Can North Koreans living and working abroad possibly have it worse than those citizens who stay home? From waitresses who work in government-run restaurants across Asia to seamstresses essentially enslaved in the Czech Republic to the well-documented North Korean football team publically shamed after its World Cup loss, it's obvious that the regime's brutality doesn't stop at the border. Now, the estimated 200 North Korean citizens living in Libya have been banned from returning to North Korea, due to fears that news of the Arab Spring will leak to the country's 23 million subjugated inhabitants.
As the Telegraph reports, Kim Jong Il's regime had a close relationship with Muammar al-Qaddafi -- the North Koreans sent doctors, nurses, and construction workers to Libya, earning hard currency needed to buy missiles and equipment for North Korean's nascent nuclear weapons program. The North Koreans in Libya join other nationals who had been working in Tunisia and Egypt not allowed to return home.
According to the Telegraph, North Korean media hasn't reported on Qaddafi's death and only about one percent of North Koreans are even aware of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa -- mainly government officials and a few citizens who travel to China for business.
As an editorial in the Korean Herald says:
Pyongyang's silence about the fall of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and the bloody death of Gaddafi reveals Kim Jong-il's awareness of the vulnerability of his regime in the process of a third-generation dynastic succession of power. Despite their boasting of the perfect loyalty of the 23 million people to the party and the leader, the ruling elite are afraid of what effect the information on the fates of the overseas dictatorships will have on the oppressed people of the country.
orean Central Television/Yonhap via Getty Images
It might be the end of American hegemony in the global political and economic order, but unemployed and underpaid Americans can at least take heart at today's news.
Social networking site Badoo.com conducted a poll of 30,000 people in 15 countries to name the coolest nationality. Surprise! - despite a sinking economy, pathetic politics, and increasingly suspect pop culture exports -- Americans are still number 1.
According to Reuters, the top ten coolest nationalities are:
The five least cool?
According to Reuters:
"We hear a lot in the media about anti-Americanism," says Lloyd Price, Badoo's Director of Marketing. "But we sometimes forget how many people across the world consider Americans seriously cool."
"America," says Price, "boasts the world's coolest leader, Obama; the coolest rappers, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg; and the coolest man in technology, Steve Jobs of Apple, the man who even made geeks cool."
It's unknown how Obama's coolness factors into his job approval ratings by Americans - the most recent polls say that more than half of the country disapproves of him as leader of the pack.
Last week, China's culture ministry added 100 songs to an internet blacklist, including hits by Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and the Backstreet Boys. Chinese music websites have until Sept. 15 to remove the offending songs, unless record labels submit the songs for official approval. The ministry hopes to regulate the "order" of the Internet music scene, noting that songs that "harm the security of state culture must be cleaned up and regulated under the law."
Two years ago, in an attempt to crackdown on China's widespread illegal downloading, the culture ministry also declared its intentions to keep "poor taste and vulgur content" off Chinese internet airwaves.
Most of the newly-banned songs are from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. Lady Gaga leads the American pack with six banned songs off her new album, Born This Way (although curiously, the LGBT-friendly title track was not included on the list).
Of course, one can hardly blame the Chinese government for looking to keep these subversive songs far away from Chinese ears. Let's take a look at what's so particularly offensive about these newest banned tunes.
Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (TGIF)"
While ostensibly, the culture ministry might have wanted to keep Chinese youth away from Perry's flippant attitude regarding "ménage a trois" and "blacked out blur[s]", the truly offensive lyric is a celebration of American fiscal irresponsibility:
Last Friday night/ Yeah we maxed our credit cards
China, the single largest holder of American public debt, has some qualms about the voracious American appetite for debt. It makes sense that the government would want to discourage such behavior at home. China's strategy of intensive exports, with minimal domestic consumption, has been a boon to its burgeoning economy and it's not about to let an American pop singer threaten 30 years of Socialism with Chinese characteristics. Deng Xiaoping trumps Smurfette.
Lady Gaga's "Hair"
Whenever I'm dressed cool my parents put up a fight / And if I'm hot shot, mom will cut my hair at night / And in the morning I'm short of my identity / I scream, "Mom and dad, why can't I be who I wanna be, to be?
Gaga doesn't do much here to show respect for her elders. Famed Chinese philosopher Confucius once described old age as a "good and pleasant thing" which caused one to be "gently shouldered off the stage, but given a comfortable front stall as spectator." With the advent of the one-child policy, Chinese parents, who could traditionally expect that their children would take care of them through old age, now find themselves at the whim of their little emperors. For all the good Gaga does for one's self-esteem, this song clearly refutes centuries of ancestor worship.
Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)"
My persuasion can build a nation/Endless power, with our love we can devour/ You'll do anything for me ...Who are we?/What we run? The world (who run this motha, yeah)
At the start of the 21st century, China's leaders articulated a policy known as the peaceful rise, an attempt to alleviate global fears about China's growing economic and political power. In 2004, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said China's rise "will not come at the cost of any other country, will not stand in the way of any other country, nor pose a threat to any other country." Beyonce's aggressive attitude toward world domination is not what Wen had in mind.
Backstreet Boys "I Want it That Way"
I want it that way
Maybe "That way" = democracy? Who cares if the song is 12 years old?
SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il traveled to Russia this week, his first visit to his country's former Cold War ally in nine years. Kim rode an armored train to eastern Siberia to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, crossing the Russian border on Sunday, Aug. 21, touring the Bureyskaya hydroelectric power station, and meeting with Medvedev on Wednesday. Medvedev flew 3,500 miles across Russia to a Siberian military base for the meeting.
Kim promised Medvedev a moratorium on the production and testing of nuclear weapons, a move that could help restart nuclear disarmament talks, stalled in 2009. North Korea has been isolated both economically and diplomatically since March 2009, when it conducted a second nuclear weapons test. Both the United States and South Korea demand concrete action from North Korea before they return to the six-party talks.
Kim's weeklong trip to Russia is also expected to focus on trade talks and gaining economic and political support from Russia. North Korea is facing chronic food shortages and factory closures thanks to punishing international sanctions. Russia pledged 50,000 tons of wheat to North Korea and also discussed energy and infrastructure projects, including a pipeline carrying Russian gas to South Korea through the North.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, Kim is also concerned about the downfall of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and Middle East unrest in general. While North Korean media has not been reporting on the Arab Spring, news of the uprisings has been spread through radios and word of mouth from people who have illegally crossed into China and back. "That dynamic is probably much more alarming to Kim Jong Il than anything else," Lee Jong-min, dean of international studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, told the Monitor. "He's prompted by the need to bolster his power."
Kim has visited China five times since 2002, the year of his last trip to Russia, when he met with then-President Vladimir Putin.
More photos below the jump:
Niko Alm, an Austrian member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, won the right to wear a pasta strainer on his head in his driver's license photo. He originally applied for the license three years ago, but first had to get approval from a doctor that he was "psychologically fit" to drive.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a parody religion whose adherents are known as pastafarians. Pastafarians, whose website stipulates that "the only dogma allowed in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the rejection of dogma," celebrate the amorphous "Holiday" in December and believe that pirates are "absolute divine beings."
Fun as it sounds, the original impetus behind pastafarianism was political -- its founder, Bobby Henderson, then a 25-year-old -- wrote an open letter to the Kansas Board of Education in July, 2005, in protest of the teaching of the Christian theory of intelligent design in schools:
I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism (Pastafarianism), and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.
The Flying Spaghetti Monster's theory of intelligent design was subsequently invoked by pastafarian protesters in a similar situation in Polk County, Florida in 2007.
Alm's request to wear a strainer on his head was a response to Austria's "recognition of confessional headgear in official photographs," according to the BBC.
Alm received his license and is currently working on getting pastafarianism designated as an officially recognized faith.
Chinese state media reported today that the country has started its once-a-decade panda census, the fourth tallying of the endangered species since it first began in the 1970s. 70 panda trackers are being trained during a pilot survey in the Wanglang National Reserve, in the city of Mianyang, in Sichuan province. According to Yang Xuyu, a forestry official, that particular nature reserve is believed to have the largest number of wild pandas in the country.
Before you get so jealous of these panda trackers' jobs that you quit your own, know that much of panda tracking actually involves collecting panda droppings for DNA analysis. This allows zoologists to monitor individual pandas and then estimate the number of pandas living in the wild. According to Xinhua, the census will not only count pandas, but also determine their living conditions, age, and habitat state.
The last official census counted 1,596 wild pandas in China -- 1,206 living in Sichuan, including 230 in the Wanglang reserve and nearby areas. There are another 290 pandas living in captivity worldwide.
And yes, we'll take this excuse to post some more cute panda photos (most of these guys live at the Chengdu Giant Panda Research and Conservation Center):
Getty Images, LILIAN WU/AFP/Getty Images, STR/AFP/Getty Images
The Holy Land is contracting Bieber fever this week as the Canadian pubescent pop star makes a much-anticipated visit to Israel. He arrived in Israel on Monday, and is set to meet with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday ahead of a performance in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
Haaretz reports that Israeli tweens mobbed Bieber upon his arrival. "We are following him everywhere," a 14-year-old named Adi told the newspaper. "I will go with him to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea." But another Israeli is enthusiastically awaiting the Bibi-Bieber summit: Netanyahu himself, who hopes to use Bieber's visit to raise Western awareness of missile fire from the Hamas-administrated Gaza strip. Netanyahu's advisers invited a group of children from towns near the border of Gaza to attend the Bieber-Bibi summit.
i want to see this country and all the places ive dreamed of and whether its the paps or being pulled into politics its been frustrating
You would think paparazzi would have some respect in holy places. All I wanted was the chance to walk where jesus did here in isreal.
Bieber's international travel generated Internet buzz last July when pranksters from the notorious online message board 4chan rigged a contest where fans could vote for an international destination for a Bieber tour. North Korea beat out Israel as the contest's winner. When a Bieber spokesperson cried foul, different pranksters made the most-searched term on Google Trends "Justin Bieber Hates Korea."
Update: Netanyahu cancelled the meeting with Bieber after Bieber refused to meet with the children living in communities near Gaza.
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