We told you last week about a report from North Korea that an uncle of Kim Jong Un, the country's leader, was dismissed from a key defense post.
The uncle in question is Jang Song Thaek, who is married to the sister of Kim's late father, Kim Jong Il. But as NPR's Scott Neuman noted, there have been previous reports of Jang's dismissal only for him to be back in power, apparently rehabilitated. Well, not this time - or so it would seem.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency has broadcast images of uniformed guards escorting Jang from a Communist Party session. Here is one of those images:
The Associated Press points out that Kim could be sending a message by purging his own uncle.
"While the rest of North Korea's top brass leaped to their feet before Kim Jong Un, clapping wildly in a requisite show of respect at high-level meetings, his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, often seemed nonchalant, at times even bored. Once considered the force behind the young leader, he displayed a bold insouciance that seemed calculated to show he was beyond reach.
"So by purging his own uncle, Kim has delivered a more chilling message: No one is beyond reach, not even family.
"Jang's fall from grace, accompanied by allegations from corruption to womanizing and capped by his dramatic arrest at a party meeting Sunday, has no doubt spooked Pyongyang's elite. It also suggests Kim is still trying to consolidate the power he inherited from his father two years ago.
"This is far from Kim's first purge. Several defense ministers and army chiefs have been replaced as the Workers' Party has asserted control over the military after 17 years of military-first rule under late leader Kim Jong Il.
But it is the ouster of Jang, who had been considered North Korea's second-most-powerful figure, that sends the strongest signal to anyone seeking to challenge Kim Jong Un."
Jang, until recently, was seen as close to Kim Jong Un, and was seen in many photographs with his nephew, such as the one below:
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that Jang was dismissed from all posts for trying to "form his own faction within the ruling party." It cited the north's official KCNA. Here's more:
"The party's political bureau also alleged that Jang, who had held several senior positions in the government, abused his power and had improper relations with several women, abused drugs and squandered foreign currency at casinos while receiving medical treatment abroad."
Yonhap reported that Yang's whereabouts are unclear, but that he could be sent a political prison camp.
It's hard out here for a How I Met Your Mother fan these days.
I mean, it's always been hard. The show has had its share of ups and downs, from how often it was on the brink of cancellation to its rocky creative track record in recent years. But the ninth and final season of the show — set in the fifty-odd hours before a wedding we've already seen bits and pieces of — has become downright exhausting.
The thing about HIMYM is that its greatest asset has also always been its greatest flaw. The idea that Ted is actually telling one long story building up to one specific event has led to some of the best moments of the series (see the season 4 episode "Right Place, Right Time"), but also some of its worst narrative meanderings (see last season's "The Autumn of Breakups").
For years now, the writers have been forced to make excuses for why the titular mother hasn't appeared yet, other than the simple fact that her absence is what fuels the show. And after season after season of misdirection, stalling and pandering, the show somehow changed from How I Met Your Mother to Here Are All the Reasons I Haven't Met Your Mother Yet.
And now, as it crams as much as it can into the hours and minutes Ted has left before he meets his eventual bride, it feels as if they have so thoroughly exhausted their supply of excuses that they're stretching their last one to the brink of snapping.
Episode after episode this season has worn out some of the major gags of the past that audiences once loved (Major Ga — oh, never mind), shifted the focus to guest stars rather than the core five, and spent almost no time in that familiar MacLaren's booth. Let's face it, this season isn't set in Farhampton — it's set in sitcom purgatory.
Its Monday night fans are now more dutiful than delighted, less constantly surprised and more persistently depressed. It's in that dull state in which it's neither here nor there, not terrible but not really good either.
So why, I keep asking myself, do I still keep watching?
Because no matter how much the show falters and how flat the jokes fall, no matter how cartoonish the characters become, I accepted a long time ago that I'm not going to stop watching How I Met Your Mother. Not just because it's a habit after eight years. Not just because I'm nostalgic for the time when I genuinely looked forward to new episodes.
It's that, just like Barney, I gots to know what happens in the end.
Lots of long-running shows have jumped the proverbial shark as time wore on, but with this one, its pre-determined ending keeps me hooked. It's been teased since that first episode eight years ago when the older Ted first told us that's what the story would be about. They can't just end the show wherever they want. It has to end when he meets the Mother. That's the payoff.
And with so few episodes left, that moment on the train platform where Ted and the future Mrs. Mosby finally say hello is so close it would almost be ridiculous to miss it. Like the show seems to be, I'm essentially biding my time until the end comes. And like Ted, I'm eternally optimistic that something better is around the corner, that something great is about to happen, that we're about to turn a corner.
All this despite the fact that the years of buildup will likely make the inevitable encounter between Ted and the Mother awkward, unfunny or a horrible mix of both. The finale will likely disappoint those of us who have dug in our heels and waited. But I still have hope.
As it turns out, How I Met Your Mother is just one big "wait for it ...," and fortunately, I only have to keep waiting a little bit longer.
An American volunteer in the Peace Corps, Juliana Peluso, 24, lives in Kanel, Senegal, West Africa.
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Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the country's Parliament on Monday, and called early elections in the face of anti-government protests that began last month. But protest leaders said their goal was to rid Thai politics of her family's influence, and to that end they want to replace Yingluck's elected government with an unelected "people's council."
A government spokesman said a new vote would be held Feb. 2, but the date must be approved by Thailand's Election Commission. Yingluck says she'll remain as caretaker leader until a new prime minister is named.
Yingluck won the 2011 election in a landslide, and is expected to win in any new vote.
Protest leaders were unimpressed by her declaration. Suthep Thaugsuban, who has led the demonstrators since the protests began Nov. 24, said Monday his movement does "not consent to allowing the dictatorial majority ... to betray the people, to destroy the balance of democratic power."
Opposition supporters filled Bangkok's major street even as Yingluck announced early elections.
The Associated Press summarizes the root of the country's troubles:
"Thailand has been plagued by major bouts of upheaval since Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled in a 2006 army coup that laid bare a deeper conflict between the elite and educated middle class against Thaksin's power base in the countryside, which benefited from populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.
"An attempt by Yingluck's party last month to pass a bill through Parliament that would have granted amnesty to Thaksin and others triggered the latest round of unrest. Thaksin fled overseas in 2008 to avoid a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated."
The latest protests have so far killed at least five people and injured nearly 300 others. But the violence appeared to end last week ahead of the king's birthday.
As NPR's Scott Neuman noted, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in an address marking his 86th birthday, called on his people to do their duty "for stability, security of our nation" in an apparent reference to the protests. But the turmoil deepened on Sunday when the main opposition party, the Democrat Party, resigned en masse in protest from Parliament to join the anti-government demonstrations. The AP notes that the party hasn't won an election since 1992.
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have worked to infiltrate networks of violence-prone individuals who might unite for a common cause. And in some cases, the spies are also targeting networks that aren't regional terrorist cells — they're online gaming communities, according to the latest revelation from documents given to the media by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
"Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments" is the name of a 2008 NSA document being cited in coordinated reports out Monday from The Guardian, ProPublica and The New York Times.
The reports describe spy agencies' push to infiltrate systems that allow millions of people to closely collaborate and even exchange money — all through a veil of alternate identities.
The project involved spies creating identities in networks that include Second Life and World of Warcraft, according to the reports. Another arm of the work is said to have collected massive amounts of data from Microsoft's Xbox Live network and elsewhere.
The effort was not a small one, the news agencies report. In fact, so much anti-terrorism work was being conducted in the virtual worlds that a separate "deconfliction" group was tasked with monitoring spies from the CIA, Pentagon, and FBI so that they wouldn't interfere with — or waste time spying on — one another, according to Pro Publica.
The Government Communications Headquarters, Britain's equivalent of the National Security Agency, also reportedly worked to insert its assets into the digital communities and review communications. And private contractors such as SAIC and Lockheed Martin "won contracts worth several million dollars, administered by an office within the intelligence community that finances research projects," ProPublica reports.
The Guardian explains what could motivate government agencies to spy on people in gaming environments:
"If properly exploited, games could produce vast amounts of intelligence, according to the NSA document. They could be used as a window for hacking attacks, to build pictures of people's social networks through "buddylists and interaction", to make approaches by undercover agents, and to obtain target identifiers (such as profile photos), geolocation, and collection of communications."
Britain's GCHQ evidently succeeded in getting details about a credit card-fraud group via an informant on Second Life. But as The Times notes, the records do not include a mention of any successful anti-terrorism operations that were based on intelligence gained in the virtual world.
It seems that proponents of spying on gaming networks struggled to find proof that terrorists have used gaming networks to communicate — and they suggested that the only way to find out was to conduct methodical research online, according to The Guardian.
News of the spy agencies' work in the gaming community comes as eight large tech companies have sent "an open letter to Washington" urging President Barack Obama and Congress to enact reforms in the practices of spy agencies such as the NSA.
The letter was signed by Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Yahoo!, LinkedIn, and Microsoft.
"The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution," the letter said, in arguing for laws that more tightly restrict the way surveillance is carried out on private citizens.
The large corporations posted the open letter at the Reform Government Surveillance website Monday.
Reacting to the letter, both the American Civil Liberties Union and WikiLeaks tell the AP that they would have preferred it if the Internet companies had spoken out in favor of individuals' privacy rights before Snowden exposed the spy agencies' tactics.