Need To Know
North Korea's first family has skeletons in its closet. No, really, actual skeletons. Earlier this week we compared Kim Jong Un's drinkin', gamblin', partyin' uncle to North Korea's Rob Ford. In fact it seems a more accurate analogy would have been Dr. Evil's Number Two, peremptorily flung into a fire pit when he dared to challenge his despot boss.
We don't know how it happened, where or even exactly when. But North Korea's state media announced early today that Jang Song Thaek, former mentor and unfortunate uncle to the boy dictator, was no more. Not metaphorically, like when he was excommunicated from the regime earlier this week, but literally. He has ceased to be. He's expired. This is an ex-four-star general.
What had he done to deserve such a fate? Partied hard and plotted to snatch power from his nephew, according to the official account, though the real reasons are certain to be somewhat more complex. Could Kim be engaged in a desperate struggle for power with his own lieutenants? Or, in a ruthless dictatorship like this one, is executing the old guard simply par for the grim course? Only one thing seems certain: whatever led to Jang's surprise demise will probably lead to others. You know what they (don't) say about purges — once you start, it's hard to stop.
Want To Know
Death in Dhaka. Uncle Jang isn't the only one who's come to a sticky end. Though unlike the North Korean, Bangladesh's Islamist leader Abdul Quader Mollah had been publicly tried and convicted before he was sent to his death last night.
The so-called "Butcher of Mirpur" is accused of massacring unarmed civilians during the country's 1971 war of independence, be they his opponents or anyone unfortunate enough to get in his way. He and several of his comrades have been found guilty of atrocities at Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal; Mollah is the actually first to be executed. His death was greeted with a fresh wave of violent protests today, with protesters vowing to avenge the hanging.
When fact is stranger than fiction. An American agent, missing in Iran. A mission kept secret from those with the authority to nix it. A CIA cover-up. No, it's not 'Homeland' — according to an Associated Press investigation, it's the true story of America's longest-vanished overseas hostage, Robert Levinson.
The AP reports that Levinson, who once worked for the FBI but since retiring apparently began freelancing for the CIA, was gathering intelligence for the American government when he went missing in Iran, nearly seven years ago. The mission was strictly unapproved, the AP says, and the CIA has allegedly paid out millions of dollars to Levinson's family to prevent them exposing it in court. The agency has refused to comment on the report, saying only that Washington remains committed to bringing Levinson home safely. Ah yes, about that: his whereabouts remain unknown, despite a US request for Iran's help locating him and $1 million reward for information. These revelations — confirmed or not — mean, sadly, that hopes of his return must must be slim.
Strange But True
"The name's Bond. Jim — no, John — Jeff Bond? And I don't know what your name is, but you're my best friend..." Run into 007 in real life and that's probably how he'd sound, doctors say — except slurrier, and not in a Sean Connery way. British medics who reviewed all 14 of Ian Fleming's original Bond books claim anyone who lived the life of Her Majesty's least secret serviceman would have the tremors, liver disease and a serious smoker's cough.
Of the 124 odd days on record of Bond's fictional life, 88 of them were spent drinking (and the other 36 he was either in hospital, prison or rehab). In that brief time, Bond consumed some 1,150 units of alcohol. That's five vodka martinis a day, more than enough to put the dashing spy "at high risk of multiple alcohol-related diseases and an early death," according to the three doctors who spent their spare time analysing Bond's consumption for the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal. What's more, any beautiful-but-possibly-treacherous-and-certainly-doomed ladies hoping to be one of Bond's girls would almost certainly be disappointed, they say: anyone who sinks that much alcohol stands little chance of, er, standing at crucial romantic moments. You might say he'd be — sorry about this — shaky, but not stirred.