WTF Friday, 1/22/2016

We have a lot to get through today, guys.

In addition to all their other great inventions/discoveries, North Korea announced that it has developed hangover-free alcohol. I’ll say this for them, they’ve got their research priorities right.

Tanzanian president John Magufuli believes, for some reason, that a nation-wide ban on miniskirts will be an effective means of combating the spread of HIV/AIDS.  (Update: The Tanzanian government has said that although “H.E. President Magufuli and his government are strong proponents of decent dressing”, reports of a mini-skirt ban were false. H/T: Felix Reimer.)

El Salvador’s government has asked its female citizens to please refrain from reproducing for the next two years to avoid birth defects caused by the Zika virus. (Note that there is no implication that El Salvador’s men might have a role to play in achieving a national pregnancy rate of zero.)

Oh, and apparently Sri Lanka has decided that a good use of police resources, and reasonable thing for a democracy to do, is to embark upon a nation-wide “crackdown on suspected lesbians“. Ugh.

And finally, if you missed this yesterday: discriminatory rules on blood and bone marrow donations from gay men are making it harder to save lives, for absolutely no good reason.

WTF Friday, 1/8/2016

Welcome to 2016, everyone. Here’s how the first week of the new year has gone:

North Korea says that it tested a hydrogen bomb, a technology that it totally, definitely, absolutely has. Other things North Korea claims to have include: a cure for Ebola, unicorns, and a functioning economy.

Ben Carson, who is somehow still a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, despite his militant ignorance of policy, politics, and interior design, humiliated a small child at a campaign event yesterday. If you don’t know that when you ask a roomful of 5th graders who the dumbest kid in the class is, they’re all going to point to the same kid, you’re probably not equipped to govern.

And in Gambia, perennial spouter-of-ridiculous-nonsense (and president) Yahya Jammeh has ordered all female civil servants to cover up their hair. The directive is presumably pursuant to his unilateral announcement last month that Gambia is now an Islamic republic. Because I guess that’s a thing the president can do.


Mass Atrocity Monday, 9/22/2014

Earlier this year, a commission of inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council issued a devastating report on human rights in North Korea. In addition to estimating that between 80,000 and 120,000 North Koreans are currently being held in prison camps, the commission found credible evidence of a host of abuses, including:

“extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

It concluded that these violations of human rights in North Korea were so grave, widespread, and systematic that they amounted to crimes against humanity. This is important for two reasons. First, it confirms what most of us suspected: North Koreans are living a nightmare of surveillance, starvation, and brutal repression. And second, the violations of their rights constitute international crimes that can be prosecuted.

Unsurprisingly, the North Korean government views things a little differently. In a lengthy report released last week on the Korean Central News Agency’s website, the “DPRK Association for Human Rights Studies” laid out its views on “the Government’s efforts for protecting and promoting human rights, realities, obstacles to its efforts in ensuring human rights, and status of implementation of its international obligations”.

Both the report and the KCNA site are nearly impenetrable, but I’ve taken one for the team and waded through them so you don’t have to. Here’s what I learned:

  • “Korea has four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter.”
  • “[I]ts area should be measured by cubic meters, not square meters.” (?)
  • “[T]he DPRK maintains that human rights is state sovereignty.”
  • “The law and decision on abolishing the taxation system turned DPRK into a tax-free country for the first time in history and firmly guaranteed the realization of the historic cause of completely freeing the Korean people from tax burdens.”
  • “As far as the annual ‘Report on Human Rights’ by the U.S. State Department is concerned, it is a document of vicious political provocation, aimed at slandering and insulting the sovereign states with the ‘human rights standards’ based on the American value.”
  • “Members of the ‘COI’ are despicable human rights abusers bribed by the U.S. and its allies to distort the facts and deliberately tarnish the image of a sovereign state.”

There’s quite a bit more on how horrible the Japanese, South Koreans, and Americans all are, including some impressively shameless attacks on the U.S.’s incarceration rates and wire-tapping policies. I really don’t recommend reading it. But I do recommend reflecting on what it means that the North Koreans bothered to write it in the first place.

Because amidst the vitriol and over-use of scare quotes, there’s a careful catalogue of the human rights ostensibly guaranteed by North Korean law, and the institutions established to provide and enforce them. There’s also repeated reference to the requirements of international human rights law, and the importance of upholding them. We could dismiss this as lip service. After all, it’s clearly disingenuous and doesn’t correspond to improvement in human rights conditions on the ground. But the North Koreans know that a resolution on their human rights situation will likely come before the UN General Assembly this fall and have already made an unprecedented statement that they will consider the recent recommendations of the Human Rights Council. This report, despite its absurdity, is another baby step towards engagement.

The Recently-Discovered Secret Diary of Kim Jong Un’s Ski Instructor, Alex

[For background, see here, here, here, and here]

Day 1:
“Ski instructor” is the best job in entire world. Today, sky was clear, powder was perfect … and yours truly was hired by group of NBA stars! Dennis Rodman! And other less famous NBA players whom I did not recognize! All v. exciting.

(Philosophical question: why is satisfaction of being excellent ski instructor less than satisfaction of being more awesome at skiing than “The Worm”?)

Day 2:
Love job! Best job job eversss. More Rodman skiings then brilliant night at bar with brilliant new friends Rodman and other new Korean friends. Me and Rodman going to start cover band singing Backstreet Boys songs, thing will be a big hit.

Tried to get Koreans to sing with us but they refused. Kept asking Rodman “are you sure he is the right one?” and showing him photos of something. Ridiculous questions, obviously am right one, was born to sing Backstreet’s Back. Koreans nice later though, bought me special drinks just for me. Serenaded my thanks: “I want it that way.”

Idea: other less-famous NBA players can be backup singers instead! Backstreet Backups hahahahaha.

Day 3:
Woke up. Splitting headache. Room unfamiliar.

Rodman came in with coffee and a bowl of rice. Coffee + rice quite good hangover remedy, as it turns out. (Suppose is not surprising that Rodman would know that.)

Asked Rodman where I am. He said “Still the Alps, man! Definitely still the Alps! Really.” Then laughed uproariously, left room.

Am not sure what was so funny re: Alps.

Day 4:
Peculiar day.

Went skiing with NBA friends again. To my great surprise, who should join our lesson but my former student Un-Pak! Taught Un-Pak years ago when he was just a chubby teen. Hadn’t seen him for years – one day he called to say that he couldn’t make it to ski lesson because he had to go home to Korea to run his family business. Asked him how Korea is. He said “you tell me!” and then giggled with Rodman. (????)

Strange thing, though: ski runs this afternoon v unfamiliar. And strangely empty. Didn’t see any other skiers all day. Views don’t look right either. Tried to find the Matterhorn, in order to orient self, but couldn’t. Rodman pointed at peak in the distance, and said “there it is, man, now will you stop asking so many questions?” but shape of that mountain appeared quite different from Matterhorn.

Also! Noticed that the signs that say “You are Totally in the Alps” and “Matterhorn This Way –>” were just posters taped over other signs, which were in Korean. When asked Un-Pak about this, he started shouting that this was a real ski resort, and pointing to all the “European” lift chairs and other equipment. Something about human rights, too.

So, to recap situation: woke up in unfamiliar room after long night of hard drinking with NBA stars and unknown Koreans. Head v. painful. Resort empty. Ski runs unfamiliar. Matterhorn wrong shape.

Pretty sure have figured out what is going on here.

Clearly, Rodman & Un-Pak have built a ski resort on newly-discovered Alp, and want self to join as partner, due to excellent ski-instructing prowess! Probably are waiting for right moment for big “reveal” of new resort catering to Korean tourists!

Will say nothing, so as not to spoil surprise.

Day 5:
Today Un-Pak brought more Koreans skiing with us, presumably investors in the resort. Bit of an odd day.

Other Koreans seemed quite unclear on “skiing” concept. Put on their skis, but just stood at top of the run, observing us. They applauded Un-Pak constantly, even when he fell down. (He clearly hasn’t skied much lately.) When I tried to explain to them, for educational purposes, that remaining upright is a key element of good skiing, they began to shout at me that I was violating their human rights.

Am not a lawyer, but if there was a human right to fall down while skiing, imagine I would have encountered it previously.

Tried to make conversation with them, but found it a struggle.  They kept bringing up strange hypotheticals, such as:

“Which do you think is better, having enough food to eat, or starving to death but knowing there is a world-class ski resort in your country?”

“Which would be worse, being executed by firing squad or by being devoured by hungry dogs?  What if you really like dogs, and wouldn’t want them to be hungry?”

“Which is a more important human right, access to imported ski lift equipment, or access to nuclear weapons?”

Perhaps they have downloaded a new version of Cards Against Humanity.  Must remember to check that out next time am online.

Day 6:
Worried may have upset Un-Pak and Korean investors. While on ski lift this morning, attempted to demonstrate ease with Korean culture by casually mentioning that several previous ski-instruction clients live in Seoul, and suggesting we all visit them there.

Response was not as hoped. Perhaps “I hear Seoul is lovely this time of year” sounds similar to a mortal insult in Korean? Investors recoiled, and began to look around frantically to see if anyone else had heard.

Confusion only increased throughout day. Later, one of the investors who initially seemed insulted by Seoul comment (think is named Tong?) sidled up and said quietly “yes Seoul is lovely in winter, I too have many friends there.” If that is true, why initial horrified reaction?

Still, was happy to be building alliance with Tong. Is my understanding, from watching The Apprentice, that alliances are v. important in business.

At lunch, attempted to extend new alliance with Tong to other investors. Turned to others at table, and said “Tong and I are making plans to visit some clients of mine in Seoul this winter. Why don’t you all come along?”

Tong must have wanted me all to himself, because when I made my offer to others, he got a funny expression on his face. Left table without a word! Other investors began talking amongst selves in low voices, in Korean. Rude, if you ask me.

Attempting to stay cheery by keeping mind on ski-resort opportunity. Rudeness of investors unimportant in face of potential career success. Shall be resort mogul! Perhaps own branded ski-wear line for Korean market? (Un-Pak and investors inexplicably all wear full-length wool coats on the slopes. Market for parkas must be wide open.)

Day 7:
Growing annoyed by investors’ behavior. This morning, realized had not checked in with boss in days, and asked to borrow investor’s phone. Rudely denied, told that boss already has “all necessary information”!

Find that hard to believe. Surely, would not have wanted boss to know that they are planning to poach me for new resort?

Worrying thought: perhaps they took new-resort idea to boss first, and he declined? What does he know that I don’t know?

Skied in afternoon, but heart not in it. Un-Pak and Rodman did ski runs together, made great show of being good friends. Felt bit left out, if am being honest. Who taught them to ski, anyway?

Absurdly cold out. Have never known it to be so cold in Alps before. Perhaps is just my bad mood, making weather seem worse than really is.

Very, very cold though.

No sign of Tong.

Day 8:
Seriously annoyed now. Tong failed to show up, yet again. Does he think our Seoul trip is going to plan itself?

Rodman noticed my foul mood, attempted to placate me with promise of one-on-one basketball game and signed jersey. Informed him that being beaten at basketball by geriatric ex-NBA player was unlikely to make me feel better.

Rodman said he was shocked that his “basketball diplomacy” offer was rejected. Informed him that “basketball diplomacy” is not a thing.

Un-Pak wanted Rodman to play with him instead. Made us all watch as Rodman played comically badly in order to let him win. (He must really want in on this resort deal.) Other investors acted like it was a real game, heaped ridiculous praise on Un-Pak. Noticed that they keep calling him “Jong-Un” – some sort of nickname?

Could not stop myself, loudly asked Rodman why he let Un-Pak win. Rodman claimed had done no such thing, but Un-Pak became enraged. Threw both his sneakers at my head, and said never wanted to see me again.

Assume this means ski lessons this afternoon are off.

Feeling regretful of outburst now. Hope have not lost chance at resort opportunity. Apparently whole group going drinking this evening, perhaps can patch things up then.

Day 9:
Another splitting headache. Last thing I remember was doing shots while Rodman held me upside down by ankles over a snowdrift.

Awoke in own bed, in own apartment, though. Unsure how I got here, but am impressed with own resourcefulness while drunk!

Signed NBA basketball next to me. Inscription from Rodman: “great hangin’ with you, man.” Inscription from someone else: “You are being watched. Say nothing or Tong’s fate will be your own.” Not sure what that’s supposed to mean – is Tong off the resort deal?

Day 10:
Shocking day.

Police showed up at apartment, questioned self for nearly 6 hours. Wanted to know where I had been. For some reason seemed reluctant to believe story of new Korean-only resort on untouched Alp. Reshaping of Matterhorn seemed to be particular sticking point.

Police claimed that my pal “Un-Pak” is really despotic leader of North Korea. Showed me photos from North Korean government sources. Supposedly is common knowledge, but as I pointed out, can’t be that common if I didn’t know.

Is true that it did look like him.

But is just too hard to believe.

… right?

Rodman is going to be so surprised when I tell him.

Ski-slope photo credit: nonanet on Flickr, under a creative commons license. The use of the photograph in this post should not be taken as a sign that the photographer endorses this post, the North Korean regime, or the services of Alex the fictional ski instructor.

WTF Friday, 1/3/2014

It’s a new year, but the same old nonsense.

In a super-literal object lesson on the painful and long-lasting effects of war, an Allied bomb dropped during WWII detonated today in Germany, killing one person and injuring eight others. Sadly, this is a fairly regular occurrence. Just two months ago, 20,000 people had to be evacuated from their houses so that authorities could defuse a 4,000 lb. bomb in Dortmund.

And, lest you think North Korea news maxed out on ridiculousness last year, a Chinese newspaper claims that Kim Jong Un’s uncle was not just executed, he was eaten alive by 120 dogs. Guess the unicorns weren’t hungry?

Happy 2014, everyone.

WTF Friday, 12/20/2013

Strange news out of North Korea this week. The surprise execution of leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek led many to wonder if the regime was gearing up for an act of international provocation. Yesterday they got their answer, and they got it in the most mid-1990s-est way possible: by fax.

Remember fax machines? We used to use them back in the days when we were still waiting to see whether Kelly would choose Brandon or Dylan. They looked like this:


Anyway, according to news reports, the South Korean National Security Council received a fax from Pyongyang, threatening to “strike mercilessly without notice”. Seoul responded, also by fax (apparently all their Doc Martens-wearing bike messengers were busy), to say that South Korea is prepared to “firmly retaliate” in the event of an attack. No word yet on whether floppy disks will figure in the counter-assault plans.


*Photo from the Wiki.

WTF Friday, 1/6/2012

Don’t worry, guys. I’m back and I only missed three of the four fist fights in the Somali Parliament.

Looks like the Justice Department, after 85 years, has finally gotten around to broadening the definition of rape. Unfortunately, some commenters on CNN took this not as good news, but instead as an opportunity to make “cougar” jokes.

Lastly, let us not mourn Kim Jong-il, but instead look back at the good times.

WTF Friday 12/9/11

“Columns of black smoke from burning tires rose over parts of this capital on Friday as Joseph Kabila, the incumbent president, was declared the official winner of Congo’s troubled election.” Apparently Charles Dickens weighed in over at the New York Times.

Forget all these bogus December holidays, this is my new favorite.

Twitter war between al-Shabab and the Kenyan military? Smh…