Foolish ‘Student’ Sentenced to 15 ‘Hard’ Years in North Korea

 

otto_leaving_court

A 21-year old American, a student at the University of Virginia, has been sentenced to 15 years of ‘hard labor’ in North Korea for taking as a souvenir a poster featuring a political slogan.

At his age, Otto Warmbier should be aware enough of world affairs – particularly concerning a country he plans to visit – to know that the South Korean government is like few others: It is a based, in effect, on the concept that the country’s leader, no matter his (in-)experience or (lack-of-)knowledge level, is a deity – a walking, talking, bad-decisions-making god, of sorts. That, in a nut shell, is what Kim Jong-il – an overweight idiot with a bad haircut – is.

There was a case a couple of years ago where two/three ‘tourists’ were taken into custody while hiking through a remote part of … was it Iran? Probably. Iran’s leaders, like those in a few other countries, are fanatics with missions no right-thinking person can make a lot of sense of. And this is, or should be, general knowledge – to anyone who reads a newspaper or online news services. And especially to anyone intending to stroll into some such country!

So why, you have to wonder, would two twenty-somethings be wandering around on a magical mystery adventure tour, in the backyard of a country known full-well to abhor Americans and everything America stands for?

I grant you, 15 years is, even for North Korea, a pretty harsh sentence for someone who misappropriated a poster. And in all likelihood, a deal will somehow be worked out so that Warmbier serves only a fraction of the sentenced time.

But it’s hard to have much sympathy for someone who put themselves in that position – by [1] even being in North Korea (is he totally nuts?)  and [2] effectively defacing public – nee, ‘sacred’ – property by taking with intend to keep a political poster.

I know this is hardly comparable, but here’s the story: I was in Versailles, France, to visit the palace there – and a grand place it indeed is. Walking back to the train for Paris, I saw a poster in a butcher’s window for a Mozart concert that had taken place the night before. Knowing he really had no further use for it – and assuming he’d allowed it to be placed in his window as a favor to someone – I asked, in my petit Francais, if I could have the poster. He assented, and I carefully conveyed it back to the U.S., where it was, for a long time, a prized feature on one of my office walls. (I have no idea what ever happened to it. I’ve had 39 homes in two countries in my 73 years, and I’m sure most of them have seen something left behind.)

I took many photos in Russia and in Kosovo in 1974. Russia was just then opening itself up to tourists. Kosovo hosted me and a group of German journalists set on touring vineyards and sampling wine for six or so days. (Who keep track of time when you and your colleagues are consuming multiple bottles of wine daily at restaurants where you are a guest of the government – eating, by the way, essentially the same ‘local’ foods twice a day, because Kosovo is small, and most towns have the same or very similar ‘specialties’.)

Never, in either of those countries, both under more-or-less ‘communist’ governments at the time, did I have any problem with my capturing images of things the locals saw every day. Those governments may have been repressive in some ways, but they fully realized the value of hosting foreigners – tourists, in the case of Russia, guests of a wine-exporting company in the other.

North Korea is, or seems to be, bound and determined to remain a pariah nation – existing outside any ‘norm’s established elsewhere in the world, causing, for whatever reason, its people to suffer dietary and an assortment of other sufferings for … what?

The 1950-53 Korean War between the north and south entities on that peninsula was never ‘settled’, in that a truce was agreed, but peace never was. Meanwhile, under a democratic system, the south has prospered, and the north has struggled – hardly seeming to even attempt to overcome the hungers – for food, education, jobs and more – of its people.

Now that miniscule nation, such as it is, is messing around with developing nuclear bomb technology! One has to assume Kim Jong-il  is getting advice as wise in that area – in creating the ability to do nuclear bomb-related harm to neighboring countries, and even the U.S. –as what he hears from whomever is cutting his hair!

Otto Warmbier Humbles himself in N. Korean court, the just-sentence ‘student’

Good luck, Otto.  If you haven’t already, accept that kimchi is both a healthy (cabbage-based) side dish… and one more than likely to distract you, given its strong flavor, from other issues.

Seeking a Selfie With A Bison? Settle for One With a Moo-Cow!

bison_storyIt’s easy, when pursuing a selfie, to overlook personal safety issues. An extreme example of doing so has resulted, so far this year, in five people being injured by bison — often erroneously referred to as buffalo — in Yellowstone National Park. That’s more of that type injury than have occurred in the past 15 years, according to The Idaho Statesman.

If you’re planning a visit to Yellowstone, home to the largest American Bison population on public land in the US (some 4,900 in 2014), and if you’re a fan of selfies, here’s a pair of facts worth remembering: [1] The fastest-recorded human footspeed — the fastest a human has ever been known to move, unassisted — is 27.78 miles per hour (44.7 km/h/12.4 m/s). [2] American Bison can move at speeds of up to 35 mph.

This year’s higher-than-usual injury count is despite the National Park Service’s service efforts, in handing out yellow warning signs, to discourage Yellowstone visitors from getting too close to an example of the largest terrestrial animals in North America. Even at their approximate top weight of two thousand pounds, male bison have no difficulty outrunning — often at double the speed of — the average human (male or female),  Female bison, which usually top out at around 900 pounds, may be even more likely than males to be aggressive during the better part of a year they stay with their young. (The calves are weaned at around six months of age, but like many Millennial humans, they tend to stick around ‘home’ for some time thereafter.)

Contrary to what some people obviously believe, park rules — at Yellowstone and other national parks — are not meant to be broken. One at Yellowstone advises people to stay at least 25 feet from bison. One of those injured earlier this year was within six feet of one. A Taiwanese girl, aged 16, approached one in May to have her photo taken with it as it grazed near the Old Faithful geyser. She was gored.

Not far away, near the Old Faithful Lodge, an Australian man, 62, was thrown in May as he attempted to take the beast’s photo with a tablet PC. He was reportedly within five feet of the animal that, in all likelihood, was minding its own business at the time.

Also in May, a concession worker, 19, who’d been enjoying a night swim in the Firehole River, finished off his evening by getting sent airborne by a bison.

June was injury-free, but July saw two incidents — one on the first of the month, when a bison charged and gored a Georgia woman, 68, as she hiked on the Storm Point trail. Then, on the 21st, A Mississippi woman, Brandi Burgess, 43, and her daughter had just snapped a selfie (see photo) about 18 feet from a bison when it charged and struck the mother, sending her air borne!

Bison mate in late July and August, so, as well as being more visible then, they also are more likely to be aggressive then.

Note, too, that in order to encourage the growth of the bison population, the National Park service works with area residents and other agencies to enable grazing territory beyond park boundaries during the winter months. There’s no one in those areas handing out warnings about the risks of too-closely approaching bison. But you have been warned!