A ridiculously inefficient means of communication, you'd think, but apparently it works:
Balloon-carried leaflets sent by South Korean civic groups to North Korea are unnerving the North Korean authorities as the anti-Pyongyang messages are gaining trust among North Korean citizens, a local daily said on Saturday.
In the past, when the anti-North Korean leaflets were spread in Pyongyang, North Korean residents didn't believe their contents. However, the situation is different now. According to the Chosun Ilbo, civic groups' leaflets these days are much more effective than in the past as they are now written by North Korean defectors who write contents that ring a bell among northerners.
The leaflets also contain the private life of its leader Kim Jong-il of whom North Koreans are very curious, it said.
When leaflets fell down on the streets of Pyongyang last summer, carried by dozens of balloons, revealing the corrupt life of Kim Jong-il and criticizing the North's repressive regime, the local security apparatus went into a state of alarm. They ordered citizens to stay in their houses. Only after all the leaflets were collected, they allowed people to come out from their residences.
In other NK news...
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is reportedly receiving regular kidney dialysis, raising speculation that his health may be deteriorating.
Well, we can hope...
A dash of colour for a bleak January day, from The Big Picture's latest collection of photographs from Afghanistan:
"A British soldier stands in front of an Afghan vehicle, known as a "jingle truck", as he provides security outside Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Jan. 2, 2010. The soldier is assigned to B Flight, 27 Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment, which is serving with NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan."
You can watch this hour-long BBC programme for another week. It's part one of a four-part series on Latin music in the US, and it's the kind of thing that the Beeb, to give them their due, do very well. Worth a look, if only for the clips of the night-life in old prohibition-era Havana, back when it was America's playground, and for the feel and energy of New York and Spanish Harlem in the Forties and Fifities. Afro-Cuban jazz with Machito and Dizzy Gillespie, Perez Prado and the mambo craze, West Side Story and the Puerto Rican barrio, it's all there - though a bit less Carlos Santana would've been fine with me (and if we're talking about the Latin influence on rock music, where was Ritchie Valens?).
Next week - into the Seventies with the birth of salsa...
Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot began the six hour question session by stressing that Mr Blair was not "on trial" but said he could be recalled to give further evidence if necessary.
But of course he's on trial: that's precisely how this farce has been presented to us from the start. No, he'll not be convicted as such, but in the court of public opinion, as defined by our media, he'll forever be a pariah. And today's the day when he gets to face his accusers.
Here's some "analysis" from the BBC's World Affairs correspondent Peter Biles:
So Tony Blair remains a "true believer" in the Iraq war.
There was not a hint of contrition or regret, in spite of the fact that bereaved families who lost loved ones in Iraq were among those sitting behind him in the public gallery, listening to every word of his evidence.
The incredulity is palpable. Blair still believes that deposing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, despite what all we at the BBC, plus our media colleagues at the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Independent...despite what we all believe - what we all know to be true.
The detail that families of servicemen killed in Iraq are packing the court echoes - as no doubt it's meant to echo - the way that the families of murder victims pack the court when a killer is on trial: or perhaps - why not, the level of hysteria is this great - the way that concentration camp survivors sit in silent judgement as camp guards and other such monsters are finally brought to justice. That's what it's come to here.
With Julien Temple's Oil City Confidential out next week, suddenly Dr Feelgood. maybe the greatest of the Pub Rock bands of the pre-Punk Seventies, are back in the news. In an interview in the Sunday Times last week guitarist Wilko Johnson gave an insight into why the band eventually split up:
There was this... antagonism... and I tell you, I don’t know what it was about. I know that in our final year, we couldn’t stand one another. A real antipathy. Lemmy puts it down to me being a speed freak and them being boozers, and there's some truth in that, but with Lee, his dislike of me became intense. He never did me wrong. And I never did him any wrong, to my knowledge. It’s sad...
It hadn't occurred to me before, but...of course. Cherchez le drug. That astonishing manic chopped guitar style just had to be amphetamine-fuelled. And Lee Brilleaux was the archetypal pub rock boozer. That clash may have led to their break up, but it's what made them great. And, um, talking of clash:
Temple notes that both the Pistols and the Clash were MC5 fans; Johnson agrees, saying that he got on well with the original punk bands, feeling they were kindred spirits. “The Feelgoods distilled music and lyrics to the very basics,” Temple says, “stripped away everything until they were working from a classic R&B template. Joe Strummer saw them and went off and formed a band. They created the blueprint for what was about to explode out of the UK. Same in New York — they were all listening to Dr Feelgood albums.”
If you can get past the annoying sub-Jimmy Saville DJ at the beginning, this 1975 clip shows off the Wilko Johnson style pretty well, though Lee Brilleaux looks a lot more scrubbed up - and fired up - than usual: could even have had a sniff of the old powder himself:
This one, Going Back Home, is more typical, a real sweaty live gig, with Lee Brilleaux in fine form on harp.
Michael J Totten interviews Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations. It's not an easy piece to extract from or summarise, but here's a flavour:
[A]s a lifelong New Yorker, someone who was raised there, went to school and lived there, I took 9/11 personally, as an attack on my hometown, my family and friends. That’s the reason I went to the Middle East to find out what happened, because I took it personally. However, as I spent more time in the region I came to see 9/11 outside of the framework of Islam v the West, even as this conceit has great appeal across the American political spectrum. The right of center tends to argue that there is a war between Western civilization and the lands of Islam; the left of center typically contends that the problems of the Middle East are essentially the result of Western interference in the region, from colonialism to Zionism to American hegemony in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. After a while, I came to see that the issues in the region began in the region and belong to the region, and while Western influence has often been harmful, and more often beneficial, to the Arabs, it has been a very minor factor in shaping a region thousands of years old. There is indeed a clash, but it is between the inhabitants of the Arabic-speaking Middle East, and the 9/11 attacks were essentially an overflow of those issues that reached American shores.
It's interesting that, like Eli Khoury (and Christopher Hitchens), he sees the Iranian anti-Zionist bombast less as a direct threat to Israel (though of course it is that) and more as a continuation of the ancient Sunni-Shi'ite Middle Eastern power struggle:
The reason Iran has inserted itself in the Arab-Palestinian crisis is in order to project power in the region by shaming Sunni states, like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. All of these states, US allies, either have peace treaties with Jerusalem or have opted out of any active participation in the war against Israel. The Iranians calculate that the Arab masses prefer resistance to reform, accommodation and compromise, and so Tehran has picked up the banners of war that the Sunni states have put down. Again, this is not to say that Iran’s rhetoric about destroying Israel is all a put-on, I don’t think it is. But the main reason they are ratcheting up the noise is because they see resistance ideology as a way to get a leg up, as you put it, on their real regional adversaries, the Sunni Arab states.
Another NYT piece on North Korea, this time a review of three new books on the Dear Leader's socialist paradise. The first, Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy, I've mentioned before. The other two are The Hidden People of North Korea by Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh, and The Cleanest Race by B.R.Myers:
North Korea is not an easy country to observe. Few foreign journalists are allowed in, and then only with official minders and strictly limited itineraries. To get a sense of how ordinary citizens live, writers must rely primarily on the accounts of defectors.
If we have trouble seeing North Koreans plainly, they cannot see us at all. Telephone use is severely restricted. (Even the telephone book is a classified document marked “secret.”) Postal service is spotty. There is essentially no e-mail. Television and radios receive only approved channels. The country’s citizens are force-fed a steady, numbing diet of state propaganda devoted to sustaining the personality cult of Kim Jong-il and savaging all things American.
How are North Koreans taught to think about us? Well, here’s one indication. Children learn a ditty called “Shoot the Yankee Bastards” in music class. One verse goes:
Our enemies are the American bastards
Who are trying to take over our beautiful fatherland.
With guns that I make with my own hands
I will shoot them. BANG, BANG, BANG.
(The truly poignant words here are “with my own hands.”)
Myers believes that the familiar designation of North Korea as a Stalinist state is misleading, characterising its sustaining ideology instead as a "race-based paranoid nationalism". This from the preface to his book:
While ignoring North Korean ideology, the West has assiduously, almost compulsively, added to its pile of "hard" information on the country. Much of this has come from experts in nuclear or economic studies. Aid workers have also contributed accounts of their experiences in the country. An international network of Google Earth users is busily identifying structures visible in aerial photographs. Despite all this, experts continue to describe North Korea as "puzzling," "baffling," a "mystery" — and no wonder. Hard facts cannot be put to proper use unless one first acquires information of a very different nature. If we did not know that Iran is an Islamic country, it would forever baffle us, no matter how good the rest of our intelligence might be.
Unfortunately a lack of relevant expertise has never prevented observers from mischaracterizing North Korean ideology to the general public. They call the regime "hard-line communist" or "Stalinist," despite its explicit racial theorizing, its strident acclamation of Koreans as the world's "cleanest" or "purest" race. They describe it as a Confucian patriarchy, despite its maternal authority figures, or as a country obsessed with self-reliance, though it has depended on outside aid for over sixty years. By far the most common mistake, however, has been the projection of Western or South Korean values and common sense onto the North Koreans. For example: Having been bombed flat by the Americans in the 1950s, the DPRK must be fearful for its security, ergo it must want the normalization of relations with Washington....
In this book, therefore, I aim to explain North Korea's dominant ideology or worldview — I use the words inter- changeably — and to show how far removed it is from communism, Confucianism and the show-window doctrine of Juche Thought. Far from complex, it can be summarized in a single sentence: The Korean people are too pure blooded, and therefore too virtuous, to survive in this evil world without a great parental leader....
And from Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh's book:
North Korean propaganda organs teach that if people are boundlessly loyal to the party and the leader, they can even "grow flowers on rocks if the party wishes them to." It turns out that people who ignore the party line and go to work for themselves are the ones who can perform economic miracles.
[The title of the post is how some North Koreans, cited by Barbara Demick, describe themselves]