What is the best way to handle a joke that is made at your expense? You could laugh politely, thereby diffusing the situation while showcasing your good sense of humor. You could simply ignore it (the joker just wants attention anyway, right, Mom?). You could joke back. Or, if you're the country of Kazakhstan, you could take out a tedious 4-page ad supplement in the middle of the New York Times that has the look and feel of a bad high school newspaper. Despite appearances, the supplement evidently cost about $400,000, or roughly about $10,000 per person who didn't just thumb past all four pages to get to the real news. Truly, nothing captures the attention of the average New York Times reader like the eye-catching headline "Kazakhstan In The 21st Century–Looking outward." So how is Kazakhstan illustrating that they're not what a humorous fictional character says they are? By proving they have no sense of humor at all. Highlights include: —Awkward use of the English language: "The country's banking sector is booming, if not overheating." —We have ATMs too! In most places: "Cash machines, credit cards, pay cards and other up-to-date means to move money have become as commonplace in Almaty as elswhere in the world, and the devices are swiftly penetrating into the rest of Kazakhstan as well." —Do you like Holiday Inn? We have one!: "The InterContinental's Holiday Inn is building a business hotel in Almaty to open in early 2007." —Less-than-enthusiastic visitor comments: From a travel agent, "The trend for combining work and play [when visiting Almaty] is up, but you can't go anywhere but up when you start from zero." —Kazakhstan is perfectly comfortable meeting the lowest of low expectations: From a Turkish tourist, "There is supposed to be hardship when visiting emerging countries, but nothing disturbing happens to me here." (Actually, that last commment would make a great national slogan.) —Mind-numbingly dull statistics: "This year the country's grain yield is expected to be around 0.7 tons per hectare, down from an average 0.8 tons in 2005." (There's an entire article about this.) And it goes on and on. Nothing combats comedy better than ads full of boring facts!

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