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North Korea bends it like Beckham

Future trivia question: What multicultural British sports comedy was the first Western-made film shown on North Korean television? Answer:

[O]n Sunday, The Associated Press reported, North Korean television audiences were given a rare break from this routine when the British comedy “Bend It Like Beckham” was shown there. The film, which stars Parminder Nagra as a young woman from a Sikh family with dreams of soccer stardom; Keira Knightley as her best friend; and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the dreamy coach they both have eyes on, was shown over the weekend by the arrangement of the British Embassy. According to the BBC, a message was shown during the film saying that the broadcast was done to mark the 10th anniversary of diplomatic ties between North Korea and Britain.

In a message on his Twitter account, Martin Uden, the British ambassador to South Korea, wrote: “Happy Christmas in Pyongyang. On 26/12 Bend it like Beckham was 1st ever western-made film to air on TV.” The A.P. said the North Korean broadcast of the two-hour movie was only an hour long, so please, no spoilers about the film’s subplots about religion and sexuality, or which of the women Mr. Rhys Meyers character ultimately chooses.

Kim Jong Il is reportedly a huge movie fan himself, with a collection of over 20,000 videos, none of which are typically available to North Korean citizens. He's also written a book on the art of directing and produced -- with kidnapped South Korean talent -- a socialist version of Godzilla.

Hopefully, more foreign titles will soon be available to North Korean audiences, though I wouldn't hold out too much hope for a Team America screening.  

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Assange: I've got the names of Arab officials spying on their own countries for the CIA

The Internets are buzzing about an interview Julian Assange gave to Al Jazeera's Arabic channel Wednesday, in which the WikiLeaks frontman reportedly threatened to release cables showing that various Arab officials were working with the CIA.

He vowed to do so "if I am killed or detained for a long time."

“These officials are spies for the U.S. in their countries,” Assange said, according to Qatar's Peninsula newspaper. More:

The interviewer, Ahmed Mansour, said at the start of the interview which was a continuation of last week’s interface, that Assange had even shown him the files that contained the names of some top Arab officials with alleged links with the CIA. [...]

Some Arab countries even have torture houses where Washington regularly sends ‘suspects’ for ‘interrogation and torture’, he said.

He then complained, "Washington is also projecting me as a terrorist and wants to convince the world that I am another Osama bin Laden."

Observers have long speculated about the massive "insurance" file that WikiLeaks posted on the Pirate Bay, which has by now been downloaded by thousand of people all over the world. Opening the file requires an encryption key that presumably would be released upon Assange's incarceration or untimely death. I guess it's the motherlode.

I have my doubts about these new claims, though. The CIA vigorously protects the identities of its sources, and would have no reason to let any old schmo at a U.S. embassy know their names. It is also highly doubtful that the cables would talk about "torture houses" -- the United States has always denied that it (knowingly) outsources rough treatment to foreign governments. Not everyone believes this, mind you, but I'd be surprised if any embassy cables said otherwise.

Maybe Assange and Mansour are confusing ordinary visits of Arab officials to U.S. diplomats with "spying," but it's hard to say for sure without seeing the cables themselves.