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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:15 pm

Axis of Photoshop: Is Kim Dead?

Every once in a while I somehow manage to beat everyone else to a story.  That happened two days ago when I speculated about whether Kim Jong “Licensed to” Il[l] was dead.  Maybe reading my story is what gave him the stroke.

I want to assure you that it wasn’t a case of good reporting.  It was pure dumb luck.

Jeffrey over at Arms Control Wonk is having a lot of fun with the report, uncovering further evidence that Kim is dead:

I understand if you play the Korean National Anthem backwards, you can hear Hu Juntao say “I buried Kim”

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8 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

North Korea: Dear Leaderless?

Recently, there have been a number of media reports that tyrannical megalomaniac Dear Leader Kim Jong “Licensed to” Il is sick.  He hasn’t been seen in public for nearly three weeks, and according to some sources he is suffering from both diabetes and heart disease.

I have some good news and some bad news for all you North Korea groupies out there.

The good news is that Kim isn’t sick.

The bad news is that he’s dead.

Or at least that’s what one political scientist thinks:

[A] book by Japan’s Professor Toshimitsu Shigemura at Japan’s respected Waseda University says Kim died in the autumn of 2003 and a series of stand-ins have since taken his place at official state event.  Prof. Shigemura says Kim was not seen in public for the 42 days after September 10, 2003, and in his book “The True Character of Kim Jong Il” claims the man that North Koreans refer to as the “Dear Leader” died of diabetes. . . .

[In August 2003], suddenly, Kim disappeared, says Shigemura, and there was chaos in the upper echelons of the country’s leadership. . . .After Kim’s death, a group of four very senior officials in the regime decided to protect their own positions by making the stand-in more permanent. Whenever anyone meets the North Korean leader, Shigemura says one of the four is alongside him “like a puppet-master.”

This is going to screw up my Axis of Evil fantasy league.

Maybe we should start calling him Dearly Departed Leader.  Or Kim Jong Nil.

Image:  Wikipedia, in the public domain.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:30 pm

The Axis of Photoshop: North Korea Goes for the Gold

Okay, not technically photoshop, but its Darwinian ancestor:  the propaganda poster.

You gotta love the North Koreans.  They’re not only the kings of robotic precision and the heroes of Zhang Yimou, but also gold medalists in over-the-top cheesy propaganda.  You just don’t find many good agitprop posters anymore, so I appreciate their careful conservation of the art form.

The California Literary Review has put together a small collection of some of the best worst examples.

My initial reaction?  I wouldn’t want the drugs these guys are taking.

“Let’s Drive Out the Imperialists and Reunite the Fatherland!”

(Note the cross on one soldier and Nazi-era cap on the other.)

“Wicked Man”

(Sounds like the name of a good Warren Zevon tune.)

“Let’s extensively raise goats in all families!”

(Really.  Trust me.  I mean why would I photoshop a goat?)

“Though the dog barks, the procession moves on!”

(Sounds like a Zen koan, not North Korean propaganda.)

“When provoking a war of aggression, we will hit back, beginning with the US!”

(Winner of the Noam Chomsky prize for 9/11 sensitivity.)

And now my favorite.  I’m thinking of using it for my screen-saver:

“Do not forget the US imperialist wolves!”

Ah yes, the ol’ dropping the baby down the well trope.  Talk about an overused propaganda cliché — the British had German soldiers dropping babies down wells over ninety years ago.  Come on, Kim Jong “Licensed to” Il, you don’t need to borrow from imperialist propaganda to remain on top!

I do have one question, though.  How did they get Telly Savalas to pose for the painting?  The soldier looks like Telly in The Dirty Dozen, down to the half crazed look.  Think I’m kidding?  Just take a look:

One other bit of art criticism:  if you’re going to drop a baby down the well, wouldn’t it make more sense to point your machine gun at the baby?

Hat tip:  Passport

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19 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Dillweed of the Day: China’s North Korea Booster

Zhang Yimou, the General Director of the Opening Ceremony, gave a long interview with Southern Weekend.  China Digital Times was kind enough to provide a translation.

Most Americans have never heard of Zhang, but he was an internationally acclaimed film director long before he got the Olympics gig.  Three of his films have been nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, and he’s won several honors at the Cannes Film Festival.

He’s also not unfamiliar with the ravages of totalitarianism.  During the Cultural Revolution, he had to spend seven years as a manual laborer, and at first was denied entry to film school because he was too old.  He only managed to get in by convincing authorities that he should not be penalized for his time “in the countryside,” as victims of the Cultural Revolution often call it.  In 1991, one of his films, Raise the Red Lantern,  was initally banned in China because authorities feared it was an allegory of Communist rule.

So you would think he would be sensitive to human rights.

Then again, maybe not:

I felt that we had two things added together, one plus one, that made such an impact. The first one is a human performance. I often joke with [foreign journalists] and say that our human performance is number two in the world. Number one is North Korea. Their performances can be so uniform! This kind of uniformity brings beauty. We Chinese can do it too. After hard training and strict discipline, Chinese achieved that as well. Like the moveble type cubes, they follow orders. . . .

I have conducted operas in the West. It was so troublesome. They only work four and a half days each week. Everyday there are two coffee breaks. There cannot be any discomfort, because of human rights. This can really worry me to death. Wow, one week, I thought I should have rehearsed it very smoothly already, but they could not even stand in straight lines yet. You could not criticize them either. They all belong to some organizations. ….they have all kind of institutions, unions. We do not have that. We can work very hard, can withstand lots of bitterness. We can achieve in one week what they can achieve in one month. Therefore our actors can give such a high quality performance. I think other than North Korea, no other country can achieve this in the world.

The second is our ideas and use of technology. The technology used very fresh ideas and really outstanding concepts. It is very hard to have both. They may have the technology and ideas, but they cannot have the same level of human performance. North Korea can have the same level of human performance, but their ideas are really backward, very sixties. So if you think about it, I feel that only China can have both. I am not kidding.

These foreigners who really understand, they saw our quality of performance, and they really believe that they cannot produce it. Even if his ideas and technology can make it, but his human performance cannot produce it to this level.

China:  combining the technology of the west with the mindless repression of North Korea!  Two, two, two great tastes in one!

Would it just be crazy-stupid human rights talk to call this guy a total schmuck? Oh wait, before I do, I need to take another coffee break.  Maybe I’ll be lucky and it will worry him to death.

Congratulations, Comrade Zhang.

Not only are you the hero of the Opening Ceremonies, you’re also our latest Dillweed of the Day.

Photo:  the wax version of Zhang Yimou from Madame Tussaud’s in Shanghai.  Photo by Klaith Zhang via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.

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12 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:55 pm

Wonk’d: Why the UN Human Rights Council Blows

As I’ve noted in my two previous posts, I’m both a fan and a critic of the United Nations.  But if there’s one thing the United Nations does really really really badly, it’s human rights.

It wasn’t always this way.  Thanks in part to the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the early years of the United Nations adopted both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention.  Over the next several decades, a number of other important treaties followed, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, among others.

Lately, however, not so much.  The UN Commission on Human Rights became so disreputable — by doing things like electing Libya as chair and failing to take action on Rwanda — that the UN decided to abolish it and replace it with a new body that would address many of its shortcomings.

During the 2005 UN Millennium Summit, the General Assembly agreed to the creation of a new Human Rights Council, supposedly putting into place safeguards that would prevent similar problems in the future.  Sadly, the United States chose not to play a central role in the negotiations over how the Council would be constituted or how it organizes itself.  Thank you, John Bolton, you self-righteous paleocon jerk.

(Full disclosure:  Steve Clemons, Scott Paul (both of the Washington Note), Don Kraus (my successor as CEO of Citizens for Global Solutions) and I organized the successful opposition to the Bolton nomination.)

(And for the UN wonks out there, yes I know I’m oversimplifying this timeline.  But please keep in mind that I’m not writing for you.)

So there we were, a new start, a new opportunity to do serious human rights work.



Today we have a body that in many ways is worse than its predecessor.  There are a lot of issues that the Council should be looking at these days — Darfur, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Burma, Pakistan, and Iraq, to name just a few.  Instead, the it has spent almost all of its time on one issue:  Israel.

The reasons for this have to do not with human rights in that country –- which, to be clear, should be looked at, as should human rights issues in every country.  Rather it’s the product of those who currently sit on the Council.  Dictatorships make up over half the Council’s membership. They have spotlighted Israel to deflect attention from the human rights abusers within their own ranks, as well as to stick it to the West (and, to be clear, Israel).

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration continues to refuse to engage the Council, deciding not to stand for election and even failing to send an Ambassador to Council meetings.  Of course that’s assuming it could even get elected to the Council, given its own human rights record.  Either way, its actions have only encouraged the misbehavior and discouraged those who would stand up to such nonsense.

And then, late last week, we have the latest outrage:

A former spokesman for Cuba’s foreign ministry was appointed this week to head the United Nations Human Rights Council’s advisory committee.  Radio Rebelde says Miguel Alfonso Martinez, is president of the Cuban Society of International Law, was appointed this Monday to head the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council.

Oy vey.  Oh wait — saying that might get me investigated by the Council.

This isn’t the first bad appointment either.  Richard Falk, a Princeton professor who has compared Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip to Nazi Germany, is the Council’s Special Rapporteur on. . . wait for it. . .Israel.  And Jean Ziegler, who once helped Muammar Qaddafi establish a peace prize named after the dictator and who has praised, among others, Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro, was elected to the Council’s Advisory Committee.

The Council has more than a bad joke.  It’s a black eye for the UN and and embarrassment to the entire world.  Furthermore, it has become a convenient whipping boy for the paleocons here in the United States.

It’s time to start over. . .again.

Maybe the third time will be the charm.

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8 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:38 am

Reindeer Games: Bush, Human Rights, and China

I know I’m a little behind on this, but I just read in the papertubes that Dubya gave a speech about human rights in China .  And that the ChiComs are not happy about it.

My first instinct was to applaud him for speaking out.  After his appearance before the foreign press last week, during which he set a new personal record for inanity, obsequiousness, and malapropisms,  I was sure that he would be so busy begging Hu “Is Lying Now” Jintao not to liquidate China’s dollar holdings that he wouldn’t dare talk about human rights or democracy.  So reports that he did, and that the Chinese got mad as a result, came as a pleasant surprise.

Then I read the speech.

The first thing I noticed was that he gave it in Thailand.  Not at the Embassy dedication in Beijing, not during his visit to the Olympics, but in Bangkok.  He might as well have given it in Timbuktu.

The second I noticed was that he does not mention human rights in China until the twenty-sixth paragraph — out of twenty-nine total.  It comes only after he’s praised the Chinese for their economic achievements, highlighted their role in the six-party talks on North Korea, begged them not to foreclose on our economy, and reiterated America’s belief in a “one China” policy.

It also comes after he wishes the Queen of Thailand a happy birthday, praises the economic achievments of Thailand and other countries in the region, invokes the threat of terrorism, discusses North Korea, and gives a shout out to his wife for her work on Burma.  (That’s right, of all the people working on Burma in this world, he chose to praise Laura.)

The actual criticism takes up two paragraphs of twenty-nine.  They look almost like an afterthought.  And they include the following sentence:

Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and its own traditions.

I just ran that little gem through the Diplospeak Translator, and this is what came out:

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: We’re not really serious about this, but Congress and those whiny human rights organizations back home will kick my butt for the rest of my term if I don’t pretend to care. Please please please please don’t be mad at me.

What nonsense.  And the ChiComs got in a lather over this? Here’s what the Foreign Ministry said in response:

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang admonished Bush, saying “We firmly oppose any words or acts that interfere in other countries internal affairs, using human rights and religion and other issues.” He also said the Chinese government is dedicated to promoting basic rights, and that “Chinese citizens have freedom of religion.These are indisputable facts.”

This isn’t foreign policy.  It’s Chinese Opera.  I don’t know which I find more distressing.

  • The fact that the White House is spinning this as courage;
  • The fact that the Chinese have gotten their collective Communist capitalist noses out of joint for such innocuous language; or
  • That the Western media bought the whole thing as a real controversy.

The games have started, Bush will forget about his admonition, the Chinese will welcome him, and everyone will enjoy the spectacle and the athleticism.  Nothing else will happen.

There’s a term my summer camp friends used to have for such hypocrisy:  Reindeer Games, which we defined as pretending to care about something when you really didn’t give a damn what happened.  I think that pretty much summarizes the situation here.  All posturing, no content.

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24 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:56 am

Diplospeak Translator: Licensed to (Kim Jong) Il

Okay boys and girls, time for the Diplospeak Translator!  Today, we’re featuring remarks by The Condi during her press availability yesterday.

These took place after the “Informal Six-Party Ministerial,” which is apparently what we call meetings with Axis of Evil member new strategic partner North Korea.  Because if they were formal, The Condi would have to get a dress and a corsage and everything, and Kim Jong Il would show up in one of those really hideous powder-blue polyester tuxes from the 1970s.  And nobody wants that.

So here’s what she had to say:

Read the rest of this entry »

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