Mount Paektu

North Korean lore calls [Mt. Baekdu] the birthplace of Kim Jong-il, though Western experts say he was born in the Soviet Union.

The Koreas are sending a joint research team to the active volcano Mt. Baekdu, located on the North Korean-Chinese border. Apparently, the North Koreans are concerned about the possibility of an eruption – or as they’d probably call it, a glorious tribute by nature to the Dear Leader.

I find North Korea a very bizarre place; not only because of the “traffic girls” on empty streets, the lack of streetlights, the ubiquitous hand-drawn propaganda posters, and the comically bellicose official statements, but because of how the cult of personality is so entrenched in the culture. I don’t understand that. I don’t understand how it would even enters someone’s mind to say something so absurd like saying a halo appeared over the birthplace of a leader. Yet, there are those people that believe it. (There are always true believers.) I think it’s the same problem I have with religion. It’s just so patently absurd, the only honest reaction is to laugh.

Of course North Korea’s propaganda ministry isn’t the most absurd. That one goes to the late Saparmurat Niyazov‘s lackeys in the Turkmenistan. Niyazov wrote his “Book of the Soul”, and then proceeded to order it placed in mosques next to the Koran. He ordered a golden statue built and made to rotate with the sun. He ordered his picture be placed in all government buildings, and to run constantly in the corner on state television station. Most famously, he ordered the names of the months and days of the week changed. Most interestingly, this last one wasn’t his idea. It was proposed by Ahmet Çalık, a Turkmen oligarch sucking up to Niyazov.