More from Chicago nanny and street photographer Vivian Maier (previously here here and here). A book of her sly self-portraits - reflections in shop windows and the like - was published recently, but I find her portraits of others to be much more compelling. These are from the Street 2 portfolio at the Vivian Maier website, and date from mid to late Fifties - mostly New York:
From our point of view current events in the Middle East might be seen as a failure of Western policy, but, for those living in the region, they're more a spectacular demonstration of the collapse of Iran's grand plans. Michael Young, in Lebanon's Daily Star, on How our region is preparing for suicide:
It was obvious several years ago, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was Iran’s president and the Islamic Republic was expanding its power in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian areas and Yemen, that this endeavor would provoke a backlash from the Sunni Arab states.
And it was just as clear that this backlash, to compensate for Iran’s demographic and military superiority, would be primarily sectarian in nature. Today, we are living through the sectarian response to Iran’s sectarian strategy throughout the region. The potential consequences are frightening, and we are already seeing the precursors of this in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
There has been much debate over whether the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) represents a majority of Sunnis, particularly in Iraq. The question is naïve. ISIS almost certainly does not represent most Sunnis, but nor did the Bolsheviks in 1917 Russia. Vanguard movements are not often democratic in nature. They seize the initiative during periods of social and political vacuum, rapidly mobilize supporters against established orders and, before anyone has had time to react, create dynamics in their own favor before systematically eliminating their rivals.
The Iranians should know this more than anybody else, since that is how Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power and ultimately consolidated his authority after the revolution. And it is what ISIS is doing today in Iraq, this week having started to arrest Saddam-era Sunni military officers in Mosul, in order to ensure that no political counterweight can emerge.
In Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, Iran bolstered Shiite or Alawite regimes or parties that sought as best they could to marginalize the Sunni community. This has now blown up in Tehran’s face. Iraq is breaking apart, Syria’s regime is pursuing an active policy of partition and Hezbollah is facing an increasingly dangerous Sunni challenge in Lebanon that it will not be able to contain. [...]
The Mideast is a graveyard for grand projects of hegemony, and if America failed we shouldn’t be surprised that Iran is doing the same. The Islamic Republic backed the maximalist, sectarian policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq and Assad in Syria, precipitating the disintegration of both countries. Iran, too, is multisectarian and multiethic and may not be shielded from the aftershocks.
It’s easy to believe in a cataclysmic scenario for the region. What makes one so conceivable is the fact that sectarian animosities are grafted onto a body of failed Arab states, where democracy, economic development and any redeeming sense of personal and social amelioration have been frustrated for decades. There seems to be no way to resolve differences except through repression of the other. And on those rare occasions when conciliatory policies might have been adopted and sectarian coexistence reinforced, precisely the opposite was done.
The so-called Arab Spring broke the back of the old order of supposedly secular dictatorships, but failed to bridge the gap toward more democratic and pluralistic entities. Today we are caught in a political no-man’s land – with neither the security offered by the dictators nor the representativeness of pluralistic systems.
The Middle East is at a foundational moment in its history, one perhaps more momentous than the post-World War I period when the region’s contours were redrawn. The optimists will say that all change brings something better. But until that time it will bring a great deal that is worse, as regional states come to the realization that their arrogance and irresponsibility has released forces with the potential of devouring them.
North Korea’s Kim Jung Eun was shown limping across the stage at the start of yesterday’s Party meeting convened to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of Kim Il Sung. State television aired live footage of the event, which took place at Pyongyang Indoor Stadium on the morning of the 8th.
Kim’s health has been a source of constant speculation for some time, particularly in South Korea and Japan where his obesity and allegations of heavy drinking receive undue attention. Yesterday's swollen face and negative expression, in addition to the limp, have now inspired yet more speculation that his health is in decline.
Let's hope it's nothing trivial.
An earlier report from the Chosun Ilbo:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is getting fatter, leading to rumors that he is suffering from stress and symptoms of heart disease, Free North Korea Radio reported Wednesday.
The rumors say Kim has been suffering the symptoms since the execution of his uncle Jang Song-taek and has been treated for them since January.
When Kim first appeared in public, he appeared to weigh around 100 kg -- chubby, but not morbidly obese. But he started gaining weight at the beginning of this year.
He has been gorging himself with food and drinking due to stress since Jang's execution last year, according to the rumors, showing signs of depression and facial paralysis.
The Seoul-based radio station run by a North Korean defector said that Kim's physicians noticed that he could not use his left arm freely and started losing his hair.
He has reportedly been undergoing treatment every Tuesday and Friday, but North Korean authorities are anxious to keep these rumors under wraps.
Recent photos of Kim show that his chin, cheeks and neck have filled out even more and he has become stouter. He often supports his back with his hands, which may be due to his weight.
If Kim goes, it all goes....
Yes, that's the happy theme here on this short MEMRI clip from Egyptian TV which ran a couple of months ago:
Interviewer: The Prophet Muhammad said that one of the portents of Judgment Day is war on the Jews, their annihilation, or the eradication of their country. "The end of the Jews" is the theme of our program tonight, and how this country or entity will be annihilated. The hadith states that "Judgment Day will not arrive until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Jews will hide behind the rocks and the trees, but the trees will say: 'Oh Muslims, a Jew is hiding behind me, come and kill him'."
We would like to pose some questions: Is this for real, or is it an allegory? Will the trees be talking just like I am talking to you? When will this battle take place, and who will command it? Will the Jews be associated with the Antichrist? Will this battle take place before or after World War III? We will put all these questions to Dr. Muhammad Al-Zoghbi, who is an Al-Azhar cleric and renowned Islamic preacher. […]
Muhammad Al-Zoghbi: The proper title for today's episode should be "the end of the Jews."
Interviewer: "The end of the Jews"…
Muhammad Al-Zoghbi: Absolutely. That war will spell the end of the Jews.
Interviewer: You gave us the title, and now we want more details.
Muhammad Al-Zoghbi: Not a single Jew will remain on the face of the earth after that war. Do you follow me? And now for a concise account of the war against the Jews throughout history. […]
What can you expect from people who have insulted God? They are the slayers of the prophets and messengers. "They respect no kinship or pact with the believer." It is their Creator who said: "You shall find the strongest amongst men in enmity to the believers to be the Jews." […]
The international community, and even Big-Bad-Wolf America, the sponsor of the charade called negotiations, know it all. They are the sponsors of the Zionist Entity. The entire West is like that […]
At the start of the show, you asked whether the trees will actually talk or is it an allegory. Whoever says it's an allegory is wrong. The trees will actually talk.
Interviewer: So I will hear the trees…?
Muhammad Al-Zoghbi: Absolutely. The walls as well.
The walls as well, eh?
It may be hard to take this stuff seriously, but, clearly, millions do.
China's policy of returning North Korean defectors, contrary to its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention, is once more in the news. The Chinese have argued that defectors should be considered economic migrants, that their actions are warranted on security grounds, and that crossing the border is a criminal matter. They have forcibly returned North Korean refugees, cooperating with North Korean authorities in doing so. Yet to date, UN bodies and agencies have been reluctant to press the issue. Now, as Stephan Haggard reports, things may be about to change:
The UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) directly and strongly implicates China in aiding and abetting North Korea’s ill-treatment of North Korean refugees, even suggesting that China may be complicit in committing crimes against humanity.
In a detailed treatment of the issue for The International Journal of Korean Studies Roberta Cohen offers a detailed analysis of the evolution of the issue. Among her key points:
From the introduction to the report (pdf):
For the first time, China is under broad international censure for its forced repatriation of North Koreans crossing into its territory illegally. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI), set up in 2013 to investigate the “systematic, widespread, and grave” human rights violations in North Korea, has implicated China as possibly facilitating North Korea’s commission of crimes against humanity. The COI’s 400-page report points out that over a period of two decades, China has forcibly returned tens of thousands of North Koreans almost all of whom have been subjected to inhuman treatment and punishment in the form of “imprisonment, execution, torture, arbitrary detention, deliberate starvation, illegal cavity searches, forced abortions, and other sexual violence.” It calls on China to halt its collaboration with North Korean security agencies in identifying and forcing back North Koreans and to extend asylum to persons fleeing the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea). COI Chair Michael Kirby, a former justice of the High Court of Australia, in a special letter appended to the report, cautions China that its officials could be “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity” by sharing information with North Korea’s security bodies and forcibly turning back those who try to escape.
The evidence amassed in the COI report challenges China’s claims that 1) North Koreans entering China illegally are economic migrants who must be deported, and 2) that those forcibly returned are not punished, even though it is a criminal offense to leave North Korea without permission. In an effort to obstruct the commission’s work, China denied it entry to its border areas, and then declared the COI findings to be “divorced from reality,” because it was unable to visit. Nonetheless, the three COI commissioners concluded that China was enabling North Korea to commit crimes against humanity by forcibly returning them to conditions of danger, thereby standing in violation of its obligations under international human rights and refugee law.
Although China’s initial response has been defensive, the more fundamental question is whether over the longer term, China will see it in its interests to modify its policies. The COI report appears to take the longer view. For one, the report warns that by continuing to cooperate with North Korea in forcibly repatriating its citizens, Chinese officials might end up being held accountable in future trials of North Koreans. Second, it points out that this can be avoided if China helps modify North Korea’s practices and policies by raising with the DPRK’s “Supreme Leader” and other high-level authorities the crimes to which repatriated North Koreans have been subjected. It suggests that there is good reason for China to take offense at North Korea’s policies. The forced abortions carried out by North Korea on repatriated women have been racially based because the women have become impregnated by Chinese men; and the infanticide perpetrated against children born to such women has been carried out because they are part Chinese. Furthermore, allowing North Korean security agents free rein to carry out abductions on Chinese soil and implement ‘shoot to kill’ orders on the Chinese side of the border is an infringement of China’s sovereignty. Violating the international refugee convention so blatantly through forcible repatriations also tarnishes China’s reputation with other governments and international organizations. North Koreans who cross the border, the COI report points out, must have “free access to diplomatic and consular representations of any State that may be willing to extend nationality or other forms of protection to them.”
China's attitude is unlikely to change anytime soon, as much as anything because of a very real fear that a relaxation would result in a sudden flood of refugees, and ultimately, in the collapse of the North Korean regime. Still, these are interesting and hopeful developments.
Japan has been meeting with North Korea recently in a somewhat belated attempt to get information on their citizens abducted by the North some thirty-odd years ago. For a long time it was a subject everyone seemed happy to sweep under the carpet, but with the new increasingly militant nationalism of Shinzō Abe's administration, helped perhaps by a somewhat fractious relationship with the South Koreans over matters like the wartime comfort women, the whole business has been resurrected.
Japan approved easing its sanctions on North Korea on Friday in response to Pyongyang's reopening of a probe into the fate of at least a dozen Japanese allegedly abducted to the North decades ago.
The move includes lifting some travel restrictions on North Koreans, allowing port calls by North Korean ships for humanitarian purposes and restrictions on cash sent to the North. But other sanctions, including Japan's own and those under U.N. resolutions, will stay in place.
This is a unilateral move by Tokyo. It hasn't bothered to consult Seoul. So that's another link down in any possible united front against the Kim regime.
More animals in the news, from an In Focus gallery:
"In this May 29, 2014, photo, self-taught horse trainer Martin Tata kisses his horse Milonga as he performs a demonstration for The Associated Press on a ranch in San Antonio de Areco, Argentina. There is no whip in sight, no shouting or loud jabs. Not even a firm hand on the reins. And yet Martin Tatta somehow persuades his beloved Milonga to join him in acrobatic feats, from handstands to other poses that even the most understanding horses rarely display."
Hmm. That is indeed a very understanding horse. So what happens next?
The Chosun Ilbo headline - "N.Korean Army Uses Pandas as Shooting Targets".
What a disappointment, then, to read the story:
The North Korean Army reportedly used images of pandas as shooting targets when leader Kim Jong-un visited a military detachment in Hwa Island, South Hamgyong Province.
A source said on Thursday said Kim Jong-un arrived on the island by boat from Wonsan on Monday.
Kim watched a live-fire artillery drill there, the source added. "I heard from a senior officer from the detachment that they used images of pandas as shooting targets."
Pandas are the national symbol of China and a sign of a friendly diplomatic relationship.
Not real pandas then? Bah!