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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Slave to the Blog: Panama, Iran, Myanmar, and … Stamps?

by | August 5th, 2013 | 06:55 am
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ClaudiaLennearPhewed

Live ammo is the latest treasure to emerge from the hold of the Chong Chon Gang. Ironically the sabotage of the ship’s cranes, presumably by the crew during the struggle with Panamanian marines for control of the ship, has turned what should have been a pretty quick process of conducting an inventory into a protracted slog through brown sugar.  The upshot is that the arrival of the UN Panel of Experts has been delayed, and with three more holds to be cleared, the act guarantees that this tale will be dribbling out for months.

(That’s not necessarily a bad thing: the story will give us plenty of excuses to run pictures of Claudia Lennear, reputedly the inspiration for the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” and one of the focal points of the current documentary “20 Feet From Stardom.”)

I don’t know if the Stones ever played Tehran (somehow I don’t think “Sympathy for the Devil” would have gone down real well with the mullahs) but Supreme People’s Assembly head Kim Yong-nam was there to meet with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran.  The countries maintain robust cooperation in numerous spheres; it will be interesting to see if there is any change in relations under the new Iranian leadership.

Another country with which North Korea has had rather opaque relations is Myanmar; Adam MacDonald has an informative piece in the current East Asia Forum in which he provides he examines the role of Lt. Gen. Thein Htay, recently sanctioned by the US. Still no word on those refugees held by one of Myanmar’s numerous insurgent groups.

Kevin Stahler’s post yesterday on the dangerous world of North Korean stamp collecting served as a reminder to relay some actual expert knowledge, a true rarity in things North Korea. Earlier this year we ran a post speculating on the possibility of inferring inflation through stamp prices. Mr. Gary N. McLean, Editor, Korean Philately, set me straight:  “You asked in your e-mail whether the stamps shown in your article would have been used in North Korea. The answer is an emphatic NO! North Korea produces stamps for the philatelic market. These are not semi-postals, either, as someone commented. Rather, they are high value stamps because the government knows that no one in country could ever afford such stamps (even if they would be sold in North Korea – they aren’t), so they are looking to “milk” stamp collectors. The stamps sold and used in country are difficult for stamp collectors to find. Even if the design is similar to what is in the philatelic market, they are printed on significantly lower quality paper with lower quality gum.” Wow. Someone who actually knows what he is talking about…

Lastly, not only does the slowly unfolding saga of the Chong Chon Gang provide excuses for running photos of Claudia Lennear, but as our former colleague Alex Melton observed, the Ramones had not one but two Havana-themed numbers! Enjoy!