[the genius of diplomacy]

See, here’s the crazy thing about diplomacy: sometimes engaging in it works better than declaring it pointless.

For years, the North Koreans have been trying to get the US to engage in talks. But the Bush administration has insisted that the only way we could ever possibly talk to North Korea is in the format of the Six-Party Talks, with Russia, China, Japan and South Korea in the room. The successes of this approach include North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests last year.

Now, in a surprise move, the US seems suddenly to have decided that bilateral talks could be possible. How did this come about? Well, Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill made this discovery while in bilateral talks with senior North Korean officials.

Does this strike anyone else as spectacularly tortured? Our high-level officials met their high-level officials, with representatives of no other country present; at this meeting, they discussed the possibility of bilateral talks?

The whole argument against bilateral talks was that they would somehow encourage the North Koreans to more bad behavior by demonstrating that prior bad behavior got them what they wanted. And so we did: nothing. That’ll learn ’em! Of course, this is typical Bush admin thinking, which puts talks with us on a pedestal as the ultimate prize to be earned for doing what we want, instead of seeing talks as how we convince other countries to do what we want. Traditionally, talks have been seen as relatively safe, even if they’re not expected to produce results, while wars have been seen as relatively dangerous, even if they’re expected to go well. The Bush administration has turned that thinking on its head.

But now something seems to have changed. This is good. Talking to North Korea is wise. Talking to all our enemies would be wise. And perhaps one day we will have a government that realizes you flip more bad guys with dialogue than with waterboarding.

[the two koreas]

Today’s top story involving Korea ought to be Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon’s likely appointment as UN Secretary-General.

Indeed, last night’s annual reception for National Foundation Day was packed, attended by far more dignitaries, of far higher rank, than in past years. United States Ambassador John Bolton was there — Jenny remarked that he is shorter than she expected — as were the ambassadors of the other permanent members of the Security Council, as well as Japan’s ambassador, who is currently the president of the Council. The big crowd was there, I am certain, because of the news that had come out less than an hour before the reception began that South Korea would be providing the next SG. Already the appointment was having one of its desired effects: raising South Korea’s profile in the world.

At the moment, however, the big Korea news is that the North is planning a nuclear test. The timing is fairly typical of North Korea — these are the same people who managed to stage a naval incident in 2002, killing four South Korean sailors right around the climax of the World Cup hosted in South Korea. Whether today’s announcement is meant to derail Minister Ban’s appointment or merely overshadow it is unclear, but it is certainly bad news.

[weekly world music 13: songs for the dear leader]

Song of General KIM IL SUNG | Don’t Ask My Name | Children’s Music 1 (Music Gallery of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)

애국가 (Aegukga) (National Anthem of the Republic of Korea)

Been hankering for creepy marches and disturbing paeans to terrifying totalitarian dictators? Your search is over!

In honor of North Korea’s recent erectile dysfunction, here are a few tracks from the DPRK’s charming Music Gallery, as filled with joy as everything produced in the jolly North. My Korean isn’t good enough to understand most of the lyrics, and I’m not about to go wandering around the South Korean UN Mission in search of someone to translate North Korean propaganda ditties, so unfortunately I can’t tell you exactly what these tunes are about. I did catch the children singing “김정일 ... 우리 아버지” (Kim Jong-il … uri abeoji, or Kim Jong-il … our father) at one point, but you knew that was in there somewhere.

In the interest of fairness, I’ve also included the national anthem of the Republic of Korea, whose title translates to The Patriotic Song — you may recall hearing it following some short-track skating event in the Winter Olympics. It’s better than the North Korean stuff, although I find it disappointing that so many Asian countries have gone for poignant yet rousing anthems in the European classical tradition. Like, wouldn’t it be cooler if the national anthem of Indonesia was the Kecak, or if India’s was a raga that took 45 minutes? If Nepal can have its wacky flag, shouldn’t someone have a truly bizarre national anthem?

Oh, and if you happen to be wondering why a “weekly” feature appears as sporadically as Weekly World Music, let’s just say that I’m on summer schedule, and also that I’m sorta lazy. I’ll try to keep up with it every week, but some weeks it’ll slide. Life is full of broken promises.