Saturday, February 11, 2012

All a-Twitter over North Korea

Yesterday, social media networks were a-buzz over the “reported” assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, with the first mentions occurring on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo, its flames fanned rather unnecessarily by a seemingly large number of Twitter’s close to 500 million users. It’s always dangerous relying on the internet – particularly social media sites – for news, as it’s incredibly easy for false information to spread.

It’s the old Fabergé shampoo commercial revisited.  I told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on … .  It’s easy and so very tempting to read reports as fact when, in fact, they’re often fiction, and even more so with Twitter’s 140-character limit making it difficult for the best of writers to communicate both a single cogent point and cite a reliable source.

Of course, in the case of on Kim Jong-un, we still don’t know for certain the reports are false, as the famously tight-lipped North Korean government has issued forth neither a statement nor even a word or picture to prove reports true or false.  The U.S. intelligence agencies are even in the dark, although after an exhaustive ten-year hunt for Osama bin-Laden led us to find him living comfortably in what passes as a Pakistani bedroom community, one shouldn’t assume their networks are any more reliable than Weibo or Twitter.

Uh oh, I hope I didn’t just reveal the CIA’s and NSA’s most prized intelligence gathering assets.  Just to be safe, I won’t answer the door today.  Or, rather in no effort to beat the rush, just won’t open the door ten years from now. 

As you’ll remember, Kim Jong-un ascended to the title of North Korea’s “supreme leader” upon the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, who was also referred to by his communications staffers, if not his country’s citizens, as “dear leader,” “our father,” and “the general,” all of which are, of course, significant improvements on Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.  After all, in the close-knit world of tyrannical dictators, generals, et al. carry so much more credence and credibility than colonels. 

In December, Kim Jong-il’s death created its own little Twitter firestorm, as rumors quickly spread the rapper Lil’ Kim had died.  You hadn’t heard?  While I wish, I’m afraid I kid you not.  One of the illustrious knuckleheads was former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, whose tweet can only further sully a reputation rife with indictments and convictions of corruption, extortion, bribery and fraud.  Kwame, if you thought your road back to elected public office was one filled with pot holes, hair pin turns, and dangerous cliffs, just wait until voters find out you care one shake of a lamb’s tail about Lil’ Kim. 

The saving grace in yesterday’s North Korean-based stories was the reporting that after a super-quick building period of just 25 years, the Ryugyong Hotel is finally ready to open its doors in the capital of Pyongyang.  Even ardent students of North Korea, both of them, might not be familiar with this hotel, for it is often edited out of North Korea’s official photographs of the city.  Made almost entirely out of concrete and looking like something you might find scaled down at Space Mountain in Disneyland, the hotel will open only 23 years behind schedule, first as an office building, then as a – get this – a hotel for tourists.

You read correctly, tourists.  Don’t you remember the 70Chinese tourists let into the country in November?  With its first tour bus of tourists in generations, North Korea has now moved just behind Chernobyl, and just ahead of hell, in the rankings of the world’s most desirable tourist locations, and for good reasons, including:
  •  42% of the country’s 24 million inhabitants do not have access to improved sanitation facilities
  •  but they do have access to a whopping 1.18 million telephone lines and 430,000 mobile cellular phones
  •  the country’s GDP of $40 billion is about the same as Apple’s annual net profit
  •  no, none, zero independent media and all radios and televisions are pre-tuned to four government stations
  •  couple its political isolation with the fact only 22.4% of its land is arable and just 1.66% dedicated to permanent crops, and it’s clearly visible why persistent famine exists

But, I guess there’s another way to look at things – there’s only one way to go, and it’s the way up, which gets me to mulling over the possibilities.  Maybe Kim Jong-un will leave behind his family’s legacy of tyranny and push to move North Korea to a free, open, and potentially prosperous society.  Or, if we’re too late and he has already met his premature demise as speculated so much yesterday, maybe his replacement will be an open, democratically elected government instead of another sour-puss chump in a cheap suit. 

Far-fetched possibilities?  Yes, perhaps.  But nowhere near as far-fetched as the idea of Pyongyang dragging in tourists and their wallets to jump start its military-based economy, and we don’t have to spend 25 years building an above ground concrete bunker to speculate.

Of course, it’s just this guy’s opinion, and I suppose I could be wrong.

Tweet me a visa @RayHartjen

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