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Too Easy: How the West Was Lost

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A few days ago, the first reviews began to trickle in for the comedy The Interview, which depicts a shambolic attempt to assassinate the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Unfortunately, they were less than enthusiastic. One critic called it a ‘non-stop sledgehammer … bereft of satiric zing’, while the Hollywood industry paper Variety called it an ‘alleged satire that’s about as funny as a communist food shortage’.

“Trains could crash, pipelines explode, the financial markets risk going into meltdown, the National Grid might crash, hospitals could fall dark, cash dispensers might go dead and ordinary life might come grinding to a halt. Last year, the People’s Liberation Army’s Shanghai-based cyber unit was caught hacking into major American corporations such as the nuclear power company Westinghouse Electric and the United States Steel Corporation.”

Even the film’s makers probably imagined that having earned back its budget from its target audience of American teenagers, their picture would soon disappear into well-deserved obscurity.

Climb-down: Randall Park as North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un in The Interview, which has been pulled from release after Sony Pictures was hacked and confidential material leaked across the Internet

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Terrorists:Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju remembered the three year anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il. If North Korea was to launch a cyber attack it could bring the West to its knees in 15 minutes

How wrong they were. For it now seems certain that The Interview will go down in history not as an indictment of Hollywood’s obsession with the lowest common denominator, but as a chilling symbol of the future of international conflict.

When, two days ago, the film’s parent company Sony announced it was cancelling its Christmas Day release, the decision was widely seen as an abject surrender to foreign pressure.

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All week, North Korean hackers have been leaking secrets found in Sony’s emails, from insider gossip about the star Angelina Jolie to the script of the next James Bond film.

In an attempt to shore up wavering cinema chains who were uncertain as to whether to screen the film, Barack Obama recommended that ‘people go to the movies’.

But as pressure mounted, it became clear Sony’s American bosses lacked the courage to stand up to Kim Jong-un’s cyber bullies. And when the hackers issued a terrifying warning to American audiences, telling them to ‘remember September 11, 2001’, Sony simply lost its nerve.

Thus, The Interview has vanished from the schedules, and it seems unlikely it will ever return.

In the meantime, Hollywood figures have been queuing up to denounce Sony’s decision as an awful setback for free speech. ‘Today, the U.S. succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished bedrock principle,’ said the director Judd Apatow.

The actor Rob Lowe went further: If Sony had been in charge of the Allied war effort in World War II, he said, then the Nazis would have won.

In many ways the story could hardly be a better metaphor for American foreign policy in the past few years.

After almost a decade of reckless, ham-fisted over-stretch under George W. Bush — typified by this month’s appalling revelations about the CIA’s torture programme — the U.S. has turned inwards.

Obama’s policy in Syria and Ukraine has been a shambles, his attitude to Russia is dithering and pusillanimous, and he seems entirely bereft of ideas about how to fight back against the jihadists of Islamic State. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sony Pictures Presents: Wag the Dog 2

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Hong Kong’s Final Protest Site Has Been Cleared

Originally posted on TIME:

The 79-day occupation of Hong Kong’s streets by pro-democracy protesters met a rather lackluster end on Monday morning, as police cleared the last of three protest sites in a matter of hours.

The clearance of the Causeway Bay camp, a small street occupation that was partly set up to accommodate the spillover from the main camp in the Admiralty district, began at around 10 a.m. with a 20-minute warning from police telling the protesters to clear out.

The authorities moved in soon after, and hurriedly cleared barricades, tents and protest artwork in a process devoid of the drama of the Admiralty clearance four days earlier or the conflict that accompanied the removal of the Mong Kok protest site across the harbor in Kowloon the week before that.

The Causeway Bay site, over the course of the past few weeks, had dwindled to a hundred-meter stretch of road held down by…

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Michael Auslin: Hong Kong’s Democracy Movement, R.I.P.

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The world response was shameful. As during Iran’s Green Movement protests in 2009, the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency, so five years later Obama all but ignored what was happening in Hong Kong: He chose to expend a minuscule drop of the moral authority of the American president to make a point about the value of democracy.

Michael Auslin writes: The tents are gone and the streets are cleared. The thousands of students and older citizens peacefully trying to make their voices heard have gone back home. And the best hope for ensuring that Hong Kong’s fragile and evolving democracy does not flicker out has been extinguished.

What the Chinese government, and its proxy in Hong Kong, gained from the protests should not be underestimated.”

Hong Kong police finished clearing out the last remaining protest site this week after allowing two and half months of peaceful demonstrations. For a brief while in the beginning, back in late September, it looked as if things could get violent — that Hong Kong students in 2014 could wind up suffering a fate close to that of their predecessors in Tiananmen Square in Beijing back in 1989. Yet the Hong Kong police, despite a few volleys of tear gas, refrained from physical confrontation.

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“First, they crushed the movement peacefully, thereby avoiding the international opprobrium that would have come in the wake of a violent suppression…”

Not so the mysterious groups of thugs who harassed the students and attempted to break up some of their encampments. Whether directed by China or not, those ruffians clearly had the backing of the mainland authorities, as well as of Hong Kong’s Beijing-picked leader, who made clear throughout the months of protest that his primary loyalty is to the Communist party of China, and not the people of Hong Kong.

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“Second, they successfully encouraged or used small groups of thugs to intimidate the protesters and sympathetic onlookers….”

So many weeks later, it is hard to remember that the demonstrations began over a simple point: the right of Hong Kongers to democratically choose their chief executive in elections starting in 2017, as seemingly promised by Beijing back in the 1984 agreement with Great Britain that paved the way for the handover of the colony in 1997.

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“Third, they neutralized global criticism. Most importantly, in winning the confrontation, they have shaped perceptions of Hong Kong’s future, erasing any doubt over China’s ultimate control of the city.”

Yet the agreement’s language was vague enough that Beijing could manipulate its implementation despite later promises to allow free elections — and, really, what could anyone actually do to prevent the Chinese from running Hong Kong however they liked? Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Democracy Protests: A Journal of the Final Day

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Isabella Steger reports: Lunchtime strolls, camping gear and folding origami umbrellas in one of Hong Kong’s busiest thoroughfares will soon be a thing of the past.

As Hong Kong police prepare to clear the main occupied protest encampment in Admiralty on Thursday morning, thousands turned out to witness the final hours of the site, which pro-democracy protesters have occupied since Sept. 28.HK-painting

On Wednesday afternoon, a larger than usual crowd of office workers spent their lunch break at the Admiralty site, eating, taking photographs and talking politics.

“They have built up a good micro-community here. This is a place where people who support the democracy cause but who don’t necessarily align themselves with any political party can come together.”

– Jeff Cheung, 27, who works in nearby Central district

“They have built up a good micro-community here,” said Jeff Cheung, 27, who works in nearby Central district. “This is a place where people who support the democracy cause but who don’t necessarily align themselves with any political party can come together,” he added, eating a homemade salad with two friends in the so-called study area of the encampment, where volunteers built rows of desks for students to use.

Leaders of the two main student protest groups—The Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism— urged protesters to turn out Wednesday night for a last hurrah and to stay overnight if they could.

Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old leader of Scholarism, said he wouldn’t be at the front line during Thursday’s clearance operation because he needs to avoid being arrested again before his Jan. 14 court appearance. Mr. Wong was arrested in November during the clearance of the Mong Kok site. Read the rest of this entry »


Japan’s Toho to Produce New ‘Godzilla’ Movie

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TOKYO —  reports: Ten years after “Godzilla: Final Wars,” the last Toho Godzilla movie, trampled across the screen, the Japanese studio is gearing up to make another film featuring its iconic character.

The movie is scheduled to begin production in the summer of 2015 and bow theatrically in 2016, Toho sources have revealed. Details, including director and cast, have yet to be announced.

The inspiration is the success of Gareth Edward’s 2014 “Godzilla,” which earned $525 million worldwide and JPY3.2 billion ($26 million) in Japan, with Toho and Warner Bros. Japan co-distributing.

Toho has launched what it calls the Godzilla Strategic Conference (Godzi-Con), a committee of studio executives and directors whose aim is to reboot the Godzilla brand, including the new “Godzilla” pic. Read the rest of this entry »


China: Zhejiang Man on Scooter with a Sack of Cement and Dog on Head


[VIDEO] Yeonmi Park: Escaping North Korea

Yeonmi Park tells her story of life in North Korea and calls for action against such human rights violators. Yeonmi was speaking at the One Young World Summit 2014 in Dublin. Click here to see the full transcript in Korean.

I have to do this because this is not just I am speaking… This is for the people who want to tell the world what they want to say.

North Korea is an unnatural country. There is only one channel on TV and there is no internet. We aren’t free to sing, say, wear or think what we want.

North Korea is the only country in the world that executes people for making unauthorized international phone calls.

North Koreans are being terrorized today.

When I was growing up in North Korea, I never saw anything about love stories between man and woman, no books, no songs, no press, no movies about love stories. There is no Romeo and Juliet, every stories were propagandized to brainwash about the Kim dictators.

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I was born in 1993 and I was abducted at birth even before I knew the words ‘freedom’ or ‘human rights’. North Koreans are desperately seeking and dying for freedom at this moment…

When I was 9 years old, I saw my friend’s mother publicly executedHer crime? Watching a Hollywood movie.

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Expressing doubt about the regime can get 3 generations of whole family imprisoned or executed.

When I was 4 years old, I was warned by my mother, not to even whisper, the birds and mice could hear me. I admitted it. I thought the North Korean dictator could read my mind. My father died in China after we escaped North Korea. And I have to bury him at 3 am in secret. I was only 14 years old. I couldn’t even cry, I was afraid to be sent back to North Korea.

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The day I escaped North Korea, I saw my mother raped. The rapist was a Chinese broker. He had targeted me. I was only 13 years old. There is a saying in North Korea, “Women are weak, but mothers are strong”. My mother allowed herself to be raped in order to protect me.

North Korean refugees, about 300,000 are roaming over in China. 70 percent of North Korean women and teenage girls are being victimized and sometimes sold for as a little as 200 dollars. We walked across the Gobi desert following a compass and when it stopped working, we followed the stars to freedom. I felt only the stars are with us. Mongolia was our freedom moment.

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Death or dignity; I was with the knife, we were prepared to kill ourselves if we are going to be send back to North Korea. We wanted to live as humans…

People often ask me, “How can we help North Koreans?”. There are many ways but I would like to mention 3 for now.

One, as you care yourself, you can raise awareness about human crisis in North Korea.

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Two, help and support North Korean refugees who are trying to escape for freedom.

Three, petition China to stop repatriation. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Protesters Considering Retreat

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HONG KONG— Mia Lamar and Isabella Steger reporting: Student protesters demanding greater democracy for Hong Kong said Thursday they are more seriously weighing a retreat from the roads they have occupied for more than two months.

The remarks were the latest sign of the narrowing options that the protesters face as police have increased their efforts to remove the demonstrators from the streets and public support for the occupation of busy city thoroughfares has faded.

“Occupying here doesn’t put enough pressure on the government. If it put enough pressure, we wouldn’t be here two months….In the end, we didn’t get what we want, but this movement inspired people that we can’t live like this anymore.”

–  18-year-old student Timothy Sun

The Hong Kong Federation of Students, a group of university students at the helm of the protests, and Scholarism, a teenage student protest group, could issue a decision over whether to retreat from the encampments within the next week, according to student leaders.

A street cleaner pushes her cart between rows of tents at the pro-democracy movement's main protest site in Hong Kong's Admiralty district. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

A street cleaner pushes her cart between rows of tents at the pro-democracy movement’s main protest site in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Yvonne Leung, a spokeswoman for HKFS, made the remarks on a local radio program. Eighteen-year-old Scholarism leader Joshua Wong separately told The Wall Street Journal that his group, which works closely with HKFS, is also considering a retreat. Mr. Wong is in the third day of a hunger strike, along with four other teen members of his group.

“For me, I think it’s time to adjust tactics. Retreat doesn’t necessarily mean failure.”

– Student leader

Protesters are calling for the right of citizens to select their own candidates for the city’s top leadership post, not those vetted by Beijing as per a decision handed down by the National People’s Congress in August. Those calls have been rejected by the government as nonnegotiable under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, a “mini-constitution” held with Beijing. The city will vote in 2017 for its next chief executive, a five-year appointment. Read the rest of this entry »


Was the Mona Lisa a Chinese Slave?

DV142066 Leonardo da Vinci Painting

The identity of the sitter for the portrait hanging in Paris’ Louvre museum has long been a matter of debate. If Paratico’s theory is correct, it means the 15th-century polymath was half-Chinese.

The woman depicted in the Mona Lisa might be both a Chinese slave, and Leonardo da Vinci’s mother, according to a new theory from Angelo Paratico, a Hong Kong-based historian and novelist.

“One wealthy client of Leonardo’s father had a slave called Caterina. After 1452, Leonardo’s date of birth, she disappeared from the documents. She was no longer working there. During the Renaissance, countries like Italy and Spain were full of oriental slaves.”

The identity of the sitter for the portrait hanging in Paris’ Louvre museum has long been a matter of debate. If Paratico’s theory is correct, it means the 15th-century polymath was half-Chinese.

 “Mona Lisa is probably a portrait of his mother, as Sigmund Freud said in 1910. On the back of Mona Lisa, there is a Chinese landscape and even her face looks Chinese.”

However, the historian’s claims are tenuous.

Read the rest of this entry »


This Chinese PhD Student Just Wrote an 80,000-Word Dissertation on Braised Chicken

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The footnotes alone could fill a library

Alyssa Abkowitz reports: Braising chicken is a science in itself.

That’s according to an 80,000-word doctoral dissertation by a 34-year-female PhD candidate in China’s Shanxi Province, written in an effort to find out how spices impact the taste of meat.

"I've only read 55,000 words so far. I'll report back when I've read the whole thing."

“I’ve only read 55,000 words so far. I’ll report back when I’ve read the whole thing.”

Sun Lingxia, a student at Shanxi Normal University, conducted a two-year study on braised chicken to help pave the way for standardizing production of traditional food on a large scale, she told the Southern Metropolis Daily, a local newspaper in Guangzhou.

“While Chinese microbloggers have nicknamed the dissertation “The Most Yummy Paper,” one of Ms. Sun’s professors said scientific research on food is quite normal, citing examples including Japanese research papers on bread.”

By comparing differences between chicken braised with star anise and those braised without the popular spice, she was able to control taste by quantifying the temperature, time and power needed to make braised chicken taste the most delicious. To ensure consistency in her experiments, Ms. Sun used one factory in Henan Province to source all her chicken and only used star anise from Guangxi, the report said.

Ms. Sun focused on star anise because it’s affordable and commonly used in both braised chicken and braised pork, two popular dishes in China. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Students Surround Government Offices

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Police Use Pepper Spray, Batons to Stop Protesters’ Advance

HONG KONG—Isabella Steger, Biman Mukherji and Phred Dvorak reporting: Police deployed pepper spray and used batons to push back thousands of protesters trying to block government offices, the latest escalation of the pro-democracy movement that entered its third month with no signs of resolution.

“We will continue our fight for democracy. We will keep up the pressure on the government.”

– Oscar Lai, a spokesman for Scholarism

The Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism, the two groups leading the demonstrations, called on crowds assembled at a protest site to surround the central government offices and the office of the chief executive, the city’s top official, aiming to block government workers from entering Monday morning. Early Monday, police beat back the crowds and cleared the road outside the chief executive’s office. At least 40 people were arrested, police said.

The HKFS stressed that protesters should stay peaceful and not use force. The student groups asked protesters to bring umbrellas, goggles, masks, food supplies and helmets to Sunday’s assembly, to protect themselves in case police responded with pepper spray or tear gas.

After the call to surround the government offices, protesters filled the roads around the complex where the buildings and Hong Kong legislature are located, skirmishing in some areas with police who used pepper spray and batons to stop their advance. Read the rest of this entry »


New Kim on the Block: The Rise of Kim Jong Un’s Little Sister

Originally posted on TIME:

At last, a North Korea rumor proves true: all year, Korea watchers have been buzzing about the rise of Kim Jong Un’s little sister, Kim Yo Jong. She popped up at her father Kim Jong Il’s December 2011 funeral, then reappeared next to her brother on election day in March of this year. (Yes, North Korea has elections, of sorts.) Experts speculated that her presence at a high-profile political event signaled that she was on the rise within the regime but, as with many things in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as it is officially called, the theory was just that — until now.

On Thursday, Nov. 26, in an otherwise humdrum account of Kim Jong Un’s visit to a cartoon studio, state media listed Kim Yo Jong as “vice department director” in the powerful Central Committee of the ruling Worker’s Party. In March, when she was…

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Bottle Shock: Japan Crowned Best Whiskey


North Korea Holds Massive Rally Against UN Human Rights Resolution

Nork-Rally

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea held a mass rally Tuesday in its capital to protest a United Nations resolution condemning its human rights record.

Thousands of protesters in Kim Il Sung Square carried banners praising their leaders and condemning the United States. Such mass rallies are organized by the government and are used to express its official line.

North Korea has denounced the U.N. resolution, which is the first to urge the Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court. That would open the possibility of its autocratic leader, Kim Jong Un, being targeted by prosecutors. The non-binding resolution is to come before the U.N. General Assembly in the coming weeks. Read the rest of this entry »


China’s Mysterious ‘Dark Sword’ Could Become World’s First Supersonic Drone

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China’s mysterious “Dark Sword” combat drone could become the world’s first supersonic unmanned aviation vehicle, reports the website of the country’s national broadcaster CCTV.

The Dark Sword — known in Chinese as “Anjian” — made quite a stir in 2006 when a conceptual model of the unusually shaped triangular aircraft made its debut at the Zhuhai Airshow in southern China’s Guangdong province.

The model was subsequently exhibited at the Paris Air Show but has disappeared from future airshows, with no official word on the development of the UAV. Some claim the project has already been scrapped due to insufficient funding or other reasons, while others believe the development of the drone is now being kept secret as it is undergoing further research and testing.

Chinese aviation expert Fu Qianshao told CCTV that while he does not know the status of the Dark Sword project, the drone could become the world’s first supersonic UAV if it proves a success. He said he would not be surprised if the project is still ongoing in secret as a lack of transparency is nothing new for the aviation industry and is an approach commonly taken by the Americans.

Fu believes even conceptual models of aircraft can reveal something about a country’s technology and the quality of its research and development, adding that analyzing models at Zhuhai can allow experts to gauge the pulse of China’s aviation industry and pick up data that may be more valuable than what the developers are leaking out to the public. Read the rest of this entry »


Japan: 6.8 Earthquake Near Nagano City

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TOKYO (AP) — A strong earthquake late Saturday struck a mountainous area of central Japan that hosted the 1998 winter Olympics, knocking down at least 10 homes in a ski resort town and injuring more than 20 people, officials said.

The magnitude-6.8 earthquake struck near Nagano city shortly after 10 p.m. (1300 GMT) at a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles), the Japan Meteorological Agency said. The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake’s magnitude at 6.2. Since the quake occurred inland, there was no possibility of a tsunami.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said no abnormalities were reported at three nuclear power plants in the affected areas. All of Japan’s nuclear plants are offline following a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami in 2011 that sent three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant into meltdown. Fukushima is about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of where Saturday’s earthquake occurred.

At least 22 people were injured, three of them seriously, in Nagano city, the Hakuba ski resort and elsewhere, the National Polilce Agency told Japan’s Kyodo news agency.

“We are trying to assess the situation as quickly as possible, and we’ll do our utmost for the rescue of the injured people,” Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protesters Not Allowed to Board Flight to Beijing

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HONG KONG — Isabella Steger reports: Members of a student protest group who planned to take their demands for democracy in Hong Kong to the Chinese capital weren’t allowed to board a flight to Beijing on Saturday.

Four members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, who have been at the forefront of pro-democracy protests that have gone on for more than 40 days in the city, were unable to board their Cathay Pacific flight.

Representatives of the group said the airline denied boarding to Alex Chow, who leads the student group, Nathan Law, Eason Chung and Jeffrey Tsang, because they received notification that the students’ entry permits had been voided.

About 100 pro-democracy protesters went to Hong Kong’s airport to send the students off, carrying yellow umbrellas and singing protest anthems. Read the rest of this entry »


The Inconvenient Truth About the U.S.-China Emissions Deal: It’s Meaningless

Originally posted on TIME:

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a “joint announcement on climate change” in which each country made pledges about how they intend to handle future emissions of their greenhouse gases. The announcement was hailed by most environmental groups and much of the media as “historic,” a “breakthrough, and a “game-changer.” Careful parsing of the text’s diplomatic jargon suggests that the joint announcement is, in fact, none of those.

To understand the nebulous nature of the announcement, don’t focus first on the promised trajectories of future greenhouse gas emissions by both countries. Instead consider the loopholes. For example, this bit of climate change diplomatic arcana in which the two countries promise to work together “to adopt a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties at the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris in 2015.”

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