The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'north korea'
The Forbidden Railway: the story of an unescorted journey by train from Vienna, through Russia, and to North Korea over a route officially off limits to tourists, by two rail travel enthusiasts—one Austrian and one Swiss. Includes plenty of photographs and details about the journey and the places encountered.
Kim Jong Il, the God-Emperor of North Korea, is dead, apparently having suffered a heart attack aboard his private train whilst on the way to offer guidance to workers. All of North Korea has reportedly erupted in mass hysterical wailing as the people are struck by the enormity of their loss and/or the consequences of being insufficiently emphatic in their grief. Meanwhile, the rest of the leadership is off the hook over its pledge to make North Korea prosperous by 2012; if the death of Kim Il Sung is any precedent, there will be a three-year period of national mourning and austerity.
What follows the death of Kim Jong Il is less certain; while there is no official designated successor, his son Kim Jong-un seems to be positioned as the likely candidate, with the state news agency instructing the nation to "faithfully revere" him. Whether the newly ascended God-Emperor will seek a rapprochement with the outside world or to consolidate his stature with belligerent acts, or indeed whether there will be a leadership struggle of any sort within the politburo, remains to be seen.
It is perhaps ironic that, over the past few days, we have witnessed the death of a prominent atheist and critic of despots, then that of a dissident playwright who led the dismantling of a Communist regime and its replacement by a democracy, and finally that of a nominally Communist dictator venerated as a living god. Almost as if there was a god and s/he was hosting a panel show.
Sabotage is suspected in North Korea as a train packed with luxury goods for the God-Emperor-in-waiting has derailed near the Chinese border:
Open Radio for North Korea, a non-profit station which often cites sources in the North, said the train, laden with presents including televisions and watches, came off the rails near North Korea's border with China on 11 December.
"The tracks and rail beds are so old it is possible there was decay in the wood or nails that secured the tracks could have been dislodged, but the extent of damage to the tracks, and the timing of the incident, points to a chance that someone intentionally damaged the tracks," the source said.Chances are someone will be executed for this, after making a full confession, even if it is only the result of decaying infrastructure.
A mobile games company, now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., has been hiring North Korean companies to code their games, which include a bowling game based around the Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski.
It's ironic to see Murdoch, that great American patriot, doing business with the Axis of Evil. One does also wonder what was going through the minds of the North Korean programmers working on the game, with no exposure to the internet, the original film or any of the cultural references connected to it. (Apparently the only people with any connections to the outside world at the game development shop were foreigners assigned to oversee things.)
What happened to the North Korean football team after they displeased the God-Emperor by failing to bring home the World Cup? It seems that they have gotten off lightly, merely being reprimanded for six hours for "failing in the ideological struggle". The team captain, in particular, escaped being sent to a labour camp, getting away with merely being forced to become a builder and stripped of his party membership.
When North Korea played at the World Cup, part of the audience was its football fans. Only they weren't North Korean or football fans. The North Korean authorities decided that they couldn't risk the possibility of any North Koreans defecting once outside their national borders, and thus recruited Chinese "volunteers" to attend matches, play the roles of North Korean football fans and give the impression of North Korea being a normal country with sports fans who travel to follow their team. Only, being the kingdom of the world's last God-Emperor, they left nothing to chance; the volunteers were recruited individually by their government, and conductors were on hand to direct their cheering:
One Brazilian fan said: "I spoke with them. They had come from Beijing and knew nothing about football or the World Cup. They said they were supporting their Communist cousins and were happy to be there."
An excerpt from Fonts and Encodings, by Yannis Haralambous, sheds light on what happens when the kingdom of the world's last god-emperor meets technical standardisation processes:
North Korea is said to have abolished the ideographic characters, yet the first North Korean encoding, KPS 9566-97 of 1997, contained 4,653 ideographic characters as well as 2,679 hangul characters and 927 other characters. This encoding was inspired by the South Korean one but presents certain incompatibilities. In addition, positions 0x0448 to 0x044D fulfill an important state purpose: they contain the names of honorable party president Kim Il-sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-il . . . a funny way to achieve immortality.The Wikipedia page on the North Korean character set standard is here.
In another bid for hard currency, North Korea has opened a chain of restaurants abroad. Named Pyongyang, the restaurants serve Korean specialties like kimchi, cold noodle and dog soup, feature harshly bright lighting and monumental landscape paintings (though no overt propaganda), and are staffed by waitresses chosen for their prettiness and loyalty, who live in captivity on the premises and perform synchronised dances for the patrons. Photography is forbidden in the restaurants, presumably for the sake of authenticity.
"The restaurants are used to earn additional money for the government in Pyongyang—at the same time as they were suspected of laundering proceeds from North Korea's more unsavory commercial activities," he says. "Restaurants and other cash-intensive enterprises are commonly used as conduits for wads of bills, which banks otherwise would not accept as deposits."
In 2006 and 2007, Daily NK reported several incidents in which waitresses from North Korean restaurants in China's Shandong and Jilin provinces tried to defect, forcing the closure of the operations. Kim Myung Ho added that two or three DPRK security agents live onsite at each restaurant to "regulate" the workers and that any attempts at flight result in the immediate repatriation of the entire staff.Pyongyang restaurants have operated along the southern border of China for years, though have now expanded to the tourist trails of Thailand and Cambodia.
(via Boing Boing)
Some years ago, North Korea invited South Korean companies to build a tourist resort at Mount Kumgang. The resort operated for a number of years, until a South Korean tourist was shot dead by guards on a nearby beach, and the South Koreans suspended tours. Now North Korea has a strategy to revive its tourism industry in its own inimitable style, by threatening to seize South Korean assets unless tourism is resumed.
A travel correspondent from the Guardian visits North Korea:
I've been allowed in as "a travel consultant" and in this capacity I'm happy to report that visiting North Korea is surely one of the greatest holidays on earth. You will see only what everyone else who goes to North Korea sees: which is what the North Korean government wants you to see. In this, it reminds me of Hello! magazine. I've always marvelled at how celebrities, given editorial control, choose to portray themselves. And so it is with North Korea. You may not get to see the "real" North Korea, but this "unreal" North Korea is a fascinating thing in and of itself. Because this is tourism at its most perfected. It's like a cruise ship. Every minute of every day has been pre-formulated and it's beautifully worked out: from the €5 charge if you want to try the national speciality, dog soup, to the man with a video camera who follows our every move, and at the end of the tour produces a DVD of our visit set to martial victory music, and sells it back to us for €40 a pop.
There's another travelogue to North Korea, this time from The Times:
Superficially, Pyongyang is an impressive and agreeable city, but its cleanliness, orderliness and majesty are consequences of the oppression at the heart of North Korean life.
The four days that The Times spent there were a packed tour of monuments, each one a shrine to the Great and the Dear Leader. There was the Mangyongdae Schoolchildren’s Palace, where prodigies staged a faultless performance of songs, dances and music in praise of Kim Jong Il and his father. There was the Grand Monument to Kim Il Sung, a 20m (66ft) bronze statue of the man who, even in death, remains the official head of state.
This is the reason why the air in Pyongyang is so clean and you can see the stars — industry has ground to a halt, there are fuel shortages and not enough electricity to light the streets.The article also has an interesting photo slide show.
Google Earth scores another scalp; thanks to its satellite imagery, a group of amateurs has been able to build up a comprehensive picture of North Korea, thwarting the hermit kingdom's hermetic borders. The picture is, as one might expect, not a pretty one:
Among the most notable findings is the site of mass graves created in the 1990s following a famine that the UN estimates killed about 2 million people. "Graves cover entire mountains," Melvin said.
The palaces housing dictator Kim Jong Il and his inner circle, clearly shown on the maps, contain Olympic-size swimming pools with giant waterslides and golf courses.The data is available as a Google Earth layer, peppered with detailed landmarks, from the project's web site. While Google Earth was crucial to it, other information sources, from sketches by defectors and escapees to the North Korean state press's own carefully circumscribed reports of the
The authors of the data have notified North Korean embassies about it but, for some reason, received no response.
Meanwhile, OpenStreetMap has actual maps of North Korea (sometimes even with labels); here, for example, is central Pyongyang.
Speculation is rising over the health of the autocratic leader of a secretive polity after announcements that he won't be making annual public appearances. This time, it's not North Korean CEO Kim Jong-Il, but Apple God-Emperor Steve Jobs:
Several Apple employees contacted by Wired.com have reported that they haven't seen Jobs since the company announced the CEO would not appear for a Macworld keynote. Jobs generally isn't very visible in public, but the employees said they haven't seen him on campus recently, either.
A Japanese expert on North Korea claims that the secretive cult-state's God-Emperor Kim Jong-Il died of diabetes in 2003, and has since been played by several doubles, who have made public appearances and conducted international negotiations in his guise:
He believes that Kim, fearing assassination, had groomed up to four lookalikes to act as substitutes at public events. One underwent plastic surgery to make his appearance more convincing. Now, the expert claims, the actors are brought on stage whenever required to persuade the masses that Kim is alive.
One of its principal claims is that a voiceprint analysis of Kim’s speech at a 2004 meeting with Junichiro Koizumi, then the Japanese prime minister, did not match an authenticated earlier recording.If this is true, who controls the doubles? Do they rule the country themselves like some kind of freakish quadrumvirate, or are they kept under control by some shadowy true leader?
Also, it should be noted that, if this is true, it's not as great a leap as one might think. North Korea's "Great Leader" remains the late Kim Il-Sung; Kim Jong-Il (whilst officially credited with godlike powers) is merely the "Dear Leader", serving as a sort of viceroy in the absence (and the spectral shadow) of his father. If KJI has now popped his clogs, that merely takes it one step further.
So now North Korea is ruled by two godlike beings not present on this Earth, or rather by their representatives, and is essentially a somewhat novel theocracy. One could probably call it a necrocracy.
The secretive totalitarian state of North Korea, the last place on Earth ruled by a God-Emperor, has made a technological breakthrough, developing a noodle which delays feelings of hunger:
"When you consume ordinary noodles (made from wheat or corn), you may soon feel your stomach empty. But this soybean noodle delays such a feeling of hunger," it said on its website.This is not North Korea's first invention in the field of nutritional technology (some five years earlier, they invented the computer drink), though does suggest a heightened desperation to feed a starving people (or at least a hungry soldiery required to keep those people from rising up). Though presumably once that's taken care of, the North Koreans can look forward to export income from Westerners concerned about their weight.
The Olympic torch relay, dogged by protests against Chinese government policies across its journey, has finally had a smooth, protest-free run—in North Korea, where it was met by thousands of North Koreans waving flags in perfect unison, with absolutely no sign of protest:
"We express our basic position that while some impure forces have opposed China's hosting of the event and have been disruptive. We believe that constitutes a challenge to the Olympic idea," Pak said.
A harrowing account of the life of an escapee from a North Korean gulag, a particularly brutal one reserved for those who fought for the south and their descendants:
Shin, now 24, was a political prisoner by birth. From the day he was born in 1982 in Camp No. 14 in Kaechon until he escaped in 2005, Shin had known no other life. Guards beat children, tortured grandparents and, in cases like Shin's, executed family members. But Shin said it did not occur to him to hate the authorities. He assumed everyone lived this way.
Shin "is a living example of the most brutal form of human rights abuse," said Yoon Yeo Sang, president of Database Center for North Korean Human Rights in Seoul, where Shin is taking temporary shelter. "He comes from a place where people are deprived of their ability to have the most basic human feelings, such as love, hatred and even a sense of being sad or mistreated."
During the interrogations he learned for the first time that his father's family belonged to a "hostile class" - a category that entailed punishment over three generations - because his uncles had collaborated with the South Korean Army during the Korean War.In other news from the Glorious People's Democracy that is North Korea, the government there has banned karaoke bars, to "prevent the ideological and cultural permeation of anti-socialism". The surprising thing is that they had karaoke bars in the first place.
The Grauniad has a photographic piece on the first railway crossing between North and South Korea in 57 years:
The last time a train attempted to cross was on New Year's Eve in 1950, when the line was used by thousands of refugees fleeing an advance by Chinese and North Korean troops. Their journey came to an abrupt halt when US soldiers riddled the steam water tank with bullet holes. The tracks were destroyed to slow the progress of the communist forces.
Today's test run is seen as a step towards closer economic ties between rich, open South Korea and the poor, isolated North. It is hoped that the lines will eventually link to the Trans-Siberian railway and allow connections spanning more than 5,000 miles from London to Seoul.
Hundreds are dead or missing as floods hit North Korea. I wonder if the death toll was exacerbated by North Koreans feeling compelled to save their portraits of the Dear Leader or die trying.
Could this be the creepiest building in existence? The Ryugyong Hotel, a gigantic jagged, windowless edifice that stands balefully in the middle of Pyongyang like a Mordorian volcano. It was to have 3,000 rooms, far more than there would be demand for, and was started in response to a South Korean firm completing a hotel in Singapore; construction cost an estimated 2% of North Korea's GDB, and was halted in 1992. To this day, the unfinished hotel is omitted from maps of Pyongyang and North Koreans will strenuously deny any knowledge of it, despite its gargantuan bulk being visible from anywhere in Pyongyang.
(via The Fix)
An interesting NYTimes article on how mobile phones (many donated by South Korean journalists) and video recorders (which have become cheap as Chinese consumers adopt DVD players) are breaking down North Korea's barriers of isolation:
"In the 1960's in the Soviet Union, it was cool to wear blue jeans and listen to rock and roll," said Andrei Lankov, a Russian exchange student in the North at Kim Il Sung University in 1985, who now teaches about North Korea at Kookmin University here in the South. "Today, it is cool for North Koreans to look and behave South Korean, as they do in the television serials. That does not bode well for the long-term survival of the regime."
(Tangent: as Western pop music infiltrated Russia, it produced bizarre hybrids; porn-metal bands like Korozia Metalla and evil-sounding electronic noise acts and things like t.A.t.U. All of which makes one wonder what North Korean popular music will be like when the regime collapses. Assuming that it collapses without making North Korea (or, indeed, much of the Pacific Rim) into a radioactive crater.)
The North Korean government isn't taking this lying down: they've bought radio-location devices for detecting mobile phone signals. Meanwhile, to combat the video recorder menace (which, it would seem, is to repressive hermit-states what the Boston Strangler is to... never mind), the North Korean police simply switch off the power to areas, a block at a time, and inspect the tapes stuck in video recorders for subversive content. Those caught are probably executed if they're lucky, or used in hideous experiments if they're not. And Kim Jong Il has good reason to fear:
"They are gradually learning about South Korean prosperity," Dr. Lankov said. "This is a death sentence to the regime. North Korea's claim to legitimacy is based on its ability to deliver the worker's paradise now. What if everyone sees that it is not delivering?"
Australia has come in in 41st place in Reporters Without Borders' annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index; which is below all EU members, several other Eastern European countries, South Africa and Hong Kong; in contrast, New Zealand ranked ninth, only slightly below the 8 nations sharing first place. Australia's dismal showing has to do partly with restricted press access to refugees, though chances are that media ownership concentration, defamation laws and attempts to force journalists to reveal their sources have also contributed.
The bottom of the list is held, predictably, by North Korea (at #167), with Cuba just above it. Saudi Arabia is at #159, three places ahead of China, while Singapore is at #147. Brazil, a popular recent poster child of the Third Way, languishes at #66. The US's arrest of journalists at anti-Bush protests and restrictions on journalistic visas have knocked it down to #22. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Israel is at #36 (shared with Bulgaria), except in the occupied territories, where it is at #115 (shared with Gabon), though ahead of the Palestinian Authority (#127, slightly better than Egypt and Somalia).
First place is shared by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland.
Is Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Moonies cult, sponsor of religious conservatives across the US and Congressionally-crowned "King of Peace" also providing nuclear submarines to North Korea, giving them the capability to strike California? If so, he's quite the James Bond villain.
North Korea bans mobile phones, shortly after encouraging the few foreign business travellers in Pyongyang to use the devices. Meanwhile, South Korea's phone carriers merely configured their phones to destroy uploaded MP3 files after 72 hours, in an effort to placate the recording industry. It failed, and the pigopolists are suing the phone carrier anyway. (via Techdirt)
North Korea's state-run media claimed that many of the 161 people who died in last week's train explosion devoted their last moments to saving portraits of the Dear Leader. Which is not implausible, given that people have been sent to the gulags for accidentally defacing said portraits; think of the risk if you survived but your portrait of Kim Jong Il didn't...
Two trains laden with fuel crash in North Korea; some 3,000 rumoured dead. North Korea cuts off international phone links to prevent news of the blast from emerging. Suspiciously enough, the blast happened shortly after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is said to have passed by rail through the station, returning from a visit to China, and not that long after a similar blast took place in fellow Axis of Evil member Iran. Coincidence? (via trayce@LJ)
North Korean defectors testify about weapons programme, government-run heroin export industry, suggesting that North Korea gets a big chunk of its funds from its heroin and methamphetamines industry, and that the government thereof is essentially the world's first nuclear-armed drug cartel (though given its penchant for kidnapping useful talent from overseas, that's not too surprising). Though weren't there rumours of the Soviets having massive opium plantations in their Asian republics to bring in hard currency in the '80s or so?
A few bits lifted from Techdirt. Firstly, secretive Stalinist cult-state North Korea has staked its claim to the Internet Age. The rigidly centralised, computer-poor nation claims to have invented the computer drink. Ah, good; we needed one of those.
But what it lacks in utility, it makes up for in entertainment value. The Ectaco Personal Translator proved the perfect icebreaker during a dinner party in rural France. It turned "thank you for the great dinner" into "it was disgusting," and "you are very beautiful" into "how much?" What better way to break the ice with a roomful of total strangers in a foreign country whose language you don't know?
An extensive unofficial fan site for the Pyongyang Metro, the underground railway system in the North Korean capital. (That's right, the last bastion of Stalinism (except perhaps for France, but only if you're a warblogger).) Here you will find photographs of colossal, and eerily empty, stations with massive propaganda murals and details (and recordings) of the propaganda music played in stations, as well as bits of political subterfuge (East German rail cars passed off as local) and details that could only exist in a tightly-run, ultra-paranoid totalitarian cult-state (for example, some stations being closed to the public because they're connected to presidential palaces, the military purposes of various underground lines, and hints at a second, secret Metro system known only to high government officials). Not to mention all the info about vehicles that any self-respecting trainspotter could want to know. (via bOING bOING)
The principle of preemptive self-defense gains more followers: North Korea assert its right to launch a preemptive nuclear strike on the US rather than waiting for the US to invade them after they've conquered Iraq:
"The United States says that after Iraq, we are next", said the deputy director Ri Pyong-gap, "but we have our own countermeasures. Pre-emptive attacks are not the exclusive right of the US."
Perhaps the sissified, effeminate world of multilateralism and negotiation wasn't so useless after all? Oh well, too late now.
George W. Bush's Axis of Evil as extreme holiday destination.
North Korea was nowhere near as tough as I thought it would be, but Cuba was a real disappointment because it's so touristy.
Iraq should be popular as Egypt as a tourist destination; it's got the Garden of Eden, the first ever city, the Hanging Gardens, yet hardly anyone visits.
On the third day (in Iran) three guys burst in while we were talking to some students. They took us back to the hotel and turned our rooms over. When they found cameras, tapes and tourist visas, they decided that we were spies.
Bush on North Korea: We Must Invade Iraq:
"For years, Kim Jong Il has acted in blatant disregard of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons, and last week, he rejected it outright," Bush told reporters after a National Security Council meeting on North Korea. "We cannot allow weapons of mass destruction to remain in the hands of volatile, unpredictable leaders. Which is exactly why we must act quickly and decisively against Saddam Hussein."
Gill called the discovery "a powerfully compelling refutation" of secular scientists' long-held assertion that dinosaurs lived on Earth millions of years before humans. "The fact that no human remains were found anywhere in the vicinity of the site of the skeleton serves as proof of the tyrannosaur's ferocity and huge appetite," Gill said.
An American tourist's account of North Korea, that bizarre bastion of fetishistic neo-Stalinism and insular paranoia.
The spectacle was something I'll never forget, though perhaps not for the reasons Mr. Huk and his countrymen intended. The show was so precise as to be robotic. No one outside the group, everyone buried within it. All done with a flair and focus that was chilling to behold. The model of mass unity that was being held up as proof of greatness and independence smacked of mindlessness. Of course everyone in the performance was human, with their own hopes, dreams and desires. This though was something to be eliminated, not tolerated or encouraged. These were things that still had to be rooted out in an effort to build the utopian, Juche-centered society. The zeal in Mr. Huk's voice spoke not of a country, but of a cult.
"Please don't invade us, Mr. Bush" The world's last hard-line Stalinist dictatorship, North Korea, has started a charm offensive to improve its image abroad. This includes talks with South Korea and tentative moves towards a market economy. Next up: Fidel Castro offers Nike use of his labour camps, and Moammar Ghadafi invites McDonalds to set up a franchise in Tripoli.
(Though if North Korea does open up somewhat, it could probably market itself as a Stalinist-retro-kitsch tourist destination, and make quite a bit of money from post-ironic hipsters.)
The world's last Stalinist dictatorship, North Korea is entering the IT marketplace. They have a booth at Comdex in China, though currently it has only computers pointing to North Korean websites and the ubiquitous posters of Kim Jong Il.
"The great general Kim Jong Il is devoted constantly" to information technology, Kim Ho, an official of North Korea's Academy of Sciences, said at a news conference. On Sunday and Monday, organisers say developers will display more than 100 products, from translation programs to video games.
I imagine that their range of video games would be pretty unique.
Looks like we're off to war with Iraq, Iran and North Korea next.
"For too long our culture has said `if it feels good, do it'," Mr Bush said. "Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: Let's roll."
Actually, "if it feels good, do it" sounds a lot like waging war, finding your approval ratings soaring, and then declaring war on three more states, don't you think?