Sting wrapped around Uzbek dictator's finger

Guardian blogger Marina Hyde thoroughly eviscerates British rocker Sting for playing a concert in Uzbekistan at the invitation of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov, and then making excuses for it. The whole thing is worth reading but here's an exceprt:

Unfortunately, people have now found out about the jaunt, and so many of them have misunderstood the reasoning behind it as financially motivated that Sting has been forced to issue a statement.

"I played in Uzbekistan a few months ago," he begins. "The concert was organized by the president's daughter and I believe sponsored by Unicef."

You can believe it all you like, Sting, but it's absolute cobblers -- Lost in Showbiz has checked it out with Unicef, who tactfully describe themselves as "quite surprised" by your claim. [..]

"I am well aware of the Uzbek president's appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment. I made the decision to play there in spite of that. I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular."

Mm. Even if you accept Sting's live performances as "ideas and art", you can't really help but question this notion of "open commerce", considering the tickets for his concert cost more than 45 times the average monthly salary in Uzbekistan. 45 times![...]

"I seriously doubt whether the President of Uzbekistan cares in the slightest whether artists like myself come to play in his country," concludes Sting. "He is hermetically sealed in his own medieval, tyrannical mindset."

You will note that Sting conspicuously declines to deflect the heat by stating that he donated all or indeed any of his monstrous fee to charity. 

Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray has more.  Also see this FP piece on the American Bar Association's ties to Karimova.


Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images


North Korea's census

While it's famously difficult to obtain information from within North Korea, author B.R. Myers has written a fascinating account based on DPRK propaganda, "North Korea's Race Problem," for the current print issue of FP. Hermit Kingdom poster art, it turns out, is chock full of such pastoral images as plump, happy cherubic children and leaders.

Meanwhile, as The Wall Street Journal reports, the reclusive government has recently released the results of a national census conducted in 2008. The picture that emerges is bleak. By the government's own admission, the population is considerably older and sicker than at the time of North Korea's last census in 1993. Some highlights:

North Korea's census said the country's population has proportionately fewer children and more middle-aged people than it did in 1993.

It also reported that people are less healthy.

Babies are more likely to die: The infant mortality rate climbed to 19.3 per 1,000 children in 2008 from 14.1 in 1993 ...

North Koreans are living shorter lives—average life expectancy has fallen to 69.3 years from 72.7 in 1993.

Poster art from North Korea courtesy of Melville House Publishing and B.R. Myers, author of The Cleanest Race—How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters.