North Korea’s World Cup Team Faces Shaming, and the Coach Becomes a Political Prisoner

Probably no country on earth would be too thrilled with a World Cup team that strikes out with three straight losses, but while other teams with unsatisfactory performances in South Africa faced sanctions that included suspension from a few games, as the French squad was, the stakes were much higher for the North Korean team.

No, they weren’t executed. (It seems that a lot of people have been wondering about that, judging from the number of hits this blog gets from search terms such as “did they kill the North Korean soccer team”). Even North Korea would not be that stupid or brutal, I hope. And the players, at least, escaped being forced into prison camps.

But they were subjected to a six-hour shaming session:

The entire squad was forced onto a stage at the People’s Palace of Culture and subjected to criticism from Pak Myong-chol, the sports minister, as 400 government officials, students and journalists watched.

The players were subjected to a “grand debate” on July 2 because they failed in their “ideological struggle” to succeed in South Africa, Radio Free Asia and South Korean media reported.

It wasn’t quite the entire squad — the two North Korean players with Japanese nationality escaped the punishment, probably because they (quite astutely) did not return to North Korea, but instead went straight back to Japan.

The Chollima’s coach was not quite so lucky, though. The players were forced to publicly blame him for their loss, and to criticize his performance. The punishment did not end there:

The team’s coach, Kim Jong-hun, was reportedly forced to become a builder and has been expelled from the Workers’ Party of Korea.

This is putting it euphemistically. North Korea’s labor camps are every bit as harsh, as you might expect. I suppose North Korea could not put its best football players in the prison camps if it ever hoped to field a decent team again, but maybe they figure they will still be able to find someone willing to serve as a coach even under the threat of being sent away to a work camp.

The coach was punished for “betraying” Kim Jong-un – one of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il’s sons and heir apparent.

It’s interesting, though, that the alleged “betrayal” was not of Kim Jong-il, but of his son. There has been a lot of speculation lately that North Korea’s recent impulsiveness and erratic behavior (well, more impulsive and erratic than even North Korea usually is) has been a result of a potential regime-shake up that is laying the path for Kim Jong-un’s eventual succession of his father.

Despite the harsh treatment the players and coach suffered, it is no surprise that North Korea did not have any staff or teammates defect in South Africa. In contrast with teams from nations such as Cuba, where such defections are relatively common, defections from North Korea are rarer — because North Korea holds hostage the family members of its nationals who go abroad. If a member of the North Korean team had tried to defect, he would do so knowing that his actions would essentially amount to a death sentence for his kin back home.


A Nation’s HTML Source Code Doesn’t Lie — North Korea is STRONG

When I decided that, henceforth, sovereignty was to be determined through the Website Theory of Statehood, whether or not an entity qualified as a state was based upon the visual appearance of the would-be state’s online presence. Perhaps, though, the theory should be expanded to take a state website’s source code into consideration.

Case in point, North Korea. From The Daily WTF, check out the website coding behind North Korea’s homepage:

If North Korea throws in just a couple more <STRONG> tags, it will surely reach global super power status. Dear Leader is an Internet Genius.


Paul, International Octopus of Mystery, Is Declared an Enemy by Iranian President

Poor Paul. Who would have guessed that a psychic cephalopod could have so many enemies?

Paul, a two year old Octopus vulgaris, acquired world-wide notoriety after he correctly predicted the winner of all seven of Germany’s World Cup games, as well as the final between Spain and the Netherlands. For this feat, he received death threats from the nationals of teams Paul predicted to lose, including, eventually, threats from fellow Germans after he correctly predicted their defeat by Spain.

Even after retiring from predicting the outcome football matches, Paul has continued to make enemies. Not least among these is the fearsome and blood-thirsty Team Edward, who turned on Paul after he declared his allegiance to Team Jacob.

And now Paul is being attacked by the nation of Iran. In a speech in Tehran, President Ahmadinejad declared that Paul is a symbol of Western corruption and folly, and that only nations that despise psychic octopuses are worthy of being global powers:

[T]he Iranian president accused the octopus of spreading “western propaganda and superstition.” Paul was mentioned by Mr Ahmadinejad on various occasions during a speech in Tehran at the weekend.

“Those who believe in this type of thing cannot be the leaders of the global nations that aspire, like Iran, to human perfection, basing themselves in the love of all sacred values,” he said.

This is not the first time that Paul has gotten involved with national politics. Although the results have been sealed until 2012, Paul has also predicted the outcome of Russia’s next presidential election.

Of course, not only Western nations have fallen under Paul’s spell. China has gone Paul-crazy. Chinese film-makers even made a movie about Paul and “how the octopus acquires the ability and discuss his possible fates.” Admittedly, it’s hard to tell if the movie is an homage or a threat: the title is ‘The Murder of Paul the Octopus.’

Not to spoil anything, but my guess is the lead suspect will be Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


Player Piano Roll Copying is Killing Music (And It’s Maybe Illegal)

The story of copyright law in the United States is, in many ways, one chapter after another about the entertainment industry’s hyperbolic overreaction to the latest developed technology.

Today, the dispute may be about the Kindle’s automatic audio-production of e-texts, or about a 30 second clip of a baby dancing to Prince on YouTube. Before that, the great new threat to the existence of music was Napster. And before that, the movie industry was convinced that the VCR would soon put an end to Hollywood, and it took the Supreme Court to keep home recording legal. And so on and so on.

But perhaps the great granddaddy of all modern day copyright disputes was the development of the player piano:

Yes, that’s right, that dastardly player piano, with its automated paper piano rolls that could play songs without musicians. The fear was so great that lots of lobbying was done of Congress, leading to the 1909 Copyright Act, which brought about compulsory licensing on mechanical rights. Of course, within about a decade, the infatuation with the player piano was gone, but compulsory mechanical rights were stuck in US law and no one ever thought to question if they were really needed.

The copying of player piano rolls may not cause the entertainment industry to sic its litigation team on you today, but copyright laws are impeding the preservation of musical history. Even songs that were in the public domain in Shakespeare’s time cannot today be copied from a player piano roll, because the copyright in the roll itself still exists. Here’s what one would-be infringer was told when he contacted a company that makes player piano rolls to ask about putting recordings on the internet:

A very nice and patient man answered the phone, and I explained what I wanted to do. I explained that I would be sure to use a song that was an ancient melodie which had to be out of copyright by now, and I only wanted to do a few songs, perhaps “Greensleeves” and some ragtime melody that used a mechanism in my player piano called the “mandolin”. The nice man replied that Greensleeves was indeed out of copyright, but that the artist’s rendition of my Greensleeves roll might not be out of copyright. I began to feel the hackles on the back of my neck stand up.

The nice man continued by saying that the rendition of Greensleeves had been put onto a roll of paper, and that too included a copyright, so other player piano roll manufacturers would not just buy one roll, copy it, and sell it to other player piano owners.

The only thing shocking about this story is the fact there is still a company out there that manufactures player piano rolls.


Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic, a Household Necessity

While researching issues involving judicial notice, I came across one holding that caught my eye, mostly because I had never heard of the product referenced:

“[C]hill tonic is still considered a necessity in many households and it is a matter of common knowledge that it is almost an indispensable article in all commissaries.” Walter J. Bryson Paving Co. v. State, for Use of Lewis Bear Co., 111 Fla. 394, 149 So. 563 (1933).

It does raise an interesting point about judicial notice, though; how common must ‘common knowledge’ be for its proof to be assumed in the absence of any evidence? And how long does common knowledge continue to be common in the face of technological change? Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic was already in its twilight years by 1933, no longer as ubiquitous as it once had been, as is acknowledged in the opinion. Can information be adopted by the court through judicial notice when generations younger than the judges wouldn’t have a clue what they’re talking about?

Today Chill Tonic is an obscure bit of history, but it turns out Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic was the Band-Aid or Tylenol of its time. Malaria was still common in the South in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and Chill Tonic was a more palatable form of quinine, the only known malaria medication of the time:

Grove’s Chill Tonic may not have been exactly tasteless, but in 1878 he suspended quinine in liquid form. In other words, the ingredients in Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic were not soluble, but suspended in the syrup. The tonic became an overnight sensation and a household name for decades. …

Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic was created not as a cure, but as a preventative and relief of malaria and its resulting chills and fever. Those who remember taking the chill tonic did not agree with the “tasteless” billing, although it was better than taking straight quinine. Quinine has been used for more than three centuries and, until the 1930s, it was the only effective malaria treatment. The chill tonic was so popular the British army made it standard issue for every soldier going off to mosquito infested lands and, by 1890, more bottles of Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic were sold than bottles of Coca-Cola.

Grove’s brand of tonic also had an incredibly disturbing logo, pictured here. Somehow, I don’t see either the pig-baby logo or the slogan “makes children and adults as fat as pigs” doing all that well in a marketing campaign today.

Perhaps, though, there is a lesson for the modern day to be had from the story of Chill Tonic:

“I had a little drug business in Paris, Tennessee, just barely making a living, when I got up a real invention, tasteless quinine. As a poor man and a poor boy, I conceived the idea that whoever could produce a tasteless chill tonic, his fortune was made.”—E.W. Grove

And make a fortune he did, although while his chill tonic was still in the experimental stage, North Poplar Street neighbors in Paris sometimes became upset with Grove as odors drifted from his pharmaceuticals bubbling in a kettle outdoors. Ironically, some of these families, including the O.C. Barton’s, became millionaires after investing in Grove’s Paris Medicine Company.

Maybe Steptoe and Johnson should stop its war on delicious burgers and try investing in Rogue States instead.


This is What a Forged Check for Half a Million Dollars Looks Like

There are quite a lot of scams out there that specifically target law firms. Most of them are variations on the 419 scam, and pretty obvious too boot — such as the business offers from wealthy princes in Nigeria — but apparently there is a slightly more sophisticated version going around right now. Here is a description of the how the scam starts:

The email memo arrives at the law office, and sounds like many others that arrive during the day soliciting legal services. A potential commercial client, albeit located overseas, needs some legal assistance collecting on debts from their customers located in the U.S. They may be willing to pay on a contingency fee basis or hourly basis. They explain that generally their slow paying customers will pay once counsel is obtained in the U.S. and a little bit of pressure is applied. It makes sense, the law firms sends off a client fee agreement and it comes back signed. Later names and addresses, and perhaps telephone numbers of several customers located in the U.S. arrive at the law office. Due diligence performed by the law firm on the internet indicates that the new client is a major manufacturer in Europe or Asia. The web pages of the customers are similarly impressive. A telephone call indicates that the slow paying customer is willing to pay the client via the law firm. The cashiers check arrives shortly. It seems to be a potentially lucrative client for the lawyer.

And apparently a few firms out there have fallen for it, or at least enough for the FBI to see fit to issue a warning about it.

This happened to my firm last week. We were contacted by a potential client who claimed something very much like the above — a foreign company was looking to collect on a Virginia company, and needed to retain counsel. We were immediately suspicious, primarily because it was a foreign client contacting us without a referral, but there was nothing to blatantly mark it out as a fraud. So the firm did respond, and we started up a correspondence with the company.

Of course, just a couple days later it was made abundantly clear that it was all a scam, when the “client” informed us that, after they had emailed the website bios of two of our attorneys to the would-be defendant, the company had been so thoroughly intimidated that that they immediately agreed to settle. For a million dollars. And that a check for the full amount would be arriving shortly.

Yeah, that sounds plausible. Really.

True to the scammer’s word, however, a check did in fact show up in the mail. Not for the full million promised, alas — the check was for just under $500,000. We were soon informed, however, that this was only half of the settlement amount, and that a second check for the rest of the funds was on its way.

But the forgery on the first check was pretty darn impressive:

I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t known it was a forgery, I wouldn’t have picked it out as one.


North Korea’s Response to the Security Council Statement on the Attack of the Cheonan: A Glimpse Into Crazyville

Last week, the UN Security Council released a bland and sanitized statement ‘condemning’ the attack on the Cheonan. The statement says in part,

“The Security Council deplores the loss of life and injuries and expresses its deep sympathy and condolences to the victims and their families and to the people and Government of the Republic of Korea, and calls for appropriate and peaceful measures to be taken against those responsible for the incident aimed at the peaceful settlement of the issue in accordance with the United Nations Charter and all other relevant provisions of international law.

“In view of the findings of the Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group led by the Republic of Korea with the participation of five nations, which concluded that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was responsible for sinking the Cheonan, the Security Council expresses its deep concern.

“The Security Council takes note of the responses from other relevant parties, including from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident.”

The statement goes on to praise South Korea’s restraint and to encourage settlement of the dispute by pacific means.

Translation of the UN Statement: Everyone on earth knows that North Korea is guilty as hell, and that South Korea was the victim of an unprovoked missile attack. But, because China and Russia do not want any possibility of kinetic conflict breaking out, the only action the Security Council had available was to release a toothless condemnation that, although it acknowledges the truth in a circumspect way, precludes any possibility of more overt Security Council involvement.

As seen by North Korea’s recent propaganda posters, North Korea is not particularly reluctant to acknowledge, in an equally circumspect fashion, that of course it blew up the Cheonan, and it is not afraid to do it again.

But North Korea’s press release in response to the Security Council’s statement is dazzling it terms of its hyperbole and self-deception:

Pyongyang, July 13 (KCNA) — The U.S. and the south Korean puppet authorities tried to save their lost faces even a bit, uttering that they feel disappointment with the presidential statement of the UN Security Council concerning the “Cheonan” case but there was what they called “success” at least.

World media, however, consider the presidential statement as a total fiasco for them.

No wonder, media put it that the south Korean authorities’ original plan to wrest “apology and compensation” from the DPRK by prodding the UNSC into adopting a “resolution” of legal binding force went up in smoke, terming the presidential statement an absurd and toothless one.

A particular mention should be made of the fact that media are jeering at the U.S. and south Korea, saying: The fact that the presidential statement took note of the DPRK’s stand that it has nothing to do with the case of “Cheonan’s” sinking now that the “chief culprit” of the case has not yet been probed means, in the final analysis, that the UNSC does not view the case as “something done by north Korea”, and the U.S. and south Korea raised a hue and cry over the case but it ended in the publication of a very ambiguous presidential statement that seems to defend north Korea.

This is a natural outcome based on the objective reality in which the international community terms the U.S. and the south Korean authorities’ “Cheonan” diplomacy a fiasco.

A scrutiny into the presidential statement proved that the DPRK was right when it asserted that the case is an issue to be settled between the north and the south, not an issue to be referred to the UNSC in view of its nature.

By nature the UNSC has to perform the function of handling any incident posing “threat to international peace and stability” and finding out its culprit and “punishing” him.

However, the presidential statement not only took a deformed attitude of condemning the recent case itself without singling out the author of it but also called upon the parties concerned to settle the case peacefully through their direct dialogue after considering it as a regional affair.

This amounted to the UNSC’s affirmation of the DPRK’s stand that the “Cheonan” case is not a matter to be dealt with at the UN forum as asserted by the United States and the south Korean authorities, but a matter to be settled by the north and the south of Korea.

Such being the case, the U.S. and the south Korean authorities are misinterpreting the presidential statement in favor of them, adding something to it as they please in a bid to save their face even a bit. But such behavior will only reveal how poor their position is.

Every sin brings its punishment with it and one bereft of any reason would talk much.

Though the U.S. and the south Korean authorities are talking a lot like a thief afraid of his own shadow, they can neither cover up the truth behind the “Cheonan” case nor hide up their despicable true colors.

In keeping with the presidential statement saying that “the Security Council encourages the settlement of outstanding issues on the Korean Peninsula by peaceful means to resume direct dialogue and negotiation through appropriate channels,” the DPRK will do its utmost to probe the truth about the case to the last and achieve peace, stability and denuclearization of the peninsula.

The failure to capitalize “north” and “south” is deliberate, owing to the DPRK’s failure to acknowledge the existence of two countries.

Parts of it read like it was lifted from a particularly obscure fortune cookie: “Every sin brings its punishment with it and one bereft of any reason would talk much”; “talking a lot like a thief afraid of his own shadow”; “This is a natural outcome based on the objective reality”. Although it gets points for colorful imagery, North Korea comes across sounding far too much like Baghdad Bob for the statement to be taken seriously by anyone.

It is clear that North Korea could stand to learn a thing or two about diplomatic spin from the United States.