysburg, and Normandy have utterly destroyed a brutal tyranny that murdered its own citizens, planned to launch a treacherous nuclear attack against a fellow democracy, and establish a totalitarian theocracy over the entire region, if not the world..."

"It is over now. This abomination, this Frankenstein's creature is no more. It is blotted from history just like the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. Now with our freedom-loving allies such as Britain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia we shall bring a new dawn of hope and prosperity to the region of the Middle East. I tell you, never has the torch of liberty shined more brightly than at this hour. You soldiers have done your country proud."

Romney's mind was rather hazy, although he recognized that we sitting or rather slouching in the automobile. He seemed to be murmuring some things as Ann Romney looked at him concernedly.

He heard her say to Bill the Chauffeur, "Poor Mitt. He always goes on about what could have been if he had won the election in his sleep."

Bill nodded, "Indeed Mrs. Romney. Tho' I must wonder how Mr. Gore feels..."