Archive for WTF?

In latest N. Korean turmoil, Chaz Bono promoted to Supreme Leader

Forget what I said this week — North Korea is still funny. Look what a reader spotted on this apparently official North Korean propaganda video, posted on YouTube at a channel that has always posted authentic North Korean material in the past.

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If this is a fake, well, they fooled me. Note the logo on the upper lift-hand corner, which appears in some other apparently legit videos posted at the same channel.

The video was a compilation of stills and video from around the world intended to show how much we all love/fear/respect Kim Jong Un. Whatever the impact domestically, I’m afraid the impact internationally will be very much the opposite.

If anyone knows how to preserve or download a YouTube video, please do, before “StimmeKoreas” (it means “Voice of Korea” in Dutch, and probably a few other Northern European languages) catches on and pulls this down.

So, Dennis — other than that, how is the trip going so far?

Dennis Rodman’s September trip to North Korea included a trip to Kim’s yacht near Wonsan, which Rodman described as “like going to Hawaii or Ibiza.” Evidently, this trip hasn’t been as pleasant:

A day after the former basketball star sang “Happy Birthday” to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and led a squad of former NBA players in a friendly game, Rodman issued the apology through publicist Jules Feiler in an email message to The Associated Press.

“I want to apologize,” Rodman said. “I take full responsibility for my actions. It had been a very stressful day. Some of my teammates were leaving because of pressure from their families and business associates. My dreams of basketball diplomacy was quickly falling apart. I had been drinking. It’s not an excuse but by the time the interview happened I was upset. I was overwhelmed. It’s not an excuse, it’s just the truth.

“I want to first apologize to Kenneth Bae’s family. I want to apologize to my teammates and my management team. I also want to apologize to Chris Cuomo. I embarrassed a lot of people. I’m very sorry. At this point I should know better than to make political statements. I’m truly sorry.” [AP]

Even Kim Jong Un appears to have been taken by surprise when Rodman burst into “Happy Birthday.” And Max Fisher, who often emphasizes the quirky aspects of North Korea, thinks “Rodman may have crossed some sort of line,” and has reached “the point where what he’s doing stops being funny and becomes something more serious.”

So, to summarize — Rodman has fallen off the wagon, made himself into a national pariah, driven away some of the retired players who joined his tour, hardened global attitudes against his new best pal, and quite possibly freaked out Kim Jong Un himself — which may be the most unwise thing he’s done all week.

If anyone asks Rodman what he gave Kim Jong Un for his birthday, we might also learn whether he’s also in legal trouble for violating U.S. sanctions laws.

But at least he still has Jesse Jackson, who isn’t wrong when he says that Rodman is the reason we’re talking about North Korea. And to be fair here, a lot of us have piled on Rodman for not talking about human rights, but he is, after all, just a washed-up basketball player. What people are really upset about is Rodman’s effusive and cretinous affection for a mass murderer. If Rodman had just stuck with the story that he’s not a diplomat and that’s not his job, plenty of people would have accepted that.

As Rodman implies, it’s the diplomats who are responsible for talking to Kim Jong Un about human rights. Unfortunately, Kim Jong Un isn’t willing to meet with them, and the specific person whose job it is to “promote and coordinate North Korean human rights and humanitarian issues“ is a nice, quiet man you’ve never heard of because he’s wholly ineffective in that role, because he’s trying not to rock any diplomatic boats (or, if you prefer, yachts).

But strategic silence isn’t going to change North Korea or achieve our national interests. We brought Iran back to the bargaining table by sanctioning it to the edge of extinction. Why not North Korea? Because the Obama Administration has no North Korea policy, and its sanctions against North Korea are pale shadow of our sanctions against Iran. Our sanctions against Iran were forced down the Obama Administration’s throat by Congress. Hopefully, that will happen with North Korea next.

But what then? Even when our diplomats do meet with the North Koreans, they do everything they can to sideline, bury, and marginalize the question of human rights. Rodman certainly is the easiest target here, but the smarminess of our diplomats, the incompetence of the Obama Administration, and — above all — the atrocious conduct of Kim Jong Un himself are really more deserving of serious criticism.

[Update: This post has been corrected to note that Rodman's "Ibiza" experience in Wonsan was in September 2013, and not his "last" trip to North Korea (which was in December). Oh, and it was Rodman, not Kim Jong Un, who sang "Happy Birthday" to Kim Jong Un.]

Elle Magazine makes a morally retarded fashion statement about North Korea

When I first saw the report here that an Elle Magazine columnist had declared “North Korea chic” to be one of this year’s top fashion trends, I immediately assumed that someone was failing to appreciate someone’s rather tasteless parody. When Americans do think of North Korea, they often infantilize it. Tasteless parodies may be our third-most common reaction to North Korea, after apathy and passive disgust. Sadly, having seen the screenshot of Joe Zee’s post, I think Zee was seriously suggesting that “North Korea chic” was a real trend:

This time, it’s edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring.

Which made me laugh — because, you know, take no prisoners! And kill off the ones you have! Ha-ha! Get it?

As of last night, the offending page had been removed from the slide show and sent to Elle’s memory hole. All that remained were some reader comments (if one really “reads” Elle) that, given the venue, were encouraging for their relative moral depth.

This is disgusting and not funny. North Korea chic? Where are the starving and beaten children, women and men? Learn about what’s really happening in North Korea before you make stupid titles like this.

Not to mention ‘take-no-prisoners tailoring’. Way to cheapen the experience of people suffering in gulags up and down North Korea, Elle.

Leaving the slide for “N” nondescript only makes it more evident of the ignorant mistake you made. How about you stop hiring “fashionistas” and hire someone can use a dictionary or is actually aware of current trends? Nautical? Navy? Neon? I could go on if you are at a loss of ideas.

Elle does not acknowledge removing the image or apologize for publishing it in the first place, but does acknowledge its readers’ outrage in an unsigned post written in a shallow, bouncy style you’re more used to seeing in Tiger Beat (don’t try to deny it). I left a comment at that last link. Perhaps you’ll want to leave a comment of your own?

Max Fisher weighs in here, with the inevitable Asma Assad comparison. See also here and here.

Is the next Banco Delta Asia in Malaysia?

Over the weekend, a lot people were giggling at the decision by Paul Chan, President of HELP University, to award an honorary degree in economics of Kim Jong Un. Foreign Policy’s Isaac Stone Fish, who first revealed the story, obligingly prints Chan’s manifesto, which reads like the work of a true belieber — a man who writes as if he has spent an inordinate amount of time watching High School Musical over and over again. I have fond memories of my friendships with Malaysian students during law school, so it saddens me to say that this can’t be unrelated to the weirdness of Malaysia’s political culture. At the end of the day, however, the main consequence of this will be to make HELP University look ridiculous, and to highlight how little Kim Jong Un really knows about economics.

What concerns me more is how the weirdness of Malaysia’s political culture may play a role in North Korea’s illicit arms deals and the evasion of U.N. Security Council sanctions. The Korea Herald has called Malaysia “a cornerstone for North Korea’s diplomacy in Southeast Asia.” Malaysian banks are suspected of hosting offshore bank accounts for North Korea, and of serving as financial intermediaries for North Korea’s arms deals with Burma, long after those transactions were banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions. As of July, Malaysia had not yet provided the U.N. a report of its compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions sanctioning North Korea. Today, it is one of just two states that still has direct Air Koryo flights to Pyongyang.

Say, do you think Kim Jong Un might just be a complete doofus who happens to have nuclear weapons?

SO THE FIRST WELL-KNOWN AMERICAN to meet with Kim Jong Un is not an AP interviewer, a tribute-bearing Bill Richardson, a ransom-bearing Jimmy Carter, or first choice Michael Jordan.  It is this man:

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Strain, if you must, to make this into some sort of soft power diplomatic coup; it really looks like a tragic sequel to “Being There.” The very weirdness of it all is evident in some priceless exchanges from yesterday’s State Department daily press briefing.

Delectably, the AP’s part-time Pyongyang correspondent and photographer were scooped by Vice Media, led by Shane Smith, a man who is to journalism what The Dude is to alternative dispute resolution.  Nate Thayer tells the story here.  At least Smith, unlike the AP, does not ask us to take his brand of journalism seriously. What makes all of this even harder to explain is that Smith’s ventures into North Korea and North Korean logging camps in Siberia have portrayed North Korea as bizarre, controlling, brutish, and ridiculous.  Smith, in other words, scooped the AP without (so far) having pulled any punches or sacrificed his objectivity. That’s why I’m willing to see the product Vice produces before I’m as critical as others have been, although I applaud another unlikely source, Gawker, for putting this circus into its rightful context.

You can’t help pity the AP which, for all its literary and literal prostrations – for all its willingness to make jarring ethical compromises to gain the regime’s favor – was frustrated in its priapistic lust for an interview with His Porcine Majesty.  It looks like we’ll all have to wait a little longer to learn whether it’s briefs or boxers.  Meanwhile, Jean Lee, the AP’s Korea Bureau Chief, must quote pesky upstart Vice to even report what Kim said to Rodman, and was otherwise relegated to tweeting pictures of sandwiches.  No word yet on that AP expose on the starvation and cannibalism said to be ongoing a few miles to the south of Pyongyang.  Maybe Vice will beat them to that, too.

I’ve been pondering why the North Koreans would snub such willing instruments as Jean Lee and Bill Richardson, people who could actually deliver things a wily regime could use to advance its coldly calculated interests.  Instead, it left them all at the altar for a man who does, admittedly, look rather fetching in a wedding dress.  The resulting publicity mostly portrays Kim Jong Un as a bizarre, detached hedonist in a kingdom of helots, a gluttonous man-child who is blithely apathetic about statecraft or the welfare of his pitiful subjects.  Out west, where I’m from, our fathers teach us to take better care of our tools than this.

After consulting William of Occam, I offer this novel hypothesis: Could it be that Kim Jong Un is just an impulsive imbecile who happens to be the nominal leader of a state with nuclear weapons? Nothing we know about his academic history or his policy record contradicts my hypothesis.

Update: What. The. Fuck. (Hat tip).

Birth control, Pyongyang Style: Lady-Mullets!

Sure, you say, a list of 18 state-approved hairstyles certainly seems generous and libertine, but on closer examination, it’s actually more like 18 pictures of three hairstyles — three hideous, man-shriveling hairstyles — one of which (6, 10) is a mullet, and the rest of which appear to have been inspired by the 80s metal band Queensrÿche.

According to late-breaking news from New York, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has demanded an inquiry, but China has blocked it. And at the risk of offering cultural sensitivity training to KNCA, do you suppose they could have picked a number without all the unflattering connotations that “18″ has for women in the Korean culture?

Afterthought:  The Daily Mail is only marginally more credible than KNCA, so I wouldn’t take this as authoritative evidence that North Korea allows only 18 female hairstyles, but more reputable sources hold that North Korea has paid undue attention to the the hairstyles of its subjects.  There is also this:

Sometimes, a missile is just a missile

Every time North Korea tests a rocket, Hans Blix sheds a little tear and Ban Ki Moon’s fluffy white tail stops wagging, because North Korean rocket tests violate three U.N. Security Council Resolutions — 1695 (which bans “all activities related to its ballistic missile programme”), UNSCR 1718 (ditto, and requires N. Korea to “re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching”), and 1874 (which bans “any launch using ballistic missile technology”).  North Korea’s official response is that it is launching peaceful satellites, not testing ICBMs.  You may be wondering if anyone on the Outer Earth is still fool enough to believe this.

There’s little reason to doubt North Korea’s claim that it simply wants to put a satellite into space.  [John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focus]

Maybe John Feffer just needs more reason, so he can reason his way to what’s obvious to the rest of us.

North Korea exhibited the fuselage of what is presumed to be the long-range rocket it launched in December, and explicitly called it a ballistic missile, despite its claims to the outside world that the Unha-3 was part of its peaceful space development program, a report said Monday.

The report by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun quoted North Korean sources as saying that the fuselage was displayed under the name “Hwasong-13″ among the exhibitions of the country’s missile lineup in an exhibition hall in Pyongyang. The Hwasong line also includes shorter-range scud missiles, which the country has produced since the 1980′s.  [Yonhap]

Well, you say, if they’re missiles, then they must be for strictly defensive deterrence.  No need to infer any malicious intent here, right?  So we now have this, via North Korea’s quasi-official Uriminzokkiri:

Uriminzokkiri roughly translates to “among our race only” and is aimed at South Korean norksimps. It is reportedly run from China, a country that selectively decides what speech should be permitted based on the state’s value judgments about its content.  Or so you may have heard.  (Hat tip)

If your memory is long enough, may recall that other norksimps in South Korea, the Korean Teachers’ Union, produced an equally sickening video for schoolchildren before the 2005 APEC Forum in Busan, featuring replays of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, set to “What a Wonderful World.”  A theme seems to be emerging.

I’m sure that all across the more progressive quarters of this world, there are fevered minds with room enough for the conflicting lunacies that the Jews and neocons pulled off 9/11, and also that on 9/11, nineteen great martyrs fulfilled a divine mandate of vengeance against toddlers, flight attendants, and office workers.  Similarly, there’s clearly some market in some quarters of Korea for fantasies of North Korea’s peaceful satellites destroying American cities.  I hope that market is a whole lot smaller than it was a decade ago.

If nothing else, it’s a useful reminder that the North Koreans aren’t just fucking around.  We already know what they’re capable of, morally speaking.  Faster, please.

So … does this mean KCNA believes in unicorns?

America’s finest news source, The Onion, is presented as parody but can be mistaken for reality.  North Korea’s finest news source, KCNA, is presented as reality but can be mistaken for parody.  But if you compare the best work of each news source, KCNA is clearly funnier:

Pyongyang, November 29 (KCNA) — Archaeologists of the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences have recently reconfirmed a lair of the unicorn rode by King Tongmyong, founder of the Koguryo Kingdom (B.C. 277-A.D. 668).

The lair is located 200 meters from the Yongmyong Temple in Moran Hill in Pyongyang City. A rectangular rock carved with words “Unicorn Lair” stands in front of the lair. The carved words are believed to date back to the period of Koryo Kingdom (918-1392).

Jo Hui Sung, director of the Institute, told KCNA:

“Korea’s history books deal with the unicorn, considered to be ridden by King Tongmyong, and its lair.

The Sogyong (Pyongyang) chapter of the old book ‘Koryo History’ (geographical book), said: Ulmil Pavilion is on the top of Mt. Kumsu, with Yongmyong Temple, one of Pyongyang’s eight scenic spots, beneath it. The temple served as a relief palace for King Tongmyong, in which there is the lair of his unicorn.

The old book ‘Sinjungdonggukyojisungnam’ (Revised Handbook of Korean Geography) complied in the 16th century wrote that there is a lair west of Pubyok Pavilion in Mt. Kumsu.

The discovery of the unicorn lair, associated with legend about King Tongmyong, proves that Pyongyang was a capital city of Ancient Korea as well as Koguryo Kingdom.”  [KCNA, Nov. 29, 2012]

Unlike the Editor of The Peoples’ Daily, I’ve paused to ask myself, “Can they really be serious?”   S.T.A.L.I.N. search of KCNA’s archives reveals previous references to unicorns, but in those cases, KCNA characterized them as “mythical,” and this report does use the word “legend.”  Perhaps North Korea is throwing a lifeline to its embarrassed Chinese sponsors by planting this cunning and cryptic parody in the U.S. press, although if there’s any place you’d expect to see parody in North Korea, this isn’t it.  (The North Koreans are deadly serious about establishing Pyongyang as the historical capital of a unified Korea.)  Or perhaps KCNA is offering us scientific evidence that King Tongmyong deceived his people with myths and legends about himself … to bolster the credibility of its own historical claims.  Or perhaps they’re telling people to believe in freaking unicorns!

I know I’ve been a little hard on KCNA for its faked photographs, its calls to slit the throat of the President of South Korea, and its attribution of supernatural powers to Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un, but not even I can deny that KCNA reports like this one provide us unique and exclusive access to a world no one else is showing us.  As Jean H. Lee recently put it:

Even though the images and words that the AP produces from Pyongyang are clearly shaped and influenced by the regime, Lee defended her bureau’s presence against accusations from media critics that it is serving the interests of a brutal regime rather than investigating the truth about starvation and a vast gulag system. “Some critics don’t want us there,” she said. “But isn’t it better that we are there? We try to get on the ground to see what’s happening. We have to flesh out the narrative.”

Who, me? I want the crack AP-KCNA Truth Squad right where it can tell us what a keun of unicorn flesh sells for in Chongjin today! Far better that we know just the officially-shaped part of the story of North Korea’s unique biodiversity than none at all! Surely there’s a fragile ecosystem here that requires protection through a generous U.N. grant.  So far, however, the AP hasn’t put this exclusive KCNA report on the wires.  I hope they dare to believe in their sweet dreams, because nothing cloaks a news agency in an air of global respectability like shouting “Look! Unicorn!” to the whole world. 

Speaking of which, who else has noticed how quiet the AP’s Pyongyang Journal has been recently?  The last report hosted there is this (seriously, no-kidding) excellent October 7th report from Tim Sullivan.  Sullivan has published at least one other report since then, about the supposed popularity of “Gone With The Wind” in Pyongyang.

Hat tip to (no, not The OnionChico Harlan’s Twitter feed.

ChiComs Behaving Stoopidly: Peoples’ Daily Falls for The Onion’s Award to Kim Jong Un of “Sexiest Man Alive”

As funny as I thought the original parody was at the time, it’s infinitely funnier when humorless authoritarian propagandists don’t realize it’s a parody and put it on Page One.  And while the Onion guys aren’t exactly ruthless in the we-send-children-to-the-gulags-on-Mondays-and-Thursdays sense, they didn’t show the Peoples’ Daily much mercy with this hat tip:

UPDATE: For more coverage on The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive 2012, Kim Jong-Un, please visit our friends at the People’s Daily in China, a proud Communist subsidiary of The Onion, Inc. Exemplary reportage, comrades.

For demonstrative reference, here’s the Sexy Man himself hitting the gym with a cancer stick clutched in one claw and the pitiful Ri Sol Ju in the other, looking like the victim of the tentacle monster in that Japanese anime flick you won’t admit watching:

I’d sell my body behind a bus station for video of that self-criticism session.  See also Isaac Stone Fish in Foreign Policy and our good friends at the Associated Press.

And in other news that no doubt has the Fifty Cent Party working overtime, a sex tape of a Chinese official bedding an 18 year-old woman has gone viral.  The tape was made five years ago, most likely by the would-be government contractors who hired the woman to “entertain” the official, to ensure that once bought, he’d stay bought.  It’s telling that such precautions are necessary.  Really, if you can’t trust a corrupt, adulterous pervert overlord of an unaccountable oligarchy, who can you trust?

Frankly, I’m beginning to question all that Thomas Friedman-style “realist” masochism about the superiority of Chinese statecraft, its harmonious public order, and its sophisticated use of non-interventionist Soft Power.  Could it be that they’re really just a bunch of bumbling, mirthless goons with nuclear weapons?

Most Unfortunate North Korean Photo Op Ever: The Kim Jong Un Workout Video!

Holy mother of Zeus. No matter how many times I watch this, I can’t believe they actually filmed it. On purpose.

It’s wrong to laugh, but sometimes I can’t help myself.

Hat tip: Chico Harlan.