Saturday, December 31, 2011
Friday, December 23, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Kim Jong Il, North Korea's mercurial and enigmatic leader whose iron rule and nuclear ambitions dominated world security fears for more than a decade, has died. He was 69.
Kim's death 17 years after he inherited power from his father was announced Monday by the state television from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. The country's "Dear Leader" — reputed to have had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine — was believed to have had diabetes and heart disease.
North Korea has been grooming Kim's third son to take over power from his father in the impoverished nation that celebrates the ruling family with an intense cult of personality.
South Korea put its military on "high alert" and President Lee Myung-bak convened a national security council meeting after the news of Kim's death.
In a "special broadcast" Monday, state media said Kim died of a heart ailment on a train due to a "great mental and physical strain" on Saturday during a "high intensity field inspection."
Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 but he had appeared relatively vigorous in photos and video from recent trips to China and Russia and in numerous trips around the country carefully documented by state media.
Kim Jong Il inherited power after his father, revered North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, died in 1994. He had been groomed for 20 years to lead the communist nation founded by his guerrilla fighter-turned-politician father and built according to the principle of "juche," or self-reliance.
In September 2010, Kim Jong Il unveiled his third son, the twenty-something Kim Jong Un, as his successor, putting him in high-ranking posts.
Even with a successor, there had been some fear among North Korean observers of a behind-the-scenes power struggle or nuclear instability upon the elder Kim's death.
Few firm facts are available when it comes to North Korea, one of the most isolated countries in the world, and not much is clear about the man known as the "Dear Leader."
North Korean legend has it that Kim was born on Mount Paekdu, one of Korea's most cherished sites, in 1942, a birth heralded in the heavens by a pair of rainbows and a brilliant new star.
Soviet records, however, indicate he was born in Siberia, in 1941.
Kim Il Sung, who for years fought for independence from Korea's colonial ruler, Japan, from a base in Russia, emerged as a communist leader after returning to Korea in 1945 after Japan was defeated in World War II.
With the peninsula divided between the Soviet-administered north and the U.S.-administered south, Kim rose to power as North Korea's first leader in 1948 while Syngman Rhee became South Korea's first president.
The North invaded the South in 1950, sparking a war that would last three years, kill millions of civilians and leave the peninsula divided by a Demilitarized Zone that today remains one of the world's most heavily fortified.
In the North, Kim Il Sung meshed Stalinist ideology with a cult of personality that encompassed him and his son. Their portraits hang in every building in North Korea and on the lapels of every dutiful North Korean.
Kim Jong Il, a graduate of Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung University, was 33 when his father anointed him his eventual successor.
Even before he took over as leader, there were signs the younger Kim would maintain — and perhaps exceed — his father's hard-line stance.
South Korea has accused Kim of masterminding a 1983 bombing that killed 17 South Korean officials visiting Burma, now known as Myanmar. In 1987, the bombing of a Korean Air Flight killed all 115 people on board; a North Korean agent who confessed to planting the device said Kim ordered the downing of the plane himself.
Kim Jong Il took over after his father died in 1994, eventually taking the posts of chairman of the National Defense Commission, commander of the Korean People's Army and head of the ruling Worker's Party while his father remained as North Korea's "eternal president."
He faithfully carried out his father's policy of "military first," devoting much of the country's scarce resources to its troops — even as his people suffered from a prolonged famine — and built the world's fifth-largest military.
Kim also sought to build up the country's nuclear arms arsenal, which culminated in North Korea's first nuclear test explosion, an underground blast conducted in October 2006. Another test came in 2009.
Alarmed, regional leaders negotiated a disarmament-for-aid pact that the North signed in 2007 and began implementing later that year.
However, the process continues to be stalled, even as diplomats work to restart negotiations.
North Korea, long hampered by sanctions and unable to feed its own people, is desperate for aid. Flooding in the 1990s that destroyed the largely mountainous country's arable land left millions hungry.
Following the famine, the number of North Koreans fleeing the country through China rose dramatically, with many telling tales of hunger, political persecution and rights abuses that officials in Pyongyang emphatically denied.
Kim often blamed the U.S. for his country's troubles and his regime routinely derides Washington-allied South Korea as a "puppet" of the Western superpower.
U.S. President George W. Bush, taking office in 2002, denounced North Korea as a member of an "axis of evil" that also included Iran and Iraq. He later described Kim as a "tyrant" who starved his people so he could build nuclear weapons.
"Look, Kim Jong Il is a dangerous person. He's a man who starves his people. He's got huge concentration camps. And ... there is concern about his capacity to deliver a nuclear weapon," Bush said in 2005.
Kim was an enigmatic leader. But defectors from North Korea describe him as an eloquent and tireless orator, primarily to the military units that form the base of his support.
The world's best glimpse of the man was in 2000, when the liberal South Korean government's conciliatory "sunshine" policy toward the North culminated in the first-ever summit between the two Koreas and followed with unprecedented inter-Korean cooperation.
A second summit was held in 2007 with South Korea's Roh Moo-hyun.
But the thaw in relations drew to a halt in early 2008 when conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul pledging to come down hard on communist North Korea.
Disputing accounts that Kim was "peculiar," former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright characterized Kim as intelligent and well-informed, saying the two had wide-ranging discussions during her visits to Pyongyang when Bill Clinton was U.S. president.
"I found him very much on top of his brief," she said.
Kim cut a distinctive, if oft ridiculed, figure. Short and pudgy at 5-foot-3, he wore platform shoes and sported a permed bouffant. His trademark attire of jumpsuits and sunglasses was mocked in such films as "Team America: World Police," a movie populated by puppets that was released in 2004.
Kim was said to have cultivated wide interests, including professional basketball, cars and foreign films. He reportedly produced several North Korean films as well, mostly historical epics with an ideological tinge.
A South Korean film director claimed Kim even kidnapped him and his movie star wife in the late 1970s, spiriting them back to North Korea to make movies for him for a decade before they managed to escape from their North Korean agents during a trip to Austria.
Kim rarely traveled abroad and then only by train because of an alleged fear of flying, once heading all the way by luxury rail car to Moscow, indulging in his taste for fine food along the way.
One account of Kim's lavish lifestyle came from Konstantin Pulikovsky, a former Russian presidential envoy who wrote the book "The Orient Express" about Kim's train trip through Russia in July and August 2001.
Pulikovsky, who accompanied the North Korean leader, said Kim's 16-car private train was stocked with crates of French wine. Live lobsters were delivered in advance to stations.
A Japanese cook later claimed he was Kim's personal sushi chef for a decade, writing that Kim had a wine cellar stocked with 10,000 bottles, and that, in addition to sushi, Kim ate shark's fin soup — a rare delicacy — weekly.
"His banquets often started at midnight and lasted until morning. The longest lasted for four days," the chef, who goes by the pseudonym Kenji Fujimoto, was quoted as saying.
Kim is believed to have curbed his indulgent ways in recent years and looked slimmer in more recent video footage aired by North Korea's state-run broadcaster.
Kim's marital status wasn't clear but he is believed to have married once and had at least three other companions. He had at least three sons with two women, as well as a daughter by a third.
His eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, 38, is believed to have fallen out of favor with his father after he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001 saying he wanted to visit Disney's Tokyo resort.
His two other sons by another woman, Kim Jong Chul and Kim Jong Un, are in their 20s. Their mother reportedly died several years ago.
Friday, December 16, 2011
On of my heroes from the atheist/humanist movement is gone.
Christopher Hitchens dies at 62
He died from pneumonia, a complication of the oesophageal cancer he had , at a Texas hospital.
Vanity Fair magazine, which announced his death, said there would "never be another like Christopher".
He is survived by his wife, Carol Blue, and their daughter, Antonia, and his children from a previous marriage, Alexander and Sophia.
Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter described the writer as someone "of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar".
"Those who read him felt they knew him, and those who knew him were profoundly fortunate souls."
Hitchens was born in Portsmouth in 1949 and graduated from Oxford in 1970.
He began his career as a journalist in Britain in the 1970s and later moved to New York, becoming contributing editor to Vanity Fair in November 1992.
He was diagnosed with cancer in June 2010, and documented his declining health in his Vanity Fair column.
In an August 2010 essay for the magazine he wrote: "I love the imagery of struggle.
"I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient."
Speaking on the BBC's Newsnight programme, in November that year, he reflected on a life that he knew would be cut short: "It does concentrate the mind, of course, to realise that your life is more rationed than you thought it was."
Radicalised by the 1960s, Hitchens was often arrested at political rallies and was kicked out of the Labour Party over his opposition to the Vietnam War.
Continue reading the main story
"He could throw words up into the sky, they fell down in a marvellous pattern”
Denis McShane MP
He became a correspondent for the Socialist Workers Party's International Socialism magazine.
In later life he moved away from the left. Following the September 11 attacks he argued with Noam Chomsky and others who suggested that US foreign policy had helped cause the tragedy.
He supported the Iraq War and backed George W Bush for re-election in 2004.
It led to him being accused of betrayal: one former friend called him "a lying, opportunistic, cynical contrarian", another "a drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay".
But he could dish out scathing critiques himself. Bill Clinton he called "a cynical, self-seeking ambitious thug", Henry Kissinger a war criminal and Mother Teresa a fraudulent fanatic.
He also famously fell out with his brother, the Mail On Sunday journalist Peter Hitchens, though the pair were later reconciled.
Hitchens could be a loyal friend. He stood by the author Salman Rushdie during the furore that followed the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses.
Writing on Twitter after the announcement of Hitchens' death, Mr Rushdie said: "Goodbye, my beloved friend. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops."
The MP Denis McShane was a student at Oxford with Hitchens.
“Christopher Hitchens was everything a great essayist should be: infuriating, brilliant, highly provocative and yet intensely serious”
Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister
He said: "Christopher just swam against every tide. He was a supporter of the Polish and Czech resistance of the 1970s, he supported Mrs Thatcher because he thought getting rid of the Argentinian fascist junta was a good idea.
"He was a cross between Voltaire and Orwell. He loved words.
"He could throw words up into the sky, they fell down in a marvellous pattern."
The publication of his 2007 book God Is Not Great made him a major celebrity in his adopted homeland of the United States, and he happily took on the role of the country's best-known atheist.
He maintained his devout atheism after being diagnosed with cancer, telling one interviewer: "No evidence or argument has yet been presented which would change my mind. But I like surprises."
The author and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins described him as the "finest orator of our time" and a "valiant fighter against all tyrants including God".
He said Hitchens had been a "wonderful mentor in a way".
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who once worked as an intern for Hitchens, said: "Christopher Hitchens was everything a great essayist should be: infuriating, brilliant, highly provocative and yet intensely serious.
"He will be massively missed by everyone who values strong opinions and great writing."
Hitchens wrote for numerous publications including The Times Literary Supplement, the Daily Express, the London Evening Standard, Newsday and The Atlantic.
He was the author of 17 books, including The Trial of Henry Kissinger, How Religion Poisons Everything and a memoir, Hitch-22.
A collection of his essays, Arguably, was released this year.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joe Simon, who along with Jack Kirby co-created Captain America and was one of the comic book industry's most revered writers, artists and editors, has died. He was 98.
Simon's family relayed word of his death Thursday, posting a short statement on Facebook and telling The Associated Press through a spokesman that the 98-year-old Simon died Wednesday night in New York City after a brief illness.
"Joe was one of a kind," said Steve Saffel of Titan Books, a Simon friend who worked with him on his recent autobiography, "Joe Simon, My Life In Comics."
Saffel said that Simon, born in Rochester, N.Y., in 1913, "lived life on his terms and created incredible things in the process. It was a privilege to know him and to call him my friend."
Among his creations was a partnership with comic book artist and illustrator Jack Kirby. The duo worked hand-in-glove for years and from their fertile imaginations sprang a trove of characters, heroes, villains and misfits for several comic book companies in their Golden Age of the 1940s, including Timely, the forerunner of today's Marvel Comics; National Periodicals, the forerunner of DC; and Fawcett, among others.
The characters the two created included the Newsboy Legion, the Boy Commandos and scores more, including Blue Bolt.
"Blue Bolt was the first strip Jack and I worked on together, beginning in 1940. He was a science fiction swashbuckler I created for Curtis Publishing, the company that put out the Saturday Evening Post," Simon told The Associated Press earlier this year. "They had decided to jump on the comic book bandwagon. Jack joined me with the second issue. Like Captain America, Blue Bolt got his powers from an injection, long before the baseball players were doing it."
For Timely, the duo created Captain America, debuting on the cover of "Captain America Comics" No. 1 in December 1940 with the champion of liberty throwing a solid right-hook at Adolph Hitler, an entire year before the United States entered World War II.
"Jack and I read the newspapers, and knew what was going on over in Europe. And there he was — Adolf Hitler, with his ridiculous moustache, high-pitched ranting and goose-stepping followers. He was the perfect bad guy, much better than anything we could have made up, so what we needed was to create his ultimate counterpart," Simon told AP.
"Cap is one of the great comic book icons, and as dangerous as the world is today — more than it was in the 1940s — we need him around more than ever to act as our moral compass," Simon said.
Mark Evanier, a comic industry historian and Jack Kirby biographer, noted that Simon, besides being able to write and draw, also knew how to edit comics.
"Joe himself was the first great real editor who brought to comics skills he'd learned elsewhere and had some perception of how to put a magazine together and how to make a professional looking publication," Evanier told The AP on Thursday. "He had some business acumen. He knew how to talk to publishers, he knew how to make deals."
He also knew the market, Evanier said, noting that Simon, along with Kirby, plunged head first into creating horror, crime, humor and romance comics in the aftermath of World War II.
Simon said earlier this year that creating the romance comics was a high point for him and Kirby because they "negotiated to own half of the property," something that had been an uncertain prospect in the industry.
"I'd like to think that we showed today's comic book writers and artists how they can do more than just make a living producing comic books, and hold onto the fruits of their labors," he said.
Simon is survived by two sons, three daughters and eight grandchildren.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Harry Morgan wasn't a star and didn't need to be. In "M-A-S-H," ''Dragnet" and so many other TV shows and movies, the veteran character actor proved as indispensable as any marquee name.
Imagine "M-A-S-H" without the no-nonsense but fair Army Col. Sherman Potter, who knew how to traverse the line between military discipline and wartime humanity.
Here's Potter, on his first day as commander of a Korean War hospital camp, discovering the moonshine-making operation run by his brilliant but wayward surgeons and holding his fire: "Had a still in Guam in World War II. One night it blew up. That's how I got my Purple Heart."
Or go back to the 1960s version of "Dragnet" and Morgan's tour of duty as police Officer Bill Gannon, playing droll foil to laconic Jack Webb's Sgt. Joe Friday. Or consider Morgan's stalwart judge at the center of an intellectual clash in "Inherit the Wind," the dramatization of 1925's so-called Scopes Monkey Trial on evolution.
The 1960 film included tour de force performances by Fredric March, who raged as a version of William Jennings Bryan, and Spencer Tracy, a craftily impassioned take on Clarence Darrow. Morgan held his own as a smart, small-town jurist trying to balance political pressure with justice.
Morgan, who died Wednesday at age 96 at his Brentwood home after having pneumonia, was in the top ranks of actors who could take a small role, or a small scene, and bring it deftly alive. He added richness to any comedy or drama smart enough to call on him.
And that happened over and over, from gritty Westerns including 1943's "The Oxbow Incident" and 1952's "High Noon" to fluffy TV series "December Bride" and "The Love Boat."
Morgan, a Detroit native born in 1915, was studying pre-law at the University of Chicago when public speaking classes drew him to the stage. He worked with a little-theater group in Washington, D.C., followed by a two-year stint on Broadway in the original production of "Golden Boy," with Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb.
Morgan began his television career in 1954 when the medium was young.
He was one of the "foundational pieces of the industry," said "M-A-S-H" star Mike Farrell, who tried to gain Morgan a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild. Such honors routinely go to stars but also belong to Morgan and other character actors who provide "the grit and the substance and the context" for so many films and TV shows, Farrell said Wednesday.
"Harry has been that, par excellence, for many years," he said.
Veteran writer-producer Ken Levine, who worked on "M-A-S-H" early in his career, recalled Morgan as a complete pro who left him awestruck.
"He could read a scene once, have it completely memorized, and perform it perfectly take after take," Levine said on his blog. "And then compliment a callow 26-year-old writer who wrote it and couldn't believe the great Harry Morgan was even in the same room, much less reading his words."
Morgan, a quiet scene-stealer in his work, was also modest in life. Daughter-in-law Beth Morgan said he was "very humble about having such a successful career," which included an Emmy Award for "M-A-S-H."
He'd never boast about the famed actors whom he had worked with and befriended, including Henry Fonda and Gregory Peck, but, if prompted, would happily share memories, Farrell said.
And Morgan knew what counted in life, as he proved at a news conference held when "M-A-S-H" ended in 1983. He was asked if working with the show's cast had made him a better actor, and Farrell recalled Morgan's reply: "I don't know about that, but it's made me a better human being."