Sunday, March 31, 2013

KJU's fiery rhetoric is smokescreen?

The Associated Press provides some perspective on whether or not North Korea really would attack US targets in the Pacific or on the Mainland. Or South Korea, for that matter.

From AP, via Huffington Post:
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said North Korea's "bellicose rhetoric" would only deepen its international isolation, and that the U.S. has both the capability and willingness to defend its interests in the region.

Narushige Michishita, director of the Security and International Studies Program at Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, isn't convinced North Korea is capable of attacking Guam, Hawaii or the U.S. mainland. He says Pyongyang hasn't successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile.

But its medium-range Rodong missiles, with a range of about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers), are "operational and credible" and could reach U.S. bases in Japan, he says.

More likely than such a strike, however, is a smaller-scale incident, perhaps off the Koreas' western coast, that would not provoke the Americans to unleash their considerable firepower. For years, the waters off the west coast have been a battleground for naval skirmishes between the two Koreas because the North has never recognized the maritime border drawn unilaterally by the U.N.

As threatening as Kim's call to arms may sound, its main target audience may be the masses at home in North Korea.

For months, the masterminds of North Korean propaganda have pinpointed this year's milestone Korean War anniversary as a prime time to play up Kim's military credibility as well as to push for a peace treaty. By creating the impression that a U.S. attack is imminent, the regime can foster a sense of national unity and encourage the people to rally around their new leader.

Inside Pyongyang, much of the military rhetoric feels like theatrics. It's not unusual to see people toting rifles in North Korea, where soldiers and checkpoints are a fixture in the heavily militarized society. But more often than not in downtown Pyongyang, the rifle stashed in a rucksack is a prop and the "soldier" is a dancer, one of the many performers rehearsing for a Korean War-themed extravaganza set to debut later this year.

More than 100,000 soldiers, students and ordinary workers were summoned Friday to Kim Il Sung Square in downtown Pyongyang to pump their fists in support of North Korea's commander in chief. But elsewhere, it was business as usual at restaurants and shops, and farms and factories, where the workers have heard it all before.

"Tensions rise almost every year around the time the U.S.-South Korean drills take place, but as soon as those drills end, things go back to normal and people put those tensions behind them quite quickly," said Sung Hyun-sang, the South Korean president of a clothing maker operating in the North Korean border town of Kaesong. "I think and hope that this time won't be different."
Note that the byline is Jean Lee, the AP bureau chief in Pyongyang who sometimes seems (according to critics like Joshua Stanton at One Free Korea) to be a paid apologist for North Korea. And true enough, this piece does contain a heavy dose of "what poor misunderstood Pyongyang wants." Nevertheless, my own analysis about the actual threat pretty much arrives at the same conclusion. The biggest danger is not in the rhetoric but in the possibility of a miscalculation.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Blogging milestones: 1.5-million views

According to my Blogger data, I hit 1.5 million page views today. And only half of them were looking for nude pictures of Amanda Knox.

These are only about one-sixth to one-eighth what uber-blogger The Marmot gets at The Marmot's Hole, but it does demonstrate moderate success as a blog.

Below is a snapshot of Blogger's top-ten list of the all-time most popular posts on this blog, which together account for about one-tenth of all hits.

If you can't read it so well, click on the image to see a larger version.

If you do a search for these, you can get a feel for why they attract so many Google-based hits, but rest assured that more academic, informative, or edifying posts like 2005's "Korea versus Corea" are also major hit generators.

The sheer length of time a post has been up also favors older posts; only one of the above ("No-pants Wednesday," about undies-clad Survivor contestant Christina Cha) is from 2012 or 2013.

On the other hand, if I look at popular posts from just the past month (see below), we still have the Christina Cha post and the one featuring Korean porn star Almond Joy, but there's also one on Chinese fears of Korean irredentism and another discussing Michelle Malkin's views on Jackie Chang and Psy. In second place, the "News links" post has some eye candy for my male gay readers, while the very lame and pointless Halloween novelty item post seems to attract a lot of spambots.

I fear spambots. They once got me kicked off my own blog for several weeks in August 2006.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Anna Kendrick of Pitch Perfect meets F(x)

Okay, back in 2005 or 2006 I predicted Hyundai and Kia would become far more popular among American car buyers than they were then, but even I didn't expect K-pop to really start become a thing in the US.


People in Hawaii taking North Korea threat seriously (maybe)

I've had two people today tell me that they are worried that North Korea will rain fire down on Honolulu. One was a middle school student who said it with great certainty — "North Korea is going to attack Hawaii" — common among twelve- and thirteen-year-olds who see something on the news or hear it from their parents. The other was an educated late twenty-something who was hoping for reassurance that it wouldn't/couldn't happen.

I was the person for her to be talking to. Since my teens, I told her, I've lived most of my life in the hairpins of Kim Ilsung, Kim Jong-il, or Kim Jong-un. Rest assured, North Korea knows that if it really goes ahead and attacks a population center (Seoul, Inchon, Honolulu, or even Saipan or Hagåtña (Agaña) on Guam, that would be the beginning of their speedy end.

In Seoul, we've been threatened by this image (from CSM) for years. 

Yes, I'll admit that I was surprised when North Korea bombarded Yŏnpyŏng-do Island in November 2010, but that was an isolated bit of territory that saw four dead, nowhere near the casualty numbers that would occur in a major city or even a northern Kyŏnggi-do Province suburb, thus compelling South Korea to respond with brutal force. If any part of Hawaii ever is attacked by North Korea, it will be some distant islet in the archipelago, far from any people. The worst that would happen is that the Norks would violate Federal laws prohibiting the abuse of sea turtles and monk seals.

For the record, here is one of the news stories on the North Korean threat to the Aloha State and Where America's Day Begins, this one courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor:
North Korea announced today in a blizzard of threats that it is ready to target US military bases in Guam and Hawaii as part of a full-alert military posture. The threats included other targets in the United States, and in South Korea, in what has been a steady escalation of rhetoric.

The Korean People’s Army Supreme Command, which rarely itself issues such statements since it is a wartime body, stated the alert was due to the American nuclear “war racket” that has “gone beyond the danger line, and entered the phase of an actual war, defying the repeated warnings from the army and people of [North Korea.]”

The statement warned “puppet authorities” in Seoul to “be mindful that everything will be reduced to ashes and flames,” reported Yonhap news agency.

North Korea has vowed in the past to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire." And the latest threats from Pyongyang – which has made technical progress with its missile range, though has not yet proved it can "weaponize" or nuclear-tip those rockets – apparently do not target the Japanese mainland.
As the article mentions, this is by no means new, not even for Hawaii, as I've reported in the past (see here and here). The big difference is the rhetoric, not the technology, which itself is of questionable reliability.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Is this a fair representation of Apple, Samsung, and Nokia?

With a hat tip to you YC, here is a somewhat comical representation of the big phone makers and their respective manufacturing ethic. We have Apple working hard, Samsung learning by copying, and the once dominant Nokia falling behind.

(Side note: Siri on my Apple iPhone keeps writing Nokia as "no Kia.")

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Samsung apologizes for "bizarre, sexist event" in South Africa that included "swimsuit dancers"

We are not in Asia anymore, Toto.

I guess Samsung is learning the hard way that sexist marketing that works just fine in South Korea might not fly so well in South Africa or South Philly or South Pasadena:
Last week Samantha Perry sent an open letter to Samsung, stating her feelings with regards to the use of scantily clad women in the launch of the company’s new fridge and washing machine lines, last week at Africa Forum in Cape Town. The original post went viral, receiving media attention and creating international interest. This morning, Samsung South Africa issued a press statement formally apologising for the controversial launch of its consumer products at Africa Forum last week.
Here's part of the open letter:
Heaven forbid I, as a woman with 15 years experience covering the tech sector, should have any place at one of your launches as anything other than (frequently half-naked) eye candy.

It would be entirely too much to ask that when you planned your recent Africa Forum you considered NOT using scantily clad beauties to help launch your (wait for it) new fridge. I mean let’s face it, most of your target market for that sort of product is female. And women are totally into that, oh, no, actually, that’s not us, that’s 13-year old boys.

Then you launched the Samsung S IV, and what exactly where all those (admittedly dressed) ladies doing on stage? Oohing, aahing, cooing about their weight, shopping, cooking, and men.
She continued on with an economic argument, citing figures of $7 trillion (I assume those are South African dollars) worth of goods marketed to men in this way are purchased by women, who are increasingly put off by this stuff.

You can read more about this at Huffington Post. Expect to see this as more and more of an issue in Western media, now that Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, and K-pop are increasingly seen as global entities that deserve scrutiny. At the same time, though, don't expect this practice to go away any more than, say, "the Singapore Girl" turned into the Northwest Airlines flight attendant.

Funny, back in 2006, I actually mentioned Korean companies (in this case, Kia) using sexified models to sell product in South Africa.


Friday, March 22, 2013

L.A.Times: Hackers who hit South Korea used an old tactic

The recent cyber attack experienced by South Korean broadcast networks and some banks is big news over in the United States and around the world. 

It's particularly notable that it was such a simple mode of attack, and hopefully we'll see South Korean agencies and businesses start to tighten security. Starting with getting rid of ActiveX.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Hackers who hit South Korea used an old tactic

Beijing --   The cyber warriors who paralyzed more than 30,000 computers in South Korea used a simple technique decades old, but showed a flair for the classical by including Roman military references in their programing.

The full story can be viewed at:,0,6500598.story?track=latiphoneapp

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Beyond the DMZ: Tweeting from North Korea

Amidst the latest round of Pyongyang saber rattling – the DPRK has declared yet again that the 1953 armistice is now null snd voidd – CNN has an article about the recent advent of social media in North Korea.

Of course, this is not something that everyday citizens are able to talk to partake in, but rather something that visitors to the country are able to do.

Lest you think the article is just a bunch of gushing about how times are changing in North Korea, AP Pyongyang bureau chief Jean Lee, who has gotten much criticism from the likes of Joshua at One Free Korea, does come out and say that she would like to see more underground, uncontrolled activities on North Korea's intranet.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Don't trust the Lee in Apt 23:
Korean Gangster Style goes Hollywood

Remember Lisette Lee? Sure you do: She's the Los Angeles socialite who was eventually caught acting as a drug mule to the tune of 500 pounds of pot and who — and this is where her story becomes Korea-related and thus fodder for Monster Island  — claimed that she was an heiress to the Samsung empire.

Yeah, that Lisette Lee.

You can read a much longer (and more interesting) telling of her torrid tale in this August 2012 Rolling Stone article (not sure how I missed that one). An excerpt:
From the moment they touched down minutes ago, the group had been in motion, hurrying down the jetway to unload their cargo: 13 huge suitcases so heavy that the two men had struggled to carry them, even the big guy. When confronted by the agents, Lee impatiently explained that she was bringing supplies to a horse farm. Before the night was over she would amend her story, confessing she'd been given $60,000 in expenses for the trip, and while she didn't know what she was transporting in those suitcases, she blithely figured it had to do with "weapons and money laundering or something."

Lee would go on to tell federal authorities a lot of things about herself: that she was a famous Korean pop star as well as the heiress to the Samsung electronics fortune; she was so emphatic on this last point that on police paperwork agents listed "heiress" as her occupation. Back at home in L.A., Lee called herself the "Korean Paris Hilton" and played the part of the spoiled socialite, with two Bentleys, a purse-size lap dog and, especially, her commanding, petulant personality that kept her posse of sycophants in check. It was as though Lisette Lee had studied some Beverly Hills heiress's handbook: how to dress, how to behave, how to run hot and cold to keep people in her thrall – in short, how to be a modern celebrity. But all of that would begin to unravel – amid the crowd and confusion on the Columbus tarmac that June 2010 evening – once a drug-sniffing German shepherd padded over to the van and sat down, signaling a hit.
The reason I'm rehashing the faux heiress's story is that it is in the news once again. As it turns out, Hollywood has a hankering for stories of black noir true crime veritas, and someone wants to make a movie out of this molehill of shyt. Craig Brewer of Hustle & Flow and Footloose is set to direct the film for Paramount, which will be called Gangster Princess of Beverly Hills. I guess Sony was in no mood to make the film, seeing as how Ms Lee falsely claimed she was the granddaughter of Sony founder Akio Morita.

You can read a bit more about Ms Lee's situation and the damage it caused through the blog of Meili Cady, aka "House Arrest Girl," who was one of the people that Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely noted had been taken in by Ms Lee's wild tales.

The thing is, this is not the only movie depicting a Korean-American villainess on the big screen. Rachel Lee (above), the leader of a den of thieves who would rob the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan four or five years ago, went to the big house but her story will go to the big screen. Newcomer Katie Chang joins Emma Watson (you've come a loooooong way, Hermione) in Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring (trailer below) due out in June.

Rounding out this trifecta of imperfecta is this month's Spring Breakers, which features former Disney child starlets getting all sexy and shyt. As far as I can tell, there's no Korean-American angle, but I brought up the film because I wanted an excuse to post a publicity photo.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Huffington Post highlights the death of a South Korean imimgrant to focus on rampant smartphone theft known as "Apple-picking"

HuffingtonPost has an article on the killing of Hwangbum Yang, who was killed last year by somebody who really wanted his iPhone. The article uses Mr. Yang's case to highlight the wider problem of smartphone theft, which is apparently as much as a $30 billion a year business.

An excerpt:
When Sunah Yang bought an iPhone for her brother two years ago, she warned him about the white earbuds.

Never wear them at night, she told him. They make you a target for thieves.

“Obviously, he didn’t listen,” she said in a recent interview.

Around midnight on April 19, 2012, Hwangbum Yang, a 26-year-old Korean immigrant and aspiring chef, finished work as a cook at an upscale Manhattan restaurant. He rode the No. 1 train uptown to the Bronx and started walking home in the rain.

He was two blocks from his house when a man holding a gun approached him, according to police. The man -- whom police would later identify as Dominick Davis -- demanded Yang's iPhone. When he refused, Davis shot him once in the chest. Yang died on the sidewalk.

Yang was still wearing the iPhone’s white earbuds when paramedics arrived, investigators told his sister. Davis had left his wallet untouched, but had taken his iPhone. Police later found the phone for sale on Craigslist for $400.

Prosecutors charged Davis and an alleged accomplice, Alejandro Campos, with murder. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial in jail on Rikers Island.

Nearly a year after Yang’s death, a cloud of grief still hangs over his family. His father sleeps in his son’s bed. His mother prayed at the scene of the shooting every day for four weeks until her husband asked her to stop. “It will only cause you heartbreak,” he told her.

Hyun Sup Yang attributed her son’s death to the insatiable demand for the world’s most popular phone. “If my son never had an iPhone,” she said in an interview, “he would be alive now.”

Yang’s murder stands as a chilling example of a modern-day crime wave sweeping the country, sometimes with deadly consequences. From New York to San Francisco to Washington, D.C., police have reported a surge in thefts of smartphones and tablet computers -- iPhones and iPads in particular. The spike in robberies has grown so pronounced that police have coined a term for such crimes: Apple picking.

Every day, criminals snatch phones on crowded streets, inside restaurants, and on subways, reselling their stolen wares on the Internet, on street corners and inside local convenience stores. Phone thefts tend to rise right after the release of new Apple products, according to police in New York City.
As I noted in my own comment, there is a finite number of countries with a finite number of cellular carriers, so yes, it is possible to make a huge dent in the demand for stolen smartphones. The fact is that many carriers do not want to do this because it may put a dent in demand for their actual services.

Last year, when "M's" iPhone 4S was stolen at a bus stop across the street from a police station in downtown Honolulu, I was really shocked at how little AT&T and Apple were willing to do to prevent that iPhone from being used in another country, where it was certainly headed (it was never turned on again within the US, according to "Find My Phone"), according to the Honolulu Police Department.

The gentleman from HPD explained that tourists — particularly Asian tourists — are targeted because the young kids who are "hired" do this for a few extra dollars are told that the Asian tourists all have insurance on the phones anyway, so nobody loses! ("M" is a grad student from Japan and probably looks a little distinct from local Japanese.)

Five-0 knows this, but is often helpless to do anything. An older haole (Caucasian) woman I met, who is local but looks like she could be a Mainland tourist, warned me about my own iPhone when I was in line at one of the three Starbucks locations in the Ala Moana Center area; the day or so before, just hours after purchasing a new iPad, it was stolen from her at the Macy's Starbucks location just three shops from the Apple Store.

If the thievery rings didn't have a market to resell these to people who want something cheaper and know they'll be able to connect a stolen device to their local network, then there'd be less "demand" among this criminal element. Sure, it wouldn't eliminate it completely (there's always idiots who don't ask questions when something's really cheap on Craig's List or eBay), but it could reduce it by a lot. There's no reason "Apple picking" should be a $30 billion industry, and it's horrible that people like Mr Yang would lose their life over it. I'm thankful that nothing more happened to "M" than losing some data.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Stewart skewers Dennis Rodman on North Korea visit

In his characteristic sarcastic style, Jon Stewart last night lampooned Dennis "The Worm" Rodman for being a clueless tool of Kim Jong-un, while simultaneously mocking former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for being a clueless rich guy who doesn't understand why he lost the election.

Oh, and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is dead, a fact that would have given former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il pause and a chance to reflect on his own mortality, were he not already dead for nearly a year a half.

Nevertheless, Dear Leader, a belated happy birthday.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Dennis Rodman: "Kim Jong-un just wants a hug."

Okay, well he didn't quite say it like that. But Dennis "The Worm" Rodman has gone on the news shows to explain his trip to North Korea, which was met with no small amount of criticism. And if you were thinking that Rodman was so effusive about his love for his new BFF Kim Jong-un while he was still in North Korea because he feared ending up in the Pyongyang Palazzo (i.e., prison), Mr Rodman dispels that notion quite quickly by basically repeating what he said while he was still in the DPRK.

From the Associated Press, via ESPN:
North Korea's young leader has riled the U.S. with recent nuclear tests, but Kim Jong Un doesn't really want war with the superpower, just a call from President Barack Obama to chat about their shared love of basketball, according to erstwhile diplomat Dennis Rodman, the ex-NBA star just back from an improbable visit to the reclusive communist country.

"He loves basketball. ... I said Obama loves basketball. Let's start there" as a way to warm up relations between U.S. and North Korea, Rodman told ABC's "This Week."

"He asked me to give Obama something to say and do one thing. He wants Obama to do one thing, call him," said Rodman, who called the authoritarian leader an "awesome guy" during his trip. The State Department criticized North Korea last week for "wining and dining' Rodman while its own people go hungry.
All right, I see what's going on here: Kim Jong-un thinks all Black people know each other.

The other thing at work here is that Kim Jong-un may have been the fat, lonely kid growing up and now he's leveraging his fortune and fame to hang out with the "popular kids." Invite the popular jock over, show him your dad's movie collection, get buddy-buddy with him, and then you're in good with his friends.

And is it so unreasonable that Obama should call Kim Jong-un? During his first presidential election campaign, Obama made a point of saying he would meet with the leaders of adversarial countries:
Strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries. That’s what Kennedy did with Khrushchev. That’s what Reagan did with Gorbachev. That’s what Nixon did with Mao. I mean think about it. Iran, Cuba, Venezuela – these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don’t pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying we’re going to wipe you off the planet.
Shouldn't North Korea be on that list? Maybe BHO and KJU could also become BFFs. They have a lot in common: both sent to private school, having so many half-siblings because their daddy couldn't keep it in his pants, serious questions about what kind of ideas they were exposed to during their education abroad, etc., etc. Obama used to work at Thirty-One Flavors and Kim Jong-un can eat thirty-one flavors in one sitting.

The kid loves basketball. Imagine the good will that could come from Jong-un and Barack playing a game of H-O-R-S-E in the driveway at Kŭmsusan Palace of the Sun!

On a more serious note (though I am serious about everything I just said), Dennis Rodman did at least acknowledge that he's aware of the stuff for which Kim Jong-un is reportedly responsible (assuming he is not a mere figurehead):
Rodman said he was aware of North Korea's human rights record, which the State Department has characterized as one of the worst in the world, but said he wasn't apologizing for Kim.

"He's a good guy to me," Rodman said, adding, that "as a person to person, he's my friend. I don't condone what he does."
But to Mr Rodman, maybe it's worth it if he can stave off further conflict and perhaps touch the heart of that leader through this friendship. He said that Kim Jong-un had told him, "I don't want to do war. I don't want to do war."

We also learn from the interview with George Stephasnuffleupagus that this is not a one-off. Mr Rodman plans to return to North Korea to "find out more what's really going on." Heck, I would learn how to play basketball (I'm a mere 5' 7-1/2") just to join that entourage.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Judge cuts Apple award against Samsung in half

  Big news in the Samsung-versus-Apple war. 

Judge Deals Major Blow To Apple
Gov't Robot Horror.. New Google Digs.. Facebook Crisis.. Apple CEO Cursed?.. WikiHouse.. Gambling

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Friday, March 1, 2013

China airs drug traffickers' moments before execution

From the Los Angeles Times:

China airs drug traffickers' moments before execution

It was reality television in the extreme.
Chinese state television broadcast Friday nearly one hour of live footage of the last moments of four foreign drug traffickers about to be executed for the killing of 13 Chinese fishermen in 2011 on the Mekong River. Although the cameras pulled away before the final lethal injection, the unprecedented pre-execution coverage unleashed a storm of criticism and debate about the death penalty.

Psychologists decried the live coverage as distressing  to children, while lawyers complained that it violated a  clause in the criminal code against parading the condemned before execution.

"This carnival on CCTV was a violation not only of ethics, but of the criminal code regulations that the death penalty not be carried out in public," wrote human rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan on a microblog. Many on the microblogs, however, applauded the execution of the four drug traffickers.

China executes about 4,000 people each year, more than all other countries in the world combined, although the numbers and the crimes carrying the death penalty are gradually being reduced.

"I don't know of any other country, not Iran, Afghanistan or North Korea, that has nationally broadcast in this way the last moments of an executed prisoner," said Nicholas Bequelin, Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch. "It is a step backward at a time we thought China was making progress with the death penalty."

In the past, public executions were common in China, but nowadays, there is usually no more than a brief news report and footage of the condemned before an execution.

Although many Chinese were shocked by the live coverage, they applauded the death sentences as just retribution for a particularly violent crime. The 13 Chinese fishermen were ambushed, then shot to death while tied up with rope, their bodies dumped in the river. The outraged Chinese government considered a drone attack to kill the drug traffickers, but in the end launched an international manhunt that resulted in their capture and extradition from Laos.

The kingpin executed was Naw Kham, 44, a Burmese national who allegedly commanded a militia of 100 men in the Gold Triangle region. Two others executed Friday were from Laos and one was Thai.

The live coverage showed the men being taken from their prison cells in southwestern Yunnan Province with their hands trussed behind their backs with ropes. A doctor in a white coat prepared the lethal injections.

The television commentator went on at some length about how well the men had been treated in prison.

"From the appearance of these criminals, you can clearly tell our prison has carried out humanitarian spirit, these criminals clearly look healthier, whiter, with better skin complexion than when they were arrested," the commentator said.

At one point, the television broadcast cut away to show a gala-style award ceremony complete with patriotic music and small children carrying bouquets for the investigators who had worked on capturing the drug traffickers.

Chinese television also broadcast a chilling interview with Naw Kham taped earlier this week in which the drug kingpin said, "I am afraid of death. I want to live. I don't want to die. I have children. I am afraid."

The Yunnan Province Public Security Bureau sent out a message at 2.55 p.m. Friday that Naw Kham and his accomplices were dead. 

John Hannon and Nicole Liu of the Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.

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I guess if someone accused North Korean leader Kim Jong-un of being anti-US, he can now say, "Of course not; some of my best friends are American."

From NPR:
Add this to the controversial things that former NBA star Dennis Rodman has done over the years:

"You have a friend for life," he told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday. Word of his comments comes from the VICE media production company that sent Rodman and members of the Harlem Globetrotters to the Stalinist state as part of an upcoming HBO series that will explore "news, culture and current events from all around the world."

Rodman, known as "The Worm," showed up with a small group of Americans in Pyongyang earlier this week.

According to VICE and China's Xinhua News agency, Rodman and the "supreme leader" sat together Thursday to watch a basketball game involving North Korea's top players and the three Globetrotters who are with Rodman on the visit. The Americans — along with VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy — were divided between the two sides. The game reportedly ended in a 110-110 tie.

Xinhua reports Rodman said after the game that "although relations between the two countries are regrettable, personally I am a friend of Marshal Kim Jong Un and the DPRK people."
That was quite diplomatic of the Harlem Globetrotters to engineer a tie game. (And smart, too, which means they might have read about Euna Lee and Laura Ling's time in the Pyongyang Palazzo.)

So forget the picture at this post, the real picture shows the Young General having a good old time with his new buddy. And seriously, I just find it hard to believe that this is not a sign that there is some potential for Kim Jong-un to one day say, "Screw this!" and give up on the whole pariah state thing so he can have a Coke™ and a smile.

Color me cautiously optimistic.

But lest this public relations coup make us forget how far the North really has to go, lest we forget that Tommy Boy is head (nominal or actual) of a very brutal regime, the NPR piece goes on to explain precisely that, by citing Human Rights Watch:
"Arbitrary arrest, detention, lack of due process, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees remain serious and pervasive problems. North Korea also practices collective punishment for various anti-state offenses, for which it enslaves hundreds of thousands of citizens in prison camps, including children. The government periodically publicly executes citizens for stealing state property, hoarding food, and other 'anti-socialist' crimes, and maintains policies that have continually subjected North Koreans to food shortages and famine."
Yep. And you can get killed for passing out Bibles.

Major buzzkill. Let's hope KJU or his Chinese benefactors try to do something about it.


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman go on basketball date

You'll have to forgive me, but because of the picture that they included – which I have posted above – I thought that this NK post was actually a joke. Sort of like they were trying to be The Onion only a more unfunny.

(It's very hard to write satire about North Korea, largely because the things that actually happen there are often so much stranger than what normally passes for satire. And frankly, lately The Onion is having trouble being Onionesque themselves; I'm thinking specifically of them having referred to a nine-year-old Oscar-nominated actress as a "C-U-next-Tuesday" so they could jump into the shock humor genre.)

Anyway, if the Xinhua story that it cites is true, that is a rather significant event, if the North Korean leader is allowing himself to be seen in public with an American figure who is not a politician, whether that's a boyhood hero or not. I sometimes suspect that the Swiss-educated Kim Jong-fun is trying to see where he can break free from his father's pattern wherever possible.

And that's a good thing.

Here's the real picture of the two at the event, after which Mr Rodman said Kim Jong-un had in him a friend for life.