More Than You Need to Know About Kim Jong Un

A screen shot from Apparently the young dictator has taken off a few pounds. Thanks,, for being there for us.



In bad weather. With unsettling music.

Global Awareness

Here it Comes

Pyongyang via Wikimedia

Air Force One bears down on Singapore at this hour. Time for us to bone up on learning this stuff. Betcha more than he has.

How Is Bullying Working Out for You?

This morning’s cancellation of the US/DPRK summit comes as no surprise. It turns out that the president who threatens “fire and fury” can’t countenance similar rhetoric from his interlocutors.

It’s not just the threat of “fire and fury” that the North Koreans have been responding to. The other day the American vice-president went on a friendly news channel to say that “There was some talk about the Libya model … as the President made clear, this will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal.”

This was a straightforward threat to the life of the North Korean leader, thuggish and anti-diplomatic. But boy, he sure is a big ol’ tough vice-president, yessiree.

The vice-president was referring to an appearance by the new national security advisor John Bolton on the same friendly Fox News channel, in which Mr. Bolton provocatively laid out a maximalist negotiating position, demanding the unilateral disarmament of North Korea along the lines of the “Libyan model.”

Libya’s ruler Moammar Gadhafi was persuaded to transfer his nuclear equipment out of the country in 2003 and 2004. This came under the George W. Bush administration. Later the Obama administration, along with European allies, mounted military action against Libya in 2011 to prevent a threatened massacre of civilians. In that conflict, rebels hunted down Colonel Gadhafi and killed him. This was the “Libya model.”

Since everyone knows this, Mr. Bolton’s remarks were artless and, as we see this morning, if the U.S. is really seeking to pursue diplomacy, counterproductive.

The United States, along with the United Kingdom and France, was instrumental in the death of Colonel Gadhafi. The United States has meanwhile just unilaterally abrogated an internationally negotiated treaty with Iran.

In this light, consider how much weight a member of the North Korean leadership would give President Trump’s remarks on Tuesday that “I will guarantee his (Mr. Kim’s) safety, yes … He will be safe, he will be happy, his country will be rich, his country will be hard-working and prosperous.”

We now enter a period of blistering tit for tat rhetoric between the US and the DPRK.

That Nobel prize will have to wait.

Weekend Reading

Thank you for staying with me through a couple of relatively quiet weeks, as I’ve been tending to stuff around the farm.

Busy world, eh? Witness the two Koreas’ summit earlier today.

(Credit: Getty Images via

Apparently those concrete-looking blocks between the two men mark the border between countries. I found video of the two leaders stepping back and forth over them arresting.

Not one for ad hominem attacks (unless, perhaps obliquely implied) I’ll decline to note my wonder whether Mr. Kim would make it through all that theatrical, symbolic walking around without becoming winded before he finally made it to the guest book table. Here is a Korea reading list from earlier this week.


Just now I’m working through three worthwhile books on the same theme. They are The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder, The End of Europe by James Kirchick and After Europe by Ivan Krastev.

Kirchick’s and Krastev’s books are about a year old and Snyder’s is new this year.

For my money, Snyder is brilliant. Just have a look at some of his work. Krastev has become a bit of a trendy opinion maker from his unlikely perch in Sofia, Bulgaria. About Kirchick I’m less sure. He has a bit of a controversial past.

Just the same, they’re all engaging and I hope I’ll have something to say to synthesize the three authors’ ideas before long.

Meanwhile, there was a wealth of engaging shorter-form material to read this week, including:

An Apology for the Internet – From the Architects Who Built It by Noah Kulwin in New York Magazine
What Cape Town learned from its drought by Piotr Wolski at
The Faroe Islands by Porter Fox at
What will the next war look like by Christopher in The Spectator
How Neoliberalism Changed the World by Patrick Iber in The New Republic

See you next week.

Fill in the Blanks on Korean Politics

I haven’t been on the Korean peninsula for more than fifteen years. Two visits. Both were just a day and a night in Seoul with scant chance to bear down on cultural understanding. A friend spent a bit of time in Seoul since then, and declared South Korea the hands-down most difficult, inscrutable, cloaked and mystifying of all lands. From the point of view of an American unattuned to Korean culture.

I imagine the skyline has changed a lot since this photo from one of those sky needle observation tower buildings. Pretty big even then, though.

The two Koreas are scheduled to meet in two days time, ahead of the proposed Donald Trump/Kim Jong-un affair. Why shouldn’t South Korean politics be as local (and complicated) as Tip O’neill said all politics is? For a quick catch-up on a generation of South Korean politics, read Anthony Spaeth’s useful Aiming for a Nuke-Free Korea: Bold Diplomacy or Dangerous Delusion?

Meanwhile, the definitive book to read on the Korean War for my money is The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam. A wicked, evil, brutal and ungodly affair.

Then maybe order up one or two of these:

North Korea Confidential by Daniel Tudor and James Pearson, a 2015 book that seeks to cast a rather more realistic light on the reality of North Korean life than the popular media stereotype.

Only Beautiful, Please a memoir by British diplomat John Evrard, a thirty year, four continent British ambassador to un-Commonwealth lands like North Korea, Belarus and Uruguay.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times.

Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader by Bradley K. Martin. Portraits of the first two leaders of the only Communist dynasty, Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.

French Canadian graphic artist Guy DeLisle’s graphic novel Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

And for the scariest of all, The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag by escapee Chol-hwan Kang.

New Fun Ship

I’ve been less than kind to the cruise ship vacation industry before, but here’s one cruise that has got to be rockin’. Ladies and gentlemen, the North Korean ferry, the Mangyongbong, seen here in Vladivostok.

Weekend Reading

Here is a selection of fine reading material on which to muse this weekend:

The Fate of Earth by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker
Russia’s House of Shadows by Joshua Yaffa in The New Yorker
A New History of the First Peoples in the Americas by Adam Rutherford in The Atlantic
Here’s What Would Happen If Donald Trump Nuked North Korea by Greg Fish at
Citizens of anywhere by Matthew Valencia at
Ça va un peu by Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books, reviewing Congo: The Epic History of a People by David van Reybrouck

Flight Over Pyongyang

Assuming this is legit, and it appears to be – the Hotel of Doom seems to be out there in the distance – it’s most interesting. Pyongyang appears to have all the modern amenities … and almost no traffic.