Guest post: The U.S. government should debrief Dennis Rodman

"Call me, Mr. Obama." That was North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's message to the White House, according to the most unlikely diplomatic emissary, former NBA star Dennis Rodman.

Could you imagine an odder couple? The cross-dressing, body-piercing "bad boy" of basketball sitting with a boy dictator who rides astride a renegade nuclear weapons state. Indeed, just weeks before the bizarre piece of basketball diplomacy, which saw Rodman watch an exhibition game featuring a few Harlem Globetrotters players and spend two days palling around with Kim in Pyongyang, North Korean state propaganda broadcast threatening video images of U.S. President Barack Obama in flames and an American city under attack.

Even more disturbing is the spectacle that the North Korea story has become. Watching George Stephanopoulos's efforts to lambast Rodman for his declarations of friendship with Kim during a nationally televised interview on Sunday, I could not tell whether this was real news or a Saturday Night Live routine -- the North Korea story has become a caricature of itself. Before Rodman, it was Google chairman Eric Schmidt; then it was the New York Philharmonic; before that, in 1995, it was professional wrestler Ric Flair, with a guest appearance by boxer Muhammad Ali. North Korea has become the ultimate 24/7 cable international news story meets reality TV -- hard news mixed with the odd, the outrageous, and the amusing.

Yet the weapons are real, and the North Korean regime's rhetoric has become increasingly belligerent since Kim Jong Un took the reins after his father's death in December 2011. My research shows that more provocations are coming: South Korea inaugurated a new president on Feb. 25, and North Korea has carried out a belligerent act within 12 weeks of every South Korean presidential inauguration since 1992. It has sold nuclear wares to Syria, and missiles to Pakistan and Iran. It is entirely plausible that North Korea's latest nuclear test on Feb. 12 was helpful not just to Kim, but also to Tehran. This threat is very real and should be taken seriously despite the endless amount of comedic material that the Rodman-Kim images provide for late-night comedians.

The U.S. government should bite its tongue and quietly debrief Rodman. As far as we know, no other American has gotten closer to the mysterious leader. Whatever we can learn, even through the Worm's rose-colored shades, could be useful. Every venue where the North Korean leader has been seen in public with non-North Koreans -- amusement parks, basketball games -- suggests a penchant for Western leisure. Is this a sign of an enlightened young leader willing to break out of decades of broken ideology and reform? Or a sign of an isolated boy-leader who thinks nuclear weapons are toys, just like basketballs and video games? It is a scary thought that the only American "expert" on this is Dennis Rodman.

Victor Cha is senior advisor for Asia and Korea chair at CSIS and professor at Georgetown University. His latest book is The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future. 



Britain's Batman isn't the only superhero living among us

Earlier today, police in the British city of Bradford reported that a man dressed as Batman had walked into a local police station and delivered a wanted man. Ever since, the media has been buzzing with questions: Who is this caped crusader? How did he come across the suspect? And why did the man shun the Dark Knight suit and opt instead for the 1960s-era gray one? (The Telegraph is currently reporting that the mysterious crimefighter is actually a Chinese takeout delivery man who dropped off the suspect, a friend, at the police station after attending a soccer match in his superhero outfit.) It's undoubtedly a fascinating story. But it's also worth noting that the Bradford Batman is not the only superhero living among us.

In December 2011, for instance, Superman made an appearance in Melbourne, Australia when he interrupted his own bachelor party to help a pedestrian who had been hit by a car. Though this Superman was in fact a trained doctor, his attempts to help were initially rebuffed. (Guess these days the suit doesn't actually inspire confidence.) While passersby dismissed the incident as a viral video stunt, the good doctor helped stem the victim's bleeding and kept him stable until the ambulance arrived -- all in time to get married the next day.

Late last year, meanwhile, Spiderman was spotted gallivanting around Warsaw, spraying his web, hanging from ceilings, chilling on the subway -- and proving that even Spiderman needs a day off every now and then.

In 2009, France's own Spiderman scaled a skyscraper in Paris. No ropes, as one would expect: 

Not all superhero crusades turn out so well, however.  A few years ago, amateur fighter Ben Fodor dressed up as a superhero he named "Phoenix Jones" and assaulted a group of people with pepper spray. Though Fodor/Jones claimed he was breaking up a fight, the only obvious fight in the video he released of the incident was the one that broke out after he doused a bunch of people with pepper spray, and women started throwing their shoes at him. 

Bradford Police/Facebook