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U.S. teen will visit Kim Jong-Il to pitch DMZ "peace forest"

File this under "wonderfully weird": A Korean-American teenager will fly to Pyongyang this week so that he can ask Kim Jong-Il whether he'd consider planting a forest in North Korea's backyard -- and by "backyard," of course, we mean the 2.5-mile-wide demilitarized zone that happens to be filled with over a million landmines. From the AP:

Jonathan Lee, who was born in South Korea and lives in the U.S. state of Mississippi, is scheduled to fly to Pyongyang on Thursday from Beijing with his parents, the family told The Associated Press. They said North Korean officials in Beijing gave them visas Wednesday night.

Jonathan said he expects to meet with North Korean officials and will propose the children's peace forest, 'one in which fruit and chestnut trees would be planted and where children can play.'

Before you laugh, consider this: since the Korean armistice, nature has all but reclaimed the DMZ. The area is now filled with thousands of rare plants and animals, even as stone-eyed guards on either side of the preserve continue to glare at one another. Could adding a few more trees between them really be so hard? (Then again, one might wonder how symbolic those trees would seem when set against the backdrop of ... uh, other trees. But I digress.) Jonathan's even got an ally in Ted Turner, the media mogul who in 2005 called for turning the DMZ into a peace park and a U.N. World Heritage Site. While the idea of children frolicking in no-man's land sounds a little far-fetched -- think of the bears and wildcats if landmines don't do it for you -- the DMZ could always use a little more love.

The only irony is that should the Korean war ever become hot again, Jonathan's peace forest would likely be the first thing to go.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

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"A Direct Hit!"

Criticisms leveled against Moscow's response to the raging wildfires are now obsolete. While Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov was roundly berated for grudgingly returning from his European vacation to deal with the fires, Vladimir Putin himself co-piloted a plane over burning forests, releasing 24 tons of water on a blaze -- all without any formal pilot training.

Putin, wearing a blue shirt and jeans, boarded a Russian-built Be-200 amphibious aircraft as a passenger for a flight over the Ryazan region.

 

But he later went into the cockpit and sat in the co-pilot's seat, holding the throttle and pushing a button to dump 24 tons of water on forest fires about 200 kilometers southeast of Moscow.

 

Footage on Channel One television showed Putin hitting the button and asking the pilot, "Was that OK?"

 

The pilot replied, "A direct hit!"

After the spectacularly managed photo-op, reminiscent of a similar adventure by the second Bush, Putin visited a village where he pledged aid: Families would be compensated in cash or have their houses re-built, but at a maximum of $66,600, or 2 million rubles.

 

ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images