Monday, March 30, 2009

King of the Fruitcakes

At the Arab summit meeting in Qatar, Libya's Moammar Gaddafi announced, "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Actually, he didn't say that. Instead he said, "I am an international leader, the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam (leader) of Muslims, and my international status does not allow me to descend to a lower level," Gadhafi said. He then got up and walked out of the summit hall.

Maybe he should have said the former instead as that way he could later claim he was just joking.

Eating Problem

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ichiro's Big Fan

One fan offers his reflections on Japan's victory in the World Baseball Classic here. He shows tremendous respect for Ichiro Suzuki who he says is "no doubt, the best batter in the world" and has some words of encouragement for the nation hosting it: "The U.S. team was brilliant in its absence. The multinationals which exploit the sport lost nothing and gained much. The American people are grumbling."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fighting Fire with Fire

Japan's Defence Minister, Yasukazu Hamada, has given permission for SDF to shoot down North Korea's Taepodong. Among the weapons that are being deployed is the PAC-3 or Patriot missile, which will hopefully be more effective than the Patriot missiles used by Israel to defend against Saddam Hussein's Scuds in 1991. There is doubt that they managed to shoot down even one Scud!

This blog shows the missile's likely flight path given the air routes that North Korea is closing between April 4th and April 8th.


Monday, March 23, 2009

I Know Her!

I met two of the women in this video. This young lady was in the Fatherland Liberation War Museum.
The second woman in the video met us at the Juche Tower. Her English happens to be quite good.


Potemkin Ballot Boxes?

Having looked at some You Tube videos of the 2007 elections in the DPRK I notice that the same voting station appears again and again. My own photograph was taken and appears in the English language newspaper, The Pyongyang Times, for that week. This is interesting because I wonder if it is the only place where a pantomime of democracy was staged? Given the fact that the official news organs broadcast 100 percent turnouts this would seem to be very counterproductive propaganda. I would think that even the most brutal totalitarian states (of which the DPRK is surely one) it would make no sense for the state to tell everyone they had voted when they would know that they had not.
So, does the whole country go through the motions of rubber-stamping the only candidate they are allowed to or does only a fraction of the population get to do even that?


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let them eat pasta!

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's instruction orders up an Italian restaurant
A pro-Pyongyang newspaper says North Korea has opened an Italian restaurant at the instruction of its leader Kim Jong Il.

Tokyo-based Choson Sinbo newspaper said Saturday it's the first time a restaurant specializing in Italian dishes has opened in the capital Pyongyang.


Choson Sinbo is the newspaper affiliated with Chongryon, the association for Korean residents in Japan who are aligned with North Korea. They'll have more chance of getting to eat at the restaurant than most North Koreans if they get a chance to visit on a school trip.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ex-Spy Meets Abductee's Family

Read my review of Kim Hyun Hee's Tears of My Soul here

PUSAN--Former North Korean spy Kim Hyon Hui said Wednesday she believes Japanese abductee Yaeko Taguchi is still alive, bringing hope to the missing woman's son and family members of others taken to North Korea.
Taguchi's son, Koichiro Iizuka, 32, after meeting Kim here, said her words gave "new hope for our efforts" to rescue those forcibly taken by the reclusive state.
Taguchi was abducted by North Korean agents in 1978 and was forced to teach Japanese to Kim in Pyongyang for 12/3 years from 1981. In 2002, Pyongyang reported that Taguchi had died in July 1986.
Kim, 47, who was convicted of blowing up a Korean Air jet in 1987, killing 115 people on board, met Koichiro and his adopted father, Shigeo Iizuka, 70, who is Taguchi's brother.
The 11/2-hour meeting, held at a convention hall under heavy security, was the first between Kim and an abductee's family.
Kim, who was sentenced to death for the Korean Air bombing but later pardoned, had not made a public appearance since 1997, when she got married.
When Kim met the two around 11 a.m., she greeted Shigeo and then embraced Koichiro, telling him in Japanese: "You have grown big. You look like your mother. I wanted to see you sooner."
Kim, with tears in her eyes, told Koichiro that one day he would meet his mother.
Koichiro was just 1 year old when Taguchi disappeared. She was 22.
In a news conference after the meeting, Shigeo Iizuka thanked Kim for "clearly testifying to the existence of Yaeko Taguchi."
He went on to say, "I hope this meeting will be a good opportunity to advance Japan and South Korea's efforts to resolve the abduction issue."
At a Japan-North Korea summit in 2002, Pyongyang admitted its agents had abducted Japanese; it said five abductees were alive but eight others, including Taguchi, were dead.
But Kim said she heard between January and October 1987 in North Korea that Taguchi had been moved to another location, leading her to believe the abductee was still alive.
Taguchi was also reportedly sighted in October 1986, three months after Pyongyang said she died. There has also been a report she married a South Korean abductee.
But Kim told the news conference she had never heard whom Taguchi had married. She also said she thinks another abductee, Megumi Yokota, is alive. However, she did not give any specific supporting evidence of either woman's survival.
Pyongyang has denied Taguchi was Kim's Japanese teacher, who taught under the Korean name Lee Un Hae. The North also denies any involvement in the Korean Air bombing.
The meeting was arranged after Kim expressed her hope to see the Iizukas in January, and the family asked the Japanese and South Korean governments for mediation.
The Iizukas, who learned of Taguchi's fate only after Kim's arrest, have for years sought a chance to talk to her to find out about Taguchi's life in North Korea.
"Kim said Yaeko-san, my mother, is alive. She also said she would become my Korean mother. I am very pleased," Koichiro said.
Kim told the news conference Koichiro reminded her of his mother.
"How I wish Taguchi were here with us," she said.
Kim, who has not met any of the Korean Air bombing's bereaved families, said "a miracle can happen" if efforts are made to regain abductees, while respecting the North's "pride."

Asahi Shimbun

This seems to be being reported as a happy ending , but it is a little bizarre given that Kim Hyong-Hee can have no real basis for saying that Yaeko Taguchi is still alive given that it was more than twenty years ago since she last saw her. The North Korean government shouldn't be trusted on anything it says, without corroboration, however. For years they denied that they had abducted anyone and still now their explanation of the abductions aren't trustworthy.

Abduction Discrepencies

Monday, March 09, 2009

North Korea's Satellites of Love

One of the more bizarre "attractions" that I visited in Pyongyang was the planetarium at the Electronics Industry Hall of the Three-Revolution Exhibition. The official guide pamphlet revels in some apparently impressive statistics:

The "globe-shaped object" representing Saturn is 48 metres in diameter! The Three-Revolution Exhibition has a floor space of 80,000 square metres! The halls are arranged symmetrically on both sides of a main road that is over 100 metres wide! The exhibition features 230,000 items of over 23,000 kinds of products and materials!

The planetarium's show itself was a disorienting experience. Perhaps due to something I had eaten for breakfast I was already feeling a little lightheaded before the lights went out and some hypnotic faux-futuristic moog music began to play. The show wasn't much different to those in planetariums elsewhere (as far as I remember there were also "Courtesy of NASA" labels below each of the planets) except the woman narrating the show had unusually flat intonation which combined with the music, the darkness and almost empty cavern we were sitting in made the experience slightly eerie. Remembering the fact that we were also at the mercy of the world's most isolated country didn't help the anxiety very much either. At one point I was disconcerted to hear what sounded like escaping gas which made me think of the way in which Goldfinger had killed his criminal accomplices (what more fitting way for the Kim Jong-il regime to dispense with some foreign visitors just for the hell of it?). The finale even looked like that of a James Bond film in which an illuminated outline of a Taepodong missile took off and flew across the interior wall until out popped a little blob of light which spun round the room at increasingly dizzying speeds and pinging a message in Morse code.

The little blob of light was the Kwangmyongsong No.1 satellite that supposedly circles the Earth to this day playing the "Song of General Kim Il-sung". The 1998 launch is a point of pride in North Korea and features heavily in propaganda, on stamps and at the Mass Games but in Japan, and internationally, it is remembered as a sabre-rattling act of provocation with the Taepodong flying across Japan landing in the Pacific Ocean (the planetarium showed a different trajectory with the rocket completely missing the Japanese archipelago). If the satellite ever had existed it seems likely that it either never made it into space and/or probably plopped into the sea.

With the expected launch of another North Korean missile (and, indeed, the Kwangmyongsong No.2!) Japan has warned North Korea that a missile flying into Japanese airspace will be shot down.

North Korea's Central News Agency has been particularly bellicose in its response:

We will retaliate any act of intercepting our satellite for peaceful purposes with prompt counter strikes by the most powerful military means.

If the enemies recklessly opt for intercepting our satellite, our revolutionary armed forces will launch without hesitation a just retaliatory strike operation not only against all the interceptor means involved but against the strongholds of the U.S. and Japanese aggressors and the south Korean puppets who hatched plots to intercept it.

Shooting our satellite for peaceful purposes will precisely mean a war.

Kim Hyun-Hee

Read my review of Kim Hyun-Hee's book, Tears of My Soul

The surviving bomber of Korean Air flight 858 in 1987 has described her feelings before meeting the family of Yaeko Taguchi, a Japanese abduction victim she claims was her teacher in North Korea. Kim Hyun-hee (47) sent a letter to Japan's Sankei Shimbun daily.
Kim, now rehabilitated and married in South Korea, claimed her life under the previous administration was that of a "refugee," but said she was now "full of happiness as the day is approaching" when she meets Taguchi's family. "I believe the upcoming meeting will not merely make me happy but providing an opportunity for South Korea and Japan to further understand and cooperate with each other," she said.

Kim pointed out that there has been no progress since former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi visited North Korea in 2002 in the matter of Japanese citizens abducted during North Korea's bizarre campaign of the 1970s and 80s to acquire trainers for its spies.

But she added, "Sincerity moves heaven, as the old saying goes. Just as the day is approaching when I meet Taguchi's family, so I wish that the Japanese government will open the door to North Korea's heart to make it possible for the press to report, 'Finally, Taguchi meets her family.'"

Earlier, the Asahi Shimbun reported that Kim and Taguchi's family would likely meet in Busan on March 11. If they do, Kim is expected to show up at a press conference that would be her first public appearance since her arrest after the bombing of the KAL flight that killed all 115 people on board.

Kim has in recent months fired an emotional salvo of letters at the press insisting she really was the bomber and not part of a cover-up orchestrated by South Korean intelligence, as one conspiracy theory has it.

Chosun Ilbo

North Korean Passports

Who has the most freedom to travel?

DANES faced the fewest restrictions on travel in 2008: they were able to visit 157 countries or territories without a visa according to an annual report by Henley & Partners, a consultancy. The Irish, Finns and Portuguese were only marginally less welcome abroad, with visa-free travel available to 156 countries. Those with the least freedom were citizens of countries suffering from war, terrorism or repression. South Koreans could visit 144 countries, whereas North Koreans could visit just 29 countries—if only their government would let them out.


Japanese Taliban?

Police apologize over 'Taliban' comment to porphyria sufferer

YONAGO, Tottori -- A high school student who wears a veil due to a medical condition was stopped and verbally abused by a police officer, who asked him if he was a member of the Taliban, it's been learned.

Tottori police apologized for the officer's actions at the Tottori Prefectural Assembly on Friday, saying the officer acted and behaved inappropriately.
The 18-year-old student, who attends a high school in the Tottori Prefecture city of Sakaiminato, suffers from porphyria, a condition which causes pain when his skin is exposed to sunlight.

The officer from Yonago Police Station stopped the boy as he was riding double on a bicycle near JR Yonago Station on Oct. 28 last year, accusing him of being "strangely-dressed" and asking him, "Are you a Taliban member?"

The chief of the prefectural police headquarters later admitted that he was stopped because the veil looked suspicious, not because he was riding double.

The head of Yonago Police Station apologized to the student and his family, and the prefectural police headquarters reportedly sent a DVD explaining the condition to all police stations.

The student's 21-year-old brother also suffers from the condition, and met with Tottori Gov. Shinji Hirai, seeking support in obtaining signatures to have the condition designated an intractable disease. The student's brother said the problem had been caused by a lack of understanding about the illness, adding that he wanted a lot of people to learn about it. The governor replied that he would make a request to the central government seeking official designation.

Mainichi Shimbun

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Guido Goering

Well, I have made a modification to the "X is Hitler" theme that I have used to such devastating effect before. In this case, I've gone for the much more interesting "Y is Goering" formula. Unfortunately, it is not easy for someone of my limited cartoonist skills to depict a caricature of someone as Goering but I've used the idea that he was a transvestite and that he was a bit fat and run with that.

I actually have no idea if the person in the picture is Guido Fawkes who I am attempting a lame parody of because of his nasty post on the death of some old Labour politician who I thought had died years ago, but I'll just assume it is.

Incidentally, I was reading a review of an Arthur Koestler biography in the Economist just yesterday and naturally, Michael Foot got a mention.

Amazing coincidence, that!